Pseudepigrapha (also anglicized as "pseudepigraph" or "pseudepigraphs") are falsely-attributed works, texts whose claimed author is not the true author, or a work whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past.[1] Pseudepigraphy covers the false ascription of names of authors to works, even to authentic works that make no such claim within their text. Thus a widely accepted but incorrect attribution of authorship may make a completely authentic text pseudepigraphical. Assessing the actual writer of a text locates questions of pseudepigraphical attribution within the discipline of literary criticism.

In biblical studies, the term pseudepigrapha typically refers to an assorted collection of Jewish religious works thought to be written c 300 BC to 300 AD. They are distinguished by Protestants from the Deuterocanonical books (Catholic and Orthodox) or Apocrypha (Protestant), the books that appear in extant copies of the Septuagint from the fourth century on,[2] and the Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles.[3] The Catholic Church distinguishes only between the deuterocanonical and all the other books, that are called biblical apocrypha, a name that is also used for the pseudepigrapha in the Catholic usage. In addition, two books considered canonical in the Orthodox Tewahedo churches, viz. Book of Enoch and Book of Jubilees, are categorized as pseudepigrapha from the point of view of Chalcedonian Christianity.


The word pseudepigrapha (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseudes, "false" and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphē, "name" or "inscription" or "ascription"; thus when taken together it means "false superscription or title";[4] see the related epigraphy) is the plural of "pseudepigraphon" (sometimes Latinized as "pseudepigraphum").

Classical and biblical studies

There have probably been pseudepigrapha almost from the invention of full writing. For example, ancient Greek authors often refer to texts which claimed to be by Orpheus or his pupil Musaeus of Athens but which attributions were generally disregarded. Already in Antiquity the collection known as the "Homeric Hymns" was recognized as pseudepigraphical, that is, not actually written by Homer.

Literary studies

In secular literary studies, when works of antiquity have been demonstrated not to have been written by the authors to whom they have traditionally been ascribed, some writers apply the prefix pseudo- to their names. Thus the encyclopedic compilation of Greek myth called the Bibliotheca is often now attributed, not to Apollodorus of Athens, but to "pseudo-Apollodorus" and the Catasterismi, recounting the translations of mythic figure into asterisms and constellations, not to the serious astronomer Eratosthenes, but to a "pseudo-Eratosthenes". The prefix may be abbreviated, as in "ps-Apollodorus" or "ps-Eratosthenes".

Old Testament and intertestamental studies

In biblical studies, pseudepigrapha refers particularly to works which purport to be written by noted authorities in either the Old and New Testaments or by persons involved in Jewish or Christian religious study or history. These works can also be written about biblical matters, often in such a way that they appear to be as authoritative as works which have been included in the many versions of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Eusebius indicates this usage dates back at least to Serapion of Antioch, whom Eusebius records[5] as having said: "But those writings which are falsely inscribed with their name (ta pseudepigrapha), we as experienced persons reject...."

Many such works were also referred to as Apocrypha, which originally connoted "secret writings", those that were rejected for liturgical public reading. An example of a text that is both apocryphal and pseudepigraphical is the Odes of Solomon.[6] It is considered pseudepigraphical because it was not actually written by Solomon but instead is a collection of early Christian (first to second century) hymns and poems, originally written not in Hebrew, and apocryphal because they were not accepted in either the Tanakh or the New Testament.

Protestants have also applied the word Apocrypha to texts found in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures which were not found in Hebrew manuscripts. Catholics call those "deuterocanonical books". Accordingly, there arose in some Protestant biblical scholarship an extended use of the term pseudepigrapha for works that appeared as though they ought to be part of the biblical canon, because of the authorship ascribed to them, but which stood outside both the biblical canons recognized by Protestants and Catholics. These works were also outside the particular set of books that Roman Catholics called deuterocanonical and to which Protestants had generally applied the term Apocryphal. Accordingly, the term pseudepigraphical, as now used often among both Protestants and Roman Catholics (allegedly for the clarity it brings to the discussion), may make it difficult to discuss questions of pseudepigraphical authorship of canonical books dispassionately with a lay audience. To confuse the matter even more, Eastern Orthodox Christians accept books as canonical that Roman Catholics and most Protestant denominations consider pseudepigraphical or at best of much less authority. There exist also churches that reject some of the books that Roman Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants accept. The same is true of some Jewish religious movements. Many works that are "apocryphal" are otherwise considered genuine.

There is a tendency not to use the word pseudepigrapha when describing works later than about 300 AD when referring to biblical matters.[3]:pp.222–228 But the late-appearing Gospel of Barnabas, Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius, the Pseudo-Apuleius (author of a fifth-century herbal ascribed to Apuleius), and the author traditionally referred to as the "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite", are classic examples of pseudepigraphy. In the fifth century the moralist Salvian published Contra avaritiam ("Against avarice") under the name of Timothy; the letter in which he explained to his former pupil, Bishop Salonius, his motives for so doing survives.[7] There is also a category of modern pseudepigrapha.

Examples of books labeled Old Testament pseudepigrapha from the Protestant point of view are the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (both of which are canonical in Orthodox Tewahedo Christianity and the Beta Israel branch of Judaism); the Life of Adam and Eve and "Pseudo-Philo".

The term Pseudepigrapha also commonly describes numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 300 BC to 300 AD. Not all of these works are actually pseudepigraphical. It also refers to books of the New Testament canon whose authorship is misrepresented. Such works include the following:[3]

New Testament studies

Many scholars maintain that no letter actually known to be pseudepigraphical would ever have been admitted to the New Testament canon. Other scholars suggest that the church only developed its hard line against pseudepigraphy because the practice was being abused. Some works that were definite forgeries led to a rejection of any sort of pseudepigraphy.[8]:p.225–226

Pauline epistles

Main article: Pauline epistles

In contrast to most writings termed "pseudepigraphical", 13 of the letters attributed to Paul are still considered canonical. These letters are still part of the Christian Bible and are foundational for the Christian Church. Therefore, those letters thought to be pseudepigraphic are not considered any less valuable than the other letters.[9] They are termed as "disputed" or "pseudepigraphical" letters because they are believed by most scholars to have come from followers writing in Paul's name, often using material from his surviving letters. Those followers may have had access to letters written by Paul that no longer survive.[10] Due to lack of agreement regarding the authorship of certain letters, some theologians prefer to simply distinguish between "undisputed" and "disputed" letters, thus avoiding the term "pseudepigraphical".[9]

Authorship of six of Paul the Apostle's letters has been questioned by some scholars, according to E. P. Sanders.[10] The six disputed ones are Epistle to the Ephesians, Epistle to the Colossians, Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, First Epistle to Timothy, Second Epistle to Timothy, and Epistle to Titus. Of these, the first three are sometimes referred to as "Deutero-Pauline letters", meaning "secondary letters of Paul". They internally claim to have been written by Paul, but there is no consensus among scholars on that assertion. Those known as the "Pastoral Epistles" — Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus — are widely regarded as pseudographs, though certain scholars do consider them genuine.[8]

Mark Powell writes that the first-century church did not seem to have a problem with the now-disputed letters since their thought was compatible with Paul's doctrines. An established convention at the time, especially epistles written in the first two or three decades after Paul's probable martyrdom, may have been viewed as part of the legitimate Pauline tradition and included as such in the New Testament canon. However, that apparent attitude of "acceptable pseudepigraphy" was short lived and did not continue into the second century. Powell says that there is no record of anyone in the early church ever recognizing that a writing was pseudepigraphical in any sense of the word and still regarding it as authoritative.[8]:p. 225–226

Other New Testament pseudepigrapha

Examples of other New Testament pseudepigrapha that were not included in the New Testament canon are the Gospel of Peter[11] and the attribution of the Epistle to the Laodiceans[12] to Paul. They are often referred to as New Testament apocrypha. Further examples of New Testament pseudepigrapha include the aforementioned Gospel of Barnabas,[13] and the Gospel of Judas, which begins by presenting itself as "the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot".

Authorship and pseudepigraphy: levels of authenticity

Scholars have identified seven levels of authenticity which they have organized in a hierarchy ranging from literal authorship, meaning written in the author's own hand, to outright forgery:

  1. Literal authorship. A church leader writes a letter in his own hand.
  2. Dictation. A church leader dictates a letter almost word for word to an amanuensis.
  3. Delegated authorship. A church leader describes the basic content of an intended letter to a disciple or to an amanuensis.
  4. Posthumous authorship. A church leader dies, and his disciples finish a letter that he had intended to write, sending it posthumously in his name.
  5. Apprentice authorship. A church leader dies, and disciples who had been authorized to speak for him while he was alive continue to do so by writing letters in his name years or decades after his death.
  6. Honorable pseudepigraphy. A church leader dies, and admirers seek to honor him by writing letters in his name as a tribute to his influence and in a sincere belief that they are responsible bearers of his tradition.
  7. Forgery. A church leader obtains sufficient prominence that, either before or after his death, people seek to exploit his legacy by forging letters in his name, presenting him as a supporter of their own ideas.[8]:p.224

See also


  1. Bauckham, Richard; "Pseudo-Apostolic Letters", Journal of Biblical Literature, Vo. 107, No. 3, September 1988, pp.469–494.
  2. Beckwith,, Roger T. (November 1, 2008). The Canon of the Old Testament (PDF). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pub. pp. 62, 382–83. ISBN 978-1606082492. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 Harris, Stephen L. (2010). Understanding The Bible. McGraw-Hill Education. ISBN 978-0-07-340744-9.
  4. LSJ entry for ψευδεπίγραφος,, accessed 1/20/11
  5. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae 6,12.
  6. Charlesworth, James. Odes of Solomon
  7. Salvian, Epistle, ix.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Powell, Mark A. Introducing the New Testament. Baker Academic, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8010-2868-7
  9. 1 2 Just, Felix. "The Deutero-Pauline Letters"
  10. 1 2 Sanders, E. P. "Saint Paul, the Apostle". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 20 May 2013.
  11. Joel Willitts, Michael F. Bird: "Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts and Convergences" page 32
  12. Lewis R. Donelson: "Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles", p. 42
  13. Joosten, Jan (January 2002). "The Gospel of Barnabas and the Diatessaron". Harvard Theological Review. 95 (1): 73–96.


External links

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