Post-Exilic Literature

During the post-exilic period (or Second Temple Judaism), the common belief was that the the prophetic presence of God was absent, meaning that throughout the following years, God was silent and no other holy writings were added to the Hebrew scriptures. This was the period when several Jewish writings were produced, and these writings may have been developed from Jewish tradition of folklore with a desire to add revelatory material during the silent years.[1] The terms “apocrypha” and “pseudepigrapha” are used to define these writings.

The word apocrypha is derived from the greek word ἀπόκρυφος (apokryphos) which means “hidden.”[2] The verb form is ἀποκρύπτω (apokryptō) which means “to hide or conceal,” “hidden,” “kept secret.”[3]  This term was used widely in Greek and Hellenistic religions and philosophies and was often used to refer to esoteric knowledge or the secrecies and mysteries of the cults. In Gnostic philosophy, ἀπόκρυφος (apokryphos) becomes more of a “technical term for secret books or inscriptions.”[4] While it is unclear how the word ἀπόκρυφος (apokryphos) came to refer to the postexilic Jewish writings, early christians writers such as Irenaeus and Jerome were among the first to use the term in reference to these writings.[5] Over time protestants used the term Old Testament Apocrypha to refer to the collection of Jewish writings that were translated into greek and included in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) and the Latin Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Hebrew scriptures). While they were included in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, they were never considered by ancient Judaism as holy scripture and part of the canon of Hebrew scripture. Thus, the terms “noncanonical” and “extracanonical” are used by many scholars when referring to these writings.[6]

The Old Testament Apocrypha from a protestant perspective generally consists of fifteen books and have often been grouped into four categories: Historical (1 Esdras, 1-2 Maccabees), Religious (Tobit, Judith, Susanna, Additions to Esther, Bel and the Dragon), Wisdom (Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, Prayer of Manasseh, Epistle of Jeremiah, Prayer of Azariah) and Apocalyptic (2 Esdras).[7]

The word pseudepigrapha is derived from the greek word ψευδεπίγραφος (pseudepigraphos) which is formed by two greek words ψευδής (pseudḗs) meaning “false” or “lying.”[8] and ἐπιγραφή (epigraphḗ) meaning “inscription” or “superscription.”[9] Thus, ψευδεπίγραφος (pseudepigraphos) means “false superscription or title.” The post-exilic Jewish writings referred to as the pseudepigrapha are writings that are falsely attributed to characters in the Hebrew scriptures and have been considered “spurious and inauthentic in their overall content.”[10] These books were never included in the canon of Hebrew scriptures and were rejected as canonical by a majority of scholars throughout the centuries. There is no specific list of pseudepigraphal writings, but some scholars have suggested a collection containing sixty-three books.[11]

In view of the apocryphal and pseudepigraphal writings, Pate el al. organize and suggest four categories for some of these writings in order to demonstrate the importance of these writings to one’s historical and theological understanding. 1) Theocratic-writings emphasizing returning back to the Mosaic code in order to have God enthroned as king (1 Maccabees, Sirach, Baruch, Psalms of Solomon). 2) Apocalyptic-writings focusing on the age to come or the kingdom of God descending to earth from heaven (Testament of Moses, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch). 3) Apologetic-writings that provide a defense of Judaism in Hellenistic terms before gentile audiences (The Wisdom of Solomon, The Third Sibylline Oracle, The Letter of Aristeas, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, 4 Maccabees and Philo). 4) Sectarian Apocalyptic-writings that are apocalyptic in nature but are presented from the perspective of a certain separatist community (1 Enoch, Jubilees, Dead Sea Scrolls).[12]

Pate et al. further argue that within the apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings, the story of Israel (or the Deuteronomistic tradition) and the pattern of sin-exile-restoration is represented and pervasive throughout these writings.[13] Therefore, these writings provide important information concerning the history, religion and social dimensions of Judaism during the intertestamental period. They reveal the ongoing internal struggle of the Jewish people as well as their ongoing experiences of foreign invaders attempting to destroy them. Theologically, they portray a consistent view of God’s sovereignty over history, his judgment over those who have rebelled against him and his future righteous kingdom for those who love him.[14] Lastly, they show “how doctrines developed in relationship to the New Testament. Several concepts particularly developed and expanded are the Torah, the apocalyptic view of history, the kingdom of God, messianic expectations, the Son of man, this age versus the age to come, and sin and suffering versus righteousness and peace.”[15] 

[1] Paul D. Wegner, The Journey from Texts to Translations: the Origin and Development of the Bible (Baker Academic, 2004), 119-120. [2] Walter Bauer et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 93. [3] Ibid., 93. [4] Gerhard Kittel and Gerald Friedrich, eds. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Abridged In One Volume by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 476. [5] Norman L.Geisler, and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible (Moody Press, 1983), 264. [6] Wegner, The Journey, 121.[7] Ibid., 121. [8] Bauer, A Greek-English, 899. [9] Ibid., 291. [10] Geisler and Nix, A General, 262. [11] Wegner, The Journey, 129. [12] Marvin C. Pate et al. The Story of Israel: a Biblical Theology (InterVarsity Press, 2004), 106-116. [13] Ibid., 107. [14] Wegner, The Journey, 129. [15] Ibid., 129.


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