Pseudepigrapha are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed authorship is unfounded; a work, simply, "whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past." The word "pseudepigrapha" (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseudēs, "false" and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphē, "inscription"; see the related epigraphy) is the plural of "pseudepigraphon" (sometimes Latinized as "pseudepigraphum"); the Anglicized forms "pseudepigraph" and "pseudepigraphs" are also used.
The Book of Enoch is an example of a pseudepigraph; no Hebrew scholars would ascribe its authorship to Enoch, a figure mentioned in Genesis 5. Nevertheless, in some cases, especially for books belonging to a religious canon, the question of whether a text is pseudepigraphical or not elicits sensations of loyalty and can become a matter of heavy dispute. The authenticity or value of the work itself, which is a separate question for experienced readers, often becomes sentimentally entangled in the association. Though the inherent value of the text may not be called into question, the weight of a revered or even apostolic author lends authority to a text: in Antiquity pseudepigraphy was "an accepted and honored custom practiced by students/admirers of a revered figure". This is the essential motivation for pseudepigraphy in the first place.
Pseudepigraphy covers the false ascription of names of authors to works, even to perfectly authentic works that make no such claim within their text. Thus a widely accepted but incorrect attribution of authorship may make a perfectly authentic text pseudepigraphical. Assessing the actual writer of a text brings questions of pseudepigraphical attributions within the discipline of literary criticism. In a parallel case, forgers have been known to improve the market value of a perfectly genuine 17th-century Dutch painting by adding a painted signature Rembrandt fecit.
On a related note, a famous name assumed by the author of a work is an allonym.
These are the basic and original meanings of the terms.
In Biblical studies, the Pseudepigrapha are Jewish religious works written c 200 BC to 200 AD, not all of which are literally pseudepigraphical. They are distinguished by Protestants from the Deuterocanonical (Catholic and Orthodox) or Apocrypha (Protestant), the books that appear in the Septuagint and Vulgate but not in the Hebrew Bible or in Protestant Bibles. Catholics distinguish only between the Deuterocanonical and all the other books, that are called Apocrypha, a name that is used also for the Pseudepigrapha in the Catholic usage.
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 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.
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 Bibliotheke is often now attributed, not to Apollodorus, 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".
See also: Apocrypha
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 of Caesarea indicates this usage dates back at least to Serapion, bishop of Antioch) whom Eusebius records 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, 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 not accepted in either the Tanach or the New Testament.
But Protestants have also applied the word Apocrypha to texts found in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox scriptures which were not found in Hebrew manuscripts. Roman Catholics called those texts "deuterocanonical". 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 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, 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 sects.
There is a tendency not to use the word pseudepigrapha when describing works later than about 300 AD when referring to Biblical matters. 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 under the name of Timothy; the letter in which he explained to his former pupil, Bishop Salonius, his motives for so doing survives. There is also a category of modern pseudepigrapha.
Examples of Old Testament pseudepigrapha are the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, Jubilees (both of which are canonical in the Abyssinian Church of Ethiopia); the Life of Adam and Eve and the Pseudo-Philo. Examples of New Testament pseudepigrapha (but in these cases also likely to be called New Testament Apocrypha) are the Gospel of Peter and the attribution of the Epistle to the Laodiceans to Paul. Further examples of New Testament pseudepigrapha include the aforementioned Gospel of Barnabas, 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".
The term Pseudepigrapha commonly refers to numerous works of Jewish religious literature written from about 200 BC to 200 AD. Not all of these works are actually pseudepigraphical. Such works include the following:
- 3 Maccabees
- 4 Maccabees
- Assumption of Moses
- Ethiopic Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)
- Slavonic Book of Enoch (2 Enoch)
- Book of Jubilees
- Greek Apocalypse of Baruch (3 Baruch)
- Letter of Aristeas
- Life of Adam and Eve
- Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
- Psalms of Solomon
- Sibylline Oracles
- Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (2 Baruch)
- Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
- Bauckham, Richard; "Pseudo-Apostolic Letters", Journal of Biblical Literature, Vo. 107, No. 3, September 1988, pp.469–494.
- Colossians as Pseudepigraphy (Bible Seminar, 4 Sheffield:JSOT Press) 1986, p. 12.[not specific enough to verify]
- Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
- Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiae 6,12.
- Salvian, Epistle, ix.
- von Fritz, Kurt, ed. Pseudepigraphica. 1 (Geneva:Fondation Hardt). Contributions on pseudopythagorica (the literature ascribed to Pythagoras), the Platonic Epistles, Jewish-Hellenistic literature, and the characteristics particular to religious forgeries.
- Kiley, Mark. Colossians as Pseudepigraphy (Bible Seminar, 4 Sheffield:JSOT Press) 1986. Colossians as a non-deceptive school product.
- Metzger, B.M. "Literary forgeries and canonical pseudepigrapha", Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972).
- "Online Critical Pseudepigrapha" Online texts of the Pseudepigrapha in their original or extant ancient languages
- Smith, Mahlon H. "Pseudepigrapha" entry in Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus online historical sourcebook, at VirtualReligion.net
- Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha official website