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The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha & the New Testament: Prolegomena for the Study of Christian Origins

  • Author: James H. Charlesworth
  • Pub. Year: 1998
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 192
  • ISBN-10: 1563382571
  • ISBN-13: 9781563382574
  • Format: PDF*

Charlesworth demonstrates why the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the world in which the New Testament originated. He explains the proper method for studying the early Jewish writings preserved in this category and how and why they are important in their own right, revealing a very advanced and sophisticated religion.

The pseudepigraphical writings help us grasp both the diversity and creativity of early Judaism. Written before the canon of Hebrew Scriptures were closed, some of these writings in some early Jewish communities rivaled and surpassed the importance of certain writings now claimed by Jews and Christians today as canonical and inspired. Charlesworth suggests how the Pseudepigrapha help us understand Jewish concepts of the Messiah at the dawn of Christianity, and how these writings present challenges and new opportunities for biblical scholars.

Pseudepigrapha Research at the End of the Second Millennium

Texts devoid of an historical context have little meaning or, worse, can mean whatever someone wants them to mean. Texts reveal their author’s meaning (or range of meanings) when we understand their original contexts. The context of the writings in the New Testament is the world of Early Judaism; that is so because Jews composed almost all the writings collected into the New Testament. To perceive what Jesus may have meant, according to Paul or the authors of the gospels, requires studying what he reputedly said and did within his context; that is, within the world of Early Judaism. If we seek to understand the origins of Christianity, then we must recreate for perception and understanding the Jewish world of Jews who lived before the burning of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. and especially within ancient Palestine. How do we do that? And, how do the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha help us in recreating first-century Judaism? For centuries scholars created a unified system called “Normative Judaism” and attributed it to first-century Palestine. They worked the New Testament, Josephus, and the Mishnah as if these collections were mines from which one could easily extract details from pre-70 Judaism. This too facile construct is recognized as corrupt and misrepresentative. Why? Virtually all of the New Testament, all of Josephus, and all the tractates in the Mishnah were written after 70 C.E., and that was when Judaism changed significantly.

After 70 the numerous groups and sects disappeared. Only two groups survived. One would develop into Rabbinic Judaism by jettisoning much that had been essential to earlier Jews, notably eschatology, messianism, apocalypticism, and especially searching for meaning by recasting history as story. The other Jewish group to survive 70 was eventually to be called Christianity, and it emphasized and developed many of the aspects of Early Judaism rejected or diminished by Rabbinic Judaism.

As a reaction to this old traditional approach some scholars boldly claimed that Early Judaism did not exist. These scholars claimed that we must talk about Judaisms not a Judaism. They claimed that the world of early Jews before 70 was chaotic. This construct focused on the diversity of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and failed to learn from early traditions in the New Testament, Josephus, and the Mishnah. These three sources are essential in recreating and understanding Early Judaism, but the vast amount of early traditions preserved in them need to be sifted so as to remove later interpretations or alterations to them.’ Judaism became chaotic in 68 C.E. when Jews revolted against Roman oppression. The Jews were without an organized front, a standing army, or a recognized leader. In fact some Palestinian cities joined the Romans and others joined the rebellion; thus Sepphoris survived to bequeath us eventually the socalled Mona Lisa of the Middle East, and Gamla lies in the ruins left by Titus and Vespasian.’^ In the late sixties, and not before, Judaism was internally divided and in chaos.

If Early Judaism is a concept, and if it was neither normative nor chaotic, then what unified Jews and how do we learn about their religion?  First, we learn from them by reading primarily what they wrote and left for us to digest. That is the Jewish writings in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (devoid of later additions that can be isolated) and the Dead Sea Scrolls (all of which antedate 68 or 70 C.E.). Second, we study the New Testament, Josephus, and the Mishnah, searching for traditions that help us recreate Early Judaism.

We should resist the temptation to create a systematic or “orthodox” Judaism. That would be tantamount to projecting back into an earlier time later concerns; and many of these are often the domain of Christianity. There is no evidence that pre-70 Jews were united in wanting to develop a system or orthodoxy. Variety and diversity were not only tolerated but usually desired, as we learn from reading the Mishnah. The earliest evidence of Jews seeking one right teaching among diverse groups appears in the earliest New Testament documents, and in Paul’s writings that predate 70.

What unified Jews prior to 70 so that I and others can talk about a construct called Early Judaism? No answer will be devoid of some subjectivity, and the answer is not to be found in one document or in one collection of early documents. I wish now to make only two points: (1) what scholars often claim to be unifying elements are almost always catalysts for diversity; (2) Jews were united by worship and creeds. The axiom to be used is surely that if we want to see all of Judaism prior to 70, or 135 (when the final revolt against Rome was squelched), then we must include all of it for review. To focus on one part is to be blind to the totality. To select one group as more important is to impose on history a later personal criterion.

(1) What experts highlight as unifying elements within Early Judaism were also causes for diversity. The Temple certainly unified almost all Jews, and virtually all Jews would have agreed that Jerusalem was the center of the world (the axis mundi; cf. Jubilees). The Temple and its cult, however, also caused diversity, causing the exodus to Qumran and the anti-Temple rhetoric found in many documents composed at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Samaritans must be included in any assessment of Early Judaism, and they vehemently rejected both Jerusalem and the Temple as the place in which to worship God. Also, there were thousands of disenfranchised priests and anti-Temple groups within the Land. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem were not only signs of some unity but also the scenes of disturbances and even murders by those who were Jews opposed to any pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The Land was surely a source of pride and unity, especially when read in light of the promises to Abraham. Yet, Philo had to urge his fellow Jews to revere old Abrahamic traditions and he surely did not make the mandatory pilgrimages to Jerusalem (he apparently went to the Temple perhaps only once or twice). The Qumranites withdrew into the wilderness to atone for the Land. There was in antiquity no mass return to the Land; most Jews lived outside the Land. Moreover, defining the Land would not have unified Jews living in Samaria, Galilee, and Judea.

Race and common ancestry were unifying factors. But race was not a criterion in antiquity. Herod could claim to be a Jew, although he was an Idumean. Jews of mixed races made claims to being fully Jewish, and such claims led to legislations within some groups that excluded such Jews; yet there was the often annoying recognition that David, the greatest king in the history of Israel, was of mixed race.

Scripture surely did unify most Jews. But some Jews certainly would have claimed that the Temple Scroll was equal to and perhaps superior to Deuteronomy. And the Qumranites probably claimed that their collection of the Psalms was superior to other collections. Recognizing that before 70 C.E. Jews read so many divergent versions of the documents widely (but not universally) recognized as Scripture reveals that Scripture unified but also divided Jews. The groups represented by Sirach would have disassociated themselves from groups that adhered to traditions found in the Wisdom of Solomon. The Samaritans, the Enoch groups, and the Qumran group would have denigrated the concept of Scripture demanded by the reigning priests in Jerusalem.

It is tempting to claim that opposition and oppression from outside Judaism unified Jews, and there is anti-Judaism in antiquity. But the evidence reveals that opposition sometimes highlighted diversity. Pompey and the Romans were invited into the Land by two feuding Jewish rivals at war. There is no evidence that the Parthian invasion of 40 B.C.E. unified Jews. The Roman siege of Jerusalem in the late sixties certainly did not unite the rivals John of Gischala and Simon Bar Giori. How to resist Rome elicited responses of toleration (Jesus and the Testament of Moses) and open conflict (the Zealots, Sicarii, bandits, etc.).

To hear the charge, “What text can you cite to prove your point?” only reveals the speaker as one who is too focused on texts, and hence incapable of understanding the past. The past must not be reconstructed from literary sources alone. We must also study archaeological artifacts and the iconography of antiquity. For example, mystical Jews interested in magic and Hellenistic culture would violate Torah—according to some Jews—by perhaps portraying Yahweh with anguipedes (serpents as feet).-* Such reflections can lead to the acquiescence that Judaism was chaotically diverse before 70 C.E. I am persuaded that we have missed something in making that move. What then unified Jews so that we can talk about Early Judaism (ca. 250 B.C.E. to ca. 200 C.E.)? I can only briefly summarize my own thoughts.

(2) Jews were united in some ways and in some times. That observation allows us to talk about “Jews” and “Early Judaism.” I am convinced that Jews were united by a passion for study. Galileans, Samaritans, Judeans, and Qumranites have left us evidence that study was to be devoted to God and his Word as represented in the Pentateuch. Study led to debates in which meaning came alive through divergent points of view. Agreement and orthodoxy was not the norm; rather, passion and devotion to understanding Wisdom and living according to the precepts of Wisdom were unifying forces. Worship of only One God, the Creator who is still creating, was a norm that helps us talk about Early Judaism.” The need to praise God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—was widely recognized by Jews as diverse as the Qumranites, the Samaritans, the disenfranchised priests at Bethel (and elsewhere), and the ruling priests in Jerusalem.

Finally, I find a unifying force in the creeds shared by most Jews. Galileans, Samaritans, Qumranites, Judeans, Idumean Jews, the conservative Sadducees in the Temple would all reveal their common bonds as Jews by reciting the Shema (Deut. 6:4-5).’ This creedal formula in Scripture, acknowledged by all Jews as divinely inspired, was, as I see that time, the centripetal force that enables us today to talk about early Jews and Early Judaism.”

The Jewish writings in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha thus do not portray nothing that has no construct. They reveal Early Judaism. This religion (if that is an appropriate concept) was obviously not a unified system. Early Judaism was something like a powerful hurricane; it had strong winds blowing in all directions but it also had a center. Yet, as all analogies are misleading, we should not seek to isolate the center or core. We should not think about Early Judaism as a unity despite diversity. It evidences a unity bound up with diversity. That is, the winds and the center demarcate the whole.

Having attempted to explain what I mean by Early Judaism, and why I am convinced we can talk about some unity within diversity, we may now move on to the texts that are the focal point of the present book. What then is the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha?

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha is a modern collection of early Jewish writings, some of which have been expanded by Christians, and early Christian compositions. All documents included in this category are formed by the Torah, the Book of the People.

The Pseudepigrapha as a collection must not be confused with ancient collections defined by the place in which documents were discovered. Thus, it must not be confused with ancient collections like the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are over seven hundred documents found in caves northwest of the Dead Sea, or the Nag Hammadi Codices, which are over fifty documents found near the Nile in Upper Egypt.

The modern collection highlighted here is the most extensive one available, namely. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983-85 [= OTP\). This collection of books (edited by J. H. Charlesworth) is similar to other current collections, such as the following: the German edition (edited first by W. G. Kiimmel and then H. Lichtenberger) titled Jiidische Schriften aus hellenistisch-rdmischer Zeit; the Spanish five-volume collection (edited by A. Diez Macho et al.) titled Apocrifos del Antigua Testamento; the French volume (edited by A. Dupont-Sommer and M. Philonenko) filled LM Bible: Ecrits Intertestamentaires; and the Italian two volumes (edited by P. Sacchi) titled Apocrifi dell’Antico Testamento.

By what criteria have modern scholars selected the documents included in such collections; that is, how are such documents to be distinguished from other, somewhat similar, writings? How does one go about defining or describing a modern collection of ancient writings? The task is complicated because the documents to be considered for inclusion are preserved in an abundance of languages (e.g., Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Slavic, Ethiopic, Armenian, and Georgian); moreover, the documents have been discovered not in one place but in numerous monasteries, libraries, museums, and private homes. What definition or description helps guide the forming of a collection?

Along with other experts I am convinced that a definition of “Pseudepigrapha” is not possible; one can only describe its contours. Thus, I would define the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha as ancient documents composed by Jews (and sometimes by Christians or expanded by them) that date from approximately 250 B.C.E. to about 200 C.E. While the provenience of most of the works in the Pseudepigrapha is uncertain, many were certainly composed in ancient Palestine. Within that group 1 would include the following: Books of Enoch, Jubilees, Psalms of Solomon, and Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Unlike some other early Jewish compositions, the Pseudepigrapha usually claim to preserve fresh revelation and to be like other writings in the so-called Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures). Usually, they are attributed to Old Testament figures like Adam, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Baruch, and Ezra. While modern research has shown that such attribution is pseudepigraphical (that is, inaccurately attributed to Adam or other prominent persons in the Bible), the ancient authors (and their communities) believed in the sacredness of these writings. Many Jews most likely assumed that the work derived ultimately (perhaps through dreams or visions) from the person to whom it was attributed. Such Jews also assumed that David had composed and collected the Davidic Psalter and that Solomon had composed Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Pseudepigraphical attribution is thus typical of so-called extracanonical and intracanonical works—but one must be careful not to give the impression that we can talk about a closed “canon” before 70 C.E.

It should be helpful to clarify the genres represented in the major categories employed in the Pseudepigrapha. There are five subcategories: the expansions of biblical narratives, psalms or odes, testaments, apocalypses, and wisdom or philosophic literature. What follows are selections from each subcategory; the succinct illustrations introduce the student to each of these subsections of the Pseudepigrapha.

1. Expansions of Biblical Narratives. The Life of Adam and Eve {Vita Adae et Evae) was written by a Jew, probably in ancient Palestine, in the first century C.E. in order to expand upon and explain problems with or issues raised by the biblical story concerning Adam and Eve. This document describes the life of Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The work is extant in Latin, but a recension is preserved in Greek (the misnamed Ascension of Moses). This work contains one of the rare references in early Jewish literature to the concept of the imago dei (chap. 13-15). The author focused on the concept of sin and gave prominence to repentance (chap. 1-8). An attractive interiude is the story of the futile attempt by Eve and Seth to obtain “the oil of mercy” from Paradise so that they might anoint a sickened and dying Adam (chap. 40-44). Reflections on what our predecessors thought about the horrors of seeing—for the first time—a human being age and then die is mirrored in this early Jewish story. The account also reflects Jewish introspection and the search for meaning in a time so frequently devoid of meaning. The Lives of the Prophets—extant in numerous languages, including Syriac and Latin and especially the original Greek—describes the lives and deaths of the three major and twelve minor prophets as well as Daniel.

In addition it includes the seven non-literary prophets mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Since the work is extant only in manuscripts that show Christian influences, it is conceivable that a Christian composed the work. It is not impossible that it is a fifth-century C.E. composition. Many experts, however, tend to favor a Jewish original, since most of the passages are conspicuously free of Christian ideas and phrases. Also indicative of Jewish composition and a date prior to the second century C.E. may be a reference to Elijah coming from “the land of the Arabs” (21:1). This aside seems to indicate that Transjordan still was part of Arabia and not a Roman province as it became under Trajan in 106 C.E. If so, then the work is Jewish and was composed prior to 106. Typical of this pseudepigraphon is the following excerpt: “Isaiah, from Jerusalem, died under Manasseh by being sawn in two, and was buried underneath the Oak of Rogel, near the place where the path crosses the aqueduct whose water Hezekial shut off by blocking the source” {OTP 2:385).

2. Psalms or Odes. The Psalms of Solomon are seventeen psalms composed, probably in Hebrew, in the latter half of the first century B.C.E. in Jerusalem by a group of Jews similar to, but probably not identical with, the Pharisees. One of the most important references to the Messiah in pre- 70 Jewish literature occurs in the last two psalms. Note Psalms of Solomon 17:32:

And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God.

There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days,

for all shall be holy,

and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. {OTP 2:667)

The Odes of Solomon is properly recognized as the earliest Christian hymnbook. It consists of forty-two odes attributed to Solomon. The author was obviously a convert from Judaism to “Christianity,” and conceivably he may have once been an Essene (primarily because the author seems to have memorized sections in the Qumranic Thanksgiving Hymns). The date is not certain, but sometime around 1(X) C.E. is likely. The numerous links with the Gospel of John (especially in the Logos Hymn) indicate that the document was most likely composed within the Johannine Community.^ Note Ode 7:7-8:

The Father of knowledge

is the Word of knowledge.

He who created wisdom

is wiser than his works. {OTP 2:740)

Has the author of this ode used the expression “Father of knowledge” because in Essene lore the Creator was memorized as “the God of knowledge” (IQS 3:15)?

It is obvious that the Jewish hymns, prayers, and odes are essential sources that must be comprehended and appreciated by New Testament students who are interested in the origins and meaning of their faith. Only then will the student really understand the hymns found in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of Luke and in the Revelation of John. Most of these early Jewish hymns are found either in the Pseudepigrapha or in the Dead Sea Scrolls.*

3. Testaments. The Testament of Adam is trifurcated into a Horarium (hours of the day and night), the Prophecy, and the Hierarchy (angelology).

The first two sections are Jewish and probably date from the first two centuries of the common era. The Hierarchy was composed by a Christian sometime between the second and fifth centuries C.E. Syriac is probably the original language of each section. The work is important because it illustrates again how and why Christians were inherifing and yet editing considerably early Jewish writings. The document illustrates the pervasive early Jewish concept that there is a determined and proper order to the universe and that cosmic events have assigned times and seasons (cf 1 Enoch). Most importantly, in the Chrisfian addition Adam is promised deification; and despite the Fall he shall ascend to his appointed place. Note 3:4 (which seems to be composed ex ore Christi): “And after three days, while I am in the tomb, I will raise up the body I received from you. And… I will make you a god just like you wanted{OTP 1:994).

Three pseudepigrapha, namely, the Testament of Abraham, the Testament of Isaac, and the Testament of Jacob are organically related; that is, the first composition, the Testament of Abraham, gave rise to the second document, and they together to the third work. Each was most likely composed in Greek, perhaps evolving from traditions, even a written source, left by an Egyptian Jew of the first century C.E. In their present form, however, the latter two works are Christian; each contains Christian embellishments.

The most important aspect of the Testament of Abraham is its universalism and avoidance of distinctly Jewish concepts such as Torah and covenant. The author seems to define Judaism generically as a religion of morality. Typically Egyptian is the account of the weighing of souls at judgment (chap. 12). Jewish humor and lore is found in the account of Death’s visit to Abraham (chap. 16-20). Regally attired and disguised, Death comes to take his soul to God. Abraham asks to see Death’s real appearance. Death then reveals his ugliness, and immediately seven thousand of Abraham’s servants die. Abraham remains alive, only to be eventually tricked by Death. Michael and other angels bury his body but take his soul to heaven.

While the Testament of Isaac may have been composed originally in the first century C.E., it is preserved only in late manuscripts, so one cannot discern its original date of composition. In its present form it seems to emanate from the Coptic Church, since one of its purposes is to specify the dates of the deaths of Abraham and Isaac according to that church. The universalism of the Testament of Abraham is continued in the Testament of Isaac. For example, note 2:9: “Thus you shall be fathers to all the world, O faithful elder, our father Isaac” {OTP 1:905).

The Testament of Jacob, preserved only in late manuscripts, seems in its extant form to be at least a century later than the Testament of Isaac.

The blessing of only Manasseh and Ephraim, the use of only Genesis, and the importance of Jacob (called many names, including Jacob-Israel) all indicate possible Samaritan influences. Jacob is said to have “seen God face to face” and to have beheld the ladder and “the Lord sitting at its top with a power which no one could describe” (2:14-16) {OTP 1:914-15).

The Testament of Moses (= Assumption of Moses) is preserved incompletely in only one Latin manuscript (indeed a sixth-century palimpsest). It purports to contain Moses’ last words to Joshua. It may have been composed in the early second century B.C.E., but it more likely reached its present form in the early decades of the first century C.E. It was most likely composed in Hebrew or Aramaic, and in ancient Palestine.

This document focuses on the conquest of the Land under Joshua, but stresses that overt action against pagans will come only from God, who will come to avenge Israel (10:3, 7). Passages such as these may have been intended to cool the zealous anger of Palestinian Jews who in the decades prior to 66 C.E. hated the Romans for occupying the Land and oppressing God’s chosen race. The document intends to convey a message of hope for the oppressed living in ancient Palestine during the Roman conquest.

The Testament of Job was written either in the first century B.C.E. or the first century C.E. It was probably composed in Greek somewhere in Egypt, and conceivably by Jews close to the Therapeutae. The work highlights patience and endurance among all the virtues. Note the stoic character of Job: “I am your father Job, fully engaged in endurance” (1:5){OTP 1:839). This testament also shows special interest in women, include ing a unique portrayal of his first wife, Sitis, and his daughters. Poignant is the story of Sitis. Once she was wealthy but now penniless. Thus, she must sell her hair so as to purchase three loaves of bread. She shares them with Job. Satan, disguised as a bread seller, is the villain who cuts her hair, while a crowd in the marketplace marvels (chap. 23-24). Note the lament for Sitis in 25:6:

See one who used to have a foot basin of gold and silver,

and now she goes along by foot:

Even her hair she gives in exchange for loaves! {OTP 1:850)

4. Apocalypses. Only two apocalypses appear in the Christian Bible: Daniel and the Revelation of John. Most of the full-blown apocalypses now are collected together within the Pseudepigrapha. The most important are the well-known Books of Enoch, Fourth Ezra, and the Apocalypse of Baruch. Less well known is the Apocalypse of Abraham. It was probably composed in Hebrew, by a Jew, about the time of the Revelation of John, and possibly in ancient Palestine.

One must be cautious in working historically on the Apocalypse of Abraham. It is extant only in late Slavic manuscripts. The apocalypse is confused and contains visions difficult to understand. Like the work’s contemporaneous apocalypses, namely, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, it preserves evidence that pagan Roman soldiers had burned the Temple (chap. 27).

The author offers a vague explanation for this catastrophe. The reason for the loss of the Temple is apparently because Abraham’s descendants continuously provoked God to anger (20:6-7; 25:6-7; 27:7; 28:4) due to their idolatry (25:1-6) and murderous deeds (27:7). Obviously humorous is Abraham’s first person discourse on how his father’s idols were crushed by the uncontrollable action of an ass.^ Abraham’s plight is settled by Syrians. They willingly pay for both smashed idols and the gods that remain. Thence Abraham flips the three broken gods into a river in which they sank “and were no more” (2:1-9) {OTP 1:690).

The Apocalypse of Zephaniah is of uncertain date; it appears to have been composed by a Jew, in Greek, sometime in the first or second century C.E., conceivably in Alexandria. Indicative perhaps of a pre-70 date is the pro-Edomite sentiment of 3:1-2, “‘Come, let me show you the [place (?)] of righteousness.’ And he took me [up] upon Mount Seir….” {OTP 1:510). Important for a better perception of the far off city of the Letter to the Hebrews (13:14) is the description of the beautiful city in chapter 5. Like the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah contains the concept of weighing souls: “It is necessary that the good and the evil be weighed in a balance” (8:5). The leitmotif is the judgment all humans must face. While angels with trumpets (9-12) are reminiscent of the Revelation of John, the depiction of suffering sinners recall the much later Divine Comedy of Dante.

The Apocalypse of Elijah is preserved only in Coptic (both the Akhmimic and Sahidic seem to derive from a Greek Vorlage) and Greek fragments. The work is composite and can be divided into five extensive chapters: a discussion of prayer and fasting (chap. 1), the time before the coming of the Antichrist (chap. 2) and a depiction of him (chap. 3), three martyrdoms (chap. 4), and finally, oracles concerning the end of time (chap. 5). This document is not easy to date. It may have been composed sometime between the first and fourth centuries C.E. by a Jew or a Christian.

It is possible that this pseudepigraphon was composed in third-century Egypt by a Christian scribe who inherited much earlier Jewish traditions or even sources. But while it is clearly Christian in its final and only extant form, many experts conclude that it derives from a lost Jewish composition. Scholars have speculated on the date of this lost Jewish work, concluding that it may be as early as the early postexilic period, or date to the time of the Alexandrian Jewish revolt of 116-117 C.E. Numerous specialists today think that the Jewish document may have been written in the first century C.E. Origen, Clement of Rome, and Clement of Alexandria may have known it. Though the document is not a full-fledged apocalypse, it does contain apocalyptic perspectives; note, for example, this excerpt: “Everyone who will obey me will receive thrones and crowns….

They will walk with the angels up to my city” (1:8, 10) {OTP 1:736-37). J. Wisdom or Philosophic Literature. Fourth Maccabees was most likely composed by a Jewish philosophical theologian, in Greek, between 63 B.C.E. and 70 C.E., perhaps in Alexandria, more likely in Antioch (in which there was a cult of the Maccabean martyrs), but even conceivably in Palestine. The recurring theme is that reason enables humans to overcome passions. The heroes are Joseph, Moses, Jacob, David (with reference to 2 Sam. 23:13-17), and especially the famous martyrs of the Maccabean age, particularly, Eleazar and the seven brothers with their mother (1:8). The author knew that he had to define both “reason” and “passion.”

The latter concept is rather easy to define, but the former is difficult and reveals the author’s Jewishness. He grounds his definition of reason in Torah: “But we have to define what reason is and what passion is…. Reason, I suggest, is the mind making a deliberate choice of the life of wisdom. Wisdom, I submit, is knowledge of things divine and human, and of their causes. And this wisdom, I assume, is the culture we acquire from the Law, through which we learn the things of God reverently and the things of men to our worldly advantage” (1:14-17) {OTP 2:545). If 4 Maccabees was composed in Palestine, then the following observations are appropriate.

The document was perhaps intended as a commemorative address to be read aloud at the site where the Maccabees were buried; that is, actually at Modein in the hill country to the west of Jerusalem. This hypothesis fits well with what is known about the monumental tombs and pyramids built at Modein by Simon the Maccabee in honor of his father and brothers. These monuments were well known when 4 Maccabees was composed (1 Mace. 2:70; 9:18-21; 13:25-30; Josephus, A«r. 12.210-12).

It is evident that the Pseudepigrapha, especially the clearly Jewish writings that antedate 135 C.E., when Bar Kokhba was defeated, must be comprehended in the attempt to define and describe Jewish thought and life during the Second Temple Period. Along with the Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, the early Jewish tradifions in the New Testament, and the early Jewish portions of the tractates in the Mishnah, the Pseudepigrapha are requisite reading for understanding and reconstructing Early Judaism. They provide the student and scholar with data from which to recreate the context of the historical Jesus of Nazareth and the movement that eventually became divorced from Judaism, receiving the eponymous label “Christianity.”

It is now clear that to understand a text demands perceiving its context. The noun “context” has two meanings. First, there is the historical context that allows us to comprehend the reasons why authors wrote, what they may have intended to communicate, and how some of their readers would have understood or misunderstood them. Second, there is the literary context. This allows the exegete to grasp what words mean and what meaning seems to have been poured into the text. Both the historical and literary contexts of passages in the New Testament appear in a new light, and sometimes with unexpected meaning, thanks to insights obtained from reading the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.

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