One of the most exciting things to discuss and study in religion for me has always been Jewish apocryphal and pseudepigraphic literature.[i] Some of the most beautiful literary works I have read are found in the Jewish writings outside of the Hebrew Bible, but roughly contemporary to the books written last (ca. 300-150 BCE) in that collection of scriptures.[ii] These once scriptural texts represent a multitude of different religious traditions all lost through the random acts of history, and only rediscovered over the last few centuries due to chance discoveries. If a little Bedouin boy had not thrown a rock into a cave and heard the crashing vessel of ancient pottery we might not have the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have proved to be the most important discovery of the 20th century in helping us to understand the text of the Hebrew Bible.
If a European adventurer had not decided to travel to Ethiopia in the 18th century, and happen to find the long lost book of Enoch (later titled 1 (Ethiopic) Enoch because two other Enochic texts would be discovered), [iii] we would not have the full text of 1 Enoch, but only fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christian quotations. One of the most important sections of that text, especially for early Christian thought on the Son of Man, was the Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37-71). 1 Enoch has been known for at least the last 100 years to be the most influential text on the New Testament writings that did not make it into any canonical Bible except for that found in the Ethiopian Christian church today.[iv]
Lastly, if two college graduates in the late 19th century working in archaeology in Egypt had not checked the ancient dumpster heap of Oxyrhynchus, we would not have what has turned out to be some of the most important texts for understanding what would turn out to be some of the earliest Christian communities. The discoveries at Oxyrhynchus included scriptural writings of the community (many sayings of Jesus not found anywhere else), as well as many of their personal writings. Such an intimate portrait of a group of early Christians helps us to understand their everyday life.
Whether or not one believes in chance or providence or a mix of the two, the fact remains that the discovery of these texts was unlikely, and yet the discoveries happened. We now have a wealth of texts from roughly 300 BCE – 800 CE that allow a window into the world of early Judaism and Christianity that we never expected. Not only is the history of the formulation of the Protestant Christian canon complicated and long, but we are now left wondering, with this wealth of texts from the ancient world that were clearly sacred text for the groups they were written by, why these texts did not remain sacred to the communities who accepted those books that did make it into the Hebrew Bible, and at the same time the Christian canon of the Old and New Testaments. These questions are very important and need to be both asked and understood correctly, as I found out in a World Religions class this last summer.[v] Not very many students actually spoke up, and a very small percentage understood the material we were studying. It was an accelerated course, and it left us little time to get in depth into the history. I was surprised at the lack of understanding other students had pertaining to the history of the texts that later became the Bible. I was surprised less by their lack of understanding those books outside of their respective canons.
Why Study the Pseudepigrapha?
It is common for Latter-day Saints to easily become excited about the Pseudepigrapha.[vi] These are texts that can be understood as “lost books of the Bible,”[vii] and in a few select cases they are.[viii] The Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants all point to sacred writings that have been lost over the course of history that will either be restored one day, or are partially restored in the writings and revelations we have from the Restoration. Doctrine and Covenants 7 is a good example of this. We have a document purportedly written by John on papyrus, with Joseph Smith utilizing his abilities as a Seer to translate these “hidden” things for an audience in this dispensation. We also have some of the writings of Zenos and Zenock in the Book of Mormon, with probably the prime example being Jacob 5. I have been in many conversations where members of the Church have thought that the writings of Zenos and Zenock would be discovered among the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I have found that there is no lack of confidence in members of the Church that other important books would be found.
As exciting as these texts are, they are, unfortunately, not texts the Church or its members are going to want to jump into and claim as being those lost documents the Book of Mormon talks about. Although I find these texts extremely significant and important for a thorough study of the Bible, most members of the Church will find some of the texts to be rather different from what they normally think of as scripture. These documents represent, similar to the biblical texts, many varying voices with some teachings that would be very strange to us today. This is unfortunate because, honestly, if we discovered the books of Daniel or Ezekiel today, and did not have other books similar to these, we would probably not add them to our canon either. Every scriptural text is going to have its own peculiarities that are foreign to our world today. It is in my opinion that, even though we might not see these texts as canonical or representing “real” prophecy, they can help enlighten our collective minds to an understanding of the world of the biblical authors that we did not have before.
After telling friends, family, or acquaintances about how important I think these “scriptures outside of scripture” are I am often asked where these texts are located and what is in them. These are valid questions. I will provide some examples below of how I think these texts can enlighten us about the history and background of the canonical texts, and at the end of the essay provide a short bibliography of collections of the Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.
Brief Notes on the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Restoration Scripture
There are many places in the large corpus of apocryphal and pseudepigraphic Jewish literature from the Second Temple period (586 BCE – 70 CE) that correspond nicely with Restoration scripture, but there are also many places that most Latter-day Saints would not be comfortable looking to for religious doctrine.[ix] I think the Lord’s response to Joseph Smith’s question about whether or not he should work through the Apocrypha in his revision of the Bible should be a guide for any Latter-day Saint wanting to know how to start:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning the Apocrypha– 2 There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly; There are many things therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. 3 Verily, I say unto you, that it is not needful that the Apocrypha should be translated. 4 Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth; 5 And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom…” (D&C 91:1-5)
This section of the Doctrine and Covenants is an integral part of the discussion of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha for Latter-day Saints. Verse 2 seems to imply that those things that are not true that are found in these writings are simply interpolations. An interpolation is a section or part of a text that is added later; it is not part of the original composition. Was Section 91 meant to imply that the Apocrypha are translated well enough in the KJV,[x] and only have a number of interpolations that members of the Church can discern them by the Spirit, and that the writings did not need the inspired revisions that the rest of the Bible had? Or, is it meant to suggest that we should be aware that they exist but not use them in any significant way? We may never know, but I think this is an invitation enough to find out more about them. They are important enough to have one section dedicated to them in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Some of the Texts in the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha and their Significance
There is a consensus among Enoch scholars to break the text of 1 Enoch into five separate books:[xii] (1) The Book of the Watchers (Chs. 1-36); (2) The Book of the Parables[xiii] (Chs. 37-71); (3) The Book of the Luminaries (Chs. 72-82); (4) The Dream Visions (Chs. 83-90); and (5) The Epistle of Enoch (Chs. 92-105).[xiv] These books are considered different compositions that were later redacted into one book, and each can be given its own date.
The Book of Luminaries is the earliest composition, and is usually dated at the end of the third century or beginning of the second century BC,[xv] with the Book of the Parables being the latest composition sometime around the end of the first century BC and beginning of the first century AD.[xvi] The other three sections or books fit chronologically between these two. The book of Enoch has long been recognized as one of the most important works of pseudepigrapha for understanding early Judaism and the growth of Christianity out of that tradition.[xvii] It heavily influenced the author of the Gospel of Matthew’s worldview on demonology, it is formally quoted by the author of Jude, and it highly influenced the book of Revelation.[xviii]
There are numerous similarities in 1 Enoch to LDS tradition. In 1 Enoch 21-22 Enoch is taken on a journey eastward, and is shown the resting place of the dead. He sees the place of punishment for the disobedient stars that had fallen from their former glory, and the place of imprisonment for the rebel angels who had fallen (see Gen. 6 and 1 Enoch 6-16). He also sees the resting place of all those who died before. The wicked were cut off from the righteous, and the righteous people who had died unjustly were crying up to God for vengeance (1 Enoch 22:5-7). These places of rest for the dead were made for as “the pits for the place of their confinement. Thus they were made until the day on which they will be judged, and until the time of the day of the end of the great judgment, which will be exacted from them.” This section is very reminiscent of Alma 40 in its separation of the righteous and the wicked, and the statement that “there is a space between death and the resurrection of the body, and a state of the soul in happiness or in misery until the time is appointed of God that the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works” (Alma 40:21).
Apocryphon of Ezekiel
The text of the Apocryphon of Ezekiel has survived in only five fragments, and therefore we do not have the text in its entirety. Four of these fragments are “preserved in secondary sources and one small fragment of the apocryphon itself” has survived.[xix] Each fragment links thematically to one another, and there is evidence that all five fragments were most likely originally one text.[xx]
Fragment 1, quoted by the ancient Christian Epiphanius, explains that there was a king who called for everyone to come to a wedding feast for his son held at his house, but that he “snubbed the two civilians, the lame man and the blind man” (ApocEzek 1:2).[xxi] These two civilians are not happy about being “snubbed” by the king, so they devise a plan to help each other. The lame man makes rope from the grass near him and throws it to the blind man so that he can come over to him. The lame man has the blind man pick him up, so that the lame man can be the blind man’s eyes, and the blind man the lame man’s feet. Their original plan was to get the king back for not inviting them to the feast by destroying what was in the garden. The text does not specify whether or not they destroyed anything, except that they left footprints in the garden, which the guests noticed.
The king is made aware that two have broken in to his feast without permission, and have made it to his garden. He confronts both the lame man and the blind man about their breaking in. Both of them blame one another, but are both found guilty. The lame man is compared to the spirit and the blind man is compared to the body on the Day of Judgment. According to the text, both will be responsible, as it says, “In the same way the body is connected to the soul and the soul to the body, to convict them of their common deeds. And the judgment becomes final for both body and soul, for the works they have done whether good or evil” (Apoc Ezek 2:10-11).
There are clear similarities here to Alma 40:23 with the judgment and need for restoration of both body and soul, but there is also an interesting connection to the importance of a garden that connects, if only slightly, with Jacob 5. The trees in the Apocryphon of Ezekiel are fig, and the trees in Jacob 5 are olive trees, but the garden itself is shown in both texts to be very important to the king/lord, and, according to both texts, breaking in or ruining his trees goes against his plans and one can and will be judged according to their desires and their works at the day when all are judged.
This is only a brief comparison of two texts. There are so many places where Restoration scripture, not just the Book of Mormon, has commonalities with ancient Jewish apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. This is not to suggest that the texts knew one another or were dependent on each other in any way, or to say that these ancient Jewish writings should be viewed as scripture. What I am saying is that there are so many things about these texts that can help us in understanding our scriptures better through comparing the two. Mormon Christianity grows out of Jewish roots. Many of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha were later edited by Christian scribes, and therefore have even more comparative models to our scriptures. The above only compared a few connections with the Book of Mormon, and there were many places where the New Testament, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price could have been compared.
I write this as an invitation for Latter-day Saints to investigate these ancient Jewish writings. Studying these texts has been very beneficial to me and to my spirituality within the Church. Joseph Smith himself was very interested in ancient writings, especially those that are not found within the canonical text of the Bible. We are promised that there are many texts that will, and since Joseph Smith’s lifetime many thousands have come, and we would do well to appreciate and enjoy these texts in our search for the truth, for “whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom.”
Appendix A: A Brief Bibliography of Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic Writings
Backhaum, Richard, et al, eds., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Non-Canonical Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2013).
Charles, R. H., ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (2 Vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1913 [Repr. 1977]).
Charlesworth, James H., ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 Vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1983, 1985).
Delamarter, Steve, A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002).
Feldman, Louis H., et al, eds., Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2013).
Appendix B: The Books Called the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha[xxii]
Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sirach
Wisdom of Solomon
Epistle of Jeremy
Additions to Daniel
Prayer of Azariah and Son of the Three Children
Bel and the Dragon
Additions to Esther
1 (Ethiopic) Enoch
2 (Slavonic) Enoch
3 (Hebrew) Enoch
Treaties of Shem
Apocryphon of Ezekiel
Apocalypse of Zephaniah
The Fourth Book of Ezra
Greek Apocalypse of Ezra
Vision of Ezra
Questions of Ezra
Revelation of Ezra
Apocalypse of Sedrach
2 (Syriac) Baruch
3 (Greek) Baruch
Apocalypse of Abraham
Apocalypse of Adam
Apocalypse of Elijah
Apocalypse of Daniel
Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
Testament of Job
Testament of the Abraham
Testament of Isaac
Testament of Jacob
Testament of Moses
Testament of Solomon
Testament of Adam
Letter of Aristeas
Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah
Joseph and Aseneth
Life of Adam and Eve
The Lives of the Prophets
Ladder of Jacob
Jannes and Jambres
History of the Rechabites
Eldad and Modad
History of Joseph
The Sentences of the Syriac Menander
More Psalms of David
Prayer of Manasseh
Psalms of Solomon
Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers
Prayer of Joseph
Prayer of Jacob
Odes of Solomon
Philo the Epic Poet
Ezekiel the Tragedian
Fragments of Pseudo-Greek Poets
Demetrius the Chronographer
Aristeas the Exegete
The Life of Adam and Eve
The Book of the Covenant
The Apocryphon of Seth
The Book of Noah
The Apocryphon of Eber
The Dispute over Abraham
The Inquiry of Abraham (A possible Allusion to the Apocalypse of Abraham)
The Story of Melchizedek with the Melchizedek Legend from the Chronicon Paschale
The Syriac History of Joseph
The Testament of Job (Coptic Fragments)
The Tiburtine Sibyl (Greek)
The Eighth Book of Moses
The Balaam Text from Tell Deir ‘Alla
Songs of David
The Aramaic Song of the Lamb (The Dialogue between David and Goliath)
Exorcist Psalms of David and Solomon
The Selenodromion of David and Solomon
The Hygromancy of Solomon
Questions of the Queen of Sheba and Answers by King Solomon
The Nine and a Half Tribes
The Heartless Rich Man and the Precious Stone
Jeremiah’s Prophecy to Pashhur
The Treatise of the Vessels
The Seventh Vision of Daniel
A Danielic Pseudepigraphon Paraphrased by Papias
The Relics of Zechariah and the Boy Buried at His Feet
Sefer Zerubbabel: The Prophetic Vision of Zerubbabel ben Shealtiel
The Latin Vision of Ezra
The Cave of Treasures
Palaea Historica (“The Old Testament History”)
Quotations from Lost Books in the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Visions of Hell and Paradise
[i] For early publications of these books, translated in King James style English, see R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (2 Vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1913 [Repr. 1977]); for newer translations and more than double the documents Charles had, see James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 Vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1983, 1985); and Richard Bauckham, et al, eds., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2013); and Louis H. Feldman, et al, eds., Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2013).
[ii] For a description of the dates of the books of the Hebrew Bible and for bibliography for each book, see my recent blog post here: http://rationalfaiths.com/latter-day-saints-christian-know-old-testament/.
[iii] The adventurer was James Bruce, who discovered these texts while visiting the Ethiopic Christian church in Abyssinia in 1773. Fortunately, Bruce had a number of scribes who were able to copy down the Ethiopic (Ge’ez) text and bring them back with them on Bruce’s trip. See Colby Townsend, “1 (Ethiopic) Enoch,” in Jeffrey M. Bradshaw and David J. Larsen, In God’s Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel (Salt Lake City: The Interpreter Foundation and Eborn Books, 2014), 468; and
[iv] The leading scholar in studies on 1 Enoch, George W. E. Nickelsburg, mistook our love for the Enoch literature, and that part of the LDS Enoch tradition found in Moses 6-8, as acceptance of 1 Enoch specifically as scripture in the first volume to his seminal commentary on 1 Enoch. See George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1-36; 81-108 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 82. He has since become more acquainted with the Church, especially through the recent discovery of his Jewish ancestors, which now brings him often to do research at the Family History Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.
[v] The class was about 60 students, and from the comments and questions throughout the six-week course it was apparent that many of my fellow students knew or understood very little about the history of religion. One of the oft-repeated topics during the class was the question of the formation of the canon. One student asked what the KJV translators had used to produce their translation, whether it was the original languages or the Latin Vulgate translated by Jerome. Another student answered by stating that the translators only had the Latin. This is not true at all (they used Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, although inferior to the earlier manuscripts we now have), and a good example of the lack of reliable information that students generally have about the history of the text of the Bible.
[vi] For a discussion of the use of the term “pseudepigrapha” in modern scholarship, its lack of specificity for what scholars want it to portray, and a basic defense of its use, see James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York: Doubleday, 1983), 1:xxiv-xxv; see also James H. Charlesworth, “Pseudepigrapha, OT,” in David Noel Freedman, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary: Volume 5, O-Sh (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 537-540.
[vii] See https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/lost-books?lang=eng&letter=l.
[viii] I will discuss 1 Enoch more throughout this essay. Suffice it to say that it has long been recognized that Jude 1:14-15 quotes from a prophecy of Enoch that was lost. This quotation comes directly from 1 Enoch 1:9, which was well known at the time of the writing of Jude.
[ix] Stephen Robinson went to great lengths in his essay on pseudepigrapha (“Lying for God: The Uses of Apocrypha,” in C. Wilfred Griggs, ed., Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints [reprint; Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007], 133-154) to argue that Latter-day Saints should be careful about their excitement and acceptance of apocryphal and pseudepigraphic materials due to the false or lying nature the authors took up when originally writing the texts. He systematically analyzes different responses to his critique (i.e. author of a later text using earlier sources, etc.) and fails to answer adequately the fact that a large number of canonical texts in the Hebrew Bible are also pseudonymous. He states that scholars work under the assumption that these texts are pseudonymous, ignoring the multitude of reasons they have for viewing many of the texts in this light. Deuteronomy is a revision of the other four books of Moses revised between the seventh and sixth centuries BCE for political purposes. The main thrust was to centralize the cultus (temple) and focus more attention on Jerusalem. Deuteronomy takes the laws and commandments found in the other four books and rewrites them in diverging–and often contradictory–ways. Besides Deuteronomy, all of the other four books of Moses are dated to centuries after the lifetime of Moses. 1-2 Chronicles is a revision of 1-2 Kings. Whereas 1-2 Kings was written with a similar purpose as Deuteronomy (both are part of what scholars consider the Deuteronomistic corpus), scholars see the Chronicler’s (the author of Chronicles) work as a revision of Kings toward the temple cult, and toward the priestly duties of the Second Temple Period. These two examples are only the beginning–I have not even mentioned Daniel, Esther, Jonah, or the others. Robinson strongly argues for a Latter-day Saint audience being cautious about their acceptance of this literature, but reasons provided by him for not accepting them (and this acceptance does not require viewing them as part of the canon) are just as easily applied to many of the texts we have received in the Bible.
[x] The 1828 Phinney printing of the KJV Joseph used for the JST had the Apocrypha included. Up to that point the Apocrypha was still often included in printings of the Bible, in between the Old and New Testaments.
[xi] Some of my notes here are being adapted from my recent essay for Jeffrey Bradshaw’s second volume to his commentary on the Book of Moses, In God’s Image and Likeness 2: Enoch, Noah, and the Tower of Babel, co-authored with David J. Larsen.
[xii] The section names here are taken from Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 7-8.
[xiii] Many scholars call this “The Similitudes of Enoch,” which is basically synonymous with Parables.
[xiv] Chapters 106-108 are actually considered a later interpolation. 106-107 is on the birth of Noah, and 108 is another ‘book of Enoch’.
[xv] J. T. Milik, The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 7; cf. Nickelsburg and VanderKam, 1 Enoch 2: A Commentary on 1 Enoch Chapters 37-82 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 339-345; and James C. VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradtion (Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series, 16; Washington, D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1984), 79-88.
[xvi] Nickelsburg and VanderKam, 1 Enoch 2: A Commentary on 1 Enoch Chapters 37-82 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012), 62-63.
[xvii] Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), 2:163.
[xviii] For an early list of the extent of the influence on the New Testament of 1 Enoch, see Charles, Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, 2:180-181.
[xix] J. R. Mueller and Stephen E. Robinson, “Apocryphon of Ezekiel,” in Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:487.
[xx] See James R. Mueller, The Five Fragments of the Apocryphon of Ezekiel (JSPSup, 5; Sheffield: Sheffiled Academic Press, 1994), 168-171.
Great work Colby! You explained and summarized a lot of important writings here and helped put into perspective why they are relevant, which adds better perspective as to how to approach our canon. I also loved your citations!
So when are you going to do a Mormon compilation of interesting texts? I’ve tried reading some, but it takes a lot of reading to find the gems that seem helpful to me. Mostly they are too low in new or interesting content to draw me in as a non-scholarly reader. I want a good parts version.
Jonathan, thanks for the comment. I would suggest starting off with some of the texts I pointed out in the post. 1 Enoch is definitely very interesting, and it doesn’t take having a scholarly interest to get into that book. I would suggest Nickelsburg’s and VanderKam’s translation, specifically this printing: http://www.amazon.com/1-Enoch-Hermeneia-Translation/dp/0800699106/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395152701&sr=1-1&keywords=nickelsburg+1+enoch.
It was intended for a lay audience.
Also, check out Jubilees for sure. It is related to 1 Enoch and is a rewrite of Genesis. Very fun text. The Apocryphon of Ezekiel, although very interesting as I point out in the post, is very short. We only have five fragments of the text and only fragment 1 has anything really substantial in it.
A lot of theses texts really aren’t that long, and just as long as you have a slight interest in the history of the Jewish religion (part of the history of Mormonism and Christianity), then you should find a lot of gems in them. I know LeGrand, a mutual friend of ours, really enjoys the Christian apocryphal writings, especially the Hymn of the Pearl. Those are obviously not on the list because they are not Jewish apocryphal texts.