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Pseudepigrapha (also Anglicized as "pseudepigraph" or "pseudepigraphs") are falsely attributed works, texts whose claimed author is represented by a separate author, or a work "whose real author attributed it to a figure of the past." The word "pseudepigrapha" (from the Greek: ψευδής, pseude, "false" and ἐπιγραφή, epigraphē, "name" or "inscription" or "ascription"; thus when taken together it means "false superscription or title"; see the related epigraphy) is the plural of "pseudepigraphon" (sometimes Latinized as "pseudepigraphum").
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 an 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 Old Testament 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 (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 biblical Apocrypha, a name that is also used for the pseudepigrapha in the Catholic usage. In addition, two books considered canonical in the Tewahedo churches, viz. 1 Enoch and Jubilees, are categorized as "pseudepigrapha" from the point of view of the Chalcedonian churches.
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 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".
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. 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 Tanach or the New Testament.
Protestants have also applied the word Apocrypha to texts found in the Roman Catholic and Eastern 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 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 sects. 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.: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. There is also a category of modern pseudepigrapha.
Examples of books labeled Old Testament pseudepigrapha from the Protestant point of view are the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, Jubilees (both of which are canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Beta Israel sect 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:
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.:p.225–226
In contrast to most writings termed pseudepigraphical, all 13 of the letters attributed to Paul are still considered canonical. All of them are still part of the Holy 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. 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. However, since not all scholars are in agreement regarding the authorship of certain letters, theologian Felix Just prefers to distinguish between the "undisputed" letters and the "disputed" ones, thus avoiding the term "pseudepigraphical".
Authorship of six of the Apostle Paul's letters has been questioned by some scholars, according to E.P. Sanders. The six disputed epistles are Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. They internally claim to have been written by Paul, but that assertion has been questioned by most scholars. These letters are sometimes referred to as deutero-Pauline letters meaning "secondary letters of Paul".
Theologian Felix Just says about 80% of scholars agree that four of the disputed epistles were not written by Paul himself, but by one of his followers after his death. However, Just reports less agreement among scholars concerning two of the generally disputed epistles. He estimates only about half of scholars dispute Paul's authorship of 2 Thessalonians and Colossians.
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.:p. 225–226
Examples of other New Testament pseudepigrapha that were not included in the New Testament canon are the Gospel of Peter and the attribution of the Epistle to the Laodiceans to Paul. They are often referred to as New Testament Apocrypha. 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".
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: