Review: Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, edited by Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov

9780802827395Bauckham, Richard, James R. Davila, and Alexander Panayotov, eds. Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.

Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (henceforth OTPMNS1) is the first of two volumes that seek to supplement the influential Old Testament Pseudepigrapha edited by James H. Charlesworth. (For the uninitiated, the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha are a group of texts that stand alongside the Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, Philo, and rabbinic literature as one of the key sources for exploring the Jewish background[s] of the New Testament [NT].) Although the texts in this volume generally date much later than those in OTP to the extent that many of them are of dubious value for NT backgrounds proper, this is still an important publication for students of the NT.

The merits of OTPMNS are evident in the high praise it receives from Charlesworth, the editor of the volumes it augments. In the foreword, Charlesworth asserts that this collection is “high on the list of the most important publications in biblical studies over the past twenty-five years” (xi). Charlesworth himself affirms the need for a collection that goes beyond the texts included in OTP (xiii), and although he admits that “not all these texts are important for reconstructing” first century realities, he affirms that OTPMNS1 is a “treasure trove” (xv).

In an informative introduction, Bauckham and Davila trace the history of the study and publication of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and set forth some of the features of this collection. On their account, “Most of the texts in this volume and the one that is to follow have not been included in any other recent collection of pseudepigrapha” (xxvi). The texts included were chosen on the basis of five criteria (xxviii–xxx):

  1. Composed before the rise of Islam in the early seventh century A.D.
  2. Any religious origin—Jewish, Christian, or pagan (this is significant, because OTP focused on Jewish texts)
  3. Not included in other traditional collections (i.e., Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.),
  4. Not included in the volumes edited by Sparks or Charlesworth
  5. If final form was composed after seventh century A.D., must preserve or have a close relationship with earlier material

These parameters are significant, because, as Bauckham and Davila note, “importance for the study of Second Temple Judaism and the NT has not been a criterion for including texts in the collection” (xxxii). The editors instead have taken a “broader view” of the significance of the Pseudepigrapha that seems to view them as important in their own right and also for the study of Judaism, Christianity, and culture in general beyond the first century A.D. (xxxii–xxxvii). Another distinctive of OTPMNS is that it includes a number of magical texts, a type of pseudepigraphal literature that has only received scant attention in other collections. The introduction concludes with a list of texts slated for the second volume of OTPMNS.

The volume itself is divided two major sections: “Texts Ordered according to Biblical Chronology”—that is, arranged by the name of the biblical character they are associated with, in traditional canonical order (e.g., Apocryphon of Seth precedes Book of Noah), and “Thematic Texts” that do not fit this schema. As with OTP, each text receives a thorough introduction and a fresh translation by a qualified scholar. One feature that makes OTPMNS1 more accessible than OTP is the addition of an index to Scripture and ancient literature in the back of the volume itself.

With respect to the texts in OTPMNS1, the beauty is largely in the eye of the beholder. For those who (like myself) are interested primarily in the NT and Second Temple Judaism as its background, OTPMNS1 contains a number of texts that are of great value for NT studies proper. For instance, the translation of Aramaic Levi by Davila is a monumental achievement that brings the various fragments of the text together in a single English translation whose text is coded so as to show which manuscript stands behind each part of the translation. Other texts in the volume are early enough that, like some of the texts in OTP, they may reflect the first century despite being composed after it.

On the other hand, many of the texts in OTPMNS1 are of dubious value for scholars of the NT proper for any number of reasons. Some texts are extremely late. Others are not actual texts, but rather a compilation of later comments about a text that may suggest the substance of said text (e.g., Book of the Covenant). In at least one case, the translator is not sure that the text in question even existed (Apocryphon of Eber).

However, to be fair, dating and relevance to the NT are issues even for OTP, and the editors of OTPMNS are very forthright about the fact that this project is more expansive and is not focused on the New Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Scholars interested in the Bible’s reception history and Judaism and Christianity after the first century will find many of the texts in OTPMNS1 to be of great value.

Should you purchase this volume? It depends on who you are and what you are looking for. For most pastors and serious laymen, I would not recommend purchasing this volume—the time would be better spent reading OTP. For NT scholars, I believe there is enough of value here to merit buying the volume, or at the very least having your library acquire a copy. Simply be aware that although this project supplements Charlesworth, it is not OTP volume three. For scholars whose focus is on the Bible’s reception history or Christianity and Judaism after the first century, this book is required reading.

In sum, the editors of and contributors to OTPMNS1 have done all of us who study Scripture a great service by compiling these texts into such a well-crafted volume. Because of the nature of the project, OTPMNS1 will prove more valuable for some readers than others, but it is worth a look for anyone whose primary field of study is the NT or early Christianity.

My thanks to Eerdmans for the review copy.

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2 Responses to Review: Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, edited by Bauckham, Davila, and Panayotov

  1. Pingback: Eerdmans All Over: May 20, 2016 – EerdWord

  2. Pingback: Eerdmans All Over: May 20, 2016 | Grace Ji-Sun Kim

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