The word pseudepigrapha means “falsely attributed” so technically pseudepigraphical books are ancient Jewish books that bear the name of an author who didn’t actually compose them. Entitling a work after the name of a famous person was a common practice in the ancient Near East. The pseudepigrapha are Jewish religious writings dating from around 300 B.C. to A.D. 300. Pseudepigraphal books were never accepted into the Hebrew canon or Christian canon. To say that in another way: the pseudepigrapha contains works that never made it into any official Bible—Christian or Jewish. Among the many works considered to be pseudepigrapha are: Apocalypse of Abraham, Books of Adam and Eve, Apocalypse of Adam, Book of Enoch, Books of Giants, and Testament of Solomon.
Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha?
The use of the terms pseudepigrapha and apocrypha can be confusing for the following reasons:
- There is overlap between the terms because a book can be in both categories if it is falsely attributed and not accepted into the canon such as the Apocalypse of Adam.
- While the term pseudepigrapha technically refers to false attribution, it is usually used in a broader sense to refer to those ancient Jewish religious books not accepted into any canon.
- The use of terms apocrypha and pseudepigrapha varies among the different branches of Christianity. For example, Catholics may use the term apocrypha to refer to what Protestants call the pseudepigrapha. Why? The Protestant Apocrypha is fully a part of the Catholic Bible. So instead of calling these books Apocrypha, Catholics label these books deuterocanonical meaning they were fully accepted into the canon after the other biblical books. (While the Eastern Orthodox Church doesn’t view these books as having the same status as the other biblical books, they also include these books in their Bibles and label them deuterocanonical. The Eastern Orthodox Church also uses the Greek word anagignoskomena for these books which means “worthy to read.”) Since Catholics don’t label these books apocrypha, the term apocrypha is available for use and they use it for the books not in their canon—the pseudepigrapha. (The word canon means the official list of books acknowledged as Scripture.) So the books Protestants call pseudepigrapha are called apocrypha by Catholics. Because the term apocrypha may refer to the pseudepigrapha, sometimes the adjective biblical precedes apocrypha (e.g. biblical apocrypha) to clarify that the deuterocanonical books of the Catholic or Orthodox Church are in view.
- Early Christian writings that are falsely attributed, such as the Gospel of Peter, are also labeled pseudepigrapha giving us a New Testament Pseudepigrapha (or New Testament Apocrypha) to go along with the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha that extends into the Christian era.
In summary, in scholarly circles and in the Protestant world, the term apocrypha refers to the biblical apocrypha or the deuterocanonical books. All other ancient Jewish religious writings not found in any canon are usually labeled pseudepigrapha. However, for those who accept the apocryphal books and place them in their Bibles (Catholic and Eastern Orthodox), the books Protestants label as apocrypha are labeled deuterocanonical or anagignoskomena. In that case, the term apocrypha may then be applied to the books Protestants call the pseudepigrapha. (Sorry, I know that sounds confusing, but that’s the best I can do for now.)