External Texts

A bibliographical summary of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.


1 Esdras (also known as 3 Esdras): A retelling of three parts of the biblical narrative: the Josianic Passover of 621 BCE (based on 2 Chronicles), and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Tobit: An account of Tobias and his trip from Nineveh (to where the family was exiled after the Assyrian conquest of 722 BCE) to Media. Guided by the angel Raphael, Tobias weds a woman whose previous husbands had been killed by a demon. The couple (and Raphael) then returns to Nineveh to cure Tobit, Tobias’ father, of blindness.

Judith: Set in the concluding years of the First Temple (destroyed in 586 BCE), Judith saves the inhabitants of a besieged fortress, Bethulia, from the enemy general Holophernes. Judith seduces Holophernes and murders him.

Esther: The Septuagint’s Esther includes six passages not included in the Tanakh. These include: (1) a description of how, exactly, Mordechai saved the king’s life; (2) the specifics of Esther’s appeal to Ahashverosh; (3) the text of the king’s decree to kill the Jews; (4) the text of the king’s letter reversing his decree and requesting support and defense for the Jews; (5) a prayer uttered by Mordechai; and (6) a prayer uttered by Esther.

Daniel: The Septuagint’s Daniel includes three passages not included in the Tanakh. These include: (1) a prayer uttered by Azariah and a poem by Shadrakh, Meshakh, and Abednego from their experience in the oven; (2) a story about Susanna, a righteous woman saved by Daniel when she is falsely accused of adultery, which also serves as a way of introducing Daniel as a paragon for wisdom, even at an early age; and (3) tales of Daniel proving the illegitimate claims of false gods.

Baruch: Ascribed by the text to Baruch, the prophet Jeremiah’s scribe, this work includes the Jews’ confession of their sins (notably the ill-fated rebellion against the Babylonians that led to the destruction of the First Temple, the exile to Babylonia and, for all intents and purposes, the end of the first Judaism) and an assertion that wisdom rests with God and that God’s people will be returned to their land.

Letter of Jeremiah: Presented as a letter by Jeremiah to the early exiles of 597 BCE, this letter condemns pagan worship.

Ben Sira: An anthology of wisdom literature (not dissimilar from the canonical Proverbs). This literature–as in its other variants in the Jewish tradition–provides practical advice on ethically living one’s life (with other people, with one’s family, in business, et al.) and ascribes the advice to an historically involved God, doling out reward and punishment. Wisdom is seen to be embodied in the Torah.

Wisdom of Solomon: An argument against idolatry, wisdom here, instead of embodied in Torah, is seen here as an emanation from God (perhaps related to Philo’s conception of the logos).

2 Esdras (also known as 4 Ezra): Ezra is given information, from the angel Uriel, of the coming eschaton during which all evildoers will be destroyed. The only work of the Apocrypha that is completely apocalyptic.

1 Maccabees: An historical account of Judea from 175 to 134 BCE, including the political context that sparked the Maccabean revolt and the revolt itself. Attention is focused on the exploits of Judah the Maccabee and his family (notably Jonathan and Simon, two of his brothers) and their successful attempt (for a time) to reestablish Jewish sovereignty.

2 Maccabees: An epitome of a longer historical work by Jason of Cyrene, the scope of this historical work is limited to the events leading up to the revolt and the career of Judah (to his death in 160 BCE).

3 Maccabees: Though not accepted by all to be part of the Apocrypha, this work recounts–with themes clearly borrowed from Esther–the persecution and subsequent deliverance of Egypt’s Jews.


1 Enoch (also known as the Ethiopic Enoch): This and the other works entitled Enoch are based on the character from Genesis who was a direct descendent of Adam and an ancestor of Noah. A long work (105 chapters) based on the description of how God “took” Enoch (as opposed to Enoch “dying,” the language of the rest of the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11), this work imagines Enoch on a tour of the heavens, the divine punishment in store for sinners and the complementary reward for the pious, a discussion of the heavenly hosts, assorted visions, revelation of astronomical data in which are preserved the secrets of the world, and a history of the world through the flood.

2 Enoch (also known as the Slavonic Enoch): An account of Enoch and his descendants’ lives before the flood, including Enoch’s journey through the heavens and an early history of the world (though in this instance not including the flood itself).

Jubilees: A free re-write of the entirety of biblical history from Genesis 1 through Exodus 12 (where God gives the commandment for the Passover offering). The book is obsessed with numbers, framing its chronology in periods of the sabbatical (7-year) and jubilee (49-year) periods, and introducing a solar calendar with fixed dates for the Jewish festivals. The work, perhaps introducing a theme later picked up extensively by rabbinic literature, emphasizes the observance of Jewish law by pre-Mosaic biblical characters. This focus is enhanced by the context in which the author places the narrative, namely in an angel’s mouth to Moses on Mount Sinai (at the theoretical moment that law is introduced and required to the Israelites).

Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs: This work consists of testaments written by the twelve sons of Jacob to their children, building off Jacob’s poetic (and cryptic) blessings to his own children at the end of his life. In each of the individual testaments, the life story of the presumptive author is retold. Additionally, each is framed by the positives and negatives of that life and the predicted positives and negatives of the tribe to which this specific son of Jacob gives his name. All focus on allegiance to the descendants of Levi and Judah.

Letter of Aristeas: A piece of wisdom literature clearly emerging from the Hellenistic-Jewish world, it is placed in the pen of Aristeas, a non-Jewish official in the court of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who ruled Hellenistic Egypt for most of the first half of the third century, BCE. Seemingly a report on the Hellenistic effort to translate the Torah, it recounts the famous (and undoubtedly not-factual) anecdote of the 72 Jewish scholars sent to Alexandria who each produced the same translation.

4 Maccabees: Another work clearly rooted in the Hellenistic-Jewish approach to the world, this work frames Judaism in the context of Platonic and Stoic philosophy. As it recounts the pain and persecution of the martyrs of the Maccabean revolt, it espouses a Judaism based on Hellenistic reason over (presumed) Jewish passion.

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