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Introducing the Pseudepigrapha of Second Temple Judaism [a review]

Just as there are many books written today reflecting on life, faith, and God, so too has it always been—including during the period of Second Temple Judaism (515 BC to 70 AD). Because fewer of those works have survived the centuries, and fewer still get translated, and fewer still get taught in seminaries, and fewer still receive any airtime in more popular contexts, one might be forgiven for thinking they're fairly irrelevant, but this is not the case. Furthermore, these works can come off as frankly pretty strange to the modern ear, whether because they're talking about things we're just not familiar with, or because they're writing in ways that would not fly today (such as writing in the voice of an historic figure; the word "Pseudepigrapha" literally means "writings falsely ascribed").

This is why Dr. Daniel M. Gurtner's latest work, Introducing the Pseudepigrapha of Second Temple Judaism is so salient: this literature is profoundly helpful in illuminating the thought and the faith of the Jewish community in the time leading up to and including the New Testament. Of course, it is literature unto itself, so it would be a mistake to only consider it in light of what it can teach us about something else. For whatever reason you may be inclined to pick up this book, you'll find a set of helpful introductions to various works produced during this period, divided into four categories: Apocalypses, Testaments and Testament-like documents, Legends and Biblical Expansions, and Psalms/Wisdom Literature/Prayers.

Each introduction includes a general overview, an outline, its language, manuscript history, origin, date, a brief summary of its contents, and then finally a few words on its contribution, context, and purpose. Some of these works, for example, were likely written later than they purport to be. Some of them were preserved at Qumran and are thus unambiguously earlier. Some works are only preserved in Ethiopic, or Greek, or Aramaic. Gurtner works to highlight the significance of all these various details and how they have impacted a work's reception.

It's worth noting that this present volume only contains introductions and not the texts themselves, and so if you're genuinely interested in learning more about this corpus of literature it would behoove you to pick up a copy of Charlesworth's two-volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha or something similar. This was really my only disappointment; while a surveyor of the Old Testament itself or even the Apocrypha might reasonably expect the reader to have a copy of those texts, it seems unlikely in the case of the rather more obscure pseudepigrapha (especially Gurtner's specific selections!) to have a copy on hand. It does not make what Gurtner wrote any less useful, but it makes it a bit less accessible for the pastor-theologian who is trying to do this sort of learning outside the academy in the context of a local congregation.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

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