Davila’s Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha

James R. Davila (Professor and Dean of the Divinity School at University of St Andrews in Scotland, and host of the PaleoJudaica blog) published his The Provenance of the Pseudepigrapha: Jewish, Christian, or Other? back in 2005 through Brill. Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet appeared in a more affordable paperback edition. The hardcover edition is your standard beautifully made Brill product. One slight peculiarity is the initially off-putting page layout wherein footnotes are gathered at the bottom of the left facing page and sometimes spilling onto the right, rather than having the notes on the page, left or right, on which the noted text occurs. Also, the indented quotation blocks are strangely set off from the margin with < or > brackets, which keeps the quotation block from appearing to be indented at all, really, making it a bit of work to tell just where the quotation leaves off. Altogether, this is not the most successful, although it is certainly innovative, formatting in this book design. Appearance is one thing; substance, however, is another.

It has long been a commonplace in studies of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha to posit one work or another as “Jewish with Christian interpolations,” with the implication being that one need merely remove these interpolations to be presented with the original Jewish work. Davila turns this notion rightly on its head, providing us with something of a handbook describing a new methodology for working on provenance in this field. His recommendations should be implemented by all. They are well-considered, rooted in the reality of the literature as we have it, drawing on deep familiarity with other literature of the rabbinic and patristic heritage, and eminently logical in their presentation.

Following the usual front matter, an Introduction lays out the purpose of the book, describing its genesis in reflection on the work of Robert Kraft, among others. Davila describes the book thus:

Chapter One reviews the question of the relationship between Judaism and gentile society and religion, Christian or otherwise. It formulates a methodology and criteria (‘signature features’) for distinguishing Jewish literary works, especially pseudepigrapha, from works by others such as gentile Christians, other gentiles (e.g., polytheists, and ‘God-fearers’), Jewish-Christians, Samaritans, etc., in cases where this is possible.

Chapter Two applies an ’empirical models’ approach to the question of whether Christians wrote Old Testament pseudepigrapha whose Chrisitian origin is undetectable; that is, either works in which such undeniably Christian features in them are so few and peripheral as to tempt modern scholars to excise them as secondary redactions, or works that contain no explicitly Christian features at all. The chapter draws on ancient Christian sermons, scriptural commentaries, and poetic epics to ascertain how Christians actually handled such matters in their writings.

Chapter Three applies the methodological advances fromt he first two chapters to isolate a corpus of Old Testament pseudepigrapha that are of Jewish origin beyond reasonable doubt. Chapter Four looks at six pseudepigrapha that are widely accepted to be Jewish compositions but for which, to a greater or lesser degree, the case for Jewish origins falls short of being convincing. The works of Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus as well as the Old Testament Apocrypha are also considered briefly in Excurses to Chapters Three and Four. Chapter Five summarizes the book’s conclusions. (pp 8-9)

There follows a List of Works Cited, arranged by subject, Indexes of Modern Authors, of Foreign Words and Phrases, and of Primary Texts. Lastly there is a Contents: Detailed Table. Unfortunately, there is no subject index, the lack of which is becoming distressingly common in scholarly books these days.

In the first eight sections of Chapter One, dealing with the wide variety of possible authorial communities, Davila ably explodes the myth of a mere duality of options, Jewish or Christian. There were several kinds of Jews, several kinds of Christians, and several kinds of other groups sympathetic to either or both, much as there are today, any of which might have possessed people of sufficient education to have taken it in hand to produce a pseudepigraphon. In section nine of Chapter One, pages 64 to 71, Davila lists the signature features of boundary-maintaining Jewish groups (I wasn’t able, due to the lack of a subject index, to locate the corresponding list of signature features of boundary-maintaining Christian groups; suffice it to say it is not in this chapter), and proceeds to describe how the groups and these criteria might then combine to present us with different possibilities for authorship, undoubtedly several of which describe the origins of the pseudepigrapha we have. Chapter Two then presents some Christian works which show that Christians authors could and indeed did write on occasion extended pieces which contain no Christian signature features. Chapters One and Two are the meat of the book, where Davila elaborates his theory very convincingly. The following chapters, as described above, proceed to apply his developed methodology to various works, with the determination of some as Jewish Pseudepigrapha in CHapter Three (Aristeas to Philocrates, Second Baruch, The Similitudes of Enoch, Fourth Ezra, and others. Chapter Four presents “Some Pseudepigrapha of Debatable Origin”, which are Sibylline Oracles Books 3 and 5, Joseph and Aseneth, The Testament of Job, and several others.

This is a very helpful and important book that deserves wider readership. One can only hope that a more affordable paperback edition will soon appear so that Davila’s methodology will become more widespread. His development of each of the components of the methodology is entirely thorough and convincing, so that in coming to its application in regards to specific works, it feels almost like a letdown, it’s so simple. This is the sign of a truly well-developed theorem: a highly developed theoretical foundation is masked by an elegant method easily applied. Many thanks to Professor Davila!


  1. After a bit of hunting, I did manage to find the Christian signature features described in footnote 109 page 64: “…Christian signature features are somewhat more straightforward and would include such things as favorable mention of Jesus, the virgin birth, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the church, and the apostles; hostile references to the falling away of the Jews; and quotation from or clear allusion to the New Testament or other early Christian literature.”

    Jewish signature features are listed on page 65 (paraphrased for brevity):
    1.) A work with substantial Jewish content and strong internal evidence for having been authored in pre-Christian times.
    2.) Compelling evidence that a work was translated from a Hebrew original.
    3.) Sympathetic concern with the Jewish sacrificial cult, priesthood, temple, ritual purity, etc.
    4.) Sympathetic concern with Torah and halakhah.
    5.) Concern with Jewish national/ethnic interests.

    These Christian and Jewish signature features are, in the methodology developed in Davila’s book, key to the methodology’s success. They certainly will bear further contemplation. I’ll likely revisit them in the not too distant future.

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