RHETORIC IN THE CHRISTIAN APOCRYPHA
Richard I. Pervo
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois, USA
Two of the more cumbersome terms bequeathed to the study of early Judaism and early Christianity by the ecclesiastical tradition are “Apocrypha” and “Pseudepigrapha”. Both are judgmental; neither provides a basis for categorization. Canonicity is a valid religious norm that may erect obstacles to historical analysis. “Pseudepigrapha” has literal reference to texts issued under the name of an authority other than the actual composer of the work. “Apocryphal” literally means “hidden” and thus implies secret books quite possibly pro duced by wayward sects. In antiquity pseudepigraphy was a device for identifying the authority to which the text appealed or for making the words of a departed leader current. As a result of debates that arose in the period of the Protestant Reformation the “New Testa ment Apocrypha” are analogous to texts classified as “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha”. The works so designated are often regarded as books that aped their canonical antecedents with the object of inclusion within the Bible.
If some of the texts normally included within this category do offer challenges to the views found in the writings later judged canonical, most of them formally ignore the alleged competition. The idea that these books led an underground existence is equally erroneous. Many of the apocrypha were an important source of spiritual nurture, witness their vast contribution to Christian art. The proliferation of apocry pha in versions, abridgements, and adaptations is another testament to their vitality.
Perhaps the clearest criterion for the distinction of “apocryphal” from many other early Christian texts is generic, for this literature includes gospels, acts, letters, and apocalypses, many of which exhibit