The Slavonic Pseudepigrapha

Andrei A. Orlov

1. Transmission of Jewish Pseudepigraphical Texts in the Slavic Milieux

The majority of the Jewish extra-biblical materials that circulated in the Slavic lands came from Byzantium which exercised an unmatched formative influence on the development of the Slavic literary heritage. An important witness to the early existence and the scope of the Jewish extra-biblical writings circulated in the Slavic lands can be found in the so-called the “Lists of the True and False Books” – the indexes of non-canonical works brought from Byzantium and then translated, revised, and incorporated in various Slavonic collections, such as the Izbornik (Florilegium) of Svjatoslav (1073). The remarkable fluidity found in these lists can be explained by the peculiarities of dissemination of the non-canonical materials in the Eastern Orthodox environment in which the apocryphal texts and fragments were not sharply demarcated from ideologically mainstream materials and were preserved alongside each other in the same collections. Many ancient Jewish documents and traditions were adopted into the framework of Eastern Orthodoxy in a new theological capacity. Thus, for example, some pseudepigraphical texts and fragments about Adam, Enoch, Noah, Jacob, Abraham, Moses, and other exalted patriarchs and prophets were often viewed as the lives of the protological saints and were incorporated in hagiographical collections.
Eastern Orthodoxy represented a literary environment in which the Jewish pseudepigraphical texts and fragments were usually transmitted as part of the larger historiographical, moral, hagiographical, liturgical, and other collections that contained both ideologically marginal and mainstream materials. In these compilations the Jewish pseudepigraphical materials were often rearranged, expanded, or abbreviated. There were several types of collections by which the Jewish pseudepigraphical documents and fragments were perpetuated in the Slavic milieu.
One type of the media that played a major role in dissemination of the Jewish pseudepigraphical traditions were historiographical compendiums known as “Palaeas” (from Greek Palaea – “ancient”). The Palaeas are historiographies in which canonical biblical stories are mixed with non-canonical elaborations and interpretations. The Slavic Orthodox literary heritage knew several versions of “Palaeas," including the so-called the Explanatory Palaea (Tolkovaja Paleja) which contained the biblical and Israelite history from creation to the reign of Solomon embellished with the apocryphal stories about Adam, Eve, Abel, Cain, Noah, Isaac, and other figures of primeval and Israelite history. Another important witness to this historiographical genre was the so-called Chronographical Palaea (Hronograficheskaja Paleja) which included the extra-canonical stories about Lamech, Melchizedek, Moses, and Solomon.
Another important category of historiographical media which served as a vehicle for the preservation of early Jewish pseudepigraphical traditions were the chronographs. This category included the Slavonic translations of the chronicles of universal history of such Byzantine authors as George Hamartolos, John Malalas, and George Synkellos, along with anonymous chronographic compilations originated in the Slavic lands on the basis of earlier sources. Similar to the Palaeas, the chronographs did not merely retell the canonical materials but compiled extensive extracanonical additions dealing with the characters of biblical and Israelite history.
Finally, the Jewish pseudepigraphical texts and traditions were also included in the various collections of moral and liturgical nature, such as the Great Menologia (Velikie Chetii Minei) and the Just Balance (Merilo Pravednoe), among others.
Given the aforementioned peculiarities of the transmission of the Jewish pseudepigraphic materials in the Christian historiographical, liturgical, and moral collections, the task of discerning the possible provenance and purposes of the original pseudepigraphic texts and fragments is made very difficult by the numerous editorial additions, abbreviations, and rearrangements. In recent years, however, several promising methodological approaches to the study of Jewish texts preserved in the Slavonic language have come to surface (Kulik, 2004). These studies help to distinguish between various levels of transmission and adaptation of the early Jewish materials in the Slavic literary environment.

2. Major Clusters of the Pseudepigraphical Materials

A classic study by A. I. Jacimirskij, which still remains unsurpassed in its thoroughness, distinguishes more than twenty clusters of pseudepigraphical works and fragments organized around major biblical characters. (Jacimirskij, 1921).
The majority of these pseudepigraphical materials were also preserved by other Christian traditions and survived not only in Slavonic, but also in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, Georgian, Armenian, and other languages of Christian East and West. Yet, among the great variety of the pseudepigraphical materials that circulated in the Slavic literary environment, several documents survived solely in their Slavonic translations. This distinctive class of writings includes 2 (Slavonic) Enoch, Apocalypse of Abraham, and the Ladder of Jacob.
2 Enoch is a Slavonic translation of a Jewish pseudepigraphon traditionally dated to the first century C.E. The central theme of the text is the celestial ascent of the seventh antediluvian patriarch Enoch through the seven heavens and his luminous metamorphosis near the Throne of Glory. The book, which combines the features of an apocalypse and a testament, can be divided into three parts. The first part (chapters 1–38) describes Enoch’s heavenly journey which culminates in his encounter with the Deity who reveals to the seer the secrets of creation. This part ends with Enoch’s return to earth where he must instruct his children in the celestial knowledge received from God and the angels. The second part (chapters 39–67) deals with Enoch’s testamentary admonitions to his sons during his short visit to earth and ends with the second ascension of the patriarch. The third part of the book (chapters 68–73) describes the priestly functions of Enoch’s family and the miraculous birth of Melchisedek, and ends with the Flood.
2 Enoch exists in longer and shorter recensions which differ not only in length but also in the character of the text, and both of them preserve original material. The majority of scholars hold the opinion that the Slavonic version was translated from Greek. The Semitisms found in various parts of the text point to the possibility of the Semitic Vorlage behind the Greek version.
The Apocalypse of Abraham, another text preserved solely in its Slavonic translation, represents a Jewish work probably composed in Palestine in the first centuries C.E. Some features of the text hint to the Semitic Vorlage, although the Greek stage of transmission should not be excluded. The Slavonic text of the apocalypse can be divided into two parts. The first part represents an aggadic elaboration of the story of Abraham's rejection of the idols. The second, apocalyptic, part depicts the patriarch's ascension to heaven where he is accompanied by his angelic guide, Yahoel, and becomes initiated into the heavenly and eschatological mysteries. According to some scholars the two parts might have originally existed independently, yet in the pseudepigraphon they appear synthesized into a coherent unity, sharing common theological themes.
The Ladder of Jacob, which has also been preserved in its entirety solely in Slavonic, circulated in the Slavonic environment as a part of the Explanatory Palaea where the text underwent extensive editing and rearrangement. Despite its afterlife inside the compendium of heterogeneous materials and its long history of transmission in Greek and Slavonic milieux, the pseudepigraphon seems to have preserved several early traditions that can be safely placed within the Jewish environment of the first century CE. Scholars propose that the Slavonic Ladder of Jacob is most likely derived from its Greek variant, which in turn appears to have been translated from Hebrew or Aramaic. The content of the work is connected with Jacob’s dream about the ladder and the interpretation of his vision.
Besides these three works available exclusively in Slavonic, the Slavic Orthodox literary heritage has preserved a substantial number of texts and fragments attested elsewhere in other languages, including Greek.
One of the most extensive clusters of the Jewish traditions circulated in the Slavic literary milieux includes materials dealing with the stories of creation and the fall of the protoplasts. The impressive bulk of materials pertaining to the story of Adam and Eve is represented by the Slavonic Life of Adam and Eve, a Slavonic version of the primary Adam books. It contains some material absent in other versions of the primary Adam books, including the story of Satan's second deception of Adam and Eve and the legend of the contract or cheirograph that Satan made with the protoplasts. The Slavonic Vita is a translation from Greek and exists in longer and shorter recensions.
Another cluster of important Adamic materials circulated in the Slavic environment includes a fragment known as the Adam Octipartite, the so-called Sataniel Text, and the Story of God's Creation of Adam. The Adam Octipartite contains the tradition about the creation of Adam’s body from eight elements. The Sataniel text is an Adamic fragment interpolated into the Russian manuscripts of the Slavonic version of 3 Baruch. It attests to the traditions of Sataniel's refusal to venerate Adam and his deception of Eve by using the serpent as a proxy. The Story of God's Creation of Adam exhibits strikingly dualistic tendencies, portraying the creation of the protoplast as the work both God and Satan.
A number of significant early Jewish traditions pertaining to the story of the protoplasts were also incorporated in the Christian Adamic writings circulated in the Slavic milieux, such as the Legend about the Wood of the Cross, the Struggle of the Archangel Michael with Sataniel, the Legend of the Tiberian Sea, the Discourse of the Three Hierarchs, and the Homily of Adam to Lazarus in the Hell. Although these macroforms have distinctive Christian features, it is clear that they contain a wealth of early Jewish pseudepigraphical traditions. The themes of creation are also reflected in the fragments Seventy Names of God and About All Creation, both published by N. S. Tihonravov (Tihonravov, 1863).
The cluster of unique traditions about the Flood is represented by the Enochic Fragment about the Two Tablets from the Historical Palaea and the Noachic narrative known as the Fragment about the Flood.
Several pseudepigraphical works preserved in the Slavic milieux are also known to scholars from their other versions in other languages. These pseudepigraphons include the Slavonic versions of the Testament of Abraham, Joseph and Aseneth, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Job, Life of Moses, Ascension of Isaiah, 3 Baruch, 4 Baruch, Apocalypse of Zosimus, Ahiqar, and the Word of the Blessed Zerubabel. Yet despite the existence of the Greek and other versions of these works, the Slavonic materials sometimes attest to more ancient readings missing in other extant translations of the documents.
There are also quite extensive clusters of works and fragments pertaining to the stories of David, Solomon, Elijah and Daniel. However the large bulk of the materials pertaining to these clusters appear to derive from later medieval Byzantine circles.

3. Slavonic Pseudepigrapha and the Bogomils

There have been a number of studies that attempted to explicate the theological tenets found in the Slavonic translations of some pseudepigraphical works, such as 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, and the Slavonic Life of Adam and Eve, through their alleged connections with the Bogomil movement, a dualistic sect that flourished in the Balkans in the middle ages. These studies argued that the large number of Jewish pseudepigraphical writings preserved in Slavonic appear to contain Bogomil interpolations (Ivanov, 1925). Some scholars have even proposed the possibility that works like 2 Enoch were composed in the Slavonic language by the Bogomils between the 12th and 15th centuries C.E. (Maunder, 1918). Recent scholarship however is increasingly skeptical of such radical proposals and generally finds little or no connection between the aforementioned pseudepigraphons and the Bogomil movement (Turdeanu, 1981; Andersen, 1987).

Andersen, F. I. 1987, "Pseudepigrapha Studies in Bulgaria," JSP 1:41-55. Böttrich, C. 1995, Das slavische Henochbuch, JSHRZ Band V Lieferung 7; Gütersloh. Gaylord, H. E. 1982, "How Sataniel Lost His '-el'," JJS 33:303-9. Franko, I. 1896-1910, Апокрiфи i легенди з украïнських рукописiв, Monumenta Linguae Necnon Litterarum Ukraino-Russicarum [Ruthenicarum]; 1-5; 5 vols.; L'viv. Ivanov, J. 1925, Богомилски книги и легенди, София. Jacimirskij, A. I. 1921, Библиографический обзор апокрифов в южнославянской и русской письменности (Списки памятников) Выпуск 1. Апокрифы ветхозаветные, Петроград; Jagić, V. 1893, "Slavische Beiträge zu den biblischen Apocryphen, I, Die altkirchenslavischen Texte des Adambuches," Denkschriften der kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-historische Classe 42:1-104; Kulik, A. 2004, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham, TCS, 3; Atlanta. Maunder, A. S. D. 1918, "The Date and Place of Writing of the Slavonic Book of Enoch," The Observatory 41:309-316. Orlov, A. 2006, From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha, SupJSJ, 114; Leiden: Brill. Petkanova, D. and A. Miltenova. 1993, Старобългарска Есхатология. Антология, София. Porfir’ev, I. Ja. 1877, Апокрифические сказания о ветхозаветных лицах и событиях по рукописям соловецкой библиотеки, Сборник Отделения Русского Языка и Словесности Императорской Академии Наук, 17.1; С.-Петербург. Pypin, A. N. 1862, Ложные и отреченные книги русской старины, Памятники старинной русской литературы, издаваемые Графом Григорием Кушелевым-Безбородко, 3; С.-Петербург. Stone, M. 1992, A History of the Literature of Adam and Eve, Early Judaism and Its Literature, 3; Atlanta. Tihonravov, N. S. 1863, Памятники отреченной русской литературы, 2 vols.; С.-Петербург/Москва. Tihonravov, N. S. 1894, Апокрифические сказания, Сборник Отделения Русского Языка и Словесности Императорской Академии Наук, LVIII:4; С.-Петербург. Turdeanu, E. 1981, Apocryphes slaves et roumains de l'Ancien Testament, SVTP, 5; Leiden.


[all bibliographical materials are excerpted from A. Orlov, From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 114; Leiden: Brill, 2007) pp. xii+481. $207.00.  ISBN 978 9004154 391]





  • Fragment “Seventy Names of God”
  • Fragment “About All Creation”
  • Slavonic Life of Adam and Eve    (English)  (English) (Russian) (Russian) (Russian)
  • The Story of God's Creation of Adam  (Russian) (Russian)
  • Adam Octipartite  (Russian) (Russian)
  • The Circle about the Tree of the Cross  (Russian)  (Russian)
  • Discourse of the Three Hierarchs (Russian)
  • The Homily of Adam in Hades to Lazarus  (Russian)
  • Sataniel Text
  • Legend about the Tiberian Sea
  • Struggle of Archangel Michael with Sataniel
  • On the Rebellion of Lucifer and Angels    (Ukranian)
  • About Lamech    (Ukranian)
  • 2 Enoch    (English) (English) (Russian) (Russian) (Russian) Latin (Part I   Part II   Part III   Part IV)
  • Enochic Fragment about the Two Tablets (English)
  • Fragment “About the Flood”  (Russian)  (Russian)
  • Apocalypse of Abraham    (English) (English) (English)
  • Testament of Abraham
  • Fragments about Melchisedek  (Russian)  (Russian)
  • The Ladder of Jacob
  • Joseph and Aseneth
  • Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
  • Testament of Job
  • Life of Moses  (Russian)  (Russian)
  • Apocryphal Fragments about David   (Russian) (Russian)
  • Apocryphal Fragments about Solomon  (Russian)  (Russian)  (Ukranian)
  • Apocryphal Fragments about Elijah
  • Ascension of Isaiah  (Russian)  (Russian)
  • 3 Baruch    (Russian)
  • 4 Baruch
  • Pseudo-Danielic Fragments
  • Apocalypse of Zosimus
  • Ahiqar    (Russian)
  • The Word of the Blessed Zerubabel  (Russian)  (Russian)  (Russian)
  • The Josippon («Истории Иудейской войны» Иосифа Флавия)  (Russian)
  • Palaea Historica
  • Interpretive Palaea
  • Palaea Chronographica
  • Голубиная Книга  (Russian)
  • Из "Шестоднева" Иоанна экзарха болгарского (Russian)
  • Повесть о Варлааме и Иоасафе (Russian)


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