Scripture and Its Interpretation

A Global, Ecumenical Introduction to the Bible


5. Significant Noncanonical Writings

Reviewing the Chapter

  1. What do we mean by the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha? What kinds of literature do we find among these writings, and when were they composed?
  2. What are the Dead Sea Scrolls? When, where, and by whom were they produced?
  3. What is the Nag Hammadi library? How would you characterize the contents of these writings?
  4. What is the Gospel of Thomas?
  5. What kinds of literature do we find in the New Testament Apocrypha? When and why were these kinds of writings produced?
  6. What do we mean by the Apostolic Fathers? What kinds of documents are included in this category, and when were they produced?
  7. How would you describe the significance of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi library, the New Testament Apocrypha, and the Apostolic Fathers for the study of the Bible?

Engaging a Central Issue

Respond to the following claim Christopher Skinner makes in this chapter (p. 111): “It is not enough for serious students of the Bible to know only the content of the canonical writings. We must also be aware of the vast amount of literature related to, and contemporaneous with, the Old and New Testaments.”

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Although many of the writings discussed in this chapter were in circulation at the same time as writings that became part of the canon and had an obvious impact upon developments within Judaism and Christianity, they were not included in either canon for one reason or another. How does this recognition help you in thinking about the processes that led to the eventual canonization of the Bible?
  2. Part of a contemporary Judeo-Christian religious experience is the privileging of a set of formalized sacred writings. However, it is also true that within various expressions of both Judaism and Christianity (especially Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy), ongoing traditions are also considered authoritative for faith and practice. How might this comparison assist us in thinking about the value of these nonbiblical writings for ancient Jews and Christians?
  3. Some scholars have estimated that in order to situate the Old and New Testaments in their original historical and religious contexts, one would need to be familiar with around five hundred ancient texts. How might this claim inform and/or change your approach to studying the Bible?