Conversation with Dr. Jared W. Ludlow
What exactly is the Pseudepigrapha?
The Pseudepigrapha is a modern collection of texts that deal with Old
Testament figures but are probably written after the time of the Old
Testament. For example, there is the Testament of Abraham, the Testament
of Adam, the Apocalypse of Isaiah, and others. They do have some connection
with the Old Testament but are probably later texts.
How do we read the Pseudepigrapha, and how much can we trust it?
Most scholars do not accept them as real Old Testament events or teachings.
Their real value is that they give us a glimpse of Jewish groups, probably
from later periods, who looked back on these historical figures in certain
ways. I personally think there were stories about the Old Testament
figures that were passed down orally and eventually written down. Perhaps
the Pseudepigrapha preserves some of these stories. Of course, identifying
which stories are authentic is very difficult from a historical perspective.
One fact is that when certain figures have certain stories continually
told about them, it seems that that story might be traced back to that
What is the use, if any, of the Pseudepigrapha for a Latter-day Saint
The Pseudepigrapha can be interesting to an LDS audience because some
of the accounts are similar to what we find in the Pearl of Great Price.
In these texts we see Abraham and Enoch doing more things than we have
elsewhere in the Bible. Of course, there are far more stories in the
Pseudepigrapha concerning events that we do not have in the Pearl of
Great Price. But there are some similar stories, so I believe an LDS
audience would find the stories interesting. For the academic world
the Pseudepigrapha is interesting because it gives us light into different
Jewish thoughts and practices. For example, the texts could come from
Egyptian Jews or Palestinian Jews. They could come from the second century
BC or the first century AD. So we see a much larger picture of ancient
Judaism when we really do not have many other texts to go by.
Many of the texts are written in very obscure languages such as Old
Slavonic and Ethiopic. What does their existence in these languages
say about their veracity and usefulness?
The presence of multiple languages shows that these texts were popular
and were passed down by many different groups of people. The early Christians
gravitated toward these texts, and they preserved many of them. A challenge
is to figure out what has been added by Christians and what may go back
to early Jews or the earliest Christians. But to find these texts in
Slavonic and Ethiopic and Arabic and Greek shows that they were being
read, used, translated and copied. They had quite a life among the different
The title of your dissertation is "Abraham Meets Death: Narrative
Humor in the Testament of Abraham." In short, what is humorous in
the Testament of Abraham?
My dissertation analyzes the two versions of the Testament of Abraham.
There is a long version called Recension A and a short version called
Recension B. The question that scholars have debated is what the relationship
is between the two versions. One takes the character of Abraham and
portrays him in a humorous fashion. This is a different Abraham than
we would expect from the Genesis account. Instead of Abraham being the
example par excellence of obedience, he keeps refusing things.
In the story he is about to die and therefore needs to make a last testament,
bless his son Isaac, settle his affairs, and come up to heaven. But
he keeps refusing to follow the messengers who are sent by God to take
him up to heaven and does not end up blessing Isaac. (Interestingly,
this follows the Genesis account where there is also no blessing for
Isaac). Recension A portrays a sneaky, disobedient Abraham more than
Recension B. Finally Abraham is tricked by the character Death, who
then takes his soul away. Recension B seems to react against this portrayal
of Abraham by making him look more like the Abraham in Genesis. He still
does not do some things, but in Recension B there are reasons why he
does not do them. In Recension B he is not being crafty like he is in
A. In fact, even in the margins of the manuscripts of Recension A the
medieval copyists wrote in things like "This is false! He can’t
be doing this!" So my dissertation looks at how it seems that the
more original Recension A is a play on Abraham, whereas Recension B
reacts against it and changes it.
And how is the Testament of Abraham specifically helpful to an LDS audience?
This specific text is less helpful than some of the other Pseudepigrapha.
One interesting aspect is that in the story Abraham is taken up into
the heavens and is basically given a vision of the judgment scene. Here
there is probably Egyptian influence because we see many elements that
are similar to those in Egyptian accounts of the judgment as well as
the vignettes, the pictures, that go along with it. So there is an element
of Abraham knowing more and seeing the heavens. But there are other
texts, such as the Apocalypse of Abraham, that have more echoes of themes
found in the Pearl of Great Price.
About how many records are there in the Pseudepigrapha?
There are more than a hundred including still unpublished texts and
In the Old Testament, what is one of your favorite sections to teach?
I would have to say Genesis because I like to see how these stories
get told later in the Old Testament and then again in the Pseudepigrapha
and even in the New Testament on down. Philo comments on Genesis and
the Creation. I like to see how it gets interpreted later on as it passes
on down through the centuries.
What are some projects that we can look forward to seeing from you soon?
I have been working for several years on a world history textbook that
I started when I was teaching at BYU–Hawaii. I can finally start to
see the light at the end of the tunnel on that project. Also, I hope
to do some more work on the Book of Mormon.
What other advice do you have for us as we study the Old Testament?
Dr. Ludlow: See the characters as real people. Realize and try to understand the challenges they face and the faith that they exhibit in God. I think the faith that they had in their covenants is very applicable to us. They were very strong covenant-making people, as we should be today. Our lives may seem like light-years apart. We do not herd sheep, wander in the wilderness, or conquer other peoples—but their devotion to the covenant and their faith in God is still applicable in our lives.