Wright, Archie T., Brad Embry and Ronald Herms. Early Jewish Literature: An Anthology. 2 Volumes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 728, 256 pp. $125.00, Hb. Link to Eerdmans

This massive anthology collects examples of literature from the Second Temple Period. It goes beyond the standard collection in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. By James Charlesworth, 1983) or the more recent Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume 1 (ed. Alexander Panayotov, James R. Davila, and Richard Bauckham). By including Josephus, Philo and a wide range of Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Literature provides students with a broad overview of the massive literature of the late Second Temple Period.

The Contents

Each volume has four major units covering a specific genre. One of the editors introduces the unit with a brief overview. Volume 1 begins with Scriptural Texts and Traditions. The editors in include excerpts from Daniel, the additions to Daniel and other Danielic literature found at Qumran, the Prayer of Nabonidus (4Q242) and Pseudo-Daniel (extremely fragmentary, 4Q243-245). Although it is common to read Daniel along with the Apocryphal additions, it is unusual to see the fragmentary material from Qumran in the same context. Peter Flint provides the translation for the Dead Sea Scrolls material. This section also has a few extracts from the Great Isaiah Scroll ad three Psalms from Qumran as well as LXX Psalm 151.

The Books of Maccabees and Josephus appear under the heading of “Interpretive History” in the second section of the anthology. The complete text of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are included, but only samples from the four main works of Josephus are included. Steve Mason, one of the foremost Josephus scholars in recent years, wrote introductions for each of Josephus’s works.

The third section covers Romanticized Narrative. This includes a book normally appearing in the Apocrypha, Tobit, as well as the Letter of Aristeas, extracts from Joseph and Aseneth, and the Life of Adam and Eve.

The fourth unit of the anthology collects a number of Dead Sea Scrolls under the heading of Biblical Interpretation and Rewritten Scripture. This includes the Habakkuk pesher (1QpHab), the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q13), the Temple Scroll (11Q19-20) and several others. The section also includes samples from Jubilees and four samples from the writings of Philo.

Volume 2 opens with Wisdom Literature and Legal Texts. It is no surprise to see extracts from Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, but the editors have selected a number of examples of wisdom literature from Qumran as well as 1 Enoch. Since the editors have put wisdom and legal texts in the same unit, a sample from the Rule of the Community (1QS) with an introduction by Jörg Frey, the Damascus Document (CD) with an introduction by Cecilia Wassen, and “Some Works of the Law” (4QMMT) with an introduction and translation by James Dunn. Since this particular legal document has been used by Dunn and N. T. Wright as background to the Pauline phrase “works of the Law,” Dunn’s introduction to this somewhat controversial document will attract a attention. I think the decision to put wisdom and legal material together was a mistake; the genre are different enough to separate into two sections, allowing for additional legal texts from Qumran.

Under Apocalyptic Literature the editors have lengthy selections from the various sections of 1 Enoch, including the Book of Giants from 4Q23 (and other fragments). Only three of the Sibylline Oracles appear (books 3-5, all complete), along with extracts from Fourth Ezra and the whole of 2 Baruch.  From Qumran, the editors have a portion of the War Scroll and three fragmentary apocalypses (4Q246, 4Q521, 4Q285/11Q14), all introduced and translated by Martin Abegg.

Along with Psalms of Solomon and Odes of Solomon, the unit entitled “Psalms, Hymns, and Prayers” includes several prayers from Qumran, Hodayot (1QHa), Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice (4QShirShab), Songs of the Sage (4Q510, 4Q511), and an example of an incantation (4Q444) and exorcism (4Q560).

The final unit of the anthology covers Testamentary Literature. From the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, this anthology only includes the Testament of Levi; the Testament of Abraham and the Testament of Moses are also included. The final text in this section is The Aramaic Levi Document, often identified as the Aramaic Testament of Levi. The translation provided is based on 4QLevia and the Athos Greek manuscript.

The Introductions

There are introductions for every piece of literature in the anthology. This includes a narrative description of the text summarizing the contents of the whole document even if the word is on printed in full. Following this, the introduction deals with questions of authorship, provenance, date, occasion and a short summary of the textual history, original language, sources and transmission history. These are often extremely tentative due to the nature of most of the literature in the anthology. The author of the introduction then provides a short theology of the book. Each introduction also includes a short reception history of the book. Finally, each introduction concludes with a bibliography divided into two sections: For Further Study and Advanced. These reading lists are not exhaustive and would have been more useful if the texts and translations were moved to their own category.

Following the introduction is a translation of the text. Often these are fresh translations by the author of the unit, although occasionally the editors use a recently published translation. By way of example, I compared Brad Embry’s translation of the Psalms of Solomon (based on the Greek text rather than the Syriac) with R. B. Wright’s translation in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. As can be seen from this sample, the translation is not radically different, perhaps slightly more contemporary.

Psalms of Solomon 1 I shouted to the Lord in my utter oppression, to God during the attack of the sinners. 2 Suddenly a clamor of war was heard in my presence. I said, “He will listen to me because I was full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, because of my prosperity and the existence of many offspring.4 Their wealth was spread in all the land and their glory unto the ends of the earth. 5 They were exalted unto the stars. They said, “We will never fall.” 6 They became prideful in their good things and they did not hold to their responsibilities. 7 Their sins were in secret and I did not see. 8 Their lawlessness was greater than those nations before them; they completely desecrated the holy things of the Lord. (Translation, Brad Embry, EJL 2:572)

Psalm of Solomon 1 I cried out to the Lord when I was severely troubled, to God when sinners set upon (me). 2 Suddenly, the clamor of war was heard before me; “He will hear me, for I am full of righteousness.” 3 I considered in my heart that I was full of righteousness, for I had prospered and had many children. 4 Their wealth was extended to the whole earth, and their glory to the end of the earth. 5 They exalted themselves to the stars, they said they would never fall. 6 They were arrogant in their possessions, and they did not acknowledge (God). 7 Their sins were in secret, and even I did not know. 8 Their lawless actions surpassed the gentiles before them; they completely profaned the sanctuary of the Lord. (Translation by R. B. Wright, OTP 2: 651).

In other cases translations are drawn from recent major translations. For Jubilees, the translation is from James Vanderkam (Leuven, 1989). Portions of the section on Josephus are from the Brill Josephus Translation and Commentary series, translated by Steve Mason, Louis Feldman, and Christopher Begg. The books of 1-2 Maccabees are extracted from the New American Bible translation, although Tobit is a fresh translation by Stuart Weeks. Most of the samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls are new translations from the author of the chapter. Fourth Ezra is taken from Bruce Metzger’s translation in Charlesworth. Strangely, the Letter of Aristides and 2 Baruch are reprints of R. H. Charles published in 1931, albeit edited by Joshua Williams. The translation of 2 Baruch is supplemented with papyri fragments from Oxyrhynchus in parallel columns.


I have several comments about this anthology of Early Jewish Literature. First, it is just that, an anthology. Certainly there are other examples in virtually every category which could have been chosen. For example, the Prayer of Manasseh is not included among the Psalms, Hymns and Prayers, but an example an incantation (4Q444) and an exorcisms (4Q560) are included. OTP also included several Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers and the Prayer of Jacob and the Prayer of Joseph. For Interpretive History, EJL has only the first two books of Maccabees and Josephus. While this alone is nearly 200 pages, there is no attempt to collect the various fragmentary historians such as Aristeas the Exegete or Eupolemus. In other ways the EJL covers more than expected. EJL includes a few of the more interesting sections of 1 Enoch in the Apocalyptic section, but has nothing from 2 Enoch or 3 Enoch (as in OTP). It is quite clear this is not an attempt to re-make James Charlesworth’s two volume Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (1983).

Second, although the introductions to each book are brief, they provide the necessary information for students to read the sampled literature with some context. The bibliographies point to more detailed studies on textual or theological issues. For some works (4QMMT, Psalms of Solomon) there is an extended theology section, but compared to the introductions in OTP, even these are brief. This is simply the nature of an anthology; it is impossible to explore any given text with the kind of depth found in a monograph.

Third, by including samples from the Dead Sea Scrolls as a part of a genre is extremely valuable. It is easy enough to find collections of this material in translation, to have various apocalyptic fragments printed along with some of the usual examples of the literature is very valuable. The same can be said for separating out wisdom literature embedded in 1 Enoch and placing alongside other Second Temple wisdom.


Early Jewish Literature is a major contribution to the ongoing study of the literature of the Second Temple period. Students and scholars alike will benefit from this collection of a wide range of material. The literature collected in these two volumes are sufficiently different from the now venerable Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the inclusion of Dead Sea Scroll material makes these useful volumes indeed.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.