Biblical Pseudepigrapha in Slavonic Traditions

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Alexander Kulik, Sergey Minov
  • London, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , December
     224 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The book of the famous scientists Alexander Kulik and Sergey Minov is the first collection of Slavic pseudepigrapha translated into one of the Western European languages, in this case, into English. We are talking about the only eight texts which survive in the Church’s Slavic language: 1) “About all creation,” 2) “The Creation of Adam,” 3) “Adam’s Contract with Satan,” 4) “The Tale of the Tree of the Cross,” 5) “The Appeal of Adam to Lazarus in Hell,” 6) “The Sea of ​​Tiberias,” 7) “About the Ark,” 8) “The Ladder of Jacob.” The authors themselves indicate that in their book they want to fill the gap between the textual studies of pseudepigraphic texts and introduce them into an interdisciplinary discussion about the intercultural interaction of ideas and motives.

This book consists of an introduction and eight chapters, each of which is structured in the same format: a brief description of the content of the pseudepigrapha; dating and questions of origin are discussed along with language and textual integrity of the pseudepigrapha; parallels to other ancient and medieval texts are shown; a brief overview of the preceding texts is given; and manuscripts, critical publications, translations into contemporary languages and secondary literature are highlighted.

When Slavonic texts are given with English translation uniformity is not always maintained—sometimes the translations are given in parallel (1, 2, 2a, 3, 5), while others are given consistently (4, 6, 7, 8). This is the first English translation for two of the pseudepigrapha. It should be noted that the authors offer both of the combined translations for several of the redactions as well as the individuals, if the redactions differ greatly. The authors relied on the original manuscripts for their translations.

The Slavonic text is given in a simplified form, that is, with the inscription of literal titla—superscript letters—in lowercase text, while simple titla—the symbols of abbreviation—are left intact. In addition, the original diacritics and punctuation of the manuscripts are not reproduced. When necessary, the authors restore the damaged text, either based on other manuscripts or through context. Intervention in the source text is marked either by different kinds of brackets or an italic font. These markings make this edition less attractive for Slavic scholars who specialize in paleography and the history of Slavonic Church language, but do make it more accessible to the wider range of readers who are primarily interested in the content of the texts.

The authors provide a detailed and circumstantial commentary focusing primarily on the history of the detached motifs of each pseudepigrapha. At the same time, they find parallels in the motives of the Slavic pseudepigrapha in unexpected places—Old Irish, Scandanavian, medieval Latin, Arabic and Armenian mythology and texts as well as Zoroastrian sources—indicating the extremely deep familiarity the authors have with their subject. At points, the authors also suggest an East Slavic origin for some of the pseudepigraphic texts.

There is an impressive bibliography with books in more than ten languages and three indexes.

The text of the author's research is, at times, a little overloaded with information that—in my opinion—the reader of such a work should already be familiar with, such as the indication of the lifespan of John Chrysostom (100). In addition, most readers will likely have a Bible at their fingertips, making only references are necessary rather than full quotations. Citations from the works of ancient authors, even if lengthy, are quite appropriate considering such texts are still not translated into English. However, this is a matter of taste.

The index of names and subjects is incomplete, for example, the lack of an entry for John Chrysostom—mentioned on page 100—and some names are missing completely—George Humnos and Euthimius Zigabenus, as examples.

One key point of concern is regarding version B of the pseudepigrapha “Adam’s Contract with Satan.” I want to note that the parallelism of Adam's weeping (verses 3-5) with the content of the stichera for “Glory” in the Cheesefare Sunday “Adam sat before the gates of Eden...” The contemporary liturgical texts in the Byzantine tradition are mainly devoted to the theme of the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. This parallelism was made by the authors without paying attention to both the corresponding chapter, and in the chapter “The Sea of Tiberias,” where two additional versions of the legend of “cheirograph” (contract) are given.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Illya Bey is professor of patristic studies at the Kiev Theological Academy in Ukraine.

Date of Review: 
July 7, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Alexander Kulik is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of German, Russian and East European Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He held visiting positions at Harvard, Moscow State University, University College London, Stanford, Freie Universitaet Berlin. Kulik authored two books: Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha3 Baruch: Greek-Slavonic Apocalypse of Baruch, and edited the collected volume History of the Jews in Russia: From Antiquity to Early Modern Period with Zalman Shazar Center and Gesharim. Kulik has founded and headed the Brill book series Studia Judaeoslavica.

Sergey Minov has completed his doctoral studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, specializing in the history of ancient Judaism and Christianity, apocryphal literature and biblical exegesis.


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