In The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible (Thomas Dunne, Sept.), independent scholar Joel Hoffman (And God Said) makes key extracanonical works-- books left out of the Bible as we know it today--accessible to a general audience, showing how they can enlighten reading of the Bible and be the source of surprising insight into modern lives.
How did you become interested in the Pseudepigrapha and other texts outside the biblical canon?
I started with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Septuagint when researching my first book (In the Beginning: A Short History of the Hebrew Language, NYU Press, 2004). Once I discovered the clues those ancient sources offer about the Bible of antiquity--which my training in ancient languages and translation helped me see--I became curious about other, similar texts. It was a thread I couldn't stop pulling, but instead of destroying a garment I was exploring the original culture and context of the Bible.
How did you select the few Pseudepigraphic texts (the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Life of Adam and Eve, Enoch) you summarize in the book?
In addition to filling in glaring holes in the Bible's narrative, these three texts ask the timeless question, Why is my life like this? Each one offers a different answer. Even though there are literally hundreds of ancient texts on the Bible's cutting room floor, this trio offers a sense of what's missing from the Bible and of how much we can learn today from texts that were written 2,000 years ago.
You use the word “holy” to describe texts outside the official biblical canon. In what way are they holy, given that some were excluded for theological reasons? How does this relate to your understanding of the canon?
These texts were all written before there was a canon, and the ancient denizens of Jerusalem would be surprised we have
divided their works into "the holy canon" and "barely worth reading." The notion of a canon was largely an accidental side-effect of nascent book-making technology 2,000 years ago, which for the first time imposed size constraints on a collection of writings. Time and again, we find the Bible [as we know it today] relies on extra-biblical material, underscoring the way all of these texts were part of a single collection. For instance, the New Testament quotes Enoch, even though Enoch was later whitewashed from Christian and Jewish tradition, just as everyone "knows" that Abraham was the founder of monotheism, even though that isn't even in the Bible; it's in the Apocalypse of Abraham.
This book was written for a popular audience, though it is on a subject usually the preserve of scholars. How did you tailor it to general readers?
I tried to bring the rigors of academic research to a more flexible writing format. This freed me to focus on the most enlightening aspects of the texts that have fallen to the Bible's cutting room floor, without getting bogged down in details that might be hard for general readers to process. I think my wonderful agent Irene Goodman expressed what I'm trying to do best. In her words, the book is both "fun and academically responsible."