Constructing Orthodoxy with Apocrypha: Jubilees in Epiphanius' Panarion

In the writings of early Christian theologians appear several geographical and onomastic details from Jubilees, a text designated by early Christians as “apocryphal.” This appellation should not be read as a pejorative dismissal of its authority, as modern use of the term implies. Rather, apocryphal for early Christianity meant simply that—hidden, not non-canonical. The existence of authoritative hidden books was prevalent in early Christianity, continuing earlier Jewish traditions. The Book of the Watchers might be called a proto-apocryphal text. Although fated to remain “hidden and ignored,” the author did not self-consciously construct the text as a source of hidden wisdom. By the first century CE, authors used the concept of apocrypha self-consciously. 4 Ezra described the restoration of twenty-four public books, plus seventy others designated only for “the wise among your people.” Josephus mentioned the Essenes possessing secret books, only for the eyes of members. The early Christians maintained this tradition of apocryphal books and Jubilees, appropriated into the Christian tradition, belonged to this category. Prompted by his predecessors, Epiphanius made prolific use of Jubilees in his Panarion, using no other non-canonical texts other than the Wisdom of Solomon to support his own arguments. However, by framing the text as a source of public not secret wisdom, Epiphanius rejected a brick that was part of the original building of Christianity—the acknowledged existence and approved use of authoritative hidden books, while Gnostics made this brick the cornerstone of their movement. In contrast to Gnostic texts’ claims of secrecy and elitism, Epiphanius’ Jubilees was a public text. On the religious market, Genesis alone could not compete with detailed Gnostic creation myths. As Gnostic secret texts embellished the Genesis creation story, Epiphanius quotes Jubilees as a viable public alternative to Gnostic details of creation and apocryphal became synonymous with non-canonical.