In the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, a number of books are mentioned that are otherwise unknown and for which there is little information regarding their content, scope, date, and function in antiquity. Many such ancient writings were lost, no doubt when communities were destroyed during wars or natural disasters such as fires and floods. Persecutions of Jewish (1 Macc 1:54–57; cf. 2 Macc 2:13–17) or Christian communities could also lead to loss of sacred texts. During the first empire-wide persecutions of Christians led by the Roman emperor Decius (250–251) and subsequently Diocletian (303–313), Christian sacred books were sought out and destroyed (see McDonald 2006, pp. 300–314; see also Eusebius, H.E. 8.2.1–5). It is estimated that only about one percent of approximately 500,000 Christian texts produced in antiquity have survived intact (Hurtado 2006, p. 25), and a similar proportion no doubt is also true of Israelite and early Jewish texts.

Sacred Writings and Canon.

Some of these lost ancient texts appear to have functioned in an authoritative and perhaps sacred fashion for some Jews and Christians before they were lost to history. The processes leading to the formation of the Bible culminated after the separation of Jews and Christians in the second century C.E. (McDonald 2006). Books not selected generally fell into disuse and were discarded. The high cost of reproducing ancient manuscripts by hand must have had something to do with abandoning documents no longer considered sacred. Jews and Christians recognized in antiquity the value of sacred religious books, but the limitation of those sacred books to the ones that now make up the Bible was a later development. For some Jews, their fixed collection of sacred books emerged near the end of the first to the middle or end of the second century C.E., but for many of them, especially the Diaspora Jews living in the Greco-Roman world who spoke only Greek or Latin, the fixing of the books that constituted their sacred scriptures took several centuries more (McDonald 2009, pp. 13–14, 57–60). For Christians, the final definition of their sacred collection of books took place in the fourth to sixth centuries C.E., although complete agreement on their Old Testament scriptures has never happened. In light of this, it is clear that the term “lost books of the Bible” is simply a convenient reference for books mentioned in the Bible, not necessarily books that were consciously excluded from the fixed sacred collection that make up the Bible. The books discussed below are among those known in antiquity, but no longer available for critical examination.

Lost Books.

The first mention of a book in the Bible occurs when Moses was given a divine command to write a record of the Amalekite war (Exod 17:14). It is not clear whether that book was an antecedent to one or more of the Pentateuch or Torah books. Some books were not lost so much as rejected by Jewish or Christian communities or both and they fell into disuse and were finally discarded when their message was no longer deemed relevant in those religious communities.

Most of the ancient manuscripts that have survived were discovered in dry climates such as Egypt or the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea in Israel where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1952. One such book, 1 Enoch, was largely unknown in the Western world until the late 1800s, when it was discovered in a version in the Geʾez language of Ethiopia, where it served as a part of the Ethiopian biblical canon. It is cited in the New Testament (Jude 14) and has many parallels in New Testament writings (e.g., Matt 19:28; 25:31, etc.) and the early church fathers as, for instance, in Justin Martyr 1 Apologia 2:5 (cf. 1 En. 7; 8:9; 15:8, 9); Tatian, Oratio adv. Graecos 18.20 (cf. 1 En. 8:3; 6:6; 15:8, 9); Athenagoras, Legatio pro Christianis 24, 25 (cf. 1 En. 6, 7, 13:5; 15:3, 8, 10; 60:15–21); Minucius Felix, Octavius 26 (1 En. 8; 15:8–12; 16:1; 19:1); Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 1.2.1 (1 En. 10:13–14); 1.8.17 (1 En. 7:1; 8:1); and elsewhere. It was obviously a popular book in antiquity and portions of the 108 chapters that make up the five tracts of 1 Enoch were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls also provided scholars with a number of other previously unknown books.

Books Mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.

Book of the Wars of the LORD (Num. 21:14).

This is the first titled book mentioned in the Bible. The citation suggests that it was a poetic collection containing songs of Israelite deliverance from their enemies with divine help (Harrison 1990, pp. 280–281; Kraft 1962, vol. 2, p. 803). This brief citation is introduced with the words “it is said,” suggesting some recognition of its popularity and even perhaps authority among the Israelites of that time.

Book of Jashar.

This ancient and likely well known source is cited twice, quoting Joshua's request that the sun and moon stand still (Josh 10:12–13), as well as in conjunction with David's lament over Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:18–27), and possibly also in Solomon's words of dedication of the Temple (1 Kgs 8:12–13). In 1 Kings 8:53, following the dedication of the Temple, the Septuagint (LXX) translation includes the words: “Is not this written in the Book of the Song?” In Hebrew the words šîr (“song”) and yāšār (“upright”; Eng. “Jashar”) are similar, and the LXX may be referring to the same book cited in Joshua and 2 Samuel. Like “the Book of the Wars of the LORD,” “the Book of Jashar” was probably a collection of popular ancient heroic songs or poems. (Kraft; Gray 1986, pp. 108–109).

Annals of the Kings of Israel and Judah.

There are some fifteen references to “Book of the Annals [lit., “book of the deeds of the days”] of the Kings of Judah” in 1 and 2 Kings (1 Kgs 14:29; 15:7, 23; 22:45; 2 Kgs 8:23; 12:18; 14:18; 15:6, 36; 16:19; 20:20; 21:17, 25; 23:28; 24:5) and eighteen references to Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel (1 Kgs 14:19; 5:31; 16:5, 14, 20, 27; 22:39; 2 Kgs 1:18; 10:34; 13:8, 12; 14:15, 28; 15:11, 15, 21, 26, 31). These “Annals” or “Chronicles” were probably a summary of accounts of the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah that were considered authoritative information for the author of Kings. Among the kings of Israel, only Jehoram, who was killed by Jehu, and Hoshea, who was deposed and exiled to Assyria, are not mentioned as being in these royal records. Also, among the kings of Judah, only Ahaziah (also killed by Jehu), Jehoahaz (deposed and exiled), and Jehoiachim and Zedekiah (both deposed) are not mentioned in these records. When these records or annals were written is unknown, but they may have been a continuous account composed during or shortly after the reigns of each king. The authors of 1–2 Kings suggests that they used authoritative sources that were available to their readers (Cogan 2000, p. 343).

Book of Acts of Solomon (1 Kgs 11:41).

This work, similar to the Annals of the Kings of Judah and Israel, may be similar to the records or lists of Solomon's officials and administrative districts (1 Kgs 4:1–19), including building programs (1 Kgs 9:15–19). Since Solomon's wisdom is also mentioned, this record was likely biographical and may have come from the wisdom circles at the court of Jerusalem (Cogan, pp. 88–95). Such material as the accounts of Solomon's wisdom and wealth (1 Kgs 3:5–14; 5:9–14; 10:14–25), inventories (7:41–45), reports (11:14–25), stories (3:16–27), a poem (8:12–13), and a late legend (10:1–13) may have been included in the “Book of the Acts of Solomon.” That other sources existed some two centuries after Solomon can be seen in Proverbs 25:1, which mentions that “other” proverbs of Solomon were copied by the officials of King Hezekiah, possibly for educational purposes (Cogan, p. 91). The book is introduced with the words: “Are they not written in the book,” which suggests an authoritative record of Solomon's reign.

Chronicles.

It is unclear if the references in 1–2 Kings to the royal records are the same as those cited in 1–2 Chronicles. In Chronicles, there are several references to the “Book of the Kings of Israel” (1 Chr 9:1; 2 Chr 20:34) and other similar titles such as the “Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” (2 Chr 16:11), the “Annals of the Kings of Israel” (2 Chr 33:18) and the “Book of Kings of Israel and Judah” (2 Chr 27:7; 35:27), as well as the “Annals of Jehu the son of Hanani ‘which are recorded in the Book of the Kings of Israel’ ” (2 Chr 20:34). These all suggest that as in other ancient nations, records of Israel's and Judah's national leaders and their activities were officially maintained. For example, the accusation against the Jews and their city reported in Ezra 4:15 indicates that such records were kept by the Persian rulers (“annals of your ancestors”). The recognized authority of these records can be inferred from the kinds of appeal that are consistently made to them at the end of brief descriptions of the kings in the above passages, as well as by the reference to a “Commentary on the Book of the Kings” (2 Chr 24:27). Such records were also kept of other prominent persons such as religious leaders, as in the “Book of the Annals” (Neh 12:23). References to these lost documents considerably outnumber references to other books. We should note that these sources are only noted for the kings who met with the Chronicler's approval, and the books referred to there may in some cases be adaptations of the books mentioned in 1–2 Kings, but they may also be different books altogether (Rogers 2006, pp. 490–491).

Books Attributed to Prophets.

There are several lost books mentioned in Chronicles that are attributed to persons who held titles of prophet or seer, which presumably also had authoritative status. We find, for example, the reference to “a book written by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz containing the history of Uzziah” (2 Chr 26:22), which may refer to the Chronicler's knowledge of the biblical book of Isaiah, though there are only three short references to Uzziah in the biblical book (1:1; 6:1; and 7:1) and nothing like a “history of Uzziah.” It is also possible that the reference to the “vision of the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz in the Book of Kings of Judah and Israel” (2 Chr 32:32; cf. Isa 1:1) is a reference to the biblical book.

Other books mentioned in Chronicles that apparently were considered authoritative include three prophetic sources that legitimized the reports of the Chronicler. The first is the “Records of the seer Samuel” (1 Chr 29:29) which is likely a reference to the Samuel of 1–2 Samuel who is called a “seer” (1 Sam 9:9, 11, 18, 19; 1 Chr 26:28) and a prophet (1 Chr 17:1). A second source for the account of the activities of David is the “Records of the prophet Nathan” (1 Chr 29:29; 2 Chr 9:29; 2 Chr 29:25) who is most likely the one who confronted David about his sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam 7; 11:1–27; 12:1–15; 1 Chr 17) and intervened on behalf of Solomon's accession to the throne of Israel (1 Kgs 1). The third is the “Records of the seer Gad” (1 Chr 29:29, cf. 1 Chr 21:9 and 2 Sam 24:11). He is also called a seer in 1 Chronicles 21:9 and 2 Samuel 24:11 as well as a prophet in the latter text. For the reign of David the Chronicler appears to have had access to other documents as well; for example, 1 Chronicles 11:41–47; 27:25–31, which have no parallels in 1–2 Samuel (Japhet 1993, 516–517).

Besides these, the Chronicler refers to the “records of the prophet of Shemiah and of the seer Iddo, recorded by genealogy” for information on Rehoboam (2 Chr 12:15). Iddo is mentioned subsequently, saying that the acts of Abijah are written in the “story of the prophet Iddo” (2 Chr 13:22). Iddo is also mentioned as a source for the account of Solomon's reign (2 Chr 9:29). Iddo saw the end of Solomon's reign and was a contemporary of Rehoboam and Abijah. Josephus calls Iddo a “man of God,” another title of prophets, with reference to 1 Kings 13:1 (see Antiquities 8.4.5); see also the disparaging remarks about Iddo who “transgressed his own teaching” in t. Sanh. 14.15, and Pesikta de Rab Kahana, Sheklim 82–5; see Japhet, pp. 644–645, 682–684). Likewise, the acts of Manasseh, along with the “words of the seers” are recorded in the “Annals of the Kings of Israel” (2 Chr 33:19) which may reflect the importance of seers and prophets.

Laments.

A different type of book is mentioned in connection with the “Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah.” The laments over the death of Josiah mentioned in 2 Chronicles are “recorded in the Laments” (35:25). This does not refer to the biblical book of Lamentations, since there are no references to Josiah in it.

Other Books.

In his distribution of land, Joshua sent three men from each of the tribes of Israel to journey through the land that was about to be apportioned to the remaining seven tribes and he asked them to write down in a book a description of the land (Josh 18:8–10). Samuel also is described as writing in a book the rights and duties of the kings of Israel (1 Sam 10:25).

There are some “seventy” other books besides the twenty-four Jewish sacred books mentioned in 4 Ezra (2 Esdras) 14:44–45, but they are not identified in that book, though they were deemed worthy to be read by the “wise among your people” and in them “is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and also the river of knowledge.” It is likely that at least some of these books were apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings, some of which survived antiquity, but many did not, like the case of pseudonymous Eldad and Modad written in the names of the prophets mentioned in Numbers 11:26–30 and cited in early Christian literature (Herm. Vis. 2.3 and possibly in 1 Clem. 23:3–4 and 2 Clem. 11:2–4).

Books Mentioned in the New Testament.

Gospels.

The author of the Gospel of Luke indicates that “many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us” and that he too purposes to write an “orderly account” of the story of Jesus (1:1–4). What other “accounts” he has in mind cannot be determined, but the many parallels with the Gospel of Mark suggest that Mark is one of his sources along with “Q” (for Quelle, German = “source”), the source that Luke and Matthew have in common, but Luke suggests “many” other such attempts. What were these other sources and how were these other writings viewed in early Christianity? Papias, bishop of Hierapolis in the early second century C.E. mentioned not only Mark's Gospel, but also an early form of the Gospel of Matthew that existed in Hebrew or Aramaic called ta logia or “sayings” of Jesus (see Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 3.39.14–15). It is likely that other sources about Jesus also existed in antiquity. According to Eusebius, citing Irenaeus (Haer. 3.1.1), “Matthew published among the Hebrews a written gospel also in their own tongue” (Hist. eccl. 5.8.2). Most scholars agree that this work is not the same as the Gospel of Matthew, but what it was is not clear. Was it the Gospel According to the Hebrews that was rejected by the ancient churches?

Letters Attributed to Paul.

Colossians 4:16 mentions a letter of Paul to the Laodiceans. It no longer exists, and so its contents are unknown, but it was likely similar to other letters of Paul that address the theological and practical needs and concerns of the churches. An apocryphal letter titled the Epistle to the Laodiceans attributed to Paul first appears in the fourth century C.E., and is found in many Latin biblical manuscripts from the sixth to fifteenth centuries.

Likewise, because Paul mentions a previous letter (1 Cor 5:9) and subsequently a “tearful letter” (2 Cor 2:1–4) to the Corinthians, another apocryphal letter known as 3 Corinthians (ca. 170 C.E.) emerged perhaps to fill a perceived gap or to address a specific problem in the churches of a later date and it also was attributed to Paul. Although 3 Corinthians is not mentioned in the New Testament, it has had a long history of more than a thousand years in the church, especially in Latin and Armenian churches. Given Paul's practice of writing to churches that he founded or wanted to visit, it is likely that other letters may have existed but have been lost.

Many biblical scholars think that 2 Corinthians is a composite letter written by Paul on several occasions and it is possible, given the severity of 2 Corinthians 10–13, that this is the letter Paul referred to in 2:3–4. Consequently, 2 Corinthians may contain several separate letters from Paul that were compiled into one longer letter later on, perhaps after his death or even by Paul himself.

At the very end of 2 Timothy (4:13), its supposed author Paul asks Timothy to bring his cloak, books, and above all the parchments. It is not clear what books are referred to here. Perhaps the books were biblical books, collections of sayings of Jesus, or notes from churches.

Acts 19:19.

This passage refers to residents of Ephesus who had converted to the Christian faith gathering a large numbers of books (presumably pagan religious books) and burning them publicly. What these books were is unknown.

Agrapha.

A possible indicator of lost books is derived from sayings of Jesus commonly called the agrapha, that is, sayings of Jesus found outside of the canonical gospels and mostly in ancient noncanonical books, ancient manuscripts, and citations of the early church fathers. Some of these sayings may have been rooted in oral tradition, but some were included in written texts. For example, the Gospel of Thomas preserves a number of sayings that may well reflect teachings of the historical Jesus, but some of that material may have been included in earlier Christian writings that circulated in what are now lost books (cf. Luke 1:1–4).

Other Christian Books.

Besides the books mentioned above, many other books circulated in the early churches that were eventually excluded for various reasons from the Christian canon. Most of these were written in the names of well-known apostolic figures and in the form or genre of other New Testament writings. Most survive only in fragmentary form and many were discovered in modern times. They were lost for much of church history. (See further Apocrypha, subentry New Testament.)

Assessment.

Books that we now classify as lost were sometimes popular among Jews and Christians in antiquity and for reasons noted above many of them were lost or discarded. Some ancient books did not have a continuing viability or practical function in the Jewish or Christian communities, and so ceased functioning as sacred literature. For this reason, considerably fewer copies of noncanonical ancient religious writings have remained than copies of the canonical writings.

Catalogues or lists identifying sacred scriptures for churches date from the fourth century to as late as the mid-ninth century C.E. and show that the scope of the Christian Bibles was not as firmly fixed in some churches as in others at that time. See, for instance, the so-called Stichometry of Nicephorus (ca. 850 C.E.), a catalogue with three categories of religious books, namely those accepted or recognized, those “spoken against,” and those “apocryphal” or rejected religious books for churches. Such catalogues identify both the sacred and rejected books for various churches dating from the first part of the fourth century C.E., and also some of the “lost books” no longer deemed useful by the majority of ancient churches (McDonald 2006, pp. 439–451). Had there been no continuing use of the so-called “rejected books” in various churches, there would have been no need to list them as spoken against or rejected. Some of these rejected books are no longer available for scrutiny, but some of them are (McDonald 2009, pp. 67–69).

Both Jews and Christians had many books circulating among them that later ceased functioning as sacred literature in their communities, or were destroyed by natural disasters or others means. Some of these books have resurfaced in modern times and aid considerably in our understanding of the social context of early Judaism and early Christianity. More of these books may well be discovered in libraries, museums, or even ancient refuse heaps in the Middle East, Europe, or Africa.

[See also APOCRYPHA, subentry NEW TESTAMENT; CANON, subentries HEBREW BIBLE, OLD TESTAMENT, and NEW TESTAMENT; 1 AND 2 CHRONICLES; 1 AND 2 KINGS; LUKE, GOSPEL ACCORDING TO; MATTHEW, GOSPEL ACCORDING TO; PAUL, LETTERS OF; and PSEUDEPIGRAPHA.]

Bibliography

  • Christensen, Duane L. “Book of Jashar.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary 3:646–647. New York: Doubleday, 1992. A helpful discussion of the Book of Jashar and its likely setting and uncertain but possible contents.
  • Cogan, Mordechai. 1 Kings: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 10. New York: Doubleday, 2000. This is an excellent commentary on 1 Kings that also focuses careful attention on the various lost books referred to in this book and the possible contents and use of such writings in antiquity.
  • Gray, John. Joshua, Judges, Ruth. New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986. Offers a careful discussion of reference in Joshua 10:12–13 to the Book of Jashar.
  • Gray, John. 1–2 Kings: A Commentary. 2d rev. ed. Old Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster, 1970. An older but still useful discussion of the lost books mentioned in 1–2 Kings, especially those related to the Kings of Israel and Judah.
  • Hamilton, Victor. Handbook on the Historical Books: Joshua—Esther. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001. A very helpful volume that addresses the historical concerns related the biblical books and has a discussion of the various lost books referred to in the Samuels, Kings, and Chronicles.
  • Harrison, R. K. Numbers. Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1990. A brief but valuable discussion of the Book of the Wars of the Lord and its likely contents.
  • Holladay, J. S. “The Day(s) the Moon Stood Still.” Journal of Biblical Literature 87 (1968): 166–178. This essay deals with not only the lengthening of the day in Joshua's battle, but also the Book of Jashar and what it likely focused on, namely songs and poetic descriptions of the victories of Israel over its enemies.
  • Hurtado, Larry W. The Earliest Christian Artifacts: Manuscripts and Christian Origins. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cambridge, U.K: Eerdmans, 2006. A study of the kinds of manuscripts used in antiquity and the physical aspects of the ancient texts themselves. Hurtado shows the relevance of this study for understanding early Christianity and the books that they welcomed as sacred scripture.
  • Japhet, Sara. 1 and 2 Chronicles: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1993. A carefully written commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles that also deals carefully with the non-canonical writings referred to in them. Her positions are sound and well argued.
  • Klein, Ralph W. 1 Chronicles: A Commentary. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006. One of the better commentaries on 1 Chronicles, it offers an important alternative to contemporary views about the Books of the Kings mentioned in that volume.
  • Kraft, C. F. “Book of Jashar.” In Interpreter's Bible Dictionary, 2:803. Nashville and New York: Abingdon, 1962. A brief but helpful description of the background and possible contents of the Book of Jashar.
  • Marshall, I. Howard. The Pastoral Epistles. International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999. A useful commentary that also discusses the “books and parchments” of 2 Timothy 4:13 in helpful detail suggesting that these are references to biblical books or list of sayings of Jesus and possibly communications with Paul's churches.
  • McDonald, Lee Martin. The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2006. This volume discusses the many questions and issues related to the origin of the Bible, including the presence and function of books not included in the biblical canons of the Jews and Christians.
  • McDonald, Lee Martin. Forgotten Scriptures: The Selection and Rejection of Early Religious Writings. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2009. A helpful investigation of the books that at one time influenced early Judaism and early Christianity, but eventually ceased that function and were lost or discarded.
  • Millard, Alan. “Authors, Books, and Readers.” In The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, edited by J. W. Robertson and Judith Lieu, 544–564. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. A useful study of the origin of books in the ancient world and their influence on the Jewish and Christian communities. Millard briefly discusses some of the lost books mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.
  • Quinn, Jerome D., and William C. Wacker. The First and Second Letters to Timothy: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary. Eerdmans Critical Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 1995. A careful discussion of the reference to Paul's request for the “books and especially the parchments” that suggests both the carrying of biblical books in a codex format and possibly also notes that he used in his mission such as lists of sayings of Jesus.
  • Rogers, Jeffrey S. “Books Referred to in the Bible.” In New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 1:489–491. Nashville: Abingdon, 2006. A helpful brief article on the various books mentioned in the Bible but are not lost.
  • Taylor, William R., and W. Stewart McCullough. The Book of Psalms. Interpreter's Bible Commentary, vol. 4:17–763. New York and Nashville: Abingdon, 1955. These authors give a careful exposition of Psalm 40:7 that clarifies what book is intended, namely either the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 6:6) or a heavenly book that is mentioned elsewhere in the Psalms. They opt for the latter.

Lee Martin McDonald