Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics

BOOK: Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics
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The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics


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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Ehrman, Bart D.
Forgery and counterforgery : the use of literary deceit
in early Christian polemics / Bart D. Ehrman.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 978-0-19-992803-3
1. Christian literature, Early—History and criticism.
2. Literary forgeries and mystifications. I. Title.
BR67.E37 2014

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

For J. Christiaan Beker and Bruce M. Metzger
In memoriam



1. Introduction

Forgery in the Greco-Roman World

2. Forgers, Critics, and Deceived Deceivers

3. Terms and Taxonomies

4. Forgery in Antiquity: Aspects of the Broader Phenomenon

5. Forgery in Antiquity: Motives, Techniques, Intentions, Justifications, and Criteria of Detection

Forgery in Early Christian Polemics

6. Introduction to Forgery and Counterforgery in Early Christian Polemics

7. Early Pauline Forgeries Dealing with Eschatology

8. Later Forgeries Dealing with Eschatology

9. Forgeries in Support of Paul and His Authority

10. Forgeries in Opposition to Paul and His Message

11. Anti-Jewish Forgeries

12. Forgeries Involving Church Organization and Leadership

13. Forgeries Involving Debates over the Flesh

14. Forgeries Arising from Later Theological Controversies

15. Apologetic Forgeries

16. Lies and Deception in the Cause of Truth



Index of Ancient Sources

Index of Subjects

Index of Modern Scholars


I became seriously interested in questions of literary forgery just over twenty years ago in the course of doing research for my book
The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture
. It occurred to me at the time that the scribal falsification of texts is in many ways analogous to the forgery of texts. In both instances a writer (whether a scribe or an author) places his own words under the authority of someone else. Moreover, both practices were widely discussed and condemned in antiquity. To pursue the matter, I devoured Wolfgang Speyer’s seminal treatment,
Die literarische Fälschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum
, a great book to which I have returned on a number of occasions in the two decades since. My debt to Speyer will be seen in the opening chapters of this book. It will be clear, however, that my study is altogether different, as I focus on the use of forgery in Christian polemics of the first four centuries.

Abbreviations are standard ones in the field; see, e.g., Patrick H. Alexander et al.,
The SBL Handbook of Style
(Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999), pp. 89–153.

There remains the happy occasion to thank those who have helped me in my work. As always, I am endlessly grateful to and for my wife, Sarah Beck-with, a remarkable human being, scholar, and dialogue partner, without whom my work, not to mention my life, would be immeasurably impoverished. My thanks to the National Humanities Center, which awarded me a fellowship in 2009–10, allowing me to pursue this academic passion without interruption, in the daily company of other scholars pursuing theirs. My thanks to my brother, Radd Ehrman, professor of Classics at Kent State University, for occasional help on matters of Greek and Latin literature and culture. My thanks to members of the UNC-Duke “Christianity in Antiquity” reading group (CIA), and members of the Duke-UNC “Late Ancient Studies Reading Group,” for vigorously discussing sundry aspects of the work. My thanks to Elizabeth Clark, friend and colleague in the Duke Department of Religion, and to Zlatko Ple
friend and colleague at UNC, for incisive comments and invaluable assistance on several of the chapters.

Early in my work I had the benefit of two bright and hard-working graduate students at UNC serving as my research assistants, Jared Anderson and Benjamin White. For the past three years, a massive amount of work has been undertaken with inordinate skill by Jason Combs, also a graduate student at UNC. Without his assistance, this book would have taken decades longer to write and contained thousands more errors. In the final stages, Maria Doerfler, graduate student at Duke, has joined forces and also done extensive and remarkable things, efficiently and with grace. To all of these research assistants I am deeply grateful.

I am especially indebted to three colleagues who read every word of the manuscript and made innumerable corrections and suggestions: Andrew Jacobs at Scribbs College, Joel Marcus at Duke Divinity School, and Dale Martin at Yale University. The world would be a happier place if every author had such friends, colleagues, and readers. All remaining mistakes are, alas, mine.

In the penultimate draft of the book I had determined to leave all foreign language materials cited in isolated and block quotations in their original languages, reasoning that this was, after all, meant to be a work of scholarship. My readers (all of them, actually) insisted that this was a very bad idea. I have yielded to their pleas (in this one instance) and asked the aforementioned Maria Doerfler, her of many languages, to translate the quotations (principally German, but also French and some of the Latin). She has complied in a remarkable way, and I cannot say how much I owe her. In places I have altered her translations, and the final responsibility for their accuracy (or inaccuracy) is all mine. I have resituated the original language quotations themselves to the footnotes. Unless otherwise noted, the translations of Greek texts are mine, including those of the New Testament.

Finally, thanks are due to my close friend and longtime editor Robert Miller at Oxford University Press, who has willingly and eagerly come forth from his normal world of college publishing to take on the task of editing the book.

I have dedicated the book to the memory of two of my former teachers at Princeton Theological Seminary: Bruce M. Metzger and J. Christiaan Beker. Among white, middle-class, New Testament scholars you could not find two more different human beings. But they both influenced me significantly, and they both shared my passion for learning the truth about early Christian literary deceit.



rguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature is the degree to which it was forged.
Even though the early Christians were devoted to the truth–or so their writings consistently claimed—and even though “authoritative” literature played a virtually unparalleled role in their individual and communal lives, the orthonymous output of the early Christians was remarkably, even astonishingly, meager. From the period of the New Testament, from which some thirty writings survive intact or in part, only eight go under the name of their actual author, and seven of these derive from the pen of one man.
To express the matter differently, only two authors named themselves correctly in the surviving literature of the first Christian century. All other Christian writings are either anonymous, falsely ascribed (based on an original anonymity or homonymity), or forged.

Matters begin to change with the second Christian century, even though orthonymity continues to be the exception rather than the rule. It is worth considering, for example, what Pre-Enlightenment scholars accepted as the writings of apostolic and subapostolic times.
There were the
of Clement, now known not to be works of the one who was reputedly the fourth bishop of Rome, but to be forged in his name. There were the writings of the early Pauline convert Dionysius the Areopagite, also forged. There were the letters of Paul himself to and from
Seneca, likewise forged. And there were the thirteen letters of Ignatius of Antioch, six of them forged and the others falsely and severely interpolated. When we move deeper into the second century and on into the third and fourth, we see a heightened interest in the production of “apostolic” works: Gospels by Peter, Thomas, Philip, all forged; Paul’s letters to the Alexandrians and Laodiceans, forged; Jesus’ correspondence with Abgar, forged; Apocalypses of Peter and Paul, forged. We can move backward into writings forged in the names of the greats from antiquity, Isaiah or the Sybil, or forward into the writings forged in the names of orthodox church fathers—Basil, Augustine, Jerome. The list goes a very long way.

BOOK: Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics
13.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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