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

By Bart D. Ehrman
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication Date: March 20, 2012
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0199928037
ISBN-13: 9780199928033
Format: Hardcover, 624pp
Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 2 inches
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Book Description

Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature,” writes Bart Ehrman, “is the degree to which it was forged.” The Homilies and Recognitions of Clement; Paul’s letters to and from Seneca; Gospels by Peter, Thomas, and Philip; Jesus’ correspondence with Abgar, letters by Peter and Paul in the New Testament–all forgeries. To cite just a few examples.

Forgery and Counterforgery is the first comprehensive study of early Christian pseudepigrapha ever produced in English. In it, Ehrman argues that ancient critics–pagan, Jewish, and Christian–understood false authorial claims to be a form of literary deceit, and thus forgeries. Ehrman considers the extent of the phenomenon, the “intention” and motivations of ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish forgers, and reactions to their work once detected. He also assesses the criteria ancient critics applied to expose forgeries and the techniques forgers used to avoid detection. With the wider practices of the ancient world as backdrop, Ehrman then focuses on early Christian polemics, as various Christian authors forged documents in order to lend their ideas a veneer of authority in literary battles waged with pagans, Jews, and, most importantly, with one another in internecine disputes over doctrine and practice. In some instances a forger directed his work against views found in another forgery, creating thereby a “counter-forgery.” Ehrman’s evaluation of polemical forgeries starts with those of the New Testament (nearly half of whose books make a false authorial claim) up through the Pseudo-Ignatian epistles and the Apostolic Constitutions at the end of the fourth century.

Shining light on an important but overlooked feature of the early Christian world, Forgery and Counterforgery explores the possible motivations of the deceivers who produced these writings, situating their practice within ancient Christian discourses on lying and deceit.

Editorial Reviews

“The quality is very high; it is very thorough and well-researched. … Ehrman has produced a learned and engaging survey of early Christian controversial literature from the vantage point of authorial identity and rhetorical deceit, asking why Christians lied about themselves when writing polemical works and why scholars are so resistant to acknowledging their forgeries. … There is no other major scholarly study in English that tackles this subject with such thoroughness, and its usefulness to students of early Christian literature will be undeniable. … There is no comparable work in English on forgery. … I also think general readers will pick it up and find it fascinating. … The prose is solid, the arguments are clear and effective, and the significance of this study is undeniable.” –Andrew Jacobs, Associate Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Scripps College

“The book is excellent. It will make an enormous impact on the field of New Testament studies and also studies of pseudepigraphy in the ancient world. … The book will make a huge contribution to the field. There are comparable books in German, but this one goes beyond them all. And it will be the only thing of its kind in English.” –Dale B. Martin, Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University

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