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An Ancient Author Trying to Justify His Deceit

Yesterday I talked about one Christian forger who got caught red handed who had to explain himself.  Well, justify himself.  Well, bend over backwards to make himself look innocent.  We’ve been seeing a lot of that these days.  It goes way back.  Humans are humans.

Here is my assessment of the situation, not in terms of our own front-page news but in terms of this obscure little controversy, which highlights my obscure little academic point: in the ancient world, readers simply did not *like* it when they found out someone had written a book claiming to a be a famous person.  They condemned it.  That should be borne in mine when thinking of other instances of the phenomenon, such as those found in far more familiar books from the early Christian tradition.  (And this is the point the riles a number of my scholar friends, who just can’t *believe* ancient authors would do something deceitful….)

I’ll start this post with a bit from the end of the previous one, to remind you about it.  If you didn’t read the other, you may want to do so quickly to make better sense of this one.


Given this confession of motivation, what Salvian claims next may seem a bit surprising, if not down-right duplicitous. Why did he choose the name Timothy in particular? Readers naturally took the name to refer to Paul’s Pastoral companion, hence Salonius’s distraught reaction. But in clear tension with his earlier assertion that an unknown person would not be accepted as an authoritative source, Salvian claims that he chose the name purely for of its symbolic associations. Just as the evangelist Luke wrote to “Theophilus” because he wrote “for the love of God,” so too the author of this treatise wrote as “Timothy,” that is, “for the honor of God.” In other words, he chose the pseudonym as a pen name.

Despite the fact that many critics today continue simply to take Salvian’s word for it, the explanation does not satisfy. If Salvian meant what he said, that the reason for choosing a pseudonymous name was to authorize the account – since a treatise written by an obscure or unknown person has no authority – then how can he also say that the specific pseudonymous name was not that of an authority figure (Paul’s companion Timothy) but of an unknown, obscure, and anonymous person intent on honoring God?

Scholars determined to follow Salvian’s lead in getting him off Salonius’s hook have pursued various angles. Norbert Brox thinks …

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How Views of the Afterlife Changed
A Christian Forger Caught in the Act



  1. Avatar
    AstaKask  August 12, 2019

    So are there any false Bart Ehrman articles out on the net?

  2. Avatar
    godspell  August 12, 2019

    Where do Plato’s dialogues fit into this continuum of forgery?

    Plato did know Socrates. He was present for some of the conversations he presents to his readers, but was presumably not a trained stenographer, and I don’t know of any serious Socratic scholar who believes any of the dialogues are fully or perhaps even largely accurate transcriptions of what was said, or that Plato was not in many cases putting his own ideas in the mouth of his teacher. The final dialogues, surrounding the trial and execution of Socrates, occurred when Plato (for damned good reason) was nowhere nearby (disciples are such inconstant creatures, wouldn’t you say?) The same goes for Xenophon’s Apology, relating to the trial of Socrates, though some believe this is more accurate.

    Plato does not present Socrates as the author of the dialogues (was Socrates in fact illiterate?), but at no point does he issue a disclaimer regarding the words and ideas he is presenting as being those of his teacher. While it can be questioned what authority the name of Socrates had in the larger civilized world prior to the dialogues being published, it was certainly still a name to conjure with in the circles Plato was originally trying to reach.

    Was Plato in any sense a forger? After all, if you present a check written out in your own hand that requires an endorsement, and you forge said endorsement, you would be no less guilty.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 13, 2019

      No, he’s not a forger because he did not write books claiming to be Socrates. He wrote books claiming to be Plato (which he was). Now he did report speeches of Socrates, that Socrates did not actually give. Those would be “fabrications” not “forgeries.” I try very hard to keep the terminology distinct and consistent, otherwise it leads to confusion. Both fabrication and forgery are practiced a good bit, and some people might look askance at them. But they are different phenomena.

      • Avatar
        godspell  August 13, 2019

        Fair enough. Though both are lies, of course.

        Plato wouldn’t have been a forger, because he had too large an opinion of his writing skills (justified, I think we can say) to want to attribute them to anyone else.

        But people still spent centuries thinking this is what Socrates said and believed, and probably some of it is, but some is clearly not, and Plato wanted Socrates’ reputation to bolster acceptance of his own ideas. Posterity took it literally until scholarship stepped in. I’m not sure Plato would have had a problem with people thinking his dialogues were reality.

        (I have some problems with Plato. And probably Socrates, but since he never seems to have written anything down, and we know him almost entirely through Plato, who can say?)

  3. Avatar
    brenmcg  August 12, 2019

    Did he just introduce the work as “by timothy” or did he try to put other evidence within the text? eg “I timothy write this with my own hand”

    • Bart
      Bart  August 13, 2019

      No other claims in this text. Forgers go about it in a wide range of ways, using various techniques. I have lengthy discussions of this in my book Forgery and Counterforgery, if you ware interested in pursuing it.

  4. Avatar
    AlbertHodges  August 12, 2019

    I have two questions about all of this:

    1) Is it possible that the so-called academic and/or theological acceptance of “forged” writings changed over the centuries? There were a LOT of changes in society, including Christian and Roman society during those intervening years.

    2) I believe that the acceptance of the canonical texts did depend on the idea that they were authentic to the early Church Fathers when considering their canonical status. However, and this is a theological question maybe rather than a scholarly one, but do modern scholars today hold that the ancient texts in questions HAVE to be written by the claimed author to be considered inspired/authoritative?

    I would appreciate you thoughts and insights on this.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 13, 2019

      1) Do you mean did they used to “approve” it and then later “disapprove” of it? That’s what the historian looks into deeply, to detect ancient understandings/judgments of the phenomenon. We today do have different understanidngs of authorship/copyright/ and so on. But ancient people did regularly disapprove of the practice. 2) Inspiration and authority of texts are questions for theology. Historians cannot say whether books have to be authentic to be inspired or authoritative — that’s a judgment not based on historical grounds put personal.

      • Avatar
        AlbertHodges  August 13, 2019

        Thanks for replying. I always appreciate your wisdom and knowledge.

        A few weeks ago, I watched the I Love Lucy Show, an episode in which Ricky spanks Lucy to punish her. In some circles, treating your wife as a child was acceptable, even funny or considered a duty. Today, such behavior would be considered abusive. That episode was about 70 years ago.

        I am just curious if there was something cultural about the ancient Hebraic approach to expressing beliefs from a particular vantage point and whether or not the use of pseudepigraphic writing was considered acceptable? The book of Enoch, like you pointed out with the letter of James, are two examples that come to mind.

        I just wonder if these were acceptable in that Hebraic and more ancient culture than in the later Western minds?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 14, 2019

          Yeah, I know. How times change…. But that’s exactly the kind of thing a historian looks at: were there *some* times and places where a practice was acceptable? Forgery: doesn’t appear to have been; it’s pretty uniformly condemned when talked about in antiquity, in different locales in different periods.

  5. Avatar
    Brand3000  August 16, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    What do you think about the debated integrity of 2 Corinthians, and are there any other undisputed letters by Paul where integrity is an issue?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 16, 2019

      I personally think it is made up of five letters. Maybe I should post on this. The other major instance is Philippians, which I think is made up of two.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  August 17, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Do you think that these are the distinct parts of 2 Cor.? I put this chart together and was hoping to use it as a guide if you say it is correct:

        2 Cor. Chapters 1-7 (Minus 6:14-7:1 as likely interpolation)
        2 Cor. Chapter 8 (collection appeal to Corinth)
        2 Cor. Chapter 9 (collection appeal to Achaia)
        2 Cor. Chapters 10-13 (Paul Defends His Ministry, Paul vs. False Apostles, Paul writes about the persecutions he suffered)

        • Bart
          Bart  August 18, 2019

          Yup. and I think 10-13 was the *first* of the letters to be written. Some people count the interpolation a fifth letter, but probalby not by Paul.

      • Avatar
        Brand3000  August 17, 2019

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Do you think that these are the distinct parts of Phil.? I put this chart together and was hoping to use it as a guide if you say it is correct:

        Letter 1: Chapters 1 and 2 of Philippians: (Paul writes of his optimism in the face of death, section also includes the Christ-Poem.)

        Letter 2: Chapters 3 and 4 of Philippians: (Paul warns the Philippians about traditions getting in the way of a Christ-centered salvation. He writes of a resurrection that will transform the body. Paul Thanks the Philippians for Their Gifts.)

  6. Avatar
    Pattylt  August 16, 2019

    Is this the same gentleman that made the statement…It was for the love of Paul? Or, was that another forged piece?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 18, 2019

      That was about the Acts of Thecla, and the author was not claiming to be Paul (it is written anonymously); the person who made up the stories apparently admitted he had done so (but that’s fabrication of material, not a false authorial claim; he was admitting a different kind of fraud)

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