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A Forger Who Was Caught. The Case of Salvian, Part 2



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 it significant that Salvian claims in the letter to be humble (“we are urged to avoid every pretense of earthly vainglory…. The writer…is humble in his own sight, self-effacing, thinking only of his own utter insignificance”); for Brox, the choice of the pseudonym was consistent with ascetic practices of self-abnegation that Salvian, in part, endorsed in the treatise of “Timothy.” Brox notes that on two other occasions in his writings Salvian quotes himself, both times anonymously. He chose, in other words, to keep himself, and so his name, out of the limelight.

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Autobiographical. Metzger and Me: Finishing the Dissertation
A Christian Forger Caught in the Acts



  1. Avatar
    jimmo  August 11, 2012

    I thoroughly enjoyed both parts and would love to seem more examples like this. I can’t wait until it is published.

  2. Avatar
    gonzalogandia  August 12, 2012

    Bart, quick question–I was speaking with someone about the languages spoken in Jesus’ time in Palestine, and this is what he responded: Your statement that Aramaic was the spoken language of Palestine is based on poor scholarship and outdated cultural understanding. Greek was a dominant language in Palestine at the time of Christ – even the Jews translated their Scriptures into Greek (the LXX) as an accommodation to this reality.

    Can you comment?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2012

      How funny. Well, you might ask this person where his/her more “updated” information is coming from! If you want to read about issues of literacy in Roman Palestine, the fully authoritative account is Catherine Hezser’s book, Literacy in Roman Palestine. For the question of whether Jews in Galilee spoke Greek, the books of Mark Chancey are key. The Septuagint (LXX) was not made in Palestine, and certainly was not read in rural synagogues!!

  3. Avatar
    Pat Ferguson  August 12, 2012

    It seems fortuitous, then, that Samuel Langhorne Clemens didn’t write using the pseudonym “Mark Twain” during the time of Salonius 😀
    I wonder if Salonius might have also considered Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as forgeries and called Clemens to account for the use of a pseudonym?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2012

      Ah! There’s a difference between a book written under a pen-name and a forgery. If I wrote as Marcus Batheltron, it’d be one thing; if I wrote as Stephen King it’d be another. Salvian didn’t write under a penname; he claimed to be Timothy (as of Apostle Paul fame). (We do have instances of ancient authors writing in pen names, though none among the early Christians)

  4. Avatar
    Zainab  August 14, 2012

    Hi Mr Ehrman, I received your book: ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ yesterday (finally). Where do we discuss this book?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2012

      How about here?!

      • Avatar
        proveit  August 16, 2012

        I think, Bart, that we have to send you an email with a question so you can start a discussion on a new subject. Unless there is a party going on here that I don’t know about…

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2012

          I”m not sure what you’re asking — if it is whether you can start your own thread, I think that the answer is no.

          • Avatar
            proveit  August 17, 2012

            Other forums do not allow for “off topic” comments. I wasn’t sure what was meant by your comment above to discuss your book “here,” whether you meant right here or you would start another thread. I didn’t mean to be a Butinski, I was curious about how this works. Are we suppose to just jump in with whatever questions we may have for you? (Rather like I am doing now.)

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2012

            Yup! Questions that I can answer in a line or two, I do. If they take more, I devote a full post to them, eventually.

      • Avatar
        Zainab  August 17, 2012

        Cool, no probs:)
        I am a BIG FAN of your work & have high regards for your passion for disclosing the realities of the Bible to the general public….I can appreciate that this must be a tough job.

        While I am reading through the pages of ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ I noticed in your introduction that you state:

        “But as a historian I think evidence matters. And the past matters. And for anyone to whom both evidence and the past matter, a DISPASSIONATE consideration of the case makes it quite plain: Jesus did exist.” (capitals mine)
        “Possibly many readers will wonder why a book is even necessary explaining that Jesus must have existed. To them I would say that EVERY historical person, event, or phenomenon needs to be ESTABLISHED.” (capitals mine)
        “From a DISPASSIONATE point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth.”(capitals mine)
        (pages 6,7)

        Firstly, I totally agree with you that Jesus of Nazareth EXISTED! No doubt about that:)

        My question to you Mr Ehrman is that are you willing to look OUTSIDE THE SQUARE for non-Christian sources that you have not covered in your book, from a DISPASSIONATE point of view?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2012

          I don’t believe there are any ancient sources of any kind that I have not examined. If they are not in my book it is because I don’t think they are historically valuable. (Are you about to ask me to consider the Qur’an? That’s usually where conversations like this are heading, in my experience!) (Although some suggest the Book of Mormon) (or the Talmud).

          • Avatar
            Zainab  August 20, 2012

            Thank you for your reply Mr Ehrman,

            I was asking you a question based on your statements made in your book : ‘Did Jesus Exist?’ .

            Well, as you just stated that there are ‘other’ sources such as the Qur’an, Book of Mormon & the Talmud.

            You have covered the Talmud/Jewish perspective about Jesus in your book.

            I have personally studied the Bible & the Qur’an. I have not studied the Book of Mormon as yet.

            I am just going off your statements made in your book as to what Historians and Scholars SHOULD be doing in regards to uncovering the historical Jesus:

            “But scholarship NEEDS to proceed on the basis of EVIDENCE and ARGUMENT, NOT on the basis of what one would LIKE to THINK.”
            (page 143) (Capitals mine)

            “There is no God-given way of interpreting God-given literature, even if such literature exists” (page 72)

            “But I personally love the Bible.” (and you go on to explain why)
            (page 36)

            “But I am also a historian who THINKS that it is important NOT to promote revisionist versions of the past for ideological reasons rooted in non-historical agendas. The writing of history SHOULD be done by following strict historical protocols. It is NOT simply a means of promoting a set of PERSONAL LIKES and DISLIKES.”
            (page 338) (Capitals mine)

            In light of the above, would you consider devoting a post to the ‘other’ sources that DO EXIST for the historical Jesus such as the Qur’an? Book of Mormon would fall into ‘Christian sources’ if I am not wrong.


          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 20, 2012

            Yes, I think historians need to look at all the evidence. I believe I have done so. If you think I have missed something, let me know. But I will say up front that I do not think the Qur’an provides us with any independent informatoin about Jesus (although of course it says some things about him).

  5. Avatar
    Zainab  August 21, 2012

    Thank you Mr Ehrman for your reply.
    Well as you personally love the Bible and love reading it, teaching it, talking about it, in the same way I personally LOVE the Qur’an. I love reading it, teaching it, learning about it and talking about it.
    So I could ask you several questions in regards to the statements recorded in the Bible (and I will) but from my perspective, you will need to understand that the Bible can ONLY be fully understood and appreciated (or depreciated) from the views of the Qur’an. For you will NEVER be able to grasp what is going on in the Bible WITHOUT the Qur’an as the criterion (as it calls itself) because the glasses you are wearing (not literally) are only LIMITING you to a closed perspective however the glasses that I am wearing (& I don’t wear glasses) clearly shows me THE WHOLE PICTURE and it’s BEAUTIFUL! 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Zainab  August 21, 2012

    p.s & you don’t have to be a Muslim to be able to read the Qur’an or talk about it…..just in case you thought that was the case 🙂

    • Avatar
      acatic  August 27, 2012

      Salam, Zainab.

      Would you not say that the Qur’an is a criterion for actual believing Muslims, as opposed to having purely historical merit on the subject of Jesus’ existence? How would one actually go about substantiating the Qur’anic points on this in a historical discourse?

      In his works, Bart went through great effort to segregate ideas that were “nice-sounding”/”hopefully true”/”very likely” with those that could be historically substantiated through documented research referring to sources as close to the subject as possible. This effort was evident in his treatment of the resurrection narratives in writing and debates: while Christians like William Lane Craig would seem to bring heavy evidence of “reasonable belief” in the resurrection, Bart would still defend that the resurrection is not historically provable, even though the gap might have been narrowed.

      So, while for Muslims the Qur’anic narratives give general statements and pointers, and are “nice-sounding”/”hopefully true”/”very likely”, can that be transformed into tangible historical documentation somehow? Any advancement in that would be well-received.

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