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Ancient Secretaries (Part 1)

I have received some comments and emails about my claims about Silvanus as a secretary (or rather, NOT as a secretary) for the book of 1 Peter, and realized it would help if I could give some more detail about what we know about secretaries in the ancient world. The following is from an excursus in my forthcoming Forgery and Counterforgery; it will come in two parts, the first today and the second, hopefully, tomorrow. If you’ve read my book Forged, the substance of what follows will be familiar; this is the slightly more whomped up version of what I discuss there.


Now that we have explored six of the Deutero-Pauline epistles, we are in a position to consider the hypothesis widely invoked by advocates of authenticity to explain how a letter allegedly by an author should differ so radically from other writings he produced. The notion that early Christian authors used secretaries who altered the writing style and contributed to the contents of a writing– thereby creating the anomalies that arouse the critics‘ suspicion – is so widespread as to be virtually ubiquitous. There is no need here to cite references; one need only consult the commentaries, not only on the Pauline corpus but on 1 and 2 Peter as well. At the same time, almost no one who invokes the secretary hypothesis sees any reason to adduce any evidence for it. Instead, it is simply widely assumed that since authors used secretaries – as Paul, at least, certainly did (Rom. 16:22; Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11) — these otherwise unknown persons contributed not only to the style of a writing but also to its contents. There is a good reason that commentators who propose the hypothesis so rarely cite any evidence to support it. The ancient evidence is very thin, to the point of being non-existent.

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Ancient Secretaries (Part 2)
Forgery. Another Deceived Deceiver (Part 2)



  1. Avatar
    Jacobus  August 3, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman, what would the impact of literacy have been on the dictation of letters? If most of the population were illiterate and each town/ village may have had its own scribe, even with limited abilities, how did it impact on the creation of the New Testament?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 5, 2012

      I’ll devote a couple of posts to the question.

  2. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 3, 2012

    By the way, stimulated by our recent state election concerning the gay marriage issue, I have been reviewing some of what the Bible says about homosexuality which is very little. I took two years of college Greek, including one year of New Testament Greek, and have a simple question about the translations from Paul: Was there, during Paul’s time, a Greek or Hebrew word that translated “homosexual”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 5, 2012

      No, there is no Greek word for “homosexual.” And there *couldn’t* be. Ancient people had no concept of sexual orientation, the way we do.

      • Avatar
        RonaldTaska  August 6, 2012

        Thanks. That confirms my understanding. I don’t think the concept of homosexuality really got introduced until the late 1800s when it was introduced by a German novelist and then picked up by a German physician. You should consider writing a book on the Biblical views of homosexuality much as you did with the Biblical views of suffering in “God’s Problem.”

      • Avatar
        trudehell  August 6, 2012

        I’d like to recommend an Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Greece, where the interested can read more detailed about Greek sexuality in the antique world.

        Reading the article reminded me of my history book in (what equals) high school, it stated that in Sparta many homosexual relationships formed because the men was separated from the women. It struck me as a student too, that this was a stupid simplification of a complex social and cultural phenomenon.

  3. Avatar
    dallaswolf  August 4, 2012

    On the topic of Peter. Is there any historically credible evidence to ever place the Apostle Peter in Corinth, let alone Rome? As I understand it, Eusebius (4th C.) used the Commentaries of Hegesippus (2nd C.) to substantiate Peter’s presence and martyrdom in Rome. And Hegesippus’ evidence was all circumstantial conjecture. Was this all a construction by the proto-Orthodox Church in Rome to legitimize itself with an Apostolic foundation it did not possess?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 5, 2012

      Well, he was probably in Corinth at some point — hence the group there that claimed allegiance with him. It’s harder to put him in Rome. I deal with the evidence in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.

  4. Avatar
    Dennis Steenbergen  August 4, 2012

    Wow, I live 20 minutes from Tübingen. 🙂


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