12 votes, average: 4.75 out of 512 votes, average: 4.75 out of 512 votes, average: 4.75 out of 512 votes, average: 4.75 out of 512 votes, average: 4.75 out of 5 (12 votes, average: 4.75 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...

Did Ancient Secretaries Actually Compose Writings? A Blast from the Past

Here is the third (and last) post on the use of secretaries in the ancient world, in which I discuss the issue of whether illiterate people (like Simon Peter, or John the son of Zebedee) could have had someone else write their books for them – so that 1 Peter *could* in some sense actually be by Peter if he couldn’t write, or the Revelation of John be by John.  These three posts are all blasts from the past, reruns from exactly four years ago on the blog.  Here is what I said back then about secretaries.

**********************************************************************************

THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF MY PREVIOUS POST ON SECRETARIES IN THE ANCIENT WORLD, DRAWN FROM MY FORTHCOMING BOOK FORGERY AND COUNTERFORGERY. IN THE EARLIER POST I TALKED ABOUT THE USE OF SECRETARIES IN TAKING DICTATION AND DOING LIGHT COPY-EDITING, BASED ON THE FINDINGS OF THE FULL STUDY OF RANDALL RICHARDS. THE DISCUSSION IS RELEVANT TO THE WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: COULD 1 PETER, OR EPHESIANS, OR ANY OF THE OTHER PSEUDEPIGRAPHICAL WRITINGS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT HAVE BEEN PRODUCED BY SECRETARIES RATHER THAN THEIR REPUTED AUTHORS?

****************************************************************************************************

It is Richards‘ third and fourth categories that are particularly germane to the questions of early Christian forgery. What is the evidence that secretaries were widely used, or used at all, as co-authors of letters or as Ersatz composers? If there is any evidence that secretaries sometimes joined an author in creating a letter, Richards has failed to find or produce it. The one example he considers involves the relationship of Cicero and Tiro, cited earlier by Gordon Bahr as evidence for co-authorship. In Bahr’s words „Tiro took part in the composition of the letter.“ But Richards points out that Bahr cites no evidence to support this claim, opting instead simply to assert the conclusion. Moreover, there is nothing stylistically in the Ciceronian correspondence to suggest a co-authorship. Richards concludes that at most Tiro sometimes engaged in „minor corrective editing.“ What is most odd in Richards‘ discussion, however, is the conclusion that he draws, once he discounts the evidence of Cicero, the one and only piece of evidence he considers: „Evidently then, … secretaries were used as co-authors.“ It is not at all clear what makes this view „evident,“ given the circumstance that he has not cited a solitary piece of evidence for it.

FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, LOG IN AS A MEMBER. If you don’t belong yet, JOIN!!

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.

 


What Do We Call It? Coming Up with a Book Title.
Does a Person Need the Holy Spirit to Interpret the Bible? Is John’s Gospel Accurate? Readers Mailbag August 7, 2016

31

Comments

  1. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  August 8, 2016

    I have always wondered what was lost in the library of Alexandria.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2016

      Me too!!!

      • Josephsluna
        Josephsluna  August 9, 2016

        Maybe knowledge they didn’t want most people to know. Maybe the knowledge still exist, but to a certain few. Like the Freemason symbol. The perfect circle tool! Freemason tools!

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  August 8, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, the sense I got from reading your book Forged is that the actual forgers believed that, although they knew that they were not the persons who claimed to be composing the documents within the document itself, they were still writing in the spirit (so-to-speak) of those persons. So, for example, Peter himself may not have written 1 and 2 Peter (indeed, Peter was not even in the same country, let alone the same room as the writers of 1 and 2 Peter) but the forgers believed that they were writing “in the spirit” of Peter. That is to say, the forgers believed that, were the Apostle Peter standing over their shoulders as they crafted the forgeries, Peter would be approving every word of it. I think this speaks more to the general conceit and chutzpah of the die-hard faithful than it does to any intentional dishonesty or deception on their part.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2016

      It depends what you mean by “in the spirit.” Some scholars have argued there was an actual sense of the inspiration by the “spirit” of another, in an almost trance-like state. I certainly don’t think that. But if you mean that someone wrote what they thought they other person would have written had they had the occasion to do so, then in that sense I think that something like that sometimes (not always) is what was going on.

    • Avatar
      Kirktrumb59  August 9, 2016

      Have a look at: Saint Matthew (aka Saint Matthew and the Angel) by Guido Reni.

  3. Avatar
    hmltonius  August 8, 2016

    On the claim the Gospels can be proven to be historically accurate by demonstrating accounts of miracles, you’ve pointed out that, even if true, historians cannot do so as miracles are defined as the least probable event while historians are tasked with arriving at best explanations based on the most probable information. Grand Slam except that most fundamentalist appear to disagree with dictionary definitions of miracles. I find they have a very low threshhold for what constitutes a miracle, including the miracle of day to day prayer with the creator of the universe, and probably feel sympathetic to the constraints placed on you as a historian from arriving at the truth. Could you possibly in a future post talk about miracles and how (most Christians?) view them today?

    • Avatar
      hmltonius  August 8, 2016

      I should have differentiated low threshold miracle claims, like a tree branch not falling on you when you were sitting there moments before, from the example of having a direct hotline to a god, which would fit a dictionary definition of the term.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2016

      Interesting idea! Thanks.

  4. Avatar
    Pegill7  August 8, 2016

    On what basis did Bruce Metzger make his claim that First Peter was written by the Apostle Peter?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2016

      He just didn’t see much reason to doubt it, and I think he supposed that a secretary did the actual writing.

  5. TWood
    TWood  August 8, 2016

    1. I assume (maybe wrongly) that Paul spoke and wrote in Aramaic and Greek. Do you think the reason Paul used a secretary is because he couldn’t write very well in Greek (or because he had bad eyesight)?

    2. Did Paul (and Jews of his time) consider Aramaic to be “the Hebrew dialect?” Or was Paul trilingual (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek)?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2016

      I’m not convinced that Paul spoke Aramaic.

      • TWood
        TWood  August 9, 2016

        Oh. Wow. Ok. That brings up all kinds of questions. For example, how did he communicate with James and Peter and the others? In Paul’s genuine letters he says he communicated with them (like in Galatians he says he talked with and rebuked Peter). He says he knew Jesus’ brother, James. How could he speak with them if they didn’t speak the same language?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 11, 2016

          I’m not sure if they used interpreters … or what!

          • TWood
            TWood  August 11, 2016

            Interesting… I hope you don’t mind me following up on this again… but this strikes me as particularly odd… I really appreciate your answering my questions.

            1. Based on the genuine Pauline epistles that indicate Paul did somehow personally communicate with Peter, why isn’t this good evidence for Paul’s ability to speak Aramaic well enough to get by (notwithstanding the percentages of bilingual Diaspora Jews or his usage of the LXX)? Asked another way, why isn’t adding an interpreter or some other unknown method violating Occam’s Razor (isn’t Paul’s apparent easy access to an ostensibly rare unknown interpreter just as unlikely as Paul himself being the interpreter)? I don’t get it.

            2. Among scholars today, do the majority of them believe Paul spoke Aramaic? (I assume Paul speaking some Aramaic is far more likely than Peter and James speaking Greek).

          • Bart
            Bart  August 12, 2016

            The reasons for thinking Paul didn’t speak Aramaic are that (a) Diaspora Jews almost *never* spoke Aramaic and (b) he gives no hint of knowing Aramaic. My sense is that conservative scholars think he spoke Aramaic because the book of Acts suggests he did, and those who are not committed to the necessary accuracy of Acts don’t think he did.

      • Avatar
        bamurray  August 9, 2016

        Do you think that any (some? all?) of the Gospel writers spoke Aramaic?

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 9, 2016

        I’m curious why you think that. I don’t find it at all hard to assume that Paul spoke both Aramaic and Hebrew. For instance, Damascus was a bilingual city, where both Aramaic and Greek were spoken. If we assume that Paul’s Road to Damascus story was true, when Paul met the church members of Damascus, did he speak Greek or Aramaic, or maybe both? I can imagine multilingualism was rather common back then, especially amongst well-traveled, worldly men such as Paul.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 11, 2016

          There are two reasons for doubting it. One is that we don’t know (at least I don’t) of Diaspora Jews — say in Asia Minor — knowing any Aramaic and the second is that Paul relies on the Septuagint for his biblical citations and does not appear to know the Hebrew. On speaking Hebrew: as early as the return from exile as recounted in Ezra, the people in Judea didn’t know the language. That’s why the Targumim arose.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  August 11, 2016

            I guess it depends on whether one accepts that Paul actually studied with the Pharisees in Jerusalem or not. I know you doubt that he did. I find it believable. It also depends if one accepts the account in Acts where Paul supposedly speaks Aramaic to the crowds in the Temple. I know you do not accept it. I find it reasonable that he did. I think it’s important to weigh the likelihood that he knew a certain language based on the regional distribution of each language. Greek was, of course, ubiquitious, and we have documented proof that Paul spoke Greek, so we can say the chance he knew Greek was 10 out of 10.

            Aramaic was the lingua franca of Mesopotamia and the Levant. Being a lingua franca it would make sense that anyone planning on spending an extended amount of time in that region would try to know the language. Considering Paul was heavily travelled in that region I see no reason why we can’t say there is 7 out of 10 chance Paul knew Aramaic (possibly with broken grammar and a thick accent). Now, Hebrew was, of course, a specialized language by that time, and only people who made the effort to learn it would know it. And the only place one would or could go to actively learn Hebrew was in the major cities of Judea (and possibly the Galilee). Could Paul have made an effort to travel to these places and learn Hebrew? I would say it’s a slim chance, but possible: 2 out of 10.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 12, 2016

            Yes, if Acts is reliable, then he spoke Aramaic. If he did so, he never gives any indication of it.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  August 10, 2016

        Do you mean that Paul spoke only Greek and that all of the people he spoke to and who became his followers and converts were all Greek-speakers–and obviously Greek readers since he wrote to them in Greek? This helps explain to some extent the breach between him and Peter/James if that is correct. Did Peter speak and read Greek? all of this is probably obvious to you, but for me it is a revelation (you should excuse the expression).

        • Bart
          Bart  August 11, 2016

          Yes, I don’t think Paul spoke anything but Greek; and I imagine Peter and James could speak only Aramaic. Not sure how they communicated: interpreters?

  6. Avatar
    Tempo1936  August 10, 2016

    Which of the Pauline epistles did Paul write or dictate as we now have them in the NT?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2016

      The seven undisputed letters are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.

  7. Avatar
    KathleenM  August 11, 2016

    We do know of people who can communicate in the Holy Spirit. Not jibberish, but be able to call a few together and communicate, even to some who speak other languages–say a Christian from Korea. I’m not sure if there is any science on it, some people even share their dreams from time to time, then discuss them after they wake up separately. Personally I think that was what happened in the Upper Room and out on the streets below – everyone could communicate in the Spirit – probably not moving their mouths, the way God sends angels out and about and people can “hear” them even though they have no vocal chords. Or didn’t an ass speak to someone once? Also Saul on the road…

  8. Avatar
    brandon284  August 13, 2016

    I remember listening to you debate Darrell Bock once in regards to early Christian forgery on the Unbelievable? program. When discussing Richards’ work, you and Bock covered most of what you posted about today. Bock claimed that Richards had (at that time) recently produced a 2nd Volume of his original study that you had cited in Forged and that this 2nd Volume contained more evidence of secretaries dictating letters like the ones you’d find in the NT. Do you know the validity of this or have you looked to see if Richards produced better evidence in his later edition?

You must be logged in to post a comment.