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Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel



Last month I attended a small conference on the early Christian apocrypha (that is, the Gospels, epistles, Acts, and Apocalypses from early Christianity that were not accepted into the canon of Scripture) at York University in Toronto.   The special topic for the conference was the use of forgery in early Christianity, and I was asked to give the keynote address.

This is a topic, of course, I have been long interested in.   I spent several years working on my (rather long) scholarly monograph on the topic: Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics; and in the process or writing that book for fellow academics, I wrote a shorter and simpler account for popular audiences: Forged:  Writing in the Name of God.  Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.

Among other things, in my talk I stressed that people in the ancient world considered forgery to be an act of literary deceit, a form of lying.  I really don’t think there should be much question about that, since, well, that’s what the ancient sources themselves consistently report: an author who wrote a book claiming to be someone else was thought to have committed an intentional falsehood and was condemned for it.

But some of the participants in the conference were not pleased with this view and wanted to argue with it.  (I should say that no one cited any counter-evidence.  They just thought that SURELY these authors should not be thought of as lying.  Surely!!)

Anyway, one of the scholars presenting at the conference was James McGrath, a New Testament expert who runs one of the significant blogs on New Testament studies.  Among his other talents, he likes to write and sing parody songs.   And the conference inspired him to write one on forgery in early Christianity.

It is to the tune of Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave a Lover” and is called “Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel.”  You can get the lyrics and performance here.  IMO, pretty funny!:



The Teaching of Jesus
Readers’ Mailbag November 20, 2015



  1. gmatthews
    gmatthews  November 22, 2015

    Dang, I was REALLY hoping for a video of you singing “Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel”!

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    flshrP  November 22, 2015

    Very clever parody. Let the fireworks begin!

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  November 22, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,
    I’ve found that people tend to push back when told that their most cherished beliefs are founded on mendacities and legerdemains. When you were a fundamentalist, was there ever a moment when you staunchly defended aspects of your faith that you knew, inwardly, to be seriously flawed?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 23, 2015

      Yeah, toward the end a bit. I didn’t *know* they were flawed, but IO started to suspect….

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        Alfred  December 10, 2015

        Spooky typo? there. Io is a supreme God in Māori traditional belief.

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    Jana  November 22, 2015

    And indeed a catchy title for another Best Seller … ! (off to the video we go …)

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    RonaldTaska  November 23, 2015

    It is funny indeed. I think the trouble is that most of us can’t imagine anyone changing or forging the Holy Bible this day and time and, hence, we can’t imagine them doing it on purpose in the past.

    I think it is easier for us to view authors as “spinning” the evidence rather than as being forgers and/or liars.
    In this regard, I really, really like the way you discuss how the present influences memory in your upcoming book “Jesus Before the Gospels.” All one has to do to see the present influencing memory is watch President Obama give a speech and then turn to Fox News and see an instant distortion and spinning of that speech to fit the preconceived views which are prevalent on Fox News. I don’t think the Fox News commentators lie. They do, however, cherry pick and spin the evidence in a way that they are convinced is “true.” So, basically, I think that is similar to the way that stories about Jesus got changed although I guess lies could have occurred as well.

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    willow  November 23, 2015

    Yes, the video is pretty funny! It’s also near as disturbing as the book: Forgery and Counterforgery. Though I am only a few hundred pages into it, I find it quite unsettling for all of the historical evidences you, and so painstakingly it seems, provide in support of the “forged” theory – if such a truth can be called a theory. It’s the truths revealed in the book that I find rather troubling, and feel as though I’ve spent near an entire lifetime being deliberately denied – knowledge, if that makes any sense to you at all.

    What the ancients thought can hardly be denied for as well documented as their opinions are; however, it’s been my experience that such evidences that go against the staunch beliefs of say Christian scholars who, for the most part, search for evidences that support their beliefs, are best left ignored, enabling them to escape having to explain, via difficult to process, lengthy and convoluted apologetics.

    I also have to say that though I feared the book would be difficult for me to read, to fully understand, that isn’t the case at all! But for the Greek, as I don’t read Greek, I don’t find it difficult to follow at all, and actually quite fascinating. It’s one of those books that if I had the time I wouldn’t put down, and highly recommend it to even the more simpleminded, such as myself.

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    Jim  November 23, 2015

    Excellent parady!
    Enjoyed it.

  8. John4
    John4  November 23, 2015

    Wonderful Bart 🙂

    I was delighted today to discover that DC Parker’s *The Living Text of the Gospels* is available for downloading free of charge:


    Perhaps some here will want to read it. 🙂

    (Oh, and 50 ways was fun, too!)

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    Joshua150  November 23, 2015

    very enjoyable. thanks!

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    silvertime  November 23, 2015

    I watched an interview last night with Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville about his new book. I would love to see a debate between you and him.

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    mrbrain  November 24, 2015

    Helps to have the lyrics all pasted in for us, not unlike a good CCM tune. If only the original 50 Ways drummer Steve Gadd had been available. But this was funny. Where’s my bic lighter to wave around as I listen?

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    wje  November 27, 2015

    Hi Bart. Do you have the website address for Mr.McGrath’s blog?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 28, 2015

      No, but I imagine if you just google it you’ll find it.

  13. cheito
    cheito  November 30, 2015

    DR Ehrman:

    What about the books that are not forgeries!

    Paul did write the letter to the Romans.

    McGrath should write a song about Those books.

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    mrbrain  December 1, 2015

    Just for fun: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=James+McGrath+blog – LMGTFY is for smart alec tech support guys, and that I’m not. I’m courteous at all times when providing tech support. But LMGTFY is a hilarious website anyway.

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