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Evidence of Forgery. More Reasons the Martyrdom of Polycarp Was Not Written by Someone There

In my previous post I began to lay out my case that the Martyrdom of Polycarp, our (allegedly) first full narrative account of a Christian martyr, who died 155 CE, written (allegedly) by an eyewitness, in fact was written decades later, by someone who wanted his readers to think he was an eyewitness and to that end (falsely) claimed to be one. Here I move from the intriguing fact (from the last post) that the author asserts his eyewitness authority precisely at the points that are, well, rather difficult to believe to other historical problems in the text that suggest the author was not living at the time or privy to what actually happened. Again, this is from my book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (Oxford University Press, 2013).   *****************************   Apart from the miraculous elements of the text – which include the martyr’s blood gushing forth in such profusion as to douse the flames of his pyre, and a dove emerging from his side and flying [...]

Do Eyewitnesses Prove Miracles? Can They Be Faked? The Martyrdom of Polycarp

For over two hundred years scholars of antiquity have worked diligently to determine which ancient writings by pagans, Jews, and Christians were actually produced by their alleged authors and which are by authors merely claiming to be some other famous person, as well as which originally anonymous writings were wrongly ascribed to one famous author or another.  If a book is wrongly ascribed, it’s not the author’s fault.  If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not write Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, that would not make these books “forgeries.”  A “forgery” is when an author intentionally takes the identity of another (famous or important) person with the intent of deceiving her or his readers.  There were lots of reasons for doing that in antiquity, and I discuss all such matters on a popular level in my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011), where by and large I focus on the writings of the New Testament (e.g., the six letters that claim to be written by Paul but appear not to have been; and also letters by Peter; [...]

What about Forgeries IN the New Testament? Is it Possible?

I’ve been talking about some of the early Christian forgeries, books that Christian authors published claiming to be apostles when they were … someone else.   Could we have such things actually in the New Testament?  That is the topic I discuss in my book Forged (HarperOne: 2011).  I give extensive arguments and evidence throughout the book, but here is the opening gambit. ****************************** There are thirteen letters in the New Testament that claim to be written by Paul, including two to the Thessalonians.  In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians we find a most intriguing verse, where the author tells his readers that they are not to be led astray by a letter “as if by us” which indicates that the “day of the Lord” is almost here (2 Thess 2:2).  The author, in other words, knows of a letter in circulation claiming to be by Paul, which is not really by Paul.  This other letter allegedly teaches an idea that Paul himself opposes.  Who would create such a forged letter?  Obviously someone who wanted [...]

Forgeries in the Names of the Apostles: Some of the Most Interesting

As I pointed out in my previous posts, taken from the Preface of my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011), we still have numerous forged documents that emanated from the early church, numerous Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Apocalypses (these are the four literary genres of the New Testament) all of them claiming to be written by apostles.  Many of these non-canonical books are fascinating and still worth reading.[1]  I’ve talked about a number of them on the blog before, but here it may be worthwhile to give a quick summary of some of them. Among the Gospels, for example, there is an account allegedly written by Peter, which gives a detailed narration of the resurrection.  This is striking because – most readers have never noticed this – the New Testament Gospels do not narrate the resurrection.  They do say that Jesus was buried, and they indicate that on the third day his tomb was empty; but they do not narrate the account of him actually emerging from the tomb.  There is such an account in the Gospel [...]

Writing Forgeries to Show the Truth

In my previous post I pointed out a major problem that confronted the earliest Christians, as I discuss in the Preface to my book Forged  (HarperOne, 2011).  From the beginning the followers of Jesus insisted that they had the “truth” and that it was only by accepting the “truth” about God as revealed by Jesus that anyone could have salvation.  But they disagreed on what the truth was.  There were numerous widespread views already in the earliest years of Christianity about who Jesus was, what his death meant, how one was to have salvation, whether one had to keep, or begin to keep, the Jewish law, and about lots of other things. How was one to get around these problems?  The obvious answer presented itself early on in the Christian movement.  One could know what the apostles taught because they left writings behind.  These authoritative authors produced authoritative teachings.  And so, the authoritative truth could be found in the apostolic writings. Even though this might sound like a perfect solution to the problem, the solution [...]

A Major Forgery in the Hebrew Bible? Guest Post by Platinum Member Dennis Folds

Members of the blog at the Platinum level have the opportunity to publish posts (just) for other Platinums, and after a number of these appear, the members vote on which should be posted on the blog itself.  Here is the most recent winner, an insightful and intriguing Platinum guest post by Dennis Folds.  Many of you on the blog are interested in Christian pseudepigrapha (= forgeries), especially those in the New Testament.  But what about the Old Testament?  Now *here* is a bold thesis!  Read it and remark! Being allowed to publish these posts is a very nice perk of the Platinum level of membership.  Another is that I do a a special platinum webinar every three months.   Are you interested?  Check out the various membership tiers and the perks that come with them all:  Register - The Bart Ehrman Blog. And now, check out the post! ****************************** Jeremiah Versus the Deuteronomist Forger   Dennis J. Folds, Ph.D. Given the interest in potential forgeries of NT books and other early Christian writings, I’d like to [...]

2022-10-11T10:28:32-04:00October 6th, 2022|Forgery in Antiquity, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Did the Apostles Use Secretaries to Write their Books?

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 even if he couldn’t write, or the Revelation of John be by John. In it I continue to consider ways ancient authors used secretaries.  Was it actually to have them compose writings for them?  (To make best sense of this it would help to read the previous post, where I talk about two of the main ways ancient writers used secretaries.  But hey, you don't *have* to read it.  It ain't required!) Again, the discussion is taken from my book Forgery and Counterforgery (Oxford University Press). ****************************** 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, [...]

2022-08-22T12:21:09-04:00September 4th, 2022|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Did Ancient Writers Use Secretaries?

In my previous post I tried to show that the disciples of Jesus were almost certainly not literate.  Yet we have books allegedly written by them.  Is it possible that people like Peter, John, James, and Jude used a secretary to write their books for them?  So that the apostles in the ultimate sense were the "author" but someone else composed the writing for them? To answer the question with something other than common sense (that is, common guessing), we need to know about secretarial practices in antiquity.  As it turns out, we do know some things, as I'll explain in this post and the next. Again, this is taken, in slightly edited form, from my book Forgery and Counterforgery, which goes into a great bit of detail about what we know about writing practices in the ancient world. ****************************** The notion that early Christian authors used secretaries .... 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 [...]

2022-08-22T15:11:33-04:00September 1st, 2022|Catholic Epistles, Forgery in Antiquity|

How Many People Were Literate in Antiquity?

Over the past month I have received a number of questions on the blog about whether it was possible that some of the apostles used "secretaries" to write their books -- so that when 1 or 2 Peter, say, claims to be written by Peter, it actually was written by Peter in a sense.  Peter told a secretary what to write and the secretary (e.g., Silvanus? 1 Peter 5:12) actually put pen to papyrus.  But the thoughts and ideas were all Peter's. It's an important question, and I've dealt with it a good bit over the years.  I actually did a short thread on it over six years ago now here on the blog.  I've decided to return to the issue.  This will take three posts.  The first is on what levels of literacy back at the time of the New Testament: how many people cold read and how many write (which is not the same thing in antiquity!); and apart from who could write, who could compose a writing? Here is what I said about [...]

2022-09-02T10:35:38-04:00August 31st, 2022|Catholic Epistles, Forgery in Antiquity|

You Don’t Think Peter Wrote 1 and 2 Peter?

In my previous post I indicated that I didn't think Peter wrote 1 and 2 Peter.  One of my main reasons for thinking so is that I'm pretty sure Peter could not write.  These books were composed in highly literate Greek by someone skilled in Greek composition.  To be able to compose a book took years and years of training starting with childhood.  Everyone we know like that was elitely trained and connected with a wealthy family, almost always in an urban area.  Not, for example, a rural Aramaic-speaking daylaborer from a remote part of Galilee. But couldn't Peter have "written" these books some other way -- e.g., by having a secretary or scribe do it for him?  I dealt with that question many years ago on the blog (based on much fuller discussions in my books Forged and Forgery and Counterforgery, if you want to see more of the evidence and logic) and still think the same thing.  As it turns out, there is New Testament evidence about Peter’s education level.  According to Acts [...]

A Major Forgery in the Hebrew Bible? Platinum Guest Post by Dennis Folds

I am pleased to publish this insightful and intriguing Platinum guest post by Dennis Folds, for all you fellow Platinum members.  Many of you are interested in Christian pseudepigrapha (= forgeries), especially those in the New Testament.  But what about the Old Testament?  Now *here* is a bold thesis!  Read it and remark! Remember: you too can submit a Platinum guest post.  It does not have to be sophisticated, learned, or novel.  Just write something you'd like to share with all of us, on anything at all connected to the blog and send it to me! ******************** Jeremiah Versus the Deuteronomist Forger   Dennis J. Folds, Ph.D. Given the interest in potential forgeries of NT books and other early Christian writings, I’d like to describe what may have been the most consequential forgery in the history of our Judeo-Christian faith:  the “discovery” of the long-lost book of the law of Moses, which purportedly contained the original covenant between YHWH and the Hebrews. The discovery is described in 2 Kings 22, during the renovation of the [...]

2022-08-08T12:55:40-04:00August 8th, 2022|Forgery in Antiquity, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

My book: Literary Forgery and Counterforgery in Early Christianity!

I have been posting all ten of my April 18 posts from previous years in celebration of the ten-year anniversary of the blog on April 18 of *this*  year.  Here now is a post from 2018 that focused on a book I had written years before that!  The book I've always thought was my best piece of scholarship. Enjoy! ****************************** I am in Houston for a few days, giving talks at Rice University on the use of literary forgery in early Christianity.  To prepare for the talks I decided to read through my 2013 book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.  Of all the books I’ve written, I am proudest of this one.  It is the very best I can do in terms of real scholarship.   I don’t believe I’ve talked about it much on the blog, since it’s not a book for general audiences.  But I thought it might be worthwhile to say something about it in a post or two, and there’s no better way to do [...]

2022-06-12T12:06:34-04:00June 18th, 2022|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

And Did Paul Write 2 Thessalonians?

In my last post I discussed whether Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians, whose author claims to be Paul, and explained why scholars widely think that in fact it was someone else.  I discuss all the Pauline "forgeries" of early Christianity (including the six in the New Testament) in my book Forged.  Here I thought it might be useful to consider a second example that involves a different set of problems: the "Second letter to the Thessalonians."  Again, this is taken from my book Forged (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012). ****************************** As a conservative evangelical Christian in my late teens and early twenties, there were few things I was more certain of, religiously, than the fact that Jesus was soon to return from heaven to take me and my fellow believers out of the world, at the “rapture” before the final tribulation came.   We read all sorts of books that supported our view.  Few people today realize that the best-selling book in English in the 1970s, apart from the Bible, was The Late Great Planet Earth written [...]

2022-05-31T11:07:16-04:00June 11th, 2022|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|

Did Paul Write “Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians”?

Here's an important question I received recently from a blog member: Someone told me that “I should never listen to you” because you say Paul did not write six letters of the New Testament, even though the letters start with the claim he did:  "Paul, an Apostle of Christ to the Church at ….."  This person's main issue was: what is the evidence Paul did not write Ephesians? Your thoughts. Response This is an issue I dealt with directly in my book Forged: Why The Biblical Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2012).  Here's what I say there.  (If you are interested in the hard-core academic and detailed discussion of the evidence, I have a much fuller discussion in my book Forgery and Counterforgery) ****************************** When I was teaching at Rutgers in the mid 1980s, I regularly offered a course on the life and teachings of Paul.  One of the textbooks for the course was a book on Paul by a conservative British scholar named F. F. Bruce.[1]  I used the [...]

Young Jesus with the Brahmins in India!

In my last post I talked about a humorous Gospel forgery by a modern scholar.  There are a number of other forgeries of Gospels done in (relatively) modern times -- especially in the nineteenth century -- which were not particularly risible but were far more successful.  I still get asked about them today, especially by people who don't know what to think about them or, even more, people who assure me they are true. I talk about them in the last chapter of my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011).   Here's one of the most successful, as I discuss there. ****************************** One of the most widely disseminated modern forgeries is called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ.[1]  From this account we learn that Jesus went to India during his formative teen years, the “lost years” before his public ministry, and there learned the secrets of the East.  The book made a big splash when it appeared in English in 1926; but as it turns out, it had already been exposed as a fraud more than thirty years [...]

A Humorous Modern Gospel Forgery

In a previous post I gave the introduction to my book about ancient forgery, Forged, written for a general audience.  Posting it reminded me of a modern forgery that was done by a bona fide scholar -- of a Gospel text!  I heard the story numerous times because the fraud was exposed by my own teacher, Bruce Metzger.   I think the first time I wrote about the story was in my book Lost Christianities (Oxford University Press, 2003).  Here is what I said there: ****************************** Some forgeries have been perpetrated in modern times, of direct relevance to our current study of early Christian apocrypha.  One might think that in our day and age, no one would be so deceitful as to try and pawn off any first hand accounts of Jesus as authentic.  But in fact, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Strange Gospels appear regularly, if you know where to look for them.[1]  Often these record incidents in the “lost years” of Jesus – e.g., accounts of Jesus as a child or a young [...]

Forgery for a Scholarly Audience

I have been doing a few posts on the difference between popular writing (for a trade book) and scholarly writing (for an academic book).  In my last post I reproduced the introduction to my book Forged: Why The Biblical Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are (popular book published by HarperOne); here, by way of contrast, is the introduction to Forgery and Counterfortery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (academic book by Oxford University Press).  Both the title and the opening paragraphs are give-aways that this is not meant for most readers, even if those who are interested can certainly follow it and get a lot out of it.  It ain't quantum mechanics. ****************************** Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature is the degree to which it was forged.[1]   Even though the early Christians were devoted to the truth– or so their writings consistently claimed – and even though “authoritative” literature played a virtually unparalleled role in their individual and communal lives, the orthonymous output of the early Christians was [...]

2022-03-04T13:08:06-05:00March 1st, 2022|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

Forgery for a General Audience

Last week I tried to show the contrast between my trade books for general audiences and my academic books for scholars, by posting the very beginning of my book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (Simon & Schuster, a tradebook, 2020) and the beginning of my book Jouneys to Heaven and Hell in the Early Christian Tradition (Yale University, due out April 5 2022; a scholarly book).  The general topics are similar, as you can see by the titles, but they are not actually about the same thing.  And the level of discourse is different. So too with my books on forgery -- I wrote one for a general audience (Forged: Writing in the Name of God -- Why the Bible Authors are Not Who We Think They Are  Harper San Francisco, 2011) and the other for academics (Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in the Early Christian Tradition, Oxford University Press, 2013).  In this case the differences are more obvious, I think, from both the titles and the openings. Here is how [...]

2022-02-14T17:57:53-05:00February 27th, 2022|Book Discussions, Forgery in Antiquity|

Did Some *One* Forge the Writings of “John”? Guest Post by Hugo Mendez

Here my colleague Hugo Mendez wraps up his discussion of the writings of "John" -- the Gospel of John, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John -- and he does so with a BANG.  I hope you can see both the quality and significance of these conclusions.  This is very serious and persuasive scholarship put at a level that even non-scholars can understand, with huge implications for understanding four of the important writings of the New Testament but also for rethinking questions of authorship of the early Christian writings and the history of our earliest Christian communities.  It's easy for scholars to see these implications (mainly because the conclusions he reaches are contrary to what most critical scholars actually teach their students all the time), which is why Hugo has stirred up a bit of a hornets' nest.  I hope it's possible for you to both appreciate and enjoy the argument as well. There is only one point on which he and I probably disagree, and it has to do with the authorship of the [...]

Problems with Thinking the “Letters of John” in the NT are Forgeries? Guest Post: Hugo Mendez

This thread of posts we have been having by Hugo Mendez on the writings of "John" in the New Testament has been unusually stimulating and in the world of scholarship, controversial.  If you haven't followed the thread, just look at the four that have already been posted starting two weeks ago.  If he were to argue that 1 Timothy was not really written by Paul, but someone claiming to be Paul (i.e., that it was a "forgery"), not a single New Testament scholar in the country would raise an eyebrow.  But to claim the letters of John are forgeries?  Yikes -- now *that* is something you don't hear every day.  But can the claim be sustained?  Here Hugo answers some of the objections others might raise. What do you think?  Convinced?              NOTE: most posts on the blog are for members only.  This one is open to anyone who wants to see it.  Wanna see this kind of post five times each and every week, going back eight years?  Join [...]

2020-05-18T15:13:23-04:00May 18th, 2020|Catholic Epistles, Forgery in Antiquity|
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