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Did Paul Exchange Letters with the Greatest Roman Philosopher of His Day??

I've mentioned several non-canonical letters forged in Paul's name connected with the views of the second-century heretic Marcion.   There are other letters out there that also (falsely) claim to be written by Paul but that were not forged in order to support or attack a particular heretical view in Paul's name.  That is almost certainly the case with a set of letters that were accepted as authentically Paul's (though never accepted as canonical) for many centuries, down until relatively modern times: Paul's correspondence with the great philosopher (and personal tutor and advisor to the emperor Nero).  Here's what I say about these letters in my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011). (If you want a more thorough analysis of these, and all the Pauline forgeries I'm mentioning in these posts, I get gratifyingly down in the weeds at good length in my academic book, Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics) ****************************** The Letters of Paul and Seneca A completely different agenda is found in a much later forgery of Pauline letters [...]

Paul’s Letter to the … Laodiceans? Long Thought to be Part of the New Testament!

One of the most intriguing letters forged in the name of Paul is his alleged letter to the Laodiceans.  As you’ll see, it’s intriguing both because some Christian churches accepted it as part of the New Testament for centuries and because scholars have never been able to figure out why a forger bothered to write it.  I have a theory about that though, which I laid out in my book Forgery and Counterforgery (Oxford University Press, 2013),  from which I have taken this discussion. (I’ve edited it a bit to get rid of the weeds; here I explain the issues and my argument in accessible terms). ****************************** The Letter to the Laodiceans The Letter of “Paul” to the Laodiceans is a pastiche of Pauline phrases with no obvious theme or purpose.  Apart from the opening line, drawn from Gal. 1:1, the borrowings are almost exclusively from Philippians.  About a tenth of the letter represents “filler” provided by the author, which is also without character or color. Scholars have long vied with one another to see [...]

Paul’s *THIRD* Letter to the Corinthians? A Very Interesting Forgery

Even though we don’t have the forgeries of Pauline letters connected with Marcion (they’ve all been lost or destroyed by orthodox Christians), we have other letters forged in Paul’s name that appear to be opposing Marcion (you don't need to read the previous posts to make sense of this one; but if you want to learn more about Marcion -- see the two posts preceding).  These surviving letters are forgeries written to oppose forgeries, an orthodox attempt to fight fire with fire.   One of the most interesting is Paul’s alleged Third Letter to the Corinthians! Here’s what I say about it in my book Forged (HarperOne, 2011). ****************************** Third Corinthians It was quite common for “orthodox” Christians (that is, Christians who accepted the theological views that eventually became widely accepted throughout Christianity) to charge “heretics” (those who taught “false teachings”) with forging documents in the names of the apostles in order to support their views.  We will see much more of this phenomenon in chapter five.  The Gospel of Peter, for example, was charged with [...]

The Two Gods of Marcion and the Forgeries in the Name of Paul

Here I continue my discussion of Marcion, the arch-heretic of the second century, whose followers forged writings in the name of Paul to support their view that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of Jesus and Paul.  Recall:  Marcion argued that the God of the Old Testament was the Jewish God who created this world, chose Israel to be his people, and then gave them his law.  He was a just, wrathful God:  not evil, just ruthlessly judicial.  The God of Jesus, on the other hand, was a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  This good God, superior to the God of the Jews, sent Jesus into the world in order to die for the sins of others, to save people from the wrathful God of the Old Testament.  Salvation comes, then, by believing in Jesus’ death. To prove his point, Marcion pointed out the contradictions between the Old Testament God and the God of Jesus. The God of the Old Testament sent his prophets, one of whom was Elisha.  One [...]

Were Matthew and Luke Plagiarists?

Were Matthew and Luke plagiarists?  They copied word-for-word passages from Mark, without any indication that they were using someone else’s work.  Today that will get you fired (or, say, removed from the presidency of an Ivy League school).  But what about in the ancient world? Here I continue here with my discussion of plagiarism in the antiquity, citing some sources that talk about the phenomenon only to condemn it, before considering whether Matthew and Luke can be considered culpable. You may be surprised by my answer. First, I give some more ancient  writings, starting with where I left off, with Vitruvius (a famous Roman architect; not a famous volcano) ****************** Elsewhere Vitruvius himself delivers a stringent judgment on those who engaged in the practice of plagiarism: “While, then, these men [viz. Those who left a written record of past events and philosophies] deserve our gratitude, on the other hand we must censure those who plunder their works and appropriate them to themselves” (Book 7, Preface 3).   This attitude coincides with other ancient discourse about [...]

2024-02-09T12:55:44-05:00February 13th, 2024|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Plagiarism! Was It Condemned in the Ancient World? (Is Matthew Guilty of It?)

Just over a week ago I did an eight-lecture on-line course on the Gospel of Matthew, not connected with the blog but with BECO (Bart Ehrman Courses Online); you can find out more about that here: The Genius of Matthew.  Someone who came to the course asked me an intriguing question:  if it’s true that Matthew used Mark for a number of his stories, actually copying his account word for word in many places, wouldn’t he be guilty of plagiarism? Ah – right!  That’s certainly something we would be thinking about today!  Did people in the ancient world think about plagiarism?  There weren’t copyright laws or, in fact, any laws about the theft of intellectual property.  So was plagiarism even a THING? As it turns out, this is a topic that, I venture to say (with good reason), the vast majority of New Testament scholars don’t know about.  My (good) reason for saying so is that you can hear many such-a-scholar say oh-so-wrong things about it, either based on what they assume or what they [...]

2024-02-07T14:25:46-05:00February 11th, 2024|Forgery in Antiquity, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Is 2 Thessalonians a Forgery? From 132 CE? Platinum Guest Post by Omar Robb

The proposition that the 2 Thessalonians was forged in 132AD by a Thessalonian priest. Omar Abur-Robb   There have been lot of arguments discussing the authenticity of the 2 Thessalonians. Many Scholars concluded (due to many observations) that it is a forgery. I am going here to add one more observation into the list by highlighting an angle that was probably missed. I need to give credit to Joseph Turmel (1859 - 1943) who probably was the first to link this letter to Bar-Kokhba revolt, and the model that I am presenting here is not very far from his model. [Reference: Introduction by Neil Godfrey,] The Second Thessalonians is a letter that is attributed to Paul for the Thessalonian Christians. The main objective of this letter is a discussion about the return of Jesus in 2.1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him”, and the narratives related to the antichrist: the “man of sin”. So, the explicit objective of the letter is: Jesus will not return [...]

2023-04-25T19:07:14-04:00April 28th, 2023|Forgery in Antiquity, Paul and His Letters|

Do Scholars Ever Forge Gospels?

Do modern scholars ever produce “ancient” forgeries?  In particular, have experts in the New Testament and early Christianity ever gone out on a limb and forged a Gospel, claiming to have discovered it, and tried then to convince others that it is ancient and authentic?  Yup. I’ve discussed some examples in earlier posts on the blog – e.g., just last year:   But I don’t believe I have ever devoted any attention to the most famous instance, a “discovery” of an ancient text by a renowned scholar, a text that some other scholars claim he himself forged.  Others very much think it really is authentic.  The debate focuses on a brilliant academic named Morton Smith, and his alleged (or real) discovery of “The Secret Gospel of Mark.” I devoted an entire discussion to Smith and the Secret Gospel twenty years ago in my book Lost Christianities; the book is about different kinds of early Christianity (Gnostics, Marcionites, Jewish Christians, etc.), and is particularly interested in the kinds of books they claimed provided “apostolic” support for [...]

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|
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