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Google Cambridge Lecture on Forged

On April 7, 2011, I visited the Google Cambridge l in Cambridge, MA to discuss my book Forged. In my talk I explain how ancient writers sometimes falsely claimed to be a famous person in order to encourage people to read their books.   This practice of “literary forgery” was relatively common in the ancient world, but it was also widely condemned.  In my book I focus on instances of this practice in early Christianity — some of them appearing within the New Testament.

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Lunch Auction
The Manuscripts of the New Testament



  1. Avatar
    shakespeare66  July 19, 2015

    Have you ever made a list of those works in the entire Bible that are pseudepigrapha? The OT is filled with them, too, correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2015

      In the OT, it’s really only the books of Daniel and Ecclesiastes. I talk about all the NT examples in my book Forged.

  2. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 20, 2015

    Say, it might be helpful if you mentioned the *length* of these videos, so we could know – without clicking on the screen – whether we had time to watch them immediately.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2015

      Doesn’t it take less than a second to click on the screen??

  3. Avatar
    Scott  July 20, 2015

    Your point that knowing a little Greek and composing in Greek are two separate skills is something most people have never really thought about.

    I have never heard you claim to be able to write in Greek. Would your own skill in composition vs reading provide an example of the above?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2015

      Good point! It would be an excellent “for instance.”

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 20, 2015

    Nothing new for most of us, but *very* enjoyable! And about 46 minutes (grins).

    About that “Apocalypse of Peter”…early second century, did you say? Can scholars trace when and how the idea of “God’s Kingdom on Earth” evolved into “Heaven” and “Hell”? Did the older belief include those who didn’t make it into the Kingdom existing eternally, *anywhere*?

    Are there estimates of what percentage of Jews believed in “Sheol”? (When I was young, I assumed that Judaism had always included the “Heaven” and “Hell” believed in by Christians.)

    • Bart
      Bart  July 20, 2015

      No estimates on the numbers of ancient Jews who believed on thing or another. I do talk about that shift in thinking in my book Jesus Interrupted, in the chapter on Who Invented Christianity?

  5. cheito
    cheito  July 23, 2015

    DR Ehrman:

    Do you believe Jesus was illiterate?

    If not, then where and when did He learn to read and write?

    ~ Cheito-

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2015

      I think he was unable to write; I’m agnostic about whether he could read, but rather doubt it.

      • cheito
        cheito  July 24, 2015

        What about Luke 4:16,17?

        16-And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.

        17-And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

        • Bart
          Bart  July 25, 2015

          Yes, that is the one instance in the NT where Jesus is explicitly said to have read something. The question about it is whether it is historical or not. If it’s historical, then there is no longer any debate about the matter!

  6. Avatar
    john76  November 1, 2017

    I think we should conclude that the Christian writers who forged texts were under the impression that God approved of the forgeries (otherwise, why would they have forged them?)

    This goes in line with the idea of justified lying we see in the bible. For instance, we read:

    1. God rewarded the Egyptian midwives for lying to the Pharaoh. (Exodus 1:18-20)
    2. Rahab was “justified” when she lied about Joshua’s spies. (Joshua 2:4-6); (James 2:25)
    3. David lied to Ahimelech when he said he was on the king’s business. (He was King Saul’s enemy at the time.) We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah. (1 Samuel 21:2)
    4. Elisha told King Benhadad that he would recover, even though God told Elisha that the king would die. ( 2 Kings 8:8-10)
    5. In the Deuterocanonical book of Tobit, the angel Raphael lied to Tobias, saying “I am Azarias.” (Tobit 5:16-18)
    6. Jesus lied when he told his family that he wasn’t going to the feast, but later went “in secret.” (John 7:8-10)
    7. Even God lies by putting lying spirits in the mouths of his prophets. (1 Kings 22:21-22)

    If anyone is interested, yesterday I published my second blog post on the “Noble Lie and Christian Origins” here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/

    • Avatar
      john76  November 3, 2017

      “The sense of history revealed by fakes is sometimes remarkable. As John Taylor notes, the ancient Egyptian forgers of the Shabaka Stone, which located the creation of the world in their home town of Memphis, not only claimed that they were copying an ancient, worm eaten document, but also actually reproduced the layout of just such a document, and introduced archaic spelling and grammatical forms to give it credibility. There could be no better demonstration of the existence of a sophisticated sense of anachronism among the educated elite of Pharaonic Egypt… Each society, each generation, fakes the things it covets most. For the priests of ancient Memphis this was, as we have seen, the promotion of their cult and their city.” (“Fake?: The Art of Deception,” pp 12-13, ed. Mark Jones, Paul T. Craddock, Nicolas Barker)

      • Avatar
        john76  November 5, 2017

        One last thought:

        I think it was pretty well established in the ancient world that “the miraculous” was effective in persuading/duping people, such as when the miraculous report was just a noble lie.

        For example, regarding Numa Pompilius, Livy wrote

        “And fearing lest relief from anxiety on the score of foreign perils might lead men who had hitherto been held back by fear of their enemies and by military discipline into extravagance and idleness, he (Numa) thought the very first thing to do, as being the most efficacious with a populace which was ignorant and, in those early days, uncivilized, was to imbue them with the fear of Heaven. As he could not instill this into their hearts without inventing some marvelous story, he pretended to have nocturnal meetings with the goddess Egeria, and that hers was the advice which guided him in the establishment of rites most approved by the gods, and in the appointment of special priests for the service of each.” (Livy 1 19).

        – Plutarch also suggests that Numa played on superstition to give himself an aura of awe and divine allure, in order to cultivate more gentle behaviours among the warlike early Romans, such as honoring the gods, abiding by law, behaving humanely to enemies, and living proper, respectable lives. (Plutarch, “The parallel lives, Numa Pompilius, §VIII”)

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