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It Has Arrived! Forgery and Counterforgery in Early Christian Polemics.

I have rarely – ever? – been so pleased with the appearance of a publication in my life.   Last night when I got home from running some errands, a box was waiting for me, from Oxford University Press.   It had my ten author’s copies of Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics.  I’m very excited about it, like a kid who has just gotten a fantastic present.   In my opinion, this is the best book I’ve ever written, years in the making.  As I have said before on this blog, it is written for scholars, although a number of people have commented that it seems, from the quotations I’ve given, to be accessible to laypeople as well (normal people, as opposed to abnormal scholars).   I’ll say a bit more about it in the next post, for now, I thought I would simply give you a taste, by quoting the very first, opening, paragraphs (without the footnotes):


Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature is the degree to which it was forged.   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 remarkably, even astonishingly, meager.  From the period of the New Testament, from which some thirty writings survive intact or in part, only eight go under the name of their actual author, and seven of these derive from the pen of one man.  To express the matter differently, only two authors named themselves correctly in the surviving literature of the first Christian century.  All other Christian writings are either anonymous, falsely ascribed (based on an original anonymity or homonymity), or forged.

Matters begin to change with the second Christian century, even though orthonymity continues to be the exception rather than the rule.  It is worth considering, for example, what Pre-Enlightenment scholars accepted as the writings of apostolic and subapostolic times. There were the Homilies and Recognitions of Clement, now known not to be works of the one who was reputedly the fourth bishop of Rome, but to be forged in his name.  There were the writings of the early Pauline convert Dionysius the Areopagite, also forged.  There were the letters of Paul himself to and from Seneca, likewise forged.  And there were the thirteen letters of Ignatius of Antioch, six of them forged and the others falsely and severely interpolated.   When we move deeper into the second century and on into the third and fourth, we see a heightened interest in the production of “apostolic” works — Gospels by Peter, Thomas, Philip, all forged; Paul’s letters to the Alexandrians and Laodiceans, forged; Jesus’ correspondence with Abgar, forged; Apocalypses of Peter and Paul, forged.  We can move backwards into writings forged in the names of the greats from antiquity, Isaiah or the Sybil, or forward into the writings forged in the names of orthodox church fathers – Basil, Augustine, Jerome.  The list goes a very long way.

Matching the abundant materials for the study of early Christian forgery is the remarkably sparse attention paid to it – as a broader phenomenon – in modern scholarship.  Apart from studies of individual instances, which do indeed abound, and discussions of the relationship of pseudepigrapha to issues of canon, there is no full length study of the phenomenon in the English language, and only one reasonably comprehensive study in German.  There is none in any other language of scholarship.

The study of individual cases is, of course, crucial for the understanding of the broader phenomenon and so need continually to be carried out with rigor and focus.  But somewhat ironically, these examinations are often conducted precisely apart from a knowledge or appreciation of the wider phenomenon of early Christian forgery.  Surely an individual instantiation of the practice cannot be studied in isolation, apart from its wider historical and cultural context.

The studies of forgery and canon are also vital in many ways, especially in assisting in the evaluation of the practices of and attitudes toward forgery in the early Christian tradition.  Inevitably such studies draw on materials taken from the wider Jewish and pagan environments, often, though not always, with broad coverage and clarity of insight.  But a focus on issues of canon can skew the discussion in certain ways, and there are other important questions that need to be addressed.

What are needed are fuller studies of the historical phenomenon, not only in relation to a set of theological concerns and not only with eyes focused on the early Christian forgeries that were eventually deemed to be Scripture.  The canonical forgeries participated both in the broader stream of literary practices of antiquity and, more narrowly, in the literary practices of the early Christian communities.  These broader practices should not be seen merely as background to the object of ultimate (theological) concern (the question of canon), but should be explored as a matter of intellectual inquiry in their own right.  That is the intent and goal of the present study.

The focus of my concern will be the Christian literary forgeries of roughly the first four centuries CE.   Later texts will be discussed only when they are in some way compelling, relevant, and especially noteworthy.  In particular, for the purposes of this study, I am interested in forgeries that were engendered in the context of early Christian polemics.  One could easily argue that these comprise the majority of the relevant texts, but that statistical question is of no concern to me here.  I am interested in polemics because they played such a major role in the history and development of the early Christian tradition and, as a consequence, in the production of early Christian forgeries.   We know of numerous polemical contexts from the early Christian centuries, of course, and I am not restricting my vision to just one of them….

And it goes from there.   It’s a long book – well over 600 pages – and it attempts to be thorough in its coverage.   I’ll explain more what’s in it in the next post.

Forgery and Counterforgery
The Apocryphal Gospels: Texts and Translations



  1. Avatar
    John  November 13, 2012

    That’s great news! I bought “Forged” when it came out not knowing that you had a more “scholarly” version in the works. I’ll definitely be purchasing this one as well.

  2. Avatar
    Diane  November 13, 2012

    Yay! Preordered!

  3. Avatar
    Phil  November 13, 2012

    Will there be an e-book version of this for Kindle and the Nook?

  4. Avatar
    Dan Warren  November 13, 2012

    Do you explore the importance of the Book of Enoch in the development of Christian thought?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 14, 2012

      No, I’m afraid I don’t. In the Introduction I explain that I limit myself, in the book, only to writings produced by Christians, not ones later utilized by them but written by non-Christians. I had to draw the line somewhere!

      • Avatar
        Dan Warren  November 15, 2012

        Thanks for your reply, Dr. Ehrman. I look forward to reading your newest book! I’ve pre-ordered already! BTW, the price was astoundingly reasonable for a scholarly work! Thank you!

        Have you any future plans or interest in exploring the influence of the Book of Enoch on Christian concepts?

        It seems to me that this once highly regarded and influential book is largely neglected by modern scholarship. Yet, Enoch might be the foundation for much of what later became Christian doctrine.

        Thanks again. Your work is inspiring!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  November 16, 2012

          No, I have no plans to work on Enoch. But there is an enormous body of scholarship on it! Probably not much outside the ranks of scholars though.

  5. Avatar
    Adam  November 13, 2012

    Congrats! I’m looking forward to making my way through this book. In my graduate studies in Christian Origins I haven’t come across a study as comprehensive as yours that addresses this early Christain practice within the broader context of forgery, apart from some articles. It looks like a truly original contribution.

  6. Avatar
    Jim  November 14, 2012

    Congratulations on the publication of your new textbook, and for bravely forging ahead with this project. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    Mark N Taylor  November 14, 2012

    I’ve enjoyed your popular treatments but I have wanted something more scholarly. I look forward to reading this work.

  8. Avatar
    haoleboy26  November 14, 2012

    Already for pre-sale on Amazon.com. Congradutlations on your latest book. I hope its a best seller.

  9. Avatar
    jimmo  November 14, 2012

    Sadly It’s not yet available on Amazon.de or Amazon.co.uk. Will it be available for the Kindle?

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 14, 2012

    Congratulations on what is obviously a major accomplishment and contribution. The tradition of forgery and how the authorship of a book had to be attributed to Paul, a disciple, or a colleague of a disciple in order to get accepted into the canon means, of course, that many of these books should not have been accepted into the canon because they did not meet the criterion of having been written by such an important author. Of even more concern to me, than the tradition of forgery, is the widespread tradition of exaggeration and embellishment and just plain making stuff up no matter who the “real” author happened to be. It’s almost as if history, like science, just did not exist during those ancient times.

  11. Avatar
    ERHershman  November 14, 2012

    I just got confirmation that my copy of it has shipped from OUP and will be arriving within a few days! I can’t wait to read it…

  12. Avatar
    Scott F  November 14, 2012

    I understood every word! Does that make me abnormal …

  13. Avatar
    Scott F  November 14, 2012

    Is this anything like “The new phone book is here?”

    Things are going to start happening to you! 😉

  14. johndash
    johndash  November 14, 2012

    We have received new release date information related to the order you placed on
    November 14, 2012 (Order# 103-7708354-1022657). The item(s) listed below will
    actually ship sooner than we originally expected based on the new release date:

    Bart D. Ehrman “Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in
    Early Christian Polemics”
    Previous estimated arrival date: December 20, 2012 – December 22, 2012
    New estimated arrival date: November 20, 2012 – November 27, 2012

  15. Avatar
    jimmo  November 15, 2012

    A comment on Amazon by Dale B. Martin, Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University says “There are comparable books in German”. Which ones are he referring to?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 15, 2012

      Well, there’s nothing quite comparable, but he’s thinking of Wolfgang Speyer, Die literarische Faelschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum, a book that was very near and dear to me for years.

  16. Avatar
    Sharif  November 16, 2012

    I really like the cover! What goes into deciding the cover and typeset of the book? How much choice do you have in the matter as the author?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 17, 2012

      Glad you like it. They get their own designers, and authors usualy have very little to say about it except — Yup, that looks good!

  17. Avatar
    FinixAgnostic  November 19, 2012

    I pre-ordered the book. Although, I think I did it a little too spontaneously though. What would make this book difficult for lay readers?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  November 19, 2012

      Parts of it will make good sense to lay readers. Other parts assume a good knowledge of biblical studies; others a serious knowledge about issues relating to the theologies and history of early Christianity. But all the foreign language quotations (Latin, German, French) are translated into English, and I think a good part of it should be accessible.

  18. Avatar
    Moulay Abdallah  December 6, 2012

    Congratulations Dr. Ehrman! Since a year, I have been an avid reader of your books. I am very interested in your latest work, Forgery and Counterforgery, hoping to learn how forgery works in a large religious tradition and how (modern) historians detect forgery. The claims of exensive forgery of Hadith (traditions which contain the alleged statements and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad) by orientalists and arabists, largely based on assumptions and questionable methods, encouraged me to study the subject of literary (and oral) forgery. I’ve found nothing substantial on this topic within the field of religious studies and literary texts. I hope, however, that the substance of this book will help me in my investigation of Islamic scripture.

  19. Avatar
    Ilmo Pärssinen  January 22, 2013

    As one said earlier, this book arrived in my pidgeon hole today, too. I almost cancelled my work tomorrow for reading whatever is in it. (I think, I’ve read almost all books written by Dr. Ehrman.) Even I’m not a native reader, the text (in earlier books) sounds clear and comprehensive. Just got my fingetips tingle and I hope I have time to dive into the atmosphere of this book. It is surprising that not so many believers know what is in the Bible. That I have tested with my colleagues, too. They think they know, but actual knowledge is nowhere to be found.

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