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.
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 that than to give the opening few paragraphs.
As will be obvious, the study was written for scholars, but there’s nothing too difficult about it, except a couple of unusual words. “Orthonymous” means “written under a correct name” so that an orthonymous writing is one that bears the name of the actual author – as opposed to a “pseudonymous” writing that is written in the name of someone other than the author; the term “homonymous” means “having the same name” and it refers to a writing written by someone who has the same name as another person who is more famous and is thus mistaken as coming from the other person (like if someone whose name really was Stephen King – but who was not THAT Stephen King – published a novel in his own name).
Anyway, here is how I start the book.
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.
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