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My Forgery Seminar (Syllabus)

            The academic semester, alas, has begun, as of this past Wednesday.   As usual, I’ll be teaching two courses.   My undergraduate class, as is true every spring, is “Introduction to the New Testament.”   My PhD seminar, this term, is “Literary Forgery in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I’ve taught this class twice before, but now I have my book (Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literacy Deceit in Early Christian Polemics) to structure the course.  I’ve never had one of my books as the focus of a PhD seminar, but there’s really nothing else out there that can be used.  The first time I taught the class I used Wolfgang Speyer’s classic, Die literarische Fälschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum as the main text.  It, obviously, is in German.  The students were not thrilled.  Or convinced that it was a good idea.  But their German certainly got better.  So even though there’s a ton of reading this term, I won’t be entertaining any complaints!

Here’s this semester’s syllabus for the course, for your reading pleasure.



Reli 870: Literary Forgery in the Early Christian Tradition

Spring 2015

 Instructor: Bart D. Ehrman

Literary forgery is among the most common and least studied phenomena of the early Christian tradition.  Among the twenty-seven writings of the New Testament, only eight almost certainly bear the name of their actual author (some are forged; others are mis-attributed).  After the New Testament period, forgeries proliferate; in addition to books allegedly written by Jesus’ apostles (Gospels, epistles, acts, apocalypses, church orders), there are books that falsely claim to be written by followers of the apostles and other important church leaders, or are falsely ascribed to them (Dionysius the Areopagite, Clement of Rome, Barnabas, Ignatius).  In later centuries yet other books appeared, written in the names of, or falsely attributed to, yet other famous Christian authors (Justin, Tertullian, Cyprian, Jerome, Augustine, and on and on; it’s a very long list).

This phenomenon is not, of course, unique to Christianity but is well documented as well for both pagan and Jewish literature of antiquity.  Less scholarly attention, however, has been paid to the Christian phenomenon, except on a case-by-case basis or in relation to the formation of the New Testament canon.

Hence our seminar.  We will not….


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The Graduate Program in Religious Studies
2 Thessalonians as a Forgery: The Theological Argument



  1. Avatar
    Hon Wai  January 10, 2015

    Can you write something about the background of your PhD students, how you selected them, what makes a prospective doctoral candidate stand out against the pack, whether there is a huge academic gulf between knowledge and argumentative skills of your u/gs and research students.

  2. gmatthews
    gmatthews  January 10, 2015

    I bought the Harper Collins Study Bible as one of my Christmas presents to myself this year since you’ve mentioned it a number of times on the blog. The first thing I read was the intros to each of the NT books. I was surprised that they lean towards saying that the books typically attributed to Paul which scholars tend to say are pseudepigraphical were ascribed to him to honor him and that it was a normal practice (I can’t find the exact NT book where I read that, but it’s in there somewhere!). Obviously you’ve covered this topic numerous times on the blog. In every other instance that I’ve seen, however, this Bible is fairly honest in what it says and doesn’t tend to be overly sympathetic to traditional theological views when the truth that logic presents is more prosaic.

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 10, 2015

    Other than the 7 letters of Paul, what other New Testament book was not forged?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2015

      Revelation appears to be written by someone who really was named John; he doesn’t indicate which John he was.

      • Avatar
        qaelith2112  January 12, 2015

        Correct me if I’m mistaken — The gospels and Acts would generally also not be considered forged — rather, anonymous. Same with Hebrews.

        I guess, though, that Revelation would be the only instance of a NT work which both identifies an author and isn’t pseudepigraphal.

        • Avatar
          qaelith2112  January 12, 2015

          … I mean, apart from those 7 undisputed Pauline epistles.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 13, 2015

          Yes, the Gospels are not forged — they are anonymous. There are reasons for thinking that the authors of Acts and Hebrews both make false authorial claims (the author of Acts, to be a follower of Paul; the author of Hebrews, to be Paul). But it’s debated. On Revelation, yes — it’s homonymous.

  4. Avatar
    greenbuttonuplift  January 10, 2015

    Hi Bart

    I feel tired just reading the list of classes.

    Ever considered offering one of those EdX ‘MOOC’ type courses. I just finished one on Science of Happiness and it was academic, well researched and very enlightening/enjoyable. I think a similar course on ‘How Jesus Became God’ for instance – would be great and have a huge ‘pull’ factor to this Blog. (I work education for a homeless organisation in England). I have seen some of your ‘Great Courses lectures………’ and EdX seems a close fit.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2015

      Nope, I’ll never offer a MOOC!!! I prefer teaching actual students.

  5. Avatar
    kendalynx  January 10, 2015

    Does your currently available NT textbook cover a horizontal study of the gospels? Or should I wait for the next edition? Might you publish that syllabus as well? A nephew has recently become a youth pastor and has not studied the NT academically, nor historically.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 10, 2015

    I read your interview with Warren Smith on the “World” website. Others might find it of interest.

  7. Avatar
    Curtis7777  January 10, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, do you know where one may find information regarding the well known forgery “The Prologue to the Canonical Epistles” supposedly from Jerome. Most text books simply state that it is a forgery but no one seems to source this statement. Jortin, (The Life of Erasmus) a really old work attributes the discovery of the Prologue as a forgery to Jean Martinay. I am also surprised this info was not included in _Forgery and Counterforgery_. Thanks in advance.

  8. Goat
    Goat  January 11, 2015

    Holy Moley! I’m going to a seminar in Chapel Hill on February 7 and they are going to send me a packet with background materials to read and that little packet will probably be a lot for me. I’m expect that your graduate students are a very impressive bunch.

  9. Avatar
    MrMistoffelees  January 11, 2015

    Well, good luck. Please share any good questions (and the answers), observations, new theories that your students come up with. You can also ask one of them to research my “Nazareth” question in the member’s forum 😉

  10. Avatar
    Daniel Gullotta  January 11, 2015

    I am hoping that I get into Duke University so I can take two classes with you and or Dr. Plese. This course looks awesome!

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