A couple of posts ago I mentioned the books that I anticipate writing in the future. I like to plan my life in advance. I like to plan my week in advance. I like to plan my day in advance. I like to plan. For my current ten-year publishing plan, the two immediate goals are not so immediate, as they will take three or four years, I should think. The next book, I hope, will be the trade book for popular audiences on the oral traditions of Jesus in the years before the Gospels were written; that will be followed by a scholarly book on a very similar topic, not written for normal human beings but for abnormal academics.
In my last post I began to talk about how I had done something similar before. My trade book Misquoting Jesus, was a popular treatment of topics that I had dealt with at a scholarly level in several books and a number of academic articles. I did something comparable with two other trade books.
It worked differently for my book Forged: Writing in the Name of God – Why the Bible’s Author’s Are Not Who We Think They Are (2011). I did not start out planning to write that book. Instead, I wanted to write a serious, hard-hitting monograph for scholars on the phenomenon of pseudepigraphy in the New Testament – a topic widely discussed but not widely researched among scholars of Christian antiquity. When I say it had not been widely researched I mean that scholars (especially interpreters of the NT) frequently said things about the phenomenon of ancient authors writing in the names of others – i.e., an author claiming to be someone other than who he really was (knowing full well that he was not that person), for example, a person writing a letter claiming to be, say, Peter or Paul, even though he was actually writing years, decades, or even centuries after Peter and Paul were dead. But most NT scholars who said the things they did about the phenomenon – for example, that it was an acceptable practice and no one looked down on it – had not actually looked into the matter themselves, but simply had been repeating what they had heard in graduate school, when they were taught by professors who also had not looked into the matter but were repeating what they had heard in graduate school, from professors who also…. And so it went.
In any event, I had…
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In any event, I had gotten interested in this topic many years earlier – in fact, in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when I was writing The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. At that time, as part of my research, I read an amazing book by Wolfgang Speyer, Die literarische Fälschung im heidnischen und christlichen Altertum. Even though the book had been written in 1971, and was the definitive statement about the phenomenon of literary forgery in antiquity – among both pagans and Christians – very few New Testament scholars even knew of its existence, and among the few who did, very few had actually read it. I read it, and realized it was brilliant.
And that got me interested in issues related to forgery. After Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, which, as I’ve indicated, was meant to be a serious, scholarly monograph, I spent years publishing things other than serious, scholarly monographs. I wrote university level textbooks on the New Testament, compiled anthologies of ancient texts involving early Christianity, published tradebooks, produced translations and editions of early Christian texts (the two-volume Apostolic Fathers for the Loeb Classical Library), and so on. Then, when I thought that I really wanted to write another scholarly monograph, I became increasingly interested, yet again, in the question of forgery.
And so I reread the Speyer volume, and decided that this is what I wanted to work on for the next few years. And I did. I started spending all my research time reading everything that had been written on forgery in pagan, Jewish, and Christian antiquity, everything of interest and relevance in English, German, and French. It took a few years. One year – 2009-10, a year in paradise – I was awarded a fellowship at the National Humanities Center at Research Triangle Park in NC. This was a fantastic opportunity. Most of the 35 scholar-fellows at the Center each year come from around the country and around the world (it’s a highly competitive application process), and rent out digs in the area to allow them to work full time at the Center on their research projects in the humanities (English, history, philosophy, classics, religious studies, and so on and on). But as it turns out, the Center is only 15 minutes from my driveway. I went there early every morning, and worked all day. No teaching or any other obligation. Each fellow is given a very nice study, with desk, bookshelves, table, chairs, filing cabinets, computer hookups, and so on. And the only expectation is that each of us would do our work. (And to have lunch for a half an hour or so every day with each other; not a bad thing, spending time with extraordinarily smart and accomplished people who were all doing such varied and interesting work.)
Anyway, that year at the Center was fantastic. I read and read and read and read, working through all the known Greek and Latin texts that refer to the phenomenon of forgery; reading all the secondary literature on the problem; plotting how I would write the book and so on.
About two-thirds of the way through that year, I realized that given all of the data I had collected, it would be very easy indeed to write up a trade book on a similar topic. My idea was to write it after I had produced the scholarly version. My editor at HarperOne (a branch of Harper Collins, with whom I publish all my trade books these days) convinced me that it made more sense to write the trade book first. And so, somewhat reluctantly at first, I did so, based on all the research I did. That took a month or so, which I regretted in one sense, since I wanted to be doing the scholarly book. But it was a good choice. Once that was done, I returned to the scholarly work and wrote the very much more difficult to produce (and much longer) book on Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics, which came out just last year (2013).
And so that was my second attempt to write both a trade book and a scholarly monograph on the same topic. In my next post I’ll talk about a very different trade-scholarly combination, my most recent one.