In the Seminar on Ancient Forgery at Rice University a few days ago, I made a presentation in which I urged (all of us) scholars to decide on which terms we use to describe different kinds of literary phenomena associated in one way or another with literary deceit.
My view is that since there are different phenomena (even if these can overlap), we ought to have distinct terms to refer to them – otherwise it just gets confusing. It can be confusing to have so many different terms as well, but if we don’t differentiate the phenomena from one another, it makes matters only worse. And so if we have not only distinct phenomena but also distinct terms for referring to each of them, that should provide clarity to what it is we’re doing (at least in theory). It certainly does not help to call an act of plagiarism also a falsification, if by falsification we mean something other than plagiarism.
The following are the terms that I have proposed we use for the various forms of literary deceit, with a brief explanation of what each term stands for:
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[Private]Falsification: This refers to the alteration of a text by a scribe or editor – making it say something other than what the author originally had it say. That is to say, someone who changes the text when copying it has “falsified” it – made it falsely represent the author’s original words.
Fabrication: This refers to the invention of material that is presented as historical when in fact it has been “made up.” That would apply, for example, to stories of Jesus and the apostles that are told as if they really happened, when in fact they are someone’s invention
Plagiarism: This refers to an author who has taken someone else’s writing and reproduced it in his/her own work under his/her own name, as if it was his/her own writing.
Orthonymity: This literally means “written under the correct name” and refers to writings that are produced in an author’s actual name (as when Charles Dickens published Great Expectations naming himself as the author)
Anonymity: This literally means “written under no name” and refers to writings that have no author’s name attached.
Homonymity: This literally means “written under the same name” and refers to a writing produced by someone who has the same name as some other famous person, leading, sometimes, to the mistaken assumption that it was the famous person who wrote it. (As if someone who really was named John Grisham, but was not that John Grisham, published a book using his own name)
Pseudonymity: This literally means “written under a false name” and refers to a writing that is published under a name that is different from the author’s real name. There are two kinds of pseudonymity: those written using pen names and those (deceitfully) written under the name of a famous person other than the actual author.
Pen Name: This is a made-up (innocent) name an author chooses to use when writing a book, as when Samuel Clemens published “Huckleberry Finn” under the assumed name “Mark Twain.” Usually this is an “innocent” convention, but sometimes it serves a significant purpose (as when Mary Ann Evans claimed to be a man, George Eliot, in part in order to be able to publish her work).
Pseudepigraphy: This is when a writing is published under a “false name,” specifically not a pen name but the name of some other person, usually famous, who is known or expected to be known by the readers. There are two types of pseudepigrapha: Falsely attributed works and Forgeries.
False Attribution: This refers to a an anonymous writing that is attributed by someone other than the author to a well-known author who did not in fact write it (as when someone called what is now our first Gospel, The Gospel according to Matthew)
Forgery: This refers to a writing produced by an author who claims to be a well-known person, knowing full well he is someone else.
Redactional Forgery: This refers to a writing that an author produced anonymously but that was later edited by someone else who added material which falsely claims the name of a well-known person as the author. (For example, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas was originally published anonymously but a later editor added an ending in which the author named himself as Thomas).
Non-pseudepigraphic Forgery: This refers to a writing that does not make an explicit authorial claim, but simply implies that a certain well-known person was the author. (An example: the book of Ecclesiastes: the author does not explicitly name himself as Solomon, but it’s clear and obvious that this is who he wants his readers to think he is.)
Literary Fiction: This refers to a writing in which the author assumes the persona of someone else – often a famous person – not in order to deceive anyone but simply as a rhetorical exercise. (We have some Greek and Roman examples of these exercises, for example from students at schools, but none from among the Christians; the teacher will have told the student, “pretend you’re Julius Caesar debating whether or not to cross the Rubicon; write a letter in Caesar’s name and using his writing style to explain your decision)
Why is it important to have these categories for different literary phenomena? Here’s a startling statistic. Many critical scholars think that of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, only seven or eight were orthononymous: the seven letters of Paul and the book of Revelation. But the latter is also a case of homonymity (it is written by someone named John, but not probably not *THAT* John – the son of Zebedee). Others are anonymous and falsely attributed (e.g., the Gospels and the book of Hebrews). One is probably a non-pseudepigraphic forgery (the book of Acts works to make you think that it is written by a traveling companion of Paul – because of the passages where the author talks about what “we” were doing – even though it probably was not). Others are simply forgeries, e.g. 1 and 2 Timothy; or 1 and 2 Peter; etc.
My view is that nearly half of the New Testament writings – 13 of the 27 books – are one or another type of forgery. That sounds harsh, but it seems to be the reality. We are talking about a major phenomenon here.[/private]