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The Different Terms for Literary Deception

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:

 

Falsification…

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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]


Two Rather Bizarre Accounts of How Judas Died
Different Kinds of Literary Deceit

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    nbraith1975  April 24, 2018

    Did the authors of Matthew and Luke plagiarize Mark?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      Not exactly. Plagiarizing involves taking someone else’s work and claiming it as your own, under your own name. But whoever wrote Matthew and Luke did not write under their own name — their books are anonymous; so they are not claiming (taking personal credit for) someone else’s work as their own.

  2. John4
    John4  April 24, 2018

    Which 13 New Testament books, Bart, do you consider to be forgeries?

    Many thanks! 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      Acts, Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and Jude. Wait a second — that’s twelve!!

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  April 30, 2018

        Hebrews is falsely attributed to Paul, but it is anonymous, isn’t it? So we’re down to 11?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 1, 2018

          A book by NT scholar Claire Rothschild argues that the reference to Timothy in the conclusion of the letter is meant to make the reader think that they author is Paul. But since the author doesn’t declare his (pretended) name, this is a case of what I would call a non-pseudepigraphic forgery.

      • Avatar
        Ephialtes  May 9, 2018

        Wait, Acts a forgery, and not Luke? How is that possible? Are they not a two-part work?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 9, 2018

          They were published at different times. One of them claims to be by a companion of Paul. The other does not.

  3. Avatar
    ask21771  April 24, 2018

    Did the writers of the new testament believe the stories in Genesis were true events

  4. Julian
    Julian  April 24, 2018

    How do scholars come to a consensus or agreement to define such terms of nomenclature? Is it just by scholarly recognition in the literature over a long period of time with scholars citing other scholars? Are such matters ever raised in widely attended forums for scholars and how would agreement be enacted?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      Yes, that’s how. And yes, sometimes scholars make a plea for nomenclature, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

  5. talmoore
    talmoore  April 24, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, this is an off-topic question, but have you watched the documentary Wild, Wild Country on Netflix? If you have not, I could not recommend it more that you do watch it. I found it an invaluable window into the creation, workings and ultimate corruption of a religious mass movement. And as it pertains to the topic of forgeries, it paints an excellent portrait of how the true believer will rationalize and justify behaviors that most people would consider unethical (such as forgery), believing that it is for a greater purpose, a greater good.

  6. Avatar
    Todd  April 24, 2018

    One additional category might be called “legendary” (for lack of a better term), to refer to the content of a document…that is: stories and teachings that have no author at all which come from that which is handed down by word-of-mouth in what we call “oral tradition” and then compiled into a single document as a narrative or compilation of teachings, saying and events, etc.

    I think most of the NT is of this type of material regardless of whose name is attached as the author.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      Yes, that would be an additional literary / oral category — but I was only giving kinds of literary *deceit*.

  7. tduvally
    tduvally  April 24, 2018

    For “falsification”, is it safe to assume you only mean intentional changes? Deception implies intent, so a scribal error that changed the meaning would not be considered “falsification”, correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      Yes, the “deceitful” changes of the text made intentionally are what I have in mind; there are lots of other falsifications of texts (accidental) which are not meant to change the meaning (even though they may well do so)

  8. Avatar
    fishician  April 24, 2018

    So, consider John 21. It sounds like the gospel ends in chapter 20, and 21 was added later. At the end of 21 it says, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” Would this be a false attribution, or a redactional forgery? Or something else? Does it make a difference if the author of 21 really believed John was the original source of the material? Or can you apply these terms without reference to the author’s actual intent?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      It’s important to note that the author is not claiming to be that disciple, but to have gotten his information from that disciple. So it’s hard to say if that’s an act of forgery or not (maybe the redactor *did* get traditions that originated with that disciple). But in any case it is a redactional claim, not the claim of the original author.

  9. Avatar
    Raemon  April 24, 2018

    Bart, do you suggest overlapping categories here? If not, please distinguish these three:

    Pseudonymity: This … means written under the name of a famous person other than the actual author.
    Pseudepigraphy: This is when a writing is published under … the name of some other person, usually famous,
    Forgery: This refers to a writing produced by an author who claims to be a well-known person,
    Thanks,
    Raemon Polk

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      They are not overlapping but sequenced (as subcategories). Forgery is a kind of pseudepigraphy and pseudepigraphy is a kind of pseudonymity.

  10. Avatar
    nbraith1975  April 24, 2018

    Bart – This is probably a dumb question but are you familiar with Matthew Wade Ferguson? He quotes your work often in this piece about the authorship of the gospels:
    https://infidels.org/library/modern/matthew_ferguson/gospel-authors.html

    This is another of his works:
    https://infidels.org/library/modern/matthew_ferguson/gospel-genre.html

  11. Avatar
    ardeare  April 24, 2018

    The Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts are particularly puzzling because if the author wasn’t a companion of Paul, where did he get such a wealth of information?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      From oral traditions. In that he was just like all other authors decades later who were writing about Paul, or Jesus, or Peter, or anyone else . (Just as people today write books on Paul without personally knowing him.)

  12. Avatar
    caesar  April 25, 2018

    Given your understanding of forgery in the ancient world…in order to be accepted, would the Daniel author(s) have fooled 2nd century Jews into thinking the book of Daniel was written 4 centuries earlier, and just recently discovered?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      Yes, that’s pretty much exactly what he did — he and all the authors of the various apocalypses (1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, etc.)

  13. Avatar
    atherdm  April 25, 2018

    Bart,

    Have you seen or heard of the new documentary ‘Fragments of Truth’?
    Subtitled, ‘Can we trust the Bible?’. It was released today, 4/24.
    Seems like damage control in the considerable wake of your own literary output.

  14. Avatar
    Veyron  April 25, 2018

    Hello, Bart did you published any article which deals with this particular issue? That would be an interesting lecture. Regards,

    • Bart
      Bart  April 25, 2018

      It’s an essay in a collection of essays called

        Fakes, Forgeries, and Fictions: Writing Ancient and Modern Christian Apocrypha: Proceedings from the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium
  15. Avatar
    mannix  April 25, 2018

    In F&CF, Chap.3, pg.34 you described “embedded” forgeries in addition to “redactional” and “non-pseudoepigraphic” types, but you don’t mention it in your post. Are you now including “embedded” in the “non-pseudoepigraphic” category?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 26, 2018

      No, I still hold to my same views — I just didn’t want to get too complicated int he post!

  16. Avatar
    Alfred  April 26, 2018

    I could not understand why these were classified as ‘deceit’.

    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)

    • Bart
      Bart  April 26, 2018

      Those three are striking for standing in *contrast* to forms of deceit.

  17. Avatar
    Boltonian  April 26, 2018

    Example of homonymity: many years ago I worked with someone called Dennis Wheatley. I made some kind of feeble joke about the popular author and he told me that he himself had written a novel, which he brought in to the office the next day. The subject matter was nothing like the satanic mystery writer’s but I often wondered if he had written the book (and the publisher published) in the hope that it would sell whatever its merits by trading on the reputation of his famous namesake.

  18. Avatar
    Tony  April 26, 2018

    Got it. So, Eusebius inserting the Testimonium in the text of Antiquities would be called a “falsification”. Right? Did you identify it as such in “Forgery and Counter – Forgery”?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 26, 2018

      No, because I think the bulk of the passage is authentic. For me it’s a case of falsification: a scribe altered the text to make it affirm Christian faith claims.

      • Avatar
        Tony  April 26, 2018

        For a number of reasons, including the work by Paul Hopper and Ken Olson, I consider the complete TF passage a interpolated fabrication. Therefore, the Testimonium, to me, does not serve as evidence for an historical Jesus.

  19. Avatar
    Clair  April 26, 2018

    I don’t like the word author. People who could read and write were educated scholars and had points of view based also on their school of thought? Often more Greek or Roman even Rabis? Gospel 1.0 set the basic tone and after that others glossed their viewpoints some well outside the various Jewish thinking? Who that was we don’t know but, while the sects did fight with each other, the common enemy was Rome. Is this an attempt to align with the winning side before or after 70AD?

  20. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  May 1, 2018

    I am the keeper of a very small church library. Is there a subject heading under which I could group together non-canonical writings…apocrypha, books about dead sea scrolls, other gospels, epistles, apocalyses, apostolic fathers. I thought about “pseudepigrapa”, but I don’t think anyone lnows what it means.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 2, 2018

      How about “Other Christian Writings” or “Non-canonical books”?

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