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My Two Books on Forgery

In a couple of weeks I will be going to Quebec City to deliver a keynote address for a scholarly conference on Pseudepigraphy in Antiquity; most of the presenters will be giving papers in French (hopefully we’ll have written versions for those of us who can’t pick up the nuances well orally), mine will be in English.  I’ll be saying more about it anon on the blog — the work on the paper is getting me back into the question of ancient forgery, the practice of writing a book falsely claiming to be some other [famous] person, and whether it was generally seen as a deceitful practice.  I’m firmly convinced it was — other scholars in the field refuse to think so — and whether “forgery” is the right term for it or is too loaded.

In any event, I haven’t worked rigorously in this field for ten years, and so am catching up in my reading.  As it turns out, today on the blog I was going to post on the *second* time in my career that I published two books on the same topic, one for a scholarly and the other for a popular audience, and as it turns out, it was my two books on forgery.  Here is how I’ve discussed the matter before, many years ago.

In my last post I began to talk about the first time I tried doing this two-book approach.  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.

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).  In this case I did not start out planning to write the 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…

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On Producing a New Translation of Ancient Texts
Writing Scholarly and Popular Books on the Same Topic



  1. Avatar
    Maciej Owczarzak  August 26, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman

    I wonder, what is your opinion on the authenticity of Testimonium Flavianum these days? You once said that Louis Feldman is a true expert and his view would need to be taken very, very seriously. I’ve read his 2012 article. He changed his views and was arguing that Eusebius wrote Testimonium Flavianum.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2019

      I still think that the heart of it goes back to Josephus, but I haven’t done any further work work on it recently.

    • Avatar
      Nathan  August 28, 2019

      Hi Maciej,

      Does Louis Feldman mention the difficulty with the word truth in the TF? I went through all the chapters of Antiquities seeing how Josephus used the word. He uses it only to mean either some fact about the real world (e.g. what someone said or done) or some revelation from God (the coming future or God’s words to his people).

      Obviously, we should choose the latter and read it as Jesus being a prophet of god. But then why is Josephus not a Christian if he believes Jesus is prophet of God?

  2. Avatar
    darren  August 26, 2019

    Bienvenue au Canada! Oh, j’aurais aimé être là.

  3. Avatar
    Apocryphile  August 26, 2019

    Was about to comment on your incorrect use of the possessive (Author’s) in your title Forged: Writing in the Name of God, but then I looked it up on Amazon, and was relieved to see it corrected there. Whew!

  4. Lev
    Lev  August 26, 2019

    I’m impressed with how you can read so many ancient and modern languages; Greek, Latin, Hebrew, English, German and French – have I missed any? Can you read all these languages at the same speed, or do some take more time? When you had your fellowship year at the National Humanities Center, what was the rate of books you were getting through each week? How long would it take you to get through, say, a 300-page book in German?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2019

      Also Italian. At one point I also could read a bit of Coptic and Syriac, but no more. No, I’m not very good at any of them, frankly. My main ancient languages are Greek and, to a lesser extent, Latin. French is much easier to read than German. But the reality is that to be a scholar you have to be able to handle work in all these languages. Major obstacle for many wannabe scholars….

      • Lev
        Lev  August 27, 2019

        Do you ever use electronic aids to translate modern languages, such as Google Translate? I understand a lot of works are rapidly being digitized, so perhaps the need to read multiple modern languages are less a barrier in our rapidly changing world of advanced technology?

        I hope you notice I’m only talking about modern languages. As you’re an expert in textual criticism, I can already hear your counter-arguments about the importance of understanding the meaning of ancient words…!

        • Bart
          Bart  August 28, 2019

          Yes, if I’m stuck on a word, or more often a phrase, in a modern language, I use Google translate. With a grain of salt! If you know the language reasonably well already, you can usually tell if it’s giving you a decent translation.

  5. Avatar
    fishician  August 26, 2019

    I thought Forged was very enlightening, so personally I’m glad your publisher was able to convince you to write it first! And for a trade book you have to admit “Forged!” is a much more provocative title than “Pseudepigraphy!”

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2019

      Ha! I guess I could imagine all sorts of ineffective titles for my books: “Poorly Transmitting the Words of the Jewish Eschatological Prophet,” e.g.

  6. Avatar
    Nathan  August 26, 2019

    I’m interested in how the conversations go when scholars can’t believe that forgery was frowned upon in antiquity. It reminds me of your debate on the blog with that minister.

    Could you tell us a story? Does it happen in private or perhaps during Q&A after a talk?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2019

      Ha! I can tell lots of stories. I think I’ll wait until after the conference in Quebec, for a few new ones. 🙂

  7. Avatar
    forthfading  August 26, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Why don’t more scholars try their hand at trade books? I agree with another blogger who said that the general public crave knowledge about technical and complicated subjects (history, science, philosophy, religion, etc.). Is it considered crossing over to the dark side??

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2019

      To some extent. But it’s more that scholars are trained to be scholars, and they trained to be scholars because they want to *be* scholars and to advance scholarship. That’s more than a full-time occupation. Also, most scholars don’t have the *skills* to write trade books. These are not skills scholars are *ever* trained in, and it’s not as simple as simply trying to avoid jargon (which itself is almost impossible for most scholars: they literally don’t have the vocabulary to describe the complicated issues in their field to anyone not hgihly trained in it)

  8. Avatar
    AstaKask  August 27, 2019

    Do you have any idea who started this meme that forgery was widely accepted in ancient times? It must have started somewhere.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 27, 2019

      Started as soon as NT scholars began realizing that some of the authors were not in fact whom they said they were.

  9. Avatar
    TRUEAX  August 27, 2019

    The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture was the first book of yours that I read and I have been hooked ever since. I am reading Forgery and Counterforgery now. Thank you for all of your work!

  10. Avatar
    qditt  August 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Could you simplify perhaps the top 3 ways that scholars can recognize a forgery? Writing style, Contrasting doctrine, etc? Much thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2019

      1. Writing Style and Vocabulary 2. Content of the Ideas 3. Presupposed historical setting of the author. Maybe I’ll post on this.

      • Avatar
        qditt  August 28, 2019

        Thank you so much. It really helps us non-scholars. Appreciate your work as always.

  11. Avatar
    quadell  August 29, 2019

    I’m about halfway through Forgery and Counterforgery, and I’m really enjoying i!. I’m on the anti-Pauline forgeries now. I was amused and surprised to see your “Jude the Obscure” joke in such a scholarly work — nice of your editor to let that stay in!

    I’m curious: what do you think is the relationship between the author of the Epistle of James the author of the Epistle of Jude? The openings seem similar, and I can more easily imagine someone bothering to write in the name of Jude if he’d already read (or written) a successful epistle in the name of James. Do you think they were written by the same person? Do we have any idea which was written first? (Jude is such a weird epistle!)

    • Bart
      Bart  September 1, 2019

      Ah, keep reading. I deal with that (I think). (Jude is trying to claim to be related to the author of James, so he’s read it; this is my point on p. 298). And yes, I was happy that my editor didn’t notice the joke….

  12. Avatar
    jeffmd90  August 29, 2019

    Is it true you’re working on a new book called “How To Recognise Books Written By Bart Ehrman?”

    • Bart
      Bart  September 1, 2019

      Ha! Certainly, like Galen, I’ve had a lot of things attributed to me that I never wrote!

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