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Were Ancient Readers Interested in Detecting Forgeries?

I continue now with my lecture this past week on whether ancient readers and writers considered pseudepigraphic writing – in which an author claimed to be someone else (always someone famous) – was seen as deceitful, a kind of literary lie, and is therefore appropriately, in an ancient context, appropriately considered by thos of us today, “forgery.”  This is Part 2 of 4.

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I do not need to give an extensive account of all the instances of ancient Echtheitskritik (= scholarly attempt to determine if a work is authentic) found throughout the surviving literature: full accounts are readily available in any of the lengthy monographs.  To be sure, some recent scholars have claimed it was a rare discourse.  But maybe abundance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  I myself have always been struck by how extensive the discourse of authenticity is, going back in some sense to Herodotus and becoming a focus of interest for some authors, especially critics and biographers such as (the Roman medical writer of the second century) Galen and (the third-century biographer of eminent philosophers) Diogenes Laertius who thought it truly important to know if a particular author wrote a particular work.  No, it was not good enough to say that the content of the work was roughly what the author would have written in a different situation, or if he had had more time.   Some books were authentic, others were lies or illegitimate children.

And so in the Greek and Roman tradition, from a much longer list, forgeries are exposed by such figures as….

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  September 18, 2019

    If someone tells a lie that flatters you, you are less likely to challenge it than a lie that does not. That’s just human. That’s what we do. In fact we call humans that challenge everything strictly according to its accuracy ‘pedantic.’
    But in actual fact: A lie is a lie is a lie. ‘Spin’ notwithstanding.
    People only say forgery was ‘accepted at the time’ and ‘understood not to be so bad’ when it favours what they’re trying to sell. IMO.

  2. Avatar
    brenmcg  September 18, 2019

    When 1 Timothy says “This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching” isn’t it hard to believe the author saw himself as a liar?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      Not hard for me at all. I know lots and lots of people who tell lies who say you shouldn’t do that. Same with people who cheat on their taxes, drink too much, and commit adultery. Happens *all* the time.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  September 22, 2019

        Those who intentionally lie but teach others of the godlessness and sinfulness of lying can be divided into two kinds. Those who do so for personal gain and those who are involved in self deception.
        The writer of 1 Timothy doesn’t appear to be looking for personal gain but appears to believe they are passing on genuine moral teaching.
        Shouldn’t we then conclude that the writer was involved in self deception and did not believe themselves to be lying when writing 1 Tim?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 23, 2019

          I don’t think those are the two options. There are lots of motivations for forgery — I give four of them in the post today, but there’s a much longer description (with examples) in my books on forgery. Yes, the author of 1 Timothy *certainly* thought he was passing along genuine moral teaching. So too did other authors claiming to be Paul who took *opposite* positions to the author of 1 Timothy. All of these authors would not have appreciated the fact that someone else wrote a book claiming to be Paul in order to support their own views….

  3. Avatar
    RorscHaK  September 19, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman

    Do we have much information about how the ancients detect forgery? And would it be very different from the method we use today?
    Is it a significant fail for the Early Church to not detect the Pastorals and Deutero-Pauline as forgeries, or is it within the expected levels of false negatives?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      Yes, indeed. They talk about it. They do pretty much what we do, without being able to do it as well or thoroughly given our technological advantages. But they too consider)different) writing style, substance of what is being said, possible anachronisms, and the like — just as we do.

      • Avatar
        RorscHaK  September 21, 2019

        Were there any early doubts about the authenticity of Deutero-Paul? It would be strange if no one noticed the issues with 2 Thessalonians, but even Marcion included it in his canon…

        And, was a Pauline Corpus with 50% forgeries a rather bad performance, or was this normal for ancient forge-detectors?

        • Bart
          Bart  September 22, 2019

          There were some doubts, but not many. And no, no one notiece the issues until modern methods of literary analysis developed. I’d say 50% is not very good…. But of course, that”s only 50% (well, not quite: 6/13) of the books in the NT canon connected with Paul. He would have written tons of others. And we have a number of other forged ones form outside the NT.

          • Avatar
            RorscHaK  September 23, 2019

            I wonder if the early church managed to detect any forged Pauline Epistles at all…And do we have much information about the works that were considered as forgeries by the Early Church? Could any of those potentially be false positives?

          • Bart
            Bart  September 23, 2019

            Yes, indeed — I give a list in my book Forgery and Counterforgery (not just of Paul but of all the NT books)

  4. Avatar
    Judith  September 19, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, it’s time to begin making donations in celebration of your birthday! If we wait until closer to October 5, there are too many of us now. We might collapse the system and none of us would want that!

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      Ha!! OK, I think I’ll make a birthday wish in my next post! Thanks for remembering.

  5. epicurus
    epicurus  September 19, 2019

    As you’ve noted in other posts on the blog over the years that some scholars allow their faith to drive their conclusions, I’ve been wondering if this topic is another one of those instances? Although in this case it doesn’t always relate directly to the Bible, could it be that indirectly, by saying other works were not intended to deceive, and did not actually fool readers, could this be a back door to maintain a justification of disputed letters in the Bible and or other early Christian works in some way? I’m not saying they are all Christian apologists or anything, but maybe they still have some faith based reasons? You probably don’t want to make any specific accusations, I’m just wondering about your take in general about this as it relates to forgeries in ancient writings.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      Yes, that is absolutely right in many instances, in my experience.

  6. Avatar
    Zak1010  September 19, 2019

    I was under the impression that ‘ Readers ‘ were upper class affluent people and certainly a minority. The ordinary person was not literate in reading and writing, also, church leaders did not allow them to read nor touch the material fed to them. ( whether they can read or not.)
    Interesting though, to obtain an education in those times meant you were wealthy or at least well off.
    ***
    Interested in detecting forgeries ? Most church leaders knew they were forging and were slick at dancing around the accusations of it ..( the good outweighed the bad, for the community, trust me ). Intentions intentions intentions.
    Affluent people never abuse wealth and knowledge….Right?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      Never in my experience; just like people in power are there only to serve, in every case, never to promote themselves….

  7. Avatar
    Judith  September 19, 2019

    Something else we bloggers could do for Dr. Ehrman’s birthday is request the production team leader for Terry Gross (Fresh Air) to schedule a review of his new book – Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife – coming out in the spring of 2020. That email address is dmiller@whyy.org.

  8. Avatar
    mkahn1977  September 20, 2019

    Can the Pentateuch be considered pseudepigraphic because of the alleged Mosaic authorship? Since those writing and editing it over time obviously knew they weren’t Moses.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 20, 2019

      No, those five books are written anonymously. The author makes no claims about who he is. Only later were they wrongly attributed to Moses.

  9. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    By the general rules of historians, what do you consider to be a better source 1 Clem. because it was written a bit earlier or the letters of Ignatius because they are also rather early and also written by a primary source?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 29, 2019

      Source for what? they’re both good sources for what their authors were experiencing and concerned about.

  10. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    From what year do we get our first surviving manuscripts of 1 Clem. and Ignatius?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 29, 2019

      1 Clement is already in the 5th century codex Alexandrinus (as part of the NT); We have a fragment of one of Ignatius’s letters (Smyrneans) from the 5th century; otherwise we need to wait fot a manuscript of the 11th century for the Greek text.

  11. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 28, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    How did you choose that the original view of Jesus as Son of God was adoptionist? That seems to be the view in Rom., but in Phil. it seems that Jesus was always linked with God.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 29, 2019

      I talk about all this in my book How Jesus Became God. There appears to be a progression in Christological views toward seeing Christ as more and more (then more and more) exalted.

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