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Why Did the Author of James Claim to be James in Particular?

This will be my last post on the epistle of James in the New Testament as “counter”-forgery, that is, as a forgery (a book written by someone falsely claiming to be a famous person) that is written against another book that is itself a forgery (written by someone claiming to be some *other* famous person).   In this case, the author is claiming to be James, the actual brother of Jesus, and he is writing to counter views of Paul – but not views Paul himself endorsed (exactly), but later developments of Paul’s views by an author (or authors) who wrote books, after Paul’s death, while *claiming* to be Paul.

All a bit confusing!  But here I finish by explaining why I think this author of the epistle of James claimed to be James in particular.  Why did he choose that name?  Why not some other?   We will never know for sure, of course, but here are my thoughts about it.  (This again is taken from my book Forgery and Counterforgery; I’ve added a couple of notes explaining statements that may not be self-explanatory)


Why James?

Why then did this counter-forger choose the name James for his attack on a later Pauline position on faith and works?

To get my answer, you’ll need to read the rest of the post.  To read the rest of the post you’ll need to belong to the blog.  You can join.  It’s easy and cheap.  And every thin dime goes to charity, and you will get tons for your money.  So go for it.

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A Christian Forger Caught in the Act
Is the Author of James Rejecting Paul Himself?



  1. Avatar
    Anton  August 6, 2019

    Matthew 17:27 also says God will reward according to our works. So James was not alone.

    • Avatar
      swordfish19  April 12, 2020

      Also only he who believes in me will be saved, so which one is it? LOL

  2. Avatar
    godspell  August 6, 2019

    Bart, to what extent do you think people reading forged books in this era were aware of forgeries in general, understood that the book they were reading by such and such might actually be written by so and so?

    I realize this is a tough question to address, but we have discussed the large number of books written under Galen’s name that were not by Galen at all, and the subsequent attempts to discredit the false works. That’s a different thing from early Christian writings (people would pay for those books), but it all comes down to names having authority.

    I’m sure you know that today many best-selling authors (or their publishers) farm out their names to less-known writers (Tom Clancy is one), because it’s the ‘brand’ that sells, more than the book itself. Sometimes they put their names in large print, and the real writer’s name in smaller print.

    It’s a lamentable practice, but often a lucrative one. But hard to imagine this happening in the era we’re discussing, for the reason that nobody really thought of books as commodities yet, and authorship didn’t have the same totemic power it does now (and maybe more of a sense of shame back then). Still and all, people read about this practice today, and they still go out and buy the ghosted books.

    Isn’t it possible that many people who read Pseudo-James knew it wasn’t the real James? But still appreciated it? The thing about Pseudo-Clancy and Pseudo-Cussler is, sometimes they’re better than the real thing. Which I’m sure would never be said of Pseudo-Ehrman. Are you aware, incidentally, there’s a book out there on Kindle about early Christianity and the author’s name is an anagram of yours? 😉

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      I didn’t know that. Tom Clancy doesn’t write all his books? Really? Wow. (I’ve never read one, but still….) There was a long discourse on “forgery” in antiquity. I’m going to be doing some work on the topic for a lecture I’m giving next month, and am planning to blog on it. My basic line: it was widely recognized, widely practiced, and widely condemned. I don’t know of any ancient source that actually *approves* of the practice (though some authors justify themselves for doing it)

      • Avatar
        godspell  August 7, 2019

        It’s much more common now than many, though generally speaking, it’s only in the ‘bestseller’ market, and no writer who cares about being seen as a hack will do it. Thing is, these particular hacks are millionaires many times over, and all they care about is that the money keeps coming in. And others who never made a big name for themselves will make more money pretending to be Clancy or Grisham than they ever would as themselves. It’s our unique permutation of an ancient practice–forgery bought and paid for by the forged, or his publisher.

        I guess my question was to what extent early Christians were aware of it. Their ‘publishing’ was really more along the lines of samizdat, which made it more vulnerable to forgery, I’d guess.(Though much less profitable than forging Galen).

        • Bart
          Bart  August 9, 2019

          Yes, the early Christians talk about it, trying to discern genuine works from forgeries.

      • Avatar
        HawksJ  August 9, 2019

        Yes, it’s a fascinating – and grossly misleading – practice. Following is a quote from Cussler in a 2013 USA Today interview:

        In 2004, Dirk Cussler became the first of eight collaborators who’ve worked with Cussler over the past nine years. Clive Cussler began using co-authors after his publisher urged him to do other series. He now has now five adventure series. With collaborators, he has four new novels this year.

        He says he still does some of the writing, “but not as much I used to.”‘ He and his co-authors work out the plots — “the hardest part after all those books, not to repeat myself” — then “they they go off and write the first 50 or so pages. They send it to me, and I see how it’s going, make changes and send it back. It seems to work well.”

  3. Lev
    Lev  August 6, 2019

    “the book of Acts, which shows Paul and James completely on the same page — theologically, practically, and every other way”

    I’ve often reflected on the account of Paul and James in Acts 21. Reading between the lines, it appears Luke presents an uncomfortable encounter (my analysis in italics):

    1. Paul was there to present the collection from the gentile churches he had planted (Acts 24:17), yet James’ first response to Paul is to boast about the large numbers of Jews who belong to the Jerusalem Church and how zealous they are for the law. v.20 James shows how unimpressed he is with Paul’s collection by boasting his ministry is more successful than Paul’s

    2. James then explains Paul’s dire reputation in the Jerusalem church – presenting the false accusations that he teaches Jews to abandon the law. v.21 If James and Paul were on the same page, why hasn’t James refuted these false allegations? Instead, it appears he has let them fester and grow.

    3. James then orders Paul to perform a purification ceremony to publicly confirm he is obedient to the law. v.24 A power play by James, exerting his authority over Paul and humiliating him.

    4. James then claims authority over Paul’s churches by reminding him they have been instructed by the Jerusalem Church to live in obedience to Noachide Law. v.25 James is countering Paul’s teaching that Gentiles are free from the Law by reminding him they have been instructed to live under Noachide Law.

    It seems to me that Luke presents James as humiliating Paul, ignoring the collection he spent years working on, exerting his authority over him and his churches, and tacitly admitting he has done nothing to defend Paul’s terrible local reputation. He then orders him to perform a highly public and visible ceremony that James probably knew would end in disaster for Paul (given that James would have probably heard of the dire predictions issued by Agabus in Caesarea).

    Luke doesn’t openly say it – but reading between the lines he seems to imply James screwed Paul on this occasion.

  4. Avatar
    Stephen  August 6, 2019

    So late in the First Century we can still detect the after shocks of the disagreement between the historical James and Paul in contradistinction to the “one big happy family” narrative in Acts. At this point what is your sense of the level of seriousness of this disagreement post-Antioch?


    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      Pretty serious. Paul’s side, of course, won out decisively.

  5. Avatar
    AstaKask  August 6, 2019

    “An epistle is the wife of an apostle.” – unknown

  6. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  August 6, 2019

    Have you posted previously about disagreement between Peter and Paul? (I did a blog search but the post headings didn’t reveal such).

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      I”m not sure! At a quick glance, I don’t think so! Maybe I should….

      • Lev
        Lev  August 7, 2019

        I would be really interested to read your views on that.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  August 7, 2019

        Should you have time, please do! It would be fascinating for us if you’d unpack your views on it.

      • Avatar
        Boltonian  August 8, 2019

        You began a discussion a while ago about why you once thought that Peter and Cephas were two different people but now you don’t. I don’t think that it was ever concluded.

  7. Avatar
    fishician  August 6, 2019

    Since James the brother of Jesus was so well known in the early church, I would think that another person named James would make a point of clarifying that he is not “that” James. The fact that he simply calls himself James leads me to think he really did intend for people to think he was “that” James. Maybe he really was named James, and simply signed his name with a chuckle knowing that many people would think he was “that” James!

  8. Avatar
    Jim  August 6, 2019

    Around when is it thought that a compilation of Pauline letters was being circulated (together in a single codex?). Presumably, Marcion had access to some sort of compilation of some/most of Paul’s letters.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      Yes, definitely by the time of Marcion. 2 Peter 3:16 does mention “Paul’s letters” which presupposes the author knew several of them. Collected together? Possibly? In one codex? Seems unlikely, but maybe? So, at least mid-second century I should think?

  9. Avatar
    Pegill7  August 6, 2019

    As you know Martin Luther regarded James as a “book of straw” and relegated it to the end of his translation of the Bible into German. He based his enlightenment on the book of Romans. Did not Luther recognize Paul’s understanding of the meaning of “Works” as you have explained it as referring to obedience to Jewish Law rather than “good deeds” as James seems to mean? Certainly Paul’s list of evils that one might fall into is strong evidence that he knew the difference between “good deeds” and “bad deeds.”

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      No, that’s pretty much the point. Luther thought that when Paul talked about “works” it applied specifically to “doing good works,” not to “doing what the Law requires for Jews to maintain their Jewish identity”

  10. Avatar
    Hngerhman  August 6, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    Regarding the dispute between Paul and those men from James in the circumcision party:
    – Why would, if Deutero-Isaiah said that the nations would cleave to YHWH, the circumcision party feel it necessary to press a non-Jew to circumcise? More likely a disagreement about the significance of this scripture (it’s unlikely they weren’t familiar with this text, right?) or a hierarchical view of the citizens in the Kingdom (gentiles would be second class)? It would seem the latter, based on the Pauline dinner incident with Peter in Antioch. But if that’s the right direction, then:
    – Wouldn’t the end time in-gathering of the nations itself as described in Deutero-Isaiah militate against the legitimacy of any hierarchy?

    This topic is tangled… Thanks for the help parsing it!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      They assumed that Deutero-Isaiah was saying that the nations would cleave to YHWH by becoming members of the pepole of God — that is, by being circumcised and adopting the ways God requires.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  August 7, 2019

        Ah, thank you! Yet another elegant Ehrman solution to combat my befuddlement…

        So, this would seem to point up a fundamental disagreement about how gentile converts would actually gain admission to the Kingdom, rather than their status in the hierarchy once admitted. Fascinating. Here I was unwittingly walking around with an implicit Pauline (separate identity but equivalent status in the Kingdom) interpretation of Deutero-Isaiah lodged in my head…

        – Do you think Paul (per Romans) thought of All Israel plus the ‘pleroma’ of the nations in distinct, identifiable groupings within the future Kingdom (Jew & gentile), or more of a homogenous population? And thoughts on whether a distinction needs to be drawn between identity types at entry vs. after admission into the Kingdom?
        – Do you think the Antioch incident occurred after the (Pauline narrated) meeting with the pillars, or before? I’ve heard it can be argued both ways, although the natural, casual reading in English NSRV translation would connote pillars meeting then Antioch incident.

        Thanks as always!

        • Bart
          Bart  August 9, 2019

          I think he imagined them as homogenous, but it’s hard to know. Antioch incident was definitely after I think: that’s one reason he was ticked about it.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  August 9, 2019

            Thanks a ton!

  11. Avatar
    qditt  August 6, 2019

    Good Evening Dr. Ehrman,

    As always, Im off topic in this particular post even though it is interesting and insightful. I would like to ask your opinion of John the Baptist. I’m fascinated with his story because, well…there is not a lot known about him other than perhaps his apocalyptic views. Were there others who were baptizing before him? Who do you think his mentor was, and why was Jesus inclined to follow him? I don’t recall Jesus baptizing anyone, was there a reason for this? Perhaps you know of a book or blog that discusses John in more detail.

    The Intertestamental books I have read have not given me much insight into his obscure past. So many questions, and as always, thank you so much in devoting time to everyone’s questions!

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      I’d recommend you start by seeing the post by Joel Marcus on John the Baptist!

    • Lev
      Lev  August 7, 2019

      “Who do you think his mentor was” – In Joel Marcus’ book (which is fantastic, by the way, a worthy investment), he argues (successfully in my opinion) that John the Baptist was a member of the Essene community who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. He identifies many important parallels that go beyond coincidences.

  12. fefferdan
    fefferdan  August 7, 2019

    Bart, what is the reason you think “James” is reacting to Deutero-Paul, as opposed to an antinomian misinterpretation of the real Paul?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 7, 2019

      It depends what you mean by “antinomians.” The people he is opposing are those who think that it is not necessary to do good deeds for salvation. If that’s what you mean, then they *are* antinomians. But that is a view that could be read out of some of the Deutero-Pauline letters. So I’m not sure it’s an either/or.

  13. Avatar
    meohanlon  August 8, 2019

    Bart, would you consider a book that is credited to someone & faithfully reflects that person’s view, to still be a forgery? Even if James, or any of the other books of the Bible, old and new testaments, may simply be named after the account left by the person after whom it is named, in the event they couldn’t write, or didn’t have the opportunity or felt the need to. Of course the actual author would still be putting their spin on it, perhaps unknowingly, but I’d think there is a significant difference between passing off one’s own views as those of some respected authority (in order that they be given any attention) and trying to preserve and broadcast an authority’s views by committing them to pen and paper as best as recollection allows for.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2019

      Yes, a book is a forgery *regardless* of its content. The term refers only to authorial claims. If an author claims to be someone other than he/she is, then the person claimed to be the author did not in fact write it. Whether the alleged author agreed with what is in the book has no bearing on whether the actual author was not the alleged author.

  14. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  August 9, 2019

    The author of James spent a lot of time writing about problems with the wealthy, but wouldn’t he have also come from a wealthy background considering the sophistication level of his letter? Was he arguing against his own class?

    Would the author of Jude have been part of the wealthy elite as well?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 9, 2019

      Good question. I wish we could know! Some lower class people were highly educated; one of the very most famous of all Stoic philosophers, e.g., was Epictetus, educated as a slave.

  15. Avatar
    smstrouse  September 21, 2019

    I read your posts to a 90-year old member of my congregation in a skilled nursing facility. He is a huge fan of both your books and blog.
    After reading the James series, he had a question: “
Going by the consensus among scholars that certain of Paul’s writing are genuinely his and others are pseudo-Pauline, is there any indication that Paul has a tendency to see faith not only necessary but also sufficient. And does James deny this?”

    • Bart
      Bart  September 22, 2019

      Great questoin. My sense is that Paul thinks faith is “sufficient” but that it has natural consequences in, say, ethics, that if not manifest, show that it is not true faith. James pretty much agrees with that, but would go on to say that therefore strictly speaking faith is not itself sufficient — you need works. At the end of the day, I think they agree, but only because hthey mean something different by “faith.” For Paul, the word refers to a personal commitment based on complete trust; for James the words refers to an agreement to certain theological views. For him, that’s not enough. And Paul would agree, but Paul would not say that this is actually what “faith” is. See what I mean?

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