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Published: 10 January 2013

624 Pages


ISBN: 9780199928033

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Forgery and Counter-forgery

The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics

Bart D. Ehrman

  • This is the first comprehensive study of literary forgery in the early Christian tradition ever produced in English.
  • It establishes once and for all that ancient critics considered the use of false authorial names to be a form of literary deceit, lying.
  • It evaluates every major aspect of the phenomenon in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, including ancient Judaism: the extent of the phenomenon, ancient attitudes towards it, intentions of forgers, their motivations, the techniques they used to avoid detection, the methods critics used to expose them, and the reactions to forgers and their work once they were exposed.
  • It considers every instance of Christian forgery produced for polemical purposes from the time of the New Testament (nearly half of the New Testament books make false authorial claims) through the second and third centuries, and up to the end of the fourth century, with the Pseudo-Ignatian letters and the pseudonymous Apostolic Constitutions.
  • For works whose authorship is hotly debated among scholars (for example, 1 Peter; 2 Timothy), establishes decisive grounds for understanding the work as a forgery; in instances where there is now little debate (for example, 2 Peter, the Pseudo-Ignatians), summarizes the arguments that are widely deemed compelling.
  • Establishes the polemical use of every forgery he considers, whether in Christians' conflicts with Jews and Judaism, with pagans and paganism, or with one another in the heated debates over early Christian doctrine and practice.
  • Highlights in particular the phenomenon that he labels "counter-forgery," in which a forger directs his work against another work that is a forgery, seeing instances of the phenomenon from our earliest surviving traditions (2 Thessalonians) on up through the Fourth Century (the Acts of Pilate and the Apostolic Constitutions).
  • Shows that some well-known works not generally considered to be forged do in fact make clear false authorial claims, including the New Testament books of Acts and 1 John.
  • Set within the context of other related phenomena: the false attribution of otherwise anonymous writings (the Gospels of the New Testament), the fabrication of legendary narratives (the apocryphal acts of the Apostles, early Christian gospel traditions), the falsification of texts through scribal activities, and plagiarism - themselves maligned literary practices in antiquity.
  • Concludes with a detailed discussion of ancient Christian discourses on "lying," showing that widely disparate views of the practice were held by such well-known authors as Augustine, who argued that the Christian should never lie, under any circumstances whatsoever, and John Cassian, who, with the majority of Christians, maintained that there were situations in which it was, in fact, the right thing to do to deceive another. It is within these discourses of lying and deception that the forgers' self-justifications are probably to be situated.