Friday, April 22, 2011

Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”

On the topic of “why conservatives should read liberal books, and what we can learn from them,” conservative biblical scholars Ben Witherington and Darrell Bock have both now completed their reviews of Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”. To a large degree, the work is less about the New Testament, and more about forgery in the early church, which is an interest of mine. Ehrman, in fact, makes [a very legitimate case] that there were forgeries in the early church; from there he works backward in time and tries to make the charge that parts of the New Testament were forged. Bock and Witherington of course are able to deal effectively with these charges. But in the process, there are things to learn, as well:

Bock says, for example:
Ehrman also does nicely in treating the supposed Epistle of Peter to Titus, as well as The Apocalypse of Peter and The Acts of Peter (as well as the Pseudo-Clementines). These works are forgeries and Ehrman is right to point to them as examples of the phenomena when Peter (or Clement) is named.
These, of course, were works that prompted historians like Eamon Duffy to say that “These stories were to be accepted as sober history by some of the greatest minds of the early Church -- Origen, Ambrose, Augustine. But they are pious romance, not history, and the fact is that we have no reliable accounts either of Peter’s later life or the manner or place of his death.”

My hope is now to provide more specifics about these works, the stories they told, and the impact that they had on these later writers.

And Witherington notes:
On pp. 246-47 quite rightly takes on the Jesus Seminar (go Bart go) and shows they were often wrong, frequently made mistakes, and surprisingly ignorant about ancient writings. For example, Bart points to their statement that plagiarism was unknown in antiquity. Bart is able to show in a mere paragraph that this is absolutely false. Plagiarism was known and complained about bitterly in antiquity (see Vitruivius Book 7; Polybius Hist. 9.2.12; Martial Epigram 1.66; Diogenes Laertius 2.60; 5.93; 8.54). This discussion is all quite helpful, and correct. Equally helpful but unsettling is the evidence from the second century and later of Christians prepared to created forgeries, fabrications, and falsifications supposedly in the name of truth. Yes, this did happen, and not just by heretics either, and Bart has every right to bring it to light, as it can’t stand the light of day. His case for this going on in any of the books of the NT is another matter— it is weak, and more often than not, quite readily refuted and rebutted by those who have studied this material in depth and have written commentaries on all of this. I am one such person.
I’ve not finished all of this yet, but it promises to be fascinating.

For anyone who is interested in conservative responses to other Ehrman works, I’ve found that the videos at The Ehrman Project provide an excellent introduction to these works.

Finally, in looking up some other things, I came across this fascinating picture of “letter composition” in the ancient world. When Paul wrote a letter, he rarely, if ever, would sit down with pen in hand to write. Rather, ancient letter writing was more of an art form, as is outlined here by Robert Jewett in his Commentary on Romans:
Secretaries also routinely refined the rough drafts of dictation or composed letters themselves on the basis of brief instructions. In some instances the secretary acted as coauthor or wrote in behalf of more than one person. Secretaries frequently became the trusted administrative assistants of their owners or employers. But in every case, “the sender was held completely responsible for the content and the form of the letter.”

In the case of Romans, as the rhetorical analysis in the next chapter and the subsequent commentary will demonstrate, there is evidence of careful planning of the structure of the letter and attention devoted to making a varied and often elegant impression on hearers. It would have required weeks of intensive work during which Tertius must have been made available on a full-time basis.
This expense is most easily explained by the detail Paul reveals in 16:2, that Phoebe “became a patroness to many and to myself as well.” This is the only time in Paul's letters that he acknowledges having received funding from a patron, and it is likely that this patronage was directly involved with the missionary project [to Spain] promoted by the letter....

Most commentators assume that Phoebe had agreed to be the letter bearer, but a person of her social class would have her scribe read the letter aloud in her behalf. Phoebe and Tertius would then be in the position to negotiate the complex issue advanced by the letter in a manner typical for the ancient world. For example, a papyrus refers to a letter bearer as qualified to expand on the letter: “The rest please learn from the man who brings you this letter. He is no stranger to us.” (“Romans, A Commentary”, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press ©2007, 22-23).


CathApol said...

There is no doubt that there were forgeries in the Early Church. There were attempts to include and/or pass off some of these forgeries as inspired Scripture. It was the Catholic Church in the 4th century which sifted the tares from the wheat in this regard to provide us with an infallible Canon of Sacred Scripture - and especially as it applies to the New Testament, virtually all Christians look to THAT canon.

There were other later forgeries too, I have dealt with some of those on my blog.


John Bugay said...

It was the Catholic Church in the 4th century which sifted the tares from the wheat in this regard to provide us with an infallible Canon of Sacred Scripture

Your simplistic explanation here defies the reality of the process.

There was in fact much work going on toward the development and understanding of the New Testament canon as early as mid second century, if not earlier -- not by the "Catholic Church", not in the 4th century, and certainly not by anything approaching an "infallible" definition.

I've documented this briefly in these two posts:

Canon in the early church 1

Canon in the early church 2

For one of the most complete treatments of the development of the canon of the New Testament, see this excellent treatment by Jason Engwer.

John Bugay said...

And by the way, several of these "forgeries" (including the proto-evangelion of James, Acts of Peter, Pseudo-Clementines) had elements picked up and incorporated into Roman Catholic teaching, shaping dogma.

That's a long, convoluted process, but it needs to be fleshed out.

Ken said...

Al Kimel (The Pontificator) was an Anglican who later converted to the Roman Catholic Church. He seems to basically agree with liberal scholarship that Ephesians was not written by Paul, that 2nd Peter was not written by Peter and that Paul didn’t write the Pastorals. (and that we can't be sure that Matthew wrote Matthew or John wrote John or Revelation)

He wrote at the end of his 3rd article (below in a separate post) on the canon, that Psedonymity is not a problem for God (Ehrman’s “Forgery”), and that if God employed those means, “who are we to complain?”

“If the historical evidence leads us to conclude that God employed the convention of pseudonymity in his sacred writings, who are we to complain? who are we to judge? I stand by the Word of God as confessed by his one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Al Kimel. (he seems to agree that the church just “declared” it canon. )

Thanks to the “Way Back Machine” of web archive, I was able to retrieve Al Kimel’s (The Pontificator) articles on the canon (that he took down later, for some reason; I don’t know why , but only some of his articles are still on the net).

Continued - I hope the urls don't cause it to get caught in the "spam". So, that is why I divided up the comment post.

Ken said...

Al Kimel, continued

Article one – “Did the Church create the Scripture?”

“But Atwood’s argument gets weaker when we come to those New Testament writings that were not written by Apostles. Mark and Luke, for example, were not Apostles. Their Gospels got into the canon because of alleged relationship to real Apostles (Mark/Peter; Luke/Paul). The anonymous author of Hebrews probably was not an Apostle. John of the Apocalypse probably was not John, son of Zebedee. And then we have to acknowledge the critical problem of pseudonymity. The Apostle Matthew may not have written the gospel attributed to him. The Apostle Paul may not have written Ephesians and the Pastorals. The Apostle Peter may not have written his two letters; etc. The question of authorship of many books of the New Testament is a hotly contested matter in scholarly circles. Surely Atwood knows all of this, but without mention.”

Al Kimel, this convert to RCC, is admitting that liberal scholarship creates doubts as to the apostlicity of the NT writings and therefore, the canonicity, unless the Roman Catholic Church just “declares” them so.

He has to say that the church did not create the Scripture or canon; but later in his 3rd article, he basically comes back and admits that they did, in a roundabout way. (see at the end in next post)

“Did the Church “create” the Scripture? No, the Holy Spirit of God did–both in inspiring the biblical authors to compose the sacred texts and in inspiring the Church to recognize and authorize these texts as Scripture. The Bible cannot be divorced from the living voice of the Church.” Al Kimel

Ken said...

Al Kimel, continued.

Article no. 2 – “Canon to the Right of them, canon to the left of them”

Article no. 3: “Canon in front of them, rode the six hundred”

“Packer and Atwood tell us that pseudonymity would be unworthy of God. Why? Because by our contemporary standards the convention is reckoned as dishonest and deceptive. One may wonder about the anachronism of such a judgment (see, e.g., Frank W. Hughes’s Pseudonymity as Rhetoric). Pseudepigraphy appears to have enjoyed great popularity in the first century. But putting aside the question whether the convention would have been judged as harshly in the first century as it is now judged today, surely it is appropriate to point out that God has often redemptively used inappropriate means (inappropriate, at least, from our perspective) to accomplish his purposes. If the historical evidence leads us to conclude that God employed the convention of pseudonymity in his sacred writings, who are we to complain? who are we to judge? I stand by the Word of God as confessed by his one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” Al Kimel

This all shows that Ehrman's "Forgery" contributes to the doubts that people have about the NT and the canon, and either go liberal or go RCC, when they let the liberal lies overtake their hearts and minds.

David Waltz said...

This is a somewhat 'dated' subject; I linked to Dr. Michael Heiser's excellent review back in February:

I also linked to "The Ehrman Project" back in January:

Grace and peace,


John Bugay said...

David, it took Keith Mathison more than a year to respond to Bryan Cross, but the response was worth it.

Your hit-and-run methodology is not very helpful at all, to say the least.

John Bugay said...

Ken, it looks as if your comments made it through the spam filter. I can't imagine that you, being a contributor, would get caught in it, although, stranger things have happened.