Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review of Ehrman, Forgery and Counterforgery

BOOK REVIEW IN MARGINALIA: David Lincicum on Forgery and Counterforgery, by Bart Ehrman: Lies, Damned Lies, and Patristics. Excerpt:
Learned humanists exposed many more of these ancient frauds during the Renaissance, but the authenticity of the documents that compose the New Testament was not seriously questioned until the late eighteenth century. Since that time, there has been protracted debate about not only the presence of pseudepigrapha in the New Testament but also the possible motivations a pseudepigrapher might have had. Most critical scholars now acknowledge at least some pseudonymous texts in the New Testament, but the question of motive still rattles. Some contend that pseudonymity was practiced as an open secret, a transparent fiction, and that the audience was in on the ruse. Others claim that the students or co-workers of departed apostles wrote the letters, perhaps even with their blessing, the same way a philosopher’s student might write in their name.

There’s just one problem: this pretty much never happened in antiquity. Following a growing chorus of voices in recent years — though German Neutestamentler have been saying this a lot longer and with more consistency, significant voices have arisen in the Anglophone world as well — Ehrman rightly notes that whenever a forgery is uncovered in antiquity, it is condemned as deceptive. For too long, scholars have hidden behind the hazy notion that the idea of “intellectual property” didn’t exist in the ancient world — as though authors lived in a golden utopia of verbal communism, untroubled by the very possibility of plagiarism per definitionem, until all this came to a screeching halt in 1710 with the first copyright statute. The intention of pseudepigraphers, as Ehrman and others have demonstrated in convincing detail, is to deceive. You don’t begin a letter, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints … ,” unless you want the audience to think you’re Paul.