Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are by Bart D Ehrman.
Bart D. Ehrman is an accomplished and eminent scholar of biblical criticism. He is one of those “liberal” thinkers who has been able to get past the fiction that Jesus was a god, but not the contrivance that he was a man. In Forged Ehrman treats the subject of authorial mendacity in early Christian literature, not excepting the New Testament canon. As he demonstrates, there are scores of ancient Christian texts whose authors willfully misrepresent their identities, and are thus forgeries. He does carefully distinguish such forgery from false or merely erroneous attributions, all of which have been lumped customarily into the category of “pseudepigraphal” writings.
Ehrman importantly addresses the widespread misconceptions that the ancient world somehow possessed a more benign view of literary forgery, falsification, and plagiarism. As he shows, there are ancient writings which remonstrate against these practices. Just like modern readers, those of antiquity expected authors to represent themselves accurately in their texts.
In the final chapter of the book, Ehrman even jumps forward to the modern period with three examples of Christian pseudepigrapha from the 19th century, to demonstrate that the behavior we see in writings from early Christianity isn’t alien to the sort of forgeries that have been created in later ages.
Forgery holds out as an “irony” the contrast between the stated ideal of Christianity in communicating divinely-ordained truth and the actual literary practices of the authors of Christian scripture. In his recurring discussions of motive, Ehrman tends to gloss over the obvious possibility that many, perhaps most, of these writers were in fact not sincere as they tampered with the facts in order to promote their preferred sects and doctrines.
While informed by extensive research and supplying references for further study, Forged is itself a popularizing rather than a scholarly book. It is a fast read and a valuable orientation to the realities of biblical authorship in the Christian world.