Saturday, April 2, 2011

Pseudepigrapha. Did The Bible Authors Lie?

In another of a series of apostate moments designed, in my opinion, to drive books sales, Dr. Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recently stated the following in a Huffington Post article:
Professor Bart Ehrman
"Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle -- Peter, Paul or James -- knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery."
Since Dr. Ehrman delivers such a convoluted picture of the study of ancient biblical historiography, I feel that an examination of his comments are in order. It seems that Dr. Ehrman is continuing to take circumstances that most scholarly literary historians are well aware of and have adequately addressed over the years, raising certain issues to an overblown and disproportionate level, and building on many modern conspiracy theories that seem to surround the biblical texts in general.  Ehrman builds upon the discredited foundation of his mentor Dr. Walter Bauer, whose theories of multiple Christianities first century AD have been handily refuted. For more information on this and a better understanding of the assumptions behind the scholarship of individuals like Ehrman, please obtain the book, "The Missing Gospels, Unearthing The Truth Behind Alternative Christianities" by Dr. Darrell Bock Nelson Books 2006. 

In his written works Dr. Ehrman seems to be somewhat of a fatalist asserting that history can't be known for certain, even stating that the words and deeds of the historical Jesus may never be known because we don't have the original texts of scripture. If these arguments are not patently false, they are at least refuted quite adequately over the years, both in print and by debate. Of course I have addressed some of his assertions in previous articles HERE and  HERE, but Dr. Ehrman continues to offer more and more sensational notions at every turn. It is that sensationalism that he often implores as he seeks to sell and promote books, through seeking to shake and disturb the faith of millions who have come to know and trust in the historical biblical narrative. It is for that reason primarily that I DO NOT ENDORSE UNC Chapel Hill Religious Studies as a place of consideration for biblical students seeking to received a fair, balanced religious education. It seems that one that corrects or challenges his arguments will probably fail his class and waste tuition funds.

Statements such as Dr. Ehrman's describe what scholars who study ancient literature call Pseudepigrapha (Gk: "falsely attributed")or literature written by a person other than whom the writing is ascribed. Similar to what we may call a "Ghost Writer" in modern times, Pseudepigrapha goes a step further when the author attaches or assigns a name of a popular or powerful figure, past or present, in order to establish credibility for the document among a target group of individuals. Dr. Ehrman's argument appears to be that the attribution of famous names was done to New testament documents in order to deceive the readers into believing and  following practices which may not have been intended to be followed or that were not a part of the original message of Christianity as taught by those very same leaders. As we will see, he is among an ultra fringe shred of scholars who adopt this position in part because theories regarding this have been adequately refuted over the years. I believe Ehrman takes advantage of the new generation biblical critic who has never taken a look at this issue and assesses the bible and historiography ignorantly.

From A Historical Perspective, Did Pseudepigrapha Exist?

Follow me as we lay a little foundation:

Yes. Scholars are clear that historically there have been many documents written which have been ascribed to famous persons that were not written by the persons themselves both pre and post Second Temple Era (after 70 AD), [I will call this period (STE)].  These works were authored by both Palestianian and Hellenistic Jews. Technically, there are two divisions of books each having their own purpose that historiographers claim implore this style of attribution. One group of writings is called the Apocraphya and another set is called the Pseudepigrapha (aka: Pseudo-form). The latter being the most new form. Many scholars reference both forms as one unit and use the name Pseudeigrapha for both. Dr. Ehrman doesn't seem to make a distinction although the second set, the newer pseudo-form, developed in the New Testament era appears to be the focus of his writing as he believes that pseudo-form documents make up part of the accepted books of the New Testament. (NT) 

What Were The Pseudo-form Documents?

The Pseudo-form texts were primarily apocalyptic in genre, although they were written in the genres of legend, poetry, history and philosophy also. Examples of  Pseudepigrapha texts are books like Psalms Of Solomon, 1 and 2 Enoch, and 2, 3 and 4 Baruch, The Testament Of Abraham. These  were all pre-STE literature.  What is interesting is that none of these works were included in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible aka: Tanakh or in any rabbinic literature. The Apocryphal writings were given a higher status than the more newly developed Pseudepigrapha primarily because their content, age, and message, and because the latter focused more on post second temple Jewish or Christian issues.   

Historical Note: A problem arises as both Apocrypha and some early Pseudepigrapha appears to have been included in the later version of the Septuagint or Greek (LXX) translated in Alexandria around 250 BC. Later, Jerome's Latin Vulgate was  translated from the Septuagint or Greek (LXX) version, into Latin and included the pseudo-form books. Those books are yet in the Catholic Bible today. According to "Baker's Handbooks of Bible Lists" Andrew E. Hill, 1981 Baker Book House pg. 28, there was strong evidence  that Jerome did not consider the apocryphal or pseudo-form section of his translation to be canonical and did not hold that the pseudo-form section should be held in esteem in the establishment of doctrine or practice as the more traditionally accepted canonical books were and had been. In other words, although the Catholic church continued to maintain the Apocryphal writings along side of the canonical books, they were clearly identified as works  that were not held as authorative in matters of doctrine.

Why Did Pseudepigrapha Develop? 

Many have speculated on the reason for and nature of these books because they seemed to have popped up during the inter-testamental period. One such author, that favors certain aspects of New Testament Pseudo-form literature's influence on the NT church, seems to debunk the basis of Ehrman's theory. Lee M. McDonald agrees that the problem with the pseudo-form books arises because noone can be specific as to why they seem to mysteriously appear in time. He further adds that there is also no evidence that pseudo-form literature was looked at as being particularly unethical during the time. In certain genres of literature it was particularly common among gentiles, but for vastly different purposes among Jews. Even in this, what is not disputed is that authentic works were known prior to the development of pseudo-form and were not called into question within the culture as a result of pseudo-form literature.  

In essence, Ehrman's particular theory has been rejected over the years even by scholars who generally agree that pseudo-form literature was extant during the New Testament era,  in part because it is intellectually difficult to assume, and unsupported by the evidence that these works would have been suddenly 1) written with an intent to deceive those who read and were aware of the prior authentic works upon which the pseudo-form was based. and 2) used to detract in any manner the message that was primarily received within extant accepted texts. This would have been especially true since these pseudo-forms were consistently pointing the readers back to the original undisputed and generally accepted foundational works even quoting those works at great lengths at times. 

In his book "The Formation of the Christian Biblical Canon", Hendrickson:1995 (revised ed.),  McDonald introduces and agrees with David E. Aune's  analysis of inter-testemental pseudo-form literature, in which he offered the following 3 possible reasons for their existence:   
"(1) that it arose at a time when the biblical canon was already closed and well-known names were used to secure acceptance, (2) that it was used to protect the identity of the writer who might be in danger if his or her true identity were known, and (3) that apocalyptic visionaries may have had visions from those figures to whom they attributed their work. He believes that the first of these options is the more likely, but not without qualifications. As a legitimating device intended to accord the writing in question the esteem and prestige given to the earlier well-known figure, "pseudonymity is functional only if readers accept the false attribution." However, it is probably best not to conclude that all of the writers of pseudepigraphy wrote for purposes of deception"
Unlike Ehrman, McDonald agrees that deception didn't seem to be an aim of the pseudo-form writing. He also agrees that there was no cultural or ethical prohibition against such practice. The community would have certainly expected to see some great prophets or kings name in order to draw attention to the message or the encouragement contained within the text. Having this understanding sets the stage for the later pseudo-form writings of the STE. 

Did Pseudo-form Literature Serve A Purpose Other Than Ascribed?

As stated, almost all pseudo-form literature was apocalyptic in genre. In the book "The Pseudepigrapha An Account Of Certain Sacred Writings Of The Jews And Early Christians" [by William J. Deane MA. (Edinburgh, T.T. Clark 1891)], the notion is set forth that the early pseudo-form writings were a way for the Jewish community to rally around its shared heritage to both keep the expectation of the Messianic promise and devine restoration alive within the community and continue to encourage the people in their faith. Deane states the following:
"The degradation of Israel under its pagan oppressors, and the temporary triumph of the chosen people in the Maccabean period, gave rise to the apocalyptic literature of which we are speaking. An unswerving zeal for the Law, and a glowing hope for a happy future, formed the characteristics of this period. From the storm and tumult and confusion of their own times good men looked forward to a reign of peace and happiness, and strove to impart their own hopes to their desponding countrymen.  Taking their tone from, founding their views upon, the ancient prophets and more especially employing the imaginary and developing the annunciations of Daniel, these writers under various forms and with very different successes, gradually put forth their notions of the future and anticipate the kingdom of Messiah. Often in their treatises they enter on the history of the past, putting their words in the mouth of an ancient prophet; but all such details are preparatory to the predictive portion, and lead up to this important element." Pg. 3-4 
Once again, there is no hint that either the text was designed to deceive or that the people reading the texts were deceived by what they read. The purpose of the writing and the cultural setting did not grant that either the author was lying, or that the person reading was being lied to. They were certainly pointing toward a future and creating a future vision for the reader to ascribe to, but even this falls short of what Ehrman is pointing toward especially when he asserts that the bible is somehow full of these types of works. There doesn't seem to be much evidence to support his type of speculation. 

In summary, clearly, we can acknowledge that there was identifiable pseudo-form literature written, accepted and circulated among the Jewish and Hellenistic community, but the purposes for such literature, especially among the Jews, was far from the notion of deception that Dr. Ehrman dogmatically asserts. In fact best historical study displays that psuedo-form writing was intended to encourage and inspire and even challenge Jews to remember their heritage and the promise of God contained within the accepted canonical books. In addition none of the pseudo-form works claimed to be inspired or infallible, and unless one is willing to castigate all current and past literary "Ghost Writers" as liars, Dr. Ehrman's brash statements are not a reasonable position to hold. 

Dr. Ehrman's statements are not historically verifiable, evidential and have been refuted handsomely. These are just some reasons that Dr. Ehrman's theory has generally not been accepted among scholars and further study has made his theory even more implausible as we will discover shortly. 

What About During The Time Of Jesus. Was Pseudo-Form Literature In Circulation?

Building on the previous statements, certain pseudo-form literature must have been in circulation among  the 1st century Jewish community as well. The question that must be asked however, is did the believers within the NT church accept this type of literature as an authentic way to learn of Jesus and rehearse the gospel? 

As we have asserted, and scholars agree,  it seems that there was a sharp distinction between what this type of literature was designed to do and how it is perceived by many modern readers of the literature. It appears that there was none of this sort of literature that centered around the establishment of religious practice. It  appears to be a supplement to already established faith. For example, the pseudo-form book of Ezra was written in the decades following STE. Along with others, this work  reflected the theological and ethical struggles and dilemmas produced by the Romans after the temple destruction of 70AD. Once again the purpose doesn't reflect any intent to deceive or to speak as an inspired or infallible voice.

There is a notable lack of writings centered around the Christian religion immediately post STE or mid to late 1st Century AD. Pseudo-form literature does not rise to challenge Christian beliefs until 2nd Century AD. Further, when it does arise we find that many of the pseudo-form writings are developed within gnostic circles which produced writings such as The Acts Of Peter and The Gospel of Judas. These works were clearly identifiable as being unauthentic and not consistent with the message of the Apostles. What is interesting is that these particular Gnostic works never took a preeminent place among 1st Century Christians  or post apostolic fathers of the church who readily wrote against and called out these heresies in their works quite directly. In other words, these pseudo-form works were identified, dealt with and put down quite handily right away. 

Once again, Dr. Ehrman's thesis runs amuck and is reduced to an unsupportable assertions IF the assertion is that 1st Century Christianity was a place where pseudo-form literature was highly circulated and accepted by 1st Century Christians. As Dr. Richard Bauckham asserts in his book "Jesus And The Eyewitnesses" [Eerdman's 2006]  an eyewitness to the gospel served as not only an authority on matters of faith, but as a safeguard against false teachings and beliefs that would arise. What we know is that the words and instructions of the Apostles as living authorities on issues surrounding Jesus and his teachings were highly valued. It wasn't until after these living voices began to die that pseudo-form literature began to be developed and as stated, it was met with high resistance by post-Apostolic church fathers and early Christian apologists who identified the works and refused to promote them within the Christian faith. In the next section we shall see just what the church though of these types of works. 

Did The Early Christian Church Accept Pseudepigrapha?

Obviously, as I have stated, the early church including the Apostles rejected pseudo-form literature as a source for Christian practice and encouragements. There is a clear trail of evidence from the writings of the post Apostolic fathers that they also rejected Pseudo-form literature. 

The reason I said in the beginning of the article that Dr. Ehrman's aim was books sales, is because he invariably comes back and virtually debunks his own assertion regarding the complete article. While claiming that pseudo-form writings were abundant and in circulation among the early church, he also notes this which is contrary to his claim:
"If you look at what ancient people actually said about the practice, you'll see that they invariably called it lying and condemned it as a deceitful practice, even in Christian circles." ~ Professor Bart D. Ehrman
If what Dr. Ehrman says is true, that pseudo-from writing was condemned within Christian circles, then we can go even further in our argument in affirming what I've stated earlier regarding the development and proliferation of pseudo-form literature among 1st Century Christians. If he is correct there doesn't seem to be any room for the 1st Century church to accept this type of literature at all. In other words the NT church would totally reject pseudo-form literature both ethically, spiritually and morally. In short, Dr. Ehrman's own sentiment and assessment undermines his own thesis regarding the issue and makes the NT church even less accepting of pseudo-form literature! It appears to be a logical inconsistency and a contradiction to assert that the NT books were pseudo-form, but at the same time were also rejected and condemned so vehemently by the church. His assertions simply do not make sense, but they do cater to ignorance on the issue in general.  

The Admonition of Paul

Apostle Paul delivers the following encouragement to the NT church, seemingly encouraging the church to struggle against any false doctrines and fake or forged writing even if they appear to be from him or those acting on his behalf:

2 Thess. 2:1-2 ~ "1-Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2-That ye be not soon shaken in mind, 
or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand."  

As we stated earlier, pseudo-form writings were not being produced around the time of Jesus and Christian based pseudo-form literature was virtually non-existent until second century. Mid first Century, the Apostle Paul, probably building upon what he knew about the cultural phenomenon of pseudo-form literature, appeared to warn against messages that were inconsistent with the preaching and teaching that the churches had previously received and reminded them to be aware of documents that looked like or appeared to be from him and to judge those things by the message contained within them. 

If the pseudo-form works were extant, as is the claim, we certainly would see these works quoted and circulated among post Apostolic fathers. The problem is that we don't see these STE works given much credibility among the people responsible for preaching the gospel among the church:
 "In the half-century following ad 95 Theodor Zahn could find only four Gospel citations in surviving Christian literature which demonstrably do not come from the canonical four. That the 'memoirs of the apostles' which Justin says were read in church along with the writings of the prophets were the four Gospels is rendered the more probable by the fact that such traces of gospel material in his works as may come from the pseudonymous Gospel of Peter or Gospel of Thomas are slight indeed compared with traces of the canonical four. [ F.F. Bruce, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Gospels"]
The rise of Gnosticism in the 2nd Century and the death of Apostolic witnesses gave rise to pseudo-form literature directed toward the Christian church. As stated there was strong resistance against such practices and writings. Tertullian was another clearly against pseudo-form literature within the church no matter the reason for it. Guthrie states the following:
"In spite of the fact that pseudonymity was a widespread practice, it must not be assumed that it would have been regarded as a harmless literary device among the orthodox Christians. What external evidence there is suggests rather that the church took a firm stand against the practice (e.g. the Muratorian Canon, Serapion, Tertullian). Tertullian in fact records the unfrocking of the Asian presbyter who confessed to writing the Acts of Paul out of his love for Paul, which does not suggest it was an acknowledged practice to produce such literature. For this reason the assumption by some scholars that certain NT books are really pseudonymous raises an acute psychological and moral problem, which few of the supporters of these hypotheses are willing to admit. There is a presumption against NT canonical pseudepigrapha which can be nullified only by overwhelming and conclusive evidence to the contrary, and even here each case must be judged entirely on its own merits. [Guthrie, New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Pseudonymity"] 
Tertullian also rejected other writings, such as 3rd Corinthians based on the same criteria that it was pseudo-form literature and not written or directed by Paul the Apostle:

 "Elsewhere, however, it was recognized that the writing [3 Corinthians] was pseudonymous, and it was for that reason rejected; its edifying content was not enough to secure its recognition. Tertullian speaks of writings "which wrongly go under Paul's name" and tells us that "in Asia, the presbyter who composed that writing, as if he were augmenting Paul's fame from his own store, after being convicted, and confessing that he had done it from love of Paul, was removed from his office" [On Baptism, 17] It did not matter that the work was seen as orthodox and edifying. It did not matter that it was done "from love of Paul." It claimed to have been written by Paul and was not. Its author was therefore a guilty man, and he was deposed from his honorable office. [An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd Ed). DA Carson and Douglas Moo. Zondervan: 2005:369]

Once again there is a clear trail of historical evidence that the church did not accept pseudo-form literature as a means of teaching or instructing the church. Dr. Ehrmans states a fringe position as if it is a wide spread proposition known and accepted by the church. The evidence however does not support his statements however.  

Was 2 Peter A Forgery? 
"Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere -- except for our friends among the fundamentalists -- will tell you that there is no way on God's green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter." ~ Professor Bart D. Ehrman
The problem with many of Ehrman's statements is that they are simply unsupportable or at best in many cases so far out on the fringe of scholarship that it is ridiculous. He claims that everyone that is someone knows that 2 Peter is a pseudo-form literary work and that "everyone" except for the "funadamentalists" know that 2 Peter shouldn't be included in the biblical text because it is based on a lie of authorship. What we find is that Peter may have had a different scribe to assist him in writing 2 Peter than he used in 1 Peter. Scholarship on the issue also suggest that Peter himself may have written 2 Peter as opposed to a new scribe, thus displaying the differences in style of writing and language. 

A further problem with Dr. Ehrman's statements is that 2 Peter was never excluded from the canon of scripture to begin with and it was was accepted along with other NT works because it withstood the tests of literary inclusion. 
"Readers can observe that in spite of the differences, 2 Peter is more like 1 Peter than any other New Testament book. It was never rejected and met every test successfully, hence it rightly came into the canon." Holman Bible Dictionary 2 Peter" [David A. Dunham ~ Holman Publishing 1991 pg. 1101]  
To add to this argument, 2 Peter was accepted against the backdrop of many other writings which had Peter's name attached to them:
"We should also remember that pseudonymous works bearing Peter's name were circulated in the early church. The following are known to us: The Apocalypse of Peter (c.135), The Gospel of Peter (c. 150-75), The Acts of Peter (c. 180-200), The Teaching of Peter (c.200), The Letter of Peter to James (c.200), and The Preaching of Peter (c.80-140). That none of these was accepted into the canon is noteworthy. Second Peter won its way by its intrinsic worth. [Blum, Erdmans's Bible Commentary, "II Peter"]
The pseudo-form literature was clearly identified by the content of the works themselves as well as the time frame in which they were written. The other works, those with Peter's name attached, were clearly weeded out as being inauthentic and were never hailed as being authorative in any manner. 


There are many basis upon which to reject Dr. Ehrman's thesis. We have provided multiple lines of argumentation to support the argument that pseudo-form literature was not welcome or accepted with the first century church. It is clear from the historiographic evidence that:
  • Pseudo-from literature pre STE was primarily apocalyptic in genre and was not intended to deceive nor was it based on deception. It certainly did not deceive the readers who knew leaders such as Moses and Enoch had been a part of Israel's long removed historical past.

  • Pseudo-form literature was a product of Hebrew and Greek speaking Jews with an intent to promote a messianic message and monotheism contained within already accepted texts. Pseudo-form literature among the Jews appears to have had a dramatically purpose than those who used pseudo-form literature among gentiles.  

  • Post STE, pseudo-form literature was clearly identified by both Apostolic and post-Apostolic fathers and church leaders and was thoroughly rejected in their writings as being inauthentic. There was simply no time nor opportunity for pseudo-form writings to be included in the Christian canon.

  • There is no support for the argument that 2 Peter was either pseudo-form or forged in any manner, as it was generally accepted by the Christian church since its inception meeting all literary criteria that other authentic works also passed. 

  • The writings of Paul have consistently held to be authentic even containing Paul's instructions to the church to safegard itself against such heretical writings. In fact, Gnostic heretic Marcion (140 AD) presents 10 unaltered Pauline epistles that he holds that are authentic and written by Paul. Paul's epistles date back to 50 AD, thus affirming that the works themselves had not changed or been modified over time.    

Dr. Ehrman seems to provide more misinformation in a short article than most people provide in a lifetime of biblical studies. It's one thing to be wrong or mistaken, it's another to intentionally deceive and be deceptive. Raising fringe issues in public forums as if noone has dealt with the issues previously, may be a way for one to sell a great amount of books, but it is , in my opinion, an irresponsible rendering of information cloaked in the guise of a trusted authority. 

Dr. Ehrman failed to mention that his thesis regarding pseudo-form literature and its acceptance within the early Christian church has been refuted for decades and is generally not accepted by mainstream scholarship. To cater to the post modernistic, skeptical and ultra critical and historically ignorant biblical critics may be en-vogue and may wet the appetite of a ripe market for books sales, but does not mean that a ripe market equals a ripe  or even historically supportable argument. 

2 Tim. 4:3-4 ~ "3-For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4-And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and 
shall be turned unto fables." 

On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is certainly sinking sand!


Original Article

The Huffington Post 3/25/2011 ~ Who Wrote The Bible And Why It Matters

1 comment:

  1. I'll add to this as I can, but one more thing...pseudo-form literature was also about ascribing the name of a famous person in the group to the work so it can be widely spread and read...with names like Matthew, Mark, Luke for the synoptics and Paul for the epistles, it begs the question how in the world was this some sort of strategy in order to get the pieces read?

    Outside of the gospels, there is no great NT work done by Matthew, Mark or even Luke. They were generally good followers, but certainly not heroes of the faith in the sens that they led miracle campaigns and such the like as we see Peter doing in Acts 2 and elsewhere.

    It would seem that if someone was simply writing things to establish or affirm rules, then they would have written a Gospel of Jesus...but we don't find that do we? Why? Because I believe they were telling the truth and if something wasn't true or if something didn't exist, they didn't simply make it up.

    The case gets more bleak for the pseudo-form supporters such as Ehrman as one studies the topic more.


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