Forged image


If you’re trying to discredit the Bible, the academic you’re most likely to wheel out these days is Bart Ehrman, on whom I’ve posted briefly before. True to form, his new book, Forged, makes the claim that the Bible is laden with texts that were – well – forged, by which he means written by one person but attributed to another, with the deliberate intention to deceive.

The book is receiving a very full and careful critique at the moment by New Testament Professor Ben Witherington. He is going through Ehrman’s claims, chapter by chapter, and responding to them thoughtfully and thought-provokingly. You may not agree with all his responses – I certainly didn’t! – but Ben’s patient yet robust arguments will serve anyone interested in the subject, and probably many who aren’t.

In the first post, he summarises where he is going with his critique:

What I will be arguing as this review goes on is that Bart is wrong, [but] not about the many forgeries out there in antiquity. He is too narrow in his thinking about what the name label on a scroll might mean, and is therefore wrong that we have forgeries in the NT. No, actually we do not. We have documents authored by those so named, we have documents written by scribes on behalf of those so named, we have anonymous documents later mistakenly ascribed to Paul (e.g. Hebrews)  or John son of Zebedee (e.g. Gospel of John, Revelation of John), we have composite documents that list the first or most important contributing source. In none of these cases are we dealing with forgery as defined by Bart Ehrman. It can be also stressed that pseudepigrapha which has a named specific audience was especially difficult to pull off because it involves not just a false author claim, but almost always as well a false audience claim, and if the recipients of the document knew any members of the alleged audience there is a high degree of likelihood someone would have [smelled] a rat.

Ben then moves onto chapter two of Ehrman’s book, responding to arguments for the pseudonymity of the Pastorals and 1&2 Peter, going into more detail on Paul, followed by Old Testament books like Daniel, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah, and then presenting his fascinating thesis on the authorship of John. His final two posts cover Ehrman’s arguments concerning Jude, James and Acts, and a number of controversial passages like those about the census, silence in the churches, and the woman caught in adultery. He concludes by summarising twelve major problems with Ehrman’s book.

If any readers have any reflections on how either Ben Witherington or Bart Ehrman assess biblical authorship, it would be interesting to discuss them here!

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