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Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics [Hardcover]

by Bart D. Ehrman
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 14, 2012 0199928037 978-0199928033 1
"Arguably the most distinctive feature of the early Christian literature," writes Bart Ehrman, "is the degree to which it was forged." The Homilies and Recognitions of Clement; Paul's letters to and from Seneca; Gospels by Peter, Thomas, and Philip; Jesus' correspondence with Abgar, letters by Peter and Paul in the New Testament--all forgeries. To cite just a few examples.

Forgery and Counterforgery is the first comprehensive study of early Christian pseudepigrapha ever produced in English. In it, Ehrman argues that ancient critics--pagan, Jewish, and Christian--understood false authorial claims to be a form of literary deceit, and thus forgeries. Ehrman considers the extent of the phenomenon, the "intention" and motivations of ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish forgers, and reactions to their work once detected. He also assesses the criteria ancient critics applied to expose forgeries and the techniques forgers used to avoid detection. With the wider practices of the ancient world as backdrop, Ehrman then focuses on early Christian polemics, as various Christian authors forged documents in order to lend their ideas a veneer of authority in literary battles waged with pagans, Jews, and, most importantly, with one another in internecine disputes over doctrine and practice. In some instances a forger directed his work against views found in another forgery, creating thereby a "counter-forgery." Ehrman's evaluation of polemical forgeries starts with those of the New Testament (nearly half of whose books make a false authorial claim) up through the Pseudo-Ignatian epistles and the Apostolic Constitutions at the end of the fourth century.

Shining light on an important but overlooked feature of the early Christian world, Forgery and Counterforgery explores the possible motivations of the deceivers who produced these writings, situating their practice within ancient Christian discourses on lying and deceit.

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Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics + How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee + Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)
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Editorial Reviews


"[An] engrossing and learned analysis of early Christian literature, both within and beyond the covers of the Bible." --London Review of Books

"Impressive and wide-ranging." --Marginalia

"This comprehensive study is a valuable addition to the field of scriptural literary criticism and will be very useful to researchers and lay readers in that field. It is both an insightful study of the use and usefulness of forgeries in polemics during the first four centuries of Christianity, and a near encyclopedic survey of the forged texts themselves." -- Library Journal

"The book is excellent. It will make an enormous impact on the field of New Testament studies and also studies of pseudepigraphy in the ancient world. ... The book will make a huge contribution to the field. There are comparable books in German, but this one goes beyond them all. And it will be the only thing of its kind in English."
--Dale B. Martin, Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University

"The book tackles an important subject--the nature of ancient Christian pseudepigraphy--and makes a significant contribution to it.... The author's contribution lies in updating Speyer's thesis that pseudepigraphy was usually, on the contrary, an attempt to deceive, and in establishing this thesis in a comprehensive English-language monograph. The greatest strength of the book is its comprehensiveness."
--Joel Marcus, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at Duke Divinity School

"Examining over fifty examples of early Christian forgery and their polemical contexts, Ehrman uncovers the varied motives that prompted ancient Christian authors intentionally to deceive their readers. Whether these authors forged their works to support or critique the Apostle Paul, to oppose or celebrate "the flesh", to promote their own views of doctrine and church leadership, or to defend Christianity against hostile critics, the sheer magnitude of early Christian forgery startles the modern reader. Ehrman demolishes the claim that forgery was an acceptable literary practice in Greco-Roman antiquity, as well as scholars' attempts to "explain away" its prevalence in early Christianity. Ehrman's remarkable and comprehensive account of a misunderstood practice is unparalleled in English-language scholarship."--Elizabeth A. Clark, John Carlisle Kilgo Professor of Religion and Professor of History, Duke University

"With Forgery and Counter-forgery, Bart Ehrman has decisively undermined the view that the early Christian pseudepigraphic writings are something other than forgeries. These works, however well-intentioned, were, quite simply, "bastards" and were viewed as such whenever their false authorial claims were discovered. Based in flawed or faulty scholarship, modern attempts to excuse the New Testament forgeries are therefore misplaced, revealing the longings of contemporary readers for secure canonical authorities capable of defending their own points of view. This deeply engaging, carefully documented and thought-provoking exposé of ancient forgery is required reading for anyone interested in understanding how, and why, so many Christian writers sought to pass off their works as the products of named authorities when they so obviously were not. Thoroughly convincing."--Jennifer Knust, Boston University

"The quality is very high; it is very thorough and well-researched. ... Ehrman has produced a learned and engaging survey of early Christian controversial literature from the vantage point of authorial identity and rhetorical deceit, asking why Christians lied about themselves when writing polemical works and why scholars are so resistant to acknowledging their forgeries. ... There is no other major scholarly study in English that tackles this subject with such thoroughness, and its usefulness to students of early Christian literature will be undeniable. ... There is no comparable work in English on forgery. ... I also think general readers will pick it up and find it fascinating. ... The prose is solid, the arguments are clear and effective, and the significance of this study is undeniable."
--Andrew Jacobs, Associate Professor and Chair of Religious Studies at Scripps College

About the Author

Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Widely recognized as one of the world's leading authorities on the New Testament and early Christianity, he has lectured at major universities throughout North America and has been featured on CNN, BBC, the History Channel, National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, A&E, major PBS stations, and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He is the author of the New York Times best-selling book Misquoting Jesus.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (December 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199928037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199928033
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bart D. Ehrman is the author of more than twenty books, including the New York Times bestselling Misquoting Jesus and God's Problem. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the Bible and the life of Jesus. He has been featured in Time and has appeared on Dateline NBC, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, CNN, the History Channel, major NPR shows, and other top media outlets. He lives in Durham, N.C.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
69 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars scholarly, detailed, and convincing November 30, 2012
By Adam
This work should not be confused with "Forged: Writing in the Name of God." Unlike "Forged," "Forgery and Counterforgery" is a scholarly, academic, and advanced look at the practice of forgery in the NT and early Christian literature. The style is very different than Ehrman's NY Time's bestsellers (Forged: Writing in the Name of God; Misquoting Jesus; God's Problem; Jesus, Interrupted). It assumes an advanced knowledge of New Testament scholarship and issues. It's extremely comphrensive and makes a convincing case for calling falsely attributed/pseudepigraphic books in the NT and early Christian literature "forgery," looks at why certain NT and early Christian works are considered forged, and the broader phenomenon in Greek and Roman world. Strong engagement with scholarship with extensive footnotes. Yet it is very readable. Advances scholarly conversation regarding the practice of forgery in an original way. It is well-argued and detailed (over 600 pages). If you are looking for an introductory treatment look at his trade book "Forged: Writing in the Name of God."

Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fairly readable scholarly account March 27, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bart Ehrman has written a number of interesting books on the New Testament and early Christianity. I've found these books to be enlightening even if I don't always agree with his conclusions. Those of Ehrman's books that I have read to his point have been aimed at the average reader -- successfully aimed, because they have sold very well and made Ehrman perhaps the best-known writer on these topics. This book summarizes his scholarly research on a topic that he has also discussed at length in his popular books: The New Testament books that claim to be written by someone other than their actual authors (in this book he expands the discussion to include other early Christian writings in addition to those that appear in the New Testament). Ehrman has been forthright in labeling these books forgeries because he argues -- correctly, I think -- that the authors were trying to deceive their readers by claiming to be the Apostle Paul, the Apostle Peter, or another revered person. Other scholars have been reluctant to use the word "forgery" for these documents, but I think Ehrman is justified in doing so.

This book is aimed at a scholarly audience, so I assume that Ehrman expects most readers to be academics or graduate students. Although the result is a more densely written book, I didn't find it to be any more difficult to understand than his popular books. Ehrman notes that he was talked out of reproducing quotes in the documents' original languages. Had he done so, he would have lost at least this reader! Ehrman's arguments make for interesting reading and I found them to be convincing. I particularly profited by his discussion of the reasons for the "I/we" passages in Acts.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This one is a tough read! December 8, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a tough read - unlike the many other Ehrman books in my library. I'm only part way into it but it seems a much more intensive knowledge of ancient writing and authors would be beneficial to the reader. The unusual names alone is sufficient to slow you down considerably. I'll keep plugging along and hope it becomes worthwhile. In some ways it reminds me of the difficulty I had with reading The Quest of the Historical Jusus by Albert Schweitzer - also a tough read. I admire Dr. Ehrman's work and approach to understanding the Bible and Christianity.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
This is the scholarly version which he promised to deliver in his earlier book, Forged, and for me it does not disappoint, it was well worth the wait. In fact, I wish that I had been able to read such a book years ago so that I would have engaged the issues raised much earlier in life.

Though this book is directed at scholars, I predict that it will be useful to and appreciated by non-scholars who have some familiarity with the issues concenring Early Christian Origins, espeically the development of the "Christian canon" which took place during, at least, the first four centuries of Christianity, hence the reader will have to engage many non-canonical and some non-Christian works.

When Ehrman quotes foreign language materials, mostly German, with some French and Latin, he gives the English translation in the main text, and the original in a footnote, while most ancient texts are in English translation with the original language to be looked up elsewhere. However, there are times when he does not translate minor bits of Greek which those readers without Greek will have to pass over and so some readers may find that frustrating, but I doubt very much that it will detract from their understanding of his argument.

The bibliography, and indicies (ancient sources and subjects) meet expectations, and as noted above he uses footnotes rather than endnotes which makes the reading of the text so much easier when following his references.

It is difficult to read this book straight through, requiring a major investment of time and reflection, and I suspect that some of the (annoying?) minor repetition of key points points is due to an editorial assumption that most people will read this book in bits and pieces.
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