Q. What is your definition of the word ‘forgery’ and how do you apply that definition when you work with ancient manuscripts?

I received this question today through the blog so I thought I would answer it here.

I use the term to refer to texts written by authors who claimed  to be someone that they were not (i.e. in the same way that we use the term now). So whomever wrote the inauthentic letters attributed to Ignatius of Antioch was forging them in his name.

Sometimes I use the term more broadly – in the same way that the famous scholar of Christian hagiography Hippolyte Delehaye did in his Legends of the Saints – to refer to texts that have no basis in historical events.

I agree with Delehaye that the practice of inventing stories or weaving them together from other stories was generally more acceptable in antiquity than it is today. I would not condemn ancient authors for fabricating stories and texts, but I’m cautious about using these texts to make positive assertions about ancient history.

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4 thoughts on “Q. What is your definition of the word ‘forgery’ and how do you apply that definition when you work with ancient manuscripts?

  1. What about the possibility (and the probable practice) that some of these “forgeries” were produced by communities formed around the authors or author’s communities (i.e. 2nd, 3rd Isaiah/Deutero-Pauline)?

  2. Qohelet says:

    I agree with Bart Ehrman’s position that ancient forgeries are no more acceptable back in antiquity than they are today. Indeed, they were much despised by the ancient writers. Let’s not pussyfoot around other people’s religious sensibilities and call a spade a shovel.

    • irleetman says:

      I have to agree with Ehrman too. There isn’t any evidence of a detected forger having anything other than ridicule and animosity directed toward him or her.

  3. I don’t feel as strongly as Ehrman does. I’m closer to his position in “Forgery and Counter-Forgery” than his position in “Forged.” He certainly has a point about NT scholars sugar coating the phenomenon.

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