Tag Archives: authorship

Recent Article Response to Bart Ehrman’s Views on Ancient Pseudepigraphy

The Society of Biblical Literature just released the latest issue of its Journal of Biblical Literature. One of the articles caught my attention: “Content and Form: Authorship Attribution and Pseudonymity in Ancient Speeches, Letters, Lectures, and Translations
—A Rejoinder to Bart Ehrman,” by Armin D. Baum of the Freie Theologische Hochschule in Gießen, Germany. The article is not available online, but it’s importance led me to alert those who subscribe to JBL or who can access it through a university or seminary library.

The article is, as it suggests, a response to the way Ehrman understands pseudonymity, particularly as articulated in his book Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). Here’s the abstract to Baum’s article:

The ancient notion of authorship and forgery can be analyzed in various ancient
texts, including embedded texts (e.g., reported speeches) and independent texts,
some written under the author’s control (e.g., speeches, letters, and history
books), as well as others written independently of the author’s control (e.g., translations and unauthorized lecture publications). In all cases an authorial attribution was regarded as correct and nondeceptive if either content and wording or just the content of a particular text could be traced back to the author whose
name it carried. This prevailing principle of ancient authorship attribution, while
often taken for granted and applied without further explanation, was also stated
explicitly in several places. These ancient statements are in conflict with the most
innovative contribution of Bart Ehrman’s otherwise very useful recent book Forgery and Counterforgery (2012). Ehrman has rightly joined the growing number of scholars who have raised substantive doubts regarding the once-popular thesis of innocent ancient pseudepigraphy. At the same time, his assertion that in antiquity a text’s authenticity was assessed not on the basis of its content but always on the basis of its wording goes one step beyond what the numerous relevant ancient sources reveal.

For readers unfamiliar with the issue of pseudonymity, the authorship of certain books of the New Testament have long been questioned as to whether the person whose name the book bears. Ehrman’s work in this area has emerged as the most recent treatment of the issue, not only casting doubt on the named authorship of certain books, but even the ethics of producing books under pseudonymity (Ehrman calls it an unethical deception).

Baum’s article above pushes back on Ehrman’s view, at least with respect to the ancient view of authenticity. It’s an important article for that reason.

The last sentence of the abstract is noteworthy. It’s vintage Ehrman — affirming “X happens” and then extrapolating to an unnecessary conclusion. In this case, yes pseudonymity happens (and, as Baum points out, in a variety of ways, perceived in various ways), but the observation allows Ehrman to chastise the New Testament. Baum’s take essentially says, “not so fast” or perhaps “let’s not affirm the obvious and extrapolate to the unnecessary.” This method is characteristic of Ehrman’s work.

For those wondering about the books of the New Testament in this regard, I’d recommend Guthrie’s lengthy and detailed New Testament Introduction. It’s older but, to be honest, there’s nothing else like it between two covers. Of course scholarly commentaries will discuss a book’s authorship at length (and many would disagree with scholars characterizing some of the books of the New Testament as pseudonymous).

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