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

By Bart D. Ehrman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Forgery in Antiquity
Aspects of the Broader Phenomenon

Having looked at related phenomena from the Greco-Roman world, we can now redirect our focus to literary forgery itself, the practice of producing literary works with false authorial claims. The bulk of this study will consider the use of literary forgery and counterforgery in Christian polemical contexts of the first four centuries ce. To set the stage for that discussion, we need to look at the broader phenomenon in pagan, Jewish, and Christian antiquity, considering its extent and its widespread recognition and condemnation; the motives that drove authors to make their false claims; techniques they used to make these claims believable; the self-justifications that they made, or may have made, for engaging in the practice; and the means of detection used by ancient critics to expose forgery when they found it.


EXTENT OF THE PHENOMENON

It is impossible to quantify the extent of ancient forgery, although everyone who has worked seriously on the problem recognizes that it is a vast field.1


Pagan Literature

I will not attempt to provide here a comprehensive listing either of works identified as forgeries in pagan antiquity or pagan works now known or thought to be forgeries—two overlapping but not coterminous corpora. Numerous instances will be addressed throughout this chapter and the next. Instead, to give an idea of

1. None more so than Wolfgang Speyer and Norbert Brox, but including such recent scholars as Margaret Janssen and Armin Baum. See note 27 below.

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