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

By Bart D. Ehrman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
Forgeries in Opposition to
Paul and His Message

In the previous chapter I noted that the apostle Paul appears to have had as many enemies as friends. We have seen a good deal of what those who revered Paul had to say about him, both by producing forgeries in his name (as in the Deutero-Pauline epistles) and by pseudonymously supporting him and his message, however it was understood, either subtly (as in 1 Peter) or not so subtly (as in 2 Peter and Acts). In this chapter we turn to Paul’s literary opponents, who attacked Paul’s person and message in the guise of authorized, usually apostolic, writings. Here again, some of the writings, such as the Epistula Petri, which introduces the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, are transparent in their attack on the unnamed Paul; others are far subtler in their polemic, such as the New Testament book of Jude. And a number fall somewhere along the spectrum between these two.

In all cases it must be remembered that the polemic against Paul may not be opposition to the Paul as he has been reconstructed by modern scholars from the seven undisputed letters (the so-called real Paul). Ancient readers knew nothing about this modern consensus of an authentic Pauline corpus or the views that could result from applying historical-critical methods to it. They interpreted and attacked the Paul that had come down to them in writings (some of them forged) and in the oral tradition—skewed as he and his message may have been in these media.

We begin with the most discussed canonical instance of anti-Paulinism, the New Testament letter of James, asking whether it is in fact directed against Paul (real or imagined) and, of particular relevance to our present concerns, whether it can be considered a forgery.


THE EPISTLE OF JAMES

The letter of James begins simply enough: “James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings” (1:1). A number of

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