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

By Bart D. Ehrman | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Anti-Jewish Forgeries

Many of the writings that we considered in the previous chapter attacked Paul while advancing a contrary understanding of the Christian gospel that can be called, despite all the term’s well-known problems, “JewishChristian.” The predominant tendency among our surviving sources, however, both forged and orthonymous, lies in the opposite direction. Indeed, attacks on Jews as people and on Judaism as a religion quickly became de rigueur in most of the Christian circles we have close familiarity with from the literary record. The history of Christian anti-Judaism is complex, but inordinately well documented, and I do not need to trace even its broad lines here.1 The rise of anti-Jewish sentiment within a range of Christian communities—proto-orthodox and heterodox—led, as one might expect, to the production of forgeries that, under the name of authoritative figures, castigated Jews and the religion they practiced.2 In

1. Among the standard works, see especially Marcel Simon, Verus Israel: A Study of the Relations Between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire 135–425 AD (New York: Oxford, 1946, French original 1948); Rosemary Ruether, Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (New York: Seabury, 1974); and John Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes Toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity (New York: Oxford University, 1983). Among the more valuable of the spate of recent literature, see Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2004); Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed, The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007).

2. It is tempting to include the book of Hebrews as an instance of a forged polemic against Jews. But even though it does indeed appear to be a forgery, at the end of the day it is difficult to establish its function as primarily, or even covertly, polemical. It is the postscript of 13:22–25 that seems to carry the implicit claim that the author was Paul (even though he certainly was not Paul). Especially striking is v. 23: “You should know that our brother Timothy has been released; I will see you with him if he comes quickly.” That the passage was originally part of the letter, see Harry Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews Heremenia (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989), p. 13 and ad loc. Claire Rothschild in particular has made a

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