I skimmed through to the end of Forged: writing in the name of God – why the Bible’s authors are not who we think they are by Bart D. Ehrman this weekend. Not being a biblical scholar, some of what he touched on went over my head. I haven’t got a solid grasp on a lot of what makes up all the books of the bible, either, but Ehrman goes through several assumed to be by Paul and explains why it’s likely that half of them were authored by others who forged his “signature” but ignored his writing style completely.
He talks about other books and gospels that existed in the past (some we still have today) and they were discovered to be forgeries, too.
He goes into some reasons why early Christians would have gone the forgery route, the popular being to lend credence to an idea by claiming someone “famous” thought that way. He uses the example that Paul’s early writing seems to suggest he truly believed the world was ending in his lifetime, that single people should stay single and focus on spreading the good word before Christ takes them. A hundred or years later letters by “Paul” are calling on church leaders to marry and this and that. According to Ehrman, during Paul’s time, there was no church structure with bishops and priests and things so those letters have to be forgeries.
Other series of stories were written about Paul as a character, like works of fiction would be now. The ones involving a woman name Thecla were especially problematic and therefore completely fascinating to me. I hadn’t heard of her before.
In Acts of Paul, he’s preaching abstinence, and here’s this woman who’s supposed to marry some rich dude, overhears Paul’s teachings, and abandons her betrothed. She’s supposed to punished for that but God miraculously saves her life a few times. In one version of the story, she baptizes herself into the new religion by hopping into a vat filled with “man-eating seals” and with Paul’s blessing, takes up the duty of ministering to others. (Pg 82)
Ehrman notes that the writings of Tertullian, a well-known theologian from around 200 CE, denounce these stories as fabrications and that the author of them was caught and dealt with. This pronouncement helped that misogynist make his case that women should never be church leaders. So there was a time when some early church leaders were willing to try equality.
It wasn’t just an early church habit. Forgeries and false books have popped up a lot over the years. One he mentions is about Christ’s “lost years” spent with Buddhists. A book called The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ was published in 1894 in France by a Russian who claimed he’d been in Tibet and wanted to share their stories of Issa, who he claimed was Jesus. Although the book wound up being quite popular, there was a lot of suspicion that the stories were made up and it was easy enough to prove it. Letters were written to the monastery the Russian claimed to have stayed at while his leg was broken and a scholar went all the way to Tibet a year later to talk to the lama directly.
All in all, it’s a pretty interesting book that examines how early Christians got manipulated by those they had faith in and how these writings warped ideologies and helped build Christianity as practiced today.