Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In today's forum the panel is torn

between discussing the imminent end of the world on 21 May 2011 and the New Testament writers caught out as liars. Difficult choice for the panel. Although the panel was agreed on one thing, the current meeting of the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion offered nothing of interest to discuss. In the end the panel decided that the imminent end of the world would resolve itself by 22 May 2011, by which time it noted that President Obama may have made up his mind whether he is or isn't going to expedite the end of Gadaffi's tyranny over Libya. So to the New Testament. Eminent and controversial textual critic Bart Ehrman helps the momentum of the new site Huff Religion by clearly but provocatively stating:

"And here is the truth: Many of the books of the New Testament were written by people who lied about their identity, claiming to be a famous apostle -- Peter, Paul or James -- knowing full well they were someone else. In modern parlance, that is a lie, and a book written by someone who lies about his identity is a forgery.


Most modern scholars of the Bible shy away from these terms, and for understandable reasons, some having to do with their clientele. Teaching in Christian seminaries, or to largely Christian undergraduate populations, who wants to denigrate the cherished texts of Scripture by calling them forgeries built on lies? And so scholars use a different term for this phenomenon and call such books "pseudepigrapha."

You will find this antiseptic term throughout the writings of modern scholars of the Bible. It's the term used in university classes on the New Testament, and in seminary courses, and in Ph.D. seminars. What the people who use the term do not tell you is that it literally means "writing that is inscribed with a lie."

And that's what such writings are. Whoever wrote the New Testament book of 2 Peter claimed to be Peter. But scholars everywhere -- except for our friends among the fundamentalists -- will tell you that there is no way on God's green earth that Peter wrote the book. Someone else wrote it claiming to be Peter. Scholars may also tell you that it was an acceptable practice in the ancient world for someone to write a book in the name of someone else. But that is where they are wrong. If you look at what ancient people actually said about the practice, you'll see that they invariably called it lying and condemned it as a deceitful practice, even in Christian circles. 2 Peter was finally accepted into the New Testament because the church fathers, centuries later, were convinced that Peter wrote it. But he didn't. Someone else did. And that someone else lied about his identity."

This is very provocative in a number of ways. First, it provokes all who believe otherwise. Secondly, it provokes those Christians who have settled for the 'antiseptic' term 'pseudepigrapha' to front up to the question whether or not Holy Scripture contains blatant lies or not. Thirdly, it provokes scholars who make a living from claiming something as reasonable as pseudepigraphal claims were 'acceptable practice in the ancient world.' Fourthly, it provokes those who believe otherwise than Ehrman while simultaneously believing they are not fundamentalists. Talk about a hornet's nest of claims!

We haven't space here to transcribe the comments of all the panelists. But two points are worth noting. Why doesn't Ehrman discuss the possibility that authorship of New Testament documents may include 'authorisation' so, for instance, Peter did not write 2 Peter, but authorised its writing? Why doesn't Ehrman acknowledge that fashions come and go in academic scholarship? The fashion of our era is to dispute the name on the tin, Paul didn't write X, Y, and Z. But can we be sure that fifty years from now the fashion will be different?

The present writer, however, is in agreement with Ehrman on one aspect of the matter. If (say) Paul did not write some of the letters bearing his name or authorise their being written, then they are forgeries to the extent that they do more than invoke his name at the beginning of the letter as stated author, they also go on to pretend to personally greet this one and to ask after than one. 2 Timothy and Titus are strong examples of this, Ephesians and 1 Timothy are weak examples of this (because hardly anyone else is mentioned).

4 comments:

Hermano David | Brother Dah • veed said...

How can one authorize something that can be reasonably shown to have not existed in one's lifetime?

Peter Carrell said...

That would be tricky, David. The question would be whether document X or Y has been reasonably shown to have not existed in one's lifetime. I know from your studies that you will be aware of arguments to-ing and fro-ing on that question.

Anonymous said...

Bart Ehrman has 'friends among the fundamentalists'?

"Why doesn't Ehrman discuss the possibility that authorship of New Testament documents may include 'authorisation' so, for instance, Peter did not write 2 Peter, but authorised its writing?"

Who believes that a Galilean fisherman wrote "1 Peter" - in the strict sense of "write"? But if he authorized an educated scribe here and gave that work his apostolic signature, then why not with "2 Peter"? The assumption that 2 Peter is very late is a hypothesis based on assumptions about early Christianity. Nobody knows when they were written. Bauckham's views have yet to penetrate old-style academia.

"Why doesn't Ehrman acknowledge that fashions come and go in academic scholarship?"
So he can recycle the Tubingen school and Bauer. Think how long Bultmann lasted!

"The fashion of our era is to dispute the name on the tin, Paul didn't write X, Y, and Z. But can we be sure that fifty years from now the fashion will be different?"

Don't throw out your wardrobe, Peter - flares and kipper ties are due for a revival!

Palaiologos (palaiahimatia)

Anonymous said...

It should be added that Bart Ehrman does show how theological liberalism works and where it logically leads, to agnosticism. That's what that other ex-Christian and erstwhile champion of theological liberalism, Bishop Richard Holloway, also discovered (conveniently, in retirement). Why are some so slow ot grasp this?

Palaiologos