Thursday, February 10, 2011

Forgering Ahead: Bart Ehrman and NT Pseudepigraphy

As I mentioned previously, Bart Ehrman graced our fair city and gave the inaugural David L. Dungan Memorial Lecture, "Does the New Testament Contain Forgeries? The Surprising Claim of Modern Scholars." Ehrman's point was, in a word, Yes, the New Testament does contain forgeries. This doesn't strike me as one of modern scholarship's "surprising claims"; it is, after all, well over two hundred years old. But Ehrman's point—and he may be right here—is that the results of the work of "modern scholars" has not been as widely diffused as we might like. Of course, Ehrman presents the results of modern scholarship in rather tendentious terms (I don't think you have to be a fundamentalist or even conservative Christian to agree with this); it would be "surprising" if NT scholars began calling pseudepigraphal (falsely inscribed) texts "forgeries."

At any rate, Ehrman's lecture is available on the University of Tennessee's website; see here for the video (including the Q&A that followed), which is linked with Ehrman's PowerPoint. An even dozen of my institution's faculty, staff, and students attended the lecture on Thursday, 27 January, and last night (9 February) we met—along with some interested students who weren't able to attend the lecture—to discuss Ehrman's claims. I think a helpful and encouraging discussion followed, and on top of that we got to eat dinner together. Score!

I prepared written notes for last night's discussion. First I tried to summarize Ehrman's lecture to remind us what we heard (or to catch up any students who weren't able to hear Ehrman in person); then I responded to two aspects of the lecture ([i] his use of the term, forgery, and [ii] his tabulation of NT documents). Of course, there were other things to respond to, but I limited my prepared remarks to these two. You're welcome to look over my comments; if you have any additional insights, any questions, or if I misrepresent Ehrman or respond inappropriately to him, please feel free to leave a comment here.

Can We Trust the New Testament? A Response to Bart D. Ehrman


Jack Weinbender said...

I think you are spot-on, Rafael. While Ehrman is clearly a smart fellow--and very well trained--I dislike his sensationalism. And yes, that's precisely what it is.

If the work of Christian apologists should be viewed skeptically by the Academy then the polemics of Christian-turned-agnostics should equally be considered suspect.

He's a fine scholar, but his popular work exploits the same ignorance and broad-strokes that the fundamentalists use.

In my opinion.


Rafael said...

. . . and a well-informed opinion it is, Mr. Weinbender. And I don't just say that because you're agreeing with me.

Craig L. Adams said...

Thanks for your response to Ehrman. It's very interesting reading.

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary and response, Raf. Thanks for posting it. I also think you're completely right about Ehrman's sensationalism.

Ron Price said...

Whether Ehrman is being sensationalist seems to me a rather secondary issue. More important is that for those of us who accept some NT books as pseudepigraphical, it opens up a whole new area of historical investigation, namely the extent to which each such book deviates from the opinions and/or environment of the historical Paul. I find a considerable range in which, for instance, Ephesians is quite close to Paul, but the Pastorals reflect a situation in the early second century and misrepresent Paul's views on the equality of the sexes.

Rafael said...

Thanks, Ron. You're right about at least one of the consequences of finding a text pseudepigraphal. And I know of at least one recent PhD graduate who is working on the form and function of Paul's memory in the second century.

But this is precisely the problem with Ehrman's sensationalism: He's seeking a wider, popular audience, and his use of terms such as forgery shuts down any further discussion of "pseudepigraphal texts." Sure, he (or we) might say, there's still reason to study NT forgeries. But don't you think that this way of framing the issue—viz., the sensationalist way—already prejudices the discussion toward a fairly narrow set of interests and even conclusions?

Ron Price said...

Your comment has prompted me to reread what Ehrman says about pseudonymity in his introduction to the NT. He claims on p.323 that his use of the term "forgery" is not meant in a derogatory sense. However I have to admit that to my ears it does sound derogatory! So you may well be right - it looks as if he should have chosen a different word.

Jack Weinbender said...

Of course, as people of faith, pseudonymity is a non-issue because of our understanding of canon--an issue he conveniently ignores.

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