Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi
Wed May 18, 2011 04:19 PM ET
Nearly half of the New Testament is a forgery, according to a provocative new book that charges the Apostle Paul authored only a fraction of the letters attributed to him and the Apostle Peter wrote nothing.
Written by Bart Ehrman, a former evangelical Christian and now agnostic professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the book claims to unveil “one of the most unsettling ironies of the early Christian tradition”: the use of deception to promote the truth.
“The Bible not only contains untruths of accidental mistakes. It also contains what almost anyone today would call lies,” Ehrman writes in “Forged: Writing in the Name of God — Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.”
According to the biblical scholar, at least 11 of the 27 New Testament books are forgeries, while only seven of the 13 epistles attributed to Paul were probably written by him.
“Virtually all scholars agree that seven of the Pauline letters are authentic: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon,” says Ehrman.
Individuals claiming to be Paul wrote 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians and Colossians, he adds.
Contradictory views, discrepancies in the language and the choice of words among the books attributed to Paul are all evidence of this forgery, the author asserts.
For example, Ehrman’s analysis of the book of Ephesians shows that the text, filled with long Greek sentences, doesn’t match with Paul’s peculiar Greek writing style, made of short sentences.
Moreover, the content of what the author says “stands at odds with Paul’s own thought, but is in line with the Ephesians,” writes Ehrman.
The biblical scholar, who also challenges the authenticity of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, disputes the assumption that the Apostle Peter wrote the Epistles of Peter or anything else.
Unlike Paul, Peter, a fisherman raised in rural Palestine, was most certainly illiterate. So was the Apostle John, who could have not written the Gospel bearing his name, says Ehrman.
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But why would an author claim to be an Apostle when he wasn’t? The answer is pretty obvious, according to the scholar.
In the early centuries of the church, Christians felt under attack from all sides. “They were in conflict with Jews and pagans over the validity of their religion … but the hottest debates were with other Christians, as they argued over the right thing to believe and the rights ways to live,” said Ehrman.
Thus Christians aiming to authorize views they wanted others to accept wrote in the name of the Apostles, “fabricating, falsifying and forging documents,” says Ehrman.
“If your name was Jehoshaphat and no one had any idea who you were, you could not very well sign your own name to the book,” explains Ehrman.
“No one would take the Gospel of Jehoshaphat seriously. If you wanted someone to read it, you called yourself Peter. Or Thomas. Or James. In other words, you lied about who you really were,” Ehrman concludes.
According to the scholar, the idea that “writing in the name of another” was a common, accepted practice in antiquity is wrong. Forgery was considered just as deceitful, inappropriate and wrong as it is today.
As expected, the book has raised a heated debate.
“The book is more provocative than insightful,” writes the Catholic Herald.
Conceding that “some New Testament books probably were not written by the people traditionally assigned as authors,” the Catholic website remarks that Ehrman “barely mentions the concept of oral tradition.”
“So even if a specific letter was not done by Peter or Paul, it could well have been written by someone drawing from the oral tradition passed down by one or the other,” according to the Herald.