6/4/12

Bart Ehrman's Forged : A Review

I invited Mr. David Teague to offer this guest post here on Wishful Preaching. David is a long time friend and a recorded Quaker minister (which makes him a real Friend). Enjoy his post! - Kim the Preacher




There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament. How many of them were written by people we can identify with any degree of certainty?

Seven.

That’s the answer given by UNC professor Bart Ehrman in his recent book, Forged. (The books, by the way, are Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, I Thessalonians, and Philemon – all letters of Paul). And, while there is some discussion about one or two more, the bulk of modern Biblical scholars agree with Ehrman's list.

As for the other twenty books, Ehrman divides them into two large groups: anonymous works mistakenly attributed to Apostles (Matthew, John, and Paul) or people remembered as apostolic companions (Mark and Luke), and writings, some inside the New Testament (like Ephesians, Colossians, Titus, the two letters to Timothy, the two letters of Peter, Jude, and – in Ehrman's view – Acts, James, and II Thessalonians), and others (the Gospel of Peter, the Acts of Pilate, III Corinthians, the letter of Barnabas, or the Gospel of Nicodemus, for example) outside the Bible altogether. For these books Ehrman uses the modern word for writings produced by people pretending to be someone else, in this case someone more authoritative: forgeries.

Ehrman cites a number of ancient Greek and Roman sources to show that ancient people shared our concepts of forgery and plagiarism, and that such writings, when detected, were almost universally regarded as lies, and therefore illegitimate. Nor are such forgeries confined to whole books of the New Testament: the ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:9-20) was added later, as were John 7:53-8:11 (the woman taken in adultery), and I Corinthians 14:34-35 (“Let the women in the churches keep silent”). As Ehrman remarks, “Whoever added the final twelve verses of Mark did not do so by a mere slip of the pen.”

The philosophical and moral dilemma posed by the probability that so many of the New Testament writings are what we now call forgeries is obvious. Ehrman, in fact, ends the book with a (relatively short) discussion of whether lying is ever justified, and he is clearly unsettled by the knowledge that the majority of the books of the New Testament are not what they are purported to be.

As I see it, however, we Quakers may well have an easier time living with the results of modern critical study of the Bible than do many other faith communities. We regard the Biblical writings not as the “last word,” but as the first – the first layer of experience in our spiritual tradition, if you will. We know that such “nuggets of truth” as we are able to mine out of our own lives, and share in spoken ministry during meeting for worship, come from imperfect individuals. This being the case, I, for one, think we can live with the revelation that the Bible is very much a human book, as well as a divine one. Who knows? For some of us, the new perspective may even make it easier to appreciate the Good Book for the masterpiece – or, rather, the collection of masterpieces – it really is.

David Teague

6 comments:

  1. David,

    I take issue with a couple of things here. First, the claim that “the bulk of modern Biblical scholars agree with Ehrman’s list” is propaganda. Where’s the survey that documents this? Has anyone ever seen Ehrman provide documentation for such claims? There are very many more scholars than the people who attend SBL conferences. I rather doubt that most evangelical and capital-O Orthodox scholars agree with his assessment.

    Second, Ehrman seems to assume, rather than show, that Mark 16:9-20 was “added later.” The passage is absent from two Greek manuscripts made in the 300’s, but it is used in the 100’s by Justin, Tatian, and Irenaeus (and probably was known to the author of Epistula Apostolorum). We routinely accept as genuine and canonical chapters of Biblical books which we know were not added by the primary human author. Showing that Mark 16:9-20 was not added by Mark himself is one thing; showing that it was not in the autograph of the Gospel of Mark when the book began to be copied for church-use (the normal standard by which the “original text” is defined) is something else.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    ReplyDelete
  2. James,

    First, thank you for your comments. It is nice to know that I'm being read, and since I don't agree with everything said/written by even quite close friends 100% of the time, I am certainly not going to demand unquestioning acceptance from anyone else.

    Next, a few words about what I will not do. It would be inappropriate to engage in an extended series of discussions about minutiae such as the intricacies of the Synoptic Problem or the textual history of the Long Ending of Mark.

    (On that last point, http://www.onenesspentecostal.com/MarkEnding.htm
    looks like a fairly reasonable summary for anyone who might be interested.)

    It would be particularly inappropriate to engage in an extended discussion of such matters in a forum where both of us are guests. That having been said, here are a couple of -- brief -- points:

    1. In regard to your first issue, there certainly are quite a number of more conservative Biblical scholars, some of whom are recognized as excellent outside their own circles. (N.T. Wright's outstanding work leaps to mind here.) And you are correct in that a more precise bit of phrasing would have been something along the lines of "the bulk of modern Biblical historical/textual critics," or "the bulk of modern Biblical scholars who do not self-identify as conservative, evangelical, or O/orthodox." However, I think most of those distinctions would have been lost on the average reader in the pews, and, what is more, would have digressed from Dr. Ehrman's main point. The material Ehrman presents in this book is widely available even in New Testament survey courses at the undergraduate level, yet a surprising percentage of the folks in the pews are completely unaware of it -- or its possible implications.

    2. Now, as for Mark 16:9-20, the two strongest arguments against its being an original part of the text of that gospel are: a) that it is completely unlike the rest of the gospel (Mark tells stories rather than gives summaries); and b) that Matthew and Luke, who follow Mark quite faithfully until 16:8, diverge significantly from each other after that point (e.g., Matthew's "mountain top in Galilee" vs. Luke's Jerusalem-centered narrative).

    What really interested me were your comments at the end of your second paragraph. You do realize that there are plenty of conservatives and evangelicals who would take issue with that, don't you? For many, the entire edifice is in danger of toppling if anything now present in the text of the second gospel is admitted not to come from the pen of John Mark, companion (and secretary) of Peter, and one-time companion of Paul. Besides that, while "when the book began to be copied for church-use" has a certain usefulness as a practical standard for "the closest recoverable point to the original text," I suspect that most people, scholars included, would take the term "original text" to mean just that: what the original writer originally said.

    In His Light,

    David Teague

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    Replies
    1. (I don't remember if I sent this already; apologies if this appears twice.)

      Michael,

      I too don’t anticipate that we are going to delve deeply into the textual history of Mk. 16:9-20. Although it should be pointed out that the author of the Oneness Pentecostal site to which you referred incorrectly describes some evidence, and has not sufficiently tested some of Daniel Wallace’s claims about some things. (If you would like to investigate all that further, send me a request and I’ll send you a digital copy of my research-book on the subject.)

      The two points which you described as the two strongest arguments against Mk. 16:9-20 being original are not all that strong, especially if they are posed as objections to the theory that Mark was permanently interrupted in 16:8, and that a colleague completed the text by attaching a composition about Christ’s post-resurrection appearance which Mark had written on a separate occasion. Regarding the first point: Mark does not only tell stories; he summarizes quite a bit in the opening part of chapter 1 -- just look at his accounts of Jesus’ baptism, and temptation in the wilderness. Depending on his source-materials and purpose, Mark could write differently on different occasions, just like anyone else. Regarding the second point, this sort of argument puts Mk. 16:9-20 in a lose-lose situation; if the case were different and Matthew and Luke continued to parallel Mark, those looking for a reason to reject the passage would turn around and insist that the contents of Mk. 16:9-20 were obviously drawn from the parallel-accounts. (Some commentators do this anyway, so one can just imagine what would be done if Mk. 16:9-20 contained sustained verbal parallels with Mt. 28 or Lk. 24.) Plus, Matthew and Luke do not “quite faithfully” reflect Mark 16:8. Luke, particularly, is directing the narrative in a different direction even as he presents the words of the angel at the tomb. And do you seriously think it is safe to use the text of Luke as a guide to define the original contents of Mark? If one rejects 12 verses in chapter 16 on the grounds that Luke does not use them, why not reject the 75 verses in 6:45-8:26? Thus half the argument falls to the ground just like that.

      Regarding your other question: I am not aware of any conservative evangelicals who would insist that the autograph of a book of the Bible must be the work of one and only one human author. Nor am I aware of any conservative evangelicals who would insist that the canonical form of a book of the Bible should be limited to the work of only one human author. (Would such a view not be instantly problematic for the books which everyone acknowledges were composed by more than one person?) Could you perhaps provide a sample of the many people who hold such a view? Who are these people who want to remove Jeremiah 52, and Proverbs 30-31 (and perhaps John 21 and Second Corinthians 10-13) from the Bible?

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.

      Delete
  3. Michael,

    I too don’t anticipate that we are going to delve deeply into the textual history of Mk. 16:9-20 here. Although it should be pointed out that the author of the Oneness Pentecostal site to which you referred incorrectly describes some evidence, and has not sufficiently tested some of Daniel Wallace’s claims about some things. (If you would like to investigate all that further, send me a request and I’ll send you a digital copy of my research-book on the subject. In the meantime see http://www.curtisvillechristianchurch.org/public/MarkOne.html .)

    The two points which you described as the two strongest arguments against Mk. 16:9-20 being original are not all that strong, especially if they are posed as objections to the theory that Mark was permanently interrupted in 16:8, and that a colleague completed the text by attaching a composition about Christ’s post-resurrection appearance which Mark had written on a separate occasion. Regarding the first point: Mark does not only tell stories; he summarizes quite a bit in the opening part of chapter 1 -- just look at his accounts of Jesus’ baptism, and temptation in the wilderness. Depending on his source-materials and purpose, Mark could write differently on different occasions, just like anyone else.

    Regarding the second point, this sort of argument puts Mk. 16:9-20 in a lose-lose situation; if the case were different and Matthew and Luke continued to parallel Mark, those looking for a reason to reject the passage would turn around and insist that the contents of Mk. 16:9-20 were obviously drawn from the parallel-accounts. (Some commentators do this anyway; one can just imagine what they would claim if Mk. 16:9-20 contained sustained verbal parallels with Mt. 28 or Lk. 24.) Plus, Matthew and Luke do not "quite faithfully" reflect Mark 16:8. Luke, particularly, is directing the narrative in a different direction even as he presents the words of the angel at the tomb. And do you seriously think it is safe to use the text of Luke as a guide to define the original contents of Mark? If one rejects 12 verses in chapter 16 on the grounds that Luke does not use them, why not reject the 75 verses in 6:45-8:26? Half your argument falls to the ground just like that.

    Regarding your other question: I am not aware of any conservative evangelicals who would insist that the autograph of a book of the Bible must be the work of one and only one human author. (Who, exactly, is saying that the original text of the book of Psalms = what *the* original writer originally said? Nobody.) Nor am I aware of any conservative evangelicals who would insist that the canonical form of a book of the Bible should be limited to the work of only one human author. (Would such a view not be instantly problematic for the books which everyone acknowledges were composed by more than one person, and the books in which a redactor was involved in their production?) Could you perhaps provide a sample of the many people who hold such a view? Who are these people who want to remove Jeremiah 52, and Proverbs 30-31 (and perhaps John 21 and Second Corinthians 10-13) from the Bible?

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

    ReplyDelete
  4. James,

    Just one question for you:

    Who's Michael?

    David Teague

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    Replies
    1. David,

      Sorry; I'm juggling conversations and typed the wrong name. I meant "David," i.e., you.

      Yours in Christ,

      Vladimir -- I mean, James Snapp, Jr.

      Delete

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