IntroductionChapter OneChapter TwoChapter Three

As with previous chapters, Bart gives us a bit of his biography and how he came to leave behind the Evangelical faith and take a very different view of the Bible.   Along the way he suggests that there are at least two forgeries in  the OT—- Ecclesiastes and Daniel  (pp. 117-18).   One of the problems in the way Bart deals with both of these books is the failure to recognize the results of appropriate source criticism.   For example,  with Ecclesiastes, as with Proverbs, we are dealing with the tradition of Jewish wisdom literature, and as Proverbs shows perfectly clearly, this tradition involved including wisdom from numerous sources, including Solomon.  Proverbs, is perfectly clear about this, mentioning in Proverbs 30 for example the saying of a man named Agur.    Solomon is seen as the font or first major sponsor of the collecting of ANE wisdom, and while most scholars agree that Proverbs likely includes some sayings from King Solomon himself,  wisdom was an international form of literature collected from all sorts of sources.   This brings us to Ecclesiastes.  It is quite true that again there is an indirect mention of Solomon, for example at the outset of this document,  but to apply modern notions of authorship to such composite documents is anachronistic in the extreme.   No one is claiming that all the material in Ecclesiastes was by Solomon himself.  That would be unlike almost all the other collections of wisdom material we know of from the ANE.   Indeed, we learn in Eccles. 12.9-10 that  Qoheleth (‘the teacher’  not identified as Solomon) weighed, studied, and arranged proverbs.   What we have, says vs. 11 is sayings of the wise (wise being plural), sayings of various sages, and so these are sayings collected by one ‘shepherd’, but not all composed by one person.  Now most experts in Jewish sapiential literature recognize that in the document of Ecclesiastes itself, we have a collection of material from various sources.

In this case, it is quite inappropriate to call this an example of forgery, as there is no claim made in this document that it was all by Solomon.  Indeed, the most referred to source is the collector himself,  Qoheleth or the teacher.        What about Daniel.     It is true to say that Daniel is one of the more difficult books of the OT to pin down in terms of provenance.     It seems to include some authentic stories about a 6th century prophet named Daniel and some of his visions,  but it also includes later material towards the end of the book.    As  Van der Tooren points out, books like this often have a long history of composition and compilation,  with scribes adding material for many decades.    Isaiah for example is a book compiled of prophetic materials from several different periods of Jewish history.     On top of all this,   Daniel has both Hebrew and Aramaic sections to it, which may in itself suggest materials written down at different periods of  Jewish history.   All that would be required for this document to be authentically ascribed to Daniel is that it contain some material about and from the prophet and that case can be made.   I have made it in my book Jesus the Seer, (Hendrickson) and I have made the case for Ecclesiastes in Jesus the Sage (Fortress).  And I am following the lead of many experts in these books.  But of such arguments Bart seems to be entirely ignorant, or else he is just ignoring them.     I don’t object to the conclusion that the final form of the book of Daniel came in the 2nd century B.C.  But what I do insist is that the argument it was all composed then and is a forgery is frankly very weak, and based on the assumption that this document was not compiled over a long period of time, which the internal evidence is strongly against in this case.    The upshot of this is,  we do not have a precedent in these OT books for a case that forgeries were already in the Bible before we ever get to the NT writings.

On pp. 119-21 Bart is mostly taking on more liberal scholars that think there were perfectly well know literary conventions in which pseudonymity was an acceptable and known practice and should not be seen as examples of forgery.    While I do think that a case can be made for certain genre of literature,  for example apocalyptic Jewish literature,  often having pseudonymity as a well-known and recognized feature of it,  this is a non-issue for NT study since John of Patmos is widely agreed to be the real name of the person responsible for the book of Revelation.

What about pseudepigrapha?    Here I think Bart is likely right— there was no innocent practice of falsely attributed authorship when it came to the writing of letters (see my discussion in Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians Vol. One).  And as Richard Bauckham has rightly shown, the likelihood of pulling off such a scam in the NT era is not good, because it would involve not only a falsely attributed author but also a falsely attributed audience as well.

My view would be there are no forgeries in the NT at all,  no pseudonymous documents,  but that does not mean that all the documents of the NT meet a modern way of looking at authorship,  which is what Bart is applying to the NT documents.  There were definitely composite documents in antiquity named after the most important source for or contributor to that document.  And in addition to that, the varied practices of scribes writing or copying on behalf of others must be taken into account.

One of the things Bart and I do have in common is Bruce Metzger as a teacher.  And Bruce, a devout Christian did indeed ask: 1) how can you know there was no attempt to deceive when there was a  pseudepigrapha; and 2) if no one was taken in by the falsely attributed label, it is difficult to see why it was used at all, for surely the use of an apostolic or famous name is to add authority to and increase the audience of the document  (cited by Bart on p.123).  I quite agree with this line of reasoning, and here Bart and I converge on the same conclusion about such practices.  They were deceptive, and they were called deceptive in their own day.   This is why people are angry when they discover after the fact they have been snookered, and not by just anyone, but by a supposedly truth telling fellow Christian.   Earle Ellis in his Prophecy and Hermeneutics long ago made this point, and it still stands.  Deception is not consistent with the high standard for truth God expects of his people then or now.

Further, the critique of Kurt Aland on pp. 123-25, who claimed there were Spirit inspired cases of pseudonymity.   But if the Holy Spirit was in fact inspiring such a document, why indeed would one need to attribute it to a merely  human authority like an apostle?  If the Spirit is inspiring it, one can speak in one’s own name, because one has been made a prophet.  There is no need for pseudonymity.   Here again I think Bart has a good case.

In the following short section (pp. 125-29)  Bart takes on the notion that there were those who wrote ‘in the tradition of Isaiah’ and the earlier Isaianic materials are sources for the later material, but are not claiming to be by the original author.  They are simply reactualizing the earlier material and applying it to a later time.   Actually, this practice is precisely what seems to be going on in the later part of Daniel,  but Danielic material is being used and reaudienced and redirected in the later material. This is more an example of later editorial or redactional work on earlier source material.  It does not actually involve either later persons making authorship claims that are deceptive.   In describing the roles of scribes in the ancient Israelite world,  Van der Tooren says they undertook the following tasks: 1) transcription of oral lore; 2) invention of a new text; 3) compilation of existing lore, either oral or written; 4) expansion of an existing text;  5) adaptation of an existing text for a new audience; and 6) integration of individual documents into a more comprehensive composition  (p. 110, in Scribal Culture). Not only is it likely that we see examples of this sort of thing going on in the OT  (see Baruch and the collection and editing of Jeremiah’s material), but it is also likely going on in a document like 2 Peter.  Bart is apparently not prepared to take seriously any hypothesis but the single or jointly author authentic or pseudonymous document.  This frankly seems to be because he is assuming an all too modern notion about authorship, and is ignoring the evidence of the way ancient scribes worked, compiling composite documents.  In other words, he too quickly rules out whole ranges of possibilities that experts in ancient oral and scribal cultures have provided copious evidence for.

On pp. 129-33 Bart takes on the philosophical school hypothesis.  He admits that there is an text in Iamblichus which says that the followers of Porphyry the philosopher did compose documents in his name ascribing the glory and credit to their teacher rather than to themselves.   But Bart urges that this single text hardly provides some sort of massive literary precedent on the basis of which we could conclude that there was a school of Peter or a school of Paul.    As Bart goes on to show, Iamblichus is well after the NT era, and there is no evidence of some sort of widespread influence of Prophyry or his followers on early Jews or early Christians.    Bart then suggests that one reason NT scholars have latched on to this possibility is that they want to avoid the suggestion that we have forged documents in the NT.  He may be right about this, but it’s hard to know.

Finally, on pp. 133-39 we come to his rebuttal to secretary or scribe theories.   Bart relies on the work of E.E. Richards here, and he acknowledges Paul and others certainly used secretaries.  What he disputes is that secretaries were given any latitude in the composition of documents, or at least, he wants to see the historical evidence for such latitude.  This is a reasonable request,  but there is more to attend to here.   Bart wants to argue that what we have in Paul’s corpus is letter-essays.   This however is not quite correct.  What we have is rhetorical discourses within an epistolary framework.   In the largely oral culture of the Greco-Roman world,  Paul’s so-called letters and documents like Hebrews were orally delivered by Paul’s co-workers as speeches, and more importantly they reflect the structure and practices of ancient rhetoric.   About this Bart is completely silent.  He does not consider as an option, he does not rebut it as in error.   He is simply silent.   And here is the point—-  secretaries took down speeches in a variety of ways, including using short-hand, taking notes and then filling out in a more elegant rhetorical form, and so on.   We have an abundance of evidence about the taking down of ancient speeches by scribes.   Of this Bart says nothing.   Here then is a major fly in the ointment and flaw in the analysis in ‘Forged’.    We don’t need to track down how secretaries handled philosophical essays, we need to track down how they dealt with speeches.  And the previous comments of Thucydides and Polybius are relevant here as well.

There is another assumption in Bart’s argument that surfaces here, namely it is only the elites who have secretaries that have literary skills and could produce Pauline like documents (or Petrine ones).   This is forgetting how many slaves were not only educated but trained to be excellent secretaries.  We must remember that many persons who had become slaves in the Empire, had previously been teachers, land owners, and in fact amongst the elite in their own region.  There were many slaves who became Christian converts, some from elite households.  For example,  Paul mentions in Romans 16 people from the household of Aristobolus, or the Herodion slaves, and indeed Philippians mentions Caesar’s own household had converts.   Various of these persons were domestic slaves, and some of them were likely able scribes.  In other words, the social situation was such that Paul and Peter and others could definitely have access to very competent, and rhetorically skilled former slaves who were secretaries.

Bart concludes this section by referring again to the unlikelihood that Peter used a skilled and rhetorically and Scripturally knowledgeable scribe to compose 1 Peter in Greek with Peter perhaps speaking in Aramaic and giving the gist of what he wanted to say.   Really?  Let us consider for a moment what  Papias says about the composition of the Gospel we know as Mark’s  Gospel.

“And the elder used to say this, Mark became Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not, indeed, in order, of the things said and done by the Lord. For he had not heard the Lord, nor had followed him, but later on, followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in thus writing down single points as he remembered them. For to one thing he gave attention, to leave out nothing of what he had heard and to make no false statements in them.”   (quoted in Eusebius H.E. 3.39.4ff).     It also goes on to say Peter spoke in Aramaic, and Mark translated it into Greek.  A detailed and helpful analysis of this can be found in Bauckham’s  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

What is of importance to say here is the following: 1)   the Gospel of Mark is a long document and the composer of the document is indeed Mark; 2) Mark is translating from Aramaic, but he is making his own arrangement of the material, in fact he is making it into rhetorical chreiae  among other things; 3)  Mark gave attention to detail but made his own arrangement of things.     While this is not a testimony about a letter or a rhetorical speech, it is a testimony about one Christian using source material from another Christian and composing something in his own Greek style with his own arrangement of material.  He is not simply taking down verbatim what Peter says as Bauckham  shows.

As it turns out, Bart’s argument about there being no evidence to help us figure out what sort of liberties secretaries might have had in composing things is not quite correct. We not only have the evidence from Papias, we have the evidence amassed by Van der Tooren about earlier scribes and their creativity and literary skills, and if that were not enough we have the evidence about rhetorical education and the taking down of speeches.

Bart’s parameters of either single or joint authorship or forgery and fabrication, are much too narrow to account for what we find in the NT itself, and in its era. And finally, it will not do to suggest that with Cicero and Tiro we have some sort of isolated and singular example of where a scribe might compose a document for his master.   Read Anthony Everett’s fine life of Cicero or William Johnson’s excellent monograph (both reviewed on this blog), Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire, (Oxford 2010).   There are lots of good reasons to question Bart’s conclusions about secretaries and for that matter about what counted as authorship or forgery in antiquity.     At the end of the day, I do think Paul mostly dictated his letters— all of them with the possible except of the Pastorals.   This didn’t mean that the secretary would not put it into a more apt rhetorical form after he had taken notes for the composition of the document in a fair hand.   We do need to make some allowance for the contrast in 2 Corinthians where the Corinthians say Paul’s letters are powerful and rhetorically impressive, but his ethos and in person speech was weak.

IntroductionChapter OneChapter TwoChapter ThreeChapter Four

Forward Thinking about “Reading Backwards’ Conclusions
Forward Thinking on ‘Reading Backwards’–The Interview Part Six
Uncommon Sense— Part One
Kingsman– The Secret Service
  • E. Randolph Richards

    Hi Ben,
    My copy of Bart’s book seems to be slower arriving than everyone else’s, so, I have not yet read it. I’m wondering if I am misrepresented. Bart and I briefly exchanged emails prior to his book. I reiterated my position that I think there were no innocent apostolic pseudepigrapha. The influence of my professor, Earle Ellis, is evident in me. In my 2004 IVP book on Letter Writing, I attempted to demonstrate that secretaries did have an impact upon the text. For evidence, I would cite the old study on Cicero that showed remarkable variation in writing style across undisputed letters of Cicero. I am not surprised Bart is quite resistant to allowing any influence from a secretary (or co-author). I suspect this is because it would undermine his argument against Pauline authorship. (I believe all 13 letters are Pauline.) Like you, I believe ancient authorship was quite different. In a paper I’m reading next month, I will address some of these differences. I enjoy your postings, Ben. Thanks for all your work.

  • Ben Witherington

    Randy, you will not be happy with the way you are misrepresented and selectively quoted by Bart to support his axes he wants to grind. He is very dismissive of your suggestion that there is evidence, such as you just cited about Cicero’s letters, that scribes were given some leeway beyond verbatim copying, to compose things for others. And he shows absolutely no knowledge at all of Van der Tooren important work on Scribes and Scribal Culture which shows the wide range of activities of scribes, even when writing for others.


  • Jonathan Bowman

    And I would personally like to thank both Dr. Richards (whom I had as a teacher) and Dr. Witherington (whom I learn from via his works) for their contributions to the kingdom. It’s fun to see you both interacting on this blog. I can not hep but comment!

    Dr. Ellis was instrumental in my life as well when I asked these same questions concerning the New Testament during a period of deep doubt. He was probably the most influential teacher and model of a believer that I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

    God bless.

  • Danny D

    What confuses me about Ehrman’s assertions concerning scribes and secretaries is that from what you’re saying (I haven’t read the book, I have plenty to read on my own at this point!) Bart seems to apply too much of our modern standards, an argument I’ve heard before on him and read myself. However, even today we have secretaries who write letters for busy executives, have the executives approve them, then attach their name to the letter and send it out. We don’t consider this pseudepigraphic. So in the case of 1 and 2 Tim, why couldn’t someone write what Paul wanted, bring it to him for a look and send it out with Paul’s name?

  • Ethan Magness

    I direct a ministry program that involves sending lots of letters to academics, students, parents of students, volunteers, etc. Everyone of them is written by my assistant. I outline what needs to be said orally, she writes it. I sign it. As she gets to know me and the program I give less and less of an outline.

    Sometimes I just say, “an you write an encouraging not to SoandSo and remind them to stay focused in their role.” Then she writes two pages. I come back later strike two paragraphs, write a new one on an issue she didn’t think of and we send it. This often means that things are not phrased the way I would phrase them. In fact it means that somethings are emphasized that I would never have even mentioned.

    This all strikes me as very normal.

  • Joe

    Not to diverge on a tangent, but I’m curious on your take on Peter and Mark since you mention them. Why does Mark not mention Peter walking on water like Matthew does? Seems like that would be the kind of thing Mark should know about it and mention if his Gospel is truly based on Peter’s preaching. I’ve always wondered about this and have no good explanation. Thanks.

  • Barry S.

    Thank you for the wonderful insights on this topic.
    The accusations of forgery are made with many presumptions which are beyond an objective observations.

    @Joe, some scholars remark (not remember exactly who) that Mark’s focus on his particular group of readers and on his devoted portrayal of His Savior caused the concise nature of his gospel, excluding many events not quite suited to the underlying intention. However, it is possible that Peter himself didn’t feel this event to be worthy to mention too much, as it may cause people to focus on him as someone special who “also walked on water” as our Lord. The same way, it was John’s gospel who mentioned that Simon Peter struck the ear of Malchus, while Mark could have noted that detail himself.

  • Jose Fernandez

    You say in your message:

    “secretaries took down speeches in a variety of ways, including using short-hand, taking notes and then filling out in a more elegant rhetorical form, and so on. We have an abundance of evidence about the taking down of ancient speeches by scribes. Of this Bart says nothing”

    I have read a lot in this message regarding the lack of evidence in support of Bart’s theories but I haven’t come across any actual evidence here for secretaries being used to produce rhetorical discourses in epistolary form for the reputed authors. Am I missing something?

  • Benw333

    Yes indeed you are. Read Allan Millards book on the subject, or better read Van der Toren’s Scribal Culture book, but you could also get this from simply reading Harrell’s biography of Cicero.

  • Jose Fernandez

    Many thanks for the quick reply – it’s very much appreciated.

    Sadly I don’t have access to those books, which makes it difficult for me to check the actual evidence mentioned in your message. I am only asking here for some clear evidence that confirms that there were secretaries in Paul’s time that were being used by people (such as Paul or Peter) to write letters (such as the ones we have in the NT), not merely as copiers of dictated letters, but as extensive composers/contributors of these letters in the name of such people and that this was an accepted practice at the time (so much that there was no need for these secretaries to sign the letters with their name, as happens in the so-called pseudonymous pauline and petrine letters). Since you criticize Ehrman’s book quite openly for its lack of evidence, I should imagine you must have good evidence against it (?).

  • Anonymous

    The evidence is right in front of you in the NT. Look at all the mention of scribes in the Gospels. Check out the reference to Tertius in Romans 16. Notice that Paul at the end of several of his letters says that he has now finally taken the stylus and is writing in his own hand, and so on. Take the time to read Richard’s book, and don’t use the excuse that you don’t have them. Go to a theological library in the U.K. and read if you can’t afford. If you can afford to read Ehrman, you cannot afford to read the evidence that makes clear he is dead wrong.

  • Anonymous

    I meant you cannot afford not to read the evidence that Ehrman doesn’t know what he is talking about.

  • Jose Fernandez

    Thanks for the reply. I wish I could say I found it useful. If you read my comment you will see (along with any other reader) that all your references to Gospels, Romans 16 and Paul’s “signature” are not really relevant to the question I asked (which makes me think that perhaps there are not so many clear evidences against Ehrman’s arguments after all, however strongly we want to emphasize his wrongness). As for Richard’s book, I might have to actually buy it and read it (my university does not have it – so much for the so-called excuses). I hope it’s really worth the money and at least there is some part of the book which actually answers the question I am asking (with appropriate evidence, of course).

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps I have misunderstood your question— is it this? “I haven’t come across any actual evidence here for secretaries being used to produce rhetorical discourses in epistolary form for the reputed authors.” If this is the question, then you need to start with the references in Cicero to what Tiro did. Cicero on more than one occasion did ask Tiro to do precisely this. Then there are the references in Quintilian about scribes and their work on behalf of their employers, writing letters for them, which would include oral dictation of rhetorical responses to various audiences. Richards book does talk about this, as does my book NT Rhetoric. Hope I answered better this time. BW3

  • Jose Fernandez

    The question was:

    “I am only asking here for some clear evidence that confirms that there were secretaries in Paul’s time that were being used by people (such as Paul or Peter) to write letters (such as the ones we have in the NT), not merely as copiers of dictated letters, but as extensive composers/contributors of these letters in the name of such people and that this was an accepted practice at the time (so much that there was no need for these secretaries to sign the letters with their name, as happens in the so-called pseudonymous pauline and petrine letters)”

    I don’t want to persist, as I imagine you are a very busy man, but as far as I can see no evidence has been put forward that answers this specific question. Unless I have missed it…