On the Malleability of Gold Plates: Mormonism and Modern Biblical Scholarship

From the time I first came to understand the nature of  pseudepigrapha, I felt comfortable with the idea that many of these extra-scriptural writings were written under assumed names. Somewhere I had picked up the idea that it was a common and accepted convention for works of antiquity to be attributed to someone famous. There are ancient books of Adam, of Enoch, of Abraham, all written by later authors under a prophetic moniker to give their writings authority and status. Even our book of Psalms in the present canon includes poems with headings “A Psalm of David”—(lᵊ dawid).  This has traditionally been understood to denote Davidic authorship, even though Biblical scholars agree that some of these were post-exilic. As Jana Riess puts it:

The Hebrew preposition “l” can, like many Hebrew words, mean a variety of different things. Often translated “of,” it can also mean “to” or “for” (a Psalm for David) or “in the manner of” (a psalm that’s like something David might have written if he were still with us; R.I.P.).

In his work, “The Book of Psalms,” UC Berkeley Hebrew professor Robert Alter taught that “it was a regular practice in the later biblical period to ascribe new texts to famous figures of the past.” This is what I had always heard.

Not so! says Bart Ehrman in his groundbreaking treatment of the subject. In the 2011 book Forged,  Ehrman asserts that writing in the name of a famous prophet or biblical figure was just as scandalous in ancient times as any forgery would be today. [Read more...]