50 Ways to Forge a Gospel

50 Ways to Forge a Gospel November 19, 2015

As the song lyrics indicate, it genuinely was at the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium that I got the idea for this song, and mentioned it to Bart Ehrman over a drink after his keynote address, which was the primary inspiration for the song, although the whole range of papers were in mind and there are nods to many of them.

This is the kind of silliness I tend to engage in when I’ve just finished a project, and so you can tell that my conference paper for SBL is now done. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

I apologize that I didn’t find the time to learn GMaj7#5 and B+ on the guitar with enough confidence to provide a guitar accompaniment, which would have made it closer to the original – this is obviously a parody of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” This live version recorded in one take was all I have time for, as there are still things to do to get ready for the upcoming conference.

Here are the lyrics:

50 Ways to Forge a Gospel


At a York symposium, Bart Ehrman said to me

Don’t try to whitewash it, just call it forgery

I’m all for nuance, here’s an argument from me

There must be fifty ways to forge a Gospel

Don’t tell me they had no intention to deceive

When Jude used Enoch we can see what he believed

And who knows who Jude was or what tangled web he weaves

There must be fifty ways to forge a Gospel


Claim that he wasn’t dead, Fred

Find his childhood pal, Sal

Write an apocryphon, John

It just takes a good tale

Dialogue with the Savior, Xavier

Have Jesus laugh from the sky, Guy

Write “my wife” on papyrus, Iris

Then say it’s for sale


Bart said the ancients knew

Just what it meant to lie

To fabricate and call it

tribute wouldn’t fly

This kind of thing was enough

To make Tertullian cry

About the fifty ways

People then as now

Did not like to be had

To say you wrote something

You didn’t was still bad

I realized Bart exposed

an academic fad

There must be fifty ways to forge a Gospel

Fifty ways to forge a Gospel


You can claim that you’re Matt, Pat

Or pretend that you’re John, Ron

Hint you travelled with Paul, y’all

And you’ll be home free

Make some angels say “Hark!”, Mark

You might want to use Q, too (or should that be “Q2”?)

Add a whole second book, Luke

Let someone else make it three

Have Jesus teach ’em discreetly, Dmitri

Call it Gospel of Truth, Ruth

Add in the Demiurge, Serge

Gnosticism galore

Have them kiss on the lacuna, Petunia

Add it to Codex Tschakos, Jackos

This might need a new chart, Bart

If there’s this many more


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  • Phil Ledgerwood

    Really good, and congratulations on finding names for some of those rhymes. “50 Ways To X Your Y” is just a great pedagogical song.

    • Finding rhymes is a topic I’ve had fun with once before: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaSXHlc4UFc

      • Phil Ledgerwood

        Excellent. Very Dylan-esque. Although, I think both you and I know you could have rhymed those names if you really wanted to.

        Back in the day when I used to teach web development, I also wrote folk songs to teach certain concepts. “I of the For Loop.” “Close the Tag.” “Java Chameleon.” Etc.

        • Yes, the supposed inability to rhyme the names was part of the total silliness of the song.

          If you have any recordings of your songs online, feel free to share them. Before you know it, people will be walking around singing “Java Java Java Java Java…” 🙂

        • arcseconds

          Computer programming and religion! That means I get to post this!

          It’s also a nice bit of singing.

          WARNING: may proselytize a language you don’t happen to like (but God does).


      • LOL;-)

        And I could have skipped all their books and just sang along with you:-)

      • Major kangaroo

        Hire on Elvis Costello This is his thing . Hysterical .

  • ChuckQueen101

    This was great!

  • charlesburchfield

    did anyone grok the original paul simon song ’50 ways to leave your lover’?

    • What do you mean by “grok” it in this context?

      • charlesburchfield

        what context? (please don’t ban me!) */8•0

      • Major kangaroo

        Really ? How about google do you have that where you are ?

        • I don’t understand this comment. I was not asking what grok means, I was asking what his question meant. It seemed to be asking whether anyone noticed the explicitly-stated fact that this is a parody of a Paul Simon song. I didn’t think that could be what he meant, as it was asking about the obvious, and so I wondered what the intended meaning of the question was.

          • Major kangaroo

            Got it , I was worried about you there for a minute . I understand his disbelief ,and appluade the effort .

  • Well done, James! I thoroughly enjoyed this!

  • John Thomas

    I just found that Bart Ehrman shared your video in his latest blog 🙂