Explaining Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel

Explaining Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel March 27, 2021

I promised to return to the lyrics of the parody song “Fifty Ways to Forge a Gospel” I wrote several years ago and explain all the references in it. Here is that post. The annotated lyrics follow, with my comments in square brackets. The names, as in the original song are mostly chosen by rhyme. But each line has an allusion to an actual canonical or extracanonical work that could be considered a “forgery” in one of the many senses of that word.

 

50 Ways to Forge a Gospel

VERSE
At a York symposium, Bart Ehrman said to me

[I attended the 2015 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium, presenting on the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. Bart Ehrman gave the keynote at the conference on the subject of his book Forgery and Counterforgery. At dinner after his lecture about the different kinds of forgery, he and I were chatting and I said jokingly that it would make a good parody song, “50 Ways to Forge a Gospel.” He laughed, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t think I’d actually write it!]

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

[There is a long history of scholars using terms like “pseudepigraphy” and writing about the subject in ways that suggest that forgery was widely accepted. Ehrman makes the case that isn’t so.]

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

[The letter of Jude in the New Testament quotes the book known as 1 Enoch and shows every sign of believing that it really does come from Enoch.]

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

[Jude or Judah or Judas is supposed to have been one of Jesus’ brothers, but we do not know who actually wrote the letter that goes by that name.]

There must be fifty ways to forge a Gospel

CHORUS
Claim that he wasn’t dead, Fred

[An allusion to The Passover Plot by Hugh Schonfeld and similar alternative accounts of what happened on Easter morning.]

Find his childhood pal, Sal

[An allusion to the novel Biff, a modern work that is arguably in the same genre as many ancient extracanonical Gospels, even if much more recent.]

Write an apocryphon, John

[There is an ancient text called the Apocryphon of John.]

It just takes a good tale

Dialogue with the Savior, Xavier

[A reference to Dialogue of the Savior, an ancient pseudepigraphon.]

Have Jesus laugh from the sky, Guy

[In some extracanonical Gospels Jesus mocks those who think they crucify him, since God has substituted someone else in his place.]

Write “my wife” on papyrus, Iris

[This is a reference to the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife, a modern forgery on a piece of old papyrus.]

Then say it’s for sale

VERSE
Bart said the ancients knew
Just what it meant to lie

[Ehrman’s work challenges the idea that one could acceptably write in someone else’s name in ancient times.]

To fabricate and call it
tribute wouldn’t fly
This kind of thing was enough
To make Tertullian cry

[Tertullian accused one of his contemporaries of forging the Acts of Paul and Thecla. Ironically, many modern scholars simply take Tertullian’s word on this matter!]

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

CHORUS
You can claim that you’re Matt, Pat

[Whether the Gospel of Matthew was written by someone named Matthew is unclear. There are also other possible works that may or may not go back to Matthew, as well as ones that are attributed to Matthias, hence the use of “Matt” which could be short for either.]

Or pretend that you’re John, Ron

[There are works attributed to John both in and outside the New Testament whose authorship is uncertain.]

Hint you travelled with Paul, y’all

[Ehrman and others view the “we” passages in Acts as an attempt to imply that the author had traveled with Paul, even though this was not the case.]

And you’ll be home free

Make some angels say “Hark!”, Mark

[The reference here is to the infancy accounts that expand on Mark’s narrative, alluding to a famous Christmas carol.]

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

[The pun is on Matthew and Luke using a lost source, Q, which some scholars think they can not only identify but further analyze in terms of layers of expansion in that earlier work.]

Add a whole second book, Luke
Let someone else make it three

[I alluded here to the possibility that the author of Luke-Acts intended to write a third volume, with room left for others to come along and fill in those stories, whether claiming to find Luke’s “lost third volume” or merely narrating further acts of apostles.]

Have Jesus teach ’em discreetly, Dmitri

[Many pseudepigraphal works have Jesus offer secret teaching not recorded in the canonical Gospels.]
Call it Gospel of Truth, Ruth

[A reference to the Gospel of Truth, a Valentinian work.]

Add in the Demiurge, Serge

[The identification of the creator deity from Genesis as demiurge, a figure inferior to the supreme God, is a trademark of Gnosticism.]

Gnosticism galore

Have them kiss on the lacuna, Petunia

[This refers to the spot where the Gospel of Philip says that Jesus loved Mary and kissed her frequently on the…and then there is a hole in the manuscript! I discuss this is my book What Jesus Learned from Women.]

Add it to Codex Tchacos, Jackos

[Codex Tchacos included the long-lost Gospel of Judas. It came to light via the antiquities market but is judged an ancient forgery rather than a modern one, showing how complicated this topic can get.]

This might need a new chart, Bart
If there’s this many more

Also relevant to this topic:

2019 Interns on the Forging Antiquity Project

A book chapter I wrote about the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife and what forgery has to do with the Digital Humanities can be read online. The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife was in the news again a while back (HT Jim Davila).

Making the Mysterious ‘Dialogue of the Savior’ Not So Mysterious

Of related interest, see the section on pseudepigraphy in Dustin Smith’s book review of James D. G. Dunn’s book, Neither Jew nor Greek: A Contested Identity (Christianity in the Making vol.3).

“Braver by Overcoming:” Some More Fake Aristotle

Fake Aristotle Fakely Rails Against Fighting Inequality

Nicodemus and the Secret Scriptures

I somehow completely missed that my endorsement of Bart Ehrman’s textbook on the Bible was used! It is authentic and not a forgery! See also:

ReligionProf Podcast with Tony Burke

Interview with Ariel Sabar about his new book, Veritas

It perhaps also should be said as a final note that this parody of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon might be judged as a “forgery” depending on how one defines that term. But for those who may not have gotten the joke thus far, here’s the original…

 

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