The Wrong Monkey
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Saturday, August 13, 2011
Ancient Literary -- No, I Won't Call Them Forgeries. Plenty of Others Will -- Misattributions
Dr Bart Ehrman
and some other Biblical scholars have caused a lot of agitation in the general public lately with the news -- news more to the general public than to specialists in New Testament studies -- that some passages in Paul's letters, and some entire letters, some of the shorter books in the New Testament, were not actually written by Paul.
Ehrman is extremely popular in some segments of the "militant" atheist population -- excuse me, but I have to stop the essay for a moment. This use of the word "militant" is really ridiculous. We do not brandish Kalashnikovs. We do not bomb buildings. We do not kidnaps heiresses. We post sharply-worded opinions in Internet social venues. No-one is in danger of physical harm -- and within that segment and the segment of the pious who do the
Itchy & Scratchy
with us, Ehrman has created quite a ruckus with this news that not all of what we've traditionally thought of as Paul's writings are by Paul. As often happens in these sorts of discussions -- Really. We're discussing things. "Militant." sheesh! -- I feel a bit off to the side, because what interests me in the immediate topic at hand is not the theological implications which are exciting most of the discutants, but the
And just this morning it occurred to me -- aside from the theological implications which, yes, no doubt, are immense. I just can't get excited about it. I find theology to be excruciatingly boring -- that Paul was hardly unique among prominent ancient authors in having spurious works attached to his name. On the contrary. Take Homer. The
that is, whether there really was a poet or singer named Homer who wrote or sang the Iliad and the Odyssey, and if so the details of his biography and the degree of similarity of his creation to the Iliad and Odyssey we know today, is still debated today, but even those, a dwindling minority for the moment, it seems, who are convinced that Homer existed and that he made both poems very much as we know them, tend to agree that he had nothing to do with the creation of the so-called
so-called because for a very long time people assumed that he had written them. Take the
so-called because they were erroneously taken for the juvenalia of Vergil. The poem
is now generally agreed not to have been written by Ovid, but it's still included in
of Ovid's works, along with a few other bits and pieces, because they were associated with Ovid for so long that this is the natural place to put them. And because they're short. For similar reasons, a lot of fragments probably not of Hesiod's writings, and some surely not by him, are included in
this collection of his actual works,
this collection of the works of Sallust
include an oration supposedly by Sallust against Cicero which he probably never made, and Cicero's equally-ficticious replay, and short commentaries on Caesar's Alexandrian, African and Spanish Wars, commentaries traditionally attributed to Caesar but now nobody knows for sure who wrote them, are thrown in with
this edition of Caesar's account of the Civil War.
And also some of
dialogues were not really written by Plato. And on and on. And these are not unusual cases. They're
if you were a famous ancient author in Latin or Greek, some stories not by you would get attached to your actual work, sometimes by someone deliberately perpetrating a fraud for nefarious or pecuniary purposes, sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately but with no malicious intent, because some admirer of the famous author thought it would be a nice tribute to write something and sign the famous guy's name to it. Yes, some simpletons back then really wouldn't have seen the harm. Or maybe not even such simple guys, which may strain your credulity unless you realize that customs and attitudes change greatly over time, and that was a long time ago. And then typically a century or two or three ago some scholar would say Hey wait a minute and compare style and content and comments by contemporaries of the ancient authors and other considerations and prove, either that this or that piece is not really by who we thought it all was, or that we must now gravely doubt that it is. This is typical. In a way, if it hadn't also happened to Paul, it would've been embarrassing for him, it would've made him stick out like a sore thumb from all the other literary bigshots.
So that's the textual-critical skinny on that. I know, I know, the theological implications of Paul's not actually having written that short letter to Titus are --
Oh, excuse me! -- are huge. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled, excruciately-boring theological uproar.
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