Not a bad title for a book about the Bible, you gotta admit. The funny thing is, the book convincingly makes the case that much of the Bible and many of the books and letters and tracts that never made it into the Bible, but were contenders (to quote Marlon Brando in another context), were forged.
The book is by Bart D. Ehrman, (the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) who wrote a few other books on New Testament scholarship that I think could informally be combined into a volume of four – Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why; Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them); God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer; and now Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. (he has also written many other books, but these are directed to the general public). I’ve read all four, and read together (they tend to overlap a little) they quite remarkably have changed my attitude and impressions about the Bible. I’ve never had much attraction to it, finding it archaic, and well…boring, especially in much of the lineage sections, and certainly not very relevant to current times, but I always respected it as a work of history underpinning the rise of Christianity through the last 2000 years. However with these books, I no longer am impressed with its veracity and authority, even as an historical document. Atheists often make fun of it as a work of fiction, but, frankly, such a jibe is not far from the mark.
There are a number of reasons to consider the Bible a book of pure fiction. Forged deals with one aspect of that claim, while the other three books by Ehrman deal with others. According to Ehrman, he doesn’t use the term “forgery” (pseudepigraphy is the technical term) loosely. Essentially, if the author of the book claims he is someone other than the real author, especially if he claims he is someone that the early Christians would have considered an authority, such as Peter, or Paul, or James, or even in one case, Jesus himself, then that book is a forgery, because the author is being intentionally deceptive. For instance, there are at least 6 of books of the NT, supposedly written by Paul that are clearly written by someone else (including Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians).The style might be completely different from known letters of Paul, or the theology espoused is different, or there are references in it that clearly indicate Paul could not write it, or the word usage and vocabulary is different (all of the books have been dissected from a statistical point of view, counting words, contractions, phrases, etc.).
The point of this is that most biblical scholars agree that many of the books are pseudepigraphical (forged), while most lay Christians don’t know this. What is common knowledge among scholars should be common knowledge among the lay readers and believers, especially those that believe every word is the inerrant Word of God. The subtitle of the book – Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are – is a bit misleading, because there’s not much discussion about writing in the name of God, but rather in the name of flesh and blood humans. However, this tends to emphasize exactly what a human book it is – full of inaccuracies, mistakes, errors and outright fabrications – exactly what you would expect from an imperfect human rather than a perfect god.
What fascinated me was that this analysis provided deep historical insight into the evolution of the canon, what became the ultimate New Testament. From the very beginning of the Christian movement (it really wasn’t a religion at first, more of a cult) there was extreme disagreement among various factions within the budding church. Different view points on the theology were at competing odds all through the Roman Empire, for centuries after Jesus’s death (assuming he lived and died as described in the Bible). Jesus apparently didn’t make himself very clear while he was here, because it took only a short time for the various factions to be completely at odds with each other; e.g. arguing about whether Jesus was human or divine, or both; whether there were one or two gods, or even 365; whether Gentiles could become Christians, or had to become Jews first and be circumcised (and what IS it with the Christian fascination with all things genital – foreskins, virginity, etc). In order to bolster their theological positions, it became very useful for books to be written by respected authorities of the Church supporting those theological positions.would be not be listened to, but Paul, or Peter, or the brother of Jesus would cause ears to perk up, and command respect and belief. So these books were produced for the specific reason of deceiving their readers.
And deceive they did. Many biblical apologists claim that we shouldn’t get all worked up about forgeries in the early church, because they had good reasons to forge those books. In short, they didn’t intend to deceive anyone. But 2000 years of history shows that most people, including readers and believers to this day, perhaps even someone reading this post, believed they were actually written by who they say they were, and subsequent Christian theology and philosophy and history was shaped accordingly. Take for example the passages in the epistle of Paul where he says women should be subservient to their men, and as a result they have been treated as second class citizens throughout Christian history. That passage is in a letter attributed to Paul, but widely accepted as a forgery. If the intention was to not deceive and thereby affect the thinking of the readers, then why forge?
So what does this say about the Bible in general? Well, if you read Forged in conjunction with Ehrman’s other books, you realize that much of the New Testament is supposed to be about TRUTH, while it’s written in the form of a lie. And we are supposed to revere and respect this book as a moral guidepost? Misquoting Jesus showed that there is no reliability in the claim that the NT is the Word of God, much less the original word of the actual authors, since the books were changed so much from copy to copy that we have no idea whether the book is the same one written and read by early Christians. God’s Problem shows that the NT is not consistent or even helpful in answering the questions about why there is suffering in the world. Jesus, Interrupted shows us that the Bible is so full of contradictions, we’d be better off relying on our innate sense of morality than that contained in the Bible.
In short, as Scripture (a sacred writing regarded as authoritative), the Bible is worthless. It holds no more authority over human morality than the Harry Potter books hold over Wizardry.