As a young adult, Bart D. Ehrman was an evangelical born-again Christian who decided to devote his life to proving that Jesus rose from the dead and the Bible is the flawless word of God. But during his years of research, he began to find the truth wasn’t what he wanted it to be. He’s still a scholar of the New Testament, but he spends much of his time pointing out its flaws in books like his latest, Forged: Writing In The Name Of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.
The author of the New York Times bestsellers Misquoting Jesus, God’s Problem, and Jesus, Interrupted, reiterates many of his previous arguments in Forged. The book is devoted to explaining how books in the Bible said to be written by Paul or Peter were likely penned by other authors who were trying to get their words taken seriously by ascribing them to famous church leaders. He makes many compelling points, showing that Peter was in all likelihood illiterate and that some of the later works attributed to Paul show changes in philosophy and policies that indicate they were written after the apostle’s death. Along with revealing the forgeries that made it into Christian canon, Ehrman also explores how forged documents were used to promote Christian relations with Gentiles, condemn Jews, and wage philosophical battles within the early church. His detailed study of ancient documents provides fascinating anecdotes like forged documents that aim to prove the intellectual worthiness of Paul, or “prophecies” Christians ascribed to a famous Roman oracle in an attempt to prove they were part of an ancient tradition rather than an upstart movement. Some of the forgeries he cites are sophisticated, while others are easy to disprove, since the forger mixed up details like who was emperor at the time the work was supposedly written.
Unfortunately Forged’s bogs down in Ehrman’s repetitive writing. He’s clearly exasperated by claims from his peers, who have tried to excuse proven forgeries in the Bible by claiming that they were written with permission of the people named, or that ancient writers didn’t consider forgery to be wrongdoing. He provides enough evidence to refute these points, but then keeps attacking other scholars by relentlessly repeating his arguments. It’s especially frustrating how many times he points out the irony that Christians used deception to try to present the truth, since readers can grasp that contradiction on their own. The conclusions at the end of each chapter only make the redundancies more tedious. A few sections are essentially summaries of Ehrman’s earlier books. Forged seems like it should have been a shorter work, and the padding just dilutes its best points.