Biblical Studies Pseudepigraphy, Early Christian
by
John W. Marshall
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0219

Introduction

Pseudepigraphy, or the false ascription of authorship, was widely known in Antiquity. The modern term “pseudonymity” is in some cases distinguished from it to emphasize a document that explicitly makes a false claim of authorship as opposed to a document to which a false or incorrect author has been ascribed by tradition. The distinction, though sensible, is not widely or consistently adopted. This article uses the term “pseudepigraphy” in the sense of false claim by the writer of a document and therefore does not treat scholarship on such cases as ascriptions of authors to otherwise anonymous gospels or letters such as Hebrews or the Johannine epistles. Nor does it treat confusions of authorship such as that of Revelation with the ascribed author of the fourth Gospel. The fact of pseudepigraphy has been known in Christian circles since Antiquity, witnessed in the canon itself (2 Thessalonians 2.2) and in the earliest canon list, the Muratorian. The idea that works within the canon are actively pseudepigraphical has, however, been seriously argued in academic circles only since Schmidt, Schleiermacher, and the Tübingen school in the early 19th century, though even Jerome expressed polite doubts about Ephesians. The possibility of falsehood within texts of scripture has proven problematic in many confessional contexts, and it must be recognized that confessional contexts remain prominent in the study of early Christianity. This mixture of religious confession and historical-critical method has made discussions of pseudepigraphy difficult, often repetitive, and in many cases methodologically incoherent. This article clearly skews toward the topic of pseudepigraphy in and around the New Testament, and this requires explanation. Put simply, the possibility of letters falsified in Paul’s name has generated controversy and scholarship at an intensity that, for example, the multiple redactions of prophecy in the name of Isaiah have not. The reasons for this are several: the immediacy and personal qualities of the letter genre, the particularly Protestant focus on a pure originary moment of religious authenticity and plenitude, the power of the figure of Paul in inner Christian dispute during the Reformation and its aftermath, the predominantly Christian context of development of historical-critical approaches to scriptural texts, and the 19th-century evangelical or fundamentalist articulations of doctrines of scripture. Such a short sketch is necessarily inadequate, but it gestures to the context in which scholarly resources and attention have been distributed. Nevertheless, the sections on surveys of scholarship, articles, and essays endeavor to treat Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Jewish materials as well.

Introductory Works and Tools

Introductions to the New Testament and reference works on the New Testament often find their market in confessional contexts. Critical-historical approaches to the phenomenon of pseudepigraphy, while by no means absent from these works, are underrepresented.

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