Content and Form: Authorship Attribution and Pseudonymity in Ancient Speeches, Letters, Lectures, and Translations

Content and Form: Authorship Attribution and Pseudonymity in Ancient Speeches, Letters, Lectures, and Translations — A Rejoinder to Bart Ehrman, in: Journal of Biblical Literature 136/2 (2017) 381–403

The ancient notion of authorship and forgery can be analyzed in various ancient texts, including embedded texts (e.g., reported speeches) and independent texts, some written under the author’s control (e.g., speeches, letters, and history books), as well as others written independently of the author’s control (e.g., translations and unauthorized lecture publications). In all cases an authorial attribution was regarded as correct and nondeceptive if either content and wording or just the content of a particular text could be traced back to the author whose name it carried. This prevailing principle of ancient authorship attribution, while often taken for granted and applied without further explanation, was also stated explicitly in several places. These ancient statements are in conflict with the most innovative contribution of Bart Ehrman’s otherwise very useful recent book Forgery and Counterforgery (2012). Ehrman has rightly joined the growing number of scholars who have raised substantive doubts regarding the once-popular thesis of innocent ancient pseudepigraphy. At the same time, his assertion that in antiquity a text’s authenticity was assessed not on the basis of its content but always on the basis of its wording goes one step beyond what the numerous relevant ancient sources reveal (Abstract).