Dr. Bart Ehrman is well-known for his campaign for forgery in the Bible. We take it seriously enough to devote our 9th issue to the problem of Dr. Ehrman’s accusations. Dr. Ehrman has written several books on the topic of forgery in the Bible and ancient world and while we were rebutting them, God led us to an interesting discrepancy in his arguments.
Both Dr. Ehrman and Dr. William Dever champion the idea that the ancient world was illiterate. Dr. Dever in his lecture series, How Archaeology Illuminates the Bible, makes his stand very clear that the ancient world was not literate at all. Dr. Ehrman in his book Forged says the following:
“One involves a reality that early Christians may not have taken into account, but that scholars today are keenly aware of. Most of the apostles were illiterate and could not in fact write (discussed further in Chapter 2). They could not have left an authoritative writing if their souls depended on it.” (pg. 13-14)
“Scholars of antiquity have been diligent over the past twenty-five years or so in trying to understand every aspect of ancient literacy and education. In what is now the classic study, the 1989 book Ancient Literacy, William Harris, professor of ancient history at Columbia University, shows that modern assumptions about literacy simply are not applicable to ancient times” (pg. 83)
“Harris argues that in the ancient world, at the very best of times, only about 10 percent of the population was reasonably literate. By the “best of times” he means Athens, a center of learning, at the height of its intellectual power, during the days of Socrates and Plato (fifth–fourth century BCE). Most of these 10 percent were men, as might be expected in a highly patriarchal society. And all of them were in the upper classes, the social and economic elite, who had the leisure and the money (well, their parents had the money) to afford an education. Lower-class people did not learn how to read, let alone write” (pg. 84)
“Most people in the ancient world could not read. And those who could read often could not write. And in this case by “write” I mean that most people—even if they could copy down words—could not compose a sentence, let alone a well-argued treatise.” (pg. 85)
Their arguments are very clear, they feel that the ancient people couldn’t read or write if their lives depended upon it. But this argument presents a very big problem for Dr. Ehrman’s forgery accusations. We write in our upcoming 9th issue, Frauds, Forgeries 7 Facts, an article called Illiterate or Not and an excerpt is quoted below:
These words raise all sorts of questions. For example, if the ancient world was illiterate, who was doing all this forgery? Then, if the ancient world was illiterate, who were these forgers writing to? Did the ancient world suddenly become literate just to forge biblical books and create problems for the apostles? It seems so as the two ideas, illiteracy and forgery contradict each other. The former demands that people cannot read or write while the latter depends upon a large group of people knowing how to read and write.
The forgers cannot depend upon an elite few who were literate for they would not be able to be guaranteed that those few literate people actually attended a NT Christian church. If many of the ancient literate people were members of a false religion or part of the Gnostics then they would have no need of the forgeries for they did not accept the gospels or other NT writings.
This is a problem that is not addressed by Dr. Ehrman in his books and lectures that I have read and listened to. If the apostles were illiterate what are the odds that the forgers received a great education when there was supposedly no school system or public education on a grand scale? If the forgers went to a scribal school, what made them think that they could earn any money from forging literary works? Would these forgers just do this for the fun of it? If so, they face the same problem– who would read their work?
What is clear is that while Dr. Ehrman has studied the subject of forgery for years, he clearly does not understand it. He may have studied ancient books but he certainly has no grasp of the criminal aspect of that life practice or why forgery takes place at all. His distorted view of the past leads him to erroneous views concerning the actions of ancient people and the followers of Jesus.
For forgery to exist, the ancient world could not be illiterate. It is a discrepancy that Drs. Ehrman and Dever cannot overcome. There would be no point to forge if no one could read the forger’s work and if the ancient world was as poor as those scholars claim, then no one could purchase their forged works. They may argue that the forgers were forging to fool the king but that is never a wise move and you rarely see any historical record where a common person tries to steal from a King or any leader of a country through forgery.
The idea that anyone would deceive a king or president is far-fetched as the repercussions would be great if caught. To think that the ancients were that dumb is an insult to the ancient people. No the argument for forgeries do not stand up and as we explain throughout our different articles in that upcoming issue,Dr. Ehrman’s definition and application of the word forgery is suspect and distorts what the ancient authors were actually attempting to do.
Then while some forgeries did take place, this does not mean that all those books on religious topics that modern scholars claim to be forged or fakes were actually forgeries. The mis-labeling of those ancient works just support the pet idea of Dr. Ehrman and no where comes close to the truth.
Forgery is a serious charge, one that should not be made against people who can no longer defend themselves or present their real intent for their work. The modern charges of forgery distorts not clarifies the behavior of the ancients and while most of the books accused of being forgeries are not books filled with the truth, they still may not be forged. We need to be careful when accusing others of misdeeds.