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Author Topic: Why are there Pseudepigrapha?  (Read 565 times) Average Rating: 0
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wolf
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« on: August 10, 2011, 06:12:10 AM »

If both the scripture and traditions of the Church are reliable and trustworthy, then why are there many false/spurious gospels and letters, not just gnostic ones, that were falsely attributed to the Apostles or early Christians and used to support later formulations of doctrines. I am thinking about the many infancy gospels, letters by St. Ignatius and St. Clement, for example. Why would anyone create such a thing of there was nothing to hide?

I ask this question not to accuse the Church, or any of the early Christians, I just wish to understand how these texts came about.
Can anyone help?
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« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2011, 06:22:12 AM »

To put it bluntly, lots of people in the early heretical sects were frauds and liars. Just as there are fakes today, and bad leaders today, there were some back then. They would make things up.

That's a very simple summary, but if you look at the stories of the heresies and read some of the false gospels, you'll see what poor quality they are. They didn't produce real fruit, like the true Gospels did. Also, none of the false gospels are consistent; they preach various Gnostic beliefs but aren't even coherent from one to the next. If they make contradictory claims, they can't be true.

Compare them to the truthful message found in the canonical Gospels, and it's no contest.
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« Reply #2 on: August 10, 2011, 07:11:40 AM »

Yes, but I am not necessarily talking about things like the gnostic gospels, but letters attributed to early Christians in later collections, say 4th century, that were used to suggest that early Christians believed the same things as later ones. Someone had to write them, and I don't think it was heretics. Like 2 Clement for example, or the many examples of letters attributed to people who probably didn't write them. I am not saying they all contained heretical teaching or were written for less than decent reasons, but it seems, from what I know, that there was an explosion of fake letter and gospel writing post 1st century. They may have been perfectly Orthodox and correct, and true to the early Christian belief, but still, some fake letters were written that seem to be to make later Christians look better.
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« Reply #3 on: August 10, 2011, 09:10:48 AM »

I've never heard of The Letters of Clement being rejected as false or heretical, but may someone more knowledgeable correct me if I am wrong. If I'm correct The Letters of Clement were used by the Early Christians, it just didn't fit the criteria to be considered Holy Scripture when the New Testament was put together.
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« Reply #4 on: August 10, 2011, 09:22:43 AM »

Only the First Letter to the Corinthians is considered as being authentically by St. Clement of Rome. Everything else came much later, by other people. (same goes for some of the works attributed to St. Ignatius, and others) Nonetheless, some these works are not frauds, lies, etc., and are sometimes used. They ar works by people struggling to understand the truth.
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« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2011, 09:50:15 AM »

Only the First Letter to the Corinthians is considered as being authentically by St. Clement of Rome. Everything else came much later, by other people. (same goes for some of the works attributed to St. Ignatius, and others) Nonetheless, some these works are not frauds, lies, etc., and are sometimes used. They ar works by people struggling to understand the truth.

 Did the authors pretend the letters were written by others or where they misattributed? I was under the impression that many of these letters actually had names attached to them by the author, stating that they are such and such Apostle, or early Christian.
If letters were created, however genuine the intent of the author was, with the name of someone else other than the author attached to them, wouldn't that be lying? It would also call into question the reason for writing the letter, such as the need to have important witnesses on your side of a debate.

Edit: Note - I'm not saying these letters are heretical, quite the opposite, that they are Orthodox in doctrine, create by someone in order to refute the heretics. False, in the sense that they weren't written by the purported author or did not reflect their views. At least, it is a fairly common belief that this happened in the early church, so I wondered if it was true or not.
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« Reply #6 on: August 10, 2011, 09:59:24 AM »

It was quite common at that point in history to write a letter, either in someone else's name, or using their name as a rallying/summation point for a particular school of thought, but they didn't consider it lying. There was also the problem of misattribution, e.g. attributing the first five books of the OT to Moses.
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« Reply #7 on: August 10, 2011, 10:05:56 AM »

Quote
It was quite common at that point in history to write a letter, either in someone else's name, or using their name as a rallying/summation point for a particular school of thought, but they didn't consider it lying. There was also the problem of misattribution, e.g. attributing the first five books of the OT to Moses.

It seems a bit deceitful, but I guess I am not a 2nd century Christian. As long as they weren't purposely being deceitful in order to support a viewpoint that didn't really exist in the early Church.
I am now wondering what you think about the authorship of the epistles in the New Testament, I know many scholars doubt their authenticity, would this be the same kind of thing, or is it important to have traditional authorship?
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« Reply #8 on: August 10, 2011, 10:16:54 AM »

I suppose for some it might have been in an attempt to deceive, that's possible; I'm wary of assuming guilt until innocence is proven, though, especially since back then it wasn't like things are today (when it's totally--and rightly, IMO--frowned upon).  Regarding the epistles question, my own view is probably fairly to the left of many Orthodox, but I don't see the issue with, say, Paul not writing certain epistles traditionally attributed to him. I don't judge the authority of Hebrews based on how certain or uncertain I am of the author, and so to with the other works. 
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« Reply #9 on: August 10, 2011, 04:15:19 PM »


It seems a bit deceitful, but I guess I am not a 2nd century Christian. As long as they weren't purposely being deceitful in order to support a viewpoint that didn't really exist in the early Church.
"Gregorian Chant" was invented centuries after St. Gregory the Great lived, but was given his name as a matter of honor. Afterwards many forgot this and believed he did, in fact, invent it.

These things happen.
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« Reply #10 on: August 10, 2011, 04:34:27 PM »

"Gregorian Chant" was invented centuries after St. Gregory the Great lived, but was given his name as a matter of honor. Afterwards many forgot this and believed he did, in fact, invent it.

These things happen.

True. I guess you forget, living in the 21st century, how easy it must have been in the early Christian era for people to forget the origins of a text or for it to get muddled up unintentionally.
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« Reply #11 on: August 11, 2011, 09:33:16 AM »

True. I guess you forget, living in the 21st century, how easy it must have been in the early Christian era for people to forget the origins of a text or for it to get muddled up unintentionally.

Like we don't get muddled today. See snopes.com.
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« Reply #12 on: August 11, 2011, 11:45:20 AM »

Like we don't get muddled today. See snopes.com.
While not disagreeing with you, I don't think it's necessary to simply assume that it has been muddled. I've wondered, for example, about the Protoevangelion of James. Given that it is dated to mid-second century, my speculation seems plausible: the actual person who committed the story to paper wrote it with the understanding that "this is the story that James told my grandfather". And that's how the name James got attached to it. (Whether any details in the PoJ got muddled along the way is another topic.)
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« Reply #13 on: August 11, 2011, 11:49:33 AM »

If both the scripture and traditions of the Church are reliable and trustworthy, then why are there many false/spurious gospels and letters, not just gnostic ones, that were falsely attributed to the Apostles or early Christians and used to support later formulations of doctrines. I am thinking about the many infancy gospels, letters by St. Ignatius and St. Clement, for example. Why would anyone create such a thing of there was nothing to hide?

I ask this question not to accuse the Church, or any of the early Christians, I just wish to understand how these texts came about.
Can anyone help?

I suppose that it is a case of the "end justifies the means" philosophy held by some.  Someone thought that the church was wrong on issue X, or that it needed to be corrected, so, rather than simply make their own arguments and consultations, they attempted to present "authority" for the proposition that they were teaching.

Sometimes something was genuinely misattributed.  After the passage of time, it is easy to get such issues confused if they are not defined early on.

Or it might have been an out-and-out fraud.  See, e.g., the Donation of Constantine for an example of such a work with major political ramifications.

These problems are by no means limited to antiquity.  Non-Mormon historians, scholars, and theologians speculate as to which of these categories Joseph Smith's writings (The Book of Mormon, etc.) fall into, for example.

There is also an argument floating around out there somewhere that back then sometimes people wrote in the name of a certain individual, not claiming to be him, but to identify with his particular school of thought.  According to this theory, our modern concept of "plagiarism" (of an idea or an identity) in its fullness simply didn't exist then.  Literal authorship simply wasn't important.  This is the stuff of "higher criticism theory," though, which I tend to shy away from.

The final word is that the Church ultimately rejected these spurious books and vain attempts, and did not canonize them.  Through the power of God they discerned truth from error.  We can rest on Jesus' promise:  "[W]hen he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth."  (John 16:13.)
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« Reply #14 on: August 11, 2011, 12:09:38 PM »

These problems are by no means limited to antiquity.  Non-Mormon historians, scholars, and theologians speculate as to which of these categories Joseph Smith's writings (The Book of Mormon, etc.) fall into, for example.


The point I was trying to make. Thank you for stating it so much better than I did.

I have to admit that I am a wee bit cranky whenever folks seem to automatically assume that earlier Christians were ignorant and we are so much superior to them today, and have a better understanding.
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« Reply #15 on: August 11, 2011, 12:19:00 PM »

Alternatively, I think we do understand some things better, but that's a hard pill for traditionally minded people to swallow.
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« Reply #16 on: August 11, 2011, 12:24:24 PM »

Alternatively, I think we do understand some things better, but that's a hard pill for traditionally minded people to swallow.

Really? Perhaps I just haven't come across anyone that does.
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« Reply #17 on: August 11, 2011, 12:36:10 PM »

Alternatively, I think we do understand some things better, but that's a hard pill for traditionally minded people to swallow.

Really? Perhaps I just haven't come across anyone that does.

I don't know which part of my statement you are referring to.
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« Reply #18 on: August 11, 2011, 12:50:13 PM »

I really like this thread, and I've enjoyed reading it up to this point. Thanks all!

Today, we're very tied up in knowing who says and does what specifically. Especially in a Protestant culture, knowing who wrote the Bible and such things are very important. I don't think the same is true earlier in history.

It was common, not just among Christians but in general, to attribute a letter to someone else, like was said as a type of "rallying point." What is wrong with a letter being attributed to St. Paul if it was instead written by his disciple? Or even his disciple's disciple? It is still in the Pauline tradition, since it is from him the knowledge was received. The same is true all the way down the line.

I don't think, for the Orthodox, it's all that important we know who wrote everything. Did James write the Protogospel? Did Paul write Hebrews? My answer is, it ultimately doesn't matter. We aren't sola scripturists. Orthodoxy is based on adherence to the Holy Tradition that was once delivered to the Apostles by Christ and is handed down to each successive generation. If these books are written in the vein of Apostolic Tradition, the actual writer becomes less important. There is no new dogma, and the Church has the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which will "lead you to all truth" (Jn. 16:13) indwelling in the Church so that we are no longer "tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14) but that rather, by Christ through the Spirit, we attain the "unity of the faith." (Eph. 4:13)
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« Reply #19 on: August 11, 2011, 01:46:07 PM »

Alternatively, I think we do understand some things better, but that's a hard pill for traditionally minded people to swallow.

Really? Perhaps I just haven't come across anyone that does.

I don't know which part of my statement you are referring to.

Sorry, should have been more clear. I was referring to people understanding things better today.

Actually, though, I disagree with the second half as well, if by that you mean that the only reason people don't understand that we are far superior today to early Christians is because they are "traditionally-minded" (and I'm not really sure what "traditionally-minded" means either).
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