Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Lying and Deception in Authorship

(Prologue to this series here. Part I here. Part II here.)

In discussing pseudepigraphy on Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean Phil Harland advises caution when using value-loaded terms, suggesting that we distinguish forgery (implying deceit) from pseudonymity (reflecting admiration), even if both may be found on a spectrum in varying degrees. He writes:
The fact that the practice of attributing a work to some respected figure of the past was widespread in the Jewish and Greco-Roman worlds, and that the ones doing this almost always liked or respected the figure whose identity they were 'borrowing', suggests that something other than deliberate deception and forgery was going on.
Other scholars have made similar distinctions. Bruce Metzger ("Literary Forgeries and Canonical Pseudepigrapha", JBL, 91 (1972): 3-24) argues that some pseudepigraphy intends to deceive while other such works do not. Wolfgang Speyer (Die Literarische Fälschung im Heidnischen und Christlichen Altertum, 1971) suggests three categories: "authentic pseudepigraphy", "forged pseudepigraphy", and "fictional pseudepigraphy".

I don't think we should be hiding behind double-speak like this. Those who wrote pseudonymously, even if "in admiration", were no less deceitful than those who engaged in other lies and deceptions for socially acceptable reasons. They forged, pure and simple. And they did so for any of the reasons Ehrman notes -- profit, malice (if II Thess is any indication), or admiration. Most often it was simply to gain a hearing for one's views and be taken seriously. In cultures like the ancient Mediterranean, only honorable people are taken seriously, and forgery becomes a way of acquiring that greatest form of wealth (reputation).

Indeed, against Metzger and Speyer, Jeremy Duff (A Reconstruction of Pseudepigraphy in Early Christianity, D. Phil. Thesis, University of Oxford, 1998, pp 134-135) and Lewis Donelson (Pseudepigraphy and Ethical Argument in the Pastoral Epistles, Tn: JCB Mohr, 1986) are, to me, convincing. Texts carried authority not on the basis of what they said but who wrote them; authorial identity was taken very seriously. Artificial (apologetic?) categories like "authentic pseudepigraphy" and "forged pseudepigraphy" miss the point. Pseudepigraphy is, by definition, forgery; by nature deceitful. It's just a question of whether or not the deceit can be pressed into an honorable goal, and if one can get away with it.

Harland later qualifies his remarks in the comments section of my first post in this series:
The duality of deceit and admiration is more a result of Ehrman's categorizations (rejecting ideas of admiration and emphasizing deceit). Motivations for writing in the name of another ranged between these two extremes and should not be described in blanket terms, and it may not be impossible that in a particular case admiration was accompanied by a little deceit.
I don't quite see Ehrman making this duality. He thinks admiration is one of four reasons for engaging in deceit/forgery (as noted above; see pp 30-31 of Lost Christianities). It would perhaps be more accurate to say, representing Ehrman, that deceit could be accompanied by admiration (or interest in profit, or malice, or a general interest to receive a hearing for one's views).
They forged for the love of Pythagoras, so to speak, and their intentions were focused on inspiring similar respect or honor for this philosopher on the part of their readers or hearers.
Just a side-note about Pythagoras. Duff has apparently argued that Iamblichus' statement about him doesn't necessarily provide evidence for a group of neo-Pythagoreans, only that a scholar three hundred years later thought this may have been the explanation. The passage cited (On the Pythagorean Life 198), according to Duff, may indicate that Iamblichus had contemporary disciples in mind. But however we adjudicate on the question of the "neo-Pythagoreans", we must again bear in mind that admiration and deceit can go readily hand-in-hand.
Ehrman's claim that forgery was clearly and almost unanimously rejected in classical times is precisely what I am contesting (and I don't think he provides evidence in support of that position -- rather assertions). A better way of putting this, I think, is that when someone disagreed with the views expressed or practices advocated in pseudonymous writing, they were likely to charge the author with the equivalent of forgery or being a fake. If someone agreed with the views or enjoyed the story, then this would not be an issue, and nothing close to "forgery" would be the charge...
Here I think Harland is on the right track. Forgery was clearly and unanimously rejected -- if it was called out as such. The honor-shame world is all about (1) public perception and (2) not getting caught. If the forged text was well received, and no one else exposed it as fraudulent, then, as Harland says, there would have been no issue. But this is regardless of the intentions of the author, whether sinister or positive.

It's like with lying. Being called a liar is a great public dishonor, for it (obviously) implies that one really is lying. But as we saw in the last post, many forms of lying and deception, both positive and negative, "don't count" as such. The public is the final arbiter here; one's audience decides whether or not the cause of honor has been served. (Imagine a modern courtroom where a verdict depends entirely on what the jury decides, without any official guidance from statutes or case law.) Intentions have nothing do with it. It's a matter of staying clean in the eyes of others, whoever those "others" happen to be.
My overall impression, from cases such as the Acts of Paul and Thecla, for instance (in Tertullian), is that the intentions of authors do not fit with terms such as deceit and forgery.
Perhaps Harland doesn't care for the way Ehrman aligns the case of Secret Mark with three others. In Lost Christianities he discusses (1) the Gospel of Peter, (2) the Acts of Paul and Thecla, (3) the Gospel of Thomas, and (4) the Secret Gospel of Mark, describing them, respectively, cleverly, as (1) "the ancient discovery of a forgery", (2) "the ancient forgery of a discovery", (3) "the discovery of an ancient forgery", and (4) "the forgery of an ancient discovery". (Chapters 1-4).

These are indeed all forgeries, irrespective of intentions. I agree with Harland that intentions matter -- an ancient presbyter who forged "for the love of Paul" is different from the modern scholar who expanded on Mark for other reasons -- but I don't believe they warrant narrowing definitions to make our view of the ancients more palatable. We need to resist romanticizing the ancients, in any case. For scientific and historical purposes, the term forgery should be used as neutrally as lying and deception themselves.

In next part of this series we will look at lying and deception in the postmodern age.

UPDATE: Stephen Carlson jumps into the fray with astute observations about "The Seriousness of Forgery in Antiquity". Nice presentation. I look forward to his sequel post, in which he plans on addressing the propriety of the term "forgery". What I'm pushing for in this series is that it's not only appropriate but necessary to become comfortable with the terms "lying", "deception", and "forgery", in order to understand double standards for what they are, and how they vary in application across time and culture.

UPDATE (II): See Phil Harland's further comments. Phil notes that "[Loren and Stephen] have every right in the world to find 'forgery' exciting." I hope it's clear that I haven't been condoning use of the term for sensational reasons.

UPDATE (III): Carlson's sequel post, "Toward an Understanding of 'Forgery': Metzger", steers somewhere between my position and Harland’s on the propriety of the term "forgery". He makes an interesting point about indirect authorship -- "the employment of ghostwriters, secretaries, amaneuenses, or other agents of the named authors" -- which no one considers forgery. But this is because the author consents to have someone write under his/her name. I agree that forgery becomes an inappropriate term for describing such cases of brokered authorship. (Though a graduate student is given less choice about the matter than a ghostwriter.) When authors authorize someone to write in their name, "forgery" loses its significance.

UPDATE (IV): Carlson's on a roll. See the next part of his series, "Toward an Understanding of 'Forgery': Speyer".

The complete series:

Lying and Deception in Homo Sapiens
Lying and Deception in Honor-Shame Cultures
Lying and Deception in Authorship
Lying and Deception in the Postmodern Age


Blogger Phil Harland said...

Glad to see that you find my comments worth bouncing things against. I won't address all of your comments, many of which I would find needing more nuance both in terms of your expression of my views (partly due to how brief my expression of views was) and in terms of your expression of yours (but of course the genre of the blog makes this inevitable;).

I would say that your post here misses a main concern that I raised, and that concern is very far removed from an romanticization of the ancients (the nobel ancient, so to speak). One of the maing things I was focussing my attention on was how MODERN, POPULAR READERS (INCLUDING BOTH UNDERGRAD AND GRAD STUDENTS) would understand a term like "forgery", in what set of expectations and assumptions about motives this term would evoke in a modern reader (and many moderns would think of things like "criminal"). I think that Ehrman's and your approach would lead to MISunderstanding (of ancient practices and views) on the part of non-scholars in this regard.

Furthermore to briefly and spontaneously address the scholarly side of things, I do find that the blanket use of "forgery" to describe all forms of ancient authors writing in the name of someone else, regardless of motives (which seems to be your position as well as Ehrman's), is not methodologically refined and will only lead to further generalizations rather than understandings of the phenomena and specific historical incidents. My comments which you interpreted as a position of the "noble ancient" had nothing to do with idealizing the "wonderful" people of the past, so to speak, and had everything to do with method and assumptions in historiography (see my post). I'm not sure if you were trained in theology, on the one hand (where value judgements are often welcomed, so to speak--whether positive or negative), or in Religious Studies or history, on the other. In history and religious studies, avoidance of value judgements and imposition of one's cultural categories of morality on another are highly problematic (in the sense that one gets the impression that the historian is in a superior position to all those that preceded her/him). This is not to say that you hold that view or that you think such things, it's just that I see some similar implications in the approach you and Ehrman take. This grates against my historical sense.

That's all I'll say for now, and I don't expect to make commenting on pseudepigraphy my full-time job, so that may be it. I'm enjoying your posts on lying and deceit despite any disagreements which we'll likely continue to have. All the best.

Blogger Phil Harland said...

Delete "avoidance of" in my previous comment. Value judgements are problematic, not avoidance of them. I would hate to have that quoted as my position;)

Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Thanks for the feedback, Phil. I want to emphasize that I appreciate your concern for the inevitable misunderstandings that will accompany a use of pejorative terms. That's why educators (specialists and non- alike) need to be thoroughly clear about why it's necessary to use them.

I certainly enjoy reading your top-quality blog.

Blogger Phil Harland said...

Don't worry, Loren. I was juxtaposing my supposed "boredom" with pseudonymity (as in my tongue-in-cheek post) with your "excitement" with forgery (and my wish that the actual situation were that exciting). I didn't think you were advocating your position for sensational reasons at all (either consciously or unconsciously). All the best. Phil


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