What kinds of documents were forged in the middle ages and how common was forgery?

For example I was reading about the Privilegium Maius, and was wondering what other instances of document forging were there in the middle ages ?

Forgery was common in medieval time, beginning with the most famous one: the Donation of Constantine.

Very common objects of forgery were holy relics which were traded in great quantities. Europe was full of the itinerant merchant selling these relics.

The Pseudo-Isidore is a case in point. Peter Heather has a very interesting account of it, in one of his books.

Historical forgery

Historical forgery denotes one of two types of forgeries:

  • A genuine item — however mundane — from the relevant time period, which has been tampered with long afterwards.
  • An item from the wrong time period (ranging all the way up to: having been made from scratch just recently) that is presented as a genuine original dating from a certain time period.

Historical forgeries are typically used either to back up otherwise outlandish fringe theories, or to turn a fast buck being sold as authentic to museums or collectors. In both cases, the confidence men behind the forgeries are leading the public (and sometimes academia) astray in exchange for ill-gotten fame and/or fortune.

Instances of literary forgery

Occasionally a forger appears with a certain specious glamour like Constantine Simonides (1824–67), a Greek adventurer who varied his trade in perfectly genuine manuscripts with the sale of strange concoctions of his own. Maj. George de Luna Byron, alias de Gibler, who claimed to be a natural son of Byron by a Spanish countess, successfully produced and disposed of large quantities of forgeries ascribed to his alleged father and to Shelley, John Keats, and others. More commonplace is the forgery encountered in the case of the Edinburgh forger A.H. (“Antique”) Smith, who was responsible for forgeries of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Stuart, and other persons from Scottish literature and history—a feat that ultimately earned him 12 months’ imprisonment.

Particularly notorious was the case of the Wise forgeries. Thomas James Wise (1859–1937) had the reputation of being one of the most distinguished private book collectors on either side of the Atlantic, and his Ashley Library in London became a place of pilgrimage for scholars from Europe and the United States. He constantly exposed piracies and forgeries and always denied that he was a dealer. The shock was accordingly the greater in 1934 when John W. Carter and Henry Graham Pollard published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, proving that about 40 or 50 of these, commanding high prices, were forgeries, and that all could be traced to Wise. Subsequent research confirmed the finding of Carter and Pollard and indicted Wise for other and more serious offenses, including the sophistication of many of his own copies of early printed books with leaves stolen from copies in the British Museum.

No forgery to attain recognition is better known than the “Thomas Rowley” poems of Thomas Chatterton (1752–70), which the youthful author attempted to pass off as the work of a medieval cleric. These poems, which caused a scholarly feud for many years, were influential in the Gothic revival. Chatterton, however, enjoys a place in English letters as a creative genius in his own right. The more conventional forger William Henry Ireland (1777–1835) cheerfully manufactured Shakespearean documents until his forged “lost” tragedy Vortigern and Rowena was laughed off the stage at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, in 1796. More fortunate was Charles Bertram, who produced an account of Roman Britain by “Richard of Westminster,” an imaginary monk. Bertram’s dupe, the eccentric antiquary Dr. William Stukeley, identified the monk with the chronicler Richard of Cirencester, known to have resided at Westminster in the 14th century. Bertram’s forgery (cunningly published in a volume containing the works of two genuine ancient authors, Gildas and Nennius) had an enormous influence upon historians of Roman Britain, lasting into the 20th century. Equally influential were the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson (1736–96), which influenced the early period of the Romantic movement. To what degree Macpherson’s poems are to be regarded as spurious is not certain. Denounced in his own day they were possibly, as he claimed, based upon a genuine oral tradition of Scottish Gaelic poetry but there can be little doubt that they were carefully edited and interpolated by their collector.

Among the forgers who have tried to make the experts look foolish is George Psalmanazar (1679?–1763). A Frenchman, he went to England where he pretended, with great success, to be a native of Formosa (Taiwan), and published a book about that island, which he had never visited. Another is William Lauder, who attempted to prove John Milton guilty of plagiarism by quoting 17th-century poets who wrote in Latin, into whose works he had interpolated Latin translations from Paradise Lost. A forgery made as a joke but taken seriously was the “ Ern Malley” poems, offered to an Australian magazine in 1944 as the work of a recently dead poet. Actually it was composed by two young soldiers who wished to ridicule certain aspects of contemporary poetry.

The pure fabrication is a kind of forgery that defies classification, often because there is no false attribution and the motives are difficult to ascertain. An example of this is the Historia regum Britanniae (1135–38) of Geoffrey of Monmouth (died 1155), a pseudo-historian who compounded stories from Celtic mythology and classical and biblical sources into a fictitious history of ancient Britain. The book became one of the most popular of the Middle Ages and was the basis for some Arthurian legends recounted in medieval romance and epic.

A tale of literary forgery that came to light in the early 21st century was that of the celebrity biographer Lee Israel, who confessed in her memoir, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2008), that while down on her luck in the 1990s she had forged and sold to collectors hundreds of letters by various notable figures—Louise Brooks, Noël Coward, Dorothy Parker, Humphrey Bogart, and Lillian Hellman among them.

Stanford historian says falsified medieval history helped create feminism

Through research into the first historians of medieval Europe, Professor Paula Findlen discovers that an interest in women's history began much earlier than is assumed.

Detail of a miniature of medieval writer Christine de Pizan. Stanford historian Paula Findlen has studied Renaissance biographies of medieval women and says these often embellished tales represent a kind of feminism.

Today, feminism is often associated with the political protests of the 1960s or the earlier women's suffrage movement, but Stanford historian Paula Findlen's latest research reveals that the impetus to champion women started in the late Middle Ages.

A scholar of the Italian Renaissance, Findlen has collected biographies of medieval women, written in Italy from the 15th to 18th centuries, several centuries after the women lived.

Through a close examination of these texts, Findlen found that these early modern writers were so passionate about medieval women that they sometimes fabricated stories about them.

As Findlen carefully tracked down the claims in these stories, she found they varied from factual to somewhat factual to entirely false.

These invented women were often mentioned in regional histories, with imaginary connections to important institutions. They were described as having law degrees or professorships, claims that turned out to be fictitious.

Findlen argues that these embellished tales represent what could possibly be described as the origins of a certain kind of feminism.

"Early modern forgers used stories of women to create precedents in support of things they wanted to see in their own time but needed to justify by invoking the past," Findlen said. "While debating the existence of these medieval women, the writers also contributed to the science of history as we know it."

Expanding her archival base from Bologna to other Italian cities, and observing how these stories traveled beyond Italy, Findlen found that the stories of local women gained international recognition.

Findlen described her foray into conjectural history "a project partly about how early modern medievalists invented the Middle Ages, claiming and defining this past." She added, "Making up history is a way of ensuring that you get the past you want to have."

In her forthcoming publication, currently titled "Inventing Medieval Women: History, Memory and Forgery in Early Modern Italy," Findlen pays particular attention to Alessandro Macchiavelli, an 18th-century lawyer from a Bolognese family.

Macchiavelli was passionate about finding evidence to support Bologna's reputation as a "paradise for women." He created stories and footnotes about learned medieval women from the region, including writer Christine de Pizan.

According to Findlen, "He aggressively made up [biographies of] medieval women and supplied the evidence that was missing for them."

Presented as facts, these fables forged the medieval origins of Bologna's female intelligentsia. Findlen initially worked on this material because she was searching for – and failing to find – evidence of medieval precedents that kept being invoked in early modern sources. "In the end," she said, "it intrigued me."

While people later recognized that Macchiavelli was a forger, it was true that he brought critical attention to women's lives.

In a sense, Macchiavelli demonstrates "a quirky early modern male version of feminism," Findlen said. He also contributed to the beginnings of the discipline of medieval history. When he forged a document, he did so based on extensive knowledge of the archives and a fine understanding of historical method.

"Medieval history is one of the really important subjects where people develop a documentary culture during the late 17th and 18th centuries, and they begin to identify and select the documents that matter for defining the Middle Ages," Findlen said.

Imagining the women of Bologna

Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Findlen said, representations of medieval women enhanced a city's reputation.

For example, scholars in Bologna wanted to learn about its presumed tradition of learned women. They craved information about medieval women who could provide historical precedents for someone like Laura Bassi, the first woman who can be documented as receiving a degree and professorship from the University of Bologna in 1732. Having precedents made her seem like a reinvention of the old rather than someone threateningly new.

Findlen first turned to Christine de Pizan (c. 1364-1430), the daughter of a University of Bologna graduate and professor. She is perhaps best known for her writings praising women.

In her Book of the City of Ladies (1405), a catalog of illustrious women, Christine contemplated her Italian roots. This longing for her past inspired Christine to imagine "what the ingredients were of this world that made her, and other women like her," Findlen said.

Although inspired by some kernels of truth, Christine's writings invented evidence to fill out her narratives, Findlen said. In this way, Christine provides a starting point for Bologna's interest in women's history that will unfold over the next four centuries.

What we want from history

Findlen's project rethinks our compulsion to write about the past. "Some of the stuff we take for granted is legend, not fact," she said, "but I think that I'm even more interested in having people understand why we want it."

Despite the presence of fake facts in medieval women's biographies, Findlen emphasized that "the unreliability of the past is also part of the evidence that we have to account for." Moreover, she added, this project requires "knowing the archives … well enough to catch the nuances."

"The process of creating a history of women," Findlen said, "starts with this impulse to create collective biographies in the 14th and 15th centuries onward."

Envisioning the wider impact of her work, Findlen said: "I would like this project to offer an interesting window into the invention of history, taking Italy as a case study, to understand why [early modern] people were so passionate about the Middle Ages."

During the Renaissance, "people are increasingly concerned with documenting the history that was," Findlen said. "They're interested in the history that might have been. And then they're also interested in the history that should have been. And those are three different approaches to history."

Forgery in the ancient world

Anyone who suspects graphic details in a narrative are a sign of authenticity of a text or eye-witness source needs to read Anthony Grafton’s Forgers and Critics : Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship (1990). In this blog post I’m sharing my notes from his first chapter.

According to Anthony Grafton, there are two claims that remind readers of the possibility of forgery at work:

  1. the claim that a writer had copied accurately every word of the ancient texts before him (how could readers know? is the assertion intended to put readers off the scent of something suspicious?)
  2. the claim that a document was found in miraculous or extremely lucky circumstances (e.g. the High Priest Hilkiah just happened to find in the Temple for King Josiah the Book of Deuteronomy that had eluded all priests before him Egyptian medical texts claim to have been found “under the feet of Anubis”, etc. — see my notes on Davies’ discussion of the Book of Deuteronomy re the book’s fraudulent provenance.)

Greece, 6th and 5th centuries b.c.e.

Solon and Pisistratus, Athenian statesmen, were suspected of interpolating lines into Homer’s Iliad to give Athens a more prominent role in the Trojan War than Homer had originally given that city.

Acusilaus of Argos, author of an account of gods, demigods and human heroes, claimed his source of information was a set of “bronze tablets discovered by his father in their garden.”

He thereby created one of the great topoi of Western forgery, the motif of the object found in an inaccessible place, then copied, and now lost, as the authority for what would have lacked credibility as the work of an individual. (p.9)

Ctesias, an historian who wrote a gossipy account of Persian history that regularly contradicted another famous historian, Herodotus, claimed to have superior sources. He claimed he had accessed and read the official archives of Susa.

He thereby enriched forgers with another of their favourite resources, the claim to have consulted far-off official documents, preferably in an obscure language.

Greece, 5th and 4th centuries b.c.e.

Public inscriptions declaring the rights and possessions of cities, and producing documentary evidence to support these claims, sprang up during an era of city-state rivalries.

Antiquaries compiled from local tradition, logical inference, and thin air full lists of their cities’ early rulers, their temples’ early priestesses, and their games’ early victors.

When such claims could be supported with a bit of padding out from details of ancient treaties and other documents, historians and orators would come to the rescue and find just the texts they needed to publicly quote in the inscriptions.

Temples were also in rivalry with one another, so the more records that could be “found” that supposedly demonstrated that gods themselves had visited them in the past, or that miraculous cures had been performed by their gods, the better. To meet the need appropriate historical inscriptions were found, and so were relics discovered that “proved” the cures.

Why the historian Thucydides preferred Oral Testimony. Thucydides is famous well known for asserting that direct oral testimony was always to be preferred by an historian to written testimony. This suggests, of course, that written records could not be interrogated and established in the same way oral reports could.

The irony here is that Richard Bauckham in his “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” uses this claim of Thucydides to assert that ancient historians (pre-Enlightenment characters) used more reliable evidence than (post-Enlightenment) moderns, and writes of “eyewitness testimony” as if it were something holy, unquestionable, raw experience — and writes at length about the “testimony” of holocaust survivors. So it is interesting to read Grafton’s take on Thucydides’ method here: written testimony could not be questioned the way oral testimony could. I can’t imagine Bauckham seriously suggesting that the gospel authors spent time “interrogating” their eye-witnesses.

The Literary, Library and Book market revolutions

By the fourth century b.c.e. educated people were aware that literary works by specific individuals carried distinctive styles and sets of concerns.

Canons of classic texts began to emerge as exemplars of the best in prose and poetry. Schools taught pupils to imitate these. A favourite school exercise was to give students an assignment of writing letters in the style of, and expressing the interests of, well-known authors. Some of these could easily have become accepted as genuine once they went into circulation.

According to Galen, the demand for texts from the literary masters in the canons soon outgrew supply. Libraries, schools, and wealthy individuals sought new and old works at great expense. Forgers produced hitherto unknown works (supposedly) by famous authors and sold those to the major libraries as well.

At public orations and dramatic performances audiences would as likely as not be being treated to forgeries. (p. 12) The famous names sold.

Libraries contained multiple copies of works by the famous playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and prose works by Plato, Hippocrates and Aristotle, but many of the titles attached to these names were outright forgeries.

Librarians reacted by compiling lists of what they judged to be genuine works in their collection, and others judged as spurious. Librarians and literary scholars devised various tests to attempt to determine which works were genuine and which spurious.

So, for example, at a time when there were 130 plays in circulation claiming to be by the playwright Plautus, scholars such as Varro judged only twenty or so to be genuine.

Sectarian rivalries to prove the greatest antiquity

Orphic and Pythagorean sects. Members of groups or sects such as these chose to live by authoritative texts of their so-called founding masters who had supposedly lived in distant antiquity.

The need for ancient texts by such groups was met by those willing to make the effort to supply it.

Egyptian, Babylonian and Jewish pride produces more “proof texts”. After being conquered by Alexander the Great and ruled by Greek dynasties, scribes and priests from these peoples restored some of their cultural pride by managing to prove that their histories and famous texts showed that they were older and more prestigious in literary, philosophical and religious accomplishments than the Greeks.

These “proof texts” were meant to impress a Greek audience since they were written in Greek, although they claimed to have been translations of earlier texts.

The Jews, for example, produced a Greek version of the Bible, although they claimed it was a translation of an earlier Hebrew one. They went further, however. They also claimed that their Hebrew Bible was the very source of inspiration for those famous Greek philosophical ideas of Plato etc.

Epicurean, Pythagorean and Zoroastrian sects, not to be outdone, had to offer texts that could claim the same or greater antiquity than the Middle Eastern ones.

How to create a text with the glamour of divine authority

  • It must appear to come from a respectfully distant historical past
  • It could be written in the first person as if spoken by either
  • a divine figure
  • or one of his human companions
  • or an authoritative interpreter of his teachings
  • It should (unlike “normal” literary genres) preferably offer a variety of functions, instructing in both methods of worship and daily life conduct

Forgeries of this kind abounded, and the methods used to detect them grew in sophistication as the complexity of the forgeries became ever more baroque. (p. 15)

Not questioned by Grafton, but surely entitled to the question, is the traditional scholarly dating of the Pauline epistles and the canonical gospels. Scholars who rely on internal evidence only to say that Paul wrote in the 50’s or the gospels were written not long after 70 c.e. seem to me to be leaving the door wide open for the trap Grafton warns against here. Surely external evidence — when we can see OTHERS first knew of these texts — should surely carry much more weight than it currently does. But to be this careful, it would mean ascribing the letters of Paul — and all the gospels — to the second century! Oh no – impossible – . . . . That would change EVERYTHING! Yup! Especially if we can see how they so conveniently met the “timely needs” of those others! Whoops . . . .

A sophisticated forgery classic: the Letter of Aristeas

Date: probably 2nd century b.c.e.

Purpose: To explain the origin of the Greek version of the Old Testament or Jewish Bible, the Septuagint, the LXX.

  1. The librarian of the Egyptian Alexandrian library, Demetrius, writes to his king Ptolemy Philadelphus “about acquisitions policy”. He points out that the library lacks a copy of the “Books of the Laws of the Jews”, and that the only extant ones are in Hebrew and of inferior quality since they have not had royal warrant to guarantee their accurate transmission.
  2. The king responds giving Demetrius permission to ask the Jewish high priest, Eleazar, to send 6 representatives from each of the twelve tribes of Israel “to prepare a perfect, official translation.”
  3. The letter defends the ritual codes of the Jews in the Law, explaining that these are all allegories for deeper philosophical conduct and are not meant to be interpreted literally. The ethical standards of the Book are praised.
  4. The letter concludes with the acceptance of the new translation by all the Jews at Alexandria.

Evidence of forgery:

The Demetrius in question was never the librarian of the Alexandrian library under Ptolemy Philadelphus (who disliked him). Grafton cites Pfeiffer, History, 100-101 for other errors as well, but I have not yet had a chance to consult this.

Sophistication of the lie:

The author uses the methods that Alexandrian critics had developed to correct texts and detect fakes to make his own text seem all the more credible.

  1. he uses the allegorical method to “explain away” or justify the crude dietary and other ritualistic codes of the Jews just as other contemporary scholars had used allegory to rationalize the more barbaric and tasteless sections of Homer.
  2. he discusses how the correct translations were arrived at in part through standard textual criticism — collating all the variant manuscripts and emendations available — to suggest the most scholarly methods of determining accuracy were used and to strengthen the credibility of his narrative
  3. rather than just tell a narrative story about the negotiations between Demetrius and Ptolemy, he “quotes word for word” from Demetrius’ memorandum. Adding a touch of realism like this (a lie within a lie) enhances the credibility of his letter.
  4. he writes for two audiences: for Jews of Palestine to demonstrate that the Greek translation is superior to their Hebrew version for gentiles to demonstrate that the Jewish ritual laws are not meaningless but allegorical philosophical codes.
  5. his motive is not money, but a desire to assert the spiritual authority of the Septuagint over the Hebrew bible.

Grafton comments that this forgery is one of the most complex to survive, but it is really but one example of a very large population. “The early Christians produced them by the dozen” (p.17)

Christian forgeries

Scholars have long recognized that 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus, are forgeries, just as much as the Apostolic Constitutions. Their intent, of course, was to use the names of old authorities, and first-person accounts, to attempt to settle doctrinal disputes within the church.

The more exotic the claimed origin, and language, the better

Publics could be more impressed if a document could be said to have originated in a foreign (holy — e.g. Egyptian, Etruscan) language, with an explanation that its Greek translation could only partially capture the full power of the original.

This was the case with the text of the demigod Hermes Trismegistus, which was in fact written in Greek for Greek reader, despite its claim to have had an Egyptian origin. It still impresses some people today, although it was originally a pastiche of Greek philosophical tags and poorly understood Egyptian sayings and traditions — but it seemed exotic and appeared to have had an Egyptian origin.

Another case was the “thunder calendars” of supposedly Etruscan origin. These explained the meanings of thunder on any given day of the year. The text claimed to have been composed word for word from primeval demigods, Tages and Tarchon. Its claim for Etruscan provenance was enough to persuade many of its value.

Augustan History (Scriptores Historiae Augustae)

This (4th century c.e.) is another classic sophisticated forgery that may have no other purpose than the amusement of its author (although it claimed to be a compilation of works of six scholars). To strengthen its claims for authenticity it even cited the very shelf-number of a non-existent text:

“the ivory book” containing a senatus consultum signed by the emperor Tacitus. It was in bookcase 6 at the Ulpian Library, where the “linen books” containing the deeds of Aurelian were also housed.

Nothing could have done more to enhance the credibility of this dedicated but self-mocking imaginary scholar, whose curiosity embraced even the smallest details of imperial lives and works — who ironically represented himself as admitting to Junius Tiberianus, the prefect of Rome, that “there is no writer, at least in the realm of history, who has not made some false statement. (p.19)

Forgery under the nose of the true author?

Would forgers even have dared to pass off spurious works under the very noses of the authors they were forging? It happened.

Galen is best remembered as a medical writer. He wrote a complaint that he could walk through the streets of Rome and see on sale books claiming to be by himself (Galen Physician) that he had not been responsible for at all. He went on to attempt to explain how readers could tell the difference between his works and the spurious ones circulating under his name.

But this is a point that those familiar with the letters of Paul know, although this comparison is my own, and not Grafton’s that I am inserting here. In a letter that is judged by many scholars to be a forgery itself, “Paul” warns his readers to beware of letters circulating that claim to be from him. So the idea of forgeries within the time and area of their namesakes was certainly a plausible one at the time. See 2 Thessalonians for discussion, and 2:2 in particular.

Galen was also a textual critic who wrote analyses of earlier medical works. In his preface to Hippocrates, On the Nature of Man, he addresses different views of the work, some that had argued the whole book was a forgery and others who had argued but a single line was an interpolation.

Galen argues that the first part of the work was genuine, but the latter part was certainly forged. His arguments:

  1. the first part was referred to by Plato in Phaedrus, so had to have been in existence then
  2. the second part contains anachronisms, such as technical terms for “unbroken” and “urines” that early Greek doctors never used but that were only otherwise used by recent medical practitioners.

Julius Africanus, Christian scholar and Roman librarian

Julius Africanus wrote a letter to Origen demolishing any hope of any thoughtful person accepting the story of Susanna as belonging to the original Book of Daniel — which it is attached to in the Greek, though not in the Hebrew version.

Again, his arguments are interesting for their “modernity”:

  1. The Jews in the disputed text enjoy more freedom than was in fact the case during the Babylonian captivity
  2. Daniel in the disputed text prophesied in direct speech, unlike the Daniel in the other text who spoke via angelic visions
  3. The story was too silly to be a Greek mime
  4. The story contains two crucial elaborate puns — in Greek — so it could not have been a translation from the Hebrew.


Anthony Grafton continues with a discussion of Jerome’s detection of forgeries, even in the supposed canon of Biblical works, and then moves into the Middle Ages, and on to the present day.

It is interesting to see that the tools or arguments used today for detecting forgeries were in use even in ancient times. It is equally interesting to see that the arguments that exposed forgeries then failed to persuade those who wanted to believe they had the genuine literature, just as much as the same tools today fail to convince any Mulder who “wants (or needs) to believe”.

University of Exeter: Forgery of official documents by monks was rife across medieval Europe, new book shows

Forgery of official documents by monks was rife across medieval Europe because of social changes and the growing importance of the written word, a new book shows.

Fake documentation began to be produced in earnest in the tenth century across much of the continent and was the “white lie of the Middle Ages”. Monks justified deceit because they felt their efforts were for the greater good.

During this time many diocesian boundaries were being drawn for the first time, and there were changing practices in law and administration. The book, by Dr Levi Roach from the University of Exeter, argues forgery helped people seek solace and security in the past. It was also an important tool for monks to cement what they saw as their institutional rights to land and property as aristocrats gained more power.

Dr Roach said: “Few regions in world history can rival medieval Europe for the sheer scale of forging. Most of the forgeries were associated with leading figures within the church – men such as Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg and Gilbert Foliot, abbot of Gloucester and later bishop of Hereford. It was faith, not cynicism, that inspired the era’s counterfeiters. Before the 10th century it was relatively rare by the 12th, it was rife.

“This newfound fascination with forgery was driven by new attitudes to local and institutional memory. It was in the later 10th century that many abbeys and bishoprics first started writing down their own histories, often embellishing them with forgery.”

Dr Roach examined five religious institutions in the book, using documents now held in 50 archives across Europe. The painstaking detective work involved analysing handwriting, document layouts and the parchment used. He also analysed later copies of original documents, often produced to reconstruct lost paperwork.

The research shows forgers modelled their efforts on authentic documents, often quite closely. The results may look obviously anachronistic to a trained modern eye, but they did not in the tenth and eleventh centuries. Most were assumed to be authentic well into the nineteenth century, and a few continue to have their defenders.

The growing use of the written word meant more official information was recorded during this period, and these documents had greater authority. There was also disagreement and competition between churches, and between churches and noblemen as to who owned land and property. Sometimes there were conflicts within the same church, something to be expected when monks lived so closely together.

Dr Roach said: “Looking at forgery tells us so much about the human condition. There was a reason why people wanted to deceive, and this was particularly the case in the church in the Middle Ages across Western Europe. It happened at almost every religious house for which good archives still exist.

“Faith drove forgery. People justified fakes because they thought God was on their side. This happened from the earliest days of the church. People knew they were deceiving others, but felt their motives were pure.”

Many of the forged documents wouldn’t have been widely seen, and were often produced as a precaution. They may have been used to show to supporters and visitors, or perhaps presented in a court of law.

Dr Roach said: “Forgery reflects society’s concerns and problems in a similar way to fake news today. Forgeries were often designed to be seen by those already converted to the cause people lied to their friends not to their enemies.”

Falsifiers used productions on well-known and powerful individuals, such as the Merovingian ruler Dagobert I (623–39), the Carolingian emperor Charlemagne (768–814) and the last monarch of England’s native line, Edward the Confessor (1042–66).

The most common types of text forged in the Middle Ages were charters conveying or confirming legal rights, particularly of liberty, immunity and exemption. Most royal courts had no more than a handful of scribes, who often combined their royal duties with responsibilities elsewhere, often at local religious houses. Texts were drafted and copied before being approved, sealed, or given signs of assent. New charters were modelled on old versions, often repeating their terms verbatim. Forgeries are often obvious because of anachronisms.

One of the case studies featured is Pilgrim, bishop of Passau in south-eastern Bavaria between 971 and 991. Pilgrim hailed from one of the foremost Bavarian noble families, and his uncle, Archbishop Frederick of Salzburg, was his immediate superior within the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Pilgrim faked documents, writing them himself, to give Passau a glorious history, producing one of the most imaginative and elaborate forgery complexes of Austrian and Bavarian history. It is likely that Pilgrim had local audiences in mind: the cathedral canons at Passau, and perhaps also their haughty neighbours at Salzburg.

The Making of Medieval Forgeries: False Documents in Fifteenth-Century England

Jens Röhrkasten, The Making of Medieval Forgeries: False Documents in Fifteenth-Century England, The English Historical Review, Volume CXXI, Issue 490, February 2006, Pages 280–281,

The Making of Medieval Forgeries: False Documents in Fifteenth-Century England, by Alfred Hiatt (London: The British Library, 2004 pp. 226. £40).

The phenomenon of forgery has fascinated generations of medievalists. The full scope of the subject and the challenges posed by different types of texts, artefacts and methods were the subject of a long conference in 1986, the proceedings of which, published in six volumes, Fälschungen im Mittelalter, edited by H. Fuhrmann, are a major contribution to the study of forgery in the middle ages, and set the standard against which subsequent work must be assessed. Hiatt's stimulating and splendidly produced book excludes a number of aspects which are usually associated with the subject (numismatics, forgery of artefacts, forgery and economic exchange), concentrating instead on texts, maps and images. A survey of forgery in England between the Norman conquest and.


in art. (1) The preparation Of works of fine, decorative, or applied art in imitation of a particular historical style or the style of a well-known master. Forgery is done with the intent of sale.

(2) A forged work of art. A forgery is seldom a copy of an original. It most often is a variation upon an original or a compilation of characteristic motifs from several originals. Forgers, some of whom are very talented, imitate the stylistic details of a specific era or the artistic style of a particular master artist, painstakingly copying all his distinctive techniques. For greater verisimilitude, they use old materials and old technical devices. Forgers simulate the effects of age, such as patina on stone and metal and craquelures on paintings. They create artificial gaps and fragmentation, allegedly caused by the passage of time.

7 Antique Forgeries Made in Antiquity

Forgery of art and antiquities is far from a modern phenomenon. Thousands of years ago, devotional objects, trendy artworks, and popular collectibles were ginned up on the quick and sold as ancient to a large market of thirsty marks. Here are seven fakes that were made in antiquity. The surviving ones are ancient artifacts now, but they were only pretending back then.


In 1881, British Museum archaeologists found a black cruciform stone covered in inscriptions during the excavation of the temple of Shamash, in Sippar (modern-day Iraq). They discovered it in the Neo-Babylonian layer (7th to 6th century BCE), but according to the inscription, it was created during the reign of Manishtushu, King of Akkad (circa 2276 to 2261 BCE). The voluble inscription covers all 12 sides of the monument with a glowing report of how the king had showered the temple with gifts and privileges and funded an extensive renovation. The last line of the inscription insists that "this is not a lie, it is indeed the truth . He who will damage this document let Enki fill up his canals with slime . "

This is not the truth. It is indeed a lie, a forgery likely produced by the priests of the temple to put the official seal of approval of antiquity and royalty on the many privileges and large income they enjoyed. It's the kind of forgery known as a pious fraud, when an artifact or document is created to deceive for the good of the faith, in this case the good of the faith meaning the good of the priests' wallets. It's like the Donation of Constantine, only carved on stone in fake archaic cuneiform instead of ink on papyrus.


Starting in the Hellenistic era and continuing for centuries, the prized artifacts in ancient Greece were of purported Homeric origin. They weren't just valued for their literary or historic significance these objects were venerated, religious relics donated to and collected by temples. Many of them were believed to have been dedicated to the temples by the living Homeric heroes themselves.

The imperial era Roman author Lucius Ampelius lists the Homeric offerings in the temple of Apollo at Sicyon among the "miracles of the world": the shield and sword of Agamemnon, Odysseus's cloak and breastplate, Teucer's bow and arrows, and Penelope's loom. Homeric devotional objects appear in Description of Greece by 2nd century geographer Pausanias, as well, with one in particular getting the most attention: the scepter of Agamemnon, forged by the very hand of the god Hephaestus.

Of the gods, the people of Chaeroneia honor most the scepter which Homer says Hephaestus made for Zeus, Hermes received from Zeus and gave to Pelops, Pelops left to Atreus, Atreus to Thyestes, and Agamemnon had from Thyestes. This scepter, then, they worship, calling it Spear. That there is something peculiarly divine about this scepter is most clearly shown by the fame it brings to the Chaeroneans.

They say that it was discovered on the border of their own country and of Panopeus in Phocis, that with it the Phocians discovered gold, and that they were glad themselves to get the scepter instead of the gold. I am of opinion that it was brought to Phocis by Agamemnon's daughter Electra. It has no public temple made for it, but its priest keeps the scepter for one year in a house. Sacrifices are offered to it every day, and by its side stands a table full of meats and cakes of all sorts.

There were other temple artifacts purported to have been made by Hephaestus, but Pausanias dismissed them all as fakes because they were bronze which, according to him, was first smelted in the 6th century by Theodorus of Samos. Apparently Hephaestus's godhead was not sufficient to put him ahead of the curve of human ingenuity. The scepter proved itself authentic to Pausanias because it was gold, as Homer said it was, it made its keepers famous, and, most importantly, its ownership history could be traced from the heroes of Troy all the way back to the god. Ownership history remains a key element of authentication, although nowadays the owners have to be real people rather than mythological heroes and deities to qualify.


Purportedly the personal diary of Dictys, companion of Idomeneus, the commander of Crete's forces fighting against Troy, the Journal of the Trojan War is an eye-witness account of the war. It pitches its own authenticity in the introduction and preface in the form of several favored postmodern literary tropes—the found manuscript, the translation of a translation, the dead author—which also happen to have been very popular with ancient forgers. The description was tailor-made to persuade an ancient audience that they were reading a real diary from the Trojan War. According to the preface,

In the thirteenth year of Nero’s reign an earthquake struck at Cnossos and, in the course of its devastation, laid open the tomb of Dictys in such a way that people, as they passed, could see the little box. And so shepherds who had seen it as they passed stole it from the tomb, thinking it was treasure. But when they opened it and found the linden tablets inscribed with characters unknown to them, they took this find to their master. Their master, whose name was Eupraxides, recognized the characters, and presented the books to Rutilius Rufus, who was at that time governor of the island. Since Rufus, when the books had been presented to him, thought they contained certain mysteries, he, along with Eupraxides himself, carried them to Nero. Nero, having received the tablets and having noticed that they were written in the Phoenician alphabet, ordered his Phoenician philologists to come and decipher whatever was written. When this had been done, since he realized that these were the records of an ancient man who had been at Troy, he had them translated into Greek thus a more accurate text of the Trojan War was made known to all. Then he bestowed gifts and Roman citizenship upon Eupraxides, and sent him home.

Whoever wrote this book (hint: not Dictys) made this find seem plausible by keeping it as unanachronistic as possible. Greeks believed Cadmus had introduced the Phoenician alphabet to Greece, so it makes sense that a book so old would be written in Phoenician. The reference to linden tablets is another nod to his audience's understanding of history. Wood predated paper or papyrus as a writing medium. Nine volumes is a lot of wooden tablets to haul around, but these were the hallmarks of genuine antiquity, immediately recognizable as such to an educated Greek reader.


So few ancient Greek bronzes have survived that when a bronze kouros, a male nude ostensibly from the Archaic period (late 6th century BCE), was found off the coast of Tuscany near the town of Piombino in 1832, it caused a sensation. The Louvre snapped it up, and the Apollo of Piombino, as the statue became known, soon graced the pages of every art history tome.

But there were some weird things about the Apollo. His dadbod torso, the incised waves of his hair, the flat affect instead of the Archaic smile, and the shape of the letters on the inscription on his left foot dedicating him to Athena were not typical of the Archaic style. Then a restoration in 1842 found a lead tablet inside the bronze that named the two sculptors who made it. They were from Tyre and Rhodes and lived in the 1st century BCE. That tablet is now lost.

The Louvre held on as long as possible, redating the bronze to the 5th century and classifying it not as Archaic but as an example of the "severe style." Eventually even they had to admit this was no Greek original. It's a pastiche of Greek styles deliberately passed off as an original for the Roman market. Genuine Greek bronzes were rare even then, and forgers stepped up to bridge the gap between supply and demand.


Genuine marbles by the great Hellenistic sculptors were rare too, and your less scrupulous Roman artists made a booming business of passing off copies as the originals. A Greek signature by "Praxiteles" or "Lyssipus" could give even inferior works the cachet of masterpieces. The 1st century Roman fabulist Phaedrus referred to the practice in Book V of his Fables, Latin verse versions of Aesop's fables.

If Esop's name at any time
I bring into this measured rhyme,
To whom I've paid whate'er I owe,
Let all men by these presents know.
I with th' old fabulist make free,
To strengthen my authority.
As certain sculptors of the age,
The more attention to engage,
And raise their price, the curious please,
By forging of Praxiteles.

The sculptor of the Richelieu Venus did just that. Now in the Louvre, the statue of a clothed Venus and Cupid dates to the 2nd century CE and has a signature of no less a luminary than 4th century BCE Greek master Praxiteles engraved on the sweet spot of the plinth. While some art historians believe the inscription was added a few hundred years ago before the statue was acquired by the 17th century collector, statesman, and power behind the throne Cardinal Richelieu, the forms and letters of the Greek are characteristic of the middle imperial period when the statue was made.


The Shabaka Stone is a motivational opposite of the temple of Shamash stone. This time it was the king making up stuff to ingratiate himself to the priests, and he used the same trick pseudoDictys used to do it. The rectangular basalt slab is inscribed in hieroglyphs that identify the king who commissioned it—Nubian Pharaoh Shabaka (ca. 716-702 BCE)—and why—to preserve an important religious text whose only known copy was falling apart. The text, a creation myth crediting the god Ptah with creating all the other gods, itself follows, although significant portions were eroded away when the stele was reused centuries later as a millstone.

There was no tattered papyrus. As a Nubian outsider, Shabaka needed to suck up to the priests at the temple of Ptah in Memphis, Egypt's first capital. He had recently conquered the city and wasn't exactly welcomed as a liberator. A nice inscribed slab kissing Memphis' ancient ass would please both priests and populace. He really made an effort, too. The inscription has all kinds of archaic touches in the layout, grammar and spelling making it seem like it could legitimately come from the mysterious ancient text.


The mummies of animals were essential devotional objects for the rituals of animal cult worship in ancient Egypt. Devotees would purchase mummies from the temples as votive offerings to the gods. The scale of this market was so huge that cats, dogs, ibises, baboons, bulls, and other animals were farmed to satisfy demand. In just one of more than 30 centers of animal cult worship, the necropolis of Saqqara, archaeologists found 8 million animal mummies (mostly dogs) that had been interred in catacombs from the 30th Dynasty (380 to 343 BCE) through to the Roman period. The estimated combined body count for all the animal cult centers is a mind-boggling 70 million.

Egyptians' voracious appetite for embalmed beasts could not be sated even by the most prolific puppy/kitten/baboon mills. In 2015, researchers at the University of Manchester examined more than 800 mummies from the Manchester Museum collection to see what was inside the bundles. X-rays and CT scans revealed that a third of them had intact animals, as advertised, another third had partial remains, and the last third were empty. The linen wrappers were filled with whatever was lying around—mud, sticks, eggshells—much like the brain the Wizard of Oz scared up for Scarecrow.

Even when the era of Egyptian animal cult worship was over and the fraud was no longer pious, mummies were still so prized that people kept cranking out fakes. In the Middle Ages and Early Modern era, mummies were believed to have medicinal properties. They were ground up into powder and sold in tinctures. They were also ground up into powder by artists to make a prized brown pigment.

Then, in the 19th century, Egyptomania exploded after the discoveries made during Napoleon's 1798 Egyptian expedition. Mummies were a must-have fashion accessory for the wealthy, and the production of fakes followed with alacrity. Two small mummies in the Vatican's collection thought to be of children or animals were recently found to be Egyptomaniacal forgeries. CT scans, X-rays, and DNA tests found that inside genuine Egyptian linen bandages were a random jumble of medieval human bones and one 19th century nail. And thus the expert antiquarians of the Vatican were deceived just as surely as the ancient faithful had been thousands of years earlier.


History, as any good student of it knows, is messy. Things often do not follow ordinary or orderly patterns. And the history of the composition of documents in antiquity is no different. Bart&rsquos attempt in the first half of his book &lsquoForged&rsquo to force the read to choose between basically two binary opposites&mdash either the NT documents were composed by who they claim to be composed by, or they were forgeries or fabrications, is frankly to limit the possibilities to too few options. I say this, not only because of what we now know of the many and varied roles scribes played in even composing documents in antiquity (see K. van der Tooren as previously discussed) but I say this on the basis of the prima facia evidence within the NT itself.

Take for example the complex case of the document we know as the Gospel of John. This document is formally anonymous (no direct internal naming of the author in the document), and it has the later attribution &lsquoaccording to John&rsquo. But which John? John Mark, John of Patmos, John son of Zebedee? The attribution does not specify. In the heat of controversy, trying to snatch this Gospel back from the Gnostics who apparently thought it was the best, Irenaeus and others attributed this Gospel to John son of Zebedee. But frankly, there are severe problems with that guess. Here is a document which uniquely among canonical Gospels claims within the document to involve the testimony of an eyewitness&mdashthe Beloved Disciple (see John 19-21). But this Gospel contains none of the crucial eyewitness stories we find in the Synoptics involving John son of Zebedee&mdashnot the calling of the Zebedees, not the raising of Jairus&rsquo daughter, not the Transfiguration, not the asking for box seats in the kingdom when Jesus gets there&mdashnothing like this is in John&rsquos Gospel. In fact there is hardly a mention of the Zebedees at all in the Fourth Gospel (but see the passing reference in John 21). Yet when we get to the end of the document we have a very peculiar testimony&mdash&ldquothis (i.e. the Beloved Disciple) is the disciple who is testifying to these things, and has written them down, and we know his testimony is true.&rdquo (21.24). What makes this sentence doubly interesting is that it comes after a very strange disclaimer&mdash- Jesus did not say the Beloved Disciple would live until he returned.

Why in the world do we need that disclaimer? Apparently because the Beloved Disciple&rsquos community thought he uniquely would do so. But why would they think that and why stress it here? The normal, and I think correct answer to this question is that the Beloved Disciple had finally died, and Jesus had not yet returned, and so the community he was a part of wanted to reassure people that Jesus had not falsely predicted the endurance of the Beloved Disciple longer than he actually lived. As to why the community of the Beloved Disciple would think he would not die before the return of Jesus, I can think of a very good reason&mdash Jesus had already raised him from the dead once. Surely, he would not die again. You can read about my case for the Beloved Disciple being Lazarus in What Have They Done with Jesus. I think the case is a strong one, passing the case for John son of Zebedee in the fast lane. For example, there are no direct references to a Beloved Disciple before John 11.1-3, and quite a few there after, and in John 11.1-4 &lsquothe one whom Jesus loves&rsquo is clearly said to be Lazarus.

Let&rsquos pause for a moment on that phrase &lsquothe Beloved Disciple&rsquo. Jesus famously said he came to be a servant, he rebuked his disciples for their debate about which one of them was the greatest, he held up children as examples to his boastful disciples, and he preached humility. What kind of disciple would go around calling himself &lsquothe Beloved Disciple&rsquo? It&rsquos a fair question. I think that this is not what that disciple called himself. It is what his family and later Christian friends and community called him. And that brings us back to John 21.24&mdash&lsquowho exactly is the &lsquowe&rsquo in that verse? It&rsquos surely the community of the Beloved Disciple testifying about the testimony the Beloved Disciple wrote down before he died. But as Sherlock Holmes would say, John 21.24 is the telltale sign that this Gospel in its final form was composed or put together and edited by someone other than the Beloved Disciple. Who, exactly?

Obviously, it is a literate person who has collected and edited the memoirs of the Beloved Disciple. He too seems to have been a person comfortable with calling this man, uniquely, the Beloved Disciple, amongst the many disciples Jesus had. He is indebted to him, and highly values his testimony. This person could be an ordinary scribe tasked with collecting, editing and presenting the Johannine community with this Gospel, probably the latest of all the canonical Gospels. Why then is the common name John added to this document?

Papias tells us there were two famous John&rsquos&mdash John the apostle, and the elderly or elder John. Only the latter had Papias met. If you study all of the fragments of Papias&rsquo writings from both within the work of Eusebius and other sources, one of the things you learn about him, which Eusebius despises, is that Papias is a chiliast &mdash that is, a person who believes in a future millennium or messianic age at the end of history and before history&rsquos end. Of course the only person who clearly advocates such a thing directly in the NT is the author of Revelation&mdash John the prophet or seer, John of Patmos (John 20).

Here is my theory about the fourth Gospel, but whether this theory is correct or not, John 21.24 must be accounted for, and it reveals the post-mortem collection and composition of this document by someone other than the Beloved Disciple, and someone not claiming to be the Beloved Disciple&mdash the &lsquowe&rsquo is not the &lsquohe&rsquo in that verse. My theory in sum is that John of Patmos, after he returned from exile to Ephesus where the Beloved Disciple had died, collected and edited the BD&rsquos materials and promulgated this Gospel. This fact was known well into the second century (the Gospel was probably only composed in the late 90s anyway) and it is the cause for it having the label &lsquoaccording to John&rsquo. Now if John of Patmos had been interviewed and asked if he was the source of the material in this Gospel, he would have said no &mdash he was simply the scribe or editor who assembled after the death of the BD. In short, right before our eyes and within the canon in the Gospel of John, we have evidence of a composition history of a document that involves someone other than the source of the material in the document composing the document. This falls neither into the category of written by the genuine author nor into the category of forgery or fabrication. Those categories are too narrow and cramped to explain all the NT data.

Bearing this in mind, we can turn to Bart&rsquos Chapter Five. In order to properly explain why there are so many forgeries or fabrications in the NT and in early Christian history, Bart takes the route of suggesting that Christians saw themselves as constantly embattled, and apparently the end justified the means, even if the means was forgery and fabrication. The truth would be defended by deceit and fraud. If Bart is right that there was no literary convention of writing pseudonymous documents in antiquity, and if he is write that the NT documents were not written by those to whom they are credited, then this is the sort of alternative one would expect Bart to come up with.

The problem is, he is partially wrong about the first theory, and extensively wrong about the second theory, and so we don&rsquot really need this further rationalization of why Christians behaved badly and forged and fabricated documents. We especially don&rsquot need it if one adequately takes the measure of the varied roles scribes played, even after the death of an authentic witness, in composing documents. He begins with Ephesians, once more, and suggests that there are an awful lot of references to truth in that book, which is ironic if someone falsely claimed to write this book after the time of Paul. He&rsquos right about that, for the case for pseudepigrapha being a recognized literary convention is weak indeed. Fortunately, Paul did write Ephesians and so it doesn&rsquot involve deception.

The burden of this chapter is first of all to show that there were reasons why most Jews in the first century did not accept Jesus as the messiah: 1) he was not the messiah they were looking for, and he did not kick the Romans out of the land, instead he died a shameful death on a cross. Early Jews were not looking for a crucified messiah, among those who were looking for a messianic hero at all 2) of the OT texts used by early Jewish Christians to demonstrate that Jesus was the Jewish messiah, some had not been interpreted messianically before, some were not prophecies, and some were prophecies that did not refer more specifically to a messiah (mashiach). Bart is right about both of these points. The dying and rising messiah is hard to find in the OT unless Isaiah 52-53 is talking about him but even that text says nothing about gruesome crucifixion. Jesus did not match up with various essential early Jewish expectations.

Bart is equally correct that when Jews largely didn&rsquot accept Jesus, this led, especially in the second century and later to anti-Semitism among Christians, including the charge that Jews were Christ killers. Never mind that it was the Romans who executed Jesus (which did not lead to anti-Italianism). Bart is good at pointing out the sins of the early church, and this chapter is all about that, and about forgeries like the Gospel of Peter or the Gospel of Nicodemus (fourth century forgery), the Pilate Gospels which were used to beat Jews over the head.

Once again the purpose of spending so much time on later forgeries from the post- NT era is the guilt by association kind of argument&mdash if there was this much deceit going on later, there must have been a bunch of it in the first century A.D. as well. The problem with this sort of argument by analogy is of course that each era of history, just as each individual person, has their own unique features. For example, as Jacob Neusner has so ably shown, you can&rsquot retroject later rabbinic Judaism and all its practices back into Second Temple Judaism. Things changed dramatically after A.D. 70, and after 120, Judaism ceased to be a Temple and territory focused religion at all, focusing only on the third T&mdashTorah.

I would stress that the historical conditions in earliest Christianity, with its apostles and eyewitnesses and co-workers, had quality control agents and a sufficiently large Jewish Christian population to make some of the later practices of anti-Semitic Gentile Christians unlikely or exceptional in that era. Paul&rsquos impassioned argument in Romans 9-11 that God had not abandoned nor was he finished with his first chosen people shows what the apostles were teaching about such matters. That such arguments later fell on deaf ears should not stop us from recognizing the different character of the leadership in the earlier period. It is interesting that some of the documents Bart discusses in this chapter could be called attempts at Christian fiction or novellas a category of literature Bart mostly ignores (but see the discussion of the Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea on p. 161). This sort of literature was popular in the first four centuries of Christian history, but even if viewed that way, it does not exonerate them of their mean-spirited anti- Semitic ideas and emphases. Worse still, the Romans were already anti-Semitic, and this sort of literature just fed their despising of the Jews. This literature is a far cry from Luke-Acts where we are told that even the Jewish officials who did have something to do with Jesus&rsquo death acted in ignorance not malice and could be forgiven.

As a prelude to dealing with later Christian writings alleged to have been written by Jesus himself, on pp. 159-6o Bart deals with the famous John 7.53-8.11 where he stresses that this text says that Jesus himself could write. Bart does not here comment on the historical merits of the story, but since elsewhere he says Jesus is an illiterate peasant, there is no doubt about how he views it. He does mention the recent theory of Chris Keith that this story was concocted to demonstrate that Jesus could write! But that surely is a minor motif in the story, we are not even told what Jesus wrote on the ground, so this theory while ingenuous is probably entirely wrong. Most Johannine scholars anyway think this is an authentic Jesus story, but not originally a canonical one. I agree with the latter opinion.

On pp. 162-63 Bart deals with the fascinating but fictional correspondence between King Abgar of Edessa and Jesus himself. It is interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is that a Christian pilgrim in the fourth century, Egeria, saw this document as displayed by the bishop of that place. What this shows of course is that Bart is right&mdash there were many fictitious writings and indeed forgeries and fabrications in early Christianity. There is no denying it, and very many of them sadly have an anti-Semitic slant. This is not a part of Christian history that Christians should be proud of, or condone however fascinating these documents might be from a historical point of view. But the fact that there is such an abundance of these documents should tell us one thing&mdash-estimates that the literacy of early Christians was something like 1-5% must be way too low. Somebodies produced these documents for some audiences, and they bespeak of a geographically widespread literacy in early Christianity, and not just among the elites.

On p. 164 Bart makes a point that is historically dubious. His is an argument from silence. His argument is that because there were no Imperial edicts banning Christianity specifically, that it is not true that Christianity was widely viewed as an illegal religion. This completely ignores the fact that the one thing saving Judaism from being proscribed was Imperial edicts saying the Jews could practice their own religion and need not offer sacrifices to the Emperor. Bart does not even reckon with all the things said in Roman literature about &lsquoreligio licita&rsquo and for that matter about superstitio&mdasheastern and foreign superstitions. Beginning from Augustan on, there were indeed imperial efforts to ban and banish foreign cults, and when it became clear Christianity was not merely Judaism, it fell under such a cloud. Bart is right that actual persecution of Christians was sporadic and local in the first century, but the correspondence of Pliny and Trajan make perfectly clear that early in the second century, Christians were not being given the same &lsquopass&rsquo that Jews were given when it came to worshipping the Emperor. Why not? Because there were rules about how to deal with superstitions, and Christianity fell into that category. Indeed, when Christians urged people not to worship the Emperor they were in violation of Caesar&rsquos decrees (see Acts), and notice how Paul in Athens in Acts 17 is on trial for promulgating false religion or false gods, gods not approved for worship by the Areopagus first. In other words, Bart&rsquos portrayal of the first century situation for Christians has some historically dubious aspects to it.

As Christianity gained momentum and more and more followers, the need for apologetics became more urgent, as the faith became more visible in the Empire. Bart on pp. 165-73 makes a reasonable case for seeing some of the fictional and forged documents as attempts to exonerate Christians from pagan charges, counter claims, or contumely. For example the Acts of Pilate are held up as a possible response to a pagan document called the Acts of Pilate which paints Jesus in a very bad light. I suspect he is right about this. Christians resorted to rather transparent fiction as a vehicle to rebut false claims about their faith. What is not clear to me is that at least the more transparent of these documents would not immediately have been recognized as fiction rather than fabrication. That they were later, considerably later, in the Middle Ages (e.g. in the case of the Gospel of Nicodemus), viewed differently is another story. I think Bart spends too little time reckoning with the possibility and scope of early Christian fiction&mdashwhich did not intend to deceive, and probably did not fool its original intended audience. But I agree we must take seriously that there were various forgeries and fabrications in early Christianity, and simply admit that this is not consonant with a strong commitment to the truth in all things.

Bart goes on to discuss the Sibylline Oracles on pp. 173-76 and he is quite right that both Jews and Christians fabricated oracles and inserted them into or created these collections. The original oracles were lost in temple fires before these monotheistic substitutes were created. There is nothing in this discussion which seems amiss. Christians were indeed prepared to create false prophecies to bolster their religion, as were early Jewish and indeed there was also an apologetic purpose in this, to convince pagans about monotheism.

One of the ironies about this book is that while Bart has no trouble showing that later Christians acting immorally created forgeries and fabrications, he does not show that such practices were indulged in by the apostles and original eyewitnesses themselves or by their co-workers. And surely, if you want to actually discredit Christianity, what you actually need to do is go back ad fontes and discredit the original Christians and their actual eyewitness testimonies. For example, you would need to discredit the content of, say, the seven undisputed letters of Paul. You would have to discredit his testimony not only that Jesus died and rose from the dead, but that he appeared to hundreds of people, some of whom, like himself, had been previously hostile to Jesus and his followers. This book does none of that. But it certainly does leave the odor of a skunk on many Christians who lived after the NT era. No wonder some people say I can believe in Jesus, but the church is simply unbelievable.