Haefner and Salvian on forgery

In Forgery and Counterforgery, Bart Ehrman makes a series of statements about Salvian of Marseilles, suggesting that the 5th century monk and moralist was guilty of forgery, and also that Salvian actually confesses to the deed in his Letter 9.

In earlier posts, I have evaluated E.’s statements against the text of the letter — not given by E., curiously — and other pieces of evidence.  These posts are accessible here.

But the outcome is that E.’s statements seem remarkably unsatisfactory.  It wasn’t at all clear to me why he believes that, e.g. Salonius was Salvian’s “own bishop”; that Salonius’ comments are angry, that Salvian circulated the work without sending it to Salonius, and so forth.   No other commentator has inferred these statements from the text, or the extraordinary conclusion.

But all the time I lacked an important piece of evidence.

In F&C, E. references, not the standard American translation of Letter 9, by Eva Sanford, which I have given in full here, but an obscure paper by Alfred Haefner, published in 1934 in the Anglican Theological Review in Canada.[1]  The journal itself was not held in some major research libraries outside the USA, and I was unable to access it.

Fortunately a correspondent has come to my rescue, and supplied me with a copy.  In view of the difficulty of access, I have placed a PDF here.

On reading it, much is explained.  For here we find the curious mis-statements which I have discussed earlier.

It would certainly be surprising under these conditions if an author, after publishing his book pseudonymously, would proceed to make an open declaration of his “fraud” and publish his reasons for resorting to such an expedient. He would seem to be thwarting his own purposes.

Yet this is precisely the kind of document we have before us. About the year 440 A.D. there appeared a pamphlet entitled Timothei ad Ecclesiam Libri IV inveighing against the avarice of the times and appealing to the church to renounce its wealth and luxury. The pamphlet begins in the biblical epistolary style: “Timothy, least of the servants of God, to the Church Catholic in all the world, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.” The tract was issued under the name of Timothy, with no indications as to its true authorship. When Bishop Salonius got this tract into his hands, he seems quickly to have guessed who wrote it, and forthwith sent a letter of protest to Salvian, presbyter of Marseille. Salonius feared that the work might be mistaken for an apocryphal work of the Apostle Timothy, and demanded reasons for publishing the book pseudonymously. Thereupon Salvian wrote an answer to Bishop Salonius—the ninth of his preserved letters—in which, always speaking of the author in the third person, he set forth his reasons for adopting the pseudonym and thereby strikingly exemplified the contemporary attitude toward the practice.

This letter of Salvian’s thus seems to be a unique document. The very man who has published a pseudonymous book is divulging his reasons for doing so. It is as though we had caught the “criminal” in the act.

Here we have the ideas from F&C, in their original (and somewhat milder) form.  E. has merely dramatised them.

H. himself, if I understand his career correctly, wrote this paper while a PhD student, or little more.   He has indeed propounded an interesting theory; although not one that will resist much investigation.  His area of expertise is the New Testament; of patristics he knows nothing.  Of the milieu of southern Gaul in this period he knew less than most of us, we who have benefited by the works of Peter Brown.  Nevertheless H. — unlike E. — rightly gives a translation of most of the letter in the article, so that the subject under discussion may be accessible to the reader.

H. ends in the following words:

Even so, I do not mean to exaggerate the importance of Salvian’s letter. For on the one hand, Salvian gives us little information about pseudonymity beyond what could be inferred from our previous sources; and on the other hand the letter is too late (ca. 440 A.D.) to permit of definite and unqualified conclusions with respect to the practice of pseudonymity in New Testament times.

Emphasis mine.  H. has the common-sense to realise that the letter’s importance can be exaggerated.  It is interesting to wonder what he would have made of F&C.

Then H. points out a couple of ways in which the letter is of interest, which will again ring bells to the reader of F&C:

[the letter] seems to be the only document in which the pseudonymist is speaking in his own defense (as it were), and it may fairly be called unique in this sense.  …  Finally, the document is one of two or three which may aid us in forming a judgment on the difficult question of the ethics of pseudonymity in ancient times.

It seems very much as if E. read this article and took it for gospel truth, without investigating further.  This explains why, whenever he refers to Salvian, he presumes him already guilty, rather than demonstrating anywhere in the book that he actually is so.

In any survey of a wide area, of the sort found in F&C, it is inevitable that much must be skipped over.  But sources are primary; if they are unsound, then the mass of the book is nothing.  Here E.’s failure to engage properly and critically has betrayed him badly.

UPDATE: I have revised this post to remove some over-hasty language.  The perils of blogging when tired!!

  1. [1]A. Haefner, “A unique source for the study of ancient pseudonymity”, Anglican Theological Review 16, 1934, 8-15.

4 thoughts on “Haefner and Salvian on forgery

  1. A full time academic such as Ehrman may be preparing lessons for several classes, and even if they have taught the topic for several years would be updating those lessons not just to keep abreast of the latest advances but also to improve on whatever was poorly conveyed in class (or poorly received by the students). Add to this meet with students who are struggling, meet with students who are enquiring, supervise a post grad, mark assignments and exams, supervise tutors and junior academics, seek funding, represent the institution at external events, attend commencement and graduation ceremonies, attend faculty meetings, etc., etc., etc.

    Given the demands on time to do their daily duties senior academics of the highest calibre in areas such as history and theology find only sufficient time to research and write somewhat less than 200 pages per year – I may be wrong on this but this is my impression as a former specialist library cataloguer who has catalogued perhaps 100,000 books in history and theology.

    Ehrman on the other hand states on his blog that for most of his books “I can normally write 14,000 to 16,000 words a day”. At the volume of words Ehrman is churning out it is not possible to waste time on petty details such as engaging with the sources, especially if those sources don’t agree with the conclusion that has already been decided on.

  2. This is very interesting because it might explain some things that have puzzled me about the book.

    If that really is his rate of output, then it would explain why much of the book feels feels rather undergraduate. Because E. states in the introduction that he is using a bunch of people to research and translate for him, and this seemed very odd to me. But the necessary output might leave him little choice. The small stuff does take ages.

    The resulting work does suggest that perhaps E. should be credited more as editor, then. I was having great difficulty with the idea that a US university could employ someone who could make the kind of mistakes of approach that I am seeing.

    Interesting idea.

    NB I have revised the article slightly to remove some over-hasty remarks of the kind produced when tired. My thanks to Peter Kirby for pointing thesr out.

  3. Ehrman notes three types of books he writes and the 14,000-16,000 words per day is what he does for his “trade books” – these being the ones he is most known for.

    Forgery and Counterforgery he claims is one of his scholarly books, and compared to most of what he has written it is. But compared to what other academics write it is as you note “rather undergraduate” – and that is being very generous. No serious undergraduate would include a folksy phrase such as “But what goes around comes around” (page 25)

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