Forging the faith: pseudo-epistolography in Christian Late Antiquity

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Forgery was a respected practice in Late Antiquity, especially within the circles of Christian bishops. Attributing a work to a known authority was a means of making sure that people read the work and circulated it. If it was in a good cause, such as the promulgation of the faith, or later of orthodox Christian doctrine, the end was seen to justify the means. Neil’s chapter gives a survey of forgery in the New Testament canon, in episcopal letter collections, and in other Christian texts in which forged letters were embedded, such as the acts of councils. Forgeries and falsely attributed letters abounded in Late Antiquity, following the example of the New Testament canon of deutero-Pauline letters and earlier classical examples. Even within intellectual circles, such as those of Christian bishops, this was a respected practice. Just as pseudepigraphy was practiced by followers of the gospel-writer John and the apostle Paul, among others, to promote the faith in the earliest Christian communities, in later centuries it was used to promulgate orthodoxy.

I seek to illustrate late antique attitudes to forgery by surveying their origins in the New Testament, and the reasons for the embedding of forged letters in the apocryphal writings of early Christianity. I trace the continuation of the practice by those who made collections of episcopal letters in Late Antiquity. Finally, I show the usefulness of pseudepigraphy and forgery during the ecumenical councils, where forged and misattributed letters regularly served as proof-texts and were included in council acts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTenue est mendacium
Subtitle of host publicationrethinking fakes and authorship in Classical, Late Antique and Early Christian works
EditorsKlaus Lennartz, Javier Martínez
Place of PublicationGroningen
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9789493194366
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Publication series

NameAncient Narratives


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