Below, an abridged translation from the third volume of
Karlheinz Deschner’s Kriminalgeschichte des Christentums.
Why were falsifications done?
Well, there are many reasons. An important one was the increase in authority, although often it was only a concomitant circumstance. Attempts were made to achieve respect and the spreading of a text by passing it off as that of a renowned author or altering its age, that is, dating it to earlier times so that it formed part of the evangelical past.
This is how both the ‘orthodox’ and the ‘heretics’ proceeded. The counterfeiter confused his readers about the author, the place and the copy. For as the Christian communities grew and time passed, new problems, situations and interests naturally arose, to which the old literary tradition—the so-called classical period, the early apostolic times—could not respond. But since their approval was needed or at least reflect the legitimate continuity with the origins, several writings and ‘revelations’ were produced: false works that were dated to earlier times.
Catholics falsified to be able to resolve ‘apostolically’, in the sense of Jesus and his apostles (that is, with authority), the new problems that arose from the ecclesiastical discipline, the Church’s law, the liturgy, morality and theology. The ‘orthodox’ also falsified in order to fight, with falsifications of their own, the falsifications of the ‘heretics’: often widely read such as those of the Gnostics, the Manichaeans, the Priscillianists, etc., as is the case of the Kerygmata Petrou, the Acts of Paul, and the Epistula Apostolorum.
The forgers warn against ‘heretical’ falsifications as in the third Epistle to the Corinthians. They insult and curse the forgers by practicing exactly the same method, often in a more refined and less manifest way. And the ‘heretics’ falsified above all to impose and to defend their divergent beliefs before the dogma of the Church.
Finally, it was also falsified to guarantee the ‘authenticity’ of another text by means of a forgery; and also to harm personal enemies, to discredit the rivals. Although more rarely, it was done to defend friends, as shown in the claimed letters of Boniface. But only very rarely has the name of a counterfeiter come to us, such as that of the Catholic John Malalas, a rhetorician about whom we know nothing else.
What methods did counterfeiters use?
The simplest and most frequent method of falsification was the use of a false but illustrious name of an author of the past. This happened in the pagan world in a similar way as in the Jewish world, but in the Christian era it was systematic. Towards the end of Antiquity and later, an authority from the past generally was more notable, especially when the forger felt he did not have a ‘name’.
Resorting to a known contemporary was too risky as he could discover the falsification at any time by making a statement, reducing its effects. Although a work with the name of the falsified author does not have to be a forgery in itself, the falsifier is usually also the author of the work. A great amount of ‘apocryphal’ books, even New Testament texts that emerged with the purpose of deceiving, are conscious falsifications of a literary genre during antiquity: shoddy pieces of work that pretend to come from the pen of a totally different author whose ancient personality is considered venerable and holy.
In particular, the forgers of many of the lives of saints use the first person and turn to eyewitnesses to strengthen their lies. And no less effective were, above all, the counterfeiters of the Christian books of revelation, promising the readers and propagators the blue of the sky and at the same time threatening their detractors. The conmen presented sworn witnesses as guarantors of their lies, and to reinforce confidence they even said some truths on the sidelines.
After all, in Christianity, by the will of God everything is allowed. In antiquity most of the counterfeits were made to support the faith. In the Middle Ages, it is falsified in particular to secure or expand possessions and power. Already in the 9th century, papal documents were falsified throughout the West, naturally by ecclesiastics. The fact is that the percentage of pseudepigraphs is very high in proto-Christianity. The practice of unscrupulous falsification has always existed, even in the beginnings of Christianity. ‘Unfortunately,’ confesses the theologian Von Campenhausen, ‘truthfulness in this sense is not one of the cardinal virtues of the ancient Church.’
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