Shuck and Jive

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Jude: A Forgery for Jesus?

I find it revealing that the "true believers" love the letter of Jude in the New Testament. They love to quote it against their opponents who they think are "false teachers."

is only one chapter long. You will find it just prior to Revelation. You can read it in about two minutes tops.

Jude is a mixture of mean-spirited paranoia and superstition. I think it is one of least edifying pieces of literature in the Bible. It ranks up there with Nahum and Habakkuk in terms of pure nastiness towards anyone perceived as an enemy or threat.

I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us. Habakkuk 3:16b
Jude is a diatribe against people with whom the author disagrees. He calls them "false teachers." He never discusses what these false teachers supposedly teach nor does he mention them by name. He simply attacks:
For certain intruders have stolen in among you, people who long ago were designated for this condemnation as ungodly, who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. v. 4
That is pretty much the message, sprinkled with bizarre references to Enoch and fallen angels. It is weird stuff. Pure vitriol. It never should have made it into the Bible. The reason it is in the Bible is because of its authorship, or supposed authorship. The author claims to be:
Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James.
Who is James? Probably the brother of Jesus. This is how the early church saw it. Although there is some debate today, it is unlikely that that the author of this work is Jude, the brother of James and Jesus.

Scholars use a fancy word for works that are written in the name of someone else, pseudepigrapha, which means "falsely attributed." 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus claim to be written by Paul. 2 Peter claims to be written by Peter. All deceptions. You could call them pseudepigrapha.

Or, let's be blunt and call them what they are.

Thanks to Bart Ehrman for calling a forgery a forgery. In his latest work, Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, Ehrman writes:

It is often said--even by scholars who should know better--that this kind of "pseudonymous" (i.e. falsely named) writing in the ancient world was not thought ot be lying and was not meant to be deceitful. Part of what I'll be showing in this book is that this view is flat-out wrong....Ancient authors who talked about this practice of writing a book in someone else's name said that it was both lying and deceitful and that it was not an acceptable practice.

Many early Christian writings are "pseudonymous," going under a "false name." The more common word for this kind of writing is "forgery".... (p. 9)

In regards to Jude, Ehrman writes: his attempt to attack falsehood, the author himself has apparently committed deception. He claims to be Jude (v. 1), and by this claim he seems to be saying that he is the brother of Jesus....But it is almost certain that the historical Jude did not write this book. Its author is living during a later period in the history of the church, when the churches are already well established, and when false teachers have infiltrated them and need to be rooted out....This author is claiming to be Jude in order to get Christians to read his book and to stand opposed to false teachers who hold a different view of the faith. pp. 187-8
If this nasty little piece of vitriol didn't begin with " of James," it never would have made it into the Bible. The author must have realized that so he pretended to be someone he wasn't so he could tell the "truth" about his "false" opponents.

One can only marvel.


  1. Denunciations of false teachers, but without specifics... letters claimed to be by Paul, except they weren't... Mark portraying relentlessly dim disciples... Matthew claiming fulfillment of OT passages, except when you read them closely, not really... the portrayal of Jews as awful and disobedient... Does it ever hit you that there seems to be a whole lot of spin and/or misdirection going on in the NT? How's a Christian supposed to deal with this?

  2. Great question, Michael.

    I think we should be honest about it and not try to sugarcoat it or explain the bad stuff away. It was down and dirty politics then and it is now. The best way, in my opinion, to respect the authors of the Bible, is to let them be human beings, warts and all.

  3. yeah but,

    What if he was railing against the Fundamentalists and the Laymanites? I think he probably was. Which is why they hijack him. They always hijack any writer who could be talking about them. It's a defense mechanism.

    Heck, most of the New Testament is against them. So they quickly cry "Sola Scriptura, Sola Scriptura!".

    Orwell was fascinated by the practice.

    @Michael. I like to think Matthew's practice is a techniques used even to this day. When he is claiming fulfillment of OT passages, you need to go back and read the passage right before or right after the passage he quotes. It's a rabbinical argumentation strategy that requirers the listener to be familiar with the text as the price of adimission into the argument. The references are almost always, if not always, about the destruction of Jerusalem. Mathew is two stories in one. The passion of Jesus, and the passion of Jerusalem, as if the first destruction foretold the second. And he weaves them together and possibly even blames the one on the other.

    After all, it's in Matthew that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and compares himself to a mother hen, and predicts that not one stone will be left over another because it did not recognize the things that made for Peace.

    That's Matthew looking over the smoldering ruins of Jerusalem, trying to find the meaning in its horrible death 40 years after the passion of Jesus.

    I think it's one of the greatest masterpieces ever written. The written equivalent of a Gothic Cathedral. Worthy of being the first book in the New Testament.

  4. Hey Jodie,

    Thanks for that. One problem with Jude is that we have no idea who these "false teachers" are. There are no details and no teaching. Perhaps even in the author's time no one knew who he was talking about. This document is simply a fill in the blank diatribe, insert your enemy here. It fuels the imagination of the paranoid to look for "false teachers" everywhere and claim to have biblical authority for condemning those who disagree with them.

    I do like your analysis of Matthew. You can't take him at face value the OT fulfillment stuff. The Rabbinic strategy is very interesting. I also like your interpretation of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and the overlay of the two time periods, Jesus' and the author's.

  5. Good comments, especially the analysis from Jodie. Hooray for Biblical Literacy!

    Interesting to note that Jude is not covered by the Revised Common Lectionary, used by most mainline Christian churches.

    As an aside, Presidential Candidate Wannabe Texas Governor Perry claims his "Christian" palooza this weekend is to encourage everyone to "fast and pray, just like Jesus did."

    Mr. Perry needs to read his Bible. One of the reasons Jesus got into trouble with the religious powers-that-be was that instead of fasting, he liked to party. "Plenty of time to fast when the Bridegroom is no longer with you." (Loose translation of Mark 2:18-20.)

  6. "we have no idea who these "false teachers" are."

    But we have a pretty good idea what they teach, because of the primacy placed on the phrase you treat as meaningless, "the faith once handed to the saints." We know that, in contrast to the teaching in the churches founded by the apostles, there was rising a counter-tradition of "secret teaching" attributed to Jesus but with no ascertainable origins. Professor Ehrman has just this month published an anthology of such writings, "Apocryphal Gospels," which I highly recommend. With a little context the letter is hardly generic, and we can see how his criterion of apostolic provenance anticipates the more detailed work of Irenaeus.

    And though of course there's no way to prove that it wasn't "forged," the author of the letter makes no self-identification other that "Judas, brother of James"--two very common names, even in the New Testament text itself. No claim to be the brother of any particular James. No claim to be an apostle. No claim to be anyone particularly identifiable in what we have in the canon. Surely a strange name in which to promulgate a "forged" letter.

  7. Surely a strange name in which to promulgate a "forged" letter.

    Except that it worked. For the early church it was enough.

    The whole "faith handed to the saints" and the teaching in the churches founded by the apostles" is all likely a second-century fiction.

    If Jesus were able to see what was done in his name, he would turn over in his grave. So would his brothers.

  8. One more thing for Jodie. You mention the thought that he might be railing at the "Fundamentalists and the Laymanites."

    My point is that it doesn't matter who the author is railing against. It is over the top. He is demonizing his opponents. Regardless of who one's opponent is, that is not a good thing to do.

    That is why Jude is an unfortunate letter to have in our canon of scripture. It is an embarrassment.

  9. Hi Jodie, thanks for that explanation. I'll re-read those passages with that dual approach in mind and see if I can catch it. It seems somewhat subtle though...multitudes of people today are glad to simply claim "Hosea predicted Jesus" etc ... but maybe Matthew's community were used to this type of writing, and picked it up.