Last week, I announced the formation of the Invictus Pilgrim Book Club. The purpose of the “club” is to promote online discussion of books that are interest to gay men and women who have come out of, or are still a part of, the Mormon tradition and faith. As such, the thought was to select books that will speak to our spirituality, our sexuality, and the culture in which we have either been raised or have spent a significant part of our lives.
Each week, I will publish a post containing my thoughts about that week’s reading “assignment,” then invite all of you “out there” to share your own comments and thoughts about the material. The first book I selected is Forged: Writing in the Name of God--Why the Bible's Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, by Bart D. Ehrman, available here. Last week, I quoted from and wrote about the first half of the Introduction; this week, I’m writing about the second half.
But before I get to that … At the suggestion of a commenter, I have set up a Facebook group entitled the “Invictus Pilgrim Book Club,” in order to facilitate comment. If you haven’t already joined, the group can be found here. (People can, of course, comment here on my blog as well.)
I have also decided to try the approach of discussing two books at once, in alternating weeks. At the suggestion of another commenter, I also want to discuss the book The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man's World, by Alan Downs, available here.
I have decided to attempt this somewhat unorthodox approach partly for selfish reasons. This book was recommended to me almost a year ago, but at the time – at least according to my recollection – there were only expensive second-hand copies of the book available. Now, however, I discover that the book is readily available and that it addresses issues that I am dealing with right now on a very personal level. So, I’m anxious to both read it and to glean the insights and wisdom of all of you.
Secondly, I also thought covering two books on different topics might keep things interesting.
So, next week, I’ll be writing about the introduction to The Velvet Rage.
This week, however, it’s back to Forged.
One of the reasons that I chose to read and discuss Forged is because Latter-day Saints have a rather unique view of the New Testament period. For those who may read this who are not Mormon, let me briefly summarize it.
According to Mormon theology, Christ established his church and delegated to his apostles the authority to run it and the body of doctrine that constituted the “Truth”. Within a few decades following Jesus’ death and resurrection, however, error had already begun to creep into the far-flung church, and the priesthood authority to administer the affairs of the church was gradually lost as the apostles were killed off. The result was a “great apostasy” in which both the Truth and the authority to administer the affairs of the kingdom (including baptism and other sacraments) was lost for over a millennium and a half – i.e., until the Truth and authority was “restored” through Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. 
Mormons, however, believe in the Bible (“so far as it is translated correctly”), and many of the doctrines contained in the New Testament are woven into the fabric of LDS belief (some through a rather uniquely LDS interpretation). Thus, though Mormons believe that the early Christian period was rife with apostasy, they yet believe that writings that emerged from that period and made it into what we now call the New Testament are indeed what they claim to be, i.e., inspired writings by those to whom they were traditionally attributed. As such, these writing are (selectively) used to bolster LDS beliefs concerning, among other things, the “priesthood”, the “Plan of Salvation” and homosexuality.
Thus my interest in Ehrman’s book, Forged. As he writes in the Introduction, “The Christian religion came to be firmly rooted in truth claims, which were eventually embedded in highly ritualized formulations, such as the Nicene Creed. As a result, Christians from the very beginning needed to appeal to authorities for what they believed [sound familiar?].”
And as the church grew during the early Christian period and as more time passed, the need to appeal to authority grew greater. This need was largely addressed through writings of recognized sources of “Truth” – i.e., apostles or those who had known apostles and could thus lay claim to authority. The only problem was, as Ehrman writes, “most of the apostles were illiterate and could not in fact write. They could not have left an authoritative writing if their souls depended on it.”
“Another problem,” Ehrman continues, “is that writings started to appear that claimed to be written by apostles, but that contained all sorts of bizarre and contradictory views … In many instances, the authors of these writings could not actually have been who they claimed to be, as even the early Christians realized.” In other words, forged letters and “books” started floating around the early Christian world. The question then became: which were “real” and which were “forged”?
“The crucial question,” writes Ehrman, “is this: Is it possible that any of the early Christian forgeries made it into the New Testament? That some of the books of the New Testament were not written by the apostles whose names are attached to them? That some of Paul’s letters were not actually written by Paul, but by someone claiming to be Paul? That Peter’s letters were not written by Peter? That James and Jude did not write the books that bear their names? Or – a somewhat different case, as we will see – that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not actually written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?
“Scholars for over a hundred years have realized that in fact this is the case. The authors of some of the books of the New Testament were not who they claimed to be or who they have been supposed to be.”
Thus Ehrman sets the stage for his book and leaves open, for the time being, the issue of what significance, if any, attaches to the answer to the “crucial question” he identifies above. I believe the answer has peculiar significance for Latter-day Saints, and it is this answer and its ramifications that I –ultimately – wish to explore with you through a discussion of Ehrman’s book.
In the next installment – two weeks hence – we will wade into Chapter 1 of “Forged.” Next week, we will turn to the introduction to “Velvet Rage.”
(1) The belief in a Great Apostasy is something which I wish to examine throughout the discussion of Ehrman’s book. I have some thoughts on the subject, but am for now deferring them until a later date. I invite others, however, to share their own thoughts on this subject.