"FORGERY, FALSE ATTRIBUTION, AND FICTION: Early Modern German History and Literature

Frank L. Borchardt"

'The following words address the complex nature of "authenticity" in the written record and, by raising the complexities, seek to redeem several writers whose works challenge the concept of "authenticity" and who are thus relegated to gray areas in the history of letters.

The questions underlying such matters as forgery and false attribution seem to be straightforward enough. Did this author write this work or not? so, the work is "authentic" and legitimately bears the "authority" of the "author." If not the work is inauthentic, and the "authority" is illegitimately claimed.

What does this do to those texts we know certainly not to have been written by those whose names are attached to them? From the viewpoint just proposed works of this kind would be "inauthentic"--such as: the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Pentateuch. The problem of author attribution clearly lies at the very roots of the cultures of the West and is not just the problem of the occasional medieval document forgery or of the vain, would-be Renaissance humanist.1

To be sure, the oldest kind of fictitious authority, such as Homer and Moses represent, has little in common with trivial, opportunistic forgeries. Fictitious authority of the Homeric and mosaic kind refers to points in a history of ancient collective authorship and redaction. The works ascribed to Moses and Homer were libraries. To deprive a library of an author would be to consign it to the realm of the anonymous. The traditions of the West seem to consider anonymity, by and large, unauthoritative or otherwise lacking in some necessary or desirable quality....' [1 of 10].

'There is no reason to believe that the redactors perceived themselves as engaged upon a falsification, when they named the epics after Homer or the Pentateuch after Moses. Given the open disparity between the oldest (probably oral) parts the works and the conjectured time of literary redaction, hoary tradition must ready have provided the redactors what they needed in the way of authorial identities. But that is only one kind of authorial fiction, and it resides in a privileged place at what is perceived to be the beginning. Countless other documents written by unknown authors have entered the tradition under the names of others or somehow attached to or interwoven with their works: consider the Homeric Hymns, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Wisdom, the interpolations in Isaiah and Daniel, the apocalypses of Enoch and Ezra, the dialogues of the thrice greatest Hermes, Dictys, Dares, the Sibylline


Oracles, Dionysius the Areopagite, the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals, Fredegarius, why even the Donation of Constantine.

In the case of Homer and Moses, tradition certainly provided the redactors with the name of the author. In the case of "Solomon," (Deutero-) Isaiah, Daniel, Enoch, Ezra, Dictys, Dares, Callisthenes, Hermes, the Sibyls, Dionysius, and Isidore, the writers, compilers, or redactors seem, more or less consciously, to have assumed the authority of some famous personage (or eye-witness), to assure the audience of the importance (or reliability) of their work. Tradition here plays the role of providing a name, sometimes even a text on which to hitchhike (Isaiah, Daniel). As opposed to the cases of Homer and Moses, however, tradition alone did not force a name onto a work. Tradition thus plays at least two distinct roles in the "authorship" of anonymous works: 1) it can impose a name on a work directly, 2) it can supply a dictionary of names.

The towering authority of tradition [see Appendix X, 828 (Marx)] is such that it may obscure some important questions that need, nonetheless, to be asked: what did the younger authors or redactors think they were doing? what did the audience think was being done to it? There can be little doubt that the writers or compilers sought to win authority for their works by assigning them famous authors who had long before seen God. Did the writers, however, mean to deceive? Were their intended readers deceived? Did everyone at the time accept this as a convention?3

It is exceedingly hard to answer these questions. The circumstantial evidence does not point to reasonable, consoling answers. The Sibylline Oracles were composed, as far as the scholarship can determine, in the same years as most of the great apocalyptic texts, sometime between the first century B.C. and the third century A.D. The oldest substrate was almost certainly of Jewish origin and was employed to proselytize among Hellenistic and Hellenized Roman gentiles.4 The Jewish authors certainly knew that they were engaging upon a deception, however holy the cause.

The next redaction [what years?] of the Sibylline Oracles, which directly overlays the Jewish substrate, interpolates Christian history and doctrine into the same works. Did the Christian redactors know that they were dealing with a falsification to begin with? that no "authentic" Roman Sibyl would know about Noah and Abraham? Perhaps, but also perhaps not. And what about the pagan audience for which the proselytizing work was intended? ....' [1-2 of 10].

'It is, in fact, the norm to consider the works composed by the people named as their authors. Why would anyone want to lie about such things? especially insofar as they generally referred to the beginning of things, in which we invest so much importance and about which we have so little information. [see 1736]

Apart from their pseudonymity, such works as are mentioned above have at least this much in common: that their contents lay claim to extraordinary importance. But the works do not represent any single genre one could call simply "pseudonymous literature." They variously belong to the epic, legal, poetic, ecstatic, prophetic,


philosophical, and even the historical. For the present purpose, however, distinctions of genre are not quite so important as distinction which address the degree of authority a work can claim. Its "privilege" may protect it from too close authorial scrutiny.

The highest "privilege" belongs to sacred texts and, within that category, the very highest belongs to those sacred texts declared by the canon to have a divine author. Here, the identity of the human author is quite incidental, and the rules of correspondence between claim and actuality do not apply in the same way as they may apply to other texts: thus the Pentateuch, indeed, all of the Bible.

Next in privilege, and still within the category of "sacred," are those texts which themselves claim ecstatic origin and can be called "apocalyptic" in an etymological sense, that is "revealed" by a higher power to the named author. Some canonically sanctioned texts overlap with this category (e.g., Isaiah, Ezechiel, Joel, Revelation) but most do not. Ecstatic origin was no assurance of canonical approval. Non-canonical ecstatic texts, however, seem also to share a degree of the privilege accorded canonical texts of all kinds: that is, the person who recorded the events was of little importance; of somewhat greater importance was the authority of the persons who were recorded as having experienced the events: thus, for example, Enoch, (Deutero-) Isaiah, (2 or 4) Esdras, and the Sibyls.

Works dealing with the Holy but not particularly ecstatic in character, the writings of Ps.-Dionysius, for example, or the dialogues of Hermes, also lay claim to privilege as much by content as author. They, however, have much less to say about the mysteries of destiny, of time in the world, than their ecstatic counterparts and deal more thoroughly with the timeless. Perhaps for that very reason, Hermes and Dionysius enjoyed far more continuous and widespread influence than most of the apocalyptic writings outside the canon, Hermes penetrating deep into the Islamic East, as far as India, and Dionysius deep into the Latin West, as far as Ireland.

The nature of "history" within the category of the sacred is extraordinarily complex. In a secular age, the process of "Euhemerism" is familiar, routine, the norm, that is, the desacralization of certain kinds of sacred texts: they do not actually deal with the gods but with great men of the past whom time has deified. The authors of the historical libraries within the Bible seem to have engaged upon similar activities long before Euhemerus, taking ancient Semitic deities and their adventures, stripping them of divinity, and making of them moments in terrestrial history. These euhemerized deities were, however, not thereby secularized, but rather resacralized as moments in the sacred history of the nation.8

In the course of the ages, the West historicized the histories of the Bible still further, seeking every manner of concordance with non-sacred history, but the authoritative model was far less biblical history than the historiographic tradition of Greece and Rome. Eusebius [c. 260 - c. 340] and Orosius [early 5th century], if they can be called the fathers of Christian historiography, employed models far from the Hebrew Bible. Their intellectual heritage began not with Moses but Herodotus [c. 485 - 425 B.C.E.]. This very troublesome reality invites the conjecture that it was precisely the


privilege of the sacred texts which deprived them of applicability to "real" history--that the day-to-day history of the Church more closely conformed to that of the world, of the saeculum [Latin: "contemporary generation", etc. (Ox. Latin Dict.)], than to that of the People of God.9

The ultimate question which most of these histories asked was that of origins: where did we, our institutions, they and their institutions come from. By one means or the other they seem always to refer to the beginning of things, the world, the race, the empire, the nation, the church.

Virtually all the aforementioned works take authority from or give authority to origins or the heroic past or both. We may except some of the apocalypses, especially the Enochs and Esras, but even they could be made to fit, given their attention to primordial time, "Urzeit," as they go about the business of describing the termination of time, "Endzeit."10 Moses, the Sibyls, Virgil, Hermes, Dionysius all refer to the beginnings of things....' [3-4 of 10].

"the general popular ["historical"] understanding, from emperors down to city chroniclers, was far from wary or suspicious. As much as anyone else, THEY HAD A GREAT THIRST FOR ANTIQUITIES, FOR ORIGINS [see 2853-2854]. And if these were not provided one way, well, they could be provided another [Fiction, Forgeries, etc.].

It is some such motivation which brought on the scene a pair of remarkable documents of considerable notoriety in their time: They are first:

the Berosus forgery of Annius of Viterbo (Giovanni Nanni [1432 (or 1437) - 1502 (see Addition 36, 1990)]; second,

the Hunibald forgery of Johannes Trithemius [1462 - 1516 (see Addition 36, 1805, 1964-1965)]...." [6 of 10]. [See: Addition 36, 1735-1991].