Christian communities in the first four centuries struggled to construct and maintain a sense of social identity in a time when there were no stable descriptions for Christianity or Judaism. Competing social identities emerged among Jewish and Christian groups as various authors worked to construct and maintain communal boundaries regarding acceptable (and, simultaneously, unacceptable) beliefs and practices. While some Christian groups rejected certain traditions, other groups found reasons to adopt them. These choices contributed to a community’s borders; they constitute what makes “us” different from “them.” The recent work of Daniel Boyarin and Judith Lieu illustrates how literary analysis reveals the way texts contribute to the construction of social identity. An author (re)presents the community’s values and beliefs, whether real or idealized, not only to establish an identity but also to maintain that identity. An investigation of early Christian texts regarding their attitudes toward the Mosaic law, then, provides a window into the process of identity formation.
This dissertation is an examination of a peculiar scriptural hermeneutic that claims that certain biblical mandates found in the scriptures are false. Any beliefs or regulations contained in the supposed false portions of scripture can be rejected on the grounds that they are not part of God’s eternal laws. The distinction between the authentic and the false passages has been revealed by Jesus Christ and passed down to his most faithful followers. The false scripture argument is found, to my knowledge, exclusively within Ptolemy's Letter to Flora, the Didascalia Apostolorum, and the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies. Ptolemy's Letter to Flora teaches that the law has been instituted by three sources – none of which is the High God. Instead, Moses, the Jewish elders, and the demiurge are responsible for the law contained in the scriptures. Christ, an emissary of the High God, is sent to validate those laws that reflect the nature of the High God. On the other hand, the Didascalia Apostolorum claims that all of the scriptures were instituted by God. However, only the Decalogue constitutes the eternal laws of God delivered to Moses. The other laws were established by God through Moses as a punishment upon the Jews as a result of the golden calf incident. These secondary laws have been abrogated since the arrival of Christ. In the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, the false passages of scripture have been instituted by Satan and his forces in order discern the faithful from the wicked, the latter of which follow the regulations found in the false passages. Like the Didascalia, the Homilies claims that Christ, the true prophet, has arrived to discern the true passages from the false ones.
Although there are overlapping tenets, each text presents a unique explanation of the origin and catalogue of the false sections of scripture. The variation in the false scripture argument reflects each author’s distinctive effort to construct communal boundaries in the face of social competition. The competition can stem from the attraction to the ways of Judaism or a defense against the beliefs of other Christian groups, such as the Marcionites. The false scripture argument functions as a rhetorical tool designed to demarcate the author and his community as the true followers of God since they alone possess knowledge of, as well as the means to distinguish, the false passages of scripture. The false scripture argument shapes the community’s religious life by barring members from dangerous practices while at the same time validating the traditions accepted by the author and his community.