Pseudonymously Yours, 2 Clement

For a book that is as little read as 2 Clement is within the body of the Apostolic Fathers as a whole, it is a book which is controversial far beyond its content.  We will discuss its content shortly, but before we do, it is worthwhile to ponder how it is that 2 Clement got its name in the first place.  It must be admitted that 1 Clement and 2 Clement are not written by the same person.  1 Clement was likely written by Clement of Rome, a late 1st century AD leader in the congregation at Rome whose gentle and scripturally-based urging of the Corinthian brethren to restore their previous leaders ended up having fateful consequences far beyond his intents [1].  But who wrote 2 Clement?  We do not know.  Again, we will discuss in greater detail shortly why we do not know more about 2 Clement, as it relates to questions of genre, but for not we can note that we do know from the extant writings of both Clement of Rome and Clement of Alexandria that the author of 2 Clement was neither of these more famous ancient Clements, although it is possible that he was named Clement and can perhaps be labeled as Clement of Corinth.

For it is likely, for a variety of reasons, that 2 Clement was a locally-written effort in Corinth itself rather than being sent as a letter from somewhere else.  Indeed, it may be reasonably speculated (although it must be admitted that it is a speculation) that the book had a generic title like “To The Corinthians” and that it had been placed after 1 Clement in the congregational library at Corinth and was copied along with 1 Clement by a future scribe who accidentally made it seem as if 2 Clement was a work that was part of a series with 1 Clement rather than one that happened accidentally to have been kept alongside it.  Again, it must be admitted that this is a speculation, but it seems a sensible speculation to make because there is nothing in 2 Clement to suggest any sort of deliberately false behavior on the part of the author at least.  The author makes no pretense about being a leader in Rome, and shows himself to be an earnest writer/speaker without any sort of pretensions about him.  And it is 2 Clement’s unpretentious nature as a text that is the most positive grounds for it having been, if a pseudonymous work, then a work that is pseudonymous because of what others have done with it, not because of any malicious intent of the author himself.

Again, we know very little about the author of 2 Clement that would allow us to better understand the work as a whole.  From his use of the Gospel to the Egyptians it can be said that he did not follow the strict canon of the New Testament.  From this reference to a local athletic competition, it can be assumed that he was a local in Corinth rather than someone writing from outside (although Paul also referenced this same competition himself when writing to the Corinthians, a bit of local knowledge that he knew from spending at least a year and a half there himself).  Likewise, from the fact that the author of 2 Clement makes a great many references to the Gospels (including, as we have noted, a noncanonical one), we may gather that the author was a Gentile or even perhaps a Hellenistic writer rather than someone who felt it necessary to defend the faith with references to the Hebrew scriptures that he may not have known or thought of.  All this we know from the text itself, and we know nothing about 2 Clement apart from the text, which is unsurprising.

But there are at least a few things that come through loud and clear from 2 Clement insofar as they relate to its pseudonymity.  For one, the work itself was thought highly enough by its original audience (or author) to have been written and preserved in the first place.  We generally lack a large amount of materials from the Second Century, and it is quite possible that the book was written about 130-150 AD or so.  This is not an age where we have a large amount of writings of any kind that are being preserved.  Many of the writings we do have survived by mere chance rather than for being particularly popular, and 2 Clement is certainly one of those.  The work was not a controversial work, nor did it enter on any of the arguments over doctrine or government or culture that many writings do.  It was not polemical or hostile towards anyone.  The message is earnest and straightforward, and this straightforwardness is the highest thing about the work in its own self-defense, for had it been an accomplished work by a brilliantly rhetorical mind, it is possible that the work would receive a great deal more suspicion than it does, because those who are clever are harder to trust because they can do a great deal more harm with words than those whose words are simple and inelegant.

And it is entirely possible that 2 Clement is not a pseudonymous work at all.  It is certainly not the sequel to 1 Clement, but that mistake was due to a later scribe who copied the works together as part of one volume.  Such a mistake by a scribe is easy to make.  We would have to reconstruct the situation in Corinth where this work was originally written and spoken in order to determine how this mistake happened.  Next, we will turn to the nature of the problem that led to this work losing much of its information, but it is entirely possible that the church library of Corinth, where this book almost certainly was until it was copied by later writers of the Greek tradition, was not the most careful when it came to labeling works, which has led to a great deal of hostility falling on what is one of the most inoffensive works of the ancient world that one is ever likely to encounter.  It does not seem as if it is just that such a work deserves such a cruel fate as to be famous largely for being accused of forgery rather than for what it says.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Pseudonymously Yours, 2 Clement

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers Series | Edge Induced Cohesion

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