Friday, April 16, 2010

Secret Gospel of Mark: Recent news

The Secret Gospel of Mark is attracting more attention, from rather different perspectives (cf. previously here and here).

Francis Watson has attempted to move from 'suspicion of forgery' to 'beyond reasonable doubt' in a paper published recently in JTS. This is an interesting read, and raises some questions, although occasionally it gets a bit ridiculous. To my mind it doesn't close the discussion.

Francis Watson, 'Beyond Suspicion: on the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark' JTS 61 (2010), 128-170.

Roger Viklund has posed some questions about Stephen Carlson's use of relatively poor photographs in his hand-writing analysis: Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis.

Scott G. Brown and Allan J. Pantuck have posed some questions about Stephen Carlson's use of an external hand-writing expert in 'Stephen Carlson’s Questionable Questioned Document Examination' here at Timo S. Paananen's web-site which is a good resource on SGM matters).

Up-date: The BAR have recently published an opinion on the Letter to Theodore by a "qualified" document expert (I use the quotation marks deliberately - check out the qualifications!) which opines that Smith probably did not write the 18th Cent. Greek text. Here. (It is not dated; hopefully it was not the first of April.)
Up-date 1a: Peter Jeffery comments on the hand-writing analyses here with discussion here.
Up-date 1b: Some questions are raised about the qualifications of the "expert" in the comments here.
Up-date 2: Surprise, surprise ... the other BAR expert (who seems actually to be an expert), apparently disagrees, but his report is not finished so you'll have to buy the next issue. See here.



What do I think? I wish I knew. Here is something I wrote recently:
M. Smith discovered a letter from Clement of Alexandria to (an otherwise unknown) Theodore written in an eighteenth-century hand in the back of a published book (see M. Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973) also ‘Clement of Alexandria and Secret Mark: The Score at the End of the First Decade’, HTR 75 (1982), 449-461). Among other things this letter mentions three expanded forms of Mark’s Gospel: the original Gospel, a secret gospel also written by Mark (on the basis of notes), and a further expansion used by Carpocratians (on whom cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I.25). If this was an authentic letter of Clement it would provide evidence for expanded versions of Mark known in Alexandria, and in the third case at least, the expansions would reflect the views of a libertarian sect. However, I consider this letter to be of doubtful authenticity – specifically on the grounds of its extremely late attestation, the uncertain provenance of the manuscript, certain stylistic questions about the relationship of the letter to Clement’s normal style (A. H. Criddle, ‘On the Mar Saba Letter Attributed to Clement of Alexandria’ JECS 3.2 (1995), 215-220), and the impression that the letter seeks to disclose the contents of the secret gospel (F. Watson), and the air of mystery which the original editor encouraged by his dedication of his book ‘to the one who knows’. I have not, however, found recent attempts to prove that M. Smith was himself the author of the Clementine letter (S. Carlson, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Texas: Baylor University Press, 2005); P. Jeffrey, The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery (Yale: Yale University Press, 2007); F. Watson, ‘Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of MarkJTS (forthcoming)) completely persuasive (cf. esp. S.G. Brown, Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery (ESCJ 15; Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005); ‘Factualizing the Folklore: Stephen Carlson's Case Against Morton Smith’ HTR 99 (2006), 291-327; ‘The Question of Motive in the Case Against Morton Smith’ JBL 125 (2006), 351-383; ‘Reply to Stephen Carlson’ ExpT 117:4 (2006), 144-149; ‘The Letter to Theodore: Stephen Carlson’s Case against Clement’s Authorship’ JECS 16 (2008), 535-572 and recently R. Viklund, ‘Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis’ http://www.jesusgranskad.se/theodore2.htm (accessed March 2010)).





18 comments:

  1. Thanks for the update, Peter. I am curious about what you found "ridiculous" in Watson's article.

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  2. Did I say 'ridiculous'? There is a section about 'A Forger's Signature': this includes the two odd bits: i) the move from forgery to forge to smithy as a hidden confession; and ii) the argument that MWRANQHNAI contains the hidden: MWR-QHN (Morton) - 'a concealed reference to those who are fooled (Mortonized, we might say) by this forged (Smithed) letter.'

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  3. It is like an argument out of Doctor Who.

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  4. I look forward to reading the article.

    And what, precisely, is wrong with "an argument out of Doctor Who"?!

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  5. Nothing of course. Entertaining and fun. Not a plausible argument though (normally a bit more like Galaxy Quest).

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  6. This has got to be one of the longest sentences in the history of ETC. I had to really search to find the the predicate:

    "I have not, however, found recent attempts to prove that M. Smith was himself the author of the Clementine letter (S. Carlson, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Texas: Baylor University Press, 2005); P. Jeffrey, The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery (Yale: Yale University Press, 2007); F. Watson, ‘Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark’ JTS (forthcoming)) completely persuasive (cf. esp. S.G. Brown, Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery (ESCJ 15; Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005); ‘Factualizing the Folklore: Stephen Carlson's Case Against Morton Smith’ HTR 99 (2006), 291-327; ‘The Question of Motive in the Case Against Morton Smith’ JBL 125 (2006), 351-383; ‘Reply to Stephen Carlson’ ExpT 117:4 (2006), 144-149; ‘The Letter to Theodore: Stephen Carlson’s Case against Clement’s Authorship’ JECS 16 (2008), 535-572 and recently R. Viklund, ‘Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis’ http://www.jesusgranskad.se/theodore2.htm (accessed March 2010))."

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  7. Yeah, sorry WM. Didn't want to use footnotes.

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  8. I have added a link to a BAR report, although I am not completely sure it is itself not a spoof. Oh the irony.
    Graphology indeed. Give me a break. Where is the sonic screwdriver when you need it?

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  9. Another silly argument in the Watson argument is the parallels he tries to draw between the James Hunter novel and the Mar Saba document. Of course there are going to be similarities insofar as both purport to be ancient Christian documents making reference to gospel material. By this logic the Nag Hammadi material and the Testimony of Truth for example should be 'under suspicion' too.

    I am also always amazed that whenever the Church Fathers are cited to raise questions about the authenticity of the document why aren't the author's obligate to balance their views with examples of things said in the Church Fathers which support the authenticity of the text such as this passage from To Theodore:

    "during Peter's stay in Rome he [Mark] wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected."

    I noted along time ago that I saw parallels in the opening words of Against the Heresies Book III Irenaeus says:

    "For it is unlawful to assert that they preached before they possessed "perfect knowledge," as some do even venture to say, boasting themselves as improvers of the apostles. For, after our Lord rose from the dead, [the apostles] were invested with power from on high when the Holy Spirit came down [upon them], were filled from all [His gifts], and had perfect knowledge" [AH iii.1.1]

    And then he eventually goes on to clarify that by 'apostles' he means the collective body headed by Peter:

    Can it really be, that Peter was not at that time as yet in possession of the perfect knowledge which these men discovered afterwards? According to them, therefore, Peter was imperfect, and the rest of the apostles were imperfect; and so it would be fitting that they, coming to life again, should become disciples of these men, in order that they too might be made perfect. [ibid iii.12.7]

    I have literally found agreement with many of the things said in To Theodore and things that Irenaeus says about the doctrine of known heretical groups in the late second century. Morton Smith did not see these parallels. They are literally buried in the 'boring' writings of Irenaeus.

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  10. Another example of evidence which supports the authenticity of the Mar Saba document from the writings of the Church Fathers is Irenaeus' repeated reference to the idea that 'Jesus' is said to have descendisse into 'Christ' (both separate figures in the heretical narrative of the Gospel of Mark cf. AH iii.11.7). Lewis and Short direct our attention to a second meaning of the word descendo which typically means "to sink down, penetrate into anything" including "the obscene sense." So Catallus used this sense of the word in one of his poems:

    Multus homo es, Naso, neque tecum multus homo descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus

    There are other examples of descendo being used in this way (Juv. 11, 163) and one wonders if Irenaeus is aware of a tradition like that reported among the Carpocratians that the Gospel in the name of Peter's disciple Mark had "naked man with/on naked man."

    Again I stand alone in my reading of the whole reference. I don't think anyone actually had a gospel with homosexuality present. Rather the Carpocratians were accusing the Alexandrians (i.e. Clement's church) of having a doctrine that Jesus and the neaniskos became one person (cf. Eph 2:15,16).

    I have argued in peer reviewed papers that the idea is the basis to the Alexandrian Episcopal line and is present in the Passio Petri Sancti and other texts which describe St. Mark receiving the Christ-soul from Jesus and going on to start the line of Patriarchs in Egypt who manifest the authority of Christ in the Church.

    Watson's article only considers one possibility - that Morton Smith forged the text and then uses any silly argument he can find to support that point of view. He's a very smart man. It's a long article. You'd think he'd find better ways to use his impressive intellect than this nonsense.

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  11. "Secret Mark" is a forgery, and I can prove it.

    Yours in Christ,

    James Snapp, Jr.

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  12. It is impossible to 'prove' authenticity or forgery. This term gets thrown around like 'money back guarantee.' At best we can create powerful arguments for our proposition. James is a smart man I am sure he will come up with something worth reading.

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  13. ames:

    Is your proof that:

    Is the Mar Saba letter a forgery (that is it wasn't written in the 18th Century)?

    or

    That the Clement letter itself was a forgery (not originally written by Clement, but by someone else)?

    or

    That the text of Mark is a forgery, that is Clement had such text, but was mistaken to attribute it to Mark?

    I agree on with Peter. Even a non-controversial Clement text, written in the back of a published book by an 18th Century hand would have a hard time gaining acceptance. One doesn't have to accept a "Morton Smith forged it" theory to be highly skeptical of the document itself.

    Now if we had the tardis (for get the sonic screwdriver) we could go back and ask Clement himself (after brushing up on our 2nd/3rd Century Greek). Of course if we had a tardis we would have to send Theodore.

    bob

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  14. I think we can make a better case for the authenticity of To Theodore than the Hypotyposeis which was OBVIOUSLY not written by Clement and was so identified by Photius and his school. The only difference is that To Theodore challenges many of our inherited presuppositions.

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  15. Peter, as I strive to be objective and fair I should mention that I paid $5 to get the latest issue of BAR because I was wondering what happened to Tselikas paper. Here is what was written there:

    Agamemnon Tselikas, on the other hand, has concluded that Morton Smith forged the letter containing Secret Mark. I report this conclusion based on several very pleasant telephone conversations with Dr. Tselikas. However, Dr. Tselikas has failed to submit a written report, missing several agreed deadlines, the last of which was shortly before we went to press. When and if we receive a written report, we will let our readers know.
    Based on our conversations, this is the basis for Dr. Tselikas’s conclusion: He has examined other manuscripts from Mar Saba and concluded that the Secret Mark letter was not written by a monk there. He has located another document at another monastery that he believes was written by the monk whose handwriting Smith was attempting to imitate. He has also learned that Smith was at this other monastery examining manuscripts. This, as best as I can reconstruct it from our telephone conversations, is Dr. Tselikas’s reasoning. If I have erred, I hope Dr. Tselikas will correct me.

    Peter, believe it or not I reported this information over a month ago at my blog because of something a friend of a friend told me. I heard a garbled report which confused me as much as it did Shanks.

    I can only say that if Tselikas feels the document is a fake this will be important for the side who have always argued that the text is a hoax. I will have to see what evidence he has uncovered but he is a much, more reliable expert - a 'truly expert opinion' - which will be difficult to overturn.

    I am trying to get more information and will let you know what my sources tell me as soon as I hear something.

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  16. I have been sitting on an interview I arranged between Professor Charlie Hedrick and Agamemnon Tselikas a respected Greek paleographer on the question of the authenticity of the Mar Saba document. It is now published at my blog http://stephanhuller.blogspot.com/

    Hope you and your readers might want to check it out. Dr. Tselikas will be publishing an article on the same subject for BAR next year referencing the same material.

    Sincerely

    Stephan Huller

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