This is a guestpost by Ryan D. Wettlaufer (check out his previous one here), who reports from the recent Secret Mark Symposium at York University on April 29.
On Friday April 29th I attended the Secret Mark conference at York University. I'm not a student of Secret Mark. Prior to this, my only two real experiences with it were reading Jacob Neusner's provocative summary in what was supposed to be a preface to an edition of Memory and Manuscript by Gerhardsson, and sharing a supervisor with Scott Brown. The former, I suppose, presupposed me against the authenticity of secret mark, the latter in favour, so in the end I guess you could say I was both uninformed and neutral. The perfect target audience in other words!
Tony Burke opened the conference by welcoming everyone and voicing his hope that this would allow for real discussion that would transcend that possible at the last SBL meeting. To that end, most of the papers had been emailed or posted in advance with time allotted at the conference for 15 minute summaries only, followed by generous discussion periods. I think this was a great way to do it. Confining the presentation to a 15 minute summary meant that most of the more tedious, technical data was kept in the full paper, while the presentation gave a concise version of the real meat of the argument.
Now for the papers. Note, I didn't know I'd be guest blogging this when I went to the conference, so I did not take notes, which means this is all offered as the best that I can remember it.
The first paper was by Charles Hendrick from Missouri State University. He argued in favour of the authenticity of both the Clement letter and the secret mark (herein sm) excerpts contained therein. The one point I remember, however, is that he argued strongly that despite popular portrayals, the sm excerpts did not describe Jesus having a homosexual encounter. Rather, the phrases "spend the night with" and "explain the mystery of the kingdom to" meant just that, and any sexual connotations we might read into them are purely the product of modern euphemism.
The response was from Bruce Chilton of Bard College. This was my first time hearing Chilton, and let me say, he is a phenomenal public speaker. If his topic was "the sleeping patterns of slugs" I think I would still find the lecture captivating. He was very good. In substance, he seemed to be offering his own paper more than responding to Hendrick. He spent most of this time (and a great deal of extra time) discussing the issue of provenance. He gave numerous examples of other documents, both ancient and early modern, that he has had a hand in authenticating and focused on the important role that provenance played in that authentication. The implication being, of course, that since we cannot verify the provenance of the sm material, we cannot authenticate it.
Then came morning break. I had woken up at 5AM in order to drive to the conference, and so I was happy when I saw a large urn of coffee at the back of the room. I remarked to a friend that "they better keep that coming all day!" Alas, before I could get any at first break, it was empty, never to be refilled all day long. I can't offer any compliments then to whoever is in charge of hospitality services at York.
To be continued...