Evangelical Textual Criticism

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Report on Secret Gospel of Mark Symposium Pt 2

Report on Secret Gospel of Mark Symposium part 2 by Ryan Wettlaufer (part 1 here)

Craig Evans went after break. His argument was that there were just too many co-incidences between ideas and comments that Morton Smith made before the supposed discovery of sm, and what he discovered in sm. Evans handed out a neat, 2 page chart of these co-incidences. For example, in his 1951 Tannaitic Parallels, Evans argues that Smith interprets the phrase "mystery of the kingdom of God" in Mark 4:11 as a reference to secret sexual activities. This, Evans argues, is a thoroughly unique interpretation held by no one else but Smith. It is remarkable, then, that in 1958 Smith would find the same phrase with the same unique interpretation in sm. Two pages of such co-incidences make, for Evans, "a case of too many coincidences and too many confirmations" for the discovery of sm to be genuine.

The response came from Allan Pantuck from University of California, who said that Evans had given a very fine paper, with the exception that he disagreed with every single point! He focused on refuting only a couple, however, arguing that they are either not really parallels, or not really co-incidences. For example, Evans had drawn a parallel between Smith and a fiction novel "The Mystery of Mar Saba" published in 1940, wherein the main character visits Mar Saba acknowledging that all the important mss were either burned, lost or removed, but hoping that something important might remain. Smith, Evans points out, also describes how he went to Mar Saba knowing that all the important mss were gone, but hoping something important might remain. Pantuck, however, countered that the fiction novel was based on the life of the author, who actually did consider himself a mss hunter and actually did visit Mar Saba with a faint hope of finding a valuable remnant. Since the author and Smith were both ms hunters who both visited Mar Saba, it's not really an incredible co-incidence, Pantuck argued, that they both had similar hopes and ideas.

After mid morning break came a presentation by Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review. He was supposed to present on the handwriting analysis of Agamemnon Tselikas, and he did distribute a hand-out to that end. He spent most of his time, however, making a very impassioned defence of Morton Smith's character, arguing that the only people accusing him of fraud are people who never knew him. Shanks emphasized that when we talk of fraud or forgery, we are accusing a "distinguished, tenured professor" of rank deception, and not only was this barbaric, but it was illogical to think that Smith would have engaged in such self-destructive behaviour, since his whole career would have been on the line had he been caught. In the ensuing discussion, several people pointed out that professors - even distinguished, tenured ones - commit all kinds of wrong-doing, and that humans in general have a bad habit of engaging in illogical, destructive behaviour. Shanks presented his case with great emotion, but I tend to agree with the crowd that an ad hominem argument really isn't valid, even if it's a pro hominem!

After this was lunch, followed by a paper by Marvin Meyer of Chapman University. Unfortunately I missed this one, as I was still wandering aimlessly around the campus of York University, desperately lost. The campus trails, you see, run in a random, goat-trail manner, and though there are stacks of arrow-signs at every intersection, they identify only the name of the nearest building in that direction, which means that while they may be helpful for finding out what building you are standing right in front of, they are pretty useless when the building you are looking for is far away from you, as it is for me most of the times when I am lost. There were a number of "you are here" maps, but, sadly, they were all either faded beyond recognition, or missing the all important "you are here" arrow.

To be continued...


  1. I love the enacted parable you included here - this is the problem with the SGM - why can't the signposts be clearer? (and why do some people think they are clear, but pointing in different directions?).

  2. I think the signposts were a conspiracy to make sure that people couldn't find their way to the secret sessions. Surely it can't be a coincidence that so many signs were pointing the wrong way.

  3. yes, but what was the symbolism of the coffee that runneth out?!

  4. Thanks for your comments so far Ryan. I have finally started a summary of the event on my own blog (Apocryphicity), and I see we share many of the same observations.

  5. Tony, in Ryan's concluding post I will include links to your blog.

  6. pro homine, surely; and York's campus is not that confusing ... unless of course you go from one building to another without going outside.