Baker Academic

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Poll about Secret Mark

If you have an opinion, please take the above poll at the bottom of the page.  Please note the use of the word "probably" and keep in mind that you'll not be asked to give an account of yourself concerning this on judgement day.... well probably.  If you'd like to give an account of your answer, please do so by commenting on this post.

-anthony

26 comments:

  1. I think it is very unfortunate that so many people have become persuaded by the arguments for it being a modern hoax. This seems to ignore (1) the behavior of Smith, (2) the fact that his rendering of some of the Greek has been challenged as imposing his own distinctive views on the ancient text, which it would be odd for him to need to do if he forged it, and (3) the fact that handwriting experts have concluded that Smith was not up to the task of writing the Greek text seen in his photographs.

    The conference volume from the Secret Mark conference is now out, and so it will be interesting to see whether that has an impact on what people think. This seems to be yet another area where there is an enormous difference between popular opinion and the opinion of most of those whose research is actually on Secret Mark.

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    1. I must say that I find arguments related to number three to be unpersuasive. Moreover, it might be more accurate to say that "some" handwriting experts have concluded...

      -anthony

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  2. Must admit that I like a nice poll, Anthony! I remember doing one once on the Synoptic Problem and several people getting upset about how well the Farrer theory had done.

    On (1), James, that's also taken as an argument for the hoax theory. On (2), the most pressing issue to my mind is whether or not "spending the night with" here makes better sense in 1950s America or 1st-3rd century Christian texts. If Smith was responsible for the hoax, he's hardly going to draw attention to the 50s euphemism here. On (3), I don't think you are right. BAS commissioned two handwriting analyses, one of which concluded that Smith was responsible; the other argued that he was not responsible, but it is practically useless -- it showed no understanding of or familiarity with the case for the hoax as it is actually made.

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  3. Modern forgery. Carlson has 'made it plain' and his argument really is remarkable.

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  4. I read recently that David Flusser and some others went to Marsaba in the 1970's and saw the actual manuscript. Does anyone know if that is true?

    JB

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    1. That would be an interesting twist. It would also be really cool if Flusser did a quick battery of tests on the document and then lost them when his dog ate them.

      -anthony

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    2. It is common knowledge that people besides Morton Smith have seen the manuscript, isn't it?

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    3. I'd be really interested in this information.

      -anthony

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    4. Gedaliahu A.G. Stroumsa, “Comments on Charles Hedrick’s Article: A Testimony” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.2 (2003): 147-53. He explains in 1976 David Flusser, Schlomo Pines and Archimadrite Meliton went to Mar Saba and found the manuscript exactly where Smith left it, but were unable to get the ink tested because Meliton refused to have it handed over to the Israeli police(see also the intros in Brown, "Mark's Other Gospel" and Burke's "Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery" for overviews of the history since Smith's find). So unfortunately the Patriarchate bears some of the blame for the lack of closure on the issue in this incidence and for subsequently losing the ms.

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    5. Brown writes:

      The latest information about the manuscript is also the most surprising. Guy Stroumsa reported that he, the late Professors David Flusser and Shlomo Pines of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Archimandrite Meliton travelled to Mar Saba in the spring of 1976 in search of the manuscript. There, with the help of a monk, they located the volume by Voss, complete with the manuscript, in the tower library, exactly where Smith left it. It occurred to them that the book would be safer in Jerusalem, so they brought it back with them, and Meliton took it to the library. Stroumsa and the two professors inquired about having the ink tested, but when they discovered that the Israeli police had the only people equipped to do such testing, Meliton objected to leaving the book in the care of the police, so no testing was performed. Twenty-five years later, Stroumsa learned from his American coleagues that he was the only living Western scholar to have seen the manuscript, and was persuaded to publish his account. pp.25-26

      ...I just love this story more and more.

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    7. by the way, the typo is Mine, not Brown's.

      -anthony

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    8. There's a nice Durham angle here. Stroumsa was at Liz Clark's house and Bart Ehrman was chatting to him about Secret Mark, and this is how the story came out. Bart shared this story at the SBL in ?2002 or so and subsequently published the account in his Lost Christianities. If you haven't yet checked out the chapter in Lost Christianities, I strongly recommend it.

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  5. I've always found the more interesting (and soluble) question to be whether the framing passage is authentic Clement of Alexandria. We have much larger samples to compare. If the Clement passage could be shown to be a modern forgery (which could be accomplished if it included some detail known to modern Clement scholars but not to earlier ones), it would certainly poke a big hole in the authenticity of the Markan passage.

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  6. Thanks, Mark. I wasn't referring to the phrase "spent the night" but to other details on which Smith's interpretation was challenged, such as his understanding of "mystery." Tony Burke blogged about some of the further discussion of the handwriting analysis that was offered in connection with the Secret Mark conference. Since that volume is now out, perhaps we had better both get copies, read it, and then resume the discussion! :-)

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    1. Right, but the "spend the night" euphemism is something that requires some serious reflection. I have the new volume and am enjoying working through it.

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    2. Hi Mark,
      I just stumbled across your comment about what you refer to as the "spend the night euphemism" in SGM. I was just wondering if you would consider Luke 24:29 a "euphemism"? Steve Carlson takes the comment in SGM to be the modern equivalent of "to have sex with." Is that what you meant by euphemism? The expression in Luke is virtually the same. It is an invitation to Jesus from Cleophas and another disciple "to spend the night with them."

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  7. Although I have the deepest respect for those who disagree and realize all it would take is for it to be rediscovered to prove me wrong, I lean towards authenticity for similar reasons as James. If forged Smith was remarkable in imitating an 18th century hand in flawless Greek, ancient epistolary conventions and different styles of Clement/Mark (cf. Pantuck in Burke's volume on whether Smith mastered all the technical skills needed at the time). Scott Brown makes a compelling case in his Toronto PhD and various publications and I would like to see critics engage his arguments. Perhaps if Smith did not sensationalize it, would it be a big deal or is it just a possible piece in the puzzle on a) the tradition of Mark in Alexandria (Eusebius H.E. 2.24 et al), b) the interest in Mk 10 (cf. Clement's salvation of the rich man), c) the Carpocratians use of Mark to justify their practices (cf. Irenaeus AH 1.25.5)?

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    1. One of the more surprising elements to me in the argument against the hoax hypothesis has been its focus on Smith's alleged lack of ability. If I were Smith, I'd be very annoyed by challenges to my competence. The issue is particularly marked in Koester's BAR article, which basically defends the authenticity of the Letter to Theodore by means of impugning Smith's intelligence.

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    2. Mike K.,

      I had previously glanced a time or two at Brown's dissertation. On your suggestion, I spent the better part of two days reading it carefully (truth be told, I read about 80% of it carefully). I was specifically interested in his arguments against Secret Mark being a modern forgery.

      His most compelling argument is that the letter to Theodore has been deemed by many handwriting experts and Clement scholars to look authentic. He drastically underplays the handwriting experts who said otherwise. He also underplays the fact that we have no other letters from Clement from which to compare.

      His statement that "after forty-five years, the majority of experts still consider [secret mark] to be authentic" (p.58) is a bit misleading.

      His conclusion that there are only loose and vague parallels between Smith's drama and The Mystery of Mar Saba (novel) is disappointing. He writes: "except for the premise of a scholar discovering a previously unknown ancient Christian manuscript at Mar Saba, there are few parallels between Smith’s story and Hunter’s that do not depend upon a romantic desire to read Smith’s popular book as if it were a mystery steeped in intrigue" (p. 58). I would point readers to Francis Watson's essay.

      http://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/theology.religion/SecretGospelofMark.pdf

      Finally, this statement is what it is:

      "It is also possible to age paper and ink using chemicals that oxidize the ink and paper. In the early 1980s, Mark William Hofmann, the forger of the Oath of a Freeman and the Salamander Letter, used hydrogen peroxide to age documents. It would take a sophisticated method like that to produce a document like the Letter to Theodore where the ink is blacker in the higher concentrations..."

      Is Brown saying that the method of carefully applying hydrogen peroxide to paper was far too sophisticated for a Harvard man with two PhDs?

      I'm not saying that Brown doesn't make a few good strokes toward tempering outright dismissal, but overall, the book does little to engage the best arguments against forgery.

      Finally, he writes: "The strongest evidence that Mark wrote [Secret Mark] is the fact that these verses offer a very satisfying solution to the age-old riddle of why a young man dressed only in a linen sheet follows with Jesus as Jesus is being led away under arrest” (p.230).

      There can be no doubt that the author of this document meant to render it coherently within the narrative of Mark. Whether this author was ancient or modern is another question entirely.

      Feel free to respond to this over at NTMark.wordpress and I'll link to it in another post.

      -anthony

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    3. correction: Brown's book "does little to engage the best arguments FOR forgery."

      apologies.

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    4. just in case: Titus Flavius Clemens (c.150 – c. 215) should not be confused with Saint Clement of Rome.

      -anthony

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    5. Thanks Anthony. I put the blog on hold to stop procrastinating on my PhD thesis (I would stay out of the controversy if I didn't work on Mark in the patristic period). :) I like Brown's case that Smith misinterpreted the Letter in reading it as a libertine baptism ritual; some think Smith wanted to distract from the authenticity issue by creating idiosyncratic theories on the text but why risk credibility unless he really believed his theories (?). Perhaps you may find Brown tries to take on the best arguments in his later articles as the book came out at the same time as Carlson and before Jeffrey & Watson? I agree with Mark Goodacre on not wanting to detract from Smith, but Smith does make a similar defense: “Unfortunately, nobody else has had so high an opinion of my classical scholarship” ('The Score at the End of the First Decade' HTR 75 p. 450). Anyways, thanks for the discussion and look forward to the rest of your series; I don't want to be too associated with this text in case it turns out I am completely wrong lol

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    6. You ask "why risk credibility"? This really is the basic question isn't it?

      My guess: because the show must go on!

      -anthony

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