Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Master's Thesis: A Conspiracy of the Secret Evangelist: Recent Debate Concerning Clement of Alexandria's Letter to Theodore

E-thesis has published my Master's Thesis in pdf-format. The title of the thesis could be translated as "A Conspiracy of the Secret Evangelist: Recent Debate Concerning Clement of Alexandria's Letter to Theodore". As part of my ongoing project to learn to write English in an academic manner I will post a translation of my thesis chapter by (sub)chapter (or at least the relevant parts) during the summer of 2009.


Title, Table of Contents (with links to individual chapters) and English Summary.

[Note on the use of brackets: to keep the translation project manageable, I'm going to utilize [brackets] whenever possible. Text written inside brackets indicates that the translation has not been done word by word. Instead, in brackets I'm offering a summary of the chapter in question. This is an ongoing project, and the brackets will be opened into a proper translation at a later date. In this first going through only those chapters that I have deemed 'top priority' will be translated without brackets.]

A Conspiracy of the Secret Evangelist: Recent Debate Concerning Clement of Alexandria's Letter to Theodore

1 Introduction
(A censured portion with some biographical information)
1.1 Clement's letter to Theodore: Discovery story
1.2 A history of scholarship of the letter
1.3 Some methodological considerations

2 Clement's letter to Theodore: Physical dimension
2.1 A history of the MS
2.2 Paper and ink
2.3 Is the book of Isaac Voss an anomaly in the monastery?
2.4 Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis
2.5 An analysis of Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis
2.6 Conclusion of the chapter

3 Clement's letter to Theodore: Subject matter
3.1 The vocabulary of Clement's letter
3.2 An unnecessary sphragis of Clement and other oddities
3.3 Weird things in the Secret Gospel of Mark
3.4 The expertise and suspicious behaviour of Morton Smith
3.5 The irony of Bart D. Ehrman - a novel by James H. Hunter

4 Clement's letter to Theodore: A conspiracy theory
4.1 Prelude to the clues the hoaxer hid
4.2 The triune confession of the hoaxer
4.3 How a conspiracy theory is built
4.4 How Stephen Carlson builds a conspiracy theory
4.5 A conventional critique of Stephen Carlson's conspiracy theory arguments

5 Conclusions and challenges for the future
5.1 Stephen C. Carlson and the signs of the times
5.2 Conclusions and the possibilities for further inquiry

Appendix 1
The letter gamma of Morton Smith in 1958 and the letter gamma in Clement's letter: First six appearances

Appendix 2
Reductio ad absurdum: An alternative hiding place of the name 'Morton' in Clement's letter

Sources and resources
Internet sources

English Summary:

This thesis is an assessment of the hoax hypothesis, mainly propagated in Stephen C. Carlson's 2005 monograph "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark", which suggests that professor Morton Smith (1915-1991) forged Clement of Alexandria's letter to Theodore. This letter Smith claimed to have discovered as an 18th century copy in the monastery of Mar Saba in 1958.

The Introduction narrates the discovery story of Morton Smith and traces the manuscript's whereabouts up to its apparent disappearance in 1990 following with a brief history of scholarship of the MS and some methodological considerations.

Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the arguments for the hoax (mainly by Stephen C. Carlson) and against it (mainly Scott G. Brown). Chapter 2 looks at the MS in its physical aspects, and chapter 3 assesses its subject matter. I conclude that some of the details fit reasonably well with the hoax hypothesis, but on the whole the arguments against it are more persuasive. Especially Carlson's use of QDE-analysis (Questioned Document Examination) has many problems. Comparing the handwriting of Clement's letter to Morton Smith's handwriting I conclude that there are some "repeated differences" between them suggesting that Smith is not the writer of the disputed letter. Clement's letter to Theodore derives most likely from antiquity though the exact details of its character are not discussed in length in this thesis.

In Chapter 4 I take a special look at Stephen C. Carlson's arguments which propose that Morton Smith hid clues of his identity to the MS and the materials surrounding it. Comparing these alleged clues to known pseudoscientific works I conclude that Carlson utilizes here methods normally reserved for building a conspiracy theory; thus Carlson's hoax hypothesis has serious methodological flaws in respect to these hidden clues. I construct a model of these questionable methods titled "a boisterous pseudohistorical method" that contains three parts: 1) beginning with a question that from the beginning implicitly contains the answer, 2) considering everything will do as evidence for the conspiracy theory, and 3) abandoning probability and thinking literally that everything is connected. I propose that Stephen C. Carlson utilizes these pseudoscientific methods in his unearthing of Morton Smith's "clues".

Chapter 5 looks briefly at the literary genre I title "textual puzzle -thriller". Because even biblical scholarship follows the signs of the times, I propose Carlson's hoax hypothesis has its literary equivalents in fiction in titles like Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" and in academic works in titles like John Dart's "Decoding Mark". All of these are interested in solving textual puzzles, even though the methodological choices are not acceptable for scholarship. Thus the hoax hypothesis as a whole is alternatively either unpersuasive or plain bad science.

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