[In this small chapter I ask, what can we discern about the paper and the ink from the published photographs of the MS, from those published in Morton Smith's 1973 work "Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark", and from those published in Charles W. Hedrick's and Nikolaos Olympiou's 2000 article "Secret Mark: New Photographs, New Witnesses".]
Observations regarding the quality of the paper and the ink are far from certain, for the examination of the physical MS would be fundamental for reliable conclusions to be drawn. One of the key defects here is our lack of knowledge about the conditions surrounding the process of photographing: What kinds of cameras were used? What kind of lighting conditions were the photos taken in? What about the film in the cameras? What about the small technical details like the shutter speed etc.? Since we know absolutely nothing about these, the possible conclusions are suggestive at best.
Scott Brown observes that the paper has turned to brown on the edges. Normally, this suggests an exposure to the sunlight for a lengthy time while the book rests e.g. in the book shelf.1 Additionally, Stephen Carlson sees the paper to be much more absorbing on the edges, where the ink seems to have spread out more than has happened in the center of the page. According to Carlson, this points to the effects of humidity.2 From the photographs, these two observations are about the only ones that can be made of the quality of the paper. As both Brown and Carlson point out, the exposure to the sunlight and the high levels of humidity are not conditions typically found in the tower library of the desert monastery of Mar Saba.3 The most probable conclusion would be that these forces of nature have effected themselves to the book somewhere else - however, this is entirely plausible in all the scenarios of authenticity. If we accept the validity of these observations drawn from the photographs, the effects from the sunlight and the humidity must have happened between the printing of the book and its arrival to the monastery. If the Theodore-letter is copied onto the book in Mar Saba - Smith and ten other experts estimated the text to have been written in the 18th-century4 - there is a window of 50-150 years for the sunlight and the humidity to do their work on the paper. If the text is not copied onto the book in Mar Saba (or it is a forgery), the window is larger still.
The ink used in the monastery of Mar Saba during the 18th-century was iron-gall ink, that - because of its basicity - corrodes, in time, through the page it was written on.5 Brown holds the ink of the letter to have been iron-gall ink: in the colour photographs taken by Father Kallistos the ink seems to have turned to brown, a phenomenon, that occurs 25-100 years after the text has been written.6 Carlson disagrees: the colour photographs were taken in 1977, at least 18 years after the writing of the text - if Morton Smith forged the letter, he would have written it onto Voss' book at the latest in 1958 - and the colour of the ink does not therefore prove anything. In addition, Carlson estimates the paper to be lighter in colour next to the ink, a fact that does not support the assumption of the use of the iron-gall ink in the writing of the letter.7 Also, Carlson does not find evidence about the corrosion of the ink going through to the other side of the paper.8
Unfortunately, the observations made by Brown and Carlson are of no use for establishing the quality of the ink - is it iron-gall ink commonly used in the monastery during the 18th-century or not - for, quite surprisingly, the documents written with iron-gall ink can have all the symptoms of the iron-gall ink corrosion - or none, at all. The irregularity in this respect seems to be caused by the numerous variables within the quality and quantity of the ink and in the characteristics of the paper.9 One thing, however, looks possible, even plausible. Carlson notes that the ink seems to spread out on the page of Voss' book more than in the other MSS from the monastery of the same time. The reason for this is probably the gradual disappearance of the starch, used in the paper-making process - in other words, the paper seems to have already been old when the ink was applied onto it.10 But similar to the case of the sunlight and the humidity presented above, this fact is plausible in all the scenarios of authenticity: if the Theodore-letter was copied (or composed) onto the paper during the 18th-century, the age of the paper would have been about hundred years. As for the Morton Smith as a hoaxer -scenario, there the age of the paper would have been even more (about 300 years).11
1Brown 2005, 26.
2Carlson 2005, 34.
3Brown 2005, 26; Carlson 2005, 34.
4Smith 1960a, 251; Smith 1973, 1; Smith 1985, 22-25.
5Carlson 2005, 34; about the characteristics of the iron-gall ink, cf. Banik 1997.
6Brown 2005, 27.
7Carlson 2005, 35.
8Carlson 2005, 34.
9Kolar 2006, 167-173; Carlson, too, admits the impossibility to draw any firm conclusions about the ink on the basis of the photographs; Carlson 2005, 35.
10Carlson 2005, 33.
11Carlson, too, admits that this question will not be answered unless the physical MS is to be found and scientifically tested; Carlson 2005, 33.