Roger Viklund, whose online article "Reclaiming Clement's Letter to Theodoros - An Examination of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis" (2009) casts a serious shadow of doubt over the handwriting analysis Stephen C. Carlson carries out in "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark" (2005), has written a guest post concerning Per Beskow's attempts to see the manuscript containing Clement's letter to Theodore, and the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark.
Regular readers may recall that Quentin Quesnell managed to take a look at the elusive manuscript in 1983 - a fact that was generally unknown until Adele Yarbro Collins' 2007 commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Quesnell's story is confirmed by Peter M. Head, who mentioned that he had received a letter from Quesnell himself in 1987. Quesnell wrote that "[a]s to the availability of Smith's document: it was retrieved from Mar Saba about 1976 (I printed a note to that effect in CBQ at the time. ...) It is now in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Several scholars have reported being turned away when they asked to see it, but in the summer of '83 I was allowed to examine it. I was not allowed to have any of the basic scientific texts done on the ink."
(I am grateful to Peter M. Head for the extra information about the contents of Quesnell's 1987 letter.)
As Roger Viklund shows below, one of the scholars who was turned away happened to be Per Beskow - but not without a reason!
Var så god, Roger!
In 1984 Per Beskow was given permission to see the Mar Saba letter, but was on arrival denied access by an excuse that the letter was sprayed with insecticides and that no one had admission to it.
In 1979, the now retired Swedish Associate Professor in Religious history and Church history Per Beskow, published in Swedish ”Fynd och fusk i bibelns värld: Om vår tids Jesus-apokryfer” (Approximately: “Discoveries and Cheats in the Biblical World: The Jesus apocrypha of our time”). This book was republished in 2005 in a revised edition, then titled: ”Fynd och fusk: Falsarier och mystifikationer omkring Jesus” (Approximately: “Discoveries and Cheats: Forgeries and mystifications about Jesus”). The book has a chapter on the Secret Gospel of Mark, and when the book came in an English translation in 1981 as “Strange Tales about Jesus: A Survey of Unfamiliar Gospels”, it caused some commotion. Beskow himself tells us in the 2005 Swedish edition that when “Strange Tales about Jesus” was published, Smith was seized with fury and threatened to sue the publisher. Therefore the edition was withdrawn and the book republished in 1983 with a rewritten chapter on Secret Mark.
But Beskow also tells us that he decided to take a look at the MS in Jerusalem. He writes: “Thanks to a letter of recommendation from Bishop Kallistos Ware, I had an audience with the patriarch’s secretary, and the next day he announced that His Holiness had given his permission. But when I came to the librarian it came to an end.” (Beskow 2005; my translation from Swedish) He never though explicitly wrote when this would have occurred. So I wrote to Beskow (in Swedish as we both are Swedes). He told me that it was in November 1984 and he also sent me in English a short summary of a passage in a forthcoming article on modern Jesus apocrypha to be published this year in “The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament”. As I have his permission, I will post the relevant parts, and this is basically a translation of what he writes in his Swedish book from 2005. Beskow writes:
“From the very beginning there were doubts about the authenticity of the text. In Strange Tales I did not directly take sides in the debate, but I mentioned that there were reasons to be skeptical to its genuineness, and this had unexpected consequences. Professor Smith got upset about what I had written and threatened to claim one million dollars in damages if the book was not immediately withdrawn, and the publisher yielded to the threat. A new edition was published with some slight changes in the chapter in question (Beskow 1985), which Smith seems to have accepted. Its content was more or less the same as in the first edition, but in the new version I emphasized that I did not accuse Morton Smith of having forged the manuscript (Beskow 1985, 104).
“My curiosity had however been aroused, and I learnt that the manuscript had been moved from the Mar Saba monastery to the library of the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem. In autumn 1984, I went there in the hope of seeing the manuscript, and I also obtained permission from the Patriarch. But then it came to a sudden stop, for the librarian refused to let me into the library. The manuscript had been sprayed with insecticides, he said, and nobody was allowed to come near it. I was not quite convinced by his explanation, for a colleague of mine, looking for another manuscript in the same library six months earlier, had been refused with the same excuse. That is all I have learnt about it until now. I have heard that the pages with the text would have been removed from the volume, but I have not had it confirmed.”
As I said before, this happened in November 1984, a year after Quentin Quesnell actually saw the MS. What to me appears strange is that Beskow was denied access to the letter by an excuse that it was sprayed with insecticides and that no one had admission to it. And it becomes even stranger by the fact that the other scholar half a year earlier also was dismissed for the same reason. As I contacted Beskow, he actually called the other scholar on the phone, Professor Emeritus in History of religions, Anders Hultgård. And Hultgård confirmed that he had problems to get access to the archive in Jerusalem, but that he no longer can remember the details.
Perhaps someone can shed light on this; if it is a standard procedure under certain conditions to spray insecticides on books and MSS? Would not this cause damages to the MSS? And what a strange coincident that this would happen twice in half a year, being the excuse for not giving two Swedish scholars access to the library at two separate occasions!
I would also like to point to Per Beskow’s view on the proposed homosexual relationship between Jesus and the youth. This is what he writes in the summary he sent me from his forthcoming article:
“According to Smith there would be hints in the text that Jesus was a homosexual, but this reading is not evident for the reader of the text but arises from Smith’s interpretation of it. It would have been expressed more clearly if this were the purpose of a possible forgery.”
And further Beskow’s view on the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark:
“Personally I still have doubts about its authenticity, but nevertheless I prefer to regard this as an open question.”
At the time I am pressing the "Publish Post" button, it is little less than two hours to the beginning of the SBL session concerning the Secret Gospel of Mark, with J. Harold Ellens presiding.