Monday, August 31, 2009

A new article on the statistics of Clement's letter to Theodore

Just as I was about to translate Chapter 3.1, concerning Andrew H. Criddle's study from 1995 about the word frequencies in Clement's letter to Theodore, this came up:

A Statistical Problem Concerning the Mar Saba Letter by Andrew R. Solow and Woollcott K. Smith. The American Statistician. August 1, 2009, 63(3): 254-257.

It seems that the physical journal travels in a somewhat relaxed pace to the far north, and has not yet arrived at Helsinki University. The electronic version would be an option, except that the links through University's proxy are pointing nowhere at the moment, so I can't get my hands on the article right now.

The abstract is as follows:

"The Mar Saba letter is a controversial document purportedly written by the second century theologian Clement of Alexandria and containing excerpts from the so-called “Secret Gospel” of Mark. There is evidence that the Mar Saba letter is a forgery. This evidence includes a statistical analysis comparing the vocabulary of the Mar Saba letter with that of the acknowledged works of Clement. This statistical analysis, which was based on Herbert A. Simon’s model of text generation, was casually reported. Here a statistical framework for this analysis is presented. As a by-product, a more powerful test of authenticity is described."

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Marko Nenonen: "Universities are controlled by secret networks"

No, it is not a simple conspiracy theory Marko Nenonen (blog - in Finnish only), lecturer of the University of Tampere, is revealing. I doubt anyone would disagree with him, as the question he raises in Helsingin Sanomat today, concerns the way grants, fellowships, and awards are distributed to the throngs of scholars seeking to secure funding for their research.

"At worst," says Nenonen, "a single individual [professor] chooses the scholars who will be working in her faculty, and then, as an anonymous consultant of the committee responsible for distributing the grants and fellowships, she also picks the grantees from among her favourites." The end result of this oligarchy in the top level of the university administration is the narrowness of the research - conformity to the established paradigms in a given field becomes a requirement, and innovative scholars are downplayed and their funding denied. Controversies over authority result in lack of creativity, as the jealous professors try to ascertain that none of their subordinates will outshine themselves in research.

For the solution of this tricky situation Nenonen suggests that at least one-third of the scholars should be independent of the professors, and that funding should be granted even for those scholarly projects that sound - from the viewpoint of the establishment - peculiar. Also, Nenonen looks forward to the legislation concerning the universities (in Finland this will be changed in the near future) as people outside of the Academy will get more to say regarding the universities, including the distribution of the funding. "Divergence supports creativity", as Nenonen summarizes his agenda.


I have no first-hand experience of this deathmatch of seeking funding for one's scholarly pursuits, but I think I soon will. As a thought experiment, I have (of course) considered to concentrate on Paul, or historical Jesus, or the good old Gnosticism, as there is a strong tradition in the University of Helsinki of working with that as well - all of these would be much safer options for writing a Ph.D. dissertation of, considering my future career, than the Secret Gospel of Mark. If I wasn't sworn to "do things differently", I would probably yield. Not now.

What was it that Morton Smith wrote to John Dart some years before his death? "I hope it [Dart's work on the chiasms in the Gospel of Mark] will find a publisher in spite of being intelligent and original (two major handicaps, as you know)".1 The situation in the field of biblical studies in Finland could actually be far better than Nenonen's assessment of the university level research in general - I'll hold to that thought, at least as far as my own future grant applications will work the wonders they so undisputedly deserve.

1John Dart: Decoding Mark. Trinity Press 2003, 132.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 2.6 Conclusion of the chapter

A genuine conspiracy theory never fails. In a somewhat similar manner, Stephen Carlson, too, is not going to let go off M. Madiotes, or as he himself puts it: "I don’t see how the difference between Madiotes and Madeotas affects the argument that it is a pseudonym."1 The assessment above of the physical dimension of the Theodore-letter - including Voss' book (where the text was copied), the paper, the ink, and the handwriting - shows the following conclusions to be the most probable. First, the paper and the ink do not have much to offer for solving the question of the text's authenticity, as they are not physically available: attempts to tackle the issue of authenticity with a close scrutiny of the various photographs cannot produce anything reliable enough in this regard. Second, the physical platform of the text, Voss' "Epistulae genuinae S. Ignatii Martyris", is not an anomaly in the monastery of Mar Saba in a sense that the book's most probable means for journeying there would have been underneath the shirt of Morton Smith: either the suggested anomalies cannot be truly assessed for lack of evidence, or they are not anomalous in the least.

Third, the handwriting of the Theodore-letter does not contain such "signs of a forgery" that would differentiate it from other MSS. Instead, applying the principles of QDE to the handwriting, it is argued that the Theodore-letter has not been written by Morton Smith. The clue argument concerning the autograph of M. Madiotes is constructed following an unfortunate misunderstanding, but goes on to show just how problematic Carlson's "signs of a forgery" really are, as he claimed to have found them from a text that looks to be an independent work from the 18th-century, but, following the principles of QDE, does not seem to have any connection to the handwriting of the Theodore-letter, of M. Madiotes, or of Morton Smith.

The final conclusion regarding the scenarios of authenticity is as follows: the last scenario - a hoax by Morton Smith - is not the most probable one. Likewise, as the scenario of an 18th-century forgery has not been developed very far, it is not easy to consider it as equal to the others, as such a sophisticated forgery would surely require the use of modern tools, like a concordance to Clement.2 The third option is to regard the Theodore-letter as an authentic document from antiquity, a late antiquity forgery of Clement, or a genuine letter by Clement of Alexandria himself, whatever one makes of the origin of the Gospel excerpts Clement cites. The acceptance of the Clementine scholars speaks for the letter's authenticity.3

2Cf. Quesnell 1975, 55. The first concordance to Clement by Otto Stählin was published in 1936.
3Hedrick 2003 informs that the Clementine scholars have largely accepted the authenticity of the Theodore-letter, as is evident by its inclusion to the Clementine corpus from 1980 onwards; Hedrick 2003, 141. Carlson disagrees, as the editor, Ursula Treu, told the inclusion to have been "provisional" in its nature, for furthering the discussion of the matter; Carlson 2005, 49-50. On the other hand, both Smith and Risto Lauha summarize the situation as an acceptance of the text's authenticity by the majority of Clementine scholars; Smith 1982, 452; Lauha 1987a, 208.

A suspected case of forgery in Finnish politics

Relating to the discussion of the various handwriting analyses scholars have done of the Theodore-letter (and the MS22, and Morton Smith's penmanship, and Mr. Madiotes) is this bit of news from the world of Finnish politics, some three weeks old but still interesting, as the original material of controversy was destroyed shortly after the accusations were first made.

Early morning of 7.8.2009 STT (The Finnish News Agency) released a story of forgery accusations, made against a small right-wing, nationalist "society" Suomen Kansan Sinivalkoiset. The "society" had lost its status as a registered political party in 2007 after failing to get its nominees elected in two consecutive elections (2003 and 2007), and needed 5,000 of the so-called "supporter cards" to regain the party status. These "supporter cards" would contain the names, including signatures, of the people willing to lend their support for the "society" and its political agenda (which, incidentally, does not sound too good to my ears, as the explicit purpose is, among other things, to "gather Finns under the common banners, for defending the common goals, against the common menaces") - at least as far as it takes to sign a single "supporter card". The accusation concerned these 5,000 cards, for as many as 1/3 of these seemed to have been signed by non-existent persons.

It should be noted, that the cards were supplied to the Ministry of Justice for approval more than a year ago (18.7.2008). After the initial suspicions were raised and the "society" contacted, the application for the status of a party was pulled back by the "society", and the questioned cards were fetched, and promptly destroyed. However, pictures of these questioned cards, including signatures suspected to be written by a single author, are still in the possession of the Ministry and the police. Helsingin Sanomat, the largest Finnish newspaper, managed to gain access to the pictures, and published a few examples of the autographs.

The picture is (crudely, with my non-existent GIMP skills) scaled a bit larger (the original, in the beginning of the post, is only c. 150 pixels wide) and sharpened. After these maneuvers any attempt to actually draw a reliable conclusion, whether all these signatures could have been written by the same individual, is impossible. At a quick glance, they certainly look somewhat similar, but, as we have seen in the case concerning the Theodore-letter, one or two similarities between the letters is not sufficient enough for establishing their origin to a single author.

The question of "the forger's tremor" and other tell-tale signs of a forgery like ink blots could still apply, as the methods used in Questioned Document Examination (QDE) were originally developed for spotting forged signatures (even though there's probably no attempt to imitate any particular handwriting here). Something is surely afoot here, as the chairman of the "society", Olavi Mäenpää, commented to the Helsingin Sanomat as follows: "If you sign the card of support outside and a snowflake drops on it, the ink may begin to spread." So there seems to have been some talk concerning the quality of the line in these signatures, even though the story as told by Helsingin Sanomat does not say anything explicit about it. Otherwise it is surely a question of rivalry between the various nationalistic parties: "Especially among the supporters of Perussuomalaiset [a party] there was a campaign to sabotage this attempt to gain the status of a party."

Nothing further has been told about the matter, except that the police is (presumably still) investigating it, and that an ex-member of Mäenpää's inner circle, Hans Huttunen, relates to have been filling the "supporter cards" as per an explicit order from Mäenpää himself.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 2.5 An analysis of Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis - Part VII

For the very first thing, Scott Brown rejects the claims of Stephen Carlson, that a single author was responsible for the handwritings in both the Theodore-letter and the MS22, on the basis of inadequate amount of comparison material: the cropped photograph of the MS22, which was used by Carlson, contains only 16 individual symbols, including nine different letters and a single ligature, and the size of the sample is far too small for making a positive identification between the author of the Theodore-letter and the author of the first hand of the MS22, as the minimum sample size should be "four or five pages of carefully selected continuous, natural writing".64 Contrary to Carlson's use of the methods of QDE, Brown cites Hilton some more: "Repeated small differences establish clearly that two specimens are the work of two individuals despite a great number of general similarities."65 Even with the extra letters revealed in the original negative of the picture, unearthed by Allan Pantuck, the size of the sample remains extremely narrow, but the observations made by Brown could still be considered suggestive.

It is a long list of differences between the handwritings. Compared to the handwriting of the Theodore-letter, the first hand of the MS22 1) does not put an accent on top of the letter omicron in the definite article το, whereas the Theodore-letter manages to put its accents right every time, 2) does not bind the letter tau to the letter omicron following it, the letter alpha to the letter rho following it, or the letter rho to the letter omicron following it, even though the Theodore-letter binds together all these letter combinations, 3) binds the letter pi to the letter alpha following it with a very thin line without a loop, whereas the Theodore-letter binds these two with a strong line, and with a loop, 4) draws the circumflex with a straight line, while the Theodore-letter uses the wave form, 5) draws the letters beta and gamma in a very dissimilar manner compared to the Theodore-letter, 6) tends to tilt the letter lambda to the left without turning the high point and the end point of the left leg towards each other, whereas the Theodore-letter tends to tilt the letter lambda to the right and turn the high point and the end point of the left leg towards each other, 7) binds the combination πο together with a line drawn on top of the cursive pi, while the Theodore-letter does not (and, furthermore, the Theodore-letter manages to draw the cursive pi in a dissimilar manner, resembling a lot of the letter epsilon), 8) uses a ligature for the epsilon-iota combination in the word βιβλειον, which makes the spelling of the word different than the one used in the Theodore-letter (βιβλιον).66

In addition to these differences, Brown remarks of the general disparate nature of the two handwritings: the letters in the MS22 are drawn individually without connecting them to the letters preceding and following, whereas the Theodore-letter connects letters on a regular basis. If the handwriting in the MS22 is supposed to be a deliberate clue of the hoaxer's true identity, why was it not drawn undisputedly with the same handwriting as found in the Theodore-letter?67 Furthermore, as we have seen, the principles of QDE dictate that where there are no "highly individual habits" present, there we cannot conclude that the two texts are written by the same author - in the handwritings of the Theodore-letter and the MS22 these are not found. All things considered, the conclusion from the first hand of the MS22 is the following: as far as it is possible to conclude anything reliably from the small sample size we have, the handwriting of the MS22 is not 1) the handwriting of M. Madiotes, 2) the handwriting of the Theodore-letter, nor 3) the handwriting of Morton Smith.68

Two more observations should be made. First, the first hand of the MS22 uses a narrow pen point, suggested to be an anomaly among the MSS in Mar Saba by Carlson.69 Because the first hand of the MS22 is undoubtedly from the 18th-century70 - as Carlson himself concluded - but is not penned by the author of the Theodore-letter, it is an independent witness of the use of the narrow pen point in Mar Saba during the 18th-century, and not an anomaly, as suggested by Carlson. Second, the claims of Carlson concerning the "signs of a forgery" present in the first hand of the MS22 suddenly reappear to us in an uncanny light: when Carlson claims to have found "signs of a forgery" from a text that does not seem to have any connection with Madiotes, the Theodore-letter, or Smith, what should we conclude of Carlson's general competence for spotting and interpreting these "signs" correctly? Whatever it is he sees in the handwriting of the MS22, it looks to be a natural feature of the quality of the drawn line as they are found in MSS, and not an indication of sinister motives from the part of the copyist.71

64Hilton 1993, 300; the quote is used as a basis for the critique in Brown 2006a, 300 and Brown 2006c, 144-149.
65Hilton 1993, 161; the quote is offered as cited in Brown 2006c, 144-149.
66Brown 2006a, 297-298; Pantuck 2008, 120-121. Brown 2006c offers an even more detailed analysis of the differences in the handwritings.
67Brown 2006c, 148.
68The comparison between the handwriting of the first hand of the MS22 and the handwriting of Morton Smith is possible with the same reservation as applies to any comparison utilizing an inadequate amount of comparison material: as was the case in the comparison between the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the handwriting of Smith, there are no "highly individual habits" to be found, but "repeated differences" abound.
69Carlson 2005, 32-33, 46.
70Pantuck 2008, 118.
71These two conclusions are made by Pantuck 2008, 124, as well.


The end of Chapter 2.5. The whole chapter is found in its proper place here, and the Table of Contents is, as always, here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Et in Arkadia ego sermo

Yesterday I gave a public lecture about the Secret Gospel of Mark at Arkadia Oy International Bookshop. Having just watched through the entire event - all two hours I had of myself on video - couple of observations could be made.

First, I prepared to talk for an hour, wrote a presentation that should have taken an hour, and practiced the reading of my paper to be sure it took an hour to go through. In reality, it took me 85 minutes to get to the end. Luck was on my side, as the small crowd that was gathered at the bookshop seemed very interested in the subject, and absolutely no one fell asleep during my talk! Instead, comments and questions directly afterwards were most insightful, and we clocked another 30 minutes discussing the matter further. Such great experience for myself, too, and I would like to thank everybody who attended the talk. You were great!

Of the crowd's insightfulness: one suggested (spontaneously) the linkage between the "the innermost sanctuary... hidden by seven veils" (Theod. I.26) and the "dance of the seven veils", found in Salomé (a play by Oscar Wilde), similar to Peter Jeffery, who holds the "literary dependence" between the two to be a good argument for the text's modernity.

Second, seeing oneself speaking is such a weird experience, even though this was not the first time I had taped my speeches. Generally, I think I do ok, managing to keep the ball rolling forward, but occasionally I lost myself on the page and had to hold a brief pause to get myself back on track. In the video, these did not seem to be so obvious as I thought they must have been when I was talking. Improvising, however, is difficult to pull off at the moment: I write much, much better English than what I can manage to produce in live discussion.

Third, I still have a distinct Scandinavian accent that fortunately is very easy to listen to, even if at times it sounds somewhat clumsy to my ears.

Fourth, there's a reason the picture above is in black and white: from the video I can hear my voice perfectly, but I'm able to see only a silhouette of myself, with all that bright daylight shining through the windows. As I edit the video, I'm going to use only small parts of the actual video track, cutting in pictures of the slides (55 in total) I used, and maybe some other footage - we'll see how it goes. Last night I had this ter-ri-fic idea of shooting some cheesy b-movie dramatizations (like the ones modern documentaries on history just have to include for reasons only the Lord himself knows) - I can very much so picture myself wearing a skin-colored bathing cap, sneaking around with a book underneath my shirt in the process of "smuggling" it into the monastery.

I was invited to come back in three months to give an update of the debate, and my own research of the matter - tongue-in-cheek, surely, but I was delighted, nevertheless.

Next week I promise to work diligently with the translation of my thesis.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Story 1 vs Story 2 - Which one is better and why?

Originally I had written a 15-minute excursion to the study of history, as it is practiced in the 3rd millennium, for my coming public talk about the Secret Gospel of Mark. The only problem was related to its length, as it was c. 14 minutes too long, and I ended up compressing it to two. A good choice, I thought, as the condensing allows one to get away with things that would be perceived as more problematic in an extended presentation, as one can always defend oneself with the "it got a bit simplistic and weird because of the condensing" -defence.

Somehow I still wasn't exactly sure about the new version, so I asked for some feedback. I received the likes of this:

"Boy, have you a twisted view of [the study of] history!"

I guess I could pinpoint the particular parts that elicited this kind of reaction. My main idea was to do something about the fact, learned from Jorma Kalela's "Historiantutkimus ja historia" (2000) that searches for an epistemologically sound historical method, that historians tend to speak to their audience (especially to the general public) one thing, do themselves something other, and then the text books on the historical method say something entirely different. So I thought it could be a good idea to relate briefly, just what do I think as I go through the primary sources and assess the arguments of other scholars. Maybe there is some problems in "being too honest"?

[For some necessary background information: before these concluding remarks I have narrated two stories of the Secret Gospel to my audience. The first one depicts Morton Smith as a discoverer of an authentic manuscript, and the second one as a forger of a modern hoax.]

"The study of history is said to be all about assessing the value of primary evidence, the historical sources, and using them in the building of a historical scenario. The correct handling of the historical sources is, sure enough, an important task for a historian, but, I would argue, the real challenge is not in coming up with novel historical reconstructions, but in persuading other people of the merits of the reconstruction you happen to offer. The support from your audience, from other historians and from the so-called general public, is gained most conveniently if you can hold that you have applied the historical method, the rules of the correct argumentation in the study of history, that you applied this method to the primary evidence in a sound and sensible manner. But, even then...

...the exact same playing pieces can be used, and regarding the Secret Gospel of Mark they have been used, in quite diverse ways. A small detail, like the small size of the book where the Secret Gospel was written, was used in the first story to explain the problems in the quality of the drawn line, whereas in the second story it was used to argue that Smith could have fitted it underneath his shirt to be able to smuggle it into the monastery. In a larger scale, the second story holds that the homosexual dimension of the Secret Gospel is a prove of its modernity, while in the first story there is no homosexual dimension in the text at all - even the quote from Smith that spoke of the "physical union" was a passing joke, and the only homoeroticism is in the eye of the beholder. Likewise, in the first story the reference to the salt was seen as typical of Clement, and a prove of the text's authenticity, but in the second story the reference to the salt was deemed to be a deliberate clue left by the hoaxer of the text's inauthenticity. How does a historian make up her mind when both (or there could be even more stories) - when both stories are internally coherent narratives that fit the primary evidence into themselves seemingly without any great difficulties? How does a historian choose?

Naturally, a whole host of details is omitted from these two stories that could help a historian to evaluate the merits of both - for all the details available you're better off taking a look at my blog, Salainen evankelista. But in principle, what gives? In theory, the historian could ponder whether either story had, say, a "greater explanatory power or scope" than the other, or whether either story was less contrived in its arguments, or whether either story was still intact after rigorously checking through all the sources and the manner they were handled, or, following the text books on historical method, a historian could assess if either story was more compatible with other historical details commonly accepted in the field of historical studies.

In practice, let us take a look at a certain grand Quest, "the Quest for the Historical Jesus", an endeavour to build a historically sound biography of Jesus of Nazareth. It is commonly agreed that the various reconstructions made during this Quest tend to make Jesus look a lot like the historian who is making the reconstruction. This pattern has been tested true for over a century, and in the study of history, it is a genuine piece of cake to demonstrate how social, political, ideological, religious, and a million other variables do influence the study of history, and do have an impact on the question of choosing between rival historical reconstructions. Additionally, in the field of biblical studies, you just cannot escape the fact that your theological opinions (were you evangelical, catholic, Jewish, or an atheist), down the line, do have an effect on your historical judgment.

Consequently, this means that there are two questions we are asking: 'What is the truth about the Secret Gospel of Mark?' is one of them, and the other could be 'What is the most plausible historical explanation, after applying the historical method to the evidence, for the Secret Gospel of Mark?'

For this latter question, I hold myself somewhat qualified to answer to. In my work with the Secret Gospel of Mark, I have drawn attention to the fact that the second story features all those clues and other textual puzzles: is its popularity simply showing off that we are indeed living at a time when Dan Brown and "Da Vinci Code", containing lots and lots of textual puzzles, is so popular - a sign of the times? In my mind, the construing of these clue arguments is not an acceptable way to do history, as it does not follow the general historical method close enough - of these two stories, I'm buying the first one, thank you. (And there are, naturally, a whole host of other problems in the second story - just take a look at my blog for more information on those.) Ultimately, however, because I perceive my choosing of the first story to be a matter of coincidental, fragile and contingent variables upon which I have no real influence, the first question will remain open. And so the truth about the Secret Gospel of Mark is necessarily as elusive as the truth always is."


Nobody objected when I compared the study of history to a Chinese dissection puzzle called Tangram (where the exact same play pieces, called tans, are put into use for construing varying shapes), even though the conclusion of this comparison is the perception of the historical studies as a game, where the players (scholars) are playing by a set of rules (the historical method) that are supposed to be the same for every player.

This probably comes quite close to how Alun Munslow pictured the study of history in "Deconstructing History":

"The past is not discovered or found. It is created or represented by the historian as a text, which in turn is consumed by the reader."

Source: Deconstructing History by Alun Munslow. Routledge 1997, 178.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 2.5 An analysis of Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis - Part VI 3073/3561 words

The previously published photographs of the MS2252 were cropped in such a way that of the folio 1, recto only the left part was visible, as the cropping was vertical in its orientation.53 The unfortunate line of deduction by Carlson must have gone the following way: the uppermost handwriting of the folio 1, recto of the MS22 looks to be from the 18th-century, and according to Carlson this is the same handwriting as the one in the Theodore-letter, with all the "signs of a forgery" present in both.54 On the other hand, Morton Smith had began his literary description of the handwritings on this page from the autograph of M. Madiotes, whose handwriting he estimated to be from the 20th-century.55 Carlson supposed this estimation to have been a deliberate clue left by Smith, as the first handwriting in the picture was clearly not from the 20th-century. The autograph itself, Μ. Μαδιότης, Carlson could not, however, see, because of the way the photograph was cropped.56

As these assumptions of Carlson turn out to be unfounded, the Madiotes-clue crumbles as well, for in the original negative Pantuck found it is clearly seen that the autograph of M. Madiotes has not been written with the same handwriting as the first handwriting on the page, the one Carlson interpreted to have been linked to M. Madiotes - there are, in effect, five different handwritings present on the page. Smith seems to have been right: Μ. Μαδιότης is, according to the assessment of Pantuck and Brown, from the 20th-century. Respectively, Carlson seems to have been right, too: the first handwriting on the page looks to be from the 18th-century.57 It is just that the Μ. Μαδιότης autograph and the first handwriting on the page have nothing to do with each other: additionally, the autograph's orientation is upside down compared to the first handwriting on the page.58 The root of the confusion is easy to locate: it is Morton Smith, though he certainly did not mean it.

Why does Smith mention in his catalogue published in Νέα Σιών only three names, when the original negative shows clearly that there are five different handwritings on the page? The reason must be, quite simply, that two of these handwritings do not have a personal name attached to them - they are inscriptions - like the first handwriting on the page that begins with the words το παρōν βιβλειον (with a wrong accent) translating roughly as "The present book" - but without any personal names attached Smith did not refer to them in his catalogue.59 For Carlson's defence it must be remarked that the description of Smith in his catalogue really gives the impression that there are only three different handwritings on the page, and that the personal name Μ. Μαδιότης is linked to the first of these.

As we have seen, however, this first handwriting has no personal name attached: Μ. Μαδιότης is positioned upside down beneath it, but does not contain any other writing.60 The suggestion Carlson makes - that the name is a pseudonym (as he did not find it from an online-directory)61 - is not very persuasive, either, in light of the original negative, as the spelling variant "Μ. Μαδιότης" found in Νέα Σιών looks to be a printer's error: for the offprints Smith received he had made a correction, and, spelled correctly, the name should have been Μ. Μαδεότας.62 According to Pantuck and Brown the correct spelling may very well be Μ. Μοδέστος, a name that has been very commonly used for centuries.63 After these observations, the Madiotes-clue by Carlson is far less persuasive than before the close scrutiny of the photograph in question. Brown, however, did not stop here: with the same application of the methods found in QDE, as used by Ordway Hilton, and as used by myself above to argue, based on the "repeated differences" found in the handwritings of the Theodore-letter and the handwriting of Morton Smith, that the Theodore-letter has not been written by Smith, Brown studies the first handwriting on the MS22 and the handwriting of the Theodore-letter, arguing that they have not been written by a single author.

52Smith 1960b, 177; Smith 1985, 37.
53For some reason Carlson concentrated his efforts to the picture published in Smith 1960b, although the picture that was used as an illustration in "The Secret Gospel" (1973) was cropped in a different way, revealing a few more letters of the handwritings on the page.
54Carlson 2005, 42-43.
55Smith 1960a, 119.
56The same reconstruction of Carlson's probable reasoning, as he was looking at the cropped photograph, is also done by Pantuck 2008, 112.
57Pantuck 2008, 118.
58antuck 2008, 117.
59So concludes also Pantuck 2008, 118.
60Pantuck 2008, 121.
61Carlson 2005, 43.
62It is also possible that Smith had changed his mind regarding the spelling of the name written in unclear cursive hand; Pantuck 2008, 112-115.
63Pantuck 2008, 122-123.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The ongoing adventures of Professor Bob (this time with even more tenure)

Pearls Before Swine Aug 16, 2009


Will we see a different joke in the next installment? Will it actually get funny? And for how long will Professor Bob remain in the cast of the Pearls Before Swine? Let us hold our breath.

The first part of the "series" here (officially here).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 2.5 An analysis of Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis - Part V 2615/3561 words

Significant differences observed between the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the handwriting of Morton Smith may even contain such "fundamental dissimilarities" that clearly establish the writer of the Theodore-letter not to have been Morton Smith.43 One the early pioneers of QDE, Ordway Hilton, published an article in 1954 titled "Handwriting Identification vs. Eye Witness Identification", that offers an excellent case study of the fact how repeated differences establish the authors of two different handwritings to have been separate individuals. The repeated differences are deemed to be especially weighty if they occur in inconspicious details.44 Following Hilton, these differences are 1) the drawing of the letters in such a manner that the pen is lifted (or is not lifted) in different places, 2) the inclusion (or lack) of small extra "hooks" or loops, 3) the moving (or not moving) of the pen along the line of the letter that has already been drawn, 4) the crossing of the line (or lack of crossing), 5) the variation in the sizes of the letters compared to other letters, and 6) the variation in the sizes of the parts of the letters compared to other parts of the letters.45

The most important differences, according to Hilton, are the variations in the use of the loops, and the variation in the moving of the pen along the line of the letter that has already been drawn.46 The trust put into QDE is first-rate in other aspects, too, as Hilton gives an example of a criminal case where a testimony of 13 (!) eyewitnesses was disqualified on the basis of a handwriting analysis of this kind. Or, as he himself said it: "The eye witnesses may be correct, but scientific examination of the writing is certainly a more accurate method for establishing the facts."47 What kinds of conclusions may be drawn from applying the principles of Hilton's handwriting analysis to the handwriting of Smith from 1958 and to the handwriting of the Theodore-letter?48

Numerous repeated differences are to be found. When Smith draws the circumflex in the form of a semi-circle, sometimes with a pointed top (â), the Theodore-letter has a wavy line (ã) instead. The letter sigma, as the last letter of the word, has its bottom pointing left in Smith's handwriting, whereas the Theodore-letter variant turns to point clearly straight down. Spiritus lenis in Smith has its end points pointing to the left, when in the Theodore-letter they point down. As we have already seen above, the letter theta is drawn by Smith in 1958 in such a way that the brim of the letter forms an unbroken circle, whereas the Theodore-letter features the traditional cursive variant. The bottom of the letter iota, on the other hand, tends to lean to the right in Smith, but the iota in the Theodore-letter points sometimes straight down, and at other times turns either to left or right with a hook. As for the letter gamma, Hilton would be delighted in its consistent variation including both the differing loop and differing way of moving the pen along the line of the letter that has already been drawn: for Smith the furrow of the letter - formed from the line of the letter beginning from the topmost right high point and the topmost left high point of the letter - is not very deep, when the line of the letter is already coming up after turning around with the help of a loop, whereas in the Theodore-letter the furrow of the letter is very deep in a striking manner, and the loop is altogether missing - instead, from the low point of the letter we go back up with riding quite liberally along the line of the letter that has already been drawn, but in Smith's gamma this phenomenon does not happen at all.49 The last differences are in the letter kappa, where Smith begins his drawing from high without a hook, but the Theodore-letter from low with a hook, and the letter mu, where Smith has a straight left leg, but the Theodore-letter has a hook to the right.

Applying the principles of QDE as Hilton used them, the conclusion seems evident that Morton Smith has not written the text of the Theodore-letter.50 On the other hand, there are no undisputed "signs of a forgery" present in the handwriting, either. And, as I have stated above, it should always be remembered that the application of QDE for assessing the authenticity of MSS may contain some serious flaws - everything I have written in the past 11 pages may potentially be absolutely irrelevant for the question of the MSS authenticity. If all of the above put together is not yet enough for making the reader convinced of the problematic nature of Carlson's hoax hypothesis regarding the assessment of the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the handwriting of Smith, one of his arguments for the hoax is still remaining. The Madiotes-clue, presented in Chapter 2.4, and the MS Smith put into his catalogue as number 22 (afterwards: MS22), turns against Carlson's case in the end, when one of the defenders of the authenticity of the Theodore-letter, Allan J. Pantuck, managed to obtain the original negative of the photograph where Carlson found the Madiotes-clue.51 The good thing with the original negative was the fact that it had not been cropped in any way - quite a different case than with the photograph Carlson had access to.

43A similar analysis is made by Brown, where it is made clear that the writer of the Theodore-letter is not the same person as the writer of the unidentified handwriting in the manuscript Smith catalogued as number 22; for details of this analysis cf. Brown 2006a; Brown 2006c; Pantuck 2008.
44Hilton 1954, 209.
45Hilton 1954, 209-212.
46Hilton 1954, 211.
47Hilton 1954, 212.
48I wish to point out here that every observation and conclusion made from the handwriting of Smith from 1958 is my own, even though I have never received formal training for applying the principles of QDE to handwritings. If any one detail seems to be a bit out of place in this discussion, it is the fact that none of the individuals taking stances regarding the handwritings - that would include Carlson, Brown, Viklund, and myself - have received formal training in this field, or have access to the original material, as the Theodore-letter seems to have completely vanished after 1990. Only Carlson has confirmed his analysis with the help of a professional in QDE, but the exact details of this confirmation are lacking;
49Appendix 1 contains examples of the first six gamma letters from the Theodore-letter, and of their transcription made by Smith in 1958.
50A biiiig footnote, maybe tomorrow...
51This photograph has been printed in Pantuck 2008.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Pragmatist's Progress

Last Wednesday was the official first time meeting of a discussion group, consisted of people interested in neopragmatism. This initial talk was just for an orientation, an occasion to discuss some basic concepts relating to the subject, to share our current understanding of the matters, and decide how we are going to proceed in the future.

For my own part, I prepared to give a 5-minute talk of "The Pragmatist's Progress", as defined by one of the better-known of the neopragmatists, Richard Rorty, in his short essay of the same name. I ended with a quote that captures the essence (quite a pun in this context!) of his thoughts, something that in its obvious simplicity has resonated strongly with my own perception of my own intellectual development:

"The final stage of the Pragmatist's Progress comes when one begins to see one's previous peripeties not as stages in the ascent toward Enlightenment, but simply as the contingent results of encounters with various books which happened to fall into one's hands."

Source: The pragmatist's progress by Richard Rorty, found in Interpretation and Overinterpretation. Edited by Stefan Collini. Cambridge University Press 1992, 92.

I have been given the task of choosing one (or two) general treatises of neopragmatism as "mandatory" - to be read by all, before each one will pursue a neopragmatist of her choice, and the nature of the gatherings will shift to presentations of individual philosophers, with discussion following. (Suggestions for these general treatises will be gladly accepted!)

Tonight (at long last) I managed to condense my coming presentation of the Secret Gospel of Mark into fifteen sheets of paper, which, spoken slowly aloud, should take about an hour to go through. This may be a good thing for my other translation project, or I may enter into a frenzy of nitpick-editing of the presentation (not to forget, following the best ancient practices, the memorizing of the speech, so that the actual talk will not sound like I was reading someone else's writing - for the first time). In my years of studying at the University, I have (un)fortunately seen them all - the good lectures and the bad lectures, and the bizarre. At least I know some things I most definitely should not do on the 22th of August.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 2.5 An analysis of Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis - Part IV 2077/3561 words

Though commonly not known, Morton Smith decided to publish the Theodore-letter before the end of the year 1958 along with his English translation in order to secure the rights to the text's "proper" publication, which did not happen until 1973. Smith's 1958 publication of the Theodore-letter was a rather ascetic self-publish, 13 sheets of A4-sized notebook paper, containing a short foreword, the Greek text of the Theodore-letter, and Smith's English translation.38 Notwithstanding the looks of the self-publication, it was still a part of Smith's extensive bibliography as "Manuscript Material from the Monastery of Mar Saba, discovered, transcribed and translated by Morton Smith. New York: Privately published, pp. I + 10".39 The publication year - and consequently the year of its writing - is 1958, and over four sheets of A4-sized pages of Smith's "continuous, natural writing" in Greek fulfills nicely the criteria set down by Ordway Hilton.40 What does the comparison between Smith's 1958 handwriting and the Theodore-letter reveal? Does it reaffirm the conclusions made by Brown that were based on Smith's handwriting from 1951 and 1955?

On the whole, the answer to this question is positive: from the very first page onwards it is clear that Smith still prefers to draw his lambdas in two strokes. The consistency we find from the Theodore-letter, that 96% of the lambdas situate the intersection of the two feet below the middle point of the letter41, is not present in Smith's handwriting, where the point of the intersection varies preferring the below only marginally. Regarding his taus, Smith writes them varyingly with one and two strokes - the Theodore-letter, on the other hand, prefers the one-stroke variant. The greatest change has happened in the way Smith writes the letter theta - whereas in 1951 he drew it with one stroke and a loop (ϑ), the 1958 version is drawn varyingly with one and two strokes (preferring one), but without the loop: instead, the brim of the letter forms an unbroken circle (θ). Naturally, this variant of theta has no similarity with the variant used in the Theodore-letter, and, consequently, the linkage observed by Carlson - that the drawing of the theta begins with a short horizontal line from left, from about the middle point in relation to the height of the letter42 - has vanished. With the comparison of these three letters Smith cannot, following the principles of QDE, be linked to the author of the Theodore-letter. In fact, the samples discussed above offer material for a very distinct conclusion: that Morton Smith has not written the Theodore-letter.

38Contrary to what some scholars have speculated, the self-publication did not contain photographs of any sort; this is, however, presumed e.g. by Jeffery 2007a, 263 n. 65.
39Kraabel 1975.
40Hilton 1993, 300. Important in QDE, along with the temporal vicinity of the samples that are to be compared, is the sufficient size of the sample material, as Brown remarks; Brown 2006c, 145; Brown cites e.g. Huber 1999, 249. At this point, my comparison of Smith's 1958 handwriting and the handwriting of the Theodore-letter is meant to supplement the comparison by Brown, related above. An even more reliable conclusion, following to the principles of QDE, would require the use of numerous samples of Smith's handwriting, all written in 1958 +/- two years.
41Brown 2006a, 303.
42Carlson 2005, 47.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

On making mistakes

One thing only is inevitable: tax avoidance planning works wonders, and Death may be cheated (from 2025 onwards), but mistakes will never cease. In scholarly writing there's always something going wrong, a slip of the finger while typing all those page numbers, apostrophes curving to the wrong side, and the general inability to think straight near of the end of the day producing some substandard moss to be totally revised the next thing in the following morning.

Sometimes, a scholarly mistake will be on a level of its own. You think one thing, you suppose something other without checking your sources thoroughly enough, and you end up with a blunder that turns the world upside down, and makes the people around you burst in laughter (if they could, but for reasons of courtesy, they - thank you Lord - usually manage to restrain it). In a word, you get some idea twisted in such a way that the end result becomes seriously hilarious, pure win, and something to tell the kids in the park about.

Regarding the Secret Gospel of Mark, a well-known case of eyebrow cocking is the way a prominent NT scholar, James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bart D. Ehrman handled an article by Andrew H. Criddle, which spoke of the vocabulary Clement uses in his letter to Theodore. For disclaimer I might add that I do consider professor Ehrman's work in the field of biblical studies to be excellent in every respect, that I totally subscribe to his view of the massive plurality of the early Christianity, and that I really like the way he has popularized the scholarly study of the New Testament to lay audience. Of his relation to taxes and Death I'm not that sure, but the example goes only to show that the even the best of us can't escape an occasional mistake here and there:

"One impressive study, in fact, has shown that this letter of Clement is more like Clement than Clement ever is. That may sound odd at first, so I should explain how it works. Suppose you have a friend who uses the word awesome a lot, and you want to impersonate her. It may turn out that if you were actually to count, she uses the term awesome, say, once every three hundred words. But when you imitate her, you use it once every fifty words so that anyone accustomed to hearing her speak will recognize this as one of her characteristic words and think, "Yes, sounds just like her."

Source: Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew by Bart D. Ehrman. Oxford University Press 2005, 86.

So what's odd? The fact, that the study Ehrman cites here, "On the Mar Saba Letter Attributed to Clement of Alexandria" (1995) by Andrew H. Criddle, focuses on hapax legomena of Clement, on the words Clement uses in his entire corpus only once. When you summarize a study that deals with the very rarest words used by making up an example that features a character with a favourite word she uses all the time - haven't you actually managed to turn the tables 180 degrees around?

Professor Ehrman came to my mind while perusing through Lee Strobel's 2007 work "The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ" that has a section about the Secret Gospel of Mark, as well. Strobel interviews Craig A. Evans, a professor in the Acadia Divinity College of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, who seems to have read Stephen C. Carlson's 2005 work "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark" well enough - in the course of the interview Evans goes through much of the argumentation of Carlson, with only occasional inaccurateness thrown in.

But then he has this to say regarding the book of Voss that had the Theodore-letter copied in its back pages (although I'm no fan of Evans' scholarly ideas, I think that he cannot be dismissed off-handedly, either, and the following quote is only to show that occasionally every scholar gets some ideas a bit off the key):

"And here's something strange: the book had 'Smith 65' written on it. Would you, if you were a guest in somebody's library, looking at his rare books, write 'Smith 65' on the title page? I find that very strange. But if it's your book, however, you might not hesitate.

Source: The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ by Lee Strobel. Zondervan 2007, 50-51.

What's wrong with this idea (that Evans, by the way, does not borrow from Carlson)? Well, for starters, we have a perfectly valid reason for this behavior of Smith, writing those words "Smith [insert number]" in the title pages of the books with manuscript material he found in the monastery of Mar Saba (and his habits of cutting out small pieces of paper to form those words "Smith [insert number]" for helping to identify the photographs he took at the monastery) - Smith's job was to make a catalogue out of the manuscript material he found from the monastery, as he himself tells us in his 1973 works concerning the Theodore-letter. For further proof, the catalogue Smith compiled was published in 1960 in the periodical Νέα Σιών, where the book of Voss is mentioned under the catalogue number 65. The gist of the discovery story is related here.

Consequently, I don't think there's much need to find the words "Smith 65" written into the title page strange at all. Where has Evans heard about this? Why did he draw that kind of conclusion out of the information - an anecdote about Morton Smith - he received? As Scott G. Brown has remarked in his 2006 article "Factualizing the Folklore: Stephen Carlson’s Case against Morton Smith" (page 291), an "academic folklore" about Morton Smith and his incredible discovery "has been passed on like an esoteric tradition" from scholar to scholar, presumably in those quiet, private talks between sessions in international conferences, or in university corridors after the 2nd coffee break of the day.

Now, this image in my head raises a smile: how many juicy anecdotes do we have of Morton Smith in active circulation, improbable stories about his endeavours in forging/hoaxing the Secret Gospel, and then pulling the leg of the Academy for decades? Evidently, we need a wiki dedicated to the anecdotes told of Morton Smith, and for other interesting quotes from people who have taken a stance for or against the authenticity of the Theodore-letter.

EDIT: another instance of Evans' idea found from the Net. There is a nice youtube video (2nd EDIT: a nice, but unfortunately riddled with inaccuracies now that I watched it through) talking a bit about Scott G. Brown's 2005 book, and in the comment section stephjh2006 has this criticism (among others) to offer:

"5. On the book is "Smith 65" written on it. This suggest it was part of his own library, as who would allow him to write on an ancient book?"

RogerViklund (an alias which, incidentally, looks like a pseudonym to me) corrects:

5. Smith wrote probably in every book he catalogued. In MS 22 for instance Smith 22 is clearly visible in the upper right corner on the inside of the last page.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 2.5 An analysis of Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis - Part III 1781/3561 words

Unfortunately, in Stephen Carlson's comparison of the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the handwriting of Morton Smith, he cuts too many corners short.22 First of all, Carlson's comparison material from Smith is too limited in its size, because "as a working minimum, four or five pages of carefully selected continuous, natural writing" is required for a reliable analysis between two different handwritings.23 Carlson, however, instead of four or five pages, confines himself to two pages that feature Smith's handwriting in Greek in marginal notes.24 Greater care would have been preferable, since "under no circumstances... can identity be established by one, two, or even several 'unusual' characteristics".25 Instead, a positive identification of the author of two handwritings can be made only when the both handwritings in question have "a combination of a sufficient number of points of agreement without any fundamental dissimilarities".26 When two writers are using the same alphabet, there must necessarily be some similarities in their forming of the same letters - otherwise, the correct identification of the letters would become a chore. This is perfectly understood in QDE, too, and the standards for identifying two different handwritings as deriving from the same author are strict: there has to be numerous small, but extremely individualistic characteristics present in both handwritings - a general similarity found in the handwritings is not enough for establishing their derivation from a single author.27 As Scott Brown has argued, the keywords here seem to be "highly individual habits".28 How clearly are these to be found in Carlson's comparison of the letters lambda, tau, and theta between the Theodore-letter and Morton Smith's own handwriting?

In his 1951 work, "Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels", Morton Smith wrote every Greek letter with his own hand. This large sample of Smith's handwriting, augmented with a letter by Smith from 1955, and with marginal notes - Brown performs a thorough comparison of the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the 1951 handwriting of Smith. Regarding the letter lambda, Smith seems to prefer writing it in two strokes (from the sample Brown can distinguish only eight instances where the letter lambda looks as if written in one stroke only), whereas the majority of the lambdas in the Theodore-letter look to have been written in one stroke. In Smith's two-stroke lambdas, when the first stroke has produced the hat and the right leg, the left leg of the letter is situated in relation to the middle point of the first stroke as follows: beneath the middle point 55%, approximately at the middle point 35%, above the middle point 10%. In the Theodore-letter, the point of contact is beneath the middle point in 96% of the cases.29 Consequently, the similarities between the lambdas in the handwritings cannot be due to a lapsing back into the forger's own handwriting, as Carlson suggested, because the forger, following the principles of QDE, would do this "progressively at various points", but not all the time.30

In the lambdas written with a single stroke there is even less similarity present. Smith's one-stroke lambda leans to the left, has a height comparable to other "high" letters, has not much retracing after the drawing of the right leg before commencing the left, and the hat and the left leg do not twist to point at each other. The one-stroke lambda in the Theodore-letter, on the other hand, leans to the right, has a height comparable to a "short" letter, has a long retracing after the drawing of the right leg before commencing the left, and the hat and the left leg are curled to point at each other.31 In the same vein, there is not much regarding the letters tau and theta for establishing Morton Smith as the author of the Theodore-letter. A one-stroke tau has been extremely common for centuries, and there are no "highly individual habits" in its forming for positive identification.32 In the thetas Smith wrote, there seems to be such diverging forms in existence that Carlson should not have had any trouble for finding specimens that came close to the thetas found in the Theodore-letter - here Carlson's method is named as "highly dubious" by Brown.33

Following the principles of QDE to the letter, there does not seem to be any room for firm conclusions to be drawn from the variants of theta Smith used. The handwriting of Morton Smith cannot be linked to the handwriting of the Theodore-letter on the grounds presented by Carlson, for the suggested similarities between these two are in too general a level. Brown summarizes the situation effectively:

"If these letterforms are easy to reproduce or appear consistently in MS 65 [the Theodore-letter], then the similarity to Smith's writing is probably coincidental. If they are normal for eighteenth century, then there is no basis for treating them as suspicious. If they are commonplace in twentieth-century Greek handwriting, then there is no basis for ascribing them specifically to Smith. And if Smith normally wrote these letterforms in a different way, then Carlson's examples of Smith's Greek handwriting are unrepresentative, and there is no way to explain why forms that are atypical for Smith's writing would appear with any regularity in MS 65."34

To summarize: the handwriting of the Theodore-letter cannot be linked to the handwriting of Morton Smith, and Morton Smith cannot be identified as the writer of the Theodore-letter by comparing their respective handwritings, because 1) the comparison material utilized by Carlson is too small in size, 2) there are no "highly individual habits" present in both handwritings, and 3) the handwriting in the Theodore-letter does not "lapse back" into the handwriting of Smith "progressively at various points"; instead, the Theodore-letter maintains its palaeographical identity with consistency.35

Scott Brown's argumentation related above is persuasive in its other aspects but in his choice of the sample material, which does not qualify for a rigorous analysis using the methods of QDE. A professional in the field, Hannah McFarland, directs the application of QDE thus: "A person's handwriting or handprinting habits can change over time. Consequently, the exemplars and questioned writing should be contemporary with each other. Ideally, both bodies of writing should be written with a year or two of each other."36 As we have seen above, the main body of the comparison material used by Brown was from Morton Smith's 1951 work "Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels", and from his letter from 1955. The date of the additional marginal notes is not mentioned by Brown; presumably the date cannot be established for these notes.37 Smith did not return to the monastery of Mar Saba after 1958, and Guy G. Stroumsa et al. found the letter from the monastery in 1976. At the latest, Smith would have had to forge the letter in 1958, while he was studying the MSS in Mar Saba. How much earlier could he have done the writing of the letter to Voss' book? Not much, I would argue, but, in any case, the temporal vicinity to the year 1958 of the samples of Smith's handwriting would greatly strengthen the reliability of the conclusions drawn from their comparison.

22In my analysis of Carlson's comparison between the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the handwriting of Morton Smith I rely heavily on the arguments developed by Scott G. Brown; Brown 2006a; Brown 2006c.
23Hilton 1993, 300; I borrow this quote from Brown, who uses it as a basis for his critique in Brown 2006a, 300 and Brown 2006c, 144-149.
24Carlson 2005, 46.
25Hilton 1993, 153-154; I borrow this quote from Brown, who uses it as a basis for his critique in Brown 2006a, 300 and Brown 2006c, 144-149.
26Hilton 1993, 153-154; cursive mine; I borrow this quote from Brown, who uses it as a basis for his critique in Brown 2006a, 300 and Brown 2006c, 144-149.
27Hilton 1993, 200. Here Hilton talks about modern autographs; the applicability of the methods developed for modern autographs is, at present, uncertain when dealing with manuscripts.
28Brown 2006a, 301.
29Brown 2006a, 302-303. If the first chapter of the "Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels" is removed from the sample, the figures are 40% beneath, 60% rest - in this instance Smith's handwriting reaffirms the conclusions drawn from the experiment made in the blogosphere, that the writer produces more textual variants in the beginning of his text, and less towards the ending.
30Brown 2006a, 301-303; the citation is from Conway 1959, 27, whom Brown cites as authoritative.
31Brown 2006a, 303-304.
32Brown 2006a, 304. Additionally, Smith drew the letter tau varyingly with one and two strokes.
33Brown 2006a, 305.
34Brown 2006a, 302.
35Brown remarks that the idea of "lapsing back" into the forger's own handwriting is related to forging autographs in situations, where the forger cannot copy the autograph from a model, but has to resort to memory (e.g. forging a check under the nose of a bank clerk). If Smith forged the Theodore-letter, would he have done it from a model he had prepared beforehand? Would the "lapsing back" into his own handwriting take place in this scenario, at all?; Brown 2006a, 300-301.
36Bold original;
37Brown 2006a, 302.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 2.5 An analysis of Stephen Carlson's handwriting analysis - Part II 958/3561 words

We need to draw two more question marks over Stephen Carlson's comparison between the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the other 18th-century MSS from Mar Saba. The observations made by Carlson, like the varying use of the nomina sacra, are probably irrelevant, as Scott Brown has argued, for uniformity in the handwritings practically disappears in the East after the 15th-century.18 In addition, the monastery of Mar Saba was an exception - this point is relevant only if the text of the Theodore-letter was copied into Voss' book in Mar Saba and not somewhere else - in its choosing of applicants, for only experienced monks were admitted, monks that had already developed their writing habits (and, consequently, their handwriting) somewhere else. The divergence in the handwritings of the monks in Mar Saba must have been exceptionally great.19

Also, the remark made by Carlson, that the Theodore-letter is the only MS written by a very narrow pen point, may not be an anomalous sign of a forgery, either. Had the writer of the Theodore-letter used a pen point as wide as the writer of the aforementioned Sabas 518 MS, the text could hardly have been made to fit in the back pages of Voss' book, since its dimensions were only 198x148x23 mm - a small-sized text may be produced only with a small-sized pen point.20 On the other hand, a small-sized text may more easily have problems in the quality of the drawn line (ink blots etc.), interpreted as "signs of a forgery", when the observer is especially looking for these "signs".21 The bottom line, at this point, is simply that Carlson's analysis is not very persuasive in itself when he compares the Theodore-letter to the other 18th-century MSS from Mar Saba. Next we need to turn our attention to the claimed similarities between the handwriting of the Theodore-letter and the handwriting of Morton Smith, the purported forger of the letter.

18Brown 2006a, 299. Brown cites Barbour 1981, xxii, xxiii as authoritative.
19Brown 2006a, 299; Peristeris 2001, 171. Also, Morton Smith observes that the handwriting of the Theodore-letter contains Western European influences. The reason for this inclination is, no doubt, the general practice of the Eastern monasteries during the 17th-century and the 18th-century, the collecting of patristic texts printed in the West; Smith 1973, 2-3.
20Smith 1960a, 251.
21According to his own words, Carlson went off to find the "signs of a forgery" from the handwriting, as "it is hard to find evidence of forgery if one is not looking for it”; Carlson 2005, xviii, 24.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Learning to build presentations

For the past three days I have been working with my coming public lecture about the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark, to be presented on August 22th at Arkadia Oy International Bookshop, a little more than two weeks from now. This opportunity not only compels me to focus on my general presentation skills (in English, too), but also gives me a strong incentive to (finally) learn to use my presentation software (OpenOffice Impress) properly. So far the latter has been extremely easy, from creating master files to give a proper mood for the slide show, to adding custom animations for various objects I have put on the slides.

As an introduction to the case of the Secret Gospel of Mark, I am going to talk a bit about the historical method, as I have come to understand it during my studies at the University of Helsinki. After comparing the process of reconstructing historical scenarios, based on the assessment of the primary sources, to a Chinese dissection puzzle called Tangram (where the exact same play pieces, called tans, are put into use for construing varying shapes, ranging from cats to people to geese), I plan to demonstrate the analogue by drawing an example from historical Jesus studies, where the scarce evidence we have of the historical Jesus is, nevertheless, put into good use, with diverging results.

The picture above is going to illustrate two of these figures of historical Jesus. On the left we have the fairly conservative account of Jesus based on betting a lot on the reliability of the canonical Gospels, even as far as treating them as eyewitness accounts of the man from Nazareth. The right picture depicts an apocalyptical prophet à la Heikki Räisänen, and (following him) almost every other Finnish exegete. Here the key passages, attributed to Jesus, are those that deal with the coming End Time, and Jesus is firmly put into a continuum from John the Baptist to the Apostle Paul, both of whom were (at least in this reconstruction) apocalyptically minded. (Yeah, the right one is in reality John the Baptist himself, as the symbols he is holding show clearly. For my simple illustration purposes this has no bearing, but I may still (for perfection) want to find another angry Jesus-like figure.)

The left: Jesus the (Cynic) Philosopher, as per the Jesus Seminar. The right: Jesus the Myth, as in there never was a man from Nazareth called Jesus; instead, in the beginning, Jesus was understood to be a heavenly figure only. The Jesus Project is one of those academic endeavours I am very interested about - after the Arkadia presentation I have actually thought of writing a proper article (to be published in the Finnish magazine Vartija) of the matter, but we will see. In any case, Jesus as myth only has, in my mind, gained enough academic prestige in the past two or three years to get into a level of serious consideration, though I am unsure at present of its real merits down the line. (Yeah, the left one is really Diogenes, as the presence of a dog clearly shows. A picture of a sage Jesus, haven't seen one of those, so Diogenes will most likely stay.)

Disclaimer: The images were drawn from the Google Image Search. The original authors, if I am not mistaken, are all long dead, and their works are now public domain. Unfortunately, I can only acknowledge the anonymous persons who scanned these images since the sources are not mentioned.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Professor Bob's got some tenure

Pearls Before Swine Aug 2, 2009


This reminds me of how Roland Boer, of Stalin's Moustache, characterised tenure:

"by the time you finally achieve it, you’ve spent a decade of sleepless nights obsessing about what will enhance or hinder your chances for tenure, the grandkids will be at the celebration, and you’ll be planning retirement. Any original, provocative thought has long since fled the scene along with the best years of writing."

And yeah, tenure (or its equivalents in Finland) looks, at present, to be lying a lifetime away, in a misty future. Good thing Professor Bob, at least, seems to have retained his playful (adolescent) set of mind through all the years of hard laboring in "The academic sweatshop".