Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Michael Baigent reviews "The Lost Symbol"

Michael Baigent, famous for his controversial scholarship (including the conspiracy theory classic "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" (1982), and fairly recently "The Jesus Papers" (2006) and the brand new "Racing Toward Armageddon: The Three Great Religions and the Plot to End the World"), has reviewed Dan Brown's new thriller "The Lost Symbol":

"[I] settled down to devour a fast-paced thriller. By Page 8, my plan fell to pieces. I closed the book, took a deep breath, and looked at the ceiling in despair: The book was awful. It was so bad that it was a candidate for the worst book that I had ever tried to read. And I had another 501 pages to go."

According to Baigent, his words are not related to the lawsuit he and Richard Leigh lost over claims of copyright-infringement, charged against Random House, the publisher of "The Da Vinci Code" (and, consequently, against Dan Brown, the author), over inappropriate usage of the intellectual property created in "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail". Instead of scoring cheap shots on Brown's novel, Baigent "resolved to be scrupulous; to praise what was praiseworthy and to criticize what wasn’t", as is clear from the quote above.

Read the whole article, "Debunking Dan Brown", here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 3.5 The irony of Bart D. Ehrman - a novel by James H. Hunter - Part II

What should we conclude from the alleged parallels between "The Mystery of Mar Saba" and the discovery story as told by Morton Smith? Scott G. Brown argues that the alleged parallels are very general in their nature. Only two details may be confidently juxtaposed side by side: both stories feature a scholar as the discoverer, and place the event at the monastery of Mar Saba. In other respects the stories do not correspond with each other, e.g. the MS is unearthed in Hunter's novel in an old chapel, from behind a loose stone, whereas the Theodore-letter is said to have been found from the monastery's tower library, copied into the back pages of a printed book from the 17th-century.8 Another evident difference between the stories is the physical reality of the MS: the Shred of Nicodemus looks like it was produced in antiquity, while the Theodore-letter looks like it was copied during the 18th-century. Brown goes even so far as to suggest that the similarity between the novel and Smith's story of discovery is predominantly created by deliberately misrepresenting the plot of the novel.9

As Carlson observes, we find a clear naturalistic explanation for the resurrection in Hunter's novel - the Shred of Nicodemus portrays human agents as responsible for the disappearance of Jesus' body10 - but the cry in the Secret Gospel of Mark, coming out of the tomb as Jesus gets nearer, can hardly be considered proof of the youth having been buried alive. The secret evangelist uses two words to depict the cry: φωνὴ μεγάλη. (Theod. III.1) In the canonical Gospel of Mark we hear cries depicted with these words coming out from the mouths of demons. (Mark 1:26, etc.) The interpretation of Scott Brown - that the youth is death and the cry has a demonic dimension to it - seems the most natural one.11 It is curious, and possibly noteworthy, that in this instance Carlson reads the Secret Gospel as historically as Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln do in "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", where the naturalistic explanation for the cry features quite prominently.12

In the end the question we are asking is 'What kinds of conclusions can we draw from the perceived intertextuality between two sources; who does all the work of putting the perceived intertextuality in place'? I am going to follow those literary critical paradigms that emphasize the role of the reader in the process of placing texts in relations to some other texts.13 The problematic nature of the argument is elicited best by taking a closer look at Chris Price's suggestion of the linkage between the names of Lord Moreton and Morton Smith. It is far from clear what we should conclude from the similarity of these names, as the fictitious character of Lord Moreton was born for the general public with the first publication of the novel in 1940, whereas Robert Morton Smith got his second name presumably in a year after his birth in 1915. Is it a sound conclusion that Morton Smith, while reading Hunter's novel, notices the similarity between his second name and the name of Lord Moreton, and decides to devise a daring plan that mirrors the other aspects of the novel's plot as well? Or is it a sound conclusion that Morton Smith and James H. Hunter were familiar with each other - a conservative Evangelical and a liberal Anglican - before the writing of "The Mystery of Mar Saba", when Smith already had his grand plan in mind, and Hunter, after hearing of the plan, decides to bring in a minor character whose name is phonetically similar to his young friend? Or is it a sound conclusion that Morton Smith, after he has decided to follow the plot of the novel, wishes to strengthen the forming linkage by changing his own name to mirror the name of a minor character from the novel? Or is it a sound conclusion that the similarity between Morton and Moreton is simply coincidental?

When the literary dependence or the tradition historical dependence is argued for in the biblical studies, occasional similarities are not enough for establishing a strong probability of dependence. A literary dependence seems stronger if the texts have verbatim agreements, or follow some individualistic compositional decisions. Weaker parallels may point to the use of common traditions, but the less we are able to find similarities between the texts, the less likely the dependence - a literary or tradition historical.14 The quality of the perceived parallels may be taken into account, as well. If the monastery of Mar Saba was not the second oldest, and at the same time the second most widely known monastery of the Eastern Church in the Near East, losing the competition only to the monastery of St. Catherine, the place of discovery would be much more remarkable than it is now. The second real parallel, that the discoverer is a scholar, is about as generic a trope as they get. The parallels of the rolling of the stone and of the linen cloths do not seem to be intertextual links principally between Hunter's novel and the Secret Gospel, but between the Secret Gospel and the canonical Mark (Gethsemane/burial; Mark 14:51-52; 16:3-4); in turn, it is on the basis of the canonical Gospel that Hunter composes the text of the Shred of Nicodemus.

The irony Bart Ehrman found in the usage of Voss' book is problematic for the same reasons. As a single detail the coincidental-looking finding is certainly surprising, interesting, thought-provoking, amusing, and disturbing. Still, we must ask, just what kinds of conclusions can we draw from it? Ehrman's irony and Hunter's novel would not work very well as a general method for studying history, as the perceived intertextuality between the texts (Voss' book - the Theodore-letter; Hunter's novel - Smith's discovery story) is of the sort a clever scholar could come up with for as much as she would like to. In chapter 4 I take a close look at similar arguments by Carlson, arguments concerning the clues that Morton Smith allegedly left behind, and discuss the demarcation problem, the debated issue of how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. For now, it is enough to note that the biggest problem in lowering the standards of (any kind of) literary dependence to the level of Ehrman's irony and Hunter's novel would be the consequental impossibility to do traditional exegetical work (or any kind of historical study) any longer - the world is already filled with the "research" produced by the Shadow Academy, where arguments similar to Ehrman's irony and Hunter's novel are used e.g. to demonstrate how the canonical Gospels are in reality written as parodies of the works of Josephus.15

NOTE: the whole subchapter is found here. Comments are better off there.

8Hunter 1943, 281; Brown 2005, 57-58.
9Brown 2005, 58.
10Hunter 1943, 279-280.
11Brown 2005, 79-84.
12Baigent 1983, 321.
13Cf. e.g. the discussion in Interpretation and Overinterpretation 1992. Even though Eco et al. have their differing opinions, they agree regarding the role of the reader; it is remarkable, or even more remarkable.
14Cf. e.g. Riekkinen 1986, 133, 198-208.
15Cf. Atwill 2005. [Further note: the Finnish term "varjoakatemia" translates roughly as "The Shadow Academy" - the term refers to fringe scholarship practiced in the borderline area of science and pseudoscience. The English term, however, has already been taken: "The Shadow Academy was a battlestation that was used as a hidden training center by the Second Imperium. The center was founded by the fallen Jedi Brakiss to train Dark Jedi in 23 ABY" - first appearance in Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights novel "The Shadow Academy". I may think of a better term in future.]

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 3.5 The irony of Bart D. Ehrman - a novel by James H. Hunter

Other suspicious details from the Theodore-letter has been found by e.g. Bart D. Ehrman, who suggests in his 2003 work "Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew" that Morton Smith's sense of humour had an effect on the choice of book the Theodore-letter ended up being written into. Ehrman infers this to be a deliberate clue by Smith. In his popular book "The Secret Gospel" Smith had chosen a double page picture from Voss' book as an illustration, whereas the academic "Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark" included pictures of the three pages containing the Theodore-letter that were cropped from all "unnecessary" information. Consequently, the ending of Voss' book (in Latin) was readable only in his popular treatment of the text. Ehrman remarks that Smith's colleagues only rarely delved into this popular treatment instead of Smith's scholarly treatise. For this reason the hint of the author's sense of humour remains hidden as it does in Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Purloined Letter", under the eyes of everyone, but in such an obvious place that no one happens to really take heed of it. First, the purpose of Isaac Voss was to distinguish between the authentic and non-authentic letters of Ignatius of Antioch, and to expurgate the authentic letters from later interpolations. Ehrman notes of the possibility of the inauthenticity of the Theodore-letter, in which case it would be - as a supplement to the Gospel of Mark - a later interpolation. Second, Voss ends his treatise describing some interpolations the Epistle of Barnabas contains. In his own words: "Plutes enim paginas nugis iftis implerat impudentiffimus ifte nebulo" ("That very impudent fellow filled more pages with these trifles"1) - naturally, Voss refers to the writer (forger) of these interpolations. The text of Clement's letter to Theodore begins from the very next page: could it be composed by another "very impudent fellow"?2

Another detail relating to the question of authenticity opens up even more dazzling perspectives. Is it possible that Morton Smith could have - in all unscrupulousness and cold-bloodedness - borrowed the grand idea of discovering a previously unknown text in the monastery of Mar Saba from a certain spy novel by James H. Hunter, called "The Mystery of Mar Saba", originally published in 1940? Attention to the alleged similarities between the novel and the discovery story of Smith was first drawn by Philip Jenkins in his 2001 book "Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way".3 The clearest parallel is the place of discovery, the monastery of Mar Saba. In Hunter's novel a scholar, Sir William Bracebridge, is hunting manuscripts in various monasteries, when he finds a forgery from Mar Saba, a manuscript that looks to derive from antiquity, and believing in its authenticity he titles it "The Shred of Nicodemus".4 Stephen C. Carlson follows Jenkins and notices that both the Secret Gospel of Mark and the Shred of Nicodemus explain their resurrection stories in naturalistic terms - in the Secret Gospel the youth cries out when Jesus gets nearer, indicating that he is alive. Like Jenkins, Carlson understands both the Theodore-letter and the Shred of Nicodemus to be essentially similar texts, forgeries of ancient documents.5

After Jenkins had laid the initial cards on the table, more and more parallels became apparent. Chris Price finds a "striking parallel" between a minor character in "The Mystery of Mar Saba" and Morton Smith: in the novel the Chief of the London police, Lord Moreton, has a name that differs from "Morton" only by a single letter, while their pronunciation does not have any differences. Another surprising link comes from the dust jacket of the novel, from where we find first "It is prophetic" in bold font, and then in cursive font "Isn't It True? Fiction Yesterday – Fact Today!"6 Thomas Anderson finds two common elements from the Shred of Nicodemus and the Secret Gospel of Mark, as both feature a rolling of a stone from the door of the tomb, and linen cloths. In addition, Morton Smith could be compared to Peter Yphantis, who makes the forgery in the novel, a "leading expert on the subject", as Smith was (the subject of forging?).7

What should we conclude from the alleged parallels between "The Mystery of Mar Saba" and the discovery story as told by Morton Smith? Scott G. Brown argues that the alleged parallels are very general in their nature. Only two details may be confidently juxtaposed side by side: both stories feature a scholar as the discoverer, and place the event at the monastery of Mar Saba. In other respects the stories do not correspond with each other, e.g. the MS is unearthed in Hunter's novel in an old chapel, from behind a loose stone, whereas the Theodore-letter is said to have been found from the monastery's tower library, copied into the back pages of a printed book from the 17th-century.8 Another evident difference between the stories is the physical reality of the MS: the Shred of Nicodemus looks like it was produced in antiquity, while the Theodore-letter looks like it was copied during the 18th-century. Brown goes even so far as to suggest that the similarity between the novel and Smith's story of discovery is predominantly created by deliberately misrepresenting the plot of the novel.9

As Carlson observes, we find a clear naturalistic explanation for the resurrection in Hunter's novel - the Shred of Nicodemus portrays human agents as responsible for the disappearance of Jesus' body10 - but the cry in the Secret Gospel of Mark, coming out of the tomb as Jesus gets nearer, can hardly be considered proof of the youth having been buried alive. The secret evangelist uses two words to depict the cry: φωνὴ μεγάλη. (Theod. III.1) In the canonical Gospel of Mark we hear cries depicted with these words coming out from the mouths of demons. (Mark 1:26, etc.) The interpretation of Scott Brown - that the youth is death and the cry has a demonic dimension to it - seems the most natural one.11 It is curious, and possibly noteworthy, that in this instance Carlson reads the Secret Gospel as historically as Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln do in "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", where the naturalistic explanation for the cry features quite prominently.12

In the end the question we are asking is 'What kinds of conclusions can we draw from the perceived intertextuality between two sources; who does all the work of putting the perceived intertextuality in place'? I am going to follow those literary critical paradigms that emphasize the role of the reader in the process of placing texts in relations to some other texts.13 The problematic nature of the argument is elicited best by taking a closer look at Chris Price's suggestion of the linkage between the names of Lord Moreton and Morton Smith. It is far from clear what we should conclude from the similarity of these names, as the fictitious character of Lord Moreton was born for the general public with the first publication of the novel in 1940, whereas Robert Morton Smith got his second name presumably in a year after his birth in 1915. Is it a sound conclusion that Morton Smith, while reading Hunter's novel, notices the similarity between his second name and the name of Lord Moreton, and decides to devise a daring plan that mirrors the other aspects of the novel's plot as well? Or is it a sound conclusion that Morton Smith and James H. Hunter were familiar with each other - a conservative Evangelical and a liberal Anglican - before the writing of "The Mystery of Mar Saba", when Smith already had his grand plan in mind, and Hunter, after hearing of the plan, decides to bring in a minor character whose name is phonetically similar to his young friend? Or is it a sound conclusion that Morton Smith, after he has decided to follow the plot of the novel, wishes to strengthen the forming linkage by changing his own name to mirror the name of a minor character from the novel? Or is it a sound conclusion that the similarity between Morton and Moreton is simply coincidental?

When the literary dependence or the tradition historical dependence is argued for in the biblical studies, occasional similarities are not enough for establishing a strong probability of dependence. A literary dependence seems stronger if the texts have verbatim agreements, or follow some individualistic compositional decisions. Weaker parallels may point to the use of common traditions, but the less we are able to find similarities between the texts, the less likely the dependence - a literary or tradition historical.14 The quality of the perceived parallels may be taken into account, as well. If the monastery of Mar Saba was not the second oldest, and at the same time the second most widely known monastery of the Eastern Church in the Near East, losing the competition only to the monastery of St. Catherine, the place of discovery would be much more remarkable than it is now. The second real parallel, that the discoverer is a scholar, is about as generic a trope as they get. The parallels of the rolling of the stone and of the linen cloths do not seem to be intertextual links principally between Hunter's novel and the Secret Gospel, but between the Secret Gospel and the canonical Mark (Gethsemane/burial; Mark 14:51-52; 16:3-4); in turn, it is on the basis of the canonical Gospel that Hunter composes the text of the Shred of Nicodemus.

The irony Bart Ehrman found in the usage of Voss' book is problematic for the same reasons. As a single detail the coincidental-looking finding is certainly surprising, interesting, thought-provoking, amusing, and disturbing. Still, we must ask, just what kinds of conclusions can we draw from it? Ehrman's irony and Hunter's novel would not work very well as a general method for studying history, as the perceived intertextuality between the texts (Voss' book - the Theodore-letter; Hunter's novel - Smith's discovery story) is of the sort a clever scholar could come up with for as much as she would like to. In chapter 4 I take a close look at similar arguments by Carlson, arguments concerning the clues that Morton Smith allegedly left behind, and discuss the demarcation problem, the debated issue of how to distinguish between science and pseudoscience. For now, it is enough to note that the biggest problem in lowering the standards of (any kind of) literary dependence to the level of Ehrman's irony and Hunter's novel would be the consequental impossibility to do traditional exegetical work (or any kind of historical study) any longer - the world is already filled with the "research" produced by the Shadow Academy, where arguments similar to Ehrman's irony and Hunter's novel are used e.g. to demonstrate how the canonical Gospels are in reality written as parodies of the works of Josephus.15

1The translation to English is by Ehrman; Ehrman 2003a, 87. In the original Finnish text I translate the text from Latin myself: "Tuo ylen julkea henkilö täytti enemmänkin sivuja näillä turhuuksilla".
2Ehrman 2003a, 87; Ehrman 2003b, 162.
3Jenkins 2002, 102.
4Hunter 1943, 292-294. [Further note: Funny thing, but in the original Finnish I actually managed to claim that Sir Bracebridge was also making a catalogue out of the monastic library of Mar Saba. Re-reading the pages from my own personal copy (signed by the author himself, no less!), I cannot fathom where that thought came from.... until I re-read Chris Price's plot summary (link below), where he relates the story with these very words.]
5Carlson 2005, 19-20, 83.
6http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2005/07/is-secret-gospel-of-mark-modern.html
7http://uppenbarelse.blogspot.com/2005/07/cadre-comments-mystery-of-mar-saba-and.html; [Further note: I may be reading too much from Anderson's statement - maybe he does not actually mean to juxtapose Smith and Yphantis. However, the common elements link is clear enough.]
8Hunter 1943, 281; Brown 2005, 57-58.
9Brown 2005, 58.
10Hunter 1943, 279-280.
11Brown 2005, 79-84.
12Baigent 1983, 321.
13Cf. e.g. the discussion in Interpretation and Overinterpretation 1992. Even though Eco et al. have their differing opinions, they agree regarding the role of the reader; it is remarkable, or even more remarkable.
14Cf. e.g. Riekkinen 1986, 133, 198-208.
15Cf. Atwill 2005. [Further note: the Finnish term "varjoakatemia" translates roughly as "The Shadow Academy" - the term refers to fringe scholarship practiced in the borderline area of science and pseudoscience. The English term, however, has already been taken: "The Shadow Academy was a battlestation that was used as a hidden training center by the Second Imperium. The center was founded by the fallen Jedi Brakiss to train Dark Jedi in 23 ABY" - first appearance in Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights novel "The Shadow Academy". I may think of a better term in future.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Severus of Antioch and the Savourless Salt

Matthew Burgess, of confessions of a bible junkie, has come across a curious parallel between the use of the salt parable in Clement's letter to Theodore (Theod. I.13-15) and a certain letter by Severus of Antioch (c. 465-c. 540). Better see for yourself!

In addition, Burgess concludes his take on the Theodore-letter as such:

"[A]t the moment I’m more and more inclined to the opinion that The Gospel Hoax, with its depiction of the letter and its purported gospel quotations as deviously encoded documents ready to reveal their true nature to the perceptive sleuth, displays some notable structural similarities to The da Vinci Code."

I'm of the same opinion, as will become more and more clear when I get ahead in translating my thesis. We're getting there! For spoilers of my current understanding of the hoax hypothesis, see English summary if you hadn't read it before.

Master's Thesis: Chapter 3.4 The expertise and suspicious behaviour of Morton Smith - Part II

There is no doubt that Morton Smith was an extremely competent scholar, especially regarding his proficiency in various ancient languages.19 He seems to have been well acquainted with Greek MSS and was able to evaluate all of their characteristics, as Carlson remarks, "even commenting on their inaccuracies in ortography and accentuation".20 According to his own words, Smith became interested in "manuscript hunting" at the turn of the 1950s because of the influence of his teacher, professor Werner Jaeger.21 It is a long road, however, even from an outstanding ability to read ancient languages to be able to compose original text in these same languages, even though the students of the Ancient Greek have traditionally been instructed both in reading and writing of the language.22 It would be especially difficult to compose a text that would be accepted as authentic by the experts of the language, as the letter to Theodore has been accepted.23 The examples Carlson gives do not shed much light on the question of the quality of the Greek text Smith was able to produce: understanding the ambiguity of the words σὺ λέγεις (Matthew 27:11) spoken by Jesus to Pilate - it is not a simple affirmative, and an appropriate translation could be e.g. "So you say" - points in itself to the understanding of the nuances of Ancient Greek, but does not tell us if the person with this understanding is also proficient to produce text that would be accepted as authentic by other experts.24

Even more problematic is Carlson's conviction that Smith's ability to cite Clement in his 1958 article "The Image of God: Notes on the Hellenization of Judaism, with Especial Reference to Goodenough's Work on Jewish Symbols" functions as a prove of his ability to write like Clement when the occasion arises. This matter looks to be of particular importance to Carlson, as he refers to these four citations of Clement on three different occasions.25 Every time he does so, the strangeness of the argument just keeps getting underlined: when has the ability to cite a Church Father transformed into a "necessary... level of experience"26 to write like a Church Father; a necessary level of experience to produce three pages of writing that fool everyone for believing they derive from ancient authors? The correspondence between Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem in 1945-1982, edited and published by Guy G. Stroumsa in 2008, conserves the detail that Smith was in 1948 researching the Church Fathers, "especially Clement of Alexandria", but this single mention does not turn out readily into an ability to write like Clement ten years later.27 If Smith indeed forged the Theodore-letter, he must have kept his unique Clement know-how entirely hidden. Even Carlson has to acknowledge that Smith did not "technically" publish anything Clementine before the discovery of the Theodore-letter, not even a book review.28 Smith's literary remains, scrutinized by Allan J. Pantuck, have nothing about Smith's alleged extensive work with Clement of Alexandria before his visit to Mar Saba in 1958.29

What kind of arguments are Carlson's claims about the opportunities Smith would have had for building a believable hoax? According to Carlson Smith owned a copy of Otto Stählin's concordance to Clement, could have obtained Isaac Voss' book before his visit to Mar Saba, and could have smuggled the small-sized book underneath his shirt to his cell where he worked while making a catalogue out of the monastic library.30 In these claims Carlson seems to step too lightly over the line between a probable and a speculative argument - sure enough, lots of things would have been "possible" to Smith, but the mere possibility is generally a poor foundation for a larger argument. The use of the language of possibilities is, however, a typical part of a conspiracy theory argument.31

In his twisting of Smith's sentences Carlson comes off mainly as paranoidal. He tells plainly that Smith's sentence "I left the MS in the Mar Saba library and have no information as to what has been done with it"32 may be construed as a confession that Smith himself brought the Theodore-letter to the library of the monastery.33 The verb Carlson has chosen, construe, is used intransitively "to construe a sentence or sentence part especially in connection with translating", but transitively "to analyze the arrangement and connection of words in (a sentence or sentence part)" and "to understand or explain the sense or intention of usually in a particular way or with respect to a given set of circumstances", according to Merriam-Webster online-dictionary.34 Carlson, no doubt, feels like he is using the verb transitively according to the first description, as he wishes to draw attention the ambiguity of Smith's sentence beginning with the words "I left" - either he discovered the MS and left it in the monastery, or he brought the MS to the monastery and left it there; grammatically both interpretations are possible. The other transitive use of the verb, on the other hand, opens up some interesting perspectives for evaluating Carlson's hoax hypothesis as a whole. Usually the constructing35 of new meanings from surprising sources in a particular way is another typical part of a conspiracy theory argument, used extensively by Carlson: for him the behaviour of Smith is nothing like we would expect from the one who is innocent for this kind of hoax.36 No world is enough, as everything Smith has ever said, done, or written can be turned against him.

Finally, it must be concluded that Carlson's claims about Smith's level of expertise and about his suspicious behaviour are for the most part not robust enough for backing up the hoax hypothesis. In the light of the available evidence Smith does not seem to have possessed a unique Clement know-how, but the question of the possibility of composing something like the Secret Gospel of Mark could be quite a different matter. The excerpts from the Secret Gospel could probably have been written by Smith - if he would have worked as e.g. Raymond E. Brown judged the passages, cutting and pasting parts of the canonical Gospels37 - but the question of the Clementine text remains. The "suspiciousness" of Smith is born first and foremost from Carlson's method of gathering up support for the hoax hypothesis from every possible source imaginable, and the language of possibilities does not a strong argument make.

NOTE: the whole subchapter is found here. Comments are better off there.

19As for Smith's language proficiency, cf. Cohen 1996b.
20Carlson 2005, 76. Smith notes these inaccuracies e.g. in Smith 1956.
21Smith 1985, 8.
22E.g. Arthur Sidgwick's "Introduction to Greek Prose Composition" has been widely used since its publication in the 1870s to teach composing text in Ancient Greek. It is highly probable that Smith had been taught to write as well as read Ancient Greek.
23Hedrick 2003 informs that the majority of the Clementine scholars have accepted the authenticity of the letter, as is indicated by its inclusion to the Clementine corpus from 1980 onwards; Hedrick 2003, 141. Carlson disagrees, as the editor Ursula Treu told that the inclusion happened only "provisionally", for furthering the discussion of the matter; Carlson 2005, 49-50. On the other hand, both Smith and Lauha see the letter as having passed the test of authenticity regarding its text; Smith 1982, 452; Lauha 1987a, 208.
24Carlson 2005, 128 n. 2.
25Carlson 2005, 9, 64, 75.
26To be precise, Carlson says the following: "the level of experience that... was necessary [for forgery] – and Smith had that level of experience"; Carlson 2005, 63.
27Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem, Correspondence 1945-1982, 28. For the editor of the correspondence, Guy G. Stroumsa, the letters are first and foremost a prove of the gradual development of Smith's understanding of the Theodore-letter; cf. Grafton 2009.
28Smith 1976, 197 n. 7; Carlson 2005, 63-64, 75. Carlson considers, contra Smith (and Brown; Brown 2005, 38) that the four citations of Clement in "The Image of God" should be considered "something", and thus Smith had in effect published "something" about Clement, though Smith's bibliography would hold no information of this. [Further note: the sentence in the main body of the text and this footnote have been changed somewhat because of an imprecise wording that the original had, conveying a wrong idea about Carlson's position.]
29Personal communication.
30Carlson 2005, 37, 45.
31For Carlson's defense it must be stated that the major part of his problematic argumentation are brought forward only after the linkage between the handwritings of Smith, the Theodore-letter, and the MS22 has been established. The building of the conspiracy theory, including the problems of distinguishing between theory and evidence, are pondered in length in Chapter 4.
32Smith 1976, 196.
33"can even be construed as admitting to his depositing it there"; Carlson 2005, 41.
34Cursive mine; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/construe
35The verb construe comes from Latin construere, "to construct"; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/construe
36Carlson 2005, 77-78.
37Brown 1974, 482-483.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 3.4 The expertise and suspicious behaviour of Morton Smith

In chapters 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3 we have looked at the arguments that deal with vocabulary, grammatical formulation, and alleged eccentricities in the narrative of the Theodore-letter. Even though some characteristics of the text seem rather hilarious from modern perspective1, no ancient reader would have understood the linkage to the 20th-century (homo)sexual identity. It is not problematic to read a given text from a modern perspective - if anything, it is strictly necessary - but the conclusions we wish to draw from such readings should be made with caution. The hoax hypothesis of Stephen C. Carlson, however, ventures deeper still, into the structure of the text, and uses other writings of Morton Smith creatively to establish his identity as the writer of the Theodore-letter.

Carlson begins this part of the hoax hypothesis by asking if Smith - whose handwriting he has already linked to the handwriting of the Theodore-letter2 - had possessed a necessary level of expertise to be able to compose a believable hoax. This very question was also asked by Scott G. Brown in his 2005 monograph "Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery". Brown ended up with a negative - the leading experts of Ancient Greek thought Smith's language proficiency to have been inadequate for this kind of work3; a conclusion Carlson strongly disagrees with. On the contrary, Smith seems to have possessed a rare combination of abilities suited for writing the Theodore-letter: his analysis of Vincent Taylor's commentary "The Gospel According to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes, and Indexes" from 1952 shows that the literary style of Mark was familiar to him, and he criticizes Edgar Goodspeed's translation for losing the nuances of the language. In the beginning of the 1950s Smith acquainted himself thoroughly with the 18th-century MSS - he mentions in a letter dated 26.1.1953 to have taken over 5,000 photographs of these MSS4 - showing in one his articles, Σύμμεικτα, to be able to read and transcript them easily. Just before his visit to the monastery of Mar Saba in 1958 he published another article, "The Image of God: Notes on the Hellenization of Judaism, with Especial Reference to Goodenough's Work on Jewish Symbols", where he demonstrates his expertise regarding Clement of Alexandria by citing him four times. In this article Smith also utilizes Otto Stählin's concordance to Clement, a key item - as Quentin Quesnell argued in 1975 - should anyone wish to try a hand at this kind of fabrication. Carlson draws specific attention to the fact that Stählin's concordance was part of Smith's personal library, which contained c. 10,000 books.5

Lack of resources would not have hindered Smith in composing the Theodore-letter. The book of Isaac Voss was not particularly expensive in the 1950s, especially if Smith would have bought an individual that was already lacking the covers.6 Additionally, the hoax hypothesis explains other curious details in Smith's behaviour: Carlson suspects that Smith is carefully circling in his speech around the fact that in reality he smuggled Voss' book into the monastery. Smith's sentences, like "During my stay I was able to examine, label, and describe some seventy items"7 and "If the letter was really by Clement I had a discovery of extraordinary importance"8 could have been written, according to Carlson, in such a way that the possibility of smuggling would not have been left open, as it happens.9 Smith's catalogue in Νέα Σιών draws Carlson's attention for the same reason: Smith states that the MSS he described are simply "to be found" (εὑρίσκονται) in the tower library of the monastery.10 The reply Smith wrote to Quentin Quesnell in 1976, "On the Authenticity of the Mar Saba Letter to Clement", seems to turn the rate of evasiveness even higher. Carlson notes e.g. that the sentence "In sum, it is false that I held, before discovering the new text, the theory to which it led me"11 has a reference to the discovery of the new text in the middle of another sentence that Smith himself describes with the truth-value "false".12 On the other hand, when Smith says that "I left the MS in the Mar Saba library and have no information as to what has been done with it"13, the sentence does not express, according to Carlson, plain enough that Smith would have actually discovered the MS in Mar Saba: instead, it may be construed as a confession that Smith himself brought the Theodore-letter to the library of the monastery.14

An especially weighty argument for Carlson is the fact that Smith does not use similar language of the other discoveries he made in the monastery, e.g. of the 15th-century scholia written on Sophocles' Ajax.15 The attitude of Smith towards the Secret Gospel of Mark looks suspicious, too: if Smith truly believed in the authenticity of the Theodore-letter, why he did not make that much out of it in his own scholarship, e.g. in "Jesus the Magician" (1978) where Smith compared the activity of Jesus to other ancient miracle-workers. In a word, Smith does not behave like the one who is innocent for this kind of hoax.16

All of these suspicious details taken together are a clear indicator for Carlson that Smith has in reality forged the Theodore-letter. From Smith's part this would be a misuse of the principle of benevolence, one foundation of the on-going project of science: around the Theodore-letter he would have build deliberately a complex historical reconstruction of Jesus of Nazareth and his magic-filled Jewish movement for one purpose only, to lead other scholars astray. For Carlson Smith's theory is a trap, build for ensnaring a careless peer-reviewer.17 His textual puzzles, including the careful use of language where Smith never states plainly that the Theodore-letter had got into the monastery of Mar Saba without his contribution, are meant to be a test, a challenge to a battle of wits between Smith and his challengers.18 To summarize: according to Carlson Smith had the necessary level of expertise for conducting a believable hoax, and the most natural explanation for Smith's suspicious behaviour is the assumption that he himself forged the Theodore-letter.

There is no doubt that Morton Smith was an extremely competent scholar, especially regarding his proficiency in various ancient languages.19 He seems to have been well acquainted with Greek MSS and was able to evaluate all of their characteristics, as Carlson remarks, "even commenting on their inaccuracies in ortography and accentuation".20 According to his own words, Smith became interested in "manuscript hunting" at the turn of the 1950s because of the influence of his teacher, professor Werner Jaeger.21 It is a long road, however, even from an outstanding ability to read ancient languages to be able to compose original text in these same languages, even though the students of the Ancient Greek have traditionally been instructed both in reading and writing of the language.22 It would be especially difficult to compose a text that would be accepted as authentic by the experts of the language, as the letter to Theodore has been accepted.23 The examples Carlson gives do not shed much light on the question of the quality of the Greek text Smith was able to produce: understanding the ambiguity of the words σὺ λέγεις (Matthew 27:11) spoken by Jesus to Pilate - it is not a simple affirmative, and an appropriate translation could be e.g. "So you say" - points in itself to the understanding of the nuances of Ancient Greek, but does not tell us if the person with this understanding is also proficient to produce text that would be accepted as authentic by other experts.24

Even more problematic is Carlson's conviction that Smith's ability to cite Clement in his 1958 article "The Image of God: Notes on the Hellenization of Judaism, with Especial Reference to Goodenough's Work on Jewish Symbols" functions as a prove of his ability to write like Clement when the occasion arises. This matter looks to be of particular importance to Carlson, as he refers to these four citations of Clement on three different occasions.25 Every time he does so, the strangeness of the argument just keeps getting underlined: when has the ability to cite a Church Father transformed into a "necessary... level of experience"26 to write like a Church Father; a necessary level of experience to produce three pages of writing that fool everyone for believing they derive from ancient authors? The correspondence between Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem in 1945-1982, edited and published by Guy G. Stroumsa in 2008, conserves the detail that Smith was in 1948 researching the Church Fathers, "especially Clement of Alexandria", but this single mention does not turn out readily into an ability to write like Clement ten years later.27 If Smith indeed forged the Theodore-letter, he must have kept his unique Clement know-how entirely hidden. Even Carlson has to acknowledge that Smith did not "technically" publish anything Clementine before the discovery of the Theodore-letter, not even a book review.28 Smith's literary remains, scrutinized by Allan J. Pantuck, have nothing about Smith's alleged extensive work with Clement of Alexandria before his visit to Mar Saba in 1958.29

What kind of arguments are Carlson's claims about the opportunities Smith would have had for building a believable hoax? According to Carlson Smith owned a copy of Otto Stählin's concordance to Clement, could have obtained Isaac Voss' book before his visit to Mar Saba, and could have smuggled the small-sized book underneath his shirt to his cell where he worked while making a catalogue out of the monastic library.30 In these claims Carlson seems to step too lightly over the line between a probable and a speculative argument - sure enough, lots of things would have been "possible" to Smith, but the mere possibility is generally a poor foundation for a larger argument. The use of the language of possibilities is, however, a typical part of a conspiracy theory argument.31

In his twisting of Smith's sentences Carlson comes off mainly as paranoidal. He tells plainly that Smith's sentence "I left the MS in the Mar Saba library and have no information as to what has been done with it"32 may be construed as a confession that Smith himself brought the Theodore-letter to the library of the monastery.33 The verb Carlson has chosen, construe, is used intransitively "to construe a sentence or sentence part especially in connection with translating", but transitively "to analyze the arrangement and connection of words in (a sentence or sentence part)" and "to understand or explain the sense or intention of usually in a particular way or with respect to a given set of circumstances", according to Merriam-Webster online-dictionary.34 Carlson, no doubt, feels like he is using the verb transitively according to the first description, as he wishes to draw attention the ambiguity of Smith's sentence beginning with the words "I left" - either he discovered the MS and left it in the monastery, or he brought the MS to the monastery and left it there; grammatically both interpretations are possible. The other transitive use of the verb, on the other hand, opens up some interesting perspectives for evaluating Carlson's hoax hypothesis as a whole. Usually the constructing35 of new meanings from surprising sources in a particular way is another typical part of a conspiracy theory argument, used extensively by Carlson: for him the behaviour of Smith is nothing like we would expect from the one who is innocent for this kind of hoax.36 No world is enough, as everything Smith has ever said, done, or written can be turned against him.

Finally, it must be concluded that Carlson's claims about Smith's level of expertise and about his suspicious behaviour are for the most part not robust enough for backing up the hoax hypothesis. In the light of the available evidence Smith does not seem to have possessed a unique Clement know-how, but the question of the possibility of composing something like the Secret Gospel of Mark could be quite a different matter. The excerpts from the Secret Gospel could probably have been written by Smith - if he would have worked as e.g. Raymond E. Brown judged the passages, cutting and pasting parts of the canonical Gospels37 - but the question of the Clementine text remains. The "suspiciousness" of Smith is born first and foremost from Carlson's method of gathering up support for the hoax hypothesis from every possible source imaginable, and the language of possibilities does not a strong argument make.

1E.g. Morton Smith joked about the linkage between the resurrected youth in the Secret Gospel and the escaping youth in Gethsemane by giving the following title to a lecture of his: "Cops Arrest Rabbi in Park with Naked Teenager"; Brown 2006b, 360.
2Carlson 2005, 47.
3Brown 2005, 13. For some reason Brown does not offer any evidence for this claim.
4Stroumsa 2003, 150.
5Carlson 2005, 8-9, 44-46, 63-64, 74, 128 n. 2.
6Carlson 2005, 45.
7Smith 1973, ix.
8Smith 1985, 18.
9Carlson 2005, 40.
10Smith 1960a, 111; Carlson 2005, 40.
11Smith 1976, 196.
12Carlson 2005, 115 n. 45.
13Smith 1976, 196.
14"can even be construed as admitting to his depositing it there"; Carlson 2005, 41.
15Carlson 2005, 40. Smith published this discovery in 1960 as “New Fragments of Scholia on Sophocles' Ajax”; Smith 1960c.
16Carlson 2005, 77-78.
17Carlson 2005, 81, 87-90.
18Carlson 2005, 79.
19As for Smith's language proficiency, cf. Cohen 1996b.
20Carlson 2005, 76. Smith notes these inaccuracies e.g. in Smith 1956.
21Smith 1985, 8.
22E.g. Arthur Sidgwick's "Introduction to Greek Prose Composition" has been widely used since its publication in the 1870s to teach composing text in Ancient Greek. It is highly probable that Smith had been taught to write as well as read Ancient Greek.
23Hedrick 2003 informs that the majority of the Clementine scholars have accepted the authenticity of the letter, as is indicated by its inclusion to the Clementine corpus from 1980 onwards; Hedrick 2003, 141. Carlson disagrees, as the editor Ursula Treu told that the inclusion happened only "provisionally", for furthering the discussion of the matter; Carlson 2005, 49-50. On the other hand, both Smith and Lauha see the letter as having passed the test of authenticity regarding its text; Smith 1982, 452; Lauha 1987a, 208.
24Carlson 2005, 128 n. 2.
25Carlson 2005, 9, 64, 75.
26To be precise, Carlson says the following: "the level of experience that... was necessary [for forgery] – and Smith had that level of experience"; Carlson 2005, 63.
27Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem, Correspondence 1945-1982, 28. For the editor of the correspondence, Guy G. Stroumsa, the letters are first and foremost a prove of the gradual development of Smith's understanding of the Theodore-letter; cf. Grafton 2009.
28Smith 1976, 197 n. 7; Carlson 2005, 63-64, 75. Carlson considers, contra Smith (and Brown; Brown 2005, 38) that the four citations of Clement in "The Image of God" should be considered "something", and thus Smith had in effect published "something" about Clement, though Smith's bibliography would hold no information of this. [Further note: the sentence in the main body of the text and this footnote have been changed somewhat because of an imprecise wording that the original had, conveying a wrong idea about Carlson's position.]
29Personal communication.
30Carlson 2005, 37, 45.
31For Carlson's defense it must be stated that the major part of his problematic argumentation are brought forward only after the linkage between the handwritings of Smith, the Theodore-letter, and the MS22 has been established. The building of the conspiracy theory, including the problems of distinguishing between theory and evidence, are pondered in length in Chapter 4.
32Smith 1976, 196.
33"can even be construed as admitting to his depositing it there"; Carlson 2005, 41.
34Cursive mine; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/construe
35The verb construe comes from Latin construere, "to construct"; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/construe
36Carlson 2005, 77-78.
37Brown 1974, 482-483.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 3.3 Weird things in the Secret Gospel of Mark

[-Stephen C. Carlson finds implausible things not just in the text supposedly by Clement of Alexandria, but also in the extracts from the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark.1 There is not much new perspective I am able to offer in this chapter, so let me get it through quickly. The main thing Carlson argues for is the reading of the Secret Mark as if it contained a modern homosexual dimension. According to him 1) spending the night with Jesus (ἔμεινε σὺν αὐτῷ τὴν νύκτα ἐκείνην; Theod. III.9) should be understood as an euphemism for sexual intercourse, 2) the love between Jesus and the youths (the other youth from Gethsemane; The Gospel of Mark 14:51-52) and his denial of the three women (Theod. III.14-16) identify Jesus as exclusively homosexual - an anachronism, as is the description of the youth and Jesus as social equals in the Secret Gospel. Furthermore, the parallels between the youths from the Secret Gospel and from Gethsemane should be understood as a deliberate reference to the raids of homosexuals in the public parks during the 1950s in the USA, another clue by Morton Smith of the text's modern origin.2

-I agree with Carlson that an ancient reader would not have seen anything objectionable in the text, as she would not have caught the modern connotations of the words and phrases. Which leads me to pose the following question: if an ancient reader would have read a given text one way, can a modern reader really read it in some other way, and argue that the possibility to read the text in some other way is a proof of its modern origin? To my mind, the possibility to read a text one way or another is only proof of the reader's situation, that she is living after those ideologies and historical incidents that have an effect on her reading the text one way or another.

-To put this in other words: the problem I perceive in Carlson's reading is the (implicit) claim that the Secret Gospel has to be interpreted with a homosexual dimension because it was composed in 1958 to contain such dimension - when this is the very conclusion we are supposed to draw from the homosexual reading. Something is very wrong here, when the exact same claim - that Morton Smith composed the text - is both the premise and the conclusion, a case of circular argumentation, petitio principii.3

-Furthermore, there are double standards at work here, as the homosexual reading of the Secret Gospel of Mark deviates from the manner early Christian sources are generally interpreted. As John Dart has remarked, nobody reads any homosexuality into the Gospel of Mark 14:51 or the Gospel of John 13:23,25.4 The euphemistic reading works only with the modern languages, and the modern origin of the Secret Gospel should be established first, before we begin to construe modern expressions from the text.

-Going even further, there are Gospel parallels for all the passages Carlson finds weird in the Secret Gospel, as Brown has shown: in Mark 5:18 the demoniac begs to be with Jesus (μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ ᾖ), in Mark 10:21 Jesus "loves" (ἠγάπησεν) the rich youth, and in Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 Jesus denies his relatives like he denies the women in the Secret Gospel.5 Theod. III.9 and the mention of the "spending the night with Jesus" has a parallel in the Gospel of John 1:39, as noted by numerous commentators from 1970s onwards beginning with Morton Smith himself.6 Nothing in the Secret Gospel implies that "for Jesus was teaching him the mystery of the kingdom of God" (ἐδίδασκε γὰρ αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸ μυστήριον τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ; Theod. III.9-10) has a homosexual dimension. Of course, such speculation was done by Smith7, but should we really ascribe the fault of the first interpretor to the text itself?]

1I have used consistently the title Morton Smith gave, "The Secret Gospel of Mark", for designating the Gospel extracts Clement cites. The alternative title (originally also by Smith) that Scott G. Brown uses, "The Longer Gospel of Mark", is a good one, too, but I have not yet really decided between them, as both names could be contested. The problem with Smith's "Secret Gospel" is, as I have come to see it after reading Brown's monograph "Mark's Other Gospel", that if there was a secret somewhere, it is not the text itself, but the correct interpretation of the text (that was not written down, cf. Theod. I.22-27) - thus Smith's title, though exciting, is too mystifying for my tastes. "The Longer Gospel of Mark" could be problematic because it is construed on the basis of Clement's information, that e.g. "to the stories already written" (ταῖς προγεγραμμέναις πράξεσιν; Theod. I.24) Mark "added yet others", but we do not really know what the relationship between "The (canonical) Gospel of Mark" and ταῖς προγεγραμμέναις πράξεσιν is - "The Longer Gospel of Mark" as a name seems to me to give another imperfect twist to the complex matter of Markan tradition history combining the canonical Gospel to the variant(?) Clement knew predated the Alexandrian "Secret Edition".
2Carlson 2005, 66-70.
3Not unlike Brown when he argued on the same grounds against Peter Jeffery's manner of reading the Secret Gospel in Brown 2007, 27: "This argument presumes the very thing Jeffery is trying to demonstrate."
4http://neonostalgia.com/weblog/?p=415
5Brown 2006a, 318-319.
6Cf. Brown 2005, 93; Brown 2006a, 315-318; Brown 2006b, 365-369.
7Smith 1973, 251; Smith 1985, 114.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Gnostilainen Seura aloittaa toimintansa

Gnostilainen Seura, perustettu 15.6.2009, käynnistää toimintansa tässä kuussa. Seuran puheenjohtajana toimii fil.maist. Pentti Tuominen, ja toiminta-ajatuksena on "gnostilaisen hengenperinnön vaaliminen, gnostilaisen tutkimus- ja opetustoiminnan edistäminen sekä gnostilaisuudesta kiinnostuneiden yhdyssiteenä toimiminen". Seuran kotisivut löytyvät osoitteesta http://www.gnosis.fi/

Seuran ymmärrys gnostilaisuudesta näyttää olevan linjassa nykyisen historiantutkimuksen kanssa: "Gnostilaisuuden leiman ovat ajanlaskumme alkuvuosista lähtien saaneet sadat erilaiset uskonkäsitykset ja esoteeriset opetukset, joista monilla on varsin vähän keskenään yhteisiä piirteitä. Niinpä tuntuu keinotekoiselta yrittää niputtaa näitä kaikkia saman nimikkeen alle." Muualla sivustolla asia kuitenkin unohtuu, ja "gnostilaisuutta" käytetään viittaamaan tiettyyn, lähinnä antiikin eräistä varhaiskristillisistä teksteistä rakennettuun konstruktioon. Toisaalta jatkuvan niputtamisen ymmärtää, sillä täytyyhän Seuralla, vaikka kuinka löyhä yhteenliittymä olisikin, olla jonkinlainen itseymmärrys itsestään. Seura tarjoaa myös testin, jolla oman gnostilaisuuden astetta voi arvioida. Minä en saanut huippupisteitä (itse asiassa en valitsisi yhtäkään vaihtoehtoa ennen kuin osaisin päättää, minkä kielipelin puitteissa näitä väitteitä olisi hauskinta tarkastella).

Mielenkiintoiselta näyttävät Gnostilaisen seuran pyrkimykset "gnostilaisen hengenperinnön vaalimiseen", joihin kuuluu myös Gnostilainen Riitti, esoteerisine opetusasteineen (lieköhän vihkimys- tai initiaatioaste, jollaisia löytyy useimmista nykyisistä ja menneistä (sala)seuroista, käypä synonyymi?). Toinen huomiotaherättävä informaatio koskee "Valon evankeliumia" (saks. "Evangelium des Lichtes", jolla Google löytää vain kaksi osumaa), jonka Gnostilainen Seura kertoo löytyneen saksankielisenä versiona "mestari Emmerin" (kuka hän lieneekään) muistiinpanoista vuonna 1994. Spekulaatiot tämän tekstin alkuperällä käsittävät niin Jeesus-liikeen ("Jos evankeliumi tosiaan on Jeesuksen ajoilta...") kuin - varsin yllättävänä vetona - Adolf von Harnackin (1851–1930), 1900-luvun taitteessa vaikuttaneen liberaalieksegeetin. Kyynikko tietysti kysyisi, missä alkuperäinen käsikirjoitus oikein on, jos "[l]öydetty konekirjoitusteksti lienee kopio tai käännös jostain vanhasta käsikirjoituksesta, joka on kulkeutunut gnostilaisena perintönä mestari Emmerille jossain muodossa"? Vastauksia saattaa löytyä Johann Erlen kirjoittamasta kirjasta "Das dritte Jahrtausend des Gnostizismus", jonka suomenkielisen käännöksen "Gnostilaisuuden kolmas vuosituhat" pitäisi ilmestyä syyskuussa. (Kirjan saksankielisellä otsikolla ei kuitenkaan löydy mitään informaatiota - onko tällainen kirja oikeasti olemassa?)

Tapahtumakalenterin mukaan Gnostilaisen Seuran ensimmäinen tapahtuma on Yleisöluento 29.9.2009 klo 18.00, joskin luennon aihe ja paikka ovat vielä avoimia. Mutta, mutta: "Osallistumismaksu jäseniltä 5,- €, muilta 10,- €, johon sisältyy luentomoniste. Ei ennakkoilmoittautumista." Jos luento olisi Helsingissä ja maksuton, varmasti menisin (ja raportoisin jälkeenpäin blogissa). Sinänsä Seuran jäsenmaksu, 20 euroa (vuodessa) on varsin kohtuullinen, ja jos joku sponsoroi minut sisään, en kieltäydy.

Selvyyden vuoksi: minulla ei ole mitään yhteyksiä Gnostilaiseen Seuraan, vaan törmäsin siihen Googlen tekstimainoksessa. Seuran aihe on kiinnostava, etenkin kun muista suomalaisista gnostilaisvaikutteisista liikkeistä en ole tietoinen, vaikka maailmalla näitä on ihan kirkkokuntinakin olemassa.

Seuraa Avainkysymys: onko Gnostilainen Seura laajamittainen huijaus, mahdollisesti yritys kerätä rahaa jäsenmaksun muodossa (vaikka vain 20 euroa)? Epäilyksiä herättävät "Evangelium des Lichtes" ja "Das dritte Jahrtausend des Gnostizismus", joita ei näytä olevan olemassa muualla kuin Seuran sivuilla, sekä Seuran hallituksen koostumus, joista kellään ei näytä olevan online-olemassaoloa yhdistettynä "gnostilaisuuteen". Lisäksi tulevasta yleisöluennosta (29.9.2009) ei ole muuta kuin pääsymaksuinformaatio tarjolla.

Nytkö se kaikki lukemani salaliittoteoriakirjallisuus sekoitti pään ja teki miehestä paranoidisen?


UPDATE 19.9.2009: "Gnostilaisuuden kolmas vuosituhat" on ilmestynyt Print-On-Demand -kirjana ja seuran tapahtumakalenteri on alkanut täyttyä. Kysymyksessä lienee ollut vapaaehtoispohjalta ponnistavan yhdistyksen käynnistämisvaikeus, mikä on varsin ymmärrettävää ja jopa odotettavaa. Syksyn luentosarjassa luennoi Helsingin yliopiston tutkija Päivi Vähäkangas.

UPDATE 15.9.2009: Tuleva yleisöluento on poistunut Gnostilaisen Seuran tapahtumakalenterista sivuston viimeisimmän päivityksen (14.9.2009) yhteydessä. Myös "Valon evankeliumista" on julkaistu suomennos. Teksti näyttää erikoiselta kokoelmalta kanonisten evankeliumien Jeesus-lausumia, erityisesti Vuorisaarnaa Matteuksen evankeliumista ja valo/pimeys -retoriikkaa Johannekselta, hieman paavalilaisia ajatuksia mukana (2.4; 2.15), ilman selkeää temaattista rakennetta, kuten Tuomaan evankeliumissa.

Esimerkiksi 1.4 näyttää viittavan tekstin varsin moderniin alkuperään: "Antakaa anteeksi niille, jotka ovat tehneet teille vääryyttä, niin Jumala on armahtavainen myös teitä kohtaan. Älkää tuomitko, niin ei teitäkään tuomita." Näin viimeinen lause on tuotu aivan erilaiseen yhteyteen kuin miten sitä käytetään antiikin teksteissä, ja sen merkitys on yksioikoinen "älkää tuomitko", kun taas antiikin teksteissä merkitys liittyy tekopyhyyteen eli kun tuomitaan, tulee tuomiota "oikea tuomio" ts. itse ei saa syyllistyä samaan mistä toisen tuomitsee. Erinomainen esitys aiheesta (englanniksi) löytyy Jason A. Staplesin blogista "Outside the Building".

English Summary: as far as I know, Gnostilainen Seura (http://www.gnosis.fi/) is the first Gnostic Society in Finland, aiming for "fostering the traditions of Gnosticism, promoting the research and study of Gnosticism, and functioning as a link between people interested in Gnosticism". The Society highlights quite curiously "The Gospel of Light", that was found in the notes of one "Master Emmer", apparently a German Gnostic, in 1994, as a German translation titled "Evangelium des Lichtes". If you have any more information regarding "Master Emmer" or "Evangelium des Lichtes", feel free to share in the comments below. Also, does the book "Das dritte Jahrtausend des Gnostizismus" by Johann Erle really exist?

Where follows the Key Question: is "Gnostilainen Seura" an elaborate hoax, a possible scam for collecting membership fees (though only 20 euros a year)? In addition to the seemingly non-existence of "Evangelium des Lichtes" and "Das dritte Jahrtausend des Gnostizismus", the members of the Administration of the Society, as far as I am able to search, have no previous online-existence with connections to "gnosticism". Also, the first public talk of the Society is coming fast (29.9.2009), but no information apart from the entrance fees has been disclosed.

Have I finally gone crazy and become paranoid with all the scholarly and non-scholarly conspiracy theory literature I have read?


UPDATE 19.9.2009: The Finnish translation of "Das dritte Jahrtausend des Gnostizismus" exists as a Print-On-Demand book, and the calendar of the Society has begun to fill up with events. It looks like there were simply some problems getting the Society off the ground, as is quite normal with associations where all the people are voluntarily working on their spare-time. Also, the lecturer for the society is Päivi Vähäkangas, of the University of Helsinki.

UPDATE 15.9.2009: The coming public talk has been taken off from the Society's calendar, after the last update of the site (14.9.2009). Also, "The Gospel of Light" has been published in Finnish translation - a curious collection of mainly canonical sayings of Jesus, with no clear thematical structure to them.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 3.2 An unnecessary sphragis of Clement and other oddities

[-The idea that there is an unnecessary σφραγίς (sphragis; a seal of authenticity, used to ensure that the text really derives from the author it claims to derive from) of Clement in the Theodore-letter, was first proposed by Charles E. Murgia in his 1976 article "Secret Mark: Real or Fake?" One example of this, according to Murgia, is the beginning of the letter, where the disapproving attitude of Clement concerning the Carpocratians (Theod. I.2) is already known to the modern readers from Clement's other writings (Strom. 3.2.10.1), thus functioning as a proof of the authenticity, that the letter is really by Clement of Alexandria, and not an imitation of him. Similarly, the unprecedented existence of the "Secret Gospel" is neatly explained with the notions that 1) it is only known in Alexandria, 2) it is most carefully guarded, 3) it is read only to the initiates, and 4) its very existence is denied to the outsiders. Such an excessive sphragis points to the imitation.1

-Stephen C. Carlson accepts Murgia's conclusions. He supplements them by remarking that a sphragis would not be needed in a private letter as the letter to Theodore clearly is, for it would have been delivered by a trusted courier or closed e.g. with an actual seal. On the other hand, if the Theodore-letter is an imitation, some odd features would not be so unfathomable. E.g. Clement's exact information of the contents and the placement of the Gospel extracts seems unnecessary: Theodore would have been content with a simple denial of the existence of the words "naked man with naked man" (γυμνὸς γυμνῷ; Theod. III.13) in the Secret Gospel. Additionally, Carlson wonders why the Secret Gospel preserves even the semitisms (Theod. II.23, III.10, 15), when the real Clement had a habit of citing biblical narratives rather freely. For this to be plausible, Clement would have had to copy the text from the codex itself, but how is this fact suitable with the mention of the guarding of the text most carefully? (Theod. II.1) Also, the information regarding the composing of the Secret Gospel - that Mark used "both his own notes and those of Peter" (καὶ [τ] αὑτοῦ καὶ τὰ τοῦ Πέτρου ὑπομνήματα; Theod. I.19-20) - seems to imply the mind set of a modern biblical scholar, whereas the ancient sources concentrated on Mark's memory. The hoax hypothesis offers simple answers to all these oddities found from the Theodore-letter.2

-The two key articles dealing with these questions are Scott G. Brown's "The Letter to Theodore: Stephen Carlson’s Case against Clement’s Authorship" (JECS 16:4 (2008), 535-572) and Jeff Jay's "A New Look at the Epistolary Framework of the Secret Gospel of Mark" (JECS 16:4 (2008), 573-597). Summarizing some of the relevant points from both:

-Brown argues that Clement in fact does just what Carlson wonders, when he e.g. in Strom. 3.4.38.2-5 cites the "real" text he sees as having been distorted, repudiates a suggested interpolation, and then informs the reader of the correct interpretation of the "real" text. In the Theodore-letter, this formula works as 1) Clement cites the "real " text in Theod. II.23-III.11, 14-16, 2) repudiates a suggested interpolation in Theod. III.13-14, and 3) begins to narrate the correct interpretation of the text in Theod. III.18. Additionally, in Strom. 3.6.50.1-3 Clement deems it necessary to cite the larger context of the disputed text, as he does in Theod. II.21-22, III.11-14.3

-The semitisms in the Secret Gospel may in fact be due to Clement copying very carefully the words from the codex. The use of the words κατὰ λέξιν (Theod. II.22) in front of the extracts seems to imply that the following words are indeed copied "word for word", as Clement's usage of these words, when combined with a text he highly approves, seems to indicate that the quotation is accurate. Brown finds support from the Clementine scholar Carl P. Cosaert, who holds that even though Clement in many cases cites rather freely, he nevertheless looks to have done the citing from an actual MS in front of him in specific occasions.4 Furthermore, Brown objects Carlson regarding the use of "notes" for composing the Secret Gospel: according to Brown, Carlson misrepresents patristic sources about Mark, as they do not generally say anything about Mark's memory.5

-Jeff Jay compares the Theodore-letter to four other ancient letters6, all interested in correcting "wrong" textual variants. As this is also one of the explicit goals of the Theodore-letter (Theod. II.19-20), the comparison looks to be a very profitable enterprise. According to Jay, the Theodore-letter uses the technical terms (ἐκλέγεσθαι I.17; ὑπομνήματα I.19-20; σύγγραμμα I.28, etc.) related to the use of the "notes" of Mark and Peter (Theod. I.19-20) in an absolutely correct manner.7 Furthermore, the beginning of the Theodore-letter, its going straight to the point, is on a par with the other ancient letters, that also begin going straight to the point.8

-Jay also ponders about the correct translation of the words ἀσφαλῶς εὖ μάλα τηρεῖται (Theod. II.1), in Morton Smith's translation "most carefully guarded". He suggests "kept with utmost discretion" as the best translation, following a comparison to an early Christian letter "Contestatio".9 The meaning of this expression is important, as both Murgia and Carlson think it speaks of the "careful guarding" of the physical copy of the Secret Gospel, combined with the notions that the existence of the Gospel is supposed to be a secret, and that it should be denied even on oath, all pointing to the inauthenticity of the letter.

-Brown offers various possibilities for translating these words, from "very securely kept", to "most perfectly honoured", to "unerringly appropriated".10 The thing is, even if we think the Smith's translation "most carefully guarded" as the best option (debatable), it does not point to the inauthenticity of the Theodore-letter, as the "word for word" copy of the gospel could have been produced with the help of the notebooks, a common procedure in the early Christian circles.11 The other parts of Murgia's sphragis are more probably due to an inexact reading of the Theodore-letter. E.g. οὐδὲ προτείνουσιν αὐτοῖς τὰ κατεψευσμένα συγχωρητέον τοῦ Μάρκου εἶναι τὸ μυστικὸν εὐαγγέλιον, ἀλλὰ καὶ μεθ᾽ ὅρκου ἀρνητέον (Theod. II. 11-12) seems to imply that an oath be used to deny the Carpocratian variant of the Gospel - it is not the "more spiritual Gospel of Mark" as the words γυμνὸς γυμνῷ (Theod. III.13) are not part of it - and the existence of the Gospel itself is not in question, as its existence is already known by both the Carpocratians and Theodore (and so it is not known in Alexandria alone).

-Furthermore and following Brown, there does not seem to be anything secret about the contents of the Secret Gospel, either, as Clement seems quite willing to write them down for Theodore and, following the phrases like "[the Carpocratians] are to be opposed in all ways and altogether" (Theod. I.7-8) and that "To them, therefore, as I said above, one must never give way" (Theod. II.10), the letter seems to have been intended for a wider audience than for Theodore alone, as the common practice in antiquity was.12 Although Clement writes that the Secret Gospel was "being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries" (Theod. II.1-2), the "mystical" stories were not those that Mark wrote into his "more spiritual Gospel", but those that he did not write in it! The text itself was no "secret", and the limited availability was reserved to the correct interpretation of the text.13 (Theod. I.22-27)

-To summarize, there are many unanswerable questions in the reconstruction of the correspondence between Clement and Theodore (as the Theodore-letter is the only piece known), and the minor oddities noted by Carlson cannot be deemed significant: it is possible to come up with all sorts of plausible scenarios that reduce the peculiarity of these oddities. The question of the literary sphragis is mostly due to the inexact reading of the letter text, and there is no difference in the form of the Gospel extracts when compared to Clement's other writings. On the contrary, the Theodore-letter looks to be very similar to other ancient letters that were written for opposing "wrong" textual variants, just as the Theodore-letter opposes the Carpocratian version of the Secret Gospel of Mark.]

1Murgia 1976, 36-38.
2Carlson 2005, 56-58.
3Brown 2008, 544-547.
4Brown 2008, 540, 551-552, 554-555. Brown himself cites Cosaert 2008, 30-31 as authoritative.
5Brown 2008, 560-561.
6For more details, cf. Jay 2008, 579.
7Jay 2008, 576-578
8Jay 2008, 586-596.
9Jay 2008, 592-593.
10Brown 2005, xix.
11Vanhoja 2006.
12Brown 2008, 539. Brown cites e.g. M. Luther Stirewalt as authoritative; Stirewalt Jr. 1993, 2, 15.
13Brown 2005, xi, 62, 121-135.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Liberal Christianity: A Personal Reflection - Part IV

The ongoing six reasons I find compelling enough for me personally to continue to be a worshiping liberal Christian, still in no particular order:



The religious rituals I get to participate in have an aesthetic appeal to me. Emerging from #2 and #3 - from the long tradition of the Church and from the rituals an organized religious body produces for my benefit - the aesthetics of Christianity has everything for my senses to experience, from the calmness of the Church Hall, to the music of the hymns, to the potent images raised in the reading of the biblical narratives, to the the sweet flavor of the wine I receive during the Eucharist. All of this, framed by the tradition, the social contacts (people around me), and my own willingness to momentarily suspend my disbelief regarding the myths and the stories of my religion.

Personally I feel that the liturgy of my church produces a transformative experience - an experience of the presence of the absence of God, an experience well attested in Christian literature, from biblical narratives of the temptations of Jesus in the desert (Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11), to the John of the Cross' "The Dark Night of the Soul", to the writings of Richard Holloway. The language of Christianity is archaic and poetic, full of mystery and enigma. As such, the language of Christianity has an aesthetic appeal, and as I am lucky enough to have a thoroughgoing theological education, I am able to appreciate all the fine nuances of this language; it has a spiritual appeal for me as well.

This is the question of spirituality: that the language of Christianity - that God is the creator of the world, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Redeemer, the source of salvation, that there is a resurrection of the bodies, a final judgment - is not "true", but because its function is not to claim eternal, empirical, cosmological, biological, or immanent knowledge, it is not "untrue", either. Instead, the language of Christianity, as well as all religious languages, operates at a different level; a level similar to art. So we come to the question, what for do we need the traditions of the Church as a framework, what for do we need the rituals, or the language that does not function on the same level as our everyday speech?

I would venture to say, following the Finnish theologian Terho Pursiainen, that we need all of these things because they help us to manage those aspects of our temporality that cannot be discussed rationally, that cannot be reduced to simple propositions, that cannot be peeled open. In this instance religion has a similar function to art, and there is no need to separate these two: both of them are, after all, interested in myths, and the themes of hope, renewal, redemption and unity. I have written before of the "religion of art of religion", where the vast Christian tradition allows me to elevate those parts I have a use, and reject those parts I cannot find a use for, all the while doing the task consciously, not pretending that God/gods are the ones responsible for my choices.

Not mere aesthetics, but a question of spirituality that has room for contemplation, for silence, for questioning - honesty in front of a chaotic mystery, and not struggle for "truth" and power positions.

5) The question of conservatives

Sometimes it is amusing when parts of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland speak one thing and other parts something else. Quite recently, in 2007, The Church Council denied the use of a handbook on human sexuality, "Jumalan silmissä ihme" [the title could be translated as "A miracle in the eyes of God"], aimed for youth group leaders, who would be 16-20 years of age and who would need the information in confirmation schools when leading discussion in small groups regarding the matter. The handbook was prepared by Finnish AIDS Council and The Evangelical Lutheran Association for Youth in Finland (an affiliate organization of the church), and two members of the Church Council had actually actively participated in the writing of the handbook. A minor quarrel in itself, but consider, what would happen if all the liberal Christians decided one day to resign their membership, and left their church for good?

To put it bluntly, all the resources would be in the hands of conservatively oriented Christians, the financial power, the power to mold the dogma, the power to represent an old, truly Finnish institution - all this, without any dissenting voices. Nobody would object the canceling of the special mass (Sateenkaarimessu) for LGBT people, nobody would object the channeling of funds to Christian organizations that do not have any scientific credentials to back up their claims (e.g. claims of "curing" the homosexuals), or that teach the maltreatment of children for purposes of "education", or that oppose women priests. I may be preaching my own prejudices here, and I most likely am, but I find the idea of leaving my church to the hands of those "true Christians" who speak with the voice of God (or at least their God sounds eerily similar to themselves), in all honesty, quite abhorrent.

Certainly there wouldn't be church-authored handbooks on human sexuality that would not be burdened down with the combination of guilt, sin, and the confining of the practice of sex to heterosexual, married couples - like all this would make any sense, or would have done so on some particular historical moment. Religion is a complex phenomenon, with multitudes of dimensions one may observe. I am all at ease to view religion in one its multifacetedness as a tool we humans use for our purposes, for whatever reasons we happen to have. As Sabio Lantz, of Triangulations, condensed it: "Best keep the tool in good hands !"

And last: an actual theological (sort-of; theologish) reason...

6) The question of the correct philosophical framework for Christianity

How do people define "classical Christianity"? In Finnish theological discussions I have seen (or taken part of), the conservative positions may be simplified to two: either there is no such thing as the acceptance of the term would imply that other forms of Christianity existed also - for some people there is only one true, orthodox Christianity, and everything else is heresy, or worse - or, if the existence of other (modern) forms of Christianity is acknowledged, "classical Christianity" refers to the "orthodox" Church Fathers from the 2nd-century onwards, to their religious ideas and to the resolutions of the first seven of the Ecumenical councils.

Thus defined, the classical Christianity has been profoundly shaped by the best philosophical practices of its day, most notably by Stoicism and Middle Platonism. The birth of a distinctive Christian theology, usually located in the 2nd-century following the first Christian apologetics (like Justin Martyr and Tatian), concentrated e.g. on the conception of λόγος (logos), borrowed from stoics, and developed with the help of and at odds with the pagan philosophy. So complete was the immersion of Christianity to these philosophies that the writings of the Church Fathers, and the proceedings of the Ecumenical councils, including their resolutions, are almost unintelligible without a thorough understanding of Greek philosophical traditions. Consequently, the theological "truths" of trinity and of the two natures of Christ, to take two prominent examples still deemed relevant today, demand the philosophical framework of Stoicism and (Middle) Platonism - otherwise they make no sense. Classical Christianity is firmly tied to Greek modes of thought.

However, it is not Zeno or Plato that I would name as my primary philosophical influences. They are there, of course, as part of the Western project of rational thought, but they are not at front. Should they be? Should a Christian adopt the worldviews of her ancient predecessors, including their (then) fashionable and trendy philosophies? Who's to blame for my not finding much common ground with the Ancients when my thoughts have been shaped by all those books of philosophy I have happened to read, from Kierkegaard to Camus to Rorty to Shusterman? If the early Christians were licensed to use the best thinkers in their day for writing the words for their pre-verbal experiences, who says we cannot?

Well, we can, and we do. As Dr. Matti Myllykoski would put it (if he had wrote these words in English): "They [the early Christians] will have to forgive me, and I have to forgive them, that our worldviews are not one and the same."1 I find it hard to come up with a single reason why the classical Christianity would necessarily be more "true" or superior to any other variant of Christianity. As far as I see it, there is no one correct philosophical framework for interpreting Christianity. The myths are there, the stories are there, the whole history of practices are there, the tradition is there - let us ensure that the best parts of these will be manifested in the Christianity we profess, whatever our take on philosophical issues may be.

1Matti Myllykoski: Luopiot lipereissä, Saatana saarnatuolissa. Vartija 4/05, 137.

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Couple of observations are in order here:

1) The project that John W. Loftus has undertaken, the "Debunking Christianity", is in itself highly commended, as he focuses on the fundamentalist variant, certainly a much more influential form of Christianity in the States than in Finland where the majority of Christians (especially the members of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland) are fairly liberal in their attitudes towards their faith. A purpose to tone down the more vulgar expressions of Christianity - in my case, at least as far as to make the presence of a dissenting voice known - seems to unite us. Additionally, never do I get a feeling that Loftus' writings would pertain to my liberal Christianity - then again, that is not his explicit purpose. Still, I would much rather see him joining the ranks of the "Sympathetic Atheists", who hold that religion (in every sense of the word) is not rotten to the core, in its essence irredeemable. Maybe he already holds such opinions?

2) As should be clear from the title alone, this small treatise is not a philosophical argument for liberal Christianity, and its purpose is not to convert people to embrace liberal Christianity. As a "personal reflection", I aim very modestly to give a written form to my own reasons for continuing to be a worshiping liberal Christian. Some of my personal reasons could function as incentives for people to seek out religious contacts for themselves, but not all. Nor should it be inferred that my understanding of the "liberal Christianity" would have any additional value outside of my own thoughts - other liberal Christians do their own thinking, and have their own reasons for being the type of Christians they happen to be.

3) I keep talking of "liberal Christianity". As far as I am concerned, the terms "liberal", "postmodern", "post-", etc. are all completely interchangeable.

4) By the standards of blogging, I'm late, as the original post by Loftus was made more than three weeks ago - almost an eternity in the fast-paced world of the Web. Clearly, this business of "personal reflection" needs time. I ended up choosing this method of discussing because I thought that the classical debate, fun though it is, is ill-suited for serious discussion of religious sensibilities - sometimes it is important to have a talk without the need to persuade others of the merits of one's position.

5) Last, I wonder, having read through all of the above, if there is a real difference between a "personal reflection" and a "narcissistic ego-boosterism". I feel like constantly dancing over the line. Maybe the ending of this little piece lets me to get some other work done for a change.

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For convenience, the whole series has been copied under one heading in here. You're better off leaving your thoughts there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Eight positions open in The Finnish Graduate School of Theology

The Finnish Graduate School of Theology, a network organisation of University of Helsinki, University of Joensuu, and Åbo Akademi University that "trains doctoral students become [sic] professionals in different theological fields and religion both for research work and expert tasks in society", has eight new positions open for applicants with a Master's degree in theology or in religious studies. This time the positions of doctoral students guarantee funding for one's Ph.D. for 1.1.2010-31.12.2011, either for one year or two. They are aimed for "gifted" candidates.

I am going to apply, and truth be told, it would be such a jackpot to get myself selected. The competition is, as always, fierce and there are bound to be dozens of applicants for each open position. I am planning to leave a study plan of 4-6 scholarly articles (to be published in peer reviewed journals) each dealing with various aspects of Clement's letter, including the Secret Gospel of Mark. In the course of two years, I hold it realistic that 2-3 of these could be finished. Currently I have 41 ideas for such articles, but as the deadline is 5.10.2009, feel free to write about fresh perspectives you would like to see the Theodore-letter handled with in the comments below :-)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Liberal Christianity: A Personal Reflection - Part III

The six reasons I find compelling enough for me personally to continue to be a worshiping liberal Christian, in no particular order:

1) Amusement

The single picture on the right, from Tove Jansson's "Moomin on the Riviera" (a Finnish translation), expresses a personal reason that I have the hardest time to come to terms with, and that is the hardest one to confess publicly. Let's translate the words in the balloons:

Marquis Mongaga: Fancy that a millionaire dares to be such a romantic!

Moomintroll: But mother, father is not a...

Moominmamma: Shhh, my darling! It amuses him!

For as long as I remember, I have played the part of advocatus diaboli, always shifting my position on various issues ever so lightly to keep the conversation lively and interesting. I like the challenge of a debate, and I also feel that it is profitable to encourage others to focus their arguments, make them examine them in detail, by coming up with possible objections some other person would express in all seriousness. During my university studies I noticed that this practice of mine produced some interesting results when the questions were theological in their nature. For some students, it was bad enough that my take on Christianity had such a liberal outlook. When I picked up speed by bringing some highly unorthodox elements to the discussions - creating ad hoc narratives about the death of God, of him annihilating himself shortly after the WWII using the style of the biblical narratives; introducing the spirituality of the Christian mystics past and present, of Anna-Maija Raittila, of Hiljaisuuden liike, of Taizé, of applied Zen Buddhism; fooling about with the ideas of Jesus mythicists, with grand conspiracy theories, with John Allegro, with Robert Eisenman, with Hugh J. Schonfield; denying to call any of the early Christianities "heretical" - on occasions the results were highly entertaining, and slightly amusing even at their worst. It is a well-known fact that in Finland discussing spirituality and theology is not popular, and considered to be in the sphere of private matters - in stark contrast, I believe, to the rest of the world. Clearly I managed to rub some sensitive nerves, at times in an over-the-top way, for which I apologize.

For some on-lookers all this was fun and refreshing, for some it was sacrilegious. And all the time most of the people were all members of the same denomination, The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. In my estimation, when you've got 4 million people, you've got 4 million different opinions, and in my church there are 4 million different theological ideas about Christianity, even if they may be simplified into some general families of ideas. As it took such an effort for some conservative Christians to acknowledge we all belong to the same church, I reacted with feelings of amusement - what a burden to bear! Consequently, it plays no minor role for me personally that many of my conservatively oriented brethren would be ever so glad to see me go. Partly for their sakes, I am willing to stretch the boundaries of Christianity. And if I get annoyed enough by some conservative developments in my church, I may still seek to be ordained. Well, fancy that!

2) The long tradition; the social networks

John W. Loftus wishes me to acknowledge that religion is all about social networks, personal relationships with like-minded people, and nothing more. Well, I agree: religion is not about God/gods, but about the people who practice it; I would not, however, reduce this to mere social networks, unless these are understood in a very generic sense. For a general theoretical framework and scholarly argument backing this notion, I suggest that Loyal D. Rue's "Religion Is Not About God" has much to commend to. For me personally, this is patently easy to see: as it is great fun to gather together with friends, it is still great fun to do this in the context of the mass, even on Sunday morning. Meeting old friends, occasionally being introduced to new people, taking part in the liturgy together, listening to the sermon (all priests have at least M.Th. on theology so they are generally an educated bunch), reflecting your life for a moment with the receiving of the Eucharist, having some coffee and cake afterwards while discussing theology, politics, life in general - what's not to like?

All these social contacts with other people are, of course, framed by the 2,000 year old tradition of the Christian Church(es), with their scruples, with their defects, and with their high moments. For a person who confesses he is living in a particular time and space, in a particular culture and history, the possibility to place myself into a chain of generations, into a continuum of ancient origins, has an important part in confining the chaos, and the improbability of history and of my life - cultivating my personal wholeness, as Rue would put it. The long tradition of the Church (including the Bible and all its interpretations) has enough diversity for me to work comfortably inside this tradition, as the most anti-intellectual material need not be manifested in any way; there is always another option. Consequently, I think this means that Christianity has not any "essence" apart from the way we decide to mold the threads from tradition together. A quote from James F. McGrath, of Exploring Our Matrix, does a good job explaining what I want to say:

"I believe that what us liberal Christians have done is rather to point out that Christianity has always been a "lump of clay", a work of art, and to take responsibility for molding and shaping it, rather than doing so while pretending it is not us but only God who is doing so."

No more "pious self-deception"; Christianity is what the people who practice it make it to be.

3) The organisational aspect

From #2 follows one important thing: as there is a lot in the tradition to choose from, there are many organized bodies of religion one may be a member of, and outside the Christian tradition (or with only small influences from it) there are even more. Some organizations, however, have more to offer than others. If all it would take to pick a religious tradition were 1) it's amusing enough, and 2) there are opportunities to form and maintain social networks, I could, of course, choose to become, say, a practicing eclectic wiccan (as there is also a respectable tradition behind it, especially the influences from feminism and environmentalist thinking it received since the 1970s, and if one is willing to suspend one's disbelief, one can go all the way to the paganism in antiquity, and even further). In which case, of course, I would have to do all the dirty work, beginning with drawing up rituals, adapting my religious calendar, etc, myself.

In other words, it could be said that I am convinced to remain a member of a Christian church I have become attached to in various ways because I am lazy. Not a nice way to put it, mind you - even if it is (partly) true.