Saturday, October 31, 2009

Recent Sightings of the Secret Gospel of Mark

Some recent sightings of the Secret Gospel of Mark include:

I
James D. Tabor, Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who blogs at TaborBlog, has already read the latest issue of BAR, and offers his opinion with a title Vindicating Morton Smith. As he already noted last February, the correspondence between Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem edited for publication by Guy G. Stroumsa (the second-to-last living Western scholar to have seen the MS with his own eyes) "make it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that Smith could not have forged either Clement’s letter or the passages of “Secret Mark” contained therein. The manner in which Smith’s own views and understanding of his discovery develop and change over time are clearly demonstrated in these letters, as he debates with himself the significance of the text he has found and shares his insights and his questions with Scholem."

II
David Henige, African Studies bibliographer at the University of Wisconsin, mentions the Secret Gospel of Mark in his new article "Authorship Renounced: The 'Found' Source in the Historical Record" published in Journal of Scholarly Publishing (October 2009; doi: 10.3138/jsp.41.1.31). The abstract is as follows:

Most often, authorship is a prized status, sometimes to the point of being claimed by those who have no right to it. Conversely, throughout history many works have appeared in which authorship to credited to someone other than the person(s) who brought to it public attention. Often these individuals masquerade as ‘editors,’ purporting to have discovered a work that they actually wrote themselves. When this claim is accepted, the record of the past becomes distortedbecause false claims are accepted as true.

Keywords: authorship, pseudohistory, false authorial attributions

Among a dozen examples of authors suggesting they have found a source they have themselves composed Henige has Morton Smith, even though Secret Mark's difference to his other (genuine) hoaxes seems rather plain, when the real hoaxers usually simply deny the requests to produce the questioned document for a close scrutiny, something they could easily do at any hour of the day. Nevertheless, Henige assesses that there is "a strong majority of them [New Testament scholars] leaning toward rejection, not least on the grounds that the manuscript’s visible lifespan was suspiciously brief." (40) One point of criticism pointed to the defenders of the authenticity should in all fairness be considered:

"Defenders typically — and, obviously, faute de mieux — regard the photographs as adequate for evaluating authenticity. For photographs as dubious evidence see David Henige, Historical Evidence and Argument (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press 2005), 198–9, 271–2 nn. 56–7, and sources cited there." (51 n. 44)

But even more perplexing is the following quote from the conclusions:

"As several of the instances above point out, in many cases final resolution is virtually impossible, even for contemporary examples, short of producing the disputed documents... Refuting criticism technically (e.g., by pointing out factual errors in it), even if done successfully, increases only slightly the probability of authenticity, since it may also demonstrate that the hoaxer was well acquainted with his materials — as is often true, of course, since it is familiarity that often breeds both the desire to hoax and the competence to carry out that desire." (46)

So much for the optimism of Anthony Grafton regarding the possibility of actually detecting forgeries, I guess?

III
Robert M. Price, Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies at Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, a somewhat controversial figure in biblical studies for his views of Jesus as a myth (named pseudo-scholar by e.g. Chris Weimer, the founder of Thoughts on Antiquity), has recently reviewed both Scott G. Brown's "Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery" and Stephen C. Carlson's "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark". Price had admitted earlier to have been persuaded by the similarity of the plot of James H. Hunter's 1940 novel "The Mystery of Mar Saba" and the discovery story of Morton Smith - the Secret Gospel of Mark was a hoax. For one thing, "I suggest that such a novel is exactly the sort of leisure fiction to appeal to scholars like Smith." On the other side of the table, "now I may say that the able Mr. Carlson has marked the case closed." Or, as an even greater eulogy, "We owe a great debt to Stephen C. Carlson for settling a debate that has simmered for over thirty years now."

I may come back to Price's ideas, but my initial thought is this: while Price suggests that Brown has fallen to the trap laid down by Morton Smith, I suggest that Price has himself been trapped into the web of the pseudohistorical approach of Carlson, as he seems to accept the clue arguments of Carlson with much rejoicing.

IV
April D. DeConick, Isla Carroll and Percy E. Turner Professor of Biblical Studies at Rice University who blogs at The Forbidden Gospels, has noted the latest issue of BAR, and the discussion about the Secret Gospel of Mark has taken to flight slowly and carefully. I am going to chime in once the snails of the mail deliver the physical issue at Helsinki University.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 4.3 How a conspiracy theory is built - Part IV

The "boisterous pseudohistorical method" consists of the following individual parts: 1) asking an improper question, 2) dismissing completely the criterion of falsification, and 3) convincing oneself that by linking two things together one has established that they belong together when the notion of probability has been completely forgotten. The first part, asking an improper question, is a well-known problem in scholarly circles. Judy Redman, who writes a dissertation about the Gospel of Thomas for the University of New England, demonstrates the importance of asking a valid question in her blog thus: "[I]f you approach Thomas asking 'what evidence can I find that Thomas is dependent on the synoptic material?' you will potentially reach different conclusions to the ones you will reach if you ask 'are there any passages in Thomas that are similar to and/or the same as those in the synoptics and if so, what might that mean?'"31 The consequences of this particular problem, familiar to every scholar, were summarized by Morton Smith as follows: "Many scholars reject on principle all conjectures except their own".32

In the philosophy of science the phenomenon, somewhat exaggerated by Smith, could be said to come down to the "theory-ladenness of observations".33 Kiikeri & Ylikoski present how, from Norwood R. Hanson and Thomas Kuhn onwards, it has been practically undisputed that the "empirical studies in the field of cognitive psychology (vision science) show that the interpretations of observations are related to the background information and expectations". Further on, "indisputable facts of the cognitive psychology" are the claims that the "earlier experience and training has an effect on the ability to make observations", and that the "expectations direct attention and the process of observation", that results to the "necessity of theoretical interpretation of the observations".34 When a scholar has formed an hypothesis that explains the data she is going to utilize, she will tend to pick out, "of all the information the surrounding world provides, those things that are related to the expectations that have been primed and activated [because of the formation of the hypothesis]", for "the activation of the expectations makes [the scholar] actively seeking concurring evidence from the surroundings".35 In this way an observation is always theory-laden, or - to use terminology from the field of cognitive psychology - the scholar drifts into amplification illusion36, in which she will seek out only that kind of data that is compatible with the hypothesis she has formed. Should there be data that does not fit into the hypothesis, it gets passed by e.g. as an anomaly, or it gets integrated into the hypothesis in an extremely contrived manner. At its worst, the amplification illusion leads to shunning of data that could be contrary to the much cherished hypothesis; the hypothesis has been transformed to truth.37

On the other hand, it may be that the tendency to interpret observations as fitting to one's own hypothesis is a necessary part of controlling the flow of information.38 As such, it would be impossible for a scholar to completely avoid falling into the amplification illusion. Still, in the end, this necessity should not be perceived as an unsurmountable problem in the practice of science, but as a challenge to be overcome. The scientific method (generally speaking) can be thought of as providing a tool for controlling the urge to interpret every bit a data under the dominion of the amplification illusion: not every whim of the mind is permitted, but in every single branch of science there are in existence many methods - rules for formulating good argumentation, forming the paradigm of that particular branch of science - that limit the number of possible conclusions. On top of that, the scholar may herself be conscious of the "limits of rational activity", and the Academy at large - preferably containing a healthy mix of as many different viewpoints as possible39 - will control the tendency of a single scholar to twist the data in her preferred way.40 Consequently, when the Academy decides to work together, to aim for an accepted common goal, the results will be more than the sum of their parts, and the progress of science a fact.

It is time to come back to the most important technique for warding off the effects of the amplification illusion, the art of asking the right questions. A bad choice for the initial question can easily stray the scholar off the course, and it is from the conspiracy theory thinking that we find the clearest examples of these. "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" offers a textbook example in the middle of the work, when Baigent et al. have - to their own satisfaction - authenticated the claims found in the collection of documents known as the "Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau", understood by Baigent et al. to have been deliberately "leaked" by Prieuré de Sion - the claims included the descend of Pierre Plantard (de Saint-Clair) from king Dagobert II, the last ruling representative of the Merovingian dynasty known to the conventional study of history.41 Baigent et al. ask the question, what was so special about the descend from the Merovingian dynasty compared to all the other ruling dynasties, and the misstep follows right after.42 The question directs them to ponder various myths that have been linked to the Merovingian dynasty, and eventually to coin up a curious historical method, according to which "[f]antastic legends... are not entirely imaginary, but symbolic or allegorical, masking some concrete historical fact behind their fabulous façade".43 The conclusion they arrive at is that the myth of the two fathers of Merovée, king Clodio and an unidentified "beast of Neptune similar to a quinotaur" (bestea Neptuni Quinotauri similis), should be interpreted as pointing to a union of two dynasties. The talk of the beast of the sea is associated with the fish, that happened to be one of the symbols of Jesus used by the early Christians - Merovée is thereby of the house of David!44 The unfortunate choice of the question had, however, already contained the answer when it included the implicit assumption that there had to be something special in the Merovingian dynasty compared to all the other ruling dynasties of Europe. Much better questions would have been e.g. "Why is Pierre Plantard linked to the Merovingian dynasty?", or even "How does Prieuré de Sion utilize the descend from the Merovingian dynasty in its agenda?". If the scholar asks a bad question from her sources, she will get a bad answer in return that will be difficult to place into any sensible historical reconstruction; a loaded question returns an answer that fires back.

The second part of the "boisterous pseudohistorical method", dismissing completely the criterion of falsification, originates directly from the amplification illusion discussed above.

31http://judyredman.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/on-asking-the-right-questions/
32Smith 1985, 153.
33I changed the wording of the sentence from the Finnish original, since in the philosophy of science there could also be other ways to tackle the question of asking the right question than referencing to the concept of theory-ladenness.
34Kiikeri 2004, 29-31; translation mine. The theoretical interpretation of the observations refers to the process of placing the data into the (historical) reconstruction in a manner that is acceptable to the current paradigm in a given branch of science.
35Hakkarainen 1999, 23; translation mine.
36The Finnish term, vahvistusilluusio, was coined in Finland by Saariluoma 1990. In English there could be some other term more widely used for the phenomenon.
37Hakkarainen 1999, 35-38.
38Hakkarainen 1999, 39.
39Stephen C. Carlson gave an interesting paper at SBL Meeting 2008. His title was "Can the Academy Protect Itself from One of Its Own? The Case of Secret Mark", and the contents of the paper dealt with the optimism of Anthony Grafton, that the Academy will always be able to point out forgeries as it has time on its side: the continuing passage of time enables the Academy to assess ever more clearly the point in time a suspected text or object should be placed. Carlson shares the optimism of Grafton, and I agree - given enough time the relation between the hoax hypothesis of the Secret Gospel of Mark and the "textual puzzle -thriller" literary genre will become obvious. I will return to this notion in chapter 5.1; http://www.hypotyposeis.org/weblog/2008/12/sbl-session-on-secret-mark.html; Grafton 1990.
40I agree here with e.g. Järnefelt 2008, 547-548.
41Baigent 1983, 220, 245-253.
42Baigent 1983, 226. A few pages further the question is formulated even more pointedly: "What is so special about the Merovingians?"; Baigent 1983, 232.
43Baigent 1983, 235.
44Baigent 1983, 235, 314, 387.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 4.3 How a conspiracy theory is built - Part III

Even though the difference between science and pseudoscience is that sliding, some methodological observations may be made of the fringe scholarship. Next I will describe the general pseudohistorical approach to the study of history with the term "boisterous pseudohistorical method". The "boisterous pseudohistorical method" consists of three separate parts, and is used in the practice of pseudohistory boisterously26 - in many cases unnoticed by the practicer herself - to construe an argument that represents conspiracy theory thinking. Consequently, the arguments produced with the method do not fall into the sphere of good scientific argumentation as it is perceived e.g. in the field of biblical studies. For a case of example, I will analyze the argumentation found in "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. This work has been commonly assessed to be a textbook example of pseudohistory by the representatives of the Academy.27

The theoretical framework I am working with is intentionally as simple as possible: a method is nothing else than a collection of conventions deemed to represent good argumentation and agreed upon by everyone inside a particular paradigm in a particular branch of science.28 Especially in the study of history it is clear that the same perceived data (evidence) is possible to place into vastly differing historical reconstructions. The perceived data does not dictate the conclusions a historian should draw from it - instead, the available evidence should be placed into the larger academic context in a manner that is acceptable to the current paradigm in a given branch of science.29 Thus, my thesis is the following: I propose that Carlson utilizes in his hoax hypothesis methods that 1) cannot fit inside the boundaries of the general method of the study of history; in other words, I propose that Carlson's methods do not produce argumentation that is acceptable by the standards of the current paradigm in the study of history, and 2) I propose that the extensive usage of Carlson's methods would lead into a situation where the theories regarding the Christian origins by Michael Baigent, Barbara Thiering, and - to take yet another curious example - Joseph Atwill30 would have to be taken as seriously as any other mainstream theory of early Christianity, into the serious scholarly debate. In other words, I propose that Carlson's methodology would broaden the boundaries of the presently accepted methods in biblical studies to such an extent that it would no longer be possible to tell the difference between a plausible historical reconstruction and an absurd historical reconstruction. Consequently, I feel that the extensive usage of Carlson's methods would be the end of the academic biblical studies.

The "boisterous pseudohistorical method" consists of the following individual parts: 1) asking an improper question, 2) dismissing completely the criterion of falsification, and 3) convincing oneself that by linking two things together one has established that they belong together when the notion of probability has been completely forgotten.

26The meaning of the word "boisterously" should be understood in this instance as "in the enthusiastically carefree manner". [Further note: I may come up with a better word for the pseudohistorical approach in the future.]
27"Holy Blood, Holy Grail" is the title of the paperback edition (1983) of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" (1982). The book has created one of the most widespread conspiracy theories with religious overtones, and dozens of titles have developed the central themes of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" further. The historical scenario presented in the book is briefly as follows: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had (at least) one child. With the crucifixion taking place Mary made her escape to Southern France, where the descendants of Mary and Jesus played a key role in the formation of the Merovingian dynasty. In the connection with the First Crusade a certain order, Ordre de Sion / Ormus (still later Prieuré de Sion), was created with a purpose to make a descendant of Jesus the sovereign of all Europe. During the centuries that followed the plan went on, and the secret society - guided by many prominent Europeans (e.g. Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo) - was registered in the French Journal officiel in 1956, and began to leak out hints of its existence, presumably to prepare the masses for the change of government.
28Kiikeri 2004, 57.
29Kiikeri 2004, 32, 51-52.
30The core of the conspiracy theory of Atwill - originally self-published in 2003 as "The Roman Origin of Christianity" - is the notion that there are previously unperceived connections between the canonical Gospels and "The Jewish War" by Flavius Josephus, as they both are describing the exact same events, but the Gospels should be understood as satires to get their true meaning. This hermeneutical key for uncovering the true meaning of the texts comes close to the conviction of some of those who see the Theodore-letter as a forgery: for them the Secret Gospel of Mark should be understood as "a nice ironic gay joke" (Akenson 2000, 87-88), or as "one of the Wildean satires of Christianity" (Jeffery 2007b, 6) to get to the true meaning of the text, a forgery by Morton Smith.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Manuscript

Wieland Willker, the maintainer of The Secret Gospel of Mark Homepage, feels that the time is right for hunting down the missing manuscript: "Perhaps Harrison Ford should be reactivated, (together with Angelina Jolie)?" I concur that Ford & Jolie could make a spectacular chase of the manuscript through various important Middle Eastern locations, battling with Nazi-robots, revealing a sinister plot of the Illuminati to build of clone army out of the DNA of Morton Smith, and finally, in a grand climax, unearthing the manuscript, guarded by the triune brotherhood of the elderly gentlemen, Henry Jones Sr., Lord Richard Croft, and the evil twin of professor Smith. Let's call that Plan A.

And if some things do not work together as planned, I think we could also have Plan B, just in case. Since we do not have the movie industry with millions of dollars backing us up, the second plan should be something more down-to-earth. For starters, I will make a chronological list of the past attempts to locate the manuscript, and see in which areas we could do better.

--

1958: Smith left "Epistulae genuinae S. Ignatii Martyris", the book that hold the manuscript of Clement's letter to Theodore, in the monastery of Mar Saba.1

1976/1977: Guy G. Stroumsa, David Flusser, Shlomo Pines, and Archimandrite Melito(n) deposited the book and the manuscript to the Orthodox Patriarchate Library in Jerusalem.2 The manuscript was removed from the book (for conservation purposes), but supposed to have stored with the book even though they were separate items now.3

1980: Thomas Talley asked about the MS in the Patriarchate library, but he was told that it was unavailable as it was being repaired.4

Beginning of the 1980s: Quentin Quesnell was allowed to see the MS.5 I have not been able to contact professor Quesnell, not directly nor through Smith College where he is still listed in the Campus Directory. Details of this encounter could reveal something new of the MS.

1990: Charles W. Hedrick and Nikolaos Olympiou visited the monastery of Mar Saba and learned that the book (and the MS) had been transferred to Jerusalem. Later, Father Kallistos Dourvas told Hedrick and Olympiou that the whereabouts of the MS were known to him up to 1990, when he retired from the position of the head librarian in the Patriarchate library.6 From 1990 onward no one seems to have seen the MS.

1992: Hedrick and Olympiou visited the Patriarchate library, but the book (or the MS) could not be located.7

1996: Willy Rordorf saw the book, but not the MS, in the Patriarchate library. Ditto for James H. Charlesworth.8

1998: Olympiou saw the book, but not the MS, in the Patriarchate library.9

1999: James Edwards & Shaye Cohen - no MS.10

2000: In March, John Dart faxed the librarian, Bishop Aristarchos, inquired about the book and received a telephone call: "neither the Voss book nor the pages [the MS] had been found".11 In June, Olympiou saw the book the second time, and photographed it.12

--

It is easy to believe that the recent attempts to locate the MS have been as unfruitful as those related above: presumably the book of Voss is seen now and again, but the MS itself remains out of sight. A year ago, together with Dr. Matti Myllykoski, I fired a shot in the dark, trying to find out if the Finnish Orthodox Church would have favourable contacts to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and if these contacts could be utilized for tracking down the MS. Nothing came out of that, and we were compelled to give up.

I can think of three possible scenarios concerning the MS, following Hedrick's assessment in his SBL paper from 2001 ("The Secret Gospel of Mark: Manuscript and Interpretation", information from Dart 2003, 141). Either the MS has been destroyed, the MS has been misplaced, or the MS is deliberately kept hidden. The first scenario is, to my mind, the least plausible. Father Kallistos told to Hedrick and Olympiou that the photographing of the MS had happened in the first place because "of its importance... it is the only copy of the manuscript that exists, and also because it contains a great deal of "diversity".13 If Kallistos' attitude represents the norm in the Patriarchate, the MS would never be consciously destroyed, whatever the opinions of its contents might be.

Could the MS have been genuinely misplaced? From my experiences working in a library, I would have to acknowledge this possibility: these things happen. They happen in the well-organized university libraries, and presumably with even more regularity, they happen in other libraries, as well. John Dart, who received the phone call from the Patriarchate library in 2000, tells that "[the current librarian, Bishop] Aristarchos complained that the previous librarian, one who had succeeded Kallistos, left the library in relative disarray".14 For the purposes of finding the MS, this scenario is about as bad as the first one: we could, sure enough, hire somebody to go through all the items in the library, but it could take dozens of years until chancing upon Clement's letter to Theodore. If it's missing, it remains missing unless we get extremely lucky.

Who would have deliberately hid the MS? Olympiou speculated that the MS was "likely concealed by certain well-meaning persons at the Patriarchate library for reasons of piety".15 Peter Jeffery, on the other hand, has heard rumours of "shadowy figures suggesting that the two pages could reappear for the right price".16 Neither option, though I favour Olympiou's suggestion as the most plausible of them all, looks too good. Certainly asking the librarian to fetch the MS produces nothing, as many scholars have already done that and failed. (At this point Ford & Jolie would sure come in handy.) If the problem is the speculative interpretation of Morton Smith, spiced with some hyperbole about "homosexual Jesus", then the situation could be mended simply by drumming about some more down-to-earth interpretation of the Secret Gospel.

But, if the problem is the general scholarly pursuit, seen as not important by the representatives of the Patriarchate, then there's not much we can do. I'm serious: a similar situation happened just recently regarding the Patriarchate of Alexandria where scholars from Helsinki University (and possibly from somewhere else, too) had at first access to the collections of manuscripts, but were denied access after the appointment of the new Patriarch who (presumably) does not see any point in the Western project for increasing knowledge through the applying of scientific method. In this case, the only option would be to try and build contacts to the Patriarchate, in an effort to persuade at least some ruling members of our cause, to let us have the MS, as a loan, for a period of testing it with the methods of forensic sciences. Oh, and there are some highly unethical options (including paying those millions to the possible thieves), too, but let's not go in there - nothing good will come out of deceiving the Patriarchate one way or another out of the MS. All in all, I do not see there is a lot to go by.

By the way, the Patriarchate library has its own homepage at http://jerusalem-patriarchate.info/gr/patria_bibl.htm if anyone manages to come up with new ideas from the page (in modern Greek only).

1Morton Smith: The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark. The Aquarian Press. 1985, 12-17.
2Guy G. Stroumsa: Comments on Charles Hedrick's Article: A Testimony. JECS 11:2. 2003, 147-153.
3Charles W. Hedrick & Nikolaos Olympiou: The Secret Gospel of Mark: Stalemate in the Academy. JECS 11:2. 2000, 8-9.
4Thomas Talley: Liturgical Time in the Ancient Church: The State of Research. Studia Liturgica 14. 1982, 45.
5Adela Yarbro Collins: Mark: A Commentary. Hermeneia – A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Fortress Press. 2007, 491.
6Hedrick 2000, 3-11, 14-16.
7Hedrick 2000, 8-9.
8Scott G. Brown: Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery. ESCJ 15. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2005, 25.
9Hedrick 2000, 8-9.
10Brown 2005, 25.
11John Dart: Decoding Mark. Trinity. 2003, 139.
12Hedrick 2000, 8-9.
13Hedrick 2000, 8-9.
14Dart 2003, 139.
15Hedrick 2000, 8-9.
16http://www.music.princeton.edu/%7Ejeffery/smithfaq.html

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Four Articles about Secret Mark in November / December Issue of Biblical Archaeology Review

Biblical Archaeology Review, November / December 2009 issue has a special section titled "Secret Mark" - A Modern Forgery? with four new articles concerning the question of authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark. From the website:

"Secret Mark": An Amazing Discovery
By Charles Hedrick

Southwest Missouri State University professor Charles Hedrick opens the discussion by setting the stage for us, as we asked him to do, without revealing his own belief in the authenticity of Secret Mark.

"Secret Mark": Morton Smith - Forger
By Hershel Shanks

In true BAR fashion, we wanted to present the case for a forgery, a position numerous scholars hold. After being turned down by three major scholars who embrace this position, editor Hershel Shanks undertook to summarize the evidence himself.

"Secret Mark": Was Morton Smith a Great Thespian and I a Complete Fool?
By Helmut Koester

Harvard professor Helmut Koester presents a fascinating textual analysis of Secret Mark. Koester includes an account of his relationship with Columbia professor Morton Smith who discovered Secret Mark (or forged it) and why he believes it is authentic.

"Secret Mark": Restoring a Dead Scholar’s Reputation
By Hershel Shanks

Hershel Shanks reveals his own conclusion about Secret Mark as a result of his study of the opposing arguments.

--

The first article, written by Charles W. Hedrick, can be read in its entirety at http://www.bib-arch.org/bar/article.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=35&Issue=06&ArticleID=21&Page=0&UserID=0&

In the article Hedrick lays down the basic discovery story of Clement's letter to Theodore and of the extracts from the Secret Gospel of Mark it featured. For people not familiar with the debate, the article could very well function as the introduction and retelling of the circumstances surrounding Smith's visit to Mar Saba in 1958, the discovery he claimed to have made, and the subsequent disappearance of the manuscript. Hedrick takes the story, albeit very briefly, to the rekindled debate with mentions of Scott G. Brown's "Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery" (2005), Stephen C. Carlson's "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark" (2005), and Peter Jeffery's "The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery" (2007). He concludes echoing his previous assessment from 2003: "The stalemate with regard to Secret Mark continues."

Substantially the article does not contain anything new for people who have already read e.g. Smith's own descriptions of his discovery. There are some neat pictures illustrating the story, and if they are large enough in the printed magazine, the colour photographs of the three pages of the manuscript could come in handy, too.

There is one new anecdote of Morton Smith (although it is originally from Allan J. Pantuck's 2008 SBL presentation). Hedrick writes that Smith "once quipped to the eminent Yale scholar E.R. Goodenough that "he was passing out cigars because he was no longer a Father." The punchline relates to Smith's curious relationship with the Episcopal Church: he was ordained, but could not be described as a representative of traditional Christianity. Still, to the best of my knowledge he never officially renounced his priestly status. I may have become a bit oversensitive to issues of labeling people without their explicit consent, but I welcome Hedrick's manner of putting things down, for to him Smith left the clergy "in effect", not officially, "to pursue the scholarly life". No speculation about Smith's religious beliefs (I doubt he had any, but neither have I in the traditional sense of the word), and whether we could label him as "an atheist professor" or "not a good Christian" (both titles from Jeffery 2007, 251).

More of the other three articles once I get the whole issue to my hands.

"From Jesus to Christ" Now Online

The PBS documentary from 1998, "From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians", all four hours of it, is available for free at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/watch/ - and not just for the States as is the case with the more recent NOVA documentary, "The Bible's Buried Secrets", also available through PBS (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/). Not that it's that big a deal, but the hassle with circulating one's net traffic through an American proxy is best avoided altogether.

One sentence from the documentary description sums it up nicely: "Drawing upon historical evidence, the series challenges familiar assumptions and conventional notions about Christian origins." I have just looked through, for the first time, the first part of the documentary, and I can recommend it. I'm especially pleased with the total lack of those cheesy dramatizations, live actors playing the parts of historical figures, that plague the various documentaries I have seen over the years. Instead, the camera pans through landscapes, objects of art, archaeological remains, and a scale model of the city of Jerusalem, cutting talking heads in-between, and nothing more. I certainly prefer this old-skool approach (as should be evident from the appearance of this blog), for I find it important to be able to concentrate on the core issues, instead of having my concentration constantly diverted to some insignificant minor details.

Spotted at NT Blog.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 4.3 How a conspiracy theory is built - Part II

In the contemporary philosophy of science many issues of demarcation are debated, including the problem of differentiation between science and pseudoscience. Mika Kiikeri and Petri Ylikoski summarize the current state of the debate in their monograph "Tiede tutkimuskohteena: Filosofinen johdatus tieteentutkimukseen": it is generally accepted that there is no one single philosophical criterion for demarcating between the two. Usually the differences are gradual in their nature, as it is also bad science, and not only pseudoscience, that may stem from flaws of methodology, as well as from negligence or incompetence.9 Usually the "real" pseudoscience diverges from normal science in other aspects as well. E.g. the "formalities" of good science (writing proper introductions and summaries, the proper use of citations, the inclusion of table of contents and indexes, etc.) are not bothered with, the argumentation is contrived and implausible, and the distinction between theory and evidence cannot be hold (which happens when the mere possibility of placing evidence into a coherent whole according to the theory is used as evidence for the theory).10 One of the many characteristics of pseudoscience, especially of pseudohistory, is the absolute rejection of the concept of probability, when the drawn conclusions are never determined as e.g. "probable", "plausible", or "improbable".11 The differentiation between science and pseudoscience is, however, hardly ever as clear-cut as the descriptions above would suggest. In the phase of normal science scholars do not usually discuss the philosophical basis of their specific branch of science, for - to cite Kiikeri and Ylikoski - "they believe that these discussions would be, for the most part, a complete waste of time".12

The most ambitious form of the conspiracy theory, that depicts the whole world as being controlled by human agents, may be found as well from the Rosicrucian manifestos of the 17th-century (Fama fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, etc.)13, from the late 20th-century Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Протоколы Сионских мудрецов)14, from Nesta H. Webster's "World Revolution: The Plot Against Civilization" (1921), as from the recent (2009) monograph of David Rothkopf, "Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making", where the author follows the earlier NWO-theorists (New World Order) in his portrayal of the elite controlling the world. The modern scientific criticism of the conspiracy theory thinking is traced to the 1960s by Ed White. He points out two scholars, David Brion Davis and Richard Hofstadter, as the most prominent.15 In his famous lecture titled "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in 1963 Hofstadter describes the typical failures of the conspiracy theory thinking. He sees the conspiracy theorist's take on the history as both apocalyptic and dualistic. The enemy, the core group behind the conspiracy, comes off as an almost divine force with whom one is not able to negotiate. This core group organizes the world events according to its will, but fortunately there is the conspiracy theorist who can prove the reality of the conspiracy by gathering enough evidence together. The last problem in the conspiracy theorist's thinking was, according to Hofstadter, her refusal to allow any possibility for error or confusion in the reality - instead, she must be able to place every detail into a rational order. In this way the paranoid view of the world effectively prevents the observation of the real mechanisms behind the phenomena the conspiracy theorist perceives.16

A great cultural change in the conspiracy theory thinking happened during the 1980s with new innovations of communication technology, such as the BBS (Bulletin Board System), that enabled easy communication between geographically distant individuals. The development of other means of communication during the 1990s and especially the rise of HTTP as the standard protocol of the Internet with the popularity of WWW, the possibility for effortless connection to the Internet, and the culture of blogging, have shaped the conspiracy theory thinking and morphed it into a strong cultural phenomenon.17 At the same time a book featuring conspiracy theory thinking could become a bestseller, as happened with Michael Baigent's, Richard Leigh's and Henry Lincoln's "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" in 1982. The book stayed e.g. in Adult New York Times Best Seller List for 15 weeks.18 Many scholars wish to place postmodern culture as parallel to the culture of modern conspiracy theory thinking. E.g. Peter Knight points to the "unmanageable reality" of the postmodern that produces countless conspiracy theory narratives. The creation of the conspiracy theory offers an opportunity to give a name for a "faceless problem".19 Knight acknowledges - even if he does not entirely accept the one-sidedness of the notion20 - that a modern conspiracy theory is built upon the conviction that everything is connected to everything else: that there are always connections.21 It is pretty clear what the main problem would turn out to be: that the observer does not just reveal already existing connections but actively creates more of them herself.22

David S. G. Goodman gives more concrete reasons for the popularity of the conspiracy theory thinking. Among others, he names the growing technical orientation of society, the decrease of the popularity of the organized religions and the increasing distrust regarding the politicians (especially) and the government (generally), and regarding the multinational corporations and the Academy, in such degree that occasionally the best evidence of the existence of the conspiracy is the lack of any evidence for it.23 It should be noted, however, that not all conspiracy theories are - at least in the first impression they give - unbelievable. The most intellectually stimulating ones are certainly those that make it very hard to pinpoint the exact location where the boundary between science and pseudoscience gets crossed over. This boundary is occasionally very hard to define with any certainty. E.g. biblical scholar Tony Burke places one of the authors of the aforementioned "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail", Michael Baigent, in "fringe scholarship", practiced in the borderland area of science. Other examples of these "fringe scholars" are, according to Burke, e.g. Barbara Thiering, Carsten Thiede and John Allegro.24 It should be noted, however, that of the individuals mentioned e.g. Thiering was a lecturer at Sydney University, and a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar.25

Even though the difference between science and pseudoscience is that sliding, some methodological observations may be made of the fringe scholarship.

9Kiikeri 2004, 92-93.
10The ability to make a clear distinction between theory and evidence is argued to be an indispensable element of an actual scientific work by e.g. Hakkarainen 1999, 251.
11This observation is also made by e.g. Goodman 2006, 363.
12"tällaista keskustelua pidetään lähinnä ajanhukkana"; Kiikeri 2004, 61. Instead of discussing these issues, scholars working inside their specific branch of science use the methods they have been trained to use according to the dominant scholarly paradigms as if all of the philosophical problems concerning these methods were already solved; Kiikeri 2004, 57.
13The Rosicrucian Manuscripts 2002.
14The Protocols of the Elders of Zion 2006.
15White 2002, 2-3.
16Hofstadter 1964, 29-40. The other important scholar of the 1960s mentioned by White, David Brion Davis, approached the conspiracy theory thinking with ideological criticism; Davis 1960.
17Irvine 2008, xi-xii. Kathleen Stewart takes her rhetoric a step further: the Internet is in itself a grand conspiracy theory, as in the Internet one link always leads to other links, almost infinitely, deeper and deeper into nowhere; Stewart 1999, 18.
18Adult New York Times Best Seller List may be perused at http://www.hawes.com/pastlist.htm
19Knight 2000, 115-116, 135.
20Knight does not accept the notion that the conviction of the existence of the connections between everything would necessarily have to be seen as evidence of paranoid thinking, since "Everything Is Connected could function as the operating principle not just for conspiracy theory, but also for epidemiology, ecology, risk theory, systems theory, complexity theory, theories of globalization, boosterism for the Internet, and even poststructuralist literary theories about intertextuality"; Knight 2000, 205.
21Knight 2000, 204-205.
22Cf. the discussion of the differences between interpretation and overinterpretation in Interpretation and Overinterpretation 1992.
23Goodman 2006, 360.
24Burke 2008.
25http://www.westarinstitute.org/Fellows/thiering.html

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Psychology and Biblical Studies at SBL Meeting 2009

Just for a reminder: there is one particularly interesting session at the coming SBL Meeting concerning the Secret Gospel of Mark. From the Preliminary Program Book:

21-330

Psychology and Biblical Studies
11/21/2009
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Bacchus Suite - MR

Theme: The Secret Gospel of Mark, Sex, Death,and Madness; The Psychodynamics of Morton Smith's Proposal
Critical response to The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled; Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery, by Peter G. Jeffery (Yale University Press, 2006).

J. Harold Ellens, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Presiding
Peter Jeffery, Princeton University, Panelist (20 min)
Robin Jensen, Vanderbilt University, Panelist (15 min)
Donald Capps, Princeton Theological Seminary, Panelist (15 min)
J. Ellens, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Panelist (15 min)
Raymond Lawrence, College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, Panelist (15 min)
Peter Jeffery, Princeton University, Respondent (20 min)
Discussion (20 min)
Discussion (30 min)

--

I've already got one informant planted on the event (in case there is not anything mandatory going on simultaneously), but I encourage everyone to attend. Additionally, I am, of course, greatly indebted to anyone who passes to me any information concerning the papers and discussion that take place. Don't have your own blog yet? I will be more than glad to publish any reports of the session, with golden shining halos around the name of the writer (or anything else that is code-wise possible).

But I must say I would not feel very comfortable if my book was having an entire session to it with the words "critical response" in the topic title.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 4.3 How a conspiracy theory is built

In the introduction I have described the reception of Stephen C. Carlson's "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark". I concluded that without going through the book reviews in great detail, it is difficult to say, if scholars in general are leaning towards the hoax hypothesis or not. The majority of scholars seem to be willing to accept the inauthenticity of the letter based on the case made by Carlson (and Peter Jeffery), but attitudes towards the hidden jokes and deliberate clues vary more. Still, not everyone has been convinced, and the front line of the counterarguments has been composed by scholars like Scott G. Brown, Allan J. Pantuck, Jeff Jay, and many others. One of the more interesting reactions has come from the well-known New Testament scholar Marvin Meyer, who has previously written articles concerning the Secret Gospel of Mark.1 Claremont Graduate University's Institute for Antiquity and Christianity organized a panel discussion about the Secret Gospel of Mark in February 2008. It was reported that Meyer summarized Carlson's hypothesis (and Peter Jeffery's equivalent, from "The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery") to be essentially a "conspiracy theory" that can be found wherever one wishes to find one. The arguments for the hoax hypothesis he dismissed as contrived.2 The suggestion of Meyer warrants another thought, as the claims of the deliberately hidden clues by Morton Smith, summarized in chapter 4.2, bring to mind mostly fringe scholarship like that of Michael Baigent, frequently described by pejorative terms such as "pseudohistory" and "conspiracy theory". We begin by asking, what does a conspiracy theory as a term actually mean.

In popular speech a "conspiracy theory" is a multifaceted term that is used both for describing a mild alternative interpretation of a particular chain of events, and for describing an extremely bizarre alternative reality. For an example, the former happens when the Persian Gulf War is renamed to "The Oil War"3, and the latter when the former BBC journalist David Icke depicts the British Royal Family and Bush family as belonging to a race of shape-shifting reptilian humanoids, in secret control of the world.4 A "conspiracy theory" is regularly used pejoratively, to deny the factuality of a belief the speaker holds to be inconceivable if not downright crazy. Meyer looks to have utilized the term precisely in this way.5

Other scholars wish to reserve a much more specific usage for the term "conspiracy theory". E.g. George Johnson uses the term "conspiracy theory" for describing a construction that is based on particular flaws of methodology.6 In my assessment of Carlson's hypothesis I will be using the term "conspiracy theory", following Johnson, as a description for the methodological choices Carlson has made, choices that can also be used (and have been used) in the creation of much more pronounced "conspiracy theories". To be quite precise, the hoax hypothesis of Carlson is not a "conspiracy" according to the mundane meaning of the word7, but the established meaning of the term in scholarly usage, assessing methodological choices, is supported in this instance by the connotation of the word, an inclining towards pseudoscience (non-science). A conspiracy is frequently conceived to belong to non-scholarly discussions8, and as a conspiracy theory is based on flaws of methodology it may also be perceived to be non-scientific, or at least bad science. Thus questions relating to conspiracy theories are closely linked to the problem of demarcation between science and pseudoscience.

In the contemporary philosophy of science many issues of demarcation are debated, including the problem of differentiation between science and pseudoscience. Mika Kiikeri and Petri Ylikoski summarize the current state of the debate in their monograph "Tiede tutkimuskohteena: Filosofinen johdatus tieteentutkimukseen": it is generally accepted that there is no one single philosophical criterion for demarcating between the two. Usually the differences are gradual in their nature, as it is also bad science, and not only pseudoscience, that may stem from flaws of methodology, as well as from negligence or incompetence.9 Usually the "real" pseudoscience diverges from normal science in other aspects as well. E.g. the "formalities" of good science (writing proper introductions and summaries, the proper use of citations, the inclusion of table of contents and indexes, etc.) are not bothered with, the argumentation is contrived and implausible, and the distinction between theory and evidence cannot be hold (which happens when the mere possibility of placing evidence into a coherent whole according to the theory is used as evidence for the theory).10 One of the many characteristics of pseudoscience, especially of pseudohistory, is the absolute rejection of the concept of probability, when the drawn conclusions are never determined as e.g. "probable", "plausible", or "improbable".11 The differentiation between science and pseudoscience is, however, hardly ever as clear-cut as the descriptions above would suggest. In the phase of normal science scholars do not usually discuss the philosophical basis of their specific branch of science, for - to cite Kiikeri and Ylikoski - "they believe that these discussions would be, for the most part, a complete waste of time".12

The most ambitious form of the conspiracy theory, that depicts the whole world as being controlled by human agents, may be found as well from the Rosicrucian manifestos of the 17th-century (Fama fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, etc.)13, from the late 20th-century Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Протоколы Сионских мудрецов)14, from Nesta H. Webster's "World Revolution: The Plot Against Civilization" (1921), as from the recent (2009) monograph of David Rothkopf, "Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making", where the author follows the earlier NWO-theorists (New World Order) in his portrayal of the elite controlling the world. The modern scientific criticism of the conspiracy theory thinking is traced to the 1960s by Ed White. He points out two scholars, David Brion Davis and Richard Hofstadter, as the most prominent.15 In his famous lecture titled "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in 1963 Hofstadter describes the typical failures of the conspiracy theory thinking. He sees the conspiracy theorist's take on the history as both apocalyptic and dualistic. The enemy, the core group behind the conspiracy, comes off as an almost divine force with whom one is not able to negotiate. This core group organizes the world events according to its will, but fortunately there is the conspiracy theorist who can prove the reality of the conspiracy by gathering enough evidence together. The last problem in the conspiracy theorist's thinking was, according to Hofstadter, her refusal to allow any possibility for error or confusion in the reality - instead, she must be able to place every detail into a rational order. In this way the paranoid view of the world effectively prevents the observation of the real mechanisms behind the phenomena the conspiracy theorist perceives.16

A great cultural change in the conspiracy theory thinking happened during the 1980s with new innovations of communication technology, such as the BBS (Bulletin Board System), that enabled easy communication between geographically distant individuals. The development of other means of communication during the 1990s and especially the rise of HTTP as the standard protocol of the Internet with the popularity of WWW, the possibility for effortless connection to the Internet, and the culture of blogging, have shaped the conspiracy theory thinking and morphed it into a strong cultural phenomenon.17 At the same time a book featuring conspiracy theory thinking could become a bestseller, as happened with Michael Baigent's, Richard Leigh's and Henry Lincoln's "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" in 1982. The book stayed e.g. in Adult New York Times Best Seller List for 15 weeks.18 Many scholars wish to place postmodern culture as parallel to the culture of modern conspiracy theory thinking. E.g. Peter Knight points to the "unmanageable reality" of the postmodern that produces countless conspiracy theory narratives. The creation of the conspiracy theory offers an opportunity to give a name for a "faceless problem".19 Knight acknowledges - even if he does not entirely accept the one-sidedness of the notion20 - that a modern conspiracy theory is built upon the conviction that everything is connected to everything else: that there are always connections.21 It is pretty clear what the main problem would turn out to be: that the observer does not just reveal already existing connections but actively creates more of them herself.22

David S. G. Goodman gives more concrete reasons for the popularity of the conspiracy theory thinking. Among others, he names the growing technical orientation of society, the decrease of the popularity of the organized religions and the increasing distrust regarding the politicians (especially) and the government (generally), and regarding the multinational corporations and the Academy, in such degree that occasionally the best evidence of the existence of the conspiracy is the lack of any evidence for it.23 It should be noted, however, that not all conspiracy theories are - at least in the first impression they give - unbelievable. The most intellectually stimulating ones are certainly those that make it very hard to pinpoint the exact location where the boundary between science and pseudoscience gets crossed over. This boundary is occasionally very hard to define with any certainty. E.g. biblical scholar Tony Burke places one of the authors of the aforementioned "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail", Michael Baigent, in "fringe scholarship", practiced in the borderland area of science. Other examples of these "fringe scholars" are, according to Burke, e.g. Barbara Thiering, Carsten Thiede and John Allegro.24 It should be noted, however, that of the individuals mentioned e.g. Thiering was a lecturer at Sydney University, and a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar.25

Even though the difference between science and pseudoscience is that sliding, some methodological observations may be made of the fringe scholarship. Next I will describe the general pseudohistorical approach to the study of history with the term "boisterous pseudohistorical method". The "boisterous pseudohistorical method" consists of three separate parts, and is used in the practice of pseudohistory boisterously26 - in many cases unnoticed by the practicer herself - to construe an argument that represents conspiracy theory thinking. Consequently, the arguments produced with the method do not fall into the sphere of good scientific argumentation as it is perceived e.g. in the field of biblical studies. For a case of example, I will analyze the argumentation found in "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. This work has been commonly assessed to be a textbook example of pseudohistory by the representatives of the Academy.27

The theoretical framework I am working with is intentionally as simple as possible: a method is nothing else than a collection of conventions deemed to represent good argumentation and agreed upon by everyone inside a particular paradigm in a particular branch of science.28 Especially in the study of history it is clear that the same perceived data (evidence) is possible to place into vastly differing historical reconstructions. The perceived data does not dictate the conclusions a historian should draw from it - instead, the available evidence should be placed into the larger academic context in a manner that is acceptable to the current paradigm in a given branch of science.29 Thus, my thesis is the following: I propose that Carlson utilizes in his hoax hypothesis methods that 1) cannot fit inside the boundaries of the general method of the study of history; in other words, I propose that Carlson's methods do not produce argumentation that is acceptable by the standards of the current paradigm in the study of history, and 2) I propose that the extensive usage of Carlson's methods would lead into a situation where the theories regarding the Christian origins by Michael Baigent, Barbara Thiering, and - to take yet another curious example - Joseph Atwill30 would have to be taken as seriously as any other mainstream theory of early Christianity, into the serious scholarly debate. In other words, I propose that Carlson's methodology would broaden the boundaries of the presently accepted methods in biblical studies to such an extent that it would no longer be possible to tell the difference between a plausible historical reconstruction and an absurd historical reconstruction. Consequently, I feel that the extensive usage of Carlson's methods would be the end of the academic biblical studies.

The "boisterous pseudohistorical method" consists of the following individual parts: 1) asking an improper question, 2) dismissing completely the criterion of falsification, and 3) convincing oneself that by linking two things together one has established that they belong together when the notion of probability has been completely forgotten. The first part, asking an improper question, is a well-known problem in scholarly circles. Judy Redman, who writes a dissertation about the Gospel of Thomas for the University of New England, demonstrates the importance of asking a valid question in her blog thus: "[I]f you approach Thomas asking 'what evidence can I find that Thomas is dependent on the synoptic material?' you will potentially reach different conclusions to the ones you will reach if you ask 'are there any passages in Thomas that are similar to and/or the same as those in the synoptics and if so, what might that mean?'"31 The consequences of this particular problem, familiar to every scholar, were summarized by Morton Smith as follows: "Many scholars reject on principle all conjectures except their own".32

In the philosophy of science the phenomenon, somewhat exaggerated by Smith, could be said to come down to the "theory-ladenness of observations".33 Kiikeri & Ylikoski present how, from Norwood R. Hanson and Thomas Kuhn onwards, it has been practically undisputed that the "empirical studies in the field of cognitive psychology (vision science) show that the interpretations of observations are related to the background information and expectations". Further on, "indisputable facts of the cognitive psychology" are the claims that the "earlier experience and training has an effect on the ability to make observations", and that the "expectations direct attention and the process of observation", that results to the "necessity of theoretical interpretation of the observations".34 When a scholar has formed an hypothesis that explains the data she is going to utilize, she will tend to pick out, "of all the information the surrounding world provides, those things that are related to the expectations that have been primed and activated [because of the formation of the hypothesis]", for "the activation of the expectations makes [the scholar] actively seeking concurring evidence from the surroundings".35 In this way an observation is always theory-laden, or - to use terminology from the field of cognitive psychology - the scholar drifts into amplification illusion36, in which she will seek out only that kind of data that is compatible with the hypothesis she has formed. Should there be data that does not fit into the hypothesis, it gets passed by e.g. as an anomaly, or it gets integrated into the hypothesis in an extremely contrived manner. At its worst, the amplification illusion leads to shunning of data that could be contrary to the much cherished hypothesis; the hypothesis has been transformed to truth.37

On the other hand, it may be that the tendency to interpret observations as fitting to one's own hypothesis is a necessary part of controlling the flow of information.38 As such, it would be impossible for a scholar to completely avoid falling into the amplification illusion. Still, in the end, this necessity should not be perceived as an unsurmountable problem in the practice of science, but as a challenge to be overcome. The scientific method (generally speaking) can be thought of as providing a tool for controlling the urge to interpret every bit a data under the dominion of the amplification illusion: not every whim of the mind is permitted, but in every single branch of science there are in existence many methods - rules for formulating good argumentation, forming the paradigm of that particular branch of science - that limit the number of possible conclusions. On top of that, the scholar may herself be conscious of the "limits of rational activity", and the Academy at large - preferably containing a healthy mix of as many different viewpoints as possible39 - will control the tendency of a single scholar to twist the data in her preferred way.40 Consequently, when the Academy decides to work together, to aim for an accepted common goal, the results will be more than the sum of their parts, and the progress of science a fact.

It is time to come back to the most important technique for warding off the effects of the amplification illusion, the art of asking the right questions. A bad choice for the initial question can easily stray the scholar off the course, and it is from the conspiracy theory thinking that we find the clearest examples of these. "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" offers a textbook example in the middle of the work, when Baigent et al. have - to their own satisfaction - authenticated the claims found in the collection of documents known as the "Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau", understood by Baigent et al. to have been deliberately "leaked" by Prieuré de Sion - the claims included the descend of Pierre Plantard (de Saint-Clair) from king Dagobert II, the last ruling representative of the Merovingian dynasty known to the conventional study of history.41 Baigent et al. ask the question, what was so special about the descend from the Merovingian dynasty compared to all the other ruling dynasties, and the misstep follows right after.42 The question directs them to ponder various myths that have been linked to the Merovingian dynasty, and eventually to coin up a curious historical method, according to which "[f]antastic legends... are not entirely imaginary, but symbolic or allegorical, masking some concrete historical fact behind their fabulous façade".43 The conclusion they arrive at is that the myth of the two fathers of Merovée, king Clodio and an unidentified "beast of Neptune similar to a quinotaur" (bestea Neptuni Quinotauri similis), should be interpreted as pointing to a union of two dynasties. The talk of the beast of the sea is associated with the fish, that happened to be one of the symbols of Jesus used by the early Christians - Merovée is thereby of the house of David!44 The unfortunate choice of the question had, however, already contained the answer when it included the implicit assumption that there had to be something special in the Merovingian dynasty compared to all the other ruling dynasties of Europe. Much better questions would have been e.g. "Why is Pierre Plantard linked to the Merovingian dynasty?", or even "How does Prieuré de Sion utilize the descend from the Merovingian dynasty in its agenda?". If the scholar asks a bad question from her sources, she will get a bad answer in return that will be difficult to place into any sensible historical reconstruction; a loaded question returns an answer that fires back.

The second part of the "boisterous pseudohistorical method", dismissing completely the criterion of falsification, originates directly from the amplification illusion discussed above. In itself the criterion of falsification refers to a precept, according to which scientific theories "have to be in principal empirically refutable". This idea derives from philosopher Karl Popper: a theory that can always be modified with ad hoc arguments - instead of dismissing the theory - is not a scientific theory at all.45 Even though the criterion of falsification is best suited for research in the field of natural sciences, it may be applied with all scientific theories. E.g. in the conspiracy theory thinking the complete dismissal of the criterion of falsification is made evident in the process of converting every single argument against a conspiracy into an argument for the conspiracy. The best possible hoax is the one that cannot be proved to be a hoax by any possible means: there is always room for yet another conspiracy. Consequently, I agree with the characterization of Richard Hofstadter, that a conspiracy theorist will never accept the possibility that data - including data that seems to speak against the conspiracy - could not be assembled to support the conspiracy theory hypothesis. For a conspiracy theorist every bit of data will always support the conspiracy theory, no matter how contrived the results. By explaining everything the conspiracy theory, however, truncates itself to a simplified theory with too much explanatory power.46 When every bit of data is converted to support the conspiracy theorist and no detail is allowed to speak against her47, the possibility of falsification of the conspiracy theory - even in principle - can be perceived as having become impossible. The best of the conspiracy theorists will go even further, dismissing beforehand material that has the potential (in some specific circumstances) to go against the conspiracy theory. At this point, following Popper, it may be stated that the conspiracy theory has ceased to be a scientific theory.

In "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" the ad hoc arguments are not hard to come by. I will give an example from the second main chapter, where Baigent et al. have first learned of the existence of Prieuré de Sion through the collection of documents known as the "Dossiers Secrets d'Henri Lobineau"48, where the founding of the society happens in 1099 as "Ordre de Sion". The writers go on to confirm these claims - to their own satisfaction - by finding information about Mt. Sion located south of Jerusalem and about a monastery there that referred to itself e.g. as "Notre Dame de Sion" after the First Crusade.49 Let us also accept, arguendo, the change of the name of the society to the French Prieuré de Sion, and the unbroken existence of the society until 1619, when, according to some contemporary sources, an organization with this name was made to leave Saint-Samson and hand over their property to the Jesuits.50 When the next archival entry of an organization with this name is the famous "Journal Officiel" number 167 - where "Prieuré de Sion" is mentioned as having been officially registered in 25.6.195651 - what is the conclusion of the writers? That the society from 1956 is not the same as the society from 1619? That there must be more research conducted before anything may be stated of the relationship between the society from 1956 and the society from 1619? That the sources available do not suffice for saying anything firm about the matter?

Options of this kind may be suited for historians, but not for conspiracy theorists. The correct answer, according to "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", is quite naturally that Prieuré de Sion went underground in 1619 and used other orders as its cover while remaining in charge of the situation. Baigent et al. try to identify these cover organizations as well. The impressive list contains e.g. La Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, different Masonic traditions (Scottish Rite, Oriental Rite of Memphis), Catholic Modernists of the late 19th-century, the Masonic activity postulated behind the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Протоколы Сионских мудрецов), and even Le Hiéron du Val d'Or.52 All in all, the better half of the major mysterious and enigmatic orders over the timeframe of three hundred years. And why? Because the Dossiers Secrets claim that Prieuré de Sion was an extremely influential organization, going as far as having an impact on the relationships of major European powers.53 In the whole reconstruction this reading remains the sole argument for it, and in other instances there is only a massive mixed-up jumble of theory and evidence.54 In effect, the possibility of postulating a single organization behind the whole drama is in the end the only reason for postulating a single organization behind the whole drama. The available data - like the non-existence of archival material - that could have been justifiably used for arguing against the connection between the society from 1956 and the society from 1619 has been converted to an argument for this kind of connection. Consequently, the hypothesis of the clandestine influence of the Priory of Sion behind the façade through the centuries has reached a level where it cannot be falsified even in principle. As such, the hypothesis has also ceased to be a scientific theory.

The third part of the "boisterous pseudohistorical method", convincing oneself that by linking two things together one has established that they belong together, is the most curious of the three. The scholars researching the conspiracy theory thinking usually name the concept that everything is linked to everything else as the single most important feature of the conspiracy theory thinking.55 As I have stated above, the main problem with this thinking is the fact that the observer does not simply reveal already existing connections but actively creates more of them herself.56 Consequently, it is essential to always assess the relative probability and plausibility of the links created. The science of history is differentiated from pseudohistory by the latter's lack of the concept of probability. In other words, never does a pseudohistorian stop to designate the drawn conclusions as e.g. "probable", "plausible", or "improbable".57 When two things are linked together, the created linkage is used in the reconstruction without further thought, even though a historical scenario could be constructed in the study of history with the concept of probability in mind. The mania to link everything together complements the first two parts of the "boisterous pseudohistorical method" by providing an instrument to turn the lack of evidence into evidence for the conspiracy theory: by creating a linkage between two different things everything will do as evidence.

How come the average conspiracy theorist fails to notice this fundamental problem in her methodology? How is it possible to believe that by linking two things together one has established that they belong together, outside the boundaries of the personal reality of the reader? I suggest that we are dealing with yet another cognitive limitation of the human mind. In her 2008 article "Intelligent Design: Kreationistisen opin suhde arkiajatteluun" Elisa Järnefelt analyzes the relationship between the thinking prominent in Intelligent Design -movement and the so-called folk psychology and folk biology. The proponents of ID she cites summarize the design argument the following way: an observation of a structure complex enough gives an intuitive certainty to claim that the structure has been designed.58 Järnefelt defines this thinking as intuitive (distinguished from non-intuitive), known in cognitive psychology also as spontaneous thinking - spontaneous, natural (to the human mind) deduction may in turn be described with the word "folk". In scientific discourse there is, however, a tendency to restrict explanations that are too much centered on the concept of agent: a mere intuitive certainty that there is an agent (a designer) cannot be transformed into a scientific certainty of the existence of the agent. Even though Järnefelt does not discuss the validity of this kind of deduction, only one conclusion is really available: the teleo-intentional thinking (that the object of the observation is designed for some specific purpose), though natural for the human mind, is not in itself a valid argument for the existence of design or intention.59

When a conspiracy theorist links two things together, she creates complexity. When she links numerous things together, the complexity of the construction keeps growing. When there is a non-scientific tendency to postulate an agent (a designer) behind the perceived complexity, as shown in the study of the folk psychology, the conspiracy theorist gets drawn into the stream of cognitive consciousness: the complexity she has perceived must have an agent behind it all. There is a comical dimension to be found, as the conspiracy theorist still gets it basically right: the creator of the complexity is the conspiracy theorist herself. An essential question to ask, however, would be if there were other agents behind the perceived complexity, and not just the conspiracy theorist. For a conclusion drawn solely on the basis of complexity there is a great risk to drift outside the boundaries of scientific argumentation. In the novel "Il Pendolo di Foucault" by Umberto Eco the three main characters, in an obvious satire of Baigent et al., construe a massive conspiracy on the basis of an incomplete copy of a manuscript. Later in the novel an alternative construction is offered of the same material: a rather mundane list of supplies.60 We need a set of commonly accepted rules for building an argument, a method, for this very reason: to have some sort of a basis to evaluate the plausibility of the created constructions. At the end we come once again to the question of distinguishing between theory and evidence, as to merely postulate an agent and build an internally consistent construction should not be used as an argument for the existence of the agent and of the construed construction.61

When Baigent et al. write the history of the Knights Templar, they stumble upon an "intricate web", and end up postulating "a third and secret order" behind it all. Why? Because they thought they saw a clear "calculated pattern", and concluded that such complex constructions "do not devise themselves".62 In the next chapter the "third and secret order" turns out to be (but of course!) Prieuré de Sion. Similar at its core is the aforementioned linkage between the beast of Neptune and Jesus: it cannot be coincidental that on one hand the legends tell us about Mary Magdalene's journey to the South of France, and on the other hand the myths related to the Merovingian dynasty feature a beast of the sea that - just as Jesus himself - can be thought of as a sort of "mystical fish".63 In chapter 3.3 I have referred to the current paradigm in the field of literary criticism that places a great emphasis on the role of the reader in the process of placing a given literary work in context with other literary works.64 In the first example Baigent et al. postulate an agent (Prieuré de Sion) behind the "intricate web" they have perceived. As noted above, a mere intuitive certainty that there is an agent cannot be transformed into a scientific certainty of the existence of the agent; the whole foundation of the historical reconstruction of Prieuré de Sion rests on a non-scientific basis. As for Jesus resembling a beast of the sea, the postulated agent is the process that Baigent et al. hold responsible for transforming historical facts into "fantastic legends".65 The problem in the method of this nature is the impossibility to control it in any meaningful manner, as it is not possible to assess the reality of the "historical reconstructions" it produces.

To summarize: I have discussed the general pseudohistorical approach to the study of history ("boisterous pseudohistorical method") by drawing examples of its usage from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, as this work has been commonly assessed to be a textbook example of pseudohistory by the representatives of the Academy. On a general level it should be quite clear that the individual parts of the "boisterous pseudohistorical method" are not representative of the traditional accepted way of conducting research in historical studies. I have connected the "boisterous pseudohistorical method" especially to the cognitive limitations in the information processing of the human mind: the method utilizes the natural cognitive programmings that people use to classify received data. However, these natural processes are not fit for creating argumentation that fulfills the criteria of scientific thinking. Consequently, the "boisterous pseudohistorical method" is an example of non-scientific argumentation that cannot be placed among the traditional methods in historical studies, as the goal of the Academy at large should be to overcome the limitations and programmings of the cognitive processing of information and not to embrace them.

1E.g. in Meyer 2003.
2http://neonostalgia.com/weblog/?p=415
3The question is examined e.g. by Kimmel 1998.
4The principal work in this line of thought is the 1999 work of Icke, "The Biggest Secret: The Book That Will Change the World"; Icke 1999.
5For a dictionary entry, cf. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/conspiracy_theory; "conspiracy theory" was added e.g. to the Oxford English Dictionary as a supplement for the word "conspiracy" quite recently, in 1997, with a very neutral formulation of its meaning. At the latest, after the September 11 attacks in 2001 the matrix of meaning of the word has expanded profoundly, especially due to the influence of the Internet. From printed dictionaries I have been unable to find references to the pejorative use of the term "conspiracy theory", even though e.g. Marvin Meyer's use of the term offers a clear example of it. Only Wiktionary, driven by the wiki principle, seems to be up-to-date. In scholarly articles the pejorative meaning of the term is noticed e.g. in Boym 1999.
6For more information, cf. Johnson 1983, 17-30.
7According to Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary a conspiracy is "the act of conspiring together" and "a group of conspirators"; instead of a group, in Carlson's hoax hypothesis Morton Smith was the sole agent; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conspiracy
8This does not mean that real conspiracies would not exist in history, including the narratives found in the New Testament. (Acts 23:12)
9Kiikeri 2004, 92-93.
10The ability to make a clear distinction between theory and evidence is argued to be an indispensable element of an actual scientific work by e.g. Hakkarainen 1999, 251.
11This observation is also made by e.g. Goodman 2006, 363.
12"tällaista keskustelua pidetään lähinnä ajanhukkana"; Kiikeri 2004, 61. Instead of discussing these issues, scholars working inside their specific branch of science use the methods they have been trained to use according to the dominant scholarly paradigms as if all of the philosophical problems concerning these methods were already solved; Kiikeri 2004, 57.
13The Rosicrucian Manuscripts 2002.
26The meaning of the word "boisterously" should be understood in this instance as "in the enthusiastically carefree manner". [Further note: I may come up with a better word for the pseudohistorical approach in the future.]
27"Holy Blood, Holy Grail" is the title of the paperback edition (1983) of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" (1982). The book has created one of the most widespread conspiracy theories with religious overtones, and dozens of titles have developed the central themes of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" further. The historical scenario presented in the book is briefly as follows: Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had (at least) one child. With the crucifixion taking place Mary made her escape to Southern France, where the descendants of Mary and Jesus played a key role in the formation of the Merovingian dynasty. In the connection with the First Crusade a certain order, Ordre de Sion / Ormus (still later Prieuré de Sion), was created with a purpose to make a descendant of Jesus the sovereign of all Europe. During the centuries that followed the plan went on, and the secret society - guided by many prominent Europeans (e.g. Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo) - was registered in the French Journal officiel in 1956, and began to leak out hints of its existence, presumably to prepare the masses for the change of government.
28Kiikeri 2004, 57.
29Kiikeri 2004, 32, 51-52.
30The core of the conspiracy theory of Atwill - originally self-published in 2003 as "The Roman Origin of Christianity" - is the notion that there are previously unperceived connections between the canonical Gospels and "The Jewish War" by Flavius Josephus, as they both are describing the exact same events, but the Gospels should be understood as satires to get their true meaning. This hermeneutical key for uncovering the true meaning of the texts comes close to the conviction of some of those who see the Theodore-letter as a forgery: for them the Secret Gospel of Mark should be understood as "a nice ironic gay joke" (Akenson 2000, 87-88), or as "one of the Wildean satires of Christianity" (Jeffery 2007b, 6) to get to the true meaning of the text, a forgery by Morton Smith.
31http://judyredman.wordpress.com/2008/10/04/on-asking-the-right-questions/
32Smith 1985, 153.
33I changed the wording of the sentence from the Finnish original, since in the philosophy of science there could also be other ways to tackle the question of asking the right question than referencing to the concept of theory-ladenness.
34Kiikeri 2004, 29-31; translation mine. The theoretical interpretation of the observations refers to the process of placing the data into the (historical) reconstruction in a manner that is acceptable to the current paradigm in a given branch of science.
35Hakkarainen 1999, 23; translation mine.
36The Finnish term, vahvistusilluusio, was coined in Finland by Saariluoma 1990. In English there could be some other term more widely used for the phenomenon.
37Hakkarainen 1999, 35-38.
38Hakkarainen 1999, 39.
39Stephen C. Carlson gave an interesting paper at SBL Meeting 2008. His title was "Can the Academy Protect Itself from One of Its Own? The Case of Secret Mark", and the contents of the paper dealt with the optimism of Anthony Grafton, that the Academy will always be able to point out forgeries as it has time on its side: the continuing passage of time enables the Academy to assess ever more clearly the point in time a suspected text or object should be placed. Carlson shares the optimism of Grafton, and I agree - given enough time the relation between the hoax hypothesis of the Secret Gospel of Mark and the "textual puzzle -thriller" literary genre will become obvious. I will return to this notion in chapter 5.1; http://www.hypotyposeis.org/weblog/2008/12/sbl-session-on-secret-mark.html; Grafton 1990.
40I agree here with e.g. Järnefelt 2008, 547-548.
41Baigent 1983, 220, 245-253.
42Baigent 1983, 226. A few pages further the question is formulated even more pointedly: "What is so special about the Merovingians?"; Baigent 1983, 232.
43Baigent 1983, 235.
44Baigent 1983, 235, 314, 387.
45Kiikeri 2004, 89-90; translation mine.
46Hofstadter 1964, 36.
47According to Mark Fenster the amplification of the amplification illusion to these heights contains a strong psychological dimension as well: a "totalizing conversion" takes place, where the whole worldview of the conspiracy theorist changes, as she realizes that no one else is capable to know the truth of the conspiracy - only the conspiracy theorist can change the course of history; Fenster 2008, 124.
48For the very first time Henry Lincoln had stumbled upon the society in Gérard de Sède's "Le Trésor maudit de Rennes-le-Château"; Baigent 1983, 23.
49Baigent 1983, 111-113.
50Baigent 1983, 165.
51Baigent 1983, 201.
52Baigent 1983, 173-200.
53Baigent 1983, 165.
54The ability to make a clear distinction between theory and evidence is argued to be one of the most fundamental skills of a scholar by e.g. Hakkarainen 1999, 251. In other words, the mere possibility of construing a logical construction is not an argument for the construction created.
55Knight 2000, 204-205.
56Cf. e.g. the discussion of the differences between interpretation and overinterpretation in Interpretation and Overinterpretation 1992.
57The same observation is made e.g. by Goodman 2006, 363.
58Järnefelt 2008, 542-543.
59Järnefelt 2008, 543-544, 548.
60Eco 2001, 135+, 534-536.
61Hakkarainen, 251.
62Baigent 1983, 91-92, 94.
63Baigent 1983, 314.
64Cf. e.g. the discussion in Interpretation and Overinterpretation 1992.
65Baigent 1983, 235.

Really Really Bad Theology

Cephus, a pseudonym of the writer of Bitch Spot, has offered a detailed criticism of my piece of ego-boosterism self-reflection "Liberal Christianity: A Personal Reflection". You know the band is going to rock hard when they have a paragraph that begins with "Not to insult Mr. Paananen in any way, but..." Be sure to check out the comment section, nicely constructed as a real bulletin board complete with yellow notes, for further discussion.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Professor Francis Watson ‘On the Authorship of the “Secret Gospel of Mark”’

Ben Blackwell, of Dunelm Road, informed me about professor Francis Watson's lecture on March 2, 2009 concerning the authorship of the Secret Gospel of Mark. Watson "argued that it was clearly a forgery", and may publish his ideas in a journal, or in his coming monograph on the gospels. Just something to keep in mind (and look forward to).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 4.2 The triune confession of the hoaxer

The triune confession of the hoaxer that Stephen C. Carlson claims to have found begins with the signature of M. Madiotes, a clue I have presented in chapter 2.4. Regarding the Madiotes-clue Carlson argues that Morton Smith signed a certain other MS with the same handwriting and the same narrow pen point as he used in his writing of the Theodore-letter, using a pseudonym Μ. Μαδιότης as a clever way to refer to himself as the "bald swindler". A photograph of the MS in question, number 22 in Smith's Νέα Σιών catalogue, was used by Smith twice in his later publications, in his 1960 article "Monasteries and Their Manuscripts" published in Archaeology, and in his 1973 book "The Secret Gospel".1 According to Carlson, the uppermost handwriting in folio 1, recto, is the exact same handwriting as that of the Theodore-letter. The letter forms - in particular the letters tau, pi, rho, and the ligature combining the letters omicron and upsilon - are similar, the line of the letters is drawn with the narrow pen point similar to the Theodore-letter (furthermore, Carlson cannot find another instance of the narrow pen point among the MSS of Mar Saba), and there are signs of "the forger's tremor" and blunt line endings similar to the Theodore-letter.2 From Smith's description in Νέα Σιών Carlson picks the name Μ. Μαδιότης3, but is unable to find the exact spelling of the name from a Greek online-directory. However, there is a verb in modern Greek, μαδάω, that has two very suitable meanings for a pseudonymous use (the verb μαδάω, if one wanted to come up with a fictitious Greek surname based on the verb, could be used to form something like Μαδιότης), literally it means "to bald", and figuratively "to swindle". M[orton] Μαδιότης is a pseudonym of Morton Smith, the bald swindler, deliberately left as a clue of the writer's true identity.4

The second tier of the confession of the hoaxer includes, according to Carlson, the names "Morton" and "Smith", hidden into the first page of the Theodore-letter, lines 13-15. In these lines Clement says the following: "For the true things being mixed with inventions, are falsified, so that, as the saying goes, even the salt loses its savor" (συγκεκραμένα γὰρ τἀληθῆ τοῖς πλάσμασι παραχαράσσεται ὥστε – τοῦτο δὴ τὸ λεγόμενον – 'καὶ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῆναι'; Theod. I.13-15). The coherence of Clement's manner of speech necessitates that salt is mixed with an adulterant, as the true things are mixed with inventions - the flavor of the salt changes as the truth ceases to be true. Carlson finds two problems here. First, he remarks that Clement of Alexandria utilizes the salt parables that speak of salt losing its savor, found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:34), in a widely diverging manner in the Stromateis. (Strom. 1.8.41.3-4) Here the salt parable of Jesus is connected to a fish removed from its salty and watery environment. Even though the fish has been brought up in the salty environment as a Christian has been brought up in the Church, it must be salted again, and in the same manner the Christians may lose their saltness. Contrary to this usage, the Theodore-letter pictures salt getting mixed with an adulterant as the true things get mixed with inventions, in which case the savor is lost. Second, Carlson finds this whole passage to be a crude historical anachronism: ancient texts do not support the idea of adulterating salt, as it was used in lumps - even the in depth discussion of Pliny the Elder concerning the adulterated (and, consequently, falsified) foodstuff in "Naturalis Historia" does not mention salt. To be able to adulterate and mix salt with other substances, it would have to be free-flowing. The technology for free-flowing salt is, however, rather modern, for as late as in 1910 a chemist working for Morton Salt Company came up with a technique to prevent salt getting lumpy, caused by humidity. The invention secured the market of table-salt for the company for decades. The anachronism is not coincidental, either, but the work of a master hoaxer himself: Morton Smith hides a reference to his name into an anachronism about free-flowing salt, developed by Morton Salt Company.5

The last name of the hoaxer is hidden into Smith's commentary on Clement's letter to Theodore. In "Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark" Morton Smith suggests that Clement makes a reference not only to the canonical Gospels and their parables of salt (Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:34) but also to the Book of Jeremiah (10:14).6 Carlson thinks the claim is an odd one. Since he cannot find any other connection between the Theodore-letter and the Book of Jeremiah other than the English expression "cast (out)", a possible translation for both βληθὲν ἔξω in Matthew 5:13 and ἐχώνευσαν in Jeremiah 10:14 (LXX 28:17), there has got to be more than meets the eye.7 What could Smith have wanted to say? Carlson notices that the Book of Jeremiah speaks of the "creation of a false thing" (ψευδῆ ἐχώνευσαν). On the other hand, in his commentary Smith states that "in III.183.23ff Clement identifies as "the salt of the earth" those "more elect than the elect," "who hide away, in the depth of thought, the mysteries not to be uttered".8 The connection between Morton Smith and Morton Salt Company, established earlier, indicates that this sentence should be applied to Smith himself. He has hidden away an unspeakable mystery - but where? Lo and behold: as Smith makes the unfathomable allusion to the Book of Jeremiah, he omits some words from his verbatim citation. Usually, an ellipsis, marked with three dots, is used in case the whole sentence is deemed unnecessary for the proper understanding of its meaning. Carlson sees farther: the ellipsis in question contains the word χρυσοχόος, goldsmith. Goldsmith, in turn, is a reference to the last name of Morton Smith. In this way the lines 13-15 in the first page of the Theodore-letter contain a reference to both "Morton" and "Smith".9

The third level of the confession of the hoaxer is the most ingenious of them all. As we noticed in chapter 3.2, in the study of literature σφραγίς (sphragis; a seal of authenticity) is used to make a reference to the writer's identity, e.g. Virgil could end a particular work by imitating the beginning of some other work of his.10 Carlson claims to have found the sphragis of Smith from the Secret Gospel of Mark. The story of the initiation of the young man into the mystery of the Kingdom of God (Theod. III.6-III.11) contains, according to Carlson, three important themes: the theme of mystery (of the kingdom of God), the theme of forbidden sexual relationships, and the theme of secrecy. The mystery of the initiation refers to Mark 4:11, as noted by Smith in his commentary11, the straightforward homosexuality of the passage is prohibited categorically in the Old Testament (e.g. Leviticus 18:22), and in the end the initiation is enclosed inside the Theodore-letter where the secrecy motif is apparent (e.g. Theod. II. 1-2). All three themes have been previously brought together by Smith. In "Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels" from 1951 Smith connects together Mark 4:11 and Hagigah Tannaïm 2.1, and characterizes the latter as dealing with "forbidden sexual relationships".12 The theme of secrecy Smith links to the passage from Hagigah Tannaïm and to the Stromateis of Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 1.1.13-14, etc.) in his 1958 article "The Image of God".13 The sphragis of the hoaxer Carlson found can be depicted visually in the following way:

Sex
(Theod. III.10)

Mystery          Secret
(Theod. III.10)        (Theod. II. 1-2)

--

Sex
(T. Hag. 2.1)

[link: Smith 1951]        [link: Smith 1958a]

Mystery                          Secret
(Mark 4:11)                      (Strom. 1.1.13-14)


For Carlson, it is clear that the themes Smith brought together in these two articles - especially the forbidden sexual relationships - are repeated identically in the Theodore-letter, and that this is the third clue of the hoaxer's identity, deliberately left behind by Smith - the literary sphragis, the seal of (in)authenticity.14 For additional proof, Carlson remarks of the third curious linkage: in 1955 Smith wrote a book review of Vincent Taylor's commentary on the Gospel of Mark. In the review he speculates about a source behind the Gospel of Mark that could contain characteristics of the Gospel of John.15 A similar source hypothesis was build by Smith on the basis of the Secret Gospel of Mark, that both the canonical gospels of Mark and John utilized a common Aramaic (Ur-)Gospel.16 This is yet another detail that Carlson wishes to interpret in the light of the hoax hypothesis.17 The triune confession of the hoaxer - the baldness, Morton, Smith, and Morton Smith's personal sphragis - is the last nail to get the coffin shut, a suitable ending of Carlson's presentation in "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark". Last, he suggests that the bibliography of Morton Smith should be expanded to hold a letter, written in Ancient Greek and under the pseudonym "Clement", to make it truly complete.18

1Smith 1960b, 177; Smith 1985, 37.
2Carlson 2005, 42-43.
3Smith 1960a, 120.
4Carlson 2005, 42-47. In chapter 2.5 I have argued from a conventional standpoint, closely following Allan J. Pantuck and Scott G. Brown and their article "Morton Smith as M. Madiotes: Stephen Carlson's Attribution of Secret Mark to a Bald Swindler", that the Madiotes-clue is based on a regretful misunderstanding emerging from the use of the heavily cropped photograph of the MS number 22.
5Carlson 2005, 59-61.
6Regarding the Book of Jeremiah, Smith means, of course, the Septuagint, where the passage is located at 28:17; Smith 1973, 18-19.
7For greater clarity: βληθὲν ἔξω and ἐχώνευσαν may be both translated with the English verb "cast" as its matrix of meaning is wide enough to fit into both passages: in Matthew 5:13 salt is "casted out", whereas in Jeremiah 10:14 metal is being "casted". Carlson observes that the verb μωραίνω occurs in both passages as well, but does not offer any explanation as to why this connection through a common verb would not have been enough for Morton Smith to proclaim an allusion to exist; Carlson 2005, 62.
8Smith 1973, 19.
9Carlson 2005, 62-63. [Further note: I am a bit too sketchy here, as it is not only the presence of the word "goldsmith" that nails it for Carlson. He says: "The unuttered text within the ellipses reads: κατῃσχύνθη πᾶς χρυσοχόος ἀπὸ τῶν γλυπτῶν αὐτοῦ ("every goldsmith is confounded because of his graven images"). Taking Smith at his word that "the verse [is] particularly appropriate for use against gnostics who had corrupted the Scriptures," Secret Mark is not just a corruption of the gospel of Mark but a graven image that will confound its own smith: Morton Smith"; Carlson 2005, 63. For the rest of the thesis, however, this slight simplification of Carlson's position has no real bearing.]
10Murgia 1976, 36.
11Smith 1973, 117.
12Smith 1951, 155-156.
13Smith 1958a, 507.
14Carlson 2005, 71-72.
15Smith 1955, 26.
16Smith 1973, 157, 162.
17Carlson 2005, 81-84. Carlson argues that Smith's book review contained other speculations regarding the Gospel of Mark, as well, that the Secret Gospel of Mark would afterwards prove to have been right.
18Carlson 2005, 86.