Monday, November 30, 2009

Master's Thesis: Chapter 4.4 How Stephen Carlson builds a conspiracy theory

Does Stephen C. Carlson utilize the "boisterous pseudohistorical method" I have presented above? First it should be noted that Carlson's treatise - as, incidentally, is the case with "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" as well - is in itself a good example of academic writing regarding the "formalities" we would expect from an academic work. There is a proper introduction that states the methodology used. The writing is neutral in style, and the citations are sufficient; every claim is carefully documented. In the end we come to the conclusions, as it should be, and the bibliography lists everything relevant to the subject. For the most part Carlson manages to keep theory and evidence firmly separated, and the evidence cited is never left undocumented, for everything remains plain to the reader from start to finish. In some cases Carlson makes a questionable decision regarding his sources - e.g. the handwriting analysis and the illustrations come from the black-and-white photographs Morton Smith took in 1958, instead of the much better colour photographs Charles Hedrick and Nikolaos Olympiou published in 20001; furthermore, samples of Smith's handwriting were collected by Carlson for only two pages worth, and even those consisted of marginal notes written by Smith in Greek.2 In addition, some details are presented inaccurately, e.g. the plot of James H. Hunter's novel "The Mystery of Mar Saba" has been summarized imprecisely.3 Overall, however, the book is a fine example of an academic monograph with respect to its formal appearance.

Even then, the deliberate clues Morton Smith left behind, summarized in chapter 4.2, contain some fundamental problems. We have to ask, 1) what is the point of origin of Carlson's research, i.e. what is the question Carlson wishes to find an answer for, and 2) how does Carlson see the data he has made available, how does he place it into the context of the hoax hypothesis, and how does he assess the probability of the reconstruction. In the preface to "The Gospel Hoax" Carlson relates that he began to consider Clement's letter to Theodore as a forgery in 1995, after he had read Andrew H. Criddle's article "On the Mar Saba Letter Attributed to Clement of Alexandria". Having been persuaded of the validity of Criddle's analysis - Carlson interprets this article as having shown that the Theodore-letter tries to resemble real Clement of Alexandria too eagerly - he states that three very different affairs did influence him to go on further, to try and solve the "great puzzle" offered by the Theodore-letter: the 2003 debate concerning the authenticity of the James Ossuary, the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in "Lawrence v. Texas" where the changing social attitudes regarding homosexuality were discussed, and the three articles on the Theodore-letter published in "Journal of Early Christian Studies" in 2003.4 After he had familiarized himself with i.a. Anthony Grafton's "Forgers and Critics: Creativity and Duplicity in Western Scholarship" Carlson felt ready to begin: "Now that I knew what to look for and where to look for it, all I had to do was to find it."5

This sentiment is expressed by Carlson in other words in chapter 3, where he states the following: "It is hard to find evidence of forgery if one is not looking for it."6 We have every reason to ask if this principle works the other way round - if it is easy to find evidence of forgery when one is looking for it? The answer should be given in the affirmative, as the discussion of the "theory-ladenness" and "amplification illusion" in chapter 4.3 clearly shows. When a scholar asks a question that implicitly contains a "correct" answer, the whole project is in danger of steering off the course right from the start. It should be noted that Carlson does not ask if the Theodore-letter is authentic or not - according to Carlson the study of Criddle has already shown that the letter is not from the real Clement of Alexandria. Consequently, Carlson is not going to solve the question of forgery, but the question of a forger - whether it could be a bored orthodox monk, a Dutch humanist, or Morton Smith.7 It follows that the methodology Carlson utilizes could be primarily labeled as "hermeneutics of clue-hunting".

In this way we may be justified in stating that Carlson utilizes an extreme variant of asking an improper question: first comes the conclusion ("Clement's letter to Theodore is a forgery"), and the section of analysis (the question of identity of the forger) consists of placing a number of arguments behind the conclusion. This method for research is undoubtedly common in conspiracy theory thinking, even though it is very hard to document its existence - e.g. "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" explicitly denies to have arrived at a preconceived conclusion.8 Supplemental to this is the brushing off of other scholars and their opinions: e.g. Scott G. Brown's over 300-paged treatise that explores the issue of authorship of the Secret Mark, concluding that the same author is responsible for both the canonical Gospel of Mark and the Secret Gospel of Mark, gets passed over - in one sentence buried in a footnote - as using criteria that is "too lenient" for distinguishing between "genuine cases of intercalation and inclusio" and "the kind of intertextual references that forgers ordinarily insert to lend an air of legitimacy to their handiwork".9 And what about the time and energy inserted to the debate of issues unessential? Carlson does write a thorough response in nine parts to Brown's "The Question of Motive in the Case Against Morton Smith" and publishes it in his blog, even though the quest for Morton Smith's motive produces at best a mere piece of circumstantial evidence unable to resolve the issue one way or other.10 Instead, the really important counterarguments are confronted with few words only11 or with none at all; especially Brown's "Factualizing the Folklore: Stephen Carlson's Case Against Morton Smith" would have required a response badly.12

[Further note: Above I have called into question the basic premise of Stephen Carlson, that he is more interested in finding clues of the forger's identity than asking the critical question if we are indeed dealing with a forgery or not. Two things need clarifying: 1) It is not the end of the world or the end of scholarly inquiry if the research starts off with a flawed question - there simply is a greater chance to end up with some twisted results, a possibility that I feel has unfortunately actualized in Carlson's hoax hypothesis; 2) There are arguments in Carlson's case backing up the notion that the Theodore-letter is a forgery - here I am, however, interested in ones that identify the forger as Morton Smith, and of the process of their development, from the question of the identity of the forger (Carlson 2005, xvi), to the conviction that forgers leave clues of their identity behind (Carlson 2005, 15-16), to the finding of these ingenious clues (Carlson 2005, 49ff.).]

Stephen Carlson continues to use the data he deems relevant with consistency: everything Morton Smith has ever said, done, or written points to the Theodore-letter as being a forgery. Is the forger Smith even though he did not use the Secret Gospel of Mark with any consistency in his historical reconstructions? Of course, Carlson affirms. It is the non-use of Secret Mark that gives Smith away, especially in his book about ancient magicians and Jesus13, that he cannot be an honest, unsuspecting victim, confusing an imitation of Clement by some other sinister figure to the real thing.14 Is the forger Smith even though his commentary on the Theodore-letter15 shows the signs of great meticulousness and extreme attention to detail? Of course, Carlson affirms. The manner in which Smith worked is a trap, calculated to lead other scholars astray.16 Is the forger Smith when he answers indignantly to the first accusations of foul play by Quentin Quesnell, that his "denial does not dispose of them [suspicions of forgery]; anyone who would forge a manuscript would deny that he had done so"?17 Of course, Carlson affirms. The very precise language Smith is using is part of a test, a challenge to a battle of wits between Smith and other scholars.18 And if the missing manuscript gets unearthed, and its ink ends up being analyzed? In that case a modern ink points to the text as being a forgery, but an 18th-century ink points to the ability of Smith to produce 18th-century ink.19

For Carlson the data available points to one direction only: Morton Smith is the hoaxer. Just as Hofstadter characterizes conspiracy theorists20, we must conclude that for Carlson Morton Smith is seen as a supremely able agent, with an ability to do everything and more: even the historical anachronisms Carlson finds in the Theodore-letter are not blunders come into being by mistake, but deliberately planted clues.21 Under normal circumstances a conspiracy theory is implausible because it necessitates some smooth contributions from so many different people that someone involved should be expected to turn out and blow the whistle.22 For Carlson the problem of scale is turned upside down: Morton Smith alone should have possessed all the necessary expertise for creating a believable hoax. This, however, could be possible only if Smith truly was - to quote Jeff Jay - a "superhuman".23 Although the Bellman maxim states that "What I tell you three times is true"24, the three times Carlson remarks of the citations of Clement in Morton Smith's 1958 article "The Image of God" do not establish Smith's ability to compose like Clement any more than the above quoting of Lewis Carroll establishes my own abilities to compose like Carroll if need be.25 The hoax hypothesis of Carlson stretches out to become one enormous ad hoc argument, with the ability to perfectly explain all of the data available: where we are unable to notice the hoax, there we have an example of Smith's expertise; where we are able to notice the hoax, there we have an example of a deliberate clue left by Smith. Everything that points to the forgery, points to the forgery - everything that does not point to the forgery, still twists to point to its opposite. And where does that point to? To the transformation of the hoax hypothesis into an all-embracing explanation to the Theodore-letter. As the possibility to produce any data that could falsify the hoax hypothesis - even in principle - has vanished, we should conclude that the hoax hypothesis itself has ceased to be a scientific theory.

Another descriptive feature of Stephen Carlson's hoax hypothesis is the assessment of probability he places to its various parts: there is none to be found. Practically nowhere does Carlson qualify his arguments as "probable", "possible", or "improbable".26 The assessment of probability is fundamentally important, as an argument that is build from separate units into a chain of logical claims is valid only if all of the individual units are also valid: otherwise, the conclusion reached cannot be considered tenable. In science - especially in the study of history - we must additionally be able to assess how naturally the proposed connections between texts rise from the source texts themselves. Every conceivable intertextual connection cannot be used as a basis for critical reconstruction, that is, every perceived intertextual link cannot be labeled as evidence. Moreover, it is problematic to interpret data that one is able to use for amusing oneself as pointing to a joke deliberately hidden by someone else - in this case, by Morton Smith, of course. For this reason, in Carlson's hoax hypothesis the salt argument, the goldsmith argument, and the personal sphragis of Morton Smith look the most suspicious.

These deliberate clues of Morton Smith have been presented in detail in Chapter 4.2. The goldsmith argument is constructed to form the following chain of interconnected claims: in his commentary on Theod. I. 13-15 Smith argues that there is an allusion to the book of Jeremiah (Jer. 10:14); the claim of allusion by Smith is a weak case overall; the Book of Jeremiah speaks here of "the creation of a false thing"27, and Smith refers in his commentary to another writing of Clement about those who hide "the mysteries not to be uttered"28; the perceived connection between Morton Smith and Morton Salt Company "signifies that this comment applies to himself - that he [Smith] has hidden away a mystery not to be uttered"29; the quote from the Book of Jeremiah contains an ellipsis; the ellipsis contains the word "goldsmith"; the word "goldsmith" contains, as the latter part of the compound word, the surname of Smith.30

It is an ingenious move to fetch the surname of Morton Smith from an ellipsis in a quotation found in his commentary on the Theodore-letter. The chain of argument is in itself possible, and its indisputable parts are the following: "Smith claims that the text contains an allusion to the Book of Jeremiah", "the Book of Jeremiah speaks here of "the creation of a false thing", and Smith refers to another writing of Clement", "the quotation from the Book of Jeremiah contains an ellipsis", "the ellipsis contains the word goldsmith", "the word goldsmith contains, as the latter part of the compound word, the surname of Smith".

the claim of an allusion
the reference to Clement
the ellipsis
the word goldsmith

These separate pieces are connected in Carlson's argument together with the following disputable claims: "the claim of an allusion is implausible, that is, something sinister is afoot here", "the connection between Morton Smith and Morton Salt Company signifies that the quote from Clement should be applied to Smith himself", "it is significant what the ellipsis in the quotation from the Book of Jeremiah contains", "it is significant that one of the words found in the ellipsis, goldsmith, contains, as the latter part of the compound word, the surname of Smith", "goldsmith is a deliberate clue left by Morton Smith of his identity".

the claim of an allusion -- implausible
the reference to Clement -- the connection between the two Mortons
the ellipsis -- its significance
the word goldsmith -- its significance
goldsmith -- the clue

What has happened? Carlson has searched for evidence of the hoaxer's true identity, and found a reference to Morton Smith's surname. In his goldsmith argument the five indisputable claims are supplemented with five disputable ones, but there is no discussion of probability involved. Not only are the disputable claims there to supplement the goldsmith argument, but they actually construe it from start to finish - the disputable claims connect the otherwise unconnected five observations together. In this instance I will not yet assess the probability of the claims nor do I discuss the quality of the argument as a deliberate clue, but I ask the simple question; who is the conscious agent that has linked these unconnected claims together? We can be certain that one of the conscious agents is Stephen Carlson himself. But was it Morton Smith who first did this linking, deliberately, so that a clever enough scholar would be able to find it and reveal the true nature of the Theodore-letter? Personally, I find this alternative improbable, but the most justifiable option would be to remain agnostic, to confess that we do not know the answer. We do not know, and we cannot know, if Morton Smith created such a puzzle for the readers of the Theodore-letter. Following the general historical method we cannot, however, answer this question in the affirmative, for - as I have previously stated - the postulation of an agent and the creation of an internally consistent construction should not be used as evidence in an argument for the existence of the agent and of the construed construction.31 Without this simple reservation the scientific study of history, as it is practiced today, would become impossible.

When a simple linkage is not sufficient as an argument in itself, it should be supplemented with other data. In Carlson's goldsmith argument there is, however, nothing further: he does not e.g. discuss why the perceived connection between Morton Smith and Morton Salt Company should transform a sentence from Smith's commentary to point to Smith himself. Why should this be? The only answer I can manage to extract from Carlson's treatise refers to the fundamental nature of hoaxes as compared to forgeries: the hoaxer will always leave jokes and clues of his identity behind.32 We have to ask - as will happen in Chapter 4.5 - how well does the perceived clue work as a pointer to the hoaxer's identity and how natural the proposed linkage turns out to be.

On the personal sphragis of Morton Smith we will begin by noting that Stephen Carlson - as I have presented in the beginning of this chapter - sees three distinct elements being united in it: "mystery", "secrecy", and "forbidden sexual relationships". As Carlson reads the text, all these three are present in the Theodore-letter, as well as in other, earlier writings of Morton Smith, and to be quite exact they are found in "Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels" (1951) where Smith connects together Mark. 4:11 and Hagigah Tannaïm 2.1, the latter speaking of "forbidden sexual relationships".33 The motive of secrecy is linked by Smith to the same Hagigah Tannaïm and to the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 1.1.13-14, etc.) in his article "The Image of God" (1958).34

It is quite unclear what we are to conclude from this literary sphragis of Smith. Let us assume, arguendo, that Carlson's reading of the Theodore-letter is valid, and the elements forming the sphragis are indeed "mystery", "secrecy", and "forbidden sexual relationships". The problem remains that Smith did not utilize this "seal of authenticity" in any one writing of his, and that Carlson has to construe the puzzle from two sources whose publication is separated by seven long years. Consequently, the analogy he uses to justify this practice - that Virgil could end a particular work by imitating the beginning of some other work of his35 - is effectively dissimilar; an example of a weak analogy. The telltale sign of a conspiracy theory, the mania to link unconnected elements together, is featured here even more prominently than in the goldsmith argument: mystery, secrecy, and forbidden sexual relationships are all found from the Theodore-letter and from two other writings of Smith, forming the personal "seal of authenticity" of Smith, used as a clever clue to his identity. But this is not a proper "seal of authenticity" at all. For such a seal we would need a clear textual or thematic construction that the author uses in at least two different occasions. Once again the mere possibility to read mystery, secrecy, and forbidden sexual relationships together does not point to anywhere else than to the reader who has read mystery, secrecy, and forbidden sexual relationships together. For Morton Smith's personal sphragis it is hardly sufficient.

The argument for the connection between Morton Smith and Morton Salt Company can be approached e.g. by asking just how simple it would be to create clue arguments of this caliber. I suggest that it is patently easy, for the Internet, as Kathleen Stewart remarks36, offers a truly limitless opportunity for constructing ingenious clue arguments. In Appendix 2 I give an example of yet another clever, deliberately hidden clue of the hoaxer's true identity, titled the Jelly Roll Morton argument, that has been construed in 20 minutes, beginning with the search word Morton, deciding to build a connection between Morton Smith and Jelly Roll Morton, getting familiarized with old American slang, and drawing mind-map to a blank A4 sheet where the diverse units of the clue argument get gradually linked together to form a single diagram with internal coherence. The end result is a slick clue of the identity of the writer of the Theodore-letter that follows the pattern laid down by Carlson's "bald swindler", Morton Salt, goldsmith, and sphragis. Additionally, the Jelly Roll Morton argument fulfills the requirements of good argumentation in the study of history about as poorly as its exemplars, that is, it uses the "boisterous pseudohistorical method" unapologetically: the premise for the endeavour is twisted (Where could I find a good clue Morton Smith surely left behind?), every bit of data is turned to support the clue argument, and no sense of probability is maintained. Of everything I have written in Chapters 4.3 and 4.4 regarding the philosophy of science and cognitive psychology I consider the Jelly Roll Morton argument to be the pedagogically most pronounced observation against the hoax hypothesis advocated in Stephen Carlson's "The Gospel Hoax". When the clues left behind by Morton Smith are found - following the cue from Marvin Meyer - anywhere one wants to find one, they cannot be hold justifiable in the least. Consequently, the method used in the creation of these clue arguments ("boisterous pseudohistorical method") cannot be accepted as scientific.

It is necessary to close this subchapter of methodologically questionable aspects in the hoax hypothesis of Stephen C. Carlson with an anticlimactic ending. Once in a while the representatives of conspiracy theory thinking say it out aloud, that their case does not quite fit into the accepted practices in a given field. In chapter 11 of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", under the heading "The Need to Synthesize", Baigent et al. confess that it would not have been possible to create their reconstruction with the familiar methods in the study of history, but a "synthetic" approach was required or - as they themselves put it - "it is not sufficient to confine oneself exclusively to facts".37 What of Carlson? He states in the preface to "The Gospel Hoax" to have chosen a "fresh approach" where he is able to "apply... [his] legal training" to try and solve the "great puzzle" offered by the Theodore-letter.38 There is no need to challenge this statement: the approach Carlson has adopted has indeed not been previously applied to the Theodore-letter. The latest endeavour it did not remain for long, as Peter Jeffery's "The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery" (2007) offered some additional fine examples of conspiracy theory argumentation.39 The final conclusion I wish to draw is, however, this: it is that much more difficult to proclaim Morton Smith as the writer of the Theodore-letter, when one is willing to confine one's conclusions inside the commonly accepted boundaries of argumentation in the study of history.

To summarize: I have assessed Stephen C. Carlson's "triune confession of the hoaxer" with the help of the "boisterous pseudohistorical method". Even though "The Gospel Hoax" by Carlson fulfills the formal requirements of academic writing, he utilizes in the hoax hypothesis every individual part of the "boisterous pseudohistorical method": beginning with a badly chosen research question, placing the available data to support the hypothesis in a way that makes it unfalsifiable even in principle, and creating imaginative connections between disparate units without discussing the probabilities of the individual linkages. At last, I create a better hiding place for the name "Morton", the Jelly Roll Morton argument, in an effort to further illustrate the problems historians would be facing should Carlson's methodology become an accepted practice in biblical studies and related fields. Even though Carlson does not explicitly claim to have utilized a true pseudohistorical approach, the "triune confession of the hoaxer" has become a textbook example of conspiracy theory argumentation due to the methodological choices Carlson has made.

1Hedrick 2000.
2Carlson 2005, 46. The two pages in question were from the first volume of Otto Stählin's critical edition of Clement of Alexandria, page numbers xvi and 7.
3Carlson 2005, 19-20.
4Carlson 2005, xv-xvii; the JECS articles are Ehrman 2003b, Hedrick 2003, and Stroumsa 2003.
5Carlson 2005, xviii; cursive mine.
6Carlson 2005, 24.
7Carlson 2005, xvi.
8Baigent 1983, 31.
9Carlson 2005, 124 n. 1. [Further note: The sentence has been supplemented with a quotation from the footnote.]
11"I don’t see how the difference between Madiotes and Madeotas affects the argument that it is a pseudonym.";
12There was no clear answer given by Carlson in SBL 2008 Meeting either, when Scott Brown wished to see reactions to the defences of the authenticity of Clement's letter to Theodore; [Further note: the address has been updated.]
13Smith 1978.
14Carlson 2005, 77-78.
15Smith 1973.
16Carlson 2005, 81.
17Smith 1976, 197.
18Carlson 2005, 79.
19Carlson puts his words down as follows: "while a chemical test of the ink might condemn the Mar Saba Clementine as a forgery, it is not clear to me that testing the ink can exonerate the letter if the result is consistent with early modern inks";
20Hofstadter 1964, 32.
21Carlson 2005, 61-62.
22Cf. e.g. explaining in words of one syllable how the moon landing in 1969 could never have been a staged event with so many NASA personnel involved.
23Jay 2008, 596-597.
24Carroll 1958, 11.
25Carlson 2005, 9, 64, 75.
26Some exceptions can still be found. Presenting the salt argument Carlson remarks that the historical anachronism is "more likely" a deliberate clue left by Morton Smith - that is, more likely a deliberate clue than an accident; Carlson 2005, 61. In his other arguments Carlson suggests e.g. that Isaac Voss' book is "not likely" to have been affected by direct sunlight in the tower library of the monastery of Mar Saba; Carlson 2005, 34. Furthermore, Carlson assesses Morton Smith's motive with the word "probable"; Carlson 2005, 86. Even though some other one-off examples could be cited, the whole of it leans towards this: when "The Gospel Hoax" is gone through via machine search, headwords like "likely", "possible", "possibly", and "probably" produce hits from other people instead of Carlson - once in a while Carlson quotes other scholars at length, and the difference between their regular conditional-filled language and Carlson's own conditional-lacking one is clear enough. Further analysis of this should be undertaken.
27Carlson 2005, 62.
28Smith 1973, 19.
29Carlson 2005, 63.
30Carlson 2005, 62-63.
31Hakkarainen, 251.
32Carlson 2005, 15-16.
33Smith 1951, 155-156.
34Smith 1958a, 507.
35Murgia 1976, 36.
36Stewart 1999, 18.
37Baigent 1983, 312.
38Carlson 2005, xvi-xvii.
39For a short critique of Peter Jeffery cf. Paananen 2008b. A more thorough treatment is found in Brown 2007.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

'As the Secret Gospel of Mark Walked in to a BAR...'

Finally, I got my hands on the latest issue of BAR, with four articles on the Secret Gospel of Mark. Charles Hedrick's introductory take I have already surveyed, and it can be read in its entirety here.

The editor of the magazine, Hershel Shanks, summarizes the case for the forgery in the second article "Morton Smith - Forger". The task seems to have fallen to Shanks "[a]fter being turned down by three major scholars who embrace this position". (p. 49) Those who rejected BAR's offer were Birger Pearson, Bart Ehrman, and Stephen Carlson, all for different reasons. Peter Jeffery, one of the most prominent speakers for the forgery, was - unfortunately in my opinion - never asked. As he himself notes:

"The reason I did not write for the latest BAR issue is that I was never asked... Had I been asked I would have written something."

Why the omission? It must be because Shanks "found Jeffery's 340-page tome immensely erudite but largely irrelevant to the question of whether Morton Smith forged the Clement letter." (p. 88 n. 28) Whether this is a good reason for not asking Jeffery, the most willing of the defenders of the hoax hypothesis to state his case, to write about his position is another matter.

I do not mean to imply that there is something particular that is wrong in Shanks' summary. It is a rather neutral presentation of the main arguments for the forgery, although Shanks goes on to reject all of these arguments in the fourth article, that is also authored by him. The problem I perceive, as put into words by Tony Chartrand-Burke, is that "[the BAR treatment without the other side] fails in advancing the discussion beyond the impasse that has gripped it for decades... [t]he real debate should involve the principle writers on the text". It is one thing to present the case occasionally from both sides of the fence, but quite another to keep on presenting both sides when the other side does not enter into the debate. Or when nobody asks them to the debate. Add more injury to the mix, the recent SBL session about Peter Jeffery's book did not seem to feature anyone critical of his views. Can we really go on like this?

The familiar arguments for the forgery get dealt into two camps by Shanks: the arguments about Morton Smith's expertise, and the arguments about flaws and anachronisms in the letter. I would like to propose an alternative division: there are core arguments that ultimately decide the hoax hypothesis, and there are marginal arguments that may or may not strengthen the core arguments, but are not in themselves strong enough to make or break the case. The letter itself, in its physical form, and in its select subject matter, including the suggested jokes and clues; these seem to have the potential power to decide the issue, one way or another. In the periphery I would cram the endless speculations about the possible motives, the possible skills, and the truly infinite possibilities to throw the letter into a particular historical reconstruction.

The latter is the most deceptive of them all. The Theodore-letter thrives both in the homosexual reading (it is acceptable if the great hoaxer, Morton Smith, was the author), and e.g. in Helmut Koester's reconstruction of the textual development of the Gospel of Mark, presented in the third article "Was Morton Smith a Great Thespian and I a Complete Fool?" (it is acceptable if the Secret Gospel was composed in antiquity). In itself, Koester's reconstruction, featuring Secret Mark as an important witness to the redactions made to the Gospel text, is a thought-provoking explanation for the "minor agreements" between Matthew and Luke, much discussed among biblical scholars. But it does not show decisively that the letter could not be a modern forgery.

Much better arguments against the hoax hypothesis are the long discussions Koester held with Smith during the 1960s. If Smith could have pulled off the stunts of acting as if he "seriously struggled to understand and interpret this document" he would have had to be "an accomplished actor and [Koester] a complete fool". (p. 58) Would this be possible? To a certain extent I would have to concur (cf. "A Woman Invented a Wild Pseudolife on the Internet - Sent Made-Up Obituaries to Newspapers"; translation mine), but would it be possible to hold such a facade for decades, without anyone ever noticing anything while Smith was still alive? And if possible, would it be the most probable one, too?

As mentioned above, the last article, "Restoring a Dead Scholar's Reputation", is also penned by Shanks. He remarks of some peculiarities in the hoax hypothesis: how could Smith have ever thought of himself capable to truly pull the intricate deception off, even deliberately planting clues and jokes to the text; the difficulties with the homosexual reading; the difficulties with Andrew H. Criddle's methodology; the 15 years Smith sacrificed to write "Clement of Alexandria and the Secret Gospel of Mark" (1973); the difficulties with the claims of anachronism regarding Clement's use of salt imagery when salt seems to get mixed with other substances quite easily, even in antiquity. Most interestingly, there are two Greek handwriting experts BAR has hired to assess the paleographical features of the letter text, Agamemnon Tselikas and Venetia Anastasopoulou, who will independently give their judgment of the matter. Contrary to what Shanks suggests (p. 61), Stephen C. Carlson has in fact consulted a professional forensic document expert, Ms. Julie C. Edison, whose testimony confirms the findings of Carlson:

"Mr. Carlson’s research into the questioned document field has been exemplary."

The problem with all of these expert opinions is the reality of the missing manuscript. Generally, one should not come to strong conclusions regarding handwriting if there are only photographs to go by with, as argued e.g. by David Henige in "Historical Evidence and Argument" (University of Wisconsin Press 2005, 198-199, 271-272 n. 56-57). Nevertheless, it is interesting to learn of the opinions of these two experts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Live Impressions from SBL Meeting 2009

How nerd can you get? I mean, can you get any nerdier than stalling from going to sleep (for hours!) since you know some participants are going to tweet about the sessions they happen to attend to. Like Stephen C. Carlson, who offered live impressions at from Psychology and Biblical Studies - 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) - see the program here and here. When the clock stroke 4:00 PM in New Orleans, it was midnight here. At least it was Saturday night... which actually transcends the high level of nerdiness there was to begin with.

What were Carlson's impressions? For those who do not wish to hunt the long list of tweets, here are the Secret Mark related in chronological order:

Secret Mark session next in Marriott room Bacchus.
1:58 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Peter Jeffery speaking now. #SBL09
2:09 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Peter Jeffery said that Scott Brown was 'out of his depth'. #SBL09
2:33 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Robin Jenson speaking. Knew Smith at Columbia.
2:36 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Jensen Confirmed the anachronism of the Easter baptism and his abilities to do it. #SBL09
2:49 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Donald Capps is speaking about Smith's narcissism and lack of empathy.
2:53 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Raymond Lawrence showing Smith's disarming deceptions. #SBL09
3:15 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original


Also, Mark Goodacre tweeted two thoughts about the session:

Excellent talk by Peter Jeffrey on Secret Mark at Psychology and Biblical Studies section. #SBL09
2:33 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Fascinating session on Secret Mark, largely a triumph of interesting content over poor delivery. #SBL09
3:39 PM Nov 21st from txt Link to original

Apart from Carlson and Goodacre, there seems to have been no other tweeters present.



Since we know what J. Harold Ellens thinks of the issue (see his book review of Jeffery's here and my short summary of it here), I get the impression that the "critical response to Peter Jeffery" was more like "four people taking turns to agree with Peter Jeffery"? Can anyone shed any light on the issue? (Note: completely anonymous commenting has always been an option here :-)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Per Beskow and the Elusive MS: A Guest Post by Roger Viklund

Roger Viklund, whose online article "Reclaiming Clement's Letter to Theodoros - An Examination of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis" (2009) casts a serious shadow of doubt over the handwriting analysis Stephen C. Carlson carries out in "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark" (2005), has written a guest post concerning Per Beskow's attempts to see the manuscript containing Clement's letter to Theodore, and the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark.

Regular readers may recall that Quentin Quesnell managed to take a look at the elusive manuscript in 1983 - a fact that was generally unknown until Adele Yarbro Collins' 2007 commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Quesnell's story is confirmed by Peter M. Head, who mentioned that he had received a letter from Quesnell himself in 1987. Quesnell wrote that "[a]s to the availability of Smith's document: it was retrieved from Mar Saba about 1976 (I printed a note to that effect in CBQ at the time. ...) It is now in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Several scholars have reported being turned away when they asked to see it, but in the summer of '83 I was allowed to examine it. I was not allowed to have any of the basic scientific texts done on the ink."

(I am grateful to Peter M. Head for the extra information about the contents of Quesnell's 1987 letter.)

As Roger Viklund shows below, one of the scholars who was turned away happened to be Per Beskow - but not without a reason!

Var så god, Roger!


In 1984 Per Beskow was given permission to see the Mar Saba letter, but was on arrival denied access by an excuse that the letter was sprayed with insecticides and that no one had admission to it.

In 1979, the now retired Swedish Associate Professor in Religious history and Church history Per Beskow, published in Swedish ”Fynd och fusk i bibelns värld: Om vår tids Jesus-apokryfer” (Approximately: “Discoveries and Cheats in the Biblical World: The Jesus apocrypha of our time”). This book was republished in 2005 in a revised edition, then titled: ”Fynd och fusk: Falsarier och mystifikationer omkring Jesus” (Approximately: “Discoveries and Cheats: Forgeries and mystifications about Jesus”). The book has a chapter on the Secret Gospel of Mark, and when the book came in an English translation in 1981 as “Strange Tales about Jesus: A Survey of Unfamiliar Gospels”, it caused some commotion. Beskow himself tells us in the 2005 Swedish edition that when “Strange Tales about Jesus” was published, Smith was seized with fury and threatened to sue the publisher. Therefore the edition was withdrawn and the book republished in 1983 with a rewritten chapter on Secret Mark.

But Beskow also tells us that he decided to take a look at the MS in Jerusalem. He writes: “Thanks to a letter of recommendation from Bishop Kallistos Ware, I had an audience with the patriarch’s secretary, and the next day he announced that His Holiness had given his permission. But when I came to the librarian it came to an end.” (Beskow 2005; my translation from Swedish) He never though explicitly wrote when this would have occurred. So I wrote to Beskow (in Swedish as we both are Swedes). He told me that it was in November 1984 and he also sent me in English a short summary of a passage in a forthcoming article on modern Jesus apocrypha to be published this year in “The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament”. As I have his permission, I will post the relevant parts, and this is basically a translation of what he writes in his Swedish book from 2005. Beskow writes:

“From the very beginning there were doubts about the authenticity of the text. In Strange Tales I did not directly take sides in the debate, but I mentioned that there were reasons to be skeptical to its genuineness, and this had unexpected consequences. Professor Smith got upset about what I had written and threatened to claim one million dollars in damages if the book was not immediately withdrawn, and the publisher yielded to the threat. A new edition was published with some slight changes in the chapter in question (Beskow 1985), which Smith seems to have accepted. Its content was more or less the same as in the first edition, but in the new version I emphasized that I did not accuse Morton Smith of having forged the manuscript (Beskow 1985, 104).

“My curiosity had however been aroused, and I learnt that the manuscript had been moved from the Mar Saba monastery to the library of the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem. In autumn 1984, I went there in the hope of seeing the manuscript, and I also obtained permission from the Patriarch. But then it came to a sudden stop, for the librarian refused to let me into the library. The manuscript had been sprayed with insecticides, he said, and nobody was allowed to come near it. I was not quite convinced by his explanation, for a colleague of mine, looking for another manuscript in the same library six months earlier, had been refused with the same excuse. That is all I have learnt about it until now. I have heard that the pages with the text would have been removed from the volume, but I have not had it confirmed.”

As I said before, this happened in November 1984, a year after Quentin Quesnell actually saw the MS. What to me appears strange is that Beskow was denied access to the letter by an excuse that it was sprayed with insecticides and that no one had admission to it. And it becomes even stranger by the fact that the other scholar half a year earlier also was dismissed for the same reason. As I contacted Beskow, he actually called the other scholar on the phone, Professor Emeritus in History of religions, Anders Hultgård. And Hultgård confirmed that he had problems to get access to the archive in Jerusalem, but that he no longer can remember the details.

Perhaps someone can shed light on this; if it is a standard procedure under certain conditions to spray insecticides on books and MSS? Would not this cause damages to the MSS? And what a strange coincident that this would happen twice in half a year, being the excuse for not giving two Swedish scholars access to the library at two separate occasions!

I would also like to point to Per Beskow’s view on the proposed homosexual relationship between Jesus and the youth. This is what he writes in the summary he sent me from his forthcoming article:

According to Smith there would be hints in the text that Jesus was a homosexual, but this reading is not evident for the reader of the text but arises from Smith’s interpretation of it. It would have been expressed more clearly if this were the purpose of a possible forgery.”

And further Beskow’s view on the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark:

“Personally I still have doubts about its authenticity, but nevertheless I prefer to regard this as an open question.”

Roger Viklund



At the time I am pressing the "Publish Post" button, it is little less than two hours to the beginning of the SBL session concerning the Secret Gospel of Mark, with J. Harold Ellens presiding.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who's Afraid of Richard Rorty?

Quite a few people are, or so it seems. My small presentation of the more extreme responses to Richard Rorty's philosophical ideas came as a suprise to our small discussion group of people interested in (neo)pragmatism. The title of this post comes from Osmo Kivinen & Tero Piiroinen, who in their 2008 article "Kehollisesta osaamisesta kielelliseen tietoon" establish a firm continuum from John Dewey's transactional epistemology to Rorty's anti-representationalism (the notion that language cannot represent the world "out there" or "objective" world), a connection that the critics of Rorty have preferred to downplay.

And what a way to downplay it! As Kivinen & Piiroinen present the case (translation mine):

"Rorty has been stigmatized as a postmodern relativist with an "anything goes" attitude, or as a cynical nihilist, for it has been feared that he would discard both the truth and objectivity... According to some critics his ideas would even lead to epistemological solipsism... It has been suspected that Rorty's ideas threaten the generally accepted values, that some fear could lead to fascism..."

Source: Osmo Kivinen & Tero Piiroinen: "Kehollisesta osaamisesta kielelliseen tietoon". In "Pragmatismi filosofiassa ja yhteiskuntatieteissä". Edited by Erkki Kilpinen, Osmo Kivinen & Sami Pihlström. Gaudeamus Helsinki University Press. 2008, 186.

The Finnish pragmatist philosopher Sami Pihlström, in this same collection of essays, sketches four different viewpoints from whence to look at the pragmatist tradition, all that have the common feature of not including Rorty to the trajectory. (22-25) On the other hand the absence of Rorty should not be that surprising, as "we can hardly say that this kind of [rortyan] thinking could be genuinely interested in research or finding the truth." (40, translation mine) Better keep him out of the company of true philosophers, then!

It is these extreme responses I seem to be drawn to. When the conservative Finnish theologian Timo Eskola wrote two nasty books with titles that translate roughly to "Atheists Behind the Altar" (Ateistit alttarilla, 2005) and "The Apostles of the Antichrist" (Antikristuksen apostolit, 2006), I inverted their use: whenever Eskola implied that there was something problematic with the various radical theologians he criticizes - from the Death of God theology from the 1960s, to various brands of Postchristianity, and even to Christian atheism, from Friedrich Nietzsche to John Shelby Spong - I knew that I just had to check them out, as there was bound to be something good in them.

After I became familiar with the responses Morton Smith received in the 1970s, and the oddities in the current debate regarding the authenticity of Clement's letter to Theodore - this process of learning began in the autumn of 2007 - there was no question of writing my master's thesis about anything else. The malice, the ridiculousness, and the dismissing of everything Smith had ever done, said, or written - I simply could not walk calmly away; I was too enthralled. And now that I perceive this familiar intense rejection of yet another original thinker, I don't see how I could not begin to read through Rorty's bibliography, from the start (as I'm always wont to read things in chronological order).

The members of the discussion group will surely not complain when I present one of Rorty's most influential works, "Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature" (1979), to the group in a month or so.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When Everything Is Connected to Everything Else

In before anyone hurries to complain that whatever ideas, good and bad, I may have put forth here, are written out in too compact a manner to actually understand the thinking behind them. For this short post, let me elaborate some of my thoughts about the main operating principle of the conspiracy theories, the conviction that (literally) everything is connected to everything else.

The example I have used earlier, from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail":

"Baigent et al. ask the question, what was so special about... the Merovingian dynasty... [They] ponder various myths that have been linked to the Merovingian dynasty, and eventually... 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". 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... 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".

I think the idea originates from Thomas Kuhn, that scholars learn the ropes of their trade mainly by observing other scholars at work. In other words, it is a good practice to put students to reading not just the general introductions of the field, but also the actual scholarly papers and articles that in time allow those general introductions to be written. A student, after having read enough of the actual scholarly papers, will develop a gut feeling of the argumentation - how an argument is constructed, formed, developed, replied to, and defended - that her future peers will expect to see in her own writing. When a student is then repeatedly put to produce an essay that tries to answer an actual research question, the writing will become more and more like that of a 'real' scholar. Up to this point it is not necessary to say much about the traditional methods scholars use in the field, as the information will reach the student in any case, albeit in a different way. And if everything goes just right, the actual, thoroughgoing course on the methodology, just before the writing of the final thesis, will end up merely showing the student that her gut feeling, derived from reading a lot of papers, can also be put down systematically, named, ordered, and given a firm history of its usage in the field. This, in its general outline, has been my own experience studying at the University of Helsinki.

No wonder I have a gut feeling with treatises such as "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", that something (like the example above) is not quite right. I could go as far as to confess that the above example sounds even silly, as nowhere in those scholarly papers I had read during my studies (handpicked by my teachers to represent the best ones available, of course) did I encounter anything like it. I have been accustomed to be wary of an argument like this. The question that interests me is why? What is so different in this argument that claims the origins of the Merovingian dynasty derive from the mutual child of Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

As on operating principle the "Everything Is Connected" is really simple. There are no hard rules about the connections: it's a total free-for-all. A word association is commonly used - just use your imagination! And once the link has been created, one can state that the possibility to link these things together should be taken as evidence that they in fact belong together - in fact, someone else should already have done the linkage, why is everyone so dull? Were there not any kind of evidence to begin with? No worry, since by linking things together everything will do as evidence.

In the particular example from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" summarized above there is a connection between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and the Merovingian dynasty. The chain of links looks like this:

Jesus - fish - Neptune - the Merovingians - South of France - Mary Magdalene

Jesus' connection to fish is the early Christian use of the symbol. The sea beast of Neptune is a sort of "mystical fish". The Merovingian dynasty apparently had a myth of its origin featuring a sea beast. They were geographically located to the South of France (among other places). There are legends connecting Mary Magdalene to the same area. There we have it: a word association, a myth, a legend. Persuasive? It really depends on how many scholarly papers one has happened to have read. Probable? There is no such concept in the vocabulary of the conspiracy theorist.

Many conspiracy theorists do not go farther than that. They point out some common features between two things, and that settles it for their satisfaction. The authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", however, take explicitly a one step further. They give us another reason why we should accept the linkage between the sea beast of Neptune and the fish-Jesus beyond the simple word association:

"Fantastic legends... are not entirely imaginary, but symbolic or allegorical, masking some concrete historical fact behind their fabulous façade."

I have often wondered, just how much fun it would be to get this principle into usage in historical studies. Can you fathom the endless possibilities with all of the "fantastic legends" we have from time immemorial? What glorious concrete historical facts we would be able to create! And here comes the twist to the mania of linking things together: what the writers of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" have explicitly stated, every conspiracy theorist implicitly accepts. There is someone else who has put these links together. It may be a general unknown and unfathomable principle that simply transforms historical facts into "fantastic legends", it may be that a(n) (in)human agent left a clue to be discovered, it may be that the (in)human agent failed to erase all the traces of her activity, it may be that the (in)human agent is driven forth by some unknown and unfathomable principle. Whatever the cause, there simply must be some deep, hidden reason behind it all, since these complex linkages "do not devise themselves", as the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" put it.

I have this sentence from Umberto Eco's "Il Pendolo di Foucault" written on my wall, from the mouth of Casaubon:

"Le connessioni ci sono sempre, basta volerle trovare."
("There are always connections; you have only want to find them.")

If one is willing to content oneself to simply connect various things together, one will get away with anything, since everything can be connected to everything else - there are always connections, and there is always room for another conspiracy theory. If in doubt, follow the discussion e.g. here and become amazed.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

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

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.

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

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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Master's Thesis: Bibliography

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Baigent, Michael & Leigh, Richard
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Baigent, Michael & Leigh, Richard & Lincoln, Henry
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1983 Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Dell Publishing.

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Brown, Scott G.
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Jay, Jeff
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Jeffery, Peter
2007a The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery. Yale University Press.

Jenkins, Philip
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2006 Historical iron gall ink containing documents – Properties affecting their condition. Analytica Chimica Acta 555:1, 167-174.

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2008 Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem, Correspondence 1945-1982. Guy G. Stroumsa (ed.). Jerusalem Studies in Religion and Culture. Brill.

Murgia, Charles E.
1976 Secret Mark: Real of Fake? In Wilhelm H. Wuellner (ed.), Longer Mark: Forgery, Interpolation, or Old Tradition? Protocol of the Eighteenth Colloquy: 7 December 1975. Center for Hermeneutical Studies in Hellenistic and Modern Culture, 35-40.

Myllykoski, Matti
1997 Markuksen evankeliumi. In Matti Myllykoski & Arto Järvinen (ed.), Varhaiskristilliset evankeliumit. Yliopistopaino, 80-124.

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1998 Models for Power Law Relations in Linguistics and Information Science. JQL 5, 35-61.

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1993 Are There Really Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels? A Refutation of Morton Smith. SFSHJ 80. Scholars Press.

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2008a Kuka kirjoitti Salaisen Markuksen evankeliumin? Osa 1: Morton Smith vs. Stephen C. Carlson. Vartija 121:3, 83-97.

2008b Kuka kirjoitti Salaisen Markuksen evankeliumin? Osa 2: Morton Smith vs. Peter Jeffery. Vartija 121:4, 123-132.

Pantuck, Allan J. & Brown, Scott G.
2008 Morton Smith as M. Madiotes: Stephen Carlson's Attribution of Secret Mark to a Bald Swindler. JSHJ 6, 106-125.

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1997 The Club Dumas. Harcourt Brace International.

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2001 Literary and Scribal Activities at the Monastery of St. Sabas. In Joseph Patrich (ed.), The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present. Peeters, 171-194.

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2006 L'évangile secret de Marc trente trois ans après, entre potentialités exégétiques et difficultés techniques. Revue Biblique 114:1-2, 52-72, 237-254.

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2004 The Purloined Letter. In The Complete Illustrated Works of Edgar Allan Poe. Bounty Books, 319-333.

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2006 The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Translated by Victor E. Marsden. Filiquarian Publishing.

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1975 The Mar Saba Clementine: A Question of Evidence. CBQ 37, 48-67.

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1986 Johdatus eksegetiikkaan: Metodioppi. SESJ 37.

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1989 Exorcism of Ignorance as a Proxy for Rational Knowledge: The Lessons of Handwriting Identification “Expertise”. UPenn Law Review 137:3, 731-792.

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2002 The Rosicrucian Manuscripts. Edited by Benedict J. Williamson. Invisible College Press.

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1945 Notes on Goodspeed's “Problems of the New Testament Translation”. JBL 64, 501-514.

1951 Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels. JBL Monograph Series VI. Society of Biblical Literature.

1955 Comments on Taylor's Commentary on Mark. HTR 48, 21-64.

1956 Σύμμεικτα: Notes on Collections of Manuscripts in Greece. Ἐπετηρὶς Ἑταιρείας Βυζαντιῶν Σπουδῶν 26, 380-393.

1958a The Image of God: Notes on the Hellenization of Judaism, with Especial Reference to Goodenough's Work on Jewish Symbols. Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 40, 473-512.

1958b Manuscript Material from the Monastery of Mar Saba, discovered, transcribed and translated by Morton Smith. Self-published.

1960a Ἑλληνικὰ χειρόγραφα ἐν τῇ Μονῇ τοῦ ἁγίου Σάββα. Translated by Archimandrite K. Michaelides. Νέα Σιών 52, 110-125, 245-256.

1960b Monasteries and Their Manuscripts. Archaeology 13, 172-177.

1960c New Fragments of Scholia on Sophocles' Ajax. Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 3:1, 40-42.

1973 Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark. Harvard University Press.

1976 On the Authenticity of the Mar Saba Letter of Clement. CBQ 38:2, 196-199.

1978 Jesus the Magician. Harper & Row.

1982 Clement of Alexandria and Secret Mark: The Score at the End of the First Decade. Harvard Theological Review 75, 449-461.

1985 The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark. The Aquarian Press.

Stewart, Kathleen
1999 Conspiracy Theory's Worlds. In George E. Marcus (ed.), Paranoia Within Reason: A Casebook on Conspiracy as Explanation. University of Chicago Press, 13-20.

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2003 Comments on Charles Hedrick's Article: A Testimony. JECS 11:2, 147-153.

Talley, Thomas
1982 Liturgical Time in the Ancient Church: The State of Research. Studia Liturgica 14, 34-51.

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1952 The Gospel According to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes, and Indexes. Macmillan.

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1992 Jesus the Man. Doubleday.

Thisted, Ronald & Bradley, Efron
1987 Did Shakespeare Write a Newly-Discovered Poem? Biometrika Trust 74:3, 445-455.

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1898 Les écrivains de Mar-Saba. Échos d'Orient 2, 1-11, 33-47.

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2006 Muistikirjat evankeliumin välittäjinä ensimmäisellä ja toisella vuosisadalla. TA 111, 545-570.

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Master's Thesis: Internet sources

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2007 A Catalogue of Syriac Manuscripts in the Library of the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

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2008b Statistics and Hapax Legomena in the Mar Saba Letter.

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2009 Reclaiming Clement's Letter to Theodoros: An Examination of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis.

Master's Thesis: Sources and resources

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Brown, Scott G., The Letter to Theodore. In Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery. ESCJ 15. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2005, xvii-xxii.

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Stählin, Otto, Clemens Alexandrinus. 4, Register. Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 39. Hinrichs. 1936.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

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

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.

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.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Is It Professor Quesnell (keh-NELL) on the Phone?

Yes, it is! Very many thanks to everyone who offered their advice for getting in touch with professor Quesnell - he himself was very kind, even with my staggering delivery, and encouraged me to pursue this topic further on, saying that he sure would like to help. We had a wonderful little chat, with a more extensive change of ideas taking place in the near future. For now it should be settled that

1) Quentin Quesnell was in Jerusalem in 1983, where he saw the MS, but not as a single piece.

2) In other words, the end papers of Voss' book had already been removed from their bindings (as Father Kallistos told to Hedrick and Olympiou to have happened in 1977).

I understand that the above is more like a teaser than a full revelation of the truth everlasting, but as patience is a virtue...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More on Quentin Quesnell's Encounter With the MS

Well, not much more, but I got a message from Adela Yarbro Collins. She recalls how "I met Quentin Quesnell at Princeton during the summer of 1984. He told me then that he had seen the document and had looked at enlarged photographs of it not long before that time. When I was writing the excursus on Secret Mark [for the commentary on the Gospel of Mark, published in Hermeneia series in 2007], I telephoned him to talk further about what he had told me."

The two sentences Collins offers in her commentary are these:

"In the early 1980s, Quesnell was allowed to look at the two folios of the manuscript. He also obtained permission from the Patriarchate to have color photographs made of the folios by a firm in Jerusalem."

Footnote: "Personal communication."

Taken from: Adela Yarbro Collins: Mark: A Commentary. Hermeneia - A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Fortress Press. 2007, 491.

Moreover, Collins suggested that since I have been unable to contact Quesnell through his old institution, Smith College, I might wish to try the membership directory on the SBL web site, or the published directory of the members of the Catholic Biblical Association (published occasionally in Catholic Biblical Quarterly). Unfortunately I am not a member of the SBL - maybe I should be?

What I would like to ask from Quentin Quesnell:

  • What was the situation that made you eligible to view the MS, including the exact date?
  • Did you had any trouble convincing the staff to let you take a look at the MS?
  • Was it easy for the library staff to locate the MS?
  • Was the MS kept in a special case or in a restricted area of the library?
  • Was the MS already removed from the printed book?
  • Did you notice anything peculiar about the MS?
  • Was there any discussion about testing the MS scientifically, e.g. doing an ink test?
  • Can you recall the name of the firm that photographed the MS?
  • What happened to the colour photographs?
  • Could these colour photographs be the same that Charles W. Hedrick and Nikolaos Olympiou published in 2000?