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.
NOTE: the whole subchapter is found here. Comments are better off there.
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.
2013 SBL Annual Meeting Diary
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