Friday, January 22, 2010

More on the So-called Secret Gospel of Mark Now Online

First, a new blog dedicated to the Secret Gospel of Mark has been running since December 2009, Synopic Solutions, written by the pseudonymous the_cave, previously known for his or her insightful commentary on the Freethought & Rationalism Discussion Board. Most recently, the_cave has engaged with Thomas Talley and Peter Jeffery, and discussed the suggestion of the former that readings from the canonical gospels replaced readings from the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark in Egyptian lectionaries, a position opposed by Jeffery in The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled (2007).

In the meanwhile, Roger Viklund has made public an online article titled A Quest for Secret Mark’s Authenticity: A Chain is as Strong as its Weakest Link while also gathering up his contributions on Secret Mark in one place. The latest article argues for the authenticity of Secret Mark on internal grounds. In the first chain Viklund holds that the specific Markan literary techniques, especially the use of intercalation, could not have been used by forgers ancient or modern, since the proper understanding of these Markan features did not gain much ground before the 1980s, a proposition originally conceived by Scott G. Brown (to whom Viklund refers to) most notably in Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery (2005).

The second chain marks a deviation from Brown's position. Viklund suggests - contrary to both Brown and Clement in his letter to Theodore - that the Gospel extracts quoted in the Theodore-letter should be seen as part of the original Gospel of Mark, and not as an expansion of it. For even if we think that Clement got it right when he writes that "to the stories already written he [Mark] added yet others" (Theod. I.24, Brown's translation), as Viklund puts it, "then he [Mark] anyway would have had to prepare for the insertion. And if so, then he also technically must have written it, because you can hardly prepare for something you have not written." The most natural explanation for the curious rendering of Mark 10:46 - Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho..." - is, to Viklund's mind, the inclusion of "And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them" between the two mentions of Jericho even in the original composition.

Descriptive as it is, the most disputable parts in Viklund's analysis are the beginnings of both chains of arguments, and if the first claims do not hold then the end result will not be pretty, either. That the two Gospel extracts belong to the same story, with Mark 10:35-45 coming between them, has been challenged by Stephen C. Carlson in his The Expository Times reply to Brown's aforementioned 2005 treatise.1 Even Viklund has to yield and confess that "the first story is complete in itself" and does not need the latter story to fulfill it in any way. I would like to continue along this line of reasoning and remark that the prime argument of Viklund, that there is no evidence that "someone in antiquity could have discovered these techniques" of intercalation, nor do we know of anyone else who would have showed understanding of them before the 20th-century scholars, is undermined by the discontinuity between the two Gospel extracts: if there is no intercalation, then there are no techniques of intercalation to be discovered.

Still, even if the prime qualification for intercalation is missing, I am willing to agree that there are Markan techniques present, though substantial enough to deserve the name "Markan techniques" or not, remains open for debate. For the question of Morton Smith as the forger, Viklund nails it down:

"What a shrewd forger, who manages to make an uncharacteristic intercalation, leaving out the obvious sign, yet including signs that just a few scholars started to realize and which by then (1958) was not generally accepted! We are to believe that Smith besides being able to produce an almost perfect forgery, yet had the nerve to exclude from that forgery the most typical sign which everybody would recognize as a marker for an intercalation. At the same time he chooses to include markers which were only proposed by a few, not accepted or perhaps not even recognized by the majority, and which in 1958 no one would even have known if they in the future would be accepted."

The conspiratorial aspect of the hoax hypothesis becomes apparent in endeavours to justify this weird behaviour on the part of the forger:

"[H]e [the forger] was so clever as to insert esoteric elements, yet leaving out the obvious signs, in order to fool those clever enough to realize this. By this way of arguing you cannot lose. You will find signs of forgery either way, as your arguments work both ways."

That Smith could have left the most obvious feature of the intercalation out could be, as Carlson suggests, a trap for fellow scholars to fall into. As I have argued at length in my thesis, this practice, unfortunately, solidifies the hoax hypothesis into an unwavering theory that cannot be proved wrong (beyond reasonable doubt), no matter what; into an all-embracing explanation to the Theodore-letter that is able to answer to any future objection, even to the ones not imaginable at the moment - a sign of a true conspiracy theory. For a conspiracy theory can always take a step backwards and maintain its plausibility with yet another ad hoc argument.

The beginning of Viklund's second chain could be challenged by comparing Mark 10:46 to its treatment in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (following the standard two-source hypothesis): both transform the difficulty of coming to Jericho and leaving it in the very next sentence seemingly independently of each other, not at all suggesting that there was a story squeezed between the two Jerichos. Consequently, the second Secret Mark extract does not appear to have been present in the Gospel of Mark Matthew and Luke used as a source. Of course, if we will dilute the argument a little bit - as Viklund does by remarking that "[o]ne could... argue [that] the Secret Gospel of Mark was "published" afterwards, and that is possible but also impossible to know, since the text does not reveal when it was made public" - then it seems to me that everyone - Clement in his letter to Theodore of the composition history of the Gospel and Brown following him, and Viklund drawing a distinction between 'writing' and 'publishing' - may be right, and it's another win-win scenario for everybody!

Seriously, my tentative hypothesis at this point, regarding the Gospel of Mark, is that there must have been a 1st-century version of it that made more sense than the current canonical one. Can anything further be said of the matter, remains to be seen.

1Stephen C. Carlson: Reply to Scott Brown. The Expository Times 117:5, 185-188.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Christopher W. Skinner Interviews Professor Ismo Dunderberg

An interview of professor Ismo Dunderberg, the second instructor of my yet-to-be-written dissertation, by Christopher W. Skinner, in two parts (Part I & Part II).

The interview focuses on the Gospel of Thomas and the various new perspectives Dunderberg has brought to the discussion (notably in his 2006 monograph The Beloved Disciple in Conflict: Revisiting the Gospels of John and Thomas) as well as to his own influences, including the work of Stephen Patterson. As Dunderberg himself puts it:

"I should also mention Stephen Patterson, whose work has prevented me from thinking that Thomas was simply put together from bits and pieces derived from the synoptic gospels".

It feels like an official proposition that I should definitely look it up and see if the search for the origin of the Secret Gospel of Mark could profit from it in any way.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Good Advice from Wiley Miller

Non Sequitur Jan 17, 2010
Link to original

(HINT: click on the picture or surf to the original.)

Wiley's advice is good, but needs a qualification. From the Gospel of Luke according to Codex Bezae (in Luke 6:5):

'When on the same day he [Jesus] saw a man doing work on the Sabbath, he said to him, "Man, if you know what you are doing, you are blessed; but if you do not know, you are accursed and a transgressor of the law"'.

(Translation from Bruce Manning Metzger's Manuscripts of the Greek Bible: an introduction to Greek palaeography. Oxford University Press. 1981, 89.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

On Writing Funding Applications

Paraphrasing from the how-to section of Helsinki University's guidebook to PhD students:

"Writing a proper funding application could take as much as two weeks time."

(Implying, sure enough, that I should allocate more time to this than the two hours I originally considered necessary.)

In light of this revelation, it is probably a good thing that there seem to exist only two (2) viable & realistic sources for my funding open for applications right now.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Jesus: The Evidence Featuring Morton Smith - All 8+ Minutes

Apparently I cannot remember things that happened a month ago, while Mark Goodacre can recall exact details of documentaries he has seen 25 years ago. No wonder that of the two of us he was the one to remember to check periodically if Jesus: The Evidence (1984) made an appearance somewhere in the net.

It did. As mentioned over at NT Blog, the second episode of the documentary is available here (the first five minutes) and here (the rest). Morton Smith gets his screen time in the latter, from the 34th minute forward. For convenience, I have cut the 8+ minutes featuring the footage of the monastery of Mar Saba and of Smith directly below, even managed to correct the wrong aspect ratio in the process.

I would dwell on the topic more if I wasn't buried in funding applications I need to get out of the door ASAP. Taking a break today, I followed a link from Stalin's Moustache to An und für sich featuring some scary discussion of the state of the job market for young post-doc scholars, with Andy Rowell dropping a link to Thomas H. Benton's advising article titled Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go. Oops, too late Thomas, I'm afraid.

Seriously, I understand that it is a good idea to have a Plan B, just to cover all the possibilities. For years, in fact the whole decade we have just emerged out of, I have played with the idea of writing popular books on conspiracy theories. No, I mean the actual conspiracy theories, in the vein of David Icke's "reptilian shape-changers rule the world in secret", to Michael Baigent's "there's something wrong with the current understanding of the development of early Christianity". I'll make it an official plan once I get the few remaining ethical considerations sorted out.