Monday, February 22, 2010

Master's Thesis: Chapter 5.1 Stephen C. Carlson and the signs of the times

Biblical studies closely follows the signs of the times. James G. Crossley examines the influence of historical and political context on the studies of Christian origins in his 2008 monograph "Jesus in an Age of Terror: Scholarly Projects for a New American Century". He comes to a firm conclusion: predominant ideologies direct the scholarship from choosing a research question onwards.1 David S. G. Goodman summarizes this observation in the following way: "Writing of all kinds - fiction as well as academic writing - contributes to the creation of an intellectual environment." The created intellectual environment, in turn, influences the manner in which preserved sources are read in the study of history: the production of texts evolves in a constant interaction with the interpretation of texts.2

In chapter 4.3 we analyzed the birth of the culture of modern conspiracy theory thinking as parallel to the birth of the culture of postmodern, and the development of electric tools of communication. I argued there that the rise of HTTP as the standard protocol of the Internet with the popularity of WWW during the 1990s, the possibility for effortless connection to the Internet, and the culture of blogging, have transformed conspiracy theory thinking into a wide-spread alternative viewpoint to the world of postmodern shattered. In the 3rd millennium an important literary genre comes to complete the list: "textual puzzle -thriller", or as Joshua Gunn and Thomas Frentz choose to label it, "page-turning, puzzle-solving mystery".3 The core element in this genre is the classic tale of mystery, in which the protagonist solves a puzzle. "Textual puzzle -thriller" aims to hook its reader by utilizing numerous minor mysteries during the course of the narrative. In their most simple form these minor mysteries are e.g. plays on words, and riddles. According to Gunn and Frentz novels that define the genre are e.g. Ian Caldwell's and Dustin Thomason's "The Rule of Four", Umberto Eco's "Il Pendolo di Foucault", Arturo Perez-Reverte's "The Club Dumas", and Rhonda Byrne's "The Secret". As the brightest of the crown jewels shines, naturally, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code".4

Every contemporary writing construes the cultural space in which even scientific research is conducted. For this reason it is easy to be worried together with Goodman about the future of scientific inquiry: conspiracy theories - whether fictitious or those espoused in all seriousness - make the distinction between fiction and scientific fact ever more laborious to uphold.5 In the field of biblical studies "textual puzzle -thriller" is clearly represented by John Dart's "Decoding Mark" from 2003, which even in its name assures us that it is solving a puzzle, this time from within the Gospel of Mark. In his monograph Dart tries to decode the hidden message of the Gospel of Mark. Chiastic structure - ABCB'A' - is a known technique of memorization used by ancient rhetoricians and poets. If the Gospel of Mark gets to be reconstructed as a single, giant chiastic structure, have we arrived at the original Markan composition? According to Dart the answer is yes, even though the argument seems to be simply circular in nature. For Dart builds an enormous, multi-leveled chiastic structure, and argues from the exercise that the existence of said structure proves that his exercise of building the structure is valid.

In a likewise manner, Stephen C. Carlson seems to follow the signs of the times. He, too, wishes to solve a "great puzzle" the Theodore-letter provides.6 He, too, basis his answer on numerous small mysteries, plays on words, and riddles. As is the case with the novel of Dan Brown, it is hard to discern the exact place where factuality gets substituted with fiction. Even though I have argued in this thesis that Carlson's hoax hypothesis as a whole is improbable, and that his clue arguments, those subtle hints Morton Smith hid, are pseudoscientific, I feel that I can sympathize with Carlson's general attitude. As his witty blog post on "Opposite Day" under the pseudonym "Carl Stephenson" shows, Carlson has a predilection for textual puzzles; furthermore, he has the ability to present them interestingly, and solve them in ingenious ways.7

In the end, the problem we are facing is not that it would have been impossible for Morton Smith to hide clues of the writer's true identity to the Theodore-letter. The real problem is in the impossibility to control the search for these clues in any sensible manner, in any methodologically sound way. The best hoax is the one that cannot be shown to be a hoax by any tool at our disposal. If Smith performed the best possible hoax with the Theodore-letter, the Academy can do nothing but use the Secret Gospel of Mark as a valid historical source, as is appropriate for the current paradigm in the field of Biblical studies.

1Crossley 2008, 3-19. There is nothing controversial in the analysis for it represents the standard conviction among historians; cf. e.g Kajava 2005, 254.
2Goodman 2006, 363.
3Gunn 2008, 214.
4Gunn 2008, 216-217, 232.
5Goodman 2006, 363.
6Carlson 2005, xvi.
7http://www.hypotyposeis.org/weblog/2006/07/opposite-day-carl-stephenson-on-secret.html

Friday, February 19, 2010

Quote for the Day

Debates about the historical Jesus are frequently debates over the true myth of Christian origins: In the Beginning, did God create orthodoxy (a unified church that correctly interpreted God's act of salvation through Jesus as canonized in the New Testament writings and faithfully preserved by us conservatives) or heterodoxy (a variety of Jesus movements with enough diversity in the interpretations of Jesus' significance to be inclusive of people with unorthodox conceptions of "the gospel," like us liberals)? To search for Jesus within the gospels that were not included in the New Testament is to question the validity of the image of Jesus presented by "the Church."

From Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery by Scott G. Brown. ESCJ 15. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 18.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Inappropriately Partisan: Engaging with the Anonymous Scholar

An anonymous person "leaked" an email from an anonymous scholar in these two comments. I raised an eyebrow, when the anonymous scholar suggested that the high-quality scans of the colour photographs Roger Viklund has used, after obtaining them from Scott G. Brown, with a permission from Charles W. Hedrick, may have been "retouched or altered", another instance in a long line of "inexcusable character-assasination [sic] attempts" to portray the proponents of the hoax hypothesis as "evil", "stupid", and "shoddy". The anonymous scholar fears that people critical of the hoax hypothesis are playing it foul, doctoring evidence to back their arguments up.

I have heard stories of, and in some cases witnessed myself, discussions turning fierce. Not only in politics, but scholarly subjects are equally suitable for flaming rhetorics. And Morton Smith's discovery, Clement's letter to Theodore, has seen them all. The situation is nicely summed up by Shawn Eyer in his 1995 article, available here. For a more recent collection of weird sayings, I cherish Scott Brown's gathering of Jacob Neusner's characterisations of Morton Smith. Neusner titles Smith "a crank and a crackpot", a "nasty old fool", "a conceptual bungler", a "know-nothing", and a "fraud" (in Mark's Other Gospel, 2005). Even more recently, many commentators have felt that Peter Jeffery's The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled (2007) handles the character of Morton Smith less than benevolently. In the other side of the fence, Scott Brown's reply to Jeffery, available here, is not exactly a model of toned-down rhetorics, either. Ditto for the other review by J. Harold Ellens, but leaning to different direction.

Why has Morton Smith's discovery dwelt in the eye of a raging storm since the 1970s? Was it because the text was so controversial? Certainly not: the innocent raising of the youth is nothing compared to e.g. necrophilia practiced in the Acts of John. Was it because the interpretation of Smith, when it clearly baited for angry reviews with its homosexual reading, was so controversial? Certainly this has much more to do with the reception of the letter, but I find it hard to put everything on top of it. Who has actually embraced Smith's reading of the letter? No one! Why should it be an issue, then? Was it because of Smith himself, of who he could be in speech and in print (i.e. not too nice)? Pure personality issues must be the factor behind e.g. Neusner's dismissal of anything and everything by Smith. For how long must Smith lie buried, perhaps a bit uneasy, perhaps greatly amused, until his strong personality loses its potency to affect the assessment of his legacy - next year it will be 20 years since his passing?

When people begin to lose their temper, the discussion tends to escalate with ever more insulting remarks flying all around. It is difficult to come back to a state of neutrality - in normal online discussions such flame wars eventually die down, but with nothing settled, and no further dialogue possible. In order to go on, everyone must take a step backwards, and drop their demands, even though it might seem, at first, unreasonable to just back off.

Back in August Greg Reeder asked, if Stephen C. Carlson had already "apologized for his attacks on Smith". When I protested that Carlson's "monograph is very reasonable with its handling of the person and character of Morton Smith", Reeder pressed on:

"I see a difference in disagreeing with someone over an theoretical issue or interpretation and accusing someone of fraud or perpetuating an outright hoax. Now that so much of Carlson's theory has been demolished he owes it the memory of Morton Smith to help set the record straight. It is the right thing to do."

I find myself in an uncomfortable position. The anonymous scholar suggesting that others with whom he or she disagrees are forging evidence looks to me an unreasonable accusation, being not something that will help people feel better in their endeavours to assess Clement's letter to Theodore. Likewise, I feel that a demand for an apology is not going to further discussion, especially when it is already quite difficult to extract comments from the proponents of the hoax hypothesis. Double that difficulty if we expect them to publicly humiliate themselves before continuing! In itself, the suspicion of foul play the anonymous scholar demonstrates could be seen somewhat justified, since the high-resolution scans were, indeed, not used in an article that has passed a proper peer-review, even though many people did read it and comment it before it was made public; I intend to come back to the question of peer-review in the near future. Justified or not, playing around with such doubts, even privately, is not going to motivate scholars of the different opinion to work better nor will it further the future discussions, where real people are, eventually, going to debate directly, even face-to-face, the issues that separate them. There is a "principle of benevolence" - that scholars should treat their peers and their arguments with goodwill, unless there are specific reasons for doubting the integrity of others - in every other book on scientific methodology for a reason: it is much more fruitful to discuss things when you can be sure that the other debater is not holding an opinion that you are both a liar and a fraud.

The long-winded rant above is mainly to say this: even if I cannot find a fault in Reeder's logic, I still feel that the demand for an apology is counter-productive, and should be dropped. Except one: I can picture myself in Carlson's shoes, around 2004 or so. I have an argument, and even if I do not quite like the implications, I genuinely believe that it is a good argument. I must go forth with it, even if I have to accuse a deceased person of being a fraud. That is what I do; it is the right thing to do. No apologies. Note that it is i.a. the "principle of benevolence" that does not let me evaluate Carlson's inner thoughts as malevolent, but I have to think of him as sincere, as I have to think other scholars as sincere, unless there are specific reasons to think otherwise.

When the criticisms start to accumulate, it may seem for the critics that a hypothesis has been truly devastated. The scholar himself or herself usually does not see it that way; everyone loves their pet theories, no matter how contrived they may have become. As Thomas Kuhn used to say, science advances because scholars are laid to rest: only a new generation of scholars will be able to assess the legacy of their elders dispassionately enough. Consequently, it seems to me doubtful that Carlson, or other proponents of the hoax hypothesis, see the critical arguments the same way I do. For all I know, Carlson himself still stands behind his original arguments. And even if he falters, it is not unheard of to change one's opinion. But an apology for being wrong, that should not be demanded. We should not try to humiliate our colleagues, but maintain a scholarly environment where it is all right to get it occasionally wrong, all right to change an opinion, and all right to discuss scholarly issues in the spirit of goodwill and benevolence.

Bottom-line: there is nothing wrong with apologizing, everyone should probably do it more often. It is just not going to be a good scholarly practice, demanding an apology every time the consensus shifts, for quite human reasons.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blogging for Really Niche Audience

No, I don't mean people who read Salainen evankelista, being interested in Clement's letter to Theodore: you're definitely a niche audience, but not that niche. For a real niche topic, I just have to mention the other blog I have had for some two months, Push-ups We Can, recently described as a "bizarre little site", featuring only push-ups - the normal way, on one hand only, upside down, etc. - and nothing more! Now co-blogging on the topic with Sabio Lantz, our joint efforts will surely transform the world (of push-ups) to something radically different, as long as we will keep the sacred writings (of push-ups), Guy Windsor's The Little Book of Push-ups: For Martial Artists, Athletes and Coach Potatoes clear and unspoiled in front of us.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Difference Between Real Photographs and Printed Photographs: Part III - New Evidence

As Roger Viklund summarized few days ago, there are four variables we have to keep separated when discussing Clement's letter to Theodore:

1) Smith’s b&w photos from 1958. They are likely to be deposited among the property left by Smith at JTC in New York and as far as I know, no one has access to them (apart from maybe Allan Pantuck).

2) The colour photos taken by the librarian Dourvas at the end of the 1970s. I do not know who owns them. They are perhaps the property of Nikolaos Olympiou, unless Charles Hedrick has them.

3) The b&w reproductions of Smith’s photos which were printed in his 1973 book.

4) The colour reproductions of Dourvas’ photos which were printed in Hedrick’s and Olympiou’s article in The Fourth R in 2000.


Of #1 there hasn't been much information to be had, but Allan Pantuck confirms the following:

"Smith took three different sets of photographs of MS65 at Mar Saba, and only one and a half of these sets have been published. JTS has multiple iterations of each set, including "1st generation" photos donated by Smith, presumably from Smith's original negatives. I have copies, and some were able to be made from Smith's negatives, while others had to be re-photographed by the archive when negatives could not be located. They also have the photographs that were used for the orinigal publications, and they still have printer's/cropper's marks on these copies of the photos, presumably returned to Smith by the publisher. There is certainly no question that the original photographs are sharper than any halftone dot, printed reproductions."

Upon request, Pantuck kindly scanned in 300 dpi the word φιλοσοφίαν from Theod. III.18 from the original black-and-white photograph by Smith. Viklund placed the words together. Topmost we have a scan from the original colour photograph (#2). In the middle is the new scan from an original B/W photograph Pantuck provided (#1). At the bottom we have the scan from Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, which printed Smith's B/W photograph in 1973 (#3). The other two scans have been made in 1200 dpi, but upon this simple comparison exercise this fact has no bearing.



(Full-size image: http://www.jesusgranskad.se/tillf/filo.jpg)

Let me pass the microphone back to Viklund; everybody else can just focus on the fourth letter from the left, the small omicron:

"Now, I believe you all can see the difference in quality... In his book, The Gospel Hoax, Carlson says that he found signs of tremors "in the square-like omicron of φιλοσοφίαν" in line 18 on page 3... Now, this is a huge difference! I cannot really imagine who could still believe that Carlson’s study of the handwriting is worth anything after this. And notice that he claims that the b&w "photo" to the right to be of better quality than the colour one. I believe this issue is done and over with."

Finally, let's have another picture featuring only the omicrons from the scans, from left to right #2, #1, and #3, also compiled by Viklund.



(Full-size image: http://www.jesusgranskad.se/tillf/omicr.jpg)

It would be swell to include #4, scans from the printed colour photographs (published in The Fourth R in 2000), to the mix as well. Fortunately, at least one copy exists in Helsinki, a personal copy of professor Ismo Dunderberg. Unfortunately, during the recent change of his room at the university, this copy was misplaced, and we were unable to locate it last time we tried. Parallels nicely with the possible misplacement of Clement's letter to Theodore in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, to state the obvious.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why I Shouldn't Pursue a PhD

January 2009 Thomas H. Benton offered a clear piece of advice for people who are considering getting a PhD: Just Don't Go. Given the state of the job market for budding scholars, Benton could find only few exceptions to his rule:

"* You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else.

* You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere.

* You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household.

* You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it."


(The whole article, Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go from The Chronicle of Higher Education, available here.)

In March 2009 a follow-up appeared. This time Benton would see the rare exceptions to be even more rare, for "preparing for an academic career on the basis of your partner's financial support is a very risky proposition, given how graduate school breaks up many seemingly stable relationship".

(The whole article, Just Don't Go, Part 2 from The Chronicle of Higher Education, available here.)

The trilogy is now complete, with Benton's latest titled The Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind' that appeared on February 8, 2010, available here. In many ways it is the most disturbing of the three.

Benton notices the class background and its effect. Only below the upper-middle class there exists a myth that more education means more opportunities, when the real deal is about connections with the right people, a situation similar in both the USA (that is the focus of Benton) and in Europe, including Finland. The realization that even in Scandinavia, long hailed as the model of equality, there is a deep-rooted class society at the bottom of it all, has been one of the more painful realizations in recent years, both personally and for the society as a whole, as is demonstrated by growing number of pamphlets dealing with this issue, like Luokkaretkellä hyvinvointiyhteiskunnassa (2008) by Katriina Järvinen & Laura Kolbe [translates roughly as "On a Class Trip in a Welfare Society", including a pun on the imagined possibility to rise from one class to another].

But it gets worse. For graduate schools are "structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected". They cannot just walk away, not without taking heavy damage in the process. They work as adjuncts, they do whatever odd jobs they find at the university to support themselves, not having the courage to leave since they have been socialized "into believing that it is shameful to abandon 'the life of the mind'", even if the said life does impoverish them.

And how are graduate students generally feeling. In another article Piper Fogg summarizes the situation in the USA as this:

"67 percent of graduate students said they had felt hopeless at least once in the last year; 54 percent felt so depressed they had a hard time functioning; and nearly 10 percent said they had considered suicide".

I remember seeing similar statistics for Finland, and certainly my own experience of discussing these things with graduate students and post-doc scholars who are not holding permanent positions at the university, confirms the figures.

One major difference between Benson's description and the European system, following the standardization of university studies in the Bologna Process, should be noted: in Europe the undergraduates' teachers are generally permanent members of the faculty. Otherwise, I cannot see a major difference between Benson's description and my own situation, confirmed further by the fact that I could name a dozen people in my field in Finland who have ultimately abandoned the academia for doing something else. It doesn't matter if you are brilliant, if all the other candidates for the rare academic positions are equally brilliant.

Finally, let's stop with a positive notion. In the second article Just Don't Go, Part 2 Benton names, tentatively, a person who should consider writing a PhD:

"Perhaps members of a generation that enters graduate school with no expectations of an academic position — who never even consider, for one moment, that they will become tenure-track professors — will bring about positive change in the way things are taught. Such students will be less beholden to advisers, and empowered to demand that courses have some relationship to existing opportunities. With an eye to careers outside academe, they will challenge the tyranny of the monograph; they might seek technical skills; they will want to speak to a wider public; and they will be more open to movement between academe and the "outside world" than previous generations, who were taught to regard anything but the professorial life as failure from which one could never return."

Well, perhaps.

Spotted Benton's articles at Confluence.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Difference Between Real Photographs and Printed Photographs: Part II - A Guest Post by Roger Viklund

After I had published the first part of The Difference Between Real Photographs and Printed Photographs, two lengthy comments appeared. The second one was written by an anonymous person (Part I and Part II), and featured a reply from an anonymous scholar who questioned i.a. the "purity" of the photographs Roger Viklund used in Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis, and the decision to publish these observations outside the normal peer-review process. Furthermore, the anonymous scholar promulgated the age-old myth of historians writing history and journalists reporting the history historians have written.

But let's not go into these questions directly. The first set of comments contained a helpful clarification of the crucial difference between photographs and prints of photographs by Roger Viklund, who edited his comments upon my request to a genuine guest post. Without further ado...

--

I wrote a two-part comment on Timo’s blog post from February 7, and Timo thought we should raise those comments to a genuine guest post. I have accordingly only slightly modified the original comments I made then, which were meant as comments upon my previous comment on Stephen Carlson’s blog.

I said that I was a bit reluctant to write this, but as the tactic of dealing with my criticism of Stephen Carlson’s handwriting analysis—not only by Carlson himself but also by other scholars involved—seems mostly to be silence, I believe I have to explain this. There are a lot of misconceptions involved, so let me try to set the record straight. Other scholars have unofficially said that Carlson has defended himself by claiming that the colour photos were of a lower resolution and less sharp than Morton Smith’s b&w photos (after I wrote this an "Anonymous" person published such statements from an e-mail correspondence by an unnamed scholar: "Are you aware that Carlson claims that the color photos are actually *lower* resolution, and not as sharp and clear as Smith's own b&w ones?"). The b&w photos Carlson used for his study of the handwriting would accordingly be of higher quality than the colour photos that I have used in my two studies (here and here). This is a very odd statement which certainly shows that the scholar who said this did not understand what this is all about. The issue was never between the colour and the b&w images, but between the originals and the copies. I was however not sure that Stephen Carlson really had said this, as I haven’t heard it directly from him.

Now, however, Carlson seemingly confirmed this on his blog. When someone asked him if it was true that he only consulted Smith’s b&w photos and not the new coloured ones, he wrote that this charge was not true and that he "consulted both the black-and-white photographs that Smith published in 1973 as well as the color photographs that Charles Hedrick published in 2000." The odd thing with this statement is twofold. First of all, Carlson did not consult any photos at all, only printed images. Secondly, the question is not whether to use the black-and-white or the colour photos, but whether to use the originals or the copies. I hope Stephen will eventually explain his position.

When I wrote my previous two articles on Carlson’s handwriting analysis, I did not really describe how a printed image was produced. The reason for this was first of all that I was not sure exactly how it was done back in 1973, when Smith’s book was printed. I know how the process was in the 1980s, but not in the 1970s, although I am pretty sure there were no major differences. I have now afterwards made such a short description, which Timo reproduced on his blog as The Difference Between Real Photographs and Printed Photographs. Furthermore, I did not think that it was that essential to describe the technique, as I thought that the mere visual seeing of the images would be enough to convince the readers. But I did believe that people would understand the difference between a photograph and a printed image of that same photograph. I guess I was too short-sighted, maybe because one tends to think that what is obvious to oneself also is obvious to others.

Anyway, we have to deal with four different variables.

1) Smith’s b&w photos from 1958. They are likely to be deposited among the property left by Smith at JTC in New York and as far as I know, no one has access to them (apart from maybe Allan Pantuck).

2) The colour photos taken by the librarian Dourvas at the end of the 1970s. I do not know who owns them. They are perhaps the property of Nikolaos Olympiou, unless Charles Hedrick has them.

3) The b&w reproductions of Smith’s photos which were printed in his 1973 book.

4) The colour reproductions of Dourvas’ photos which were printed in Hedrick’s and Olympiou’s article in The Fourth R in 2000.


Carlson has used images scanned from Smith’s book, accordingly point 3. He also says that he consulted the images from Hedrick’s article, accordingly point 4. Both these are printed copies - not originals. I have used images scanned directly from the original colour photos, accordingly point 2.

These scanned images I got from Scott Brown after been given permission from Charles Hedrick (he did not have these scanned images anymore and asked Brown if he could provide them). In order not to be accused of forgery (which I evidently have been anyway) I have not done anything in order to enhance the quality apart from darkening the images taken from page 2, which were much lighter than the scanned images of the other two pages.

It is accordingly irrelevant to discuss the difference in quality between 1 and 2 (both originals), or as Carlson and the anonymous scholar between 3 and 4 (both copies). It is possible that the b&w photos look sharper and have higher resolution than the colour photos and it is possible that it is the other way round. But since we do not have access to the b&w photos, nor scans made from them (1), this is irrelevant concerning my studies contra Carlson’s. It is also possible that Carlson found the printed b&w images (3) to be of a better quality than the printed colour images (4), but also this is irrelevant in this case as they both are mere reproductions of the originals.

The interesting part is that the images which are reproduced in Smith’s book (3) do not have sufficient quality to be magnified for evaluation. The low resolution in combination with the line screen seemingly makes the letters appear shaky. My images were never part of any printing process, but scanned directly from the colour photos in 1200 dpi (2). Also the b&w images I used for comparison in my article Tremors or Just an Optical Illusion were scanned in 1200 dpi and then from the same book (Smith 1973) as Carlson used (3). The figure of 1200 dpi is also really not that important as the printed images in Smith's book probably have no more than 200 dpi at the most (difficult to say since they were printed with another technique than what is used in modern digital printers or printing presses, meaning that the resolution is measured in a different way) and so the limitation will not be in the scanning process but in the printing process. If the difference would turn out to be 1200 vs. 200 dpi, the 1200 dpi scans would produce 6 x 6 = 36 dots for every dot printed in 200 dpi.

Dpi means dots per inch, and refers to the number of dots that can be produced along a straight line which is 1 inch (25.4 mm) long if the dots are just touching each other. Simplified: the higher the figure, the smaller the dots, the higher the resolution and the sharper the image. In a printing press in the 70s the sharpness would however be measured in lpi, lines per inch, and this is not directly comparable to modern laser printing technique.

It is the fact that Carlson settled for evaluating the printed reproductions (3 and 4) and not the original (scanned) photos (1 or 2) which seems to be the cause for him spotting tremors, retouching and so on. So Carlson’s defence that the b&w "images" in Smith’s book were sharper than the colour "images" in The Fourth R, and that he anyway used both sets of "photos", really is no defence. The criticism comes solely from the fact that he settled for using poor copies instead of the originals, whether b&w or colour. Similar tremors could possibly also be spotted in the printed colour images (4) in Hedrick’s article in The Fourth R. I do not know since I have not examined these. I have only seen that when the same images which Carlson used are scanned in 1200 dpi (3) there are tremors in those images, whereas none of this really can be seen in the images scanned directly from the colour photos (2), and I am pretty sure they will not be seen in images scanned directly from the b&w photos (1) either, no matter how bad they are and how poor the resolution is, since these are analog photos and lines will not be stepped by the photographic method.

Unless there are tremors and stepping in the letters on the original paper where they were written, there will never be tremors and stepping in the letters of the analog photographs, no matter how poor the quality is. The image can become blurred but the lines of the letters can only become stepped if the photos are digitally transformed; either scanned or printed in a resolution which is too low, and then especially if a screen is added.

I think it is essential that people understand what this all comes down to, since it seems like many people, seemingly including also Carlson (please inform me Stephen if I am wrong), has not understood this. They are unaware of the most fundamental facts concerning printing techniques.

The sharpness of the photos is one thing (it has to do with things like the camera, the lens, the photographic film, the light and other conditions when the photos were taken, the development of the photos and how they were stored and so on). But no matter what, the photos will not be pixelated, as they are analog photos. If the letters in the photos are stepped, then the letters probably are also stepped in the original. But a printed image from a sharper photo of higher quality could seem to be of higher quality than a poor analog photo, yet having stepped letters which do not occur in the poor analog photo.

Roger Viklund

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Difference Between Real Photographs and Printed Photographs

Last December Roger Viklund put the 1973 prints of Morton Smith's B/W photographs and high-resolution scans of Father Kallisto's photographs side by side. His online article Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis gives a detailed look at the differences, for an abridged version cf. the shorter blog version. I consider it hardly an overstatement when I myself concluded that Viklund "draws yet another bold question mark over [Stephen] Carlson's assessment of the handwriting of Clement's letter to Theodore".

As I wrote then, one of the first questions I had regarding Stephen C. Carlson's The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (2005) concerned his choice of sources: why did he utilize the B/W photographs that were published in Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark in 1973 instead of the colour ones Charles W. Hedrick and Nikolaos Olympiou published in 2000. Somewhat indirectly Carlson produced an answer to this question over at Hypotyposeis:

"That charge is not true. I consulted both the black-and-white photographs that Smith published in 1973 as well as the color photographs that Charles Hedrick published in 2000."

Some half a year ago, I collected the existing photographs of Clement's letter to Theodore together, totaling to

4 sets of B/W photos, one of them published (the first page of the MS twice)
1 set of colour photographs, published
1 set of colour slides, not published
1 set of (presumably) colour photographs (by Quentin Quesnell), not published


At that time, as well as at the time of writing the chapters on handwriting analysis for my thesis, I did not make a distinction between a photograph, a high-resolution scan of a photograph, a print of a photograph, and a high-resolution scan of a print of a photograph. I should have done otherwise. The comment Roger Viklund left in Carlson's blog clearly demonstrates the need for greater clarity in these matters:

Stephen, could you please enlighten me? You say that you “consulted both the black-and-white photographs that Smith published in 1973 as well as the color photographs that Charles Hedrick published in 2000”. But didn’t you consult just the printed b&w images in Smith’s book “Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark” and the printed colour images published by Hedrick in “The Fourt R”? Smith never published any photographs, neither did Hedrick. There is a huge difference between photographs and printed reproductions made from those photographs. It actually involves that the photographs are being photographed a second time and a screen being added.

The technique in 1973 (when Smith’s book was printed) would have been something like this. His developed original b&w photographs were put on a desk and photographed a second time with a reproduction camera. Between the actual photo and the film was put a screen, This screen was normally, as in Smith’s book, a line screen made out of lines of dots, often at 45 degrees angle, and at fixed distances. The sizes of the dots decided the overall darkness of the images produced. This film, call it a Master, was developed with a photographic developer, then fixed and finally dried into a negative film. Then the separate negative films were mounted with glue or adhesive tape on to a reproduction original. Then this original was “burnt” with a special light on to an aluminium plate, so that an image was created on this plate. That image was a positive image. The plate was finally mounted on a drum in a printing press and the image would be transferred from the plate to a rubber blanket and then to the paper. The plate would be wetted with ink and then cleaned each revolution of the drum.

As you see, a photograph is something completely different than a printed image. Apart from the many steps in the process away from the original photograph, also the lower quality of a paper, and particularly the line screen, make the image worse. Especially the line screen distorts the image. These screens are employed in order to make the printed image look better for the naked eye seen from a distance. If no screens were used, the images would appear much too contrasted; the shades between dark and light would vanish. So by using these screens of dots we fool the eye into believing that the printed image looks good. But that is only when viewed from a distance. If these images are enlarged like ten times or more, all the dots will be visible and the curves of the letters will be following the lines of the screen and will appear to be stepped, although this cannot be seen in the images scanned directly from the original photographs.

There is a huge difference between using scanned enlarged images made from the original photographs and scanned enlarged images made from distorted printed images in a book or a magazine.

Kindly, Roger Viklund


There was never any doubt in my mind that Carlson was familiar with everything that had been written on Clement's letter to Theodore, just as he confirms above regarding the two sets of printed photographs. I can only repeat the original ending of my commentary on Viklund's newest:

"We do not know why Stephen Carlson chose to use the B/W photographs instead of the colour ones. Viklund has, however, presented a strong case for why Carlson should have left... [them] out of his hoax hypothesis entirely."

I have to ask: would it be at all possible to make high-resolution scans of all the photographs and pass them to anyone interested, just to prevent a similar situation - where everyone works hard on the basis of something many times removed from the original (photograph - printed photograph - scan of a printed photograph) - from happening again?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Secret Gospel, or Just A Little Bit Longer?

FACT 1: Clement of Alexandria, in his letter to Theodore (abbreviated Theod.), quotes two extracts from a Gospel. (Theod. II.23-III.11; III.14-18) Clement has two titles for the Gospel: in I.21-22 he designates it as πνευματικώτερον εὐαγγέλιον, a more spiritual Gospel, and in II.6 and II.12 he has μυστικὸν εὐαγγέλιον, a mystic Gospel. According to Clement, this Gospel was written by Mark, who composed it based on his former book that had been written "during Peter's stay in Rome", as per the tradition regarding the writing of the canonical Gospel of Mark. (Theod. I.15-16) At face value, the more spiritual Gospel looks to be an expanded version of the book Mark had written earlier. (cf. Theod. I.18-25)

FACT 2: Morton Smith, in his 1973 monograph Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark that included the text of the letter and Smith's translation, names the extracts Clement cites as "The Secret Gospel of Mark", translating the Greek μυστικόν consistently as "secret". This is the name that is without doubt the most well-known designator for the two Gospel extracts, abbreviated respectively as SGM 1 and SGM 2 (or SM 1 and SM 2).

FACT 3: Smith had an alternative name: "The Longer Gospel of Mark". The other essential monograph on the letter, Scott G. Brown's Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery (2005) adopts this designator, and uses it with consistency. Brown disapproves of the use of the word "secret", as one of the central tenets of his thesis is the understanding that a μυστικὸν εὐαγγέλιον is "not a concealed gospel but a gospel that contains concealed meanings". (Brown 2005, xi.) Apart from Brown this name and its abbreviations LGM 1 and LGM 2 has seen little use.

FACT 4: I am tired of circling around with various names, including the ever-so-clever "The So-called Secret Gospel of Mark", that I am not even trying to abbreviate. As I have written before:

The problem with Smith's "Secret Gospel" is, as I have come to see it after reading Brown's monograph "Mark's Other Gospel", that if there was a secret somewhere, it is not the text itself, but the correct interpretation of the text (that was not written down, cf. Theod. I.22-27) - thus Smith's title, though exciting, is too mystifying for my tastes. "The Longer Gospel of Mark" could be problematic because it is construed on the basis of Clement's information, that e.g. "to the stories already written" (ταῖς προγεγραμμέναις πράξεσιν; Theod. I.24) Mark "added yet others", but we do not really know what the relationship between "The (canonical) Gospel of Mark" and ταῖς προγεγραμμέναις πράξεσιν is - "The Longer Gospel of Mark" as a name seems to me to give another imperfect twist to the complex matter of Markan tradition history combining the canonical Gospel to the variant(?) Clement knew predated the Alexandrian "Secret Edition".

Recently I learned that Heikki Räisänen's long-awaited Rise of Christian Beliefs: The Thought World of Early Christians has finally been published by Fortress Press. Continuing from his earlier works, most notably from Beyond New Testament Theology: A Story and a Programme (1990), this latest installment discards the canon and its arbitrary boundaries completely. Early Christians are not divided into "those with right beliefs" and "those with wrong beliefs", into "orthodox" and "heretical" Christians. Furthermore, the differences of opinion between early Christians - even inside the New Testament - are not smoothed over. Since I have not actually hold a copy in my hands, I cannot guarantee it, but personally I would like to draw some interesting conclusions from these premises, e.g. that there is no sense of seeing early Christians as monotheists, since many of them, like followers of Marcion and Basilides/Valentinus, certainly were not (at least, by modern dictionary meaning of the word).

Likewise, I see no reason to prop up the boundaries of the New Testament canon in critical historical study of Christian origins. For one thing, the process is canonization of the New Testament did not follow any clear line of reasoning, but was filled with ambiguities, power plays, and randomness. For another thing, canonization took centuries to make, and has actually never been completed - for protestant, catholic and orthodox Christians have different New Testament canons in use even this day! Despite all this, I believe there to be a largely unconscious division between canonical and non-canonical early Christian works affecting the scholarly study of them. As social constructionists have been claiming for forty years, it does matter what kind of language one chooses to use in interacting with the world. A recent demonstration of this idea has been performed by psychologist Lera Boridski, whose article How does our language shape the way we think? can be read online here (thanks to Judy Redman for notifying me of the article).

What has this to do with the two Gospel extracts Clement cites? First, it seems to me to be important to make an informed choice of the way I keep referring to them, as the language used will have an effect on mine own thinking and the thinking of my readers. Second, I feel that calling the Gospel extracts either "Secret Gospel of Mark" or "Longer Gospel of Mark" does promote the current division of canonical (New Testament) and non-canonical early Christian works, by underlining that there is a "canonical Gospel of Mark" that is in its essence different from the "Secret Gospel of Mark" AND supporting the idea that there is some intrinsic difference of quality in favour of the first. This, of course, if one accepts my reasoning above, is something we should not be saying, as we do not know what it was that Mark composed "during Peter's stay in Rome", and what is the relation of the canonical Mark I have in my Bible today to this first composition of Mark, and we do not want to support the arbitrary division of early Christian works into canonical and non-canonical, either.

There is something fishy regarding the Gospel of Mark and its tradition history that is not to be found with other early Christians books. Something I cannot quite pinpoint. For the time being, before the ultimate theory of the composition of Markan Gospel I will eventually publish, I will simply call Clement's Gospel extracts "The Gospel of Mark", and "The Gospel According to Mark" for a nice variation, when there is no real danger of mixing things up. For a specific designator, the neutral Theod. II.23-III.11 for the former SGM 1 / LGM 1, and Theod. III.14-18 for the former SGM 2 / LGM 2 will have to do.

Can you come up with a better way to designate, or do you think I'm beginning to resemble too much the conspiracy theorists I'm secretly in love with? Feel free to post your comments and criticisms below.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Master's Thesis: Chapter 4.5 A conventional critique of Stephen Carlson's conspiracy theory arguments

I find it quite unbelievable that the whole month of January has been practically wasted in getting accustomed to the new world of PhD studenthood, like learning to use the various databases for seeking funding, writing the applications for said funding, handling a thousand minor irritations from enrollment to the university to building up a sensible study plan for the next five years. Add to the mix some odd hours of teaching I did at the university (computer-related stuff), and I may be excused for not writing very many blog posts last month. The moral of the story: don't get a permanent position in university unless you really really love the administrative tasks involved. Of course, there are so many young aspiring scholars already competing for those positions that I find it an easy advice to follow.

The text below has been translated in 10-minute installments over the last month, and contains some of the most quirkiest English I've ever published in this blog.

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Supplemental to the analysis presented above, it is possible to assess the "triune confession of the hoaxer" from two subsequent stances: by asking how well the unearthed clues function as references to the identity of the forger, and more conventionally by highlighting the disputable parts of the arguments. The latter approach is the dominant position in e.g. Scott G. Brown's articles.1 In this subchapter I will bring together briefly the criticism Stephen Carlson's hoax hypothesis has received from the more traditional standpoint.

M. Madiotes clue, the alleged confession of the bald swindler, has already been handled to death in chapter 2.5. Regarding the salt argument, few incorrect details have been spotted, as Scott Brown remarks. E.g. the anti-caking agent was invented in 1911, and not in 1910 as Carlson claims, and the vacuum-pan evaporation had already been used in the production of salt in 1887, and it was not an invention by a chemist working for Morton Salt Company.2 What about Carlson's suggestion that Clement utilizes the salt parable in quite a different manner in Stromateis? (Stromateis 1.8.41.3-4) Brown does not see a great problem in this as Clement can use e.g. the light parables from the canonical Gospels (e.g. Matthew 5:13-14) in varying ways depending on the occasion.3 (Stromateis 4.11.80.3; Quis dives salvetur 36) The greatest weakness of the argument, however, becomes apparent with a return to the source, to Clement's letter to Theodore, as Theod. I.13-15 says nothing of mixing salt and some other substance together, but juxtaposes the new significance of truth and the savour (i.e. lack of) of salt - both have lost their determinative feature, ceasing to function in their old position, having become meaningless. Carlson, on the other hand, argues that Clement's use of the parable is understandable only if the mixing of the true things with inventions is juxtaposed in reader's imagination with the mixing of salt and some other substance (adulterant) that is not mentioned in the passage, in order to make both the true things and salt corrupt. Unfortunately, the Greek text does not work this way: "συγκεκραμένα γὰρ τἀληθῆ τοῖς πλάσμασι παραχαράσσεται ὥστε – τοῦτο δὴ τὸ λεγόμενον – “καὶ τὸ ἅλας μωρανθῆναι.'" (Theod. I.13-15) The conjunction ὥστε brings parallel the words παραχαράσσεται (the re-evaluation of truth) and μωρανθῆναι (the lack of savour of salt). The structure of the sentence does not, however, bring parallel the mechanism of the re-evaluation of the true things (the mix-up with inventions) and the mechanism of salt losing its savour (not present in the text). A natural Greek sentence where the mechanisms would be placed parallel, would have been something to this effect: συγκεκραμένα γὰρ τἀληθῆ τοῖς πλάσμασι παραχαράσσεται ὥστε – τοῦτο δὴ τὸ λεγόμενον – “συγκεκραμένον καὶ τὸ ἅλας τῲ νοθευτεῖ4 μωρανθῆναι'" - translated (following Brown) as "for the true things being mixed with inventions, are falsified, so that, as the saying goes, even the salt, being mixed with an adulterant, loses its savour".5

Carlson reads the text too literally, for the process in which the salt loses its savour is probably an imagined, paradoxical incident, as Morton Smith notes in his commentary.6 The simple message Clement is trying to convey to Theodore here is that the real secret Gospel - and not the variant of the Secret Gospel of Mark in the hands of the Carpocratians that was, according to Clement, erroneous - getting mixed with the additions (lies) made by the Carpocratians is analogous to the saying about salt: salt (the truth represented by Secret Mark) loses its savour (disappears).7 The only anachronism in Clement's use of the salt parable lies in the manner Carlson reads the text. If he would not suspect so strongly that the text is a hoax, he could hardly read a "mechanism" to the process of salt losing its savour, a "mechanism" that is lacking in the text. Instead, he would likely arrive to the more natural conclusion that the lack of a "mechanism" in the text implies that it is not relevant for reading the passage. And how does the salt argument function as a deliberate clue left by Morton Smith? If Smith wished to leave a reference to the free-flowing table salt of Morton Salt Company, he could surely have written the passage in such a way that the idiosyncrasy of the salt in question would have been unambiguous. As the text stands, there is much too much room for speculation, and for the defenders of the authenticity of the Theodore-letter to hang their argument on.

The hunt for the goldsmith, on the other hand, is based on the observation that Smith's suggestion concerning the allusion to the Book of Jeremiah is implausible. This may very well be the case: an allusion is an intertextual reference where the author expects the reader to pick up the connection without a direct quotation or other self-evident nod to the source. If the reader fails, following such intricate use of the allusion, to perceive the connection to the other text, the allusion may be thought of as having not activated.8 Consequently, the existence of an allusion is subjective and depends upon the reader, and no far-reaching conclusions should be drawn from "poor allusions" i.e. someone claiming to see an allusion where another cannot see anything, not by Carlson nor anyone. Also, Brown acknowledges that Smith's claim regarding the allusion to the Book of Jeremiah is hardly undisputed. Smith seems to have thought, however, that there were legitimate reasons for thinking that Clement thought of Jeremiah 10:14: the texts have in common a variation of the same verb, μωρανθῆναι for Clement, and ἐμωράνθη for Jeremiah, and the larger context for the texts Smith cited (Theod. I. 13-15; Jeremiah 10:14; Mark 4:11) has at least one thing in common, corruption (unworthiness) - true things become distorted as salt loses its savour, and as the (false) knowledge in the book of Jeremiah dulls the person and transforms the graven images to objects unworthy of devotion: everything corrupts and becomes fell.9

How does the goldsmith clue work as a nudge towards the identity of the forger, considering that Morton Smith's last name was not "Goldsmith"? If Smith would have wanted to refer to his last name with the help of a poor allusion, early Christian literature would have contained a number of ordinary smiths. Septuagint has e.g. four instances of χαλκεύς in its basic form, all quite suitable for creating a reference as there should be no criteria for drawing a poor allusion. (Genesis 4:22; Isaiah 41:7, 54:16; Sirach 38:28)

At last it must be noted that Carlson's classification of Morton Smith's personal sphragis - consisting of "mystery", "secrecy", and "forbidden sexual relationships" - could be improved. As I have stated in chapter 3.3, the homosexual reading of the Secret Gospel of Mark deviates from the manner early Christian sources are generally interpreted. Morton Smith did not link sexuality to the nocturnal initiation depicted in the Secret Gospel of Mark10, to the mystery talk found in the canonical Gospel of Mark (Mark 4:11), or to the youth fleeing from Gethsemane.11 Only Hagigah T. 2.1 contains "forbidden sexual relationships", but even that has the most natural connection to Mark and Clement (Stromateis 1.1.13-14) in its motif of secrecy, and not sex.12 As a clue Smith's personal sphragis does not work very well, as Carlson cannot present a single text together with the (problematic reading of the) Theodore-letter that would have been composed by Smith for sure, and that would have all these three distinct parts of the sphragis present.

To summarize: The "triune confession of the hoaxer", allegedly unearthed by Carlson, has become unsustainable both due to its methodological choices as well as in light of more conventional critique of it. Furthermore, I believe that the proposed clues could have been brought into the forged text in such a manner that they would create less uncertainty of their existence and purpose, while at the same time refraining from being too obvious. Behind these "confessions" I can find only Stephen C. Carlson, but not Morton Smith.

1Brown 2006a; Brown 2006b; Brown 2006c; Brown 2008.
2Brown 2006a, 306 n. 44.
3Brown 2008, 566-567. Brown argues that Carlson has made a plain wrong summary of Clement's use of the salt parable (Stromateis 1.8.41.3-4) by dropping (unintentionally?) the negative out of the sentence (Stromateis 1.8.41.3) - without this change the use of the salt parable in Clement's letter to Theodore would fit very well with its parallel usage in Stromateis; Brown 2008, 567-569.
4A neuter formed from the word νοθευτής to express an adulteration caused by a non-living substance; conjugation according to the third declination due to an imagined analogy.
5Brown poses the very same question, questioning the conjunction ὥστε and its function in the sentence; Brown 2006a, 307. The idea of the hypothetical sentence that would have the dimension Carlson needs for the salt argument, is likewise an idea of Brown; Brown 2006a, 307-311.
6Smith 1973, 19. Furthermore, Brown presents a concrete alternative for reading the parable in the context of antiquity, an understanding of salt that literary loses its savour; Brown 2006a, 308-311. Be that as it may, the plausible possibilities to read this passage in the context of antiquity lessens the probability that it would be a deliberate clue left by Morton Smith.
7Brown 2006a, 308.
8Fowler 2000, 83-85.
9Brown 2006a, 312.
10Excluding the rather weak proposition, in all likelihood aimed primarily at his more conservative colleagues for their annoyance; Smith 1973, 251; Smith 1985, 114; on Smith's habit of trawling for fierce objections, cf. Cohen 1996b.
11Although Smith did fool around with the connection of the Gethsemane incident with the raids of the public parks in the USA during the 1950s (Brown 2006b, 360), he did not seriously consider it: according to Smith a possible reading that is found funny only in the 20th-century does not explain the preservation of such story as part of the Gospel of Mark; Smith 1982, 458 n. 19.
12Brown 2006a, 322-326.