Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Close Look at Francis Watson's "Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorsip of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark" - Part I

In April 2010 a new article on the question of authenticity of Clement's letter to Theodore was published in Journal of Theological Studies. Francis Watson, a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, argued that the case was literally "beyond suspicion". In his reading of the letter Watson claims to have found "a way... through its multiple concealments" (131). The author is not Clement of Alexandria, but the alleged discover of the text, late Morton Smith (1915-1991), whose handiwork is "clearly recognizable" (170) as "that truth hidden by seven veils". (Theod. I.26) The article, Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark (JTS, NS 61 (2010), 128-170), is found online here (subscription required). The following is the abstract:

The suspicion that the ‘discoverer’ of the letter from Clement of Alexandria to Theodore was in reality its author was raised shortly after its first publication in 1973, and has often been reasserted in the years since Morton Smith’s death in 1991. Yet the fragments of the ‘Secret Gospel of Mark’ are often still interpreted on the provisional assumption that the letter containing them is genuine. This article enquires whether the long-standing suspicion of forgery—occasioned largely by the circumstances of the text’s discovery—can be put beyond reasonable doubt. It proceeds by way of a close scrutiny of the letter itself against the double background of the undisputed writings of Clement of Alexandria on the one hand, and the published work of Morton Smith on the other. It is argued that the letter’s internal anomalies are incompatible with Clementine authorship, as are certain compositional techniques; and that it is the product of interests and influences that predate its supposed discovery at the Mar Saba monastery.

I will begin the close look at the article by noting some general agreements and disagreements between the perspectives of Watson and my own. Right at the beginning of the article Watson spells out the specific criteria by which the question of authenticity should be resolved.

"If the forgery hypothesis is to be substantiated, it must be on the basis of the internal evidence of the Clementine letter, read against the double background of the undisputed work of Clement (and Mark) on the one hand, and Smith's own work on the other. Careful analysis of the letter within the appropriate contexts may reach more nearly definitive results than can be achieved by analysing Smith's handwriting, raising questions about his conduct, or speculating about his psychological development." (131)

There is much in the quote I agree with. Certainly the case cannot be solved by coming up with plausible yet ultimately imaginary character traits, motives, and psychopathological conditions for Smith. The business of handwriting identification is not so clear-cut, especially when we recall how Venetia Anastasopoulou concluded recently that Morton Smith probably could not have simulated the handwriting in the letter. The internal evidence read in the appropriate contexts remains, however, the best option available, at least until the missing manuscript reappears.

Getting the article off to such a good start, it is somewhat striking to find the following sentence on the very same page as the above clear-headed marching order.

"Perhaps this enigmatic text actually solicits its own exposure?" (131)

In a moment of poetic motion of his spirit Watson proposes that we are, in fact, dealing with a genuine hoax, as differentiated from mere forgeries in Stephen C. Carlson's The Gospel Hoax (2005). A forgery aims to cheat us for good; a duel tough but fair. A hoax beckons us to approach, constantly whispering of the secrets it keeps from us. Only a genuine hoax (love the language of contradiction here) solicits us to try and solve its mysteries.

I swear I am one day going to make a queer reading out of the hoax hypothesis. Should I send it to Theology and Sexuality or maybe FAMA: Feministisch-theologische Zeitschrift?

In any case, this line looks like the choice candidate for making sense of Watson's approach to Clement's letter to Theodore. Lured by a text begging to have a full disclosure done, Watson is understandably eager to accumulate the evidence of foul play, leading to six main arguments against the letter's authenticity. The claims are reminiscent in style of the argumentation in Carlson's The Gospel Hoax, both for good and bad, as we will see in the subsequent parts of this series. For the end of part I, I wish to draw attention to the curious practice of non-engagement with scholars critical of one's own views, a scholarly practice that is found almost exclusively in the recent debate concerning the authenticity of the Mar Saba letter.

In 2005 things were fairly well. Carlson welcomed further assessments of his hypothesis e.g. in his reply to Kyle Smith (one of the first criticisms laid out against parts of the hoax hypothesis, available from Wieland Wilker's The Secret Gospel of Mark Homepage), and responded at length to Scott G. Brown's The Question of Motive in the Case against Morton Smith (JBL 125 (2006), 351-383) in 2006.

Then something happened. Brown's next article Factualizing the Folklore: Stephen Carlson's Case Against Morton Smith (Harvard Theological Review 99 (2006), 291-327) went without a response, as did Pantuck & Brown's Morton Smith as M. Madiotes: Stephen Carlson's Attribution of Secret Mark to a Bald Swindler (JSHJ 6 (2008), 106-125), Jeff Jay's A New Look at the Epistolary Framework of the Secret Gospel of Mark (JECS 16 (2008), 573-597), Brown's The Letter to Theodore: Stephen Carlson’s Case against Clement’s Authorship (JECS 16 (2008), 535-572), Roger Viklund's Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis (2009; online here), and Brown and Pantuck's Stephen Carlson’s Questionable Questioned Document Examination (2010; (blog edition with comments; PDF from Wieland Wilker's The Secret Gospel of Mark Homepage). Only in the parallel debate with Peter Jeffery's The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled (2007) has there been any engagement to be had (mainly Brown's essay review & Jeffery's two responses).

Except for the debate centering on Jeffery's monograph (a debate which continues to thrive in a much healthier state), scholars have - or at least this is my sincere impression - simply pretended that the criticism does not exist. Consider, for example, Birger A. Pearson's The Secret Gospel of Mark: A 20th Century Forgery (Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 4 (2008), 1-14). The article includes Jeffery's book from 2007, and at the very least Brown's Factualizing the Folklore (2006), one which I see as a key article in the debate, should be expected to be included. But it is not. Instead, Pearson writes that "I cannot see how anyone... could entertain the possibility that the Secret Gospel of Mark plays any role at all in the development of the canonical Gospel of Mark". (9) Could he have been unaware that such possibilities were indeed entertained - in peer-reviewed scholarly articles, no less - just as Bart D. Ehrman, another pro-forgery scholar, seemed to be unaware in the 2008 SBL Annual Meeting? An oversight, or a deliberate attempt to downplay the other side of the debate?

Francis Watson, at least, is aware of Brown's criticism. He cites Factualizing the Folklore in Beyond Suspicion, starting from page 130, footnotes 5 and 7. Other instances where Brown gets mentioned take place on page 131, footnote 9; page 136, footnote 25; page 138, footnote 32; page 141, footnote 40; page 142, footnote 42; page 156, footnote 77; page 163, footnote 100; page 164, footnote 101. Am I reading too much on this when I perceive that not once is Brown mentioned in the actual text of the article, but all the engagement with him is relegated into the footnotes?

Furthermore, a meaningful dialogue happens only with those minor points Watson had himself rejected as inadequate for establishing "definitive results". Thus, Watson i.a. argues that Smith hold a "gay reading" of the gospel text in Theod., and cites the instances from Smith's books were such a reading is suggested (CA, 251; SG, 114). A discussion of this could certainly be had. But as Watson remarks on page 156, it is not surprising if Smith's views prior to and after 1958 happen to coincide. The real debate should be about the text, not about Smith's interpretation of it. Here we can all agree, but why then is Smith's interpretation debated in the footnote in the first place? Why not engage with Brown about the things that matter?

An optimist in me feels that things are getting better. The defenders of the hoax hypothesis, in its Carlsonian form, have allowed their critics to creep into the footnotes; for them the change from non-existence must come as a change long overdue. Next paper will, no doubt, start to engage with their arguments directly, and the one after that will finally give a definitive response to the most burning of the questions - How is Factualizing the Folklore not a death blow to the Carlsonian hoax hypothesis, not to mention the others that have been published since?

For one other thing: a chance to reflect my thinking about Watson's article has been offered by the_cave whose A Critique of Watson can be found in his blog, Synoptic Solutions.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Better Late Than Never

It feels somewhat silly that I need to allocate special time to read through longer blog posts, or a series of posts, but without careful management of the 40 hours I'm clocking for PhD every week things could get out of hands all too quickly. Today I put some time to read through Ben Blackwell's retrospective regarding his recently finished PhD studies (in six parts: here, here, here, here, here, and here), and yes, it had waited patiently for its turn for about two months.

One practice I have not put into use so far concerns the reading of primary material vs secondary literature. In part 5 Ben advices:

* Read and do your research on your primary texts first, and then write the draft of your chapter. That is, don’t engage with secondary material until after you get your ideas on paper. This more than anything else will make your whole project easier and less stressful:

1. You let your understanding of the text drive your discussion. In a thesis you are required to detail all ancillary debates about issues. If you do the secondary research first, your argument might get lost in these debates. (I think this happened some in my Romans chapter.)
2. This allows you figure out the parts of the text that need more thought, and thus it will help you better choose which secondary material to look at.
3. This forces you to get the majority of your core writing done early. You will thus have more time to edit and craft the flow than if you left the majority of the writing to the end.
4. There are always unlimited amounts of secondary literature to read. If you spend all your time reading, you won’t have time to craft your argument and your writing. Clearly, there are issues that you will only learn about from secondary material, but let that come after writing the full piece based on the primary text.

Better late than never, to change my habits, although the secondary literature on Clement's letter to Theodore, except some of the more ancient and/or esoteric treatises, i.e. some of the works from the 1970s, I have already perused through. Nail gets hit on the head with remark #1: the framing of the questions in secondary literature has an enormous influence on my reading of the primary sources. The only alternative to defeat this tendency is to keep on questioning the things other authors take for granted. With this a moderate success is to be had, even though it is certainly an inferior method. That things are nothing in themselves, but are perceived to be one way and not the other simply because a habit to perceive them one way and not the other has been formed due to one's education/indoctrination/socialisation; a perspective roughly along these lines has allowed me in the past to think, as they say, outside the box. What if this statement is formulated differently? What if I give a primary status to this instead of that? What if I change this question to something a little more open-ended? What could an alternative argument look like?

Indeed, a compilation of the two, always starting with the primary sources and always trying to come up with alternative scenarios to deal with the evidence, looks like a sure-fire way to place oneself into the dreary margins of the academia.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Further Comments on the Recent Handwriting Papers - Part II

Shortly after Brown's and Pantuck's paper Biblical Archaeology Review published the two reports it had commissioned with its November / December 2009 issue featuring four articles on the Secret Gospel of Mark. Or rather, BAR published the one analysis that was delivered on time. For reasons not quite clear (and to the apparent irritation of Hershel Shanks, the editor of the magazine) Agamemnon Tselikas, a Greek palaeographer, failed to meet "several agreed deadlines". Instead of a written report, Shanks had to relate the contents of several telephone calls with Tselikas, which came down to this:

Agamemnon Tselikas... has concluded that Morton Smith forged the letter containing Secret Mark.

Based on our conversations, this is the basis for Dr. Tselikas’s conclusion: He has examined other manuscripts from Mar Saba and concluded that the Secret Mark letter was not written by a monk there. He has located another document at another monastery that he believes was written by the monk whose handwriting Smith was attempting to imitate. He has also learned that Smith was at this other monastery examining manuscripts.

(Source: BAR May / June 2010)

The original news item, first in stephan huller's observations and then in here, saw a number of interesting comments. Not much more can be added with information this scarce. If Tselikas, however, has actually found another MS with a hand that resembles the hand in Clement's letter to Theodore, there are a number of possible conclusions we could reach, with divergent probabilities. That there was an 18th-century monk who penned both documents could be demonstrated. That the hands are different, despite some superficial similarities, is the option I would place my bet on; according to the one CV I found Tselikas does not practice forensic document examination, and even though palaeographers work with handwritings as well, the two fields "do not communicate with each other", as one recent commentator put it. (Davis, The Practice of Handwriting Identification, 251) On this notion, Tselikas' own hypothesis looks to be extremely tricky to demonstrate, bearing in mind that another analyst assessed Morton Smith to have been incapable of simulating the handwriting in Theod.

The other BAR expert who reached the above conclusion, Venetia Anastasopoulou, "a prominent handwriting expert... who has frequently testified in Greek courts" according to BAR, compared the handwriting in Clement's letter to Theodore with numerous examples of Morton Smith's own handwriting, including the complete transcription of Theod. from 1958, and Appendix A (Palaeographic Peculiarities) from Smith's Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (1973) illustrating the various ligatures and abbreviations found in the questioned text. The sample material was decided to be "sufficient in quality and quantity to be able to reach a conclusion" by her. (7)

Anastasopoulou begins by noting that the handwriting in Theod. "looks like an artistic design of good quality... the text is written spontaneously with an excellent rhythm". (9) Turning to the samples of Smith's writing, her tone is quite different:

"Conclusion: There is an obvious difference in his mother tongue writing and in his Greek writing. His writing in English language is fluent with letter connections between the words, with personal abbreviations and characteristics, whereas the Greek words are written letter-letter as copy book at a lower speed, without ease and the range of variations is very limited. His writing is like that of a school student." (18)

Based on these three observations - that the writing in Theod. is written with "freedom, spontaneity and artistic flair" (13), that the English writing by Smith is also "spontaneous and unconstrained, with a very good rhythm" (14), whereas in Smith's Greek writing "the movement is constrained" (15) and the overall impression is that of a "school student" (18) - Anastasopoulou concludes that "it is highly probable that Morton Smith could not have simulated the document of “Secret Mark”" (38). She further qualifies her expert opinion reminding that it is "based solely on the documents listed as having been examined... This opinion is subject to amendment if additional examinations are performed using additional exemplars which may exhibit evidence not observable in the documents upon which this opinion was based". (38)

So far, Anastasopoulou's report has received two responses. First, Peter Jeffery's Response to Venetia Anastasopoulou can be downloaded from his homepage that collects together various reactions to his 2007 monograph The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled and other related things. Second, Jason A. Staples' BAR “Secret Mark” Handwriting Analysis Unimpressive can be found in his blog, Zealot Outside the Building. Both are asking important questions, and some of the specific criticisms are likewise common to both. Below I wish to move the discussion forwards by offering an argument I believe both the defenders of the authenticity and the defenders of the forgery hypothesis are willing to accept.

Jeffery raises the issue of forger's tremor, lamenting that Anastasopoulou failed to express anything explicit about the matter. In fact, I believe she did just that, confirming the recent suggestion by Roger Viklund that there is no forger's tremor to be seen in the handwriting of Theod. I believe our use of the language, our suboptimal understanding of the principles of QDE has placed us at a vantage point where everything seems a bit twisted. We keep talking of forger's tremor when we should really be talking about line quality; the two are not synonymous. Line quality can be observed. It is the most significant detail a questioned document examiner looks for, for it exhibits the writer's ability to control the fine movements of the hand and consequently of the pen. Forger's tremor, however, cannot be directly observed. It is a particular interpretation of the causes producing poor line quality, when other options include age, stress, illness, drug consumption, environmental difficulties (lack of light, slanted writing platform), etc.

Even if we follow Albert S. Osborn and conclude that "[c]lose scrutiny of line quality alone often furnishes the basis for grave suspicion" (Osborn, Questioned Documents (1929), 273-274), it is my understanding that forger's tremor properly exists only in relation to some other writing from the purported author. Without known standards to compare the writing to, there is only poor line quality with unknown causes. Forger's tremor becomes an option only when the purported author can be shown to be capable of producing writing with good line quality i.e. poor line quality is not a characteristic feature of her writing.

On this basis I would conclude that Anastasopoulou, when she observes that "the text is written spontaneously with an excellent rhythm... [t]he letters and their combinations are curved fluently while at the same time the grammatical rules are followed... [t]he movement of the writing indicates a hand used to writing in this manner... [t]he letters are written unconsciously" (9), she implies that line quality in Clement's letter to Theodore is good - otherwise she would not assess its rhythm to be "excellent" and its letters to be curved "fluently".

Furthermore, both Jeffery and Staples challenge the validity of Anastasopoulou's analysis on the grounds that she makes a fundamental error when she compares the 18th-century calligraphic script of Theod. to the modern block Greek letters of Morton Smith. According to Staples, they are "two different types of writing and entirely different skills", while Jeffery holds that we have "an apples-to-oranges comparison" at our hands. Anastasopoulou herself reached an opposite conclusion. In her expert opinion Smith's transcription ("written in pen as an official script") "can be used in the comparison with the questioned document" (6), and the material is "sufficient in quality and quantity to be able to reach a conclusion". (8) What does she mean by all this?

It should probably be noted first that Anastasopoulou's analysis is not an in-depth guide to the mechanics of questioned document examination, but a simple report where she gives her conclusions but not her whole reasoning, nor does she spell out the basic philosophical assumptions at the bottom of QDE. Jeffery is right in remarking that analysts should distinguish "personal characteristics" from "style characteristics", i.e. idiographic features from allographic ones, but once again I believe this is just what Anastasopoulou did.

Every system, including biblical studies as a field, is built upon unfounded premises that are taken for granted. In questioned document examination, as I have come to understand it, the whole enterprise rests on a notion of a model hand, an internalised ideal hand that the handwriting of the individual will gravitate towards. To cite Davis one more time:

"[T]he basis of forensic document analysis resides in the belief that nonetheless a given writer will tend to produce writing that is idiographic: that a given piece of writing can have characteristics that are ascertainable by expert analysis, constant between different writings by the same individual, and unique to that individual."

(Davis, The Practice of Handwriting Identification, 261)

In other words, the foundation of QDE is the conviction that the model hand produces idiographic elements even when an attempt to disguise is undertaken. Consequently, in some but not in all cases it is possible to reach a conclusion, based on the lack of idiographic features in the handwriting, that a given individual did not write a given text. It should be remembered that the comparison is done letter by letter basis, i.e. isolating individual letters, and Anastasopoulou's resolution that the scripts are comparable is likely due to the fact that analysing the letters individually some of them, gamma and omicron for example, are drawn about the same way, thus showing the same idiographic features if there is something to be seen. Her conclusion is an expert opinion i.e. a subjective assessment on the scale of probabilities that Morton Smith probably could not have simulated the handwriting in Theod., but the fundamentals of QDE are not, according to my understanding of its principles, violated.

I am unsure if Jeffery and Staples are confused by the fact that Anastasopoulou's report includes all the letters of the Greek alphabet, even though some of them are drawn quite differently. In my mind the inclusion of the whole alphabet is a normal practice, but the conclusions reached are based only on some of them. As a forensic document examiner Anastasopoulou conducted both "[s]tereoscopic and macroscopic examination" (5), and likely knew how to focus on the idiographic features, though the difference between "personal" and "style" characteristics is, once again, an individual judgement call. The question seems to come down to "Is she really a professional analyst?", able to follow the rules of her industry to the letter. I would suggest that suspicions of her expertise should not be entertained if nothing concrete is produced to back them up, nor is it probably a good idea to dismiss the whole field of document examination on the basis that one's favourite hypothesis gets undermined.

It is for the credit of both Jeffery and Staples that they are willing to let go of this particular aspect of the forgery hypothesis. Jeffery admits that "it does raise the bar for those who argue that Smith penned the Mar Saba document in his own hand", for they will "need to show, if they can, that Smith acquired or attempted fluency in this type of Greek cursive, even though he did not habitually use it". For Staples "BAR’s expert witness is only able to tell us that we have no material from Morton Smith comparable to the Mar Saba letter". Does this, in Staples' view, invalidate Carlson's handwriting analysis in The Gospel Hoax? To a degree the answer is yes: "in the absence of better samples or more persuasive handwriting analysis, this kind of analysis is not a smoking gun for either side."

In conclusion, I propose that the handwriting aspect is done with.

When the proponents of the forgery hypothesis are willing to disqualify it, it is time to let it go. I wish to note, however, that this is not a decisive victory for anyone. For what it is worth, we may conclude that a small step, at least in some direction, has been taken, and at least one-third of Carlson's book (practically whole of chapter 3) has been adequately evaluated to the satisfaction of all parties:

On the basis of the handwriting in Clement's letter to Theodore Morton Smith cannot be accused of forgery.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Further Comments on the Recent Handwriting Papers - Part I

(Previously an attempt to write A Short Comment, but to no avail.)

In the past two months a number of papers have dealt with the handwriting of Clement's letter to Theodore. Below I wish to collect together the papers and the responses they have received, and offer some further observations on the present state of the debate.

First, Scott G. Brown's and Allan J. Pantuck's Stephen Carlson’s Questionable Questioned Document Examination (blog edition with comments; PDF from Wieland Wilker's The Secret Gospel of Mark Homepage) reports of their recent contact with Julie C. Edison, a professional document examiner who wrote a letter to Stephen C. Carlson, assessing his methods of handwriting analysis. As Brown and Pantuck put it, the information they received leaves "both Carlson’s supporters and critics feeling deceived". Among other things, Edison did not read Greek, was able to study only the halftone reproductions of the Mar Saba MS, with no known standards to compare the handwriting with, while spotting natural variation in the handwriting - all details that seriously undermine the validity of Carlson's analysis in The Gospel Hoax (2005) chapter 3. The most disturbing part of the paper is the implicit accusation that Carlson had deliberately withheld this information, quoting only select parts of Edison's letter. Or did he really judge the above to have been unnecessary "discussion of the background", as stated in his blog Hypotyposeis.

Even more curious is the aftermath. When kindly asked to provide "a response, an explanation for what appears to be an attempt to selectively present facts that support his theories while suppressing others that might call these theories into question", Carlson indeed complied, and what better place to post a response than as a comment to a completely unrelated blog? A good blog, mark you, that Philip Harland's Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean, but still. And as for the response itself...

It is hardly damaging. Brown and Pantuck have misunderstood a fairly standard disclaimer and used to attack a position I have not espoused. All the disclaimer says, rightly, is that without a sample from the person is supposed to have written it, it cannot be shown to be forgery “solely on the basis of forensic document examination.” My book, of course, does not make that claim and more cautiously states that the examination raises a question of its genuineness.

Furthermore, Brown’s decrying of the lack of “known standards” is especially rich, considering that I was the first person to publish any comparison of the handwriting with genuine 18th cen. samples from Mar Saba, something which neither Smith nor Brown had done.

The book (The Gospel Hoax) actually concludes that "[i]nstead of being scribed by an eighteenth-century monk at Mar Saba, the evidence shows that it was penned by an imitator" (page 47), and again on page 73: "The manuscript was written in what may appear to be handwriting of the eighteenth century, but the hesitation and shakiness of its strokes and the retouching of its letters, coupled with twentieth-century letter forms, indicate that the handwriting is actually a drawn imitation of an eighteenth-century style."

To my mind, the wording - in the indicative mood suggesting that the statement's are either factual or have a strong probability of being factual - of shows, was penned, was written, and indicate that.. is actually does not "cautiously state" that the hoax hypothesis on the basis of the handwriting analysis is merely raising questions; it unapologetically claims the manuscript a forgery!

Why do we not get phrases like "the evidence suggests", "the manuscript appears to be written", "the hesitation and shakiness... point to the possibility", etc.? As I have noted previously, the language of probabilities in The Gospel Hoax is lacking to a degree where I can count the instances with only one hand. Why are the conclusions attached practically nowhere with qualifications like "probable", "possible", and "improbable"? Under conditions of normal science the assessment of probability is fundamentally important, for an argument is valid only if all of the individual units it is composed of are also valid. I propose that the opposite is true for non-science, pseudoscience, or the style of conspiracy theorising, whichever name one would like to use.

It is not just a question of language, of streamlining our literary expressions for aesthetic and interpretative reasons, or of shielding our arguments from criticism. On the contrary, our use of the language is the question of our thinking, and due to the nature of the multitudes of cognitive biases, we are better off thwarting them any way we can. There is no great mystery here. To take but one relevant example, Tom Davis in his fairly recent The Practice of Handwriting Identification (The Library 8, 251-276) emphasises the importance of keeping confirmation bias at bay, reached by applying the methods of QDE rigorously enough. In practice, Davis instructs the examiner to draw an analytic chart of all the letters in the sample document i.e. the document containing the known handwriting from the suspect, going through it industriously letter by letter. After this procedure the chart is to be locked away, and a similar process, a new chart, to be produced from the handwriting in the questioned document. According to Davis, it is of essence to begin the comparison of the charts only after both have been completed, for jumping to the questioned document too early we will tend to look for those significant similarities between the handwritings all too eagerly. Furthermore, Davis points out that the examiner is supposed to look for both significant similarities (pointing to the possibility of identical author) and significant differences (pointing to the possibility of different authors). That the latter is lacking in The Gospel Hoax, as observed by Brown & Pantuck in the article as well, may suggest that the confirmation bias was responsible for much of its interpretation, yet another sign that Carlson's handwriting analysis was not up to the standards of QDE.

Every time I make a qualitative statement I remind myself that my intuitive understanding of the interpretation of the evidence - an intuitive understanding I have developed in the course of reading myself into that particular field I have happened to read myself into - may not be shared by my colleagues, and the consensus in my particular field. Writing with the language of probabilities I keep it fresh in my mind that I may have gotten it all wrong, that my individual perspective on the interpretation of the evidence is not an all-encompassing, universal and "true" understanding of the matter, nor the end of the debate, nor are all the other scholars who disagree with me unqualified to do research.

On the other hand, if we go on writing nonsense, we will begin to lean in that direction in our thinking as well. If we start to write with strong propositions, we may very well forget that others approach the evidence from different angles, see different things, and construct their cases differently. This style of writing is one of the themes that crops up in numerous pseudoscholarly works. The author usually comes to her topic from the perspective of an outsider. She usually spots a great number of things the experts in the field have gotten all wrong. She usually has no grasp of the questions of philosophy of science pertaining to the field, and goes straightforward for "the truth" or "the true account". She asserts that her conclusions are natural, rising directly from the evidence. And finally, she has usually forgot somewhere along the way that true academic discussion is about having a dialogue with fellow scholars, not about making a case and defending it with ever more contrived arguments for all eternity - at least, this would be my ideal understanding of the workings of academia.

As for the latter part of Carlson's response, I am a bit puzzled. While it is true that Morton Smith did not publish pictures of MSS from Mar Saba, and that Carlson was the first one to do so, I fail to see the difference they are supposed to make. There is no doubt that MS65 looks like it was written in the 18th-century; we do not need the Mar Saba MSS for that. For what do we need them for? As far as I can see, it was Edison's and not Brown's and Pantuck's observation that "Mr. Carlson did not have known standards from Clement or the 18th century monk who may have transcribed his 3rd century letter". Without known standards there is no way to ascertain that MS65 is either genuine or forgery - even if there was a poor line quality to be seen (highly doubtful, cf. the work of Roger Viklund), it is irrelevant until we know if the alleged writer did or did not produce poor line quality in all of her other writings, too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Voting for the New Bishop of Helsinki Just Started - Now Completed

In the second round we have two magnificent candidates left, Irja Askola and Matti Poutiainen, both with years and years of experience working in the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The results are due in just three hours, for the amount of voters is limited (cf. Archbishop Election back in March).

If elected, Askola would be the first woman in the position of bishop in the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church. As the more progressive of the two, she would also get my vote.

Update: Irja Askola will be the new bishop of Helsinki! Margins were extremely close, with Askola's 591 votes against Poutiainen's 567. Nevertheless, the church continues to take small steps into more inclusive, less discriminating direction, and I wholeheartedly agree.