Friday, November 19, 2010

A Curious Proposition by Email

So, I got the following message through email:

Hi Timo,

I am the owner of [site withheld], and was wondering if your site accepted guest post submissions? In case you're unfamiliar with guest posts, basically what I'm interested in doing is getting the word out about my website by approaching other websites, offering to write them a free article on any topic they wish (ideally related to Postgraduate students or Education however) for publication on their site. In exchange for me writing the article, I'd get to put a by-line at the bottom of the post with a link to my site. The idea, is that hopefully some of the regular readers of your site will find my article interesting, then follow the link through to my site and then perhaps become a regular reader there as well.

As for what you'd be getting out of the deal, in addition to doing me a favor, you'd get to have an article created for your site on whatever topic, so if you didn't feel like writing an article for a particular day this would be a good fill-in.

Thanks for your time and let me know if you're interested.

[name withheld]

If giving free advertising space for morally dubious sites would not be a problem, I wonder what topic I would choose. 'Is the Secret Gospel of Mark a forgery or not?', 'What is the relevance of the Secret Gospel of Mark for the study of early Christianity during the following decade?', 'Ten promising perspectives for the study of Clement's more spiritual Gospel'?

I would not have mentioned the email if I wasn't a wee bit curious to see what kind of a guest post I would get in return.

On a related note, Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the services custom-essay companies provide for students who are too lazy or busy to write their own. (Spotted at The Biblical World)

Monday, November 15, 2010

One-Sided Reception of the Hoax Hypothesis

Craig S. Keener discusses the Secret Gospel of Mark in The Historical Jesus of the Gospels: Jesus in Historical Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009). In four paragraphs on page 60 he summarizes the situation thus:

The “Secret Gospel of Mark,” not to be confused with the canonical Gospel of Mark, is an important source for John Dominic Crossan's reconstruction of the historical Jesus. But while some scholars have wished to use the “Secret Gospel of Mark,” more scholars have cautiously warned against its use in reconstructing the life of Jesus.112 In fact, Secret Mark, once hailed by some New Testament scholars (especially by its putative discover Morton Smith) as an early (even pre-Mark) source,113 has come to be regarded by most as a forgery dating from anywhere between the late second and the twentieth century.114 The most recent discussion suggests that a twentieth-century date is most likely for the forgery, offering New Testament scholarship's own version of science's famous “Piltdown Man.”115

The only manuscript (actually, a photograph of a manuscript) seems to derive from a different provenance than the monastery where it was supposedly found, and evidence appears to suggest that it appeared at the monastery only in recent times.116 Its attribution to Clement is stylistically open to question;117 it also clearly presupposes modern idiom and perhaps modern custom.118 In fact, recent analysis reveals the typical “forger's tremor” throughout the document,119 as well as characteristics of Morton Smith's Greek handwriting style, convincing many that Smith himself was the forger.120

Smith's publications on Secret Mark reflect the same “cut-and-paste” excerpting techniques that characterize the composition of both Secret Mark and the allegedly Clementine document in which it is embedded.121 Its understanding of homosexuality reflects that of Smith and his twentieth-century context rather than that held in the first century,122 and some thus suggest that it may have been composed precisely to advance that twentieth-century perspective.123

The work may even reflect some twentieth-century literary models.124 These include a novel about a fraudulent document discrediting Christianity, discovered at the very same monastery and exposed by one “Lord Moreton” -- published one year before Morton Smith's first visit to this monastery!125 We are all capable of being taken in occasionally, and it is understandable that many scholars (including myself) would have been reticent to charge such a noted scholar as Morton Smith with forgery. Given the breadth of information today, we must depend on other scholars at many points. The evidence, however, now seems to be in on this case: the Secret Gospel of Mark is a forgery, hence any reconstructions based on it must be re-reconstructed.

112 Charlesworth and Evans, “Agrapha,” 526-32; cf. Marcus, Mark, 47-51.
113 Cf. Jeffery, Secret Gospel, 247: “we were supposed to accept that these two fragments of the Secret Gospel, preserved only in an (allegedly) eighteenth-century copy, represented a text as early as, or even earlier than, any canonical New Testament writing.”
114 Stanton, Gospel Truth, 93; Neusner, “Foreword,” xxvii; cf. Losie, “Gospel.” Brown, Death, 297, dates it earlier, to c. 125.
115 As late as the 1700s some writers followed the ancient convention of pretending to translate ancient writings seen by no one else (Lefkowitz, Africa, 111); for a Gospel forgery from 1860, see Millard, Reading and Writing, 53. For one popular retelling of the “Piltdown Man” forgery or hoax that misled many earlier paleontologists for four decades, see Millar, Piltdown Man (though Millar favored Grafton Elliot Smith as the culprit, there has been no consensus).
116 Carlson, Hoax, 35-40.
117 Carlson, Hoax, 49-64; also Jeffery, Secret Gospel, 41, 99 (citing others' observations that it provides much more distinctively Clementine vocabulary than Clement's normal passages do).
118 Carlson, Hoax, 65-71. Jeffery, Secret Gospel, 55-70 (cf. also 71-90), finds there elements of Smith's Anglican liturgical background; it does not fit second-century Alexandrian liturgy, and Smith misunderstood eastern liturgy (cf. 123-48).
119 For this and other features suggesting forgery, see Carlson, Hoax, 26-35.
120 Carlson, Hoax, 42-47, esp. 46-47; Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 96-97. It also contains some obscure information on which Smith had previously published (Carlson, Hoax, 71-72). Jeffery, Secret Gospel, suggests other cases of Smith's deception (e.g., 127, 134, 147, although these cases might reflect simply a shift in perspective), sexual humor (e.g., 128-29), misreading another culture in light of his own (132-33, 136-44), and agendas powerful enough to seriously distort data (144-45).
121 Jeffery, Secret Gospel, 119, 121.
122 See Jeffery, Secret Gospel, 49-50, 185-212, 248. Jeffery also notes that the Mar Saba text's portrayal of homosexuality better fits “the 'Uranian' homosexual subculture of nineteenth-century English universities” than its putative context (Secret Gospel, 225; the entire argument is 213-25). For the reversal of Smith's own position (and his movement from an Anglo-Catholic to his belief that early Christianity was a conspiratorial construct), see Jeffery, Secret Gospel, 149-84.
123 Jeffery, Secret Gospel, argues that Smith composed the work to defend homosexual love against traditional Christian views (119-21, 239, 242-43, 247).
124 Jeffery, Secret Gospel, 226-39, 241-42, citing Oscar Wilde's Salomé (note esp. the seven veils suggested in Smith's document, 229, reflecting an image developed by Wilde, 227-28, and certainly known to Smith.)
125 Evans, Fabricating Jesus, 97.

Keener's assessment is fairly typical among the recent works of secondary literature on Secret Mark. He 1) takes the case for fraudulent Gospel, as presented by Stephen Carlson and Peter Jeffery, for granted, 2) does not mention that dissenting voices are occasionally heard, and 3) cannot avoid to bring at least one of the alleged 'clues' to the picture; this time it is 'Lord Moreton', an argument I first saw proposed by Chris Price at CADRE Comments, now cited from Evans' Fabricating Jesus. Although Keener does not say it aloud, the juxtaposition of 'Moreton' and 'Morton' is clearly intended to give the impression that the similarities between the two names are not idle coincidences.

Consequently, we need a further analytical distinction between the various 'clues' Morton Smith allegedly left behind. An argument that Smith took inspiration from Hunter's novel has the virtue of being at least fathomable if nothing else. But how on Earth is the name of a minor character, who is introduced in the last quarter of the novel, supposed to function as a clue to Smith forging Clement's letter to Theodore? Was he further inspired by the similarity to his own name? Should he have been inspired to reveal the forgery instead of propagating it, since Lord Moreton is the chief of the London Police? Or could we, at least with this one random connection, try and agree that the similarities between Lord Moreton and Morton Smith result from an insignificant twist of fate, and nothing more?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

General Synod of the Lutheran Church in Finland Makes a Compromise

International Edition of Helsingin Sanomat reports:

The Synod of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church voted on Friday morning to authorise the holding of prayer services for the union of same-sex couples.

The measure was passed by a vote of 78 to 30. Many delegates would have wanted to authorise a blessing ceremony for lesbian and gay couples, but settled for the compromise, under which next year’s Bishops’ Conference will be asked to prepare instructions for ministers and parish employees for prayers.

What was said?

"The decision accepts the human value of every person. No type of insulting or denigrating attitude toward homosexual people is acceptable."

The Archbishop Kari Mäkinen

What does it mean?

It is hard to read the decision in any other way than as a small but definitive step towards acceptance of homosexuality as a legitimate non-heterosexual preference in the Church, or, as Kari Latvus worded it in the title of his post, yesterday was the 'day when homosexuality ceased to be a sin in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland'. It is not a decisive victory for the vast majority of Finnish Christians, as the proper blessing ceremony has been postponed for Lord knows how many years into the future.

What is the most irritating thing in all of this?

That despite all of the popular jokes featuring Swedes in the limelight, it is the Church of Sweden that constantly outruns its sister in matters of human rights and progressive theological ideals put into practice. Let's hope the Parish Elections tomorrow will, in time, change the outlook of the General Synod for more representative of the average lay member of the Church.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Next in North America: A Secret Mark Symposium

Tony Burke notes in his blog Apocryphicity that there is a Secret Mark symposium in the making, at York University in May 2011 if everything goes as planned. Of the scholars who have argued for the forgery hypothesis, however, only Peter Jeffery and Bruce Chilton have accepted the invitation to participate. Which, naturally enough, raises the question,

Is the argument in jeopardy, particularly with BAR's publication of the report of a handwriting expert? Or have efforts by Allan Pantuck, Scott Brown, and others to dismantle the argument for Morton Smith's creation of the text succeeded in silencing some of the proponents for the theory?

Could it really be that the tide is turning already? In the long run scholars will necessarily either argue for their case, as Jeffery and Chilton have in this instance decided to, or retract their support from the claims of forgery, should they have found other lines of argumentation more persuasive. There are dozens of scholars who have supported the case for forgery in published reviews and papers. Will one of them begin a wave of retraction, dropping the forgery hypothesis from the paradigm status it currently enjoys in the academia, I wonder?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Another Monday for a Graduate Student

Actually, it's Wednesday, but I can't decide whether this makes it any better. Having just skimmed through two weeks worth of blogs and news on the internets, these pieces really made my day.

Spotted the video at the official blog of Robert Cargill. It's titled So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities, and has about as depressing a content as can be imagined.

DEAN: You cannot seriously be this stupid.
STUDENT: I am a motivated person who loves to read. I am going to be a college professor... Being a college professor will give me the flexible schedule that best suits my personality.
DEAN: No. Being a college professor means you will work on average 65 hours a week trying to publish an obscure article that no one cares about in an obscure scholarly journal that nobody will read, just so you can put it on your CV.

See the whole video at xtranormal.

Further examining the issue I stumbled upon a new blog, 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School, currently at reason number 27: The academic bubble may burst. Featured in the previous 26 reasons are the iron trilogy of 17: Funding is fleeting, 18: Fellowships are few and far between, and 19: These are the best years of your life. At least reason number 21: Graduate seminars can be unbearable has not been the case at Helsinki University (where I'm going to attend one the day after tomorrow, so I would probably not say otherwise even if they were). The comments on the blog are especially worthwhile.

Lastly, An und für sich discusses regularly the life of a PhD candidate. A week ago Adam Kotsko asked if there was some 'ritual satisfaction' to be had in complaining about the 'grim facts' connected to PhD studies, if it made PhD candidates to feel 'bad-ass' in their struggle along the 'self-destructive path' of graduate school. Kotsko disagrees with this perspective.

There’s no sacrifice involved here, because I didn’t finally do all this stuff so that I could get a job — I want to get a job so that I can continue doing all this stuff! I want to get tenure so that I can finally stop worrying about where the next paycheck is coming from and have all that emotional energy freed up for my work. The fact that it might not work out doesn’t make me a jaded self-destructive badass, it makes me a person living in a world where we don’t always get what we want.

Can't myself argue that complaining wouldn't be cathartic to a disturbing extent. And that I wouldn't place any inner value to the image of a tragic samurai(-pirate-ninja)-poet that emerges from all of the complaining. And that it wouldn't be nice to get paid at least something for the research and constant academic self-improvement one does week after week. But how far does the socialization into a 'life of the mind' has to be hold responsible for continuing one's studies, and how far do other reasons function as mere rationalizations for this indoctrination, that is the question I would like to have answered.

And, ultimately, can you write a whole dissertation under the amusement factor alone, even if it happens to be about the Secret Gospel of Mark, or should biblical scholarship have some other motivational source to stem from, as well?