Showing posts with label Roger Viklund. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roger Viklund. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Jesus Granskad Resurrected

I just realised that Roger Viklund's blog Jesus granskad has been resurrected after a three-year long hiatus. Roger deals with early Christianity, including the Secret Gospel of Mark, Testimonium Flavianum, and other topics of interest, though in Swedish only.

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?

Friday, January 22, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

When Ideals Crash with Reality

Professor Mikko Ketokivi (homepage in English) went almost all the way without holding anything back in today's Helsingin Sanomat regarding the recent Finnish debate concerning the practices of science, especially in connection to the anthropogenic climate change. Some of Ketokivi's observations are equally suitable to the current debate concerning the authenticity of Clement's letter to Theodore and the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark:

"Rehellinen tutkimuksen käytäntöjen tarkastelu paljastaa tutkijan ensisijaisen päämäärän olevan tiedeyhteisön huomion saaminen eli julkaisu vertaisarvioiduissa tieteellisissä aikakauslehdissä.

Tutkija ansioituu mielenkiintoisia ja huomionarvoisia argumentteja esittämällä, ei totuutta etsimällä. Käytännön arviointikriteeri on aina tulosten mielenkiintoisuus ja se, ovatko tutkijan argumentit yhdenmukaisia vertaisarvijoiden maailmankuvan kanssa.

Tätä maailmankuvaa kyseenalaistavat tutkimukset osataan vaientaa tiedeyhteisössä häkellyttävän tehokkaasti.

Tutkimus on aina myös poliittista toimintaa, jonka intresseissä ei valitettavasti ole "korjata itse itseään". En muista, milloin viimeksi oman tiedeyhteisöni jäsen olisi myöntänyt olleensa väärässä..."

Source: Helsingin Sanomat 18.12.2009. Published in Mielipide [Letters to the Editor].

My translation:

"An honest observation of scientific practices reveals that the immediate objective of a scholar is to gain attention from the Academia, that is, to publish an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

A scholar gets merit by proposing interesting and remarkable arguments, not by searching for truth. In practice, the evaluation criterion is always the degree in which the results may be seen as intriguing, as well as the possible correspondence between the worldviews of the scholar and his or her peers.

The Academia is able to silence articles that challenge this worldview with stupefying efficiency.

Doing research is always a political act, as well, with no real interest to "correct itself". I cannot remember the last time a member of the Academia [understood locally, counting in the members who work in the same field as prof. Ketokivi] confessed to have been wrong..."


Note that I do not propose that the climate change is not taking place or is not anthropogenic. I hold the majority view that accepts both the reality (it's getting warmer) and the reason (it's us) of it. The conclusion I wish to draw here is that we can be reasonably sure about these, even though the actual practices of science are not at the high level of its ideals.


And the Secret Gospel connection? Until now, only Peter Jeffery has volunteered to continue debating the matter, for which I commend him. Turning to the other side, the number of articles critical of Stephen Carlson's hoax hypothesis, listed i.a. here, have, however, gone almost without comment from the defenders of the hoax hypothesis. The latest episode in this saga took place last Monday, when Roger Viklund published an article that undermined one of the strong points of the hoax hypothesis even more heavily than others before it. With my great imagination I can come up with a plausible picture of what would have happened if Viklund had argued the other way round, with equally promising arguments - a collapse of the biblioblogdom due to the high traffic of Secret Mark related posts.

Incidentally, I got an official confirmation that my study plan - a PhD dissertation concentrating solely on Clement's letter to Theodore - has been accepted by Helsinki University, and that I will be able to start (officially) my PhD studies in two weeks. More on this tomorrow.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis (the shorter blog version) by Roger Viklund

Roger Viklund offers a summary of his new online article "Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis" below. My own comments on the article follow afterwards.


I am now fairly certain why Stephen C. Carlson saw all signs of forgery in the handwriting of Clement's letter to Theodoros. It seems all to be due to the basis of his work; printed low resolution images from Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark by Morton Smith. This is a shorter version of my newly written article Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis.

In 2005 Stephen C. Carlson came out with The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark. As the title says, Carlson argued that Morton Smith in fact invented Clement's letter to Theodoros containing extracts from a so-called Secret Gospel of Mark. Among the several indications for this presented by Carlson, he also pointed to the actual writing. We only have photographs of a now lost copy of the letter. This shows a text that appears to be written in a hurried cursive eighteenth century Greek handwriting. Carlson thinks that “it should be possible to tell if the hurried handwriting of Theodore is natural or simulated.” (Carlson p. 27) He suspects that if Morton Smith forged that handwriting in the twentieth century, imitating a hurried cursive eighteenth century handwriting, he would have had to write much more slowly in order to form the letters in a way which was not typical for his own way of writing. This careful imitation where the letters are almost drawn would, according to Carlson, lead to a number of characteristics which could reveal the counterfeiter (and according to Carlson, this counterfeiter, or hoaxer, was Morton Smith).

Carlson also claims to have found signs revealing this slow imitating. He refers to a number of “[b]lunt ends at the beginnings and ends of the lines” of the letters. This would be the effect of a very slow shaping of the letters and that the pen thereby came to a stop and the ink would accumulate. He also finds many instances where the pen was lifted in the middle of a stroke and this would indicate that Smith needed to prepare himself for writing the next letter before continuing. Occasionally Smith still had to go back and retouch certain letters. Further Carlson sees a lot of tremors in the writing, tremors which reasonably would not occur if a skilled scribe would have written the letter in a fast pace. Accordingly the tremors are also an effect of slow writing.

In my previous study, Reclaiming Clement's Letter to Theodoros – An Examination of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis, I did not compare my colour images (which were scanned in 1200 dpi directly from the colour photos taken by Kallistos Dourvas in the late 70s) to the images Carlson used (which he took from the printed images in Morton Smith’s book showing the black and white (b/w) photos Smith took in 1958). Now that I have scanned also these images in 1200 dpi, I realise that the low resolution prints, done on a printing press in the early 70s, have a line screen at a 45 degrees angle. I had of course noticed this before and I had also previously been updated by Scott G. Brown, who informed me of this in an e-mail. Further, also Walter M. Shandruk in a blog post named Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis on Secret Mark, noticed how pixelated the letters were. But the images he presents do not seem to fully show all the details.

A line screen can be described as lines made out of separate dots of different sizes, yet organised in straight lines separated by the same distance and reproduced at a fixed angle. In this case the angle is 45 degrees. As can be seen below from the enlarged image to the left, which is scanned from the printed black and white images of the letter found in Smith’s book, the dots are arranged very symmetric. When you are printing, as in this case in black and white, there is only one colour, and that colour is black There will either be a black dot, or nothing at all, just the background colour of the paper, which normally is whitish. If you wish to produce different shades of grey, you still only have black dots at your disposal. You fool the eye into believing that the image is grey by letting white and black areas interact with each other. The more black dots or the larger the dots are, the darker the area appears to be, and of course, the fewer black dots, the lighter the area appears. The area to the left below is simply a grey background area of the letter enlarged so that the dots can be seen by the naked eye. In normal magnification the area will appear just grey, as is illustrated by the same magnified area reduces into the small grey rectangle in the lower right corner of that image.

When you print for instance letters, these letters are also made up of similar dots. However, because of the low resolution reproductions in the book, the letters will not appear smooth in high magnification. This is due to the low resolution line screen. When you enlarge a halftone image very much, like the one printed in Smith's book, you will not see an accurate representation of lines that are not both perfectly straight and at an angle that accords with the screen. Since the dots are arranged in straight lines with the same distance between them, you can produce straight lines only horizontally, vertically or at 45/135 degrees angles (as the screen in this case is in 45 degrees angle). This is illustrated in the figure above to the right. Whenever you reproduce a line at a different angle, it will appear stepped and this could easily be mistaken for a hesitation in drawing the letter. Since Carlson must have looked at images similar to the ones I shall reproduce below, I claim that the reason he saw all these signs of forgery is not due to the fact that there are any such signs, but due the poor images he used, in which the letters appear to be stepped, but in reality are not.

Because of the limited space on this blog template, there is some problem publishing lots of images. I will therefore settle for showing just a few examples of why, in my opinion, Carlson went wrong. For a more thorough comparison, I once again refer to my main article Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis.

Ink blobs as a result of pen stops
Carlson sees “blunt ends at the beginnings and ends of the lines”. This he says indicates “that the strokes were written so slowly that the pen had come to a complete stop at the ends of the strokes.” I will give just one example in order to demonstrate that the ink blobs Carlson saw seems to be the a result of the low resolution line screen of the b/w images and hardly can be seen in the more high resolution colour images. Above we have this iota, where we in the colour image can see that there is a hook upwards to the left, while the b/w image only shows a big blob. This is in all likelihood the “ink blob“ that Carlson saw. The circles below show the ending enlarged. When these low resolution b/w images are magnified to this size the shading at the ends of the letters cannot be shown, as they are constructed of just a few large dots. All shades between black and white are missing and this is a good example of how impossible it is to render small details with a faded surrounding in the b/w images which Carlson used. This discrepancy between the colour images and the b/w images used by Carlson is obvious in almost all the examples presented by him. When the shading is missing, all small and circular movements are distorted, leading to an impression of ink accumulation.

Pen lifts and retakes
Carlson claims that on several occasions, where a skilled scribe would have written in one stroke, this scribe stops, lifts the pen and begins anew. Here there are many obvious and good examples to choose between, where the 45 degrees screen twists the images into looking as if there were retakes. In for instance this stroke between the omicron-upsilon ligature and the circumflex accent, Carlson sees a pen lift. That is on the middle of the long diagonal line, which also is enlarged in the circle.

On the colour image one can clearly see that this line is drawn in one stroke, yet in a curve which is a characteristic of this scribe when he writes this letter. However, in the b/w image the curve appears as if there is a break in the line and one or two retakes beginning beside/below/above the line. Now, this is a consequence of the line screen not being able to reproduce the curve, and instead beginning on another line of dots along the 45 degrees angle, in order to follow the letter’s curve.

Another example where Carlson spots a pen lift is between the epsilon and gamma in the image presented below. The actual place where the break appears is cut out and enlarged in the ellipse to the left.

It really looks like the epsilon is done separately and the gamma is connected a little bit above the epsilon. As can be seen in the enlargement, the line that begins at the epsilon first follows the 45 degrees angle of the line screen, then turns left straight upwards in a 90 degree angle and the turns right to follow the 45 degrees angle again. The colour image shows that the real angle is about 60 degrees and that there is no break. It can only be seen in the b/w image.

These examples (and there are many) show that when lines are produced at angles which differ markedly from the angles possible to reproduce correctly, the lines will be stepped and it will appear as if the pen was lifted and a new stroke was done beginning on a different level. This is particularly obvious in curves as the line screen is not able to produce smooth bends. In order to follow lines done at perhaps 30 or 60 degrees angle, the dots have to shift position as they are following the 45 degrees angle and the lines will then appear to be stepped.

Tremors due to slow writing
Finally there are the forger’s tremors. Carlson writes: “The ‘forger’s tremor’ appears in the shaky quality of lines that should be smooth curves.” But the curves only appear not to be smooth from the low resolution line screen of Carlson’s images. A good example is the theta presented below, where especially the lower part looks shaky, while none of this can be seen in the high resolution colour image.

One can see that Carlson’s claim that in “the first line of Theodore, the shakiness is evident in the theta of Θεοδώρῳ” only holds true for the b/w image.

Other good examples are the so called squarish omicrons Carlson spotted. He claims that they “are so shakily written as to appear square rather than circular”. Carlson identified four omicrons which he claimed were square-shaped, but here I am picking just one omicron which is quite circular in the colour image, but appears to be a square in the b/w image. This rather heavily magnified omicron may demonstrate why the b/w images become distorted.

When a small circle (in reality this omicrons is less than 1 mm in diameter) is created with these dots, it is mainly following the lines of 45 and 135 degrees angles, forming a square standing on its corner. If one looks at the inner circle in the centre of the omicron, which obviously is quite round, the b/w image composes of only four white squares and the surrounding black dots can then only follow the lines of 45 and 135 degrees angles. The same holds true also for the outer circle.

No basis for judgement
This short survey still demonstrates that Carlson’s assertion that the handwriting of Clement’s letter to Theodoros shows signs of ink blobs, pen lifts, retouches and tremors, cannot withhold a critical examination. These signs lie rather in the poor images Carlson used than in the writing itself. The signs of forgery which Carlson claims could be detected in the handwriting cannot really be used as a basis for judgement of the letter’s authenticity, since the quality of the images he used is simply too poor. On the contrary, it can be said that the high resolution colour images do not show any conspicuously marks of ink blobs, pen lifts, retouches and tremors; thereby strengthening the opinion that the text was indeed written rather swiftly. This does in turn strengthen the opinion that the text was written by a skilled scribe in the eighteenth century.

Roger Viklund


A Comment on Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? by Timo S. Paananen

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 - especially when we consider the difference in quality these two sets of photographs have. Furthermore, the latter were available as high-resolution scans, as Roger Viklund succeeded in obtaining a permission to use them in his previous online article "Reclaiming Clement's Letter to Theodoros - An Examination of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis".

The very same question was asked by Scott G. Brown in his first response to the hoax hypothesis, published in "The Expository Times" in early 2006. (Scott Brown: Reply to Stephen Carlson. The Expository Times 117, 144-149.) Brown concludes that Carlson's choice to prefer the low resolution halftone reproductions "makes no sense". (p. 145 n. 4) Similar doubts were raised by Walter M. Shandruk in 2008: the resolution in Smith's photos - as they were published in 1973 - is not high enough to spot "that sort of tremor" a professional QDE (Questioned Document Examination) expert would like to find for establishing that the text is a forgery. ( Shandruk confessed: "I do not see a tremor" - an observation that Roger Viklund, in early 2009, echoed after he had studied the high-resolution scans of the colour photographs. He, too, could not see many of the "signs of forgery" Carlson affirmed were present in the text. (

Viklund's newest article, "Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis" summarized above, draws yet another bold question mark over Carlson's assessment of the handwriting of Clement's letter to Theodore, and offers a plausible explanation of the general trend of not seeing anything out of place in the quality of the letter's drawn line - there is nothing to be seen, unless one is looking at halftone reproductions of the B/W photographs. There the drawn line is filled with rugged edges, ink blots, and smudges. When the two sets of photographs are put side by side and compared, the difference is striking: it looks like most of the "signs of forgery" disappear when the gaze is moved from the B/W photographs to the colour ones.

A line screen at a 45 degrees angle is a powerful tool. The best examples of the bunch are the various pictures of omicrons, like the one above, where the round omicron of the colour photograph transforms into a clear tilted square in the B/W photograph. Upon my questioning Viklund wrote to me that the technical questions behind the transformation are actually much more complex than the simple line screen limitation, including issues of resolution, the size of the dots, the pattern of the dots and the intelligence of their distribution, even the quality of the paper and the relative humidity of the space where the printing took place. But the end result is clear enough: there are vast differences between the two sets of photographs, differences that seem to question the basis of the handwriting analysis Carlson made.

It will be interesting to see what conclusions the two handwriting experts, Agamemnon Tselikas and Venetia Anastasopoulou that were hired by Biblical Archaeology Review, will offer. Personally, I have begun to feel that anything less than the original MS will be insufficient for establishing anything about the handwriting. I have cited QDE expert Hannah McFarland of the dangers of not using originals (a similar sentiment is shared by the source Brown uses in his Expository Times reply, p. 145 n. 4). Recently, David Henige has offered a similar dire warning in "Historical Evidence and Argument" (University of Wisconsin Press 2005, 198-199, 271-272 n. 56-57). If the BAR experts arrive at some firm conclusion, either for or against the authenticity, I will be a bit suspicious as well as surprised. Instead of debating the undebatable, we should triple our efforts at locating the missing MS.

"Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Further Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis" does not answer the question I began with. 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 the halftone reproductions with line screen at a 45 degrees angle out of his hoax hypothesis entirely.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Per Beskow and the Elusive MS: A Guest Post by Roger Viklund

Roger Viklund, whose online article "Reclaiming Clement's Letter to Theodoros - An Examination of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis" (2009) casts a serious shadow of doubt over the handwriting analysis Stephen C. Carlson carries out in "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark" (2005), has written a guest post concerning Per Beskow's attempts to see the manuscript containing Clement's letter to Theodore, and the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark.

Regular readers may recall that Quentin Quesnell managed to take a look at the elusive manuscript in 1983 - a fact that was generally unknown until Adele Yarbro Collins' 2007 commentary on the Gospel of Mark. Quesnell's story is confirmed by Peter M. Head, who mentioned that he had received a letter from Quesnell himself in 1987. Quesnell wrote that "[a]s to the availability of Smith's document: it was retrieved from Mar Saba about 1976 (I printed a note to that effect in CBQ at the time. ...) It is now in the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Several scholars have reported being turned away when they asked to see it, but in the summer of '83 I was allowed to examine it. I was not allowed to have any of the basic scientific texts done on the ink."

(I am grateful to Peter M. Head for the extra information about the contents of Quesnell's 1987 letter.)

As Roger Viklund shows below, one of the scholars who was turned away happened to be Per Beskow - but not without a reason!

Var så god, Roger!


In 1984 Per Beskow was given permission to see the Mar Saba letter, but was on arrival denied access by an excuse that the letter was sprayed with insecticides and that no one had admission to it.

In 1979, the now retired Swedish Associate Professor in Religious history and Church history Per Beskow, published in Swedish ”Fynd och fusk i bibelns värld: Om vår tids Jesus-apokryfer” (Approximately: “Discoveries and Cheats in the Biblical World: The Jesus apocrypha of our time”). This book was republished in 2005 in a revised edition, then titled: ”Fynd och fusk: Falsarier och mystifikationer omkring Jesus” (Approximately: “Discoveries and Cheats: Forgeries and mystifications about Jesus”). The book has a chapter on the Secret Gospel of Mark, and when the book came in an English translation in 1981 as “Strange Tales about Jesus: A Survey of Unfamiliar Gospels”, it caused some commotion. Beskow himself tells us in the 2005 Swedish edition that when “Strange Tales about Jesus” was published, Smith was seized with fury and threatened to sue the publisher. Therefore the edition was withdrawn and the book republished in 1983 with a rewritten chapter on Secret Mark.

But Beskow also tells us that he decided to take a look at the MS in Jerusalem. He writes: “Thanks to a letter of recommendation from Bishop Kallistos Ware, I had an audience with the patriarch’s secretary, and the next day he announced that His Holiness had given his permission. But when I came to the librarian it came to an end.” (Beskow 2005; my translation from Swedish) He never though explicitly wrote when this would have occurred. So I wrote to Beskow (in Swedish as we both are Swedes). He told me that it was in November 1984 and he also sent me in English a short summary of a passage in a forthcoming article on modern Jesus apocrypha to be published this year in “The Blackwell Companion to the New Testament”. As I have his permission, I will post the relevant parts, and this is basically a translation of what he writes in his Swedish book from 2005. Beskow writes:

“From the very beginning there were doubts about the authenticity of the text. In Strange Tales I did not directly take sides in the debate, but I mentioned that there were reasons to be skeptical to its genuineness, and this had unexpected consequences. Professor Smith got upset about what I had written and threatened to claim one million dollars in damages if the book was not immediately withdrawn, and the publisher yielded to the threat. A new edition was published with some slight changes in the chapter in question (Beskow 1985), which Smith seems to have accepted. Its content was more or less the same as in the first edition, but in the new version I emphasized that I did not accuse Morton Smith of having forged the manuscript (Beskow 1985, 104).

“My curiosity had however been aroused, and I learnt that the manuscript had been moved from the Mar Saba monastery to the library of the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem. In autumn 1984, I went there in the hope of seeing the manuscript, and I also obtained permission from the Patriarch. But then it came to a sudden stop, for the librarian refused to let me into the library. The manuscript had been sprayed with insecticides, he said, and nobody was allowed to come near it. I was not quite convinced by his explanation, for a colleague of mine, looking for another manuscript in the same library six months earlier, had been refused with the same excuse. That is all I have learnt about it until now. I have heard that the pages with the text would have been removed from the volume, but I have not had it confirmed.”

As I said before, this happened in November 1984, a year after Quentin Quesnell actually saw the MS. What to me appears strange is that Beskow was denied access to the letter by an excuse that it was sprayed with insecticides and that no one had admission to it. And it becomes even stranger by the fact that the other scholar half a year earlier also was dismissed for the same reason. As I contacted Beskow, he actually called the other scholar on the phone, Professor Emeritus in History of religions, Anders Hultgård. And Hultgård confirmed that he had problems to get access to the archive in Jerusalem, but that he no longer can remember the details.

Perhaps someone can shed light on this; if it is a standard procedure under certain conditions to spray insecticides on books and MSS? Would not this cause damages to the MSS? And what a strange coincident that this would happen twice in half a year, being the excuse for not giving two Swedish scholars access to the library at two separate occasions!

I would also like to point to Per Beskow’s view on the proposed homosexual relationship between Jesus and the youth. This is what he writes in the summary he sent me from his forthcoming article:

According to Smith there would be hints in the text that Jesus was a homosexual, but this reading is not evident for the reader of the text but arises from Smith’s interpretation of it. It would have been expressed more clearly if this were the purpose of a possible forgery.”

And further Beskow’s view on the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark:

“Personally I still have doubts about its authenticity, but nevertheless I prefer to regard this as an open question.”

Roger Viklund



At the time I am pressing the "Publish Post" button, it is little less than two hours to the beginning of the SBL session concerning the Secret Gospel of Mark, with J. Harold Ellens presiding.