As I said in my previous post (Scott Brown’s take on the handwriting of the Mar Saba letter), Peter Jeffery seems to be the “only” advocate of the theory that Clement’s letter to Theodoros (the Mar Saba letter) is a forgery, and at the same time also being willing to defend his position. Yesterday, the same day as Scott Brown published his Thoughts on the Reports by Venetia Anastasopoulou (which I commented upon earlier today) also Peter Jeffery had a short text published at BAR’s website: Additional Response to Handwriting Analysis.
Peter Jeffery, Scheide Professor of Music History Emeritus, Princeton University, wrote in 2007 The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery (New Haven: Yale University Press). Together with Stephen Carlson, who seems to have vanished from the scene, he was, and still is, a leading forgery proponent.
Peter Jeffery’s main thesis is that the Mar Saba letter reflects homosexual ideas which best are to be seen in the light of the twentieth-century gay movement, and which also corresponds to the ideas held by the late Professor Morton Smith. In a previous contribution at BAR, Response to Handwriting Analysis, he said that he believes that Venetia Anastasopoulou’s handwriting analysis “does raise the bar for those who argue that Smith penned the Mar Saba document in his own hand (a claim I never made myself).” Be as that may, his whole book circled around one issue; i.e. Morton Smith being the forger.
In his new Additional Response to Handwriting Analysis, Jeffery seems to advance his position even further. Given the additional explanation presented by Venetia Anastasopoulou in Can a Document in Itself Reveal a Forgery? – Jeffery says that if “Anastasopoulou is right, therefore, we are left with a text that was transcribed by a Greek”. Although he never says it out loud, he still silently seems to accept Anastasopoulou’s conclusion that Smith did not write the letter. Jeffery said in his previous post that he never claimed that Smith himself penned the Mar Saba letter. But as he never seems to have said the opposite and he used most of the space in his book for accusing Smith of being a forger, I consider his “acceptance” that Smith did not write the letter himself as a small conversion. His willingness to adjust his theory, if only marginal, still is commendable.
But Jeffery still withhold that Smith probably was the counterfeiter, although he probably did not write the letter in his own hand. He says that the reason for suspecting the Mar Saba letter of being a forgery “is not the handwriting, but the content”. He considers it to be “more consonant with Morton Smith’s opinions than with the early Christian period.” He further claims that “proponents of an early Christian origin need to start explaining why a second-century date that leaves the text uninterpretable should be preferred to a twentieth-century date that renders it perfectly clear.” I consider this to be an inference based on Jeffery’s own reading of the letter and his own perception of what Christianity looked like in the first centuries; and then especially in Alexandria. Stephan Huller has in his “zealous” blogging made it quite clear that the Secret Gospel of Mark fits perfectly well in the context of early Alexandrian Christianity.
Jeffery refers to Scott G. Brown’s interpretation of “the document as an early Christian text” in the latter’s book Mark’s Other Gospel. He considers it to wish away all difficulties by means of “retranslation and bald-faced denial: Mark’s other gospel was mystical, not secret; it was not controversial despite Clement’s fulminations against heretics; it does not hint that Jesus practiced homosexual rites; it says nothing, in fact, that can’t already be found in canonical Mark.”
Now, this is really not what I found in Brown’s book. But of course he denies to have seen any “homosexual rites” as such are not to be found in the text and can only be visualized through the eyes of the beholder. I do not always agree with Brown, especially on his view that Clement was right and the Secret Gospel was an expansion of the canonical Mark, when it probably was just the opposite and canonical Mark was a reduction of Secret Mark (I am not convinced that Brown maintain this position today). (Update, January 27: Scott Brown sent a word that he still believes that canonical Mark preceded secret Mark.)
Anyway, Jeffery is arguing that although Smith might not have written the letter in his own hand, he still was the master behind its design. He rightly says that although Anastasopoulou stated that “it is the hand of someone who wrote with the fluency of a native Greek; she does not know who or when. Nor does she know if this Greek was the text’s author, or was perhaps copying it from another source, such as an earlier manuscript or a draft by Morton Smith.” This now seems to be Jeffery’s main theory, as he accepts that Smith could not have written the letter in his own hand, but still is convinced that the ideas presented are Smith’s.
However, Jeffery’s “new” proposal (and I believe this will be the future forgery theory, since it from now on will be difficult to claim that Smith himself could have imitated this extremely skilled eighteenth century Greek monastic hand) is that Smith had an assistant or an accomplice. This really is the only alternative if he shall withhold that Smith both did it and did not do it. It then had to be a Greek (or someone extremely versed in eighteenths century Greek monastic writing) accomplice. How Smith then managed to find such a person, who was both skilled enough and at the same time willing to take part in Smith’s personal vendetta against Christianity, remains a mystery. Why would anyone have participated in Smith’s personal vendetta and then kept this a secret for the rest of his or her life? Since there could not possible have been any money in this, there really seems to be no motive at all for such an act. This is by far more unlikely than Smith pulling this off by himself.
In his previous contribution, Response to Handwriting Analysis, Jeffery also suggested other alternatives. He claims that if “the Mar Saba scribe was not Smith” we do not know who it was. Besides being an “unknown Greek accomplice of Smith” it could have been a “rival of his who successfully deceived him?” But one has to ask oneself what motive of “hate” could have motivated one of Smith’s colleagues to do such a thing? The task of accomplishing this perfect forgery will then stand out as even more improbable. Since it already is extremely unlikely that Smith could have acquired all these incredible skills, and invested such a massive effort in order to produce a forgery that no one could disprove and took the secret with him to the grave; then how unlikely would it not be that a colleague of Smith would have done all this and taken his secret with him to the grave? Why then did not the colleague reveal his “prank”? What is the point of deceiving someone without ever revealing this deception or trick? And are we also to suspect that this colleague who deceived Smith also hired an accomplice, a Greek with firsthand knowledge of how to fake an extremely skilled eighteenth century Greek monastic hand? And how did this colleague manage to smuggle the book to the Mar Saba monastery, as outsiders seldom were allowed to visit? This scenario creates far more problems than it solves.
The third alternative would then, according to Jeffery, be that the person who wrote this really was “an 18th-century monk” who had mastered this style of writing. But if so, we have immensely dissociated ourselves from Jeffery’s original thesis on Morton Smith as the malicious gay loather of Christianity. On top of that, also all the other problems arise – how someone in the 18th-century would have managed to create this letter in the spirit of Clement; a letter which according to several experts would have been almost impossible to create until Otto Stählin’s concordance of Clement’ vocabulary was published in 1936.
Roger Viklund, 2011-01-25