On the Secret Mark Conference and Hunter at Mar Saba

Below I will present a new piece of information on Hunter, so don’t miss it!


Francis Watson

Poisoning the well – that seems to be the tactic among at least some of the Secret Mark forgery proponents. When there really are no arguments left for forgery and especially one done by Morton Smith, the tactic seems to be just to throw suspicion on Morton Smith. This was my impression after having read Francis Watson’s (I would not call it an article) latest contribution Beyond Reasonable Doubt: A Response to Allan J. Pantuck in BAR, where he very poorly defended his position when challenged by Allan Pantuck (Solving the Mysterion of Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark). It actually looked like he had no defense for the arguments he had rehashed from for instance Stephen Carlson. Still his ”hope and expectation is that it will be increasingly ignored by scholars”; which is a way of poisoning the well.

It just is not enough to say that Pantuck’s response “does not amount to much” because Jesus was “teaching the mystery of the kingdom of God, even though the nocturnal setting and the partial or complete nudity of the two male participants hint at ‘rites’ of a strictly private nature.”This is no real defense for his position as no one in the preserved Secret Mark text is said to be nude, and it is just a way to hint at Morton Smith’s unproven homosexuality and even more unproven linger to destroy Christianity by inventing a clever gay party with Jesus and the youth. This is just a way to poison the well and to maintain your position without any factual evidence. It just is not enough to say that “my argument does not assert or require a total continuity between Smith’s views pre- and post-discovery”.

What has happened, and what some like Peter Jeffery has already noticed, is that there is a turning of the tide and a shift in position. When Carlson published his book The Gospel Hoax in 2005, many people seem to have been convinced that it now was proven that the letter was a forgery and that Morton Smith did it. Now, I do not know how many were convinced, but at least those shouting out the loudest were convinced. In time, however, Carlson’s arguments were demolished one by one by especially Scott Brown and later by Allan Pantuck, and Carlson decided to withdraw from the scene without even saying goodbye. Still his arguments were recycled although they in reality already had been as thoroughly refuted as one can expect, when they often were not based on any actual evidence but just possibilities in order to throw suspicion on Smith. How can you refute insinuations?

There has been a shift in position and now the forgery proponents are on the defense, trying to defend their suspicion-throwing, still without any evidence to back it up. That is probably the reason for Watson’s lame attempt to defend his position. He has nothing to back it up with.

And then there was the Secret Mark conference in Toronto this weekend, which I of course could not attend on the other side of the globe (see: York Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series). So I will only refer to what I have heard and been told and also has read about. Apparently, according to Allan Pantuck in a private e-mail, my work on the forger’s tremor was discussed very favorably by Tony Burke and others, which pleases me. After all, I did make a small contribution in destroying the one “evidence” which seemed to be objective, based on some sort of controllable fact; the one evidence which was found most convincing by most people (also by me). (See:  Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? and Reclaiming Clement’s Letter to Theodoros) It all just came down to Stephan Carlson having been misled by using printed screened images instead of real photographs (or at least scanned photographs) and thereby seeing tremors which only were the result of the images being screened for the printing process.

At the conference Allan Pantuck in a paper made a reply to Craig Evans’ original talk; a paper I have read. The two issues in Evans’ talk which Pantuck responded to were basically the same as the ones discussed by Watson so I won’t bother you with this once again. I have already expressed my doubts concerning Evans’ ignorance of this subject (One Thousand and One Untruths). Evans is rehashing what Watson was rehashing from Carlson which he was rehashing from others. Morton Smith read a spy novel by James Hunter and decided to imitate some of the plot and some of its wording and make a similar forgery as the one presented in the book; then go to the Mar Saba monastery and plant it there in order to destroy Christianity. I have written on this on several occasions (see for instance: Allan J. Pantuck on the Secret Gospel of Mark) and find the ideas to be extremely incomprehensible.

But Pantuck presents a new piece of evidence. James Hogg Hunter actually went to Mar Saba himself. Pantuck has spoken to Hunter’s son and he told him that his father went to the monastery in 1931. The son had read the 1931 tour material which said that James Hunter in the early morning hours …

“set out from Jerusalem on a donkey with a special permit obtained from the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem. Carrying food and water into the desert his small party journeyed through the valley of Hennon – the Gehenna of the New Testament, then through the valley of Fire, and three hours later came to the [Mar Saba] monastery founded by Euthyarius in 474 AD.” (Allan J. Pantuck in his reply to Evans, p. 11)

Of course this makes the proposed parallels even more understandable. It would come as no surprise that when dealing with the same subject, and when the events took place at same site, there will be some generic parallels. But if the author of the novel also visited the same places as the discoverer of the manuscript did, then of course the chances of even more direct parallels further increases. Both Smith and Hunter must have been riding the same path through the valley, seeing the monastery in a similar light from a similar angle. Talking to the monks and learning of the history of the monastery with all its legends. And one of the most important issues is of course ancient manuscripts and all the inciting stories of rare manuscripts, hidden in caves in order to save them for posterity.

If Hunter then later came up with the idea to write a novel where some of the action takes place at Mar Saba and Smith later visits the same monastery and eventually will make an astounding discovery there, the chances that they both will refer to the issues of Mar Saba in a similar way seems to be quite high. They must have seen the same things, heard the same stories and learned the same things. If I go to Paris and report of the surrounding of the Eifel tower, there is a good chance that it at least superficially will resemble the reports given by other people who also have been to Paris.

Roger Viklund, 2011-05-01

3 kommentarer

  1. 1 maj, 2011 den 11:25

    ”Apparently, according to Allan Pantuck in a private e-mail, my work on the forger’s tremor was discussed very favorably by Tony Burke and others, which pleases me.”

    Yes they love you like the husband love his mistress – with a whisper and behind closed doors.


  2. 1 maj, 2011 den 11:27

    As I just wrote on your blog:

    It just struck me. Maybe it was Hunter who forged the document? After all, he proved in his novel that he was capable of forging “The Shred of Nicodemus” and we know that he was at Mar Saba before Smith went there. :)


  3. Dave Hindley said,

    2 maj, 2011 den 03:33


    ”But Pantuck presents a new piece of evidence. James Hogg Hunter actually went to Mar Saba himself. Pantuck has spoken to Hunter’s son and he told him that his father went to the monastery in 1931.”

    I had long suspected Hunter had more familiarity with Mar Saba than has been assumed. In my case, I had wondered if the family name Hogg indicated a connection to the Hogg missionary family. John Hogg, the patriarch, worked in Egypt but had also spent time in Jerusalem. I note that his description of the monks’ depravity is mirrored in Rena Hogg’s biography of her father.

    Perhaps, in some way, Hunter had heard of the Voss book with the text in the end pages. In this case, he may not have known what was actually in the text, but spun a story based upon it. Knowing he had actually visited the place adds credence to my hunch. Dave



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