When Stephen Carlson published his book The Gospel Hoax in 2005, it was said to be the ”Smoking Gun”, which not only would prove that Clement’s letter to Theodoros, containing excerpts from an otherwise unknown longer version of the Gospel of Mark was a forgery, but also that Morton Smith was the forger. Since then we have come a long way and most, if not every single, argument presented by Carlson has been refuted. In his Apocryphicity blog, Tony Burke gives his Reflections on the Secret Mark Symposium, part 2, and then writes the following regarding Charles Hedrick’s speech:
“Hedrick also dismisses Stephen Carlson’s arguments as “less-than-circumstantial evidence”—indeed, very little of Carlson’s evidence, which has been effectively countered by Scott Brown, Allan Pantuck, and Roger Viklund, was discussed during the day, and it seems to have been abandoned even by those who argue against the text’s authenticity.”
The thing that strikes me the most is the fact that Carlson’s arguments, which were the arguments said to beyond any reasonable doubt prove that the letter was a forgery, now has “has been effectively countered”, and that to an extent that “it seems to have been abandoned even by those who argue against the text’s authenticity”. Yet, there is still no change in the opinion among the forgery advocators. Although all the previous arguments which were considered to be the strongest have been refuted and abandoned, they have just been replaced with new arguments, or to be more precise, with some of the same arguments rehashed. It seems like the hub around which everything turns is that the letter is a forgery and that Smith forged it. Every single clue leading in this direction, no matter how small a spot of, is used in order to show that Smith forged the text. And when those arguments are demolished one by one, they are just replaced by yet other weak proposals that Smith forged it anyway.
Burke tells us about Charles Hedrick’s paper:
“As part of his paper, Hedrick discusses the statement on the text issued by paleographer Agamemnon Tselikas and some reflections on an interview Hedrick conducted with Tselikas. What is striking about Tselikas’ comments is that they seem at variance with even the evidence he cites—i.e., the text was written in an 18th-century Greek hand, which could not be executed by Smith himself, yet Smith is identified as the forger, having brought the manuscript from another monastery during his travels in Greece as a secret agent working for the US and/or Britain (!).”
This is also a striking example of the same method. The “text was written in an 18th-century Greek hand, which could not be executed by Smith himself, yet Smith is identified as the forger.” I mean, Anastasopoulou’s verdict strongly suggest that Smith could not have written the text himself. This was apparently further strengthened by Allan Pantuck on the conference. In Report on Secret Gospel of Mark Symposium Pt 3, Ryan Wettlaufer summarizes Allan Pantuck’s speech, where …
“he wanted to show how Smith’s life would have left him ill-equipped to create a forgery like sm. For example, Pantuck showed several personal letters wherein Smith lamented his poor Greek skills. He confirmed this with personal writings of other scholars who commented on Smith’s poor Greek skills. These poor skills, Pantuck argued, mean that Smith could not have had the ability to compose a fake letter of Clement.”
Under normal circumstances, one would think that this would lead to at least some consideration among the forgery proponents. But not really. Instead some seem to say that if Smith did not write the text in his own hand he must have had a collaborator – because, as you know, he still must have been the forger. This is how Burke summarizes the present opinion based on Anastasopoulou’s report:
“Her conclusions seem to be universally accepted; no-one at the symposium seems to claim now that Smith personally wrote the text. Even Tselikas agrees with this assessment, believing that Smith had someone from another monastery write it for him.”
But then, who would have composed the text? If Smith did not have the ability to write in a fluid Greek 18th century style, which Anastasopoulou has convincingly shown, and if Smith had such “poor Greek skills”, which both Smith and his colleagues according to Pantuck confirmed – who then composed the letter? Smith not only had insufficient training for writing in this elaborated hand, his skills were not good enough in order to compose the Greek text. It is a huge difference between being able to fairly good read a language and to be able to compose a letter imitating the style of an ancient writer who had Greek as his native language. If Smith would have had a collaborator then this person not only would have had to be excellently skilled in writing this difficult 18th century Greek handwriting, he (or she) would also have had to compose the actual text of Clement (and of Mark). If your skills in Greek are poor, then it is almost a superhuman task to imitate a letter of Clement. I am sure it is no problem for anyone with English as their native language to realize that I do not have English as my native language. So we then end up with a collaborator of Smith who not only wrote the actual text but also must have composed the letter. And if so, what need is there for Smith at all?
And if it is not a modern forgery, then at least it should be an ancient forgery, some argue. Hedrick’s reply to this was interesting. He referred to the endings later made (but not that much later) to the Gospel of Mark (16:9–20), and said that they …
“are not particularly ‘Markan’ in style, so perhaps ‘Mark later emended his own text—just as Clement said!’”
I was also pleased to notice that Burke makes the same objection as I do on Craig Evans’ dishonesty when presenting the material. Burke says the following about Evans’ presentation:
“He writes that in the gospel ‘Jesus teaches a naked young man’ (but the youth is not naked) and later ‘Jesus in the nude instructs a young convert’ (nor is Jesus nude). Such flustering over a ‘gay Jesus’ is reminiscent of the controversy over Tinky-winky, the gay Teletubbie, and the unsavoury relationship between Spongebob and Patrick. These all seem to reflect the anxieties of the viewer/reader and have little basis in reality. Evans also notes along the way some other dubious arguments for forgery: the presence of mildew and mold spots on the manuscript (all we have are photographs; the nature of these “spots” cannot be determined), the forger’s tremor (which is not apparent in the better photographs), and Carlson’s report from a professional handwriting expert (which has been shown to have been edited to strengthen his position).”
I consider Evans to be very ill-informed on this subject, and he actually does not work as a scholar in this area as he is presenting outright falsehoods and also continues to put forward arguments that already have been shown to be faulty. I cannot see how he by now could be ignorant of this, and the only conclusion that can be made from this is that he is using the arguments for apologetic reasons only.
Burke tells us that he “had no firm view about Secret Mark’s authenticity” when he went to the symposium:
“Now that the symposium has concluded, I am convinced Smith did not create the text; rather, he found it at Mar Saba exactly as he claimed.”
He also reports on the audience’s opinion:
“By the end of the morning, the argument for forgery seemed to be convincing many of the audience members at the symposium. The coincidences that were unsettling Evans were unsettling others also. But the afternoon session included a paper that swung opinion toward authenticity, and convinced me once and for all that Smith did not, indeed could not, have forged the text.”
Roger Viklund, 2011-04-15