Morton Smith was very busy and would not have had time to forge the Clement letter

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We have established that (at the latest) in a fourteenth century Hebrew version of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is said to have spent the night in Bethany teaching his disciples the Kingdom of God (see: A Fourteenth Century Text in which Jesus Taught the Kingdom of God During the Night at Bethany: Does It Demonstrate That Secret Mark Is an Ancient Text, and Not a Modern Forgery?). Unlike what is said in Secret Mark, there is no mystery of the kingdom of God being taught and there is also not just one disciple but many involved. So, as someone wrote to me, “it’s interesting but not compelling evidence. It probably won’t change any minds.” Yet it is a strange coincidence that an obscure Hebrew version of Matthew should have Jesus teaching the kingdom of God during the night in Bethany, with no indication elsewhere in any Greek, Latin or other texts that Jesus should have done so, before the discovery of the Mar Saba letter in 1958.

“The Cave” proposes only two possible alternatives, namely …

a) Secret Mark relies directly on Shem Tov’s Matthew (likely as a hoax)
b) Shem Tov’s Matthew relies, directly or indirectly, on Secret Mark” (Blocker and Viklund on Hebrew Matthew and Secret Mark)

There is though another possibility, although unlikely, it seems to me. Since the settings are not identical, the tradition could have been invented separately by the Hebrew community and by a forger of Secret Mark. Why this would happen, I do not know, but stranger things have indeed happened.

But if you at least find it to be a remarkable coincidence that these things are said in the Hebrew Matthew, then the thing to resort to if you thinks Smith forged the Clement letter, is that he found the Hebrew text at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTC) after he came to Columbia University in 1957.

The JTC is only a few streets away from Columbia University where Smith had his office, and we know that Smith spent some time at the JTC. Four of the available manuscripts containing the Hebrew text of Matthew are at the JTC. They were for sure inaccessible since they were not transcribed, nor translated, written in quite difficult handwriting and interspersed with anti-Christian commentary; and Smith showed no particular interest in Medieval Hebrew manuscripts.

Yet all the same, those who believe Smith forged the text often come up with all sorts of solutions on how he would have manage to accomplish such a deed as it would be to forge Clement’s letter to Theodoros. He for sure must have been able to imitate the style of both Mark and Clement. To imitate someone like Clement in his own native language is a really difficult task by someone living today and not having Greek as his native language. On top of this he would have chosen to write it down in a difficult 18th century monastic hand with all its different characteristics.

If you then find it too unlikely that Secret Mark just happened to express an idea found in a practically unknown obscure Hebrew 14th century text of Matthew, and you still think Smith forged the Clement letter, there is only one realistic scenario left. Smith must have found this Hebrew text at JTC after he entered his duties at Columbia University; i.e. sometime during the year preceding his discovery at Mar Saba in the summer of 1958.

But this is highly unlikely, because he was so occupied at this time and to make a forgery of this kind means that Smith would have needed a long, long time to make all the preparations, including to achieve all the abilities needed for the project. I do not think he would have been able to accomplish this even if he spent almost his whole life preparing for the task. But all the same, he would have had just one year at his disposal, if he by chance would have found the text almost immediately as he arrived.

So, it is then interesting to read what he himself writes on the issue regarding the time he had available. The letter presented below was written by Smith in December 1957 to his good friend and mentor Gershom Sholem (1897–1982) regarding a book by Sholem which he obviously had promised Sholem to read.

“The Department of History[1]
Columbia University
New York 27, N.. Y.
December 9, 1957

Dear Gershom,
This is an apology for having done nothing on your book since I saw you last, and having every expectation of doing nothing for the next twelve months to come. The fact is that my courses and preparation for courses to come are taking every bit of my time. I have some 95 students in my general course on ancient history, and this has meant a great deal of paper work. That course and another, on classical literature, which I am teaching, I had never given before; the subjects covered lie somewhat outside my former field; and consequently I have had to work constantly on preparation for them. I’m standing the strain all right, but by summer I shall be dead tired, so I am planning to spend the whole of the summer in the Near East – from mid-June to mid-July in Jordan, a week in Israel (when I hope to see you and Thanya[2]), a week in Istanbul, a month in northern Greece, hunting for collections of manuscripts in the monasteries of Chalcidice (excluding Athos), and a week each in Rome, Paris, and London. This means that when I get back I shall have another term of keeping up with my courses, but I hope that by a year from now all will be in hand, and I shall be able to get back to Reshit HaKabbalah. If you do not wish to wait this long for the completion of the work (longer, in fact, since if I start it again in January 59 I shall not be through before fall of that year; you know my speed) I shall be quite willing to turn over to you the part completed to date. For myself, however, I should like to go on and finish the translation of the work, and seriously intend to do so as soon as I can get time.”

Smith apologizes for not having had time to do anything on Gershom Sholem’s book because his courses take every bit of his time. He has never given courses on ancient history and on classical literature before, since they are a bit outside his field and he has to make a lot of preparations. He says that he is expecting of doing nothing for the next twelve month to come but that he will spend all summer in the Near East.

One might notice that the visit to Israel for a week mentioned by Smith, should have been the week following upon his stay at Mar Saba. Still there is no indication in this letter that he meant to go there.

All the same, I find it almost impossible to believe that Smith could have spent anywhere near the time needed to procure the abilities needed to make a forgery like the Mar Saba letter in this period of his life. If so, we again must assume that Smith, the “evil hater of Christianity”, disguised his evil plan by giving his friend the impression that he had much to do, while he in reality was using all his time to make the forgery – neglecting his duties towards his students.

Yet, we also know that Smith wanted all of his literary remains destroyed after his death and the fact that so much has remained is not anything Smith had control of after his death. These were letters which Smith wanted to have destroyed. If his purpose for writing the letters were to mislead the posterity, then he would not have ordered them to be destroyed.

Roger Viklund, 2011-08-08

5 kommentarer

  1. 9 augusti, 2011 den 00:57

    Of course those arguing for forgery would claim he was too busy forging his letter to concentrate on his classes.

    I have been trying to find any evidence that Smith was ever invited to Mar Saba. I can’t find any sign that Smith knew ahead of time that he would have had access to the library. This means that we have to imagine that Smith went ahead with this massive forgery without knowing that he would get into Mar Saba.

    It would have to be Mar Saba of course because of the connection with John of Damascus. If he was going to forge a text like this, John of Damascus’s reference to ‘Letters of Clement of Alexandria’ at Mar Saba provide the necessary ‘proof’ that the discovery was authentic.

    I find it hardest of all to believe that Smith would have taken all the time required to pull of this forgery without knowing that he would even get access to the library. Just leaving the book there wouldn’t work because it would just get lost in a pile. It’s just untenable to put all this effort into a project that has little chance of getting off the ground.

    I have been trying to contact the Patriarchate and have also talked to people about the Patriarchate’s promptness with respect to answering emails and phone messages. It just doesn’t happen.

    Smith wouldn’t have taken the time to forge the Letter to Theodore for the same reason. You never know what’s going to happen next with these people.

    Anyone who has ever gotten access to the library has been utterly surprised about ‘winning the lottery’ so to speak. Who starts buying yachts thinking that a lottery receipt is a ticket to riches? In the same way Morton Smith didn’t forge Mar Saba 65


  2. 9 augusti, 2011 den 08:56

    And since he of course ”modelled” his forgery upon the novel ”The Mystery of Mar Saba”, the book had to be found at Mar Saba.


  3. the_cave said,

    10 augusti, 2011 den 04:23

    Heh, I’d forgotten about that :)

    Of course. So, he couldn’t have thought up the hoax until he’d been invited to Mar Saba. So it must have happened in early 1957, and he only had six months (at most) to dream up and carry out the whole scheme. Good thing he’d been practicing his Seventeenth-Century Greek handwriting. (Joking.)

    I have to say it’s looking pretty bad for the hoax hypothesis at this point.


  4. Ed-M said,

    10 augusti, 2011 den 23:01

    I’ve been keeping up on this Secret mark business also. There is just too much that upends the crazy conspiracy theory that Morton Smith forged Secret mark and Clement’s letter to Theodore. I have seen 17th Century printed Greek. I found it to be utterly illegible. To me, the idea that he forged the whole thing in 18th Century handwritten Greek is more ludicrous than the 9/11 Truther movement’s pet theory that Bush and Company made the September 11, 2001 attacks happen on purpose!


  5. 11 augusti, 2011 den 06:40


    I can’t find any evidence that Smith was ever invited. He didn’t know he’d have access to the library until he arrived at the front door of Mar Saba. Unless I am missing something …



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