Paananen & Viklund, “An Eighteenth-Century Manuscript”

And they come to Beat any. And certain authors whose article was published was there. And, coming, they prostrated themselves before them and says to them, “have mercy on us”. But they rebuked them. And the authors, being angered, went off with the article into the unknown where the public was, and straightway a great cry was heard. And going near they took away the veil to make it public.

So, at last the peer-reviewed article that Timo Paananen and I have written has been published in Apocrypha: International Journal of Apocryphal Literatures.

Timo S. Paananen & Roger Viklund, “An Eighteenth-Century Manuscript: Control of the Scribal Hand in Clement’s Letter to Theodore”, Apocrypha 26 (2015) 261–298.

The peer review method is “single-blind undertaken by a specialist member of the Board or an external specialist”. This article sort of picks up from our previous article on Stephen Carlson’s handwriting analysis on Clement’s letter to Theodoros, “Distortion of the Scribal Hand in the Images of Clement’s Letter to Theodore”, Vigiliae Christianae 67 (2013), 235-247”. This time it is not primarily Carlson’s analysis that we examine, but the other three analyses made—those by Scott G. Brown, Venetia Anastasopoulou and Agamemnon Tselikas. The abstract reads:

This article discusses Morton Smith’s role as a self-professed manuscript hunter in uncovering the only known copy of Clement’s Letter to Theodore, and critically assesses the existing studies on its handwriting. We argue that Stephen C. Carlson’s analysis is flawed due to its dependence on distorted images, that Agamemnon Tselikas’s study has a number of problems due to the unsuitability of applying standard palaeographic practices to a case of suspected deception, and that Venetia Anastasopoulou has made a sustainable case by arguing that Smith could not have imitated the difficult eighteenth- century script—a qualitative verdict strengthened by our quantitative study of the lack of signs of control. We conclude that the handwriting is indistinguishable from authentic eighteenth-century handwriting.

Hopefully we will also be able to publish the article on our websites, at least a version without the layout of the magazine. But for the time being, I will make a short summary of the most important aspects of the article dealing with Clement’s letter to Theodore with extracts from the Secret Gospel of Mark.

We begin by examining Smith’s role as a manuscript hunter. We show that he actually fits very well with the new manuscript hunter archetype, being armed with a camera and publishing his notes, like the other manuscript hunters were doing. We also argue that Smith did not in any way try to control the access to the manuscript, and did all one would expect a scholar to do. And if there is a typical hallmark for manuscript forgers, it is their efforts to prohibit others from gaining access to the manuscripts.

We survey Scott Brown’s examination of Stephen Carlson’s analysis, and how he revealed the flaws of Carlson’s methods. These analyses by Brown have mostly been overlooked and has not been given the attention they deserve to be given.

Next we make a study of the different disciplines of forensic (or: questioned) document examination (Venetia Anastasopoulou’s field of expertize) and palaeography (Agamemnon Tselikas’ field of expertize). Many people seem to be unaware that these are different areas of expertise and actually two areas that do not communicate particularly well with each other. Anastasopoulou and Tselikas have both examined the photos of the manuscript in order to decide if it is a genuine text or a forged text. Anastasopoulou considered it to be genuine and that Smith could not have written it, and Tselikas thought it was a forgery made by Smith.

While Anastasopoulou is an expert in detecting forgeries and her discipline are trained to decide whether two writings are done by two different authors or in fact by the same author, Tselikas is working in an area where there seldom are forgeries. His discipline are experts in deciding in what century a certain writing was done and in what school that way of forming the letters were taught. Tselikas is accordingly concentrating on the way the letters are written, while Anastasopoulou focuses on the line quality and the rhythm of the writing to decide whether the writing was done unconsciously and automatic, or if the writing rather was slowly drawn in trying to imitate someone else’s writing.

Recent studies of the results by the forensic document examiners show that during the last decades this discipline has improved significantly, and that forensic document examiners are significantly better in deciding if a text is forged or not than lay people are. Although neither Timo nor I am forensic document examiners, and accordingly cannot decide if the text of Clement’s letter to Theodore is genuine or not, we can at least show that Anastasopoulou’s methods are sound and by the book. Her conclusion that it is highly unlikely that Morton Smith could have imitated the script of the Clement letter, has accordingly some force.

In order to assess her conclusions, we made a study of the amount of control in other handwritings, by comparison. We took two manuscripts from the eighteenth century with a handwriting quite similar to the one of the Clement letter. We then simply counted the number of pen lifts, or more correctly, the number of letters or glyphs written in combination. One of the best ways to discover a forgery is to count pen lifts, since a forger is bound to rely on sight in order to imitate and therefore often needs to stop to check the exemplar. It turned out that of the three scripts we studied, Clement’s letter to Theodore showed the least signs of control, solely judged by the number of pen lifts. This study would then support Anastasopoulou’s conclusion that the writing is authentic.

We also made an examination of Tselikas’ study by checking all nineteen examples he gives of “poor knowledge of Greek” in the letter, and came to question his conclusions. We also evaluated his attempt to connect the writing of the letter to that of Morton Smith. In light of what the school of forensic document examination teaches, his conclusions does not follow from his analysis. His conclusions are incorrect if we are to trust the “rules” of forensic document examination. One example is Tselikas’ comparison of a the way a few simple letters in the Clement letter are written compared to how Smith wrote the same letters, and where Tselikas does not consider one of the most important observations, that of natural variation. In order for a comparative study to have any value, it has to compare a lot of letters in order to find the typical way of forming that letter and to discover individual characteristics present in both writings.

Our conclusion is that the letter is indistinguishable from authentic eighteenth-century writing and should be treated as such—as a letter written in the eighteenth century.

Roger Viklund, March 29, 2016