Loren Rosson III: “Secret Mark Still Fools People”

In a post on the Secret Gospel of Mark (HERE), Nashua librarian Loren Rosson III, administrator of The Busybody blog, offers some comments on Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?, the collection of papers from the 2011 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. I appreciate the attention paid to the book and, though I try to resist responding to reviews (I don't want to be perceived as having thin skin), I wanted to correct a few misstatements in the post.

Rosson obviously supports the theory that Secret Mark is a forgery perpetrated by Morton Smith, the scholar who discovered the manuscript of the text in the Mar Saba monastery. To support his position, Rosson repeats many of the arguments offered by previous scholars–including, the text's apparent "seal of authenticity"; it promotes a "gay Jesus," which reflects Smith's own (unconfirmed) homosexuality; it supports theories Smith had about Jesus before the text's discovery; the so-called "Morton Salt Company" clue; and the connections between Smith's discovery and the James Hunter's 1940 novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba. Given the weight of these arguments, Rosson is surprised that people remain "fooled" by Smith's hoax; indeed, he concludes this section of the post with the comment, "only fools and the willfully obtuse maintain Smith's innocence."

Rosson then turns to his discussion of Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? He focuses most of his attention on Scott Brown's and Allan Pantuck's response to Craig Evans's overview of the theory of forgery, and picks out two rather minor points advanced by Brown and Pantuck against one aspect of the theory. Unfortunately, Rosson does not discuss the more salient points raised by the authors in the collection against the forgery theory, including the dismantling of most of the arguments mentioned above and the recent document analyses commissioned by Biblical Archeology Review which demonstrate that Smith could not have written the manuscript himself. Also, Rosson states the common fallacy that "no one has ever seen this 'discovery', aside from Smith himself," which is untrue–Quentin Quesnell saw it in 1983 and Father Kallistos Dourvas, the Greek Patriarchate librarian, took colour photographs of the manuscript (these were published in 2000). The Symposium on Secret Mark was created as an effort to finetune the debate on the text, to dispense with arguments that were no longer viable (including that no-one but Smith had seen the manuscript), and focus on those that continued to hold weight. Though the assembled scholars did not achieve any consensus on the text (which was unlikely to happen), it was apparent that most of the standard arguments had to be dispensed with–indeed, they were barely even mentioned over the course of the event.

Secret Mark is the most maligned text in biblical scholarship, and its discoverer has been unfairly indicted with a "crime" unforgivable by his peers. I doubt that we will ever have unequivocal evidence that Smith did or did not create the text, but I hope we can at least raise the level of discourse on Secret Mark and examine it with appropriate academic rigour.

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2 Responses to Loren Rosson III: “Secret Mark Still Fools People”

  1. And they wonder why the humanities are so maligned in the real world? To accuse someone of forgery there has to at least be some convincing evidence. Does any of this nonsense rise to the level of anything close to meeting a legal threshold for a ‘proof’ of wrong doing? No of course not. But the circular argument that is used always is ‘experts’ – that is experts in the humanities – ‘say there is something to the (conspiracy) theory.’

    But once you scratch the surface of that statement you notice how shallow it is. Take the Jesus wife fragment. I know for a fact that the tests have already been conducted on that fragment. Don’t know what the results are but the same nitwits who try to make something of the ‘silence’ surrounding Mar Saba 65 (ummm Smith is dead and can’t talk and the monks at the monastery are well monks at a monastery – i.e. anti-social xenophobes) have tried to make something about the ‘silence’ surrounding the length of time for the testing of the Jesus wife fragment.

    I will only use their initials – MG and LH – both instrumental in foisting ‘the Gospel Hoax’ on to the world have tried to manufacture a second act here with respect to the Jesus Wife Fragment (the underlying assumption of all this must be of course is that academia is filled with scoundrels!!). But this time I think the joke is on them.

    Again I don’t know that the tests will prove the fragment is authentic but it sure looks that way.

    In any event the humanities is a joke. ‘These people know nothing and they are making a fool of themselves time and again. Do you want to take research further? I am too busy making money in the real world. Here is the next frontier of research.

    Go to Princeton. For some reason there are about four or five boxes of receipts and administrative papers that originally came from Constantinople but somehow made their way to Princeton. The period overlaps with the proposed range of dates for the manuscript. Somewhere in those boxes if going to be a handwriting match for Mar Saba 65.

    I am going there this summer. But if anyone wants to beat me there be my guest.

  2. stephan says:

    Alright, maybe that was a little over the top (substitute Istanbul for Constantinople). But the boxes are there, the tests have been performed and there is no substantial reason to think Harvard makes scholars turn to a life of crime

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