Friday, June 18, 2010

Biblical Archaeology Review Says "We Will Not Be Publishing Agamemnon Tselikas's Report on the Mar Saba Document in Our July/August Issue"

I have been calling Bonnie Mullen at the Biblical Archaeology Review since last week in order to find out if - as Peter Head suggested last month - that the magazine was seeking to capitalize on interest in its efforts to establish the authenticity of the Mar Saba document by holding back on Agamemnon Tselikas's report for another month. "Nothing could be further from the truth," Bonnie Mullen told me today. "Tselikas has not sent us his report," she said, "as such we cannot publish anything this issue or in any future issue until he fulfills his original obligations to the magazine."

When I asked if they had any idea why it was that Tselikas hadn't submitted a report Mullen refused to speculate. However I have a theory which I must admit is based on nothing other than initial conversations with mutual friends BEFORE he was contacted by BAR to develop a report on the Mar Saba document.

Tselikas shares the supposition of those inside the monastery that the document is a forgery. He uncovered a matching handwriting sample from another monastery but his efforts to (a) establish that sample as a forgery and further (b) as a forgery by Morton Smith or some modern hand have failed.

Why have they failed? Again, this is nothing more than speculation on my part. If he found a sample of an otherwise uninteresting manuscript he certainly could have tested a sample of the ink for the date of the composition. It must have been one of the first things he or any researcher would have done after uncovering the manuscript.

One would expect that a case identifying Morton Smith as the forger would have progressed fairly easy from there.

Nevertheless, as I reported here long before Herschel Shanks comments in the BAR about his phone conversation with Tselikas, his discovery of this second handwriting sample happened at over five months ago. He missed numerous deadlines with the editorial department since then, none of which can be attributed to any length of time to get carbon dating results from a lab. As Shanks noted in last months issue:

Agamemnon Tselikas... has concluded that Morton Smith forged the letter containing Secret Mark. Based on our conversations, this is the basis for Dr. Tselikas’s conclusion: He has examined other manuscripts from Mar Saba and concluded that the Secret Mark letter was not written by a monk there. He has located another document at another monastery that he believes was written by the monk whose handwriting Smith was attempting to imitate. He has also learned that Smith was at this other monastery examining manuscripts. (Source: BAR May / June 2010)

One would think that Tselikas had something from a lab dating the ink from a parallel handwriting sample to the modern age, he would have sent at least a handwritten note to Shanks by fax telling him of his findings.

Now, all of this is speculation on my part. There are other events which could factored into his failure to develop an article. Tselikas seems to be sponsored by a prominent Greek bank which as we know is probably technically insolvent right now. That might mean that he had no means to test the handwriting sample. But even still one would think that he could have at least developed a comparison of handwriting samples for the magazine.

Another possibility is that he decided upon further examination that the handwriting samples DID NOT match. Nevertheless, it seems hard to believe that Tselikas would be so impulsive in the first place to tell everyone he found a matching sample and then change his mind. This would I think be uncharacteristic of a leading expert paleontology.

But then again so is not publishing anything resembling a report with no explanations to the agency that hired you for that explicit purpose.

My best guess then is that Tselikas couldn't make the forgery argument work with his handwriting sample from the other monastery. I know that he went into his assignment subscribing to the forgery proposition. Perhaps he wanted to find out what Venetia Anastasopoulou would conclude in her report and then realizing that he had no real expertise in arguing against her determination that the text was not forged he abandoned pursuing his hypothesis.

Of course all of this is mere speculation but unfortunately that is all we are left with. The next step however is to retrieve a copy of the manuscript that Tselikas has argued has handwriting which matches the Mar Saba document. I already contacted my fellow blogger Timo Paananen to work on that angle (the time difference is too great for me to pursue this in America).

In any event another strange twist has again taken place in the already twisted story of Morton Smith's discovery at Mar Saba. The only crazy thought which comes into mind in this twisted conspiracy driven narrative is that Tselikas was also working with the Greek Patriarchate to locate the original manuscript. Could it be, is it impossible to imagine that bigger events over took his rather limited initial assignment from BAR?

Or do we find ourselves in that old familiar situation - are we once again left merely grasping at straws as we try to make sense of its where this fascinating document came from?

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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