Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Are There Any Other Examples of Forged Eighteenth Century Monastic Calligraphy?

I am all for conspiracy theories but the people who promote the idea that Morton Smith forged - rather than discovered - the Letter to Theodore in the Mar Saba monastery in 1958 have to admit that they are conspiracy theorist. This is an outlandish theory, more akin to those who raise 'questions' about Obama's birth certificate than serious scholarship.

Yes there are 'questions' about the circumstances of Morton Smith's discovery of the Letter to Theodore. But so too the recent introduction of the Gospel of Judas. There will always be people raising 'questions' about discoveries they want to simply go away.

These people raise questions and then point to the existence of people 'raising questions.' It's all quite silly really.

The argument for the Mar Saba document being a 'recent forgery' must allow for the possibility that Morton Smith could have learned to 'fake' the handwriting of an eighteenth century monk. I won't even bring up the recent findings of Venetia Anastasopoulou study for the magazine Biblical Archaeology Review. These people have succeeded in 'raising questions' about her and her study so the proponents of the forgery position can ignore her testimony with a good conscience.

Let's just get down to brass tax.

I can first remember looking at the pictures of the script and hearing that there were 'questions' about the authenticity and saying to myself 'well if there are experts saying there are questions, maybe there is something to this controversy.' What did I know. They were the experts and there were these 'questions.'

Over time however I have familiarized myself with all aspects of the 'controversy' and found that there was quite literally nothing of substance to any of the 'charges' put forward by these men. They remind me of those women who catch their husband with another lady and blame the lady for the transgression.

Morton Smith just happened to find a text which challenges their presumptions about the origins of the gospels and Christianity in general. For delivering an unwelcomed message, the messenger apparently is fair game.

I have managed to get my hands on some samples which have been dated by experts to the eighteenth century and I just can't get over how there is an uncanny resemblance between the Mar Saba letter discovered by Smith and these documents. Again, I am definitely not expert on the subject of paleontology but then again neither are most of the people 'raising questions' about the authenticity of the document either.

The bottom line for is that after having seen other original documents from the period I can't believe that someone could argue that this Smith or anyone else managed to pull off a forgery of this kind. The Mar Saba document to my eyes at least looks EXACTLY like the kind of document you'd expect to have been written in an eighteenth century monastery. The experts I have consulted with fail to find any tell tale signs of forgery associated with the handwriting.

And of course - none of this proves that the document is authentic. But don't those proposing forgery have the onus to prove that the document that a reputable scholars claims to have found in a Greek monastery isn't what it appears to be?

For those who aren't interested in the acadmeic debate, let's say it's like having a love letter addressed to your wife fall out of her purse. You look and discover it's signed by another man thanking her for great sex the night before. The fact that your wife is walking around with something that resembles a lover's correspondance doesn't require you to prove who wrote the letter, when they engaged in coitus or all sorts of outlandish conspiracy theories. The letter resembles something people that 'cheaters' send one another. It's her job to disprove that what looks to any sensible observer to be a testimony to an adulterous affair.

Why then should a document which looks like an eighteenth century letter written by a monk in a Greek monastery? It's fair to raise 'questions' about the circumstances of the discovery but you can't doubt that the letter appears to be what it is without some reasonable argument to the contrary. Those who oppose the authenticity of the Mar Saba document have never offered any plausible argument why the letter isn't what it appears to be. The stuff about it being 'more Clementine than Clement' and the like is all a bunch of hot air. The first thing for us to deal with is the physical 'facts' of the letter. Is there any reason not to assume that it is an eighteenth century letter from a monk in a monastery? Just 'raising the possibility' that Morton Smith might have forged it is not an argument, it's scholars engaging in a campaign of gossip and innuendo.

Indeed just saying that there are 'questions' about the document isn't a substantive reason for ignoring the material. There are reasons for doubting just about anything - global warming for example. And those who 'raise questions' about global warming are for the most part not serious scholars. They are partisans who have an obvious agenda. Their purpose is just to cloud the water and maintain the status quo.

But again to cite analogy - it's like the guy going to get a photo radar ticket dismissed by arguing various conspiracy theories about the corruption in the police department, the mayor's office etc. The real question that any judge would remind the conspiracy buff is how the fuck did a car that resembles your car and carrying your exact license plate get photographed doing 40 miles over the speed limit on Main St?

But oh yes - there are all these other 'questions.'

After seeing firsthand how closely the handwriting of the Mar Saba document actually resembles an eighteenth century document AND HOW UNIQUE THAT HANDWRITING STYLE IS, I wonder if anyone has managed to actually pull off forging two or three pages of similar calligraphy? I am not saying that any of this would decide the issue but I don't know that any further 'decision' is required.

A respected scholar discovered a letter written into the blank pages of a seventeen book. The handwriting appears consistent to my eye and others with calligraphy from the eighteenth century. The book sat there on the shelf presumably before and certainly after the discovery. Various tests could have been performed on the book for almost twenty five years after its initial discovery. The writing appears to resemble various closely the man purported to have written the original material. The references to the gospel of Mark certainly seem characteristically Markan.

But the bottom line again is the manufacture of the handwriting. I have serious doubts that Morton Smith or anyone else could have pulled this off. Yet I don't need to prove Smith's innocence. This is where all the tables got turned when no one was looking, when people failed to come to a respected scholars defence. The onus has always been on the proponents of forgery to put together a reasoned proof that the document is a fraud.

They have failed to do accomplish anything more than creating an echo chamber because quite frankly the thing that walks and quacks like a duck it's probably a duck. The Mar Saba letter is exactly what it appears to be - an eighteenth century manuscript written into the blank pages of an old book. Indeed until someone comes up with a better explanation, that should be the working hypothesis that all of us should employ.

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