Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Another Example of How Uncritical Scholarship, Blind Acceptance of a Convenient Hypothesis, and Malicious Scapegoating Led to the Black Balling of the Mar Saba Document

Monsignor Romano Penna is a a priest and an Italian biblical scholar who teaches New Testament studies at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. In the course of an article about homosexuality in early Christianity, Monsignor Penna comes to the the Letter to Theodore which he says 'raises a series of difficulties' related to the Church's stand on homosexuality throughout the ages:

The first difficulty is that its sole attestation is in a manuscript dating to the 18th century (i.e., 200 years ago!), while all the manuscripts considered by textual criticism always antedate the invention of printing in the 15th century. The second is that nobody up to now has ever been able to see the original. The third is that the text, in addition to appearing as part of a letter of Clement of Alexandria (who died in 215), in which the learned Egyptian condemned some libertine Christian sects who used it to justify themselves, does not precisely describe a homosexual relationship but speaks merely of a meeting about the mystery of the kingdom. The fourth is that the text appears as a conflation of the Gospels of Mark and John, in which the raising of Lazarus from the tomb is mentioned only as something well-known. Finally, it is natural to agree with an impartial author such as the famous Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner of Brown University, Rhode Island, who in 1994 again called the whole case "the forgery of the century".

This is utterly comical given that almost everything we have from Clement of Alexandria goes back to a single manuscript, other people besides Smith have seen the original and the rest of the objections are equally silly (i.e. that the homosexuality is only 'imprecisely' referenced in the document is because it was never there in the first place and the 'difficulty' with a conflation of synoptic and Johannine material is already witnessed in the Diatessaron).

Of course, the thing that I found hilarious is the way Jacob Neusner is characterized by the Monsignor as 'an impartial author' whose testimony is unassailable. Caro professore, maybe you should get out more. Maybe you should admit that you simply don't know what you are talking about. Indeed don't know Jack ...

UPDATE - I almost overlooked the most amazing factual error in the whole article. Penna claims "Indeed, there was much discussion in 1973 when Prof. Morton Smith of the University of Harvard published in America the fragment of the so-called 'Secret Gospel of Mark' (scarcely 20 lines), interpreted by the American scholar in a homosexual sense." Mi scuso professore, Cosa sta succedendo?

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