Thursday, April 28, 2011

Why the Experts Have Lost Exclusive Rights to Make Pronouncements About the Mar Saba Document (And Think Anyone Will Give a Rat's Ass)

The York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series is starting in Toronto today and I have to admit that I have had mixed feelings about the event for some time now.  I happen to know that some very interesting things are going to emerge from this conference and I thank the organizers for making this happen.  Nevertheless as pathological as this might sound to many - I think that I and people like myself - deserved to have a voice at the conference too.

I can't speak for the organizers of course but it is apparent from the way they arranged its grueling schedule that the time slotted for questions will occur about an hour after everyone will get a headache from hearing about Secret Mark and want to go home.  I really think I have stumbled upon the proper exegesis of the Letter to Theodore.  I hope to prove that the text demonstrates quite clearly that St Mark wrote his gospel with the Book of Joshua on his mind.  I believe this is the most plausible and reasonable interpretation of the text that is out there.  Yet the organizers of the conference certainly didn't think so and will never accept this idea, this even though I am a graduate of the university which is hosting the event (I had such beautiful hair back then).

Now I have to admit that I do have a propensity for emotional outbursts. My Greek language skills are not up to the level of many at the conference. I do not hold a degree in a field that has anything to do with early Christianity or the study of the Bible. As anyone can tell you who attended Glendon College during my four years there I spent most of my time hitting on women and hanging around the cafeteria. I went into the academia inheriting unrealistically high ideals about the nature of higher learning and walking away being in favor of closing all the humanities departments.

So enough about me (I remember Ingrid Hjelm, the wife of noted Biblical scholar Thomas L Thompson, treating my contempt of Biblical scholarship as a sign of a psychological disorder). If it wasn't for the fact that I come from a tradition of heretics that dates back to at least the eighteenth century, I suppose I wouldn't even be entitled to an opinion in Canada.  But let's turn around the original question.  What do authority do any of the people on this panel have to determine the authenticity of the Mar Saba document?  It's just a chance for these people to gather a forum 'to be heard.'

Here's what I say.  Professional scholarship have lost exclusive rights to the Letter to Theodore.  They had fifty years to get their act together and they just simply blew it.

I was reading an interview with Morton Smith from 1973 which someone posted somewhere on the internet. My opinion about Smith have changed somewhat over time.  As I have developed my own interpretation of Secret Mark - i.e. as proof that the gospel genre developed from the Book of Joshua - I now blame Morton Smith for the 'shroud of controversy' that hangs over the text.

Smith's interpretation of the document is plainly stupid.  To argue that a text that makes no mention of magic is really about magic exemplifies in many ways the worst qualities of modern scholarship.  I ask myself now, why couldn't he just have translated the damn text at the earliest date possible - let's say 1960 or something and then subsequently pen his misguided interpretation of the material any time thereafter?  Wouldn't that have save us this last twenty years of studying in the wilderness?

As Watson notes in his recent article, the effort of the last generation of 'hoaxers' has been to embarrass the document, embarrass those who use it and shame those who might want to know more about it.  Yes of course - it's always bad to have malice guide scholarly investigations.  But wouldn't the Mar Saba document's difficulties have disappeared if it wasn't Morton Smith that discovered it?

Of course hindsight is twenty twenty.  We can't pick our parents and ancient lost manuscripts can't pick the people who discover them.  I don't believe for a minute that Morton Smith forged the document and I don't think that the controversies that have followed Mar Saba 65 are unknown to other major major discoveries of manuscripts in the field of Biblical scholarship.  Just look at the battles which erupted over the rights to have access to the Qumran texts. Look at the pettiness that emerged with respect to the Gospel of Thomas. 

Scholars in the field of the humanities don't seem to live in the same world with the rest of us. The isolation that spending too many hours in the library impressed onto their brain crept into their hearts and their souls.  Let's face it.  No one but a worm or a rat would want to climb the garbage dump that is life in a humanities department.  When they finally 'make it' of course they take on the worst qualities of the nouveau riche.  These former slugs want to cultivate a culture of 'elitism' to disguise their former subterranean lifestyle.

So it is that we're told that they're having a Secret Mark conference in Toronto.  But they want to limited it only to those who play the scholarly game.  You can see it in the recent exchanges between conference organizer Tony Burke and Timo Paananen (whom I adore). Tony apologizes on Timo's blog:

BTW, the goal of the event was to bring together North American scholars on the text. Had we the desire (and the money) to bring in international scholars, we certainly would have invited you also.

Of course as as I said earlier, I think Timo would be a great addition to any conference on Secret Mark. But let's be honest - there is someone who is even more deserving.  I am talking about Roger Viklund whose series of online articles debunking Stephen Carlson's alleged "forger's tremor" is really what changed the tide on Secret Mark scholarship.

But Tony Burke doesn't write to Viklund that he'd be invited if the conference was open to people outside of North America.  Of course he's not invited.  Roger's not one 'good people' who have decided to devote their lives to masturbatory studies in the university. Yet it was Viklund who debunked the central claim in favor of forgery, the one that all those who wanted to write off the document used to help write off the document for many years. His efforts will likely never get recognized by the history books.  Instead we'll hear about Scott Brown and Stephen Carlson and the rest of the elites.

I have learned to embrace Scott Brown's research and even come to accept him as a great contributor to the discussion.  Yet I have to note that he exhibits these same elitist tendencies as the rest of them.  Scott barely even gave Roger a mention in his recent BAR article even though it was Roger who ultimately discovered the straw which broke the camel's back of the forgery proposition.

Yet what I am telling you know is that it was we bloggers - Roger, Timo and myself - who really changed the history books.  It was the freedom which only exists in the blogosphere which allowed those who weren't deemed worthy of participating in these elitist forums to transform the way that the world looked at the Mar Saba document.  People like Tony Burke don't care much about the common man and it shows in the ultimate success of this conference which you see shine forth in Burke's muted confession in his most recent post:

The first York Christian Apocrypha Symposium (featuring the Secret Gospel of Mark) takes place in just a few days. Everything is in place for the event and we hope for it to go off without a hitch. We should have an audience of about 60 people, which is respectable for our first event in the series. I will blog fairly regularly (for a change) over the next few days to let everyone who could not attend know how it is going (or went). To whet your appetites for Friday's papers, visit Timo Paananen's Salainan evankelista blog for a discussion of the symposium and an update on recent on-line scholarship on the text.

Also, we have created a facebook page for the series (search for "York Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series"). I hope you will "like" it.

Wow a Facebook page.  I heard that's what the young people think is 'cool.'  Maybe a small portion of the sixty losers who decided to endure this Secret Mark marathon will 'friend' us over here.

Sixty people. That almost equals the number of birthers who were convinced by the release of the long form of Obama's birth certificate.  Well, you reap what you sow as they say.  But you just wonder - do people like Tony Burke 'get it'?  If they don't I will explain it to them.

The world has changed.  The experts have lost exclusive rights to make authoritative pronouncement about something they used, abused and through away.  As we noted there is blame to pass around everywhere.  Morton Smith should have simply translated the text and shared it with everyone when he first discovered it instead of developing an irrational sense of ownership to the point that he became identified as its author. Those who rightly rejected his ludicrous interpretation of the text should also have been able to separate his exegesis from the text itself.   Indeed they should have stopped themselves from crossing the line by making a personal attack against Smith the basis for a claim against the authenticity of the discovery.

But in the end we can blame the organizers of this conference.  If they really set out to make this a small, insignificant gathering that's fine by me.  I am just glad I didn't shell out a thousand dollars for a weekend in Toronto.  I am sure many of you were thinking of going but in the end also decided it just wasn't for you.  People organizing a conference such as this in the future will have to decide who their audience is and whether it is worth losing it in order to flatter the very people who poisoned the well with respect to 'Secret Mark.'

So let me send a message to the organizers of today's conference.  You no longer have the authority to make pronouncements on Secret Mark.  Your day has come and gone.  We the general public will not allow you to pretend that your little cabal represents the last word on the authenticity question or any other question with respect to the Letter to Theodore.  You lost the right to make authoritative pronouncements on the very text you have bungled and neglected for twenty years.  You ape the example of Morton Smith, trying to make a name for yourselves rather than let the document speak for itself.  Indeed you failed to invite the one man who might bring Clement to life for your audience - Bogdan Bucur - a recognized authority on the Alexandrian writer who lives within a car ride of Toronto.

The bottom line is that we need more Clement of Alexandria and less modern scholarship. You can all try to make a name for yourselves but at the end of the day it just gets in the way of us hearing Clement speak.

And isn't that what real scholarship is supposed to be about?

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