Saturday, May 21, 2011

Agamemnon Tselikas's Strange Argument for Forgery

This is a rushed post because I am preparing to jump on a plane.  I am continuing to examine the recent release of Agamemnon Tselikas's of the Mar Saba letter.

I have been one of Tselikas's strongest supporters since the very beginning. I think he represents an important step forward in the path towards eventually solving the mystery surrounding the Mar Saba discovery. He has put in an incredible amount of time demonstrating why he and the Greek Patriarchate (for they are in reality inseparable entities) dismiss the Letter to Theodore as an invention by a foreign spy. Yet when you look at the vast amount of material he produced it is hard to come away necessarily agreeing with his conclusions. Indeed once you wade through all the PDF files at the Biblical Archaeology Review website it is apparent he is consistently saying two different things at the same time.

For instance he spends a great deal of time in one presentation saying that the Mar Saba document is unlike any other manuscript he has ever come across in any monastery in the world ... and then in another presentation that it is very similar to the manuscripts of the Monastery of Themata in Cephalonia. Indeed in the interview that I arranged with Charles Hedrick he said explicitly that "[t]hese manuscripts have many similarities to the letter to Theodore." His point now is that Smith tried to imitate the manuscripts he photographed at Cephalonia and thus any differences between the Letter to Theodore and these texts is a result of Smith's faulty imitation. Yet this argument does not hold up to scrutiny. Smith's own testimony with refute and ultimately destroy Tselikas's theory. I will have more to say about this when I return from my trip.

Another perplexing point is which emerges in Tselikas's presentation is whether Mar Saba 65 is (a) a forgery developed out of the imagination of the forger or (b) a copy of an original fake which is now lost. For in this presentation he divides the mistakes into two categories:

Α) Those which due to the author: Nos 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 20, 21,
22, 23, 24, 28 and
Β) Those which due to the cop[y]ist: Nos 3, 4, 5, 14, 15a, 16, 17, 18, 19, 25, 27

The 'author' is clearly the meant to designate 'Clement' (or someone pretending to be Clement) and the 'copyist' is the one making errors which transcribing that original text. Tselikas clearly identifies very different mistakes being made here and makes clear they can't have been carried out by the same person.

Indeed Tselikas made repeated statements to me (through a mutual friend) and in his interview with Hedrick. Not only were the monasteries located in inaccessible locations but Tselikas notes on three occasions in that interview that Smith must have had help conceiving, planning and carrying out his plot. He told Hedrick:

  • "Smith must have had someone else with him when he visited these monasteries. Byzantine script is very difficult to read. And there are families of various hands. The more “modern” hands in the monasteries [after the Byzantine period] are even more difficult to read—not even the experts can read them."
  • "one cannot say whether it was Morton Smith or someone else who put the volume there."
  • "it was not easy for Smith [to gain access] and to stay at the monasteries he visited throughout Greece."

I leave aside the repeated claim of Tselikas that Smith must have been a spy working for the British or American governments (perhaps with the assistance the "Patriarch Timotheus (who) was educated in England").

To return to Tselikas's main point, if we look at those errors of the 'author' which he identifies as being separate from the copyist mistakes there are "syntactic and the meaning errors, that Clement would not be possible to make." But this is among Tselikas's most uninformed statements for he has ignored the fact that all of Clement's writings have survived in a corrupt and often incomprehensible state. This is a state of affairs confirmed in any scholarly book on Clement of Alexandria. The existing manuscripts were copied from a faulty exemplar.

Indeed I am not sure about most if not all of Tselikas's claims to have discovered 'errors' in the manuscript. I remember our mutual friend first repeating this claim to me. He said Tselikas and him went out to dinner complaining that non-Greeks simply have no feel for the Greek language (by this he means ancient Greek). Then Tselikas started reading to my friend all the 'syntactical errors' in the Letter. My friend was laughing right along with him of course and he assured me that Tselikas was quite right the sentences made no sense. But I knew that our friend was not an authority on the Greek that was spoken by Clement of Alexandria. The whole demonstration made little sense to me unless the two men thought that Clement's Greek should be sensible to them.

The complexity of the transmission of Clement's original texts is touched upon by Cosaert (who limits the discussion to the effect of this process on the citation of scriptural passages from the New Testament).  Cosaert notes that the scribes had a tendency to change the original gospel reading and 'Atticize' them (i.e. change syntax and meaning to accord with the rules of Attic Greek). There are countless examples of this transformation in the existing corpus including:
p. 294

p. 73

Indeed when I get back from my trip I plan on demonstrating that Tselikas's linguistic arguments are seriously flawed and that the few errors which actually exist in the manuscript might have occurred in between Clement and the eighteenth century copyist. Here is another example which readily comes to mind.

The point is that there are a lot of observations put forward, most of them very useful, but when you put it all together what do you really get?  Smith as the 'outsider' is blamed for the whole situation.  Yet I don't see a smoking gun in any of this.  Other experts have concluded that the manuscript is exactly what it appears to be - viz. an eighteenth century manuscript from a Greek monastery.  You end up getting the feeling that Tselikas is just the spokesman for the official position of the Jerusalem Patriarchate which is the manuscript should just be forgotten and to simply disappear.

I have now formally asked my friend to arrange an opportunity for us to test the ink sample that Tselikas found in the book.  The response was not encouraging:

I will then meet Memos [Agamemnon] Tselikas and discuss your proposal. I do not believe that the Patriarch will allow the book itself to leave the monastery and I do not know if Prof. Tselikas will be at all interested in this as last time we spoke he did say that he considers that there was nothing new and that for him the matter was, for the time being, closed.

This is what is so frustrating in this whole mess. Instead of spending the time and effort to figure out where the manuscript is or what happened to it, Tselikas seems intent on lecturing and explaining why it is that we should ignore the manuscript. This is why the arguments tend to contradict one another. The document was probably destroyed or lost and now the public face of the monastery just wants to come up with reasons why this shouldn't upset anyone.

The reality is that the testing of the ink that appears on p. 11 is our best shot of figuring out whether or not someone wrote in the book before 1958. I just can't figure out a way to allow to use science to help determine what the truth is.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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