Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Intimacy, God and Morton Smith's Discovery of the Mar Saba Document

My last post on the origins of the story of the resurrected youth (= SGM 1) went on too long and made too many references to traditions that most people don't even know exist. I acknowledge my shortcomings as an author. Yet I want to demonstrate how I necessarily operate in a very different manner from the evangelicals who dismiss the authenticity of 'Secret Mark.' How are they so certain it is fake? This has always fascinated me. It is one of the reasons I am so determined to stay involved in the debate. I find it fascinating to see the inner workings of otherwise intelligent people.

I have always noted that determining the authenticity of this discovered and now lost manuscript is a lot like analyzing your relationship with your wife, husband or lover. No situation is absolutely perfect. So how do you know that someone really loves you? How do you know if someone is 'legit'? I have always had an easy time of that because quite frankly I am so utterly worthless as a human being that anyone who might take a shine to me must love me. Nevertheless for the rest of you reading this post, those who presumably have something to offer another human being, perhaps you might be able to make sense of the analogy.

Your man is always working late at the office. Is he really 'into his career' or is he just 'not that into you'? There really is no easy answer to this question as the examiner - i.e. you - find it difficult to be objective about your presumed value to your significant other. Similarly, if you've been cheated on before you might be liable to 'jump the gun' and assume things that aren't necessarily true. What's a poor girl to do?

Hershel Shanks apparently said at the recent Secret Mark conference that no one who really knew Morton Smith could possibly have accused him of forgery. Yet it would seem that the only way that people get to know one another in this world is by having common interests. As there are hundreds of religious scholars living at the time Morton Smith was active, one might naively assume that no one in the field could possibly have accused Smith of forging his discovery.

Of course we know that this isn't true. There were always suspicions that Smith forged the Mar Saba document. How is it possible that at least some of these people who knew Morton Smith or knew of Morton Smith considered that it might be possible that he would commit the ultimate crime in scholarship? The answer it would seem - at least according to Shanks' logic - was that his colleagues didn't know him well enough.

Yet how well do we know anyone really? We speak of married people as 'intimate' with one another even if impassioned sex was left at the altar or abandoned after childbirth. Indeed I think we identify married people as being more intimate with one another than people that just dating because there is a greater degree of familiarity once all the masks and games have played themselves out and the monotony of 'real life' sets in.

Yet it must be acknowledged that even in these so-called 'intimate relationships,' people cheat on one another. How well do we know our mates? How well do we know ourselves? These are all very deep questions that most of us don't spend much time dwelling upon because quite frankly analysis would certainly lead to paralysis in the relationship. On some level we have to assume that the people we associate with are good and descent people until something comes up to disprove our naive assumptions about our 'intimates.'

Yet who had this degree of shared intimacy with Morton Smith? Already when the words 'intimacy' and 'Morton Smith' are plaed together in a sentence an adolescent smirk comes on the faces of some people. However I have never seen a single story emerge in all my phone interviews, discussions or readings which suggest that anyone saw Smith physically intimate with another human being. Is this really that strange?

My father wasn't what anyone would call an 'intimate person.' I remember laughing and telling my brother that we were the only people on the earth who could watch Arnold Schwartzenegger in one of the Terminator films and be reminded of home. He and my mother produced two children but four years in a concentration camp utterly divorced him from any feelings of intimacy.

My point is that life does strange things to people. If someone was born in a strict household where feelings rarely get expressed it can lead to the burying or even the extirpation of what is commonly referered to as 'feelings.' This doesn't mean that these people are 'inhuman.' They just have a hard time connecting with other people because they have learned to feel that no one understands what they are going through, that no one cares, that meaningful connection with another human being is not only impossible but not worth spending a lot of time worrying about.

It may be hard for people of this generation to appreciate this but people in the old days weren't as 'touchy feely' as they are today. Just go on and look at pictures of your relatives from a hundred years ago. No one looks relaxed in pictures. No one seems to act naturally because eyes might be watching. The world was a very different place especially with people who came from good society like Morton Smith.

When I was conducting my phone interviews over the last month I spoke to a lot of professors who are now in their seventies and eighties and so from a generation after Morton Smith. I was reminded of how radical the cultural transformation of the 1960s really were. I only know of the previous generations through the music of Frank Sinatra where despite the outward appearance of 'cool' there is an obvious undertow of sexual repression and social awkwardness.

The point is that I did indeed discover 'intimates' of Morton Smith in my travels. I corresponded with Smith's protege Shaye Cohen. There was Lucille Roussin who told me of how Smith went through her dissertation page by page for seven straight hours. There were many other widows, sons and daughters of colleagues who told stories of what a good friend Smith was, a man you could really count on.

We should all be reminded that intimacy derives from the Latin term intimus which literally means "inmost." Morton Smith might not have had a lot of sex but he certainly was intimate with a greater number of people than my Dad for instance.

So the question no comes full circle back to what Hershel Shanks's point at the recent conference. Those who had intimacy with Morton Smith knew what a good man he was. That was always the experience I had with my father. He certainly was closed off from the outside world but that was because he really was like a crab. The hard exterior shell served to protect a very tender and fragile interior.

I remember seeing Life is Beautiful with my then girlfriend and thinking 'Concentration Camp Movie' - this is something my father could relate to. So he took my reccommendation and made a rare trip out of his comfy chair and went to see it with the rest of my family. I got a phone call later that night from my mother and brother accusing me of being insenstive for suggesting that movie. He was bawling his eyes out as his father had died in the concentration camp when he was only fifteen years old.

I am not saying that my father was like Morton Smith of course. Instead I am trying to point out something about 'intimacy.'

No evangelical scholar would think for a moment that someone like Lee Strobel, Craig Evans or some like-minded people would be capable of forging a purported discovery. But when it is someone who is perceived not to share those same values its open season on speculation. All of which suggets that if God really wanted to give humanity proof of his existence he couldn't possibly have chosen someone like Morton Smith to be its messenger.

After all, Morton Smith can't possibly have been close to God. God is supposed to hate heretics and especially those who take an interest in black magic and homosexuality. The evangelicals all know this of course because God really loves them, he really does. They - rather than Morton Smith - are the true intimates of God ...

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