Thursday, May 12, 2011

Larry Hurtado Weighs in On Secret Mark

It is always wonderful to hear one of the main advocates on forgery come out of their holes and actually say something about the say something about the state of the current debate.  Larry Hurtado introduced the now infamous 'Gospel Hoax' to the world.  When I was part of a team working on a documentary dealing with 'Secret Mark' last year, we actually approached Hurtado to be a talk head on the show.  When I look back at some of the statements that the professor made back I actually start to break out laughing.

Hurtado, like all 'hoaxers' consistently sidesteps the question of whether Carlson's "forger's tremor' was based on the worst possible resolution photos.  When we directed him to comment on a series of articles by Roger Viklund demonstrating that Carlson used the printed photos in Morton Smith's 1973 book rather than the actual photographs to demonstrate these so-called 'anomalies' Hurtado looked every way but at the truth.  Viklund wasn't a real scholar, Hurtado said.  The findings weren't published in a real academic journal.  Carlson was a doctoral candidate and Viklund was a blogger.  It was utterly comical.

Of course Hurtado continues to ignore the question even though Scott Brown recently published an even more detailed study as a supplement for BAR.  Brown published a PhD on 'Secret Mark' and the Biblical Archeology Review is a recognized popular academic journal.  One gets the distinct feeling that Hurtado only want to see the evidence that suits his argument.  Birger Pearson, who is another prominent 'hoaxer'  by contrast had to acknowledge the truth - i.e. that Carlson's results can be discounted.

Hurtado seems to be living in an academic twilight zone when he acts as if anyone but the willfully ignorant such as himself take Carlson's 'forger's tremor' seriously any longer.  Hurtado says that

there remains more heat than light in the debates among scholars ... since Stephen Carlson’s book arguing that the letter was a hoax and likely by Smith himself, the “fat has been in the fire”:   Stephen C. Carlson, The Gospel Hoax:  Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark (Waco:  Baylor University Press, 2005).  There were previous published suspicions that the Clement letter was not authentic (and further suspicions published subsequently), but Carlson’s book focused attention particularly on the question of whether Smith was the author of the alleged hoax (and it’s important to note that Carlson alleged a “hoax”, not a “forgery” or “fraud”).

Hurtado's argument is like 'disproving' Newton's theory of universal gravitation by means of Aristotle.  If anyone wants to see Viklund's or Brown's demonstration of the Carlson's methodological flaws just use Google to find them (I have to rush off to an appointment).

In any event, here is the link to Hurtado's recent post.  And here are some of his main points that he makes which are cited from his Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003), 433-37 (in case any of you have a profound distaste for dishonest scholars and scholarship):

  • It remains curious that this is the only putative letter of Clement of Alexandria to survive, when he is reported to have written many.
  • It is also curious how this putative letter would have survived somehow from ca. 200 CE down at least to the date of the printed book into which it was written, with no other reference to it (even though it purports to refer to an otherwise unknown version of Mark).
  • It is further curious that some scholars (e.g., Helmut Koester) take the purported excerpts of a “Secret Mark” as stemming from a version of Mark supposedly earlier than the familiar text.  Analysis of the excepts has convinced a number of scholars that it is a pastiche of phrases from Mark and John in particular.  Also, the excerpts seem to depend upon and expand passages in Mark, especially the reference to the unidentified “young man” in Mark 14:51-52 where Jesus is arrested.  The ancient copying/transmission of texts tended more to resolve difficulties rather than to create them, and to explain/expand narrative scenes, not so much to make them puzzling.  So, on these bases, the purported excepts of “Secret Mark” are (whether ancient or modern in origin) more likely secondary, not indicative of a version of Mark earlier than the familiar text.
  • It is finally curious that some people seem to stake so much on an unprovenanced and unverified text, for which we now have available only purported photos.  This hardly seems a promising basis on which to build any theories about Mark or early Christianity.
Hurtado closes his post by saying "let us hope that some further light can be shed on matters.  Heaven knows there’s been enough heat!"  My question is what kind of a God wants to promote dishonesty?  Not my God that's for sure.

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