Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Dangers of Not Bothering to Read the Scholarship of the Man You are Accusing of Forgery

Agamemnon Tselikas is a friend of a friend.  I have never met the man but I might run into the man when I visit our mutual friend Harry Tzalas in Alexandria this October. I had been in contact with both men since early last year trying to do whatever I could to rediscover the lost Mar Saba 65 manuscript.  

You see Agamemnon Tselikas has a very good relationship with the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem.  Thanks to my endless needling I did get Tselikas to go through the Mar Saba and Jerusalem libraries looking for the pages that were ripped out of the famous Voss book sometime before 1983.  

Tselikas did not locate the manuscript.  Yet sometime subsequent to our communications Hershel Shanks and the Biblical Archaeology Review secured him to study photos of the manuscript and determine if the handwriting could determine the authenticity of the document.  To make a long story short Tselikas went into the assignment believing the document was a fake and ended up writing a disjointed series of 'investigations' which sought to demonstrate that the text is a forgery.  

A number of bloggers have already pointed to peculiarities in Tselikas's approach.  There is indeed so much that one could write to refute this BAR report.  However I - as a 'friend of a friend' - can point to most glaring mistake that Tselikas made in his whole presentation. 

He has never read Morton Smith's definitive study of his discovery Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark.  

Indeed even when I arrange for what I thought was going to be an academic discussion between himself and Professor Charles Hedrick of Missouri State Universtiry, I was shocked to learn that Tselikas really had no interest in anything anyone else has written about Mar Saba 65.  The meeting turned out to be a lecture and Hedrick,a man who is clearly an authority on the text, was relegated to merely taking notes for a couple of hours.  

Before I go too far off topic let me state that Stephen Carlson has recently 'tweeted' about Tselikas's report, encouraging his supporters to take it very seriously.  Yet it should be noted that Tselikas did not acknowledge or support any of the theories unique to Carlson's book the Gospel Hoax.  For instance Tselikas did not see signs of a 'forger's tremor.'  Instead Tselikas vaguely pointed to things that struck him as odd about the manuscript.  These anomalies are topically referenced without a critical apparatus and moreover with Tselikas's vow to never revisit the issues raised in the report (personal correspondence).

Again, I will leave it to others to debate these intimations.  I want to go straight to the heart of Tselikas's 'main theory' which is that the forger developed Mar Saba 65 in imitation of four manuscripts which Tselikas claims Smith saw when he visited a monastery in Cephalonia in 1951.  I have known about this theory since arranging for Hedrick's meeting in Athens (at the time Tselikas added the claim that Morton Smith was acting as an American spy).  Yet I am simply going to ask my readers to decide for themselves whether Tselikas's claim has any merits or whether - as I suggest - it suffers from its author having failed to read Smith's 1973 book.

For if Tselikas had bothered to read Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, not only would all the 'questions' he raises elsewhere in his report about the language of the letter have been answered (Smith discusses virtually all the 'objections' raised by Tselikas in the first hundred pages) but Tselikas would have realized that Smith actually brings forward a seventeenth century manuscript whose handwriting certainly resembles Mar Saba 65 more than the examples Tselikas brings forward in in his presentation for BAR.  

I leave it up to my readers to decide for themselves.  Here is the handwriting of the Mar Saba 65:

And here is the Cephalonia manuscript which Tselikas thinks most resembles Mar Saba 65:
And here is the seventeenth century manuscript in that book Tselikas never bothered to read which is universally regarded to have a close resemblance to Mar Saba 65:

For those who are too lazy or unwilling to look at the original image of Mar Saba 65 I will present it again:

The bottom line is that the only new wrinkle that Tselikas brings to the discussion falls to the ground. The only reason that anyone took any of this seriously is because they presumed that he would have actually read something that has been written about the discovery in the last fifty years. Tselikas clearly did not (as the photo is literally the 'final word' of the 1973 book (it appears on its final page). Anyone who has ever held the book in their hands would have remembered it. Tselikas's does not because he is simply too arrogant for his own good.

The point of course is that if the autograph of the seventeenth century patriarch cited in Smith's book is a closer match to Mar Saba 65 than the manuscripts Tselikas references, the Greek paleographer has no case.  There isn't even a noteworthy 'coincidence.'  As I already stated - I don't even think that the material from Cephalonia has that striking of a resemblance with the handwriting that Smith discovered.   Please tell me what value there is in Tselikas's study now?

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