Friday, July 15, 2011

Morton Smith's Visits to Mar Saba in 1958 and to Various Greek Monasteries in 1951 and 1952 Have to be Understood in the Context of Broader Initiatives of ASOR and the Library of Congress from 1949 - 1956

Part of this 'hoax thing' that is developed by contemporary scholars trying to cast doubt about Morton Smith's 1958 discovering of the Mar Saba document was that he was acting like some 'lone wolf' just 'wandering around' and being generally 'up to no good' in Palestine. But I was surprised to learn that this trip at least seems to have fallen within the scope or around the time of activities organized by the Library of Congress. I first became aware of this effort by reading a description of the collection which is posted at the Library of Congress website. I dug deeper and found an article written in 1956 Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation (whose slogan apparently was 'Science in Christian Perspective') which had this to say about contemporary efforts to photograph manuscripts in the region:

Within the last five years (i.e. 1951 - 1956), a great step has been taken in adding new material for the study of these particular passages of the New Testament. Wendell Phillips organized an archaeological expedition in 1949, which went into Egypt and southwestern Asia. He secured permission from the monastery at Sinai to copy any of the manuscripts which he and his associates might desire. In January, 1950, he sent a group of scholars to Mt. Sinai. The Library of Congress lent them expensive microfilm cameras. They worked seven or eight hours every day, six days a week, looking over the various Biblical and other manuscripts, selecting the most important ones, and microfilming them, page by page. Hundreds of manuscripts thus copied in microfilm are now in the Library of Congress, and copies are available to any scholar on payment of a small fee.

During the same year, after finishing their work at Sinai, the scholars went to the libraries of the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs in Jerusalem, and copied more than fifteen hundred additional manuscripts, including about three hundred New Testiment manuscripts, and two hundred Old Testament manuscripts. Many of these manuscripts are of great importance, not only for Biblical study, but also for the history and culture of the Near East in early medieval times.

Within the last two years further work of this type has been done. An expedition has gone to the twenty monasteries on the Athos Peninsula in the northeastern portion of Greece. In the libraries of these monasteries many manuscripts have been copied, including 160 additional manuscripts of the New Testament. Further detail about these expeditions is contained in recent issues of The Biblical, Archaeologist, published by the American Schools of Oriental Research, Drawer 93 A, Yale Station, New Haven, Connecticut.

I know its not much but this part of the story always seems to get ignored (at least I haven't heard it). Morton Smith wasn't a David Elkington who just bumped into some Bedouins who claimed to have found some manuscripts. There was a contemporary effort at the highest levels of academia to take advantage of the rise of American power in the world and preserve images of some of the oldest and dearest manuscripts in a variety of languages.

This understanding helps diffuse most of Tselikas's concerns in the interview that I commissioned back in the fall of last year where he seemed to accuse Smith of being an American spy in Greece and Palestine. Indeed it can't coincidence that Smith seems to have been photographing manuscripts in 1951 - 1952 when traveled to Greece in search of manuscripts of Isidore of Pelusium. There he inspected, photographed, and transcribed dozens of Greek manuscripts. He visits the monasteries at Cephalonia, Dimitsane, Skiathos, Ιερα Μονη του Ευαγγελισμου, the Library of the Rev. George Rigas, Εκκλησια των τριων ιεραρχων, Yannina. It would seem to me at least that this was part of a contemporary effort of the Library of Conference going on in many parts of the world at the same time (I have already established a time line for Morton Smith's activities here)

At the very least it seems a more likely explanation than the idea that Morton Smith was a secret agent.

Given what Tselikas has told me through our mutual friend with respect to the condition of the Patriarchal Library in Alexandria - i.e. that it was completely disorganized, a full disaster - it would be hard to imagine that Smith's visit to Mar Saba had nothing to do with the efforts of the Library of Congress just two years earlier. Call it a hunch but I suspect that someone told Smith that Mar Saba was so disorganized that a full reckoning of what was actually there was impossible had something to do with Smith's eventually cataloguing of all the manuscripts in the library.

I know its not a big deal but really had no context for Smith's activities in the monasteries of Greece and Palestine. While not disproving the hoax hypothesis per se, by putting Smith's activities of 1958 in the context of the recent efforts of the Library of Congress in 1951 - 1956, his presence in Mar Saba doesn't seem remotely unusual.

It would be like finding out that a civil rights leader went back to an area that wasn't fully canvased the first time around. It would be interesting to find out to what extent the Library of Congress photographed documents at Mar Saba from 1951 - 1956. We know the monastery was in bad shape because a number of academics including Smith seemed to have tried to raise money to repair its buildings during its 1500th year anniversary.

It would be very interesting to find the names of the scholars who photographed the manuscripts of the monastery in 1951 - 1956.

UPDATE - I discovered this in book on music manuscripts:

The library in the Patriarchate compound was crystallized in the 19th cent. through the ingathering of MSS and books from the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the monastery of Mar Saba (founded 6th cent.) in the Judean hills, the convent of the Holy Cross (founded 6th cent.; subsequently Georgian), and some other similar repositories. Chronological range: 5th to 18th cent., 998 MSS were microfilmed in 1949 on behalf of the Library of Congress (US Wq), in cooperation with the American Schools of Oriental Research (Cambridge, Mass., US). Besides the copy at US Wc, a film copy is deposited at the University of Manchester.

There is also this account from K W Cross in the Biblical Archaeologist from 1953:

Other smaller libraries were merged, from the convent of the Holy Cross (now within Israel), the Chapel of the Resurrection, and the Chapel of Abraham, besides a few other minor groups. Although Jerusalem is not as inaccessible as Sinai this important library has been neglected almost as badly. The expedition to Jerusalem was undertaken by the American Schools of Oriental Research, and the Jerusalem personnel was different from that for Sinai except for three members of the Jerusalem School and the Library of Congress photographer. The writer opened negotiations with the Patriarchate soon after arrival in Jerusalem in August, 1949. His Beatitude, the Patriarch Timotheus II, and the Synod granted permission for work in the library until Christmas, when we expected to leave for Sinai. In the following spring, this permission was extended to make possible a complete exploration of the entire librarv which was three-fourths as large as the Sinai library.

It so happened that the Jerusalem expedition assembled first, early in November, 1949. The Library of Congress photographer brought cameras and film by plane, and a generator also was received from the United States. In Jerusalem, expedition headquarters were established in the American School, from which daily trips to the Patriarchate were made. The librarian, Father Aristovulos, received us daily, at eight each morning, and by his friendly and capable assistance enabled us to complete a systematic exploration. (This priest has now become the Archbishop of Kyriakoupolis, or resident Archbishop in Amman, capital of Jordan.)

The Manuscripts

It was November 14, 1949, when we began to work through the hoard of 2400 manuscripts, in eleven languages manuscripts, in eleven languages, whose texts ranged from the fifth century to the eighteenth. The oldest text found was a Greek fragment of the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, which had earlier been identified in the underwriting of palimpsest folios used for repair in the twelfth century. The later writing of this codex (Taphou 2) is a ninth-century copy of the Septuagint, which impressed Lord Curzon on his pilgrimage to Mar Saba in 1833. Another Greek palimpsest Stavrou 36) contains an eighth-century text of Chrysostom on Job under a twelfth- century text of Basil of Goes. Still another (Taphou 36) has a tenth-century text of Euripides under a twelfth-century text of the Old Testament prophets. There were found a dozen manuscripts of the works of John of Damascus, himself a monk at Mar Saba in the eighth century. Chrysostom's influence was reflected in no less than sixty-five copies of his works, in Greek, Georgian, Arabic and even Ethiopic. Half of these Chrysostom manuscripts had belonged to Mar Saba, including four copies from the ninth century.

One of the most notable manuscripts now in Jerusalem is a copy containing the "Apostolic Fathers" (Taphou 54). This was written in 1056 by Leo the Notary, and has now become an important source for the Greek text of I Clement, II Clement, Epistle of Barnabas, the Didache, and the Ignatian epistles both genuine and spurious. This manuscript was formerly in the Metochion of the Holy Sepulcher in Constantinople where [Archbishop] Bryennios found it in 1873. The Jerusalem library possesses a wealth of Biblical texts, about 270 in all languages (80, Old Testament; 190, New Testament).

There were found Gospels and Psalters in Greek, Arabic, Georgian, Svriac, Slavonic and Ethiopic. Only four copies of the Apocalypse of John were found, all in Greek. But of the Gospels, including lectionaries, there were 140 copies in all languages, about 90 of which are Greek. Gregory had listed these New Testament Greek manuscripts by 1909, but they have now become accessible to textual critics.

The Jerusalem library is not as rich in classical authors as is Sinai, but nevertheless there are manuscripts of Homer, Euripides, Plato, Aristotle, Hippocrates, and the later Eutropius whose history is contained in the only Latin (Taphou 27). Special interest in Aristotle is evidenced bv numerous texts of late date. Liturgical manuscripts, and especially books of music, are less abundant than in Sinai. Next to the Greek, the most impressive collection in the Greek Patriarchal library is the Georgian. It was found to consist of 160 manuscripts, It was found to consist of 160 manuscripts, many of them as early as the eleventh century and three were explicitly dated in that century.

This library has already made a significant contribution to Greek palaeographical studies, for the Lake corpus reproduces folios from all its dated manuscripts up to 1200 AD, fifteen in number, the earliest of which was written about AD 900. But for the next four centuries, in which palaeographical materials are greatly needed, the Greek Patriarchal library contains more than fifty examples of dated manuscripts. Altogether, the expedition photographed about 150 dated Greek manuscripts in Jerusalem. Numerous scribal signatures in these manuscripts will add further to our knowledge of medieval scribes.

In the Treasury was found a complete New Testament in Greek, which has not hitherto been noted. It was written in the eleventh century and contains miniatures of the evangelists. Its cover is of gold, with green and blue enamel representations of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and Russian inscriptions. There were also three regal copies of the Gospel lectionary, sixteen inches tall, with covers of gold and evangelist portraits. The metal covers are Russian work of about AD 1600. One of these, the "Golden Gospels," bears the signature of the Patriarch Theophanes who brought it to the Holy Sep- ulcher in 1605. Another one, which contains several pages of gold writing, was a gift to the Voivode of Moldavia by Gabriel in 1670 and was later presented in the Holy Sepulcher as a votive offering. The other copy was a gift from the Voivode of Bessarabia whose portrait appears in the volume. These along with other Gospels in Georgian and Slavonic, previously unrecorded, were brought out from the Treasury and photographed.

One of the finest manuscripts, a Lectionary of the Gospels, was brought from the Convent of the Virgin where it continues in use. It was written in 1061 by a certain John "by great sweat and toil." In the thirteenth century this codex belonged to the Monastery of Saint Gerasimos "beside the Jordan River in the Jericho Plain." A century later it was placed in the Jerusalem convent in memory of the nun Euphrosyne of Trebizond, who possessed it until her death. In 1615 it was adorned in its present gold covers by a Jerusalem artisan.

The miniatured manuscripts are remarkable, and several have previously been much studied. However, complete photography of these, as well as of others unknown, was a desideratum. About 750 paintings were reproduced, drawn from about fifty codices. There was the wonderful gallery of Job illustrations in Taphou 5, of the thirteenth century; the eleventh-century Gregory Nazianzen (Taphou 14); the thirteenth- century copy of Barlaam and Joasaph (Stavrou 42). An early series of miniatures (1053 AD) illustrates the Psalter (Taphou 53). From about 1600 AD come two important series of Gospel illustrations (Anastaseos 1 and 5). Another series was found in a Georgian Four Gospels out of the Treasury. Although few in number, there are some miniatures to illustrate the art of Arabic, Syriac, Slavonic and Ethiopic books.

At this point the narrative shifts to the effort to photograph treasures at the Armenian monasteries. I don't see any specific effort to record any texts at Mar Saba. Indeed the narrative assumes that all important documents were moved to the Patriarchate library. Notice also the number of times texts move back and forth.

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