Sunday, July 17, 2011

Giving Morton Smith the Last Word on the Discovery of the Mar Saba Document (Citing Verbatim the Concluding Pages of his 1973 Book)

The history of the letter of Clement

As a result of the early disappearance of the longer text, our knowledge of it depends almost entirely on Clement's letter. The date and destination of the letter are alike uncertain. Its many parallels to Stromateis III suggest that it dates from about the same time, that is, roughly the last decade before the Severan persecution; but the parallels are largely due to the subject matter, and Clement may have long continued to say the same things about the Carpocratians. That the letter was found in Palestine suggests that its recipient, Theodore, lived there. This suggestion is supported by the facts: (1) that the name Theodore (translating names like Nathaniel) was popular with Christians of Jewish ancestry; (2) that Clement had studied in Palestine under a Christian teacher of Jewish ancestry; (2) that Clement had studied in Palestine under a Christian teacher of Jewish ancestry (II.8.23 = Eus. HE V.11.4f); (3) that one of Clement's warmest admirers, Alexander, afterward became bishop of Jerusalem, and Clement dedicated to him a work against Judaizing heretics (HE VI. 13. 3; Photius in); (4) that a collection of Clement's letters existed at Mar Saba when John of Damascus, who worked there from 716 to 749, quoted three passages from the collection in his Sacra Parallela (Stahlin, III. 223-224; cf. Stahlin's notes III.LXff); (5) that no certain trace of Clement's letters is found anywhere else. Accordingly, we may suppose that the letter to Theodore was sent to some address in Palestine.

Sometime after its arrival in Palestine the letter was incorporated into a collection of Clement's letters. This is almost certain from the heading of the present text, ἐκ τῶν ἐπιστολῶν τοῦ ἁγιωτάτου Κλήμεντος. The making of the collection may plausibly be assigned to Clement's friend, the bishop Alexander. He had ample precedent; collections of the letters of eminent Christians had been common ever since the appearance of the Pauline and Ignatian corpora. Clement used a collection of Valentinus' letters (II. 223. 12), and Eusebius knew collections of the letters of a number of Clement's contemporaries (HE VI.12.1; 14.8; etc.). Moreover, Eusebius reports that Alexander founded the library in Jerusalem and that it was rich in collections of letters, which he himself used for his history (HE VI. 20. iff, on which Ehrhard, Bibliothek 217f). But if Alexander made the collection or had it made, and if it was in the Jerusalem library which Eusebius used, how are we to account for the fact that Eusebius did not know it? He would certainly have mentioned it had he known it. Dubious material in one letter would not have prevented his using the others or his including the collection in his list of Clement's works (HE VI. 13. iff). Perhaps the book had been misplaced or misdtled or somehow separated from the library and thus escaped his attention. Alternatively, one might suppose that the collection was made elsewhere (Ehrhard, Bibliothek 219) or at a later date.

A later date might be suggested by the use of ἁγιώτάτος for an ecclesiastical writer, found in the heading of the present text. This seems to appear first in the time of Athanasius. The use of ὁ στρωματεύς for Clement (except for the instance dubiously attributed to Sextus Julius Africanus) is even later (commentary on I.1). But the heading is conventional and might be the work of any excerpter down to the time of the present MS ; it cannot be used to date the collection from which the text was taken. And it is hard to find a later time at which Clement was sufficiently popular to occasion the collection. So, at least, one would judge from the rarity with which works of Clement were cited, copied, and forged. A cluster of citations comes from the late fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries (Socrates, Stephen Gobarus, John Moschus, Maximus, Antiochus of Mar Saba, Anastasius of Sinai, etc.), but if the collection had not been made before then it is unlikely that any letters would have been left to collect. Early MSS of Clement are rare; the present text of the Stromateis depends for the most part on a single eleventh-century manuscript and its derivatives. Of the spuria given by Stahlin most are the result of misattribution, not forgery; forgery accounts only for the ἀποδείξεις περὶ τοῦ πάσχα (III.LII), the source of fragments 70-74, and possibly the homily on the prodigal son printed in Potter's edition. The ὅροι probably began by drawing on Clement for material and ended with misattribution (for ὁ φιλόσοφος see III.LXVI, on fragment 52). The three forgeries are evidently late and isolated; they do not testify to any general interest in Clement at any time when forgery of the present text would have been credible. Note the comparative rarity of references to Clement in Grant's account of the use of early fathers as authorities (Appeal i5ff). Accordingly, it seems more likely that the collecdon was made early and thereafter neglected, that it was made late.

That such a collection should have existed for centuries without being cited, and that John of Damascus, who did cite it, should have passed over in silence the reference to the longer text of Mk., are phenomena paralleled in the history of Byzantine literature. Procopius' Secret History, for instance, was written in the sixth century but not referred to undl the tenth. Far from collecting dubious traditions about Jesus, ecclesiastical writers were unwilling to preserve them. Epiphanius, for instance, instance, when copying Irenaeus' account of the Carpocratians, deliberately omitted their report of Jesus' secret teaching (both Irenaeus' and Epiphanius' texts are given in Appendix B). In this matter Jerome was an exception; he translated the Gospel according to the Hebrews into Greek. But Jerome never mentions the Jerusalem library (Ehrhard, Bibliothek 247); perhaps even before his quarrel with the bishop of Jerusalem he had little access to it. And it is significant for the attitude of succeeding generations that his translation of the Gospel according to the Hebrews has not been preserved. The Gospel according to the Egyptians has also disappeared. So had the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter until they turned up in chance finds of ancient MSS. We have already mentioned the disappearance of Q, and of the gnostic works used by Hippolytus (a disappearance which led Stahlin, Quellen, into the error of thinking them fakes). The same principle explains the long list in Hennecke-Schnee- melcher of Gospels which church fathers referred to by name, but of which they did not choose to preserve — or chose to destroy — the content. Theodoret boasted of having destroyed more than two hundred copies of the Diatessaron (Haereticarum fabularum compendium 1. 20 end).

To prevent foreseeable stupidities, it must be said at once that the lack of reference to the letter is no argument against attribution of the letter to Clement. In the first place, even those who think it is not by Clement recognize it to be ancient. Volker thinks it must date from the time of the gnostic controversy (the third century) ; Nock thought it on stylistic grounds not later than the fourth century; Munck thought it propaganda for the church of Alexandria and would presumably not have placed it later than the Christological controversies of the fifth century. Even if we accept the latest of these dates we must admit that the letter went unmentioned for fifteen hundred years. So the attribution to Clement does not much augment — proportionately — the period of neglect. And the neglect is easier to explain if the letter be genuine than if not. If genuine it was, to begin with, a private and confidential letter of which no mention was to be expected in the years immediately after it was written — that is, if we have dated it correctly, the years before or after the Severan persecution (c. 201 ? or 210?). But if we can trust Origen {Contra Celsum V.62) the Carpocratians must have become rare and insignificant shortly after that persecution — perhaps as a result of it. Once they had become unimportant the letter would interest no one save a historian. But historians were few in the medieval Church, and historians willing to report aberrant traditions from the early fathers were fewer. Thus the lack of any reference to the letter would be explicable. On the other hand, if the attribution to Clement be false and the letter a forgery, it must have been written and attributed to Clement for some purpose of propaganda; that is, it was intended to be circulated and to attract attention. In this event the failure of anyone to comment on it — or at least the fact that no comment has been preserved — is more difficult to explain. So the total neglect of the letter through seventeen centuries argues for its authenticity. Nor is the neglect incompatible with the literary activities of the monks of Mar Saba. They excelled in hymnody and in the production of ascetic works and martyrologies; see the accounts of Vailhe (Ecrivains) and Phokylides (Laura).

At what time the collection containing the letter got into the library of Mar Saba is uncertain. The foundation of the library was probably almost contemporaneous with that of the monastery in the late fifth century, so any date from that time on is possible. Even the citation by John of Damascus does not provide an absolutely certain terminus ante quern, since it is conceivable that John might have cited from a MS not directly related to that from which our excerpt derives. The likelihood, however, is that John's MS was the ancestor of that from which the surviving (eighteenth century) excerpt was made and that the collection was at the Mar Saba throughout all the intervening period.

The continuous — or practically continuous — existence of the monastic community has been strongly defended by Phokylides. In particular, he has conclusively refuted Ehrhard's statement {Kloster 37) that the site was abandoned from 1450 to 1540 (Phokylides, Laura 506 - 521; see also Papdopolous-Kerameus, II.703). Ehrhard's opinion (uncritically repeated by Strzygowski, Kloster 3, and Vailhe, Ecrivains 2) was based on the report of Sophronius (Khitrowo, Itineraires 1. 274). To the remarks of Phokylides it should be added that Sophronius' report, when it is read in full, is apparently based on stories told him at the monastery; these stories seem to have been invented by the Vlachs, who were then in control, as a bid for Russian support against the Greeks, who did not regain control until 1612 (Phokylides, Laura 541).

Another point made by Phokylides [Laura 477), but requiring further emphasis, is the failure of occasional pillaging or even "destruction" of the monastery to destroy the books there. The buildings of the community were almost entirely of stone; many were caves with stone facings. Codices dispersed in the cells were not likely to be burned nor to be taken as loot by bedouin ; consequently they have been found in the ruins of abandoned cells (Papadopoulos-Kerameus III. 3 16). Also it is reported that when attacks seemed imminent the most important MSS were hidden in nearby caves (ibid; Phokylides, Laura 477f). These reports are confirmed by the analogy of the finds from the Qumran community (near the end of the Wadi en-Nur on which Mar Saba is located) and from the nearby monastery of Khirbet Mird (Milik, Inscription 527), as well as by finds of Greek biblical and apocryphal documents (fifth to eighth century) in caves of the Waide el-Nur itself (de Vaux, Fouille 85). Compare the story told by Curzon of his visit to a Coptic monastery of which only "the crumbling walls" remained and which had not been inhabited by monks for at least a generation, but of which the most valued MSS were still in existence - concealed from the Moslems in a subterranean tomb and guarded by a local peasant, who showed them to Curzon (Visits 130). Se no e vero, e bene travato,

Given such evidence, there is nothing improbable in the hypothesis that MSS existed at Mar Saba at all periods of its history, and that the archetype(s) of the present text may have been there ever since the time of John of Damascus. But this hypothesis cannot be made an essential part of the history of the present text, since there is nothing improbable, either, in the supposition that during the centuries between John of Damascus and the last copyist the text migrated half a dozen times from one monastery to another in southern Palestine. Many texts did so. Perhaps the strongest reason for thinking this one remained at Mar Saba is (after the fact that it was found there) the absence of any known reference to its content. This suggests that it did not circulate, buy lay neglected in some corner of a single library.

As to the ultimate fate of the collection of Clement's letters, the likelihood is that it perished in the great fire which Phokylides, Laura 477, dates in the early years of the eighteenth century. The fire burned out the contents of a cave in which many of the antiquities and the oldest MSS of the monastery had been stored. Since the fire was in a cave the air supply must have been limited. Present monastic tradition says the fire smouldered for two weeks before the monks could get through the smoke to put it out. Even under the most favorable circumstances books are difficult to burn; they usually char around the edges and then go out. Therefore it is presumable that after the fire a large number of loose leaves, almost undamaged, were salvaged from the unburned centers of old MSS. Papadopoulos-Kerameus remarks on the "great number of isolated leaves" and, again, "innumerable quaternions of codices which had gone to pieces" (II. 695) in the Mar Saba material. Numbers of such isolated leaves are still found, either loose (Papadopolous-Kerameus II, nos. 701 - 704; my Hellenika Keirographa end), or inserted into other MSS (Papadopolous-Kerameus, II, nos. 2, 9, 13, 16, 18, 19, etc.) or used for bookbinding (Monasteries 174, 177).

The fragmentary state of the present letter is best explained by supposing it a copy of such an isolated leaf. Ehrhard (Kloster 67) remarks on the large amount of copying of older MSS which went on at Mar Saba in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. No doubt someone's attention was attracted by the surprising content of this isolated folio. He studied the text, corrected it to the best of his ability, and copied it into the back of the monastery's edition of the letters of Ignatius, since it resembled them in being a letter from an early father, attacking the gnostic heretics. For analogies reference may be made to the loss in a fire at Strassburg of the only MS of the Epistle to Diognetus, to the preservation of the Muratorian Canon (also a fragment) on the last pages of a volume of Ambrose, and to the insertion of the Syriac translations of the apocryphal psalms into an empty space in the middle of a MS of the Ketaba de durrasha (Noth, Funf 3). The oldest MS containing these psalms dated from 1340 — until the discovery of the Dead Sea documents. For an example of the correction of the text by the copyist, there is the acid remark of the hegoumenos Joasaph that one Seraphim, who worked at Mar Saba in the late seventeenth century, was an ignoramus who spoiled old MSS by trying to correct them (Phokylides, Laura 562f). Note also the correction of itacisms in fifteenth- and eighteenth-century MSS of Marcarius (Neue Homilien p. XVIII). [BE remarks: "The correctness may be due to the person who copied the text you saw, or it may be due to some predecessor. Thus in the case of the MSS of Plutarch, Planudes introduced a correctness of spelling and accentuation that persists in the MSS derived from his edition."] As remarked in Chapter One, the occasional errors of transcription in the present text are probably due to the haste of the copyist.

In conclusion, it must be reiterated that the most to be claimed for the above account is plausibility, and plausibility is not proof. Things might well have happened thus, but they could have happened otherwise. It is a pity that there is no adequate catalogue of the contents of the Mar Saba library prior to its transfer to Jerusalem in 1865. Of the earlier catalogues known to Papadopoulos-Kerameus, the most nearly complete listed only 536 MSS ; he found over 700 in the Jerusalem material brought from Mar Saba (Papadopoulos-Kerameus, II.695). Similarly, a list of books dated 1910 which I found in the Mar Saba library (no 76 of my Hellenika Cheirographa). In Monasteries, 172, 175, 1 discuss reasons for the inadequacy of the earlier catalogues; Papadopoulos-Kerameus makes similar observations (II.695). Since the catalogues are incomplete, their silence cannot be used as an argument against the existence of material in the monastery at the time when they were made (particularly material extant on isolated leaves).

Thus we have, in the last analysis, no proof that the present text was or was not copied in Mar Saba, or that the MS from which it was copied was or was not in the Mar Saba library. The above history of the text, like most histories, cannot pretend to be more than an account of probabilities. [Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark p. 285 - 290]

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