Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Librarian Did it! The Authority of the Custodian of Books in a Library, Marginalia and the Letter to Theodore

There are hours when I question the use of spending a month going through every sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century book in the public libraries of Greece. However it is amazing to see how we learn even when we aren't away of the education process. I have unconsciously absorbed a number of patters from looking at these old books. One thing that jumps out now is not only the fact that there were always Greeks writing notes and whole treatises into the blank pages of books but the very identity of the person who felt authorized to do so remained consistent over time - viz. the custodian of the library.

John Priggos wrote into books but he was in a sense the custodian of the library (and thus all the books contained in the library). Callinicus had a habit of sloppily writing in every blank page but then again he was the original manager of all the books that went into the Zagoras library. Moreover, I see hundreds of other examples of people writing into the blank spaces of books at Zagoras and at other libraries - some into the twentieth century. But here's what struck me - there is an unmistakable pattern that the librarian figure or 'the custodian of the books' always seems to think he has the right to add things to the books.

My point is that I knew nothing about this before going through the books. The modern library not only writes that the book is the property of the library where it now resides but also a short description of the book into the third or fourth page of the book. In the earlier period the librarian could take far greater liberties. It would not be at all beyond the realm of possibilities that a librarian saw a letter from an early Church Father (i.e. the letter to Theodore by Clement) and decided to copy that text into another book containing the writings of an Antiochene Church Father (Ignatius) and another Alexandrian Church Father (Barnabas) - most people ignore the fact that 1646 contains more than the writings of just Ignatius.

I am not even sure that the transcription had to have taken place at Mar Saba for I see a number of books at Zagoras that seemed to have made their way from the Jerusalem library and which have the handwriting of Dositheus of Jerusalem in their blank pages. Why couldn't the reverse have happened (i.e. that a book was sent from a library in Greece to Mar Saba)?

I am moving away from my hypothesis that Mar Saba 65 had anything to do with John Priggos's sending of books from Amsterdam to Zagoras. The reasons for this are twofold. First, Callinicus was a literary slob. When he wrote into books there were notes and writings EVERYWHERE. The Voss book at Mar Saba is totally immaculate save for the addition of the letter at the back. Second, when John Priggos sent a book he would normally write something at the blank pages of the front (sometimes the back) about the book he was sending.

Now the cover of the Voss edition is missing. Perhaps even some of the blank pages in the front so this second theory isn't as strong as it appears. Yet usually (although not always) once Callinicus received the books from Priggos he would write in the title page something.

I have also noticed a definite pattern in all Greek libraries that the older the book the more we find marginalia. There are far less scribbling and writing (almost none) in eighteenth century books. There much more among early seventeenth century books. It is very common among seventeenth century books.

If the text was forged (which I do not believe) the person chose a seventeenth century book quite wisely. He knew the pattern of marginalia. I also have noticed that size matters too. There is a far greater likelihood that paperback-sized books like the Voss edition in which which Mar Saba 65 was written tend to have things written into them. Those massive ten volume hardback editions have less.

Did Morton Smith already recognize these patterns prior to 1958? It's possible I guess, but it certainly isn't something which has been noted in any study I have ever read. I think even those who argue for forgery will have to admit that the person carrying out this alleged hoax would have to have been a librarian or the cataloging of books. Sure this describes Morton Smith in 1958 but before that would he have noticed the pattern with respect to seventeenth century paperback sized books?

Again, I haven't put a lot of thought into the question of whether Morton Smith knew this prior to 1958 but we can't keep perpetuating the idea that writing a long text into a seventeenth century paperback-sized books is something unusual in itself. It is in fact quite typical of what we find in the existing libraries of Greece. Would Morton Smith have went through all the printed books of monastic libraries BEFORE cataloging the books at Mar Saba in 1958? I don't think so. I think his other travels to monasteries was to find manuscripts in codices.

The point is that - while it is only an observation - I think that the time Morton Smith would have noticed the pattern with respect to seventeenth century printed books containing large amounts of marginalia would be the very same time he made his discovery. I don't think there would have been enough time to buy the Ignatius edition, compose a Clementine-sounding letter containing a Markan sounding gospel edition and carry out the hoax while working at Mar Saba.

Other people of course have noticed the pattern with respect to the marginalia in printed books at monasteries. My friend Harry Tzalas for instance. But he was actually interested in the printed books rather than the codices. Harry spent lots of time at the Patriarchal library of Alexandria and enjoyed looking at printed books containing maps and references to Alexandria and the like and happened to notice the large amounts of marginalia in old books. Morton Smith seems to have spent a lot of time going through all the books in the library at Mar Saba. But did he have this kind of access to the printed books of other monastic libraries? I don't know but I don't think so.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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