Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Predictable Mind of Academics

I am amazed at how many scholars in the field of early Christianity have never even heard of the Letter to Thedoore, the Mar Saba document or anything at all to do with Morton Smith's 1958 discovery. It's utterly amazing. When I told the expert on Cyril of Jerusalem, I learned that he was very familiar with the writings of Clement of Alexandria but had no clue about the existence of the Letter to Theodore. I decided to email every person who wrote an article for one of Joseph Patrich's books on the Mar Saba monastery [The Sabaite Heritage in the Orthodox Church from the Fifth Century to the Present, ed. Joseph Patrich, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 98 (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters en Departement Oosterse Studies, 2001] and I found out that not a single one of them had ever heard about Mar Saba 65.

Now let me make clear that everyone who took the time to respond to my email was wonderfully kind and helpful. I appreciate all of their suggestions. I am not in any way attacking them for not knowing about Morton Smith's discovery. Most of these people specialize in early periods of Christian history. My point rather is that Morton Smith's discovery is generally ignored. In any event, here are the responses to my initial email in chronological order:

  • "An interesting story. I wish you success."
  • "I’m sorry, but I’ve never dealt with the letter of Clement and I have no connections with  the Patriarchal School."
  • "Your message intrigues me, although I fear it is all new to me. It is a known fact among those of us who work with Greek manuscripts that the Patriarchal Library in Jerusalem is both immensely rich and extremely difficult to access."
  • "Unfortunately I am afraid I have no clue [about this letter] and cannot help you whatsoever ... It is not surprising that you are not getting any response from the Patriarchate"
  • "This is the first time I've heard of this letter. Do tell me more..."

If this is the response that you get from contacting people who have written articles on the Mar Saba monastery, I can only imagine the depth of knowledge with respect to this document among scholars who have interest in other things related to earliest Christianity. It's a joke.

I do think that a lot of the difficulty comes down to what Nietzsche once said about people who can't live with ambiguity - 'I mistrust all systematizers and avoid them. the will to a system is a lack of integrity.' The idea that we know everything we need to know about earliest Christianity - or at least enough to form an accurate opinion about its origins - is at the heart of the resistance to the Mar Saba letter. Accepting the authenticity of the letter opens the door to an acknowledgement that all our existing 'systems' and models of explanation are totally wrong. Very few scholars are this open to truthfulness. Indeed most scholars never admit they were wrong about anything. Imagine the unconscious resistance to the idea that everything is wrong. Everything needs revaluation.

There, in a nutshell, you have a simple explanation for why there is so much unconscious resistance to this document. The only solution I fear is proving that the text is authentic and even then - who knows whether we still be talking about Q and all the other nonsense that was developed to explain the origins of the canonical gospels. Many scholars act as if the Marcionites aren't important to understand the development of the gospels. This is even worse.

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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