Friday, July 22, 2011

Professor Stanley Isser on Helping Morton Smith Put Together His 1973 Book on the Letter to Theodore

I worked with Smith as an undergrad assistant while he was finishing both [Clement of Alexandria and a] Secret Gospel [of Mark] and Parties and Politics in Ancient Israel. I did some research
for the latter, but for the Secret Gospel my role was to proofread and check references. The latter task included going through all the NT citations in a critical edition to check all the variants, an endless job that is easier now that computer programs have been invented but was maddeningly tedious then. I appreciated how much work Smith had put into this -- running every word and phrase in Clement's letter and the Gospel text through comparisons with other Clementine material and with Mark (including variants) to establish the probability of authenticity.

The work I did was in his office. There was literally no correspondence between us. Of course then, and later in grad school, we read and discussed the text, but there was no talk of struggling with the discovery beyond what he has in the two versions of the book.

Stanley Isser
Professor Emeritus of Judaic and Religious Studies
University at Albany, SUNY
Albany, NY 12222

I have often marveled at the complexity of Smith's analysis in his 1973 book all accomplished - as Isser notes - without the aid of computers. We have to keep this in perspective when we question how long it took Smith to publish his findings. Let's not forget - he lived in a world without Google ...

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