Friday, August 19, 2011

An Important Addition to Chapter Two of My Book on the Discovery at Mar Saba- An Interview With Ethne Chesterman (Will Send Her a Copy of This to Her Tomorrow to Make Sure it is Accurate)

"Timing is everything. There is a tide in the affairs of men which when taken at the flood leads on to fortune." - William Shakespeare

1957 was a turning point in Morton Smith's life. He had started a full time job at Columbia University and with his new position came a lot of adjustments. For one he had to get used to the idea of daylight savings time. "He used to come into class all excited," remembers Ethne Chesterman who was a student that year. "There was a lectern on top of table where he used to instruct us from. He used to start the class with a karate chop to a chain that hung from the lectern. It was really cute."

"Then November came and everyone came to class. We were all staring at the chain hanging from the lectern. No Professor Smith. Everyone waited about twenty minutes then we all streamed out of the classroom but it was pouring rain outside. So we all went to the library."

"At about ten minutes after ten. Guess who comes strolling into the library? Professor Smith. His bald head was all slick with rain. He looked all frazzled. He didn't know anything about daylight savings time."

Many of the student's in the library started to chuckle at the befuddled Professor Smith. Yet Ethne told her friends to stop laughing. Ethne and Professor Smith had a secret. About a month earlier Barnard College organized an open week where young girls would bring their parents to the college. Ethne's father had just passed away in April and her mother was just getting over the loss. She introduced her beautiful mother who looked every bit the spitting image of Lana Turner to her favorite professor.

"I said, 'this is my mother' and he acted like any man who laid eyes on her. His eyebrows raised a little and he took a quick double take before clearing his throat," remembers Ethne. We started talking about the course load for the year and the usual small talk. Yet Professor Smtih seemed especially chatty. My mother had a British background so she was very good at appearing unmoved and disinterested. I started to notice that Smith was fidgeting a lot."

"As mother and I walked away from our lengthy chat I remember telling her something to the effect, 'I think Dr. Smith would like to see you again.' I talked her into coming into class the next week. She needed the distraction."

"They started talking and after a long while she told him that they would meet again without me. I think she said something like "We'll meet beside the statue of Athena" (see above) and that's exactly where he met her a day or two later," recalls Ethne.  "I don't know why I was playing Cupid.  I thought I was doing my mother some good.  She needed to get out."

Ethne also recalls how Smith and her mother had to go to great lengths to keep their relationship secret.  "They saw each other whenever Smith's schedule allowed him to get away.  My mother never told me about her private affairs.  She never married again after the death of my father.  No matter how old I got she never told me anything about what went on with her boyfriends.  She was very British that way."

"She and Smith continued to date all the way to the time Smith left for his summer trip.  He spoke about it a lot but never mentioned anything about going to the Mar Saba monastery.  He was going to Jerusalem to meet friends.  I knew that.  My mother knew he was brilliant.  She found him funny and charming.  Loved to be in his company."

"Of course I kept their relationship secret.  We could all have gotten in a lot of trouble potentially - especially Smith.  I remember we all went to dinner after he came back from Mar Saba.  He was very excited about his discovery.  He went on forever about how he came across this letter of the Church Father Clement.  Yet at the same time he couldn't stop complaining about the monastery.  He was very sick.  He never got any sleep. The monks were singing all the time.  It drove him crazy.  He swore he would never go back."

"He talked about how bad the food was and we all kept eating.  It was quite funny in a way.  Mentioning soup with the octopus at the monastery and then we were in New York having a wonderful meal at a wonderful restaurant with great service."

"The bad news for my mother was that once Smith came back with this big discovery that became the focus of his whole life.  He was consulting with this professor and that.  My mother and he just drifted apart.  Maybe it was too soon after my father died.  I don't know.  I think there was some real compatibility between her and Smith.  My father wasn't Jewish.  He was Episcopalian so marriage wouldn't have been an issue.  If he hadn't have found the manuscript, who knows."

"I remember picking up a book by Ehrman about early Christianity.  I think Lost Christianities was the name and I read what he insinuated about Smith.  I hit the ceiling.  Morton Smith was one of the most honest, sincere, straight forward man I had ever met.  Then I started reading more about the wild accusations that were being thrown around.  Smith was gay?  I thought to myself, why are they doing this now after he was dead?  If my mother was alive she would have vouched for him too.  There was a real attraction."

"Some people ask why he didn't go to church services and whether he lost his faith.  The answer is that he was just too tired from the monks singing at all hours of the day.  No one got any sleep there.  But Smith was trying to keep a schedule and work.  He couldn't sleep because he was sick too.  It was a very unnatural environment there for him as it would be for anyone who wasn't a monk."

Chesterman's CV - Ethne Chesterman, who has a master's degree in political science and a doctoral equivalent in political science from Barnard College in New York. Chesterman is a former political science teacher from Brooklyn and is licensed to teach in New York and Florida.

Chesterman as a member of good standing in South Florida society

Chesterman's recent donation to Barnard College - Class of 1961

Photo of Chesterman as a Winner of the "Beauties of the New York Civil Service" for 1965 (my how times have changed!) - see p. 14

For those who find it strange that someone at Barnard College would have Smith as a professor even though he taught at Columbia I notice that Wikipedia has a page somewhere on the two colleges have a special relationship (even though they are technically separate they are really one and the same). Also I found this CV of this lady who died the same year as Smith who went to Barnard and had Smith as her professor too:

[Martha Hope Rhoads Bell] attended Cedar Crest College in Allentown (1959-1961) and Barnard College in New York City (1961-1963); and it was from Barnard that she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History. While at Cedar Crest College, one of her professors was Burr C. Brundage, who had received a Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago before World War II. Unable to find a job as a professional Egyptologist, he turned to Meso American and South American Archaeology. Nevertheless, it was through Brundage that Martha was first introduced to Egyptology. At Barnard, Martha’s mentor was Morton Smith. He taught her how to think critically and logically about issues concerning the ancient world.

For this guy who I correspond with sometimes and who never wants to make this about Smith's personal life (even though the whole question of forgery is based on his personal life) and wonders why Barnard College - a girl's school in the 1950s would have a week where parents could meet their daughter's professors - all I can say is that she absolutely stands by her story and to me at least this makes perfect sense given the way American society was in the 1950s with respect to treating young women as children effectively. I happen to know someone who was the dean of the religious studies department in the late 1960s surely he can confirm her story. But I absolutely believe it.

Email with comments or questions.

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