Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why Do People Who Believe in the Secret Mark Conspiracy Theory Criticize Mythicists?

I was thinking about this morning after reading Loren Rosson's drivel dredging up the same tired old claims about the alleged forgery.  I notice that Francis Watson, Mark Goodacre, Larry Hurtado are 'convinced' that both Secret Mark and the Jesus Wife Fragment are fakes.  There is no middle ground.  It is a 'fact' that respected scholars (Morton Smith, Karen King) from Harvard (one a student, the other a professor) are somehow involved in a plot to cast doubt on the 'truth' about Jesus Christ and his Church.

All three men - indeed most of the critics of both texts - happen to be staunch defenders of the inherited understanding of Christianity.  Secret Mark and the Jesus Wife Fragment challenge those accepted truths - i.e. the one allegedly making Jesus 'gay' and the other 'straight' - and so various arguments are lined up to demonstrate basically that the forgery could only have been cooked up by modern individuals, even the very people associated with the discovery 'must have' manufactured them.

But what struck me today was that these three men would openly laugh at anyone who argued that Jesus might not have existed as a man of flesh and blood.  There arguments in favor of their beloved modern conspiracies seem very similar to those employed by mythicists.  For instance, the principle argument in favor of the Mar Saba conspiracy (= Secret Mark) now that Stephen Carlson's forger's tremor has been disproved is that 'parallels' exist between a 1940's pulp fiction novel and the circumstances of Morton Smith's visit to the monastery where he discovered the letter containing fragments of 'Secret Mark.'  Isn't this the intellectual equivalent of the Jesus is Mithras argument of the mythicists (i.e. that because the Christian cult resembles Mithras cult this 'proves' our religion is counterfeit)?

Moreover mythicists when confronted with the question of why we have no actual evidence for a supernatural Jesus in the earliest period will argue that evidence to the contrary was 'all erased' by the custodians of the existing tradition.  In other words, we find another striking parallel with the modern conspiracists who always answer the objection that there is actually no evidence to back up their claims argue that Morton Smith 'must have' destroyed it all.  The reality is that the manuscript was seen at the monastery by Quentin Quesnel decades after Smith was last at Mar Saba.  Indeed if a mythcist developed an argument for the non-existence of Jesus through Stephen Carlson's ridiculous word parallels (Morton Smth = Morton Salt etc) historicists would have a laughing fit.

Yet the lesson from all of this is that stupid arguments don't seem so stupid when they are the only defense you can muster for your own stupid conspiracy leanings.  The real question should be - why can't these brilliant men ever come up with better proofs for their convictions than Carlson's sophomoric 'Da Vinci Code' inspired effort?

Just think how long ago its been.  George Bush was still declaring 'Mission Accomplished' in Iraq when that book was penned.  These men are still saying the same words with respect to Carlson's effort to Secret Mark.  Yet  the tides have definitely turned with respect to accepting the existence of Secret Mark.  The entire argument against the authenticity of Secret Mark was based on the fact that so many respected authorities accepted the implausible conspiracy theory in the first place.   In other words, on its own Carlson's theory was plainly stupid.  But once you get respected people to say 'no its not stupid' the average guy didn't know what to think.  It's like your doctor telling your arthritis is the first sign of multiple sclerosis (something that once happened to my wife; it took a year of visits with other experts to finally set her mind at ease). 

As I said a long time ago, history will look back at the conservative effort to delegitimize Smith's discovery as the final nail in the coffin for New Testament studies. Their effort to 'defend' academia will ultimately prove to be the undoing of any respectability for the field. Besides the homophobic logic at the heart of the 'attraction' to the Secret Mark conspiracy theory is so passe.  Many of these critics may even find themselves with gay children and grandchildren.  Like Dick Cheney blood will prove thicker than water and they may even have a change of heart about the text ...

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