Sunday, January 26, 2014

Debunking the Claim that the Jerusalem Patriarchate Kept Good Records of their Books

Many people including most recently Agamenon Tselikas have attempted to use the argument that the fact that the book Morton Smith found in the Mar Saba library was not listed in various catalogs dating back to 19th century this somehow throws suspicion on the discovery.  As Tselikas also noted in his BAR article:

Interesting is the case of the existence of old printed books in the Library of St. Sabba. According the catalogue of 263 old printed books that patriarch Nicodemus sent to the monastery of St. Sabba in 1887 and derived from the multiple ones of the Central Library, the edition of the works of Ignatius is not included. Nor is it in the record of the books of the monastery dating from 1923. In opposite, between these books is the edition of Clement’s works of Oxford in the year 1715. Therefore the edition of Ignatius entered into the library of the monastery after the year 1923.
The same type of argument has been put forward by Stephen Carlson in his Gospel Hoax.  It seems to have a ring of truth about it because in short we expect libraries to keep good records of their books.

Yet it goes under reported that in 1882 - five years before the earliest list - Rev. James Kean, M. A., B.D. made a pilgrimage to the holy land and published a book of his travel notes. The excerpt reproduced below describes his visit to the Mar Saba Monastery located in the Judean desert beside the Dead Sea. It is worth noting that Kean's description makes clear that the books had left the library long before this alleged 'authoritative list':

The hills and dales have again to be faced, this time over a much larger stretch of ground ; your next stop will be at the monastery, Mar Saba. This is a route seldom travelled : few strangers have done it : the guide books even are silent on it, the reason of this being that any one wishing to visit Mar Saba would naturally do so from Jerusalem or Jericho. The journey - you are doing to day is considered too much for one day : the Jerusalem guides told you it could not be done.

For the next five hours, then, you are to toil across this mountainous wilderness. The Bedouin has gone back, but not before he has given Striped-frock minute instruc- tions as to the way. Pulling yourself together under the reviving influence of an orange, you take the hill like a native. There is no talking : every man is coming along as best he can, taking in the narrow prospect with eyes and mouth, and wondering what like the vision will be when the next sky-high ridge has been crossed.

Up there, to the left or west, sits a solitary man, gun in hand. The hill rises behind him ; and as you pass in front, a little way below, you half expect to see the fire flash from the muzzle of the long single-barrel. Questioned as to the way, he replies civilly, coolly keeping his seat. This is the place to come to if a man wants an out- door existence : plenty of time for reflection too, if the mind can get on without the stimulus of so much as a weekly newspaper.

A few miles farther on, and you come upon two or three tents, the owners lying in front. These men are apparently startled to see travellers here. They are civil, nevertheless, and gather round you, willingly giving advice as to the way. There is some division among them as to the best route ; but on the whole it is agreed that you Lad better take such and such turns at such and such points. This settled, you again depart, passing down the hill, right across a small patch of green corn. You are scandalized at the brutality of treading down the good men's scanty crops, under their very eyes, and you make for the edge ; but Striped-frock evidently knows what he is doing : whether by way of bravado, or simply wishing to show that he is accustomed to the ways of such peasants, who themselves would cross in this manner, he undoubtedly has a meaning for the seemingly wanton action. And he has calculated rightly, for they offer no remonstrance.

Still forward, and far on in a secluded hollow you suddenly come upon a solitary hut. In front of it stands a dreadful creature, an old man, clad in a soiled white frock, with some sort of girdle twisted round his waist. In the girdle are stuck two large pistols, bright as if from constant use. This man stands mute and motionless as you approach. You shudder at the bare thought of being here alone ; but, one of four, you are quite bold. He is evidently a man of few words, and disinclined to be troubled ; for, when questioned as to the route, he merely indicates with a lazy wave of the hand, that it lies up the glen to the north.

Up this next ridge proves a stiff pull, but you are rewarded with a glorious view of the Dead Sea from the summit : it lies peacefully below, not very far off, to the east. The cliffs along its eastern shore are distinctly visible : the quietness of the scene gives them an air of solemnity.

Forced to turn westward, the range being too steep to be descended on the north, you come upon a long gradual slope downwards to the dry bed of a stream. All the way down this slope are broad patches of red anemones, at the cheering sight of which the beasts take fresh courage. It is now but a little way to Mar Saba : a few turns, and you ride down a glen, whose lower or eastern end is filled up with buildings. Knocking at a small iron door in the wall, you are answered by a man who looks down from a square tower at the north side of the door ; and in a few minutes you enter the precincts of the monastery. Never were you more glad to find a place of rest and refresh- ment.

This monastery is said to have been founded in the fifth century by a certain St. Euthymius. Sabas was a pupil of his. The history of the place, as also of the man whose name it bears, is very vague. Sabas, it seems, died about 530, after having founded several monasteries, and dis- tinguished himself — zealous man — as a stout opponent of the Monophysites, that is, the heretics who held that Christ had only one nature — the Divine. The place has been repeatedly plundered ; and in consequence it became necessary to fortify it. For the last half-century it has been in the hands of the Russians, v/ho restored and enlarged it.

Of more interest to you at present than these somewhat isolated historical facts is the question of the material resources of the establishment. To say that you are thirsty would be to use a very inadequate expression : your tongue is like a piece of hard wood. You trot down the stair, then, without delay ; through a second door- way, and down another stair ; across a paved court ; up a stair on the south side, and so into the refectory or dining-room. This is a large, handsome hall, fitted with broad divans all round. Here you tumble down your aching bones, and eagerly watch for the return of the little monk who has gone to fetch some wine. Thankful would you be, beyond all words, could you have a glass of spring water ; but they have nothing but the stagnant tank stuff, the same as at Jerusalem ; and that you cannot drink. Nor does this decanter of wine look at all inviting: it utterly lacks sparkle, and bears the stamp of being amateur-made. This, in fact, it turns out to be ; they make it here, from their own vineyards. Not that there are vineyards about ; the monastery possesses lands elsewhere.

Unpalatable as the liquor is, you are fain to have a draught. All you can say about it, however, is that it is better than nothing at all : it wets the parched tongue, and gives partial relief. But your guides disdain such trashy tipple : they have been here before, and know that the cellars can produce something more potent than drumly white wine : a liqueur of the nature of whisky is what they order up. Out of curiosity you wish to taste this spirit ; but you at once regret you did not let it alone, for the peppermint sort of essence with which it is flavoured is peculiarly nauseous, and threatens to stick to you permanently. The monk does not exactly sell spirits, but he looks for a fair price, all the same.

The monastery lies at the mouth of a glen, just where that glen runs through the west side of a much larger glen. This latter is the Kidron valley, which here runs south, and is of immense depth — some six hundred feet. The mouth of the smaller valley, or, in other words, the open in the west side of the Kidron valley, is walled across with very strong stone-work, buttressed, to keep it from falling into the deep Kidron. Inside this wall, the smaller valley has been, so far, levelled up ; and the land sides — north and south — as well as the upper reach of this small valley, have been protected with strong walls. The area of the place, therefore, is triangular, the apex pointing to the west, and the base lying against the west side of the Kidron valley. As might be supposed, terraces rise in succession on the north and south sides. As for the Kidron wall, it rises only to about the level of the paved court ; and you look over it, down into the abyss.

In the centre of the paved court stands a richly decorated shrine, a dome-roofed, arbour-like little struc- ture. This, the monk who guides you over the place is eager to have you take note, contains the empty tomb of St. Sabas. You think you can hardly be hearing rightly, when he says " empty tomb," the man's enthusiasm being quite out of keeping with such an idea : it is empty, how- ever, the saint's body, or bones, having been removed to Venice long ago.

From this shrine you turn and go a few paces towards the north-west, and enter the rock-hewn church of St. Nicholas. This is a ghastly place : skulls in considerable numbers stare at you from behind gratings in the walls, the skulls of the inmates murdered by the Persians who sacked the monastery so long ago as about the year six hundred.

Another church, a much finer one, stands east of the shrine. This contains a number of pictures, after the manner of the Eastern Church. On the north side of this church are the quarters set apart for pilgrims. Here you wander up and down flights of steps, and along galleries, looking down upon lower galleries, and altogether gather- ing the impression of doing a civilian barracks overhang- ing a precipice, or, in view of the birds that come here to be fed, a lighthouse on some lonely rock.

Returning to the paved court, you pass to the south side as if going again to the dining-hall. You keep nearer to the buttressed wall, however, and ascend a stair which leads to the rock-hewn cells in the cliffs overhanging the Kidron. Here is the saint's grotto, a small low-roofed den ; and beyond it is a still smaller one called the lion's grotto. The absurd story runs that Sabas, on entering his grotto one day, found it tenanted by a lion. The saint betook himself to repeating his prayers as hard as he could ; but the lion, quite regardless of this pious proceed- ing, dragged him out twice. Nothing daunted, the saint came in again ; and at last a modus vivendi, or mutual arrangement, was arrived at, the lion undertaking to keep to his own corner. These dens are not inhabited now : they are show-rooms, and a good deal of attention has been bestowed upon them, in the way of decoration, by holy hands in the days of old. Were the ecclesiastical trappings cleared out of the larger one, it would make a model study : here, far from din and strife — were there a goodish community of cultured inmates in the monastery, and were the library still within these walls — a man might spend a few years not altogether unprofitable. But, alas, the monks are clowns ; and the monastery is more fitted now for a lunatic asylum — there are, indeed, a few lunatics incarcerated here.

You need no letter of introduction, as formerly : it is enough that you present yourself at the iron door: the inmates are only too glad to receive visitors. You are shocked to hear angry words passing between Joseph and the monk who has been showing you over the place : the latter resents the too trifling remuneration offered for value received. You entreat Joseph, somewhat peremptorily, not to be shabby. Just as you are about to leave, an old man comes running out from behind the larger church, and lays down a sheaf of walking-sticks. These are in a variety of styles, and all of them the workmanship of the inmates ; and they are offered for sale. You select a substantial one to carry home as a gift for a cultured friend, who sometimes thinks of Mar Saba when he hears the well-known hymn that was written here,  Art thou weary, art thou languid ?

Striped-frock is seeing about the horses : they are tied up outside, with nothing to eat or drink, and not even any bedding to lie upon. There are some small, open, unfurnished buildings, just without the west wall : in these the ladies of any party that comes here to stay the night must take up their abode.

You have no desire to pass the night at Mar Saba ; although, to tell the truth, you have seen none of the creeping things which, according to the guide books, are so plentiful here : on the contrary, the divans round the walls of the dining-hall — it is on these that you would sleep — seem perfectly clean. But the whole concern gives you a creepy feeling : you are glad enough to get out of it. Perhaps it has been the sight of the lunatic-looking old man with the sticks that has given the finishing touch to your creepiness. At all events, when the horses are reported to be ready you too are ready ; and you climb the stairs, over the rock-hewn church containing the skulls, and so pass out by the iron door. Jerusalem will be your next stop ; and it will take you all your time to reach it before nightfall.

Your path winds, to the right, round by the north back of the monastery, and then skirts the edge of the dreadful Kidron valley. What a look down! A parapet, however, built evidently when there was more stir about Mar Saba than now, affords a most necessary protection to man and beast. Soon the path descends into the bed of the valley. Striped-frock is giving indications of anxiety : you must now push on, for the day is far spent, and you have before you a ride of between three and four hours. Every bone in your body seems bruised and broken, and you would fain be permitted to sit quietly, and let the beast go at a walking pace. That may not be : the yell and the whack which announced the serious start by the lower pool of Gihon in the morning is now repeated ; and the cavalcade is off at a gallop.

There is not much to note here : the barren hills are all so like each other, and the rugged valleys offer so little variety. Your route lies along the valleys, of course, and chiefly along the Kidron. You leave the latter, however, for a time, after descending into the hollow. By and by you come upon it again, and keep to it for a long time. Here the riding is so rough and so fast that occasional halts have to be made in order to adjust the saddles, which will keep going over to one side or the other. You begin to long for an English saddle : the Arab substitute is but a piece of carpet strapped over the beast's back. This Oriental stirrup, too, is now giving trouble : it is quite unnecessarily large, being in fact but a substantial move- able door-scraper taken and suspended by a strap ; and the jostling of the horses, which in this haste cannot altogether be avoided, is tolerably certain to leave somebody's leg aching, if not cut. Your only chance is to hasten on in front, what time the others are stopped for saddle readjustment. [19th Century Travel Notes - Visit to Mar Saba Monastery From James Kean M.A., Among the Holy Places, T.Fisher Unwin Paternoster Square]

The bottom line then is that the books were moving back and forth in the Patriarchate with little or no recorded record.  After all as the witness he testifies - they were all half-crazy.  The record keeping was at best 'suspect' at worst non-existent or wholly inaccurate.  

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Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
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