Friday, October 15, 2010

Venetia Anastasopoulou: Can a Document in Itself Reveal a Forgery?

I never saw this before.  It is dated to a period AFTER the publication of Venetia's original report in BAR and it comes from the online edition of the magazine.  It seems to go beyond her original conclusions that Morton Smith could not have forged the document delving into the question of whether the document is itself a forgery: 

In the question: “can a document in itself reveal a forgery or not,” we have a lot to say.

The writing as a whole can speak to the examiner and his trained eye will catch the signals of its rhythm and spontaneity.

There are characteristics which point to a genuine or to a suspicious writing, but we should always have in mind, that these characteristics are just indications and could be present in a genuine handwriting as well. We should not forget that the method of comparison is leading us to a conclusion on genuineness or not.

In general, the genuine writing

◦is natural and carelessly written

◦has a good line quality

◦has good pressure patterns

◦is written rapidly or more precisely with continuity in motion

◦is internally consistent

◦has good rhythm

whereas the opposite characteristics are always suspicious indications.

More over, a suspicious writing

◦appears drawn

◦lack of natural variations

◦has excessive perfection of details

◦has poor line quality

◦there are no pressure variations

◦uses incorrect method of constructions

◦close resemblance to a model

◦has tremor (meaning that tremor is not the curve or the leaning of a line, but as Osborn says tremor of fraud shows a painstaking and unnatural care throughout that indicates an effort to follow an unfamiliar copy)

◦has pen lifts in places where there is no need, where it shows the difficulty of the writer to draw a certain form

◦uses unusual forms or forms written in an awkward way.

In a questioned suspicious writing we are expecting for the forgers genuine characteristic to come up as the handwritten document is getting larger and in such documents we are looking for a distortion in the writing. When a large document is consistent, we have a first indication of genuineness and this applies to the Secret Mark letter.

The Secret Mark letter, as written in detail in my analysis report, is written in a natural and spontaneous way and in my opinion, does not have such indications so to make us think of a suspicious writing. So, the only way to check whether the handwriting is genuine or not, is to compare with a known handwriting, as I have done in my earlier report. If the Secret Mark letter was written by someone with the intension to mislead people, this is something that cannot be seen in a handwriting alone.

Venetia Anastasopoulou

Athens, 22/07/2010
It is also worth noting that in the same online section Peter Jeffrey - one of the greatest proponents of the forgery position - actually distances himself from the idea that Morton Smith forged the text:
The Mar Saba handwriting seems to her to be that of a native Greek-speaker, who is comfortable connecting Greek cursive letter forms and uses accents correctly (but see p. 31). Smith, in the examples she gives, writes Greek like an English-speaking student: one letter at a time, and in a non-cursive, even “immature” hand modeled on printed “copybook” forms (p. 37). This is most obvious in the combination omicron-upsilon (ou), which is often regarded and written by Greeks as a single letter, and even passed as one letter into the Old Slavonic alphabet. But Smith, like most English-speakers who learned Greek in school, usually wrote it as two letters (pp. 33-34). The implication, as Anastasopoulou herself concludes, is that Smith was incapable of writing the kind of rapid cursive we find in the Mar Saba text (nothing about “forger’s tremor” here). This seems to be borne out by the examples she herself presents, assuming they are typical of the material she was given to work with. I believe it does raise the bar for those who argue that Smith penned the Mar Saba document in his own hand (a claim I never made myself). They will need to show, if they can, that Smith acquired or attempted fluency in this type of Greek cursive, even though he did not habitually use it. The second example on her p. 33 shows Smith writing a cursive abbreviation for the word theou (of God) which is not the same as the one in the Mar Saba text. Anastasopoulou describes it as “of poor quality.” Were such attempts frequent or highly unusual for Smith?

If the Mar Saba scribe was not Smith, who was it? An unknown Greek accomplice of Smith? A rival of his who successfully deceived him? An 18th-century monk? We still need to know. According to Anastasopoulou (p. 4), this type of cursive “was learned and used by few people because of its difficulties . . . . In each monastery there were a limited number of monks who knew” the characteristic abbreviations and ligatures that identified the house script. Potentially, then, the Mar Saba script could be localized to a specific monastery, but she gives us no bibliographical help in doing this. Therefore we still badly need some thorough analyses by qualified paleographical specialists in early modern Greek cursives.
Jeffrey goes on to challenge the content of the letter and demonstrates that he believes it is a forgery but it is worth noting that he goes out of his way to distance himself from the idea that Smith was the forger throughout.  Give Jeffrey credit for responding - and adapting - to the new evidence. 

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