Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Finally Have Approval to Publish Charles Hedrick's Interview With Agamemnon Tselikas

I received a remarkable email this morning which was filled with interesting news,only a portion of which I can share with my readers.  The two most important details are that (a) Agamemnon Tselikas has sent Hershel Shanks his report on the authenticity of the Mar Saba document and (b) his giving me permission to publish the interview he conducted with my friend Charles Hedrick at the end of September.  I have alsharo succeeded in getting Dr. Tselikas interested in the Mar Saba document all that is left is to have him actually conduct a thorough search of the document with the recognition that it was the Patriarchate - not Morton Smith - who ripped the pages of the manuscript out of the Voss book.  He has told me he looked around for the manuscript but under the assumption that Smith took the manuscript.  I think this will make a huge difference in his next search.  There is also the question of finding 'something else' - who knows what that will be - now that his eyes have been opened with real interest and motivation. 

In any event, here is the interview.  Happy Xmas everyone!


By Charles W. Hedrick

This interview with Agamemnon Tselikas took place at his office on P. Skouse 3 in Athens, Greece on Thursday 30 September 2010. The subject of the interview was the Letter of Theodore containing excerpts from a Secret/Mystic Gospel of Mark.

Professor Tselikas is Director of Centre for History and Paleography of the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation. For his curriculum vitae see here.

He is also a member of the Advisory Panel for St. Catherine’s Monastery through Legatus

The data in the interview has not yet been approved by Professor Tselikas.

The material in brackets constitute my interpretation and understanding of Professor Tselikas’ comments.

Situation: I visited with Professor Tselikas for 3.5 hours (9:00 – 12:30). He basically “lectured” and here and there I interrupted with a question. My notes were taken as lecture notes on a yellow pad. The notes were then transcribed partly in the afternoon of the same day and partly the following morning.

Per Tselikas:

1. Aristarchos is the current librarian of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Kallistos Dourvas, who was the former librarian of the Patriarchate library, is no longer Parish Priest at the Church of Eisodia tes Theotokou, located in the Plateia Karaiskaki in Ano Glyfada near Athens but has been transferred to Macedonia.

2. According to Aristarchos, the Patriarchate has no interest in this issue [i.e., in finding the missing folios of the Letter of Theodore]. They [the Patriarchate] are only interested (in such things as) gospels and the Fathers of the Church (Patristic Literature). But should the missing folios be found that would be fine with the Patriarchate [in other words, what I understand is that the Patriarchate has no interest one way or the other in the Letter of Theodore]. When Professor Tselikas was at the library during its recent renovation he went through the holdings of the library but did not find the folios [although he was looking for them].

3. Professor Tselikas feels himself to have the confidence of the Patriarchate in the work that he is doing in the library. He has made numerous friends among the staff and feels himself to be a member of the Patriarchate family. He reports that the Patriarchate is very open to the search for the folios.

4. Professor Tselikas checked [Smith’s publication] to see what kind of manuscripts Smith had been cataloguing [he referred me to the article by Smith “Notes on Collections of Manuscripts in Greece,” ΕΠΕΤΗΡΙΣ 1956: 380-93 in a section described as ΣΥΜΜΕΙΚΤΑ (miscellaneous); he pulled the volume off the shelf and photocopied a copy for me; in the article Smith records the manuscripts in which he was interested in monasteries at Cephalonia, Dimitsane, Skiathos, Ιερα Μονη του Ευαγγελισμου, the Library of the Rev. George Rigas, Εκκλησια των τριων ιεραρχων, Yannina; Tselikas himself has visited these monasteries]. Tselikas added that Smith has visited many monasteries and checked their libraries.

5. [Shortly before Smith made these visits to the monasteries in 1951-52, Greece had been involved in a civil war (1946-1949). The war was fought between the Greek governmental army, backed by the United Kingdom and the United States, against the Democratic Army of Greece, the military branch of the Greek Communist Party backed by Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania]. There were many secret agents from England[, the United States,] and other countries working throughout Greece [around this time]. Tselikas asks, was Smith involved in this activity as well [while on his visits to monasteries and libraries in Greece]? Tselikas himself was in Kefalonia in 1948 to make a list of monastic manuscripts.

6. Tselikas says that Aristarchos (the current librarian of the Greek Patriarchate) reported to him that Smith just wanted to “represent himself” and was not really interested in doing scientific work. When Smith was in the monastery [I understood that it was the library at Mar Saba], he did not make a good impression on the monks. For the monks at Agias Sabbas [Mar Saba] this whole business involving the Letter of Theodore is closed. Because Smith created a flap [with his publications] the Patriarchate found it necessary to [alas, I have nothing in my notes at this point and no memory of what he said, but it was probably to have the folios of the Letter to Theodore brought to the Patriarchate].

7. When Tselikas searched the Patriarchate he searched the materials one by one [but did not find the folios].

8. From the perspective of philology the Letter to Theodore has problems with it. His impression of the letter from his own reading of the gospels was that someone had taken material from the gospels [here and there] and made a new text [implying that this is what we have in the Letter of Theodore] but he did not verify this impression [by making a detailed analysis].

9. He is confident that the folios actually existed at one time in the Voss book by comparing the quality of its paper [from photos, I assume] with other manuscripts.

10. If the Letter of Theodore was a copy of an 18th century original there should have been a copy of the original [from which it was copied] in a monastery someplace [since copyists only work from an original]. He thinks that the contents of the monasteries and libraries are well documented for the 18th century.

11. [from memory and not in my first set of notes:] He adds that it is, of course, possible that it is a new discovery since new discoveries are made all the time. We (i.e., people in his field) know this happens—as the Gospel of Judas shows, for example; Judas is a case in point.

12. But if a copyist did make this copy (of the letter to Theodore), why did he stop writing when he did? There is still a half of page left to occupy more text [which one would presume, was in the original being copied].

13. [Another problem is] the style of the letter. It does not accord with the style of letters written in the 18th century. [I asked what was wrong with the style of the letter; he answered] the style of the letter is mixed.

14. Paleographically there are problems with the letter. The original folios must have had very small lines and hence very small letters. Nevertheless, the letter does fit with the handwriting of the last years of the 17th century and the first years of the 18th century. The scribe who wrote the letter wrote in the style of the of the late 17th century and early 18th century, but when you observe the ductus of the letters many letters are not written in the usual direction of the ductus of the letters made by Greek copyists who were trained to write in this period. It is impossible that some of the letters in the Letter to Theodore were written by a Greek hand of the period. For example, the tau is not written with ligatures.

15. This raises the question is the copyist a Greek or not a Greek? It is very clear when a Greek copyist writes Greek. It is easy to recognize. Even the examples of Smith’s Greek are clearly not written by a Greek—and he adds [speaking directly to me] even your handwriting is easy to spot as not having been written by a Greek.

16. [So he asks rhetorically] who could imitate this style of handwriting? What can you imagine to answer this question? [Nothing presents itself as a reasonable answer –so he concludes] someone forged the letter in the modern period. He is convinced that it is a modern forgery. So who made the forgery, he asks?

17. Was it made in a monastery or outside a monastery? The forgery must have been made by someone after the end of the 17th century. In the last years of the 17th century Dosithios [or Chrisanthos?] rebuilt the monastery [of Mar Saba]. There were only a few monks at Mar Saba during this period and only few involved in copying books. They would only have been interested in producing liturgical [and Bible texts?] for use in the churches. [Because of this] it is impossible for a monk in the monastery at this time to have written the folios of the Letter to Theodore.

18. Had there been an original manuscript at the monastery [which, for some reason, we don’t have] from which a copyist made the folios of the Letter of Theodore, that monk must have copied other manuscripts as well, but Tselikas found no other similar hands at Mar Saba or at the Patriarchate to match the handwriting of the Letter to Theodore. He found nothing like the Theodore hand, although there were other hands that produced multiple manuscripts.

19. In the library at Mar Saba he found a known edition of the works of Clement (French, he thinks, in an edition of 1600, or so. This volume, however, did not have a copy of the letter to Theodore and asks why did the scribe not copy the letter to Theodore in this collection of the writings of Clement, but instead copies it into a collection of the writings of Ignatius? One answer may be that the paper of the Clement volume was not good enough. With the passing of time the pages of the Clement volume became brown and the paper was too thin to accept the writing. The Clement volume was a larger volume [i.e., I gather bigger than the Voss volume; I am not sure what his point was with the size of the volume].

20. In Tselikas’ research in locating old catalogues of monastery libraries, he consulted the three catalogues of Mar Saba [he showed me images of the covers of the catalogues of Mar Saba]. The catalogues of Mar Saba contained an entry for the Clement volume, but not for the Ignatius volume of Voss. There is no mention of the Voss volume in any of the three catalogues. The three catalogues of Mar Saba list the acquisitions before around 1925.

21. Perhaps one could say that the reason that the volume is not in a catalogue is because the Voss book was missing its front matter on which would have been placed the monastery stamp of possession [ i.e., indicating its acquisition by the monastery]. [I think he is implying that they would not have known how to list the Voss volume, since it is lacking its title page].

22. Now [with this background] it is easy to see that the Voss book came into the library after 1925 [i.e., after the catalogues were no longer being kept by the staff was my understanding].

23. Now, he asks, who could import a book into the library? The answer is, of course, uncertain: one cannot say whether it was Morton Smith or someone else who put the volume there.

24. It was not easy for Smith [to gain access] and to stay at the monasteries he visited throughout Greece. [Many of them are physically difficult to access because of their remote position]. Kefalonia, for example, had only a small difficult to find trail leading to the monastery.

25. The visits of Smith [the earliest I think in 1941] took place during the English administration of the area even before the state of Israel [1948] was created. One can ask if the young Morton Smith [I think he was about 33 years at this time] was so curious about the ascetic life style of the monk? He adds, someone must check his motivation for making this circle of monasteries and libraries. All travelers must have the permission of British and the federal government [Greek or U.S.?] It would have been easy for him to have passed along information about the Middle East because afterward was the war between Israel and the British [I think he means the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1947-48 culminating in the establishment of the Jewish State].

26. Tselikas has on his computer copies of two letters, which he showed me, of Smith requesting permission to organize a committee to raise money to assist in creating a museum at the Patriarchate. He also has a copy of a letter from Patriarch Demitri (?) granting permission. Tselikas thinks that something else must be hidden in his behavior—he is not only interested in a museum. Did it have something to do with his agency for the British? Patriarch Timotheus (?) was educated in England. [I am not sure where he was going with this.]

27. There are three or four manuscripts in Kefalonia whose Greek handwriting is similar to the Letter of Theodore. These manuscripts are all written in the last years of the 17th century and the early years of the 18th century. These manuscripts have many similarities to the letter to Theodore. In one of these manuscripts there is a short note on how ink was made in the 17th and 18th centuries. Smith must have read this note, and could have even made a copy of it. [Tselikas is implying, I think, that even if we found the folios of the Theodore letter, testing the ink would prove nothing about the age of the letter to Theodore. This manuscript can be identified: It is Smith’s listing #5 in the monastery at Kefalonia. So Smith saw the note for certain.]

28. Tselikas thinks that the note about the making of ink is very important. [The note about the making of ink can be found in the bibliography of Tselikas transcribed by Tselikas. It is found as #22 in the list of his publications. It is the PDF file σ 187. I have a disk of Tselikas’ publications, or part of them, which Professor Tselikas was kind enough to give me.]

29. At this point I asked him who did he think forged the manuscript since he had made it pretty clear that he believed it to have been forged. He replied that it was at least 90% certain that Smith forged the document outside the monastery but did not know when the [Voss volume containing the] Letter to Theodore came into the monastery. Tselikas does not think that the Letter to Theodore is a new Patristic text.

30. Simonides is the name of a modern forger who sold forgeries to the Library of France and the French were duped by them and bought the manuscripts. [I gather he told me this to reassure me that forgeries are a common feature of the antiquities trade.]

31. Smith must have had someone else with him when he visited these monasteries. Byzantine script is very difficult to read. And there are families of various hands. The more “modern” hands in the monasteries [after the Byzantine period] are even more difficult to read—not even the experts can read them.

32. Tselikas was at Skiathos in 1982 and reported that travel there [many years after Smith’s visit], was very difficult. There was no electricity and it was hard even to see the manuscripts [in order to read them]. And Smith was there even earlier.

33. The Greek civil war was with the communists in 1947-1948 [but see my dates in #5 above]. [After the war], Tselikas says, the Bishop of Skiathos was exiled to Skiathos because he had sided with the communists. So why did Smith go to Skiathos rather than to one of the better known monasteries? [I assume that this point is to link Smith with more cloak and dagger type activities, but he did not make it clear.]

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