Friday, October 28, 2005

The Gospel Hoax

I have received (with thanks for the kindness) and read a proof of Stephen Carlson's The Gospel Hoax and thought I should note a few thoughts. If the etiquette is not to comment on books before they are published, then I apologise, but everyone else seems to be doing it.

Stephen has, I believe, proved beyond reasonable doubt that the Secret Gospel of Mark is a modern forgery or hoax. He does this by an analysis of the handwriting of the manuscript using the methods that are applicable for spotting forged signatures and other documents. On the Textual Criticism yahoo group Stephen has also produced expert testimony supporting his conclusion. Secret Mark is written on the flyleaf of a seventeenth century book which was smuggled into the monastic library where Morton Smith found it. This was dead easy to do because all security in libraries is planned against taking books out, not smuggling them in. Only a few months ago, forged documents were found to have been lodged in the UK National Archives (story from the Daily Telegraph). So Secret Mark has no value at all for scholarship and tells us nothing about Jesus or Clement of Alexandria.

Stephen also tries to pin the blame for the hoax on Morton Smith, the man who claimed to have discovered the manuscript. He is certainly the prime suspect and Stephen thinks he has found some clues to confirm the identity of the forger. Here, I am less sure. Yes, I think Smith did the deed. But Stephen's clues appear a little to clever and a little hard to swallow. I'll let you read the book and make your own mind up on this question. For me, the important point is that Secret Mark is now forged Mark. Who was responsible is a secondary issue. If it was Smith, he took the truth to his grave in 1991.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

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