Why I think that Carlson's SecMk Debunking Theory is Completely Silly...


[I published the following in June, 2005, when I was still not quite sure what was in Carlson's book. So this was basically the comment about his main thesis, which I found highly problematic.]


Yes, my dear friends, indeed I think that Mr. Carlson's Secret Mark debunking theory is really totally and completely silly -- in fact, hopelessly so...

His accusations against the late Prof. Morton Smith, that he's some sort of a forger, can never stand the light of logical scrutiny, and I'm quite surprised that nobody figured this out before (what sort of reviewers does Baylor University Press have, anyway?). Because the silliness of Mr. Carlson's theory lies right there on the surface!

My firm prediction is that there's no way this baby will ever walk on its own two feet -- it will be inevitably laughed out of court.

You may wonder if I've already read Mr. Carlson's debunking in full, in order to come to these conclusions... After all, so far, he only released the particulars of his debunking to a few of his confidential friends, such as Dr. Mark Goodacre, Mr. Turton, Dr. Larry Hurtado (who were all duly impressed), and maybe a few more... Well, no, I haven't actually read it, and I'll only go by what has been released publicly -- based on just a few of those tantalising hints that Mr. Carlson let slip so far.

[Here's a link to the Abstract for his upcoming SBL presentation,
http://www-user.uni-bremen.de/~wie/Secret/SecMark-News.html ]

From what he let slip so far, it is obvious that his case is based on analysis of the MS handwriting. Somehow, based on the handwriting, Mr. Carlson concludes that this Mar Saba MS is a modern forgery, and that Smith engineered this forgery. In fact, Carlson contends in his book that it was Smith, himself, who forged SecMk in his own hand!

Well, this is one silly theory... And here's why. Let's put this 2 + 2 together...

Mr. Carlson's theory is completely silly because it is really based on the following very clear and unambiguous scenario.

So let's consider Mr. Carlson's proposed scenario in stages, beginning with,

a) Smith conceives the forgery all by himself and, after a few years of very hard study -- all done completely in secret -- he somehow composes a fake letter of Clement, as well as fake SecMk fragments, contained in it.

b) Armed with this long text, prepared in advance, Smith now gains the entry to Mar Saba monastic library, and plants it there by inscribing his creation into the back-pages of an old 17th century book, belonging to the monastery, while somehow faking on the spot a highly specialised 18th century scribal handwriting. (Or else, he has an accomplice do the same shortly before Smith's arrival to the monastery.)

Alternately, Smith has already procured this antiquarian book in advance from some other unknown accomplice(s), and so the inscribing had been done well in advance to his Mar Saba visit. In such a case, he just plants the already inscribed book right there in the library. (But, then, this raises some additional grave risks, since the monks familiar with the library and its holdings are likely to scream that they've never seen that book there before... Also, there's not all that many antiquarian 17th century books by the printer Isaac Voss around, and whoever was familiar with this particular rare copy before Smith got to it [and not a part of Mr. Carlson's conspiracy] might be expected to connect the dots, and so they expose Smith -- undoing his whole enterprise right there in the bud.)

c) As soon as the deed is done (however it was done), the whole story proceeds according to plan; Smith informs about his 'discovery' first the monastery authorities, and then a small group of respected biblical scholars that he personally knows in Jerusalem... Soon after, even more scholars are informed.

d) Intrigued with such a highly curious discovery, and being made aware of its rather controversial nature, and of the potential publicity that's sure to come, the monastic authorities and/or the biblical scholars soon begin inspecting the manuscript very carefully for themselves... Before too long, their curiosity excited even further, they order some simple scientific tests on the manuscript, such as a careful microscopic examination of the handwriting, and scientific analysis of the ink.

(Believe it or not, folks, but there's really quite a big difference if a certain text was written out in the 18th century, or if it was written out just yesterday. Scientific manuscript analysis and paleography should be able to settle this matter conclusively, and in a very short order.)

e) Inevitably and inexorably, the manuscript is exposed as a very recent fake! Smith's career and reputation are in ruins, and he becomes the subject of a massive hate campaign on the part of conservative Christian preachers everywhere; they accuse him of hatching a dastardly conspiracy to give the Lord Jesus Christ a homosexual reputation.

End game. For all his efforts, Smith becomes the universal pariah, and he probably even loses his job... Off to dish-washing then in some restaurant! (Where the customers can't see him, so they're not tempted to throw their dinner's leftovers at him...)


WHAT A WEIRD SCENARIO...

So this is why I think that this whole upcoming elaborate debunking by Mr. Carlson -- the book, and his scheduled SBL presentation -- are unbelievably silly.

There must have been a reason why, after all these years -- even after Dr. Smith had passed away -- nobody before Mr. Carlson has made such a detailed and explicit accusation against Smith... Well, perhaps nobody has made such a very specific and bold accusations against Dr. Smith before... because any such accusations are just SO SILLY!

Indeed, _nobody in their right mind_ will ever try to put such a scenario into practice -- a scenario that's _guaranteed to fail_ -- because it's really, really so silly...

Was Smith crazy? I don't think so. And nobody that I know thinks so... Thus, he would have never done such an absolutely silly and self-destructive thing. QED.

Well, actually, there seem to be some pretty obvious parallels there between what Mr. Carlson proposes that Smith had done, and that old story of the faked "Hitler's Diaries" -- the story that made quite a splash in the press back in 1983... These "Diaries" were, of course, forged by a certain Konrad Kujau, and they had been conclusively declared fake in April of 1983 -- only a few days after they had been subject to scientific examination... The forger then tried to run and hide, but he was duly arrested only a few weeks later, and soon offered his full confession.

So why did Kujau even attempt such a brazen and bizarre forgery? Well, he was clearly not a well man, being quite an admirer of Herr Hitler, and all... In fact, he obviously had more than a few screws loose in his head!

And so, it looks like Mr. Carlson is now trying to put Dr. Smith in the same class as Konrad Kujau! Well, excuse me...


WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED

Of course, a perceptive reader would have already noted that, before our stage d), the fully realistic and logical scenario that I've outlined appears to be entirely consistent with the facts about Smith's discovery as they are publicly known.

So it's only at stage d) that my realistic scenario begins to diverge from what really took place in connection with our SecMk manuscript...

Well, as it's well known, in actual fact, neither the monks nor the scholars really seemed to show all that much interest in "inspecting the manuscript very carefully for themselves" for quite some time... Why not, we may wonder?

Let's see... perhaps because, at that early stage, nothing about this story, as it was then unfolding, really seemed so suspicious to any of them? (I guess, from Mr. Carlson's perspective, they were not sceptical enough... Or, from a somewhat different perspective, perhaps it's simply that they were not, as yet, in a grip of mounting paranoia?)

Be it as it may, no scientific tests at all were carried out on the manuscript at the time.

So, instead of our stages d) and e), that _should have_ logically unfolded as outlined above, what unfolded instead was the following -- all a matter of public record,

(real life d) In the first few years, it appears that neither the monks nor the scholars had followed up on Smith's manuscript discovery adequately -- they just couldn't be bothered, it seems... So they failed to examine this text while the ink was still 'fresh', so to speak.

(Eventually, back in 1976, a group of scholars, including Guy Stroumsa, did make a trip to the monastery after all, after the expected publicity did begin to materialise... So they did actually get to take a look at the manuscript, but didn't seem to find anything amiss, and just left it at that.)

(real life e) After a few more years, some other scholars also wanted to see the manuscript, but they were told that it... was no longer available for inspection... Still later, the scholarly community was further informed that the manuscript is either lost or mislaid.

And this is where the matter still stands today; this whole text still remains in a bit of a limbo. The NT studies community seems to be divided; while the SecMk manuscript does have a fair number of supporters, there are also others who remain mistrustful... And now, comes Mr. Carlson with his debunking.


CONCLUSION

So here's the bottom line then, my dear friends. If we assume that Mar Saba manuscript is a modern fake, it is obvious that, in a logical and fully predictable world, it would have been exposed as such long ago...

This is really no rocket science... Just look in the microscope at the state of ink's preservation, at how it bonds with the paper, and have some simple chemical tests done on the ink... Bingo, Dr. Smith is busted!

So then why has this not been done already? Obviously, because, when push came to shove, the monastic authorities just happened to 'lose' the manuscript...

Thus, supposing that Mr. Carlson's theory is correct, it means that the monks are in effect... covering up for Smith! They are preventing his being caught red-handed, just like Herr Kujau was...

So, either they are just a bunch of terribly incompetent bunglers (indeed, the MS might be worth a million dollars some day, so how could they just happen to lose something so valuable?), or else they might be trying to play some sort of a game of their own... (I just hope that they are not really trying to give our Only Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, a homosexual reputation...)

Well, no matter... Whatever the case may be, it is clear that Mr. Carlson's forthcoming debunking -- if his book becomes a bestseller, for example -- will put the spotlight squarely on the monks.

They sure have a hot potato on their hands -- and all the world will be watching... And it just might be the case that they'll come to 'track down' the manuscript, after all... In such a case, the scientific tests are done, and they are quite likely to show that the manuscript had indeed been written in the 18th century with 18th century ink... Thus, Mr. Carlson's debunking is undone, and he'll stand before the whole world as a complete ass -- what with making false and malicious accusations against a respected scholar, now deceased.

(And Mr. Carlson's supporters in all this might likewise be pretty red-faced, one presumes...)

So then this is one more reason why I think that Mr. Carlson's Secret Mark debunking theory is completely silly.

Not only is it completely silly because it just happens to be based on a truly absurd and laughable scenario (that no rational individual can ever adopt), but it is also quite silly because there's a very good chance that it will be _conclusively shown_ to be silly (if our manuscript ever surfaces again, and is scientifically examined, as should have been done ages ago).

And so, by actually increasing the chances of all the above, Mr. Carlson's debunking theory in effect inevitably tends to sow the seeds of its own destruction.

Best regards,

Yuri.



Go to Yuri's Secret Mark Page.

Go to Yuri's New Testament Research Page.