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