The Motives of Morton Smith

Don’t miss Stephen Carlson’s series on the motives of Morton Smith, in response to Scott Brown’s “The Question of Motive in the Case against Morton Smith,” JBL 125 (2006): 351-383. I’ll post the links to new installments as they appear.

Part I: Carlson discusses the role of motive in criminal law (misunderstood by Brown), the distinction between motive and intent, and why, in any case, it’s inappropriate to use criminal law standards to determine the authenticity of texts in historical criticism.

Part II: “The Gay Gospel Hypothesis”. Brown devotes most of his attention to refuting this hypothesis instead of the two stronger ones that follow. Perhaps this is a rhetorical trick, meant to imply that skeptics of Secret Mark are homophobes.

Part III: “The Hoax Hypothesis”. This is a good installment, focusing on Brown’s “nonfeasance” as he fails to address the the jokes embedded in Secret Mark, and the arguments of Akenson and Carlson in general — particularly Carlson’s demonstration that the confessions in Secret Mark parallel an aspect of Coleman-Norton’s denture joke.

Part IV: “The Hoax Hypothesis” (continued). Brown claims that Smith put too much effort into publishing Secret Mark for it to be a hoax. (I wonder what Brown would make of all the hours I wasted in my undergrad years composing prank letters to a friend, in place of studying and doing other productive things.)

Part V: “The Hoax Hypothesis” (continued). Brown claims that for someone who supposedly put so much effort into creating a hoax about a libertine Jesus, Smith almost never referred to his discovery in his subsequent articles about libertinism. But as Carlson says in his book, that just means Smith was smart enough not to become a victim of his own hoax.

Part VI: “The Controlled Experiment Hypothesis”. Carlson: “Although I think that Smith could have well have been a little curious at the process in which Secret Mark was accepted, I agree, largely for the reasons canvassed by Brown, that [this] hypothesis is unlikely to be the primary or a major motivating reason behind Secret Mark.”

Part VII: Carlson re-emphasizes the pitfall of comparing Secret Mark with Smith’s subsequent writings instead of his prior ones.

Part VIII: Secret Mark has the “scale and depth” to qualify as a forgery done to support beliefs and opinions, the crucial factor for Anthony Grafton in Forgers and Critics.

Part IX: Carlson wraps up, emphasizing that circumstantial evidence is stronger in law than in popular misconception, and with a wonderfully rhetorical question: “If Brown had a devastating critique of my position, why didn’t he share it in one of the most prestigious journals in the field when he had the chance?”

One Book Meme

Chris Petersen tagged me in this book-meme thing, so here we go.

One book that changed your life:
Why We Lie, by David Livingstone Smith.

One book that you’ve read more than once:
Shogun, by James Clavell.

One book that you’d want on a desert island:
Lord of the Rings.

One book that made you laugh:
The Five Gospels, by the Jesus Seminar.

One book that made you cry:
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay.

One book that you wish you had written:
Clement’s Letter to Theodore and The Secret Gospel, both by Morton Smith.

One book that you wish had never been written:
The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller.

One book you are currently reading:
Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, by Philip Esler and Ronald Piper.

One book that you’ve been meaning to read:
Freedom Evolves, by Daniel Dennett.

One book that you wish had been written:
The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant — and now, after 20 long years, my wish is being fulfilled!

Stephen Carlson cited by Esler & Piper

I have begun reading Philip Esler and Ronald Piper’s Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and am very pleased to see that Stephen Carlson’s Gospel Hoax is favorably cited. I wonder if this is the first scholarly book to acknowledge Stephen’s work. If it is, then I’m doubly pleased, since Esler is one of my favorite NT scholars.

Here is the citation, from page 48:

“The ‘Secret Gospel of Mark’, allegedly discovered by Morton Smith in a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria (c. 200 CE), also contains a revivification narrative. We mention this document here because others have brought it into the discussion. The recent study by S. C. Carlson suggests that this document was conceived as a modern hoax.(4) This document, purportedly to be located between Mark 10:34 and 35, describes how Jesus effected a revivification from the dead (at the request of his unnamed sister) of an unnamed wealthy young man in Bethany. The man is then said to ‘love’ Jesus. As Moody Smith notes, if this document were genuine, it could represent an earlier version of the Lazarus story or something very like it, since in John 11 Jesus in Bethany raises a man from the dead at the behest of his sisters. However, Carlson’s analysis demonstrates that serious doubts now attend the likelihood that this tradition is authentic.”

The footnote (4) says:

“See Carlson 2005, especially pp 68-71 and 81-86 with respect to the revivification story. For a defence of its authenticity, but based on a much narrower range of evidence than that considered by Carlson, see the recent article by Hedrick and Olympiou (2000). They argue for its authenticity on a number of grounds, but especially in reliance on colour photographs of the letter of Clement taken after Smith’s visit by the then librarian of the library where the document was supposedly found. Carlson responds to their findings at several points in his book.”

It certainly didn’t take long for Stephen to get the press he richly deserves.

Hard Candy Clips

Readers of this blog know I enjoy films that make us confront controversial issues in ways we’d rather not. Last year Todd Solondz’ abortion film Palindromes was a highlight, drawing critical engagement from bloggers Tyler Williams and Ken Ristau. That film skewered pro-choice and pro-life sides mercilessly. This year’s Hard Candy, about a pedophile who gets snared and tortured by a young teen, is just as morally ambiguous.

I’ll get a full review up later, but for now here are some tantalizing movie clips, about a minute long each, from iFilm (see more at the web-site).

Poll Results

Here’s what visitors thought to be the best explanations for shifts in thought between Galatians and Romans.

72% (18 votes) — change in audience/church situation
16% (4 votes) — Paul struggling with theological dilemmas
12% (3 votes) — Paul’s increasingly sophistic and deceptive rhetoric
0% (0 votes) — a bad reputation Paul had acquired since Galatians

I’m not surprised that Paul’s bad reputation didn’t get any votes, because an emphasis on this factor is rather new. Thomas Tobin’s Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts has yet to make the impact it deserves. Most, not suprisingly, favor the audience factor. That includes me, though I think all four are important.

I plan on having a functional outline/commentary up soon, which will explain sections of Rom 1:18-15:13 in terms of Paul’s audience in Rome, but also with an eye on his theological dilemmas, reputation, and increasingly deceptive rhetoric. All four need attention when solving the Romans puzzle.

"Where War Lives: A Journey into Human Nature"

For those who live close enough to the University of New England, I’m sure the following lecture would be well worth attending.

David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D.
“Where War Lives: A Journey into Human Nature”
Nov 30, 2006, 6 p.m.
St. Francis Room, Ketchum Library, UNE, Biddeford, Maine
Free and open to the public

Description: “In this presentation I will explore the evolutionary and psychological roots of war and genocide, with a view towards identifying what it is about human nature that makes it possible for us to treat our fellow human beings with such extraordinary brutality. I will argue that our penchent for war is a product of evolution and is deeply imbedded in our human nature. However, killing does not come easily to us: our lethal ferocity towards members of our own species is matched by equally powerful inhibitions against killing that are also part of our evolutionary heritage. In taking the lives of others, we also do violence to ourselves. As a result, psychiatric disorders are common among soldiers. In order to go to war, we must find a way to overcome our natural reluctance to kill members of our own species. In a remarkable act of self-deception, we activate psychological systems originally evolved to deal with non-human dangers in a prehistoric environment, viewing ‘the enemy’ not as a real human being, but as a predator, prey or a vector of disease. This presentation will be accompanied by illustrations, some of which may be disturbing.”

David Smith is the expert on lying and deception whose work I used in the first part of my series on the subject.

The "Weak in Faith" in Rome

Who were the “weak in faith” of Rom 14:1-15:6? In The Mystery of Romans, Mark Nanos has shown that they refer to non-Christian Jews, despite the near universal assumption that they are Christian Jews. The argument is powerful. Consider:

Mark Given (not Nanos) points out that the weak cannot refer to the addressees themselves, because Paul would not have intended for them to hear him tell the strong that they should “put up with their failings” (Rom 15:1). That would be rhetorically inept and undermine Paul’s intent to make the Gentiles show them respect.

• Paul implicitly defines the terms “strong in faith” and “weak in faith” in Rom 4:18-25. The strong believe that Jesus was raised from a dead corpse, just as Abraham trusted that Isaac would be born from a dead womb (see Nanos, Mystery, pp 139-144). The weak are so labeled because they deny Christ’s resurrection, not because they adhere to the law. The “weak in faith” are, almost by definition, non-Christian.

• In Rom 14:1-15:13 the weak are Jews, but not because they are Jews. On the contrary, they should continue observing purity, fasting, and sabbath and “be fully convinced in their own minds what is right” (Rom 14:5); and they should continue doing so “in honor of God” (Rom 14:6). These Jews are not weak on account of “upholding the law”, which Paul believes perfectly acceptable (Rom 3:31) (even if contributing nothing toward salvation). As Nanos puts it, they are not “weak in practice or opinions” (Mystery, p 105). They are weak in faith, denying the messiah’s premature resurrection.

• Finally, the section of Rom 14:1-15:13 follows hot on the heels of Rom 12:1-13:14, which deals with proper behavior vis-à-vis the “outside world”; the weak are thus likewise outsiders: unbelieving Israel.

In one sentence: the “weak in faith” are weak for being non-Christian, not for being Jewish. Paul doesn’t want Gentiles to exercise their Christly law-freedoms when mixing with Jewish outsiders (Rom 14:15,21; 15:1) anymore than he wants people to exercise freedom from taxation (Rom 13:1-7). God will deal with Caesar himself, and Israel must be respected for the sake of her redemption (cf. Rom 11:17-24).

The 10 Least Politically Correct Movies Ever

With thanks to Matt Bertrand for the link, MSN presents The 10 Least Politically Correct Movies Ever:

“The following [movies] really went to the precipice of good taste and decorum in the quest for laughs. Most are older, but a few were made fairly recently. Viewed now, many will still create laughter while others might meet with disgust. Of course, in most cases that was the reaction when they were first released.”

Blazing Saddles 94%
Airplane! 100%
There’s Something About Mary 78%
Caddyshack 74%
Love and Death 100%
Kentucky Fried Movie 80%
Team America: World Police 77%
Porky’s 28%
Song of the South ?
Bad Santa 74%

I don’t think these were intended in any particular order (i.e. they’re not rated progressively to a #1 slot). Most were well received by the critics, as you can tell from the Tomatometer ratings I attached (only Porky’s was panned). But the only film that would perhaps find a home in my DVD collection someday would be Team America.

Song of the South was last released in American theaters in 1986. Now you can’t even obtain the film here on account of the controversy (it perpetuates the myth of the happy slave). This helpful site clarifies the controversies surrounding the classic and when it may finally be released.

Three Summer Films

There are three films I want to see this summer: Clerks II (July 21), Miami Vice (July 28), and World Trade Center (August 9). Despite my initial concerns about each, it turns out they all look promising.

There aren’t many reviews yet, but Clerks II currently has a perfect approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes. The original Clerks is one of my favorite humor films, though I thought all of the Jay-and-Silent Bob sequels were lousy. So let’s hope this “true” sequel really delivers.

Miami Vice also has a good rating, but out of only three reviews so far. I’m excited about this one. Director Michael Mann did the original TV series back in the ’80s, so I don’t think we have to worry about his film being faithful. The series was innovative in so many ways, not least for using original scoring for each episode — and with a lot of hard-edged rock music. It really was the first police show to break with formula and let the bad guys win (more often than not), and, more importantly, blur the lines between bad and good.

And I’ve already observed the pre-critical approval for Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center. No conspiracy theories, apparently; just good, non-exploitive, emotionally poignant drama.

UPDATE (7/19): Clerks II is down from 100% to 63% at Rotten Tomatoes.