Peter Jeffery on the Handwriting of the Mar Saba Document

Of all the nails in Morton’s Smith’s coffin, handwriting analysis hasn’t been pounded home, and doubtfully ever will be. I’ve always been leery of such analysis, which is why I’ve avoided blogging about it over the years, and even in my review of Gospel Hoax I barely mentioned that part of Stephen Carlson’s case. Recent analyses both for and against Smith don’t exactly reinforce reliability here. As a forensic method, handwriting analysis has been handled cautiously by the courts in recent decades, and it seems the answer to Secret Mark will remain in the content of Theodore’s letter itself, which of course points to a plain conclusion.

Peter Jeffery has written a five-point response to developments on the handwriting front, and his last makes the same point about the primacy of the letter’s content over handwriting style.

“Since the handwriting cannot be earlier than the 17th century (the date of the book in which it was found), no graphological analysis can prove that the Mar Saba text was composed in ancient times. Those who think it a forgery have based their arguments mostly on content, and among them there is general agreement on the features that point to a modern origin: the text was constructed by re-using words and phrases from the canonical gospels and Clement’s authentic writings, the general picture of the Alexandrian church and its practices looks more like the fifth century than the second, Clement’s advocacy of lying seems inauthentic and references modern debates, the hints of ritualized homosexuality seem to assume a modern sexology, Smith’s own account of his discovery is demonstrably deceptive, the many apparent jokes uncannily resemble Smith’s own sense of humor. Those who consider the text ancient, on the other hand, completely disagree with each other as to its origin and interpretation. Does the Secret Gospel pre-date or post-date canonical Mark? Why the secrecy? Are the sexual innuendoes actually present or not? What are the Carpocratians actually being accused of? What is the meaning of Salome’s expanded role? Before they declare victory, those who would place the document in the second century need to face such questions instead of ignoring or minimizing them, and come to some level of consensus on a compelling interpretation that shows why their dating makes the most sense.”

And to all the above must be added Hunter’s Mar Saba novel, and the fact that Smith’s “discovery” confirmed his scholarly views already published, some just months before.


20 thoughts on “Peter Jeffery on the Handwriting of the Mar Saba Document

  1. the text was constructed by re-using words and phrases from the canonical gospels and Clement’s authentic writings

    –presupposes the conclusion before the premises

    the general picture of the Alexandrian church and its practices looks more like the fifth century than the second

    –it looks more like 3rd-century Origenism than anything else

    Clement’s advocacy of lying seems inauthentic and references modern debates

    –likewise Origenist

    the hints of ritualized homosexuality

    –are an illusion

    Smith’s own account of his discovery is demonstrably deceptive

    –a false insinuation

    the many apparent jokes

    –are also an illusion

    Those who consider the text ancient, on the other hand, completely disagree with each other as to its origin and interpretation. Does the Secret Gospel pre-date or post-date canonical Mark?


    Why the secrecy?

    –because the author is probably an Origenist quasi-gnostic, and the original Christian teachings included Jewish heresies derived from mystic traditions

    Are the sexual innuendoes actually present or not?


    What are the Carpocratians actually being accused of?

    –dunno and not very important

    What is the meaning of Salome’s expanded role?

    –? what expanded role?

    Before they declare victory

    –fwiw I think any such declaration would be premature, by either side, until either overwhelming source-critical evidence confirms or forbids a Secret Mark, or the ink is tested

    a compelling interpretation that shows why their dating makes the most sense.”

    –my attempt:

    1) no a priori reason to doubt Smith
    2) ancient pseudepigraphia is a dime a dozen
    3) the author doesn't even say he's Clement anyway; a later editor did
    4) Smith (and others) happened to be right about the likelihood of a prior Mark-John connection
    5) the alternatives (e.g. Origenist 3rd c. author) are vastly simpler theories

    Really, 1) and 5) alone are enough for me, but the others are helpful, too.

  2. 1) no a priori reason to doubt Smith

    There are many. The Secret Gospel book is full of statements that memory is fallible and he probably made up as much as he remembers. If you try actually looking up every citation in the Clement of Alexandria book, you find many of them are wrong, irrelevant, or misrepresented, as if he were trying to overwhelm us with pseudo-evidence. And his own account of his discovery reports things that could not have happened. He stopped going to church services until he made the most important discovery of his life, then he left it on the table and went to Vespers?

    2) ancient pseudepigraphia is a dime a dozen

    So is modern pseudepigraphia [sic]

    3) the author doesn't even say he's Clement anyway; a later editor did

    In which case it could easily have been written at any time between the 3rd and the 18th cent., assuming that the handwriting is 18th cent., and the reasons for taking the gospel texts as ancient become far weaker. In any case I discussed the possibility that it might be a later pseudo-Clement.

    4) Smith (and others) happened to be right about the likelihood of a prior Mark-John connection

    I don't think NTers have reached a general consensus on that, and people can be right for the wrong reasons.

    5) the alternatives (e.g. Origenist 3rd c. author) are vastly simpler theories

    I don't know what this sentence fragment means, but the various theories about whether this is proto-Mark, or Mark's second edition, or what, are not simple. If by “Origenist” you mean some anonymous reader or follower of Origen, that does not simplify things either, particularly since the word “Origenist” was originally a 4th,5th-century term for the heresies then attributed to Origen. Were there people in the third century who called themselves Origenists?

  3. 1) Inaccurate references in Clement–can you give some examples?

    As for attending Vespers at the monastery, I see nothing unusual about attending services at a monastery you're visiting, even if you are no longer devout. You are their guest, after all; it might seem rude to ignore their rituals. The same reason, for example, one might attend church services with one's family during the holidays, even if an unbeliever. Or do you think that likewise is the sort of thing that “could not have happened”?

    2) The prevalence of pseudepigrapha in any age just shows that an ancient author is as likely as a modern one (thanks for the spelling correction, btw–some words I never get right)

    3) A pseudo-Clement of the 4th or 5th century may or may not be problematic (I have shown that the lectionary evidence is ambiguous), but one of an earlier century (the 2nd or 3rd) makes more sense.

    4) I wait patiently for the scholars to see the light 🙂

    5) On the contrary–Proto-Mark theories can be very simple. Certainly as simple as any alternatives (Farrer+whatever ad hoc theory for John is popular this week, 3SH–which doesn't even include John–etc.) In this case, the basic theory is just: there was a version of Mark, very close to the canonical edition but with a few additions, that was a source for both GMark and GJohn.

    As for “Origenists”, I simply meant his students, friends, succesors, and defenders, who were numerous. There were certainly several during the 3rd century–Dionysius of Alexandria, Firmilian, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Pierius, Theognostus, Pamphilius…

  4. 1) Inaccurate references in Clement–can you give some examples?

    I gave a whole slew of them beginning on my page 111, and that covers only a few pages of Smith's book. The entire book is like that. All you have to do to find out for yourself is: (a) go to the library, (b) open the book to any random page,
    (c) read through line by line, walking around the library and looking up every single source he mentions or cites, without skipping any, for as many pages as you can stand. I spent days doing this.

    If you do this you will discover that the real strategy is to snow you under and tire you out with mountains of data, much of which does not support the argument and a lot of which is irrelevant, erroneous, or bizarrely interpreted. People who have actually read and closely studied Smith's book have been pointing this out since Quesnell. Anyone who disputes this has only read Smith's books superficially and never really explored his supporting evidence. To truly give Smith the benefit of the doubt and take his book fully seriously, as I have done more than most people, is to discover ample reason for doubting his honesty, even before turning to his other publications. Add to that his frequent protestations in The Secret Gospel book that memory cannot be trusted and he probably made a lot up, and you have a major credibility problem at squares 1 and 2, before you even turn to the fragment itself or to other issues.

  5. These are all examples of Smith failing to make his case. You write that they are “wrong, irrelevant, or misrepresented” and “bizzarrely interpreted”. But this is inaccurate–they're all relevant, but only halfway. Smith is trying to stretch the evidence to prove a dubious theory: that SGM1's symbolism is all about the water-baptism ceremony of
    the early Alexandrian church. Smith has water-baptism on the brain, but that doesn't mean he was a forger. It just means he was wrong. And, so, we should not be surprised when Smith's data turns out to be misrepresented or bizarrely interpreted. He is trying to fit the data to his theory. But it won't fit.

    (Smith also wants to prove that early Christian baptismal ceremony was derived from, and closely similar to, Jewish baptisms. I don't really understand why he thought that, but he's clearly wrong about that, too.

    Smith is not deliberately trying to overwhelm us with bad evidence. He does manage to overwhelm us with ambiguous evidence, but he doesn't do
    this delibrerately; he thinks it's very good evidence! The reason why he overwhelms us with all this ambiguous evidence is because he's trying to fit the evidence to a case it doesn't prove. He's just another scholar with a pet theory, trying to prove it any way he can. Because his theory is wrong, the evidence isn't there. But he uses as much of it as he can,
    hoping that the sheer volume of it will make his case. It doesn't, but why does this make him a liar? We see theories like this all the time.

    Now, having said all that…we know that early Christian baptismal symbolism (and indeed, perhaps the ceremony itself) involved nakedness, at least on the part of the participant. Possibly SGM1 relates to that, but
    there is much more there that is not related to the water-baptismal
    ceremony at all. Mostly it seems related to exactly what the author is talking about: esoteric teaching, whether of initiates, or the already-initiated. It could be representative of spirit baptism. It could relate to initiation into higher orders of the church. I have also suggested there are hints relating to the baptism of the dead. There are
    many possibilities–Smith's problem was just that he seized upon the wrong one.

  6. No. There is still no a priori reason to doubt Smith's tale of the discovery of the manuscript.

    There are plenty of reasons, however (both a priori and a posteriori), to doubt his historical hypothesis about the manuscript–namely, that it was written by Clement and describes a baptismal ritual, and an erotic one at that.

  7. I'm afraid it's the other way. After about 10 pages of the Clement book, anyone who can read a scholarly book should be able to figure out they're being conned. But is that because he's pushing some crazy theory, or is it bullshit all the way down to the discovery itself? So you turn to the Secret Gospel book to learn how it was discovered, and what do you get? An avuncular, world-weary ramble about how you can't trust memory, nobody remembers, he doesn't remember anything except how happy he was when he realized what he'd found. In other words: more bullshit. And by the time you get to the end of the book, with Christian history summed up as a raving crowd of virulent schizophrenics stampeding down the centuries, most people would be ready to hang up.

    From there on it's mostly common sense: Yes, a con artist MIGHT discover a genuine ancient text, but the announcement of the discovery comes in such suspicious circumstances that proving the authenticity of the Mar Saba text will be an uphill battle–rather like proving the statement, “Yes, my brother lies a lot, but this time he's telling the truth.” In short, there is lots of a priori reason to question the discovery, and the burden of proof lies with those who think it's genuine, not those who think it's the fraud it appears to be.

    In short, of your 5 numbered points: 1 is not true. 2 proves nothing. 3 is merely one of the premises for 5, 4 is debatable, and 5 is work in progress.

  8. Sorry it took me a few days to respond to this–I've been out of town.

    You've actually summarized my position rather succinctly, except for the fact that we still disagree about 1). As for Smith's statements about memory, None of the following resemble anything Smith says:

    “you can't trust memory”
    “nobody remembers”
    “he doesn't remember anything except how happy he was when he realized what he'd found”

    and it's an extreme caricature to pretend that they do.

    If Smith says anything related, it's only his comment in the preface to The Secret Gospel that:

    “Memory is perhaps more fallacious than forgetfulness.”

    But this is almost a commonplace; who disputes that memories can (and do) fail us? Smith is simply admitting that, as a man in his late 50's, he might not have some of the details quite right. So what?

    And if it is in any way accurate to summarize Smith's theory with “Christian history summed up as a raving crowd of virulent schizophrenics stampeding down the centuries” (I am skeptical that it is), again, this is a judgment of Smith's theory. But not about the discovery of the manuscript.

    If these are the a priori reasons to doubt Smith's account of the discovery of the manuscript, then Smith's account is as trustworthy as any other.

  9. I'm sorry, but since I'm traveling now (and will be for a month) I don't have access to the book. But it is not true that he makes only the statement you quote. He repeatedly says that memory is not reliable, that he himself does not remember, and that he probably made a lot up. I quoted many such statements by him in my own book, along with many falsehoods, mistakes and so on showing that his writings are simply not trustworthy. There is no reason to think he suddenly becomes trustworthy when he describes the discovery or quotes the document itself, particularly as his account of the discovery includes incidents that could not have happened as described, many of which I pointed out.

  10. Among the things Smith wrote in The Secret Gospel book are:

    The whole story spans more than thirty years, from 1941 to the present. I am shocked to find how much of it I have already forgotten. No doubt if the past, like a motion picture, could be replayed, I should also be shocked to find how much of the story I have already invented. Memory is perhaps more fallacious than forgetfulness. p. ix (1973 ed.) or p. xii (1982 ed.)


    Curiously, I have no memory of the days when all this became clear. The experience I shall never forget—it was probably the high point of my life. But the other things that must have been happening at the same time are simply gone, hidden by the blaze of the facts, like stars in the day. I know it happened in the spring of 1963. I think I remember the strange feeling of walking around the unchanged world, doing the usual things, unnoticed and unnoticeable, with all of this going on inside my head. p. 61

    In addition to that he describes other memory lapses, or reports remembering things that cannot be true; see my pages 4, 10-12, 29, 133-34, 174-76. This kind of thing is NOT commonplace in scholarly writing.

    All this is ON TOP of the fact that his Clement book is full of page after page of irrelevant, incorrect, and misleadingly interpreted evidence.

    The reader who asks why Smith's Clement book seems to be designed to mislead, then turns to The Secret Gospel book and finds “I am shocked to find how much of it I have already forgotten. . . . I should also be shocked to find how much of the story I have already invented. Memory is perhaps more fallacious than forgetfulness.” “I have no memory, . . . the other things that must have been happening at the same time are simply gone . . . I think I remember the strange feeling of walking around the unchanged world . . .” has good reason to wonder why he can't get a straight story about how the MS was discovered, and why he should believe a discovery reported in such a suspicious manner should be accepted at face value for what it appears to be. Scholars announcing new discoveries do NOT write this way. It is absurd to say “Smith's account is as trustworthy as any other.”

  11. Hi Peter,

    “This kind of thing is NOT commonplace in scholarly writing.”

    The Secret Gospel was not written as a companion volume to the scholarly Clement book. It was written specifically to make his discovery and interpretation understandable to to a non-academic, lay reader. Also, he seems to have written the Secret Gospel about 1971-1972, which is indeed about 30 years since his first visit to Mar Saba, more than a dozen years since his second visit and discovery, and even nearly 10 years after he completed the first iteration of the Clement book, so I think maybe he was just being honest that some of his memory of cetain details had receeded.

  12. I see no point in continuing to repeat myself. The problem is a lot more extensive than a few memory slips or some avuncular rumination, and The Secret Gospel book is the ONLY detailed published account of how and when the thing was discovered. Faced with all the implausibilities in the Clement book, it is the only place we can turn to find out how the heck this previously unknown text came to light.

    Besides, if the_cave wants to invest his career in this dead-end topic, he'd be better off spending his valuable time on writing up his proof that the document dates from the 3rd century. That would at least offer a new angle.

    So I'll tell you guys what. Go out and find any scholarly or popular book or article by anybody that reports any new discovery of anything, and ALSO muses on the fallibility of memory or offers the possibility that the author may have invented a shocking amount of the discovery story. If you can find even one publication that does this, I will continue the discussion of how commonplace such a thing may be. If not, maybe you guys might find your way around to conceding that it actually is unheard of.

  13. A discussion, I guess, may be worth continuing:

    From the memoir of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

    I NEVER EXPECTED to write a memoir. But age puts one in a contemplative mood, and the onset of the millennium induces reconsiderations of a traumatic century. I have lived through interesting times and had the luck of knowing some interesting people. And I concluded that if I were ever to do a memoir, I had better do it while I can still remember anything. This volume covers the first half of the twentieth century — initially through the eyes of my parents, for I didn’t make the scene till the century was seventeen years old; thereafter through my own eyes and memories. Of course, little is more treacherous than memory. Can one always distinguish between what one personally remembers and what one is later told? or is led to imagine? Jean Negulesco, the painter and film director, called his memoir Things I Did . . . and Things I Think I Did. The generic title for all memoirs should be Things I Remember . . . and Things I Think I Remember. The past is, alas, beyond retrieval. Wordsworth had it right in the Tintern Abbey poem: “I cannot paint / What then I was.” And what one becomes reconstructs what one was. Stephen Dedalus muses on June 16, 1904, to the Quaker librarian: “In the future, the sister of the past, I may see myself as I sit here now but by reflection from that which I shall be.” One can only draw so much from the murky wells of memory. Autobiography in the end is an interrogation of the past by the present. It is not always clear, moreover, which counts more in later life — the reality or the recollection. In 1850 Charles Francis Adams took his twelve-year-old son by railway coach and steamboat from Boston to Washington. Sixty years later, in the greatest of American autobiographies, Henry Adams described the journey — at least, he quickly added, the journey as he remembered it: “The actual journey may have been quite different, but the actual journey has no interest for education. The memory was all that mattered.” This remains the autobiographer’s dilemma. As a historian, I well know the fallibility of memory. I remember lunching one day with Dean Acheson when he was writing his superb memoir, Present at the Creation. He seemed more than usually wrathful. “I had a most disconcerting morning,” he said, calling urgently for a dry martini. “I was writing about the decision in 1941 to freeze Japanese assets in the United States” — the decision that, we now know, led the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. “I have the most vivid memory of the meeting in President Roosevelt’s office. The President was sitting at his desk; Cordell Hull [the secretary of state] was sitting opposite him; I was in a chair by the Secretary’s side. I can close my eyes and see the scene,” he said, closing his eyes. “But my damned secretary, Miss Evans, checked the record and found that Mr. Hull had the flu and was off in White Sulphur Springs recuperating. He wasn’t at the meeting at all. I can’t believe it.” Free-wheeling raconteurs — and Acheson was one of the best — improve their tales until telling reorganizes reality.

  14. From the recollections of Prof. Jack Dunetz:

    During this period I was a postdoctoral research fellow at Caltech, and although my memory is notoriously fallible, especially about events that took place more than a half century ago, I have a tenacious recollection that Kirkwood called me into his office one day to show me a letter he had received from a Dutch crystallographer who claimed to have found a method of establishing absolute configuration and to have used this method to determine the absolute configuration of tartaric acid; could I help to explain how this method worked? This, I am sure, was the first I had ever heard about
    the possibility of using X-ray diffraction to determine absolute configuration. My power to call up the past is inadequate to remember what I thought when I tried to
    absorb the contents of Bijvoet’s letter or what I said to Kirkwood in my attempt to explain the new method.

    From a letter from Robert Oppenheimer’s attorneys to the US Atomic Energy Commission regarding the “Findings and Recommendation of the Personnel Security Board”:

    Having in mind the difficulties and handicaps which have been recounted above, we urge upon the Commission as strongly as possible the following:

    (1) That in weighing the testimony, and particularly those portions where documents were produced on cross-examination in the manner described above, the Commission should constantly bear in mind how, under such circumstances, the natural fallibility of memory may easily be mistaken for disingenuousness;

  15. Thanks for the page references, Mr. Jeffery–I'd already come across some of them, but not all. Obviously there isn't really space here to address them in detail, so hopefully I'll be able to blog about them sometime. A few comments, however:

    You're right that I should make a summary presentation of my proposal that To Theodore is a third-century composition. I would like to someday, though I kind of suspect someone else will eventually do it for me. Nevertheless I do make the proposal now, for better or worse.

    I've already said I find nothing remarkable in Smith's statements in the Preface. But also worth discussing is the passage you refer to on p. 61 of Smith's The Secret Gospel. In your book (p. 29), you say that in writing this Smith “blacks out again”, and compare to what you call a similar “memory lapse” at Mar Saba, when Smith says he was “walking on air”. But Smith does not “black out” in any sense of the term. He just writes that he has trouble remembering the details of ten years ago. I can certainly say that I have difficulty remembering many details from a decade ago, as do most people I know. And there are most definitely specific events from that time in my life which I remember clearly, though I do not remember the extraneous details which surrounded them.

    Nor is the event at Mar Saba in any way a “memory lapse”. Smith was clearly excited about and preoccupied with his discovery in 1958, but at no moment in his account of it does he describe a memory lapse of any sort. (Let me also add that the use of the phrase “walking on air” is not usually taken as a sign of mental illness.)

    You also refer to this as a “dissociative episode”. I'm not sure if you're refering to the events of 1963, or Smith's recollection of them. Assuming you're talking about his experiences in 1963 (as described several years later), they do indeed sound somewhat dissociative, but are such events really all that remarkable? I think everyone could probably describe at least one such moment or another in their lives. Indeed, a recent popular song mentions one:

    At the moment of surrender/I folded to my knees/I did not notice the passers-by/and they did not notice me. –U2, “Moment of Surrender”

    Furthermore, if Smith self-dramatizes the process of constructing his thesis, it has nothing to do with the story of the discovery of the manuscript five years earlier.

    You also take Smith to task for “bizarre and irresponsible statements” comparing Christianity to mental illness and critiquing psychiatric practices. Whether you are correct in this or not, I find it irrelevant to his presentation.

    As for Smith's 1949 pastoral writings (on pp. 174-76 of your book), your analysis of them seems largely correct, I would say, or at least unobjectionable, but it likewise has nothing to do with Smith's discovery of the Mar Saba manuscript. Perhaps Smith was a slightly clumsy scholar, but this does not make him a liar. (And, again, if Clement of Alexandria is full of irrelevancies, that just means Smith was wrong–it doesn't mean his intention was to deceive.)

    But we may have to agree to disagree at this point.

    Safe travels.

  16. 1. Since the quote from Schlesinger is not about a new discovery, it is not an example of what I was asking for: cases where a discoverer hurts his own credibility by asserting that he doesn’t remember and has probably invented a shocking amount. However, since Schlesinger’s remarks somewhat resemble the protestations of forgetfulness in Smith’s own memoir, I should point out that this apparent agreement is only an illusion, brought about by ending the quotation before Schlesinger got to the point. The very next two sentences show that Schlesinger’s position is actually the opposite of Smith’s: “Conscientious memoirists—and Acheson was one of the best—check the record. As a historian, I felt a professional obligation to supplement and rectify memory by recourse to documents.” His documents include the diaries and notes and letters that he wrote down over the course of his life, even though it required effort to gain access to many of the letters, which had since been donated to libraries and archives by the deceased friends and relatives who received them. (Check it out at ).
    Schlesinger knew that he could not responsibly publish a work of history, even for a popular audience, if it was based solely on the authority of a fallible memory. Yet Smith went ahead and did that anyway, giving us neither help nor advice about cross-checking Smith’s recollections against other kinds of records. And indeed, the relatively few things that can be cross-checked all turn out to be misremembered or misrepresented by Smith, such as the daily schedule at Mar Saba, the chronology of his religious opinions vs. the chronology of his ordinations, the alleged “magical attitude” of the monks during their liturgies. The contrast between Smith and Schlesinger supports my contention that Smith was not writing a conventional memoir, and his musings about the fallibility of memory are part of a larger pattern of deliberate deception.

  17. 2. Here in Europe I don’t have ready access to a scientific library, and with the help of Google Books etc. I have not been able to find the source of the quote from Jack D. Dunitz. He does profess difficulty in remembering a scientific discovery, so this one is closer to what I was calling for. But the discovery was not made by Dunitz, it was made by J.M. Bijvoet; it is Bijvoet’s credibility that matters most here. From what I can see of Bijvoet’s publications, I can’t find any indication that he published his work with caveats about not remembering or inventing memories. Thus the text as presented does not appear to be an example of a discoverer hurting his own credibility by asserting that he doesn’t remember and has probably invented a shocking amount.
    Moreover, because of the brevity of the quotation, I cannot tell why Dunitz chooses to mention his memory difficulties. Lapses of memory are not mere hiccups in the historical record. Psychologists know that remembering is a process of reconstructing, and that people reconstruct memories on the basis of schemas: shorthand mental representations similar to assumptions or stereotypes. A textbook discussion can be found at . The relevance of a comparison between Dunitz and Smith would depend on the function within Dunitz’s narrative of what Dunitz is forgetting.

    In the same way, Smith’s forgettings are not random (no one’s are), but reveal the mental patterns or schemas that shape his thinking. This is easiest to see in his 1949 article (my chapter 7), where his incorrect quotation from John Henry Newman, and its placement in the wrong part of Newman’s book, have the effect of making Newman’s version of Christian morality more relentlessly rigid and unforgiving than it actually was. The mistakes have the effect of supporting Smith’s view of Christianity at the time, even while he criticizes the advocates of more compassionate approaches to counseling as heretical. I am not saying that in this case Smith is deliberately misrepresenting evidence; I believe he sincerely misremembered. But as I said in my book, he should have gone back to the texts and checked, and his editor should have insisted on footnotes. Schlesinger would have agreed.

  18. 3. The intent of Oppenheimer’s lawyers was, no doubt, to defend Oppenheimer, to which end they might have been willing to do some truth-stretching themselves. But if “the natural fallibility of memory may easily be mistaken for disingenuousness” is read as an impartial generalization, it does not mean that the effort to distinguish forgetfulness from falsehood is fruitless or impossible: it means one should not jump to conclusions, but should test witness statements against other evidence. In Smith’s case we do have other evidence: notably his other publications in which we repeatedly catch him misrepresenting and misinterpreting evidence, misleadingly piling up irrelevancies, and otherwise employing techniques of distraction. Hence this third quotation, like the other two, is not an example of what I was asking for: cases where a discoverer hurts his own credibility by asserting that he doesn’t remember and has probably invented a shocking amount.

    4. Reply to the_cave: The Smith who “blacks out” is the narrator of the Secret Gospel book, who represents the real-life Smith but is itself a literary construction. As I said in my book (pp. 301, note 34), a dissociative episode can include something as innocuous as “getting lost in a good book,” not necessarily a symptom of mental illness. Thus, though I wonder what kind of personality would invent the fictional Smith who speaks in the book, I was not asserting that the flesh-and-blood Smith suffered literal blackouts or psychosis or anything of the kind. I did not propose any psychiatric diagnosis for the man himself, and I think I was right not to do so. But if it could be shown beyond doubt that the lapses of consciousness and memory described in the book were pure literary fictions, that would make no difference to my evaluation of the author’s honesty and truthfulness, since it is a dishonest self-presentation in any case.

    I will not agree in principle that anything Smith ever wrote is “irrelevant” to discussion about the Mar Saba text. His own emotional issues are so involuted in his telling of the story that everything is potentially relevant. Pre-judging his agendas and perceptions may feel like focusing attention on the Mar Saba text itself where it seemingly belongs, but doing so may also have the effect (intended or not) of excluding evidence regarding its true origin.

    I didn’t advise you to make “a summary presentation.” That’s up to you. My actual advice would be to find something real to research. But if this is what you’re determined to work on, my advice would be to write up the real thing, footnotes and all, even if it means (as it probably would) that you have to cut back on blogging. If you see a strategic reason to start with a summary presentation, that’s your decision. I don’t see any reason to presuppose that “someone else will do it for” you. Placing the text after Origen would actually make it easier, rather than harder, to show that “Clement” is describing an initiation rite, and of the wrong sort. But we can get to that later.

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