Scott Brown’s review of Carlson’s Gospel Hoax

One more before the holidays.

In my earlier entry on Carlson’s Gospel Hoax I expressed some hesitation regarding what appeared to be the strongest evidence presented by Carlson in favour of the Secret Gospel of Mark being a hoax by Smith, namely the handwriting analysis. Scott Brown has now written a review of Carlson’s book in which Brown himself engages in detailed handwriting analysis in order to challenge what is at the heart of Carlson’s argument: the identification of the hand that wrote the Madiotes document with the hand that wrote The Letter to Theodore (full review at Expository Times online here). After a detailed comparative analysis of the lettering, Brown concludes as follows:

“Given the wholly insufficient basis for a hand-writing comparison, I believe that the strongest finding that a trained examiner might make if there were no significant differences between nos 22 [Madiotes] and 65 [Letter to Theodore] would be ‘inconclusive’. Since, however, there are many significant differences, a firm negative finding of two different writers seems warranted. The fact that Carlson drew such an unlikely conclusion without couching it in terms of probabilities or acknowledging any disconfirming evidence under-scores the wisdom of leaving forensic document examination to disinterested and highly qualified professionals. As Ron N. Morris emphasizes, competence in document examination is not easily acquired:

‘It cannot be over-emphasized that even the completion of a graduate degree program in forensic sciences does not qualify the individual as an expert in any of them. The graduate must still take part in a trainee/apprenticeship program before he is eligible to qualify as a competent, qualified, forensic expert in any forensic science, especially that of a FDE [forensic document examiner].

At the conclusion of his trainee program, the new FDE should continue to work daily with competent, qualified examiners for approximately two or more years before being considered senior enough to work independently.’

Perhaps one of our societies for biblical scholars will take on the task of arranging for some highly qualified and suitable professionals to examine the photographs in consultation with experts in eighteenth-century Greek handwriting.

Since the writing of Madiotes is not the same as the Letter to Theodore, it matters very little whether this surname is real, misspelled, or pseudonymous. There is no connection between these two texts to warrant the hypothesis that this name is a clue left behind by Morton Smith.”
(Scott Brown, “Reply to Stephen Carlson.” Expository Times 117 (2006): 148-149).

Do read my earlier entry and the various comments posted there to better understand Brown’s view here. The ball is now in Carlson’s court, I believe.

(Thanks to Michael Pahl at the Stuff of the Earth for mentioning that the review was now available.)

UPDATE (Jan 25, 2006): Carlson’s review of Scott Brown’s book is now also available at the Expository Times.