More on handwriting and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Probably not forged

When it rains it pours.  Biblical Archeology Review has hired an expert in Greek handwriting (Venetia Anastasopoulou) to offer her analysis of The Secret Gospel of Mark in relation to Morton Smith’s own handwriting.  You can access the BAR article here and you can directly access the very substantial 39-page report here.  Her main conclusion (p. 38) is as follows:

“OPINION

The following opinion is based upon an examination of the documents submitted to me for this purpose using the application of appropriate handwriting principles, and my experience and training as a forensic document and handwriting examiner. It is my professional opinion that the writers of the questioned document of “Secret Mark” on the document listed as Q1, Q2 an Q3 and Morton Smith’s handwriting on the documents listed as K1 – K27, are most probably not the same. Therefore it is highly probable that Morton Smith could not have simulated the document of “Secret Mark” .

QUALIFYING STATEMENT:

This opinion is based solely on the documents listed as having been examined. Due to the limitations imposed in examining document photographs, this opinion is highly probable. This opinion is subject to amendment if additional examinations are performed using additional exemplars which may exhibit evidence not observable in the documents upon which this opinion was based.”

As my review of Carlson’s book back in 2005 noted, the handwriting portion of his argument was among his strongest (the others seemed somewhat arbitrary to me).  However, I felt there were some key shortcomings regarding Carlson’s handwriting analysis and I did not find his hoax theory convincing.  Scott Brown and Pantuck’s recent post spelled out some other potential problems with Carlson’s approach, and now there is a properly trained expert in Greek handwriting who concludes that “it is highly probable that Morton Smith could not have simulated the document of ‘Secret Mark'” (p. 38).

Hopefully Stephen Carlson will offer his response to these developments, actively engaging the issues.  Hopefully others who have invested interests in seeing this as a forgery will fully consider  the evidence to the contrary.

I may post more once I’ve read through the whole report and through the recent article by Watson.

4 thoughts on “More on handwriting and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Probably not forged

  1. John Hobbins

    If Smith was smart, and I think he was, wouldn’t he have found someone besides himself to write out his (ex hypothesi) forgery?

    Noting the above does not prove that that is what Smith did.

    I’m just saying that I am led to think along those lines because the bar of proof for the thesis that this document is genuine needs to be set rather high.

    The bar of proof that the document is a forgery can be set rather low, such that all that is required to hold to it are considerations that make it possible, not demonstrated.

  2. Phil H.

    So what you’re saying is that we can assume this document is a forgery no matter what evidence to the contrary is presented. Does this apply to every ancient writing — assume forged unless absolutely proven otherwise. Interesting approach (note sarcasm here). You’ll have nothing left to study early Christianity.

    I myself am still undecided about the Secret Gospel of Mark, but I can nonetheless see when the arguments presented against its authenticity are falling apart. If the approach of the “forgery” camp is simply to present new reasons why its a forgery or demand it be proven authentic once their original arguments are discounted, then this is problematic in the least.

    Phil

  3. John Hobbins

    Hi Phil,

    No, I was referring to “the document” under consideration, not documents in general.

    The document under consideration is very recent, and would, if a copy of something ancient, and if understood along the lines Smith suggests, revolutionize our understanding of early Christianity.

    For such a document, yes, the bar of proof that it is a forgery can be set rather low, such that all that is required to hold to it are considerations that make it possible, not demonstrated.

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