Queries & Comments
Opening New Worlds
Thank you for helping me reach teachers for my NEH [National Endowment for the Humanities] Summer Institutes. The two teachers who came to my Institutes after reading the announcement on BAR’s Web site are exceptional.
Ellen Bedell, Head of History at the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, has now been head of ASOR Outreach for three years, excavated for several seasons in Jordan, created a fabulous Web site for school children about the “four-room house” at Tall al-‘Umayri and has plans to teach archaeological ethics to Jordanian school teachers.
Kristine Huffman, an Atlanta teacher of fourth graders, has received a National Geographic grant to study slums around the world. And she has been asked to write a children’s book on ancient Egypt.
BAR opened up a new world for these outstanding and dedicated teachers, which translates into better-informed students. My thanks to you and your staff.
Discomforting the Faithful
Thank you for your comprehensive and even-handed presentation of the questions surrounding Morton Smith and the pseudo-Clement letter (“‘Secret Mark’—A Modern Forgery?” BAR 35:06). I, for one, do not believe that Smith forged this fascinating document.
I understand why some suspect him, however. Smith was uniquely brilliant but at the same time biting, sardonic and had very complex relationships with the religions that he studied. The disdain of this former priest toward traditional religions was palpable, sometimes to the detriment of his scholarly writings. As one of his most loyal students wrote in a volume dedicated to Smith’s memory, “Smith never tired of discomforting the faithful.”
Professor of Jewish History and Director for Israel Studies
Chair, Department of Jewish History
New York, New York
Weak Arguments of Smith’s Detractors
Why would a scholar forge a letter, and then spend 15 years studying and researching it? In the words of Professor Koester in his BAR article, “A forger would not have had the problems that Morton was struggling with.”
In his summation of the debate between detractors and defenders, Hershel Shanks persuasively exposed the weakness of the arguments of those who contend that the document is a forgery. I concur with Hershel that Morton Smith deserves to have his reputation restored.
The writer is a former director general of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.—Ed.
Morton in the Margins
What a wonderful surprise, to see your splendid package of BAR articles about Secret Mark and the much-maligned Morton Smith!
I dedicated my Decoding Mark (Trinity Press International, 2003) to Morton Smith. I corresponded with Smith from the late 1970s through 1989. In 1989, two years before his death, I sent him my 60-page summary of research. He made copious comments in the margins, and wrote a letter of praise while critiquing weak points.
My Mom Dated Morton
Bravo! In the past you fought the good fight for release of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now you’ve taken on the issue of the “Secret Gospel of Mark” and Morton Smith.
I studied with Morton Smith at Columbia University (while attending Barnard College) from 1957 to 1960. He was an inspiring, brilliant and intellectually honest mentor.
In 1958 he told me of his experience at Mar Saba, where he found the Clement letter. Working around the monks’ sleep-and-wake schedule was difficult. At times he couldn’t access the library. The atmosphere was one of secrecy. The food didn’t agree with him either. The first night at dinner, he was the guest of honor. The monks floated a live baby squid on top of his soup, 010which he was obliged to eat! The food got worse after that!
About Morton Smith’s “alleged homosexuality”—he dated my mother Miriam Chesterman from late 1957 to 1958. She was a recent widow, British-born, beautiful, vivacious and highly intelligent.
I strongly support your efforts to reach the truth about Secret Mark and clear Morton Smith’s reputation.
Ethne H. Chesterman
Pompano Beach, Florida
Morton Had a Jewish Girlfriend
My favorite vision of Morton Smith is this bowlegged little guy in Bermuda shorts clambering up the side of Mt. Tabor, looking for evidence that Jesus was a magician and how he managed to pull off the Transfiguration. It was on a trip in 1965 when I guided him in the Galilee.
I loved Morton: I admired him as a genuine historiographer. Morton would be delighted with your efforts, and he would revel in the vilification as well as the praise.
As for his homosexuality, I think he was just spoofing the trend that had begun back in the 1960s and 1970s to find gays in all the great Biblical literature. As for himself, I suspect that he was just an Anglican clergyman who had had an unsuccessful love affair and afterward condemned himself to bachelorhood. [Professor] David Flusser told me that, in 1941, Morton had a Jewish girlfriend in Jerusalem, probably a student at the Hebrew University. Flusser is dead so we can’t get more details.
Anson F. Rainey
Emeritus Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics
Tel Aviv University
Granulated Salt in Bible Times
In his article “Restoring a Dead Scholar’s Reputation” (BAR 35:06) editor Hershel Shanks suggests that, on the basis of Mishnaic references, granulated salt was known already in the Roman period. Without entering the discussion concerning Morton Smith, I would like to suggest that granulated salt was in use already in the time of the Hebrew Bible. There are several references that can be interpreted as having to do with granulated salt (Leviticus 2:13; 2 Kings 2:20–21; Ezekiel 43:24; Job 6:6), but the most convincing is Judges 9:45: “Abimelech fought against the city all that day; he took the city, and killed the people that were in it; and he razed the city and sowed it with salt.”
The only way this could be done: using granulated salt. Whether the Biblical reference is historically correct or not, the only way the story could be considered believable was the availability of granulated salt when the text was produced.
Professor of Hebrew and Biblical Archaeology
Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies
You missed a very obvious, if not famous, metaphor about salt’s losing its savor. Right there in (unsecret, out-in-the-open) Mark 9:50: “Salt is good, but if salt lost its saltiness, how can you restore its flavor?” (See also the parallels in Matthew 5:13 and Luke 14:34.)
St. John the Evangelist Rectory
Was Morton Smith “Felony Stupid”?
After ten years of faithful readership and consistent appreciation for Hershel Shanks’s lawyerly analysis of issues, I was sorely let down by his thesis in support of Morton Smith (1. “A single clear flaw would unmask him”; and 2. “If he were caught, the consequences would be horrendous …”).
As a former career prosecuting attorney with more than 20 years trying serious criminal cases, I heard this same argument made in nearly every case by defense attorneys trying to convince 12 jurors that their client simply wasn’t so dumb as to commit an act with foreseeable adverse consequences if caught.
Indeed, that is what separates honest people from deceivers. In the criminal justice field we have a name for it—being “felony stupid.”
Mendacious Duplicity of Forgery Charges
I want to warmly thank you for your excellent sequence of articles on Morton Smith and “Secret Mark.” Your treatment was factual, fair and quite comprehensive. I agree wholly and without equivocation with your verdict. I knew Professor Smith quite well as he so graciously helped me with my Ph.D. dissertation on Paul at Chicago back in the 1970s. His devotion to my project gained him nothing, as he was at Columbia and had nothing officially to do with Chicago or my committee, but he loved ideas and recognized in my fledgling attempts to enter the field of “Jewish magic” a beginning scholar who wanted to produce something of quality. He spent hours heavily annotating my dissertation chapters and wrote me these wonderful handwritten notes with citations and suggestions. Over the next 20 years we often spent time together at the annual meetings [of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL)] and on other occasions, and he came to visit me and my wife Lori when I was teaching at William and Mary. He was a regular participant and contributor to our SBL seminar over the years dealing with the Greco-Roman idea of the “Divine and the Human.” I think I can say I knew him fairly well, both professionally and personally.
Those of us who knew him find these charges of mendacious duplicity and forgery inconceivable and insulting to the kind of scholar and human being that Smith was.
In terms of the arguments themselves, you cover this well, but the Gershom Scholem correspondence with Smith, 078for anyone who takes the time to read it, settles things once and for all, as Guy Stroumsa [of the Hebrew University] has noted.
James D. Tabor
Chair, Department of Religious Studies
University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Charlotte, North Carolina
Wasting Money on Handwriting Analysis
Your money will be wasted on hiring handwriting experts to decide either way whether Morton Smith forged Secret Mark. Regardless of their conclusions, it will continue to be questioned by others who will claim to know better.
How Do You Know It?
Avraham Faust writes that circumcision was one of the ways early Israelites differentiated themselves from Philistines (“How Did Israel Become a People?” BAR 35:06).
How can archaeologists determine whether a people practiced circumcision or not?
Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada
Avraham Faust responds:
The question of Israelite circumcision is in fact not an archaeological issue. The subject is covered at length in my book (the only “non-archaeological” chapter). The historical evidence from the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern sources, as well as Herodotus, gives us an overall picture of who practiced circumcision and when. When these texts are interpreted anthropologically and compared with similar processes that are identified archaeologically, the role of circumcision in Israelite and Philistine society (and how this role changed over time) can be reconstructed.
Circumcision and Pork Prohibition as Ethnic Markers
As a sociologist, I applauded Avraham Faust’s use of sociological concepts in his article. Clearly, there are social mechanisms by which the members of one group distinguish themselves from members of other groups—endogamy, diet, dress and language, to name but a few. I think Dr. Faust employed the proper social constructs. But his methodology was flawed.
Dr. Faust wrote that circumcision and the avoidance of pork in their diet were “a straightforward way” by which the Israelites differentiated themselves (and their culture) from the Philistines. However, nothing is straightforward about either practice. It appears from recent studies that some Egyptian mummies were circumcised. Therefore, circumcision may not have been a way to separate the Israelites from the Philistines, but a way to identify with—and possibly to preserve their connections to—Egyptian society and practice.
If the prohibition against eating pork (Leviticus 11:7) served as a mechanism to prevent the emerging Israelites from dining like—or even dining with—the Philistines, what was the purpose of the prohibition against eating hawks (Leviticus 11:16)? Perhaps actual hawks reminded the Israelites of Horus, the hawk-god of the Egyptians; and not eating hawks was a way of not offending—or even of supporting—Egyptian ideas about the divine nature of this bird of prey.
In short, while circumcision and the prohibition against eating pork may have differentiated the emerging Israelites from the Philistines, they may also have served as mechanisms to preserve—and possibly strengthen—their ties with the Egyptians.
Rabbi Frank Stern
Department of Religious Studies
Orange Coast College
Costa Mesa, California
Avraham Faust responds:
This suggestion, while seemingly logical, does not fit the overall picture. The two examples set forth by Rabbi Stern are very problematic, and furthermore, any attempt to explain the various markers should be done in a holistic way, treating all traits instead of arbitrarily picking a few. In any case, the idea that Israel identified itself with Egypt, wanted to “preserve its connections” to it, and attempted to respect Egyptian ideas of the divine has no support whatsoever in any source, and actually runs counter to all available data.
Appalled by BAR’s Joke
After a long hiatus, I picked up the most recent issue of BAR to “enjoy” with my lunch break. What a mistake. Don’t you people have respect for anything? Is nothing sacred? (Strata, Cartoon Caption Contest, BAR 35:06).
As an Orthodox Jew, I am appalled to see Biblical personalities who are revered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam portrayed in a cartoon strip, with “imaginative” captions, yet. Shame on you.
Yes, I do have a sense of humor. But I reserve it for the correct occasions. As King Solomon said: “There is a time & place for everything” [cf. Ecclesiastes 3:1–8, 17].
New York, New York
Ninety-two-year-old Joseph Aviram, who recently retired as director of the Israel Exploration Society, has been with the society for 70 years, since 1940. In our announcement in BAR, November/December 2009, page 22, we incorrectly stated that he had been at the society only since 1949. We apologize for the error. When, God willing, we celebrate Joseph’s 100th birthday in BAR, we will get it right.—Ed.
Opening New Worlds