In our May/June 2010 issue, we reported on a study by a Greek handwriting expert whom BAR retained to compare Morton Smith’s Greek handwriting to the handwriting of the document known as Secret Mark, which some have charged was forged by Smith.a Secret Mark is a purported 18th-century copy of a second-century letter from a church leader, Clement of Alexandria, containing two passages from a secret, and different, Gospel of Mark. Hence the name.

Our Greek handwriting expert, Venetia Anastasopoulou of Athens, found that Smith’s Greek handwriting was “like that of a school student … His hand is not familiarized in Greek writing so as to be able to use it freely and with ease.” She concluded that there was “substantial non-agreement” between Smith’s Greek handwriting and that of Secret Mark. Her detailed report was described in BAR and posted in full on BAR’s Web site.

Undeterred, some scholars who maintain that Secret Mark is a forgery now suggest that, although Smith himself could not have penned the lengthy document, he somehow got someone else who wrote Greek flowingly to forge it.1 Moreover, according to this argument, the actual writer of the letter himself left common clues that the document is a forgery—things like “pen lifts” and what is known as “forger’s tremor.” These have been identified in Secret Mark by one of Smith’s chief accusers, Stephen Carlson, author of The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark,2 who, although not himself a handwriting expert, consulted one who by her own admission had “a limited knowledge of the Greek alphabet” in order to make his own judgment.

So we went back to Ms. Anastasopoulou and asked her to look at Secret Mark again, this time without comparing it to Smith’s Greek handwriting. Does the document betray itself as a forgery?

In general, she explained, “there are characteristics which point to a genuine or to a suspicious writing.” A “genuine [authentic]” document is written “with continuity in motion” and has a “good rhythm.” A suspicious document, on the other hand, has a “lack of natural variation,” “excessive perfection of details,” “tremor,” “pen lifts in places where there is no need.”

The forger is more likely to be exposed the longer the document is. And Secret Mark is a very long document. Are the characteristics of the handwriting consistent throughout? “When a large document is consistent,” Ms. Anastasopoulou reports, “we have a first indication of genuineness, and this applies to the Secret Mark letter.”

Ms. Anastasopoulou concludes that Secret Mark “is written in a natural and spontaneous way and in my opinion does not have such indications so as to make us think of a suspicious writing.” (Ms. Anastasopoulou’s latest report is posted on our Web site.)

As we noted in our report in the May/June issue, we have also talked to another Greek handwriting expert, Agamemnon Tselikas, who believes Secret Mark is a forgery. Dr. Tselikas believes that the document was penned by a monk whose handwriting he has identified. But Dr. Tselikas has submitted nothing to us in writing and has given us no more specific information orally. We continue to speak to Dr. Tselikas, who assures us that he will submit something in writing in the near future. If and when he does, we will inform our readers.