Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Morton Smith, Mar Saba and Jesus: The Evidence

Sometimes the intriguing stories of twentieth century discoveries can remind one of discussions about the first century. One of the big questions in Pauline chronology is: how many times did Paul go to Jerusalem? And now one of the questions that emerges in the discussion of Morton Smith's discovery of the Secret Gospel of Mark is: how many times did Morton Smith visit Mar Saba, the location of the discovery of the manuscript in 1958?

On Salainen Evankelista, Timo Paananen discusses whether or not Morton Smith went back to Mar Saba after 1958 and he posts a photograph of Morton Smith that recently appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review. The picture, which is from the archives of the Jewish Theological Seminary, makes it quite clear that Smith was there, and Timo speculates that "it was taken in the late 1970s, or even early 1980s".

I am pretty sure that I am able to provide the date and the occasion. I am lucky to have a good memory, and I can recall seeing Morton Smith on the Channel 4 (UK) documentary Jesus: The Evidence, talking about Secret Mark, in 1984. According to the BFI, the three-part series was broadcast in April 1984. My memory is enhanced not only by the fact that at the time my parents had recently purchased a Betamax video recorder, which I used to tape the series, but also by the fact that I had my first appearance on TV criticizing the series that same month, on the show Right to Reply (I was a precocious teenager, I am afraid!).

I think I remember seeing Morton Smith at Mar Saba on the documentary, and I also recall talking some years later to the researcher on the programme, who talked about filming with Morton Smith. Luckily, there is a short clip from the documentary available on Youtube (erroneously given as a "BBC TV" series, a common mistake):



(Ignore the title, which is the uploader's). Unfortunately, the clip does not feature Smith at Mar Saba. He is inside a library or an office, probably in America. But I am sure you'll agree that it is still fascinating. If I can get my hands on those Betamax videos I made twenty-five years ago, I can check the whole section on Smith.

In a comment on the above mentioned post, Allan Pantuck notes:
In one of the other photos I found, he appears on the same hill with what looks like a film crew, so it is possible he was being filmed for some kind of documentary.
So it seems all but certain that this is the occasion for Smith's last visit to Mar Saba.

13 comments:

Timo S. Paananen said...

Even with those excuses I think your ability to recall documentaries from... let me count... 25 years (!) ago is both astonishing and scary.

Putting my fears aside, it sure is great to have an almost exact date for Smith's visit to Mar Saba. Whether it was the third, fourth, or fifth occasion is, unfortunately, still unknown. And standing on a hill nearby is different from actually gaining entrance to the monastery. Hopefully you will locate the video.

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Of course, by 1984 the manuscript in question had already been transferred to Jerusalem and lost. I'm not sure how a visit to Mar Saba to film a documentary has much to do with a bona fide attempt to secure and/or re-study the document. Smith himself has stated in 1976 (well after he had published his books about it) that he had not seen the document since 1958.

Brent said...

Does anyone know what's up with the "facsimile" Smith is holding throughout the talk? The stains on the open pages look just like those in the Fourth R photos. Pretty good copy.

apantuck said...

Nice recall for sure. Let's go to the videotape! Now we just need to find a Betamax player.....may be harder than finding the original Voss edition.

I seriously doubt he flew or was flown by someone all the way to Mar Saba JUST to film a documentary--who knows what else he did on this occasion or on other occasions when he was in Jerusalem?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for the helpful and interesting comments. I think the video will be at my parents' place back in England; I'll check. Getting it transferred might be a challenge, but there are people who can do this kind of thing. Actually, it might be easier to contact the guy who uploaded this to Youtube since he clearly has a copy. I'll try that.

I'd be less sceptical about Smith being flown over just for the documentary. It's common for film companies to do that if they are medium-budget. Jesus: The Evidence also featured Helmut Koester in Jerusalem, for example.

apantuck said...

If I recall correctly, both Smith and Koester were in Jerusalem in 1982, in part to pay condolences to Gershom Scholem's wife following his death. Maybe it was on this trip that they both participated in this documentary.

Mark Goodacre said...

Interesting, Alan; thanks. The British Film Institute gives the starting date of filming as 1983, but that could be an estimate based on what one would normally expect. Normally speaking, the filming takes place within a year of broadcast, but there are exceptions.

Stephan Huller said...

Thanks everyone. This information is very useful for the project I am currently working on.

The old copy at your parents place might not be a great quality copy. I can certainly get a copy of the original from Channel 4 in January. Maybe December at the earliest. But January for sure. I will be in London next month and will be in touch with people who work producing documentaries for Channel Four. I will ask them if they know anyone who worked on the documentary and track down if any of them had any personal contact with Smith or remember what his state of mind was back then. My experience has been that most involved in documentaries now are quite young. Early thirties. If that holds true maybe some of them are still active executives in the UK now. Who knows. Will let everyone know in a month or so ...

Mark Goodacre said...

Stephan, Great if you can get hold of a copy. I'll be in England in December too. Your hunch about people working on documentaries is right. One of the junior people working on this documentary later went on to work for the BBC as a documentary director. I talked to him about filming with Smith a few years ago.

apantuck said...

Looked it up: for what it's worth, I can place Smith and Koester having dinner at the American Colony in East Jerusalem in the Spring of 1982.

Stephan Huller said...

Just going through and cleaning out my email account and found this correspondence from David Rolfe who is listed as the head of production for Jesus the Evidence. I brought up your suggestion that it might have been 1984 rather than 1983. For what it's worth here's what he said.

On 28 Aug 2011, at 20:55:

Jesus the Evidence was, in fact, 1983 and my recollections are a little hazy. I am blind copying this reply to a colleague who might be able to fill in more details. I would be interested in the source of the copy Jesus the Evidence you have seen. Good Luck.

David Rolfe

Stephan Huller said...

I also found article which dates the production to April of 2003 http://cscc.scu.edu/trends/v8/V8_3r.pdf

"filming began in April of 2003"

From my experience these things get wrapped up pretty quickly.

Mapapa African Acrobats said...

That should read "April of 1983"