Agamemnon Tselikas’ Handwriting Analysis Report

Did Morton Smith Forge "Secret Mark"?

Back to Did Morton Smith Forge “Secret Mark”?

The controversial text that Smith discovered was a Greek manuscript written on the endpages of a 17th-century book. The apparently 18th-century handwriting recorded a copy of a previously unknown letter from Clement of Alexandria to someone named Theodore.

In addition to forensic and handwriting expert Venetia Anastasopoulou, BAR enlisted the expert advice of Greek paleographer Agamemnon Tselikas to assess the authenticity of the Clement letter containing “Secret Mark.” Dr. Tselikas is director of the Center for History and Paleography of the National Bank of Greece Cultural Foundation and also of the Mediterranean Research Institute for Paleography, Bibliography and History of Texts. He pursued post-doctoral studies in paleography at the École Pratique of the Sorbonne in Paris and has published more than 150 articles on Greek paleography.

In his extensive multi-part report, Tselikas explains that the handwriting of the Clement letter doesn’t match that of any other scribe at Mar Saba monastery, where the manuscript was discovered by Morton Smith, and in fact indicates forgery or imitation of 18th-century Greek script. Monastery records show that the book was not in its collection as of 1923, and due to strict supervision in the library, the letter could not have been copied into the book after 1923, so it must have been copied elsewhere and brought to the Mar Saba library later. Tselikas concludes that Smith’s opportunity and motive make him the most likely suspect and that Smith probably forged the letter or had someone else do it for him before bringing the book to Mar Saba.


Transcription of the Text
Grammatical and Syntactic Comments
Palaeographic Observations 1
Palaeographic Observations 2
Palaeographic Observations 3
Textological Observations
The Presence of Morton Smith
Anexe 1. The Ignatios Edition
Anexe 2. Recipe of Ink
Anexe 2. Themata Manuscripts
Anexe 3. Letter Morton Smith 1
Anexe 3. Letter Morton Smith 2
Anexe 3. Morton Smith 3
Anexe 4. List of books 1
Anexe 4. List of books 2


Agamemnon Tselikas’ Summary:

Based on extensive report I sent you on the letter of St. Clement I expose here a summary of my remarks.

I noticed several grammatical errors in the text which we can divide into two categories: Those which are due to the “author” and those which are due to the copyist. The first category concerns syntactic and meaning errors, which St. Clement would not be possible to make. The second category concerns the wrong dictation of some words. This phenomenon is frequent in the Byzantine and post Byzantine manuscripts and we can not give particular importance. However, if the scribe generally appears as an experienced and very careful, some of these mistakes show that he had not sufficient knowledge of the language.

The main palaeographical observation is 1) that a big number of lines of the letters and links are not continuous, fact which means that the hand of the scribe was not moving spontaneously, but carefully and tentatively to maintain the correct shape of the letter. 2) That there are some completely foreign or strange and irregular forms that do not belong to the generally traditional way and rule of Greek writing.

Morton Smith had described some manuscripts of 18th century in the island of Cephalonia in Greece, whose handwriting has several similarities with that of Clement’s letter.

The history of the text of the works of St. Clement offers no evidence of an earlier copy of the letter. In none of the manuscripts that transmit the Clement’s texts the letter is contained. So this letter is the only attributed to Clement. The way in which the letter is transmitted to us is not normal, it generally not agrees with the codicological practice. The scribe could incorporate the text into a collection or an anthology of patristic texts, if not a volume of works of Clement. The printed book in which the letter is found might contain patristic text (Ignatius of Antioch), but this has nothing to do with the texts of Clement. Obviously raises the question of the place where the letter was copied. The most logical answer is that the text was copied in the monastery of St. Sabba in the date mentioned. Indeed the collection of manuscripts of the Monastery of St. Sabba have enough evidences of copying manuscripts inside it since very old times (13th–17th centuries), but also in modern times primarily in the late 18th century. The manuscripts which were written at different times in the monastery are mostly liturgical, catechisms and lectures, which were in use for the daily practice of the monastery.

Many other manuscripts dating from the 17th and 18th century, according to their notes, entered in the monastery after dedication of the monks who chose to live there or people who became monks there, or manuscripts sent from Jerusalem. From the examination I made of the manuscripts of collection of St. Sabba, and the Archive of the Patriarchate I did not find any script that is written by the same scribe of the Clement’s letter. Even in the correspondence of the monastery with the Patriarchate until the 19th century was not met the same handwriting. Already by the mid-19th century the style of Greek the writing has changed and has abandoned the traditional form. If the scribe of the letter had any codicological activity at the Monastery, it is reasonable to have copied other books too, like other scribes in the monastery.

Interesting is the case of the existence of old printed books in the Library of St. Sabba. According the catalogue of 263 old printed books that patriarch Nicodemus sent to the monastery of St. Sabba in 1887 and derived from the multiple ones of the Central Library, the edition of the works of Ignatius is not included. Nor is it in the record of the books of the monastery dating from 1923. In opposite, between these books is the edition of Clement’s works of Oxford in the year 1715. Therefore the edition of Ignatius entered into the library of the monastery after the year 1923.

Following the ascertainment of the above observation, it is to exclude that the letter was written in the edition of the Ignatius inside the Monastery of Saint Sabba before 1923.

A question is when the printed book of Ignatius works entered in the monastery? The text of the letter was written before the entrance of the volume in the monastery, or it was written inside the monastery after its entrance? At this point one could make several assumptions.

I think that is impossible for someone to write this text inside the monastery since 1923. It was not allowed to anyone to have access to the books and, if he had, he was under the constant supervision (as now). No one could easily use an old book to write on white leaves such a text. And even, on what original, since there was not such in the monastery?

From this point onwards I express some thoughts about Morton Smith involvement in the discovery of Clement’s letter. Morton Smith has certainly earned the trust of the abbot during his stay in the monastery, in the first as in the second time. But to move freely in the library and use the edition of Ignatius to copy the Clement’s letter I find it impossible.

Most convincing is that the edition of Ignatius with the letter already written by Morton Smith or by someone else was placed in the library by Morton Smith himself.

Once we prove that the handwriting of the letter is alien to the genuine and traditional Greek, we can accept that it is an imitation of an older script.

A comparison of the handwriting of the Greek letters of Morton Smith with the handwriting of Clement’s letter can not give significant evidence that Morton Smith is the scribe, and this because as imitation, certainly the scribe of the letter would not use his own personal style. Nevertheless, some factors point to Morton Smith. My conclusion is that the letter is product of a forgery and all the evidences suggest that the forger can not be other person than Morton Smith or some other person under his orders. Morton Smith was able to do it. He had the model (the described manuscripts), the appropriate and famous place for the discovery (St. Sabba Monastery), the reason (to become known and significant).

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