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Web Letter

As a modern historian, I of course know little or nothing about this topic, but that has never stopped me from giving my opinion on any subject.

I do believe there's a God, but not that Jesus was a god. I think of him more as a peasant revolutionary, a mystic, prophet and rebel who ran afoul of the ruling elite of his time.

There have been many such radicals in history, and it is not uncommon for them to claim divine inspiration of some kind. Popular hostility to tax collectors, landlords, the military and officials of the state religion is by no means unusual either. In the past, it seems to have been endemic, and it still is today in many parts of the world.

I doubt that Jesus would recognize most of those who claim to be his followers today, at least in the Western countries and their comfortable middle-class religious organizations. He probably would have been astonished at having been turned into a god-man and the savior of the world, with blond hair and blue eyes, no less.

Michael C. McHugh

American University<br />Sarajevo, Bosnia

Jan 28 2009 - 5:15am

Web Letter

Anthony Grafton is right: Morton Smith's notion that the Carpocratians "taught that sin was a means of salvation" has more to do with Gershom Scholem's view of the Frankists than with Clement of Alexandria's view of the actual Carpocratians. But Grafton overlooks the fact that this distortion is found even in the "letter of Clement" that Smith allegedly discovered at Mar Saba, not only in Smith's interpretation of the letter. The vice that the real Clement of Alexandria ascribed to the Carpocratians was not secretive "naked man with naked man" nocturnal rituals (though Clement accused other groups of such things) but heterosexual wife-swapping inspired by Plato's Republic.

Smith's letters to Scholem that Guy Stroumsa has now published provide significant new evidence that the "letter" is indeed a forgery: it conforms too closely to Smith's personal interests to have been a chance discovery. Smith wrote to Scholem in 1948 that he was reading "especially Clement of Alexandria," and in 1954-56 that he had "finished...a book on Mark." Smith's 1958 "discovery" of a letter by Clement about Mark is too good a coincidence, then, given the pervasive pattern of deceptiveness and convenient memory lapses that I detailed in my book, The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled. Even earlier, in 1945, Smith enthusiastically recommended to Scholem the writings of Aleister Crowley. This shows that, even while he was working as a Christian clergyman, Smith subscribed to well-outside-the-mainstream views about liturgical ritual as (homo)sexual magic--a central theme in Smith's publications throughout his career. Smith's own synthesis of Crowley and Scholem is the true source of the Mar Saba document's depiction of "Clement" (representing orthodox Christianity) persecuting the Carpocratians for teaching (correctly, according to Smith) that Jesus practiced magical sexual rites with his male disciples.

Peter Jeffery

Princeton, NJ

Jan 21 2009 - 7:34pm

Web Letter

I long ago dismissed Morton's contentions as too speculative and unneccessary. Jesus didn't need to be a magician to succeed spectacularly. Benny Hinn should get a Nobel Prize for providing the ultimate proof of this. You just push somebody over backwards, get them to stagger around a little, announce they are healed, and nobody but nobody ever ever checks up. And even your most educated and astute followers swear to themselves and their descendants they saw it all with their own eyes, and fork over the cash for their life-changing illusions. (Google "Benny Hinn exposed" for details from some of his own disillusioned staff.)

Some time ago, a Christian apologist even wrote an article in Christianity Today bemoaning that Hinn's spectacular success with his televised fake healings have done irretrievable damage to Christian apologetics by showing on what shallow ground lie the two primary proofs of Christ's resurrection: the testimony of the 500 and the resultant transformative impact on the rest.

One wonders, as well, at the temptation Morton must have felt to throw in some antique indication that Jesus was insane, which actually is what his mother and brothers at times thought (according to the authentic Gospels). Too, one wonders if, despite what he sometimes suspected, deep down, he felt Jesus truly existed. I've always thought such an indelible personality must have existed. And yet, and yet... one thinks of the trans-time heart-wrenching impact of such as King Arthur and the magnificent nanographically detailed literature limning every moment of his nonlife.

Finally, I think of how the gay poet and classical epigrapher A. E. Housman would have loved to have laid waste to Morton's Christ having a fling with a formerly dead rich young ruler, especially at its being part of a proto Mark. Like the other apocrypha, this "fragment" simply doesn't jibe in any epigraphical or realistic sense with the ethos, mindset, psyche of the personality communicated by the earlier four Gospels. Hugging John, yes, kissing, perhaps, hanky panky, absurd. If so, no wonder his family thought he was nuts.

Ralph M. Dobbs

Birmingham, AL

Jan 15 2009 - 3:40pm

Web Letter

Gershom Scholem was perfectly correct to assert that that only an ignoramus would confuse Ramban with Rambam. I am certain that he would equally assert that only an ignoramus would claim that the original language of the New Testament was Greek. A gaffe Erasmus would not have made.

Lawrence Orenstein

Guanzhou, China

Jan 15 2009 - 5:37am

Web Letter

Dear Mr. Grafton, Thank you for this playful, engaging and incredibly fun article.

Joseph Schwartz

New York, NY

Jan 14 2009 - 12:25am

Web Letter

One thing that irks me about Grafton's interesting and clear review is its designation of Scholem as "no religious believer." Maybe GS's views about Judaism, the law, and the Kabbalah were idiosyncratic, at least enough that it would be unobjectionable to note that he was far from Jewish orthodoxy, but to say that he was no believer is to ignore a number of clear statements to the contrary. Although these can be found in a number of places, we can turn for some examples to Steven Wasserstrom's study Religion After Religion, part of which has to do with an analysis of GS's personal points of view about religion and orthodoxy. We find here tantalizing statements from GS, like the characterization of "the secularization process (as) the barbarization of the so-called new culture," the insistence that his "secularism is not secular," and that "the redeemed state is where human experience begins"(60-61).

Also, I don't think it is fair to compare an historical enigma to whatever another poster has in mind when he mentions a Masonic conspiracy.

D.A. Kohanyi

Los Angeles, CA

Jan 13 2009 - 10:04pm

Web Letter

You can tell by the article that Mr. Grafton is an academician, but does The Nation have to waste time on esoteric Masonic conspiracy theory BS?

John Molina

Chula Vista, CA

Jan 13 2009 - 4:45pm