An earlier Morton Smith – D’Antraigues and Clement’s “Hypotyposeis”

I have today come across a very curious paper, telling a strange story.  I give the opening portion here.[1]

In the early Spring of 1779 a young French nobleman pulled up his camel outside the ancient monastery of Anba Makar, just off the main route between Alexandria and Cairo. He had in his pocket a letter of introduction from the Pacha, but the thirty-foot walls and the total absence of gates seemed to make a ready welcome unlikely. Louis de Launay, comte d’Antraigues, had left France on 11 June 1778 on board His Majesty’s Ship Caton, accompanying his uncle,the comte de Saint-Priest, French ambassador at the Sublime Porte. He began to record his journey in the minutest detail, in memoirs and letters, which ultimately found their way into the Municipal Library at Dijon.  Little seemed to escape the attentionof this alert and enquiring traveller—archaeology, history, geography, political systems, social customs, religious practices. His strong reactions to the injustices of despotism which he encountered on his journey (Turkey, Egypt, Wallachia, Bessarabia, Poland, Austria) firmed up his political position, which helped him to become a formidable revolutionary pamphleteer by 1789. And his attention to detail was a good preparation for the work he was to do, from 1791 until his murder in Barnes Terrace, near London, in 1812, during which period he was the central figure in the counter-revolutionary espionage network in Europe.

From the foot of the wall of the monastery, which he calls St. Macaire, he managed to attract the attention of one of the monks; the letter of introduction was hoisted aloft on a rope and after some delay the head of house showed himself and invited d’Antraigues and his party in. ‘In’ meant ‘up’: a chair was lowered in which he, his drogman, and two companions were hauled up over the wall; the Arab guide and drivers, having been paid in advance, were left to camp outside the walls.

On the second day, he and his dragoman spent eight hours in the library going through ancient manuscripts. His findings filled him with delight. Not only the authors represented, but the details of the development of handwriting and orthography, the effect of time on different inks, the art of dating manuscripts, all fascinated him. The source of his information on these erudite matters (hardly the stock-in-trade of a rather wild ex-officer and man-about-court) will be referred to shortly. He had done sufficient homework beforehand to be able to recognize a truly remarkable find: a seventh-century manuscript of the Hypotyposeis (Outlines) of Clement ofAlexandria, the second-century Christian apologist and reputed master of Origen. He was aware that the work had always been considered as lost, known only by fragments quoted by Eusebius. Eusebius describes them as summaries, interpretations, and narratives of all canonical scripture.

But what d’Antraigues saw wasquite different: 208 large folio pages of the work,

. . . ecrites en lettres capitales dans le VIIe siecle avec des notes a la marge d’un autre caractere.

He goes on to note details of the author and his work:

“… Les Hypotiposes de St. Clement sont rassemblees dans un grand volume in folio de parchemin couvert en bois et garni de plaques de losanges. Il contient 208 feuilles.”

D’Antraigues saw a number of other manuscripts which he recognized as valuable—a third-century Polybius, a complete Diodorus of Sicily dating from the third century, and a seventh-century Pausanias—and offered to buy them for a handsome price. But these impoverished monks refused, because they knew the French were addicted to magic, and these books were ‘grammars of this diabolical art’. They would rather burn the library down, they maintained, than let them fall into the hands of a Frenchman.

Nevertheless, the simple virtues of these ignorant monks left a profound impression on him; to have robbed them of a book would have been a cruel abuse of hospitality which men of letters might commit, but he was not such a ‘vil escroc’ as that.

Of course not.  What a charming, honest fellow, he must be, this young chap with gambling debts and, no doubt, a manuscript for sale?

The whole narrative is probably false.  What gives it away is the introduction of the three classical texts.  What on earth would a Coptic monastery be doing with Greek texts?  Especially with Greek pagan texts?  And, not just a bit of Diodorus Siculus, but the whole, huge text?  No, this is rubbish.  We see book-lists manufactured during the 17-18th century, which dangle the existence of Hegesippus, of the Greek Irenaeus, of Eusebius against Porphyry and other long lost texts before the eyes of curious westerners.  That all were manufactured by orientals who stood to profit thereby is not in doubt.

The article adds, naively:

Certainly, since d’Antraigues could show great powers of imagination where the depiction of feelings or dramatic scenes was concerned, one has to face up to the possibility that he falsified the account of his discovery of the Clement manuscript. It is very difficult, however, to admit it as serious. Claiming discovery of a non-existent manuscript in memoirs which he never attempted to publish seems rather unlikely for a young man who had no intention of aspiring to membership of the Academie des Inscriptions.

Sadly it is not so simple.  It is possible to think of various ways in which someone who had “made such a find” could expect notoriety, and various useful ways to make money would become possible.

Reading the way in which the article discussed a few of the obvious problems with the account — and devised learned reasons why they were not problematic — brought to mind the way in which people discuss the claims of Morton Smith to have found a letter of Clement at Mar Saba, containing a “Secret Gospel” of Mark.

For the moment the article can be found here, at ScribD.  It is well worth perusing the opening section.

  1. [1]Colin Duckworth and Eric Osborn, Clement of Alexandria’s ‘Hypotyposeis’: A French Eighteenth-Century Sighting, JTS NS 36 (1985), p.67-83.

Review: Tony Burke, “Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate”

I have now completed my review of this book.  My thanks to Wipf and Stock for sending me a review copy.  Of course I write as an interested amateur, not a professional scholar, so my opinions are those of an educated layman.

The review may be found here (PDF):



Secret Mark conference

An blanket email from Tony Burke of Apocryphicity:

I just wanted to bring your attention to a conference that Phil Harland and I are planning at York University April 29, 2011 on the Secret Gospel of Mark. This is intended as the first in a series of annual symposia on Christian Apocrypha, so we really hope for a good turnout. If you cannot (or would rather not) attend, please be so kind to let others know about the event (on blogs or what-have-you). See the link below for information. Thanks.

This is a Canadian university, not York in the UK as I thought on first reading.

On the link the few speakers I recognise all seem to belong to the “Secret Mark is genuine” camp.   But apparently there is no intention to push this agenda.   Tony adds:

We wanted Stephen [Carlson] to attend but he declined. He will contribute a paper to the published proceedings, however. Several other “nongenuine” scholars declined also. But we have Craig Evan, Bruce Chilton, Peter Jeffery, and Pierluigi Piovanelli, all of whome feel it is not genuine. We DID aim for balance.

I myself always had doubts about the supposed Letter to Theodore and all it contained, without ever spending much time on it.  I was persuaded definitively by Stephen Carlson’s convincing book on the subject, which crystalised much of the unease that I had found hard to articulate.   But there is certainly room for argument, I would have thought.