Entering the scholarly discussion of Secret Mark is entering another world and forces a choice: either ignore it and hope it goes away or take a risk one way or the other and see how deep the rabbit hill goes. I want to acknowledge with gratitude that Tony Burke sent me a preview of the forthcoming book Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate based on the York conference. This book is valuable as it includes an opening forward by Paul Foster, an up-to-date review of the history of debate and brings together experts on both sides to present the strongest arguments (e.g., issues of whether Smith’s facility in Greek, questions about the letter’s provenance or whether it is anachronistic to Clement’s context, does the letter include ideas or themes that Smith’s scholarship that he entertained before his discovery, do the excerpts of Secret Mark fit into canonical Mark’s larger narrative themes or a later expansion of Mark, etc) while
dropping weaker ones other arguments were not brought up (e.g., finding Smith’s personal signature encoded in the text such as a Mortan Salt, Forger=Smith, bald swindler) and a helpful Q&A that is revealing of some personal motivations of scholarship. I have not read everything to read on Secret Mark (for other bloggers discussing Secret Mark far longer than I have see here, here, here, here), yet I think I need to rest from this issue for a while because “of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” From what I have read the last month I have endeavored to represent accurately and fairly in my notes, though mistakes on my part are based on hastily copying down notes or my efforts to abbreviate for a manageable blog post, so I encourage interested readers to consult the actual works themselves. I think if it is an authentic letter of Clement it is worth studying and to ask questions about how Secret Mark relates to canonical Mark and to other canonical/apocryphal gospels. Even if a 2nd century pastiche that is no reason not to study it anymore than any other later harmonies are worth scholarly attention (longer endings of Mark, Egerton Gospel, Diatessaron) and gives insight into the reception history of Mark (what did these additions mean to the Carpocratians or, alternatively, to Clement). If you are convinced it is a fake and I have lossed my mind this past month , then it is worth studying at the very least as an interesting chapter in NT/patristic scholarship including some of the biggest names in the field and to ask how scholars inhabiting various ideological positions assimilate new data (e.g., who uses it to re-interpret the historical Jesus or Christian origins, for whom is it obviously secondary to the canon, etc). So to wrap up some brief thoughts on Secret Mark, speaking as One Who is not in the Know:
- Until it is found and scientifically tested there will be uncertainty. Thus there are excellent scholars whom I highly respect and some I have had the privilege of meeting on both sides of the issue and I have tried to represent their views as non-polemically as possible.
- However, until proven guilty I am slightly inclined to the authenticity of the Letter to Theodore. What inclines me in the direction is the recent handwriting analysis suggests it goes beyond Smith’s ability in the Greek, Smith does not appear to me to act like a forger (he left it in the library for anyone to access and run scientific tests if the monastery would allow it and not his fault it was lost, took photos and enlisted the help of handwriting and patristic/Clementine experts, consistently defended his interpretations without the fun of revealing he outsmarted the establishment, no death-bed confessions), Smith’s views appear to have changed after the discovery/input of other scholars (cf. Richardson) yet in imposing his own experiences and interests before & after onto the text may have badly misinterpreted it (e.g., the text does not describe a secret, libertine baptismal rite!), and I wonder if some of the perceived historical anachronisms reflect the ingenuity of the critics rather than in the text itself (does a nighttime visit [cf. Nicodemus] and disciple who loves Jesus [cf. rich man] and loved by Jesus [Lazarus; John's anonymous beloved disciple] and teaching all night have to imply anything sexual apart from whatever the Carpocratians may have added; Clement may see it as a mystic text for those advancing in gnosis [knowledge] with nothing to do with the Alexandrian ritual practice or liturgy)
- Are there any better candidates then Clement. Could an ancient imitator pull off this imitation without modern resources (e.g. Stählin’s index) and why would an 18th cent monk forge a text like this?
- I do not accept the priority of Secret Mark (Koester, Crossan, Meyer) or else the editing of canonical Mark makes no sense to me. Why omit the whole episode of SM 2 except for the note that Jesus came and left Jericho in Mk 10:46 where it no longer makes sense? Why edit out all of SM yet forget to edit out the naked youth (introduced as a new character “a certain youth”, cf. Sellew, Gundry) running away in the Garden? Why scatter the elements of SM all over the Gospel? The arguments that the alleged later redaction of canonical Mark shows knowledge of Secret Mark seem to me to do no such thing (“teaching”, “gospel”, “amazed”, some of Mark’s dramatic flare in individual pericope [e.g., epileptic boy] or references to “baptism” w/ the cup or Jesus “loved him” seem to me to be original to Mark and edited by Matt/Luke).
- It seems to me that Secret Mark is a later expansion of Mark in early 2nd cent Alexandria by an author familiar with Mark’s style. This author wanted to fill in the narrative gaps (who is this youth in Gethsemane, what happened at Jericho) and wanted to counterbalance the man with many possessions who turned away with another rich man who was raised from the dead and answered the call to give away all and follow on the path of self-denial and death (linen cloth). While I tend to agree with much of Brown’s views, I don’t think it belongs to the evangelist’s own narrative as not sure it fits as a Marcan intercalculation (see “reactions” in the post on Brown).
- I think Brown makes a fair case against the pastiche view or literary dependence on John’s account on Lazarus; some parallels may be based either on similar redaction to Mark or on common oral traditions that survived into the period of the Apostolic Fathers (cf. Lk 1:1-4, Papias’ living voice, citations/allusions in apostolic fathers).
- Whatever authorial intentions of the Alexandrian author of these expansions, it was taken over and added to by the Carpocratians who found in the “mystery of the kingdom” a license for their teachings/practices (since the text does not explain what Jesus taught in private [cf. Mk 4], perhaps the Carpocratians “filled in” the details). Clement urges Theodore to disown the Carpocratian text altogether.
Well, what do you think?