The Latin Prologues on the Gospels

January 31, 2013

For those interested in the Latin Prologues attached to the Gospels found in manuscripts from the fourth to fourteenth century, instead of putting them all up here I will just point you to Ben C. Smith’s website for the full Latin texts and translations of the so-called “Anti-Marcionite” prologues (the second century dating, Roman provenance, and unitary purpose in refuting Marcionism has first put forward by De Bruyne has been challenged in subsequent scholarship) and the “Monarchian” Prologues (Monarchians view the deity as appearing in different modes as Father, Son or Spirit as opposed to trinitarianism where God consists of three co-eternal Persons in one essence).  If you are interested in exploring some of the idiosyncratic claims about the individual evangelists made in the prologues based on traditions contemporary in their day, such as Mark as stump-fingered (cf. Hippolytus, Refutations 7.30) along with the various rationalizations offered for this odd description, Luke as a Syrian who remained celibate and wrote in the regions of Achaea, John as opposing the adoptionist Cerinthus/the Jewish-Christian Ebionites or that Papias served as his scribe, the following bibliography may be helpful:

  • Black, C. Clifton.  Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001.
  • Chapman, John.  Notes on the Early History of the Vulgate Gospels.  Oxford: Claredon, 1908.
  • De Bruyne, Donatien.  “Les plus anciens prologues Latines des Evangiles.”  Revue Bénedictine 40 (1928): 193-213.
  • Grant, Robert M.  “The Oldest Gospel Prologues.”  Anglican Theological Review 23 (1941): 231-245.
  • Gutwenger, Engelbert.  “The Anti-Marcionite Prologues.”  TS 7 (1946): 393-409.
  • Harnack, Adolf von.  “Die ältesten Evangelien-Prologe und die Bildung des Neuen Testaments.” Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-historische Klasse 24.  Berlin: De Gruyter, 1928: 322-341.
  • Heard, Richard G.  “The Old Gospel Prologues.”  Journal of Theological Studies  6 (1955): 1-16.
  • Howard, W.F.   “The Anti-Marcionite Prologues to the Gospels.” Expository Times 47 (1935-36): 534-38.
  • North, J.L.  “MARKOS HO KOLOBODAKTYLOS: Hippolytus, Elenchus, VII.30.  Journal of Theological Studies 29 (1977): 498-507.
  • Orchard, Bernard and Riley, Harold.  The Order of the Synoptics: Why Three Synoptic Gospels.  Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987.
  • Regul, Jürgen.  Die antimarcionitischen Evangelienprologe.  Vetus Latina 6.  Freiburg: Herder, 1969.


Tertullian on the Gospels

January 28, 2013

Tertullian of Carthage (ca 160-225 CE) was a trained lawyer and one of the most influential of the Latin fathers, though the legacy of the great heresiologist has been controversial as he later became a Montanist (the New Prophecy that originated with Montanus in Asia Minor was branded a “heresy”).  Of his many writings he is most famous for his five-volume work Adversus Marcionem (Against Marcion) in which he rips into Marcion with one of the most biting pieces of polemic that I have come across in the literature (see here).  Marcion is also accused of mutilating the text of Luke (Irenaeus, A.H. 1.27.2; Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 4.2.4.; 4.3.1-2; Epiphanius, Haer. 1.3.11; contra Hippolytus, Ref. 7.18) and Tertullian even denigrates Luke as only an apostolic assistant/disciple in his polemic against Marcion (4.2.4), though Tertullian acknowledges that Marcion did not have an author’s name as the title for his gospel (Adv. Marc. 4.2.3) and seems to have read Paul’s proclamation of “my gospel” (a summary of his kerygma; Rom 2:16) as a reference to a Gospel text.  In this light, Tertullian defends the unity of the fourfold canon against Marcion’s “mutilated” Gospel in Adv. Marc. 4.2.2:

Denique nobis fidem ex apostolis Ioannes et Matthaeus insinuant, ex apostolicis Lucas et Marcus instaurant, isdem regulis exorsi, quantum ad unicum deum attinet creatorem et Christum eius, natum ex virgine, supplementum legis et prophetarum. Viderit enim si narrationum dispositio variavit, dummodo de capite fidei conveniat, de quo cum Marcione non convenit. (Latin text)

In short, from among the apostles the faith is introduced to us by John and by Matthew, while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal, <all of them> beginning with the same rules <of belief>, as far as relates to the one only God, the Creator, and to his Christ, born of a virgin, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. It matters not that the arrangement of their narratives varies, so long as there is agreement on the essentials of the faith—and on these they show no agreement with Marcion. (Ernest Evans)

Of the apostles, therefore, John and Matthew first instil faith into us; while of apostolic men, Luke and Mark renew it afterwards. These all start with the same principles of the faith, so far as relates to the one only God the Creator and His Christ, how that He was born of the Virgin, and came to fulfill the law and the prophets.  Never mind if there does occur some variation in the order of their narratives, provided that there be agreement in the essential matter of the faith, in which there is disagreement with Marcion. (Peter Holmes)

In short, from among the Apostles, John and Matthew implant in us the Faith, while from among apostolic men Luke and Mark reaffirm it, [all of them] beginning with the same rules [of belief,] as far as relates to the only God, the Creator, and to his Christ, born of a virgin, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.  It matters not that the arrangement of their narratives varies, so long as there is agreement on the essentials of the Faith – and on these they show no agreement with Marcion. (Bernard Orchard, The Order of the Synoptics, p. 134)

In short, from among the apostles the faith is introduced to us by John and by Matthew, while from among the apostolic men Luke and Mark give it renewal, [all of them] beginning with the same rules [of belief]… It matters not that the arrangement of their narrative varies, so long as there are agreement on the essentials of the faith – and on these they show no agreement with Marcion. (C. Clifton Black, Images of an Apostolic Interpreter, p. 126)

Origen on the Gospels

January 26, 2013

Origen of Alexandria (ca 185-254) may be the most brilliant Christian scholar and theologian of the patristic period.  As a biblical critic he produced a critical edition of the OT in Hebrew/Greek versions called the Hexapla, composed several commentaries (see his commentaries on Matthew and John online) and was well aware of biblical discrepencies at the literal level including in the Gospels which his allegorical hermeneutic sought to transcend.  His testimony on the fourfold Gospels is conventional and seems dependent on earlier authorities like Irenaeus and Clement.  I cite the Greek and various online translations below (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 6.25.3-6).  Eusebius goes on to cite Origen’s comments in his fifth book of his Exposition of John on other canonical writings and especially the identification of the author of the Gospel of John with the one who reclined on Jesus’ bosom (cf. John 13:23-5) and author of the Apocalypse (6.25.7-14) (for more on Origen’s canon see here).

ἐν δὲ τῷ πρώτῳ τῶν εἰς τὸ κατὰ Ματθαῖον, τὸν ἐκκλησιαστικὸν φυλάττων κανόνα, μόνα τεσσάρα εἰδέναι εὐαγγέλια μαρτύρεται, ὧδέ πως γράφων·ὡς ἐν παραδόσει μαθὼν περὶ τῶν τεσσάρων εὐαγγελίων, ἃ καὶ μόνα ἀναντίρρητά ἐστιν ἐν τῇ ὑπὸ τὸν οὐρανὸν ἐκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ, ὅτι πρῶτον μὲν γέγραπται τὸ κατὰ τόν ποτε τελώνην, ὕστερον δὲ ἀπόστολον Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ Ματθαῖον, ἐκδεδωκότα αὐτὸ τοῖς ἀπὸ Ἰουδαϊσμοῦ πιστεύσασιν, γράμμασιν Ἑβραϊκοῖς συντεταγμένον· δεύτερον δὲ τὸ κατὰ Μάρκον, ὡς Πέτρος ὑφηγήσατο αὐτῷ, ποιήσαντα, ὃν καὶ υἱὸν ἐν τῇ καθολικῇ ἐπιστολῇ διὰ τούτων ὡμολόγησεν φάσκων, Ἀσπάζεται ὑμᾶς βαβυλῶνι συνελεκτὴ καὶ Μάρκος ὁ υἱός μου· καὶ τρίτον τὸ κατὰ Λουκᾶν, τὸ ὑπὸ Παύλου ἐπαινούμενον εὐαγγέλιον τοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἐθνῶν πεποιηκότα· ἐπὶ πᾶσιν τὸ κατὰ Ἰωάννην. (Greek text from Stephen Carlson)

In his first book on Matthew’s Gospel, maintaining the Canon of the Church, he testifies that he knows only four Gospels, writing as follows:  Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who was once a publican, but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language.  The second is by Mark, who composed it according to the instructions of Peter, who in his Catholic epistle acknowledges him as a son, saying, ‘The church that is at Babylon elected together with you, salutes you, and so does Marcus, my son.’  And the third by Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul, and composed for Gentile converts. Last of all that by John (Arthur Cushman McGiffert)<!—->

…but in the first of his [commentaries] on Matthew, defending the Church canon, he testifies of knowing only four gospels, writing something like this: as learned by tradition about the four gospels, which alone are incontested in the church of God under heaven, that, first, written was Matthew, once publican but later apostle of Jesus Christ, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew letters; but second, Mark, who composed as Peter led him, whom he avowed as son in the catholic epistle, saying as follows: “She who is in Babylon, chosen together, sends you greetings and so does my son Mark” and third, Luke, who has composed for those from the Gentiles the gospel praised by Paul; after all of them, John. (Stephen Carlson)

… and in his first [book of his commentaries] on the [Gospel] according to Matthew, when defending the ecclesiastical canon, he testifies that he knows only four gospels, writing as follows:  As [I have] learned in the tradition about the four gospels, which are alone uncontested in the church of God under heaven, namely, the first written was that according to the one-time tax collector but later apostle of Jesus Christ, Matthew, who published it for the believers from Judaism, composed in Hebrew characters; And second, that according to Mark, composed as Peter guided, whom he also proclaimed to be his son in the catholic epistle, speaking thus:  “She that is in Babylon jointly chosen [with you] greets you, and my son Mark too.”  And third, that according to Luke, the gospel praised by Paul, composed for those from the Gentiles.  Finally, that according to John. (Bernard Orchard, The Order of the Synoptics, p. 169)

Now in the first of his [commentaries] on [the Gospel] according to Matthew, defending the ecclesiastical canon, [Origen] testifies to knowing only four gospels, writing somewhat as follows: … ‘having learned by tradition about the four gospels, which alone are undeniable in the church of God under heaven, that written first was that [Gospel] according to Matthew, who was at one time a taxcollector but afterwards an apostle of Jesus Christ.  For those who came from Judaism came to believe, [Matthew] published it, composed in the Hebrew language.  And second, the one according to Mark, as Peter guided him.  In the Catholic Epistle he [Peter] also acknowledged him as a son through this assertion:  “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.”  And third, the one according to Luke, the Gospel commended by Paul for those who, from the Gentiles, [came to believe].  After them all, the one according to John.’ (C. Clifton Black, Mark: Images of an Apostolic Interpreter, p. 145)

Annotated Bibliography on the “Secret Gospel of Mark”

January 24, 2013

While cataloguing manuscripts at the Mar Saba monastery in 1958, Morton Smith allegedly found a letter attributed to “Clement of the Stromateis” (ca. 115-250) to Theodore that an 18th century monk copied onto the last two leaves of a 1646 edition of the letters of Ignatius of Antioch by Isaac Voss. The text is available here and a video of Morton Smith explaining his discovery here.  The letter claims that the evangelist Mark, from his own public notes in Rome as well as some more esoteric material available to him, composed a more “spiritual Gospel” in Alexandria for the perfection of Christians in knowledge.  This edition of Mark is commonly referred to as “Secret Mark.”  Basically, the letter cites the contents of Secret Mark in two places.  One story which took place between Mark 10:35-36 features a rich youth whom Jesus raised from the dead and, after staying at his house for six days, taught him the final night the mystery of the kingdom of God (cf. Mark 4:11) while the youth wore a linen clothe over his naked body (cf. Mark 14:51-52).  The second story elaborates on the bare notice of Jesus’ visit to Jericho that Jesus had rejected the youth’s sister and mother and Salome (cf. Mark 15:40; 16:1) but does not give the reason why.  The letter laments that Carpocrates, the founder of an alleged immorally libertine Gnostic sect (see IrenaeusClement of Alexandria), stole the text and corrupted it with insertions such as “naked man with naked man.”  However, all we have to go on are photographs as the manuscript has been misplaced by the monastery and there is a stalemate in the academy over whether this is an ancient artifact or a forged text, with some pointing the finger at Morton Smith.  Here is an annotated bibliography of scholarly contributions:

Anastasopoulou, Venetia. “Experts Report Handwriting Examination,” Biblical Archaeological Review. Scholar’s Study (posted April 2010): 1–39. Online:; Tselikas, Agamemnon. “Agamemnon Tselikas’Handwriting Analysis Report,” Biblical Archaeology Review Scholar’s Study (posted May 2011), n.p. Online:

  • The handwriting analysis commissioned by the Biblical Archaeological Review.  Unfortunately, they reached opposite conclusions over whether the letter was composed by a native Greek speaker.

Brown, Scott G.  Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton’s Smith Controversial Discovery.  ESCJ 15; Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005.

  • Based on the first dissertation on Secret Mark at the University of Toronto. Brown reviews the history of scholarshipand rebuts critics who opt to view the Letter to Theodore as an ancient or modern forgery.  Brown goes on to carve his own interpretation of the letter in ways that are quite distinctive from Smith.  He argues that Smith wrongly interpreted Clement’s “mystery” language in reference to the initiatory rite of baptism for Christian catechumens, noting the language of the great mysteries and becoming perfected in knowledge refers to discovering the divine allegorical truth hidden beneath the literal level of the text.  Against both several scholars who treat Secret Mark as a 2nd century pastiche of the four Gospels or other scholars who argue it was in the original version of Mark before it got removed by the editor of canonical Mark (cf. Koester, Crossan), he agrees with Clement that the evangelist composed it as a second edition of the Gospel and that the two excerpts in the letter form a typical Markan sandwich with Mark 10:35-40 in the middle.  James and John covet seats of power in the kingdom yet will be baptized into martyrdom instead, while the youth gives up all his possessesions except for a symbolic baptismal costume while he is taught the mystery of the kingdom.

Ibid, “Reply to Stephen Carlson” Expository Times 117 (2006): 144-9; “Factualizing the Folklore: Stephen Carlson’s Case Against Morton Smith” Harvard Theological Review 99 (2006): 291-327; “The Letter to Theodore: Stephen Carlson’s Case against Clement’s Authorship” Journal of Early Christian Studies 16 (2008): 535-572; (w/ Alan Pantuck) “Morton Smith as M. Madiotes: Stephen Carlson’s Attribution of Secret Mark to a Bald Swindler” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 6 (2008): 106-25.

  • Brown tries to debunk Carlson’s clues to Smith’s hoax.  He makes the following rebuttals: the Greek handwriting of MS 22 differs from the Letter to Theodore (MS 65) especially in the use of accent marks contrary to Carlson’s supposition of common authorship.  The salt saying is not about the innovation of the Morton Salt company in enabling moderns use table salt to alter the taste of food but the ancient understanding that salt can lose its taste and become worthless.  The elipsis (ff) after Jeremiah 28:17 suggests that Smith was pointing to the following verse about worthless idols that perish rather than to the English word goldsmith.  Carlson’s clue from Madiotēs is based on a misprint in the Nea Siōn catalogue that may have read Madeotas or even Modestos when it was re-translated back into Greek.  Smith’s prior views changed as a result of studying the letter, such as viewing the “mystery of the kingdom” given to the disciples as a post-Easter invention about Jesus’ teaching to a rite practiced by Jesus, rather than reinforcing his former views and some “parallels” in the letter to Smith’s former views are stretched.  He insists, against Carlson, that the Letter to Theodore accords with Clement’s habit of extended coverage of his opponent’s proof-texts to correct their misreadings, citation practices, and traditions about the evangelist Mark.

Bruce, F.F. “The ‘Secret’ Gospel of Mark.” London: Althone, 1974.

  • Bruce argues that, on analogy with how Clement’s exposition on Mark 10:17-31 is frequently contaminated by parallels from Matthew and Luke, that the Secret Mark is a later Alexandrian pastiche of phraseology from the Synoptic Gospels and a distorted echo of the resurrection of Lazarus in the Gospel of John.  Bruce also hints that it may be a Carpocratian composition, despite Clement’s beliefs that it was written by the evangelist Mark, and endorse their libertine practices that were reminiscent of the “spiritual” libertines that Paul confronted in the Corinthian correspondence.

Burke, Tony.  Editor.   Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery: The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate. Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2013.

  • Collection of papers from the York conference.  Charles Hedrick compares Secret Mark to the discovery of an unprovenanced Gospel (Egerton), criticises Carlson’s clues of a hoax, takes on Best’s view that Secret Mark is “too Markan to be Mark” by comparing it to other verses in Mark, situates Secret Mark in the context of mimesis (imitation) in rhetorical schools, and includes an interview with Agamemnon Tselikas. Bruce Chilton cautions that provenience is important in light of forged archaeological discoveries. Craig Evans defends the hoax hypothesis by repeating the example of a scholar who forged a saying of Jesus from a joke he told in class, elaborates on the parallels with the novel The Mystery of Mar Saba, and contends that the letter supports Smith’s prior research interests.  Scott Brown and Allan Pantack offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the parallels to a novel and Smith’s publications and other recent objections (cf. Watson, Tselikas).  Hershell Shanks protests that a scholar has his reputation tainted and supplies an updated summary of Tselikas’ findings. Marvin Meyer follows Helmut Koester in seeing Secret Mark as part of the original text of Mark and, when its excerpts are inserted back in, there is a connected sub-plot about a youth that appears in truncated form in the canonical text (wealthy man, youth in Gethsemane, youth at the empty tomb). Pierluigi Piovanelli shows how the consensus of Clementine scholars on the text has broken down, highlights suspicious facts about how (copied on a book) and where (Mar Saba) the text was found, and draws on Smith’s letters to Gershom Scholem to argue that he forged evidence to support his view of Jesus as a libertine messianic figure like Sabbatai Tzevi.  Pantuck’s biographical essay underscores that Smith did not have time to master the skills in Greek, paleography, Markan or Clementine style, and epistolography to pull off the composition. Peter Jeffrey defends his view that the  letter presupposes an anachronistic liturgical, baptismal context in 2nd century Alexandria and mirrors Smith misreading of multiple primary sources and obsession with sexual double entendres.  Brown explains how the metaphor of the innermost sanctuary behind seven veils fits Clement’s theology of the stages of development for the Christian gnostic.  Last is Carlson’s SBL piece and a Q&A.

Stephen Carlson, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005)

  • The first major study on the hoax hypothesis, which Carlson defined as the attempt to test the critical faculties of the academy rather than a fraud for monetary gain.  Carlson investigated the handwriting of the Letter to Theodore from Smith’s black-and-white photographs and believed he caught “forger’s tremor” (unnatural hesitations in the pen strokes) and anomalies in the formation of certain letters.  He proposed that Smith left a number of clues to his handiwork:  the Letter to Theodore has the same handwriting as the top handwriting of the first page of Smith’s catalogue of manuscript number 22 which was ascribed to Madiot madō or “lose hair” = bald Smith?), the saying on mixing salt with an adulterant to alter its taste (Theod. I.13-15) was only possible after a chemist at the Morton Salt Company invented an anti-caking agent to prevent salt from forming into clumps, or the weak parallel in Smith’s commentary to Jeremiah 28:17 LXX that refers to a goldsmith. Carlson points to links with Smith’s previous lines of research (Clement of Alexandria, a source with Markan and Johannine characteristics, esotericism linked to forbidden sexual practices) and that the relationship with Jesus and the youth reflects the situation of homosexual urbanites in the 1950s seeking relationships in parks.

Criddle, A.H. “On the Mar Saba Letter Attributed to Clement of Alexandria.” Journal of Early Christian Studies3 (1995): 215-20.

  • A statistical analysis that aims to prove that the Letter to Theodore has too high a ratio of Clementine to non-Clementine features, whether in examining words or scriptural citations that are new or used once previously, to be an authentic letter of Clement.  Instead, the forger went through Clement’s writings to pick out words in Clement that are not in other Patristic writers or avoid words used by other Patristic writers that are not in Clement.

Crossan, John. Four Other Gospels: Shadows on the Contours of Canon. Mineapolis, Chicago, New York: Winston Press, 1985.

  • Crossan argues that Secret Mark is actually the original version of the Gospel and the canonical version is secondary.  Yet to make the canonical version of Mark look earlier, Crossan speculates that its editor dismembered the parts of Secret Mark and scattered them all over the Gospel.  Thus, “the mystery of the kingdom” is now the secret to Jesus’ parables in Mark 4, a rich man approaches Jesus in Mark 10, a youth in a linen clothe appears in the Garden in Mark 14, or Salome and the words about rolling away the stone are now in the empty tomb narrative in Mark 16.  But the pieces of Secret Mark do not quite fit nicely in their new contexts in the canonical text.  Crossan adds that the Carpocratians misinterpreted the baptismal imagery of Secret Mark in a sexual direction.

Bart Ehrman, “Response to Charles Hendrick’s Stalemate” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.2 (2003): 155-63.

  • While he agrees on the diversity and instability of Christian texts, he argues against Hendrick that Smith gave his critics plenty of ammunition to denounce his interpretations and that he has not established the case why Smith could not have spent years planning the forgery and Smith was allowed to take books back with him during the nights of his stay at the monastery.  Smith’s failure to seek further scientific tests in the 15 years post-discovery, the contradiction with Clement who sought a deeper knowledge of available texts rather than hidden ones (cf. Osborn), the over-doing of Clementine style (cf. Criddle), and the lack of transmission errors in the manuscript makethe text suspect. Other causes for suspicion is that the text breaks off before Clement’s true explanation, Smith dedicates his book to A.D. Nock who remained skeptical of the find as “One who Knows,” and there is a brilliant irony that the text was attached to the end of Voss’ volume where Voss scolds impudent fellows who made nonsensical interpolations into Ignatius.  He ends agnostic on the authenticity or forgery debate.

Foster, Paul.  “Secret Mark: Its Discovery and the State of Research.”  Expository Times 117 (2005): 46-52.

  • A fair and balanced review of the discovery, subsequent scholarship, and debate over the authenticity or forgery of the Letter to Theodore.

Gundry, Robert.  “On The Secret Gospel of Mark” in The Old is Better: New Testament Essays in Support of Traditional Interpretations. Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2005.

  • Gundry rebuts the cases of Koester and Crossan for the priority of Secret Mark over canonical Mark.  Against Koester, he tries to demonstrate that the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark are explicable as redactional changes to Mark with some subsidiary Matthean influence on Luke rather than evidence of a proto-Mark.  Against Crossan, he argues that the various pieces Crossan sees as scattered from Secret Mark in inappropriate places in canonical Mark actually have a perfect fit where they are and it makes no sense for a competent editor to randomly pull Secret Mark apart all over the Gospel. Contrastingly, Gundry sets Secret Mark in 2nd century Alexandria and notes that, contrary to Smith and others who interpret the linen clothe as a baptism garment, that it reflects the idealization of poverty and stripping oneself of all possessions that Clement repudiates in his homily on the salvation of the rich.

Hedrick, Charles W. “The Secret Gospel of Mark: Stalemate in the Academy” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.2 (2003): 133-45

  • Hendrick complains about ad hominem and homophobic reviews of Smith’s scholarship, especially dwelling on his passing comment about the physical nature of Jesus’ baptismal rite, and points out the diversity of extant and hypothetical Gospel texts and the instability of the Gospel transmission.  Specifically on the Letter to Theodore he notes: 1. Patriarchate former librarian Kallistos confirmed in August 2000 that he received the letter into the library in 1979 and took color photos when cutting it out of Voss’ book, 2. the letter’s whereabouts are unknown (destroyed, sequestered, misplaced?), 3. Smith could not forge it under the conditions of the monastery in 1958 and all copies of Voss’ volume has two blank leaves bound to the back on which the monk copied it, 4. the color photos show an identical stain pattern (discoloration found in old books) migrating between the last printed page so the two blank leaves bound at the back appear to go back to 16th century, 5. Clementine scholars generally accept the authenticity of the letter.  The only concern of the historian should be, not with what a non-canonical text might endorse, but if it serves as evidence for the practice of Jesus or multiple versions of a Gospel or the survival of oral sources with Synoptic and Johannine traits.

Humphrey, Hugh M. (From Q to ‘Secret’ Mark: A Composition History of the Earliest Narrative Theology.  New York and London: T&T Clark, 2006.

  • Humphrey’s main thesis is that the Gospel of Mark was constructed in stages from a narrative-like version of Q to a Passion narrative to the final version with discipleship themes.  He enlists the Patristic witnesses in support (e.g., that Papias was referring to a Q like narrative of the Lord’s sayings and deeds or Clement to the “gospel” meaning the death and resurrection kerygma), including the Letter to Theodore, yet not in the way one might expect.  Humphrey interprets the evangelist’s former public book for those being instructed as the early sayings source and the secret “spiritual gospel” for those being perfected with the Passion story, while the letter concludes that the final version of Mark that joined these two together in Alexandria might have had some extra material no longer in the text (i.e. the story of the youth).

Jay, Jeff. “A New Look at the Epistolary Framework of the Secret Gospel of Mark.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 16 (2008): 573-97.

  • Jay argues that the Letter to Theodore conforms to the epistolary genre where authors complain about the unauthorized acquisition and circulation of books before they are ready for publication.  He compares it to Augustine’s epistle to Aurelius on how incomplete books of De trinitate circulated without the author’s permission and the letter was to accompany the authorized version, Arrian to Lucius Gellius about the unauthorized publication of his notes on his teacher Epictetus (this may be a rhetorical strategy rather than sincere), and Quintilian to Trypho to permit the publication of his Institutio oratoria at the insistence of his friends.  Likewise, the Letter to Theodore clarifies that the Carpocratians circulated a stolen and corrupted text that was meant to be reserved for spiritually mature Christians.

Jeffrey, Peter. The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007.

  • Jeffrey discredits the Letter to Theodore on two fronts. Applying his liturgical expertise, he judges that the ritual presupposed in the letter does not fit any known ritual practice or the Epiphany season in 2nd century Alexandria. Instead, the forger was influenced by 20th century Anglican liturgiologists who anachronistically read back certain practices into Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition and by the Book of Common Prayer.  Second, the letter is an extended double entendre that constantly plants hints in readers’ minds without outright stating that there is a sexual relationship going on, but the youth’s pursuit of Jesus does not fit the ancient Greek model where the higher status male lover (erastēs) pursues the lower-status young beloved.  The letter is anachronistic, but its author was influenced by a Uranian subculture in English Universities and Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (cf. dance of the seven veils) in his critique of traditional Christian morality.

Koester, Helmut.  “History and Development of Mark’s Gospel (From Mark to Secret Mark ).”  Pages 35–57 in Colloquy on New Testament Studies. A Time for Reappraisal and Fresh Approaches. Edited by Bruce C. Corley. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1983.

  • Koester’s complex theory is the successive editing of the text of Mark by the same Markan school including a proto-Mark without Mark 6:45-8:24 known to Luke, a proto-Mark with this section known to Matthew, Secret Mark, canonical Mark, canonical Mark with the longer ending (16:9-20). He establishes the text of proto-Mark via the minor agreements of Matthew and Luke against our canonical Mark, but then he notices that the canonical text’s redaction of proto-Mark has also been influenced by Secret Mark. So canonical Mark edits the plural “mysteries” to the singular “mystery” (4:11), enhances the cup metaphor for suffering with a “baptism” one (10:39), outlines how Jesus will rise “in three days” rather than the “third day” (8:31), describes how Jesus “looked on him [the rich man] and loved him” (10:21), narrates how Jesus “seized the hand” and “raised” an epileptic boy (9:25-7), or inserts new terminology (gospel, teaching/to teach, amazement) through the influence of Secret Mark. That is, Secret Mark had a youth who Jesus loved, who was raised by seizing the hand (note the parallel in John has Lazarus raised after three days on the fourth day) and getting taught the kingdom of God while wearing a baptism garment, and the esotericism of the text evokes amazement.

Mullins, Terence Y. “Papias on Mark’s Gospel” Vigiliae Christianae 14 (1960): 216-24;”Papias and Clement and Mark’s Two Gospels” Vigiliae Christianae 30.3 (1976): 189-192.

  • Mullins argues that the accusation leveled at Mark that Papias seeks to defend against is not so much that it was out of “order” (taxis) but that the evangelist had not strictly recorded exactly what Peter had dictated to him but added a few things (enia) from his fallible memory. Mullins thinks that the few additions that the evangelist added to the text that caused issues were the excerpts Clement quotes from Secret Mark.

Charles E. Murgia,  “Secret Mark: Real or Fake?” Pages 35-40 in Longer Mark: Forgery, Interpolation, or Old Tradition? Colloquy 18 of the Center for Hermeneutical Studies in Hellenistic and Modern Culture (edited by Wilhelm Wuellner; Berkley: Centre for Hermeneutical Studies, 1975).

  • Murgia is concerned with how the Letter to Theodore exhibits traits of other forgeries in trying to rationalize why they only recently appeared, so their authors provide them with a “seal of authenticity.”  Hence, the Letter to Theodore insists that the reason Secret Mark was not cited in any other ancient writer is that Secret Mark was 1. only known in Alexandria, 2. carefully guarded, 3. read only by initiates in secret, 4. its very existence was to be denied in public, and 5. even perjury was permissible to maintain its secrecy.

Oden, Thomas C. The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011.

  • A robust defense of the tradition that John Mark was the first bishop and martyr of Alexandria based on the consensual memory, literature, and archeological sites preserved by African Christians. I reviewed this book here. Needless to say, the Letter to Theodore is our earliest extant textual evidence for the evangelist’s presence in Alexandria by a leading Alexandrian scholar in the late 2nd/early 3rd century.

Paananen, Timo S.  “From Stalemate to Deadlock: Clement’s Letter to Theodore in Recent Scholarship” Currents in Biblical Research 11 (2012): 87-125.

  •  A helpful overview of the history of scholarship on Secret Mark, especially as he divides the arguments for forgery into the “hoax hypothesis” (Carlson, Watson) and the “Double Entendre hypothesis” (Jeffrey). Paananen concludes by pleading with scholars to engage instead of ignore the advocates for authenticity, especially the monograph and peer-reviewed articles by Scott Brown, and to rise above ad hominem attacks on both sides.

Q. Quesnell, “The Mar Saba Clementine: A Question of Evidence” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 37 (1975).

  • Quesnell was the first to openly protest Smith’s handling of the text. He asked about why the manuscript was not accessible, what information did Smith give to his experts to confirm his assessment of the authenticity of his find, and why has there been no scientific examination of the physical evidence (the ink, the manuscript, other manuscripts by the same hand in the library). He implies that a modern forger could have benefited from the publication of Otto Stählin’s index on Clement in 1936 and suggests that Smith may have wanted to test whether the scholarly establishment would allow new data to challenge their paradigms and supplied an overabundance of incorrectly cited material in his scholarly study so that few scholars will be willing to wade in to critically interact with his arguments. Morton Smith presumed that Quesnell subtly insinuated that he forged the manuscript and responded in “On the Authenticity of the Mar Saba Letter of Clement: Reply to Q. Quesnell” CBQ 38 (1976).

Schenke, Hans-Martin. “The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark.” Pages 554-572 in Der Same Seths: Hans-Martin Schenkes Kleine Schriften zu Gnosis, Koptologie und Neuem Testament. Edited by Gesine Schenke Robinson, Gesa Schenke and Uwe-Karsten Plisch; Nag Hammadi and Manichean Studies 78; Leiden: Brill, 2012.

  • Schenke is another advocate of view that Secret Mark is more original than the canonical version, except he goes as far as to argue that the Carpocratian Mark is the earliest followed by an edited Secret Mark and the further edited canonical Mark.  He infers that Mark had Gnostic affinities from the start, from its baptism/wilderness scene with parallels to the Apocalypse of Adam and possible possessionist Christology (cf. Cerinthus, Basilides) to the story of the youth in the Garden (Mark 14:51-52) as Jesus’ angelic double whom the powers of this world try to seize yet can only get a hold of his garment or corporeal cover.

Sellew, Philip. “Secret Mark and the History of Canonical Mark.” Pages 242-257 in The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester. Edited by Birger A. Pearson. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.

  • Sellew assents to Koester’s hypothesis on the evolutionary stages of Mark. Yet he notices that the youth in Mark 14:51-2 is introduced as “a certain youth,” implying he is a new character and not previously introduced in Mark 10 according to Secret Mark, though Sellew takes this to mean that the canonical editor even more thoroughly edited Secret Mark out of the final text.

Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973); The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark (London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1974).

  • The former is a demanding academic tome. It judges the vocabulary, phraseology, rhythm,  and content of the Letter to Theodore to correspond to Clement and Smith asked fourteen Patristic and Classical scholars to double-check his results. Smith lays out his theory for why no writers mentioned Secret Mark apart from Clement, how his letter to someone named Theodore ended up at Mar Saba, and how the letter did not survive a fire in the monastery. He tests his theories on how Secret Mark was read in 2nd century Alexandria on the night of the Paschal vigil before Easter, how the contents of Secret Mark derive from an original Semitic Gospel that underlies the Gospels of Mark and John based on parallels in their outlines, and the evidence in it for a libertine wing of early Christians (James occupied the legalistic end and Paul the middle ground). Libertinism goes back to a rite of Jesus where initiates are given an experience where they imagine they received his spirit, ascended to the heavens, and are freed from the Law of Moses.  The latter book is a popularizing account of Smith’s theories as well as documenting his initial attraction to monastic worship and the circumstances that led him to Mar Saba.

Ibid, “Clement of Alexandria and Secret Mark: The Score at the End of the First Decade.” Harvard Theological Review 75.4 (1982): 449-61.

  • Smith surveys scholarly reactions, noting that most scholars accepted Clementine authorship of the letter except for a few who thought it may be an ancient or modern forgery (Murgia, Quesnell). He admits that he is alone in defending the hypothesis that the text was part of a primitive Semitic Gospel and dismisses most scholarship on the letter as a later pastiche as apologetic, but he notes that other scholars factored it into the development of Mark (Koester) or the liturgical practice of 2nd century Alexandria (Talley).

Gedaliahu A.G. Stroumsa, “Comments on Charles Hedrick’s Article: A Testimony” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11.2 (2003): 147-53.

  • Stroumsa recounts that he travelled with David Flusser, Schlomo Pines and Archimadrite Meliton to the monastery in 1976 where he saw the Letter to Theodore in the Voss’ book, but the group was not allowed to get the ink tested because it could only be done by the Israeli police and Meliton had no intention of giving it to them. He also notes that he planned to publish the private correspondence between Smith and the late expert on Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem, spanning 75 letters from Smith between 1945-1983 and 48 from Scholem, which reveal Smith’s unfolding views after his discovery and how he persuaded Scholem on some matters but not on the libertinism of Jesus.

Talley, Thomas. The Origins of the Liturgical Year. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1986.

  • First, a Coptic tradition that Jesus baptized disciples on the sixth day of the sixth week of Epiphany. Second, in Constantinople in the ninth-tenth centuries, much of the lectionary readings over the forty days of Lent went through the Gospel of Mark, but after the reading of Mark 10:32-45 on the fifth week the story of Lazarus in John 11:1-45 was substituted for Mark on the Sabbath of the sixth week. Talley puts these clues together with the Letter to Theodore to argue that Lent replaced the earlier forty-day fast following Epiphany (January 6) in Alexandria and that the original lectionary reading had Mark 10:46-52 with the Lazarus-like story of Secret Mark on the sixth week. The baptism of the youth after six days explains the Coptic tradition.

Francis Watson, “Beyond Suspicion: on the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark” Journal of Theological Studies 61 (2010): 128-70.

  • Watson builds on the hoax hypothesis.  He argues that the text is anachronistic (e.g., its construction out of a crude pastiche of the Gospels, its treatment of the Carpocratians and sexuality, its total secrecy to account for why no one heard of it), is too dependent on the phraseology of Papias to be the work of a native Greek scholar like Clement, contains another clue to its author’s name in the saying about how the truth of Secret Mark has been falsified or imprinted by a false image (done by a “forger” or a “smith”), and has a number of parallels with the evangelical novel The Mystery of Mar Saba.  These include the unanticipated discovery of a Greek Gospel with Synoptic phraseology and Johannine parallels, accompanied by an authenticating text, which threatens to overturn traditional Christianity.


Clement of Alexandria on Mark

January 23, 2013

Here are three excerpts from Clement of Alexandria on Mark in the original languages with various translations I found available online (there is still the scholarly stalemate about whether the Letter to Theodore should be accepted into Clement’s canon, but the Greek text with M. Smith’s translation is available here and Scott Brown’s new translation in his Mark’s Other Gospel).  There are some interesting new and conflicting details given below about the relationship of Mark to the other evangelists, the location of the evangelist’s writing the Gospel, the make-up of Mark’s audience, the situation that gave rise to the production of the Gospel, and the reaction of Peter when he learns the news (note that Peter is still alive unlike some other patristic traditions on Mark!).  I will try to get at what Clement, or Eusebius who paraphrases him, is up to in his account of the origins of Mark at the EABS conference.

Αὖθις δ’ ἐν τοῖς αὐτοῖς ὁ Κλήμης βιβλίοις περὶ τῆς τάξεως τῶν εὐαγγελίων παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνέκαθεν πρεσβυτέρων τέθειται, τοῦτον ἔχουσαν τὸν τρόπον· προγεγράφθαι ἔλεγεν τῶν εὐαγγελίων τὰ περιέχοντα τὰς γενεαλογίας, τὸ δὲ κατὰ Μάρκον ταύτην ἐσχηκέναι τὴν οἰκονομίαν. τοῦ πέτρου δημοσίᾳ ἐν Ρώμῃ κηρύξαντος τὸν λόγον καὶ πνεύματι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἐξειπόντος, τοὺς παρόντας, πολλοὺς ὄντας, παρακαλέσαι τὸν Μάρκον, ὡς ἂν ἀκολουθήσαντα αὐτῷ πόρρωθεν καὶ μεμνημένον τῶν λεχθέντων, ἀναγράψαι τὰ εἰρημένα· ποιήσαντα δέ, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον μεταδοῦναι τοῖς δεομένοις αὐτοῦ·ὅπερ ἐπιγνόντα τὸν Πέτρον προτρεπτικῶς μήτε κωλῦσαι μήτε προτρέψασθαι. τὸν μέντοι Ἰωάννην ἔσχατον, συνιδόντα ὅτι τὰ σωματικὰ ἐν τοῖς εὐαγγελίοις δεδήλωται, προτραπέντα ὑπο τῶν γνωρίμων, πνεύματι θεοφορηθέντα πνευματικὸν ποιῆσαι ευ0αγγέλιον. τοσαῦτα ὁ Κλήμης. (in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7, Greek from Stephen Carlson’s website)

Again, in the same books, Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner:  The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first.  The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it.  When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, John, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.  This is the account of Clement. (Arthur Cushman McGiffert)

And again in the same books [the Outlines], Clement states a tradition of the very earliest presbyters about the order of the gospels; and it has this form.  He used to say that the first written of the gospels were those having the geneologies, and that the Gospel of Mark had this formation.  While Peter was publically preaching the Word in Rome and proclaiming the gospel by the the [sic] Spirit, the audience, which was numerous, begged Mark, as one who had followed him for a long time and remembered what had been said, to write down the things he had said.  And he did so, handing over the Gospel to those who had asked for it.  And when Peter got to know about it, he exerted no pressure either to forbid it or to promote it… (Bernard Orchard in The Order of the Synoptics, pg 166)

But again in those very books Clement presented a tradition of the original elders about the disposition of the gospels, in the following manner: He said that those gospels with genealogies were openly published, but Mark had this procedure: when Peter was in Rome preaching in public the word and proclaiming the gospel by the spirit, those present, who were many, entreated Mark, as one who followed him for a long time and remembered what was said, to record what was spoken; but after he composed the gospels, he shared it with anyone who wanted it; when Peter found out about it, he did not actively discourage or encourage it; but John, last, aware that the physical facts were disclosed in the gospels, urged by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel. So much for Clement. (Stephen Carlson, see further Stephen C. Carlson, “Clement of Alexandria on the ‘Order’ of the Gospels,” NTS 47 [2001]: 118-25 to justify his translation “openly published”)

Τοσουτον δ επελαμψεν ταις των ακροατων του Πετρου διανοιαις ευσεβειας φεγγος, ως μη τη εις απαξ ικανως εχειν αρκεισθαι ακοη μηδε τη αγραφω του θειου κηρυγματος διδασκαλια, παρακλησεσιν δε παντοιαις Μαρκον, ου το ευαγγελιον φερεται, ακολουθον οντα Πετρου, λιπαρησαι ως αν και δια γραφης υπομνημα της δια λογου παραδοθεισης αυτοις καταλειψοι διδασκαλιας, μη προτερον τε ανειναι η κατεργασαθαι τον ανδρα, και ταυτη αιτιους γενεσθαι της του λεγομενου κατα Μαρκον ευαγγελιου γραφης. γνοντα δε το πραχθεν φασι τον αποστολον αποκαλυψαντος αυτω του πνευματος, ησθηναι τη των ανδρων προθυμια κυρωσαι τε την γραφην εις εντευξιν ταις εκκλησιας.  Κλημης εν εκτω των υποτυπωσεων παρατεθειται την ιστοριαν, συνεπιμαρτυρει δε αυτω και ο Ιεραπολιτης επισκοπος ονοματι Παπιας, του δε Μαρκου μνημονευειν τον Πετρον εν τη προτερα επιστολη, ην και συνταξαι φασιν επ αυτης Ρωμης, σημαινειν τε τουτ αυτον, την πολιν τροπικωτερον Βαβυλωνα προσειποντα δια τουτων· Ασπαζεται υμας η εν Βαβυλωνι συνεκλεκτη και Μαρκος ο υιος μου (in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; unaccented Greek from

And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the needs of Peter’s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark, a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the man, and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark. And they say that Peter – when he had learned, through a revelation of the Spirit, of that which had been done – was pleased with the zeal of the men, and that the work obtained the sanction of his authority for the purpose of being used in the churches. Clement in the eighth book of his Hypotyposes gives this account, and with him agrees the bishop of Hierapolis named Papias.  And Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle which they say that he wrote in Rome itself, as is indicated by him, when he calls the city, by a figure, Babylon, as he does in the following words: The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, salutes you; and so does Mark my son (Arthur Cushman McGiffert)

And the light of religion lit up the minds of those who heard Peter, so much so that they were not sufficiently satisfied with one single hearing, nor with theunwritten teaching of the divine preaching, and with all kinds of encouragements they besought Mark, whose gospel is extant, a follower of Peter, that he might leave for them also a note, in writing, of the teaching that had been delivered to them through the word, and they did not cease before prevailing with the man, and becoming the causes of this writing of the gospel called according to Mark. And they say that the apostle, when he came to know what had been done, it having been revealed to him by the spirit, was pleased with the desire of men, and the writing was authorized for the petition of the churches. Clement in the eighth of the Outlines sets forth the record, and the Heirapolitan bishop, Papias by name, also testifies with him, and they say that Peter remembers Mark in in the first epistle, which he also ordered together in Rome itself, signaling this very thing, calling the city Babylon most figuratively through these words: She who is in Babylon, elect with you, greets you, as well as Mark my son. (Ben C. Smith)

But such a light of piety shone on the minds of those who heard Peter that they were not nearly satisfied with a single hearing or with an unwritten account of the divine proclamation.  And so with all kinds of entreaties they begged Mark (whose Gospel is now in circulation), a follower of Peter, that he might leave behind a written record of the teaching that had been given to them orally.  And they did not rest until they prevailed upon him.  To this extent they were the impetus for the writing called the Gospel According to Mark.  And they say that when the Apostle came to know what had happened, after the Spirit revealed it to him, he delighted in their eagerness and authorized the writing to be read in the churches.  Clement passes along this story in the sixth book of the Outlines, and the one who is called Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, corroborates his account, pointing out in addition that Peter makes mention of Mark in his first epistle, which also they maintain was composed in Rome itself… (Bart Ehrman, LOEB, pg. 97)

Marcus, Petri sectator, praedicante Petro evangelium palam Romae coram quibusdam Caesareanis equitibus et multa Christi testimonia proferente, petitus ab eis, ut possent quae dicebantur memoriae commendare, scripsit ex his quae a Petro dicta sunt evangelium quod secundum Marcum vocitatur (Adumbrationes in epistolas canonicas in 1 Peter 5:13)

Mark, the follower of Peter, while Peter was publically preaching the Gospel at Rome in the presence of some of Caesar’s knights and uttering many testimonies of Christ, on their asking him to let them have a written record of the things which had been said, wrote the Gospel which is called the Gospel of Mark, form the things said by Peter… (Bernard Orchard in The Order of the Synoptics, pg 131)

Justin Martyr’s Memoirs of the Apostles

January 21, 2013

Justin Martyr often calls the Gospels “memoirs of the apostles” (apomnēmoneumata tōn apostolōn).  In his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 106.3 (Greek/English), Justin refers to the “memoirs of him” (apomnēmoneumasin autou) which can be translated “the memoirs about him” (the him is Jesus as the subject) or “his memoirs” (referring back to the one whose name was changed – Peter).   If one adopts the latter reading, there is debate about the referent of “Peter’s memoirs.”  Tim Henderson engages Bart Ehrman’s view that Justin has the Gospel of Peter in mind and persuasively argues for a reference to Mark here, here, here (cf. Tim Henderson’s The Gospel of Peter and Early Christian Apologetic).  I agree that Justin is likely referring to Mark’s Gospel as Peter’s memoirs and that the Greek should probably be rendered as “his memoirs,” with Papias influencing Justin’s view on Mark’s Petrine authorship.  As for the term “memoirs,” see the interesting posts by Joel Watts and Mike Bird.  Both think the clearest parallel is to Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates, though Bird also mentions Helmut Koester’s view that Justin was echoing Papias’s remarks that Mark “remembered” the preaching of Peter or rival Gnostic claims of the disciples “remembering” the private teachings of Jesus (cf. Ancient Christian Gospels, 37-40).  The question is how known was the Greco-Roman genre of “memoirs” and was the distinction between private notes (hypomnēmata) and published memoirs (apomnēmoneumata) known to the evangelists composing the Gospels or to their earliest commentators (Papias, Justin, Irenaeus, Clement)?

Here are the other references to “memoirs of the Apostles” (apomnēmoneumata tōn apostolōn) or “memoirs” (apomnēmoneumata) from an online translation of 1 Apology and Dialogue with Trypho the Jew.  It seems that Justin had access to plural memoirs, recounts the liturgical reading of the Gospels in Christian worship suggesting they had a scriptural status, and definitely included Matthew and Luke and possibly John (pre-existence and begotten of the Father in 105.1; cf. 100.1; John 3:4 in 1 Apol. 61.4-5; Logos Christology; etc.) among the memoirs.  If I am right on Dial. 106.3, Mark was classified as a specific apostle’s memoirs.  However, Justin harmonizes the Gospels in a way that may have influenced his pupil Tatian who went on to write a major Gospel harmony, the Diatessaron, and may have access to other sources (e.g., what might he mean by the Acts of Pilate in 1 Apol. 35.9; 38.7; 48.3?), so there is uncertainty about whether Justin would have yet reached Irenaeus’s conclusion about why there should be no more or less than four Gospels.

  • And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. (1Apol. 66.1-3)
  • And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. (67.3)
  • And Christ changed the name of one of His disciples from Simon to Peter, when he, enlightened by the Father, recognized Him to be Christ, the Son of God.  And since we find it written in the Memoirs of the Apostles that He is the Son of God, and since we call Him by that same title, we have understood that this is really He and that He proceeded before all creatures from the Father by His power and will (for in the prophetic writings He is called Wisdom, the Day, the East, Sword, Stone, Rod, Jacob, and Israel, always in a different way); and that He is born of the Virgin, in order that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same manner in which it had originated. (Dial. 100.4)
  • And by the words which follow, ‘All they who saw me have laughed me to scorn; they have spoken with their lips, and wagged the head: He hoped in the Lord, let Him deliver him, seeing He desires Him’.  He again predicted what would happen to Himself. For they that beheld Him on the cross wagged their heads, curled their lips in scorn, turned up their noses, and sarcastically uttered the words which are recorded in the Memoirs of the Apostles:  ‘He called Himself the Son of God, let Him come down from the cross and walk! Let God save Him!’  (101.3)
  • And the expression, ‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue hath cleaved to my jaws,’ was also a prediction of what He would do in conformity with His Father’s will. For the power of His mighty word with which He always refuted the Pharisees and Scribes, and indeed all the teachers of your race who disputed with Him, was stopped like a full and mighty fountain whose waters have been suddenly shut off, when He remained silent and would no longer answer His accusers before Pilate, as was recorded in the writings [memoirs] of the Apostles, in order that those words of Isaiah might bear fruit in action: ‘The Lord gives me a tongue, so that I may know when I ought to speak’. (102.5)
  • It is narrated in the Memoirs of the Apostles that as soon as Jesus came out of the River Jordan and a voice said to Him: ‘You are My Son, this day I have begotten You,’ this devil came and tempted Him, even so far as to exclaim:  ‘Worship me’; but Christ replied: ‘Get behind Me, Satan; you will worship the Lord your God, and Him only will you serve’.  For, since the devil had deceived Adam, he fancied that he could in some way harm Him also. (103.6)
  • For in the Memoirs of the Apostles and their successors, it is written that His perspiration poured out like drops of blood as He prayed and said:’If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me’. His heart and bones were evidently quaking, and His heart was like wax melting in His belly, so that we may understand that the Father wished His Son to endure in reality these severe sufferings for us, and may not declare that, since He was the Son of God, He did not feel what was done and inflicted upon Him. (103.8)
  • The next words of the Psalm are: ‘You have brought me down into the dust of death. For many dogs have encompassed me; the council of the malignant has besieged me. They have pierced my hands and feet. They have numbered all my bones. And they have looked and stared upon me. They parted my garments among them; and upon my clothing they cast lots’.  This passage, I have already shown, was a prophecy of the kind of death to which He would be condemned by the assembly of the wicked, whom He calls both dogs and hunters, affirming that they who hunted Him united to use every possible means to condemn Him. This event, too, is recorded in the Memoirs of the Apostles. (104.1)
  • Now, here are the next words of the Psalm: ‘But You, O Lord, remove not Your help to a distance from me; look towards my defense. Deliver my soul from the sword, and my only-begotten from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns’. These words, too, point out what He would be and what would happen to Him. I have proved that He is the Only-begotten of the Father of the universe, having been properly begotten from Him as His Word and Power, and afterwards becoming man by a virgin, as we have learned from the Memoirs of the Apostles. (105.1)
  • Thus, God through His Son also teaches us (for whom these things seem to have happened) always to do our utmost to become righteous and at our death to pray that we may not fall into any such power.  For, the Memoirs of the Apostles said that, as He was giving up His spirit on the cross, He said: ‘Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit’.  (105.5)
  • Further, He urged His disciples to excel the Pharisees’ way of living, warning them that otherwise they should know that they would not be saved; His words on this occasion are thus recorded in the Memoirs of the Apostles: ‘Unless your justice exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven’ (105.6)
  • The rest of the Psalm shows that He knew that His Father would grant all His requests, and would raise Him from the dead. It also shows that He encouraged all who fear God to praise Him, because through the mystery of the Crucified One He had mercy on the faithful of every race; and that He stood in the midst of His brethren, the Apostles (who, after He arose from the dead and convinced them that He had warned them before the Passion that He had to suffer, and that this was foretold by the Prophets, were most sorry that they had abandoned Him at the crucifixion).  The Psalm finally shows that He sang hymns to God while He was with them, which actually happened, according to the Memoirs of the Apostles. (106.1)
  • And Moses predicted that He would arise like a star from the seed of Abraham, when he said: ‘A star will rise out of Jacob, and a leader from Israel’. And another passage reads: ‘Behold the Man; the Orient is His name’.  Therefore, when a star arose in the heavens at the time of His Nativity, as the Apostolic Memoirs attest, the Magi from Arabia knew the fact from this sign, and came to worship Him. (106.4)
  • And these Memoirs also testify to the fact of His resurrection from the dead on the third day after the crucifixion, for it is therein recorded that in answer to the contentious Jews who said to Him, ‘Show us a sign,’ He replied, ‘An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, and no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonas’.  Though these words were mysterious, His listeners could understand that He would arise from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion (107.1)

See also Justin’s occasional use of the term “gospel”

  • 1 Apology 66.3 (above)
  •  [Trypho says] But the precepts in what you call your Gospel are so marvelous and great that I don’t think that anyone could possibly keep them. For I took the trouble to read them. (Dial. 10.1)
  • And the words, ‘But You dwell in the holy place, You praise of Israel’, signified that He would do something worthy of praise and admiration, which He did when through the Father He arose again from the dead on the third day after the crucifixion. I have indeed pointed out earlier that Christ is called both Jacob and Israel, and that not only in the blessing of Joseph and Judah have things been predicted mysteriously of Him, but also in the Gospel it is written that He said: ‘All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son; nor does anyone know the Son except the Father, and those to whom the Son will reveal Him’. (Dial. 100.1)

Here is a short bibliography:

  • Abramowski, Luise.  “The memoirs of the apostles in Justin.”  Pages 323-35 in The Gospels and the Gospel.  Edited by Peter Stuhlmacher; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991 (“Die ‘Erinnerungen der Apostel’ bei Justin” in Das Evangelium und die Evangelien.  Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1983).
  • Bauckham, Richard.  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses:  The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.
  • Foster, Paul.  “The Relationship between the Writings of Justin Martyr and the So-Called Gospel of Peter.”  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007.
  • Heard, Richard.  “APOMNĒMONEUMATA in Papias, Justin and Irenaeus.” New Testament Studies 1 (1954): 122-29.
  • Hyldahl, Niels.  “Hegesipps Hypomnemata.” Studia Theologica 14 (1960): 70-113.
  • Kennedy, George.  “Classical and Source Criticism.”  Pages 125-55 in The Relationship among the Gospels: an Interdisciplinary Dialogue .  Edited by William Walker.  Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1978.
  • Köster, Helmut.  Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development.  London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity International, 1990.
  • Pilhofer, Peter.  “Justin und das Petrusevangelium.”  ZNW 81 (1990): 60-78
  • Stanton, Graham.  Jesus and Gospel.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Irenaeus on the Number Four

January 5, 2013

Many people find Irenaeus’s justification for a fourfold Gospel canon to be a real stretch, to put it mildly.  Indeed, Irenaeus scoffs at the Valentinians when they resort to numerology such as seeing the 30 aeons as represented by Christ’s age of 30 (1.3.1; Irenaeus counters in 2.22.6 that Christ was actually 49 years old with John 8:47 “you are not yet 50 years old” as a prooftext!).  However, if we enter sympathetically into Irenaeus’s argument, many of his analogies (world zones, winds, pillars) undergird the universality of the Church.  So the acceptance of four Gospels is defended as the practice of the “catholic” Church, as opposed to groups Irenaeus perceives as schismatic “heretics” who privilege one Gospel (3.11.7 Ebionites with Matthew, Gnostic separationists with Mark, Marcionites with Luke, Valentinians with John). Irenaeus calls attention to the beginnings of each of the four Gospels as summing of the character of that particular narrative, in accordance with the Scriptures and symbolized by one of the four living creatures (cf. Ezekiel, Revelation).

It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are.  For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the Church is scattered throughout all the world, and the pillar and ground of the Church is the Gospel and the spirit of life; it is fitting that she should have four pillars, breathing out immortality on every side, and vivifying men afresh.  From which fact, it is evident that the Word, the Artificer of all, He that sits upon the cherubim, and contains all things, He who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. As also David says, when entreating His manifestation, You that sits between the cherubim, shine forth.  For the cherubim, too, were four-faced, and their faces were images of the dispensation of the Son of God.  For, [as the Scripture] says, The first living creature was like a lion,symbolizing His effectual working, His leadership, and royal power; the second [living creature] was like a calf, signifying [His] sacrificial and sacerdotal order; but the third had, as it were, the face as of a man,— an evident description of His advent as a human being; the fourth was like a flying eagle, pointing out the gift of the Spirit hovering with His wings over the Church.  And therefore the Gospels are in accord with these things, among which ChristJesus is seated.  For that according to John relates His original, effectual, and glorious generation from the Father, thus declaring, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Also, all things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made. For this reason, too, is that Gospel full of all confidence, for such is His person. But that according to Luke, taking up [His] priestly character, commenced with Zacharias the priest offering sacrifice to God. For now was made ready the fatted calf, about to be immolated for the finding again of the younger son. Matthew, again, relates His generation as a man, saying, The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham; and also, The birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise. This, then, is the Gospel of His humanity; for which reason it is, too, that [the character of] a humble and meek man is kept up through the whole Gospel. Mark, on the other hand, commences with [a reference to] the propheticalspirit coming down from on high to men, saying, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Esaias the prophet,— pointing to the winged aspect of the Gospel; and on this account he made a compendious and cursory narrative, for such is the propheticalcharacter. And the Word of God Himself used to converse with the ante-Mosaic patriarchs, in accordance with His divinity and glory; but for those under the law he instituted a sacerdotal and liturgical service. Afterwards, being made man for us, He sent the gift of the celestial Spirit over all the earth, protecting us with His wings. Such, then, as was the course followed by the Son of God, so was also the form of the living creatures; and such as was the form of the living creatures, so was also the character of the Gospel.   For the living creatures are quadriform, and the Gospel is quadriform, as is also the course followed by the Lord. For this reason were four principal (καθολικαί) covenants given to the human race: one, prior to the deluge, under Adam; the second, that after the deluge, under Noah; the third, the giving of the law, under Moses; the fourth, that which renovates man, and sums up all things in itself by means of the Gospel, raising and bearing men upon its wings into the heavenlykingdom.(Adversus Haeresis 3.11.7, translated by Alexander Roberts, William Rambaut; for Ireneaus text preserved in Latin and later Greek excerpts see Ben C. Smith)

One of Ireneaus’s analogies to the fourfold Gospel is the four cherubim.  Irenaeus seems to be harmonizing descriptions from Revelation 4:6-9 and Ezekiel 1:5-26 (on the question of whether Irenaeus is using a source here see T.C. Skeat, “Irenaeus and the four-gospel canon,” NTS 34 [1992] and response from Annette Yoshiko Reed, “EUAGGELION:  Orality, Textuality and Christian Truth in Irenaeus’ Adversus Haeresis VC 56 [2002]).   So the Lion represents John’s high and confident Christology of the powerful Word, the human Matthew’s opening geneology of Jesus as son of David and Abraham, the calf Luke’s priestly character from its introduction of the priest Zechariah as the father of John the Baptist, and the Eagle Mark’s prophetic character with its first reference to Isaiah the prophet followed by the descent of the spirit in the baptism.  Together, each image is essential to a fully orbed understanding of Christ’s identity.  Other patristic writers were fond of this analogy, though they depart from Irenaus about which symbolizes which Gospel.  I found this useful chart below in the classic commentary by Henry Barclay Swete, The Gospel According to St. Mark: The Greek Text with Introductory Notes and Indices (2nd Edition; London: Macmillan and Co, 1908), xxxviii.  The chart features Irenaues, Victorinus of Pettau notes on the Apocalypse, Augustine (De cons. ev. 1.9), and the Pseudo-Athanasian Synopsis

Irenaeus Victorinus Augustine Ps.-Athanasius