My Review of Tony Burke’s “Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery”

June 8, 2015

My review of Tony Burke’s Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate: Proceedings from the 2011 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium has been published for The Expository Times 126 (2015): 452-453. The journal publishes shorter reviews around 400 words and I tried to be fairly neutral in representing the different positions in the volume in the limited space. I did note that the defenses of Brown, Hendrick and Pantuck may be enough to instill reasonable doubt in the jury that the Letter to Theodore is a modern forgery, an opinion I share with James McGrath’s RBL review. If you are interested further in my views on this controversial issue, check out the section on Clement of Alexandria in chapter 5 and the appendix of The Gospel on the Margins: the Reception of Mark in the Second Century.

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.