PARTS:   I   -   II   -   III   -   IV

Final Discussion And References

And Finally - the Conclusion of the Discussion of the Discovery of a Lost Letter by Clement of Alexandria (Egypt) Scandalized Biblical Scholarship - A Lost Gospel of Mark:

Where Are We Now? (Scholarly Interest from 1982 to the present)
For scholars the problem remains unsettled. While even the most acid of reviews often ended with a statement to wit that a real conclusion would require an in-depth treatment of Smith's books, none came. In 1982 Smith commented wryly on the rhetoric of the reviews which made work on the Secret Mark problem almost impossible in the 1970s:

For example, Achtemeier's review, of which the predendedly factual statements are often grossly inaccurate. Though worthless as criticism, it cannot confidently be described as "useless." It probably pleased Fitzmyer, who was then editor of The Journal of Biblical Literature, and thus may have helped Achtemeier get the secretaryship of the Society of Biblical Literature. That both names rhyme with "liar" is a curious coincidence.


Some important Catholic scholars, including Achtemeier, Fitzmyer, Quesnell, Skehan and Brown, have tended to ignore Secret Mark or dismiss it as worthless. C.S. Mann's Anchor Bible commentary on Mark, published in 1986, represents the whole controversy as finished, a matter of "mere curiosity."


With the blessing of the Imprimatur behind him, John P. Meier advised in 1991 that Secret Mark, the Gospels of Thomas and Peter, the Egerton Gospel and all other non-canonical Jesus material were worthless and might simply be thrown "back into the sea."


At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of scholars producing Secret Mark studies since 1982. That "Morton Smith seems quite alone in his view that the fragment is a piece of genuine Gospel material," as claimed in 1983 by Beskow is manifestly false.


Smith's work in the early 70s was greeted with more-or-less positive reviews by a small number of important scholars including Helmut Koester, Cyril Richardson, George MacRae, and Hugh Trevor-Roper. Some scholars did not write reviews but openly expressed the notion that Smith's work was meritorious. When asked by the New York Times about Smith's interpretation of Jesus as a magician, Krister Stendhal tactfully replied, "I have much sympathy for that way of placing Jesus in the social setting of his time."


While that sympathy does not remain particularly widespread, accepting Smith's magical Jesus has nothing to do with taking Secret Mark seriously. The two issues may be discussed separately: the argument for magical practices in early Christianity may certainly be made without reference to Secret Mark, and Secret Mark may be discussed as a text with no more magical implications than we find in canonical Mark.

In Thomas Talley's 1982 article on ancient liturgy, he describes his own attempt to physically examine the Secret Mark manuscript. As his is the last word on the physical artifact in question, it is fortuitous to quote him at length:

Given the late date of the manuscript itself and the fact that Prof. Smith published photographs of it, it seemed rather beside the point that some scholars wished to dispute the very existence of a manuscript which no one but the editor had seen. My own attempts to see the manuscript in January of 19080 were frustrated, but as witnesses to its existence I can cite the Archimandrite Meliton of the Jerusalem Greek Patriarchate who, after the publication of Smith's work, found the volume at Mar Saba and removed it to the patriarchal library, and the patriarchal librarian, Father Kallistos, who told me that the manuscript (two folios) has been removed from the printed volume and is being repaired.


Although one wishes this document were available for the examination of Western scholars, it is no longer reasonable to doubt the existence of the manuscript itself. That it represents an authentic tradition from Clement of Alexandria is disputed only by a handful of scholars and, as Talley also points out, the letter has itself been included in the standard edition of the Alexandrian father's writings since 1980.


Taking on the pressing question of Secret Mark's textual relationship with the version of Mark in our New Testament, Helmut Koester has published two intriguing studies arguing that the development of Mark was an evolutionary process. First came the version of Mark known by Matthew and Luke, the proto-Mark or Urmarkus long known to scholars of the synoptic problem. After this original version of Mark was published, the expanded version used by the Alexandrian church in Christian mysteries was made (and from that, its gnosticized Carpocration version). Soon afterward or simultaneously, a mostly expurgated version of Secret Mark was published widely and became canonical Mark.


The original Urmarkus, lacking anything not found in Matthew or Luke, went the way of the sayings source and was not preserved.

Koester's view has made some inroads. Hans-Martin Schenke adopts it with the modification that Carpocratian Mark predates the Secret Mark of the Alexandrian Church.


John Dominic Crossan developed a theory like Koester's in his 1985 Four Other Gospels. Secret Mark has been included in the texts being translated as part of the Scholars Version project, and is described as an early gospel fragment in material that the Jesus Seminar has been making available to popular audiences. None of these treatments is significantly affected by one's assessment of the magical Jesus suggested by Smith.

Still, Jesus as magician is not a dead issue. John Dominic Crossan's very intriguing book on The Historical Jesus has an extended discussion of the topic. He argues that Jesus may indeed be understood as a magician. He rejects an artificial dichotomy between magic and religion, saying, "The prescriptive distinction that states that we practice religion but they practice magic should be seen for what it is, a political validation of the approved and the official against the unapproved and unofficial."


Conclusion: Where No Secret Gospel Has Gone Before Secret Mark's plight constitutes a warning to all scholars as to the dangers of allowing sentiments of faith to cloud or prevent critical examination of evidence. When seen in light of the massive literature which has been produced by the other major manuscript finds of our century, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi codices, the comparative dearth of good studies on this piece in particular cannot be explained in any other way that a stubborn refusal to deal with information which might challenge deeply-held personal convictions. It is good to keep in mind an unofficial directive of the Jesus Seminar: "Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you."


"It is my opinion," writes Hans Dieter Betz, "that Smith's book and the texts he discovered should be carefully and seriously studied. Criticizing Smith is not enough."


Certainly it is reasonable to concur. After twenty years of confusion, it must be time to set aside emotionalism and approach both this fragment and Morton Smith's assessment of the role of magic in early Christianity with objective and critical eyes. However that question is ultimately to be resolved, Secret Mark provides yet another fascinating window into the remarkable ritual diversity we may identify in the first phases of the development of Christianity.


1 Parker, "An Early Christian Cover-up?", 5.
2 Smith, "Monasteries and their Manuscripts."
3 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 12.
4 Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel according to Mark, 1.
5 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 13-14.
6 ibid., 24.
7 ibid., 25.
8 Knox, "A New Gospel Ascribed to Mark."
9 Smith, "Monasteries and their Manuscripts."
10 Smith, "Hellenika Cheirographa en tei Monei tou Hagiou Sabba."
11 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 76.
12 Smith, Jesus the Magician, 3-4.
13 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 94.
14 ibid., 113n1.
15 ibid., 113-114.
16 Shenker, "A Scholar Infers Jesus Practiced Magic."
17 Skehan, review of Smith's work in Catholic Historical Review, 452.
18 Fitzmyer, "How to Exploit a Secret Gospel," 572.
19 Fitzmyer, "Mark's 'Secret Gospel?'", 65.
20 Achtemeier, review of Smith in Journal of Biblical Literature, 626.
21 ibid.
22 Beardslee, review of Smith in Interpretation, 234.
23 Parker, "An Early Christian Cover-Up?", 5.
24 Conzelmann, "Literaturbericht zu den Synoptischen Evangelien (Fortsetzung).", 321. (Translation from Schenke, "The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark," 70-71.)
25 ibid., 23. (Translation from Schenke, "The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark," 70-71.)
26 Brown, "The Relation of 'The Secret Gospel of Mark' to the Fourth Gospel," 466n1.
27 Danker, review of Smith in Dialog, 316.
28 Merkel, "Auf den Spuren des Urmarkus?", 123. (Translation from Schenke, "The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark," 69.)
29 Musurillo, "Morton Smith's Secret Gospel," 328.
30 Brown, "The Relation of 'The Secret Gospel of Mark' to the Fourth Gospel," 466n1.
31 Including Fitzmeyer, "How to Exploit a Secret Gospel"; Parker, "An Early Christian Cover-Up?"; Skehan, review of Smith in Catholic Historical Review 60(1974); Gibbs, review of Smith in Theology Today 30 (1974); Grant, "Morton Smith's Two Books"; Merkel, "Auf den Spuren des Urmarkus?"; Kummel, "Ein Jahrzehnt Jesusforchung"; and Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus. Anitra Kolenkow's comments on this bias are salient: "We know that the gospel of John long has been known as possibly containing both gnostic and homosexual motifs. John may have been written at approximately the same time as Mark. What difference does it make to us if Jesus is not separated from a homosexual situation?" (Quoted from Kolenkow's response to Reginald Fuller, Longer Mark, 33.)
32 Examples are Achtemeier, review of Smith in the Journal of Biblical Literature 93(1974); MacRae, "Yet Another Jesus"; Gibbs, review of Smith in Theology Today 30(1974); and Fuller, Longer Mark: Forgery, Interpolation, or Old Tradition?
33 See the statements to this effect in Quesnell, "The Mar Saba Clementine," and Hobbs (response in Fuller, Longer Mark: Forgery, Interpolation, or Old Tradition?).
34 Such scholars included Pierson Parker, Edward Hobbs and Per Beskow.
35 See Bruce, The 'Secret' Gospel of Mark; Musurillo, "Morton Smith's Secret Gospel"; and Kummel, "Ein Jahrzehnt Jesusforschung."
36 Fitzmyer, "How to Exploit a Secret Gospel"; Gibbs, review of Smith in Theology Today 30(1974).
37 Danker, review of Smith in Dialog, 316.
38 ibid.
39 ibid.
40 Quesnell, "The Mar Saba Clementine," 49.
41 ibid., 50.
42 ibid., 52.
43 ibid., 53.
44 ibid., 57.
45 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 25.
46 Smith, Clement of Alexandria, ix.
47 Quesnell, "The Mar Saba Clementine," 58.
48 ibid., 61.
49 ibid., 60n30.
50 ibid., 48.
51 Smith, "On the Authenticity of the Mar Saba Letter of Clement," 196.
52 Quesnell, "A Reply to Morton Smith," 201.
53 Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus, 101.
54 Smith, "On the Authenticity of the Mar Saba Letter of Clement," 196.
55 Sider, "Unfounded 'Secret'," 160.
56 Private correspondence with Saniel Bonder.
57 Bonder, The Divine Emergence of the World-Teacher, 234.
58 ibid., 235.
59 Feuerstein, Holy Madness, 90-92.
60 ibid., 94.
61 Bonder, The Divine Emergence of the World-Teacher, 287.
62 ibid., 288.
63 It is necessary to stipulate that nothing in the above discussion of the Free Daist Communion should be read as derogatory. The purpose is simple description. Despite the controversy which has sometimes surrounded this movement, the author does not feel that its practices are in any way fraudulent or abusive. Scholars should consider the possibility that examination of modern new religious movements such as the Da Avabhasa sect might be extraordinarily helpful in our understanding of the community dynamics of early libertine Christians such as the Carpocratians.
64 Baigent et al, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, 290.
65 Prophet, The Lost Years of Jesus, 9. Most interestingly, in her notes Prophet quotes a 1984 telephone interview with scholar Birger A. Pearson, in which he says that "many scholars, maybe even most, would now accept the authenticity of the Clement fragment, including what it said about the Secret Gospel of Mark." (434n16)
66 Smith, The Secret Gospel (1982 Dawn Horse edition), 150n7.
67 Mann, Mark (The Anchor Bible), 423.
68 Meier, A Marginal Jew, 140.
69 Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus, 99. One wonders what a "genuine piece of gospel material" might be. Are gospel additions such as the second ending of Mark (16.9-20) and the famous story of the adulterous woman (John 8.53-9.11) "genuine gospel material," even if we know they were not originally part of the gospels in which they are found?
70 Shenker, "Jesus: New Ideas about his Powers."
71 Talley, "Liturgical Time in the Ancient Church," 45.
72 ibid.
73 See Koester, "History and Development of Mark's Gospel," and Ancient Christian Gospels.
74 Schenke, "The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark," 76.
75 Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 310.
76 Funk et al., The Five Gospels, 5.
77 Fuller, Longer Mark: Forgery, Interpolation, or Old Tradition?, 18.


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Author's note: The author would like to offer thanks to Saniel Bonder of the Mountain of Attention Sanctuary for his kind assistance in providing research materials and his willingness to share with me information pertaining to The Dawn Horse Press and The Secret Gospel. Further thanks are due to Dr. Jon Daniels of The Defiance College for his helpful insights into the subject matter of this study.