Read Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark by Morton Smith Online


The extracanonical Secret Gospel of Mark is the subject of the Mar Saba letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria which Smith found transcribed in endpapers of a 17th century edition of Ignatius of Antioch. Authenticity of the letter & the Secret Gospel are disputed. The Mar Saba letter describes the Secret Gospel of Mark as a 2nd "more spiritual" version of Mark compThe extracanonical Secret Gospel of Mark is the subject of the Mar Saba letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria which Smith found transcribed in endpapers of a 17th century edition of Ignatius of Antioch. Authenticity of the letter & the Secret Gospel are disputed. The Mar Saba letter describes the Secret Gospel of Mark as a 2nd "more spiritual" version of Mark composed by the evangelist. Its purposes were to encourage gnosis among advanced Xians & to be used in Alexandrian liturgies. The letter has two excerpts from the Secret Gospel. Clement claims the 1st is belongs in Mk 10:34f: "& they come into Bethany & a certain woman whose brother had died was there. &, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus & says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. & Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was & straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. & going near Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. & straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand & raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him & began to beseech him that he might be with him. & going out of the tomb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. & after 6 days Jesus told him what to do & in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. & he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of god. & thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan." The 2nd excerpt is to be inserted in Mk 10:46: "& the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved & his mother & Salome were there, & Jesus did not receive them." Clement claims the passages authentic, but he rejects "naked man with naked man" as a Carpocratian addition. As Clement begins explaining the passages, having said, "But the many other things about which you wrote both seem to be & are falsifications", the letter breaks off. These two excerpts comprise the entire Secret Gospel material. No separate text of the secret gospel is known tho its existence is attested by patristic sources. The two excerpts suggest resolutions to some puzzling passages in the canonical Mark: 1) The young man in the linen cloth: In Mk 14:51-52, a young man in a linen cloth is seized during Jesus' arrest, escaping at the cost of his clothing. This passage has little to do with the rest of the narrative. It's given various interpretations. Some suggest he's Mark himself. Some believe the boy was a stranger who lived near the garden &, after being awakened, ran out, half-dressed, to see what the noise was about (46ff). W.L. Lane thinks that Mark mentioned this episode in order to make it clear that "all (not only the disciples) fled, leaving Jesus alone in the custody of the police." These explanations aren't very satisfactory. The same Greek word neaniskos/young man is used both in Secret Mark & in Mk 14:51. If we accept Helmut Koester's theory that canonical Mark is a revision of Secret Mark, another explanation is possible, namely, that the ancient editor who deleted an earlier encounter of Jesus with such a young man in a cloth, then added this incident also involving a young man during Jesus' arrest. There's one more occurrence of neaniskos in Mark, this time as a youth dressed in white at Jesus' tomb (16:5). For this particular passage, there are parallel passages in both Matthew & Luke, but they don't use neaniskos. (In Mt 28:2, it is "an angel of the Lord" dressed in white that appears. In Lk 24:4, there are two andres/men. Thus, it's possible that all three of these occurrences of neaniskos in Mark & in Secret Mark are related somehow. Perhaps one editor was at work on all three. The proponents of Secret Mark as a forgery, however, suggest that Secret Mark was created based on Mk 14:51 & 16:5. 2) The lacuna in the trip to Jericho: The 2nd excerpt fills in a lacuna in Mk 10:46: "They came to Jericho. As he & his disciples & a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside." The lack of any action in Jericho is interpreted by some as meaning that text has been lost & the 2nd excerpt gives a brief encounter at this point. Helmut Koester & Ron Cameron argue that Secret Mark preceded Mark & that Mark is an abbreviation of Secret Mark. This would explain the narrative discontinuity above. John Dominic Crossan has also been supportive of these views of Koester: "I consider that canonical Mark is a very deliberate revision of Secret Mark." As the Secret Gospel is known from the Mar Saba letter, itself only known from Smith's copy, three important questions arise: 1) whether or not Mar Saba MS really contains a genuine letter of Clement. 2) whether Clement's quotations from Secret Mark are accurate. 3) whether these quotations reflect a genuine Marcan tradition. In 1982 Smith summarized the situation as follows: 1)Attribution to Clement was accepted. 2) Clement's attribution of the excerpts to Mark was rejected. 3) The source of the excerpts was variously ascribed to a separate apocryphal gospel, a pastiche of canonical material or an expansion of the canonical text using early material of unknown provenance. The Mar Saba letter's authenticity has been questioned. The MS & the book where it was found have disappeared. All that remains are Smith's 1958 photos & a librarian's ca 1976/7. Some discounted Smith's claims because it was believed the letter had been seen by no scholar other than him. Yet Guy G. Stroumsa & three other scholars relocated the document in 1976. The book was subsequently taken from Mar Saba to the library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem in 1977, where the MS was cut out of the book (on the back pages of which it was inscribed) as part of the library's scheme to house such material separately. Librarian Kallistos Dourvas photographed it. The MS is again misplaced. The 2nd photo series was published in 2000. The letter is only documented in the two photo sets as of 2009. Ink & fiber were not examined. When S. Carlson examined Smith's photos, he observed a "forger's tremor." Scholars Philip Jenkins, Robert M. Price & Scott G. Brown noticed parallels between Secret Mark & James Hunter's 1940 novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba. Recently a number of academics & theologians have dismissed allegations that Smith forged the letter. Several have concluded the Secret Gospel is a legitimate protoChristian or Christian text. According to N.T. Wright most scholars who accept the text as genuine see in the Secret Gospel a later gnostic adaptation. F.F. Bruce sees the story of the young man of Bethany clumsily based on the raising of Lazarus in the Gospel of John & evidently no independent parallel or even source to this story. Until recently, the opinion has been common that the raising of the young man has primarily a baptismal significance as an initiation. This was Smith's original proposal. Along these lines, the statement "Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of god" was read as a reference to baptismal rites. There's been debate about this matter. Scott G. Brown, while defending Secret Mark's authenticity, disagrees with Smith. He thinks the scene is not a reference to baptism. He says, "[T]here is no mention of water or depiction of a baptism" & he adds that "...the young man’s linen sheet has baptismal connotations, but the text discourages every attempt to perceive Jesus literally baptizing him". S. Carlson agrees with Brown. The idea that Jesus practiced baptism isn't in the synoptics. It's introduced in the 4th gospel. According to Brown, for Clement, "the mystery of the kingdom of god" meant primarily "advanced theological instruction". These matters have a bearing on the debates about authenticity, because Brown implies that Smith, himself, did not quite understand his own discovery. Still, it may be pointed out that the placement of this incident within the chronology of Mark, i.e. just before the Passover celebrations, implies some baptismal significance. Christian baptisms are typically performed the week before Passover. Scholar John Dart has proposed a theory of Marcan chiasmus--a textual literary device. "He recovers a formal structure to original Mark containing five major chiastic spans framed by a prologue & a conclusion." His analysis supports Secret Mark's authenticity. Correspondence between Smith & his teacher & lifelong friend Gershom Scholem was published in 2008. They discuss Mar Saba MS over many years. The book's editor, Guy Stroumsa, argues that Smith couldn't have forged the MS, because these letters "show him discussing the material with Scholem, over time, in ways that clearly reflect a process of discovery & reflection." One writer has theorized that the Secret Gospel represents an attempt to insert a secret initiation narrative into the canonical gospel thru intercalation, where one narrative is inserted inside another, implying simultaneity. It's also called a hybrid story & is used often in Mark. For example, in Mk 10:35 James & John ask Christ for positions of higher honor once Jesus is an earthly ruler. Jesus responds, "You don't know what you're asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" This may represent Jesus' crucifixion. If the boy whom Jesus raised from the dead in the Secret Gospel was taken privately to learn the secret available only to those who had died & were reborn thru knowing Jesus, it would be, by speculation, the true price one has to pay to enter the kingdom. However, Jesus' statement in vs 45 that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" makes such a reading problematic. Smith didn't see this encounter as sexual but as evidence that Jesus gave secret initiations into the kingdom of heaven within, this being what transpired in the garden with the youth. He notes this would have been sorcery, punishable by death in Roman law. He speculated this might have been the real reason for Christ's death sentence--the reasons normally given being erroneous because they don't fit with prevailing Roman law....

Title : Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark
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ISBN : 9780674134904
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 462 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark Reviews

  • Erik Graff
    2019-06-12 05:10

    I originally purchased and read the popular version of this book, it having been recommended by my Church History teacher, Cyril Richardson, a colleague of its author. Intrigued, I went on to check out this, the longer, scholarly edition of the study from the Union Theological Seminary library.