Morton Smith and His “Secret Gospel of Mark” – TaborBlog


There has been a lot of discussion more than the previous 45 years with regards to the late Columbia University historian Morton Smith and his discovery, publication, and interpretation of a so-known as “Secret Gospel of Mark” in 1973. According to Smith, fifteen years earlier he had come across, really by accident, a copy of a letter of Clement of Alexandria at the Greek Orthodox monastary of Mar Saba, southeast of Jerusalem, in which Clement quoted portions of a version of the Gospel of Mark that contained additions to our canonical Mark that he, Clement, thought of genuine. Therefore the term “Secret Mark.” According to Clement these unique additions have been not to be shared with all, but only with these initiated into the mysteries of the Christian faith. The clear implication was that there have been two versions of the Gospel of Mark circulating in Clement’s time (early 3rd century AD), one particular for public distribution–presumably the version we all have now in our Bibles, and the other only to be shared with these who could have an understanding of and accept some of the deeper teachings of the “mysteries” of Christianity. Regrettably, for us at least, Clement only quoted two brief portions of “Secret Mark,” so that is all that is obtainable to us now. Smith not only thought of these supplies early and authentically from Mark’s original gospel, but he saw them as offering a glimpse into an underground type of Christianity, shared only with initiates, that had substantially to say about the true Jesus and his earliest followers. The implications of this strategy to the historical Jesus and early Christianity Smith lays out in detail in his subsequent classic, Jesus the Magician (HarperCollins 1978).

Columbia University 1989

I properly bear in mind the storm of controversy Morton Smith stirred in the Fall of 1973 with the publication of each his scholarly tome from Harvard University Press titled Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, as properly as his well known summary thereof, The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark (Harper, 1973 republished in 2005 by Dawn Horse Press with a beautiful introduction by Elaine Pagels). Both volumes stay beneficial to this day, but Smith’s enormous 454 web page Harvard study is indispensable to students of ancient magic and religion in the Hellenistic Mediterranean planet. It is about substantially a lot more than the letter of Clement, despite the fact that a thorough linguistic and historical evaluation of his discovery is at the core of the book.

I was at the University of Chicago at the time, just starting my Ph.D. perform at the young age of 27. I will under no circumstances neglect how the late Norman Perrin did an oral assessment of the Harvard volume for the weekly faculty/student forum in the Divinity College and castigated Smith in the harshest terms imaginable for his sloppy sensationalism, even hinting, way back then, that perhaps Smith had “forged” the document himself. It was clear that Smith had stirred up substantially a lot more than the proverbial bee in a bonnet. I straight away ordered copies of each books, straining my fledgling student book price range. These two volumes are treasured to this day.

The authenticity of Smith’s text of Clement was typically accepted by scholars and has created its way into various vital performs and sources, see, for instance, the hyperlinks at the Early Christian Writings net web site under “Secret Mark.” The controversy amongst professionals was typically more than Smith’s interpretation thereof, rather than seriously questioning the authenticity of the text itself. Much more not too long ago, having said that, with the publication of lawyer Stephen Carlson’s The Gospel Hoax (Baylor University Press, 2005), and Peter Jeffrey’s The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled (Yale University Press, 2006), any quantity of scholars have joined the “forgery” bandwagon, so that the concern of no matter if Morton Smith may well have forged the document itself is clearly out on the table.

Scott G. Brown wrote the very first doctoral dissertation on the Secret Gospel of Mark in 1999 whilst studying religion at the University of Toronto. He has published various articles on the topic, as properly as a book, Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton’s Smith Controversial Discovery (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005). His definitive summing up write-up,  “On the Composition History of the Longer (‘Secret’) Gospel of Mark,” Journal of Biblical Literature 122 (2003), pp. 89–110, is a fantastic overview of the difficulties of forgery and authenticity.

The Biblical Archaeology Critique (November/December 2009) has a 4 portion unique function that summarizes the case for and against forgery, which includes optimistic assessments by Hedrick and Koester that I discover wholly convincing, plus an persuasive “lawyerly” editorial by Hershel Shanks, “Secret Mark”: Restoring a Dead Scholar’s Reputation.”

There is also Roger Viklund’s impressive paper, “Tremors, or Just an Optical Illusion? A Additional Evaluation of Carlson’s Handwriting Analysis” you can study on-line right here. There is also shorter summary weblog post by Viklund offered by Timo S. Paananen here with some comments and responses worth reading as well–particularly Stephan Huller’s humor!

Anthony Grafton, “Gospel Secrets: The Biblical Controversies of Morton Smith,” published in The Nation (January 7, 2009) argues against the forgery thesis but on new proof taken from Smith’s not too long ago published correspondence with his life-extended buddy, the wonderful Jewish scholar Gershom Scholem. These letters make it clear beyond any affordable doubt that Smith could not have forged either Clement’s letter or the passages of “Secret Mark” contained therein. The manner in which Smith’s personal views and understanding of his discovery create and modify more than time are clearly demonstrated in these letters, as he debates with himself the significance of the text he has discovered and shares his insights and his queries with Scholem. Certainly, Grafton argues that Smith’s interpretation of the Markan passages, and his subsequent conclusions with regards to Jesus as a libertarian “magician,” have been largely influenced by his partnership with Scholem. I commend Anthony Grafton for publishing such a clear and valuable write-up that in my estimation goes a extended way in setting the record straight.

As of now the manuscript found by Smith, brought to Jerusalem to the Greek Patriarchate Library for photographing, and noticed by numerous scholars, including Guy Stroumsa and the late Hebrew University professors David Flusser and Shlomo Pines, has disappeared. I assume it is probably that unknown individuals at the Patriarchate Library may perhaps be withholding the pages, or even destroyed them, given that Morton Smith’s homoerotic interpretation of the text was so controversial and threatening.

Discussions of the doable relevance of the texts Smith known as “Secret Mark” to our understanding of Jesus and the character of his movement will continue but I for one particular assume we will be far ahead to drop the unfounded speculations that Morton Smith forged the texts themselves.


A Final Individual Reflection:

I knew Morton Smith reasonably properly for close to twenty years, from my student days at Chicago till his death in 1991. Primarily based upon our correspondence and numerous hours of face-to-face discussions more than the years I have usually been utterly convinced that the charge Smith forged this text was absurd, fully without having basis, and blatantly disrespectful of the scholar I knew him to be. I continue to preserve that no one particular who genuinely knew Morton Smith and worked with him more than the years would assume him capable of such behavior.

Morton Smith’s devotion to my dissertation project was exceptional thinking about he was at Columbia and had practically nothing officially to do with Chicago or my committee (I wrote below Jonathan Z. Smith with Robert M. Grant and Bernard McGuinn as readers.  Smith loved suggestions and recognized in my fledgling attempts to enter the field of “Jewish magic,” a starting scholar who wanted to generate anything of high quality. He spent hours heavily annotating my dissertation chapters and wrote me these great handwritten notes with citations and recommendations that I treasure to this day.  I will under no circumstances neglect when a photo-copy of the manuscript of Sefer HaRazim arrived in the mail, prior to it getting obtainable in print, compliments of Prof. Smith. He would not even let me spend him for the copy charges or postage. More than the subsequent twenty years we frequently spent time collectively at the annual meetings and on other occasions and he came to take a look at us when I was teaching at the College of William and Mary in 1986.  He was a standard participant and contributor to the SBL seminar I co-directed more than the years dealing with Greco-Roman concept of the “Divine and the Human.” I can honestly say that I honored, respected, and loved Morton Smith, as a scholar, a colleague, and a buddy.


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