Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Secret (and Fake?) Gospel of Mark

Interesting piece by Bruce Chilton in the NYSun.

Chilton reviews a new work out by author by Stephen Carlson entitled, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark"

Morton Smith was a Columbia University Professor and Historical Jesus scholar. Smith is famous for his controversial thesis that Jesus was a gay magician (which I've chided occassionally on this post but it was a serious argument).

Smith's thesis was based on a document he claims to have discovered called the Secret Gospel of Mark. The Secret Gospel of Mark is not the same as the Gospel of Mark familiar to New Testament readers.

In the Secret Gospel Jesus initiates a disciple--a young man who it is said wearing only a linen cloth, spends the night with Jesus, who initiates him into the mysteries of the Kingdom.

Now, there is a lot of background. The document Smith claims to have been the Secret Gospel was allegedly an 18th cenutry version of a letter from Clement of Alexandria (2nd century Church Father) and on what he (Clement) purported to have heard taught in the circle of the Gnostic (non-orthodox) teacher Carpocrates.

So notice what has to fall in place.

1. the 18th century manuscript has to be genuine and not contain any errors in copying Clement's letter from the 2nd century.
2.Clement must have actaully written such a letter.
3.Clement must have correctly understood what Carpocrates was teaching--it is purported to be Clement's version of an opponent's point of view, inherently biased in other words.
4.These Gnostics, if they did teach such a thing, had a historical source for Jesus (i.e. Jesus really did spend the night with the young man).

Now, in the Greek spending the night does not mean having sex. It means sleeping in the same room or whatever. Only moderns as Chilton notes would add that layer of meaning on. So even if this were an actual ancient that somehow--which no one can prove btw--describes what Jesus "actually" did, it doesn't produce an argument for inclusion of homosexuals.

Which starts to make the story smell fishy. And just for the record, the concept of magic is a fluid one in the ancient world. Usually magic was negative. The concept of wonder-worker or enlightened master positive. But either way it is a Gnostic text--if it ever actually existed.

That is the Gnostic Story, unlike the canonical Gospel stories, is not the making into a narrative of what is their theology. Gnostic Gospels are exactly like the Canonical Gospels in this sense, in my book. The entire Historical Jesus pursuit consequently is destroyed on the rocks of the gospels themselves being interpretations from later communities not biographies of Jesus.

Conservative Historical Jesus scholars (NT Wright) take the Canonical ones to be true. Liberal ones (Crossan, Smith) take the Gnostic ones. All of which is backwards and is more a product of their religious-political affiliation then anything to do with the historical Jesus. Who is gone to history btw.

Certain Jesus Seminar Scholars--like John Dominic Crossan--or pro-Gnostic scholars like Helmut Koester and Elaine Pagels supported the text. [10 points to whoever spots the Adi Da reference in this article first--talk about bizarre connections]. Their scholarship flawed but their desire to promote an agenda: namely an anti-institutional one. Crossan argued that the Secret Gospel is earlier than the Gospel of Mark found in the NT. Which fits perfectly a notin that a conservative religious establishment hid the truth of the true radical Jesus turning him into their religious figure so they could control evilly the world. [Calling Dan Brown, calling Dan Brown--pick up the white courtesy phone].

Chilton believes that Carlson has persuasively shown the Secret Gospel is a hoax. Chilton is less convinced that Carlson has proved the case that Morton Smith himself is the author of the Secret Gospel. Chilton says that argument is ;ersuasive not conclusive.

Smith was himself a homosexual who was the recipient of abuse, scorn, and prejudice on account of his sexual orientation. Carlson sees in that fact evidence as to why Smith would have forged the document.

The question of Christianity and homosexuality, which is a monster topic in itself--not going get into that now--has to come on the question of theology and the faith not on the historical Jesus. We have to ask the same questions the Gospel writers did...

Namely what would Jesus be like if he were alive today in our community?

I believe that Jesus were he alive in our world, especially the Western post-industrial world would (and does) love gay people and would support gay rights as well as criticize elements of gay communities that stand in opposition to the Gospel values. But no more so than he would to the larger "non-gay" world.

The arguments about the historical Jesus to me are non-starters. It is to Christ, the Resurrected One and the Holy Spirit that one must look for guidance on these matters. Because they are inter-church squabbles. People on the outside can give their two cents, that's fine. But the Historical Jesus bs is a product of this Enlightenment obsession with what really happened. And this notion, again false, that the Church can never change her mind but only renew what was done in the past and forgotten.

The arguments for inclusion of active homosexuals in committed relationships has to come from the general themes of the Bible--justice, God of mercy, faithful love--not references to the Historical Jesus. The reference to the Historical Jesus is an attempt to bypass the hard work of conversion, of meeting people where they are and trying to show them by one's life and actions that God blesses gay partnerships. The justification via the Historical Jesus is like a theological form of judicial activism. It doesn't want to go through the legislature.

If Carlson's thesis is true--at least insofar as the Secret Gospel of Mark is a fraud, that is a major discovery. I'll have to do some more digging to see if Carlson's book delivers the goods and puts this baby to sleep.


At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i quite certain that this baby will have quite a long life. academic frauds are rare and carlson is quite convincing. i expect many articles, books and sbl sessions will deal with smith and his canards over the next few generations.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


thanks for dropping by. i perused your blog--some great stuff.


At 11:16 PM, Blogger Stephan Huller said...

Everyone took Carlson at his word but no one bothered to check the methodology for his greatest proof.

Be prepared to change your opinion on the issue of whether the Mar Saba letter is a forgery:

There is no reason to think that it is a forgery. Even Birger Pearson questions Carlson's methodology now after reading that article

There is nothing gay about Secret Mark; the only thing that was queer was Carlson's methodology (and again that not one scholar bothered to check it ... until now).


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