"Dear reader, do not be alarmed at the parallels between... magic and ancient
Christianity. Christianity never claimed to be original. It claimed . . . to be
true!" With these words in the New York Times Book Review, Pierson Parker reassured
the faithful American public that it need not be concerned with the latest news from the
obscure and bookish world of New Testament scholarship. It was 1973, and the Biblical
studies community, as well as the popular press, was in a stir over a small manuscript
discovery that--to judge from the reactions of some--seemingly threatened to call down the
apocalypse. A newly-released book by Columbia University's Morton Smith, presenting a
translation and interpretation of a fragment of a newly-recovered Secret Gospel of Mark,
was at the center of the controversy.
The Discovery (1958-1960)
In the spring of 1958 Smith, then a graduate student in Theology at Columbia
University, was invited to catalogue the manuscript holdings in the library of the Mar
Saba monastery, located twelve miles south of Jerusalem. Smith had been a guest of the
same hermitage years earlier, when he was stranded in Palestine by the conflagrations of
the second World War.
What Smith found during his task in the tower library surprised him. He discovered some
new scholia of Sophocles, for instance, and dozens of other manuscripts. Despite these
finds, however, the beleaguered scholar soon resigned himself to what looked like a
reasonable conclusion: he would find nothing of major importance at Mar Saba. His malaise
evaporated one day as he first deciphered the manuscript that would always thereafter be
identified with him:
[. . . O]ne afternoon near the end of my stay, I found myself in my cell, staring
incredulously at a text written in a tiny scrawl. [. . . I]f this writing was what it
claimed to be, I had a hitherto unknown text by a writer of major significance for early
What Smith then began photographing was a three-page handwritten addition penned into
the endpapers of a printed book, Isaac Voss' 1646 edition of the Epistolae genuinae S.
Ignatii Martyris. It identified itself as a letter by Clement of the Stromateis, i.e.,
Clement of Alexandria, the second-century church father well-known for his neo-platonic
applications of Christian belief. Clement writes "to Theodore," congratulating
him for success in his disputes with the Carpocratians, an heterodoxical sect about which
little is known. Apparently in their conflict with Theodore, the Carpocratians appealed to
Clement responds by recounting a new story about the Gospel. After Peter's death, Mark
brought his original gospel to Alexandria and wrote a "more spiritual gospel for the
use of those who were being perfected." Clement says this text is kept by the
Alexandrian church for use only in the initiation into "the great mysteries."
However, Carpocrates the heretic, by means of magical stealth, obtained a copy and
adapted it to his own ends. Because this version of the "secret" or
"mystery" gospel had been polluted with "shameless lies," Clement
urges Theodore to deny its Markan authorship even under oath. "Not all true things
are to be said to all men," he advises.
Theodore has asked questions about particular passages of the special Carpocratian
Gospel of Mark, and by way of reply Clement transcribes two sections which he claims have
been distorted by the heretics. The first fragment of the Secret Gospel of Mark, meant to
be inserted between Mark 10.34 and 35, reads:
They came to Bethany. There was one woman there whose brother had died. She came and
prostrated herself before Jesus and spoke to him. "Son of David, pity me!" But
the disciples rebuked her. Jesus was angry and went with her into the garden where the
tomb was. Immediately a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going up to it, Jesus
rolled the stone away from the door of the tomb, and immediately went in where the young
man was. Stretching out his hand, he lifted him up, taking hold his hand. And the youth,
looking intently at him, loved him and started begging him to let him remain with him. And
going out of the tomb, they went into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after
six days Jesus gave him an order and, at evening, the young man came to him wearing
nothing but a linen cloth. And he stayed with him for the night, because Jesus taught him
the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And then when he left he went back to the other side of
Then a second fragment of Secret Mark is given, this time to be inserted into Mark
10.46. This has long been recognized as a narrative snag in Mark's Gospel, as it awkwardly
reads, "Then they come to Jericho. As he was leaving Jericho with his
disciples..." This strange construction is not present in Secret Mark, which reads:
Then he came into Jericho. And the sister of the young man whom Jesus loved was there
with his mother and Salome, but Jesus would not receive them.
Just as Clement prepares to reveal the "real interpretation" of these verses
to Theodore, the copyist discontinues and Smith's discovery is, sadly, complete.
Smith stopped briefly in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to share his discovery with
Gerschom Scholem. He then returned to America where he sought the opinions of his
mentors Erwin Goodenough and Arthur Darby Nock. "God knows what you've got hold
of," Goodenough said. "They made up all sorts of stuff in the fifth
century," said Nock. "But, I say, it is exciting."
At the 1960 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Morton Smith
announced his discovery to the scholarly community, openly presenting a translation and
discussion of the Clementine letter. A well-written account of his presentation, with a
photograph of the Mar Saba monastery, appeared the next morning on the front page of The
New York Times. A list of the seventy-five manuscripts Smith catalogued appeared
the same year in the journal Archaeology as well as the Greek Orthodox
Patriarchate journal, Nea Sion. And Morton Smith embarked on a decade of
meticulous investigation into the nature of his find.
The Reaction (1973--1982)
While there may seem nothing particularly scandalous about the apocryphal episodes of
Secret Mark in and of themselves, the release of the material to the general public
aroused a great deal of popular and scholarly derision. Smith wrote two books on the
subject: first, the voluminous and intricate scholarly analysis Clement of Alexandria
and a Secret Gospel of Mark, and then The Secret Gospel, a thin and
conversational popular account of the discovery and its interpretation. The first book was
delivered to the Harvard University Press in 1966, but was very slow at going through the
press. Smith's popular treatment, however, was released by Harper and Row in the
summer of 1973. This is the version that most scholars had in their hands first. What did
it say that was so shocking?
Smith's analysis of the Secret Mark text--and consequently the wider body of literature
bearing on the history of early Christianity--brought him to consider unusual
possibilities. Because Secret Mark presents a miracle story, this meant a particular
concentration upon material of a like type. Smith was working outside of the traditional
school of Biblical criticism which automatically regarded all miracle accounts as
mythological inventions of the early Christian communities. Instead of taking as his
goal the theological deconstruction of the miracle traditions, Smith asked to what degree
the miracle stories of the gospels might in fact be based upon actions of Jesus, much in
the same way scholars examine the sayings traditions.
It has been typical for critical scholars of the Bible to reject any historical
foundation for the "miracle-worker" stories about Jesus. Because such tales
would tend to rely on the supernatural, and scholars seek to understand the origins of the
Bible in realistic terms, it is more plausible for the modern critic to propose reasons
for which an early Christian community might have come to understand Jesus as a
miracle-worker and subsequently engage in the production of mythologies depicting him in
that mold. Smith's understanding of the kingdom language in the Christian writings, with
its well-known ambivalent eschatological and yet emphatically present or
"realized" tendencies, evolved to the conclusion that:
[Jesus] could admit his followers to the kingdom of God, and he could do it in some
special way, so that they were not there merely by anticipation, nor by virtue of belief
and obedience, nor by some other figure of speech, but were really, actually, in.
Smith held that the best explanation for the literary and historical evidence
surrounding the mircles of Jesus was that Jesus himself actually performed--or meant to
and was understood to have performed--magical feats. Among these was a baptismal
initiation rite through which he was able to "give" his disciples a vision of
the heavenly spheres. This was in the form of an altered state of consciousness induced by
"the recitation of repetitive, hypnotic prayers and hymns," a technique common
in Jewish mystical texts, Qumran material, Greek magical papyri and later Christian
practices such as the Byzantine liturgy. This is a radical departure from the
mainstream scholarship which seeks to minimize or eliminate altogether any possible
"supernatural" elements attached to the Historical Jesus, who is most often
understood as a speaker on social issues and applied ethics . . . an Elijahform social
worker, if you will.
Morton Smith did not begin with that assumption, nor did his reinterpretation of
Christian history arrive at it. Thus, the new theory summarized in his 1973 book for
general readership displeased practically everyone:
[. . . F]rom the scattered indications in the canonical Gospels and the secret Gospel
of Mark, we can put together a picture of Jesus' baptism, "the mystery of the kingdom
of God." It was a water baptism administered by Jesus to chosen disciples, singly and
by night. The costume, for the disciple, was a linen cloth worn over the naked body. This
cloth was probably removed for the baptism proper, the immersion in water, which was now
reduced to a preparatory purification. After that, by unknown ceremonies, the disciple was
possessed by Jesus' spirit and so united with Jesus. One with him, he participated by
hallucination in Jesus' ascent into the heavens, he entered the kingdom of God, and was
thereby set free from the laws ordained for and in the lower world. Freedom from the law
may have resulted in completion of the spiritual union by physical union. This certainly
occurred in many forms of gnostic Christianity; how early it began there is no
In an interview with The New York Times just before his books were released onto
the market, Smith noted with appreciation, "Thank God I have tenure."
The Inquisition: Let's Begin
Not a moment was lost in the ensuing backlash. Smith had laid aside the canon of
unwritten rules that most Biblical scholars worked by. He took the Gospels as more firmly
rooted in history than in the imagination of the early church. He refused to operate with
an artificially thick barrier between pagan and Christian, magic and mythology. And he not
only promulgated his theories from his office in Columbia University via obscure scholarly
periodicals: he had given them to the world in plain, understandable and all-too-clear
language. Thus there was no time for the typical scholarly method of thorough, researched,
logical refutation. The public attention span was short. It was imperative that Smith be
discredited before too many Biblical scholars told the press that there might be something
to his theories. Some of the high-pitched remarks of well-known scholars are amusing to us
Patrick Skehan: "...a morbid concatenation of fancies..."
Joseph Fitzmyer: "...venal popularization..." "...replete with
innuendos and eisegesis..."
Paul J. Achtemeier: "Characteristically, his arguments are awash in
speculation." "...an a priori principle of selective credulity..."
William Beardslee: "...ill-founded..."
Pierson Parker: "...the alleged parallels are far-fetched..."
Hans Conzelmann: "...science fiction..." "...does not belong to
scholarly, nor even...discussable, literature..."
Raymond Brown: "...debunking attitude towards Christianity..."
Frederick Danker: "...in the same niche with Allegro's mushroom fantasies and
Helmut Merkel: "Once again total warfare has been declared on New Testament
The possibility that the initiation could have included elements of eroticism was
unthinkable to many scholars, whose reaction was to project onto Smith's entire
interpretive work an imaginary emphasis on Jesus being a homosexual:
[. . . T]he fact that the young man comes to Jesus "wearing a linen cloth over his
naked body" naturally suggests implications which Smith does not fail to infer.
Hostility has marked some of the initial reactions to Smith's publication because of
his debunking attitude towards Christianity and his unpleasant suggestion that Jesus
engaged in homosexual practices with his disciples.
Many others cited rather prominently the homoerotic overtures of Smith's thesis in
their objections to his overall work. Another criticism, which holds more weight from
a scholar's standpoint, was Smith's rejection of the form and redaction critical
techniques preferred by the reviewer.
Two scholars, embarassingly, found a flaw in Smith's use of what they considered too
much documentation, as a ploy to confuse the reader.
Many scholars felt that the Secret Mark fragments were a pastiche from the four
gospels, some even suggesting that Mark's style is so simple to imitate the fragment must
be a useless pseudepigraphon.
In reaction to Clement's claim to perform initiation rites, some scholars simply
dogmatized that Alexandrian Christians only used words like "initiation" and
"mystery" in a figurative sense, therefore the letter must not be authentic.
Finally, some reactions truly border on the petty. Two scholars held that Morton Smith
didn't really "discover" the Secret Gospel of Mark at all. Because the letter
only contains two fragments of it, Smith is described as dishonest in his subtitle
"The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel of Mark." Worst of
all is Danker, who complains that the Smith's first, non-technical book does not include
the Greek text. "The designer of the jacket, as though fond of palimpsests, has
obscured with the book title and the editor's name even the partial reproduction of
Clement's letter," and that while there is another photo inside the book, "the
publishers do not supply a magnifying glass with which to read it." All this just
to tell us that, after he and a companion had painstakingly transcribed the Greek text,
Smith's transcription and translation are "substantially correct." He
deceptively omits that Smith's Harvard edition includes large, easily legible photographic
plates of the original manuscript, alleging that Smith was "reluctant...to share the
Greek text" he had discovered.
Only one reviewer, Fitzmeyer, saw it worthwhile to point out that Morton Smith was
bald. Whatever importance we may attach to the thickness of a scholar's hair, it seems
that detached scholarly criticism fails when certain tenets of faith--even
"enlightened" liberal faith--are called into question.
Is the Ink Still Wet? The Question of a Forgery
Inevitably a document which is so controvertial as Secret Mark will be accused of being
a forgery. This is precisely what happened in 1975 when Quentin Quesnell published his
lengthy paper "The Mar Saba Clementine: A Question of Evidence" in the Catholic
Biblical Quarterly. In this article he brings to bear a host of objections to Smith's
treatment of the document.
Foremost is the lack of the physical manuscript. Smith left the manuscript in the tower
at Mar Saba in 1958 and had been working with his set of photographs ever since. Quesnell
regards this as a neglect of Smith's scholarly duties. Perhaps those duties might be
assumed to include the theft of the volume a la Sinaiticus or the Jung Codex. In fact,
even Smith's publication of photographic plates of the ms. are considered sub-standard by
Quesnell. They "do not include the margins and edges of the pages," they
"are only black and white," and are in Quesnell's eyes marred by "numerous
discrepancies in shading, in wrinkles and dips in the paper."
Quesnell calls into question all of Smith's efforts to date the manuscript to the
eighteenth century. Although Smith consulted many paleographic experts, Quesnell feels
this information to be useless as compared to a chemical analysis of the ink, and a
"microscopic examination of the writing."
Then he asks the "unavoidable next question": was the letter of Clement a
modern forgery? He remarks that Smith "tells a story on himself that could make clear
the kind of motivation that might stir a serious scholar even apart from any
long-concealed spirit of fun." Pointing out Smith's interest in how scholars tend
to fit newly-discovered evidence into their previously-held sacrosanct interpretive
paradigms, and how Smith requested scholars in his longer treatise to keep him abreast
of their research, Quesnell asks if it might not be that a certain modern forger who
shall not be named might have "found himself moved to concoct some 'evidence' in
order to set up a controlled experiment?"
Quesnell raises still more objections, and representative of them is his claim that the
mass of documentation Smith brought to bear in Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel
of Mark is really a ploy to distract the reader. "[. . . I]t is hard to believe that
this material is included as a serious contribution to scholarly investigation,"
Quesnell suggests. In fact, he insinuates that its function is really to "deepen
Quesnell did not feel that scholarly discussion could "reasonably continue"
until all these issues--and more--were resolved.
Smith's answer to the accusation of forgery was published in the next volume of the
Catholic Biblical Quarterly. Humorously he advised his detractor that "one should not
suppose a text spurious simply because one dislikes what it says."
"Not at all," was Quesnell's reply. "I find it quite harmless."
Quesnell's arguments were still echoed in 1983 by Per Beskow, who wrote that Smith
"can only present some mediocre photographs, which do not even cover the entire
margins of the manuscript." While the photographic plates in the Harvard volume
do not extend to the margins due to the cropping of the publishers, Smith's
photographs are printed elsewhere and do include the margins of the pages. Furthermore,
they are quite in-focus and cannot be described as mediocre.
The Popular Response
The religious right was particularly displeased with the new Secret Gospel of Mark.
Even without the magical interpretation of earliest Christianity Smith promulgated in his
two books, the discovery of another apocryphal gospel only spells trouble for conservative
theologians and apologists. What information about Secret Mark made it past the blockade
into the evangelical press? There was Ronald J. Sider's quick review in Christianity
Unfounded . . . wildly speculative...pockmarked with irresponsible inferences . . .
highly speculative . . .operates with the presupposition that Jesus could not have been
the incarnate Son of God filled with the Holy Spirit . . . simply absurd! . . .
unacceptable . . . highly speculative . . . numerous other fundamental weaknesses . . .
highly speculative . . . irresponsible . . . will not fool the careful reader.
Evangelical scholarship has since treated Secret Mark as it traditionally has any other
non-canonical text: as a peculiar but ultimately unimportant document which would be
spiritually dangerous to take seriously.
Secret Mark and Da Avabhasa's Initiation to Ecstasy
Perhaps the strangest chapter in Secret Mark's long history was its appropriation by
the Free Daist Communion, a California-based Eastern religious group led by American-born
guru Da Avabhasa (formerly known as Franklin Jones, Da Free John, and Da Kalki). In 1982,
The Dawn Horse Press, the voice of this interesting sect, re-published Smith's Harper and
Row volume, with a new forword by Elaine Pagels and an added postscript by Smith himself.
In 1991 I made contact with this publisher in order to ascertain why they were
interested in Secret Mark. I was answered by Saniel Bonder, Da Avabhasa's official
biographer and a main spokesman for the Commununion.
Heart-Master Da Avabhasa is Himself a great Spiritual "Transmitter" or
"Baptizer" of the highest type. And this is the key to understanding both His
interest in, and The Dawn Horse Press's publication of, Smith's Secret Gospel. What Smith
discovered, in the fragment of the letter by Clement of Alexandria, is--to Heart-Master
Da--an apparent ancient confirmation that Jesus too was a Spirit-Baptizer who initiated
disciples into the authentic Spiritual and Yogic process, by night and in circumstances of
sacred privacy. This is the single reason why Heart-Master Da was so interested in the
story. As it happened, Morton Smith's contract with a previous publisher had expired, and
so he was happy to arrange for us to publish the book.
Because of the general compatibility of Smith's interpretation of the historical Jesus
and the practices of the Da Free John community, the group's leader was inclined to
promulgate Smith's theory. It is difficult to judge the precise degree of ritual identity
which exists between Master Da and Jesus the magician. Some identity, however, is
explicit, as revealed in Bonder's official biography of Master Da:
Over the course of Heart-Master Da's Teaching years, His devotees explored all manner
of emotional-sexual possibilities, including celibacy, promiscuity, heterosexuality,
homosexuality, monogamy, polygamy, polyandy, and many different kinds of living
arrangements between intimate partners and among groups of devotees in our various
The parallel between the Daist community during this time and the libertine Christian
rituals described by Smith is made stronger by the spiritual leader's intimate involvement
with this thorough exploration of the group's erogeny. "Heart-Master Da never
withheld Himself from participation in the play of our experiments with us . . ."
Georg Feuerstein has published an interview with an anonymous devotee of Master Da who
describes a party during which the Master borrowed his wife in order to free him of
egotistical jealousy. Like the Carpocratians of eighteen-hundred years ago, and the
Corinthian Christians of a century earlier still, the devotees of the Daist Communion
sought to come to terms with and conquer their sexual obstacles to ultimate liberation not
by merely denying the natural urges, but by immersing themselves in them.
For many years Da Avabhasa himself was surrounded by an "innermost circle" of
nine female devotees, which was dismantled in 1986 after the Community and the Master
himself had been through trying experiences. In 1988 Da Avabhasa formally declared
four of these original nine longtime female devotees his "Kanyas," the
significance of which is described well by Saniel Bonder:
Kanyadana is an ancient traditional practice in India, wherein a chaste young
woman...is given...to a Sat-Guru either in formal marriage, or as a consort, or simply as
a serving initimate. Each kanya thus becomes devoted...in a manner that in unique among
all His devotees. She serves the Sat-Guru Personally at all times and, in that unique
context, at all times is the recipient of His very Personal Instructions, Blessings, and
As a kanyadana "kumari", a young woman is necessarily "pure"--that
is, chaste and self-transcending in her practice, but also Spiritually Awakened by her
Guru, whether she is celibate or Yogically sexually active.
The formation of the Da Avabhasa Gurukala Kanyadana Kumari Order should be seen against
the background of sexual experimentation and confrontation through which the Master's
community had passed in the decade before, and in light of the sexuality-affirming stance
of the Daist Communion in general. The Secret Gospel presented a picture of Jesus as an
initiator into ecstasy and a libertine bearing more than a little resemblance to the
radical and challenging lessons of Master Da Avabhasa, in place long before 1982 when The
Dawn Horse Press re-issued the book.
The Cultural Fringe and Secret Mark
Occasionally one still encounters brief references to Secret Mark in marginal or
sensational literature. A simple but accurate account of its discovery was related in the
1982 British best-seller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Written by three television
documentary reporters, the book describes an actual French society called the Priory of
Sion which seeks to restore the French monarchy to a particular family which, it seems,
traces its blood-line back to Jesus himself. In the course of arguing that this could
actually be the truth, the authors find it convenient to cite Secret Mark as an example of
how the early church edited unwanted elements from its scriptures. "This missing
fragment had not been lost. On the contrary, it had apparently been deliberately
A quick reference to Secret Mark is made in Elizabeth Clare Prophet's book on the
supposed "lost years" of Jesus. She writes that discoveries such as Secret Mark
"strongly suggest that early Christians possessed a larger, markedly more diverse
body of writings and traditions on the life of Jesus that appears in what has been handed
down to us in the New Testament." However, the remainder of the book speculates
about whether Jesus might have studied yoga in India, and has little to do with Secret
Mark or Jesus the magician.
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
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
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
seperately: the argument for magical practises 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
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 Urkarkus 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 simulaneously, 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.
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,"
26 Brown, "The Relation of 'The Secret Gospel of Mark' to the Fourth Gospel,"
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,"
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.
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 neccessary 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
70 Shenker, "Jesus: New Ideas about his Powers."
71 Talley, "Liturgical Time in the Ancient Church," 45.
73 See Koester, "History and Development of Mark's Gospel," and Ancient
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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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.