Archive for the ‘Secret Mark’ Category

Robert Conner on the Secret Gospel of Mark

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Robert Connor graciously passed along to me a draft of his forthcoming book, The "Secret" Gospel of Mark: Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria, and Four Decades of Academic Burlesque, to be published by Mandrake of Oxford. Mandrake's web page provides the following abstract:

While cataloging material in the library of the monastery of Mar Saba in 1958, Morton Smith discovered a quotation from a letter of Clement of Alexandria copied in the end pages of a 17th century collection of the letters of Ignatius. After more than a decade of collaborative analysis of the find, Smith published his conclusions in 1973, setting off a firestorm of controversy in the New Testament studies guild.

In 1975, a Jesuit scholar, Quentin Quesnell, claimed the letter had been forged and implied that Smith was the forger, moving the focus of debate off the text itself and onto Smith. Since then the pages containing the letter have been removed from the book and possibly destroyed, while Catholic and evangelical writers, none of whom have ever seen the pages in question, continue to claim that Smith forged the letter.

Following his death in 1991, accusations against Smith took on a considerably more personal tone, highlighting his alleged homosexuality and by implication his dishonesty and moral perversity. Although the question of authenticity remains unresolved, the controversy has opened a window on the intellectually corrupt nature of apologetic New Testament studies, a subject of greater importance than the authenticity of early Christian texts.

Connor's small book spends more time criticizing hoax/forgery theorists (particularly Peter Jeffery) than analyzing the text; however, he does present a theory for why the Secret Mark pericopae were removed from the text to form what is now canonical Mark. I won't spoil the book here but if you want to get a good sense of Connor's arguments, listen to an interview with the author on the internet radio show Aeon Byte (on Youtube HERE), hosted by Miguel Connor (no relation). The interview begins around the 15 minute mark. 

Has Philip Jenkins found a “new source” for Secret Mark?

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Philip Jenkins, author of The Hidden Gospels: How the Search for Jesus Lost Its Way (2001) and frequent contributor to the Patheos blog, has published a short article in Books and Culture magazine with the tantalizing title “Alexandrian Attitudes: A new source for the ‘Secret Gospel of Mark.’” Unfortunately, Jenkins is not talking about a manuscript source, but a source of inspiration.

Jenkins’ previous contribution to the debate on the authenticity of Secret Mark was the claim that Morton Smith was inspired to forge the gospel after reading James Hogg Hunter’s 1940 novel The Mystery of Mar Saba, in which a character discovers a controversial noncanonical text at the Mar Saba monastery. Indeed, as Jenkins says in this new article, Smith expected scholars to pick up on this connection: “As I have noted elsewhere, the fact that Smith’s alleged find occurred at Mar Saba is either strong proof of the text’s authenticity, in that nobody would have dared invent such a thing, or else it is a tribute to the unabashed chutzpah of a forger.” Jenkins’ theory has been repeated a number of times since—notably by Robert M. Price, Francis Watson, and Craig Evans—and challenged by Allan Pantuck.

Now Jenkins has attributed another literary inspiration to Smith: Angus Wilson’s 1956 novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes. The plot of the novel involves the discovery of a phallic fertility symbol in the grave of a seventh-century celebrated missionary bishop named Eorpwald, a disciple of the great English Archbishop Theodore. The reader discovers that the artifact was planted by an archeologist, Gilbert Stokesay, to discredit and disgrace his father, the chief excavator of the site, as well as other scholars. Jenkins says also that the novel’s author, Wilson, was openly gay and that “much of the book depicts English gay subculture. This theme also shapes the Eorpwald hoax. By faking the discovery, Gilbert was subverting the heroic image that the modern-day church has of its founders, to make them confront the possibility that those early predecessors themselves were open to unrestrained ‘pagan’ sexuality. To a large degree, he succeeded, as scholars so uniformly accepted these bizarre claims and integrated them into their understanding of medieval faith.”

Jenkins sees a number of parallels between Wilson’s novel and Smith’s discovery: a forgery planted in an early Christian site, the association with the name Theodore, underground controversial clandestine practices, and accusations of sorcery (against Eorpwald in the novel, and against Jesus in Smith’s monograph Jesus the Magician). Jenkins also points out that it is rumored that Smith was gay. Jenkins concludes: “At some point, surely, Occam's Razor requires us to seek the simplest explanation for the whole Mar Saba affair. There’s no mystery here. The Mystery of Mar Saba + Anglo-Saxon Attitudes = Secret Mark.”

Those who claim Secret Mark is a forgery or a hoax will seize on Jenkins’ theory here as additional proof for their position. More careful readers, I hope, will see that the parallels are as tenuous (indeed, more so) as those for Hunter’s novel. Allan Pantuck eviscerated this theory in his article “Solving the Mysterion of Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark” posted on the Biblical Archeology Review Scholar’s Study Page for Secret Mark. Challenging Francis Watson’s restatement of Jenkins’ theory, Pantuck asks, “if we were to take any event in modern history and tried to find a novel written before that event with a content that resembles it in various more specific details, what are the odds we could come up with a parallel? To what extent does real life ever imitate art, and if it does, how closely?” (12-13). Pantuck provides five examples, one of the more amusing is the sinking of the Mignonette in 1884. Only four people survived and after being adrift in an open boat for many days, three of them killed and ate the cabin boy, Richard Parker. Forty years earlier, Edgar Allan Poe wrote The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, in which four survivors of a shipwreck kill and eat a cabin boy named Richard Parker.

For both novels, Hunter’s and Wilson’s, what we have are nothing more than coincidences of names and isolated disconnected topoi—specifically, in Anglo-Saxon Attitudes a fake artifact, found in a grave of a follower of someone named Theodore, indicates that the occupant of the grave was involved in clandestine, pagan sexual practices; in Secret Mark we have a manuscript, found in a monastery and written to someone named Theodore, that mentions a version of a text that was corrupted by some early Christians known for their licentiousness (the Carpocratians). As for sorcery, Smith’s Jesus the Magician is an entirely separate work that does not even use Secret Mark to argue its case. And arguably, the alleged homoeroticism of Secret Mark is in the eye of the beholder.

What is disappointing to me about Jenkins’ recent article is its apparent disregard for those, like Pantuck, who have made significant challenges to the forgery/hoax hypotheses. Gratefully, Jenkins acknowledges the contribution of the collection of papers from the 2011 York Symposium on Secret Mark. He says of the collection:

Recently, Tony Burke has edited an impressive collection of scholarly essays under the title Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate (Cascade Books, 2013). Whichever side you take in the controversy, this book is eminently worth reading as a model of how first-class critical scholars go about forming their conclusions and debating disputed points. In these pages, admirably, their fundamental disagreements remain firmly within the boundaries of civility and mutual respect.

Yet Jenkins’ new article does not take into account anything written within it, save perhaps Pierluigi Piovanelli’s piece on Smith’s interest in occult and antinomian traditions. Brown and Pantuck’s critique of Craig Evans’ articulation of the Hunter-novel parallels is ignored, as is Pantuck’s carefully-documented claim that Smith lacked the capabilities required to compose the text and write the manuscript (an argument that is supported by the experts commissioned by Biblical Archeology Review who concluded that Smith himself could not have created the manuscript). The parallels between the discovery and the two novels are curious (amusing?) in-and-of themselves, but they are not compelling if evidence indicates that the manuscript could not have been manufactured by Smith (and I believe that is what the evidence indicates).

The goal of the symposium on Secret Mark was to gather together scholars of the text and work through the evidence for the authenticity of Secret Mark, set aside arguments that were weak (for either side of the debate), and focus on what was strong. Unfortunately, those who maintain that the text is a forgery continue to cite the same theories without acknowledgement of contrary arguments. It’s disappointing too that, more than a year after the  publication of the proceedings of the symposium, few reviews of the book have yet appeared, and none in an academic journal. Is this simply the typical time lag that occurs in the discipline? Or are the supporters of the forgery hypotheses hoping that, by ignoring the book, their critics’ voices will go unheard?

[My thanks to Philip Jenkins for sending me a copy of the complete article].

Loren Rosson III: “Secret Mark Still Fools People”

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

In a post on the Secret Gospel of Mark (HERE), Nashua librarian Loren Rosson III, administrator of The Busybody blog, offers some comments on Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?, the collection of papers from the 2011 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. I appreciate the attention paid to the book and, though I try to resist responding to reviews (I don't want to be perceived as having thin skin), I wanted to correct a few misstatements in the post.

Rosson obviously supports the theory that Secret Mark is a forgery perpetrated by Morton Smith, the scholar who discovered the manuscript of the text in the Mar Saba monastery. To support his position, Rosson repeats many of the arguments offered by previous scholars–including, the text's apparent "seal of authenticity"; it promotes a "gay Jesus," which reflects Smith's own (unconfirmed) homosexuality; it supports theories Smith had about Jesus before the text's discovery; the so-called "Morton Salt Company" clue; and the connections between Smith's discovery and the James Hunter's 1940 novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba. Given the weight of these arguments, Rosson is surprised that people remain "fooled" by Smith's hoax; indeed, he concludes this section of the post with the comment, "only fools and the willfully obtuse maintain Smith's innocence."

Rosson then turns to his discussion of Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? He focuses most of his attention on Scott Brown's and Allan Pantuck's response to Craig Evans's overview of the theory of forgery, and picks out two rather minor points advanced by Brown and Pantuck against one aspect of the theory. Unfortunately, Rosson does not discuss the more salient points raised by the authors in the collection against the forgery theory, including the dismantling of most of the arguments mentioned above and the recent document analyses commissioned by Biblical Archeology Review which demonstrate that Smith could not have written the manuscript himself. Also, Rosson states the common fallacy that "no one has ever seen this 'discovery', aside from Smith himself," which is untrue–Quentin Quesnell saw it in 1983 and Father Kallistos Dourvas, the Greek Patriarchate librarian, took colour photographs of the manuscript (these were published in 2000). The Symposium on Secret Mark was created as an effort to finetune the debate on the text, to dispense with arguments that were no longer viable (including that no-one but Smith had seen the manuscript), and focus on those that continued to hold weight. Though the assembled scholars did not achieve any consensus on the text (which was unlikely to happen), it was apparent that most of the standard arguments had to be dispensed with–indeed, they were barely even mentioned over the course of the event.

Secret Mark is the most maligned text in biblical scholarship, and its discoverer has been unfairly indicted with a "crime" unforgivable by his peers. I doubt that we will ever have unequivocal evidence that Smith did or did not create the text, but I hope we can at least raise the level of discourse on Secret Mark and examine it with appropriate academic rigour.

Review of “Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?” on Bible History Daily

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Scott Brown passed along this link to a review by James D. G. Dunn of the proceedings from the 2011 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium (Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate).

New Article on Secret Mark by Viklund and Paananen

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Roger Viklund's online article, "Tremors or Just an Optical Illusion?A Further Evaluation of Stephen Carlson's Handwriting Analysis" (see HERE; and expanded upon in Timo Paananen's blog HERE and HERE), has now appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. The complete bibliographical details are: Roger Viklund and Timo S. Paananen, "Distortion of the Scribal Hand in the Images of Clement's Letter to Theodore," Vigiliae Christianae 67 (2013): 235-247. Their conclusion:

In sum: all the signs of forgery Carlson unearthed in his analysis of the handwriting in Clement’s Letter to Theodore disappear once we replace the printed images Carlson used with the original photographs. Looking at the artefacts, Carlson concluded that the “apparently hurried cursive was executed more slowly than it purports to be” and that the “writer had not fully mastered the style of handwriting”. An opposite conclusion has recently been reached (independently of us) by Venetia Anastasopoulou, who had access to the high-quality images of the manuscript, and possesses professional training, degrees, and experience in the field of forensic document examination. For Anastasopoulou, the script in Clement’s Letter to Theodore is “written spontaneously with an excellent rhythm”, while the “movement of the writing indicates a hand used to writing in this manner”.

Though Carlson is to be commended for his insight that the tools of forensic document examination could advance the debate, the execution of his project has left much to be desired. Based on the comparison of the images presented above we suggest that there is no “forger’s tremor” or any other “signs of forgery” to be found in the script of Clement’s Letter to Theodore. Consequently, one of the key arguments in Carlson’s The Gospel Hoax can be finally laid to rest.  

Thanks to Scott Brown for passing the information along.

Review of “Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?” by Roger Pearse

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Roger Pearse, writer/administrator of his eponymous blog, has written a lengthy review of Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate. These are the papers presented at the 2011 York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. Read the review HERE. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the book, Roger. I will offer a response to the review, but I'd be interested in reading other responses first.

Secret Mark Symposium Papers on Amazon

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate is now available on Amazon in the US and Canada. Canadians should be cautioned that ordering the book directly from the publisher (Cascade) will incur high postage charges. Amazon or other Canadian distributors are recommended.

Timo Paananen, “From Stalemate to Deadlock” on Secret Mark

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Timo Paananen, administrator of the Salainen evankelista blog, has provided an overview of research on Secret Mark for the journal Currents in Biblical Research (see HERE for an abstract of the article). It is an excellent overview of recent research on the text (with a little on early currents also). What Paananen does best here is bring attention to the deplorable way that scholars of Secret Mark have engaged with one another over the text. However, he seems unable to resist poking a little fun at proponents of the forgery hypotheses by associating them with fringe scholarship. He says,

Scholars are, to my mind, all too willing to accept the notion that Clement’s Letter to Theodore is full of obscure ‘hidden clues’, illuminating the path to the solution of an ingenious textual puzzle. The old philosophical adage, ‘no difference without distinction’, is not firmly held here. It is perfectly understandable if biblical scholars are largely unaware of the
Shadow Academia, a category under which all sorts of pseudoscientific, pseudohistorical and fringe scholarship in the (paranoid) style of conspiracy theorizing is produced. Proponents of the hoax hypothesis should aim to argue why the particular clues Carlson and Watson have unearthedshould be taken any more seriously than similar clues by fringe scholars,
disclosing true identities of this and that author. Specifically, this would mean differentiating the hoax hypothesis from Barbara Thiering’s Jesus the Man (1992), Joseph Atwill’s satirical reading of the Gospels, Lena Einhorn’s theories that Jesus was also Paul, the various textual cluespointing to someone else as the true author of Shakespeare’s works, and even the claims that Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by alook-alike, a notion that derives from various ‘hidden clues’ in Beatles’ album covers and song lyrics.

I happen to agree with Paananen on this point. Panaanen also does an excellent job of presenting Scott Brown's and Allan Pantuck's responses to Peter Jeffery's and Stephen Carlson's monographs. He notes that Brown's and Pantuck's critiques have not been given the attention that they deserve. And it is because of this oversight that survey articles like Paananen's (and like my own in the Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery collection) are still required. Scholars rushed to declare Carlson had proven Secret Mark was a forgery, and now I think they are reluctant to accept arguments to the contrary.

Paananen blogged on the article back in October and the post includes links to some responses. Keep in mind, that the article was written almost two years ago and does not include subsequent discussions on the, including the York Symposium.

For another recent survey of Secret Mark scholarship, see Robert Connor's online essay HERE.

Secret Mark Symposium Papers Now Available

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

My copies of Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate arrived in the mail yesterday. These are the papers presented at the first York Christian Apocrypha Symposium in 2011. The book can be ordered from Wipf & Stock customer service now, from Wipf & Stock online in 2 weeks, and Amazon in 6-8 weeks. The price is $42. The catalog entry can be found HERE.

The book has received some glowing endorsements. John Kloppenborg says of it, "Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? brings together most of the key supporters and detractors of the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark in a balanced, probing, and illuminating book…Although this book, carefully crafted by Burke, cannot be said to have brought closure on the issue, it has laid to rest many of the specious and illogical claims that have littered the discussion until now. We can only hope that the ground has now been cleared for a more balanced and scientific discussion of the Mar Saba manuscript." And Bart Ehrman says, "The debate over the Secret Gospel of Mark rages on. Did Morton Smith discover this text, or did he forge it? This terrific collection of essays presents leading voices from both sides of the controversy, stating their views, marshaling the evidence, and allowing readers to pass their own verdicts."

This is a good opportunity, too, to remind everyone of the second York Christian Apocrypha Symposium that will take place (if funding comes through) May 8-10, 2013. A more formal announcement will come as soon as everything is set in place.

Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Here is the cover image for the published proceedings of last year's York Christian Apocrypha Symposium. We are now at the indexing stage, so the book should be out very soon.