Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate

The York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series 2011Secret Mark MS


Scott Brown, University of Toronto
Tony Burke, York University
Bruce Chilton, Bard College
Craig Evans, Acadia Divinity College
Phil Harland, York University
Charles Hedrick, Missouri State U.
Peter Jeffery, U. of Notre Dame
Marvin Meyer, Chapman University
Allan Pantuck, U. of California
Pierluigi Piovanelli, U. of Ottawa
Hershel Shanks, Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review

April 29, 2011, York University (Vanier College)

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Scope and Objectives

In 1958, American Biblical scholar Morton Smith made an astounding discovery in the Mar Saba monastery in Jerusalem. Copied into the back of a 17th century book was a lost letter by Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215 CE) containing excerpts from a longer version of the Gospel of Mark. This Secret Gospel of Mark, as it became known, is now one of the most debated texts of the Christian Apocrypha. More than fifty years after its discovery, there is still no consensus on the issues of its authenticity. Was the letter truly written by Clement of Alexandria? Or by a medieval or even modern forger? Was the forger Morton Smith himself? The debate has heated up in recent years with the publication of Stephen Carlson’s The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2005) and several criticisms of Carlson’s work by other scholars. Unfortunately, there has been no effective venue for these scholars to share their views on the text and arrive closer to a resolution of the issue of its authenticity. It is hoped that some progress can be made by bringing these scholars together to present their latest work on the gospel to each other, to an audience of interested scholars, to a curious public, and ultimately to an even wider audience with the publication of the papers and summaries of the discussion that arises from their gathering.

Conference Proceedings

The papers presented at the first York Christian Apocrypha Symposium in 2011 can be ordered from Wipf & Stock or online retailers such as Amazon (note: Canadian shoppers can avoid large shipping costs by ordering from Canadian online retailers). 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.”