Monday, October 26, 2009

Secret Mark taken up in BAR

The November/December 2009 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review contains several articles discussing the Secret Gospel of Mark. Helmut Koester weighs in on its authenticity, writing a full length article about why. Charlie Hedrick gives an overview of the discovery. Hershel Shanks writes a piece in which he summarizes the position of a number of scholars who present the case as a forgery. It's a quick overview of where things stand about the question of the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark. Read the articles first, and then weigh in yourself here in the comments. I'd like to see what arguments you think are most convincing, or not.


rameumptom said...

It seems to me to be authentic. It discusses concepts that very well could have been a major problem in that day: Gnostics taking actual documents and rewriting them to meet their own criteria. I think Ehrman gives a few examples of that in Lost Christianities.

For me, I have no problem with early proto-orthodox Christianity having secret rites. The Mt of Transfiguration clearly shows a secret rite, where Jesus directly tells the apostles to not speak of it until after his resurrection. Even then, so little is described that we cannot know for certain what was involved.

Clement's statement could also give insight to an incident in the Gospel of Mark, where a young man in the garden of Gethsemane is found wearing only a sheet, and runs off when grabbed by the Roman soldiers. Perhaps this is suggestive of secret rites being taught even on the night of the Lord's arrest?

pearl said...

From An Amazing Discovery by Charles W. Hedrick:

“Smith argues further that the church in the second and third centuries covered up the historical datum that Jesus began his movement with a “baptism into the mystery of the kingdom of God,” as reflected in Secret Mark.

"It is not difficult to imagine how Smith’s interpretation of Secret Mark antagonized scholars having close personal religious ties to a community of faith.”

“scholars having close personal religious ties to a community of faith” -- I imagine another way of saying, ‘confessional scholars’…

Importantly, a point brought up by Hershel Shanks was that whether or not Smith’s interpretation should be wrong, any finding of forgery must be based on the text of the letter, not Smith’s view of the letter.

In particular, if Smith should be cleared by the experts currently analyzing handwriting, arguments other than Smith’s involvement or personality or motives or ability to pull off such a stunt must be considered in relation to an issue of possible forgery by whomever.

The remaining articles explore the arguments, and I think the points in favor of authenticity are stronger. I was impressed with the final two articles by Helmut Koester and Hershel Shanks.

I do find it odd that it took so long to consult handwriting experts, and I eagerly await their findings.

Greg said...

TIMO S. PAANANEN in his thesis published on his blog
has dealt with the handwriting and other accusations of fraud to destroy any doubt that 'Secret Mark' is authentic. Only the apology of Stephen Carlson is lacking for his attack on the character of Morton Smith. What a shame he is still hawking his book.

lightseeker said...

I would not at all be surprised if the evidence does point to the authenticity of Secret Mark. After all, 1st century Jews were familiar with the concept of milk and meat levels of spiritual learning.

That's how Paul taught his new converts: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (I Corinthians 3:1-3).

It seems even the earliest Judeo-Christians reserved the deeper ("secret" or "hidden") spiritual teachings and mysteries for those disciples who were more spiritually mature and advanced. Secrets rites, such as baptism or private initiation rituals, may go directly back to Jesus, which he may have performed himself (e.g., the out-of-nowhere mysterious young man clad only in a linen in sheet in the seemingly truncated verses in Mark 14:51-52).

Why do Christians to this day observe baptism, and yet in the synoptic gospels Jesus is never reported to have baptized? It may be he did, but these were secret rites (meat teachings) not meant for novices or potential converts. It could be that verses 51-52 in Mark 14 were left in accidentally by a scribe preparing an edited "milk version" that gospel.

It seems anything extant we have now in the Canon (and Christian church services today in general) may be the watered down pablum meant for the masses. Whereas the orthodox church was into gaining converts, saving the masses (and controlling them by keeping them "babes"), the non-canonical so-called Gnostic texts appear to give us a real glimpse of what Jesus' meat teachings to his more advanced disciples might have been like -- and the purpose of which may have been individual spiritual growth and advancement -- a threat/danger to proto-orthodox thinking!

Sadly all that seems to remain today (and continues to be fed to the masses) are the milk teachings. It will be really interesting to see what happens if Secret Mark is found to be authentic!

Roger Viklund said...

The signs of forgery which Carlson claims to have spotted in the text really are hard to discover. When I analyzed the text by examining scanned high-resolution images of the colour photographs taken by Dourvas, I often had problems to even spot the tremors, the pen lifts, the retakes and so on . The text really looked like it was written by someone who was rather fluid. I now realize what it was that made Carlson find all these signs of forgery. It all seems to depend on the images he used, which he took from the printed book by Smith. Now that I have scanned these images I realise that the low resolution prints, done on a printing press in the early 70s, have a line screen at a 45 degree angle. When you enlarge a halftone image very much, like the one printed in Smith's book, you cannot reproduce lines which are not straight. Since the dots are arranged in straight lines with the same distance between them, you can produce straight lines only horizontally, vertically or at a 45 degrees angle (as the screen in this case is at a 45 degree angle). Whenever you reproduce a line at a different angle (than 0, 45 or 90 degrees) the lines will appear stepped and this could be mistaken for a hesitation in drawing the letters. To illustrate this, one can look at the 4 omicrons, which Carlson said were squarish. These four can be seen on this image which is the high-resolution scan from the colour photos I have used. Look especially at the one furthest to the right, which seems very circular. No, this, on the other hand, is what Carlson must have seen These omicrons actually look squarish. It is the screen combined with the large magnification of the small letters (these omicrons are in reality less than 1 mm in diameter) that gives the illusion of straight lines when they actually are curved.

Roger Viklund

theswain said...

I haven't read the BAR pieces yet, from what I understand they simply summarize what is already known.

I think there can be no question of authenticity: it's a hoax or forgery or fake or whatever you want to call it. Whether a modern one or a medieval one or even an ancient one is a different question. I base my conclusion not just on Carlson and Jeffrey, but on a multitude of issues.

What interests me is the vitriol on both sides. The vituperative response from the "Christian" side is understandable if not justifiable; the vituperative responses on the other side for authenticity however are inexplicable to me.

Robert said...

An essay on Secret Mark, "A Letter to Theodore," is available at It focuses on Smith's defense of his work, traces the controversy through the recent BAR articles and Stroumsa's publication of the Smith/Scholem letters, and offers pointed criticisms of Carlson and Jeffery's methods.

Stephan Huller said...

Hi I just read your review and I wanted to follow up on Roger Viklund's original comment here. Viklund has since taken his original proof one step further and has now PROVEN that Carlson's methodology was fundamentally flawed to 'prove' the forgery hypothesis.

As David Trobisch, the eminent expert on Biblical manuscripts notes in a recent email to me after reading the article "I read it right away but somehow forgot to let you know what I think. His arguments are absolutely clear and convincing. The "forgery" accusations only works with the low resolution photos. An excellent article."

Please go to the attached link and see how no one actually checked Carlson's methodology.