Craig A. Evans – Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark

Craig A. Evans has an interesting, if not thought-provoking, discussion of Secret Mark that is worth reading.  I am not sure where I stand on this debate.  I know James Tabor and Joe Hoffmann both have different opinions about Smith, and they would know better than I would (and probably better than Evans, since they were students).  But I can say I don’t accept Secret Mark as anything more than a fabrication (possibly ancient, possibly modern); I don’t believe this was part of the Markan tradition.   Either way, I suspect there will be another article soon enough arguing the opposite.  here is a snippet:

At the 1960 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Morton Smith (1915–91) announced that while examining a number of old books and papers in the Mar Saba Monastery in the Judean Desert in 1958 he discovered three pages of hand-written Greek in the back of a 1646 edition of the letters of Ignatius. These pages purport to be a lost letter of Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–215), written to one Theodore, in which a longer, mystical (or “secret”) Gospel of Mark is discussed. Two passages of this work are quoted, one of which describes Jesus teaching a young man, wearing a linen sheet over his “naked” body, the “mystery of the kingdom of God.” In 1973, Smith published his find, now known as the “Secret Gospel of Mark,” in a lengthy, learned volume (Harvard University Press) and in a briefer, popular version (Harper). Although a number of scholars were willing to accept the find as authentic, or at least were willing to accept Smith’s account, a number of other scholars suspected the find was a hoax and that perhaps Smith himself was the hoaxer. The matter continues to be debated.

About half of the participants view Smith’s find with suspicion, if not as an outright hoax. These include Chilton, Jeffery, Piovanelli, and me. The other half of the participants, including the hosts, remain convinced that Smith told the truth. (The authenticity of the find itself, of course, is another matter.) On his blog, Tony has chronicled his thoughts, explaining why after hearing the papers and the discussion he still thinks Smith indeed made the discovery and that Smith was not involved in any way in a hoax.

via The Bible and Interpretation – Doubting Morton Smith and Secret Mark.



7 Responses

  1. This text of Evans was a pre-release and at the end he writes that the full text of his “York paper will be published under the editorship of Tony Burke and Phil Harland.” Evans has made public the text that is to be published in conference volume as “Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Exploring the Grounds for Doubt” at

    Already at the opening of that paper he begins with a lie by stating: “What makes the find controversial is that in one of the passages quoted from this Gospel Jesus teaches a naked young man the ‘mystery of the kingdom of God.’” It is of course never said in “The Secret Gospel of Mark” that the youth was naked. On the contrary it is said that he was not naked as he was wearing a linen cloth. This faulty assumption then forms the basis for much of his further conjectures.

    Roger Viklund

  2. […] “Secret Mark” is a forgery perpetuated by Morton Smith (I learned of this article via).  While I lean slightly towards authenticity (I think Scott Brown makes a good case, though I am […]

  3. Secret Mark sparked a lot of interest in me when i found out about it. I initially thought it was a hoax by Smith too, it seemed like a find to good to be true. I have changed my mind as more solid facts seem to argue against Smith being the culprit. Of course it could still be someone else’s hoax, and demonstrating that is an original part of canonical Mark will difficult, and i think it more likely that some one wanted to conform mark to John rather than someone snipping out such an impressive story, which without Smith’s commentary, doesn’t seem that gay.

  4. Mike, I agree to some extent. I do not believe Smith was the culprit though I find the whole concept behind Secret Mark to be ridiculous–such that I have to lean on the side of it (a) not being authentic (that is, it is not Markan nor from Clement), (b) nor do I suspect that it was a hoax (most likely a commentary that might have been in a margin from some other scribe, which would have accidentally become interpolated into the text of Clement during the copying process).

  5. […] considers it likely that it was in fact fabricated by Morton Smith. Mike Kok, Rod of Alexandria and Tom Verenna also shared views on the […]

  6. Thats and interesting idea on it being interpolated marginal commentary. Was that your idea? It’s good. Do you suppose that the unusual language that is supposedly characteristic of the spots where secret mark is supposed to be inserted is purely accidental? It just so happened to make others think, “was something supposed to happen, or could i add a story here?”

  7. Yes Mike, it was my idea. I suspect, but haven’t yet had the time to try to analyze the thought, that it was indeed a marginal note accidentally interpolated into the text. On the section of Mark, I don’t think it is that strange. I tend to believe that the Gospels reflected a new type of breed between narrative and wisdom literature for a Jewish sect with mystic leanings. Paul uses μυστήριο a lot, and he seems to talk in esoteric language. So I would not be surprised if there are parts of the text that appear missing to those of us outside that original circle, whereby those within the esoteric circle understood them to refer to specific teachings or rites to which only they were privy .

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