The pastiche forgery of Secret Mark, as presented by Francis Watson

Francis Watson

Francis Watson

Francis Watson, professor of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Durham, has in an article from April this year, Beyond Suspicion: on the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark (JTS 61, 2010, 128-170), concluded that Clement’s letter to Theodoros “is manifestly pseudonymous” and that “it is clear that the author of this letter is Morton Smith”.

Most of that which Watson deals with is old stuff, arguments presented by others before. In the Swedish blog post Är Klemensbrevet designat för att spegla Morton Smiths föreställningar? I examined Watson’s chapter on the letter in twentieth-century context, and his elaboration on Carlson’s ideas that Smith already held the same positions as those being presented in the letter.

This time I shall focus upon another old argument which Raymond E. Brown dealt with already in the 1970s and since then has been recycled by many, for instance by Per Beskow. As Watson explains it:

“It has often been suggested that Clement’s excerpts from the Secret Gospel are a mere mosaic or collage, drawing from mainly Markan phraseology to create a new narrative loosely related to the Lazarus story.”

While R. E. Brown seems to have taken this to indicate an ancient pastiche forgery, Watson must believe that Morton Smith cut and pasted from mainly the Gospel of Mark in order to create the first Secret Mark passage within the Clement letter.

Watson continues:

“The Secret Gospel passages comprise 14 sense-units (phrases or sentences) distributed evenly throughout the pericope. The Markan and other synoptic parallels have contributed 66 of its 157 words, in sequences of between three and ten words. A minimum of 32 of the remaining words are employed to complete the sense-units in question. That leaves just five sentences out of account, which tell of Jesus’ departure to the tomb; the voice heard from the tomb; Jesus’ entry into the tomb and his stretching out his hand; the departure to the young man’s home; and the night spent together. These sentences are full of synoptic language, but they are not dependent on synoptic word-sequences. … The pericope would seem to be the work of an author determined to pattern his own work on mainly Markan phraseology.”

Watson presents a chart on the parallels, and below I have elaborated on that chart. The examples presented in English are Watson’s own, and I have expanded upon them by including the Greek text and also underneath each example given more parallels from the Gospel of Mark; then in the first place not meant to be parallels to the sentences from Secret Mark, but parallels to the parallels presented by Watson.

Secret Gospel Secret Gospel Synoptic Gospels Synoptic Gospels
And they come to Bethany . . . καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς βηθανίαν And they come to Bethany. (Mark 8:22) Καὶ ἔρχεταί εἰς Βηθσαϊδάν
    And they come to the house of the ruler of the synagogue (Mark 5:38) καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς τὸν οἶκον
    And they come to Jericho (Mark 10:46) Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς Ἰεριχώ
    And they come to Jerusalem (Mark 11:15) Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα
    And they come unto a place which was named Gethsemane (Mark 14:32) Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς χωρίον οὗ τὸ ὄνομα Γεθσημανῆ
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And there was there a woman . . . καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ μία γυνὴ And there was there a man . . . (Mark 3:1) καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπος
    And he was there in the wilderness (Mark 1:13) καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ υἱὲ Δαβὶδ ἐλέησόν με Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ (Mark 10:47) ὑιὸς Δαβὶδ Ἰησοῦ ἐλέησόν με
    son of David, have mercy on me (Mark 10:48) Υἱὲ Δαβίδ, ἐλέησόν με
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And his disciples rebuked her . . . οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμησαν αὐτῇ· And his disciples rebuked them. (Mark 10:13) δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμων τοῖς προσφέρουσιν
    And Jesus rebuked him (Mark 1:25) καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς
    And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. (8:32) καὶ προσλαβόμενος αὐτὸν ὁ Πέτρος ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτῷ
    But he turning about, and seeing his disciples, rebuked Peter (8:33) ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐπετίμησεν τῷ Πέτρῳ
    And many rebuked him (10:48) καὶ ἐπετίμων αὐτῷ πολλοὶ
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And Jesus came and rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb . . . καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπεκύλισε τὸν λίθον ἀπὸ τῆς θύρας τοῦ μνημείου And he came and rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. (Matt. 28:2) προσελθὼν ἀπεκύλισεν τὸν λίθον ἀπὸ τῆς θύρας
`Who shall roll away for us the stone from the door of the tomb?’ (Mark 16:3) Τίς ἀποκυλίσει ἡμῖν τὸν λίθον ἐκ τῆς θύρας τοῦ μνημείου
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
He raised him, taking him by the hand . . . ἐξέτεινεν τὴν χεῖρα καὶ ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν· κρατήσας τῆς χειρός He raised her, taking her by the hand. (Mark 1:31) ἤγειρεν αὐτὴν κρατήσας τῆς χειρὸς αὐτῆς
    And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. (Mark 5:41) καὶ κρατήσας τῆς χειρὸς τοῦ παιδίου λέγει αὐτῇ Ταλιθα κοῦμι ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον Τὸ κοράσιον σοὶ λέγω ἔγειραι
    But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up. (Mark 9:27) ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς κρατήσας αὐτόν τῆς χειρὸς ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
looking at him he loved him, ἐμβλέψας αὐτῷ ἠγάπησεν αὐτὸν looking at him he loved him (Mark 10:21) ἐμβλέψας αὐτῷ ἠγάπησεν αὐτὸν
    And Jesus looking upon them (Mark 10:27) ἐμβλέψας δὲ αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς
    she looked upon him (Mark 14:67) ἐμβλέψασα αὐτῷ
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
and began to beg him that he might be with him καὶ ἤρξατο παρακαλεῖν αὐτὸν ἵνα μετ’ αὐτοῦ ᾖ and begged him that he might be with him . . . (Mark 5:18) παρεκάλει αὐτὸν ὁ δαιμονισθεὶς ἵνα ᾖ μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ
    And he besought him much that he would not send them away (Mark 5:10) παρεκάλει αὐτὸν πολλὰ ἵνα μὴ αὐτοὺς ἀποστείλῃ ἔξω τῆς χώρας
    And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. (Mark 5:17) καὶ ἤρξαντο παρακαλεῖν αὐτὸν ἀπελθεῖν ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων αὐτῶν
    and besought him to touch him (Mark 8:22) παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν ἵνα αὐτοῦ ἅψηται
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
for he was rich. ἦν γὰρ πλούσιος for he was very rich (Luke 18:23) ἦν γὰρ πλούσιος σφόδρα
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And after six days . . . καὶ μεθ’ ἡμέρας ἓξ And after six days . . . (Mark 9:2) Καὶ μεθ᾽ ἡμέρας ἓξ
    and after three days (Mark 8:31) καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And when it was evening [he] comes . . . καὶ ὀψίας γενομένης And when it was evening he comes (Mark 14:17) Καὶ ὀψίας γενομένης ἔρχεται
    And the same day, when the evening was come (Mark 4:35) Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὀψίας γενομένης
    And when it was evening (Mark 6:47) καὶ ὀψίας γενομένης
    And now when the evening was come (Mark 15:42) Καὶ ἤδη ὀψίας γενομένης
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
dressed in a linen garment over his nakedness περιβεβλημένος σινδόνα ἐπὶ γυμνοῦ dressed in a linen garment over his nakedness (Mark 14:51) περιβεβλημένος σινδόνα ἐπὶ γυμνοῦ
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
the mystery of the kingdom of God . . . τὸ μυστήριον τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ the mystery of the kingdom of God (Mark 4:11) τὸ μυστήριον τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ
    the gospel of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14) τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ
    the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15, 4:26, 10:14) ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ
    the kingdom of God (Mark 4:30, 9:1, 9:47, 10:15, 10:23, 10:24, 10:25, 15:43) τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ
    the kingdom of God (Mark 12:34) τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ
    the kingdom of God (Mark 14:25) τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And leaving there he returned to across-the-Jordan. ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς; ἐπέστρεψεν εἰς τὸ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου And leaving there he comes to the regions of Judea and across-the-Jordan (Mark 10:1) Κακεῖθεν ἀναστὰς ἔρχεται εἰς τὰ ὅρια τῆς Ἰουδαίας διὰ τοῦ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου
    And from there he arose and went to the region (Mark 7:24) καὶ Ἐκεῖθεν ἀναστὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὰ μεθόρια

For quite a long time I have been unimpressed by the argument of a pastiche gospel. Not so much for finding parallels to the other gospels (which is a legitimate objection), but for finding parallels to the Gospel of Mark. How odd could it be that “Mark” is able to imitate himself? With that kind of reasoning, we would suspect that every time Mark uses a similar construction as one he has used before, that part is a later addition done by someone trying to imitate Mark. This is also the point I want to make by presenting more parallels.

Having dealt quite a lot lately with the Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, (see my Swedish treatise Jesuspassagerna hos Josefus – en fallstudie) one would then suspect all of the Testimonium to be a forgery, simply on the basis that almost everything can be paralleled in Josephus’ own writings. On the contrary, this fact is instead used to argue that the Testimonium is written by Josephus, as expressions like “about this time” or “wise man” are common to Josephus’ way of expressing himself. I have never heard anyone argue that simply because Josephus begins the next paragraph after the Testimonium with “and about this time” the beginning of the Testimonium is also a forgery. Why should we then believe this when it comes to the first Secret Mark passage?

I will now examine each sentence one by one.

1)      “And they come to Bethany” is almost exactly paralleled by Mark 8:22. But then it is exactly paralleled by Mark 10:46, 11:15 and 14:32, apart from the fact that they there are said to come to Jericho, Jerusalem and Gethsemane, respectively. And there is also an almost exact parallel in Mark 5:38, when they come to the house of the ruler of the synagogue.

2)      “And there was there a woman“ is paralleled by “And there was there a man” in Mark 3:1. The three identical words are “καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ”, which also are to be found in Mark 1:13, yet with a slightly different meaning.

3)      ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ has a parallel in Mark 10:47, however with a slightly different wording. There is also a parallel to the next sentence in Mark 10:48 which by the way happens to be an exact parallel.

4)      “And his disciples rebuked her” is paralleled by Mark 10:13: “And his disciples rebuked them.” The Greek is similar. But then there is a lot of rebuking, although not by the disciples as a group. Jesus, Peter and “many” are rebuking “him” respectively Peter.

5)      “And Jesus came and rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb”. Here Watson finds a parallel to the Gospel of Matthew, which of course is quite interesting: “And he came and rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb.” (Matt. 28:2). If there is a parallel to the Gospel of Matthew, “Mark” could not possibly have been influenced by it, since he wrote earlier. The Greek is close to identical between the two sentences, yet there is no “of the tomb” in the Greek of Matthew’s passage as Watson claims. Watson explains this by saying that “of the tomb” is “a minority reading”. On the other hand, the sentence in the Gospel of Mark which “Matthew” is relying on in fact has “of the tomb”. The slightly different inflection in the passage in Mark depends on the fact that the sentence is formulated as a question in Mark. It is therefore more likely that Mark again is imitating himself.

6)      “He raised him, taking him by the hand” is paralleled by Mark 1:31: “He raised her, taking her by the hand.” There are five Greek words with almost similar inflection.  There are also two other close parallels (though not as close as in 1:31, but then Watson got to chose his parallels first) in Mark 5:41 and 9:27, where Jesus takes people by their hands and asks them to rise. It is really just the order of the words that differs.

7)      “looking at him he loved him” is paralleled by Mark 10:21. There are four identical Greek words. This has no other parallel in Mark, as Jesus or others are never elsewhere said to love another person. Nevertheless, the opening words “looking at him” is paralleled both in Mark 10:27 and Mark 14:67 with only a slightly different inflection.

8)      “and began to beg him that he might be with him”. This is paralleled by Mark 5:18: “and begged him that he might be with him . . .”. The Greek is quite similar though the verb has a different conjugation. This is fairly closely paralleled in Mark 5:10 and to a lesser degree in Mark 5:17 and 8:22.

9)      “for he was rich.” Here Watson turns to Luke 18:23 and the rich youth: “for he was very rich”. They share three identical words in Greek. There is no further parallel in Mark. Firstly can be said that in order to say that someone was rich, there is really not that many ways to express this. Secondly, in this passage Luke is dependant on Mark and the information that the youth was rich is therefore an addition made by Luke. Or is it? Could it be that the copy of Mark which Luke had access to, also said that the youth was rich? This is not entirely impossible, since there seems to be a close affinity between this “rich” youth and the rich youth being raised by Jesus in the Secret Mark passage. If so, Mark is again imitating himself.

10)  “And after six days” is identically paralleled by Mark 9:2. No other parallels of six days exist. Yet there is one where it says “three days”: “and after three days” (Mark 8:31).

11)  “And when it was evening [he] comes”. Three words in Greek are paralleled in Mark 14:17. The same three words are also paralleled in Mark 6:47 and in 15:42.

12)  “dressed in a linen garment over his nakedness” is exactly paralleled in Mark 14:51. There are no other parallels in Mark. This really comes as no surprise as this is quite a specific subject. Mark 14:51 with the youth being torn off his linen garment is, as is the “rich” youth in Mark 10:17–22, often seen as the same youth being raised by Jesus in the Secret Mark passage. It would therefore come as no surprise if “Mark” used the same language in describing him.

13)  “the mystery of the kingdom of God” is exactly paralleled by Mark 4:11, and by no other passage. But “the kingdom of God” occur on several occasions, and Mark 1:14 reads “the gospel of the kingdom of God“. Apart from μυστήριον being replaced by εὐαγγέλιον it reads exactly the same in Greek.

14)  “And leaving there he returned to across-the-Jordan.” This is paralleled by Mark 10:1: “And leaving there he comes to the regions of Judea and across-the-Jordan”. This is the only other time Jesus is said to cross the Jordan, and the crossing of Jordan is therefore not paralleled anywhere else in Mark. But the rest is paralleled in Mark 7:24.

Summary

Francis Watson

Francis Watson

In the end, all of this boils down to “Mark” imitating himself. Watson came first and got to choose the closest parallels, but the examples I have presented are not far off. I managed to find parallels to almost all of Watson’s parallels, whereas he only found parallels to the Secret Mark passage at a rate of 42% [66/157] or if I am being generous 53% [66/(157 – 32)]. As can be seen, the author of the Gospel of Mark is writing quite stereotyped and often expresses himself in a similar way, which of course might be explained by Greek not being his native language.

Francis Watson claims that the fact that many expressions in the first Secret Mark passage can be paralleled in the Gospel of Mark shows that someone has produced the Secret Mark passage by combining passages from the Gospel of Mark and thereby has created a new text. In the name of consequence, this would mean that also every other parallel that is (to a great extent) found in Mark, would be additions made to the Gospel of Mark by a later imitator.

I would say that the fact that the Secret Mark passage so much resembles other expressions found in the Gospel of Mark speaks for authenticity – not against authenticity!

Roger Viklund, 2010-09-05

3 kommentarer

  1. 6 september, 2010 den 18:35

    IIRC, what you write about Josephus was a point Scott Brown also made i.e. for every passage of the Gospel of Mark a parallel found in other part of the gospel is a sign of clear Markan authorship, only with Secret Mark does it point to imitation.

    Not a great fan of double standards, so I’m with you here, finding it curious that practically every page of the Gospel of Mark, due to the formulaic language it is written with, could be judged to be ‘Markan imitation’ if one would be consistent in applying such criteria. Well, I may be exaggerating a bit, but not too much. Furthermore, short, simple & generic expressions like καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ (sentence no. 2) are especially dangerous as basis for imitation, since they are to be found everywhere, from LXX to the canonised gospels to the Acts of John and the Church fathers.

    Gilla

  2. 6 september, 2010 den 19:22

    There Is Nothing New Under The Sun! I cannot remember to have seen this idea expressed by Scott Brown, yet it comes as no surprise if it turns out that I have forgotten about it. It is just strange how one tend to use arguments which go against ones proposal, as arguments in support for ones proposal. Of course one could say that a clever counterfeiter would manage to imitate the author of the Gospel of Mark by taking phrases from the Gospel of Mark, reshaping them and presenting them as if they were written by the author of the Gospel of Mark. But this could never be an argument against authenticity; only an argument against the obvious argument in favour of authenticity.

    The fact that the language of the Secret Mark passages is so similar to the language of the Gospel of Mark, speaks for Secret Mark being written by “Mark”. This could be countered by saying that a clever forger could make it appear as if this was written by Mark, simply by copying certain passages within the Gospel of Mark. This should then be presented as a counter-argument but it will never give weight to the letter being a forgery, only reduction in weight for the letter being genuine.

    I can’t help thinking of Tertullian, accusing Markion for forgery by having removed those parts that goes against his theology. Yet at the same time also using the fact that quite some part of the material he in such case left did go against his theology, as an argument for Markion having forged the scriptures. I.e. Markion left those parts in order not to be suspected for having forged the scriptures. As you have written before, these kinds of arguments work both ways, and either way one cannot lose. This has nothing to do with Tertullian being right or not, it’s just an unjust way of dealing with the facts.

    Gilla

  3. 7 september, 2010 den 09:19

    Brown discusses this in Mark’s Other Gospel under the heading Too Markan to Be Mark? (pp. 105-111), and concludes that ”Ironically, the fact that these two verses from the opening of chapter 4 [Mark 4:1-2] ”are full of Markanisms” is the reason for the ”almost unanimous” agreement among redaction critics that these verses were composed by Mark. … So the criterion scholars use to isolate Mark’s handiwork in the canonical gospel — high concentration of Markan traits — is the same criterion used to isolate an imitator’s handiwork in the non-canonical gospel.” (110)

    Indeed, unjustness or unfairness is a perspective worth remembering. It is not just that working every bit of data to support a theory is questionable on philosophical grounds, it is also unfair to one’s colleagues as it makes the discussion practically impossible.

    Gilla


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