My Follow-up on Larry Hurtado’s Follow-up on Secret Mark

Larry W. Hurtado

Larry W. Hurtado

Larry Hurtado has responded to my blog post Larry W. Hurtado’s arguments that Secret Mark is a forgery, where I am criticizing the arguments he in his blog post “Secret Mark”: Heat and (Insufficient) Light) in the first place put forward to cast suspicion on the text. In his response he writes the following:

“Mr. Roger Viklund is a now-familiar zealous advocate of the authenticity and importance of the purported letter of Clement of Alexandria and, more important still, the putative “Secret Mark” excerpted in the letter.  Unable, thus, to tolerate any hint of suspicion about the text, he has posted a refutation of my “arguments”. … Oh dear!  I fear that his charming devotion to “Secret Mark” has led him to misconstrue my posting – – – so Mr. Viklund’s anxiety and zeal to refute these “observations” is misplaced – – –  and in Viklund’s case with such desperate zeal – – – Mr. Viklund’s excited attempt to refute my observations reflects the “heat” about which I complained” (excerpts from A Follow-up on “Secret Mark” by Larry W. Hurtado)

Well, I seem to have worked up some heat anyway.

Larry Hurtado thinks among other things that his report “was not a set of ‘arguments’ but merely some observations, that I [he] contend give us cause to hesitate to embrace the Clement letter and its purported excerpts as much of a basis for grand theories about the Gospel of Mark and Christian origins.” But “observations” made in order to cause us to hesitate to embrace the Clement letter, is of course arguments – what else could it be? So instead of welcoming criticism of his “observations”, which is the basis of all scientific research, Hurtado accuses me of being unable “to tolerate any hint of suspicion about the text”; but still he says that we should “have more light, and less heat”.

Hurtado claims that I do not correct his “observations (they stand as valid), but instead tries to minimize their force as ‘arguments’.” Well, what else is there to do about mere suggestions? The fact is, that after having said in his first blog post “Secret Mark”: Heat and (Insufficient) Light that the York event was focusing upon the “hoax question”, Hurtado claims that this isn’t the only question and not the case that everything else depends on:

“The York event seems to have focused on this hoax question, and the reports suggest a resulting stand-off, with nobody changing his/her mind as a result.  But this isn’t the only question, and it certainly isn’t the case that everything else depends on it.  I reiterate a few points from my own discussion of “Secret Mark” in my book, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003), 433-37 (to which readers are referred for details and references to other publications).”

To my mind the following points presented by Hurtado is meant to be a set of arguments to be put on top of the “hoax question”.

Hurtado says that his position “is one of withholding judgement”, which is fine with me. It is like saying – I’m neutral. Yet Hurtado is without any doubt standing in one corner of the ring, always arguing against authenticity and urging us not to pay much attention to the letter. There is no secret that I am in the other corner of the ring; yet none of us knows the truth.

Of course I fully agree with Hurtado that it was correct to publish Stephen Carlson’s book. In fact, that book has advanced the study of the letter immensely; not because of its brilliant insights but because of all the debate and research it has led to.

Hurtado also likes to correct my construal. He elaborates on his original point that it is “curious that this is the only letter of Clement to survive stands.” He is saying that it is curious that this particular “letter with its tantalizing references to an otherwise unknown text should somehow survive” and not another text. He claims that this is not an argument that it’s inauthentic, but “a reason to treat it with some caution”. We all treat it with some caution (since no one knows if it is genuine), and since it is no argument (according to Hurtado) I will leave it by that. I also consider it not to be an argument of any importance.

Hurtado also emphasizes that a “lot can happen in that length of time!” This is of course true. Yet, a lot can also happen in a short of time, as we can see regarding texts which have entered the Bible under the pretence of being written by someone who did not write it. So, although I agree that it of course would have been much better if we had an early papyrus from let’s say the third century attesting to either the letter or the Secret Gospel, but since we don’t, we are stuck with what we have. No matter what, we still have to judge the text on its own merits.

Hurtado also argues that there “is no reason to treat this letter of Clement as authentic” just because “there were many more ancient Christian texts than survive”. But I would never dream of making such an argument. I only pointed to the opposite, namely that there is no reason to cast suspicion on the authenticity of this letter of Clement because it is not (openly) attested to by the Church Fathers. It is after all said to be a secret Gospel which Theodoros is requested to deny on oath, or at least to deny that Mark is the author; a gospel that is only found in the “church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.” That such a gospel would have remained unknown for the vast majority of Church Fathers comes as no surprise.

Hurtado now says that it neither is “an ‘argument’ against authenticity of the text” that a number of “scholars point to indications that the excerpts have an indebtedness to GMark and GJohn”. Fine with me, but why then mention it at all if it is not an argument for anything? If it would have been an argument, it would have been an odd one though. Now the fact that “some scholars are so ready to use” Secret Mark for “constructions of the history of GMark” is according to Hurtado “a damn good reason to hesitate” when “the scholarly jury remains divided on some basic issues of authenticity”. According to Hurtado, this is still no argument. But why would scholars not use Secret Mark to reconstruct GMark if they think the text is authentic? And even if they are doubtful about the authenticity, a solid reconstruction achieved with the help of Secret Mark; a reconstruction which actually better explains the synoptic problem, could be another way to authenticate Secret Mark. Scholars are all the time working with hypothetical texts and probabilities, for example with Q.

Hurtado finds this to be “particularly odd, when the same scholars who seem so enthusiastic about the Clement letter show very good critical attitudes about some other early Christian texts, for which in fact we have hugely more (and much earlier) evidence.” And then they are also canonical, I suppose Hurtado meant. But there is no correlation between this and that. When Christian texts are questioned, the actual texts are hardly ever questioned (apart from certain phrases), just the authorship and the time when they were written. And this is of course investigated in the same way “with good critical attitudes” also when it comes to Secret Mark. Hurtado instead urges us not to make use of Secret Mark in the reconstructions. I am wondering if he also urges us to do the same with Q?

So, when Hurtado claims that he made no arguments against the authenticity, I of course cannot say that I have refuted them. If there is nothing to refute, you of course cannot refute it. Still, the exhortation to be extra cautious seems unfounded if it would only be based on Hurtado’s “observations”.

The light Hurtado hoped for can perhaps come from the possibility that the ink after all could be tested: Finally there might be a way to confirm whether or not “To Theodoros” is genuine

Roger Viklund, 2011-05-21

3 kommentarer

  1. bbnews said,

    22 maj, 2011 den 01:00

    I need your help, Roger, since my knowledge of English isn’t so good as it should be.

    But does Prof. Larry W. Hurtado actually mean that if his opinions are backed up by observations, then nobody is allowed to question or discuss these observations? If you want to discuss and/or question his opinions, then Prof. Hurtado must have called his backing up of them arguments (instead of observations)? Or have I got it wrong now?

    If I have understood Prof. Larry W. Hurtado right about the point he’s making, does that mean that if you call your own support for your opinion observations instead of arguments in favor of it, then nobody is allowed to discuss and/or question the support?

    Maybe I’ve misunderstood the whole thing? That sort of reasoning doesn’t make sense in my eyes. That’s why I ask you, Roger, to tell me if I’ve understood or misunderstood what Prof. Hurtado wants to tell his readers and blog followers. What do you think, Roger? Am I wrong or am I right in my interpretation of what Prof. Hurtado wants to tell his readers?


  2. 22 maj, 2011 den 04:10

    Well at least Professor Hurtado is promoting you as a ”now-familiar zealous advocate of the authenticity and importance of the purported letter of Clement of Alexandria.” Maybe you can aspire to be ”Sweden’s leading advocate of Secret Mark.” My personal feeling is that we will all end up being friends. Hurtado is a very passionate person too. You actually care about the same things. If you were both on a dating site you would probably be described as ‘highly compatible’ with one another. As I said, one day we will end up being friends.


  3. 22 maj, 2011 den 09:56

    I don’t know bbnews what Prof. Hurtado means with all this. If I try to interpret it I will probably make the wrong interpretation.
    And Stephan, as far as I’m concerned, we could end up as friends. I don’t have any personal enemies (at least that I’m aware of) and I try to make a distinction between person and thing. But I do care about the truth; maybe I’m zealous for the truth (like Paul?)



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