A Quest for Secret Mark’s Authenticity: A Chain is as Strong as its Weakest Link

I wrote this article more than a year ago, and had it published at my web site. But since it went by without being much noticed and as I think it has some good points, I have decided to publish it once more and then here on my blog.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A Quest for Authenticity:
A Chain is as Strong as its Weakest Link

by Roger Viklund

It is said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This means that if a number of arguments are presented in favour of a particular opinion and these arguments are dependent upon each other, then that opinion itself is no stronger than the weakest argument. If that argument is a dubious argument, then it does not matter if the other arguments are solid. On the other hand, if you can produce a chain of arguments leading from the beginning to the end; and every argument in that chain is intellectually persuasive, then this chain would reasonably produce a very strong case. If the chain cannot be broken by cracking one of the links, the chain would form what could be considered to be a proof or at least strong evidence.

What I will do here is to try to present such a chain of arguments leading up to a reasonably solid ground for authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark and as a result thereof also the Clement letter. In this I will focus on the elements which form the separate links in the chain and leave most of the other circumstances outside the discussion, as I believe that motives, opportunities and other circumstantial evidence are irrelevant if a solid case for authenticity can be presented. I will also, as a second chain, argue for the longer secret/mystic gospel being the original Gospel of Mark, preceding the canonical version in the Bible.

I will take my stand in the Secret Gospel itself, beginning from the very start and advancing to modern time; quite the opposite approach compared to what is often seen, where the investigation begins with Morton Smith and the discovery at Mar Saba in 1958. In order to make my case as clear as possible, I will also try to keep this article as short as is defensible, not arguing in detail for every position, but instead presupposing that the readers are aware of the history of the letter and Mark’s literary techniques with intercalations, framing stories and so on.

The first Chain: A Claim for Authenticity

Authenticity Link One

The Secret Mark fragments form both an intercalation
and a framing story within the Gospel of Mark

For convenience I will designate the Secret Mark fragments in connection with the intermediate section from the Gospel of Mark (10:35–45) as an intercalation, even though I know that some people consider it not to be an intercalation. Regardless of what one thinks is characterizing an intercalation; the parts from Secret Mark do interact with the Gospel of Mark in a way which is typical of how the Gospel of Mark is composed. When Mark (to me a code word for whoever wrote the gospel) is telling a story, he has a habit of incorporating an additional story and letting these two stories unfold simultaneously by letting the focus shift from one story to the other. He does this so that the stories illuminate each other, thereby highlighting Mark’s theological intention. The technique is called intercalation or Markan sandwich technique. The course can be described as letting an A-event progress while a B-event is put inside the A-event. The course is A, then B and finally A again, or better, A1, B, and finally A2.[1]

Below, I reproduce Secret Mark fitted in its context in the Gospel of Mark; both the Greek text and an English translation.

Mark 10:32–34, Alexandrian text type, GNT Morph

ἦσαν δὲ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἀναβαίνοντες εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ ἦν προάγων αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ ἐθαμβοῦντο οἱ δὲ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἐφοβοῦντο καὶ παραλαβὼν πάλιν τοὺς δώδεκα ἤρξατο αὐτοῖς λέγειν τὰ μέλλοντα αὐτῷ συμβαίνειν ὅτι ἰδοὺ ἀναβαίνομεν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδοθήσεται τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν καὶ τοῖς γραμματεῦσιν καὶ κατακρινοῦσιν αὐτὸν θανάτῳ καὶ παραδώσουσιν αὐτὸν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν καὶ ἐμπαίξουσιν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐμπτύσουσιν αὐτῷ καὶ μαστιγώσουσιν αὐτὸν καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστήσεται

SecMk1 (the A1-story)

καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς βηθανίαν καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ μία γυνὴ ἧς ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτῆς ἀπέθανεν· καὶ ἐλθοῦσα προσεκύνησε τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· υἱὲ Δαβὶδ ἐλέησόν με· οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμησαν αὐτῇ· καὶ ὀργισθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπῆλθεν μετ’ αὐτῆς εἰς τὸν κῆπον ὅπου ἦν τὸ μνημεῖον· καὶ εὐθὺς ἠκούσθη ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου φωνὴ μεγάλη· καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀπεκύλισε τὸν λίθον ἀπὸ τῆς θύρας τοῦ μνημείου· καὶ εἰσελθὼν εὐθὺς ὅπου ἦν ὁ νεανίσκος ἐξέτεινεν τὴν χεῖρα καὶ ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν· κρατήσας τῆς χειρός· ὁ δὲ νεανίσκος ἐμβλέψας αὐτῷ ἠγάπησεν αὐτὸν καὶ ἤρξατο παρακαλεῖν αὐτὸν ἵνα μετ’ αὐτοῦ ᾖ· καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου ἦλθον εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν τοῦ νεανίσκου· ἦν γὰρ πλούσιος· καὶ μεθ’ἡμέρας ἓξ ἐπέταξεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· καὶ ὀψίας γενομένης ὁ νεανίσκος πρὸς αὐτὸν· περιβεβλημένος σινδόνα ἐπὶ γυμνοῦ· καὶ ἔμεινε σὺν αὐτῷ τὴν νύκτα ἐκείνην· ἐδίδασκε γὰρ αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς τὸ μυστήριον τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς; ἐπέστρεψεν εἰς τὸ πέραν τοῦ Ἰορδάνου.

Mark 10:35–45 (the B-story), Alexandrian text type

καὶ προσπορεύονται αὐτῷ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάννης οἱ υἱοὶ Ζεβεδαίου λέγοντες αὐτῷ διδάσκαλε θέλομεν ἵνα ὃ ἐὰν αἰτήσωμέν σε ποιήσῃς ἡμῖν ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς τί θέλετέ με ποιήσω ὑμῖν οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ δὸς ἡμῖν ἵνα εἷς σου ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ εἷς ἐξ ἀριστερῶν καθίσωμεν ἐν τῇ δόξῃ σου ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω ἢ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθῆναι οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ δυνάμεθα ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω πίεσθε καὶ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθήσεσθε τὸ δὲ καθίσαι ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἢ ἐξ εὐωνύμων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν δοῦναι ἀλλ’ οἷς ἡτοίμασται καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ δέκα ἤρξαντο ἀγανακτεῖν περὶ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ δοκοῦντες ἄρχειν τῶν ἐθνῶν κατακυριεύουσιν αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ μεγάλοι αὐτῶν κατεξουσιάζουσιν αὐτῶν οὐχ οὕτως δέ ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν ἀλλ’ ὃς ἂν θέλῃ μέγας γενέσθαι ἐν ὑμῖν ἔσται ὑμῶν διάκονος καὶ ὃς ἂν θέλῃ ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι πρῶτος ἔσται πάντων δοῦλος καὶ γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἦλθεν διακονηθῆναι ἀλλὰ διακονῆσαι καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν

Mark 10:46a + SecMk2 (the A2-story), Mark 10:46b

καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς Ἰεριχώ καὶ ἦσαν ἐκεῖ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τοῦ νεανίσκου ὃν ἠγάπα αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς· καὶ ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ καὶ Σαλώμη· καὶ οὐκ ἀπεδέξατο αὐτὰς ὁ Ἰησοῦς· καὶ ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ Ἰεριχὼ καὶ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ καὶ ὄχλου ἱκανοῦ ὁ υἱὸς Τιμαίου Βαρτιμαῖος τυφλὸς προσαίτης ἐκάθητο παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν

Mark 10:32–34, NASB

They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking on ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were fearful. And again He took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to Him, [saying,] ”Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. ”They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill [Him,] and three days later He will rise again.”

SecMk1, Morton Smith’s translation

And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.

Mark 10:35–45, NASB

James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on [Your] left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. “But to sit on My right or on [My] left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Hearing [this,] the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:46a, SecMk2, Mark 10:46b

Then they came to Jericho. And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar [named] Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road.

Although of course also other writers in antiquity sometimes tended to interweave stories into other stories, the specifically Markan techniques for doing so have explicit characteristics. Actually, “Mark employs the sandwich technique in a unique and pronounced manner.”[2] This realization has led to more and more scholars arguing that “the purpose of Mark’s sandwich technique is not in itself literary but theological”.[3] Scholars disagree also upon what should be called an intercalation or not, but at least six passages are generally accepted as intercalations[4] and at least a dozen more are disputed. Among these six there are stylistic features they have in common. These can be summarized in five typical characteristics of a Markan intercalation.[5]

  1. The A2-story is repeating the opening theme from the A1-story in order to draw attention to the relationship between the two A-stories.
  2. The B-story is independent of the A-story and also complete in itself.
  3. There are different protagonists in the A- and B-stories.
  4. Both the A-story and the B-story are set to contrast the other story theologically and thematically and they should be reciprocally interpretative.
  5. The A1-episode should continue and be fulfilled by the A2-episode.

The two quotations by Clement can be seen as the A1-story and the A2-story (SecMk1 and SecMk2). The B-story is made up of the part in between these stories, Mark 10:35–45, the request by James and John to accompany Jesus in his Kingdom. How well does this then fulfil the five criteria?

The first criterion: SecMk2 is repeating the opening theme of SecMk1, but only if Mark 10:46a is added, and this shows that they should be seen as a unit from the beginning.

SecMk1: Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς βηθανίαν καὶ ἦν ἐκεῖ μία γυνὴ ἧς ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτῆς  ἀπέθανεν.
And they come into Bethany, and there was a certain woman whose brother had died.

Mark 10:46a + SecMk2:    Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς Ἰεριχώ καὶ ἦσαν ἐκεῖ ἡ ἀδελφὴ τοῦ νεανίσκου ὃν ἠγάπα αὐτὸν ὁ Ἰησοῦς.
And they come into Jericho, and there was the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved.

Both passages begin with “and they come into” and thereafter the place. Then another “and” after which the same woman is mentioned and she is in both cases identified as the sister of the youth … and so on. This means that the first criterion is fulfilled, as the A2-story “contains an allusion at its beginning which refers back to A1, e.g., repetition of a theme, proper nouns, etc.” in order to draw attention to the relationship between the two A-stories and so the reader not “fails to link A2 with A1”.[6] One could of course argue that Mark 10:46a (Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς, and a place name) is such a common phrase in Mark (also in Mark 5:38, 8:22, 11:15, 14:32) that this should not be counted as a repetition. Still it is a repetition of SecMk1, and the rest of the sentence is in itself enough to make the connection. On top of that there is also another typical Markan intercalation sign in this story. Tom Shepherd describes this Markan technique in his doctoral thesis:

Also, a previously unmentioned character is introduced, or a new name is given to a group previously introduced in the first part of the outer story. This new character or newly named group is the subject/actor of the first or second sentence of the reentered outer story.[7]

That is in the first or second sentence of the A2-story. This also perfectly fits the Secret Mark-intercalation, since Salome, a person who is not mentioned before in the Gospel of Mark, is introduced in the first sentence of SecMk2. Also the youth’s mother (provided she is not Jesus’ mother) is a new character, never previously mentioned. John Dart, who happens to believe that Secret Mark was the original composition by Mark, believes the mother to be Jesus’ mother. He writes:

The rebuff of the women by Jesus, without direct explanation, is not unprecedented in Mark. Earlier, Mark has Jesus express disdain for his mother and siblings at 3:31–35 and at 6:4, apparently for believing Jesus was “mad” and a prophet pretender, respectively. Mother is ignored again in Secret Mark’s 10:46.[8]

The second criterion: In SecMk1 (A1) Jesus raises a youth from the dead and then teaches him “the Mystery of the Kingdom of God”. In SecMk2 (A2) one of the persons from SecMk1 (A1) is back, namely the sister of the youth. The B-story is on the other hand in itself complete and independent of the A-story, and it concerns seemingly another subject, namely that James and John strive to drink the cup of Jesus and request to be elevated to his Kingdom to sit on each side of him. The second criterion is therefore fulfilled, as “the B-episode forms an independent unit of material”.[9]

The third criterion: There should be different characters in the A- and B-stories. The exceptions are normally Jesus and the disciples, as they (at least Jesus) are part of almost every story. But if the disciples are present in both stories, they are not supposed to play a major part in both.[10] Also this criterion is fulfilled. In the B-story the disciples, and then particularly James and John, are the protagonists. In the A-story (SecMk1) the protagonists are the youth, his sister, Salome and the mother of either the youth or Jesus. The disciples are only mentioned at the beginning, and then as a group.

[Mark] brought two stories together not only in the telling, but also in the way the characters of the stories have so many parallels and contrasts to one another. And yet, the evangelist also held the stories apart by lack of character cross over between stories …[11]

Mark 10:46a has Καὶ ἔρχονται εἰς Ἰεριχώ – ”And they come to Jericho”. It is then interesting to note that according to Clement, Mark 10:46a instead read: “And he comes to Jericho” (καί ἔρχεται εἰς Ἰεριχὼ). Thereby the disciples’ involvement in the A-story is even more abridged.

The fourth criterion: Particularly this criterion, where the A- and B-stories should contrast each other theologically and thematically and also be reciprocally interpretative, is a late discovery, which according to Scott Brown was not fully accepted until the 1980s:

It was during the second half of the 1960s and the 1970s that a sizeable number of scholars came to appreciate intercalation as a device that permits stories to be mutually interpretative. Yet this perspective only began to dominate in the 1980s.[12]

J. D. Crossan emphasizes that “a Markan intercalation is not just a juxtaposition of two events”. Instead it is “a literary-theological technique, with both sides of the hyphen equally important.”[13] The two stories, the outer framing and the inner intersection, should at the same time be unrelated, with different protagonists operating in different environments and scenarios, and related by a more subtle understanding that they relate to a similar subject, yet often expressed more symbolically, thereby illuminating each other.

Also this criterion is seemingly fulfilled in the Secret Mark-intercalation. The A1-story and the B-story are tied together by the conception of death and ritual inauguration. In order to reach the place of honour, James and John need to drink Jesus’ cup; to “drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with”. (Mark 10:38) In SecMk1 the youth is dressed in a linen cloth, and has prepared himself to undergo what could be interpreted as an initiation rite, being taught “the Mystery of the Kingdom of God”. Symbolically he could be said to undergo Jesus’ baptism, which in that case is not a baptism of water but one of spirit and knowledge. If so, he tries to achieve Jesus’ glory by drinking his cup, the same as also James and John immediately afterwards requests.[14]

As James Edwards says, there “are many examples in ancient literature where an author interrupts one story with another in order to achieve a desired effect.” And he refers to both the Odyssey and the Iliad and from Hebrew Scriptures for instance 2 Maccabees, Hosea and 2 Sam 11:1-12:25. But he also says that to the best of his knowledge “the use of an inserted middle to give new meaning or to resolve a tension in a host passage can be seen” only in Hebrew Scriptures, and even then seldom. Still these stories differ from the ones in Mark, as “their B-episodes are intentional commentaries on the flanking A-episodes, whereas in Mark the B-episode is (with the exception of 4:1-20) always an independent narrative.”[15] “Almost always the insertion is the standard by which the flanking material is measured, the key to the interpretation of the whole.”[16]

The fifth criterion: Point 5 is however not fulfilled as the story from SecMk1 is not continuing and getting its fulfilment in SecMk2. Although the story in some way continues, as the sister of the youth who showed Jesus to the grave in SecMk1, and perhaps also the youth’s mother, now wish to meet Jesus, even if he rejects them. But SecMk1 is of course not fulfilled by SecMk2, as the first story is complete in itself.

This fifth criterion is seen by many as the ultimate criterion for an intercalation and therefore this story is by them considered not to be an intercalation, at least not a typical one. There are though other intercalations within the Gospel of Mark where the A2-story really is not needed to fulfil the A1-story, for instance in the intercalations in Mark 11:12–25 and Mark 6:7–32. In for example the A2-story in Mark 6:30–32 the travel-weary disciples simply reports back to Jesus what they already had done. This A2-story is really not necessary to fulfil the A1-story. SecMk1 is also unusually long to be an A1-story, and SecMk2 is unusually short to be an A2-story. But John Dart refers to Mark 6:30–32 as an example of why, according to him, “the postscriptlike conclusion” should not be considered to be too short an end frame.”[17] And on top of this; if Mark 11:1–12:12 is seen as a triple intercalation, then Mark 11:1–10 (11) is also a completed A1-story just like SecMk1.[18]

Whether the Secret Mark fragments inserted in the Gospel of Mark, shall be called an intercalation or not, is on the other hand simply a matter of semantics, and is totally irrelevant for my line of argument. I settle for noticing that four out of the five criteria put forward for identifying an intercalation are fulfilled, thereby showing that whoever wrote these two passages from the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark was aware of at least four out of the five techniques which the author of the Gospel of Mark utilized when he composed his intercalations. And if that person was aware of these four, he would for sure also have been aware of the fifth, since it is the most obvious one and easiest to detect.

The framing story

On top of that, also a framing story is attained where Mark 10:32–34 in interplay with SekMk1 are mirroring the language and the narrative of the actual ending of the Gospel of Mark (16:1–8), and both these “frames” are enclosing the extensive part which as a unit deals with Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem.

Authenticity Link Two

Ancient authors were unaware of Mark’s literary techniques

If someone else than the author of the Gospel of Mark has written the Secret Mark fragments, we would need to presuppose that this author was aware of Mark’s literary techniques, as presented in the previous authenticity link. Is there any way that someone in antiquity could have discovered these techniques? How does one prove that ancient authors were not aware of Mark’s literary techniques? One could of course point out the obvious, that no one shows any signs of knowing them. No Christian writer in the first centuries (and probably also later) says anything about the Gospel author’s literal techniques, neither directly nor show any awareness of them. But one could also take a broader perspective, and see that no one even cared for evaluating any author’s technique. The church fathers saw the gospels more like one testimony from God and they defended a passage in one gospel by referring to another gospel or to an epistle.

Notice that I do not claim that no one could have imitated Mark’s writing style, such as forming phrases and using words similar to those found in the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s style would be fairly easy to imitate, in antiquity as well as in modern time, by someone who had read the gospel thoroughly. It is after all just a short passage which needs to be invented, and Mark’s language is rather simplistic. Instead of focusing upon the language, I am specifically referring to the intercalation and the framing story.

How could anyone in antiquity have detected these techniques and then afterwards also been able to imitate them? Remember that no form of textual criticism like science has evolved into today was known in antiquity. And it has been a long and painstaking road to walk until just a few decades ago before we came to realize all the techniques that we so far know are being used in Secret Mark. Simply the fact that it took modern scholars so many years to discover Mark’s techniques would make it quite unlikely that the ancients would have been able to do the same thing (and all of this secretly). The only true examples we have to make comparisons with are the different endings of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:9ff), where certainly not Markan techniques are being utilized.[19] The ones who wrote these endings did not even manage to write in a typical Markan language, but were instead using words and expressions alien to Mark.

We are to believe that whoever managed to forge Mark could imitate his writing style, creating a framing story in interaction with the already finished Gospel of Mark and on top of that also an intercalation, where the author could identify and implement four distinct Markan characteristics which by science was only discovered at different times during the last centuries. Yet at the same time he was doing this, he would refrain from using the obvious sign of an intercalation, a sign which at least would be possible to discover if someone set out to analyze Mark’s literary techniques.

And as previously said, James Edwards claims that although there are many examples in ancient literature of sandwiching techniques being used, only seldom and then only in Hebrew Scriptures is there an inserted story that gives new meaning to the “host passage”. And even then “their B-episodes are intentional commentaries on the flanking A-episodes, whereas in Mark the B-episode is … an independent narrative.”[20]

There are those who believe that these techniques could have been more common in antiquity than we are aware of, and also that they could have been imitated subconsciously. I do not think so, since it is not just a matter of literal construction but mainly of theological. It is obvious for instance in one of the classical intercalations (Mark 14:53–72), where Peter denies Jesus thrice before the rooster crows twice, that the division between Jesus’ trial and Peter’s denial is not primarily done in order to increase the excitement, but to highlight the difference between a coward and someone willing to stand up for the faith, even if it costs him his life. This division is done to strengthen the supporters’ faith, and is not just a literal technique learnt in some rhetorical school. There is a huge difference between realizing what standing up for the faith means to me, and to unveil the technique used to create this insight and afterwards also being able to imitate it.

For those reasons, no one in antiquity could (within a reasonable way of using probabilities) have written Secret Mark, apart from the one who also wrote the canonical Gospel of Mark.

Authenticity Link Three

Medieval authors were unaware of Mark’s literary techniques

Could then someone later on have made the forgery? I am specifically referring to the period from the 3rd century (after Clement’s days) to the 18th century (before the letter was copied into the end papers of Vossius’ book). I would regard this as equally or even more unlikely. Equally unlikely, since the awareness of Mark’s literary techniques did not radically increase during this period. More unlikely, since a forger during this period also would have had to forge Clement, quite a difficult task, and by many regarded as almost impossible to do before 1936,[21] when the first concordance of Clement’s words was released.[22]

It is therefore not a realistic scenario to envision that someone would have made up this letter during this period and that a monk at Mar Saba in the 18th century took that text, which he thought was genuine, and copied it onto the end leaves of Vossius’ book.

Authenticity Link Four

Was the letter invented by someone else than Smith in the 18th, 19th or 20th century?

It is also unrealistic to believe that the letter was produced in the 18th, 19th or 20th century by someone else than Smith. The reason for this is though quite another than what previously has been argued for. Someone who would invent this letter in the 18th century would not have had the problem of producing the actual writing. Still in the 18th century that person could not have been aware of all the Markan literary techniques in order to produce the Secret Mark fragments. And he would also have faced the same problem as everybody else before 1936 in composing the Clement-part of the letter. Someone writing in the 1940s or 1950s could possibly have known all these things, but then the circumstance under which the letter was found makes this scenario really impossible to embrace. If someone would have gone through all the painstaking work of producing, what by many has been seen as the forgery of the century, then this person reasonably must have made sure that the letter also was found. To produce the forgery and then stick the book into a bookshelf at the Mar Saba library and hoping that someone eventually will find this forgery by pure chance and that this someone also will realize the importance of the discovery, is so unrealistic that I cannot really consider it to be an alternative at all. It is really out of the question.

Authenticity Link Five

Could Smith himself have forged the letter?

Morton Smith could in my opinion hardly have forged the letter. Out of these five links, this is probably though the weakest one, with far less hard facts to back it up. Apart from the option that both the Clement letter and Secret Mark are genuine, the only other realistic scenario seems to be that Morton Smith forged the letter. Of course, nothing so far presented as indications that Smith forged the letter can really be considered as evidence. It all basically comes down to casting suspicion on him. There are though a number of reasons that makes it quite unlikely that he forged the letter.

The sheer difficulty in imitating Mark, both literary and using his techniques, imitating Clement, both literary and implementing his world view, and imitating a fluid rapid cursive 18th century Greek handwriting, is in itself a strong argument in favour of Smith not having forged the text. He, like everybody else, could not possibly have managed to do it even if he had wanted to. On top of that, his correspondence with Gershom Scholem shows “him discussing the material with Scholem, over time, in ways that clearly reflect a process of discovery and reflection.”[23] And according to Helmut Koester, Smith was struggling to understand the document, even had problem to decipher the Greek handwriting. Not what one, according to Koester, would have expected from a forger.[24] But still, Smith could have been the cleverest forger ever to have appeared! This is at least what the proponents of this theory often claim.

But if so, there are some very strange facts to be considered. One of my main reasons for claiming that Secret Mark is not an ancient forgery is the fact that both an intercalation and a framing story occur within Mark if the excerpts from the Mar Saba letter are inserted. One of my main reasons for claiming that Smith did not invent the letter is the same, yet partly for a different cause. One could say that these typical Markan techniques could easily be imitated by a skilled scholar in modern times. But the problem here is that just four out of five characteristics of an intercalation are achieved. And the four that are achieved are the more subtle ones, some of which were poorly understood in 1958. There is of course one sign which is the most obvious sign of an intercalation and that is that the A1-episode should continue and be fulfilled by the A2-episode. This one, which is recognized by all as the obvious sign, is not fulfilled.

What a shrewd forger, who manages to make an uncharacteristic intercalation, leaving out the obvious sign, yet including signs that just a few scholars started to realize and which by then (1958) was not generally accepted! We are to believe that Smith besides being able to produce an almost perfect forgery, yet had the nerve to exclude from that forgery the most typical sign which everybody would recognize as a marker for an intercalation. At the same time he chooses to include markers which were only proposed by a few, not accepted or perhaps not even recognized by the majority, and which in 1958 no one would even have known if they in the future would be accepted. This is what Scott Brown says:

But the biggest problem for any theory of imitation is the fact that longer Mark contains more Markan characteristics than any imitator living before the 1980s is apt to have noticed. Although Mark has been studied intensively since the theory of Markan priority began to dominate in the last third of the nineteenth century, specialists in Mark have only quite recently begun to discern and articulate many of the Markan literary techniques used in the longer text … And these scholars have been able to build upon each other’s research. Indeed, it is only in the last few decades that scholars of Mark realized that Mark was capable of employing intelligent literary techniques.[25]

This line of argument can be pushed even further, as there obviously are elements within Secret Mark that correspond to Matthew, Luke and John. This is often put forward as signs of Secret Mark being a late pastiche, where the author has drawn on different sources.[26] But what a stupid forger who is perfectly imitating Mark, yet borrowing from the other gospels although he is trying to make it look as if it is written by Mark!

Smith then should at the same time have been the most shrewd forger and stupid forger. Or, he was so clever as to insert esoteric elements, yet leaving out the obvious signs, in order to fool those clever enough to realize this. By this way of arguing you cannot lose. You will find signs of forgery either way, as your arguments work both ways.

As a result, the most reasonable way of interpreting this is that no forger in modern time would have included the subtle elements of an intercalation and at the same time left out the obvious one; no forger would have accomplished such a perfect forgery, yet at the same time included elements which could be suspected for being taken from the other gospels. Compared to all the other achievements which a forger in such case would have made, it would have been a piece of cake to include the obvious sign for an intercalation and to exclude the passages which echo Matthew, Luke and John.

Summary

This chain of links accordingly says that 1) the Secret Mark part contains typical Markan techniques; 2) these techniques could hardly have been discovered in order to imitate them in antiquity, especially not when the most obvious one is left out; 3) it would have been equally difficult to discover and imitate them in the time from Clement to the 18th century, and on top that also extremely difficult to imitate Clement; 4) the way the discovery was made, it is really implausible to think that someone in the 18th–20th century, even if that someone could have accomplished this forgery, would have hid it in the back of a book at Mar Saba where it possibly never would have been discovered; and 5) if Morton Smith against all odds would have been able to produce the forgery of the century, we are still to believe that he managed to include signs of an intercalation not yet fully understood in 1958, while he would have excluded the most obvious criterion, and he also would have been so clumsy as to echo expressions from the other gospels.

The Second Chain: A Claim for Secret Markan Priority

I will in the same way argue that Secret Mark was the original Gospel of Mark, preceding the canonical Gospel of Mark. In this section I will presume that Secret Mark is genuine and written by the same person who wrote the Gospel of Mark, relying on my arguments in The first Chain: A Claim for Authenticity. Of course Clement seems to be claiming the opposite; the secret parts were added by Mark after he had completed the gospel which now is in the Bible. However, this is not absolutely certain. Clement says that Mark “transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge.” It is reasonable to think that this “former book” was the version known to us from the Bible, at least basically, since the summary Clement makes of the material into which the Secret Mark material is fitted, is in accordance with the Gospel of Mark, and he gives no indication of that the former book would be any other than this book. But still, we do not know this for sure. I will nevertheless disregard what Clement says regarding both the authorship and the order in which the gospels were written. I am so to say specifically investigating the order in which they were written, not the order in which they were made public (which might differ). I will examine how the text from Secret Mark interacts within the Gospel of Mark and base my judgment solely on that.

Although it is never explicitly said in the letter, there is still every reason to presuppose that there were more material in the additional parts than what is quoted by Clement, and reasonably rather much more. Clement only alluded to the specific parts which were part of Theodoros’ concern. Because of this there is also reason to be cautious, since in reality we are making exegesis on a material which is far too small and incomplete to let us draw any firm conclusions. In the letter Clement states that Mark made use of material in form of notes, which of course is quite likely no matter what. Whenever you produce a book, whether fiction or science, you first have to collect the basic facts, the material, and organise it before you can actually write it down. If we are to believe that the author first wrote the shorter version and then added more material for the secret/mystic longer version, then he anyway would have had to prepare for the insertion. And if so, then he also technically must have written it, because you can hardly prepare for something you have not written. If so, you would at least need to rewrite also the original material for the new material to fit.

Priority Link One

Secret Mark 2 part of the original gospel

This time I take my stand in the second part of Secret Mark quoted by Clement, which are to be inserted in Mark 10:46 after Jesus and the disciples comes to Jericho. The strange part in Mark 10:46 is of course the way the story is rendered:

And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people …

Why would Mark even mention that they came to Jericho if they immediately afterwards left without doing anything? Of course one can say that this was just a simple editorial detail in order to make Jesus and the disciple leave the town to get to the place where they could cure the blind man. That explanation is in some ways reasonable, but it is the manner in which this was done that makes it strange.

When I examined the Gospel of Mark, I found a total of 42 passages, including Mark 10:46, where Jesus, the disciples and others are said to arrive at a place.[27] Not all of these 42 examples are entirely representative; as Jesus in some cases is brought to the site and as several examples are from Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem, where it is fairly obvious that something will happen. But at least the majority of these 42 cases should be representative.

On those 42 occasions it is not once said that Jesus arrives somewhere … stop, and that he immediately afterwards leaves the site. The only exception is Mark 10:46. In those cases where he or someone else soon leaves a place it is always said why they went there or what was done there. However, there are some passages that require further investigation. Mark 8:27 reads: “Jesus went out, along with His disciples, to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way He questioned His disciples …”. Here it is not explicitly said that Jesus did anything. But “Mark” still solved or settled this issue quite elegantly, partly by talking of several villages in the area; partly by letting the story carry on during the walking-tour. Another example is Mark 11:11–12:

And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple; and when he had looked round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.

This is the most matching example I have found. Yet the differences between this and Mark 10:46 are significant. It is for sure said that Jesus is leaving Bethany, directly after he arrives there. But it should be noted that in the sentence before, the reason why he went to Bethany is made clear; it was late at night and he obviously needed somewhere to sleep for the night. He is also said to have arrived there at night and to have left in the morning. A totally unambiguous construction!

And here an additional commentary can be made. As David Blocker and I showed in our article A Fourteenth Century Text in which Jesus Taught the Kingdom of God During the Night at Bethany: Does It Demonstrate That Secret Mark Is an Ancient Text, and Not a Modern Forgery?, in the Hebrew version of Matthew, which probably is relying on ancient material, Jesus is actually said to have done something in Bethany during the night (apart from sleeping). He is said to have explained to the disciples the Kingdom of God. That is to say, also in Matthew 21:17 there seems to originally have been an ancient tradition about Jesus teaching the Kingdom of God to the disciples during the night; something originally found in the Gospel of Matthew but now lost, leaving a passage where Jesus enters and leaves Bethany.

“Mark” also uses other techniques. In Mark 14:3, he simply says: “And being in Bethany” without it ever being told that Jesus came there. In Mark 6:6 Jesus “went around teaching from village to village”, and in Mark 9:30, he “passed through Galilee”. In Mark 11:1 Jesus is said to have sent two of his disciples when they “came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives”. It is literary constructions like these we would have expected to find also in Mark 10:46 if the purpose was just to inform us that the miracle occurred in the vicinity of Jericho, or after Jesus had just passed Jericho. We also have the same unobjectionable construction in Mark 7:31, which says that Jesus “went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis.” Mark did not write: “And they came to Sidon. And he left Sidon and went to the Sea of Galilee.”

As far as I can tell, Mark 10:46 is the only example in the entire Gospel of Mark where the arrival to a place is not accompanied by a reason why he got there; that something special happened there, but he just left the place again. “And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho …”. But if the part which Clement says he quoted from the Secret Gospel of Mark is added to Mark 10:46, then the text makes sense:

And they came to Jericho. And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them. And as he went out of Jericho …

One can of course argue that this oddity in the Gospel of Mark was something that a later imitator tried to correct, by simply inserting this sentence so that the visit Jesus made to Jericho would make sense. But then we have to assume that Mark originally accomplished this rather awkward construction, and (as far as I can tell) the only “mistake” he has done. This so to say contradicts that the Secret Gospel of Mark would, as Clement says, be written by Mark after he had written his former book; reasonably the biblical Gospel of Mark. For then we must still assume that Mark achieved this “awkward” design in his original version. This is one argument in favour of the part with the sister, the mother and Salome waiting for Jesus in Jericho being part of the original version of the Gospel of Mark, and I would say a strong argument.

Priority Link Two

SecMk1 interacting with SecMk2

Since it makes more sense that the second quote from Secret Mark (SecMk2) was part of the original composition of the Gospel of Mark, also the first quote (SecMk1) must reasonably have been there from the beginning, since that part is interacting with the second part. For instance are the same characters repeated in the opening verses and it would have made no sense to mention “the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved” in SecMk2 unless that sister and that youth would not have been previously introduced, as they are in SecMk1. Therefore also SecMk1 with the raising of youth from the dead ought to have been part of the original composition of the Gospel of Mark.

Priority Link Three

SecMk1 interacting with Mark’s ending

SecMk1 must reasonably have been there also in order to interact with the ending of Mark (16:1–8), in order to form the framing story. Otherwise “Mark” could hardly have composed Mark 16:1–8. The reason for this is that the ending of Mark is mirroring not only what is stated in the resurrection passage from Secret Mark (SecMk1) but also what is said in the sentences before this (Mark 10:32–34). These parts are therefore a unit which interacts with Mark 16:1–8, and all of this had in all likelihood to be composed at the same time.

If you do not know what will be in SecMk1 and how it will interact with the surrounding material in Mark, how could you then compose the grave-act (Mark 16:1–8)? How could you compose the grave-act if you later are to compose a framing story? And if SecMk2 is part of the original version and interacts with SecMk1 which in turn interacts with the intersecting material, how could SecMk1 then not have been written? One could of course argue the Secret Gospel of Mark was “published” afterwards, and that is possible but also impossible to know, since the text does not reveal when it was made public. But if one simply dismisses Clement’s statement about the secret or mystic parts being added to the former book by Mark (whether this is the Gospel of Mark or a predecessor), assuming that Clement is unaware of the process, and solely study how the Secret Gospel material interacts with the material in the Gospel of Mark, it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the original composition of the Gospel of Mark also included the additional secret/mystic material. We do not know how much more material this was, but it is reasonable to think that the material intended for the advanced was removed by someone, the author or someone else, and the remaining material became sometime later on known to the broad mass of people as the Gospel of Mark.


[1] John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus, Harper-San Francisco, 1995, p. 62, 100–101.

[2] James R. Edwards, Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989), 216.

[3] James R. Edwards, Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989), 195–196.

[4] Mark 3:20–35, 5:21–43, 6:7–32, 11:12–25, 14:1–11, 14:53–72.. James R. Edwards identifies nine sandwiches, Mark 3:20–35, 4:1–20, 5:21–43, 6:7–30, 11:12–21, 14:1–11, 14:17–31, 14:53–72, 15:40–16:8. Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989) 197–198.

[5] I am here following Scott G. Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery. Waterloo, ON, CAN: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005, p. 165–179; and specifically p. 173.

[6] James R. Edwards, Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989), 197.

[7] Tom Shepherd, The Definition and Function of Markan Intercalation as Illustrated in a Narrative Analysis of Six Passages, Andrews University, 1991, 315, as quoted in Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel, p 167. Se also, Tom Shepherd, The Narrative Function of Markan Intercalation, New Testament Studies, 41 (1995), 522–540.

[8] John Dart, Decoding Mark, Trinity Press International, 2003, p. 41–42.

[9] James R. Edwards, Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989), 197.

[10] Tom Shepherd, The Definition and Function of Markan Intercalation as Illustrated in a Narrative Analysis of Six Passages, Andrews University, 1991, 317–318; as referred to by Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel, p 168.

[11] Geert van Oyen, Tom Shepherd. The trial and death of Jesus: essays on the Passion narrative in Mark, Leuven, Peeters, 2006, p. 237.

[12] Scott G. Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery. Waterloo, ON, CAN: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005, p. 178.

[13] John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus, Harper-San Francisco, 1995, p. 101.

[14] Scott G. Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery. Waterloo, ON, CAN: Wilfrid Laurier University Press (2005) p. 168, 175.

[15] James R. Edwards, Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989), 200–203.

[16] James R. Edwards, Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989), 216.

[17] John Dart, Decoding Mark, Trinity Press International, 2003, p. 42.

[18] Scott G. Brown, Mark 11:1–12:12: A triple intercalation? (The Catholic Biblical Quarterly; jan 1, 2002). Also argued for by Brown in Mark’s Other Gospel, p. 171–173.

[19] Scott G. Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery. Waterloo, ON, CAN: Wilfrid Laurier University Press (2005) p. 227–8.

[20] James R. Edwards, Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives, Novum Testamentum XXXI, 3 (1989), 200–203.

[21] Otto Stählin: Clemens Alexandrinus (1936).

[22] Bart D. Ehrman, Response to Charles Hedrick’s Stalemate, Journal of Early Christian Studies – 11:2 (Summer 2003) s. 155–163; Lost Christianities: the battles for Scripture and the faiths we never knew (2005), s. 78. Scott G. Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery; refers to Quentin Quesnell (p. 12, 35) and Andrew Criddle (p. 36).

[23] Anthony Grafton, Gospel Secrets: The Biblical Controversies of Morton Smith ”The Nation”, January 26, (2009). Guy G. Stroumsa, ed. Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem, Correspondence 1945–1982, Boston (2008).

[24] Helmut Koester, Was Morton Smith a Great Thespian and I a Complete Fool? Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov/Dec 2009, p. 58.

[25] Scott G. Brown, Mark’s Other Gospel : Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery. Waterloo, ON, CAN: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005, p. 227.

[26] For instance by Raymond E. Brown, Per Beskow, F.F. Bruce, Craig A. Evans, Robert M. Grant, and Edward C. Hobbs.

[27] Mark 1:9–10, 1:14, 1:21, 2:1, 3:20, 5:1–2, 5:21–22, 5:38, 6:1–2, 6:6, 6:32–33, 6:34, 6:53, 7:24, 7:31, 8:10–11, 8:13–14, 8:22, 8:27, 9:2, 9:30, 9:33, 10:1, 10:10, 10:46, 11:1, 11:11, 11:15, 11:27, 14:3, 14:16, 14:17–18, 14:32, 14:37, 14:40, 14:41, 14:53, 15:1–2, 15:16, 15:22–23, 15:42–43, 16:2–3.

Kommentera

Fyll i dina uppgifter nedan eller klicka på en ikon för att logga in:

WordPress.com Logo

Du kommenterar med ditt WordPress.com-konto. Logga ut / Ändra )

Twitter-bild

Du kommenterar med ditt Twitter-konto. Logga ut / Ändra )

Facebook-foto

Du kommenterar med ditt Facebook-konto. Logga ut / Ändra )

Google+ photo

Du kommenterar med ditt Google+-konto. Logga ut / Ändra )

Ansluter till %s

%d bloggare gillar detta: