Craig Evans’ take on Secret Mark critically examined: Part Three

Craig Evans’ take on Secret Mark critically examined:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Craig A. Evans

Craig Evans believes that Clement’s letter to Theodoros is forged and that the forger is Morton Smith. The reasons for this, or what he above all finds most troubling, is one circumstance—namely “that themes of interest to Professor Smith, as seen in his publications before the finding of the Clementine letter, are found in the Clementine letter”. Evans then emphasizes two themes which he believes are the best examples. They are “(1) The “mystery of the kingdom of God” and prohibited sex, and (2) Markan materials omitted from Mark that exhibit Johannine traits.”

In the previous two posts (here and here) I examined Evans’ claim regarding the first theme; that Morton Smith linked the “mystery of the kingdom of God” to prohibited sex and that the first of the two quoted fragments from Secret Mark was describing a sexual scene in which Jesus and the youth were involved. I rejected both these interpretations. This time I will look into Evans’ second example regarding Smith’s prior suggestion that there would be “Markan materials omitted from Mark that exhibit Johannine traits”.

Craig Evans writes:

The second unusual feature that Smith surmised was that the evangelist Mark may well have omitted materials that contained Johannine traits. In his 1955 review of Taylor’s commentary Smith speaks of the possibility that the evangelist Mark may have omitted material. This, of course, is the point at issue in Clement’s Mar Saba letter—material omitted from the Markan Gospel. (Craig Evans, Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark, p. 12)

Evans starts by saying that Smith in “his 1955 review of Taylor’s commentary … speaks of the possibility that the evangelist Mark may have omitted material”. Now, first of all, how amazing would it really be if Smith had suggested such a thing? Is not this a fairly reasonable suggestion and one which must have been put forward by many? After all, Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four gospels with lot of things missing if one compares it to the other gospels.

Anyway, in the footnote to this (42) Evans writes:

Smith, “Comments,” 35: Whatever did not serve Mark’s interests, “he would leave out as uninteresting, even if he did not deliberately censor it.” Recall also “Image of God,” 487, where Smith speaks of material that “has come down to us heavily censored.”

Taylor’s book is a commentary to the Gospel of Mark, and Smith is making a review of Taylor’s work. He describes his review as such:

TAYLOR’S WORK will influence the study of Mk. for years to come. Therefore it deserves such detailed criticism as the following, which should be considered a tribute to the book’s importance and to the great learning from which that importance derives. These, however, will be obvious to every reader; therefore this article is devoted to points which seemed to deserve correction rather than praise. (Morton Smith, Comments on Taylor’s Commentary on Mark, HTR, Vol. 48, No. 1, Jan., 1955, p. 21)

The part Evans is referring to is a comment upon Mark 6.6b-13 where Taylor writes:

“The narrative itself” (of the sending out of the twelve) ”is redactional. . . . Mark has no real appreciation of the immense importance of the event. . . . He does not tell us what the issue is. He records that the Twelve went out to preach, but does not relate their message apart from the phrase ἵνα μετανοῶσιν, and he has only vague ideas concerning their experiences and the results of the Mission”. (Morton Smith, Comments on Taylor’s Commentary on Mark, HTR, Vol. 48, No. 1, Jan., 1955, p. 33–34)

Smith regards Taylor’s statement that this narrative is redactional and that Mark does not appreciate the importance of the event, to be “true”. He says that Mark “not only knows nothing about the preaching adventures of the twelve, but does not even realize the importance of their mission to the course of events in Jesus’ life.” He also says that “it is necessary, in estimating the reliability of a tradition, not only to look for little, lifelike details, but also to notice major misunderstandings, errors, and the things which the author does not know.” Still Smith believes that “the tradition which governed the ordering of events in this part of Mk. may have been more reliable than T. believes” and he then gives examples of this. Smith thinks that the execution of John the Baptist would have worried Jesus and that it …

… would then be understandable that Jesus should take to the open country for a little rest (6.31). It is equally understandable that ‘Mark himself does not represent the movements of Jesus as a flight from Herod’ (p. 308). Mk. was remote from the historical situation, his interests were those of the Church of his day, and whatever did not serve those interests – e.g., whatever historical framework his sources may have contained – was just what he would leave out as uninteresting, even if he did not deliberately censor it. (Morton Smith, Comments on Taylor’s Commentary on Mark, HTR, Vol. 48, No. 1, Jan., 1955, p. 35)

It is accordingly Taylor’s original assumption that the story of the sending out of the twelve is redactional and that Mark “has no real appreciation of the immense importance of the event” and only have vague ideas concerning the disciples’ experiences, that leads Smith to conclude that Mark would leave out as uninteresting those things which did not serve the interests of the Church of his day.  This is a deduction Smith makes from his idea that the tradition on which Mark is relying is more reliable than Taylor believes. But why this would be a sign of Smith having unique ideas that would come true in the Mar Saba letter is something which at least I have difficulty understanding. Is there anyone who believes that the gospel authors wrote down everything they had heard of?

Craig Evans continues:

Smith also discusses Mark’s use of a source with “Johannine traits.” This is precisely what the first and long quotation of Secret Mark is—a passage with Johannine traits (cf. John 11, the raising of Lazarus) that had been omitted from public (i.e., canonical) Mark. (Craig Evans, Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark, p. 12–13)

In the footnote (43) to this statement, Evans writes:

Smith, “Comments,” 26: “ . . . what one would expect of a source with other Johannine traits” (and earlier on this page: “They have many points of contact with Jn.”).

But once again is Smith only reacting to Taylor’s analysis of the story of the healing of the paralytic at Capernaum in Mark 2. Taylor writes that “[t]he reference to forgiveness at a point where one expects the word of healing is abrupt” and that the “inference seems justified that Jesus traced the man’s plight to sin and believed that his spiritual restoration was a primary and indispensable condition to recovery.” But Smith believed that “[t]he introduction to the section supposes that two stories have been combined” and that “[s]uch a contradiction in an ancient document would lead one to suspect composite authorship”.

Smith continues to say that both authors may be wrong and that this “is suggested by the peculiarities of the Streitgespräche [contradictions] in which this story occurs”. As Evans correctly says, Smith then writes that “[t]hey have many points of contact with Jn” and Smith gives a number of examples to prove his point:

For instance, they contain the only passages in Mk. (2.10 & 28) in which Jesus prior to his trial is represented as using ‘the Son of Man’ publicly with apparent reference to himself. (In 8.38 the phrasing is such as to make the hearers think he is speaking of someone else.) In Jn. Jesus uses the term of himself publicly and frequently (v. esp. chs. 5 & 6 and 12.23–34). Other points of contact are Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of men’s hearts (Mk. 2.8 // Jn. 2.24 f.), his command to the paralytic (Mk. 2.11 // Jn. 5.8), the bridegroom metaphor (Mk. 2.19 // Jn. 3.29) and above all the use of miracles as a proof of his divine com- mission (Mk. 2.10, cf. Jn. 5.36 &c.) and the early plot against Jesus’ life motivated by his healing on the Sabbath (Mk. 3.6 // Jn. 5.16 ff.). Now two characteristics of Jn.’s style are sudden change of subject and use of apparent non sequitur. Using a miracle to break off an argument is just what one would expect of a source with other Johannine traits. Therefore its occurrence here need not be explained by the hypothesis that two stories have been combined. But if it is a Johannine trait, what lies behind it is probably allegory or deliberate Johannine obfuscation, not psychological diagnosis. John’s Jesus did not trace all afflictions to sin (Jn. 9.3). (Morton Smith, Comments on Taylor’s Commentary on Mark, HTR, Vol. 48, No. 1, Jan., 1955, p. 26)

I quoted this lengthy passage just to show how many similarities there are between Mark 2 and the Gospel of John. To claim that Smith by referring to such an obvious observation; one which almost every scholar in the field must be aware of, should have revealed that he forged the Clement letter is quite remarkable. Of course he knew that there were “points of contact” between John and Mark. By referring to this obvious fact, he was reacting to Taylor’s hesitation to acknowledge that two stories have been combined. That’s it!

Evans’ further claim that Smith would have suggested that “Mark may well have omitted materials that contained Johannine traits”. This however is not true. In the same way as regarding the mystery of the Kingdom of God and forbidden sexuality, Evans picks and chooses from different parts and tries to present the material as if Smith would have presented it all at one time.

But in the first example Smith only said that Mark omitted material, and he did not refer to anything Johannine. And in the second example Smith noticed that there are parallels between Mark and John, but he never said that Mark omitted anything. So Smith never said that “Mark may well have omitted materials that contained Johannine traits”. That is Evans’ own invention.

Evans also refers to Watson:

Watson comments: “Clement’s letter confirms Smith’s surmise that Mark may have ‘deliberately censored’ his sourcematerial, and that this source-material may have included proto-Johannine elements.” Quite so. (Craig Evans, Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark, p. 13)

Yet, Smith said the exact opposite, namely that Mark “would leave out as uninteresting” whatever did not serve the interests of Mark’s church “even if he did not deliberately censor it.” So, Watson claims that Smith would have said that Mark “’deliberately censored’ his sourcematerial” and Evans agrees (Quite so), although Smith said that he did not do that!

Evans’ third example is taken from Smith’s 1958 article The Image of God. He quotes a (cautiously cropped) section from the pages 486 and 487, and I give it in full beneath with the parts quoted by Evans marked in bold text:

Of these four bodies of evidence the works of the Biblical tradition, the Jewish literature of pagan style, the testimonia concerning Jews, and the archaeological material no one is complete by itself. Each must be constantly supplemented by reference to all the others. And each carries with it a reminder that the preserved material even when accessible represents only a small part of what once existed. By their very existence, they demonstrate how much has been lost; by the variety of the material they preserve, they prove the extent of our ignorance and tacitly warn of the danger of supposing that what is not to be found in them was never to be found at all.

This supposition would be dangerous in any field of ancient studies, but it is especially dangerous in the study of Judaism, because Jewish material has come down to us heavily censored. The censorship has been double an external censorship by Christian authorities and a domestic censorship by Jews. (The domestic censorship we have seen above, at work in Exodus Rabba, in the material collected by Hoffmann as Midrash Tannaim, and in the Targum on Psalms.) What material we have, is only such as got through this double sieve. Yet even this preserved material, as we have seen, testifies consistently to the hellenization of ancient Judaism. What, then, would have been the testimony of the material which has disappeared? We cannot be sure. (Morton Smith, The Image of God: Notes on the Hellenization of Judaism, with Especial Reference to Goodenough’s Work on Jewish Symbols,” BJRL 40 (1958): p. 486–487)

So, Smith is accordingly warning us to be cautious before we jump to conclusions by “supposing that what is not to be found in them was never to be found at all”. The “preserved material … represents only a small part of what once existed” and there is accordingly a lot of material which “has been lost”.

Evans asks the rhetorical question: “What ‘would have been the testimony of the material which has disappeared?’” He then provides us with an answer: “In one case we no longer need to ask this question. We now know. The Mar Saba Clementine provides us with some potentially shocking testimony, which almost disappeared, had it not been for Smith’s amazing discovery.”

But honestly, is this an argument in favor of Smith having forged the Mar Saba letter? The fact (and I use the word “fact”) that most of the works written in antiquity are lost, must be a well-known fact to almost every scholar in the field. It is so obvious that it normally goes without saying. That Smith emphasizes this circumstance is all due to him making a point. He is investigating the evidence for hellenization of Judaism; especially when it comes to regarding “man as an image of God“. He therefore examines the preserved written sources, but also in a true scholarly way is cautious and reminds us that it represents only a small part of what once existed.

Now, if this is how things work, then every scholar needs to be extremely guarded in what he says. If I myself, God forbid, in the future would make a discovery with a similar content and of a similar magnitude as the one Smith made, I am bound to be accused of having forged it, since also I have written that only a small part of the rich literature of Antiquity has survived; as also I have speculated that the author of the Gospel of Mark may have left out material and of course have noticed that there are points of contact” between “John” and “Mark”.

Roger Viklund, 2011-09-08


6 kommentarer

  1. 8 september, 2011 den 18:29

    I have come to much the same conclusion about Evans. The logic is followed by all of the hoaxers. They want Smith to be the forger so they develop a series of extraordinarily weak ‘coincidences’ in no small part ‘assisted’ by misrepresenting Smith’s words or deeds and then effectively say to their audience ‘what you think about that?’ Is that just a coincidence? What do you say about that?’

    They remind me of many conspiracy theorist on the internet. Let’s take the example of the 9/11 attacks against the World Trade Center. You hear things like that there was a major oil discovery just north of Afghanistan and the Americans intentionally killed their own people to build a pipeline through Afghanistan to get this oil to the ocean. The arguments only work on people who already hate the United State and are willing to believe there is no end to the depravity of the American government. The same is true about those who hate Morton Smith

    According to these people Smith becomes some sort of supernatural anti-Christ capable of accomplishing anything by the depth of his depravity and his boundless hatred for the Church. The hoaxers deliberately misrepresent what he said or did – ‘cropping’ the original material in the most unfavorable light – because in the minds of people like Evans they already ‘know’ that Smith is guilty. The task is no longer to examine the evidence but to support the proposition they already know to be true ‘in their gut.’ It is said day in scholarship when educated people proceed in this manner.

    The thing that gets lost in all these discussions is that the Letter to Theodore is principally a declaration about the Alexandrian Church, its beliefs and practices. I have yet to see any proof that Morton Smith ever took an interest in this tradition. That Smith might have made reference to parallels between a story found in Mark in John is hardly surprising given his background. Yet as James McGrath notes in his very penetrating analysis (and rebuttal of Evans original paper) Secret Mark actually agrees with Vincent’s understanding against Smith’s own. What an incredibly magnanimous forgery!

    The real problem is that scholarship is ego driven. When someone like Evans or Ehrman or Hurtado establish a certain reputation for themselves they feel that they can demolish any evidence which contradicts their assumptions about early Christianity. The easiest way to do this with Secret Mark is to attack Morton Smith personally. It is far harder to explain why Smith would have taken an interest in St. Mark and his role in the Alexandrian Church so they ignore it.

    All they care about is themselves and their presuppositions


  2. jimmy said,

    8 september, 2011 den 19:21

    Stephan Huller skrev:

    ”Detsamma gäller om dem som hatar Morton Smith
    Enligt dessa människor blir Smith någon form av övernaturliga antikrist kan åstadkomma något genom djupet av hans fördärv och sin gränslösa hat mot kyrkan.”

    Jag skulle säga att motivet inte är hat, utan Smith troligen har levat med en passion (hur länge?) om att få göra en viktig upptäckt.Det är det behovet som kan vara incitamentet till ansträngningen för att åstadkomma förfalskningen (som inte var någon lätt uppgift) och avsikten var att avslöja kyrkan döljer något,vilket den inte gör kan jag säga.


  3. 8 september, 2011 den 21:38

    Vad bra Jimmy att du vet vad kyrkan i det förgångna kan tänkas ha haft för skrifter i sin ägo.


  4. jimmy said,

    9 september, 2011 den 10:45

    Kyrkan redogör för vad som hände Jesus dem känner inte till det som nämns i HM.Det är allvarligt menat att dem inte döljer eller dolt något om vad som hände Jesus i livet eller att dem haft en lära att erbjuda dem invigda mystikerna i det förgångna..


  5. 9 september, 2011 den 23:10

    Men vad manar du med ”kyrkan”? Är kyrkofader Klemens del av denna kyrka? I så fall kände han till den.


  6. Den andre BB said,

    10 september, 2011 den 16:37

    Even ”people who already hate the United State and are willing to believe there is no end to the depravity of the American government”, such as myself, can however examine the evidence and come to conclusions different from those of the conspirators. Hate must not blind, even if it very well can. In this case I would rather believe that it is the belief in the superstitio maleficae of Christianity that makes sane people reject Secret Mark on such week grounds as Evans. And of course, Huller is right about scholarship being ego driven, but that is not only a fact concerning scholars with a certain reputation.



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