>The Secret Gospel of Mark

>My friend Charles Hedrick, professor of religious studies at Southwest Missouri State University has written a very informative article on the “secret gospel of Mark.” The article was published in the November/December 2009 issue of theBiblical Archaeology Review. The article is available online. If you want to know more about the “secret gospel of Mark” or if you have never heard of it, you should visit BAR and read the article.

The following is the introduction to the article according to BAR:

In 1958, while searching through the library of the desert monastery of Mar Saba, Biblical scholar Morton Smith made an astounding and controversial discovery: portions of a “secret” gospel of Mark. The handwritten Greek manuscript he found purported to be a copy of a letter by the second-century church leader Clement of Alexandria, in which Clement evidently responds to inquiries about “Secret Mark.” Morton’s subsequent publication of his discovery incited a maelstrom of controversy and speculation that continues 50 years later.

Below are two excerpts from the article:

The first quotation from Secret Mark describes the resuscitation of a young man who had died. The youth’s sister pleads for help from Jesus, and both go to a garden tomb from which a great cry is heard. Jesus rolls away the stone from the door of the tomb, enters and resuscitates the youth. The youth “looking upon [Jesus], loved him.” They go to the youth’s house, “for he was rich.” Jesus remains there for six days, and then advises the young man what he must do. The unnamed youth then comes to Jesus in the evening “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.”


When Smith published the results of his study of the Clement letter 15 years after its discovery, scholarly responses were harshly negative, even caustic. Many of the published reactions were inflammatory personal assaults on Smith himself,7 and in particular at his interpretation of the text, rather than concerned with the question of whether or not the letter was forged. (The forgery issue was first raised by Quentin Quesnell in 1975.8) Smith’s conclusion was that Clement’s letter was a genuine second-century text and that Secret Mark was also genuine—from the late first century. The Secret Gospel of Mark demonstrated that the Jesus movement had begun with a mystery-religion baptismal initiation: Jesus baptized each of his closest disciples into the mystery of the kingdom of God, “singly and at night.” In his larger study Smith wrote: “In this baptism the disciple was united with Jesus. The union may have been physical … (there is no telling how far symbolism went in Jesus’ rite), but the essential thing was that the disciple was possessed by Jesus’ spirit.” This is how Smith put it in his more popular book: The disciple ecstatically “entered the kingdom of God, and was thereby set free from the laws ordained for and in the lower world. Freedom from the law may have resulted in completion of the spiritual union by physical union.”

I hope these two excerpts from the article will motivate you to read the article in its entirety.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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