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JK & Professor Morton Smith*


Professor Morton Smith, a Christian (believes that we essential know of the life and teachings of Jesus) has found a letter by the Bishop of Alexandria (c. 125 C.E.) describing a deleted passage of Mark's Gospel.

It should be noted that Morton Smith is a Christian, and typical of them, even in their critical scholarship, they are committed to certain conclusion that the evidence fails to uphold.  They invariable fail to address several compelling criticisms of the New and Old Testaments.  They assume certain truths, which upon scrutiny aren’t truths.  In the case of Morton Smith, he holds that there is an historical Jesus, a viewpoint that has been shown to be without merit by the German School of biblical scholars at the beginning of the 20th century and improved upon by later scholars.

Scholars have long wondered at a curious passage in the canonical Gospel of Mark (undisputedly the oldest of the canonical gospels) which seems to hint that a detail or two might have been left out:  “Then they came to Jericho.  As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples…” (Mark 10:46).  But what happened in Jericho on Jesus' whistle-stop tour of the provinces?  Did Jesus simply pass through and then leave without doing or saying anything to anyone? If the visit was so irrelevant to Jesus' mission, why is it even mentioned?  The gap suggests a mission portion of Mark’s Gospel.  The Letter—supplied below--of Clement’s, who had access to the complete version of Mark’s gospel, places the events in Jericho.   

Both what is missing and why is supplied by Morton Smith, the Columbia University professor scholar whose 1958 research expedition culminated in the discovery of a copy of a letter in the 1646 edition of letters of Ignatius of Antioch (a 2nd century church writer) at the monastery of Mar Saba, twelve miles south of Jerusalem.  The letter consists of 3 pages of Greek manuscript bound in as end-papers.  This letter contains quotes from what Saint Clement of Alexandria (c.156-211) refers to as “The Secret Gospel of Mark.”   Professor Smith writes, “Based on this letter we can conclude that “The Secret Gospel of Mark” was the older and more complete, and the version we have is an edited version with the troubling passages left out by the Church fathers.  The portions supplied by Clement in this letter found by Professor Morton Smith fill in the gap at Mark 10:46.

Morton Smith published his findings in 1973 in two different books:  one was a rigorously academic volume from Harvard entitled Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, while the second was a popular explanation The Secret Gospel.  It is the latter which I have read.

Bishop Clement of Alexandria has 3 surviving books Exhortation to the Greeks, The Instructor, and the Miscellanies, and several fragments and lesser works.  One is a letter to a disciple named Theodore who had asked for advice regarding the Caprocratians, (a Gnostic Christian sect) use of the "Secret Gospel of Mark."  Clement not only confirmed the existence and authority of "Secret Mark" in his reply, but actually denounced Carpocrates for using black magic to steal a copy "Secret Mark" from the church library!

So scandalous was the Carpocratian "The Secret Gospel of Mark" that Clement advised Theodore never to admit that Mark even wrote it:  "You did well in silencing the unspeakable teachings of the Carpocratians.  For... priding themselves in knowledge, as they say, "of the deep things of Satan," they do not know that they are casting themselves away into "the nether world of darkness"... For even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them....

“Now of the things they keep saying about the divinely inspired Gospel of Mark... even if they do contain some true elements, [these] are not reported truly....

“As for Mark then, during Peter's stay in Rome [Mark] wrote an account of the Lord's doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress towards knowledge.  Thus he composed a more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected.  Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord… [and] he left his composition in the church in... Alexandria, where it is... most carefully guarded, being read only by those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

“But since the foul demons are always devising destruction for the race of men, Carpocrates... using deceitful arts, so enslaved a certain presbyter in the church that he got from a copy of the secret gospel, which he interpreted according to his blasphemous and carnal doctrine....

“To them, therefore, as I said above, one must never give way... [or] even concede that the secret gospel is by Mark... but deny it on oath. For, 'Not all true things are to be said to all men..."

This letter is strong evidence that the Secret Gospel of Mark was in fact the complete version of Mark, and what we have is the edited version by the Church fathers.  Barnstone at 340 lists as being visible signs of this editing process Mark 4:ll; 9:25-27; 10:21, 32,38-39; 12:32-34; 14:51-52.  What, then, were these "true things" that the Church fathers hoped to hide from the untutored eyes of the average Christian?  What was the unspeakable?

St. Clement quotes from this complete, "Secret” Gospel of Mark" at length towards the end of his letter.  Clement in the last third of his letter to Theodore wrote:  “To you, therefore I shall not hesitate to answer the questions you have asked refuting the falsifications by the very words of the [Secret] Gospel” (Barnstone 342). "And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there.  And 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 unto 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 straightway, 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 came 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."

“After these words follows the text, “And James and John come to him,” and all that section.  But “naked man with naked man,” and the other things about which you wrote, are not found.

“And after the words, ‘And he comes into Jericho,’ the secret Gospel adds only, ‘And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved, and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them.  But many other things about which you wrote both seem to be and are falsifications. ”

“Now the true explanation and that which accords with the true philosophy. ”1

This passage quoted by Clement from the Gospel, could be interpreted as an account of a baptism preformed by Jesus on this young lad—and some do—but for 3 facts.  One that Clement and the Church fathers not only suppressed the passage but found it “scandalous.”   Second, the plain meaning of the words “naked man with naked man” and “whom Jesus loved” support the conclusion that Sexual union with a man as part of the sacrament was practiced.  Third, that it was a practice of some Christian sects for (like in Tantra Yoga) to engage in sexual intercourse as part of a union with God.  Such was said of some Christian communities.  There are passages in the Pauline Epistles which admonishing certain unnamed sexual practices and there is a letter from a Roman physician describing in detail this practice.   Morton Smith, the discoverer of the letter writes:  “Freedom from the [Mosaic] law may have resulted in completion of the spiritual union by physical union. This certainly occurred in many forms of Gnostic Christianity; how early it began there is no telling” (Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel, p. 94, The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel according to Mark. New York: Harper & Row, 1973).  From the tone of the letter of Clement, the fact that our present Gospel of Mark is incomplete in a way that indicates deliberate suppression of the passage, from the quoted passages of in the letter, and from the practices of early Christian communities it is quite reasonable to conclude that the Secret Gospel. Mark described the sexual union of Jesus with a young disciple.

This portrayal of the Messiah Jesus as partaking in sexual union fits well with the view of Jesus as a prophet, like Mohammed, Elijah, and others.  Much has been written on the meaning of the Messiah (“anointed leader”) and the meaning of the “Son of God” needs to be set in its proper context.  A number of heroes were the son of god, including Heracles, Helen, and more recently, it was widely believed that Philip of Macedonia was not the real son of Alexander, but rather a god.  Mark was first, his Gospel was incorporated with aggrandizements, and revisions by Matthew and Luke.  Mark saw Christ as a mortal unto whom the spirit of god has entered when he was baptized.2  If he was a god or part of Yahweh (as is currently maintained) then God would not need to inform his son3 that he is his son, unless “son of God” meant something like chosen one—a position held by the Gnostic Christians.  “Son of God, most scholars agree, is an ambiguous title at best, so too, is lord from the Aramaic mare, which could be interpreted in a spectrum of ways from the mundane “sir” to the divine “lord.”4  As a mortal, having intercourse with women would be fitting, and to be celibate would be very abnormal.  Having sex with a young man, in the Hellenized world also was quite unexceptional.

Would it be very abnormal for Jesus to take a young man and in the religious initiation have sex with him?   The Greeks and Romans both approved such if done with the spirit of a mentor.  Bisexuality was the norm.  Three centuries of Greek and Roman domination had its effects.  Mark had written in his fiction on the life of Jesus5 things that were deemed proper in the Hellenized world?  Could not Mark, who was most certainly not Mark of the disciples6,  be Hellenized?  “Modern research often proposes as the author an unknown Hellenistic Jewish Christian, possibly in Syria and perhaps shortly after the year 70.”7    Clement of Alexandria in his letter acknowledges a complete and suppressed original edition of Mark’s Gospel, a copy in the Church’s library in Alexandria.  Thus the most consistent explanation of the missing passages including the one concerning Jericho is that the Church Counsel was not as Hellenized as Mark, and that they upheld the Hebraic injunction against Greek love.

Update: Excerpted from Afterword, Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel, The Dawn Horse Press

More than 30 years after the original publication of The Secret Gospel, the controversy over Morton Smith’s research continues unabated. By 2003, the mystery of what had happened to the original manuscript of Clement’s letter (after Smith’s discovery of it in 1958) was finally settled, at least to some degree—through the testimony of two men who had seen the manuscript in the intervening years.

In 1980, the authenticity of the letter was given a strong “vote of confidence” by the scholarly community when the letter was reprinted in the standard edition of the works of Clement of Alexandria.1 Accepting Smith’s identification of the letter as genuine, the editors of this definitive compilation added the letter to the accepted canon of Clement’s works. Source: Otto Stählin and Ursula Treu, Clemens Alexandrinus, vol. 4.1: Register, 2d ed. (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1980), XVII–XVIII. ...

The group of four scholars saw the letter in 1976—18 years after Smith had originally discovered it. But it was not until 2003—another 27 years later—that Guy G. Stroumsa, one of the four, finally published the story:

In the spring of 1976, a party of four, including the late David Flusser, Professor of New Testament, the late Shlomo Pines, Professor of Medieval Arabic and Jewish philosophy, both at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Archimandrite Meliton, from the Greek Patriarchate in Jerusalem (at the time a research student at the Hebrew University) and myself (then a graduate student at Harvard University) drove (in my car) from Jerusalem to Mar Saba monastery, in the Judean wilderness, in the quest for Clement’s letter. Together with Flusser and Pines, I had been intrigued by Morton Smith’s sensational description of his find, and we wanted to see the text with our own eyes. Archimandrite Meliton had agreed to accompany us. When we reached the monastery, with the help of one of the monks, we began searching for Isaac Vossius’ edition of the Letters of Ignatius on the very dusty shelves of the library in the monastery’s tower. . . . We did not put our expectations too high, but at some point, the monk did find the book, with “Smith 65” inscribed on its front page, and the three manuscript pages of Clement’s letter written on the blank pages at the end of the book, exactly as described by Smith. The book had obviously remained where Smith had found it and had replaced it, after having photographed the manuscript letter. Source: Gedaliahu A. G. Stroumsa, “Comments on Charles Hedrick’s Article: A Testimony,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11:2 (Summer 2003): 147–53.


* Bio: Morton Smith (1915-1991) was a professor of ancient history at Columbia University, where he specialized in Biblical scholarship.  He received his bachelor's degrees from Harvard College and the Harvard Divinity School, a Ph.D. from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Th.D. in theology from Harvard Divinity School.

He is best known for his discovery of the Mar Saba letter, a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria containing excerpts from a Secret Gospel of Mark, during a visit to the monastery at Mar Saba in 1958. This letter fragment has had many names, from The Secret Gospel through The Mar Saba Fragment and the Theodoros. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morton_Smith ]



1.  “The Secret Gospel of Mark,”  The Other Bible, Willis Barnstone, Editor, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1984, pp. 339-342.  This volume is still in print.  Each Work has a short introductory commentary.

2.  Saint Mark finds nothing remarkable about the life of Jesus (unlike the embellishments of Luke and Matthew).  Jesus doesn’t become the revealer of the secrets of heaven until he is called by god.  “On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.”  Mark  1:10

3.  “And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son:  with you I am well pleased.”  Mark 1:11

4.   Who Do Men Say That I Am?” Kerry Temple, Notre Dame Magazine, Summer 1990, p. 12.  This article is by the magazine’s managing editor, and is published at the Catholic Notre Dame University.  Kerry, in this article on the historical and textual setting of the Bible, has undermined the Bible’s authority.

5.  Biblical scholars who are without the prejudice of faith have concluded that the Gospels are not historical. The most compelling reason is the Epistles, for they are without history or quotes of Jesus.  Being earlier than the Gospels is strong evidence that what was missing was corrected first by Mark. 

6.  Clement in his letter, has as the source for his Gospel, Peter the disciple.

7.  The New American Bible, Catholic Bible Press, 1979, p. 1117.


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