Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Four Articles about Secret Mark in November / December Issue of Biblical Archaeology Review

Biblical Archaeology Review, November / December 2009 issue has a special section titled "Secret Mark" - A Modern Forgery? with four new articles concerning the question of authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark. From the website:

"Secret Mark": An Amazing Discovery
By Charles Hedrick

Southwest Missouri State University professor Charles Hedrick opens the discussion by setting the stage for us, as we asked him to do, without revealing his own belief in the authenticity of Secret Mark.

"Secret Mark": Morton Smith - Forger
By Hershel Shanks

In true BAR fashion, we wanted to present the case for a forgery, a position numerous scholars hold. After being turned down by three major scholars who embrace this position, editor Hershel Shanks undertook to summarize the evidence himself.

"Secret Mark": Was Morton Smith a Great Thespian and I a Complete Fool?
By Helmut Koester

Harvard professor Helmut Koester presents a fascinating textual analysis of Secret Mark. Koester includes an account of his relationship with Columbia professor Morton Smith who discovered Secret Mark (or forged it) and why he believes it is authentic.

"Secret Mark": Restoring a Dead Scholar’s Reputation
By Hershel Shanks

Hershel Shanks reveals his own conclusion about Secret Mark as a result of his study of the opposing arguments.


The first article, written by Charles W. Hedrick, can be read in its entirety at

In the article Hedrick lays down the basic discovery story of Clement's letter to Theodore and of the extracts from the Secret Gospel of Mark it featured. For people not familiar with the debate, the article could very well function as the introduction and retelling of the circumstances surrounding Smith's visit to Mar Saba in 1958, the discovery he claimed to have made, and the subsequent disappearance of the manuscript. Hedrick takes the story, albeit very briefly, to the rekindled debate with mentions of Scott G. Brown's "Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery" (2005), Stephen C. Carlson's "The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith’s Invention of Secret Mark" (2005), and Peter Jeffery's "The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery" (2007). He concludes echoing his previous assessment from 2003: "The stalemate with regard to Secret Mark continues."

Substantially the article does not contain anything new for people who have already read e.g. Smith's own descriptions of his discovery. There are some neat pictures illustrating the story, and if they are large enough in the printed magazine, the colour photographs of the three pages of the manuscript could come in handy, too.

There is one new anecdote of Morton Smith (although it is originally from Allan J. Pantuck's 2008 SBL presentation). Hedrick writes that Smith "once quipped to the eminent Yale scholar E.R. Goodenough that "he was passing out cigars because he was no longer a Father." The punchline relates to Smith's curious relationship with the Episcopal Church: he was ordained, but could not be described as a representative of traditional Christianity. Still, to the best of my knowledge he never officially renounced his priestly status. I may have become a bit oversensitive to issues of labeling people without their explicit consent, but I welcome Hedrick's manner of putting things down, for to him Smith left the clergy "in effect", not officially, "to pursue the scholarly life". No speculation about Smith's religious beliefs (I doubt he had any, but neither have I in the traditional sense of the word), and whether we could label him as "an atheist professor" or "not a good Christian" (both titles from Jeffery 2007, 251).

More of the other three articles once I get the whole issue to my hands.


  1. I think Charlie put it correctly, it was what Smith said to Goodenough when he stopped being a practicing Episcopal priest (finding that the career didn't suit him) to go back to Harvard Divinity School for his second advanced degree. Although, it seems to be true that he never officially left the clergy--when Smith died, he still had in his briefcase a card from the Diocese of Marlyand identifying him as a priest of the Diocese.

  2. Thanks for the pointer!
    And thanks for translating your thesis!

    I think it's time to hunt down the manuscript.
    Perhaps Harrison Ford should be reactivated, (together with Angelina Jolie)?

  3. Thanks, Allan, for this interesting piece of information. I am not quite sure if Peter Jeffery's characterization of Smith's inner spiritual life is spot on or way off; I keep wondering.

    Thanks, Wieland, as the official hunt for the MS has just began (cf. my next post).