First, a new blog dedicated to the Secret Gospel of Mark has been running since December 2009, Synopic Solutions, written by the pseudonymous the_cave, previously known for his or her insightful commentary on the Freethought & Rationalism Discussion Board. Most recently, the_cave has engaged with Thomas Talley and Peter Jeffery, and discussed the suggestion of the former that readings from the canonical gospels replaced readings from the so-called Secret Gospel of Mark in Egyptian lectionaries, a position opposed by Jeffery in The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled (2007).
In the meanwhile, Roger Viklund has made public an online article titled A Quest for Secret Mark’s Authenticity: A Chain is as Strong as its Weakest Link while also gathering up his contributions on Secret Mark in one place. The latest article argues for the authenticity of Secret Mark on internal grounds. In the first chain Viklund holds that the specific Markan literary techniques, especially the use of intercalation, could not have been used by forgers ancient or modern, since the proper understanding of these Markan features did not gain much ground before the 1980s, a proposition originally conceived by Scott G. Brown (to whom Viklund refers to) most notably in Mark’s Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith’s Controversial Discovery (2005).
The second chain marks a deviation from Brown's position. Viklund suggests - contrary to both Brown and Clement in his letter to Theodore - that the Gospel extracts quoted in the Theodore-letter should be seen as part of the original Gospel of Mark, and not as an expansion of it. For even if we think that Clement got it right when he writes that "to the stories already written he [Mark] added yet others" (Theod. I.24, Brown's translation), as Viklund puts it, "then he [Mark] 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." The most natural explanation for the curious rendering of Mark 10:46 - Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho..." - is, to Viklund's mind, the inclusion of "And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them" between the two mentions of Jericho even in the original composition.
Descriptive as it is, the most disputable parts in Viklund's analysis are the beginnings of both chains of arguments, and if the first claims do not hold then the end result will not be pretty, either. That the two Gospel extracts belong to the same story, with Mark 10:35-45 coming between them, has been challenged by Stephen C. Carlson in his The Expository Times reply to Brown's aforementioned 2005 treatise.1 Even Viklund has to yield and confess that "the first story is complete in itself" and does not need the latter story to fulfill it in any way. I would like to continue along this line of reasoning and remark that the prime argument of Viklund, that there is no evidence that "someone in antiquity could have discovered these techniques" of intercalation, nor do we know of anyone else who would have showed understanding of them before the 20th-century scholars, is undermined by the discontinuity between the two Gospel extracts: if there is no intercalation, then there are no techniques of intercalation to be discovered.
Still, even if the prime qualification for intercalation is missing, I am willing to agree that there are Markan techniques present, though substantial enough to deserve the name "Markan techniques" or not, remains open for debate. For the question of Morton Smith as the forger, Viklund nails it down:
"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."
The conspiratorial aspect of the hoax hypothesis becomes apparent in endeavours to justify this weird behaviour on the part of the forger:
"[H]e [the forger] 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."
That Smith could have left the most obvious feature of the intercalation out could be, as Carlson suggests, a trap for fellow scholars to fall into. As I have argued at length in my thesis, this practice, unfortunately, solidifies the hoax hypothesis into an unwavering theory that cannot be proved wrong (beyond reasonable doubt), no matter what; into an all-embracing explanation to the Theodore-letter that is able to answer to any future objection, even to the ones not imaginable at the moment - a sign of a true conspiracy theory. For a conspiracy theory can always take a step backwards and maintain its plausibility with yet another ad hoc argument.
The beginning of Viklund's second chain could be challenged by comparing Mark 10:46 to its treatment in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (following the standard two-source hypothesis): both transform the difficulty of coming to Jericho and leaving it in the very next sentence seemingly independently of each other, not at all suggesting that there was a story squeezed between the two Jerichos. Consequently, the second Secret Mark extract does not appear to have been present in the Gospel of Mark Matthew and Luke used as a source. Of course, if we will dilute the argument a little bit - as Viklund does by remarking that "[o]ne could... argue [that] 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" - then it seems to me that everyone - Clement in his letter to Theodore of the composition history of the Gospel and Brown following him, and Viklund drawing a distinction between 'writing' and 'publishing' - may be right, and it's another win-win scenario for everybody!
Seriously, my tentative hypothesis at this point, regarding the Gospel of Mark, is that there must have been a 1st-century version of it that made more sense than the current canonical one. Can anything further be said of the matter, remains to be seen.
1Stephen C. Carlson: Reply to Scott Brown. The Expository Times 117:5, 185-188.
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