The "Secret Gospel of Mark"
How Clement's letter was found and studied
The following is based on the assumption that a letter which was apparently written by Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-213 CE), is valid and accurate. No consensus has been reached by theologians on the letter's legitimacy: religious conservatives tend to reject the letter as a forgery; religious liberals tend to accept it as real.
Discovery of Clement's letter:
During the 1940s, academic Morton Smith had visited the Christian Orthodox Monastery of Mar Saba in the Judean wilderness. He stayed there for two months, participating with the monks in their daily schedule. It was built in the fifth century CE and is located about 12 miles southeast of Jerusalem. As a professor of ancient history at Columbia University, he revisited the monastery in 1958. He had decided to use his sabbatical time to catalog their library. While examining an 17th century book which documented the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, 1 he found that someone had copied a letter in Greek onto three pages at the end of the book that had been left blank. "It was a common practice for monks to hand copy manuscripts onto the unused pages of old books." 2
The text began: "From the letters of the most holy Clement, the author of the Stromateis, To Theodore." Clement was an early Christian theologian who wrote circa 200 CE. The identity of the recipient of the letter, Theodore, is unknown. Many of Clement's writings have survived to the present time. Smith carefully photographed the pages for future reference. 3
Text of the letter:
Apparently, the letter was in response to a query from a Theodore about the Carpocratians -- one of the many faith groups that formed the early Christian movement. It was a strange group. Unlike most Christians of the time, they believed in reincarnation. They taught that a person must go through many lifetimes on earth until they had experienced every possible emotion and act. This included all possible sexual experiences. The group was infamous for integrating spouse swapping into their religious services.
Charles Hedrick, a professor at Southwest Missouri State University writes:
"Clement©s letter to Theodore appears to be something of a diatribe against the Carpocratians, a Gnostic-Christian group whose members (Clement says in the letter) 'wander ... into a boundless abyss of the carnal and bodily sins' and embrace 'blasphemous and carnal doctrine'." 10
Clement wrote that Mark had written a basic Gospel while he was with the apostle Peter in Rome. He intended it for the education of new converts to Christianity. After Peter's execution, he traveled to Alexandria and wrote a second "more spiritual Gospel" for Christians who were able to adsorb more advanced teachings. According to Clement, there were three Gospels of Mark circulating in Alexandria:
Analysis of the letter:
Morton photographed the Clement text "three times for good measure." 2 He also photographed two pages from the book in which the letter had been copied so that it could be positively identified and dated.
Smith committed much of his professional effort over the next fifteen years to analyzing this finding. He announced his discovery of the letter at the 1960 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. In 1973, Smith published two books: "The Secret Gospel: The discovery and interpretation of the secret Gospel according to Mark" was intended for the general public. 5 He also produced a much larger book for academics titled :"Clement of Alexandria and the Secret Gospel of Mark". 6 New Testament scholar, Stephen Patterson, wrote in 1994:
Smith attempted to confirm the authenticity of the letter:
Which "Mark" is the original?
Clement claimed that the shorter version -- the one found in modern Bibles -- was the original, and that Mark added extra verses to create the Secret Mark for more sophisticated Christians. However, an analysis of the text indicates that the Secret Mark was probably the original, and that passages were deleted to produce that the shorter version:
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