Guest Post: Dr. Craig A. Evans
I appreciate James McGrath’s even-handed fairness and caution in his response to my recent comments on Secret Mark. However, what is said about the coincidence of Smith’s linking of secrecy and sex prior to his Mar Saba discovery does not quite capture my point. McGrath says: “the connections that Evans sees between secrecy, sexuality and Jesus in Smith’s earlier writings are rather subtle. And to the extent that the evidence for naked baptism comes from other sources, connecting Christian initiation with sexuality was possible for anyone willing to let their imagination run rampant, and did not require the Secret Gospel of Mark. The early church fathers also engaged in polemical accusations of sexual immorality against Gnostics and others.”
My point is that in 1951 Smith specifically linked Mark 4:11 to secret teaching that included, among other things, prohibited sexual activity and then in 1958 he found a text in which Mark 4:11 is quoted in a letter that references male nudity and blasphemous and carnal interpretation of this nudity. The coincidence is far more specific than the general topic of baptism in the nude.
My second point, which McGrath does not address, is that in1955 Smith suggested that the evangelist Mark may have had material with “Johannine traits” and then in 1958 Smith found a text containing Markan material with Johannine traits. The notion that Mark had access to material with Johannine traits is a very unconventional idea. Yet Smith proposed it in 1955 and found an example of it in 1958.
These two coincidences are what I find so troubling. McGrath speaks to the first one, but doesn’t do it justice; and he does not speak to the second one at all. One of these coincidences should give a scholar pause; but the two combined should arouse grave suspicions.
Another feature that troubled me at the York University conference was that most of the supporters of Smith had not read James Hunter’s novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba (1940), which parallels Smith’s experience and discovery quite closely in places. Nor have they read Paul Coleman-Norton’s spurious study of the “amusing agraphon” (CBQ, 1950), which also parallels Hunter’s novel. Moreover, Smith’s supporters did not engage Francis Watson’s important study, which appeared a full year before the conference (JTS, 2010), in which he shows that the author of Mar Saba Clementine appears to be dependent on Papias.
I may add that supporters of Smith frequently mount psychological arguments, such as, “I can’t believe Smith would do such a thing; I can’t believe he would risk his reputation.” I must confess that at one time I too reasoned that no one would go to the bother to write a 450 page book on a text that he knew perfectly well was bogus. But the facts say otherwise. Throughout history many forgers did risk reputations, careers, etc. Whether honest people can understand it or not, well educated people have done some unbelievably reckless things. We must rely on evidence and not on emotion.
Finally, the point of my posting is not to “prove” that Smith was involved in a hoax, but to expose the suspicious coincidences and argue that scholarly work — if it is to be critical — must not make use of this kind of dubious material.
“My second point, which McGrath does not address, is that in1955 Smith suggested that the evangelist Mark may have had material with “Johannine traits” and then in 1958 Smith found a text containing Markan material with Johannine traits. The notion that Mark had access to material with Johannine traits is a very unconventional idea. Yet Smith proposed it in 1955 and found an example of it in 1958.”
Exactly, Dr. Evans. This is the kicker for me. No one wants to address because they are have fear of being wrong.
One of the questions I asked was what 1st or 2nd century text was there in which the author identified himself as a “the author of this work” such as “Clement” does in the Secret Mark gospel. Do you have any comparative texts? Or would that be rare?
Thank you both to Craig Evans for responding to my blog post, and to Brian for giving the opportunity for his guest post here (as well as the other recent guest posts which I have also appreciated!)
I offered a reply to this post on my own blog, and look forward to this opportunity to have further conversation about this topic.
To Whom It May Concern:
Craig Evans and Stephen Carlson and Francis Watson before him try to turn this short section of text into a smoking gun with respect to the ‘falseness’ of the Letter to Theodore discovered by Morton Smith:
From Smith’s Comments on Vincent’s Commentary on Mark (http://www.jstor.org/pss/15084…
2.5: The introduction to the section supposes that two stories have been combined, but the commentary says, “The reference to forgiveness at a point where one expects the word of healing is abrupt. The inference seems justified that Jesus traced the man’s plight to sin and believed that his spiritual restoration was a primary and indispensable condition to recovery.” Such a contradiction in an ancient document would lead one to suspect composite authorship and to designate the first author as ‘the critic,’ the second as ‘the moralist.’ This is not to say that the critic must be right. Both may be wrong. That they are is suggested by the peculiarities of the Streitgespriiche in which this story occurs. They have many points of contact with Jn. For instance, they contain the only passages in Mk. (2.10 & 28) in which Jesus prior to his trial is represented as using ‘the Son of Man’ publicly with apparent reference to himself. (Jn 8.38 the phrasing is such as to make the hearers think he is speaking of someone else.) In Jn. Jesus uses the term of himself publicly and frequently (v. esp. chs. 5 & 6 and 12.23-34). Other points of contact are Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of men’s hearts (Mk. 2.8 // Jn. 2.24 f.), his command to the paralytic (Mk. 2.11 // Jn. 5.8), the bridegroom metaphor (Mk. 2.19 // Jn. 3.29) and above all the use of miracles as a proof of his divine commission (Mk. 2.10, cf. Jn. 5.36 &c.”) and the early plot against Jesus’ life motivated by his healing on the Sabbath (Mk. 3.6 // Jn. 5.16 ff.). Now two characteristics of Jn.’s style are sudden change of subject and use of apparent non sequitur. Using a miracle to break off an argument is just what one would expect of a source with other Johannine traits. Therefore its occurrence here need not be explained by the hypothesis that two stories have been combined. But if it is a Johannine trait, what lies behind it is probably allegory or deliberate Johannine obfuscation, not psychological diagnosis. John’s Jesus did not trace all afflictions to sin (Jn. 9-3).
The real question is – if Evans and Carlson hadn’t ‘cropped’ the original material so deceptively (Watson is much better) who would buy into this nonsense? I can show you fifty other scholars who have connected the underlying theme of sin and suffering of Mark 2:5 with the Gospel of John. After fifty years is this is the best you guys can put together? Why not develop some new arguments for a change? This is only convincing for those two lazy or incapable of reading and understanding the original material.
I bet if I went through Evans own discussions about Mark 2:5 I’d find a reference or too to parallels with the Gospel of John. It’s quite common.
@Dr. Evans: Thank you for writing this. It is great to see you and McGrath openly discussing this subject so that the rest of us can know more about the subject!
For those interested in looks like Carlson’s book is free online: http://www.scribd.com/doc/27105862/The-Gospel-Hoax
I certainly think Dr. Evans is being responsible in treating the case for authenticity of Smith’s discovery with caution, and is raising some valid issues. He is also appropriately careful not to accuse Smith of dishonesty. However, I find even this careful portrayal of Smith’s writings, while technically accurate, to be incorrect. I’ve covered this, as well as addressed Frances Watson’s latest remarks on the subject, here:
as well as addressed Watson’s previous critique, including specifically his comments on Papias:
“[The Mar Saba] author’s continuing reliance on Papias, if demonstrated by Watson, only serves to demonstrate my own claim: that the second/third-century pseudo-Clementine author was composing a textual history for both canonical and secret Mark that had no actual basis in fact.”
(See also the link on my blog, “A Critique of Watson”, for a comprehensive list of posts.)
Let me also add that Johannine dependence on GMk is a long-standing notion that predates Morton Smith’s work by some decades. It would be foolish to claim that Smith could never discover a text corroborating this notion, simply because he was aware of it.
I have also read Hunter’s novel, and find it fails to mirror Morton Smith’s career in any meaningful way. Even if there are any coincidences at all, they are totally unremarkable and unsurprising.
In addition to the above, there already existed a text, written long before Morton Smith’s dissertation, that linked the Carpocratians with illicit acts, the idea of “mystery”, and secret doctrines of Jesus: Irenaeus _Against Heresies_ 1.25, which speaks of the Carpocratians’ licentiousness, including forbidden acts. These Carpocratians, Irenaeus says, taught that “Jesus spoke in a mystery [MUSTHRIW] to his disciples and apostles privately”. Any connection Smith drew between the mystery of the kingdom of heaven and the mention of Leviticus 18 in T. Hag. 2.1 is far, far more remote and obscure than the connections Irenaeus drew between “mystery” and the Carpocratians.
But if Smith pulled Irenaeus off the shelf and read him, that wouldn’t mean Irenaeus was a hoax. So why does it mean the Mar Saba letter is a hoax?
The Mar Saba letter draws no connections between the Carpocratians and the language of “mystery” that Irenaeus himself doesn’t draw, and indeed draws far fewer than Irenaeus does.
It’s fine if scholars wish to avoid discussion of Secret Mark for now. I myself am somewhat concerned that many of them misunderstand the text. But this would be, in my humble opinion, a loss to scholarship, not a gain.
Michael T. Zeddies
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