Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on ReligionInstitute for Studies of Relgion
IJRR :: 2008 Volume 4 :: Article 6
2008 Volume 4, Article 6
The Secret Gospel of Mark: A 20th Century Forgery

Author: Birger A. Pearson (University of California, Santa Barbara)

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In 1973, Morton Smith of Columbia University published a manuscript consisting of three pages inscribed in an 18th century hand in the blank pages of a 17th century edition of the letters of Ignatius of Antioch that he allegedly found in a Palestinian monastery in 1958. The manuscript consisted of the opening of a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria addressed to a certain Theodore. The letter treats a "secret gospel of Mark" that was said to be in use in initiation ceremonies in the Alexandrian church. Two quotations from the secret gospel are given: a longer one depicting the raising of a young man in a tomb and his subsequent initiation by Jesus into "the mystery of the kingdom of God" and a shorter one in which Jesus refuses to meet with three women. In a lengthy commentary on the letter and the gospel fragments, Morton Smith depicts Jesus as a homosexual magician who practices a homosexual initiation ritual that frees the initiate from the trammels of the biblical law. Over the years, a number of scholars have accepted the authenticity of the letter and the secret gospel, while none have accepted Smith‘s interpretation of them. Two books recently published now show conclusively that Morton Smith forged the letter to Theodore and the gospel fragments. There never was a "secret gospel of Mark" in ancient Alexandria or anywhere else.

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