The Secret Gospel of MarkUseage of "The Secret Gospel of Mark" by Glenville Whittaker

"The Secret Gospel of Mark" by Morton Smith is possibly the most controversial book about Jesus ever written. While the evidence on which it is based is accepted by some academics as authentic, there are numerous claims that it is all a hoax or wishful thinking by Smith and the conclusions are not accepted by any Christians.

Whittaker devotes 3 chapters (40 pages) to discussion on and arising from a letter supposedly written by Clement of Alexandria and supposedly discovered by Morton Smith, a one-time Anglican priest who became an atheist professor of religion. This letter contains what it says are 2 sections of the secret gospel. In English it translates into 212 words and on this basis Smith wrote both a scholarly and a popular book. This is possibly the most controversial document and the most controversial claims ever made about Jesus. The controversy is ongoing and quite a few popular books* and scholarly articles have been written about it. W. makes this argument for Smith's being sincere in his belief the document was genuine:

p.136 "Smith's own conclusion from studying the extract, as we shall see, was that Jesus was considered in his time to be a magician, and he spent the remainder of his academic life working on this hypothesis, producing numerous books and articles. He simply would not have done this, in effect wasting his whole career, if he knew that the very premise all his work was based on was a hoax of his own making."

Smith claimed to have found the letter in 1958. He was born in 1915 and had a long academic career following his disillusionment as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Even after finding the letter Smith wrote on other topics and the centrepiece of his Jesus the Magician thesis - the book "Jesus the Magician" - mentions Clement once and never mentions the Secret Gospel of Mark or the Mar Saba letter. On Smith's academic career and its dependence on the "Secret Gospel", W. is completely wrong.

On W.'s claim that on the basis of the letter Smith's conclusion was that Jesus was a magician, he is not only wrong but deceitful by omission. If the document is genuine then Smith is the man who has studied it more than any other and in his view the Secret Gospel of Mark reveals, not esoteric initiation into meditation techniques, but initiation into homoerotic magic techniques that concluded with a night of homosexual passion with Jesus and the new initiate. Smith believed Jesus was a libertine hedonistic homosexual magician and antinomian and it's no surprise that Smith is believed to have had yearnings in that direction himself. At least it makes W.'s ideas sound orthodox.

Smith claims that in baptism people received the illusion of entering the kingdom of heaven, not that they actually did. Furthermore, he believes the initiation included a naked baptism in water something W. claims did not happen.

"From the scattered indications in the canonical Gospels and the secret Gospel of Mark, we can put together a picture of Jesus' baptism, 'the mystery of the kingdom of God.' It was a water baptism administered by Jesus to chosen disciples, singly and by night. The costume, for the disciple, was a linen cloth worn over the naked body. This cloth was probably removed for the baptism proper, the immersion in water, which was now reduced to a preparatory purification. After that, by unknown ceremonies, the disciple was possessed by Jesus' spirit and so united with Jesus. One with him, he participated by hallucination in Jesus' ascent into the heavens, he entered the kingdom of God, and was thereby set free from the laws ordained for and in the lower world. Freedom from the law may have resulted in completion of the spiritual union by physical union. This certainly occurred in many forms of Gnostic Christianity; how early it began there is no telling." - The Secret Gospel

Why then does W. write 3 chapters on this topic? Because there is no evidence in the Bible that Jesus conducted secret initiations into techniques that allowed his devoted inner followers to experience God (whatever W. means by that word) and virtually no evidence from any reputable source that Jesus conducted secret initiations.


* Some books on the topic:

The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark by Stephen C. Carlson

Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?: The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate: Proceedings from the 2011 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium

Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem, Correspondence 1945 -1982 (Jerusalem Studies in Religion & Culture)

The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery by Peter Jeffery

Mark's Other Gospel: Rethinking Morton Smith's Controversial Discovery (Studies in Christianity and Judaism) by Scott G. Brown