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Mark's Other Gospel

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  • Loren Rosson
    Given Stephen Carlson s impending bombshell, I wanted to review Scott Brown s new book on Secret Mark for XTalkers. It s a bit long, for which I apologize in
    Message 1 of 4 , Jun 25, 2005
      Given Stephen Carlson's impending bombshell, I wanted
      to review Scott Brown's new book on Secret Mark for
      XTalkers. It's a bit long, for which I apologize in
      advance, but I want to be thorough and offer enough
      grist to open avenues of discussion.

      Mark's Other Gospel is so diligently argued, carefully
      considered, and yes, so plausibly sounding at times,
      that one could almost believe it describes the
      hermeunetical intent behind an ancient document. Brown
      argues that "Secret Mark" (which he calls Longer Mark,
      for reasons which will become apparent, and refers to
      the portion of text cited by Clement as LGM) is part
      of a much longer version of the gospel of Mark,
      written by the same author of the canonical version
      for advanced readers in the Alexandrian community, so
      they might have a deeper and more gnostic
      understanding of the first version. Longer Mark
      elaborates themes of discipleship and Christology
      already in place, especially elements which were left
      ambiguous or obscure in the shorter version, like the
      mystery of the kingdom of God (Mk 4:11) and the
      appearance and flight of the young man in Gethsemane

      But it's the same author, insists Brown. Just as Mark
      earlier described the way to salvation through
      self-abnegation metaphorically, using the imagery of
      taking up one's cross (Mk 8:34-35), being a child
      (10:14), becoming a slave or servant for others (9:35;
      10:43-45), and sharing Jesus' "cup" and "baptism" of
      suffering and death (10:38-39), so now he takes the
      theme to a deeper level by sandwiching old texts
      between new ones, and offering "more profound"
      understandings of Christological mysteries. LGM 1 and
      2, wrapped around Mk 10:35-45, allow a reader to
      perceive that the young man who appeared in Gethsemane
      (14:51-52) had been raised from death in Bethany (LGM
      1), thus symbolizing Jesus' demand that his disciples
      undergo his "baptism" or passion (p 215).

      Brown even suggests that LGM 1a is an actual parable
      of the kingdom of God:

      "As an enacted parable of the kingdom, the raising of
      the young man, like the symbolic killing and raising
      of the epileptic boy (Mk 9:25-27), illustrates the
      paradox that one must undergo death in order to defeat
      it. The private explanation of this parable in LGM 1b
      [where the young man spends the night with Jesus]
      expounds this insight by using baptismal imagery of
      death and rebirth [naked under the linen]... Baptismal
      imagery is used here to interpret the salvific
      dimension of the young man's rising according to the
      analogy of dying (drowning in water) and rising again,
      though the baptism by which the transformation is
      attained is not the rite itself, but a metaphorical
      immersion in literal suffering and death. To be
      baptized with Jesus' baptism is to live a life of
      active self-abnegation patterned upon Jesus' passion
      (Mk 8:34). It would appear, then, that in the longer
      gospel of Mark, the mystery of the kingdom of God is
      the paradox that one saves one's life by losing it."
      (p 206)

      Which isn't far, of course, from common scholarly
      interpretations of canonical Mark. LGM and earlier
      texts thus mutually interpret each other, through
      Mark's typical sandwich technique, or "intercalation"
      (first defined by James Edwards in 1989).
      Understanding canonical Mark's literary skills --
      intercalations (chapter 6), framing stories (chapter
      7), and verbal echoes (chapter 8) -- empower the
      reader, urges Brown, to see the same author at work in
      the longer version of Mark.

      Certain thematic parallels follow. Jesus is involved
      in a real baptism (Mk 1:9-11) and a symbolic
      resurrection (the transfiguration) (Mk 9:2-8); then
      later, both Jesus and the young man are involved in a
      symbolic baptism (Mk 10:38-39; LGM 1b) and a real
      resurrection (Mk 16:1-8; LGM 1a). (p 203)

      The upshot is that Brown believes Mark "improved" upon
      his original work for the benefit of advanced
      believers seeking deeper gnostic instruction, and this
      is the argument fully developed in the second half of
      the book (chapters 6-8). But before arriving at the
      above conclusions, he needs to dispense with alternate
      theories about "Secret Mark" (chapters 2-5), namely,
      that LGM is one or more of the following:

      1. a forgery, whether ancient or modern
      2. an apocryphal (second-century) pastiche
      3. part of a pre-canonical (early) version of Mark
      4. part of a secret and elitist gospel
      5. a catechetical supplement for neophyte baptism

      We'll take these in turn, though I'll save (1) for
      last since it is the most difficult to deal with -- in
      no small part because it's probably correct.


      Brown believes that LGM 1 has the expected form of a
      Markan healing story, with conventional motifs of oral
      tradition and Markan redaction (p 85), that it
      doubtfully used the Johannine account, since John's
      version consists mostly of Johannine elements, none of
      which can be found in LGM 1 (p 86). Independence of
      John is also suggested by the many discrepancies
      between LGM 1 Jn 11. Brown states:

      "Insofar as LGM 1 is more primitive in form than the
      raising of Lazarus, lacks distinctively Johannine
      elements, gratuitously contradicts Jn 11 and 1:35-40,
      and combines incidents that are dispersed in John's
      gospel...the conclusion that LGM 1a represents an
      independent witness to an oral tradition is eminently
      reasonable...I belabor the point because it
      contradicts the inveterate belief that the
      non-canonical gospels were written decades after the
      four canonical gospels and in complete dependence on
      them." (p 92)

      He attacks those who have argued LGM a pastiche
      derived from all four canonical gospels. "They are
      engaging in parallelomania...[and] would do well to
      remember that the same procedure has been used to
      argue that Mark is a refashioning of myths derived
      from the Odyssey and the Iliad and that John is the
      product of a near Eastern form of Buddhism. The
      listing of trivial, inexact parallels is the sine qua
      non of improbable theories of literary dependence." (p
      94) Pastiche explanations are unnecessarily
      complicated, he insists, like relying on the Greisbach
      hypothesis to explain the synoptic problem (p 95).

      I agree with all of this as far as it goes. The text
      of LGM does look primitive and independent of the
      canonical gospels. But whether this means we are
      dealing with an early author, Mark himself (as Brown
      believes), or an astute forger (as I believe) remains
      unresolved by demolishing lame and careless pastiche


      Brown addresses the proposals of Morton Smith and
      Helmut Koester, that some or all of longer Mark
      preceded the canonical version. (a) In Smith's view,
      longer Mark was a later expansion of canonical Mark,
      although at least one of its special traditions had
      been subsequently abbreviated. (The authors of
      canonical Mark and John knew of a proto-gospel from
      which the author of canonical Mark drew stories that
      were also available to the author of the longer text.)
      (b) In Koester's view, longer Mark was an earlier
      version of canonical Mark, but was derived from an
      even earlier proto-Mark (used by Mathew and Luke).

      Brown finds both proposals unlikely on grounds that
      the longer version of Mark would have contained far
      more than the fifteen sentences cited by Clement. It
      would have had to include enough material to effect
      the nature of the overall gospel (to make it effective
      for advanced theological instruction, as Brown would
      have it) (p 117). A large-scale redaction of the
      gospel is unlikely:

      "It would be far more natural for one of the 'bodily'
      synoptic gospels to be transformed into a more
      spiritual gospel so that it could accommodate
      Christians who expected to find the essential
      theological truths concealed beneath the literal level
      of their scriptures... If longer Mark (and/or
      proto-Mark) preceded the canonical gospel, their total
      disappearance is harder to account for." (p 119)

      This argument, as far as I can tell, is an illusion.
      How would we know whether or not canonical Mark has
      omitted a massive amount of material from an earlier
      version? The logic here puts me in mind of Q
      enthusiasts who complain that Luke could not have used
      Matthew because he constantly omitted M material. Marc
      Goodacre's commentary is useful by way of analogy:
      "Luke does not include M material by definition. On
      the assumption that he used Matthew, any of Matthew's
      special material taken over by Luke would of course
      cease to be Matthew's special material." (The Case
      Against Q, p 54) On the assumption that canonical Mark
      used an earlier version, all material co-opted for the
      new version, however much or little, would become the
      new version. How would we determine whether or not any
      material in the new (canonical) version was compatible
      with advanced gnostic instruction? (The Gospel of
      Thomas shows that just about anything can be pressed
      into gnostic service.) There's just too much circular
      reasoning here.

      On the other hand, I'm not surprised that neither
      Smith nor Koester has been widely followed. "Early"
      theories are just as unlikely and complicated as
      "late" (pastiche) theories. That canonical Mark (used
      by Matthew and Luke) came before longer Mark is easier
      to suppose than that a proto-Mark (used by Matthew and
      Luke) came before longer Mark, which in turn was later
      censored down to canonical Mark.

      But acknowledging that longer Mark came after
      canonical Mark (naturally) leaves open the question of
      how much later. Was it a decade or so later -- or two
      millenia later?


      Brown sharply challenges the idea that LGM was part of
      a secret or elitist gospel. "Secret Mark" is a
      misnomer, he claims, based on a mistranslation of TO
      MYSTIKON EUANGELION. Smith took this to mean that the
      "more spiritual gospel" referred to by Clement was
      also a "secret gospel", as if MYSTIKON were
      necessarily synonymous with APOCRYPHON. Brown argues
      that MYSTIKON means "mystic" in Clement's letter (p
      122), not something hidden from the masses. Longer
      Mark was useful for the instruction of advanced
      Christians in Alexandria, "potentially harmful to
      catechumens" (p 142), but not to the extent of
      warranting secrecy.

      Brown emphasizes, moreover, that the letter doesn't
      say longer Mark was "most carefully guarded" (as Smith
      translated), but rather "very securely kept" ("being
      read only to those who are being initiated into the
      great mysteries") (p 135). That is to say, it was held
      in reserve for those of proven character, which is why
      Clement approves longer Mark while simultaneously
      trying to keep it free from the taint of Carpocratian
      corruption -- by insisting that the text is for mature
      believers who would not likely misinterpret it or use
      it improperly. "A carefully regulated text is not
      necessarily one whose existence is kept secret." (p

      I will leave any critique of Brown's understanding of
      MYSTIKON to my Greek-fluent betters, while observing
      that a sharp distinction between secrecy and mysticism
      may be unwarranted in this context. If the Alexandrian
      community felt threatened by certain misuses of an
      "advanced" version of its sacred text, then secrecy
      would become a legitimate (and likely) strategy to
      maintain its honor: "It is especially important to
      cloak anything that happens in the in-group that might
      be considered a threat by outsiders". (Malina and
      Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of
      John, p 142). Regardless of whether or not "secret" or
      "mystic" is the better reading here.


      Smith believed that longer Mark was used for the
      purposes of a (secret) second baptism for true
      gnostics, derived from the historical Jesus, involving
      a spiritual ascent into the heavens and a resultant
      libertine conviction of freedom from the law. Brown's
      thesis is that the baptismal imagery in LGM is
      metaphorical, and it's unclear as to what happened
      overnight between Jesus and the young man. How did
      Jesus teach him the mystery of the kingdom? Brown
      looks to Mk 4, where the term indicates that "this
      mystery concerns a single theological truth about the
      reign of God that can be grasped only with great
      effort (Mk 4:10-12,24-25). Such a mystery is too
      profound for pre-baptismal catechism" (pp 145-146). It
      relates to gnostic instruction.

      Besides, asks Brown, what purpose would LGM 2 (Jesus
      refusing to receive the three women at Jericho) serve
      for a baptismal rite? Nothing at all. But viewed in
      the context of Mark as a whole, LGM 2 is an
      intercalation reiterating the point that the only
      family Jesus will acknowledge is the one consisting of
      people who do God's will (Mk 3:20-21,31-35) (p 155).

      This is all sounds persuasive but looks less promising
      on closer inspection. Brown ignores homoerotic
      subtexts which cannot be explained by those
      intercalations he sees as the key to making sense of
      LGM. Granted the "naked young man" with a "linen
      sheet" echoes Mk 14:51-52, and "beg to be with him"
      echoes Mk 5:18, why did the young man "love" Jesus and
      stay the "night" with him? Where are the verbal echoes
      to **these** parts of LGM? More plausible is the
      suggestion that LGM simply recycles language and
      themes from various parts of canonical Mark in the
      interest of telling a gay joke.


      Brown has a lot to say about forgery accusations --
      the very first thing he deals with in the book -- but
      his chief objection derives from this own thesis.
      Because longer Mark reflects a clear comprehension of
      canonical Mark's literary skills (intercalations,
      parallel structures, verbal echoes), skills not widely
      appreciated by scholars until the 80s, we can rule out
      a modern forgery:

      "[Scholars were ill-prepared in the 50s] to identify
      and decipher Mark's literary techniques. This is
      especially true of the manuscript's discoverer, Morton
      Smith, whose unMarkan and strangely historicizing
      interpretation of LGM 1 and 2 led a half dozen
      reviewers to characterize him as a nineteenth-century
      rationalist...If we agree that LGM 1 and 2 form a
      typically Markan intercalation, then we can rule out a
      modern origin for the letter to Theodore." (p 179)

      I have already indicated that LGM does not reflect
      these literary skills quite so conclusively --
      particularly at points which demand the most
      explanation -- though admittedly Brown makes a decent
      case otherwise. One wonders how Stephen Carlson would
      respond to this. On NT Gateway, Mark Goodacre has
      commented thus:

      "I suppose my concern with that would be that it does
      not require 'profound comprehension of Mark's literary
      techniques' by experts in general, but by just one of
      them. My own impression of [Morton Smith] is that he
      had a brilliant mind and certainly the erudition
      necessary to see things others did not. One should not
      underestimate Morton Smith." (NT Gateway Weblog,
      Friday May 13, 2005)

      Brown is on better ground in refuting accusations of
      forgery based on Clement's injunction to "lie under
      oath", or to use oaths at all. In the letter to
      Theodore, Clement says:

      "To the Carpocratians one must never give way; nor,
      when they put forward their falsifications, should one
      concede that it is Mark's [secret?/mystic?] gospel,
      but should even deny it on oath." (II.10-12)

      Many scholars think this statement contradicts
      Clement's position on lying and oaths in Strom. VII.
      Brown rightly points out that Strom. VII 8 allows for
      occasional oaths, such as when "the other party has
      had insufficient opportunity to appreciate the
      Christian's truthfulness through witness of prior
      conduct" (p 31). And Clement certainly approves of
      lying and deception, such as when a physician does so
      for the benefit of the patient (Strom. VII 9:53:2).
      "If lying to Christians for their own good was
      acceptable to Clement, it is hard to doubt that
      telling half-truths to heretics for the good of the
      church would not be" (p 31). This is an
      understatement, given what we know about the
      honor-shame world. Even without the qualifying
      passages from Strom. VII, Brown would be right, for
      lying to and deceiving enemies is normal and expected
      (see John Pilch's work on lying), regardless of what
      people actually say about the merits and demerits of
      "lying" per se. Whatever indicates that LGM is a
      forgery, Clement's injunction to commit perjury (or
      equivocate with half-truths) is not one of them.

      Insofar as refuting general accusations against Morton
      Smith, Brown scores zingers against Jacob Neusner, who
      clearly maligned Smith out of spite, owing to the
      infamous fallout between the two men in 1984. It's
      downright embarrassing to see Neusner's pre-84 and
      post-84 remarks laid out on the same page! The 70s
      Neusner wrote the dust jacket endorsement for Smith's
      book on Secret Mark, describing a "brilliant account"
      of a "discovery [which] ranks with Qumran and Nag
      Hammadi, Masada and the Cairo Geniza, but required
      more learning and sheer erudition than all of these
      together". The later Neusner venomously denounced
      Smith's discovery as "the forgery of the century" and
      "one of the most slovenly presentations of an
      allegedly important document in recent memory". (!)
      (see pp 39-40)

      But the fact that Neusner resorted to forgery
      accusations only later and out of spite, and that
      conservative-minded scholars had done so (perhaps) out
      of homophobic impulses, should not blind us to the
      likelihood that Clement's letter to Theodore may well
      be the forgery of the century. My basic problem with
      Brown's elegantly presented thesis is that it contains
      so much implicit circular reasoning to those (like
      myself) who remain convinced that Morton Smith is
      indeed behind the letter's genesis. The fact that LGM
      reflects some Markan literary techniques is exactly
      what I would expect from a genius (and Markan expert)
      wanting to perpetrate a fraud for the sake of
      amusement or experiment.

      Considering who we're dealing with, and the peculiar
      circumstances surrounding the "discovery" of Clement's
      letter to Theodore, one strongly suspects that Morton
      Smith made the texts of LGM and Mark "mutually
      interpret each other" -- that, indeed, this is why LGM
      sounds "too Markan to be Mark" for many scholars
      (Brown tries dealing with this objection on pp
      105-111, but not convincingly); that Smith wanted,
      tongue planted firmly in cheek, to portray a rich man
      inheriting the kingdom of God (and how!); that it was
      all Smith could do to hold back details of Jesus and
      the youth hitting the clouds and the rain ("the
      kingdom") -- that indeed, the whole point of
      projecting this "eisegesis" onto the Carpocratians was
      to call attention to it without damaging the
      credibility of LGM; that Smith's obsession with how
      scholars assimilated new information, coupled with
      disdain for colleagues, led him too do all these
      things as a controlled experiment or academic joke.

      But even if Brown's book becomes obsolete in November
      (as Carlson, immodestly perhaps, prophesied earlier on
      XTalk), it is meanwhile probably the best analysis of
      LGM which assumes its authenticity. There are
      certainly persuasive arguments as to how LGM should
      not be interpreted, and the example of Neusner reminds
      that those who urge LGM a forgery are not beyond

      By sheer coincidence, I was browsing the
      Music-Art-Media section of my library last week when
      the cover story of ARTnews caught my eye. Milton
      Esterow has an article titled, "Fakes, Frauds, and
      Fake Fakers" in the June issue (pp 98-105), and a
      highly abbreviated version may be found here:


      I'm seeing more stuff like this -- exposes of
      forgeries and hoaxes, eye-opening not so much because
      this is a new phenomenon (in the case of artwork,
      Esterow reports one source saying forgeries have
      increased, another saying the situation has improved),
      but because we're simply becoming more aware of the
      phenomenon. It's sobering stuff. Forgers are in some
      ways like serial killers; they don't necessarily think
      like "we" do. Just as some art counterfeiters "try to
      enter the soul and mind of the artist" (Esterow),
      Smith seems to have tapped into those of Mark, if
      indeed he came up with a product which anticipated
      later literary theories.

      I would be interested in hearing reactions from any
      who have read Brown's book, or who wish to comment on
      the "Secret Mark" problem in general. Stephen?

      Loren Rosson III
      Nashua NH

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    • Loren Rosson
      ... I assume you re aware of Dick Horsley s The Liberation of Christmas: The Infancy Narratives in Social Context? Horsley certainly agrees that the fictitious
      Message 2 of 4 , Jun 28, 2005
        Ernie wrote:

        >There's more to historic validity that an
        >accurate record of events. Capturing the
        >spirit of the times and significant
        >issues that framed people's outlook and
        >beliefs is also important. I think the Lukan
        >birth narratives show signs of doing that
        >in ways that enhance their historical
        >value - that is the sort of issue I
        >wish to explore.

        I assume you're aware of Dick Horsley's The Liberation
        of Christmas: The Infancy Narratives in Social
        Context? Horsley certainly agrees that the fictitious
        nature of the infancy narratives doesn't undermine
        their subversive overtones, which reflect the "spirit
        and times" of the Jesus movement. A messianic
        liberator is born among the common folk, and Luke has
        angels and the heavenly multitude proclaiming "peace
        on earth peace", thus undercutting the Pax Romana
        which supposedly provided this peace already. Matthew
        has magi paying homage to a peasant savior. Etc.

        Relating to your broader question, Ernie, I sympathize
        with what you're getting at. One of the reasons I
        joined XTalk years ago was to do my part in injecting
        more social/political fire into what I also perceived
        as a heavy preponderance of literary discussion.
        Still, literary issues are important, and XTalk has in
        view not only "the study of the Jesus of History" but
        "the rise of Christianity". So whether or not Q
        existed seriously matters. If there was never a pre-70
        Q community, that has direct bearing on the way the
        Christian movement evolved; it means we don't have a
        prized early source to cherish (other than Paul),
        which in turn relates to the question of reliability
        of sources in reconstructing HJ.

        Whether or not Secret Mark is a hoax matters. Last
        week I reviewed the new book by Scott Brown. He has a
        few things to say at the end about LGM being relevant
        for the historical Jesus, not so much because it
        likely reports something that actually happened in a
        rich man's home one evening, but rather because it
        could indicate that Jesus had certain esoteric
        teachings which he taught his disciples privately,
        that he visited Bethany in the last weeks of his life
        (as independent accounts report in LGM 1 and Jn
        10:40), and/or that baptismal movements influenced his
        theology. (see Mark's Other Gospel, p 237). If Secret
        Mark is a hoax, of course, this is all mirage.

        Sidestepping too much literary analysis and issues
        relating to authorial intent will only get you so
        close to HJ. For instance, you've make it abundantly
        clear on this list that you doubt Jesus opposed Rome
        in any way, in so small part based on the way Luke
        (clearly your favorite NT author) portrays him. Never
        mind that Luke goes out of his way, more than most, to
        portray Christianity as Roman-friendly!

        Loren Rosson III
        Nashua NH

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      • Ernest Pennells
        [Loren Rosson] ... undercutting the Pax Romana ... ... Luke goes out of his way, more than most, to portray Christianity as Roman-friendly!
        Message 3 of 4 , Jun 28, 2005
          [Loren Rosson]
          >I assume you're aware of Dick Horsley's The Liberation of Christmas ...
          undercutting the Pax Romana ... ... Luke goes out of his way, more than
          most, to
          portray Christianity as Roman-friendly!<

          Thanks, Loren. I would need to refresh my memory on details of Horsley's
          argument but would, as you anticipate, deflect attention away from Pax
          Romana. There are, of course, two contrasting ways of explaining the
          Roman-friendly flavour in the NT (except Revelation). Self preservation
          may have required it in a world where open criticism could carry dire
          consequences. My preferred explanation is that Rome is a distraction from
          the real target of HJ's teaching and mission.

          Augustus and Roman tax do get mentioned in the birth narratives, but the
          polemic targets Herod and his regime. No mention of rebellion precipitated
          by a census. In fact, it actually facilitates the birth of Messiah in
          David's city. Thank you, Augustus!

          [Loren Rosson]
          >Sidestepping too much literary analysis and issues relating to authorial
          intent will only get you so close to HJ.<

          Granted. Missing historical questions as a result of being too focussed on
          the text itself is another impediment.

          For example, I believe we have clear evidence that at the time JBap was
          said to be preaching, the River Jordan formed the boundary between a Roman
          province and Antipas' tetrarchy. So we should examine the implications of
          the account of his ministry in that particular light, as well as Tanak
          traditions concerning Jordan and the wilderness. From that border, JBap
          faces one way to denounce the tetrarch for violating Torah; then turns
          toward Jerusalem and declares - by inevitable implication - that Yahweh is
          no longer resident in its temple, because he calls people to prepare for
          His return. That also explains why this priest is not where he should be by
          right of birth. His call for repentance is also accompanied by specific but
          inclusive advice to soldiers and tax collectors - two strong arms of
          government. In the province that means a Roman Governor. What does this
          say about his message to the contemporary situation? I find plenty of
          discussion in the literature about Tanak and the dispute with Antipas, but
          little about the implications regarding governance in Judaea. As it is in
          Judaea that Jesus will meet his destiny, this sounds important. (Again,
          sources I may have missed would be most welcome).


          Ernie Pennells
          220-50 Songhees Road
          Victoria BC V9A 7J4
          Tel: 250-381-5676
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