MORTON SMITH COULD NOT HAVE BEEN A FORGER OF SECRET MARK: THE PROOF

It does seem like this document goes back to ancient times after all.


by Yuri Kuchinsky
 

This article will prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt that the letter of Clement, as published by Morton Smith, cannot be a modern forgery. In other words, Smith could not have been a forger of this letter.

The key to my argument is that the Secret Mark fragments, as quoted in Clement's letter, happen to belong to the Western text type (what I prefer to describe as the Peripheral text type).

The fact that the Secret Mark belongs to Western/Peripheral text is extremely significant. In his CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, Harvard, 1973, Smith already noted this feature of the Secret Mark fragments, and cited 5 readings (passages) where Secret Mark shows unique parallels to Western/Peripheral text (2 of them rather weak by Smith's own estimate). All of them were parallels to the Gospel of Mark only.

But, as I will show further, Smith didn't really understand the full significance of these parallels between Secret Mark and the Western/Peripheral text -- and he certainly didn't make any sort of a big deal of this particular feature in his very extensive study of the Secret Mark fragments.

In this article, I will show that Smith made some big mistakes in this area, and that he failed to see some other, and even better parallels between Secret Mark and the Western/Peripheral text, 5 in number.

These 5 new parallels that I've now identified are all to the Johannine material, and they are all _direct_ parallels to the Raising of Lazarus story; only 1 of Smith's previously identified parallels was such a direct parallel (but to the Markan material). Now, since Smith failed to see any of these 5 Johannine parallels that had been there all the time -- since he was completely unaware of them, as was obviously the case -- that means that he couldn't have put them in there. Hence, he wasn't the forger.

Generally speaking, in his CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, Smith shows no great familiarity with the Western/Peripheral text, or any real interest in it. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case; he repeatedly dismisses it as late and derivative. All in all, he seems to be rather embarrassed by these Western/Peripheral text parallels being there at all in Secret Mark. He even tries to argue that Secret Mark had been a source of the Western/Peripheral text (!), a rather odd theory that, to my knowledge, hasn't garnered so far any other supporters... (Normally, when 2 otherwise unrelated texts show some unusual similarities, it is assumed that they both ultimately depend on some sort of a common source.)

In actual fact, Smith had always been a supporter of the mainstream Alexandrian text type -- the Greek text of the gospels that, for the last 100 years or so, formed the basis of all "modern" English-language New Testaments. And moreover, in his book, he sounds rather dogmatic about this; he never seems to entertain any doubts that the Alexandrian text may not be the best thing today under the sun. (Personally, I can't disagree more with this view.) So this is the general perspective from which his CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA was written. So then why would he spike "his" Secret Mark with _any_ Western/Peripheral text elements at all, let alone with those that he didn't even know were there? Thus, in addition to all the other improbabilities involved in Smith being a forger of Secret Mark, this one seems like a decisive one, making a forgery by Smith completely impossible.

He didn't care for Western/Peripheral text, he (along with everybody else up to now) didn't even know to what extent Secret Mark is really a Western/Peripheral text, so, naturally, he could never have produced such a text.
 

SOME LATE FEATURES IN SECRET MARK

I would like to make it clear from the outset that I'm certainly not a defender of Smith's theories in regard to early Christianity in general, or in regard to the Secret Mark in particular. I certainly don't think that the material that is now found in the Secret Mark really goes back directly to the Historical Jesus, as Smith, himself, obviously wanted to see it. In my view, this is definitely a secondary Markan material -- the stuff that was added later. (In this, I'm in basic agreement with H. Koester, whose views on the subject have been known for a long time.)

When I look at these Secret Mark (SMk) fragments, I see quite a lot of late stuff in them, the stuff that, in my view, post-dates the canonical gospels. For example, in the SMk, Jesus' disciples are seen in a rather negative light; after they "rebuke" the woman, Jesus' anger seems to be directed against them... This part is not found in the canonical John, and I see this as a rather late feature of SMk. Also, according to the SMk, the tomb seems rather too big and impressive -- it's large enough for Jesus to walk into! -- again, something that is not found in the standard canonical text.

So, no, I certainly don't think that these SMk fragments represent "the pure and original Mark". And yet, they do have some seemingly early features in them, as well, and, as I see it, this is what these new Western/Peripheral text parallels that I've identified are really pointing to. After all, it is my view that, overall, Western/Peripheral text is the earliest of them all...

Generally speaking, myself, I treat SMk just like I treat any other Western/Peripheral text that I'm investigating; it has some relatively early stuff in it, but some relatively late stuff as well -- and it should be possible to differentiate among all these features through careful comparison and analysis.
 

WHAT IS WESTERN/PERIPHERAL TEXT?

Thus, the key to my proof that Smith could not have been a forger of Secret Mark is all this new textual evidence that I've now identified -- these 5 new parallels between the SMk, and the Western/Peripheral (WP) texts of the gospels. Below, I will provide all the particulars for these new SMk/WP parallels. But in order to appreciate the full force of these arguments that I'm now making, some more background is necessary about what Western/Peripheral texts really are, and what is the current mainstream attitude towards them.

So here's some more info on these issues,

Western Text is the earliest!

Griesbach had it right! (NT Textual Criticism)

It is very important for my argument that hardly anybody today knows anything about Western/Peripheral text, and this certainly included Smith, whose general attitude to Textual Criticism was entirely mainstream. The fact that he knew so little about Western/Peripheral text is the key to seeing just how unlikely it would have been for him to have forged such a text.
 

THE GENERAL SITUATION IN THE FIELD

In my first long article on the subject of Smith's curious discovery, the one that I wrote back in 1998,

the Secret Gospel of Mark

I mostly argued that Smith could not have been a forger of SMk, and left any further analysis of SMk for later. I based that old argument of mine mostly on the circumstantial evidence surrounding the discovery of this manuscript.

Indeed, I simply could not see how Smith could have accomplished such a sophisticated forgery -- a forgery sophisticated enough to fool all those Clementine scholars, as well as all those palaeographic experts, who almost universally pronounced this letter of Clement to be an authentic 18th century manuscript... I simply could not see how Smith could have done all that with an investment of anything less than a few years of very hard work, at least...

Three forgeries in one? Just imagine the huge investments of time and energy in trying to produce something like this...

(Also, some recent developments in this area should be mentioned here, especially the info that has recently been presented in THE JOURNAL OF EARLY CHRISTIAN STUDIES, in the article by Guy G. Stroumsa [June 2003]. It now turns out that, contrary to what has previously been believed, 4 reputable biblical scholars, including Stroumsa, actually _did_ examine the MS way back in 1976, and didn't find anything wrong with it. And also, add to this a new set of colour photographs of the MS that Charles W. Hedrick had obtained from the monks about 5 years ago... So all this contributes still further to verifying the authenticity of the MS.)

So, as I saw it at the time, all the potential risks as associated with such a monumental venture would have clearly outweighed any possible personal benefits to Smith, himself, that he could have gained from such a forgery... I just couldn't see a conspiracy there -- the idea that Smith would have worked very hard for many years _in total secrecy_ in order to lay the foundations for this forgery, that he may have gathered some possible accomplices along the way -- all this just seemed a bit too outlandish.

But, in any case, I'm now coming back to this subject after much additional research in the area of early Christian gospels, and my approach in this article will be entirely different. Now I will deal with the text of SMk, itself. And it just so happens that this new textual evidence that I've discovered does tend to confirm my previous analysis that Smith wasn't a forger.

So, yes, after much additional research in this area -- after writing a thick book on the subject, in fact -- my basic views about early Christian gospels are now much changed, compared to what they had been then. I find that my views have now evolved to the point where I have rejected not only the priority of the canonical Mark (something about which I already had my doubts back then), but the Alexandrian text priority also.

And yet, these two items, the priority of Mark, and the priority of the Alexandrian text -- taken together -- can perhaps be described as the _basic foundation_ on which the overwhelming majority of modern NT criticism rests. True, there are some dissenters as well -- there are still some scholars who object to these twin foundations of our mainstream NT scholarship. There are some scholars who support the Matthean priority, for example. And there are a few scholars who still support the Byzantine text priority (or even the Western text priority). These are just a few isolated stragglers, though, and it's very rare to see any of their writings in mainstream NT journals.

(Yet it's very interesting that, as it happens, these two groups of dissenters almost never intersect with each other. For example, I'm not aware of even one prominent Matthean prioritist who would also challenge the Alexandrian text. Or of any Byzantine text supporters who would also challenge Markan priority.)

Well, I have now challenged both of these crucial items, and provided plenty of backing for my views (see my webpage). As for Smith, he accepted both of them without any reservation whatsoever... In fact, he was remarkably dogmatic about both these items in his writings, which makes it very difficult, for me, personally, to read his books at this time...

Indeed, the phrases such as "Matthew changed this Markan verse", or "Luke corrected Mark here" are repeated over and over again in Smith's books (including in his JESUS THE MAGICIAN). It's as if Smith keeps repeating some sort of a mantra... (and he's far from being alone in this, of course). And, likewise, based on his CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, it seems like Smith never had any doubts about Alexandrian text priority, either...

Well, at this time, I find myself firmly in the Western/Peripheral text camp. (While in today's English language scholarship Western/Peripheral text has hardly any supporters, in France, on the other hand, this is actually seen as quite a respectable position.) I have no doubt at all that Western/Peripheral text was the original text of the gospels -- the evidence is really quite overwhelming in this respect, although hardly any of today's English-speaking biblical scholars are really aware of any of it at all.

And likewise for the Markan priority idea; there are many hard empirical arguments that go against it,

THE "SYNOPTIC PROBLEM"

but our academic mainstream really couldn't care less about any of this.

So when I'm reading Smith, and come across a statement from him that "Luke corrected Mark in such and such passage", my immediate reaction is that he probably didn't. So then, in order to clarify this, I'll need to dig out again my old and trusty Synopsis of the gospels, to compare the Greek texts and their translations, and then also to look up some Western/Peripheral parallels. More often than not, I end up with the confirmation that, no, most likely Luke didn't correct Mark in that particular passage...

And then, the whole process will again need to be repeated a few paragraphs down, when Smith makes yet another such dogmatic statement as before... You must agree that reading Smith does end up as a very slow and laborious process for me nowadays...

So, no, it is definitely not my purpose here to defend Smith's theories about the Historical Jesus. In fact, I would even say that it was probably Smith's rather peculiar theories about the Historical Jesus, primarily, that have been standing in the way of this Mar Saba manuscript being accepted more fully by the New Testament academic mainstream...

Could it really be that Smith, himself, didn't quite understand what his discovery was all about? Yes, I guess so... And all this new textual evidence that I will present below certainly does tend to point in this direction.

[end of Part 1]


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