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

by Yuri Kuchinsky


This is Part 2 of my article



THE NEW TEXTUAL EVIDENCE

So now, let us examine the text of the main SMk fragment, according to the Mar Saba manuscript. As I say, I have now identified 5 new textual parallels there with various little-known texts of Western/Peripheral type. In addition, Smith's previously identified Western/Peripheral (WP) parallels will also be considered later on.
 

SECRET MARK
(passages parallel to John, or close; translation by M. Smith)

"And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb ... And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."

THE CONNECTIONS WITH ANCIENT ARAMAIC JOHN

To begin with, here's a list of 3 agreements between the Secret Mark and the Old Syriac Aramaic John, as preserved for us in the ancient Sinaitic manuscript. All of them are also supported by various other Western/Peripheral manuscripts (MSS) of John, which certainly makes them quite significant.

I'm the first to point out these agreements; nobody knew about them before. Although Smith had done many years of research on the subject of Secret Mark, still, he remained unaware of these 3 agreements...

And yet, the first two of these 3 unusual variants in various Western/Peripheral manuscripts of John _have_ already been studied by eminent Textual scholars before me, so I'm now relying on their work in the following.

(For the Secret Mark passages, I'll be using Morton's Smith's own English translation here. For the OS John, I'll be using the classic English translation by Dr. F. C. Burkitt, as supplied in his 1904 Cambridge edition of the Old Syriac Aramaic gospels.)

********************
CASE #1
_the door_ of the tomb

All canonical texts of John lack the word "door" in this passage, and yet, besides the Old Syriac John, this feature is also present in numerous other WP manuscripts featuring this episode.

(JOHN 11:38 canonical RSV) Then Jesus ... came to the tomb; it was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.

(OS JOHN 11:38) Now, Jesus ... came to the tomb; and that tomb was a hollow like a cave, and _its door_ hidden by a stone.
(OLD SYRIAC) w'makhpy _tarah_ b'kepa,

(SECRET MARK) kai proselqwn o Ihsous apekulise ton liqon apo _ths quras_ tou mnhmeiou
(And going near Jesus rolled away the stone from _the door_ of the tomb.)

And also, this same feature is found at Jn 11:38 according to the Peshitta, as well as in the Arabic Diatessaron, which indicates that this particular variant was very ancient indeed.

All three of these WP witnesses happen to be listed by Dr. Daniel Plooij, in his magisterial Textual Commentary on the Dutch Diatessaron (of course he didn't know about the Secret Mark as yet). For example,

(ARABIC DT) And the place of burial was a cave, and a stone was placed at _its door_.

And in addition to all that, I now also add the Persian Diatessaron to Plooij's previous list of three supporting witnesses, because it also features the word "door". (Plooij didn't as yet have access to the Persian Diatessaron either, in his time.)

And furthermore, in his Commentary, Plooij also supplies some other interesting similarities to this phrase in the ancient Coptic MSS of John.

This Case #1 is perhaps the clearest parallel of all between the SMk and WP manuscripts of John.
 

********************
CASE #2
The word "immediately" is used twice in the SMk.

(JOHN 11:44 canonical RSV) The dead man came out...

(OS JOHN 11:44) _And in the same hour_ came forth that dead man...
(OLD SYRIAC: _wbah b'shata_ napaq huw miyta)

(SMk GREEK) _kai euqus_ hkousqh ek tou mnhmeiou fwnh megalh
(and _straightway_ a great cry was heard from the tomb)
(SMk GREEK) kai eiselqwn _euqus_ opou hn o neaniskov
(And _straightway_, going in where the youth was...)

And so, this expression (euqus = immediately, in the same hour, etc.) is used twice in SMk, and once in the OS John.

There's actually a _triple_ Western/Peripheral attestation for this SMk expression at Jn 11:44, i.e. it is found in the Old Syriac, Old Latin, and the Greek Bezae manuscripts of John... (Such a triple attestation in all these ancient WP manuscripts makes this parallel particularly solid.) It's found in some Diatessaronic witnesses, as well, including the Magdalene Gospel. And it's even found in the Latin Vulgate.

This reading happens to be listed in the standard SYNOPSIS QUATTUOR EVANGELIORUM by Kurt Aland. Also, it's listed in Merk's edition of the NT, and by Plooij, of course. These editions also list various other ancient witnesses for this reading.

This word /euqus/ has been discussed by Smith in his CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA volume, since it is repeated twice in the SMk, although Smith considered it as not belonging specifically to Western text (CA, p. 122). He completely missed all these direct parallels there in Western versions of John...

This seems to me like one of the earlier textual features in SMk.
 

********************
CASE #3
... and, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus, _and says_ to him

(JOHN 11:32, canonical RSV) Mary, therefore, when she came where Jesus was ... fell at his feet, _saying_ to him...
(JOHN 11:32 Greek) h oun mariam ws hlqen opou hn Ihsous ... epesen autou pros tous podas _legousa_ autw...

(SMk Greek) kai elqousa prosekunhse ton Ihsoun _kai legei_ autw
(... and, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus, _and says_ to him)

(OS JOHN 11:32) Mary, when she arrived by Jesus, fell at his feet, _and saith_ to him
(OLD SYRIAC) Maryam, kad matyt lwatahu d'Yeshua, naplat al reglawhy, _w'amra_ lah...

In this case, the Old Syriac text uses a simpler grammar, as compared to the canonical Greek versions -- and this use of simpler grammar happens to be quite typical for the Old Syriac, as well as for all other WP manuscripts. There's also additional support here for this OS reading in the Old Latin texts, and in various Diatessarons.

In general, WP texts prefer to avoid the more complicated participle constructions, that one so often finds in the canonical Greek. Wherever the Greek uses the present participle (legousa = saying), very often Western/Peripheral texts feature a simple verb preceded by a conjunction (kai legei = and he said). So this is certainly not just an isolated example, but rather part of a general trend in usage.

There are also additional parallels here in the Magdalene Gospel, as well as in the Persian, Arabic, Venetian, and Tuscan Diatessarons. For example,

(ARABIC DT) And Mary, when she came to where Jesus was, and saw him, fell at his feet, _and said_ unto him...

Besides the Old Latin versions of John, such simpler grammar is even found in the Latin Vulgate, which reads /et dicet ei/ in this passage.

I'm the first one to point out this particular variant in the Old Syriac, and in other WP texts of the Raising of Lazarus, which connects them with the Secret Mark's parallel account. But as I say, this variant is only one of great many such cases where, rather than the Greek participle construction, a simple verb is employed by WP manuscripts.
 

SOME ADDITIONAL EARLY TEXTUAL FEATURES IN SECRET MK: THE TWO AGREEMENTS WITH THE MAGDALENE GOSPEL

These three textual agreements, as given above, between the Secret Mark and the Old Syriac Aramaic John are very conventional agreements, really. They are all well supported by a wide variety of other Western/Peripheral manuscripts, that have all been well studied over the years. One of these readings (for Jn 11:44) is even listed in some mainstream editions of the New Testament... And yet, still and all, Smith remained unaware of any of these... So this just goes to show how little is the Western/Peripheral text known even to the best of NT scholars today -- and I certainly do consider Smith as having been one of the best of them. And later on, we will see even more evidence of some other big contemporary NT scholars -- such as Helmut Koester and Dominic Crossan -- showing their own dire ignorance in this area as well...

So if such great authorities haven't even read the Old Syriac John yet, what chance is there of them to have read the versions of this narrative as preserved in some quite obscure medieval Diatessarons? Not much, I'd say -- or, rather, none! Thus, it will be no surprise at all that yours truly is the first to discover the following two quite interesting parallels between the Secret Mark and the Magdalene Gospel -- one of these parallels being almost completely unique, while the other one also finding wide support in various other Diatessarons.

So here we see the Magdalene Gospel -- this unique document that has already demonstrated _hundreds of parallels_, in its own right, with various valuable Western/Peripheral texts such as the ancient Aramaic and Old Latin gospels -- now providing some additional textual attestation for the Secret Gospel of Mark. Thus -- surprising as it may seem -- it is the Magdalene Gospel that is now helping to support the authenticity of the Mar Saba manuscript!
 

********************
CASE #4
_Son of David, have mercy on me_

So this one is a unique (or almost unique) agreement between the Secret Mark and the Magdalene Gospel. In both documents, after Mary pays obeisance to Jesus, she makes a specific entreaty for his help. In the canonical John, on the other hand, Mary only pays obeisance, but there's no entreaty.

(SMk Greek) kai legei autw, _uie dabid elehson me_
(and [she] says to him, _Son of David, have mercy on me_)

(MAGDALENE GOSPEL 80:24) And when Mary came to Jesus, right away she fell down at his feet, _weeping, and crying for his mercy_...

(THE MIDDLE ENGLISH TEXT OF MS PEPYS 2498) wepeande and cryeande hym mercy...

To my knowledge, other than these two out-of-the-way and extremely far-flung MSS, no other extant version of the Raising of Lazarus story features this specific detail.

(In general, it's quite common for the MG to employ third person narrative in those places where the canonical gospels use direct speech -- there are many examples of this. And so, taking this into consideration, this parallel between SMk and MG appears to be almost exact.)

Now, in order to put this case into some additional perspective, it needs to be noted that there are also some other unusual features elsewhere in this same Magdalene narrative that seem quite relevant here. Because, in the Magdalene Gospel,

1. Jesus is being given more respect more generally, and,
2. he's being specifically asked for help not only this once, but twice!

So this special request by Mary, that is in parallel with the SMk, is certainly not just an isolated feature in this MG narrative.

Indeed, one thing that may seem quite striking when reading the standard versions of this episode is that, in the canonical John, nobody asks Jesus to do anything... Jesus keeps being reproached (albeit gently) for not being there in time, and for not healing Lazarus when he was still alive, but no explicit request to help Lazarus is ever expressed by anyone... Jesus is paid obeisance by Mary, but only once.

But, in the MG, when Martha first comes to meet Jesus (i.e. before her sister does), she _also_ prostrates herself before him -- a feature that is completely absent from the canonical John.

(JOHN 11:20, canonical RSV) When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him ... (21) Martha said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

(MAGDALENE GOSPEL 80:14) And she [Martha] came, _and fell at his feet_, and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have been dead."

And also, in the Magdalene Gospel, there's actually yet another instance where _both sisters_ explicitly beg Jesus for help. And here, very importantly, the Dutch Liege Diatessaron also supports this MG variant to some extent.

Indeed, at the opening of this narrative, when the sisters had first sent to Jesus the news of Lazarus' illness, we learn from MG 80:2, that they,

"... begged that he would come and comfort his friend".

In the canonical version, on the other hand, no such explicit request is expressed, of course. And yet, in the Dutch Diatessaron, we do find something that's quite similar! Because, according to the Dutch DT (p. 540 in Plooij),

"These [the sisters] sent to Jesus and _summoned him_ thus, 'Lord, thy friend Lazarus is sick.'"

And, of course, it also needs to be noted here that, in general, unique parallels between the Dutch DT and the Magdalene Gospel are very common indeed... In fact, one can find them in just about every paragraph of these respective texts -- wherever they have passages in common, or, in other words, just about everywhere (as Plooij's Commentary will readily demonstrate).

So far, I haven't been able to find any other parallel anywhere for such a special request on the part of Lazarus' sisters.

Thus, altogether in this story, we find that,

-- according to the MG, there are 2 acts of obeisance to Jesus, and 2 entreaties for his help.
-- In the SMk, we find 1 act of obeisance, and 1 entreaty.
-- In the canonical Jn, there's 1 act of obeisance only, and no entreaties.

And so, this additional respect for Jesus now emerges clearly as a sort of a distinguishing pattern in the Magdalene Gospel -- a very unusual pattern that happens to be in parallel with the Secret Mark! Could these two Peripheral MSS be preserving here for us an element of an earlier version of this story? I think that this is quite likely.

[end of Part 2]


Click here to return to Yuri's Secret Mark Page.

Click here to go to Yuri's New Testament Research Page.