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

by Yuri Kuchinsky


This is Part 4, that concludes my article


ONE MORE CLEAR CONNECTION BETWEEN THE SECRET MARK, AND THE WESTERN/PERIPHERAL TEXT OF MARK
 

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CASE #6
and _he comes_ to Jericho

This is an agreement between the Secret Mark and the Old Syriac Mark. Smith was aware of it, but he didn't make any big deal out of it. As we shall see further, Koester and Crossan were both ignorant about this connection of SMk and Western/Peripheral text.

(Canonical Mk 10:46) kai _ercontai_ eis iericw
(and _they come_ to Jericho)

(SecMk) kai _ercetai_ eis iericw
(and _he comes_ to Jericho)

(OS Aramaic MARK 10:46) And _he came_ to Jericho
(OLD SYRIAC) _w'atu_ laYerykho

And also, there's lots of additional support here in other Western/Peripheral texts. For example, in A. Merk's edition of the NT, he lists the following WP witnesses that also have this reading,

D 788 a b ff i r sys Origen

This means that this reading is supported by,

-- Greek Codex Bezae (but, interestingly, not by its Latin side)
-- Greek minuscule MS 788 (10th/11th century).
-- Old Latin MSS a b ff i r (5 manuscripts)
-- Old Syriac Sinaiticus MS (as already cited above)
-- citation(s) by the Greek father Origen.

This is quite a long list of support, which indicates that this reading probably stood in the original text of Mark. (And yet, this WP variant has been neglected by the mainstream Aland's editions of the gospels.)
 

KOESTER AND CROSSAN FALL FLAT

In connection with the above reading in the SMk, it will now be instructive to see how some of our leading NT scholars, namely H. Koester and D. Crossan, missed entirely on this important WP variant. (It sure does look like they haven't really read Smith's own book carefully enough, in the first place, to get themselves informed that a divergent WP version of this passage does exist...) And if even they missed it -- both of them being among the leading supporters of Smith and of SMk -- how can we expect any of their less illustrious colleagues to have picked up on any of this?

Of course, this just goes still further to demonstrate to what extent Western/Peripheral text is now unknown even to the most competent of today's NT scholars. They are all completely ignorant about it, even the best of them like Koester and Crossan!

So this is what J. D. Crossan writes in his FOUR OTHER GOSPELS, Winston, 1985, p. 109,
 

"Clement's quotation in SMk, 'And he comes into Jericho', is the only time his citations differ in any way from our text of canonical Mark. ... His quotation here is in the singular, 'he comes', but Mk 10:46 has, 'And they came to Jericho...' That reads as if Mark took a singular ('he') and pluralized it..."


Oh, well, now that we are aware of the fact that "he comes" in this verse is really a solidly attested WP reading -- the reading that probably represents the original text of Mk -- it sure seems like "Mark" didn't really pluralize anything. (It was probably a late editor of Mk, on the other hand, who pluralized this reading at some later point.)

Thus, Crossan's evident ignorance about Western/Peripheral text made him think that the variant "he comes" was a pre-Markan reading, whereas it was much more likely to have been the original Markan reading, also shared by the SMk.

Also, Helmut Koester, a friend and colleague of Crossan, writes as follows in his ANCIENT CHRISTIAN GOSPELS, SCM/Trinity, 1990, p. 300, footnote 2,
 

"Crossan (FOUR OTHER GOSPELS, 109-110) rightly calls attention to the fact that the Secret Gospel, as quoted by Clement, read the singular, while the manuscripts of Mark have the plural. But this does not necessarily imply that Clement's copy of the canonical Markan text also read the singular."


So, based on the above, it sure seems like Koester is inclined to think that Clement may have corrupted the text of Mk in his quote! Well, the opposite seems to be the case...

Thus, it's clear that Koester was likewise ignorant of an important Western/Peripheral variant for this verse. Just like Crossan, he failed to read Smith's book carefully enough!

In fact, both of these scholars should have been well aware that Clement of Alexandria typically cites his gospels according to Western/Peripheral text! (As was already established by F. G. Kenyon, and others long time ago.) So, by all rights, this item should have been seen as a powerful argument for the authenticity of the SMk, and yet both Crossan and Koester missed entirely on any of this...

And as for Smith, he, for his own part, was definitely aware that, in general, Clement's quotations do "show points of contact with the western text" (p. 78 in Smith's CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA)... And yet he never attempted to use this evidence to support the authenticity of the Mar Saba MS. Why not? The answer is simple, because of his prior preconceptions about the supposed "superiority of Alexandrian text", Smith had no interest in Western/Peripheral text at all. It sure seems like, by and large, Smith looked at all these links between SMk and WP text that he did identify as a bit of an embarrassment... He really wanted SMk to be seen as a very early text, but since all his mainstream NT colleagues "knew" the earliest texts to be Alexandrian, it was sort of embarrassing for Smith that SMk didn't seem so Alexandrian after all... With all due respect to Smith and his colleagues, this here does look like one of those cases of the blind leading the blind...

Yes, very unfortunately, all this crew were quite blind about what Western/Peripheral texts really are... The possibility that they may represent the earliest surviving gospel text had been completely neglected in their thinking. And this is how the general situation in the field still remains to this day, unfortunately.
 

OTHER LINKS BETWEEN SECRET MARK AND WESTERN/PERIPHERAL TEXTS, THAT SMITH WAS AWARE OF

Yes, Smith certainly was aware that the SMk has at least some links to Western/Peripheral texts. After all, he studied this rather short MS, and its background, very intensely for well over 10 years, and he constantly consulted with many of his colleagues about it.

Thus, in addition to our Case #6, that we have just examined in detail, Smith also names 4 other passages in the SMk that seem to have some similarities to WP texts.

These 4 parallels, as given by Smith, are a mixed bag. To begin with, none of them are the direct parallels to SMk, since they are all parallels (as preserved in a variety of WP gospel MSS only) to the passages that are merely similar to SMk. And besides, 2 of the 4 are rather inconclusive by Smith's own admission.

Here are the 2 that are indeed quite interesting.

-- kai _orgisqeis_ o Ihsous (and Jesus, _being angered_)

The parallel here is with a variant WP text of Mk 1:41 (CA, pp. 104, 128, 360).

-- kai hrxato _parakalein_ auton ina met autou h (began _to beseech_ him that he might be with him)

There are some parallels here with assorted WP MSS (CA, pp. 112, 364).

And here are the 2 that Smith himself admits are quite weak.

-- exeteinen thn ceira kai hgeirenauton (he stretched forth his hand and raised him)
-- epetaxen autw o Ihsous (Jesus taught him)

Thus, none of these 4 items is really a direct parallel between two identical gospel passages. Rather, they represent some grammatical and vocabulary peculiarities of SMk that also seem to be shared by some other Greek texts of WP type, such as the Greek Codex Bezae.

Obviously, Smith looked far and wide for any Markan (or sometimes even Synoptic) parallels to SMk that he could find, and he just about scraped the bottom of the barrel while doing so... And yet, for some odd reason, he completely neglected the possibility that there might be some Johannine parallels to SMk out there!
 

SMITH'S OBSESSIONS

Even a brief perusal of Smith's two books on the subject of SMk makes it obvious that he was genuinely obsessed by his discovery. The sheer amount of work that he put into his CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA is astounding -- these had clearly been many years of hard work that he put into it. (The book also spent many years at the publishers while even more revisions were being made.) What came out as a result often appears to be quite odd; the relevance of much of the material that was included in this volume seems marginal at best.

More like totally irrelevant! What are all these claimed similarities to Homer's Iliad doing there, for example? What is this supposed to do with anything?

And what is all this "clausulae" business there all about, one wonders? "Quantitative rhythms" in Clement's sentence endings?

Indeed, we learn on p. 75 of his CA that Smith had compiled a detailed study of "the quantitative rhythms at the ends of the sentences" in Clement's STROMATEIS, and compared these, very painstakingly, to how the rhythms of the sentence endings come across in the Mar Saba MS... Sure enough, it's all there in the Appendix C, looking like complete abracadabra, to be sure... Is Smith analysing poetry here, or something? I'm sure that if one were to ask Clement, himself, about what "quantitative rhythms" he favoured in his prose, he would have been extremely surprised to hear that he favoured any...

So is this guy being serious here? No wonder that so many of his colleagues were accusing him (usually behind his back, of course) of setting out to perpetrate some sort of a prank... It sure does seem like many critics misinterpreted Smith's genuine obsession with his Mar Saba discovery, and his rather peculiar and often aimless studies around this subject as... evidence that there might be something wrong with his discovery!?!
 

FURTHER CONCLUSIONS THAT CAN BE DRAWN FROM THIS EVIDENCE

And so, the main purpose of this study has been to demonstrate that Smith couldn't have been a forger of this MS. Since he obviously knew very little about serious interpretative problems that are associated with the Western/Peripheral text of the gospels -- about the great many intricacies of this very challenging field of study -- it would have been impossible for him to forge such a text as SMk.

He clearly lacked both the motivation and ability to create such a text himself. How could he "include" into SMk all these 5 new WP readings that I've identified, if he didn't even know they existed? And, even more importantly, why would he even try to do so, in the first place?

Furthermore, these same basic arguments, as outlined above in this study, can also be used to demonstrate that the Secret Mark could hardly have been a medieval forgery -- since, surely, a medieval forger can not have been expected to be familiar with Western/Peripheral text. As it is well known, WP text pretty well disappeared from circulation during the early middle ages, to be replaced by the Byzantine text type. Hence, chances are that any medieval forger would have used Byzantine-type gospels, were he to try to forge anything like this. Seeing that the Secret Mark belongs to WP text type, this alone provides the best argument for dating it prior to 400 CE, i.e. before the ascendance of Byzantine text.

On the other hand, it is well established in Textual Criticism that, based on his undisputed writings that we still possess, Clement of Alexandria mostly used Western/Peripheral text of the gospels, since this is what he typically cited in his writings. Thus, Secret Mark belonging to WP text is fully consistent with this MS coming originally from Clement's own pen.

To sum up, the above considerations make it very likely that what Morton Smith discovered in the Mar Saba monastery is indeed an authentic letter of Clement of Alexandria. After all, it is very difficult to see why anyone would have wanted to forge such a letter between Clement's own lifetime (he died early in the 3rd century), and the end of the 4th century, when Western/Peripheral text already started to go out of circulation. The style of the letter is clearly Clementine, and it basically says what Clement could be expected to say. Therefore, it may be assumed a priori that it was none other than Clement himself who wrote this letter.

[This concludes my article]


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