Thomas Talley in support of Secret Mark

by Yuri Kuchinsky

[posted and discussed in various Internet discussion groups in Nov 2004]

Thomas Talley, THE ORIGINS OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1991.

Dr. Thomas Talley is one of the greatest modern scholars of early Christian liturgy. His book THE ORIGINS OF THE LITURGICAL YEAR (1991) is a model of scholarship.

In this study, among other things, he analyses early Christian baptismal traditions, and their historical development. And this seems to provide some very important background for the Secret Gospel of Mark.

It is important to note that the incident in SecMk1 (the first SecMk fragment, as supplied for us by Clement of Alexandria) has numerous connections with baptism. Morton Smith already dealt with this matter in considerable detail in his book CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, 1973, and supplied many particulars from various sources, such as patristic and textual, as well as the linguistic analysis. For example, the cloth (sindwn) that the young man wears over his naked body has clear baptismal connections (since early Christian baptism was customarily performed in the nude). Clearly, the intent of this whole SecMk narrative was to illustrate a _baptism of initiation_ that Jesus administered to this young man.

Also, the Raising of Lazarus scene in John's gospel -- clearly a parallel narrative to SecMk1 -- has numerous connections with baptism as well, in its own right. This is very well attested in the historical sources, and Smith likewise noted these connections.

But what about the timing of these two scenes, as well as their place within the narrative structures of both Mk and Jn?

Both their timing within the story of Jesus' life and deeds, as well as their structural placement within these two gospels are the matters of key importance. All these things are obviously interconnected in some way.

In fact, we see substantial structural parallelism here between Jn and Mk.

It is important to keep in mind that these gospel passages were customarily read during Church services -- they were, and still are, part and parcel of the liturgical year of the Church.

The chronological sequence that we see both in SMk and Jn is,

The Raising of the Young Man --> The Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (the start of Passover)

But this is also the time when the baptisms of initiates were performed!

In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church still celebrates what is known as the 'Lazarus Saturday', a pre-paschal celebration which falls on the Saturday just preceding the Palm Sunday. So this still remains as the day on which to administer the baptism of initiation in the Eastern Church. The Orthodox historical tradition obviously sees this as a very special day, since it is the only time in the entire Church Year that the resurrectional service of Sunday is celebrated on another day.

In the West, on the other hand, this custom has been lost some time during the middle ages.

One glaring omission in Smith's CA book is that he completely neglects this whole 'Lazarus Saturday' ritual, and its importance. But Talley, for his own part, certainly fills in this gap, being a liturgical specialist that he is.

In fact, much of Talley's study deals precisely with the ancient liturgical and baptismal traditions of Alexandria and Egypt, as preserved in various old manuscripts and patristic accounts. And, as we shall soon see, this is where he was able to find some very important new material to support further the authenticity of the SecMk.


Yet another key matter in all this is the relationship between Jesus and baptism... This is perhaps one of the most hotly disputed matters in early Christian history. We all know about John the Baptist... But was Jesus, himself, also a Baptist perhaps? Seems like a natural assumption, since, as almost everyone accepts, Jesus was originally a follower of John (assuming there was a Historical Jesus, of course).

So did Jesus, himself, baptise some of his disciples? While NT scholars may still be arguing about this, myself, I don't think that there's really so much doubt about it. It is quite clear to me that, in the earliest Christian tradition, Jesus did baptise.

Two passages in John (Jn 4:2 and 3:22) do provide some good supporting evidence here, although they seem to me like just the remnants of the earlier tradition that was even more specific in this regard.

For more about Jn 4:2, including what ancient Aramaic Jn says here, please see,

Jesus the Baptist (John 4:2) - Apr 2004

Or here,

So this is what Talley has been able to discover -- some supporting evidence for Jesus' baptising activities in little known Egyptian patristic accounts. The evidence that Smith was obviously unaware of.

And, it just so happens that what these patristic accounts indicate is that the _timing_ of these baptisms that Jesus performed falls exactly within the time frame that is also presupposed by the SecMk! (As well as by Jn, to some extent, except that, of course, there's no baptism, as such, mentioned in the Raising of Lazarus scene in Jn.)

Here is what Talley found. His two sources are a 14th century Coptic writer Abu-'l-Barakat, as well as Macarius, a 10th century Christian bishop of Memphis.

Both of them agree independently that Jesus was believed to have _baptised his disciples_ during the week that precedes the Palm Sunday, i.e. just before his Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. So these are the testimonies that Talley provides in his book.

The 14th century Coptic writer Abu-'l-Barakat, speaking about the week that precedes the Palm Sunday,

"It is said that the baptism of the apostles took place then". (Talley, ORIGINS, p. 204)

Macarius, bishop of Memphis in the 10th century (speaking of the Friday during this same week),

"It has been told that this is the day on which the Lord Christ baptized his disciples." (Talley, ORIGINS, p. 204)

And Talley then comments,

"If both writers seem somewhat diffident about this testimony, it is not surprising. None of the gospels provides an account of Jesus' baptism of the inner circle of his followers..."

(To be sure, Talley also adds, Jn 4:2 and 3:22 do provide some sort of a support here.)

But this is also where the first SMk fragment was located within the Gospel of Mark, according to Clement's letter. And this fragment does describe the baptism of a disciple by Jesus.

So then what do we have here? We have the testimonies, coming from medieval Egypt, that are extremely important in two respects. First, they provide further support to the idea that Jesus was in fact a Baptist. (In itself, this is already quite a discovery!)

And second, they place this baptism that Jesus was believed to have performed precisely in the time frame that is also presupposed by SecMk!

So this seems to me like one more very good argument for the authenticity of our Mar Saba manuscript. Here we have some quite rare and unusual testimonies from medieval Egyptian Christian sources, that Smith could hardly have been expected to be familiar with. And yet these testimonies just happen to agree fully with the idea that Jesus did baptise his disciples, while also doing it just during the time frame that SecMk also indicates.

As a result, according to Talley, the raising of the young man in SecMk really seems like the original basis of these two Egyptian patristic sources!

So here's what Talley says,

"[W]e must propose this Mar Saba fragment as the otherwise unknown source of the Coptic tradition associating the traditional baptismal day with the day on which Jesus baptized." (Talley, ORIGINS, p. 209)

I have to agree with Talley in this case. To me, these two Egyptian patristic accounts really seem like some distant reflections -- coming through many centuries of historical censorship and oblivion as they are -- of early 2nd century rituals as practised in the Alexandrian Church. The Church that seems to have celebrated baptism during the week before Jesus' Entry into Jerusalem as a special occasion on which Jesus, himself, performed a private baptism of initiation for the benefit of one of his chosen disciples.

What happened then, in my opinion, is that (1) this whole scene was deleted from the Markan tradition, (2) its baptismal significance was disguised somewhat, and (3) it was added to Jn in a rewritten and expanded form as the Raising of Lazarus.

And yet, the baptismal significance of this scene is still well remembered in the Christian tradition (hence the survival of the 'Lazarus Saturday' ritual in the Eastern Churches). Not only does this story of Lazarus still carry some baptismal implications in general, but the whole Eastern tradition of 'Lazarus Saturday' also seems to preserve -- in a somewhat disguised form, perhaps -- the _timing_ of Jesus' own baptism of at least one of his chosen disciples. But the same thing still happens to be preserved a lot more clearly in SecMk.

(In his book, Talley suggests plausibly enough that this Eastern tradition of 'Lazarus Saturday' ultimately derived from Alexandria -- via Constantinople, and that this may have happened around the time of the Council of Nicea. But this is a highly complex subject in its own right, that cannot be covered here.)

So how could have any 20th century forger known about any of these highly obscure and complex developments -- and about these very rare Egyptian sources, that even an average liturgical scholar probably has never heard about, prior to Talley's study?

It sure seems to me like all this constitutes yet more support for authenticity of the Mar Saba manuscript -- in addition to all the other material that I have already itemised in my previous studies.

Indeed, it is very difficult to see how anyone could have forged such a text in the 20th century without being a liturgical scholar of the first rank -- highly conversant with very obscure ancient traditions, liturgies, and lectionaries. Morton Smith was certainly not a liturgical scholar of any sort, so it is rather difficult to credit him with this type of very specialised knowledge.

All the best,


Go to Yuri's Secret Mark Page.

Go to Yuri's New Testament Research Page.