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Was Rudolf Bultmann's impact on biblical studies generally positive or generally negative?

Friday, March 8, 2013

Mnemonic Triangulation and Secret Mark (Part One) – Le Donne

I’ve been tinkering with Morton’s Smith’s famous Secret Mark—at topic that I’ve never touched before—and I found that my take is a bit different from others.  My reading doesn’t provide any great new revelation, nothing worthy of a journal article, but perhaps interesting to work up for a couple blog posts.  This post will simply frame a few particulars.

According to biblical scholar Morton Smith (1915–1991) he discovered an ancient letter written by Clement of Alexandria (c.150–c.215), recopied in the 18th century onto the back pages of another book, and preserved in a Greek Orthodox monastery called Mar Saba (south of Jerusalem).  What would make this particular letter unique and what would bring Smith unprecedented notoriety for a biblical scholar was this: it included a previously unknown story about Jesus from a purportedly longer version of Mark’s Gospel.  Smith claimed to have discovered this document during his second visit to Mar Saba in 1958 and announced this find in 1960.  He didn’t publish his books on the subject until 1973.


Smith called this short Greek excerpt the “Secret Gospel according to Mark”.  Most scholars today call the text Secret Mark.  This text describes Jesus raising a wealthy young man from the dead and then spending the night with him.  Here is the first line of the letter, followed by the final paragraphs.  Herein, you’ll find the complete extant text of Secret Mark set in italics:

To Theodore, 
You did well to silence the unmentionable teachings of the Carpocratians… 
Since the unclean demons are always scheming the destruction of the race of men, Carpocrates, having been taught by them and employing deceptive arts, enslaved by those means a certain elder of the church in Alexandria and obtained from him a copy of the mystical gospel and interpreted it according to his blasphemous and carnal opinion. Moreover, he defiled the spotless and holy words, mixing them with shameless lies.  The teachings of the Carpocratians are drawn out of this mixture.

Just as I have previously said, one must never yield to them as they expound their lies, nor concede that the mystical gospel was written by Mark, but rather deny it even under oath. For everything that is true is not spoken to all men. The wisdom of God declares through Solomon, “Answer the fool according to his foolishness,” teaching that the light of truth is to be hidden from those who are mentally blind, and it also says, “from he who has not, it shall be taken away,” and “let the fool walk in darkness.” But we are sons of light, having been illuminated by the sunrise of the spirit of the Lord, for it says, “where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” To the clean, everything is clean. Therefore I will not hesitate to answer what you have asked, exposing their lies from the very words of the Gospel.

For instance, after “And they were in the road going up to Jerusalem,” and what follows until “after three days he shall rise,” it next says, word for word: 
And they came to Bethany, and a certain woman whose brother had died came out and threw herself before Jesus and said to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. Becoming angry, Jesus went off after her into the garden where the tomb was and suddenly there was heard coming from the tomb a loud voice. Approaching, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb and immediately going into where the young man was, he stretched out his hand and raised him, holding his hand. And gazing at him, the young man loved him and began to plead with him that he might be with him. And going from the tomb, they went into the young man’s house, for he was rich. After six days, Jesus summoned him and when evening came, the young man went to him wearing a linen cloth over his naked body and he stayed with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God.  And then, arising, he went to the far side of the Jordan.” 
After this, it adds, “James and John went to him,” and all that section, but “naked man with naked man” and the other things about which you wrote, are not found.  After “he goes into Jericho,” it adds only, “and the sister of the young man who Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, but Jesus did not agree to see them.” 
But the many other things about which you wrote appear not to be, and are not, true. According to the true philosophical explanation…”
Tomorrow, I'll tell you why this whole affair fascinates me so much. Hint: it has more to do with the letter and less to do with the content of the gospel.

-anthony

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