To this end, it is worth reiterating that very few scholars on either side of the forgery debate think that Secret Mark is a historical account. The account was decidedly black by Jesus Seminar standards (if that does anything for you). Smith wrote that Secret Mark was “an imitation [of Mark] of the simplest and most childish sort” (Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973], p.76). And yet, Smith's historical portrait of Jesus was gay nonetheless.
If you measure academic generations in terms of retirement, at least two generations stand between mine and Smith's. Previous generations were squeamish when it came to the topic of Smith's personal investment in a gay Jesus . At least they were reluctant to write about this. They were (and still are) quite willing to discuss Smith's supposed homosexuality in casual conversation. Because of this, many critical assessments of Secret Mark have avoided the subject. Whether it was for fear of being accused of homophobia, or because it smacked of an ad hominem attack, the topic has been taboo. Bruce Chilton is one of the few willing to be transparent about Smith's motives juxtaposed against the spirit of the time (here).
My generation, for all of our faults, is much less squeamish about this topic. First, this discussion carries much less of a risk of libel. Second, while homophobia is still alive and well, the professional risks for openly gay scholars are considerably less. While a great deal could be said about the humiliation, incarceration, beating, electroconvulsive experimentation, and murder of homosexuals during the 1950's (more here), it is perhaps equally relevant to point out that the gay advocacy movement was barely conceived in 1950's America.
Given this cultural context, Smith's open discussion of homosexual angst is quite remarkable. For my part, I am much less interested in labeling him gay or bisexual, and much more interested in his early academic interest in the plight of gays in the Church. In other words, Smith's orientation is surely relevant, but I'm much more interested in evidence of advocacy. After all many, many LGBTQI folks are not inclined toward advocacy; and many advocates for LGBTQI equality are heterosexual. So when I talk about Smith's open discussion of this topic, I'm not talking about his orientation.
It may well border inappropriate speculation to talk about a biblical scholar's psychology in relation to sexual norms and theological angst. It is, however, necessary to consider what a scholar has published on these topics in a psychology journal. In 1949, when the Christian world was ignorant, skittish, and/or hostile to such conversations, Smith published an essay titled "Psychiatric Practice and Christian Dogma" in the Journal of Pastoral Care (Issue 3; pp. 12-20). He wrote of the deep rift between traditional Christianity and homosexual well-being.
Smith wrote (hypothetically) of a young man – a new convert – who seeks advice from a Christian counselor. Smith explained that this young man “doesn't see that if two adult males enjoy each other sexually, any harm is done to anybody.” Smith goes on: "He doesn’t seem to be unstable, keeps his job, gets on well in society, has lots of normal friends, and seems generally happy. And, after all, homosexuality has been a characteristic of some of the greatest men – Plato and Shakespeare, etc."
How must the Christian counselor instruct this young man? Smith wrote:
He must be told that homosexuality is a sin far more serious than fornication, and that unwillingness or inability to repent of it automatically debars the sinner from the sacraments. Whether or not psychological or social arguments against homosexuality are used, it must be made clear that the sin is not a matter for dispute nor for private judgment, but is established by the Christian tradition which individuals can only accept or reject. Finally, for the good of the congregation no less than for his own good, he must sooner or later be made to choose between his new attachment to the Church and his previous sexual adjustment, even though there be great probability that he will find no other adjustment so satisfactory. (pp 16-17)
At this point, allow me to state the obvious: it's incredible to believe that a scholar who had previously published on the topic of homosexuality in a context wherein the topic was so extremely rare in public discourse, just happened to find an ancient document so relevant for gay advocacy. It is also worth noting that while the American gay advocacy movement was still incubating in the late 50s, it was well underway in 1973 when Smith published his two books about Secret Mark. Just as the P.R.I.D.E movement was throwing off the shackles of legal oppression in the United States, Morton Smith was writing these words:
“Freedom from [Jewish religious] law may have resulted in a completion of the spiritual union by physical union” (Smith, Secret Gospel, p. 114; I credit Bart Ehrman for pointing out the particularly sexualized biases present in Smith’s interpretation; see B. D. Erhman, “Response to Charles Hedrick’s Stalemate,” in JECS 11 (2003), p. 157).
Let me underscore that I'm not suggesting that because Smith was concerned for homosexual well-being that he must have invented this document. The key here is evidence of a discontentment strong enough to take action. Those closest to Smith observed this very tendency in his character. Smith "enjoyed provoking the conventionally faithful, proposing reconstructions of the past that opposed the narrative promoted by Jewish and Christian orthodoxies” (Albert Baumgarton, “Smith, Morton [1915-91],” in Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation: K-Z [Nashville: Abingdon, 1999], p. 477). Smith’s deep (often hostile) misgivings with traditional Christianity bled through his publications, even in his early career. William Calder wrote that Smith’s doctoral dissertation “was the first of many studies calculated to enrage the Establishment, Jewish or Christian, but far too intelligent and erudite to be dismissed as simply annoying” (William M. Calder III, “Morton Smith†,” Gn. 64 , p.382).
I think that Carlson quite aptly summarizes this point:
Secret Mark supports not only Smith’s love of controversy but also his favorite target. It was written during the 1950’s, during an especially oppressive moment in American history when mainline ministers were urging the police to crack down on gay men gathered in public parks. What could be more upsetting to the Establishment in this historical moment than the intimation, revealed in an ancient text by the author of the oldest gospel, that they are crucifying Jesus Christ all over again? (p. 85)On the cusp of the gay advocacy movement, a scholar who was deeply interested in this topic claimed to discover an ancient document that suggested the possibility that Jesus, himself, engaged in “naked man with naked man” activity. That this “discovery” also confirmed Smith’s uniquely sexualized interpretation of "the mystery of the kingdom" (Mark 4:11) ought to be cause enough for suspicion. That he was also a well-known provocateur should cause still greater suspicion (and has). And my suggestions here do not even scratch the surface of all of the abnormalities that surround this story.
Carlson rightly calls the document a hoax rather than a forgery. Ehrman rightly observes Smith's tendencies to oversex the text. Watson convincingly shows Smith's literary dependence on the 1940's novel Mystery of Mar Saba. Evans rightly draws out Smith's foreknowledge of the topics he "discovered". Add to this the very twentieth-century euphemism "spent the night with" and the question of advocacy becomes just one more curiosity. Like I said in my first post, I'm not offering some great advance in this discussion. Really, I suppose that my main point is that as an artifact of counter memory, this document fits very well within the twentieth-century gay advocacy movement.
Finally, I think I might be the first to suggest this: given Smith's thesis that a gay man could not find happiness with the Church, should we consider the possibility that "Theodore" is an homage to Theodorus the Atheist? He is ranked here as the fourth greatest atheist of all time (I love lists):
Theodorus the Atheist from Cyrene lived around 300 b.c.e. He was banished from Cyrene in his early years, and moved to Athens to become a follower of the younger Aristippus. He also managed to get himself banished from Athens.... Theodorus taught that the aim of human life was to obtain joy and avoid grief, and that joy comes through prudence while grief arises from folly... Laertius complained that Theodorus "did away with all opinions respecting the Gods"...In Smith's essay on psychology, he too placed a centrality on "happiness". Smith drew a sharp distinction between the path of happiness and the path of Christian doctrine. I will leave this as an open question: was the name "Theodore" chosen in homage?
Some have argued that Smith appeared to take his research on Secret Mark quite seriously. I think he delighted in the froth he’d stirred up, reserving the right to be indignant when overly conservative agendas were laid bare. In short, I think he was a brilliant trickster and wanted his hoax to live on long past his death. Truly, it’s hard not to admire how utterly clever the man was. According to "Clement":
"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."So very, very clever.