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The "Secret Gospel of Mark"

Content of Clement's letter

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The various Gospels of Mark:

The following is based on the assumption that a letter found by theologian Morton Smith which claims to have been written by Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-213 CE), is valid and accurate. No total consensus has been reached by theologians on the letter's legitimacy: religious conservatives tend to reject the letter as a forgery; religious liberals and secularists tend to accept it as real.

In his letter, Clement claims that there were three versions of the Gospel of Mark which were being circulated among different Christian groups in the vicinity of what is now Alexandria in Egypt. They were:

bulletAn abbreviated Gospel, written by Mark in the first century CE, and intended to be read by those newly converted to Christianity. It was "an account of the Lord's doings" that Mark had learned from the apostle Peter while both were in Rome. The Gospel contains material that Mark felt was most suited for beginners in the faith. 1
bulletThe Secret Gospel -- a "second 'more spiritual Gospel' for those who were more spiritually advanced." This was also written by Mark. He added material to the shorter Gospel, after having moved to Alexandria, a major Christian center in what is now Egypt.
bulletThe Carpocratian Mark. After Mark's death, Carpocrates, the founder of the Carpocratian faith group, added his own fictional material to the Secret Gospel. He distributed his forged "gospel," claiming it to be the true Gospel of Mark. The Carpocratians were one of many faith groups that comprised the early Christian movement during the second century CE. They were a licentious lot. They believed in holding all property in common, including each other's spouses. 2

It is the abbreviated public version which we see in modern translations of the Bible. Both the secret version, and the Carpocratian Mark have been lost.

The letter was from Clement to an unknown person named Theodore. If it is accurate then it clarifies two confusing passages in Mark that have long puzzled many students of the Bible:
bulletMark 14:51-52: These verses describe an unusual event associated with Jesus' arrest by the Temple guard in the Garden of Gethsemane. This passage describes an almost-naked young man who had been following Jesus. The passage has an almost cartoon-like theme. The guards grab at the man, but he runs away naked, leaving the men holding only the man's linen cloth. The text reads: "And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him. And he left the linen cloth, and fled from them naked." 3 Author Bart Ehrman writes: "Interpreters have propounded a host of possible solutions to these questions over the centuries, but there has never been any consensus." 4
bulletMark 10:46: This describes the arrival and departure of Jesus and his followers at Jericho. The text reads: And they came to Jericho; and as he went out of Jericho..." 4 Scholars have recognized for centuries that there is obviously some text missing from the middle of this verse.

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Clement's letter:

The letter of Clement quotes two passages from the secret version that are missing in the public version:

bulletFragment 1: This was located in "secret Mark" immediately after Mark 10:34. It describes an event very similar to the raising of Lazarus in John 11. Secret Mark relates that a man in Bethany had died. His sister begged Jesus to have mercy on her. At this instant, a voice was heard inside the tomb. Jesus rolled away the stone blocking the tomb's entrance, went in and restored the brother to life.

Following this is an unusual passage:

"The young man looked at Jesus, loved him, and began to beg him to be with him....Six days later. Jesus gave him an order; and when evening had come, the young man went to him, dressed only in a linen cloth. He spent the night with him, because Jesus taught him the mystery of God's domain." 4 (Others translate the last two words as "the kingdom of God.")

The fragment continues, saying that Jesus later returned to the other side of the Jordan.

bulletFragment 2: Clement's letter also includes the words from Secret Mark which were inserted into the middle of Mark 10:46:

"The sister of the young man whom Jesus loved was there, along with his mother and Salome, but Jesus refused to see them."

Finally, Clement wrote that the other passages that Theodore had provided were false. They were from the heretical version, and not from either the shorter or secret Mark.

According to Wikipedia:

"These two excerpts comprise the entirety of the secret gospel material; no separate text of the secret gospel is known to survive, if indeed such a text ever existed. Knowledge of the secret gospel is therefore in very much the same state as the Gospel of Thomas was before the Oxyrhynchus and Nag Hammadi finds: it is known only through reference in another work. 5

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. W. Barnstone, Ed., "The Other Bible", Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA, (1984), Pages 339-342. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. Bart Ehrman, "Lost Christianities: The battles for Scripture and the faiths we never knew," Oxford (2003). Pages 67 to 89. Read reviews or order this book
  3. The quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
  4. Op Cit, Ehrman Page 79-80.
  5. "Secret Gospel of Mark," Wikipedia, 2007-JUL-17, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright © 2002 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-JUL-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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