Secret Mark Conference: Preliminary Programme

The one-day Secret Mark conference Phil Harland and I are hosting at York University is only weeks away. For those interested, here is the preliminary programme.

The York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium Series Presents:

Ancient Gospel of Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate

Vanier College, April 29, 2011

9:00-9:15 Introductions: Tony Burke (York University) and Philip Harland (York University)

9:15-12:00 Session 1: The Authenticity Debate

Chair: Tony Burke, York University

The Case for Authenticity

9:15-9:30 “Secret Mark: Moving on from Stalemate,” Charles Hedrick (Missouri State University, Missouri)

This paper will briefly survey the status quo of scholarship on the Letter to Theodore and a Secret Gospel of Mark, and argue that, with the failure of the modern forgery theorists to make their case, research has no choice but to move on to a study the missing manuscript itself by means of the photographs.  The paper, working back from the 18th century, argues that the sudden appearance of a previously unknown 2/3rd century manuscript in 18th century handwriting is not unusual.  During the Renaissance, the classics of Greco-Roman tradition were recovered in versions much later than the time of their original composition—including texts previously unknown.  The Letter to Theodore is taken seriously as deriving from the 2/3rd century, while Ernest Best’s argument that the longer excerpt of Secret Mark is “too much like Mark” to be Mark is found to be unconvincing.  On the other hand, if the excerpts from a Longer Gospel of Mark in the Letter to Theodore are forgeries, they are likely to be early forgeries created in the context of Greco-Roman education, which stressed imitation as an important way of learning. 

9:30-9:45 Response: Bruce Chilton (Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York)

9:45-10:00 Discussion

The Case for Forgery

10:00-10:15 “Morton Smith and the Secret Gospel of Mark: Exploring the Grounds for Doubt,” Craig Evans (Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia)

Although at one time I accepted Morton Smith’s account of his 1958 discovery of a lost letter of Clement of Alexandria, in which a longer edition of the Gospel of Mark is discussed and quoted, I no longer do so. I have doubts primarily because of a number of coincidences. The most troubling are these: (1) In three publications prior to the claimed discovery at Mar Saba Smith discussed the very elements that came to light in the discovery; and (2) Smith’s visit to Mar Saba, including his description of his frame of mind during the visit, parallels that of a fictional archaeologist in James Hunter’s novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba, published in 1940. The parallels are so close, one suspects influence, even dependence. Because Hunter’s novel predates Smith’s “discovery” by some 18 years, one must wonder if the novel served as Smith’s inspiration. For purposes of comparison Paul Coleman-Norton’s “Amusing Agraphon,” which is almost certainly a hoax, will also be discussed.

10:15-10:30 Response: Allan J. Pantuck (University of California, Los Angeles)

10:30-10:45 Discussion

10:45-11:00 Break

11:00-11:15 Report on Handwriting Analyses, Hershel Shanks (Editor, Biblical Archaeology Review)

11:15-12:00 pm General Discussion

12:00-1:30 pm Lunch

1:30-5:00 Session 2: Contexts and Interpretations

Chair: Phil Harland (York University)

1:30-1:45 “The Young Streaker in Secret and Canonical Mark,” Marvin Meyer (Chapman University, California)

This paper, which assumes the authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark, focuses attention upon the several references to the youth, or neaniskos, in Secret and Canonical Mark. Such a youth, sometimes fleeing and often naked, is also to be found in other literary and artistic contexts. In the paper these literary and artistic presentations are surveyed, and their significance is assessed. The references to the youth in Markan literature are then studied, individually and in possible relation to one another, and conclusions are drawn about the neaniskos as a thematic literary element in Secret and Canonical Mark employed to further Mark's message of discipleship in the face of the cross.

1:45-2:00 Discussion

2:00-2:15 “Halfway Between Sabbatai Tzevi and Aleister Crowley: Morton Smith’s ‘Own Concept of What Jesus “Must” Have Been’ and, Once Again, the Question of Evidence,” Pierluigi Piovanelli (University of Ottawa)

The recently published correspondence between Morton Smith and Gershom Scholem (1945-1982) provides new clues and insight into Smith’s intellectual itinerary. Smith claimed that in 1958 at Mar Saba, he discovered a fragment of a lost letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria which contained two quotations taken from a Secret Gospel of Mark. In fact, it seems far more plausible that Smith created the document himself, not in order to ridicule his colleagues, but rather, with the intention of promoting a new approach to the study of the Historical Jesus and Early Christianity.

2:15-2:30 Discussion

2:30-2:45 “What did he know and when did he know it? Further Excavations from the Morton Smith Archives,”Allan J. Pantuck (University of California, Los Angeles)

The theory that Morton Smith forged the Letter to Theodore presupposes both that he possessed all the expertise needed to create it and that he composed it for a specific purpose and with an intended interpretation prior to “discovering” it in 1958. This theory is possible to test. While there is no doubt that Morton Smith was an extremely competent scholar, was proficient in reading various ancient languages, and was acquainted with Greek manuscripts, there is little evidence that Smith, prior to his discovery, possessed an intimate knowledge of the writings of Clement of Alexandria sufficient to compose a de novo, original composition in Patristic Greek that would successfully imitate Clement’s complex thought, vocabulary, and writing style. Further, it has been persuasively established that Smith lacked the paleographic skills to physically write the Letter’s natural, free flowing, native eighteenth-century cursive Greek hand. A global survey of archival Smith papers and correspondence suggests both that Smith lacked the necessary abilities and motives to produce a text such as the Letter to Theodore in the 1950s, and that during the five years between 1958 and the completion of the first draft of Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark in June 1963, he was in fact developing his understanding of the letter’s significance and doing the research that he presented in this book.

2:45-3:00 Discussion

3:00-3:15 Break

3:15-3:30 “Clement's Mysteries and Morton Smith's Magic,” Peter Jeffery (University of Notre Dame, Indiana)

The use by early Christian writers of vocabulary from the ancient mystery cults has been debated since the 17th century, but it is now possible to see that it represents a coalescence of idioms that were originally distinct. This is particularly clear in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, who describes the Christian sacraments, including the public reading of the scriptures, using glossaries from (1) Jewish apocalyptic, reapplied in the New Testament to the Incarnation of Jesus, (2) philosophical writing by Plato, and (3) typological, exegesis derived from Philo. The Mar Saba document, however, seems to follow the Clement of the Protrepticus, who was using mystery vocabulary literally in his disparaging descriptions of actual mystery cults. In this it seems to follow Morton Smith’s idiosyncratic understanding of “magic,” which made no distinctions among phenomena like shamanism, mysticism, divination, sacraments, miraculous healing, and so on—or among ancient Jewish, Greek, Egyptian, Near Eastern, Christian and Gnostic sources. For Smith, all forms of magic were the same, fraudulent attempts to induce paranormal experiences which, though they may be described in language of heavenly ascent, are fundamentally, or at least metaphorically, about (homo)sexual climax. Thus the writings of Smith provide the frame that makes sense out of the Mar Saba letter of “Clement,” just as the letter provides the frame that makes sense out of the “gospel excerpts.”

3:30-3:45 Discussion

3:45-4:00 “Behind the Seven Veils, I: The Gnostic Life Setting of the Mystic Gospel of Mark,” Scott Brown (Independent Scholar, Toronto)

An accurate understanding the life setting of the mystikon Gospel of Mark, as this is described in the Letter to Theodore, is vital to assessing the letter’s authenticity. Previous attempts to define this life setting have focused on the statement that this gospel was read “only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.” Are these persons candidates for baptism, as Morton Smith and most other scholars have reasoned? Or are they instead the most advanced students in Clement’s school (the “true gnostics”), as I have argued? The present paper expands on my previous studies by demonstrating, first, that the great mysteries in Clement’s undisputed writings are esoteric teachings pertaining to the noetic world, and second, that the letter confirms this meaning through its statement that the interpretation of the mystikon gospel “leads the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of the sevenfold veiled truth.” The decisive relevance of this metaphor has previously been overlooked: in Clement’s undisputed works, entering the innermost sanctuary connotes the mystical experience of perceiving the noetic world and rising incrementally through it (Strom. V.6.32.1–40.4; VI.8.68; Exc. 27.1–6). Initiation into the great mysteries and entry into the innermost sanctuary therefore describe the same thing—instruction in, and apprehension of, the unwritten gnostic tradition.

4:00-4:15 Discussion

4:15-5:00 General Discussion

7:00-9:00 pm Public Forum

Introductions: Tony Burke (York University)

Chair: Phil Harland (York University)

Panelists: Scott Brown (Independent Scholar, Toronto), Craig Evans (Acadia Divinity College, Wolfville, Nova Scotia), Peter Jeffery (University of Notre Dame, Indiana), Marvin Meyer (Chapman University)

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3 Responses to Secret Mark Conference: Preliminary Programme

  1. Fabrizio Palestini says:

    Dear Prof. Burke,
    first of all many thanks for organizing a much needed conference on Secret Mark authenticity. I have a question: why is Stephen Carlson, one of the strongest advocate for the inauthenticity of Secret Mark, missing from the panel of participants?
    Many thanks again, best regards

  2. Tony says:

    Stephen declined our invitation. However, he will contribute a paper to the published proceedings.

  3. johnny k says:

    Coward! He shouldn’t be allowed to publish a paper if he doesn’t have enough balls to stand up to peer scrutiny. He should apologize for using the worst possible images of the manuscript and single-handedly giving license to those who would discount the discovery merely because it offends their inherited prejudices.

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