More on Secret Mark

Here is a recent post of my friend and NT colleague Larry Hurtado on his blog— in regard to the continual kerfuffle about Secret Mark, my view is— it’s a forgery.  BW3

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In a posting a few days ago on this site, I commented on the recent conference on “Secret Mark,” observing that from reports not much seems to have changed on any side.  I then  reiterated some observations of my own, which are independent of (and were published originally prior to) the current controversy over whether Morton Smith concocted the letter.  Mr. Roger Viklund is a now-familiar zealous advocate of the authenticity and importance of the purported letter of Clement of Alexandria and, more important still, the putative “Secret Mark” excerpted in the letter.  Unable, thus, to tolerate any hint of suspicion about the text, he has posted a refutation of my “arguments”.

http://rogerviklund.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/larry-w-hurtado%E2%80%99s-arguments-that-secret-mark-is-a-forgery/

Oh dear!  I fear that his charming devotion to “Secret Mark” has led him to misconstrue my posting, which obviously was not a set of “arguments” but merely some observations, that I contend give us cause to hesitate to embrace the Clement letter and its purported excerpts as much of a basis for grand theories about the Gospel of Mark and Christian origins.  Mr. Viklund does not correct my observations (they stand as valid), but instead tries to minimize their force as “arguments”.  Of course, they do not build a case for the inauthenticity of the Clement letter (I never stated that they did), so Mr. Viklund’s anxiety and zeal to refute these “observations” is misplaced.

I must also correct him on another point:  The position I have taken up on the “Secret Mark” controversy is one of withholding judgement.  I wrote the forward to Carlson’s book because I found his arguments sufficiently forceful to justify publication and to raise questions that needed to be addressed.  As Carlson’s book has in fact generated a good deal of subsequent debate, it is obvious that it was correct to publish it.

I’d also like to correct Viklund’s construal of a few of my observations in my previous posting.   My observation that it is curious that this is the only letter of Clement to survive stands as a curiosity.  That is, of all that Clement corresponded about, that only this letter with its tantalizing references to an otherwise unknown text should somehow survive is . . . . curious.  That not an “argument” that it’s inauthentic, but it is a reason to wonder why it is that only this purported letter survived, and I suggest   a reason to treat it with some caution.

Likewise, my observation that it is curious that this apparently free-floating letter, supposedly written ca. 200 CE, survived for ca. 1500 yrs and yet only this one copy is extant remains valid.   There are other examples of ancient texts for which only one or two copies survive, and from much later, but it is always appropriate to note the lengthy centuries separating the supposed composition and the extant copy.

Mr. Viklund points to texts such as the Egerton Gospel, but this is a late 2nd or early 3rd century copy of the text in question, not an 18th century copy.  Viklund is correct that there were many more ancient Christian texts than survive.  But that is no reason to treat this letter of Clement as authentic.  In other cases we have later copies of texts referred to in ancient Christian sources, but neither this putative letter of Clement nor the “Secret Mark” excerpted are referred to in any ancient sources.  Curious, yes??  Of all the many various Christian groups and views and texts referred to by, e.g., Irenaeus, Eusebius, & Epiphanius (who unhesitatingly referred to people and texts they regarded as “heretical”), nothing about this text.   Hmm.  A reason to be a bit cautious, I’d still say.

The observation that some scholars make these putative excerpts so important when a number of other scholars point to indications that the excerpts have an indebtedness to GMark and GJohn, also remains valid.  Of course that’s not an “argument” against authenticity of the text, but it is a damn good reason to hesitate andponder why some scholars are so ready to use this rather poorly provenanced (and now inaccessible) copy of a supposed letter of Clement for such dramatic constructions of the history of GMark, when the scholarly jury remains divided on some basic issues of authenticity.

So, I reiterate my hope that further light can be shed.  Mr. Viklund’s excited attempt to refute my observations reflects the “heat” about which I complained.  Let’s have more light, and less heat.

  • http://www.oscarsflickpicks.com Oscar

    Hmm. Must have missed you first post on the subject. I have no idea of what text you are referring to so could you post a link? Thanks

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    If you will look in the archives for the May early June posts, you will find it. I am referring to the probably forged and famous secret Mark story.

    BW3

  • http://www.oscarsflickpicks.com Oscar

    Sorry, but I went all the way back to April and couldn’t find it. Was it perhaps just a side subject in a post about something else?

  • http://www.benwitherington.com ben witherington

    Nope. Try February and March. You ought to be able to type into the blog search engine the words Secret Mark and get results.

    BW3

  • Quiddity

    I think it’s a forgery. Part of that is because the original manuscript has mysteriously vanished. All we have is a photograph. Forget it.

    One thing though, is that Helmut Koester’s Ancient Christian Gospels treats Secret Mark as if it’s legitimate. On the whole, I think highly of that book, but was disturbed to see acceptance of that text.


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