Did Morton Smith Forge the Gospel of Philip?

Did Morton Smith Forge the Gospel of Philip? November 14, 2014

The Gospel of Philip was found at Nag Hammadi together with other Coptic texts, and so it would have involved quite a conspiracy for Morton Smith to have forged the text and placed it in the midst of the other Nag Hammadi texts. But since some scholars consider Smith to have been a mastermind at such forgery, we should not let that stop our imaginative exploration of this topic.

However, I should, at the risk of spoiling this post, say something at the outset: I am kidding, but with a serious aim.

The point I wish to make is to explore whether, if Morton Smith had been the one to bring the Gospel of Philip to light, some of the same things might have been said about that find in relation to his own viewpoint, as have been said about the Secret Gospel of Mark, supposedly demonstrating the latter to have been a forgery.

Just take a look at what the Gospel of Philip says. It has hints of lesbianism, when it asks, “When did a woman ever conceive by a woman?”, while it depicts the demonic powers as engaged in same-sex relations when it says “the powers defile themselves.” It says that Mary was Jesus’ “partner” and that he used to kiss her frequently on the…and then there is a lacuna in the text, to tittelate and tantalize, a sure sign that its forger was mocking the modern reader. It also turns Christian kissing into a procreative sex act:

For it is by a kiss that the perfect conceive and give birth. For this reason we also kiss one another. We receive conception from the grace which is in one another.

Later, it explores the notion of male and female spirits having intercourse with humans:

The forms of evil spirit include male ones and female ones. The males are they which unite with the souls which inhabit a female form, but the females are they which are mingled with those in a male form, though one who was disobedient. And none shall be able to escape them, since they detain him if he does not receive a male power or a female power, the bridegroom and the bride. One receives them from the mirrored bridal chamber. When the wanton women see a male sitting alone, they leap down on him and play with him and defile him. So also the lecherous men, when they see a beautiful woman sitting alone, they persuade her and compel her, wishing to defile her. But if they see the man and his wife sitting beside one another, the female cannot come into the man, nor can the male come into the woman. So if the image and the angel are united with one another, neither can any venture to go into the man or the woman.

And later still, it focuses on animal sex:

The human being has intercourse with the human being. The horse has intercourse with the horse, the ass with the ass. Members of a race usually have associated with those of like race. So spirit mingles with spirit, and thought consorts with thought, and light shares with light. If you are born a human being, it is the human being who will love you. If you become a spirit, it is the spirit which will be joined to you. If you become thought, it is thought which will mingle with you. If you become light, it is the light which will share with you. If you become one of those who belong above, it is those who belong above who will rest upon you. If you become horse or ass or bull or dog or sheep, or another of the animals which are outside or below, then neither human being nor spirit nor thought nor light will be able to love you. Neither those who belong above nor those who belong within will be able to rest in you, and you have no part in them.

If these things had been in the Secret Gospel of Mark, people would be pointing to them as proof that it is a forgery – indeed, someone would be suggesting that the sex involving asses reflects the modern English meaning and is an intentional double entendre.

But in fact, the Gospel of Philip is authentic, and this highlights something that should be obvious, but needs to be said explicitly: Secret Mark, especially when read literally and without reading sensual allusions into it, seems tame by comparison. Much of the alleged sexual innuendo is in the mind of the reader. There is nothing inherently sexual about a man whom Jesus had raised from the dead, still wearing a shroud (which also was the customary clothing of ascetics, such as for instance the Therapeutae), staying up all night to learn about the kingdom of God from Jesus.

What do others think? Personally, I think that most of the arguments that have been offered to make the case that the Secret Gospel of Mark is a forgery have been not only adequately answered, but shown to be seriously problematic. A book which offers both sides, and ultimately convinces me that the text is more likely to be authentic, is Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery?: The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate: Proceedings from the 2011 York University Christian Apocrypha Symposium, edited by Tony Burke. I highly recommend it, and will have a review of the volume appearing in the near future.

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