Secret Mark and Rock Lyrics

Secret Mark and Rock Lyrics March 21, 2018

Some months ago, there was a Salon article about Stairway to Heaven and what is really there when it is played backwards. I’ve been thinking for a while now that there is a useful comparison that can be made between the phenomenon of people detecting backwards messages in rock music, and the detection of alleged signs of forgery (supposedly reflecting homosexual emphases and overtones) in the Secret Gospel of Mark.

Just like the meme that “there are backwards messages in rock music” continues to circulate independently of any specific evidence and apparently immune to debunking, so too the claim that “Secret Mark has been shown to be a forgery” circulates in a similar way, oblivious to all the evidence against that claim.

As Tony Burke wrote in a recent blog post, “I am fully convinced by Allan Pantuck that Smith did not forge the text but I remain agnostic about whether Clement’s letter describing the text is truly ancient, or even truly by Clement. I hope, at least, that the students see that the apparent homoerotic content in the text is largely in the imaginations of its critics…”

Hemant Mehta commented on the inability of some Christians to hear what a song’s lyrics were saying, because they processed them through their own narrow religious framework. And PZ Myers shared an example of how young-earth creationists show themselves unable to hear enough about the basics of evolution to not pose “challenges” that are laughable.

Very interestingly, Mark Bilby wrote a blog post in which he made the problematic assumption that the Secret Gospel of Mark is a forgery – but intriguingly also explored the possibility that its interpretation of Mark’s naked man might be correct!  I wanted to quote it anyway, because of this wonderful section:

In sum, a diversity of methods for studying the New Testament is vital, not only to respect the diversity of our fellow human beings who read these texts, but also because of the enormous diversity of the texts themselves. While a simplistic kind of faith tends to see everything in the Bible or New Testament as bound by a divinely imposed uniformity, a close, scholarly reading of these texts sees tremendous linguistic, cultural, philosophical, rhetorical, theological, and even ethical diversity.

If the New Testament is a song, it’s not a solo. It’s a gloriously diverse choir.

Michael Shermer has talked in several online videos about what is going on when the brain detects words and meaning in music played backwards, and so even though I can think of many reasons to refrain from sharing things by Shermer any longer, these talks are so relevant to this topic that perhaps the best thing to do is to share the videos while also making sure that readers of this blog are aware of the accusations of sexual assault against Shermer. If you are nonetheless inclined to do watch them, the videos below are about the mind’s turning of the sound of music played backwards into words (and see also Bart Ehrman’s conversation with him, which he shared on his blog).


NASSCAL Member Publication: Daniel Gullota and Stephen Hüller, “Quentin Quesnell’s Secret Mark Secret”

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  • Scott Brown

    Hi James. You know, I never considered the parallel between subjective discoveries of backwards satanic messages planted in rock music and subjective discoveries of clues of forgery planted in Clement’s Letter to Theodore. That’s rather interesting. I have, though, wondered whether it might be possible to disabuse people of the former notion by “uncovering” hidden satanic messages in contemporary Christian music (i.e., using their own “good” music as a control). When I looked into whether anyone has already tried this, I was a bit dismayed to learn that some Christian detractors of CCM have themselves discovered hidden satanic messages in CCM, and that similar discoveries were made in the relatively wholesome music of Glen Campbell and Anne Murray long ago. Maybe you’d have to find these evil backwards messages in standard Christian hymns and audio Bibles in order to convince people that these messages are something less than factual. In any case, I think Timo Paananen is working on the question of how to distinguish deliberately planted clues of forgery from subjectively imagined ones. By the way, I’m almost finished your book Theology and Science Fiction. I quite like it. It’s well written and very insightful. Several people have asked to read it when I’m done.

    • Great to hear from you, and especially to have you chiming in on this topic! The fact that one can find the same things in texts or music where one would prefer not to seems like a good approach – indeed, Timo did precisely that in showing that the same approach to evidence for forgery would support viewing a provenanced authentic text as a forgery exposes a problem with the methodology.

      Glad you are liking Theology and Science Fiction!

  • goodacre

    Thanks for the post, James. As it happens, we were discussing Secret Mark in my Non-Canonical Gospels class this week. It’s one of my favourite topics. I had missed Tony’s post, so thanks for the link. Going over there to comment!

  • summers-lad

    “If the New Testament is a song, it’s not a solo. It’s a gloriously diverse choir.” I’m rather glad I read that while listening to this

  • Martha Anne Underwood

    I totally agree with the quote from Mark Bilby that you included in your post.