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The Secret Gospel of Mark

The Secret Gospel of Mark is a longer edition of Mark’s Gospel that has been known only since 1958.1 While cataloguing manuscripts in the library of the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Saba, located south-east of Jerusalem, an American scholar, Morton Smith, came upon a seventeenthcentury edition of the letters of Ignatius. According to Smith’s own account,2 the final blank pages of this volume had been used by an eighteenth-century scribe to copy a portion of a letter allegedly from Clement of Alexandria, a church father who lived at the end of the second century and the beginning of the third. In this letter, Clement indicates that Mark had produced two versions of his Gospel, one for church members at large and the other for the spiritual elite who could grasp the full mysteries of the Kingdom. Clement indicates that this second expanded edition, the so-called Secret Gospel, had been entrusted to the Christians of Alexandria, his own city, but that it had come to be misused by members of the Carpocratian sect, a group of Gnostic Christians known for their illicit sexual rituals. Clement then narrates two of the accounts found in the Secret Gospel. The contents of the stories, especially the first, show why this version of the Gospel could have seemed so dangerous to the church at large, and so interesting to the Carpocratians. Jesus raises a youth from the dead, who then loves Jesus and begs to be allowed to stay with him (the story is reminiscent of both the raising of Lazarus in John 11 and of the story of the “rich young man” of Matt 17:16–22 and Mark 10:17–31). After six days, the youth comes to Jesus in the evening, clothed with nothing but a linen garment over his naked body (cf. Mark 14:51). They spend the night together, with Jesus teaching the youth the mystery of the kingdom of God. The highly unusual character of this story—in particular its homo­ erotic overtones—have led scholars to debate virtually every aspect of the “Secret Gospel.” Did Clement of Alexandria actually write this letter,

1 For a full account, which focuses to some extent on the question of whether or not the Secret Gospel, and the letter of Clement that contains it, were forged, see Ehrman, Lost Christianities, 67– 89. 2See The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel according to Mark (New York: Harper & Row, 1973).

Translation by Bart D. Ehrman, based on the text in Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1973).


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