Tuesday, December 14, 2021

ECM of Mark Cites the Letter to Theodore (Secret Mark Stuff)


Yesterday, as I was consulting the recently published ECM of Mark, I came across some patristic citations by Clem (= Clemens of Alexandria) in several variation-units in the critical apparatus: Mark 10:32/2–40 (and related in /2–4, /6–10, /15); 10:34/26–30, 32; and 10:35/4, and 6. As I turned to part 2 Supplementary Material to find the particular references, it turned out that they were to EpTheod, (Morton) Smith 61,1; 61,2 and 63,2 (see image below from the Patristic Citations database online).


So, basically, these citations are from the controversial Letter to Theodore, which was discovered by Morton Smith in the Mar Saba monastery in the Judean Desert in 1958 in the back of a 1646–edition of Ignatius' Letters, copied by hand on the endpages. Smith took photographs of the pages and published his edition of the letter in 1973 (Greek text and Smith's photos here; English translation here). The implied author, Clemens of Alexandria, makes several references to both the (canonical) Mark and the infamous Secret Gospel of Mark (Theodore had posed questions about the latter; he apparently did not have a copy).  

There is an ongoing debate (though it has been a bit quiet lately) about whether this letter is genuine or a forgery (by Smith). For an introduction and negative assessment, see Stephen C. Carlson, The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark (Waco, TX: Baylor, 2005). For debate, see Tony Burke, ed., Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery? The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2013).

I have heard that Geoffrey Smith and Brent Landau are currently working on a new book, The Secret Gospel of Mark: A Rogue Scholar, A Controversial Gospel of Jesus, and the Fierce Debate Over Its Authenticity (Yale University Press, 2022?). Does someone know what they will argue? We will see whether they will put an end to the debate.

In any case, these patristic citations are not included in Nestle-Aland 28, but will they be included in Nestle-Aland 29? I hope not, perhaps it was just a mistake. In my opinion, these citations should be treated with great caution and not on a par with Clement's other writings. What is your opinion?

If you are all fed up with this topic, you can always listen to and sing along with us at the ETC blogdinner in San Diego here.

Update: Greg Paulson of the INTF informs us in a comment to the original post that, in light of this information, the editors have decided to add question marks to the references to EpTheod in the database (see image below), and "until a better scholarly consensus is reached" (of its genuineness), it will not be included in future Nestle-Aland editions. I am glad we caught this one.


  1. Thanks for pointing this out. We've now added a question mark by the work in the Patristic database, to indicate that these citations should be treated with caution until a better scholarly consensus is achieved. The Letter to Theodore will not, of course, be included in NA29.

  2. Danke schön, Greg! I will update the main post.

  3. I don’t know what the G. Smith/B. Landau book will contain. But both presented on “Secret Mark” during the online L. Michael White symposium. If I remember correctly (my notes are not at hand), Geoffrey Smith argued that whoever wrote the Letter used the History of Eusebius, and thus he dated it to after Eusebius, so not by Clement of Alexandria. I was persuaded. Morton Smith, of course, argued at length that the Letter was by Clement of Alexandria. Brent Landau argued that claims that the Letter was by Morton Smith have (so far) failed. Be that as it may, I provisionally think that Morton Smith is a plausible, even quite a likely, candidate.

    So I guess--though I must caution, perhaps not reliably--that the book, which I certainly and eagerly intend to read, (delayed to late 2022 or early 2023?), *may* argue for a date of composition of the Letter to a time after Eusebius but also at a time (well?) before the handwritten text was entered in the Voss book (1646).

    1. I served as the last TA of Morton Smith before his retirement at Columbia. I heard Landau and Smith's talk at the online symopsium for Michael White as well and arranged to talk with them afterwards. They argue that it is an ancient forgery, based on the Eusebius use that Stephen mentions above.

    2. The case for it being a forgery by Morton Smith really doesn't fit the evidence, but that leaves open the question of whether the text discussed in the letter was an early variation on the Gospel of Mark. There are obviously multiple configurations, as the real Clement could have been talking about a forgery, a pseudo-Clement could have been discussing an authentic early Gospel, and so on. I'm not sure how this multifaceted uncertainty should be indicated in a critical apparatus!

  4. In other news, two items concerning Migdal/Magdala and Magdalene.
    A second second-temple period synagogue at Migdal has been reported.
    U. Haifa: Press Release
    December 12, 2021

    Second Synagogue from the Second Temple Period Found in the Migdal Excavations
    This is the first time that two synagogues from the Second Temple period have been found in the same locale. Dina Avshalom-Gorni of the University of Haifa, one of the directors of the excavations: “The discovery of a second synagogue in this Galilean settlement casts light on the social and religious lives of the Jews in the area in this period, and reflects a need for a dedicated building for Torah reading and study and for social gatherings.”*

    A 2000-year-old synagogue from the Second Temple period was recently discovered in Migdal, a large Jewish settlement from this period. Migdal served as the main base for Yosef Ben Matityahu (Flavius Josephus) in his war against the Romans in the Galilee during the Great Revolt. This is the first time that two synagogues have been found in a single settlement from the Second Temple period, the time when Jesus of Nazareth was active.
    [….] We can imagine Mary Magdalene and her family coming to the synagogue here, along with other residents of Migdal, to participate in religious and communal [….] Situated on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, Migdal was a large Jewish settlement 2000 years ago. Following the destruction of the Second Temple, it served Flavius Josephus as his main base in his war against the Romans in the Galilee. Migdal is also mentioned in Christian texts as the birthplace of Mary Magdalene, a prominent supporter of Jesus who is known as “the apostle to the apostles.”
    The eastern side of Migdal was excavated over a decade ago by the Israel Antiquities Authority. A synagogue discovered at the time was also dated to the Second Temple period. A unique stone was uncovered in the center of the synagogue bearing a relief of a seven-branched candelabra (Menorah[….]The newly-excavated synagogue is a broad, square-shaped building constructed from basalt and limestone. It comprises a central hall and two additional rooms. The walls of the central hall are coated with white and colored plaster. A stone bench, also coated in plaster, runs along the walls. In a small room on the south side of the hall, a plaster-coated stone shelf was found; the room may have been used to store scrolls.[….]

    [And reports in Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, etc.]
    And, expected in the December issue of J. of Biblical literature, an article, with a different perspective on the name of Mary than that given above, one I am eager to read:
    The Meaning of "Magdalene": A Review of Literary Evidence
    by Elizabeth Schrader and Joan E. Taylor

    1. Mary from Magdala (Galilee)—or not?

      An erudite article in the December issue of JBL (v. 140 [2021], 751-773) raises some interesting questions: Elizabeth Schrader and Joan E. Taylor, The Meaning of “Magdalene”: A Review of Literary Evidence. The article is also available to institutional subscribers to jstor.org, and author Schrader has announced an open source copy will soon be available. Given such availability, my comments here will not include much quotation or paraphrase from their extensive and important presentation; I assume familiarity. They argue that this Mary has been largely misunderstood. (Mariam was the most common female name according to Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in late Antiquity, Part I [2002] 57.) Specifically, that (a) Mary may not have been from Tarichaea by the Sea of Galilee located south of Capernaum and (b) the name Magdalene may mean “the magnified one” or “tower-ess” and (c) she may have been from Bethany.

      My merely provisional assessment, in contrast, is that this Mary probably was from Magdala/Migdal/Tarichaea (so not from Bethany) and that though her name Magdalene did take on symbolic meaning, such may have occurred after New Testament gospels were written. Schrader and Taylor wrote against the view that Mary’s second name was only a gentilic, geographic; but the opposite view, that it was only symbolic, seems to me far to seek.

      Origen of Caesarea did interpret the name symbolically. Such was his habit. See (not cited by them) R. P. C. Hanson, interpretations of Hebrew Names in Origen, Vig. Chr. [1956] 103-123.

      Text continues at:

      A mediaeval Latin work about Mary Magdalene was ascribed to Origen, mistakenly. I mention that because scholars revealed the misattribution in part by comparing it to relatively more reliable text by Origen, in particular Origen’s views on the various NT Marys, not conflating Mary Magdalena and Mary ofBethany. John P. McCall, “Chaucer and the Pseudo Origen De Maria Magdalena: A Preliminary Study,” Speculum 43 (1971) 491-509.

  5. Pedantically, the question mark should be with Clem. rather than with EpTheod.

  6. Morton Smith spent a great amount of time attempting to prove that the Letter was really by Clement of Alexandria; I am among those who conclude it was not. In his HTR article, “The Score at the End of the First Decade”—sounds like a game--he proudly listed those who were persuaded. At least one of those listed wrote later that he did not belong on that list. Notably absent from those said to be persuaded, people Morton Smith admired: Gershom Scholem, Saul Liberman, Arthur Darby Nock.

    Morton Smith in a detailed article in JTS archive (box 10, folder 1), unpublished (though marked up for publishing), perhaps intended to be “the Score” after two decades (?), brazened it out, saying, in effect, of course this was Clement. Neveryoumind that the language is hyper-Clementonian and the content is non-Clementite, because the Letter is his secret writing, as opposed to his other writing that Morton Smith repeatedly characterized as his writing in public. So difference to be expected, see?

    It will be interesting to see whether the delayed book by G. Smith and B. Landau will present a more plausible (ancient but post-Carpocratian?) setting.