Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Secret Gospel of Mark and Codex Bezae

Josep Rius-Camps (JRC) presented a paper in the Synoptic section entitled, "The Secret Gospel of Mark Authenticated by Codex Bezae." In a paper purporting to authenticate the notion of a Secret Gospel of Mark (SGM), I was struck by JRC's assumption of his thesis.

JRC begins his paper by noting that the majority of scholars regard the SGM as Morton Smith's "sophisticated hoax" in which he claimed to discover it. He then accentuates this fact with appropriate subjunctive terminology in the third paragraph: "According to Smith's manuscript...." But within the same paragraph, he moves away from the subjunctive to the indicative inferences: "Thus, Clement does not question its [i.e., SGM] existence." JRC should have written instead, "Thus, according to Smith's letter, Clement does not question SGM's existence."

From this point forward, JRC looses track of the fact that "the majority of scholars" view the letter as written by Smith. The rest of the paper is concerned to demonstrate that the SGM text, as found in Smith's letter, corresponds closely with Codex Bezae.

I don't understand how this authenticates SGM. After all, Morton Smith, if he composed the letter as an elaborate hoax, could just as easily have written the letter with D-text readings as he could have with NA25, etc. Nevertheless, JRC argues, "A forger would not have had recourse to a variant reading witnessed only by the Codex Bezae to give credibility to his alleged Secret Gospel." Well, Morton Smith, if he were the forger, would have had access to Codex Bezae! There seems to be a major disconnect here.

JRC ends his paper with five conclusions: 1)Canonical Mark is incomplete, suffering from the excision of passages which might invite moral laxity (he cites the Pericope Adulterae as a comparable example); 2) the gospel author himself produced two or more redactions; 3) historically, Jesus' journey to confront Temple authorities in Jerusalem can be accurately reconstructed, untangling the confusing data preserved in canonical Mark; 4) The text of Codex Bezae for Mark is better than other New Testament (Alexandrian and Byzantine) texts; 5) Mark himself was aware of a "mystical dimension" of the historical Jesus.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Interesting. Thanks for posting. I find it gratifying that JRC acknowledges that most scholars think Secret Mark is Smith's hoax

  3. I need to read the paper, but I don't understand the argument for the very reason that you noted. I don't see how it follows that because there are variants in Smith's hoax that correspond to variant readings in Bezae that somehow "Secret Mark" is vindicated as authentic. Like you said, Smith had access to Bezae. Perhaps I'm missing something here.

  4. "Perhaps I'm missing something here" (Josh M) is exactly the way I feel. Yet, I have his paper in hand.

    Here's his 3rd & 4th sentences: "Working on the text of Mark's Gospel in Codex Bezae, I was struck by the evidence for the possible authenticity of the document that emerges in the large number of its readings found elsewhere only in the Bezan text of Mark. These are orthographical, lexical and grammatical variants that it would be not only difficult, but also unreasonable, to imitate."

    Yes, there is a major disconnect here. I don't get it. While I find it interesting that, apparently, there are striking agreements with Bezae, I don't see how this evidence "tip[s] the balance in favour of the authenticity of the Secret Gospel" (JRC, 1st paragraph).

    Given Ruis-Camps' status as a member of Facultat de Teologia de Catalunya, I'm duly hesitant to blame my failure to understand the logic of his argument on him, and so I'm open to receiving any help.

  5. I have not seen the paper, but I think Rius-Camps' logic is fairly straightforward here: "A forger would not have had recourse to a variant reading witnessed only by the Codex Bezae to give credibility to his alleged Secret Gospel ... variants that ... would be not only difficult, but also unreasonable, to imitate" (my italics).

    Rius-Camps seems to have done a thought-experiment, handily acronymed WWIDIIWAF (What Would I Do If I Were A Forger).

    A forger, if he (like Morton Smith) needed a Gospel text that looked to be as early as possible, would, at least in this experiment, choose the widely credited textual readings to make his forgery believable. Only a bad forger would choose something exotic (and too late for most scholars) like Codex Bezae. Thus, Secret Mark is not a forgery, for choosing Codex Bezae would weaken the case of the Gospel text in question being as early as possible.

    From the quotations offered in this blog post, it does seem to be as simple as that.

    Now, of course, if the forger was a really clever fellow, maybe Codex Bezae would be chosen precisely for added credibility.

    Or, if the forger was even more clever, maybe Codex Bezae would be chosen precisely for throwing the pursuers of the scent, since the move to use Codex Bezae would be seen as such a cheesy strategy for a forgery that a real forger would never try to pull something like that off.

    Or, if the forger was even more clever than the above forger who was even more clever...

    Feel free to go on with this experiment, but to sum up my thoughts: I think the question of authenticity of the Secret Gospel of Mark should be solved by other means, since the use of D-text readings is applicable in every possible scenario, if the writer is Clement or if the writer is Morton Smith.

  6. I'm having trouble understanding the significance of choosing D for variants as an argument for authenticity because throughout the first half of the 20th century it was thought that Clement's text was "Western."

    In particular, F. C. Burkitt, in evaluating Barnard's 1899 study of Clement's text in the gospels wrote: "With Clement's evidence before us we must recognize that the earliest text of the Gospels are fundamentally 'Western' in every country of which have knowledge even in Egypt."

    Granted, later scholarship by Swanson and Mees ended up modifying Burkitt's position, but in the mid-1950s the idea that Clement had a "Western" text was standard scholarship and an obvious choice to a would-be imitator.