by Timothy Chilman
Jesus was gay. Jesus SNIFFED POPPERS. Jesus listened to THE VILLAGE PEOPLE. He wore A CRAVAT. He was as gay as they come. How can this be? It goes like this…
In spring, 1958, Morton Smith, a professor of ancient history at Columbia University, was asked to catalog the manuscripts of the library of Mar Saba monastery, a fifth century building in the Judean wilderness, twelve miles to the south of Jerusalem. Smith had stayed at the monastery previously, when the Second World War left him stranded in Palestine.
Annotations to Sophocles were amongst the dozens of manuscripts Smith discovered. One of his findings was a three-page note handwritten on the three, final, blank pages of a book. It was common for monks to handwrite notes on the unused pages of old books. The book was missing its covers and title page, but Smith identified it as Isaac Voss’ 1646 edition of the Epistolae Genuinae S. Ignatii Martyris, documenting the writings of Ignatius of Antioch and published in 1646. He photocopied the relevant pages three times, as well as two other pages from the host book to enable identification and dating.
This document was apparently a letter from Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215 CE), the second century Church father. The addressee was called Theodore, whom Clement congratulated for his success in disputes with the Carpocratians, an extremely heterodox sect. The Carpocratians believed in reincarnation, with people returning to life until such time as they had experienced every conceivable emotion and act, after which they ascended to heaven. Every conceivable act included sex. Tertulian said, “We have all things in common, except our wives,” but the Carpocratians held all things in common including their wives: they were infamous for wife-swapping. Clement said the Carpocratians had strayed “from the narrow road of the commandments into a boundless abyss of the carnal and bodily sins” and lived in “the netherworld of darkness.” The Carpocrations had supported their arguments by reference to a special version of the Gospel of Mark.
Such a version existed. Clement revealed that, after the death of Peter, Mark took his “account of the Lord’s doings” to Alexandria and turned it into a “more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected.” Clement said that this text was in the hands of the Alexandrian church for use in initiation to “the great mysteries.” It was available only to those sufficiently spiritually advanced to receive it.
Carpocrates obtained a copy by “using deceitful arts” which left a Church official “enslaved.” He altered the document to suit his purposes, adding what Clement called “shameless lies.” This must have occurred prior to 125 CE . Clement implored Theodore to deny the existence of a souped-up version of Mark, even under oath. As he put it, “Not all true things are to be said to all men.”
Theodore inquired about two particular passages of the special version of Mark. Clement reproduced them, and claimed they had been corrupted by the Carpocratians. The first comes between Mark 10:34 and Mark 10:35. It speaks of Jesus’ party coming to Bethany, where they happen upon a woman whose brother had recently expired. She prostrated herself before the Big J. and said, “Son of David, pity me!” He went with her to the man’s tomb. A loud cry was heard from within, and Jesus rolled away the stone at the entrance and went in. He approached the young man. “And the youth, looking intently at him, loved him and started begging him to let him remain with him.”
Jesus accompanied the youth to his house. “And after six days Jesus gave him an order and, at evening, the young man came to him wearing nothing but a linen cloth. And he stayed with him for the night, because Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. “
“Taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God”? Well, I’ve never heard it called that.
Nor was this the only time Jesus was in the company of near-nekkid young men. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, a young man wearing only a loin cloth was present (Mark 14:51). Men tried to grab him and he fled sans clothing. If someone is perpetually surrounded by undressed young men, questions will be asked.
Smith believes that Jesus was portrayed as going gumnos gumno – nekkid man with nekkid man – with a strapping young lad in an initiation ceremony using ritual nudity. Today, the only people getting nekkid for religious reasons are Wiccans and some Hindu sects, but it was extremely common in early Christianity, a fact Christian authorities would prefer to suppress. During baptism, the disciple unites with Jesus, and it is possible that the union was what we shall coyly refer to as “physical contiguity.”
Mark 10:46 reads: “Then they come to Jericho. As he was leaving Jericho with his disciples…” Puzzled scholars have long believed text was missing, as the episode is irrelevant and the subject changes from “they” to “he.” The second fragment of Mark is inserted into this, and says that “the sister of the young man whom Jesus loved was there with his mother and Salome,” but Jesus declined to meet them. It would seem that the Secret Gospel of Mark was written before the canonical one, which was extracted from it.
Archimandrite Meliton and librarian Archimandrite Kallistos Dourvas of the Jerusalem Greek Patriarchate attest to the existence of the Clement letter. It was certainly contained in the Voss edition, as both documents have a small, circular discoloration.
Before returning to the United States, Smith paid a short visit to Jerusalem’s Hebrew University to tell Gerschom Scholem of his discovery. There, he solicited the opinions of his mentors Arthur Darby Nock and Erwin Goodenough. Nock said, “I say, it is exciting.” and Goodenough said, “God knows what you’ve got hold of.”
Smith consulted a great number of paleographers, specialists in ancient writing, who dated the document to between 1700 and 1800. Smith made “a point-by-point comparison of the vocabulary, writing style, modes of expression and ideas found in the letter.” Bart Ehrman, who has been described as “the latest star in the firmament of the ‘Jesus’ publishing industry,” said it would be “well nigh impossible” for anyone other than Clement to have written the letter.
At the 96th meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in December 1960, Smith announced his find. A thorough account of his presentation appeared on the front page of the next day’s New York Times. The 75 manuscripts Smith had cataloged appeared that same year in the journal Archeology and the Greek Orthodox Patriachate journal Nea Sion.
Smith wrote two books on the subject. The first was a scholarly, voluminous, and intricate analysis called Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark. The second, The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel according to Mark, was more popular and consequently considerably thinner. Both came to print in the summer of 1973. Interviewed by the New York Times immediately before the books were released, Smith remarked, “Thank God I have tenure.”
The response of academia was unanimous and damning. One critic conceded that Smith’s translation was “substantially correct.” Otherwise… Helmut Merkel: “Once again total warfare has been declared on New Testament scholarship.” Frederick Danker: “…in the same niche with Allegro’s mushroom fantasies and Eisler’s salmagundi.” Raymond Brown: “…debunking attitude towards Christianity…” Hans Conzelmann: “…science fiction…” “…does not belong to scholarly, nor even… discussable, literature…” Pierson Parker: “far-fetched…” William Beardslee: “…ill-founded…” Paul J. Achtemeier: “…awash in speculation… …selective credulity…”Joseph Fitzmyer: “…venal popularization…” “…replete with innuendos and eisegesis…” (eisegesis being an interpretation, particularly of Scripture, which expresses the author’s own ideas rather than the true meaning of the text; that’s one with which to impress your friends) Patrick Skehan: “…a morbid concatenation of fancies…” One reviewer felt compelled to point out that Smith was bald.
In Christianity Today, Ronald J. Sider called Smith’s book wildly speculative, pockmarked with irresponsible inference, disbelieving of Jesus, absurd, unacceptable, and fundamentally weak. He said the book would not fool the careful reader. Biblical scholar and Catholic priest John P. Meier, presumably speaking for the Pope, said that Secret Mark and other non-canonical texts should be tossed “back into the sea.”
In 1975, Quentin Quesnell published a lengthy paper in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly entitled The Mar Saba Clementine: A Question of Evidence.
Quesnell believed chemical analysis and detailed examination of the writing would have been more productive, which is certainly true, but Mar Saba will not release the document. Quesnell quoted E.J.Goodspeed’s book Strange New Gospels, which argued that direct visual examination is critical. Quesnell left out Goodspeed’s supposition that in the absence of the original document, a photograph will suffice. Of the photographs, Quesnell criticized them for lacking margins and being only black and white. Photographs that would satisfy Quesnell are available, if not in Smith’s book.
Quesnell said that detailed knowledge of Clement’s writing style has been available since 1936, allowing for convincing forgery. He stated that documents in Mar Saba’s library were poorly supervised between 1936 and 1958.
Quesnell said, “[. . . I]t is hard to believe that this material is included as a serious contribution to scholarly investigation. Smith’s reply in the next edition of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly was that someone should not reject a text merely because they disagreed with it.
Patent attorney Stephen Carlson is well known online for his Synoptic Problem Website, and in 2005 he published The Gospel Hoax, claiming to have discovered clues “in places scholars do not normally look.” He claimed the Clement letter shared certain letterforms with Smith. For example with the letter theta, both have a medial horizontal leadstroke (whatever that might be) that is absent from other Mar Saba documents.
Carlson complained that no independent reference to Clement’s letter exists, although it would be highly unusual for a letter intended for only one recipient to be mentioned elsewhere. One of Carlson’s criticisms was that the book containing the letter was not listed in any previous catalog of Mar Saba’s library, which is unfair since Smith made the first ever catalog. Carlson lamented that Smith made no effort to preserve the manuscript, presumably suggesting Smith should have stolen it. Carlson said the Secret Mark was confused and thoroughly artificial and did not fit in the genuine Gospel of Mark, although it actually fits very well. Carlson says many people doubt the manuscript existed, although photographs are available and Mar Saba staff vouch for it. Carlson pointed out that Smith’s conclusion as to the nature of the events depicted was rejected by almost every scholar, but inevitably, with so many conflicting concepts of the teachings of Jesus, any new idea will be dismissed by the majority of scholars.
Carlson said the Clement letter was a 20th century forgery because of the “hesitation and shakiness” of the writing (forger’s tremor) and use of twentieth century letterforms. It was obviously drawn rather than written. He compared its writing with that of other Mar Saba manuscripts, and found blunt rather than flying ends on cursive letters – the pen came to a complete halt at the ends of the strokes – as well as tremors and mid-stroke pen lifts. But not all the letters in the disputed manuscript appear drawn, and not every letter in the other Mar Saba documents are free of the telltale signs. Carlson also questioned the type of quill and ink that were used.
Carlson’s arguments about the writing can substantially be answered by highlighting that his pictures were low resolution. Carlson only used two pages of Smith’s writing, when a minimum of five is thought to be required for an exercise of this nature. Another point in favor of the letter is that its writing would be expected to lapse back to Smith’s style at various points, but it is instead paleographically consistent.
Carlson said Secret Mark was “a non-existent work cited in a now non-existent text” But parts of it exist, and the text that cites it most assuredly exists.
A professional in the field of Questioned Document Examination, Hannah McFarland, has stated that a person’s handwriting changes over time, so comparisons should be between pieces of writing written with two years of each other, which was not the case with Carlson, where the gap was at least four years.
Carlson believes Smith, a great wit, planted clues in his texts. In Clement’s letter, the adulteration of truth with falsehoods is compared to salt losing its savor. Carlson says this analogy is quite modern, because free-flowing salt did not arrive until the invention of an anti-caking agent by a chemist of the Morton Salt Company in 1910. Before then, lumps of salt were split with a mallet. He was seemingly unaware of Matthew 5:13: “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted?”
A fragment of another manuscript that Smith photographed, number 22, used the same handwriting as the Clement letter, and was in the name of M. Madiotes. The Greek verb “madao” means, literally, to lose hair as Smith had and, figuratively, to swindle. “-Otes” means a word is the name of a person with a certain characteristic. Carlson noted that Madiotes and Smith had the same first initial, and believed Smith was humorously referring to a bald swindler. This kind of evidence is beloved of numerology enthusiasts.
Carlson found a paragraph in Smith’s work Tannaitic Parallels to the Gospels, pages 155-156, linking the mystery of the kingdom as described in Mark 4.11 with secret teachings on forbidden sexual relationships. This work was completed a decade before the Mar Saba find.
The Biblical Archeology Review went so far as to procure the services of a handwriting expert specializing in Greek. It described Venetia Anastasopoulou as a leading handwriting expert resident in Athens who has often testified before Greek courts. She is a member of the (U.S.) National Association of Document Examiners and the (U.K.) International Graphology Association. She has a Certificate in Forensic Sciences from the University of Lancashire (U.K.) and a diploma in Handwriting Analysis from the International Graphology Association (U.K.).
Anastasopoulou’s report ran to 36 pages. She said that in her professional opinion it was “highly probable” that Morton Smith did not write the Clement letter. She found this latter to have been “written spontaneously and with an excellent rhythm,” obviously by someone accustomed to writing thusly. Smith, on the other hand, was akin to a school student, patently unfamiliar with Greek writing,
One critic countered that Anastasopoulou’s certificate was a part-time, home based course for one semester which featured no examinations: “Not far off a mail order qualification.” This poster was equally dismissive of Anastasopoulou’s diploma. The first was a vile slur, as the university’s website attests.
Agamemnon Tselikas, who is held in higher regard than Anastasopoulou, concluded that Smith forged the Clement letter, but failed to submit a written report, missing several deadlines. His work was incomplete, and he appeared to not take a great deal of pride in it.
There was knowledge that, like Secret Mark, was hidden: Luke tells of Jesus spending forty days between resurrection and ascension with his disciples “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God ” (Acts 1: 3). He also told things privately to his disciples in Mark 4: 11 and 34. What were those things? One mass-market book about the Gospel of Thomas, discovered amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1945 and known to some as the Fifth Gospel, is subtitled “The Secret Sayings of Jesus.”
There is certainly a precedent for withholding scripture: the canonical book of Ezekiel was at one point on the verge of withdrawal from public currency because of the theological difficulties apparent in its contents.
The Clement letter is now accepted as genuine by the vast majority of scholars, and has been included in the standard edition of Clement’s writings since 1980. Jesus was a chi chi man
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