|The Secret Gospel of Mark
Church at large has for centuries promoted the four Gospels as the only
true source of information about Jesus of Nazareth. Only in the past
century or so has that position been weakening as other non-canonical
works have been opened up to the public.
In the process, a number of new or
ignored sources about Jesus have been brought into the light and
analysed by scholars and others. One such is the Gospel of Thomas. The
Secret Gospel of Mark is another.
The traditional gospels spring to mind
when the word "gospel" is used. Secret Mark is in reality only a couple
of short fragments.
The first fragment is about 180 words
It tells of a woman who begs for mercy from Jesus. He goes into a garden
where he hears a voice from a tomb. He opens the tomb and brings out a
young man. Jesus then goes to the young man's house and teaches him the
mysteries of God's kingdom.
The second is much sorter, only 23
words long. It relates how Jesus refuses to see the sister of the young
man and her mother, Salome.
The Secret Mark was accidentally discovered by Columbia University
Professor Morton Smith in the summer of 1958 at the Greek Orthodox
monastery of Hagios Sabbas near Jerusalem.
One day towards the end of his stay at the monastery, he began
puzzling over a text written in a tiny scrawl. It turned out to be a
fragment of a letter by Clement of Alexandria (150-215). It was written
over both sides of the last page (which was blank) of an old book and
over half of a sheet of binders paper. It was a common practice for
monks to hand copy manuscripts onto the unused pages of old books.
Clement's letter was to a certain Theodore, who had asked him a
number of questions about the Gospel. In can be inferred from the letter
that Theodore had himself seen a copy of the entire Gospel. The
Alexandrian Church seems to have had two versions of Mark's Gospel - one
for public consumption and one for Christian initiates.
According to Clement, Mark wrote the Gospel we know while he was in
Rome. The Secret Gospel was written by him in Alexandria. It included
passages intended only for "those who are advancing with respect to
knowledge (gnosis)" because it contained "things not to be
uttered". Clement assured Theodore that only enough information was
given to lead advanced initiates "into the innermost sanctuary of that
truth hidden by seven veils."
Since the publication of Secret Mark in 1978 a number of theories
have surfaced about it.
To get a good perspective it's useful to note that even our Mark's
Gospel probably didn't reach its final form until the second century.
Although it was first written around 70, editors seem to have made minor
changes for a while afterwards. Clement thought that the Secret Mark
fragment should be placed between between Mark 10.34 and 10.35 in our
Some scholars have noted what they see as similarities between the
canonical Mark and Secret Mark:
Both refer to a young man (neaniskos in Greek) who is
dressed in a linen cloth. One is in Mark's account of the happenings
in the Garden of Gethsemane (14.51-52).
There are also some linguistic similarities between the two
One scholar concludes that Clement was wrong in thinking that the
Secret Mark fragment fits into the canonical gospel:
Clement is�wrong about where these expansions come from. They are
much more likely to be the work of some Alexandrian Christian Jew, who
lived before Clement, and who was familiar with one or more of our
canonical gospels. 
Overshadowing the entire debate is an accusation that
the original evidence has been faked by is finder. This is because all
that now exists in the public domain is a photograph of what Professor
Smith says he found. The original is, as far I can tell, either no
longer accessible or has now been lost.
Secret Mark fragment testifies to the instability of New Testament texts
before the end of the second century. Only after that point was the Church
able to preserve the texts as we now have them. By implication, there
existed large numbers of "heretical" gospels and letters which were
excluded, destroyed and lost. And as textual analysis proves, even those
we have were on occasion added to, corrected and purged of doctrinal
But, more importantly, Secret Mark adds
nothing to our knowledge of the Jesus of history - that is, the Jesus who
actually existed and did and said certain things. At best, it shows us
something of how the early Christians imagined he was.
 In the translation provided by The Complete
Gospels, Polebridge Press, 1992. See also
The Biblical Archaeology Review for Morton's own translation.
 Pierson Parker quoted by Charles W. Hedrick and Nikolaos Olympiou