Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
November 17th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Did Wilson, et al, unwittingly reveal Morton Smith’s literary sources for the “Secret Gospel of Mark?”

Admittedly, Wilson, et al,’s book “The Lost Gospel” is a midrash of fantasy, but sometimes there are crossovers in fantasy worlds. So is the case, I speculate, between Wilson, et al, and Morton Smith.

In “The Lost Gospel,” Wilson, et al, suggests a literary connection between Joseph and Aseneth and The Secret Gospel of Mark. On the surface, and because that is all this blog post requires, it looks like a solid case. For those of us who study literary sources (mimetic criticism), the closeness is seen easily enough. Of course, we don’t have the original Secret Gospel because it was never presented. It is another “lost gospel,” I guess.

While there are some scholars who accept Smith’s testimony, there are plenty of others who do not. Those who do not suggest Smith created this forgery.

So, where did Morton Smith get his close-to-real story? Perhaps he simply invented it wholesale, the story of Jesus’s esoteric relationship with a naked young man in the Secret Gospel of Mark. But, if he took the time to design the letter in such a way as to remove himself from the picture, then he was careful enough to insure the story was similar to others, right?

I can only speculate — Smith used Joseph and Aseneth, resting on the idea as presented in Wilson, et al, and the fact that we know Smith had at least once delved significantly into Joseph and Aseneth.




Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


5 Responses to “Did Wilson, et al, unwittingly reveal Morton Smith’s literary sources for the “Secret Gospel of Mark?””
  1. Literary sources? Equal but opposite stories. Clement letter mentions Secret Mark. Augustine mentions The Act of Peter. One has sexual overtones, one has a total anti-sex theme. Proof ancient writers covered all the bases. Neither have a basis in reality for a guy named Jesus or Peter. Just good fiction. So what’s the big deal. Much easier to say Morton Smith made a wrong interpretation, than forged a letter. I like the Secret Book of John. But that doesn’t mean I believe the fiction is true.

    • Gary, literary sources is the idea that one writing used a later writing. In this case, I am wondering if Smith used Joseph and Aseneth to write his Secret Gospel

  2. Smith’s forged Clement letter, with a fictional story attached; or Clement’s real letter, with a fictional story referenced. Does the source of the fictional story really matter. I prefer to think the letter is valid, but Smith’s interpretation was over-the-top. It’s his interpretation that some reject. It is perfectly reasonable for Clement, or Augustine, to write about fictional stories as heresy. Why aren’t people digging to find the sources of The Act of Peter, or Secret Book of John? Seems like a waste of time. Unless someone really doesn’t like Smith.

  3. Btw, I guess I should have said, if judged by modern standards, I find the Act of Peter to be more offensive than any Secret Mark conjecture. Fits the modern scenario of killing your daughter to save her virginity, or throwing acid in your daughters face to prevent potential sexual transgression. And a 10 year old daughter, at that. So there were indeed some sick puppies in ancient times. And no one can challenge the fact that the Act of Peter is ancient. So Secret Mark? No big deal.

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