To the day he died in 1991, Columbia’s combative Professor Morton Smith claimed the “Secret Gospel of Mark” he’d discovered in the monastery at Mar Saba was authentic. There was no deathbed confession, nor could there be.
For an academic of Smith’s standing to admit he’d forged such a document, then spent decades arguing and publishing for its startling value, would have been to put a stake not only through his career but his eternal reputation.
From such a death, no intellectual is ever resurrected.
So many — rather than believe a respected scholar could have perpetrated such a monumental hoax — gave the Secret Gospel the benefit of the doubt. It’s still taken quite seriously, and there was an academic conference devoted to it as recently as last March.
Which is odd. Because the Gospel itself reads like a joke. It’s a parody of a “Secret” suppressed from the New Testament; the Gospel According to Adam Sandler.
I’ll paraphrase parts of it here. I’m not making this stuff up — these are real sections from the manuscript Smith claimed to “find” in the monastery library. They’re framed as a letter from Clement of Alexandria to a guy named Theodore:
. . . After Peter [Jesus’ disciple] died, Mark came to Alexandria with both his and Peter’s notes. There he wrote the Gospel of Mark. But he didn’t say the “things not to be uttered.” He wrote another Gospel that included “certain sayings” that would lead people into “the innermost sanctuary of the truth.” It’s carefully guarded and read only to people being initiated into the sacred mysteries.
But then Carpocrates stole a copy of the Secret Gospel, which he mixed with “pollution” and shameless lies. The Secret Gospel of Mark actually says:
“In Bethany, a woman’s brother died. She begged Jesus to help, and he went to the young man’s tomb. Someone yelled. Jesus rolled the stone off the tomb and touched the young man’s body. The man woke up, looked at Jesus and loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him.
Jesus went to the young man’s house and stayed there for six days. Then Jesus told the man to come to him that night “wearing a linen cloth over his naked body.”
And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God.”
Oh, my. Naughty, naughty Jesus!
* Here’s a link I found to a 1961 article in Time at the very beginning of the saga.