It’s sort of funny to watch the late Columbia Professor Morton Smith toy with his adversaries as he defends the authenticity of the so-called “Secret Gospel of Mark,” which he claimed to have stumbled on in a monastery library at Mar Saba, Jerusalem, in 1958. The debate was a like a game.
You can’t catch me, he taunts, through the pages of his recently republished account of the “discovery,” The Secret Gospel. I’m smarter than you!
Like an unrepentant James Frey, Smith starts his screed with this hilarious warning: “No doubt if the past, like a motion picture, could be replayed, I should be shocked to find how much of the story I have already invented. Memory is perhaps more fallacious than forgetfulness.”
Huh? I can only imagine what the publisher of my memoir “Bad Dog (A Love Story)” would have said if I’d put that in my Author’s Note. P.S. I’m making this up!
Despite being a New Testament scholar, Smith was an atheist, driven out of the warm arms of Jesus by mysterious, bad childhood experiences. His Secret Gospel tells a tawdry tale of pedophilia by the Son of God Himself. It also supports Smith’s belief that so-called “miracles” like the raising of Lazarus in John were late accretions to early, non-miraculous gay orgies — um, I mean, events.
Early on in his misremembered account, Smith says, he “cast about, trying to find plausible reasons for assigning both letter and Gospel to the middle ages, the Renaissance, or the seventeenth century.” Or the 20th? For reasons he doesn’t share, he decided it was genuine. In other words, the least likely explanation became for him obvious.
Okay. He then decides Jesus must have baptized his followers (although this is not mentioned in our actual Gospels). And in a spurt of camp humor he writes [enhanced by my italics and “!”]:
“Thus the body of each possessed Christian is in effect a part (a “member,” that is a hand or foot or whatever [!]) of the body of the Messiah, who lives and acts [!] in [!] them all.” (p94)
But Jesus was not content to act in his disciples bodies — oh, no. He also enjoyed other baptismal actions, as Smith hints in a snickering footnote:
“Manipulation, too, was probably involved; the stories of Jesus’ miracles give a very large place to the use of his hands.”
Heh heh. Get it? Read this with learned commentaries from Professors Beavis and Butthead.
Smith goes on to argue that most likely (1) Jesus wrote stuff, (2) it was “suppressed”, and (3) it was suppressed because of its “libertine content” [i.e., tales of orgiastic initiations]. No evidence exists for any of these (3) points.
So twisted does Smith’s pretzel logic become that at one point he actually says:
“So the total neglect of the letter [containing the Secret Gospel] through seventeen centuries argues for its authenticity.” (p136)
Whassup? Smith seems to be inventing a new historical principle here: If there’s no evidence that something happened, that proves it happened!
Interesting. A recent book by Stephen Carlson called The Gospel Hoax lays out compelling reasons to think Smith forged the Gospel himself as a younger man. In addition to a devastating dissection of the letter’s handwriting, Carlson shows how Smith embedded clues to his own identity within the Gospel. Amazing.
Augustine got it right, after all: The ultimate reason for the Fall of Man is narcissism!