In the preceding article, Rami Khouri lays out the case for identifying Wadi el-Kharrar as the New Testament’s “Bethany beyond the Jordan,” the site where John baptized. There may be another piece of evidence strengthening that case—and it comes from a spectacular source: a long-lost passage from a “mystic” version of Mark’s gospel known as the Secret Gospel of Mark.1
This gospel passage was rediscovered in 1958 by Morton Smith, who was a respected professor of history at Columbia University. While cataloguing manuscripts in the tower library of Mar Saba, a Greek Orthodox monastery in the Judean wilderness, Smith photographed an 18th-century copy of a Greek letter ascribed to the second-century church father Clement of Alexandria. The author of this letter describes “a more spiritual” version of Mark’s gospel and quotes two passages from it. So Smith did not find a gospel manuscript but, rather, a letter by Clement of Alexandria, which is the only text we have of the Secret Gospel of Mark.