Biblical Archaeology Review 31:1, January/February 2005

The Secret Gospel of Mark

Is It Real? And Does It Identify “Bethany beyond the Jordan”?

By Scott G. Brown

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.

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