Biblical Archaeology Review 39:5, September/October 2013

ReViews: Prominent Scholar on Trial

Ancient Gospel or Modern Forgery: The Secret Gospel of Mark in Debate

Edited by Tony Burke (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2013); xxviii + 357 pp., $42

Few manuscript discoveries have created anything like the furor focused on The Secret Gospel of Mark (SGM)—a furor well caught in the title of this book. The center of attention is a letter of Clement (of Alexandria) to Theodore, containing reference to and extracts from a secret Gospel of Mark, which Morton Smith discovered in the end papers of a 17th-century edition of the letters of Ignatius which he found in the monastery of Mar Saba in 1958. For 40 years now the debate has raged: Did Morton Smith discover an ancient gospel or is the letter with its reference to secret teaching that Mark added in a second edition of his gospel, a forgery crafted by Smith himself? The debate has a peculiarly frustrating character, since the key material, the letter of Clement to Theodore, which had been seen by others, has gone missing from the Patriarchate library in Jerusalem, so that vital tests which could have been applied to the paper and ink are no longer possible.

How better to detoxify the potentially damaging intensity of the disagreement than to bring the antagonists together in a debate. Hence, this volume that brings together the papers of a scholarly colloquium on the SGM held at York University, Toronto, in April 2011.

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