Apocrypha: Secret gospel of mark

c. 70-100 C.E.

Our fragments of the Secret Gospel of Mark are quoted in a letter from Clement, head of the Alexandrian catechetical school around 200 C.E., to a follower named Theodore. Clement tells of two different versions of the Gospel written by Mark—our familiar, canonical Mark; and an expanded, “secret” Mark, containing additional information to be read only to an inner circle of initiates. Apparently, a group of rogue Christians led by Carpocrates had further expanded Secret Mark to accomodate their own heretical practices.

The quoted passages tell of the “mystery of the kingdom of God,” which in context seems to refer to baptism. The idea that Jesus practiced baptism (other than his own) is conspicuously absent from the synoptic gospels, though it is implicitly stated in the Gospel of John. Apparently, the methods and purpose for Jesus’s baptism ritual were considered privileged information by the apostles, and thus was a subject carefully avoided by the early gospel writers. This gives Jesus’s words in Mark 4:11 (and several other passages) a new, clearer meaning—specifically, that his followers must be baptized to gain entrance to the Kingdom.

Although Clement states otherwise, it is likely that Secret Mark was written first, and the esoteric passages later removed to form canonical Mark, leaving some strange rifts in the Markan text. For example, Mark 10:46 reads “And they come into Jericho. And when he was leaving Jericho…” Not only is the stop in Jericho entirely pointless to the narrative, the subject shifts from plural to singular. According to Clement, Secret Mark has a passage between these sentences.

The longer pericope from Secret Mark is a parallel of John’s Lazarus story, not found anywhere in the synoptics. It appears to be told as a continuation of the lesson in Mark 10:17-22, where a young rich man is loved by Jesus but will not make the sacrifices necessary to follow him. In the secret passage, another young rich man returns his love and reaps the rewards, including the symbolic ressurection.

Finally, the most conclusive evidence for Secret Markan priority is the mention of the required baptismal dress—only a linen cloth. Until now, the presence of the scantily-clad young man in Mark 14:51-52 had always been a bizarre mystery. With the information gleaned from Secret Mark, it is obvious that the youth was being baptized, and that whoever edited the secret gospel to create our canonical Mark failed to completely extract him from the text.

Translation by Morton Smith:

From the letters of the most holy Clement, the author of the Stromateis. To Theodore.

You did well in silencing the unspeakable teachings of the Carpocratians. For these are the “wandering stars” referred to in the prophecy, who wander from the narrow road of the commandments into a boundless abyss of the carnal and bodily sins. For, priding themselves in knowledge, as they say, “of the deep things of Satan,” they do not know that they are casting themselves away into “the nether world of the darkness” of falsity, and, boasting that they are free, they have become slaves of servile desires. Such men are to be opposed in all ways and altogether. For, even if they should say something true, one who loves the truth should not, even so, agree with them. For not all true things are the truth, nor should that truth which merely seems true according to human opinions be preferred to the true truth, that according to the faith.

Now of the things they keep saying about the divinely inspired Gospel according to Mark, some are altogether falsifications, and others, even if they do contain some true elements, nevertheless are not reported truly. For the true things being mixed with inventions, are falsified, so that, as the saying goes, even the salt loses its savor.

As for Mark, then, during Peter’s stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord’s doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting what he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge. Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.

But since the foul demons are always devising destruction for the race of men, Carpocrates, instructed by them and using deceitful arts, so enslaved a certain presbyter of the church in Alexandria that he got from him a copy of the secret Gospel, which he both interpreted according to his blasphemous and carnal doctrine and, moreover, polluted, mixing with the spotless and holy words utterly shameless lies. Frorn this mixture is drawn off the teaching of the Carpocratians.

To them, therefore, as I said above, one must never give way; nor, when they put forward their falsifications, should one concede that the secret Gospel is by Mark, but should even deny it on oath. For, “Not all true things are to be said to all men.” For this reason the Wisdom of God, through Solomon, advises, “Answer the fool from his folly,” teaching that the light of the truth should be hidden from those who are mentally blind. Again it says, “From him who has not shall be taken away,” and, “Let the fool walk in darkness.” But we are “children of light,” having been illuminated by “the dayspring” of the spirit of the Lord “from on high,” and “Where the Spirit of the Lord is,” it says, “there is liberty,” for “All things are pure to the pure.”

To you, therefore, I shall not hesitate to answer the questions you have asked, refuting the falsifications by the very words of the Gospel. For example, after ,”And they were in the road going up to Jerusalem,” and what follows, until “After three days he shall arise,” the secret Gospel brings the following material word for word:

“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tornb they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do and in the evening the youth comes to him, 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. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.”

After these words follows the text, “And James and John come to him,” and all that section. But “naked man with naked man,” and the other things about which you wrote, are not found.

And after the words, “And he comes into Jericho,” the secret Gospel adds only,

“And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them.”

But the many other things about which you wrote both seem to be and are falsifications.

Now the true explanation and that which accords with the true philosophy…

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