On The Secret Gospel – Morton H. Smith




On The Secret Gospel

A manuscript page from Secret

Morton H. Smith (1915-1991) was Professor of Ancient
History at Columbia University and author of The Secret
Gospel and Jesus the Magician, among other books. Laughing
Man editor Saniel Bonder met with Dr. Smith at Columbia to
talk about the responses he has received to his unorthodox
scholarly view of the life and work of Jesus. – This
interview was published in Laughing Man Vol 2. No. 2,

Laughing Man Magazine Interview with Morton H. Smith

: The Strange Case of the Secret
Gospel According to Mark:
How Morton Smith’s
Discovery of a Lost Letter

by Clement of Alexandria Scandalized Biblical Scholarship
by Shawn Eyer


THE LAUGHING MAN: Could you tell us a little about
how you came to be involved in New Testament studies and how
you came to write The Secret

PROF. SMITH: I went to Harvard Divinity School and
got into New Testament work there. Then I received a
traveling fellowship for work in Palestine where I wrote a
thesis on the relations between the Gospels and other
ancient literature. Then I came back to the United States
and got into Old Testament studies and eventually found
myself teaching the whole range of ancient history here.

I hadn’t intended to go on with New Testament Studies. In
1958 I went out to Jerusalem, and I was making a catalogue
of the books and manuscripts in an old monastery, Mar Saba.
This was part of my work on “patristics,” or at least I
thought it was going to be part of my work on
patristics—patristics being the study of the works of
the Church Fathers.

One of the things you have to do is try and find out what
manuscripts of their works are extant and where the
manuscripts are. So I was cataloguing the manuscripts in
this monastery down in the Judean desert and came across
this letter by Clement of Alexandria. The letter led me to
the theory that Jesus had been administering some sort of
initiation in connection with the baptismal rite. The
necessity of defending that intuition led me into an
investigation of magic. And the more I saw of ancient magic,
the more parallels I saw to the New Testament, so my new
book, Jesus the Magician, grew out of this work. I should
mention that, beside The Secret Gospel, I have published a
scholarly rendition of the same material in a book called
Clement of Alexandria and the Secret Gospel of Mark. It is
the scholarly version of the second half of The Secret
Gospel of which the first half gives an account of how the
discovery occurred.

THE LAUGHING MAN: Since you point out that you
have published a more scholarly version of the text, I
assume that The Secret Gospel was intended for a general,
lay readership. What was the response, both professional and
lay, to the findings and your interpretation of them?

PROF. SMITH: Well, the professional response was
largely abusive and mostly uncomprehending. There were a few
good reviews. Cyril Richardson, who was a professor of
patristics at Union Theology Seminary, wrote an excellent
review in Theology Today. There were a number of other good
reviews by fairly exceptional people, but the rank and file
of New Testament scholarship produced reviews that varied
from contemptuous dismissal to violent attack! The reviews
in lay journals, however, were very friendly and some of
them quite enthusiastic. So, I think the book performed its

The other book, the scholarly book, is selling slowly but
making its way in the academic world. One professor at
Harvard has been studying the text very closely and is going
to give a report at the coming meeting of the Society of
Biblical Literature to a special group interested in
synoptic criticism. Out on the Pacific Coast the Theological
Union in San Francisco held a conference on the text at
which I spoke. A number of people from the West Coast were
there. So there are professionals who took the work
seriously. But there was a general attempt, led by the
editor of one of the principal journals of biblical
literature, to dismiss both the book and the finds as
irresponsible sensationalism. His principal complaint was
that this did not agree with what he thought about

THE LAUGHING MAN: One of the scholars you
mentioned in The Secret Gospel said that the most
interesting thing about the letter is that it reveals that
there was an esoteric side to early Christian religion. Is
this what people find offensive, or is there something

PROF. SMITH: Well, this one fellow wrote a whole
article attacking The Secret Gospel. The article was
deliberately misrepresentative, because he knew that the
work was not sensationalism and he knew that the facts were
very carefully documented. He is perfectly capable of
reading Greek, is a well-trained linguist, and he had the
Harvard edition with all the research in front of him. He
mentioned that edition in his article, so he had evidently
studied it.

But he nevertheless wrote this article maintaining that I
had not discovered a secret Gospel, and that the book I had
written was irresponsible sensationalism and particularly
dangerous because it represented Jesus as performing secret
rites leading to visionary experiences, setting the
initiates free from the law with possible homosexual
overtones, etc. All this was just, he must have thought,
simply oil in the fire, the fire being the
visionary-mystical ferment of the late 60s, which was still
not entirely quenched in 1973 when the book came out. So his
was a “Legion of Decency” reaction.

This article set the tone of a great many theological
reviews in the United States. People copied it or said the
same things in only slightly varied words. As editor of a
major theological journal, this person also solicited some
of his contributors to insert attacks on the book in their
articles. I don’t know in how many instances he was
successful, but I know he was doing so because in one
instance not only did he ‘fail, but the person reported the
attempt to me. That was how I learned what was going on.

So, that’s what you’re up against. The professional
organizations are dominated by people from theological
schools, and the people from theological schools tend to
defend the accepted positions.

THE LAUGHING MAN: Which suppress any intimations
of the esoteric?

PROF. SMITH: Yes, intimations that they are not
willing to consider. But they are going to have to. The
facts are there. The manuscript exists and is now in
Jerusalem. The photographs of it fortunately are here, so
there is no doubt about its existence, there are also no
doubts about the parallels to magical material. A team of
good scholars is now doing a complete translation of the
magical papyri, and will also do a couple of volumes of
commentary on the parallels between the papyri and the New
Testament. This material will be out within two or three
years. The translation is at present complete in first draft
form, so it is going to come out, and the field will just
have to face the facts. Of course they will face them by
minimizing, drawing distinctions; any theologian worth his
salt always distinguishes between what happens in any other
religion and what happens in the “One True Religion.” So
there will be distinctions, and there will be contemptuous
retorts also, but when all these reactions are over, the
material will be generally accepted and treated as part of
the evidence of the field. It will gradually make its way in
after the initial sneering dies down.

THE LAUGHING MAN: Have you or anyone else found
any other texts alluding to a secret Gospel? In other words,
at the sort of archaeological level, has any more
information come forth that relates to a secret tradition of
some kind?

PROF. SMITH: Not directly. A man down at General
Seminary has some very interesting evidence from the ritual
calendar of the Egyptian Church year about the placing of
the annual baptism in the ancient Church. You didn’t just
take a child around and baptize it at random. There was a
great annual baptism, fixed at one time in the year, when
the whole crop of children born that year were brought in to
be baptized. This practice gradually died out in the fifth
century and later, but down to about that time this was the
general practice. This man has been studying the place of
the baptismal rite in the Egyptian Church and has some data
about the shifting of that date which he thinks is
explicable and remains as the result of a tradition derived
from the secret Gospel.

Another scholar has done a very interesting thing. He has
compared all the

passages that are in Mark but are not in either Matthew
or Luke. The Gospel of Mark, you see, is supposed to have
been used by Matthew and Luke in the creation of their own
accounts. Now most of Mark is in both Matthew and Luke, and
most of what is left is in either Matthew or Luke, but there
is nevertheless a small (in relation to the whole bulk of
the Gospels) but still pretty considerable final remainder
in Mark that is neither in Matthew nor in Luke.

The man I spoke of has made a study of this exclusively
Markan material and has found it has an unusually high
proportion of linguistic and stylistic relations to the
material in the fragment of Clement’s letter in The Secret
Gospel. His conclusion, if I understand it correctly, is
that the original Mark was the Mark used by Matthew and Luke
and that what we have now is a Mark that was expanded by the
person who put in both the secret gospel material and the
other things not in the text used by Matthew and Luke. All
these were parts of the secret Gospel he made from the
original Mark. Later somebody else came along and cut down
the expanded Gospel by taking out the most dangerous
passages, like the passage related to this initiatory

You see, what is really dangerous is the question of how
you get into the kingdom of God. Once you get into the
kingdom of God you are free from the law, and once you are
free from the law, then depending on your personality and
the way you want to interpret your freedom, all sorts of
things can happen.

THE LAUGHING MAN: In relation to dietary matters,
sexuality, and so forth? The old Judaic laws were of course
very strict and explicit.

PROF. SMITH: Ask anyone who claims to be
spiritually free—once you’re free, what do you do?
Freedom presents a critical problem and anybody who claims
it has to face the question, what do I really want to

All sorts of answers can be given to this question,
depending on the personal inclinations and social traditions
of the person who has decided that he is free. The essential
question, the dangerous question in Jesus’ day was, how do
you get into the kingdom, because that question, restated in
modern terms, is how do you become free? Therefore, passages
referring to that secret initiatory ritual would probably
have been the material cut out of the official Gospels.
Thus, one scholar proposes that what we have in the present
Gospel of Mark is not the old original Gospel that was used
by Matthew and Luke, but an expanded version that was done
by the man who wrote the secret Gospel but which was then
censored by somebody else. You have a sort of three-stage
transition in the text. This is as much as I know of
corroborating material.

THE LAUGHING MAN: One of the most impressive
observations to which both of these books lead is a
recognition of just what a hodgepodge of legends, rumors,
and later interpolations the books of the New Testament seem
to represent. Does most New Testament scholarship
acknowledge some of these points about how these books were
created? Lay Christianity has very little sense of anything
remotely like this.

PROF. SMITH: Yes. In this matter I represent, on the
whole, the common opinion of the scholarly community, even
to a great extent the Roman Catholic scholarly community.
For Protestant scholarly opinion, I am actually too far on
the conservative side. One of the main objections to my work
among Protestant New Testament scholars is that I take the
gospel stories too seriously as evidence of what actually
happened and do not realize or do not make sufficient
allowance for the secondary, legendary developments that
must have taken place between Jesus’ life and the writing of
the Gospels. Jesus was crucified around 30 A.D. The Gospels
were written in the neighborhood of 75 to 100 A.D.; they
were spread out in that quarter of a century. Contemporary
scholarly criticism, both Protestant and Catholic, makes a
great deal of the development of all traditions during the
years from 30 to 100 A.D., leading to the recognition that
the gospel stories have been very much reworked, developed,
expanded, and modified. The different branches of the
tradition have been put together by people who got stories
from a great many different sources and put them together to
make the Gospels. Of course, most scholars and preachers
nevertheless presume that there must be a reliable kernel of
truth in these summaries, and then you proceed to find that
the kernel of truth is just what you want for the purpose of
your Sunday sermon.

THE LAUGHING MAN: I wonder if you have considered
other possible interpretations of the esoteric aspect of
Jesus’ work by drawing upon other yogic and mystical
terminologies and traditions of practice. It seems one could
go in any number of directions from that last great phrase
in Clement’s letter, “and the true explanation is . . .”

PROF. SMITH: I didn’t go into that question in the
book because I wasn’t writing about how Clement interpreted
it, but Clement has an extensively studied and pretty
wellknown theology. You can be sure that Clement is going to
interpret the material to fit his theology. Actually it is
not so far from the original secret tradition, if I
interpret that original tradition correctly. It is a
technique of spiritual ascent into the heavens and when you
have finally achieved this ascent you become a god, or you
join the other gods, as Clement actually says. He is
probably talking about the stars, which, like most ancient
people, he thinks are gods who are in the realm of pure
bliss circling the highest god.

THE LAUGHING MAN: Some spiritual investigators
suggest that the matter of spiritual ascent refers to a
process that goes on psychophysically in the body-mind and
yields an awakening or regeneration of this ninety-five
percent of the brain that the scientists tell us is still
essentially unused. You speak of Jesus as a magician. What
do you think of the possibility that Jesus functioned in the
tradition of mystical or yogic adepts? Could his baptism by
fire, for instance, perhaps be compared with kundalini yoga,
which talks of a similarly fiery kind of phenomenon
overtaking one’s nervous system? And perhaps this matter of
“Spirit baptism” was not so much a matter of being taken
over by a spirit—an entity or discarnate force—but
by what you might call the Spirit.

PROF. SMITH: Precisely, of course, what the
Christians thought! Discussion of the Spirit actually gets
into the Trinity—Father, Son, Holy Ghost or Holy
Spirit. This similarity of mystical experiences all over the
world is well known, has been much explored. Huxley wrote a
book—The Perennial Philosophy—on mystical
experience, in which he argued from the analogous reports of
mystical experience all over the world that this was
actually experience of some objective reality. I’m much more
sympathetic to the point of view that this is not experience
of a reality external to the body but is experience of the
consequences of the structure of what you call the

The question is whether large numbers of human beings
behave in pretty much the same way and have similar visions
and ecstatic experiences under different circumstances (but
circumstances that have a number of recognizable
similarities) so that you can speak of a certain type of
human response that appeared pretty frequently all over the
world. It seems very likely that Jesus’ technique for
“entering the Kingdom” might have been among other things a
means for inducing that sort of response. In other words, he
might have been a practicing mystic with a technique of
inducing this what you might call a “standard mystical
reaction”—if you recognize that the term “standard”
covers a great many different particular varieties.

That, however, would not settle the question as to
whether or not he was a magician in terms of his society,
because magic is a socially defined term. The essential
argument of 1esus fee Magrcran is that he was doing the
sorts of things that were done by persons in his society who
were called magicians. He was using for his own purposes the
patterns of behavior then described as”magical” and was
consequently described as “a magician” by his
contemporaries. I think that conclusion is very hard to

THE LAUGHING MAN: Well, your documentation is
certainly impressive. My question and my speculation is, was
there something that he was doing in secret that was beyond
the common magical rites of that time?

PROF. SMITH: You mustn’t sell the common magical
rites short. How do you know that the other magicians
weren’t also inducing mystical responses? You don’t get a
universal Catholic church every time you induce a mystical
response. You may just get one private individual to come
and follow you, or you may get a small group, or you may get
a worldwide organization. Jesus was one of the two or three
or half dozen in history who really got worldwide
organizations. Not that I think that he expected one.
Presumably he would have been at least as surprised by the
second Vatican Council as he was by the crucifixion! Neither
of these things, I think, fell within his plans, but that
was what happened.

The Secret Gospel of

The Strange Case of the Secret Gospel According to

How Morton Smith’s Discovery of a Lost Letter

by Clement of Alexandria Scandalized Biblical

by Shawn Eyer

Originally published in the Gnosis Library – http://gnosis.org/library/secm_commentary.htm

This article discussing scholarly and popular response
to Morton Smith’s discovery of the Secret Gospel of Mark was
originally published in Alexandria: The Journal for the
Western Cosmological Traditions, volume 3 (1995), pp.
103-129. Alexandria is edited by David Fideler and is
published by Phanes Press. The whole of this article is
copyright © 1995 by Phanes Press. All rights reserved,
including international rights.

“Dear reader, do not be alarmed at the parallels
between… magic and ancient Christianity. Christianity
never claimed to be original. It claimed . . . to be true!”
With these words in the New York Times Book Review, Pierson
Parker reassured the faithful American public that it need
not be concerned with the latest news from the obscure and
bookish world of New Testament scholarship.[1] It
was 1973, and the Biblical studies community, as well as the
popular press, was in a stir over a small manuscript
discovery that–to judge from the reactions of
some–seemingly threatened to call down the apocalypse. A
newly-released book by Columbia University’s Morton Smith,
presenting a translation and interpretation of a fragment of
a newly-recovered Secret Gospel of Mark, was at the center
of the controversy.


The Discovery (1958-1960)

In the spring of 1958 Smith, then a graduate student in
Theology at Columbia University, was invited to catalogue
the manuscript holdings in the library of the Mar Saba
monastery, located twelve miles south of Jerusalem. Smith
had been a guest of the same hermitage years earlier, when
he was stranded in Palestine by the conflagrations of the
second World War.

What Smith found during his task in the tower library
surprised him. He discovered some new scholia of Sophocles,
for instance, and dozens of other manuscripts.[2]
Despite these finds, however, the beleaguered scholar soon
resigned himself to what looked like a reasonable
conclusion: he would find nothing of major importance at Mar
Saba. His malaise evaporated one day as he first deciphered
the manuscript that would always thereafter be identified
with him:

[. . . O]ne afternoon near the end of my stay, I
found myself in my cell, staring incredulously at a text
written in a tiny scrawl. [. . . I]f this writing
was what it claimed to be, I had a hitherto unknown text by
a writer of major significance for early church

What Smith then began photographing was a three-page
handwritten addition penned into the endpapers of a printed
book, Isaac Voss’ 1646 edition of the Epistolae genuinae S.
Ignatii Martyris.[4] It identified itself as a
letter by Clement of the Stromateis, i.e., Clement of
Alexandria, the second-century church father well-known for
his neo-platonic applications of Christian belief. Clement
writes “to Theodore,” congratulating him for success in his
disputes with the Carpocratians, an heterodoxical sect about
which little is known. Apparently in their conflict with
Theodore, the Carpocratians appealed to Mark’s gospel.

Clement responds by recounting a new story about the
Gospel. After Peter’s death, Mark brought his original
gospel to Alexandria and wrote a “more spiritual gospel for
the use of those who were being perfected.” Clement says
this text is kept by the Alexandrian church for use only in
the initiation into “the great mysteries.”

However, Carpocrates the heretic, by means of magical
stealth, obtained a copy and adapted it to his own ends.
Because this version of the “secret” or “mystery” gospel had
been polluted with “shameless lies,” Clement urges Theodore
to deny its Markan authorship even under oath. “Not all true
things are to be said to all men,” he advises.

Theodore has asked questions about particular passages of
the special Carpocratian Gospel of Mark, and by way of reply
Clement transcribes two sections which he claims have been
distorted by the heretics. The first fragment of the Secret
Gospel of Mark, meant to be inserted between Mark 10.34 and
35, reads:

They came to Bethany. There was one woman there whose
brother had died. She came and prostrated herself before
Jesus and spoke to him. “Son of David, pity me!” But the
disciples rebuked her. Jesus was angry and went with her
into the garden where the tomb was. Immediately a great cry
was heard from the tomb. And going up to it, Jesus rolled
the stone away from the door of the tomb, and immediately
went in where the young man was. Stretching out his hand, he
lifted him up, taking hold his hand. And the youth, looking
intently at him, loved him and started begging him to let
him remain with him. And going out of the tomb, they went
into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six
days Jesus gave him an order and, at evening, the young man
came to him wearing nothing but a linen cloth. And he stayed
with him for the night, because Jesus taught him the mystery
of the Kingdom of God. And then when he left he went back to
the other side of the Jordan.

Then a second fragment of Secret Mark is given, this time
to be inserted into Mark 10.46. This has long been
recognized as a narrative snag in Mark’s Gospel, as it
awkwardly reads, “Then they come to Jericho. As he was
leaving Jericho with his disciples…” This strange
construction is not present in Secret Mark, which reads:

Then he came into Jericho. And the sister of the young
man whom Jesus loved was there with his mother and Salome,
but Jesus would not receive them.

Just as Clement prepares to reveal the “real
interpretation” of these verses to Theodore, the copyist
discontinues and Smith’s discovery is, sadly, complete.

Smith stopped briefly in the Hebrew University in
Jerusalem to share his discovery with Gerschom
Scholem.[5] He then returned to America where he
sought the opinions of his mentors Erwin Goodenough and
Arthur Darby Nock. “God knows what you’ve got hold of,”
Goodenough said.[6] “They made up all sorts of stuff
in the fifth century,” said Nock. “But, I say, it is

At the 1960 annual meeting of the Society of Biblical
Literature, Morton Smith announced his discovery to the
scholarly community, openly presenting a translation and
discussion of the Clementine letter. A well-written account
of his presentation, with a photograph of the Mar Saba
monastery, appeared the next morning on the front page of
The New York Times.[8] A list of the seventy-five
manuscripts Smith catalogued appeared the same year in the
journal Archaeology[9] as well as the Greek Orthodox
Patriarchate journal, Nea Sion.[10] And Morton Smith
embarked on a decade of meticulous investigation into the
nature of his find.


The Reaction (1973–1982)

While there may seem nothing particularly scandalous
about the apocryphal episodes of Secret Mark in and of
themselves, the release of the material to the general
public aroused a great deal of popular and scholarly
derision. Smith wrote two books on the subject: first, the
voluminous and intricate scholarly analysis Clement of
Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, and then The Secret
Gospel, a thin and conversational popular account of the
discovery and its interpretation. The first book was
delivered to the Harvard University Press in 1966, but was
very slow at going through the press.[11] Smith’s
popular treatment, however, was released by Harper and Row
in the summer of 1973. This is the version that most
scholars had in their hands first. What did it say that was
so shocking?

Smith’s analysis of the Secret Mark text–and
consequently the wider body of literature bearing on the
history of early Christianity–brought him to consider
unusual possibilities. Because Secret Mark presents a
miracle story, this meant a particular concentration upon
material of a like type. Smith was working outside of the
traditional school of Biblical criticism which automatically
regarded all miracle accounts as mythological inventions of
the early Christian communities.[12] Instead of
taking as his goal the theological deconstruction of the
miracle traditions, Smith asked to what degree the miracle
stories of the gospels might in fact be based upon actions
of Jesus, much in the same way scholars examine the sayings

It has been typical for critical scholars of the Bible to
reject any historical foundation for the “miracle-worker”
stories about Jesus. Because such tales would tend to rely
on the supernatural, and scholars seek to understand the
origins of the Bible in realistic terms, it is more
plausible for the modern critic to propose reasons for which
an early Christian community might have come to understand
Jesus as a miracle-worker and subsequently engage in the
production of mythologies depicting him in that mold.
Smith’s understanding of the kingdom language in the
Christian writings, with its well-known ambivalent
eschatological and yet emphatically present or “realized”
tendencies, evolved to the conclusion that:

[Jesus] could admit his followers to the kingdom
of God, and he could do it in some special way, so that they
were not there merely by anticipation, nor by virtue of
belief and obedience, nor by some other figure of speech,
but were really, actually, in.[13]

Smith held that the best explanation for the literary and
historical evidence surrounding the mircles of Jesus was
that Jesus himself actually performed–or meant to and was
understood to have performed–magical feats. Among these was
a baptismal initiation rite through which he was able to
“give” his disciples a vision of the heavenly spheres. This
was in the form of an altered state of consciousness induced
by “the recitation of repetitive, hypnotic prayers and
hymns,” a technique common in Jewish mystical texts, Qumran
material, Greek magical papyri and later Christian practices
such as the Byzantine liturgy.[14] This is a radical
departure from the mainstream scholarship which seeks to
minimize or eliminate altogether any possible “supernatural”
elements attached to the Historical Jesus, who is most often
understood as a speaker on social issues and applied ethics
. . . an Elijahform social worker, if you will.

Morton Smith did not begin with that assumption, nor did
his reinterpretation of Christian history arrive at it.
Thus, the new theory summarized in his 1973 book for general
readership displeased practically everyone:

[. . . F]rom the scattered indications in the
canonical Gospels and the secret Gospel of Mark, we can put
together a picture of Jesus’ baptism, “the mystery of the
kingdom of God.” It was a water baptism administered by
Jesus to chosen disciples, singly and by night. The costume,
for the disciple, was a linen cloth worn over the naked
body. This cloth was probably removed for the baptism
proper, the immersion in water, which was now reduced to a
preparatory purification. After that, by unknown ceremonies,
the disciple was possessed by Jesus’ spirit and so united
with Jesus. One with him, he participated by hallucination
in Jesus’ ascent into the heavens, he entered the kingdom of
God, and was thereby set free from the laws ordained for and
in the lower world. Freedom from the law may have resulted
in completion of the spiritual union by physical union. This
certainly occurred in many forms of gnostic Christianity;
how early it began there is no telling.[15]

In an interview with The New York Times just before his
books were released onto the market, Smith noted with
appreciation, “Thank God I have tenure.”[16]


The Inquisition: Let’s Begin

Not a moment was lost in the ensuing backlash. Smith had
laid aside the canon of unwritten rules that most Biblical
scholars worked by. He took the Gospels as more firmly
rooted in history than in the imagination of the early
church. He refused to operate with an artificially thick
barrier between pagan and Christian, magic and mythology.
And he not only promulgated his theories from his office in
Columbia University via obscure scholarly periodicals: he
had given them to the world in plain, understandable and
all-too-clear language. Thus there was no time for the
typical scholarly method of thorough, researched, logical
refutation. The public attention span was short. It was
imperative that Smith be discredited before too many
Biblical scholars told the press that there might be
something to his theories. Some of the high-pitched remarks
of well-known scholars are amusing to us in retrospect:


Patrick Skehan: “…a morbid concatenation of

Joseph Fitzmyer: “…venal popularization…”[18]
“…replete with innuendos and eisegesis…”[19]

Paul J. Achtemeier: “Characteristically, his arguments
are awash in speculation.”[20] “…an a priori
principle of selective credulity…”[21]

William Beardslee: “…ill-founded…”[22]

Pierson Parker: “…the alleged parallels are

Hans Conzelmann: “…science fiction…”[24]
“…does not belong to scholarly, nor even…discussable,

Raymond Brown: “…debunking attitude towards

Frederick Danker: “…in the same niche with Allegro’s
mushroom fantasies and Eisler’s salmagundi.”[27]

Helmut Merkel: “Once again total warfare has been
declared on New Testament scholarship.”[28]


The possibility that the initiation could have included
elements of eroticism was unthinkable to many scholars,
whose reaction was to project onto Smith’s entire
interpretive work an imaginary emphasis on Jesus being a

[. . . T]he fact that the young man comes to
Jesus “wearing a linen cloth over his naked body” naturally
suggests implications which Smith does not fail to

Hostility has marked some of the initial reactions to
Smith’s publication because of his debunking attitude
towards Christianity and his unpleasant suggestion that
Jesus engaged in homosexual practices with his

Many others cited rather prominently the homoerotic
overtures of Smith’s thesis in their objections to his
overall work.[31] Another criticism, which holds
more weight from a scholar’s standpoint, was Smith’s
rejection of the form and redaction critical techniques
preferred by the reviewer.[32]

Two scholars, embarassingly, found a flaw in Smith’s use
of what they considered too much documentation, as a ploy to
confuse the reader.[33]

Many scholars felt that the Secret Mark fragments were a
pastiche from the four gospels, some even suggesting that
Mark’s style is so simple to imitate the fragment must be a
useless pseudepigraphon.[34]

In reaction to Clement’s claim to perform initiation
rites, some scholars simply dogmatized that Alexandrian
Christians only used words like “initiation” and “mystery”
in a figurative sense, therefore the letter must not be

Finally, some reactions truly border on the petty. Two
scholars held that Morton Smith didn’t really “discover” the
Secret Gospel of Mark at all. Because the letter only
contains two fragments of it, Smith is described as
dishonest in his subtitle “The Discovery and Interpretation
of the Secret Gospel of Mark.”[36] Worst of all is
Danker, who complains that the Smith’s first, non-technical
book does not include the Greek text. “The designer of the
jacket, as though fond of palimpsests, has obscured with the
book title and the editor’s name even the partial
reproduction of Clement’s letter,” and that while there is
another photo inside the book, “the publishers do not supply
a magnifying glass with which to read it.”[37] All
this just to tell us that, after he and a companion had
painstakingly transcribed the Greek text, Smith’s
transcription and translation are “substantially
correct.”[38] He deceptively omits that Smith’s
Harvard edition includes large, easily legible photographic
plates of the original manuscript, alleging that Smith was
“reluctant…to share the Greek text”[39] he had

Only one reviewer, Fitzmeyer, saw it worthwhile to point
out that Morton Smith was bald. Whatever importance we may
attach to the thickness of a scholar’s hair, it seems that
detached scholarly criticism fails when certain tenets of
faith–even “enlightened” liberal faith–are called into


Is the Ink Still Wet? The Question of a

Inevitably a document which is so controvertial as Secret
Mark will be accused of being a forgery. This is precisely
what happened in 1975 when Quentin Quesnell published his
lengthy paper “The Mar Saba Clementine: A Question of
Evidence” in the Catholic Biblical Quarterly. In this
article he brings to bear a host of objections to Smith’s
treatment of the document.

Foremost is the lack of the physical manuscript. Smith
left the manuscript in the tower at Mar Saba in 1958 and had
been working with his set of photographs ever since.
Quesnell regards this as a neglect of Smith’s scholarly
duties.[40] Perhaps those duties might be assumed to
include the theft of the volume a la Sinaiticus or the Jung
Codex. In fact, even Smith’s publication of photographic
plates of the ms. are considered sub-standard by Quesnell.
They “do not include the margins and edges of the pages,”
they “are only black and white,” and are in Quesnell’s eyes
marred by “numerous discrepancies in shading, in wrinkles
and dips in the paper.”[41]

Quesnell calls into question all of Smith’s efforts to
date the manuscript to the eighteenth century. Although
Smith consulted many paleographic experts, Quesnell feels
this information to be useless as compared to a chemical
analysis of the ink, and a “microscopic examination of the

Then he asks the “unavoidable next question”[43]:
was the letter of Clement a modern forgery? He remarks that
Smith “tells a story on himself that could make clear the
kind of motivation that might stir a serious scholar even
apart from any long-concealed spirit of fun.”[44]
Pointing out Smith’s interest in how scholars tend to fit
newly-discovered evidence into their previously-held
sacrosanct interpretive paradigms,[45] and how Smith
requested scholars in his longer treatise to keep him
abreast of their research,[46] Quesnell asks if it
might not be that a certain modern forger who shall not be
named might have “found himself moved to concoct some
‘evidence’ in order to set up a controlled

Quesnell raises still more objections, and representative
of them is his claim that the mass of documentation Smith
brought to bear in Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel
of Mark is really a ploy to distract the reader. “[. . .
I]t is hard to believe that this material is included as
a serious contribution to scholarly investigation,” Quesnell
suggests.[48] In fact, he insinuates that its
function is really to “deepen the darkness.”[49]

Quesnell did not feel that scholarly discussion could
“reasonably continue” until all these issues–and more–were

Smith’s answer to the accusation of forgery was published
in the next volume of the Catholic Biblical Quarterly.
Humorously he advised his detractor that “one should not
suppose a text spurious simply because one dislikes what it

“Not at all,” was Quesnell’s reply. “I find it quite

Quesnell’s arguments were still echoed in 1983 by Per
Beskow, who wrote that Smith “can only present some mediocre
photographs, which do not even cover the entire margins of
the manuscript.”[53] While the photographic plates
in the Harvard volume do not extend to the margins due to
the cropping of the publishers,[54] Smith’s
photographs are printed elsewhere and do include the margins
of the pages. Furthermore, they are quite in-focus and
cannot be described as mediocre.


The Popular Response

The religious right was particularly displeased with the
new Secret Gospel of Mark. Even without the magical
interpretation of earliest Christianity Smith promulgated in
his two books, the discovery of another apocryphal gospel
only spells trouble for conservative theologians and
apologists. What information about Secret Mark made it past
the blockade into the evangelical press? There was Ronald J.
Sider’s quick review in Christianity Today:

Unfounded . . . wildly speculative…pockmarked with
irresponsible inferences . . . highly speculative . .
.operates with the presupposition that Jesus could not have
been the incarnate Son of God filled with the Holy Spirit .
. . simply absurd! . . . unacceptable . . . highly
speculative . . . numerous other fundamental weaknesses . .
. highly speculative . . . irresponsible . . . will not fool
the careful reader.[55]

Evangelical scholarship has since treated Secret Mark as
it traditionally has any other non-canonical text: as a
peculiar but ultimately unimportant document which would be
spiritually dangerous to take seriously.


Secret Mark and Da Avabhasa’s Initiation to

Perhaps the strangest chapter in Secret Mark’s long
history was its appropriation by the Free Daist Communion, a
California-based Eastern religious group led by
American-born guru Da Avabhasa (formerly known as Franklin
Jones, Da Free John, and Da Kalki). In 1982, The Dawn Horse
Press, the voice of this interesting sect, re-published
Smith’s Harper and Row volume, with a new forword by Elaine
Pagels and an added postscript by Smith himself.

In 1991 I made contact with this publisher in order to
ascertain why they were interested in Secret Mark. I was
answered by Saniel Bonder, Da Avabhasa’s official biographer
and a main spokesman for the Commununion.

Heart-Master Da Avabhasa is Himself a great Spiritual
“Transmitter” or “Baptizer” of the highest type. And this is
the key to understanding both His interest in, and The Dawn
Horse Press’s publication of, Smith’s Secret Gospel. What
Smith discovered, in the fragment of the letter by Clement
of Alexandria, is–to Heart-Master Da–an apparent ancient
confirmation that Jesus too was a Spirit-Baptizer who
initiated disciples into the authentic Spiritual and Yogic
process, by night and in circumstances of sacred privacy.
This is the single reason why Heart-Master Da was so
interested in the story. As it happened, Morton Smith’s
contract with a previous publisher had expired, and so he
was happy to arrange for us to publish the

Because of the general compatibility of Smith’s
interpretation of the historical Jesus and the practices of
the Da Free John community, the group’s leader was inclined
to promulgate Smith’s theory. It is difficult to judge the
precise degree of ritual identity which exists between
Master Da and Jesus the magician. Some identity, however, is
explicit, as revealed in Bonder’s official biography of
Master Da:

Over the course of Heart-Master Da’s Teaching years, His
devotees explored all manner of emotional-sexual
possibilities, including celibacy, promiscuity,
heterosexuality, homosexuality, monogamy, polygamy,
polyandy, and many different kinds of living arrangements
between intimate partners and among groups of devotees in
our various communities.[57]

The parallel between the Daist community during this time
and the libertine Christian rituals described by Smith is
made stronger by the spiritual leader’s intimate involvement
with this thorough exploration of the group’s erogeny.
“Heart-Master Da never withheld Himself from participation
in the play of our experiments with us . . .”[58]
Georg Feuerstein has published an interview with an
anonymous devotee of Master Da who describes a party during
which the Master borrowed his wife in order to free him of
egotistical jealousy.[59] Like the Carpocratians of
eighteen-hundred years ago, and the Corinthian Christians of
a century earlier still, the devotees of the Daist Communion
sought to come to terms with and conquer their sexual
obstacles to ultimate liberation not by merely denying the
natural urges, but by immersing themselves in them.

For many years Da Avabhasa himself was surrounded by an
“innermost circle” of nine female devotees, which was
dismantled in 1986 after the Community and the Master
himself had been through trying experiences.[60] In
1988 Da Avabhasa formally declared four of these original
nine longtime female devotees his “Kanyas,” the significance
of which is described well by Saniel Bonder:

Kanyadana is an ancient traditional practice in India,
wherein a chaste young woman…is given…to a Sat-Guru
either in formal marriage, or as a consort, or simply as a
serving initimate. Each kanya thus becomes devoted…in a
manner that in unique among all His devotees. She serves the
Sat-Guru Personally at all times and, in that unique
context, at all times is the recipient of His very Personal
Instructions, Blessings, and Regard.[61]

As a kanyadana “kumari”, a young woman is necessarily
“pure”–that is, chaste and self-transcending in her
practice, but also Spiritually Awakened by her Guru, whether
she is celibate or Yogically sexually

The formation of the Da Avabhasa Gurukala Kanyadana
Kumari Order should be seen against the background of sexual
experimentation and confrontation through which the Master’s
community had passed in the decade before, and in light of
the sexuality-affirming stance of the Daist Communion in
general. The Secret Gospel presented a picture of Jesus as
an initiator into ecstasy and a libertine bearing more than
a little resemblance to the radical and challenging lessons
of Master Da Avabhasa, in place long before 1982 when The
Dawn Horse Press re-issued the book.[63]


The Cultural Fringe and Secret Mark

Occasionally one still encounters brief references to
Secret Mark in marginal or sensational literature. A simple
but accurate account of its discovery was related in the
1982 British best-seller The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
Written by three television documentary reporters, the book
describes an actual French society called the Priory of Sion
which seeks to restore the French monarchy to a particular
family which, it seems, traces its blood-line back to Jesus
himself. In the course of arguing that this could actually
be the truth, the authors find it convenient to cite Secret
Mark as an example of how the early church edited unwanted
elements from its scriptures. “This missing fragment had not
been lost. On the contrary, it had apparently been
deliberately suppressed.”[64]

A quick reference to Secret Mark is made in Elizabeth
Clare Prophet’s book on the supposed “lost years” of Jesus.
She writes that discoveries such as Secret Mark “strongly
suggest that early Christians possessed a larger, markedly
more diverse body of writings and traditions on the life of
Jesus that appears in what has been handed down to us in the
New Testament.”[65] However, the remainder of the
book speculates about whether Jesus might have studied yoga
in India, and has little to do with Secret Mark or Jesus the


Where Are We Now? (Scholarly Interest from 1982 to the

For scholars the problem remains unsettled. While even
the most acid of reviews often ended with a statement to wit
that a real conclusion would require an in-depth treatment
of Smith’s books, none came. In 1982 Smith commented wryly
on the rhetoric of the reviews which made work on the Secret
Mark problem almost impossible in the 1970s:

For example, Achtemeier’s review, of which the
predendedly factual statements are often grossly inaccurate.
Though worthless as criticism, it cannot confidently be
described as “useless.” It probably pleased Fitzmyer, who
was then editor of The Journal of Biblical Literature, and
thus may have helped Achtemeier get the secretaryship of the
Society of Biblical Literature. That both names rhyme with
“liar” is a curious coincidence.[66]

Some important Catholic scholars, including Achtemeier,
Fitzmyer, Quesnell, Skehan and Brown, have tended to ignore
Secret Mark or dismiss it as worthless. C.S. Mann’s Anchor
Bible commentary on Mark, published in 1986, represents the
whole controversy as finished, a matter of “mere
curiosity.”[67] With the blessing of the Imprimatur
behind him, John P. Meier advised in 1991 that Secret Mark,
the Gospels of Thomas and Peter, the Egerton Gospel and all
other non-canonical Jesus material were worthless and might
simply be thrown “back into the sea.”[68]

At the same time, there has been an increase in the
number of scholars producing Secret Mark studies since 1982.
That “Morton Smith seems quite alone in his view that the
fragment is a piece of genuine Gospel material,” as claimed
in 1983 by Beskow is manifestly false.[69] Smith’s
work in the early 70s was greeted with more-or-less positive
reviews by a small number of important scholars including
Helmut Koester, Cyril Richardson, George MacRae, and Hugh
Trevor-Roper. Some scholars did not write reviews but openly
expressed the notion that Smith’s work was meritorious. When
asked by the New York Times about Smith’s interpretation of
Jesus as a magician, Krister Stendhal tactfully replied, “I
have much sympathy for that way of placing Jesus in the
social setting of his time.”[70]

While that sympathy does not remain particularly
widespread, accepting Smith’s magical Jesus has nothing to
do with taking Secret Mark seriously. The two issues may be
discussed seperately: the argument for magical practises in
early Christianity may certainly be made without reference
to Secret Mark, and Secret Mark may be discussed as a text
with no more magical implications than we find in canonical

In Thomas Talley’s 1982 article on ancient liturgy, he
describes his own attempt to physically examine the Secret
Mark manuscript. As his is the last word on the physical
artifact in question, it is fortuitous to quote him at

Given the late date of the manuscript itself and the fact
that Prof. Smith published photographs of it, it seemed
rather beside the point that some scholars wished to dispute
the very existence of a manuscript which no one but the
editor had seen. My own attempts to see the manuscript in
January of 19080 were frustrated, but as witnesses to its
existence I can cite the Archimandrite Meliton of the
Jerusalem Greek Patriarchate who, after the publication of
Smith’s work, found the volume at Mar Saba and removed it to
the patriarchal library, and the patriarchal librarian,
Father Kallistos, who told me that the manuscript (two
folios) has been removed from the printed volume and is
being repaired.[71]

Although one wishes this document were available for the
examination of Western scholars, it is no longer reasonable
to doubt the existence of the manuscript itself. That it
represents an authentic tradition from Clement of Alexandria
is disputed only by a handful of scholars and, as Talley
also points out, the letter has itself been included in the
standard edition of the Alexandrian father’s writings since

Taking on the pressing question of Secret Mark’s textual
relationship with the version of Mark in our New Testament,
Helmut Koester has published two intriguing studies arguing
that the development of Mark was an evolutionary process.
First came the version of Mark known by Matthew and Luke,
the proto-Mark or Urkarkus long known to scholars of the
synoptic problem. After this original version of Mark was
published, the expanded version used by the Alexandrian
church in Christian mysteries was made (and from that, its
gnosticized Carpocration version). Soon afterward or
simulaneously, a mostly expurgated version of Secret Mark
was published widely and became canonical Mark.[73]
The original Urmarkus, lacking anything not found in Matthew
or Luke, went the way of the sayings source and was not

Koester’s view has made some inroads. Hans-Martin Schenke
adopts it with the modification that Carpocratian Mark
predates the Secret Mark of the Alexandrian
Church.[74] John Dominic Crossan developed a theory
like Koester’s in his 1985 Four Other Gospels. Secret Mark
has been included in the texts being translated as part of
the Scholars Version project, and is described as an early
gospel fragment in material that the Jesus Seminar has been
making available to popular audiences. None of these
treatments is significantly affected by one’s assessment of
the magical Jesus suggested by Smith.

Still, Jesus as magician is not a dead issue. John
Dominic Crossan’s very intriguing book on The Historical
Jesus has an extended discussion of the topic. He argues
that Jesus may indeed be understood as a magician. He
rejects an artificial dichotomy between magic and religion,
saying, “the prescriptive distinction that states that we
practice religion but they practice magic should be seen for
what it is, a political validation of the approved and the
official against the unapproved and

Conclusion: Where No Secret Gospel Has Gone

Secret Mark’s plight constitutes a warning to all
scholars as to the dangers of allowing sentiments of faith
to cloud or prevent critical examination of evidence. When
seen in light of the massive literature which has been
produced by the other major manuscript finds of our century,
the Dead Sea Scrolls, Nag Hammadi codices, the comparative
dearth of good studies on this piece in particular cannot be
explained in any other way that a stubborn refusal to deal
with information which might challenge deeply-held personal
convictions. It is good to keep in mind an unofficial
directive of the Jesus Seminar: “Beware of finding a Jesus
entirely congenial to you.”[76]

“It is my opinion,” writes Hans Dieter Betz, “that
Smith’s book and the texts he discovered should be carefully
and seriously studied. Criticizing Smith is not
enough.”[77] Certainly it is reasonable to concur.
After twenty years of confusion, it must be time to set
aside emotionalism and approach both this fragment and
Morton Smith’s assessment of the role of magic in early
Christianity with objective and critical eyes. However that
question is ultimately to be resolved, Secret Mark provides
yet another fascinating window into the remarkable ritual
diversity we may identify in the first phases of the
development of Christianity.



1 Parker, “An Early Christian Cover-up?”, 5.

2 Smith, “Monasteries and their Manuscripts.”

3 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 12.

4 Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel
according to Mark, 1.

5 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 13-14.

6 ibid., 24.

7 ibid., 25.

8 Knox, “A New Gospel Ascribed to Mark.”

9 Smith, “Monasteries and their Manuscripts.”

10 Smith, “Hellenika Cheirographa en tei Monei tou Hagiou

11 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 76.

12 Smith, Jesus the Magician, 3-4.

13 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 94.

14 ibid., 113n1.

15 ibid., 113-114.

16 Shenker, “A Scholar Infers Jesus Practiced Magic.”

17 Skehan, review of Smith’s work in Catholic Historical
Review, 452.

18 Fitzmyer, “How to Exploit a Secret Gospel,” 572.

19 Fitzmyer, “Mark’s ‘Secret Gospel?'”, 65.

20 Achtemeier, review of Smith in Journal of Biblical
Literature, 626.

21 ibid.

22 Beardslee, review of Smith in Interpretation, 234.

23 Parker, “An Early Christian Cover-Up?”, 5.

24 Conzelmann, “Literaturbericht zu den Synoptischen
Evangelien (Fortsetzung).”, 321. (Translation from Schenke,
“The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark,” 70-71.)

25 ibid., 23. (Translation from Schenke, “The Mystery of
the Gospel of Mark,” 70-71.)

26 Brown, “The Relation of ‘The Secret Gospel of Mark’ to
the Fourth Gospel,” 466n1.

27 Danker, review of Smith in Dialog, 316.

28 Merkel, “Auf den Spuren des Urmarkus?”, 123.
(Translation from Schenke, “The Mystery of the Gospel of
Mark,” 69.)

29 Musurillo, “Morton Smith’s Secret Gospel,” 328.

30 Brown, “The Relation of ‘The Secret Gospel of Mark’ to
the Fourth Gospel,” 466n1.

31 Including Fitzmeyer, “How to Exploit a Secret Gospel”;
Parker, “An Early Christian Cover-Up?”; Skehan, review of
Smith in Catholic Historical Review 60(1974); Gibbs, review
of Smith in Theology Today 30(1974); Grant, “Morton Smith’s
Two Books”; Merkel, “Auf den Spuren des Urmarkus?”; Kummel,
“Ein Jahrzehnt Jesusforchung”; and Beskow, Strange Tales
about Jesus. Anitra Kolenkow’s comments on this bias are
salient: “We know that the gospel of John long has been
known as possibly containing both gnostic and homosexual
motifs. John may have been written at approximately the same
time as Mark. What difference does it make to us if Jesus is
not separated from a homosexual situation?” (Quoted from
Kolenkow’s response to Reginald Fuller, Longer Mark,

32 Examples are Achtemeier, review of Smith in the
Journal of Biblical Literature 93(1974); MacRae, “Yet
Another Jesus”; Gibbs, review of Smith in Theology Today
30(1974); and Fuller, Longer Mark: Forgery, Interpolation,
or Old Tradition?

33 See the statements to this effect in Quesnell, “The
Mar Saba Clementine,” and Hobbs (response in Fuller, Longer
Mark: Forgery, Interpolation, or Old Tradition?).

34 Such scholars included Pierson Parker, Edward Hobbs
and Per Beskow.

35 See Bruce, The ‘Secret’ Gospel of Mark; Musurillo,
“Morton Smith’s Secret Gospel”; and Kummel, “Ein Jahrzehnt

36 Fitzmyer, “How to Exploit a Secret Gospel”; Gibbs,
review of Smith in Theology Today 30(1974).

37 Danker, review of Smith in Dialog, 316.

38 ibid.

39 ibid.

40 Quesnell, “The Mar Saba Clementine,” 49.

41 ibid., 50.

42 ibid., 52.

43 ibid., 53.

44 ibid., 57.

45 Smith, The Secret Gospel, 25.

46 Smith, Clement of Alexandria, ix.

47 Quesnell, “The Mar Saba Clementine,” 58.

48 ibid., 61.

49 ibid., 60n30.

50 ibid., 48.

51 Smith, “On the Authenticity of the Mar Saba Letter of
Clement,” 196.

52 Quesnell, “A Reply to Morton Smith,” 201.

53 Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus, 101.

54 Smith, “On the Authenticity of the Mar Saba Letter of
Clement,” 196.

55 Sider, “Unfounded ‘Secret’,” 160.

56 Private correspondence with Saniel Bonder.

57 Bonder, The Divine Emergence of the World-Teacher,

58 ibid., 235.

59 Feuerstein, Holy Madness, 90-92.

60 ibid., 94.

61 Bonder, The Divine Emergence of the World-Teacher,

62 ibid., 288.

63 It is neccessary to stipulate that nothing in the
above discussion of the Free Daist Communion should be read
as derogatory. The purpose is simple description. Despite
the controversy which has sometimes surrounded this
movement, the author does not feel that its practices are in
any way fraudulent or abusive. Scholars should consider the
possibility that examination of modern new religious
movements such as the Da Avabhasa sect might be
extraordinarily helpful in our understanding of the
community dynamics of early libertine Christians such as the

64 Baigent et al, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, 290.

65 Prophet, The Lost Years of Jesus, 9. Most
interestingly, in her notes Prophet quotes a 1984 telephone
interview with scholar Birger A. Pearson, in which he says
that “many scholars, maybe even most, would now accept the
authenticity of the Clement fragment, including what it said
about the Secret Gospel of Mark.” (434n16)

66 Smith, The Secret Gospel (1982 Dawn Horse edition),

67 Mann, Mark (The Anchor Bible), 423.

68 Meier, A Marginal Jew, 140.

69 Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus, 99. One wonders
what a “genuine piece of gospel material” might be. Are
gospel additions such as the second ending of Mark (16.9-20)
and the famous story of the adulterous woman (John
8.53-9.11) “genuine gospel material,” even if we know they
were not originally part of the gospels in which they are

70 Shenker, “Jesus: New Ideas about his Powers.”

71 Talley, “Liturgical Time in the Ancient Church,”

72 ibid.

73 See Koester, “History and Development of Mark’s
Gospel,” and Ancient Christian Gospels.

74 Schenke, “The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark,” 76.

75 Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 310.

76 Funk et al., The Five Gospels, 5.

77 Fuller, Longer Mark: Forgery, Interpolation, or Old
Tradition?, 18.


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Author’s note:

The author would like to offer thanks to Saniel Bonder of
the Mountain of Attention Sanctuary for his kind assistance
in providing research materials and his willingness to share
with me information pertaining to The Dawn Horse Press and
The Secret Gospel. Further thanks are due to Dr. Jon Daniels
of The Defiance College for his helpful insights into the
subject matter of this study.