Monday, March 10, 2008

The 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.