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Wednesday 10 November 2010

History: Our very own Da Vinci Code?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 12th April 2007

Naked messiah found with naked disciple in steamy mansex 'initiation' in Gethsemane garden shock horror probe! Welcome back to the 'Gay Jesus' debate, readers.

When we last left it, it went something like this. In 1973, Professor Morton Smith, a gay Anglican biblical scholar, published two books on the question whether Clement of Alexandria (150-215 CE) had tried to suppress a gnostic or esoteric original text known as the "Secret Gospel of Mark" to posterity. It all depends on what are allegedly references in correspondence from Clement of Alexandria to Theodore, a follower. In this alleged "Secret Gospel", Jesus and a strapping young male disciple have a private initiation rite in Gethsemane, shortly before the Romans apprehended him and crucified him. Smith didn't intend this to be seen as apologetics for the inclusion of gay sex within Christian sexual ethics.

Nevertheless, it has been. Some fundamentalist biblical and early church historians are scathing about the matter. Peter Jeffrey, Professor of Music History at Princeton University, and a Benedictine Oblate of St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, takes a more circumspect approach. Yes, the Secret Gospel of Mark was a forgery, but it was also a particularly ingenious one, which fooled many biblical scholars and historians of antiquity who should have known better. However, anachronisms give away the game, and apparently, Smith lifted the entire plot from Oscar Wilde's Salome. However, it was an act of 'creative rebellion.'

On the other hand, Smith still has his supporters as well. Writing from Canada, Scott Brown has waded in, arguing for the authenticity of the secondhand reference in Clement's alleged letter, and defending the proposition that there might well have been a "Secret Gospel of Mark" in some form, given the premise that Mark is the least original and most reworked of the Gospels in the first place, so Smith's discovery might well be authentic, or at least plausible. He's carried this debate on within relevant professional scholarly journals.

Which side do we believe? I might as well reiterate that my own position is that there may well never have been an historical Jesus of Nazareth, and there is no independent verification that he did ever exist. Therefore, "Jesus" may well have been a composite literary construct of several esoteric and messianic tradition teachers within first century CE Judaism.

It is plausible that given the contemporary cults of Isis, Demeter, Cybele and Mithras, there could well have been a tradition in which one such teacher practised secret initiation rites, which may or may not have involved gay sexual content. Or there may not, as the latter observation is based on conjecture, not empirical proof.

After two millenia, though, what does it really matter in today's secularised world? If it does interest some readers, I'd recommend locating the respective texts in question and making up their own minds on the truth or falsity of Smith's claims.


Morton Smith: The Secret Gospel: San Fransisco: Harper and Row: 1973.

Negative Case:
Peter Jeffrey: The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: New Haven: Yale University Press: 2007.

Affirmative Case:
Scott Brown: Marks Other Gospel: Toronto: Wilfred Laurier University Press: 2005.

For Comparison:
Athina Tripitolis: Religions of the Ancient Greco-Roman World: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 1998.

Craig Young - 12th April 2007

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