The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled


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Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery

Peter Jeffery

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In 1958, Bible scholar Morton Smith announced the discovery of a sensational manuscript–a second-century letter written by St. Clement of Alexandria, who quotes an unknown, longer version of the Gospel of Mark. When Smith published the letter in 1973, he set off a firestorm of controversy that has raged ever since. Is the text authentic, or a hoax? Is Smith’s interpretation correct? Did Jesus really practice magic, or homosexuality? And if the letter is a forgery . . . why?
Through close examination of the “discovered” manuscript’s text, Peter Jeffery unravels the answers to the mystery and tells the tragic tale of an estranged Episcopalian priest who forged an ancient gospel and fooled many of the best biblical scholars of his time. Jeffery shows convincingly that Smith’s Secret Gospel is steeped in anachronisms and that its construction was influenced by Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, twentieth-century misunderstandings of early Christian liturgy, and Smith’s personal struggles with Christian sexual morality.

Peter Jeffery is Scheide Professor of Music History, Princeton University, and a Benedictine Oblate of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

"The discussion of the ‘Secret Gospel’ has involved a generation of scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity. Jeffery's book—argued with enormous erudition, careful judgment, sensitivity, and balance—sets the discussion on an entirely new footing."—Harold W. Attridge, Yale Divinity School

"Peter Jeffery's book proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Morton Smith forged the discovered text. It demonstrates that he had the scholarly expertise, the wit, the sense of humor, and above all the motivation to do so."—Adela Yarbro Collins, Yale Divinity School

"Students and teachers of liturgical history, especially with regard to Christian initiation and the origins of Lent, need to read this book and to do so soon! . . . Jeffery offers here a largely compelling study of this issue. From this point on it will be difficult to say anything about early Lent and Christian initiation without reference to this book."—Maxwell E. Johnson, Worship
ISBN: 9780300117608
Publication Date: January 3, 2007
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4