Statesboro, GA, USA
Raph, Sorry that it took me so long to get back on this one ... but I wanted to respond in some detail. And life goes on with work, family, etc... In my following post, I'm going to talk about two positions which I believe are reasonably indefensible ... 1) Jesus was merely a charismatic Jew, zealous for the law and traditions, after the spirit of former prophets & 2) The "Secret Gospel of Mark" shows that the scriptures were altered, and that there was intentional mishandling and obscuring of texts by the Church at large.
As always Stephanos you bring up some excellent points, however, my problem with some of them
is that they're based on the assumption that the narratives have survived unaltered. This simply isn't
But there simply isn't any evidence that they have been altered. As I've already pointed out to Opeth, we have many early manuscripts to compare with late ones. Therefore we know the exact alterations, which are of a minor sort. Most of them involving grammar, syntax, additions of words here and there. But none of them would threaten or alter any fundamental doctrines of Christianity. I would heartily welcome you to present a comprehensive argument about how the texts were corrupted ... so that the later manuscripts represent a very different body of text, than the early ones. I am quite prepared to present the argument that they are amazingly uniform. Let the record speak ... not merely claims that a certain change "must have happened".
There is also nothing to show that the message was corrupted between the events and the writing of the gospels. And the length of time is not as much as most suppose. But even if it was, the assumption of falsification based on mere time, is not valid. And as I mentioned above, the gospels were written (as most scholars agree) with the use of oral tradition, written fragments, other synoptic writers, and eyewitnesses. The time frame is consistent with the documentary process of that culture. In short, the only way to come to the conclusion that something MUST have been changed is to employ, as N.T. Wright calls it, "a ruthless hermeneutic of suspicion".
One cannot underestimate just how much the original teachings and accounts of Jesus would have
been changed to suit this audience.
and . . .
You have to assume that any political overtones, would have been excised from the texts.
Changes would have to have been made
I see a serious pattern of question begging here. You are assuming (maybe from your life in a "politically correct" age?) that men could not write anything truthful or sincere, as long as social conditions existed which would make it difficult to stand by. Your "have to assume" attitude, is itself an assumption, that many deny.
there are, of course, some obvious evidence of this already. For
example there is no mention or criticism of Roman occupation from Jesus or the writers despite the historical
This is no obviously political move ... at least not "political" in the sense of cowing to a fear of Rome.
If you recall, the common Jewish conception of "Messiah" was a political one. Much further from the spiritual ideal, they imagined a militaristic, charismatic leader who would conquer Rome and restore Israel to her former national glory.
In the Gospel narratives, Jesus is constantly trying to downplay this misconception of the "Messiah". That's why he didn't openly claim to be the Messiah. That's why he refused it when they attempted to make him a King. That's why he burst the "hopes" of his disciples over and over again, whenever they leaned on their faulty Jewish ideas of the Messiah. The scriptures which have an affinity to the Zealot ideal, can be taken out of context to say that Jesus was a Zealot. But, while Jesus and his disciples held common strands of sympathy with the Zealots, he never sought to entertain it. It had a wrong assumption in it's foundation ... even if the upper stories looked like what Jesus wanted to build.
Here is the difference. Jesus also saw Rome as one of the "Kingdoms of this World", which would be overthown by God ... ultimately by the Kingdom of God. But Jesus saw this as something God would bring about eschatologically, not something that would be forced temporally by use of arms. That's why he could teach his disciples to pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven", and then in the same breath, to pray "Forgive us of our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us".
The Zealots were more of the Maccabean ideal. They were insurrectionists. To them the Kingdom of God was "Jihad".
I see a balance in the scripture because of who Jesus was in his understanding of "The Kingdom of God". You see it as changes brought by political fear. But there is no proof of the change. That's why Jesus could have for disciples a tax collector "Matthew" (the ultimate traitor to the Romans), AND a zealot, "Simon". These two were placed side by side because Jesus was pitting the error in both extremes against each other, and the truth in both extremes to compliment each other. It is the perfect balance of rendering to Ceasar that which is Ceasar's, and to God that which is God's.
There is lifting of blame from the Romans unto the Jews, especially in the a biblical account of the
compassionate and understanding Pontius Pilate, whose hands were tied, versus the historical records of the
The biblical account actually portrays Pilate as rather apathetic toward the charge of blasphemy made by the Jews (Romans were typically disinterested in Jewish religious matters), and unconvinced that Jesus was an insurrectionist, which was the charge that he called himself a King. As innocent as Jesus appeared to be, Pilate wanted popularity with the Jews more than justice. Warned by his wife through a dream, Pilate willingly gave Jesus to the will of those who wanted him crucified. This paints no picture of a man without blame ... nor does it paint a picture of a man with his "hands tied". He gave in to a temptation to dispense of a peasant prophet, in order to keep peace, and avoid a headache. None of this really contrary to history
Also, thanks to the discovery of a letter from the Bishop of Clement we know that there were changes
made to the gospel of Mark. Clement freely admits there is far more to the gospel then what we have read
and that the Secret Gospel of Mark is "..most carefully guarded, being read only to those being initiated
into the great mysteries..For not all true things are to be said to all men." We're not talking about a mere
editing or noncanonical book, but a secret version kept from the public by the church.
You’ve quoted this grossly out of context. Your second sentence doesn’t even relate directly to your first sentence in the supposed letter of Clement. He was actually first refuting a certain Gnostic interpretation of "The Secret gospel of Mark" by the Carpocratians... and then later referred to what he considered to be genuine "mystical teachings" of the apostles in the SGM.
Here is the preamble with your quotes placed back in context. I have highlighted them, so others can see exactly what they refer to.
From the letters of the most holy Clement, author of the Stromateis.
You have done well in muzzling the unmentionable doctrines of the Carpocratians. It is they who were prophetically called 'wandering stars' (Jude 13), who stray from the narrow way of the commandments into the fathomless abyss of fleshly sins committed in the body. They have been inflated with knowledge, as they say, of 'the deep things of Satan' (Rev. 2:24). They cast themselves unawares into the gloom of the darkness of falsehood (Jude 13). Boasting that they are free, they have become the slaves of lusts that bring men into bondage. These people must be totally opposed in every way. Even if they were to say something true, not even so would the lover of truth agree with them; everything that is true is not necessarily truth. Nor should one prefer the apparant truth which is according to human opinions to the real truth which is according to faith. But of the matters under dispute concerning the divinely inspired Gospel of Mark, some are utterly false and some, even if they contain certain things that are true, are not truely delivered; for the things that are true are corrupted by those that are fictitious, so that, as it is said, 'the salt has lost it's savour' (Mt. 5:13/Lk. 14:34).
Mark then, during Peter's stay in Rome, recorded the acts of the Lord, not however reporting them all, for he did not indicate the mystical ones, but selected those which he thought most useful for the increase of the faith of those undergoing instruction.
When Peter had borne witness (i.e. suffered martyrdom), Mark arrived in Alexandria, taking his own and Peter's memoirs. From these he copied into his first book the things appropriate for those who were making progress in knowledge but compiled a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were attaining perfection. Yet not even so did he divulge the unutterable things themselves, nor did he write down the Lord's hierophantic teaching. But adding to the previously written acts others also, he presented, over and above these, certain oracles whose interpretation he knew would provide the hearers with mystical guidance into the inner shrine of the seven-times-hidden truth. Thus, then, he made advance preparation- not grudgingly or incautiously, as I think- and on his death he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where even until now it is very well guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries
But abominable demons are always devising destruction for the human race, and so Carpocrates, having been instructed by them, used deceitful devices so as to enslave a certain elder of the church in Alexandria and procured from him a copy of the mystical Gospel, which he proceeded to interpret in accordance with his own blasphemous and carnam opinion. Moreover, he polluted it further by mixing shameless falsehoods with the hooly and undefiled sayings, and from this mixture the dogma of the Carpocratians has been drawn out. To these people, then, as I have said already, one must never yield, nor must one make any concession to them when they pretend what their tissue of falsehoods in the mystical Gospel of Mark, by rather deny it with an oath. It is not necessary to speak all the truth to everyone; that is why the wisdom of God proclaims through Solomon: ‘Answer a fool according to his folly’ (Proverbs 26:5)- meaning that from those who are spiritually blind the light of the truth must be concealed. Scripture also says, ‘From him who has not will be taken away’ (Mk. 4:25) and ‘Let the fool walk in darkness’ (Eccles. 2:14). But we are the sons of light, having been illuminated by ‘the dayspring from on high’ of the Spirit of the Lord (cf Luke 1:78), ‘and where the Spirit of the Lord is’, scripture says, ‘there is liberty’ (2 Cor. 3:17); for ‘to the pure all things are pure’ (Titus 1:15). To you then, I will not hesitate to give an answer to your questions, exposing those people’s falsehoods by the very words of the Gospel.
This quote shows that Clement (if indeed this fragment of writing was produced by him- scholars are unagreed on this), did accept that there was a piece of literature written by Mark ... a more “spiritual” Gospel. In the above text, he was refuting the gnostic interpretation of the SGM, and at the same time affirming that certain esoteric writings should be hidden from people for the very reason that they tend to distort it. He was justifying a “common” text for the people, and other texts for the “initiated” in higher truths.
Clement has got himself into a quandary here. For one, the whole idea that there was a gospel for the common herd, and a seperate one for the higher minded, is a gnostic heresy ... the idea of a two-tiered truth. Paul and other biblical writers refuted the Gnostic heresy within the canonical scriptures themselves, and definitely taught against such elitism (as expressed in "esoteric" gospels). And so clement tries to defend a text which has a definite gnostic flavor, from it’s own congruent gnostic interpretations. That’s like trying to separate a turtle from it’s shell, and then to call it two different animals. There is good evidence that this “Secret Gospel of Mark” was written by Gnostic groups, not Mark. What evidence do we have that Clement (though no doubt a Christian and an honest man) might have been subject to error about this? Well he also accepted many texts, which have been shown to be spurious. In other words, his track record ain't so great.
Here is what F.F. Bruce wrote about the “Secret” Gospel of Mark:
... That the letter-writer was disposed to acknowledge it (SGM) as part of a fuller edition of Mark’s Gospel, written by the evangelist himself, is quite in line with evidence which we have of Clement’s credulity in face of apocryphal material. He treats the work entitled the Preaching of Peter as a genuine composition of the apostle Peter, and he similarly accepts the authenticity of the Apocalypse of Peter. We shall see, too, how readily he acknowledges as dominical, sayings ascribed to Jesus in the Gospel according to the Hebrews and the Gospel of the Egyptians, explaining them in terms of his own philosophy.
(F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 308)
As for the ‘secret’ Gospel of Mark, it may well ahve come into being within the Carpocratian fellowship, or a similar school of thought. That ‘Clement’ thought it went back to Mark himself is neither here nor there, in view of the historical Clement’s uncritical acceptance of other apocrypha. The raising of the young man of Bethany (found in the SGM) is too evidently based- and clumsily based at that- on the Johannine story of the raising of Lazarus for us to regard it as in any sense an independent Marcan counterpart to the Johannine story (not to speak of our regarding it as a source of the Johannine story). Since this conclusion is so completely at variance with Professor Smith’s carefully argued case, one must do him the justice of giving his case the detailed consideration which it deserves. But this lecture presents my inintial assessment of the document which he has discovered and published.
Bruce’s footnote: My assessment of the document remains substantially the same fifteen years later.
(Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, 315)
So the whole thing about this secret Gospel, proving that the canonical Gospel of Mark was substantially changed, has two huge problems going against it.
1)Clement was not known for being sufficiently critical of apocryphal texts, and spurious writings which purported to be apostolic.
2) There is textual evidence that the “SGM” was derivitive from John, while at the same time, John was derivitive somewhat from the canonical gospel of Mark. Can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Here is another link with some interesting information surrounding this text ... info which you will find quite challenging to your theory:
Though I don't think you've done much to cast serious doubt upon the historicity of the gospels, I do thank you for the opportunity to respond to such interesting questions.