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The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark [Paperback]

By Stephen C. Carlson (Author)
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Item description for The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark by Stephen C. Carlson...

Secret Mark first became known to modern scholarship in 1958 when a newly hired assistant professor at Columbia University in New York by the name of Morton Smith visited the monastery of Mar Saba near Jerusalem and photographed its fragments. Secret Mark presents what appears to be a valuable, albeit fragmentary, witness to early Christian traditions, traditions that might shed light on Jesus' most intimate behavior. In this book, Stephen C. Carlson uses state of the art science to demonstrate that Secret Mark was an elaborate hoax created by Morton Smith.

Publishers Description
"Secret Mark" first became known to modern scholarship in 1958 when a newly hired assistant professor at Columbia University in New York by the name of Morton Smith visited the monastery of Mar Saba near Jerusalem and photographed its fragments. "Secret Mark" was announced on the heels of many spectacular discoveries of ancient manuscripts in the Near East, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi gnostic corpus in the late 1940s, and promised to be just as revolutionary. "Secret Mark" presents what appears to be a valuable, albeit fragmentary, witness to early Christian traditions, traditions that might shed light on Jesus's most intimate behavior. In this book, Stephen C. Carlson uses state of the art science to demonstrate that "Secret Mark" was an elaborate hoax created by Morton Smith. Carlson's discussion places Smith's trick alongside many other hoaxes before probing the reasons why so many scholars have been taken in by it.

Citations And Professional Reviews
The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark by Stephen C. Carlson has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Publishers Weekly - 07/25/2005 page 70

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Item Specifications...

Pages   151
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 7.99" Width: 4.95" Height: 0.56"
Weight:   0.45 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Nov 30, 2005
Publisher   Baylor University Press
ISBN  1932792481  
ISBN13  9781932792485  

Availability  0 units.

More About Stephen C. Carlson

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Bible & Other Sacred Texts > Bible > New Testament
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Commentaries > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Commentaries > Commentaries
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Concordances
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History

Christian Product Categories
Books > Theology > Theology & Doctrine > General

Reviews - What do customers think about The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark?

The Amateur critiques the Expert  Jun 27, 2008
I believe that Mr. Carlson is fortunate that Morton Smith is dead, and thus unable to defend himself (or possibly more to the point, Morton Smith, being dead, is currently unable to sue for slander).

The suggestion that Secret Mark "in any way" alludes to a homosexual relationship between Jesus and the neaniskos, constitutes a preposterous and sensationalist mis-reading of an Early Christian description of a pre-baptismal ritual of instruction during which the innitiate(the neaniskos)is dressed, quite appropriately, in typical "baptismal garb".

I do not know what biblical credentials Mr. Carlson brings to the table.

BUT I DO KNOW that the following CREDENTIALED and PEER-RECOGNIZED biblical experts come down on the side of the LEGITIMACY of Secret Mark:

Morton Smith: "Clement of Alexandria and Secret Mark:
The Score at the End of the First Decade"

Koester, Helmut: "History and Development of Mark's Gospel"

Schenke,Hans-Martin: "The Mystery of the Gospel of Mark"

Crossan, John Dominic "The Secret Gospel of Mark"
(in his book "Four Other Gospels")

The Belated, but Intended from the Start, Thorough Demasking of a Brilliant Hoax  May 15, 2008
I read the original 2005 paperback edition, which debunks another book, the 1973 The Secret Gospel: The Discovery and Interpretation of the Secret Gospel According to Mark, which is about a document supposedly found by the latter's author (Morton Smith) in 1958 in a monastery in the Judean Desert. It was a handwritten copy into yet another historical book of a fraction of an original document (a letter) by the patriarch Clement of Alexandria, referring to sections of Mark's Gospel, which have disappeared from the canonical Bible later. The content has been interpreted as Jesus engaging in homoerotic initiation practices.

The author of the book at hand, Stephen C. Carlson, does an excellent job of unmasking Morton Smith' 50-year-capping hoax. Reading the reviews on this site about both books I initially thought, Carlson would have a religious agenda and use reasoning comprehendable only by religious fundamentalists who don't WANT the document to be genuine for obvious reasons. However, it will be far more difficult to debunk this debunker than it was to debunk the hoax. Carlson uses experts' knowledge used in court on handwriting fakes (of the photographs taken of the document, as it itself has been conveniently lost). He elaborates on the motive of Smith, unmasks that the content of the document matches Smith' previous little known publication, while quoting Smith that it can't be said that he fabricated the document to fit the content of the book describing the document. (Which became tediously obvious to me before reading this debunker.) Carlson goes on to look at the (un)likelihood that the book copied into would have been part of that library in which Smith had supposedly found it. Carlson uncovers anachronistic keys in the document and reasons that they had been implanted on purpose, because they refer linguistically to Smith himself, as it was a hoax, not a forgery to gain money or credibility for a theory. Smith wanted to challenge the scientific-historians' establishment who had snubbed him before. He puts all of that in an holistic picture of how hoaxes of this sort give themselves away and "The Secret Gospel" fulfills all criteria. Including that time will tell eventually, as hoaxes and other fakes are destined to be made to work in the specific times they were fabricated. From the historic perspective of the future (i.e. today/2005), it will/has become obvious.

Carlson's reasoning is very convincing. Of course, one could wonder, wether Carlson's book is the hoax, not the original. Or more likely another sort of fake, as it may have been constructed to appear convincing for theological reasons. It is said, the religious publisher has an anti-homosexual agenda. And how much do we trust the argumentation of lawyers who also go by a pun destination sounding similar? Therefore it is advisable for the science community to verify each and every claim by Carlson instead of blindly buying it.

I would even do that myself. If the original book would be all that important to me. Frankly, it isn't. I don't need it for my spirituality as it doesn't really matter, for I have overcome my indoctrinated homophobia a long time ago. I wouldn't use it in my reasoning to heal others from homophobia (because it doesn't, it's just an argument of someone-said-so [Jesus or "Mark"]). Even in the case, the content would really refer to homosexuality. On top of it, I don't think it does. Before I read Carlson's book, which feels similar, I was actually disappointed, because with my (limited) background information on some initiation procedures from the ancient Egyptians to modern Freemasons, I was aware that it has been very typical to dress in white linen only over a naked body during initiation. I have to agree with Carlson that the ancients most likely would not have thought this content to be describing some sort of sexuality at all. Carlson goes on to elaborate why Smith expertly insinuated sexuality for the (mid-)20th century mind, without providing a historic text that actually clearly states that.

There are many other ways of reasoning about the sin of downpressing minorities and the nature of "homosexuality" than clinging to these photos of a copy of a fraction of a letter referencing some content of a part of a Gospel that has been lost. Which is all beyond a reasonable doubt an obvious hoax to begin with. But by all means, please convince me of both: That it is genuine after all and that it is a workable tool to counter homophobia on top of it. It certainly hasn't worked the 47 years before Carlson debunked it. It is not enough to say that one oneself isn't satisfied with Carlson's proof, but I have to get convinced that he is wrong. It's not enough to mention some sources who supposedly debunk his book, sources I will most likely not be able to read. It is also not enough to use debate class rhetoric intended to influence those who have NOT read Carlson's book. Because I have, and I find it misleading to aver Carlson would depend solely on the description of the context, in which hoaxes are usually set. (Which by that would be merely circumstantial, even though overwhelmingly so.) It is also not enough to construct a defense for the hoax, by selling me that a Parkinson-inflicted 90-year-old copied the letter on his lap in a hurry in a sort of book that must have arrived in the library by completely unknown means, just to halfway sow doubt about the otherwise certainty of a handwriting fake.

On the other hand, I would appreciate a similar book on the unmasking of (ancient) fakes of holy text passages which are ANTI-homosexual. Or the unmasking of false interpretations of texts in the same vein. Curiously, Carlson doesn't mention existing references to those...

You may be interested in the classic Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (which does raise part of these issues, i.e. not exhaustively).
Still Not Sure  Feb 10, 2008
Carlson did a bang up job on this topic and does a another superb job of expressing his opinions, still... Since I first read this book I've heard some pretty harsh comments from those who are more learned than I in this area who give Carlson's work a thumbs down, so for me the verdict is still out and I'm reading other books on the topic with differing views just to give the topic a fair shake.
God this book bored me to tears  Jul 22, 2007
I love detective novels about forged books, my all time favorite being, "An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth-Century Pamphlets", by John Carter, and Graham Pollard. The very best books about forgeries tell you a great deal about books and manuscripts, not just the fraud in question. I had hoped that this book would be in that vein -- cool, dry, utterly objective, facts-only, and absolutely convincing, while at the same time opening up the world of ancient manuscripts and how to reason about them.

Instead it is unconvincing and inflamed in the *weirdest* sort of way. It seems as though Stephen Carlson really wants to settle a score with Morton Smith. I was looking for an exquisitely argued piecing together of a puzzle. Instead I got a very erudite, very lengthy disquisition bundled up with a huge number of angry neurosies, not all of them Smith's by any means.
I'm not convinced  Jun 30, 2007
I'm just not convinced. A lot of people seem to have a very strong vested interest in seeing Morton Smith proved wrong. And yet his work passed serious academic scrutiny for decades until -- speaking of "convenient" -- after his death, at which point this guy steps up to indict him as a hoaxer.

"The Secret Gospel" is not Smith's only book-length work of Biblical history. He pursued many of the issues raised by this work in the later "Jesus the Magician," which is a fascinating and persuasive book -- more so, in my opinion, than the earlier volume -- and his arguments and analysis would seem to be valid regardless of the historical status of the "secret" gospel of Mark.

I kind of suspect a different sort of intellectual dishonesty at work here: hardcore Christianists who can't stand their core assumptions being called into question.

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