11
Jul
09

Textual Criticism and the Secret Gospel of Mark

On Evangelical Textual Criticism (one of the most consistently stimulating biblioblogs out there; if you’re not familiar with it, do yourself a favor and check it out), James M. Leonard discusses a recent conference paper given by Josep Ruis-Camps which claims to authenticate Clementine authorship of the letter containing the Secret Gospel of Mark by means of text-critical analysis.  Although I haven’t had access to the complete paper, Leonard’s summary and subsequent comments suggest that, after observing that the gospel quotations included within the Letter to Theodore contain variations unique to Codex Bezae, Ruis-Camps concluded that these “orthographical, lexical and grammatical variants… would be not only difficult, but also unreasonable, to imitate.”  Presumably a forger desiring to give his quotations a veneer of authenticity would prefer the ancient, highly regarded Alexandrian text.  The problem with this conclusion, as Stephen Carlson points out in his most recent comments on Leonard’s original post, is that Clement’s quotations of the gospels were traditionally identified with the Western text, although this classification has been reassessed and modified in several more recent studies.  As Codex Bezae is the most familiar representative of the Western text and has been available in published form since the late eighteenth century (the first complete edition was published in Cambridge in 1793), a forger familiar with Clement’s predilection for this textual tradition could easily have procured a copy.  It should be noted, however, that this would have required an extremely meticulous and diligent character!  Other conclusions mentioned by Leonard (e.g., that the text of Mark preserved in Bezae is superior to the Alexandrian and the Byzantine texts) seem difficult to validate in an analysis of any length, let alone a short paper.  Nevertheless, these abbreviated, secondhand musings have certainly gotten me thinking about the Letter to Theodore in new ways.

One point where I tend to disagree with Ruis-Camps (via Leonard) is his assumption that the majority of scholars view the document as a “sophisticated hoax” devised and executed by Smith himself.  Based upon my own experience, I don’t think this is the case; I suspect most scholars don’t have a strong opinion either way.  Those who do tend to gravitate towards a particular position according to their primary area of expertise: biblical scholars generally suspect forgery, while patristic specialists favor authenticity.  I hope to have the opportunity to read the complete paper at some point.  In the meantime, I’m excited that someone has managed to fit two of my own research interests—the questions surrounding Secret Mark and textual criticism—into a single project!

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