A supposed letter of Clement of Alexandria (c. A.D. 150-c. 200) refers to a second edition of the Gospel of Mark, a private account, known today as the “Secret Gospel of Mark.” A medieval copy of the letter was purportedly discovered in the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Saba in the Judean wilderness in 1958 and was published in 1973 (see The Secret Gospel of Mark, 15-17).
The letter provided a previously unknown tradition about Mark and his writing activities. “As for Mark, then, during Peter’s stay in Rome he wrote an account of the lord’s doings, not, however, declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting those he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing both his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress toward knowledge (gnōsis). Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prearranged matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.”
A second passage, although extremely short, fills the well-known awkward gap in Mark 10:46 when Jesus Christ came to Jericho. Following Mark 10:46a, “And they came to Jericho,” and before Mark 10:46b, “and as he went out of Jericho,” the Secret Gospel of Mark add the phrase, “And the sister of the youth whom Jesus loved and his mother and Salome were there, and Jesus did not receive them.” This interesting addition includes a reference to Salome, who is mentioned only in Mark (see Mark 15:40; 16:1) and in a parallel to the story of the “beloved disciple” in John (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24).
Scholarly debate on the validity of the report of the discovery and the authenticity of the letter itself has been at times acrimonious, and there have been charges of forgery-some suggesting the document is an ancient forgery and/or that the discoverer forged it and fabricated the story of discovery itself. Although some scholars reject the “Secret Gospel,” as they do all other non-canonical texts, others have argued that canonical Mark postdates the Secret Gospel, believing that the canonical Mark is based on the Secret Mark. Additionally, interpretations of the Secret Gospel passages preserved in Clement’s letter also generate debate among scholars, some of whom have provided highly controversial interpretations of the meaning. Unless scholars can access the original document, many believe that it is not fruitful to consider it as an authentic ancient text that provides additional insights to the Gospel of Mark.
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