Monday, May 30, 2011

Robert Grant and Morton Smith Team Up to Pave the Way for the Solution to the Mystery of the Secret Gospel of Mark

Robert Grant and Morton Smith are two of my favorite scholars and when Smith cites the former in his 1973 book it should surprise anyone that he provides the key to unlock the contextual framework for the Secret Gospel of Mark and the four canonical gospels in the late second century. I will quickly cite from the pertinent section and continue developing an understanding for the material over the next few posts. Smith tells us that Grant has effectively noticed the same thing we have about the Irenarus's comments at the beginning of Book Three of Against Heresies - i.e. he connects them with Secret Mark:

The high frequency of parallels in the longer text affords support for a special theory of imitation which has been suggested independently by P. Benoit and R. Grant, viz.: The longer text is a cento produced from the text of the canonical Gospels. Grant supports this theory by a reference to Irenaeus (Harvey, I.1.15 - 20 = Stieren I.8.1 - 9.5). Irenaeus is there attacking the Valentinians. He says that, since the they have a theory which neither the prophets proclaimed nor the Lord taught nor the apostles handed down, but which they read out of agrapha (that is, uncanonical works, Harvey), they try to twist the dominical, prophetic, or apostolic sayings to fit their teachings, so as to have some evidence for what they say, and to this end they neglect the order and context of the scriptural passages they use and also distort them. He compares their treatment of Scripture to the breaking up of a mosaic in order to make a different picture with the same tessarae. The examples he gives to illustrate this, however are examples of allegorical or esoteric exegesis of individual sayings or passages of the canonical Scriptures and afford no evidence for the composition of new, pseudo-Scriptural centos. However, he goes on to say (Harvey, I.1.20, middle = Stieren, I.9.4): "Then, collecting scattered expressions and terms, they transfer them, as we said, from the in reality to an unreal much as do the Homeric poems, so that less experienced readers might think Homer had composed the verses, since both are attempting a similar and, indeed, identical feat." And he concludes that, as the man acquainted with Homer will recognize the verses, but not the theme, and by referring to their proper contexts will show the theme to be spurious, thus the true Christians "will recognize the terms from the scriptures and the expressions and the parables, but will not recognize the blasphemous theme." He will acknowledge the tessarae, but not the picture which has been made of them, "and, referring each of the things said to its proper place and fitting it into the body of the truth, he will expose their fiction and show it to be unsubstantial."

On the strength of this passage, Grant has suggested that the longer text may be a gnostic work of the sort attacked by Irenaeus. (Morton Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark 1973, p. 73 - 74)

The second citation of material here is from a section of the account of the Valentinians which was unknown to Tertullian when he cited from Irenaeus's original treatise against the sect which was later incorporated (by an editor?) into the beginning of Book One of Against Heresies.

The point of course is that either Irenaeus or perhaps more likely a later editor has taken individual treatises of Irenaeus against various sects (so Photius) and added something about the Valentinians reworking an original 'mosaic' of the four canonical gospels. In other words, stories are moved from here to there, according to Ireanaeus (or the editor) from the four to the single gospel of the heretics. Yet I think the exact opposite happened - i.e. the stones were taken from a single long gospel and moved to the four canonical texts by Irenaeus (for he is the first to report on the shape of a fourfold canon of gospels). The reference is placed in the section against the Valentinians because the same editor has also connected the followers of Mark (i.e. the 'Marcosians') in the section which immediately follows making the Marcosians appear as a Valentinians sect.

Nevertheless, as I have repeatedly noted here, I think this is deliberate. The Marcosians clearly weren't original understood as a sect of the Valentinians because no mention of the Marcosians are found in the original Irenaean treatise known to Tertullian and called 'Against the Valentians' by him. The editor of the Irenaean corpus - i.e. the person who organized his early lectures and incorporated them into a five book treatise entitled 'Against Heresies' has inserted the reference to the moving of stones from the four to single, long gospels in the section pertaining to the Valentinians because all Valentinian sects are now being accused of the practice. The pattern of 'moving stones' isn't then just from 'Secret Mark' but in fact the gospel that was especially dear to the Valentinians - i.e. the Gospel of John.

Yet I think that the original 'Gospel of John' known to the Valentinians was itself a form of 'Secret Mark.' It was Irenaeus who deliberately removed all the common synoptic passages for a specific theological purpose. I have always argued that the ur-Gospel of John used by the heretics was a form of 'Secret Mark,' the one potentially associated also with the Carpocratians. Yet this is something we should take up later. It is enough for us to say for the moment that Grant has found the very same passages that we have been discussion for months and helps clarify the thinking of Irenaeus, the 'final editor' of our New Testament canon - viz. he argued that like the Homeric centos an earlier lost form of the gospels had to have existed. He then just set out to establish them according to the Pythagorean (and gnostic) interest in the number four.

More to follow ...

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