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Gospel Hoax, The: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark Paperback – November 1, 2005

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 170 pages
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press (November 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1932792481
  • ISBN-13: 978-1932792485
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,328,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Secret Mark" is the name given to a portion of a document allegedly uncovered in 1958 on a trip to the monastery of Mar Saba, located near Jerusalem. Purportedly written by Clement of Alexandria to someone called Theodore in the late second or early third century, the document was discovered by Morton Smith, at the time assistant professor of history at Columbia University. Secret Mark caused a stir in the academic community, as it alludes to a homosexual relationship between Jesus and Mark, and casts doubt on the authenticity of portions of the canonized gospel of Mark. Carlson is interested, not just in the authenticity of Secret Mark, but in the issue of historical hoaxes in general. His task is made difficult in that the Mar Saba documents are no longer available for inspection, so he depends on the photographs supplied by Smith. Carlson concludes that Secret Mark is indeed a hoax, and contains clear signs of a 20th-century provenance. Moreover, he points directly at Smith as the perpetrator of the fraud. Utilizing sound historical and linguistic methods, Carlson presents a convincing case for Smith's authorship of Secret Mark. While readers unfamiliar with the critical apparatus scholars use to evaluate ancient texts will find the book challenging, Carlson's presentation of the evidence strongly supports his views. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


A real-life "Da Vinci Code" detective story set in academia.

--Publishers Weekly

A scholarly bombshell. Built on pains-taking research, without any shrillness in tone, Carlson's argument is clear and compelling. Scholars in the field of Christian Origins will have to reckon with it, and many will have to re-think some important matters about the Gospels and the historical Jesus. A wider public will find this a fascinating detective story.

--Larry W. Hurtado, Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology, School of Divinity, New College, University of Edinburgh

The Gospel Hoax uncovers the clues and unmasks the perpetrator of a remarkable feat of deception. Fascinating, compelling and utterly convincing.

--Mark Goodacre, Associate Professor of New Testament, Department of Religion, Duke University.

Customer Reviews

I'm not commenting on the book itself, but on the Kindle version.
L. Beverage
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.
Richard Grant
Carlson even reveals two puns buried in the gospel and the story of its finding that serve as Morton Smith's own confession.
Christopher Culver

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 49 people found the following review helpful By C. Price VINE VOICE on December 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Gospel Hoax is packed with analysis supporting its central conclusion - that the "discoverer" of the Secret Gospel of Mark (SGM), Morton Smith, actually forged the document as a hoax on the academic community. SGM stirred controversy because it purports to be an early, secret, version of the Gospel of Mark meant for advanced initiates that includes passages suggesting a more magic-oriented, homoerotic Jesus. Questions about its authenticity have been raised from the beginning, but could not be answered because the manuscript itself was - suspiciously to some - lost before any tests could be run. Only Smith's description and a set of photographs he took remain.

Carlson seeks to break the logjam on the question of authenticity by examining a number of aspects of SGM, Mr. Smith, and the circumstances of the discovery. In so doing, Carlson attempts to do more than simply settle the issue, he also offers guidance on how to detect other academic frauds. He is successful on both counts, though I have some reservations that I will mention below.

First, he convincingly demonstrates that the SGM manuscript (a supposed 17th century writing referring to the SGM) is a modern forgery and not an older writing recording an ancient letter. The most convincing argument raised by Carlson is the handwriting analysis, which reveals the SGM manuscript to be forged and raises further suspicions about Smith's role in the discovery. Other arguments raised by Carlson, which he takes to be hints from Smith about his role in the hoax, are interesting but apart from other evidence would not be necessarily persuasive.

Next, Carlson questions the authenticity of the supposed letter by Clement.
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58 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Loren Rosson III on November 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
Many scholars have long suspected that Morton Smith fabricated the letter in which Clement of Alexandria cites a homoerotic passage from a supposedly secret version of the gospel of Mark. Now, almost 50 years after Smith's "discovery" in 1958, Stephen Carlson has proven this beyond a reasonable doubt. His case against Smith is strong enough to be deemed conclusive, and can be summarized as follows.

* The author of Secret Mark must have read James Hunter's novel, The Mystery of Mar Saba, published in 1940. Philip Jenkins first made this connection in 2001, and I'm sure that if it had been made back in the 70s, a lot less people would have been duped. The novel is about a forgery at the Mar Saba library, exactly where Smith "discovered" Clement's letter. Furthermore, as Carlson notes, both Secret Mark and the novel's fictional discovery reinterpret a resurrection account from the gospels in naturalistic terms.

* The letter to Theodore sounds hyper-Clementine, as if someone went out of his way to mimic Clement (argued at length by Andrew Criddle in 1995).

* The letter conveniently goes out of its way to authenticate Secret Mark, identifying the author Clement, who in turn vouches for Secret Mark's authenticity; and his full citation of Secret Mark is unnecessary and gratuitous for the concerns he is supposedly addressing (pointed out by Robert Murgia back in 1976).

* Smith published a paper -- right before his discovery of Secret Mark -- in which he connected both Clement of Alexandria and "the mystery of the kingdom of God" (in Mk 4:11) to sexual immorality (in T. Hagigah 2:1), which, of course, is exactly what Secret Mark is all about. Amazingly, no one ever picked up on this before Carlson.
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33 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Culver TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
THE GOSPEL HOAX is Stephen C. Carlson's stunning argument that the so-called Secret Mark apocryphal gospel is the forgery of the scholar who claimed to merely discover it, Morton Smith. It is a brief book, around a hundred pages, yet devastating in its arguments.

Carlson avoids any ad hominem investigation; he nicely avoids the too-easy strategy of claiming the work is fake because it's just the sort of thing that a man with Morton Smith's alternative lifestyle would want to find. Instead, all attacks are on the gospel, its manuscript, or the story of its finding, each chapter examining these from a different angle. The first critique is that of handwriting. The manuscript, judging from the few photographs available, shows the "forger's tremor" that is commonly used to convict writers of fake cheques. Linguistically, the work is also suspect. It is *too* reminiscent of Clementine style to be true; every author of antiquity shows some growth in style and variance in lexicon with each new work, but Secret Mark uses only what is attested in the authentic works of Clement.

Carlson even reveals two puns buried in the gospel and the story of its finding that serve as Morton Smith's own confession. In talking about the gospel, Smith claims the existing manuscript was penned by a monk named Madiotes. No such surname exists in Greece, but the word itself is build from a root meaning both "bald" and "swindler". Smith himself lost his hair at a very young age, and in passing off a fake gospel as a legitimate find, he would be swindling the academy. Another pun is that the gospel makes reference to free-flowing salt, yet this did not exist in antiquity. It was created in the 20th century by the Morton Salt Co.
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