Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 18

Review of David G. McAfees The Forgotten Gospels of the Bible: Did Jesus Condone Homosexuality?

By N.J. Bruzzese and Tyler R. Vela

If what you are about to read seems at all harsh or severe, we ask that you keep this in mind: David McAfee claims to be an American scholar of Religious Studies,1 though we have not been able to find his contribution to any scholarly or academic periodical literature. By making this claim, McAfee obliges himself to all that comes with that title including critical reviews of his published work such as this one.2 One of the first difficulties that we notice then is that while he desires to be considered a scholar his work exhibits a staggeringly inadequate level of engagement with the academic and scholarly literature, and the piece that features on the WordPress blog titled, The Forgotten Gospels of the Bible: Did Jesus Condone Homosexuality? is no exception.3 The factual errors and confidant overstatements in the aforementioned post, as we will see, are rudimentary and one cannot help but wonder if McAfees information is actually all coming from an under-researched webpage as opposed to well-researched journal articles or academic resources. Even a cursory glance at Wikipedia, though far from scholarly, would have cleared much of this topic up for him. We may never know where McAfee gets his information since he neglects to cite a single source or provide an iota of evidence for his claims. In an attempt to inject some facts, even if somewhat forcefully, into McAfees work our case will show McAfee to be at best reckless when dealing with early Christianity and at worst incompetent with analysing history. McAfees brief 750-odd word post makes errors that require explanations longer than the post, so please bear with us as we unravel McAfees claims beginning with the date of some of the New Testament books.

1 2

David McAfee, Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings, 2nd Edition, (Dangerous Little Books, 2011), p. 135. Publishing polemical and popular level work with sympathetic publishing companies is not the same thing as contributing to peer-reviewed academic periodicals. I, Nicholas, have not been able to turn up even one result in the two libraries I have access to in my academic institutions, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and the University of Divinity, though perhaps neither institution subscribes to the journal he might be published in. For another critical review detailing the same meagre engagement with the published and peer-reviewed literature see, Tyler Vela, An Exhaustive (or Exhausting) Book Review: Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings , 2011, http://www.scribd.com/doc/154151589/Book-Review-of-Disproving-Christianity (accessed 28 January, 2014). 3 David McAfee, The Forgotten Gospels of the Bible: Did Jesus Condone Homosexuality? July 11, 2010. http://davidgmcafee.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/the-forgotten-gospels-of-the-bible-did-jesus-condone-homosexuality (accessed 28 January, 2014); For another critical review detailing the same meagre engagement with the published and peer-reviewed literature see, Tyler Vela, An Exhaustive (or Exhausting) Book Review: Disproving Christianity and Other Secular Writings , 2011, http://www.scribd.com/doc/154151589/Book-Review-of-Disproving-Christianity (accessed 28 January, 2014).

Section I: Dating the New Testament4

Precisely dating any book of the New Testament is a precarious endeavour. Archaeologists are yet to discover a single autograph of any book in the New Testament (or none have survived). The earliest fragment uncovered so far is P52, usually dated to 125 CE (though it may be even earlier), and it contains five verses from The Gospel According to John.5 Since we have no access to the autographs, historians are forced to rely on indications in the texts themselves with the latest possible date of composition being the earliest manuscript, or attestation to that work, to survive. So for Johns Gospel, the latest it could have been written is 125 CE (though most scholars believe it was written within the 1st century CE). The fact is, for the most part, scholars do not know with any great deal of certainty what the dates of many of the New Testament books are and so it is no surprise many argue for dates that differ by a few decades. Since McAfee appears to be making general claims about the Gospels and the wider books of the New Testament we can outline some examples of his errors by appealing to the scholarly debate surrounding the dates on many of these books. Perhaps a good place to start is at the end, in what is often considered the latest book in the New Testament to be composed, 2 Peter. The most liberal dating of 2 Peter places its composition around 150 CE.6 Richard Bauckham argues for a date between 8090 CE, basing his argument on 2 Peter 3:34 that reflects a disappointed Christian expectation that Jesus would return by the death of the first generation of Christians.7 Michael Kruger, while a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh wrote what has become an influential paper for evangelical scholars, dating 2 Peter as early as 60 CE. What is certain is that 2 Peter had to be composed before the beginning of the 3rd century CE since Origen (c. 182251) makes mention of it and our earliest manuscript containing 2 Peter is possibly as early as the 3rd century.8 In being as

In this section McAfee is partially right when he claims that the Gospels have unknown or pseudo-named authors but hes still unclear on what he means by pseudo-named authors. This critique might be considered a minor criticism and so it found its way into the footnotes simply because it practically goes without saying that in the context of New Testament authorships the Gospels are all anonymous. So none of them can be, as he seems to think, written under a false name i.e. pseudopygraphically (otherwise the conjunction or is being confused with what he really means, that the authorship is both anonymous and the titles are incorrect attributions). The term pseudonym is from the Greek pseudonymon () literally, a false name. But in the context of the New Testament it usually refers to an author who falsely represents a separate more revered author of the past (see Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, BibleWorks, v.9). 5 Bart D. Ehrman and Michael W. Holmes, The Test of the New Testament in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, (Wm. B. Eerdemans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 6; for dating the fragment to earlier than 125 CE see, Colin H. Roberts, An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library (Manchester University Press, 1935), pp. 1216. 6 Schuyler Brown, The Origins of Christianity: A Historical Introduction to the New Testament , (Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 27. 7 Richard Bauckham, The HarperCollins Study Bible, Fully Revised and Updated Edition . ed. by Harold W. Attridge, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2006), p. 2067. 8 Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, 6.25.11. Peter has left one acknowledged Epistle; possibly also a second, but this is disputed.

generous as possible to McAfee, if we grant that 2 Peter is the last book in the New Testament to be written, the claim that some books that comprise it are hundreds of years older than the life of Jesus of Nazareth (c. 72 BCECE 3033 ), is nothing short of remarkably overstated. Yet without engaging with any of the scholarly literature, or the primary sources including Origen and 2 Peter itself (though he would have to deal with English translations and interpretations of these), or the manuscript tradition, this claim becomes nothing short of incredibly nave. Perhaps its best to quote McAfee here as he explains that:
Many of the books that compose the New Testament are actually hundreds of years older than the time when Jesus was supposed to have lived, and most of the gospels have unknown or pseudo-named authors

Again, with generosity in mind, if we grant the most common liberal dating of 2 Peter we are left with a difference of 120 years from the time Jesus died to the composition of 2 Peter. We can be charitable further still: if we grant the most common liberal dating of 2 Peter we are left with a difference of approximately 154 years from the time Jesus was born to the composition of 2 Peter. Even being this generous still does not achieve the plurality of hundreds of years that McAfee claims. And what evidence does McAfee produce to support his claim? None whatsoever. We cannot imagine he has any evidence! He is demonstrably wrong and when we consider how rapidly his platform is expanding, these errors become all the more egregious and misleading to so many who look to him as an expert (after all this is what it means to be a scholar) or at the very least, a reliable guide through these issues. The problem is further compounded with every assertion McAfee makes. Even skipping over the rather bizarre statement which opens the article 9, McAfee is trying to address the texts deal with the life and teachings of Jesus and not necessarily the entire New Testament canon. Consequently, even if 2 Peter is late, the more fundamental question is whether or not Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts are late. This is where the problem is exacerbated for McAfee. While there is divergence in scholarly consensus on when the gospels were composed there is universal consensus that they were all within the 1st century with John closing them out at around 95 CE. While many scholars would place the

He opens by stating, The Bible exists today in hundreds of variations and languages, some with entirely different meanings, as if the meanings are varied by the translation.

composition of all four gospels prior to 70 CE10, most place Mark around 6575 CE, Matthew and Luke in the 80s CE and John around 9395 CE.11 Since Jesus death occurred between 2733 CE that places even the latest gospel, John, around 68 years after Jesus death (assuming the earliest possible date for the crucifixion and the latest possible date for John). This is a far cry from McAfees assertion that they were composed hundreds of years later and causes one to wonder about McAfees credibility and objectivit y in these matters if he cannot (or will not) get such rudimentary facts correct. McAfee then seems to want to throw salt on his own wound when he says:
...you may not be aware of the contents of the forgotten texts, some of which were written much closer to Jesus lifetime and should therefore be considered more valid than those created afterward.

We agree. The texts written closer to the life of Jesus should be considered more valid than those created afterward. As shown above it is Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts that nearly every scholar states were written prior to the Gnostic Gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas. We write nearly every scholar because while scholars like Elaine Pagels agrees with the dating of the gospels thus far presented, she also argues for a date of between 50100 CE for the Gospel of Thomas. It should also be stated at this point that The Gospel of Thomas is the only non-canonical writing to even be considered by any scholar (such as Pagels) to possibly predate any of the canonical documents or to be contemporaneous with them. However it should be noted that on the issue of the dating of Thomas, Pagels and others like her are part of a radically small fringe of New Testament Scholars as will be argued for shortly (Section III, pp. 89). So while McAfee seems to want to take a page of Dan Browns The DaVinci Code play book and claim that there was a plethora of early documents that were suppressed by the early church during church councils12, experts the world over disagree. And for good reason as we will see.


John AT Robinson, Redating the New Testament, (SCM Press, 1976); John Wenham, Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem, (Hodder and Stoughton, 1992); Jean Carmignac, The Birth of the Synoptics, (Franciscan Herald Press, 1987); C. J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, (Eisenbrauns, 1990); James Crossley, The Date of Mark's Gospel: Insights from the Law in Earliest Christianity, (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2004). 11 R. F. Karris, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Richard Dillon and Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice-Hall International, London, 1968, Vol. 2, p. 165. 12 The First Council of Nicaea made no declaration about the canon whatsoever. It was exclusively called to respond to the Arian heresy raging in the church. They deliberated on Christological issues, not canonical ones. For McAfee to repeat this kind of position as if it is academically acceptable is either the height of ignorance or the depths of dishonesty.

Section II: Councils and the Development of the New Testament Canon
Pre-ecumenical (i.e. councils held prior to the first council of Nicaea in 325 CE) and ecumenical councils were held for various reasons, though not one of them to decide, as McAfee suggests, the validity of the sacred documents. The earliest known church council, held in the 2nd century, was called to condemn Montanism.13 Other councils held in 155 CE (the Council of Rome), 193 CE (the Second Council of Rome and the Council of Ephesus), 251 CE (the Council of Carthage) etc. were called to reach agreements on issues including the Quartodecimen controversy (essentially when to celebrate the Lords Passover), the status of Christians who lapsed during persecution, how to treat apostates and their subsequent excommunication and so on. By the time of the Third Council of Carthage in 397 CE a canon of the Bible is mentioned but the story is complicated. Text critics such as Bruce Metzger tell us that there is good reason, based on the manuscript tradition, to think that this canon recorded in the Codex Canonum Ecclesi African was mentioned only to the extent that they were consulting and seeking confirmation from other churches on the canon,14 not as a confirmation of the books that were to be considered canonical. Besides, the development of the New Testament canon is relatively well understood. While we do not have space here to go into any great detail, we can elaborate enough to satisfy our case that the recognition of the canon was simply not the product of any church council.15 Marcion of Sinope appears to have been the first to suggest a list of books, a two-part canon comprising the Evangelionan edited version of Lukes Gospeland the Apostolikonthe ten epistles of Paul that were available to him.16 Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, in the same year as the Council of Nicaea (325 CE) published his Ecclesiastical Histories and names eighteen books that he believed were

For a brief explanation of Montanism see, N.J. Bruzzese, Evidence of Montanism in the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas , reproduced here: http://skepticstestament.com/2013/06/12/evidence-of-montanism-in-the-martyrdom-of-perpetua-and-felicitas (accessed 31 January, 2014); The Acts 15 records an even earlier meeting (though never called it a council) usually dated to around 50 CE, most scholars call it the Council of Jerusalem, though this too had nothing to do with the authenticity of biblical canon but instead determined the salvation of the Gentiles and that all who were saved were on equal grounds (see Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Oxford University Press, 5th Edition 2011, p. 125). 14 Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance, (Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 315. 15 We are not arguing that our historical understanding is full or complete. It is not. But historians know much more about the development of the New Testament canon than McAfee seems to realizeinformation that McAfee ignores or is otherwise ignorant of. 16 Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance , Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 90 94.

genuine.17 Six years after Council of Nicaea in 331 CE Constantine ordered copies of the eighteen sacred scriptures Eusebius mentioned (perhaps this is the little detail that is the cause of the common gross error we too often hear, namely that Constantine I decided what books were canonical). The first surviving affirmation of our twenty-seven books being mentioned in relation to canonization (kanonizomena) comes from Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in his Easter letter of 367 CE.18 The impression McAfee leaves, that of these pre-Nicene gospels councils were granted permission to determine the[ir] validity, is simply untrue. In fact, quite the opposite is true! Early Christians dealt with these attempts to fill in the gaps of Jesus life openly documenting and circulating their refutations. One of the most prolific writers, noted for his refutation of Gnosticism and Gnostic texts, is Irenaeus (c. 140 CECE c. 200), the 2nd century bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul.19 In his major work, On the Detection and Overthrow of the SoCalled Gnosis, he sought to defend the early Christian orthodoxy against many of these gospels.20 Based on a reference to Eleutherus as the current bishop of Rome the work is dated to c. 180.21 In attacking one of these pre-Nicene works, The Gospel of Truth, Irenaeus argues for its illegitimacy by appealing to apostolic succession as a criterion of authenticity, he writes:
But those who are from Valentinus, being, on the other hand, altogether reckless, while they put forth their own compositions, boast that they possess more Gospels than there really are. Indeed, they have arrived at such a pitch of audacity, as to entitle their comparatively recent writing the Gospel of Truth, though it agrees in nothing with the Gospels of the Apostles, so that they have really no Gospel which is not full of blasphemy (3.11.9).22

Furthermore, Clement (c. 150 CECE c. 214), head of the catechetical school in Alexandria, taking a less prolific approach compared to Irenaeus still does just as thorough a refutation when attacking these Gnostic Gospels.23 Contained mostly in his third book titled Stromata (or carpets because it is a collection of disconnected themes woven together) Clement argues that opponents should be won over through their own ideas (5.3.18; and this may explain why he is known to utilize Gnostic-language
17 18

See Eusebius, Hist. eccl. Book 3 Chapters 3, 24 and 25. Athanasius, Epistulae festales 39, in Joannou, Fonti, 2. 75 lines 3-6. 19 Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament, p. 76; Gerald Bray, The Early Theologians: Early Christian World, Volume 12, edited by Philip Esler, Routledge, 2004, p. 553 20 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 21 Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons, (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 13. 22 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 23 Gerald Bray, The Early Theologians, p. 558

(6.9)).24 As an example, the Gospel of Philip dedicates much of its time to describing marriage as a mystery, and likens marriage that is open to the public [as a] prostitution, and the bride plays the harlot.25 The passage then seeks to have the bridegrooms and brides confined to the bridal chamber only allowing visits from immediate family. It is clear that Gnostics had an odd view of the function of marriage where self-restraint should be shown towards those human desires and the sexual relations that come along with it. Clement begins his third book by charging the Valentinians; and Basilidians, a Gnostic sect founded by Basilides of Alexandria, with being false apostles, and deceitful workers (3.1.3).26 Clement points to a hypocrisy among them when he argues that even though these Basilidians force their disciples to practice continence, the elect few live lewder lives than the most uncontrolled heathen (3.1.3)!27 Clement insists that the decision of whether to marry or to remain abstinent must be a free choice and that if someone choses to remain abstinent from marriage they have been granted by God to do so. But at the same time we admire monogamy and the high standing on single marriage..., after all, even the apostle Paul says, If you burn, marry (3.1.4).28 He explains that these ascetic Encratites who know not marriage nor begetting of children (1.15.8) because they want to practice self-control do not quite realize that even though the purpose of marriage is procreation, it still requires self-restraint and chastity (3.8.578, 6679).29 All of that is to say, according to these pre-Nicene Church fatherswell and truly before any ecumenical councilonly those works by contemporaries or immediate followers of Jesus have any claim to authority and truth; any later works were at best profitable but not inspired or were full of untruth and blasphemy and were damaging to true faith. Obviously McAfee cannot be correct in his statement that they were considered equal until they were silenced since their invalidity was argued against well and truly before any person (let alone council) affirmed the canonical twenty-seven books of the New Testament. In any case, these non-canonical Gospels do not even start


Gerald Bray, The Early Theologians, p. 558; Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels, p. 67, Pagels explains that some suggest Clement was a gnostic initiate. Clement, Stromata 6.9 25 Gospel of Philip, trans. Wesley W. Isenberg, The Gnostic Society Library, online, 5 June 2013. <http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/gop.html> 26 Clement, Stromata, from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2. Edited by Alexander Roberts, The Gnostic Society Library, online, 7 February 2014. < http://www.gnosis.org/library/polem.htm#CA> 27 Clement, Stromata; Clement defines continence for us as an ignoring of the body in accordance with the confession of faith in God (3.1.4) 28 Clement, Stromata; An obvious reference to 1 Corinthians 7:9 29 Clement, Stromata

appearing until the 2nd century and were subsequently discredited precisely because they were so late, not written by apostles or eyewitnesses or by companions of them, nor did they have what the church called catholicity, that is, wide ranging church acceptance and usage around the empire. In addition, as we have seen, they were believed to not only be at discord with what was considered previous revelation but flat out contradicted it. For these reasons, and many others, the Gnostic writings were never considered reliable, let alone inspired, documents by the early church. Let us now turn our attention to some of the reasons that most scholars place The Gospel of Thomas after the canonical four.

Section III: The Gospel of Thomas

McAfee claims that certain Gnostic texts, like The Gospel of Thomas, were composed before the canonical gospels and thus should be considered as more reliable sources when reconstructing the historical Jesus.30 Here we will examine several features that scholars have pointed out when dealing with The Gospel of Thomas and why such an assertion is simply untenable. First, Thomas seems to be dependent on the earlier canonical gospels. We can see this in examples such as sayings 10 and 16 which appear to be redactions or harmonizations of Luke 12:49, 5152 and Matthew 10:3435. This means that Thomas must either be aware of these two gospels as already in circulation or else is borrowing from an even later redaction of these two sources. In either case, a redaction of two texts cannot be composed prior to the composition of the very texts it is redacting. Second, Thomas seems to reflect the versions of certain sayings as presented in Luke. This is telling because most scholars across the theological spectrum hold to Markan Priority31 and so for Thomas to quote from the sayings as presented in Luke means that not only is it later than Luke but that it is also later than Mark. One example out of many possible is saying 5 which matches the parallel as found in Luke 8:17 rather than the earlier Mark 4:22. New Testament Scholar Craig Evans writes:


McAfee has elsewhere mused on the Christ Myth Theory so we wonder if he thinks reconstructing a picture of the historical Jesus is even possible in the first place. Yet that is outside of the scope of the present essay. 31 Markan Priority is the position that Mark was the first gospel written and that Luke and Matthew used Mark as a source for their gospels. This means that we can see development of the sayings and grammar of Mark within Luke and Matthew.

Over half of the New Testament writings are quoted, paralleled, or alluded to in Thomas... I'm not aware of a Christian writing prior to AD 150 that references this much of the New Testament.32

Third, at many points Thomas seems to be dependent upon even later Syriac translations of the canonical gospels. Now this is where it really gets problematic for those who want to date Thomas anywhere in the 1st century. Not only does it appear that Thomas was based on the canonical gospels, but it seems to be more than a textual generation removed in that it also appears to borrow from translations of those gospels into other languages for more widespread distribution. Evans points to an example of this in saying 54 which follows the Syriac of Matthew 5:3 rather than the Greek of the same passage or the Greek of the parallel in Luke 6:20. Klyne Snodgrass shows another example in saying 65 66 which contains the Parable of the Wicked Tenants but in the harmonized form of Mark and Luke found the early Syriac translations. Snodgrass writes, Thomas, rather than representing the earliest form, has been shaped by this harmonizing tendency in Syria. If the Gospel of Thomas were the earliest, we would have to imagine that each of the evangelists or the traditions behind them expanded the parable in different directions and then that in the process of transmission the text was trimmed back to the form it has in the Syriac Gospels. It is much more likely that Thomas, which has a Syrian provenance, is dependent on the tradition of the canonical Gospels that has been abbreviated and harmonized by oral transmission.33 With all these points in mind, it is simply incongruous with the data to assert that The Gospel of Thomas is earlier than the canonical gospels or that it is somehow more reliable. Here McAfee is simply speaking out the side of his neck and has squandered his best chance at an iota of academic integrity.

Section IV: Jesus and Homosexuality

At this point we can no longer expect McAfee to show any nuance in his evaluations of the historical dataso we will do it for him. Understanding homosexuality in the Ancient Near East during and prior to Jesus time cannot be done without essential gradations and very important distinctions. To keep this as brief as possible we will simply point out that
32 33

Evans, Craig A. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008 Klyne R. Snodgrass, The Gospel of Thomas: A Secondary Gospel in The Historical Jesus:Critical Concepts in Religious Studies. Volume 4: Lives of Jesus and Jesus outside the Bible. p298

homosexuality is a term that has only been in use since the late 19th century, and as some scholars have argued, it is not a useful term when attempting to construct same-sex interaction in antiquity because it carries with it very modern connotations of same-sex relationships.34 That is to say that in the modern western world we have sexualized identities which simply where not conceptualized in such a manner in the pre-modern or Ancient Near East. So now we arrive at what appears to be the point of the article. We must remember that the title is, The Forgotten Gospels of the Bible: Did Jesus Condone Homosexuality? Again leaving beside the nonsense about the Gnostic Gospels being forgotten when in fact they have simply been rejected as unreliable from the early church (see Section II, pp. 58) right up through modern scholarship, McAfee seems to want us to believe that because of some obscure reference in The Secret Gospel of Mark that Jesus did not only condone homosexuality but was himself engaged in homosexual activity. Before we look at the provenance of this so-called gospel, let us look briefly at McAfees peculiar evaluation of it. He writes,
The Gospel of Mark is the first canonical Gospel in the New Testament and, in 1958, a letter was found containing what scholars believe to be a secret ending to the Mark Gospel, meant only to be witnessed by spiritual elite in the Christian community. You wont find this passage in any modern bible, but scientists believe that this ancient scripture was indeed part of the original Holy Bible;

This is unusual for numerous reasons. First, what was discovered in 1958 was not The Secret Gospel of Mark. It was in fact a copy of a letter purported to be from the church father Clement of Alexandria writing to an unknown Christian named Theodore about the dangerous use of this document by the heretical group known as the Carpocrations. In this letter, Clement references two quotes and mentions several editions of Mark known to be in circulation. So what we found was not the Secret Gospel of Mark but a possible citations of it by the church father Clement. Second, for McAfee to state that it contained what scholars believe to be a secret ending to the Mark Gospel, needs to be heavily qualified. Again, he gives no footnotes, no references nor any quotations from a single scholar or academic source. In fact he would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of scholars who even hold that the letter is anything
Martti Nissinen, Reflections on the Historical-Critical Method: Historical Criticism and Critical Historicism, Method Matters: Essays on the Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, ed. Joel M. LeMon and Kent Harold Richards, (Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), pp. 489 490.


but a 20th century forgery (something we will address shortly) let alone an early and reliable primary source document. For McAfee to make such an assertion as if it has broad sweeping scholarly or academic support is either a product of complete and inexcusable ignorance for one who claims the title of religious scholar or else intentionally deceptive to substantiate his thesis. We are not sure which one is worse. Third, it is not even clear what he means when he says that scientists believe that this ancient scripture was indeed part of the original Holy Bible. The reason this makes no sense is because it is not at all clear what scientists have to do with it unless by scientists he means something like New Testament Scholars, Textual Critics, Graphologists or Paleographers.35 Furthermore, it is bizarre because there is no such thing as an original Holy Bible. The Bible is not a single book. It is an anthology collected over time under certain guidelinesnone of which the Gnostic gospels meet. While fringe scholars like Pagels want to say that certain of the Gnostic gospels like Thomas and Judas represent relevant strands of early Christendom, not even she would make such a fantastic claim that they are part of the original Holy Bible, whatever that would even mean. Now that we have seen that McAfee is out of his depth in his description of what the Secret Gospel of Mark (SGM) even is, let us turn our attention to what it really is. The letter that was discovered at the Mar Saba Monastary by Morton Smith, a history professor at Columbia, is a copy of a letter attributed to Clement of Alexandria and copied onto the end pages of a Dutch book by Isaac Voss entitled Writings of Ireneaus published in 1646. This means that the only reference we have to SGM is not possibly earlier than the late 17th century. Yet it gets worse. New Testament scholar Scott Brown writes that most scholars consider [Secret Mark] to be an expansion of the canonical Gospel, as Clement himself believed,36 and not its own gospel. In fact most scholars argue that if SGM is authentic in the first place then there are massive problems with it. First, the story of Fragment 1 is actually a melting pot of Markan and Johannine elements such as allusions, and phrases that are taken directly from those canonical gospels. F.F. Bruce goes into detail and lists a whole series of identical phrases that SGM has taken from Mark and John and thus concludes that SGM is more of a patchwork than anything else. He writes, The fact that the expansion is such a pastichewith its internal contradiction and confusion, indicates that it is a thoroughly
35 36

This smacks of the classic marketing device to sell a product by simply saying Scientists have shown that Brown, Scott, On the Composition History of the Longer (Secret) Gospel of Mark, Journal of Biblical Literature, 122[1]: 2003, p. 89


artificial composition, quite out of keeping with Marks quality as a story-teller.37 While this kind of mlange does not cohere with what we know of Mark, it is entirely consistent and quite common in ordinary Gnostic texts of the 2nd and 3rd century and beyond, such as the Egerton 2 Papyrus. Another problem with SGM is that it is too Markan. This might sound like a strange criticism to make but this quality is not uncommon in psuedopygraphal work. In order to try and look like it was penned by the author it is attributed to, the composer will overdo it cramming in too much of the style of the person in whose name they are writing. Schneemelcher writes, [E]ven the Marcan character of the fragment is not without its problems. The style is certainly Marks, but it is too Marcan to be Mark; such was already C.C. Richardsons verdict in 1974, and E. Best in 1979 confirmed this judgment in detail. In Mark itself the Marcan peculiarities of style are nowhere so piled up as in the secret Gospel!38 Brown also rejects SGM based on redaction criticism because if we place it back into Mark it would disrupt the entire literary structure that is so obviously and painstakingly present without it. In Mark there is a pattern of three passion predictions (Mark 8:319:1; 9:3137; 10:3345) framed by two accounts of Jesus healing blind men (Mark 8:2226; 10:4652). In each of the predictions Jesus predicts his death and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:3334), followed by the disciples failing to understand what Jesus means (8:32; 9:32 34; 10:3541), culminating in Jesus teaching a lesson on being a true disciple (8:349:1; 9:3537; 10:4245). Yet when we add SGM where it claims to go, between 8:34 and 8:35, it breaks down the entire structure of the narrative. Brown writes, What is essential to note about this tight, logical, and highly structured pattern is that the inclusion of [Fragment] 1 disrupts the logic and the parallelism.39 In fact this is the same kind of criticism that McAfee would no doubt latch on to in order to malign the gospels when it comes to known interpolations such as John 7:538:11 which clearly breaks up the narrative flow of Johns Gospel because it was not present in the original. Another major problem is with who the letter is attributed to. Even if it is authentic to Clement, that does not tell us very much because not only do we know of SGM from no other source, but Clement is notorious for acknowledging or engaging with unauthentic documents.

37 38

Bruce, F.F., The Canon of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity) , 1988, p. 308 Schneemelcher, Wilhelm, New Testament Apocrypha, trans. R.M. Wilson (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press)1991, 1:107 39 Brown, p. 103


New Testament historian R.T. France writes, Keen as Clement was on opposing what he regarded as heretical, he seems to have been uncritical almost to the point of gullibility in accepting material which chimed in with his own predilections.40 Clement often quoted from non-canonical sources such as the Gospel of the Egyptians, the Apocalypse of Peter and even the Gospel of Thomas. This means that even if the letter is authentic to Clement, the very most that it would show was that there was a document in circulation around 175 CE in Alexandria that Clement was aware of. In fact because of its heavy Gnostic influence it would likely be no earlier than 125150 CE since Gnosticism did not even infiltrate the early church until around the mid-2nd century. So even if the letter is authentic, it is still far later than the canonical gospels and written a continent away. So the question then becomes, is SGM authentic or is it a forgery? McAfee may be surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of scholarship (with only a handful on detractors) is that SGM is a 20th century forgery. After Smith discovered the manuscript in Mar Saba he claims he was only permitted to photograph the texts and was unable to remove them from the monastery. Not surprisingly further investigations at the Mar Saba Monastery have been unsuccessful in discovering Voss book in which SGM was said to be found. Almost immediately after publishing his findings, first in 1960 at the 96th meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis and then in two later books, people began to raise concerns about the genuineness of document. Even several of Smiths closest colleagues and friends stated that the document was a forgery. Arthur Darby Nock (Smiths o wn professor) and Jacob Neusner (by his own admission his most proficient student) both publically went on record calling it a forgery. Other scholars have expressly come to the same conclusion (Brown, Skehan, Quesnell, France, Bruce, et al.) while still more have implied that it was a forgery without laying out the explicit charge against Smith himself (Metzger, Osburn, Criddle and Ehrman, et al.). Let us now look at some of the reasons for this. First, as stated above, no copy of the original document exists. Smith claims that he was not permitted to remove the book from the monastery and was only allowed to take photographs of the text and yet Ehrman calls into question why Smith, who spent 13 years of his life examining the photographs and publishing on them, never actually went back to the monastery to further examine the text. This is bizarre for anyone to so neglect their lifes work. Due to the fact that we have no originals we cannot take ink samples to verify the composition. How fortuitous for Smith.

France, R.T., The Evidence for Jesus (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity), 1986, p. 83


In addition to this, the letter is never mentioned by any sources contemporary to Clement. We have no mention of Clements correspondence with anyone named Theodore and Clement never mentions him elsewhere. Nowhere does Clement ever even mention another version of Mark used by the spiritual elites which is odd if he really did prize it as so vital to true spirituality. We do know that Clement did often speak of a spiritually mature sort of Christian but their spiritual advancement was always attributed to them living deeply in line with the canonical scriptures and not due to some secret esoteric knowledge or higher order private scriptures. In fact Clement is often quite strong in his condemnation of those very kind of Gnostic heresies and secret sects. Next, in the SGM letter, Clement does something quite bizarre for anyone familiar with his other writings. He encourages Theodore to deny SGM with an oath even though Clement universally declares that Christians should never swear an oath for any reason. This command would be morally and spiritually repugnant to Clement based on the teaching of all of his other known writings. This is one of many incongruities with Clement between his known writings and what we find in SGM.41 It is also telling that the SGM found at Mar Saba cannot be any earlier that the late 17th century because it was written on the back pages of a book published in 1646. This means that it would have had to have gone through nearly 1500 years of manuscript transmission and yet none of the usual copyist errors that are always found in transmission of that length of time. Its total purity of transmission, unparalleled by any other text that survived that length of time, has caused many scholars to raise an eyebrow or two. Furthermore, like the language of the SGM that are too Markan, the vocabulary of the letter surrounding it are far too Clementine. The person who wrote the letter seems to be writing it with Sthlins Concordance to Clement in their hand.42 That such over compensating conspicuousness is found not only in SGM proper but in the letter attributed to Clement in which it is contained seems to indicate that both were intentionally crafted with the same intent of passing of a hoax. They seem to be written by the same person with the same objectives. Even more telling is the fact that the manuscript appears to end right where the climax would be. It ends with, But the many other things about which you wrote both seem to be and are falsifications. Now the true explanation and that which accords with the true
41 42

For more see, Ehrman, Bart (2003), Lost Christianities (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 84-86 Quesnell, Quentin (1975), The Mar Saba Clementine: A Question of Evidence, Catholic Bible Quarterly, 37[1]: p.64


philosophy. In fact many scholars have found Smiths later publications to be just as revealing as the text itself. He often appears to be snickering at the fact that he has gotten away with a kind of scholastic prank. In his technical book on the manuscript, Smith dedicated it to his professor Arthur Darby Nock, the man who went to his grave publically denouncing SGM as a forgery. In Smiths more popular level book, Secret Mark, Smiths dedication is to The one who knows to which Quesnell skeptically asks, Who is the one who knows? What does he know?43 Ehrman also points out that in Voss book in which the letter was discovered, in the photograph of the page before where SGM starts, Voss ends his own book with an exhortation against scholars who forge and falsify texts with the intention of pulling the wool over peoples eyes in order to pass off counterfeit documents as authentic. The irony that Ehrman finds to strain credulity is that on the very next page is where Smith claims to have found a possibly inauthentic letter of Clement. It is hard to imagine a more coincidental location to start a textual prank. The case is worse for Smith when the photographs are examined by text critics, graphologists and paleographers. Stephen Carlson was the first to examine them with such methods when he published his 2005 book The Gospel Hoax: Morton Smith's Invention of Secret Mark. When Carlson examined the photographs he noticed a tell-tale sign of forgery, the forgers tremor. This is a feature of writing where a forger tries to move slowly to get the handwriting correct causing noticeable shaky pen lines or breaks when the pen is lifted in the middle of strokes. Carlson also saw some striking similarities between the and the in the SGM letter and in Smiths own work in Greek where Smiths formation of those letters is very peculiar to him. In 2010 the pictures were submitted at the request of The Biblical Archaeology Review to two Greek graphologists. Venetia Anastasopoulou was the first but her findings were inconclusive. The second of the two, Agamemnon Tselikas, concluded that the text was a 20th century forgery and that it revealed only a knowledge of 18th century Greek text type. He felt confident enough to say that it was either forged by Smith or someone who worked for him. Even hyper-critical author and Christ Myth advocate Robert M. Price is not convinced. He tells of a story where he went into a book store and happened upon a little novel entitled, The Mystery of Mar Saba. Thinking that it was a novel written after the Smith discovery (as others had popularly done) he picked it up and began to read. The problem

Quesnell p. 66


arose when he discovered that the book was written in 1940, 33 years prior to Smiths discovery. Price writes, The Mystery of Mar Saba by J.H. Hunter was issued in 1940 by Evangelical Publishers in New York and Canada and reprinted each of the next six years. Guess what happens in it? A delver in none other than the monastery of Mar Saba announces the discovery of an ancient document, the Shred of Nicodemus. It reads: I, Nicodemus, in company with Joseph of Arimathea in the early morn of the first day of the week removed the body of Jesus. Coming forth we found the tomb opened and the stone rolled away after the earthquake. We left the linen clothes in the tomb, and carried Him forth lest profane hands desecrate His body. We buried Him in the sepulchre near the garden over the Kedron where standeth the pillar Absalom reared for himself in the King's Dale. As might be imagined, the announcement shocks the world, undermining faith in the resurrection. But it turns out that the Shred of Nicodemus is a hoax engineered by its discoverer, a hater of the Christian religion. Does any of this sound familiar?44 Price concludes with this thought, Morton Smith might easily have become familiar with this popular novel, and I cannot help wondering if it gave him the idea for a hoax of his own, meant to undermine the Christian faith which he found to be oppressive. Prices final comment brings us to our last critique. It should be noted that Smith himself was a homosexual who was quite outspoken and was known to force homosexual affirmations onto other readings as well and was open about his distaste for Christiandoms historic bigotry against the homosexual community. Historian Donald Akenson wrote that Smiths forgery was a nice ironic gay joke at the expense of all the self-important scholars who not only miss the irony, but believe that this alleged piece of gospel comes to us in the first-known letter of the great Clement of Alexandria.45 This is not to say that because Smith was a homosexual that therefore he cannot be trusted but rather that he had a track record of strong distaste for Christiandom and for seeing unrelated texts as affirming homosexuality. It is not hard to see the extreme coincidence that such a man would be the one to discover a highly
44 45

http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/secret.htm as quoted in Ehrman, p. 267, n. 19


questionable text that just so happens to have Jesus affirming or even possibly engaging in homosexual activity. Take that Christiandom. In any case, even if we were able to overcome all of those objections and believe that SGM and the Clement letter were authentic, then it would still not support McAfees claim that it was earlier than the canonical gospels and thus more reliable. As Stephen C. Carlson writes, As many other scholars have concluded, it is inadvisable to rest too much on Secret Mark. The alleged letter of Clement that quotes it might be a forgery from more recent centuries. If the letter is genuine, the Secret Mark to which it refers may be, at most, an ancient but secondary edition of Mark produced in the second century by some group seeking to promote its own esoteric interests.46 In fact even eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright notes that even those few scholars who do accept the document as authentic, do not think it is authentic to Mark, but that it is a later 2nd century Gnostic adaptation of Mark.47 This then annihilates McAfees claim that it is earlier than the canonical gospels and thus more reliable a text thus we can use it to build a case that Jesus was himself engaged in homosexual activity. Such a declaration is the height of ignorance or academic negligence or both.

As an undergraduate we do not expect McAfee to be able to engage and deal with the primary sources literature. As far as we know he cannot understand ancient Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic (let alone Syriac) and so it would be impossible for him to do so (barring English translations) and cruel of us to expect so much of him. Nevertheless, he can apparently read, speak and write in English and so there is no excuse for his ignorance and failure to engage with secondary sources on 1) the dating of the New Testament documents, 2) the canonization of the New Testament, 3) the dating of the Gospel of Thomas (or any preNicene Gospel for that matter), 4) the nuances of the culture and historical climate of antiquity, 5) the furore surrounding the Secret Gospel of Mark and its likely counterfeit originsall of which have been professionally researched, investigated and expounded on in English. The truth is, anyone could have written this review just by doing what McAfee

46 47

Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 31415 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 1996, p. 49.


neglected to doread the scholarly and academic literature that is readily available to those simply willing to invest a modicum of time and energy into looking them up. McAfees work here is replete with historical and factual errors, starved to death of any evidence and therefore undertakings such as this review are important. For one, we needed to provide the information and sources McAfee, derelict in his duties as a so-called scholar, neglected to give to his readers. But also because many people, perhaps fooled by his mischaracterization as a scholar, look to his website and information to learn about the Bible and the history of early Christianity.48 We suspect that many of his readers are looking for easy and simplistic refutations or Christianity because they already think it is nonsense and so any criticism will do, but it is still his duty to ensure those people are presented with at least an accurate account of history. After all, can one really call themselves a Skeptic or a Free Thinker, let alone a scholar if they are content to wallow in such a shallow marsh of ignorance in order to justify their beliefs?


On last count his website had accumulated over 130,000 visits (8 February, 2014).