Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Missing Text of the Gospel of St. Mark

More recently, but in a somewhat similar vein to Kirkup’s poem, the American playwright, Terrence McNally had the 1998 scheduled run of his new play, Corpus Christi, cancelled by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, following threats to kill the staff, burn down the theatre, and "exterminate" McNally. The reason for these threats was that McNally's play told the story of a young gay man called Joshua and his sexual adventures with his 12 disciples. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in New York vowed to "wage a war" against any attempt to stage the play. While top playwrights, such as Tony Kushner, Edward Albee and Athol Fugard, urged the theatre to reverse its cancellation, accusing them of "capitulation to right-wing extremists and religious zealots".

The homosexual associations being made with Jesus are not simply the work of gay artists seeking to appropriate conventional religious themes for the sake of blasphemy or controversy, but may actually be based in fact. In 1958, Professor Morton Smith of Columbia University uncovered a letter at the Mar Saba monastery, which mentioned a suppressed extract from the gospel of Mark. The letter was between Bishop Clement of Alexandria (one of the founding fathers of the early church), and a correspondent called Theodore, who wrote complaining about the Carpocratians, a Gnostic sect. The Carpocratians were using a passage from Mark’s gospel to justify their beliefs and practices, which were not shared by Clement and Theodore. In his reply to Theodore, Clement congratulated him on his opposition to the Carpocratians, and then wrote a dissertation on the passage in question, quoting the passage in its entirety. What is remarkable is that this passage does not appear in the canonical New Testament today, but was obviously current at the time. It is from Mark chapter 10 (between verses 34 and 35), and tells the story of the raising of Lazarus:
And the youth, looking upon him (Jesus), loved him and beseeched that he might remain with him. And going out of the tomb, they went into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days, Jesus instructed him and, at evening, the youth came to him wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God.
The expurgated text seems to suggest that the raising of Lazarus, rather than being a literal raising from the dead, was the kind of mystery school initiation that was common throughout the ancient world; something that the biblical scholar Barbara Thiering has emphasised in her recent work. What is also clear, and may have been obvious to the Carpocratians also, is that there seems to have been a homosexual element to the ritual, with the half-naked youth who loved Jesus being shown the mystery of the Kingdom of God during the final night of his instruction. If these inferences can be so readily made from the passage in Mark, it is somewhat understandable that the founding fathers of the Church would feel no guilt over removing it from the canon in order to preserve the image of Jesus that was in concordance with their particular ideas.

Source: Torture By Roses, "Sebastian~Salome" (pdf).


silvereagle said...

My history of the compilation of the Bible into its present form is very limited. I do recall there being various councils which in effect approved/disapproved the various books offered.

The comment in the article
"If these inferences can be so readily made from the passage in Mark, is a very big IF. I know of no other foundation for these assumptions, and even if true, would not diminish my faith.

It is good to have thoughts, repugant and otherwise, brought out for discussion, however.

Thanks, again!

Mack said...

There had been over 100 years between the writing of Mark and when Clement would have written that letter. It is probable that in different manuscripts, some verses appeared that didn't appear in others - after all, there were no copyrights or digital storage. It might not be any conspiracy or intentional deletion as much as the Mark's Gospel we have today was more common than the one available to the 2nd and 3rd century Egyptians.

On a totally aside note, I find it interesting that the extirpated verse says that Lazarus was wealthy. That may speak a lot to what Jesus said about the wealthy and what he actually felt. That could be more theologically problematic than the sexuality.

JoeBlow said...

Silvereagle, I have actually presented several lectures at different places on the canonization of the Bible, though I am not an expert, this is a particular fascination of mine. To this day the Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and Coptic Christians disagree on the Biblical canon, with the Protestants having the least number of books and the Ethiopian Coptics having the most. Martin Luther set the Protestant Canon, which was actually the first official canonization of the Bible. The Roman Catholic Church did not officially set the Biblical Canon until the Council of Trent, though there were numerous disputes throughout the first 1500 years of Christianity.

Mack, you are right, there were probably many different versions of the Gospel of Mark, but considering that Mark supposedly died in Alexandria, Egypt, the Egyptian versions may have been the closest to the truth, then again the Gnostics were quite numerous in Egypt as well. You do raise a very interesting point about Lazarus being wealthy in this passage. It is well-known or at least well-discussed that in the 1500 years that it takes for Biblical Canonization that the Bible and the interpretation of the Bible were often tweaked to fit political thinking of various periods.

Terence said...

Morton Smith's thesis on the "Secret Gospel" is intriguing - but also disputed. The suggestion that it was deliberately excised by later Church censors is however entirely credible: there certainly seems to have been later emendation of come other early texts, for example by altering the imputed gender of Junia described by Paul as an "apostle" and probably female, until later editors adjusted the pronouns.

The story from the Secret Gospel is consistent also, with other evidence in the canonical Gospels that contradict the usual assumptions that Christianity is incompatible with homosexuality.

From canonical Mark, there is the intriguing reference to an encounter in the garden with a young clad only in a linen garment, who fled naked, on being disturbed. The story of the healing of the Roman centurion's "servant" (and probable sexual partner) makes clear that Jesus did not shrink from associating with same sex lovers. From strictly orthodox theology we know that Jesus was fully human - and so must surely have experienced fully human sexual feelings and impulses. His primary associates were a band of twelve men - and his closest personal friends included two unmarried women, sharing a house with an unmarried man (Lazarus)who may have been "the one Jesus loved".

Personally, I love the idea that in medieval Germany, there existed a tradition that the bridal couple at the famous wedding at Cana were - Jesus himself, and John the evangelist.

JoeBlow said...

Terence, I realized that Smith's thesis on the "Secret Gospel" is disputed, but it is quite often brought up, even on The History Channel. Thank you again for your insightful and intriguing comments.

Rainbow said...

And what about" the disciple that Jesus loved?" Some say it's John, some say Lazarus.
Unfortunately, some scholar says "The secret Gospel of Mark" is a modern forgery. In any case, the matter is controversial.