A new book will appear shortly claiming definite proof that Morton Smith invented the Secret Gospel of Mark whole cloth, that it’s a hoax. This may have some significance for LDS scholarship, as it has appeared in several LDS arguments.
Background- Morton Smith was a prominent, competent, but controversial scholar.
He discovered a manuscript at a monastary in Israel, a copy of a letter from Clement of Alexandria with very interesting content. According to the letter-
1)Early Christians knew of a secret initiation ritual only for those being perfected.
2)This ritual came from Jesus himself, and Jesus himself also performed baptisms.
3)The Gospel of Mark as we know it was an edited-down, public version. The true Gospel of Mark was kept secret because it was sacred and had some instructions for this ritual.
4) Nevertheless, the secret Gospel didn’t include everything, as there were some things about this ritual that could not be written.
5) Furthermore, an Elder of the Church who knew this ritual went apostate, and revealed all to Carpocrates, an early Gnostic Christian.
Thus he discovered only the letter itself, not the “secret” Gospel of Mark. Though highly controversial, many scholars came to accept the authenticity of this letter. It has, nevertheless, been widely ignored. (I base this on reading both the popular and technical book on the topic several years ago, and a fairly recent Bible Review (or BAR?) article.)
This letter has popped up in several places in LDS writings. Most notably, William Hamblin uses it in a fascinating paper called “Aspects of an Early Christian Initiation Ritual” which is available off my Temple page. (If you haven’t read it, I recommend it.)
I haven’t read the book yet, and will not be able to for some time, but I assume that part of the motivation in writing it is sexual. Morton Smith himself was homosexual, and interpreted part of this document he discovered to mean that Jesus himself had had a homosexual relationship with the young man mentioned in Mark 14:51-52. The book is coming out of Baylor Press, a conservative Baptist university. I presume that the author wishes to argue against Smith’s interpretation that Jesus was homosexual (as it IS Smith’s interpretation, and a questionable one, IMO) and perhaps that it was Smith’s personal apologia for his orientation. Wikipedia notes that some of his argument is based on handwriting.
One scholarly article summarizing the state of things states, “Clementine scholars have, in the main, accepted the authenticity of Clement’s letter (it is included among the standard texts of Clement’s writings in a 1980 German publication). If it is a forgery, it at least does not appear to be a modern forgery perpetrated by Morton Smith.” Nevertheless, it ” appears to have been discredited and shunted aside, to a great degree for other than scholarly reasons, as is reflected to some degree in the initial negative reception given to Smith’s two books.”
Though I doubt it can be conclusively proven, I imagine some, perhaps many scholars will welcome this supposed evidence against authenticity. If it becomes widely-accepted, any past LDS arguments based on the Secret Gospel will be undercut, and future arguments unwise.
Further readings: Secret Gospel of Mark homepage.