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Durham University

Department of Theology and Religion


Publication details for Professor Francis Watson

Watson, Francis B. (2010). ‘Beyond Suspicion: On the Authorship of the Mar Saba Letter and the Secret Gospel of Mark’. Journal of Theological Studies n.s. 61(1): 128-170.

Author(s) from Durham


The suspicion that the „discoverer‟ of the letter from Clement of Alexandria to Theodore was in reality its author was raised shortly after its first publication in 1973, and has often been reasserted in the years since Morton Smith‟s death in 1991. Yet the fragments of the „Secret Gospel of Mark‟ are often still interpreted on the provisional assumption that the letter containing them is genuine. This article enquires whether the long-standing suspicion of forgery – occasioned largely by the circumstances of the text‟s discovery – can be put beyond reasonable doubt. It proceeds by way of a close scrutiny of the letter itself against the double background of the undisputed writings of Clement of Alexandria on the one hand, and the published work of Morton Smith on the other. It is argued that the letter‟s internal anomalies are incompatible with Clementine authorship, as are certain compositional techniques; and that it is the product of demonstrable interests and influences that predate the supposed discovery at the Mar Saba monastery.