بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ ,
The nude young man of the Gospel(s)!
Investigating the weird presence of a mysterious man with biblical Jesus (peace be upon him)
It was one of the most critical juncture in biblical Jesus’ (peace be upon him) life time. Only a few hours before he was to be confiscated by the colluded forces of Jewish elders and Roman authorities; Jesus (peace be upon him) was in the garden of Gethsemane with a “distressful”, “anguished” heart “crushed under sorrow” (Mark 14: 33-34).
Given the ponderous situation, Jesus (peace be upon him) wanted, as naturally expected, his most loyal and some of the best disciples to accompany him in the garden. He bestowed Peter, James and John with the privilege (Mark 14:33).
However, mysteriously Jesus (peace be upon him) was also followed by an hitherto unknown person:
And they all left him, and fled. And a certain young man followed with him, having a linen cloth cast about him, over his naked body: and they lay hold on him; but he left the linen cloth, and fled naked. (Mark 14:50-52, Revised Version)
Then all the disciples left him and ran away. A certain young man, dressed only in a linen cloth, was following Jesus. They tried to arrest him, but he ran away naked, leaving the cloth behind. (Mark 14: 50-52, Good News Edition)
The above “verses” perfunctorily looks simple. However, it entails with it rather intriguing and important queries:
- Who was this “young man”?
- Why did he dress up so unusually with only a thin linen sheet covering his nakedness going to otherwise public place – the gardenof Gethsemane, under sensitive setting of seizure of Messiah (peace be upon him) who was to be put to death?
- What motivated this young man to endanger his life by following Jesus (peace be upon him) in that risky situation?
- Did he “follow” Jesus (peace be upon him) as his disciple?
- If he was a disciple, why was he not introduced before?
- Furthermore, except Mark, why are every other New Testament author, including the gospel authors, absolutely silent about him?
- Why did the “Holy Ghost” felt it now important enough to mention him who was hitherto un-introduced?
- What did the author achieve by mentioning the young man in not more than two “verses” in the “God’s word”? After all every portion of scripture has to attain some objective (2 Timothy 3: 16-17)
- Why did the “Holy Ghost” inspire the author to stress on young man’s dress that he was wrapped in only a linen sheet – implying and later expressly informing that he was naked underneath?
- The abrupt appearance of an unusual man out of nowhere in the gospel;
- Does it allude that these “verses” are a result of interpolation?
- Or, does it prove that there was much more in the gospel of Mark than which survived in the “New Testament”; and the presence of the young man is just an allusion of that larger, more elaborative gospel of Mark now lost for good!?
The queries are numerous around otherwise innocent looking only two verses long “God’s word”! However, there simply isn’t enough information in the New Testament(1.) about the young-man to answer the above queries. As Bible expositor Albert Barnes noted, “A certain young man – Who this was we have NO means of determining” (Albert Barnes’ notes on the Bible, Mark 14:51)
Nevertheless, (not) surprisingly we do have ancient Christian writings which directly allude to the intriguing only linen laden otherwise nude young-man. Even more interestingly, these writings were also authored by the same author Mark (!) – remember no other author in the entire New Testament has referred to this young-man except Mark – entitled as the “Secret Gospel of Mark”.
Secret gospel of Mark
New Testament giant Morton Smith made a remarkable discovery of a letter from Clement of Alexandria – an early (merely second century), influencing and “orthodox” church father. The Clementine letter was discovered in one of the not-so-easily-accessible monasteries in the so-called “Holy Land”! This was an orthodox monastery in Mar Saba.
In the letter, Clement alludes to the circulation of several other versions of gospel of Mark in Alexandria during his time:
“Clement indicates that Mark wrote an account of Jesus’ public ministry based on his acquaintance with the apostle Peter in Rome; in his Gospel, however, Mark did not divulge the secret teachings of Jesus to his disciples. But after Peter was martyred, Mark moved to Alexandria and there composed a second“more spiritual Gospel” for those who were more spiritually advanced. Even though he still did not divulge the greatest secrets of Jesus’ teachings, he did add stories to his Gospel to assist the Christian elite in progressing in their knowledge of the truth.”
According to this letter, in other words, there were three versions of Mark’s Gospelavailable in Alexandria: the original Mark (presumably the Mark we are familiar with in the canon); a Secret Mark, which he issued for the spiritually elite; and a Carpocratian Mark, filled with the false teachings of the licentious heretic. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p. 73)
It was a quotation from “Secret Mark” which Clement cited in his letter and which eventually has relevance to our mysterious, only linen laden young-man. Consider the following intriguing account from the “Secret Mark” which took place just after the “canonical”New Testament Mark 10:34:
They came to Bethany, and a woman was there whose brother had died. She came and prostrated herself before Jesus, saying to him, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” But his disciples rebuked her. Jesus became angry and went off with her to the garden where the tomb was. Immediately a loud voice was heard from the tomb. Jesus approached and rolled the stone away from the entrance to the tomb. Immediately he went in where the young man was, stretched out his hand, and raised him by seizing his hand. The young man looked at him intently and loved him; and he began pleading with him that he might be with him. When they came out of the tomb they went to the young man’s house, for he was wealthy. And after six days Jesus gave him a command. And when it was evening the young man came to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. He stayed with him that night, for Jesus was teaching him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. When he got up from there, he returned to the other side of the Jordan. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p.74)
We pointed out earlier the abrupt presence of the “young man” in the “canonical” gospel of Mark. However, if we accommodate the notion that Mark actually wrote a much larger version comprising of the canonical gospel of Mark and the Secret gospel of Mark; then we then find a confluent flow of the text.
Now we have a context in which the mysterious “young man” is no more mysterious! We now know that he was a dead man in Bethany and Jesus (peace be upon him) raised him up miraculously upon the request of his sister. Consequently, he became a disciple of Jesus (peace be upon him).
Although we may now know who this young-man was, yet we do not know why he chose to wear just a linen cloth? We still need to investigate this. It is a fact that every human wearing any cloth, let alone a linen wrapping, would be nude underneath it. Thus, it is intriguing to note that the author Mark chose to emphasize that the man was nude under his linen wrapping in both his “canonical” and “Secret” works!
On the foregoing, Christian scholars, not Muslim “propagandists”, have asserted that (i) young-man’s unusual dressing sense (ii) his overnight stay with Jesus (peace be upon him) and (iii) Jesus (peace be upon him) “teaching” him “mysteries” of Kingdom of God the whole night; have homoerotic overtones:
It is this newly recovered story which has caused the greatest stir in connection with Smith’s discovery. For even though it is similar to stories in the canonical Gospels, such as the raising of Lazarus in John 11 and the story of the rich young man in Mark 10, there are significant differences. And some of the differences, especially near the end, have appeared to some interpreters, notably Smith himself, to have clear homoerotic overtones. Jesus becomes acquainted with a young man who loves him and who comes to him wearing nothing but a linen cloth over his naked body. Jesus then spends the night with him, teaching him about the mystery of the Kingdom. What is that all about? (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p. 74)
These Christian scholars could see erotic insinuations since they somehow see its roots in the New Testament itself; it was indeed a Christian (cult) practice in early churches to get “baptized” nude and unite with Christ (peace be upon him):
[Morton] Smith is struck, quite understandably, by the fact that the young man comes to Jesus wearing nothing but a linen cloth over his nakedness. That sounds like someone coming forward for baptism, since in the early church, people were baptized, as adults, in the nude (after taking off a simple robe worn to the ceremony). Now the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke do not indicate that Jesus baptized people. But the Gospel of John indicates that he may have done so (John 3:22; 4:1–2).Moreover, the apostle Paul talks about baptism and indicates that at baptism a person is somehow “united” with Christ (Rom. 6:1–6). Did Paul, after Jesus’ death, make up such a view himself? No, argues Smith, it was a view known to Jesus’ followers before his death, because it was Jesus’ own view. Jesus himself baptized people, and in that baptism they came to be united with him. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p.80)
The easiest way out for Christians is to simply discard the letter of Clement as fictitious (2.). However, there is sizeable Christian scholars who do consider the Clementine epistle to be authentic!
Morton Smith being the scholar that he was had the following consensus of scholars:
But how could one establish that the letter was from Clement rather than, say, from a forger pretending to be Clement hundreds of years later (who fooled, then, the eighteenth-century scribe who copied the letter)? The first step Smith took in answering the question was to show the letter to scholars who were experts in Clement, who had spent their lives studying Clement, who would recognize a new work by Clement simply on the basis of its subject matter and writing style. When he did so, the majority of the experts agreed, this looked very much like something Clement would write. If someone had forged it, she or he had done highly credible work. But how could one know for sure? The only way to decide is by making a careful point-by-point comparison of the vocabulary, writing style, modes of expression, and ideas found in the letter with the vocabulary, writing style, modes of expression, and ideas found in the writings known to have been produced by Clement. This, needless to say, is not a simple task, not the sort of thing most people would care to undertake. But Smith did it. One word at a time. It was slow, arduous, painstaking work of many years. The results are published in his scholarly volume, and they are impressive.
This was not an easy kind of work to produce in the days before computers. But Smith was able to use this and similar resources to determine whether his discovery followed Clement’s writing style and used his distinctive vocabulary and whether it ever used a style or words uncharacteristic of Clement. The end result was that this letter looks very much like something Clement would have written. In fact, it is so much like Clement that it would be well nigh impossible to imagine someone other than Clement being able to write it, before tools like those produced by modern Clement scholars such as Stählin were available. Smith’s verdict was that the letter actually was written by Clement of Alexandria. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p. 77-78)
Smith went on to establish that not merely was the Clementine letter authentic (3.)but that the Markan quotation was also in line with author Mark:
But were the quotations of Secret Mark in this letter of Clement actually written by the author of the Gospel of Mark? Here again, it is a question of vocabulary, writing style, modes of expression, and theology. A careful analysis of the quotations of Clement indicates that these passages, while not in the style of Clement himself, are very much in the style of Mark as found in the New Testament. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p. 79)
At the outset, however, I should emphasize that the majority of scholars Smith consulted while doing his research were convinced that the letter was authentic, and probably a somewhat smaller majority agreed that the quotations of Secret Mark actually derived from a version of Mark. Even today, these are the majority opinions. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p. 81)
To add more value to the genuineness of the letter, it is fact that the letter is now out-of-sight from the library of Mar Saba which ironically had always been a highly restricted area!
Some years later, someone told Stroumsa of a rumor that the letter of Clement had been cut out of the book for “safe-keeping.” Stroumsa called the librarian at the Greek Patriarchate and was told that it was true. He himself had done just that. And he now did not know where the pages were. And that’s the end of the story. Did the librarian hide the pages, to keep scholars from rifling through the monks’ treasured possessions looking for lost Gospels? Did he burn the pages simply to get them off his hands? Where are they now? Do they still exist? I’m afraid that as of this moment, no one appears to know. Maybe that will change. What is certain is that no one has carefully examined the book itself, and it may be that no one ever will. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p.84)
The “loss” of such a critically acclaimed antique letter, in this age of science, technology and preservation points forcefully to the fact that there was something(to say the least) which was rather embarrassing to the “orthodox” Christianity. Otherwise how and why would a letter of antiquity be “lost” – just like that, from a highly restricted and reserved site!
As if these were not enough, we even have scholars who assert on “good reasons” that the nude companion of Jesus (peace be upon him) was the author Mark himself (!):
“His disciples failed Him, but as He submitted to the Father’s will His spirit rose triumphant. Sleep on now-the past is irrevocable. The disciples fled as fast as their feet would carry them. If only they had prayed, they would have been steadfast and unmovable. There are good reasons for supposing that the young man mentioned here was Mark himself.” (Mark 14:32-52, Alone in the hour of Trial, Through the Bible Day by Day by F.B. Meyer)
F.B. Meyer is not the only scholar, even Robertson concurs with him:
A certain young man (neaniskos tis). This incident alone in Mark. It is usually supposed that Mark himself, son of Mary (Act_12:12) in whose house they probably had observed the passover meal, had followed Jesus and the apostles to the Garden. It is a lifelike touch quite in keeping with such a situation. Here after the arrest he was following with Jesus (sunēkolouthei autōi, imperfect tense). Note the vivid dramatic present kratousin (they seize him). (Mark 14:51, Robertson’s Word Pictures)
It cannot, therefore, be mere coincidence that (i) we have “Holy Ghost” only inspiring Mark about the young man, (ii) the secret gospel is also attributed to Mark with a good level of authenticity and (iii) multiple orthodox conservative scholars asserting that the nude man was Mark himself!It is all Mark, Mark and Mark!
Christians might reject it on “obvious” grounds however, the preceding chain of observations strongly imply that the nude man’s presence in the garden had some pretext not worthy of mention in the “canonical” gospel!
Furthermore, let’s apply the Principle of Embarrassment to the incident of nude man. We are applying the Principle since Christian apologists love applying it against Islam especially when they deal with the issue of “Satanic Verses”. So we thought of applying the same on Christianity as well.
The following Christian polemical source defines the Principle for us:
Principle of Embarrassment: is a principle that is employed to validate the trustworthiness, authenticity, and truthfulness of any historical document. Christian apologetics also applies this principle to determine the historicity of the events described in the Bible. When a source (s) that can potentially damage/s its case admits something embarrassing, these assertions are unlikely to be invented or fabricated. (CAFN)
Based on the observed facts that we have, namely, (i) a “Christian” text, (ii) found in highly restricted “Christian” monastery, (iii) discovered by “Christian” scholar, (iv) approved by “Christian” academia, (v) attributed to “inspired” “evangelist” Mark himself!, it can be concluded on the lines of Principle of Embarrassment that the text could not possibly be an invention or fabrication.
In the last few pages of the canonical gospel of Mark we found bizarre presence of a mysterious young-man. Hitherto, unknown in the gospel (or in any of the gospels for that reason)! Neither did we have any clue as to who he was nor were we given any context alluding to this weird person.
Moreover, out of nowhere, we find him in the one of the most critical place with one of the most important man in Christianity – Jesus (peace be upon him). What he was doing in such a risky place – the garden of Gethsemane – where authorities came to handcuff Jesus (peace be upon him) to put him to death!
The young-man’s presence made the flow of the gospel rather jerky and as such it pointed to either of the two possibilities: (i) either, for some unknown reason, the verses concerning the young-man was interpolated in the text of the gospel or (ii) the gospel itself was a crafty redacting/editing work of a larger text. Both the conclusions raises question on the preservation of the so-called “Injeel”.
On the foregoing [point (ii)], the unaccounted and abrupt presence of the young-man was easily explained when we allowed that at one point of time the gospel of Mark was much larger than the present one.
However, besides explaining the identity and purpose of the young-man, this larger version of gospel of Mark also added the embarrassment of “homoerotic overtones” upon Jesus (peace be upon him) – the second god of the Trinitarian godhead. To add more chagrin, Christian scholars consider the narration to be genuine.
Of course, as a Muslim, based on the information of Qur’an and Hadith, we do not believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) would have ever tolerated any man in merelinen wrapping, let alone teaching him about any “Kingdom of God” the whole night, he would have chided him towards modest dressing! Nevertheless, we are not dealing with the information from Qur’an or Hadith. We have the so called God breathed, canonized gospel of Mark.
We do not believe that Jesus (peace be upon him) could be attributed with any “homoerotic” attribution, this is not because certain Christian scholar has doubted the authenticity of Clementine letter, but because we believed in what Mohammad (peace be upon him) taught us about Jesus (peace be upon him) six hundred yearsafter his ascension. Nevertheless, marginalizing “homoerotic” twists from the text does not explain who this (nude) man was, what was he doing in the garden especially in that eccentric attire so on and so forth?
In the light of the above, either the mysterious young-man would always be mysterious since neither Mark nor any other evangelist took pain to inform sufficiently about him. Or, since Mark has referred to him, we would have to painfully refer to the larger version of Mark at the cost of imputing “homoerotic overtones” on the person otherwise labeled as “lord” Jesus (peace be upon him) of the Christians.
- Unless otherwise mentioned all biblical texts taken from Good News Edition.
- Emphasis wherever not matching with original is ours.
- A few Christian apologists like using the argument that Qur’an does not elaborate who Zaid was? And thus they deem it incomplete. However, such apologists need to be careful the next time they use any such argument. Because we would certainly enquire who was this (ironically) nameless young man, let alone his purposes with Jesus (peace be upon him).
(1.) That is the “New Testament” which was handed to us after church’s century long deliberations after suppressing and destroying many other New Testaments.
(2.) It is an open secret now why Christian apologists would deem the incident of nude man learning “Kingdom of God” from Jesus (peace be upon him) as dubious. They would not accept the appeal to “apocryphal” notwithstanding the internal and external proof of authenticity Christian scholars give.
However, this helps us expose these apologists for their double standards: they have no qualms when imposing all sorts of Islamic “apocrypha” on Muslims. One can easily see a pattern where either disowned “Hish hhJJHistory” of At-Tabari; or unknown sources of Ibn Ishaq; or mere “Chronicles” of Waqidi etc are used. None of the preceding texts are “canonical” in Islam yet they are widely used to demonize Islam. Next time Christian apologists are required to be more prudent with their choice of Islamic texts.
(3.) Contrarily there had been few scholars who doubted the authenticity of the letter. However, because of the majority positive opinion towards the letter, they could never come to a concrete and common consensus.
Some scholars have thought the letter was forged, either in antiquity or in the Middle Ages or in the modern period. Some have suspected from the beginning that Smith forged it. Those who think so appear to be increasing in number—or at least they are speaking out more, now that Smith is not around to respond. Among the earliest doubters was one of the greatest scholars of Christian antiquity of the twentieth century, Smith’s own teacher at Harvard, Arthur Darby Nock,… But Nock evidently did not think that it would have been a modern forger, let alone Smith. Others have thought otherwise. (Bart Ehrman, Lost Christianities, p. 82)