Calling a Mary a Mary

This blog discusses John 20:16. Does Mary embrace Jesus? Does she call him a mary, Aramaic for “lord” or “master”? This comes from my commentaries to the Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The forthcoming book will include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb by name in 11:43, but here, in a dramatic reversal, he the resurrected one calls Mary by name, the one who has come to his tomb. The implication is that Mary has, in a sense, died, and he is calling her back to life and faith, hence that this is a resurrection for both of them, in one way or the other.
Someone, probably the amanuensis, has inserted here and at 1:38 the statement that “rabbi” means “teacher”. That is true only in a very loose sense. The root meaning is “great”, and the word was early used as a title denoting reverence. In the Second Temple period the word came to mean “my master”, and was commonly used not just to refer to religious authorities but anyone whom the speaker respected as authoritative in any subject, religious or not. The Aramaic word in this verse of the Peshitta is ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy), which comes from the root ܪܒܢ (raban), meaning “great” or “master”.

But could Mary have called Jesus something else entirely? Mary, in verses 2, 13, and 18 calls Jesus κυριε/κυριος, meaning “master”. Only here does she appear to say something different; could she have said the same thing she does in those other verses?

To answer this question we can turn to the Peshitta, the very early Aramaic version of the New Testament. The Eastern, Syriac Church claims the Peshitta is the original New Testament, and that the Greek version on which the Western Church (including Roman Catholic and Protestant) bases its modern translations is itself a translation! Determining which of the two is the original is beyond the scope of this book. Still, the fact of the matter is that Jesus and Mary in this conversation (as is the case with every conversation in this gospel, except perhaps that between Jesus and Pontius Pilate) were certainly speaking Aramaic, and not Greek. Therefore, unavoidably, the Greek in this resurrection scene is a translation – and so, whether or not the Peshitta is the original New Testament, it nevertheless is far more likely to tell us exactly what the two of them actually said.

The Aramaic word in this passage of the Peshitta for “lord” or “master” is ܡܳܪܝ (mary); elsewhere in classical Aramaic texts it is ܡܪܐ (mara). The root apparently means “to lift” or “to raise up”, which might have Messianic implications. Her name, “Mary”, is either ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam) or, more likely on the lips of her husband, in a more intimate form, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (Marya), or even in its original version from Ruth 1:13,20, ܡܪܐ (Mara); the root of this name means “bitter”. The two words, though from different roots, are spelled and pronounced identically. Therefore, if this was what Mary said, then these verses contain a kind of sacred pun: she is looking for her mary, her master, and he calls her his Mary. Very possibly, then, in the original verse 16, or in Lazarus’s recollection of what his mother later told him of this event, Jesus said “Mara!”, ܡܪܐ (Mara), and Mary replied with not ܪܒܢ (raban), but “Mara!”, ܡܪܐ (mara).

This double entendre or pun, like others in this gospel, is of course not meant to be taken as comical, as are puns in the modern Western civilization – though the author of the gospel no doubt intended the “Mary!” “Mary!” exchange to elicit a smile from readers: it is amusing, and the gospel is laced with a good deal of this kind of gentle humor. But here and always in this gospel it would primarily be intended to deliver a sacred message; in this case, to make very clear to us the closeness of this man and this woman, indeed their unity as a couple, as “one flesh”, as each a κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort) to the other, to cite the term the Gospel of Philip uses in reference to them.

We do not know whether the Beloved Disciple described his memories to his amanuensis in Aramaic or Greek; we do not even know whether the amanuensis (probably John the Presbyter), whose first language clearly was Greek, was even slightly familiar with Aramaic; probably not, since his Hebrew was so weak that his inserted quotations from the Tanakh come from the Septuagint, the classical translation of the Jewish scriptures into Greek. Yet certainly our eyewitness’s memory of these vivid experiences were carried in the vessel of Aramaic. And we know that the actual conversations Jesus engaged in (certainly with those closest to him, Mary and his disciples) were in Aramaic, excepting probably only those with foreigners, such as Pontius Pilate. It is absolutely inconceivable that Mary and the disciples would have interjected Greek into their Aramaic, calling Jesus κυριη; that foreign word, from the language of the imperial oppressor (at least in the eastern part of the Roman Empire), would have been uncomfortable on their lips. There can be no question but that they variously called Jesus by any or all of these synonyms, ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy, “rabbi”, but with the significance of “master”) or ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al, “lord” or “master”) or ܡܪܝܐ, (mary, “lord” or “master”). The first was not yet common as a term of respect for religious leaders; thus, the possibility that Mary said mary in 20:16 is very strong. Not only is it her form of address for Jesus everywhere else in the chapter (verses 2, 13, and 18), but the double entendre it would present in this critical moment, emphasizing the closeness between Jesus and Mary, would be clear (and is doubtlessly why the redactor would have replaced the word with rabbouni. Besides, similar doubles entendres are frequently encountered in the gospel, including in this very scene, with isha/isha. What is more, the complex inclusio of this entire conversation with that in 1:38-42, raises the question whether the word in 1:38 was originally mary as well. It seems extremely likely therefore, that at 4:25,29 and at 20:16) the original text had mary, as the Peshitta does at 20:2,13,18.

Again, as with isha/isha, this sacred pun would be to emphasize how Jesus and Mary, as portrayed in this gospel (as in the Gospel of Philip), were each the other’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort). And again, this may have simply been too incomprehensible or romantic for the redactor, seeking at a late stage in the devolution of the original gospel to conform it to the dogma of the new Christian religion, who would have quickly changed mary (“lord”) for rabbouni. and even incorrectly adding that this is a word in Hebrew and further adding his not-quite-correct translation “teacher”.

After much consideration I do not see the Talpiot “Mariamenou” ossuary as shedding light on this matter. See the essay on that subject [posted as the blog beneath this one].

Another possibility to mention in passing is that in chapter 20 Mary may also have called Jesus ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al), as she did at the well in Sychar (John 4:16-18); if she did, this would be another inclusio. In both Hebrew (בָּעַל) and Aramaic the word ba’al, like mary, means “husband”, “lord”, “master”, and also “God”. Still, because the Peshitta has Mary call Jesus mary throughout the chapter (except in verse 16, but I conclude that the original version also had this title), I reject this possibility.

It is at about this moment, as Jesus says “Mary!” and Mary says “Mary!”, that the light dawns, both literally and figuratively. Mary now understands. And, in the new light of day, the first thing they see is each other.

Jesus is naked, since his entombment shrouds are said (20:5-7) to be still in the tomb, and Mary is pretty close to naked herself, since the tradition was for those in mourning to tear their clothes asunder. This is different from Lazarus, who came out still bound in his grave clothes, hence clearly the portrayal of a man and a woman naked and alone in a garden is intentional.

Their nakedness first represents birth and death; as Job puts it (Job 1:21), “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.” This is, of course, a second birth for Jesus, just as he enacted it with John (1:32-33) and discussed it with Nicodemus (3:3-7) and so an inclusio with the beginning of the gospel.

Second, their nakedness brings to mind Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden, hence a return to the condition of humanity before that primordial couple ate of the fruit. Modern readers, reading Genesis through their own cultural lenses, often think that they clothed themselves out of a kind of sexually fueled embarrassment for being “naked in public”. But a careful reading of the text reveals that, no, they were afraid of their vulnerability in the face of God’s omnipotence, especially following their disobedience of God, and so they sewed leaves together to disguise themselves as trees in this garden of trees. So the nakedness of Jesus and Mary is to say that no person need feel any longer afraid of God, as needing to hide her- or himself from God or ignore God, that “all is forgiven”, as the classic prophets often put it, as long as the individual accepts the Λογος, the truth and wisdom of the plan of God. Spiritually speaking, true trust is true nakedness, with no need to hide oneself, or to make of oneself something other than naturally human. In that sense, this is not just a recalling of Adam and Eve, but an eschatological nakedness: Jesus and Mary are the “Adam and Eve” of the people of the future who are completely integrated into the Λογος, who trust God completely, and do not put clothes on out of fear or misrepresentation of their true selves. In Logion 37 of the Gospel of Thomas the disciples ask Jesus, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”, and he replies, “When you can take off your clothes without feeling ashamed, and you take your clothes and throw them beneath your feet like little children and trample them; then you will see the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.” The (Greek) Gospel of the Egyptians similarly has Jesus reply, “When you have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one, and the male with the female is neither male nor female.” So here Jesus appears, his and his bride’s clothes removed and unashamed thereof. (Ironically, in the next chapter, Simon the Rock is fishing naked, but puts on his clothes before swimming ashore where Jesus is.)

Third, while the sexual element may or may not have been prominent in the Garden of Eden story, it is in the Song of Songs story, and very much so here as well. There had to be some sexual energy in their embrace (and no doubt a kiss, as the implications of the Odyssey suggest) in the next verse; most emphatically, Jerome’s Noli me tangere (“Do not touch me”) is repugnant as a translation. This is Jesus’s and Mary’s hierogamy, their spiritual (re)marriage, and so it has to be erotic.

This scene is frighteningly beautiful, joyfully fearsome. Mary encounters a dead body that speaks to her: in her culture he is a ghost or an angel, perhaps, or Death Incarnate even, and it is impossible for her not to be afraid. And yet, when she comes close to him, and looks through the bruises and wounds, she sees a familiar face. She smells the comfortable scent of his skin. She feels the warmth of his body against hers, the wonderful strength of his arms. She is scared and ecstatic at once. In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, if an angel

… gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

put itself before me and pulled
me suddenly against its heart, I would be overwhelmed by its
prodigious existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we can barely endure,
and we admire it so, because it serenely scorns
to destroy us. Even a single angel is terrifying.

And so: “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). The first rays of dawn reveal to Mary the face of her beloved husband. They embrace and kiss, naked as they are, in a garden, they are the eternal lovers, beginning with Adam and Eve, and their wedding at the beginning of the gospel is now confirmed and made holy, and the celestial clock is set back to the moment of Creation, εν αρχη ην ο λογος, with the first sin of humanity trying to separate itself from God now forgiven, and the entire universe is reborn.

Only a few manuscripts, most importantly the Codex Sinaiticus (01C2a), have the critical phrase at the end of this verse, “And she runs to embrace him.” This may be one cut by the redactor which some early copies of the gospel managed to retain. It is, in any case essential, setting up Jesus’s saying “Do not keep clinging to me.” That she ran dramatically informs the reader as to her sudden change from the depths of deepest despair to cerulean euphoria. It also adds confirmation that she was inside the tomb, with some distance intervening between her and Jesus.

Without doubt the gospel writer had in mind these lines from the Song of Songs: ἕως οὗ διαπνεύσῃ ἡ ἡμέρα καὶ κινηθῶσιν αἱ σκιαί. ἀπόστρεψον (“Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn around, my beloved”) and ἐκράτησα αὐτὸν καὶ οὐκ ἀφῆκα αὐτόν (“I took hold of him and did not let (him) go”), Song 2:17a and 3:4b.

But in these brief but mighty phrases of verse 16 we find not only an echo of the Song of Songs; the Odyssey too is very clearly in the author’s mind. Consider these lines (205, 207-208, 231-232, 241, 247-250), from when Odysseus reveals himself to his longsuffering wife Penelope:

τῆς δ’ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ …
δακρύσασα δ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰθὺς κίεν, ἀμφὶ δὲ χεῖρας
δειρῇ βάλλ’ Ὀδυσῆϊ, κάρη δ’ ἔκυσ …
τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο:
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κέδν’ εἰδυῖαν. …
καί νύ κ’ ὀδυρομένοισι φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς …
καὶ τότ’ ἄρ’ ἣν ἄλοχον προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς
ὦ γύναι, οὐ γάρ πω πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων
ἤλθομεν, ἀλλ’ ἔτ’ ὄπισθεν ἀμέτρητος πόνος ἔσται,
πολλὸς καὶ χαλεπός, τὸν ἐμὲ χρὴ πάντα τελέσσαι.

And then her knees and precious heart gave way …
Then in tears she ran to him, to throw her arms
Around Odysseus’s neck, to kiss his face …
And she elicited in him even more the desire to weep;
He held his wife, beloved and loyal, and shed his tears.
Rosy-fingered Dawn would have risen upon them as they wept …
And then resourceful Odysseus said to his wife,
“Woman, we haven’t finished yet with all our trials
For I must yet undertake, in the future, a great work,
Long and difficult, before I have completely finished. …”

Like Penelope, Mary is tottering on her legs, exhausted by considerable stress, and is weeping copious tears (20:11). Like Penelope, Mary runs to Jesus and embraces him (20:16). As in the Odyssey, this moving moment comes at dawn (20:1). And like Odysseus, Jesus says there are things that they both yet must accomplish, especially he himself (20:17).

This embrace was more than romantic and erotic, though it was that too; this embrace is what Jung calls the coincidentia oppositorum, the union of complementary opposites. As it is put in The Circle of Life:

The embrace is a sign of love that symbolizes the Sacred Hoop: both persons are within the circle. When we embrace, first we open our arms, becoming vulnerable in a sense, exposing our hearts both literally and figuratively, to create space in ourselves to welcome the other into us. Then we close our arms around each other, one with each other within the Sacred Hoop. (Sexuality is an extension of the embrace, of course – an even closer joining in which we each enter even more deeply into the other, body and soul.) Then, when the ceremony of embrace ends, we open again, and return to our separate identities, but enriched by the moment in which we were one together. Now and forever after, we are connected, and carry a little bit of the other in us.

And likewise the kiss is more than “just a kiss”; it is the eternal man and woman exchanging their sacred breath/spirit (ר֖וּחַ [ruach] in Hebrew and πνευμα [pneuma] in Greek). As Plotinus would later put it (in his Enneads, II.7), “All things depend on each other; as has been said, ‘Everything breathes together.’” And as the noncanonical Gospel of Philip would put it in years to come (35, 59):

[Grace comes] from him, from the mouth, the place from which the Word came forth, to be nourished from the mouth and to become perfected. The perfect conceive and give birth by a kiss. This is why we also kiss each other, to receive conception from the grace that is in each other.
And the companion of the [Anointed One] is Mariam the Magdalene. [The Lord] loved her more than the other disciples, and would kiss her often on her mouth. The other [women saw how much he loved Mariam], and say to him, “Why do you love her more than us?” The Savior answered and says to them, “Why do I not love you (as I do) her?”

The Mary in the Talpiot Tomb

This blog discusses the many-layered controversy over an approximately first-century tomb discovered in Jerusalem that may contain the ossuary (bone reliquary) of Jesus and other ossuaries with his closest relatives. It comes from my commentaries to the Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The forthcoming book will include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

The famous Talpiot tomb includes ten ossuaries, six inscribed with names bearing a curious similarity to Jesus and his immediate relations: Jesus son of Joseph, Mary, Joseph, Matthew, Judah son of Jesus, and one more. Debate rages whether this is just coincidence or possibly in fact Jesus and part of his family. The most significant weakness with the latter proposition is that there is no known relative of Jesus named Matthew (except, I would add, the Matthew who was a son of Hilphai [Alphæus], the latter being the brother of Jesus’s father Joseph), and there is no reference to a son of Jesus named Judah (Judas).

The other inscribed ossuary is the focus of the greatest amount of debate. Making it difficult to decipher, the words are run together without any space between them. Some experts see “Mariamenou Mara”, others “Mariamenou η Mara”, others “Mariamenou | Mara” (a “stroke” between the two words), and yet others “Mariam ή και Mara” or “Mariame και Mara”. The scholars who see the “stroke” or the η say this represents ή και, which was the equivalent to the modern English “aka” or “also known as”. The και (literally “and”) in the final reading is also taken to signify the same thing, “aka”.

The name “Maramenou” is the genitive (possessive) version of the the quite unusual name “Maramenon”, which is a Greek intimate diminuitive of the Hebrew-Aramaic name “Mariam”. Thus the inscription would mean “Of” or “Belonging to Mariamenon, also known as Mara”.

The two main problems with the “Mariamenou” readings are that there is no cause to suggest that a primarily Aramaic-speaking family would refer to Mary by a very rare Greek diminuitive form of her name, and the Mary associated with Jesus is never called by this diminuitive in any of the early texts. A few works do refer to Mary as Mariamme (the noncanonical Gospel of Mary and the Pistis Sophia do, as does Celsus, a second-century pagan critic of the Christians). Hippolytus in his Refutation of All Heresies (written between 228 and 233) interchangeably calls her Mariamme and Mariamne, and the Gospel of Philip (manuscript from the late fourth century but probably originally written between 150 and 300 C.E.) refers to Mary as Mariamne. But none of these texts was composed earlier than a century after Jesus and Mary were alive. Nor are the names Mariamme and Mariamne exactly Maramenon. All three are Hellenized variations on the Hebrew-Aramaic name, coming from later Hellenic writers. The most we can definitively say is that these texts increase the number of variations of names by which Mary was known to later generations.

There is also much controversy around the last word, “Mara”. Some experts deem it the feminine equivalent to the Aramaic word for “lord” or “master”, sometimes written as ܡܳܪܝ (mary) and sometimes as ܡܪܐ (mara), such that this inscription would say something like “Belonging to Mariamenon the lordess/masteress”. However, the Aramaic word ܡܳܪܝ (mary) or ܡܪܐ (mara) is masculine; the feminine version of the word is ܡܪܬܐ (martha), sometimes in the late Second Temple period shortened to ܡܪܐ (mara), but by no means can we definitively conclude that this is “lordess” or “masteress” in Aramaic. In chapter 20 of the Gospel of John in the Peshitta, the ancient Aramaic version of the New Testament, Mary calls Jesus her mary three times (and, I hypothesize, a fourth time at 20:6), using this Aramaic title, and of course Jesus famously addresses her as Mary (a homonym in Aramaic, coming from a root meaning “bitter”). If the Talpiot ossuary could prove that Mary also was known as a mary, that would add further dimension to 20:16. Mary and Jesus would each be addressing each other as a mary, with her name as a third double entendre!

But an unjaundiced look at the Talpiot inscription does not readily give us that possibility. Some scholars read the final word, “Mara”, as this Aramaic term written with Greek letters. However such a reading requires us to accept an inscription that blithely mixes Greek and Aramaic. Since “Mara” was a common enough name, and this is after all an ossuary and the custom was to inscribe names on ossuaries, the most likely conclusion is that “Mara” was a name.

Some scholars point to the Gospel of Philip in support of calling Mary a mary. This noncanonical work refers to her as Mariamne, and calls her the κοινωνος of Jesus (his companion, consort, coworker, with an implied erotic connection as well). This is somewhat similar in meaning to, but not quite the same as calling her a mary, a lord/master. A κοινωνος takes a secondary role as an assistant (like Wisdom in Proverbs 8:30), while a mary takes a leadership role. Some scholars dismiss this gospel out of hand as pure fiction (pointing out, for instance, that it refers to Mary as the sister of Philip the disciple, which has no other foundation in early texts, and certainly runs counter to my thesis that she was a daughter of Simon the Leper), and others, including Tabor, suggest that it might record surviving oral traditions regarding Mary. I agree with that latter assessment: I find that this gospel contains valuable information not so much as regards the details of the life of “the historical Jesus”, but as regards how his nature and message was understood and interpreted in the earliest decades after him.

After studying the available photographs of the inscription with considerable care my reading is “Mariame και Mara”, “Mary and Mara”. I think two women’s bones are in the ossuary (something that was commonly done), and like Claude Cohen-Matlofsky I see another hand as having scratched in “and Mara” later. It is far likelier that “Mara” is a common name than a very uncommon feminine form of the word for a very uncommon designation, “lord” or “master”, and it is far likelier that the entire inscription, which is in Greek letters, includes Greek versions of certain names, and not a mix of a Greek name and conjunction with an Aramaic title. Therefore I think “Mara” might be an abbreviated form of “Martha”, as Richard Bauckham suggests. And, yes, the “Mary and Martha” that results might refer to the sisters from Bethany, and the whole group might be Jesus and relatives (notwithstanding the problems with the “Matthew” and “Judah”), but this is several steps more than I wish to take into the land of conjecture.

The Tears of Myrrh, the Roman Son of God

This is the second of two blogs about the real meaning of the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Both come from my commentaries to the Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The forthcoming book will include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

18:38-40 – Pilate, after this first conversation with Jesus, does not wish to execute him. As noted elsewhere in this book he has never had any problem ruthlessly using brutal force to maintain a fierce control over this volatile Roman province – but here is someone different, a man who is clearly no threat, a man in whom Pilate is sure he could find a great deal of wisdom: another Socrates, even, combined with a worker of miracles like those travellers bring back to the Empire from the Asian lands.

And then Pilate comes up with what to him is the perfect solution: he has been boxed by the Sanhedrin, who have with loud meekness proclaimed that only he, and not they, can execute convicts. But he can offer to release this Jesus to them, and, if they refuse his release, they have not technically sentenced him to death, but in point of fact they have, and Pilate is not to blame. In this manner the populace won’t be stirred up against Rome, the Sanhedrin is mollified, and the only unfortunate thing is that this Jesus must die.

So Pilate offers to the crowd a choice between the father and the stepson, both of whom have called themselves Barabbas, Son of the Father, both of whom have stirred up a great deal of potential among the people of Judæa – the father by his many miracles, the most dramatic of which was raising this handsome young man his son from the dead. As a result, the crowds have so idolized them both it would be hard to say which they prefer.

So Pilate puts it to the to the Sanhedrin leaders – and that may be his error, for these religious leaders are not the crowd, and, though they want Lazarus out of the way too (12:10-11), they are even more determined to see Jesus dead (11:50-53).

Lazarus’s legal state is unstated in the text (because of the Beloved Disciple’s usual reticence to say more than is absolutely necessary about himself) but still reasonably clear. The Sanhedrin wants him dead, and he has surely been avoiding arrest by the Temple police through the simple expedient of avoiding the Temple, since the police had little authority outside the Temple complex. Thus, Lazarus was able to attend the Last Supper. But, when the Temple police perhaps unexpectedly accompanied the Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden, Lazarus may have been apprehended as well, or at least (in modern parlance) “brought along for questioning”. If not in the garden, then certainly Lazarus was detained in the precincts of Annas and Caiaphas. Either way, it may be that Lazarus stayed with Jesus not through courage but because he was in custody. The text tells us that he was known by the high priest (probably Annas, possibly Caiaphas or both), which would have been because his maternal family was very highly regarded; note how they came out to console Mary after Lazarus’s death (11:31,45); because of this and his youth, he would have been rather more gently than Jesus, and probably with some kindliness, hence his ability to get Rocky Simon let through the gate (18:16). He was probably sent in by the high priests and Pharisees at the same time as Jesus so both could be tried before Pilate; they probably wanted to persuade Pilate to give both of them a sentence of death. Without this explanation there is no logical explanation how Pilate would allow this young man to witness these closed-door proceedings with Jesus. Lazarus was being tried as well, but a good thing for our sake is that he was there to witness and later remember vividly in some detail (from 18:29 to 19:16) the entire proceedings within the prætorium. By contrast, the only other eyewitness gospel, Mark, recounts the private interview in just four verses (Mark 15:2-5), a summary that Lazarus probably gave to him later on.

Lazarus must have had all along the nickname Barabbas. It means “Son of the Father”, and certainly refers to his being born to a Samaritan Temple priestess: if she got pregnant in the course of her service in the Temple, the child would be considered to be sired by God, that is, the Father. The name in Aramaic is actually “Baraba” (באראבא with Hebrew letters and ܒ݂ܰܐܪ‌ܐܰܒ݁ܰܐ in Syriac; though the alpha in the first syllable is superfluous it brings out the sacred meaning), and it is rich in the sacred significance discussed at length in the commentary to 14:2. The comment that Barabbas was an insurrectionist makes no sense at all in comparison to what the gospel tells us: Barabbas, Lazarus, was sentenced to death for the reason stated in 12:10-11. This must be an interpolation of the redactor to “explain” this otherwise unmentioned Barabbas. Very likely the redactor had taken out a sentence that gave a correct explanation of who Barabbas was that ran afoul of the later Christian dogma.

19:1-4 – It might seem to the reader that the order to flog Jesus doesn’t fit with the context, in which Pilate repeatedly declares him innocent and expresses an understanding and even intellectual kinship with him. A careful reading of the text reveals that Pilate is hoping rather that the pain might persuade Jesus to “see reason” and retreat from his desire to be executed, or that a flogging might either satisfy these Jewish leaders calling for his execution. Indeed, Pilate shows Jesus to these Sanhedrin leaders and says, “Look at the man!”, in other words, “See him tortured; he’s only a man; he bleeds; surely this is sufficient to satisfy you!”

19:2 – Paul was himself subjected to this kind of institutionalized torture of suspects (cf. e.g. II Corinthians 11:23-25), so it appears to have been rather common. The unusual aspect here is the soldiers mockingly acclaiming Jesus as a king.

The “crown of thorns” was likely made from a branch or two of myrrh (a small tree whose bitter resin is used in embalming, perfumery, and incense). There would have been plenty of it available in Jerusalem at this time just before Passover; myrrh was a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud.

This crown of myrrh is ironic, considering myrrh would soon be used to embalm Jesus (19:39 and probably in the hands of Mary, 20:1). The greater irony is that myrrh is collected by wounding the tree until it bleeds, drop by drop, its sap, its lifeblood, as Jesus is here and on the cross wounded to the point of bleeding. What is more, the word מֹר, mor (“myrrh”), is related to מַר, mar (“drop”, referring to the resin), as in a teardrop, and this is the root of the name מרה, Mara ( “bitter”), the name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13) – and it is the name of Mary, who in this gospel weeps bitter tears for the death of her son (11:31,33) and her husband (20:11).

19:6 – Note that “the Pharisees” have disappeared from the narrative. All these shouted demands to execute Jesus are coming only from “the chief priests and the officers”, with the latter comprising both Temple police and Roman soldiers, since the Greek word υπηρεται is used here, which heretofore has designated both groups. The last time the Pharisees are mentioned is at 18:3, and that is literally the last time; the Pharisees are never mentioned again for the remainder of the gospel. In 18:3 we are informed of their tacit support for Jesus’s arrest. But after that he is taken before the former and current high priests, Annas and Joseph ben Caiaphas; the priestly forces evidently have taken charge of Jesus’s prosecution, and the Pharisees have evidently backed away from this increasingly distasteful procedure. Jesus, it must be recalled, had strong connections to the Pharisees: he has friends (e.g., Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) and in-laws (e.g., Simon the Leper) among them, and his education and general philosophy suggest that he was virtually a member of their group himself. Where certainly the gospel portrays occasional Pharisaical antagonism toward Jesus (e.g., 7:32,47-48; 8:13; 9:16), and the Synoptic gospels suggest all but constant Pharisaical antipathy toward Jesus, some of this may have been no more than their love of a good intellectual debate on religious matters (which we see in the Talmud, which at times reads like one of Plato’s dialogues). The priestly class, on the other hand, certainly saw Jesus as more of a direct threat: he has roundly criticized them (e.g., 7:18; 10:12-13) and spoken about the destruction of their precious Temple (2:19), and they fear that his strong statements might yet lead to the Roman military tearing down the Temple (and all of Jerusalem, as eventually happened in 70 C.E.).

19:6-8 – To the Temple priests’ shouted demand that Pilate crucify Jesus Pilate replies by saying they should crucify him themselves, for he finds Jesus innocent of any charge. Pilate, of course, errs in this statement; by the Roman law that he represents these Temple authorities do not have the power to exert capital punishment, neither by their own traditional method, stoning, nor by the Roman method, crucifixion.

The Temple authorities, for their part, are also wrong about their law; there is no law in the Torah forbidding Jews from claiming to be children of God. Scholars point to Leviticus 24:16, which forbids blasphemy. But, as noted in the commentary to John 10:33, the accusation of blasphemy against Jesus and the demand that he be executed for it is a canard. The Talmud clearly declares that: “If a man says to you, ‘I am God,’ he is [merely] a liar; if [he says ‘I am] the son of man,’ people will ultimately [just] laugh at him.” (Tr. Yer. Taan. 65b). And Jesus himself cites Psalm 82:6 at John 10:34, a verse that speaks of the Jewish people as the children of God. (Another of several is found at Psalm 2:6-7.) Caiaphas took a far more reasonable position by saying that if Jesus was indeed Messiah then his death was customary; see the essay on page ____.

But Pilate, ignorant of all but the basic facts about Judaism, does not know this is a canard, and even less knows the idea of a kingly sacrifice raised by Caiaphas. So, faced with these unknowns-to-him, and constantly worried about insurrection, he is filled with dread (φοβέομαι, often mistranslated as “fear”).

This statement of the priests may, however, be more than a canard. These high priests knew the Torah and would be unlikely to cite it incorrectly. However, several times in this episode they are clearly using psychological ploys to goad or entrap Pilate such that he has no choice but to execute Jesus. This could well be another example: it may not be against the Torah to call oneself the son of God, but from a Roman perspective it was a treasonous and heretical statement to make: only the emperor had the right to call himself Divi Filius (“Son of God”). If this is their meaning, then when they say “we have a law” they are identifying themselves as good subjects of Rome and furthermore are saying that Rome has a law to this effect. In verse 11 these priests imply that they are loyal to the emperor and in verse 15 they say “We have no king if not Cæsar!” If here they are referring to Roman, not Jewish, law, then all three of their statements to Pilate are to say he had better not appear less Roman than they.

And this too, the threat that it might get back to Rome that Pilate wasn’t fully loyal to his emperor the Son of God, once again would be calculated to fill him with dread (φοβέομαι).

19:9-11 – Jesus remains silent to the question “Where are you from?”. The text does not say why; it could be the “suffering servant” motif (Isaiah 53:7), but that is relatively unlikely since Jesus otherwise does not hesitate to rely to Pilate’s interrogations. It may be that this was simply the wrong question to ask, an irrelevant question, that Pilate wasn’t in effect “following the script”. And, ultimately, Jesus does answer it in his reference to ανωθεν (“from above”) in verse 11, the same word that appears in the Prologue at 3:31, and in the conversation with Nicodemus at 3:3,7; hence, this forms an inclusio.

Jesus says Pilate would have no power unless it came “from above”, a clear double entendre; Pilate probably first thinks Jesus is referring to the emperor, in behalf of whom he speaks, and then realizes that Jesus is really alluding to God. Both meanings serve to undergird Jesus’s next words of relative exoneration for Pilate: as the representative of the Roman emperor Pilate is constrained to execute Jesus, and he has been ultimately given that power to execute by God. Given the nature of this point, Jesus is also here again urging Pilate to order his execution.

In this verse, as in 14:30, Jesus (or the amanuensis through Jesus’s mouth) is paraphrasing Herakleitos (Logion 114 in Diels-Kranz): τρέφονται γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἀνθρώπειοι νόμοι ὑπὸ ἑνὸς τοῦ θείου· κρατέει γὰρ τοσοῦτον ὁκόσον ἐθέλει καὶ ἐξαρκέει πᾶσι καὶ περιγίνεται (“For all human laws are nourished by the one divine law, which holds sway as far as it wishes, and suffices for all, even to spare”).

Pilate and Plato’s Philosopher-King

This blog about the real meaning of the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, from my commentaries to the Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The forthcoming book will include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

Jesus briefly explains to Pilate his theology of the Æon. The concept and terminology (this conversation most likely takes place in Greek) would immediately have been familiar ground for Pilate, who like all Romans of his class would have been very well read in the classical philosophers. “My kingdom is not in this cosmos,” Jesus says to Pilate, and Pilate instantly recognizes the concept of the philosopher-king. He understands that Jesus is speaking of a kingdom not of this cosmos as in hypothetical terms, the way Socrates in The Republic spoke of Kallipolis (“Beautiful City”) as the ιδεα of the ideal country, in the greater universe called the Æon (what is called in introductory philosophy classes “the world of forms”), where philosophers like this Jesus are indeed kings, and where these philosopher-kings, to quote from that work, “are lovers of the vision of truth,” just as this man claims to testify to the truth.

Ironically, Pilate (like Caiaphas) is one of Jesus’s few interlocutors who is sufficiently intellectual to understand very well the profound thinking of this man before him, who only outwardly seems a simple “country rabbi”. The text tells us that Pilate met with Jesus at about dawn (18:28), and as always in this gospel this fact is reported because it is meaningful; as Jesus speaks to Pilate, the latter understands, one could say that the light dawns on Pilate.

Only once before has Jesus spoken of his kingdom, and that is to another ruler, Nicodemus (3:3,5), hence there is an inclusio between the two passages. Elsewhere Jesus declares, “I am the way” to the I AM, the Father (14:6). This theology looks not to stake out an empire in this earthly universe of space and time (τοπος and χρονος, to use the precise Greek terms), but to seek the Æon, the greater, sacred universe, in which space and time are infinite and yet one, γαια and καιρος. To quote Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, it is to

Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

In such an infinity as the Æon there is no need to go forth “conquering and to conquer” (Revelation 6:2) like the Cæsar and the Hitler

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For, as Jesus said, there are many abodes in his Father’s house (14:2), an infinity of room for all. No point in conquering with unlimited abundance for all, and no craving for power and wealth there. There the faithful will live in the Father’s house which, unlike the “Father’s House” in Jerusalem, the Second Temple, will not be in the exclusive control of these few self-appointed religious leaders outside Pilate’s audience chamber, but (in a phrase breathing other dimensions, where something can be bigger within than it is without) will contain “many dwelling places”. This philosophy of Jesus is not an either/or, but to say that his kingdom, the Æon, surrounds and includes this mundane cosmos the way an infinitely dimensioned structure surrounds and includes a single finite point on a straight line (the present moment in χρονος), and a minuscule country in a tiny world orbiting an unremarkable star on the edges of a galaxy like thousands of others.

Jesus’s statement that his followers have no plans to fight in his defense is usually taken as an attempt to put Pilate’s mind at ease. That is not the case. This statement, ironically (and there is much irony here), is a paradox; it works at the same time to Jesus’s benefit and detriment. If Jesus is innocent of claiming kingship in this cosmos, then Pilate should find him innocent; but that would mean Jesus would not be executed – which goes against Jesus’s wishes. However, in order to be sentenced to death as he wishes, Jesus must mendaciously claim kingship in this cosmos, which he cannot do because, as he says, he represents the truth.

But a solution presents itself. Pontius Pilate seizes not on the kingdom being beyond this cosmos but on the kingship: “Then you are a king!”, with the emphasis on “are”. Jesus takes Pilate’s exclamation and turns it into a practical solution of this ironic paradox, this dilemma, this impasse, that they both see. It is found in his statement, “You say that I am a king.” Jesus is saying in effect: “You just need to say that I have declared myself a king. That is the truth, and I was born as a witness to the truth. That is the only truth that the others outside this room will understand, for they don’t understand this philosophical nicety that I am only their king in the greater universe, the Æon, only that I am their king. And, if you declare this, it will be sufficient for you to sentence me to death, and it was to die in this manner, that I was born and came into this cosmos.”

Pilate makes it clear that he too comprehends the subtlety of what Jesus is saying with his response “What is truth?” Pilate knows from his readings in Plato, especially the Allegory of the Cave, that people (including Pilate himself) commonly only understand the absolute truth from their limited, subjective viewpoints. The people chained in the cave can only see shadows on the wall cast by real people out of sight behind them and think these shadows are the truth, and this they condemn the philosopher who looks away from the shadows they call “the truth” and sees the real truth. Discussing the allegory, Socrates says in Plato’s dialogue that “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

Pilate knows that the truth he puts down in his reports back to Rome is very different from the truth of his day-to-day experiences; it is carefully sanitized to avoid arousing the interest of powerful people. Pilate knows that the truth of what history will say about these events will probably diverge widely from what actually happened; as a high government official he has surely read Thucydides and Julius Cæsar and seen their selectivity with the facts. Pilate may even guess that this very observant young man in the room with Jesus and him, a young man whom he knows as Barabbas, will one day write a history containing this very conversation.

Mary, Mary, Quite Samaritan

This blog about the origin of Mary Magdalene’s name is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of the original text. The gospel as generally known, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The forthcoming book will also include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” is to be associated with the Synoptics. Other than two highly doubtful references, it never appears in the Gospel of John. Nevertheless, it is so commonly associated with her still today that its origin and meaning must be considered. One of the following explanations are usually offered:

a: Saying she came originally from Magdala, certainly likely since the village is on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, a prominently featured area in this gospel.

b: Coming from the Hebrew מגדל (migdal, “tower”, related to μαγδωλος in Greek, “watchtower”.

c: Coming from the related word in Aramaic, the language more commonly spoken at the time by Jews and Samaritans, ܡܓܕܠܗ or ܡܲܓ݂ܕܿܠܵܐ (magdala, “tower” but also suggesting “elegant” or “great”, likewise related to μαγδωλος). This could be simply a reference to the Samaritan Temple high on Mount Gerizim, where as the “woman at the well” Mary served as a priestess. Or it could refer to Song of Songs 4:4, and other similar verses; this one compares the Shulammite’s neck to the Tower of David (cf. Nehemiah 3:25). Similarly, her breasts are likened to towers at 8:10. Her “dance of Mahanaim” (Song 6:13; see option e) is an indirect reference to a tower as well.

d: Coming from megaddelá, an Aramaic word for a woman with plaited or braided hair, and later, by extension, a word for a hairdresser. The term carried, later in time, an aroma of “harlot” about it, and some passages in the Talmud appear to associate it with Temple priestesses.

Before evaluating the four above, I also propose:

e: Coming from Mahanaim (הַֽמַּחֲנָֽיִם in Hebrew, ܡܰܗܰܢܰܺܡ in Aramaic), literally meaning “Two Camps”, a place so called by Jacob because he and God both camped there. The “h” would have shifted in the Greek transliteration into a “g” (since there is no “h” in Greek) and a Greek-style suffix added. At this place Jacob erected a watchtower (Genesis 31:48-52; see b, c, and h). The “dance of Mahanaim” is mentioned at Song of Songs 6:13 in reference to the Shulammite (who is discussed in relation to the Magdalene in the biographical notes about Mary on page ___, and also below).

f: Coming from Song of Songs 4:15, the same verse discussed above, where the Hebrew for the “wellspring of water” in the garden is גַּנִּ֔ים מַעְיַ֣ (mayan gannim). This could have gotten garbled by Greek ears into “Magdalene” the same way pretty much all of the proper names in the New Testament mutated when shifted from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek. Through this verse she would be associated with living waters, mentioned in the same verse of the Song, of which Jesus spoke to her in their first conversation (John 4:10); also, the waters of spiritual purification, as in the mikvah, and in John’s baptism.

g: Coming from ܩܕܳܠܳܐ (’qda:la), “neck” in Aramaic, should Mary have had a long, beautiful neck. This is a near-homonym with ܡܲܓ݂ܕܿܠܵܐ (magdala, “tower”), lacking only the initial ܡܰ (ma-), and also with ܡܰܓ݂ܕ݁ܠܳܝܬ݁ܳܐ (magdalayta, Magdalene), lacking the ma– and the suffix –ta. But the final “m” (ܡ) in her Aramaic name, ܡܰܪܝܰܡ (Maryam), could very well have ellided over onto ܩܕܳܠܳܐ (’qda:la), creating ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (Magdalay). This could possibly a reference to, or for the amanuensis reminiscent of, several references in the Song of Songs, especially at 4:4, to the Shulammite’s neck, though a different word for neck (ܨܘܪܟܝ, sawara) is used there.

h: Coming from the Tower of Eder (מִגְדַּל־ עֵ֗דֶר, Migdal Eder, literally “the Tower of the Flock [of Sheep]”) beyond which Jacob (then renamed “Israel”) pitched his tent after the death of his wife Rachel (Genesis 35:21). The only other Tanakh reference to this tower is at Micah 4:8, where it is mentioned in a messianic prophecy that the greatness of Judah and Jerusalem will return, a very meaningful reference in the cognomen of Jesus’s consort. Rachel died on the way to Ephrath (Bethlehem); Josephus writes that the tower site was about a Roman mile (4,860 feet) beyond Bethlehem. But in which direction Israel was going is unclear. The original Hebrew text has him going south, toward Hebron, but the Septuagint transposes Genesis 35:16 and 21, likely correcting a mistake, which would have him going north, toward Bethel; this would put the Tower very close to Bethany, which was Mary’s hometown.

i: Coming from the Greek μαγδαλια, a late contraction of the classical word απομαγδαλια, which appears in Aristophanes and Plutarch as a term for the inside of a loaf of bread, used by Greeks as a kind of napkin for their hands, which they then threw to the dogs; hence, “dog’s meat”.

j: Coming from the Aramaic ܡܰܩܕ݁ ܐܰܠܳܗܬ݁ܳܐ (maqd’ alaht’a; “sacred of/to the goddess”), which is very close to the Aramaic original of the cognomen “Magdalene” ܡܰܓ݂ܕ݁ܠܳܝܬ݁ܳܐ (magdalayta, “Magdalene”).

Option a, the most frequent explanation of Mary’s cognomen, is straightforward, and should be adopted if it can be proven that Mary came from Magdala. But, alas, there is nothing connecting her to that village. Her family home is in Bethany, her father probably originally came from from Ramathaim (Arimathea) in Kohath, northern Judæa just south of Samaria, and she herself had lived in Samaria itself. Therefore option a is to be rejected.

The pronunciation of the Aramaic word magdala is closer to the Greek original of Mary’s cognomen than the Hebrew migdal, so option b is rejected.

Option d is also rejected; the textual evidence is flimsy, and there is no reason to assume that the Talmud writers were merely recalling in a subsequent generation how this word was used in the first century: these comments may have been merely unfounded anti-Christian polemical aspersions (of which in subsequent generations there was quite a bit). They may even have been based on the persistent later Christian legend that described Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute.

Option i is also rejected as lacking a strong rationale for adopting it.

Options e, f, and h, and probably c and g as well, are Biblical in origin. All of these except h could refer to the Song of Songs; e comes indirectly and h directly from the story of Jacob and Rachel in Genesis, to whom the gospel often implicitly associates Jesus and Mary. Options c, e, and h all suggest a watchtower, with c carrying the indirect meaning of “elegant” or “great”, and e referring to the Shulammite’s dance.

Option f is a fascinating but unlikely possibility, and options e and h are logical but abstruse, therefore weak as explanations for why Mary’s friends would call her “Magdalene”. Still, the erudite amanuensis could well have had e and h and especially f in his own mind as he composed the gospel, especially as he sought appropriate imagery for describing the nearly indescribable scene of Jesus’s resurrection. In the process of borrowing Song of Songs 4:15 in his composition of that episode he could well have read mayan gannim, in the same verse, been struck by the phonetic resemblance to Magdalena, and borne in mind a poetic association between the “wellspring of water” (which is what mayan gannim means) and Mary’s tears.

That leaves either c, g, or j as the reason that her friends called her “Magdalene”. Some combination of c and g would be a sensible if cautious conclusion, especially if Mary had a beautiful neck or breasts. Option j is the risky conclusion and has to prove itself through time and scholarly debate, but the ground has long been prepared for it by such scholars as Raphael Patai (The Hebrew Goddess) and Merlin Stone (When God was a Woman). I myself lean toward it as the best solution. It would succinctly denote what fact about this Mary most stood out to those who knew, what they would have considered the most significant fact about her: her having been a Samaritan Temple priestess.

All this said, the cognomen “Magdalene” only appears in the crucifixion and resurrection episodes. This has led many scholars to conclude that she is a different woman from the Mary who lives in Bethany, and whose name is always just Mary, without any cognomen. As discussed in the commentaries to the two episodes where “Magdalene” appears, I believe this cognomen was added therein by the redactor, and that the Beloved Disciple and amanuensis in the original text referred to her as “Mary”, without cognomen. Thus, in this translation, “Magdalene” is excised.

Bear in mind, too, that her given name, Μαριαμ (“Maria” or “Mary” in English), refers to tears. The original Hebrew name is מרה (Mara, “bitter”); it is the name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13). The word has a deeper root meaning in מַר (mar, “drop”), as in a teardrop, but going even farther back to מֹר (mor, “myrrh”), which is the resin of a thorny tree, harvested by wounding the tree until it bleeds out, drop by drop, its bitter lifeblood, hence the name. Myrrh was a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud – and it would recently have been in the nostrils of Mary and the disciples during the commemoration of Passover at the Temple.

How ironic that, before Jesus’s death, a thorny “crown”, very possibly from the myrrh tree, was placed on his head (19:2), and that he was wounded like the tree and his blood came forth as does the liquid myrrh (19:32). How ironic that after his death Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea prepared his body with myrrh and aloes (19:39-40). How ironic it is that Mary Magdalene, with such a name as that, who was but recently weeping bitter tears for her son (John 11:31,33), now again had drops of tears falling like drops of myrrh from her eyes for her husband (20:11).

How could a woman so clearly central to Jesus’s life, central enough to grieve for him at his death and to come with spices to anoint his body, only be mentioned at the very end? Without a doubt, she does appear previously in the gospel, and my contention is that Mary Magdalene, Mary “of Bethany”, the unnamed woman in Mark 14, and the “woman at the well” are one and the same.

This perspective is underscored in the noncanonical Gospel of Philip, which calls Mary Jesus’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort), and also lifts up the spiritual eroticism between them, saying for instance that “he used to kiss her often on the mouth,” implying not only romance but the sharing of sacred breath, πνευμα. The recently published Gospel of Jesus’s Wife also appears to back this perspective.

What is more, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs is called (in Song 6:13) the Shulammite. For centuries it has been said that this cognomen deliberately fuses the Hebrew word for peace (shalom) with the cognomen of the Shunammite woman introduced in II Kings 4:8, a wealthy woman who the passages that follow strongly imply was Elisha’s lover despite having a husband, and whose dead son Elisha brought back to life. There are obvious similarities to Mary Magdalene, a wealthy woman (Luke 8:3) who was surely Jesus’s wife, who had previously had “husbands” (John 4:16-18), and who was probably the mother of Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back to life.

This scene with Elisha in its turn bears a strong resemblance to the story (I Kings 17:8-24) of Elijah his teacher. This tale begins with Elijah asking the woman for a drink of water from her water pot (verse 10). She has some shame on her conscience (verse 18). And Elijah raises her son from death (verse 22). Again, the similarities to Mary Magdalene are striking. Since every detail in this gospel is clearly carefully chosen, these connections to Elijah and Elisha must be taken very seriously, and certainly they draw more sharply the nature of the connection between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

That They All May Be One

The following is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, which are appended to my restoration of the original text (before it was heavily edited by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling) and translation of that text from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

In Jesus’s pastoral prayer following the Last Supper (Gospel of John chapter 17), he says (in my translation from the Greek): “And I made your name known to them and I will (continue to) make it known … that they all may be one (just) as we are one: (just) as you, Father, (are) in me and I in you, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one…

For Jesus, and Jews of his time (and indeed many classical cultures worldwide), to refer to someone’s name was not merely to the vocalization which is semiotically associated with them, but to the person’s teaching and example; thus to give even a cup of cold water in Jesus’s name (Matthew 10:42) or Kṛṣṇa’s name (Bhagavad-Gita 9:26) is to do it as that person’s disciple.

More than that, names in all traditional (non-Western) cultures are powerful, magic spells in a sense that evoke their spiritual presence. In this gospel, the Name of God (as mentioned in these three verses) is the πνευμα, the Divine Breath that is also the Divine Wind and the Divine Spirit that blew in Creation (Genesis 1:2) and many times upon the prophets. Josephus calls it the “four vowels” of the Name of God, יהוה, the exhalation. Since all other names can only be spoken by exhaling, the Name of God is hidden inside every other name. This, as it is put in The Circle of Life, “Those who keep the traditional ways know that spoken words can carry a little glint of moonlight – a tiny sliver of the silent Word, the exhaled breath, the divine Name of G-d spoken in the beginning that echoes still in everything that exists.” And our sacred names, known only to God, are, as the same book says, “ultimately one name, and point to the same Spirit that is in us all.” Therefore, Jesus would agree with this Apache proverb: “It makes no difference as to the name of the God, since love is the real God of all the world.”

In the decades after Jesus, those who claimed to be his followers took the path of separating from Judaism and establishing a strong central authority, and imposing from above on their followers a you-must-believe-it-or-else dogma. This dogma would have us believe that Jesus is God, the second person in the Trinity. Many passages in the New Testament (which, with the exception of Pauline and post-Pauline texts, was written free of this dogma) were then either interpreted or even edited to conform to this doctrine.

These verses serve as an example. They clearly state that Jesus believed not merely that he and God were one (the phraseology that these dogmaticians insisted supported their Jesus-equals-God creed), but that he and all humanity were one in God. This view is perfectly in line with other passages in the gospel, including especially 1:12. What Jesus believed was unique about himself was not that he was God incarnate, but that he had been appointed by God as God’s Messenger (αγγελος, “angel”) and Prophet προφητης (“prophet”, literally meaning “speaker on behalf of”), hence as Messiah. This was, in his view, far from an exclusive relationship; Jesus repeatedly stresses in this gospel that he wishes those who have heard the Word (Λογος) that he brings, those who believe “in my name” (meaning in his teaching and example), to go out themselves doing the same as he did: urging people to accept the Λογος of God and thereby recognize their universal oneness in God.

Therefore, far from what the Church was going to start dictating in a generation or two, this is the central statement of the central theological theme in the gospel. Today, the theology that Jesus states here is known by the terms “immanence” and “monism”.

Immanence is the belief that the divine manifests itself and and through the physical universe. It is not to be confused with pantheism, the belief that God equals all things, but panentheism, in which the sacred realm permeates the mundane. In this sense, all things, including you and me – even a turd in the road, as in the famous example of Chuang-tse – are imbued with the presence of holiness. This is a concept found frequently in Jewish philosophy, and therefore it would not at all be unlikely for Jesus to voice it. It is also found in the East, in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism especially, and these verses are often taken as support of the theory that Jesus travelled to India and Tibet in his early adult years.

Monism is the belief that all things only appear to be discrete, and that beneath such outer appearances of separateness all things are ultimately one. This view is not frequently found in Jewish thinking, but it is also a mainstay of Eastern philosophy.

Both of these perspectives are prominent in these verses, as they are in another very early text containing Jesus’s teachings, the Gospel of Thomas. Logion 77 in the latter reads: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light over all things. I am all; all came forth from me, and all have attained to me. Split a piece of wood, I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.’” Very likely, as in the Gospel of John, Jesus is here talking in I AM language, not so much speaking for himself as a man but speaking for God, as God’s messenger (αγγελος, “angel”) or prophet (προφητης, literally, someone who speaks on behalf of a king or God), saying directly and exactly the words of God. That there is light in all things is part of Kabbalistic Jewish thought, the Shviras Hekeilim (“Shattering of the Vessels”): God concentrated part of Godself into vessels of light in order to create the universe. But these vessels shattered, and their shards became sparks of light which became trapped, one within each thing in creation. Prayer charges and reveals these hidden sparks, reuniting them with God.

As noted in the commentaries to 14:2, this was also the philosophy of Martin Buber, who saw God as playing “hide and go seek” with us, hiding in every leaf and stone and flower and begging us to come and look for the Almighty in even the humblest of things around us. And once we see that Presence, like finding the face hidden in a puzzle drawing of a landscape, we can never “unsee” it again, and we wonder how we could ever have possibly not seen it before. Thus it is, as noted above, that all ordinary names, including yours and mine, have the Name of God hidden in them, in the very Breath (πνευμα) with which we pronounce them.

Referring to Thomas 77 and these verses in John, Rod Borghese says Jesus taught that: “You too are one with the All – a part of the tree, a part of the stone. And that the light exists even within a branch and even beneath a rock and within a rock. When you study science you see this is so. We all come from one source of light, one tiny speck of Light.” He adds this profound observation: “The only thing that sets Jesus apart [from other spiritual masters] is that he was crucified for saying ‘Ì am one with God. … He had followers – netzarim – who recorded his sayings, and some of those followers thought he was saying ‘Ònly I am one with God,’ when he actually said that anybody could realize the oneness of God, and therefore do greater things than Jesus.” Yet, “if you walk around today saying you are the All, you are God, or even you are one with God, you would probably also be crucified.”

A Different Kind of Peace

The following is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, which are appended to my restoration of the original text (before it was heavily edited by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling) and translation of that text from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

The Greek verb απψιημι does not mean “to leave” or “to give”, as it is often translated in this verse. It means, rather, “to send off”, “to remit”, “to discharge” or “to forgive” (in the sense of outstanding debt), or “to leave behind in the time of death”. I take it in the latter sense because Jesus was indeed talking about his death, and translate it here “to bequeath”.

Translators have universally given this statement a soft translation, making it beautiful. Christians have universally taken it as a soft, gentle statement. But in saying “I am giving it [peace] to you not as the cosmos gives (it)” Jesus was referring to the Hebrew word of greeting and farewell, then and now, “Shalom!” (“Peace!”), suggesting a kind of hypocrisy in how people say that word to each other’s faces and then knife each other in the back. He was also referring to the famous Pax Romana, the generally peaceful period in the history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Augustus Cæsar, beginning in 27 B.C.E., and continuing until the fall of Nero and the “Year of the Four Emperors” in 69 C.E. and, of staggering local repercussions, a Jewish uprising which triggered the total destruction of Jerusalem under General (and later Emperor) Titus in 70. Pontius Pilate, before whom Jesus was about to be tried, like other local arbiters of Roman power, had to maintain that peace at all costs; as will be explored below, he was often so ruthless in keeping peace that it was hard to distinguish his methods from near-genocidal military actions; often the peace that results from the use of force is no more than the peace of people frightened out of the streets and into the shadows, people too scared to speak out, the peace of the graveyard. Hence the evident sarcasm on Jesus’s part in his reference to what the world then and now calls peace.

Still, given the context (16:5,6,12), in which Jesus registers his awareness of the disciples’ agitation at his impending death, there is a gentle, reassuring aspect to this statement. Here Jesus promises the disciples not the peace as the world gives it, but another kind of peace: the peace that comes from knowing that, by committing themselves to the Λογος, the Word of God, God’s beautiful plan for the entire creation, they are safe, protected by God, who loves them for loving Jesus.

A House Bigger on the Inside

The following is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, which are appended to my restoration of the original text (before it was heavily edited by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling) and translation of that text from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year. Thanks to scholar Rod Borghese, whose thinking is quoted in this essay.

In some classical writers the word μονη suggests a waystation, quarters, or billets. In others it seems to suggest something more permanent: an apartment (in a building whose inhabitants take their meals together in a common dining room); therefore, a dwelling-place or abode. I have translated it with the word “abode”.

The reference to “the house of my Father” can also be taken in different ways. One possible reference is to the Second Temple; in 2:16, for instance, Jesus speaks of the Temple as “my Father’s house”. As noted before, the Levites associated with Temple operations had their living quarters around the Portico of Solomon. In this sense, Jesus could be saying that, when he is recognized as Messiah he will be able to uproot these Sadducees, priests, and Levites who are so badly managing the Temple (the “hired hands” as he refers to them in 10:12-13, and “slaves” as he says in 8:35), and then there will be rooms available for Jesus’s disciples and others who believe in him. In this interpretation, that is why Jesus adds “if not,” if these quarters in the Temple are not available at present, then “I am going to prepare a place for you.”

(This last phrase is usually translated “if it were not so I would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you,”, or “if it were not so I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you” or as a rhetorical question, “if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”. But there is no other verse in this discourse, to which Jesus could be referring, in which he speaks of preparing a place for them.” The Greek is not in the form of a question. Of these three, the second is the closest to what the Greek actually is saying: that if there are not many abodes available for those whose who believe in Jesus in his Father’s house, then in that case Jesus is going to make them available and ready.)

Next, Jesus may have intended here a reference to himself, specifically to his body, as his Father’s house. That level of meaning appears in 2:19,21. Jesus, as Messiah, as Messenger of God, is in effect a vessel containing the presence of God, the Spirit of God. Indeed, Paul uses this very metaphor at I Corinthians 3:16-17.

Finally, Jesus may have been referring to the Æon theology that fills this gospel, as in 8:35-36. In that passage, by the word “house” Jesus is referring not merely to the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a mere finite, physical structure that was built by human hands and could (and was, in 70 C.E.) be destroyed by human hands, but moreover to the House of God, the House of the Æon; that is to say, the Λογος itself, God’s overarching plan and purpose and pattern for the entirety of creation, not just the κοσμος, this physical aspect of it. In this house, which is infinite, there are indeed many abodes, and Jesus assures them that he is leaving this physical life for the heavenly realm to prepare their abodes for them. This interpretation of the verse is strengthened by Jesus’s several references in this final discourse before his death to that imminent death.

Both meanings are probably intended, and this is therefore a double entendre.

The phrase “house of my Father” also gives a visual message. The word for “house” in both Aramaic (ܒ݁ܶܝܬ݂) and Hebrew (בית) is pronounced beyt. It is not a concidence that the name for the second letter in both alphabets is also called beyt; the orthographical symbol that represents that letter is (along with the entire alphabet of both languages) pictographic in origin, and that symbol is the depiction of a house.

The word for “Father” in Aramaic is ܐܒܐ (ABA, often transliterated as “Abba”). That letter at the beginning and end of the word is aleph, ܐ in Aramaic and א in Hebrew, the first letter in the alphabet of both languages.

Pictographically, it depicts an ox; this can still be seen in the English letter A: if we invert it thus – ∀ – we can see more easily the ox’s head with the horns above. Thus, imagistically, ABA is a farmstead: a home with oxen around it.

More than that, as Rod Borghese points out, that first letter, א, aleph, has been for the classical Jewish mystics since ancient times symbolic of the sacred Breath/Spirit/Wind of God that preceded even sound itself, the breath that existed before even the first Word was uttered, even before the Λογος came into being. Therefore, I would add, this makes it equivalent to the חָכְמָ֥ה (Hokhma, Wisdom), which Proverbs 8:23 says was the first of God’s creations, and his mainstay support in the act of creating the universe.

This first letter also symbolizes the oneness of God. According to the Jewish mystics, the letter comprises an upper yud, representing the hidden, ineffable deepest nature of God; a lower yud, representing the revealed presence of God in the world; and a vav (“hook”) on a diagonal like a ladder or stairway, uniting these two realms, the heavenly and earthly. Jesus speaks of himself in these very terms, as the emissary, the Messenger of God who goes back and forth between these two realms, like the angels on Jacob’s ladder (cf. John 1:51); the Prologue to the gospel is very much built on this imagery. Yud and vav are the first and third letters in יהוה (YHWH), the Sacred Breath that is God’s Name, with a he following each one.

The symbol א has often represented infinity, in both mathematics and also in the symbolic work of Jorge Luis Borges. According to Borghese, “Infinity, nothingness, and continuity are concepts which have intrigued mathematicians, as well as Jewish scholars, throughout history. In many religions and philosophies it is believed that one must reduce one’s mind to a state which approaches ‘nothingness’ before one can begin to grasp the infinite knowledge and the divine connection between all things.” The sages note that the letter begins all three words in the most sacred name of God, אהיה אשר אהיה. And ב (beyt), the second letter, refers even more anciently than “house” to “container” or “vessel”, according to Borghese. Again, we can see this pictographically in the fourth side open to take contents into the vessel. Thus, Borghese concludes, this name for God, ABA shows us symbolically “the Infinite contained in the vessels, the Mystery of the Infinite contained within the Finite.” That is to say, all finite, created things in this universe contain in microcosm the Infinite, God. This very Jewish philosophy has been around from Philo to Martin Buber, who writes eloquently of God playing hide-and-go-seek with us, begging us to find the Sacred Presence hidden in every leaf and flower. Yet also and again this philosophy of immanence, the idea that the presence of God can be seen in and through every thing in creation, is very Buddhist and Taoist, as well as very Native American. In short, it is the ancient truth that the modern civilization of arrogation and greed has forgotten.

With this understanding in mind, we can see that Jesus meant “the house of my Father” not only (as discussed above) to refer to the Second Temple or his body or to the Æon, but to how every created thing in this universe, though evanescent and ephemeral, still contains the glory of the presence of God, if only we realize it – and so too does each one of us.

The Identity of the Paraclete

The following is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, which are appended to my restoration of the original text (before it was heavily edited by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling) and translation of that text from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

At the Last Supper as recounted in the Gospel of John, after saying he and the disciples will part ways, Jesus promises “another helper” will come. The word in Greek is παρακλητος (“parakletos”, often spelled “paraclete” in English), and from its roots it means “to make a judgement call from close beside”. It is basically a legal term that in the first century was often used in reference to a lawyer, a wise person who could offer convincing testimony in court. (Note that lawyers in those days were no more “professionals” in the modern sense than rabbis. Rather, someone slowly gained the reputation over the years of being a good lawyer [or rabbi, etc.] after consistently demonstrating sagacity and ability; that reputation could be lost at a stroke, should the individual do poorly in but one instance, and so individuals worked hard to preserve their long-cultivated reputations.) More generally, the word referred to someone close enough to the situation at hand (in observation and good judgement) to make a good call as regards what should be done.

The word has been variously rendered in translations of this gospel as “comforter”, “helper”, and “advocate”, among others. In this translation I have chosen the latter, since it comes closest to the nuances of the first-century Greek word.

The early principals of the Christian religion followed the lead of Paul in establishing their movement as a new religion separate from Judaism, and imposing on its followers a certain dogma. As a part of this effort, they also imposed on the New Testament (which had largely been written, of course, before their dogma had been invented) interpretations that forced it anachronistically to conform to their dogma. Their success is measured in the fact that to this day the vast preponderance of Christians believe the Paraclete that Jesus promised to send came in the form of the Holy Spirit – an invented entity as part of the dogmatic trinity, none of which has any real foundation in the New Testament (let alone the Jewish scriptures).

Scholars have offered many guesses as to the actual identity of the Paraclete. It is my contention that the Paraclete is this very gospel itself. The gospel’s very last sentence (i.e., 20:31, barring the epilogue of chapter 21) says that the gospel was written so its readers will “come to believe that Jesus is Messiah, son of God, and that through believing [they] might have life in his name.” In short, the gospel was written to testify persuasively about Jesus, his teachings and his nature.

And this is the work of the Paraclete, as described in the verses following. Jesus begins by saying “another advocate”; he is saying that he himself has been an advocate, someone who speaks with wise judgement, and that this Paraclete will function exactly the same as Jesus in this regard; since this gospel is an eyewitness record of Jesus’s teachings and a testament to his nature, it is indeed therefore equivalent to Jesus, another advocate like him.

Verse 17 vividly recalls Jesus’s words to Nicodemus about the Spirit/Breath/Wind (3:8), the breath that speaks the word of God. He added to that religious leader, “We speak of what we perceive, and we bear witness to what we have seen, and you do not grasp our witness” (3:11) with the Greek verb λαμβανω carrying the same double meaning as the English verb “to grasp”: Nicodemus and his fellow religious leaders did not grasp (understand) this witness, nor could they grasp (take hold of) it in order to stamp it out. The same verb is found at 1:5, where it says the darkness is unable to grasp the light. Likewise in 14:17, “the world is not able to grasp” this truth, again, in both senses of the verb. However, Jesus goes on, the disciples know this truth since it will be near them and in them – in my view, he refers to their memories of his words and example as in them and, when this gospel is written, also “near them”, near at hand to be read as often as needed.

In 16:13 Jesus will amplify this analogy, saying that the Paraclete “will not speak on its own” but rather “what it hears”, what is written into it, which will be Jesus’s words and example: “it is from me that it will receive what it will make known to you.”

The only other New Testament reference to the Paraclete is found at I John 2:1, written by John the Presbyter, whom this work argues was the amanuensis for this gospel. There we are told that we have a Paraclete with the Father; this passage then identifies the Paraclete as Jesus (2:1-2) and as his commandments (2:3-4), his word (2:5ab), and his example (2:5c-6) – all, in my view, to make clear that this gospel is the Paraclete.

A royal messenger always bears some kind of credentials to certify that he and his message are legitimate. In ancient times, they might have been a signet ring or a document sealed in wax. The gospel as Paraclete, a royal messenger from God, bears several assertions of its eyewitness nature which serve as credentials of this kind, including those at 1:14, 3:33-34, 19:35, 20:30-31, and 21:24-25.

It is a truism that most people over two millennia, when they have written about Jesus, say more about themselves in their interpretations than they do about Jesus himself. This has been true from the first. Paul, who loved the spotlight on himself, who loved being a big man in the Roman world, presented Jesus as a Roman-style godling. Barnabas, as a Levite, portrays Jesus in the Letter to the Hebrews as High Priest. And Lazarus and John the Presbyter, whose own work was as communicators, present Jesus as Messenger (αγγελος, angel), and as a vessel (temple) containing the Word of God – and this gospel is exactly that as well: a messenger, and a vessel (book) containing the Word of God as given by the Messenger Jesus. This is how Jesus says in the gospel that he will still be present with them/us: this gospel, the Paraclete, is his continuing presence in the world.

This gospel is, of course, a story, a recollection in words. The modern Western civilization has reduced storytelling to mere entertainment, to a commodity, and disregards its power to inspire and teach. But classical cultures worldwide, in all periods of time including the present (Native American, Native African, Taoist, Aborigine, and others), know stories not only inspire and teach, but actually evoke the sacred presence of “those who have gone before”. As it is put in The Circle of Life:

Stories are powerful ceremonies that, told properly and well, evoke powerful sacred presences; they can be healing. … As the storyteller is telling it, the story is vivid in the minds of both teller and hearers; the hearers enter into the story themselves, becoming a part of it. … In the way of the traditional peoples, names and stories are everpresent, just as visions are everpresent, if only we have the eyes to see them – and, more than the names, the spirits are everpresent. As Jesus promised his disciples before leaving them, “Lo, I am with you always.” … Through stories we transcend the contours of linear time, moving into the past and future and coming back enriching the present moment with meaning. Through stories we experience the deeds, the very lives, of our ancestors, and gain perspective on our own lives. Every time we tell or hear a particular story we recharge it, making it come alive again in the here and now. … Storytelling is central to traditional cultures worldwide. It is stories – and the visions and dreams behind them – that gather the people of a nation together and give them a common identity. More than that: stories – and the visions and dreams behind them – are a nation’s treasure: the common heritage, the common wisdom, and the source of its sacred power. Stories are sacred ceremonies: when told properly and well, they evoke powerful presences. … The past, to the traditional way of thinking, is the stories that have been told and can still be told; the future is the stories that have not yet been told. Thus, this present moment is ceremony in progress, stories in the making. This moment now, with you holding this book in your hands as you read it, is your story-in-the-making. Some day to come you will remember reading this book. You won’t have this book in your hands, but you will remember reading something in it that really struck you, and what it made you think about, and what you did that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. This remembering will be for you a story, part of the greater story of your life. … Stories, and their kin – songs, dances, art works – are examples of gateways, as I call them: gateways between worlds and dimensions. Stories, you see, are ceremonies of shared experience: when we tell stories of the First Persons, the apparent distance in time and space is bridged by these gateways, and they are present with us; even more, we become one with them. Therefore we tell stories with care, since telling the stories activates those gateways and brings closer the beings of other worlds and dimensions, or even the incomprehensible beings deep in the Spirit World. When we tell the classic stories that have been told for generations, we are indeed drawing close some powerful spirits indeed….

Mary and her Mary

Following is a heavily revised section of my commentaries on John 20:16, in reference to what Mary and Jesus call each other at the resurrection. This is part of my ongoing project of establishing the original text of the Gospel of John (before later religious authorities edited it to bring it into line with their Jesus-as-Roman-godling dogma), and translating it from the Greek with commentaries.

The Aramaic word in this passage of the Peshitta for “lord” or “master” is ܡܪܝܐ, which is pronounced mary. Her name, “Mary”, is either ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam) or, more likely on the lips of her husband, in its familiar form, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (Marya) – this name, though from a different root, is spelled and pronounced identically to mary, the word for “lord” or “master”; only the vowel markings differ. Therefore, if this was what Mary said, then these verses contain a kind of sacred pun: she is looking for her mary, her master, and he calls her his Mary. Very possibly, in the original verse 16, or in the recollection of Lazarus of what his mother later told him of this event, Jesus said “Mary!”, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (marya), and Mary replied with not ܪܒܢ (raban), but “Mary!”, ܡܪܝܐ (mary).

This pun, like others in this gospel, is of course not to be comical, as are puns in the modern Western civilization – though the author of the gospel no doubt intended the “Mary!” “Mary!” exchange to elicit a smile from readers: it is amusing, and the gospel is laced with a good deal of this kind of gentle humor. But here and always in this gospel it would primarily be intended to deliver a sacred message; in this case, to make very clear to us the closeness of this man and this woman, indeed their unity as a couple, as “one flesh”, as each a κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort) to the other, to cite the term the Gospel of Philip uses in reference to them.

We do not know whether the Beloved Disciple described his memories to his amanuensis in Aramaic or Greek; we do not even know whether the Greek-speaking amanuensis (probably John the Presbyter) was at all familiar with Aramaic; probably not, since his Hebrew was so weak that his inserted quotations from the Tanakh come from the Septuagint, the classical translation of the Jewish scriptures into Greek. Yet certainly our eyewitness’s memory of these vivid experiences carried them in the vessel of Aramaic. And we know that the actual conversations Jesus engaged in (certainly with those closest to him, Mary and his disciples) were in Aramaic, excepting perhaps only those with foreigners, such as Pontius Pilate. It is absolutely inconceivable that Mary and the disciples would have interjected Greek into their Aramaic, calling Jesus κυριη; that foreign word would have been uncomfortable on their lips. There can be no question but that they called Jesus either ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy, “rabbi”) or ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al, “lord” or “master”) or ܡܪܝܐ, mary. The first was not yet common as a term of respect for religious leaders; thus, the possibility that Mary said mary is very strong, not only by the force of the pun it would present in this scene, but in that similar punning is frequently encountered in the gospel, including this very scene, with isha/isha.

What is more, given the complex inclusio of this entire conversation with that in 1:38-42, this strong possibility raises the question whether the word in 1:41 was originally mary as well, to preserve the several parallels. Indeed, μεσσιας is simply a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic ܡܫܝܚܐ (meshiha), which is in its spelling and pronunciation not far from ܡܪܝܐ, and quite conceivably the redactor could have been reminded of this near-homonym and near-synonym when he was deciding what to substitute for the latter. Strengthening this possibility is the fact that, out of the entire New Testament, the transliteration μεσσιας is found only here and at 4:25,29, where Jesus first meets Mary. It seems extremely likely therefore, that here, 4:25,29, and at 20:16 (and perhaps verses 2, 13, and 18) the original text had mary.

Again, as with isha/isha, this sacred pun would be to emphasize how Jesus and Mary, as portrayed in this gospel (as in the Gospel of Philip), were each the other’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort). And again, this may have simply been too incomprehensible or romantic for the redactor, seeking at a late stage in the devolution of the original gospel to conform it to the dogma of the new Christian religion, who would have quickly changed mary (“lord”) for rabbouni, and even incorrectly adding that this is a word in Hebrew.

Supporting this possible mary/Mary reading is the fact that, as James Daniel Tabor has documented, the Talpiot tomb includes one ossuary marked “Marya”, and another marked “Maramenon he [known as] Mara”, two affectionate diminutives of the name Mariam (Mary). The organic material in the latter ossuary bears no mitochondrial DNA relation on the mothers’ side to the material in the ossuary marked “Yeshuah bar Yehosef” (Jesus son of Joseph), raising the strong likelihood that these are the remains of the one Mary significant in Jesus’s life who wasn’t blood-related to him: Mary Magdalene. (The first ossuary, Tabor concludes, contains the remains of Mary the mother of Jesus.) Add to that the fact that the noncanonical Acts of Philip refers to her as Mariamne (a slightly different Greek spelling of “Maramenon”), suggesting an oral remembrance of her being called that during her life. Add to that, as Wayne Johnson points out, the fact that the word mari (“husband” in French) and the English word “marry” are etymologically rooted in this woman’s name; etymology, i.e., linguistic archæology, often reveals facts that have otherwise been lost to time.