Bartering Faith in John 21

Simon the Wannabe:

The Barter Scene in John 21:15-19 in the Syriac Aramaic


By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Works of John Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.



Jesus wants Simon to know that what he is about to say is very, very serious. Thus he notably does not refer to Simon by his nickname “the Rock”, which he jestingly gave him at the beginning of the gospel. Rather, he speaks in a formal way, getting Simon’s attention with his formal name, σιμονιωαννου (Simon Iōannou), in effect Simon son of John, in those days the equivalent to saying one’s surname. More than that, this formal naming is to remind Simon of his father, John the Immerser (who is just called “John” in John’s gospel; he is usually today called the Baptist, that being an approximate transliteration of the Greek word, which lacks any meaning in English), who three times in the first chapter of the gospel affirmed Jesus’s status as Messiah.

But the Aramaic has Jesus call Simon by a very different formal name, one that makes it even clearer how very serious he is! The Syriac Sinaiticus has Jesus call him ܫܡܥܘܢ ܒܪܗ ܕܝܘܢܢ (Shimon bar d’Ywnn), which other translators have always put into English as “Simon son of John” or else “Simon son of Jonah”. The problem is that Simon’s father’s name is always spelled ܝܘܚܢܢ (Ywḥnn, Yochanan, equivalent to John in English) in the gospel, including in the identical phrase “Simon son of John” at John 1:42, and every time John the Immerser is mentioned in the gospel. This is, in fact, also the case everywhere in the New Testament: John is always called ܝܘܚܢܢ – except only here. The name “John” means “God has been gracious”; it is not related to the name “Jonah”, which comes from the word ܝܘܢܐ (yawnā, “dove”). If Jesus is calling him “son of Jonah”, the reference is to the tale of Jonah, whose three days inside the sea monster have been taken since very early in Christianity as prefiguring Jesus’s three days in death (see The Gospel of John, page 574).

The slightly later Peshitta is almost the same; it calls him “son of (the) dove”, ܝܘܢܐ (yawnā), the word from which the name Jonah is derived. And the overt reference to “dove” here is all but certainly a reference to Mary, Jesus’s wife. Jesus refers to his disciples as his children, and thus by extension they are the spiritual children of Mary as well. And Mary is frequently equated in the gospel with a dove, especially in the baptism scene (see the “dove” references in the index on page 1082 of The Gospel of John).

As a result, the suggestion here is that Simon was the son of John the Immerser, not only literally but as his disciple (John 1:35-42), but now he is the disciple of Jesus-and-Mary, who since the resurrection are one person in the image of the male-and-female-as-one Elohim. And this status is implied with the one word, Jonah/dove. Therefore, Jesus is not only formally addressing Simon by his legal name to get his attention and to say the ensuing conversation is highly serious; Jesus is also reminding him that he is his spiritual child, his disciple, and so required to obey Jesus(-and-Mary) in all things; thus, whatever Jesus demands of Simon he must do, and it is really not a matter for bartering and bargaining.

But that, of course, is exactly what transpires in the next verses: Simon the businessman turns Jesus’s demand into haggling, the kind of negotiations he would often have engaged in at fish markets, selling his hauls wholesale. More than that, the reference to Mary here, as dove, remains relevant. As we shall see, in these next verses Jesus will again implicitly refer to Mary, and the subsequent exchange (21:21-22) will be overtly about her; in fact, this entire letter was written to “clear the air” about Mary in regard to what Simon was told about her by Jesus. Jesus, as shall be discussed, is about to demand Simon to make peace with Mary (with whom he is often contentious), and moreover to become one with Jesus in the love of αγαπη, as Mary already has.

Nor is this all. When Jesus calls Simon ܒܪܗ ܕܝܘܢܢ (bar d’ywnn), the same word ܝܘܢܢ (ywnn) also can mean someone who has learned to speak Greek or someone who is not really a Greek but is trying to be a Greek – what today is called a “wannabe” (cf. R Payne Smith’s Aramaic dictionaries). And the wordܒܪܗ (bar), which usually means “son of”, can mean someone who is a member of a certain group or class. Thus Jesus is also accusing Simon of being one of the “wannabe Greek” class, a Galilean who thinks his nouveau riche financial success can buy him acceptance as a member of the larger Græco-Roman society. Becoming a Greek was indeed the goal of many wealthy Judæans, such as Buni, one of the two or three most prosperous Jews in Jerusalem, and who spoke fluent Greek and went by the name Nicodemus (cf. The Gospel of John, pages 226-28). And being a wannabe Greek is in fact the very criticism that Paul lobs at him in Galatians 2, as will be discussed below; Paul, in fact, was trying to go in the other direction: he was one of the Herodians, a group who had no Hebrew ancestry but who wanted to be accepted as Jews! By making this “wannabe Greek” insinuation, Jesus is implying the very question he is about to ask, if the businessman Simon, interested mainly in making lots of money, who negotiates hard, refusing to be flexible, and gets what he wants, “loves me more than these”, the fish and the money they will earn him. In this scene Simon fails: he negotiates hard with Jesus, refusing to be flexible, and offers to love Jesus with φιλια, but not with the αγαπη that would be a love “more than these”.

None of these Jonah-dove-wannabe are to be found in the Greek Textus Receptus. A single manuscript, the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus (A or 02), reads σιμων ιωνα (Simon [son of] Jonah). This manuscript is hard to classify, containing Byzantine and Alexandrian textual variations, and it is not impossible that this reading connects somehow with the Syriac reading. I believe this text was published as a separate letter to the seven congregations of Asia overseen by John the Presbyter to counter the rumor then circulating that the Beloved Disciple was not going to die, and that it was thus written in Greek for communities of Diaspora Jews and gentiles that would have had more facility with Greek than Aramaic or Hebrew. Still, the complex subtlety of Jesus’s naming of Simon here, which is very Johannine in its style, and its persistence in the Aramaic (the Codex Syriac Sinaiticus, the Peshitta, and the Crawford) suggests it is an old reading that was widespread in that language, which in turn raises the possibility that this letter was originally composed in Aramaic, and later put into Greek.

To us, the parallels are obvious between this scene and both the Immerser’s triple affirmation of Jesus and the Rock’s triple denial of him because we have always known this letter as the Textus Receptus presents it to us, at the end of the gospel. But the Presbyter did not necessarily mean for them to come prominently to his first readers’ minds because, of course, at the time John wrote this letter he was not yet even seriously contemplating writing the gospel – it would take the council in Ephesus to persuade him to compose it. Yes, he probably had told his disciples about the triple affirmation and triple denial, but these would not likely come to their minds in reading or hearing this letter unless he had added something to make the analogies plain; John is always an author of considerable precision.

Therefore, what he probably intended should first strike the minds of the seven congregations of Asia as this letter was read aloud to them is the threeness of this charge to Simon and that it is another failure on the latter’s part. Threeness has been associated with deity since the most ancient times in the West, long before the Christians invented the Trinity as part of their dogma. To ask this question of Simon, with his formal name and three times, therefore, is equivalent to asking him under oath in the courtroom of God: it implies Jesus is concerned that Simon might not be entirely truthful unless he uses these means (the formal name, the threeness) to compel him to truth.

It is usually stated by scholars, and it is true to a degree, that αγαπη means unconditional love, a love given without price, such as the love of spouse or children; and φιλια as the love between equals, as defined by Aristotle a love dispassionate and virtuous, and yet also often used in referring to close relatives or spouses. However we must remember that αγαπη is not found in classical texts dating from before it appears in early proto-Christian writings, especially those of the Presbyter. In fact it is not at all unlikely that John made up this word: indeed, several other words appear for the first time in his œuvre. If he did invent it, he did so on a firm foundation; the verb ἀγαπάω (agapaō) is well attested in the classical literature, meaning “to love” with overtones of desire for, content with, and pleasure in the beloved. In his writings John uses the word αγαπη to refer to the love of God for Jesus and/or his for God, Jesus’s love for his followers and/or theirs for him, theirs for God and/or God’s for them, or Jesus’s love for Mary, the Beloved Disciple. This is the love that establishes to the oneness that Jesus prayed would be evidenced among his followers (John 17:21), the oneness that he demonstrated by becoming wholly one with Mary at the resurrection. In The Gospel of John (pages 525-27) I argue that Jesus may have been and John certainly was exposed to Buddhism; John’s articulation of Jesus’s philosophy is undeniably close to that of Buddhism, and it is sad that Christianity ignored this closeness and for two millennia, until Thomas Merton, was antipathetic toward Buddhism and all other faiths despite the essential unity of truth and love at the core of every faith. That said, the concept here is close to one central to Buddhism of करुणा (karuṇā), the love/mercy/compassion that flows naturally when one recognizes one’s oneness with all beings. More than oneness, it really means giving up the idea of myself in favor of the great self, the letting-go of आत्मन् (atman, the individual soul) so it is one with ब्रह्मन् (Brahman, the universal soul), the relinquishment of the delusory “little I” in favor of the reality of “the great I AM”, as Coleridge translates אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, the phrase that was shortened to יהוה, YHWH (see The Gospel of John, pages 171-74). Note that I try to reproduce the subtleties of αγαπη and φιλια in English with, respectively, “love” and “have affection for”.

Thus, by twice asking αγαπας με (agapas me), “Do you love me?” Jesus is essentially asking Simon the Rock if he is willing to be one with Jesus. But every time Jesus asks about αγαπη, Simon replies “Yes”, but in terms of φιλια, not a sacred love of oneness but a secular love of equality. And in response to Simon affirming the love of equality, Jesus commands him to humility: “Feed my sheep.”

The traditional explanation of these verses is that Jesus by this means forgives Simon for denying him thrice. Yet since I find this text to have been written before composition of the gospel was even seriously contemplated, I think that while the Presbyter may have had the connection in mind it was not what he wanted to primarily impart to his first readers/hearers.

A careful analysis of the text reveals the nature of this tripartite exchange to be in effect a negotiation, such as is common in barter economies between buyer and seller. And it is not only a failure to negotiate to mutually acceptable terms; it also records Simon’s failure to measure up to Jesus’s expectations. The question Jesus asks changes subtly each time, and Simon’s reply does not change: Simon is holding fast to his “price” and refusing to barter. Jesus twice asks Simon: “Do you love me more than these?”, a question in which the word for “love” is αγαπη (agapē). The third time Jesus asks, he switches to the word φιλια (philia), “have affection for”, which is the word with which Simon has been answering all along.

We begin by considering what Jesus means by “more than these”. The text does not say what he means by the pronoun, and so we must assume that the always careful Presbyter means something obvious to the reader. To find the obvious, we must remember the context: men fishing by night, frustrated that they have found nothing, and then Jesus guides them to a haul so remarkable that they counted the fish. Peter, not wanting to lose this huge and valuable catch, singlehandedly drags the net to safety closer to shore. So the answer is that “these” means the fish, and by extension Simon’s livelihood, and in fact his wealth. The word τούτων (toutōn) usually means “these” as indicating something visibly present before the speaker and hearer. If he is speaking of fish, Jesus is certainly pointing to the one hundred and fifty-three of them in the net. (Note that the Syriac Sinaiticus version lacks this phrase “more than these”; it does appear in the somewhat later Peshitta.)

There are abundant hints in the New Testament that his business was doing quite well. Galilee’s fishing and farming economy was foundering at the time under low wholesale market rates and heavy Roman taxation, forcing many local residents to sell out to wealthy magnates in Jerusalem and elsewhere, becoming employees of what once had been their own businesses, tenants on what had once been their own land. However the gospels portray Simon the Rock’s fishing business as highly successful, employing several men, which suggests he had some special arrangement with the Roman authorities – say, to provide fish to the military cohort – and probably a special break on the taxes. Some early writers, most notably Nonnus of Panopolis (late fourth or early fifth century), speculate that what Mary mentioned to the gatekeeper about in John 18:16, in order to get him admitted into the precincts of the consul, Pontius Pilate, was that Simon was an authorized supplier of fish to the Roman military and governmental presence in Jerusalem. It is also possible that this deal ensuring success at the expense of his fellow Galileans, this deal with the monster who sentenced Christ (as Paul calls him) to death, is the shame in Simon’s past to which Paul alludes in Galatians 2:6; Paul goes on to accuse Simon of indulging in a lavish gentile lifestyle (Galatians 2:11-14). The same in John’s past alluded to in Galatians 2:6 would be that he was a one of the highest priests in the Temple, and so was associated with those who arranged Jesus’s arrest. Paul is trying to make Simon and John guilty by association of the death of Jesus.

Thus, Jesus opens his barter negotiation with Simon the rich businessman by asking if he loves him more than he loves the fish that make him so wealthy. In other words, he is asking which of these Simon values higher, and if he is ready to give up his dedication to making money to follow Jesus. Clearly, by his replies (in which he sticks with φιλια, the lower form of love), Simon is not ready to do so. And, though Paul never heard about this conversation, it shows that he had named a serious fault on Simon’s part in Galatians 2.

Next we turn to a consideration of the shift in terminology. The first two times Jesus asks if Simon loves him he uses the word αγαπη (agapē), and Simon answers with the word φιλια (philia). The third time Jesus switches to φιλια, as in a bargaining situation, and Simon responds with the same. In other words, Jesus twice asks Simon to “exchange” αγαπη with him, Jesus’s αγαπη for Simon’s αγαπη, with the result of this “exchange” being their oneness. But in return for the αγαπη of Jesus, “goods” of higher quality, Simon replies that he is only willing to provide “goods” of still fine but lesser quality, φιλια. To this, every time, Jesus says in effect, “If you are going to give lesser quality φιλια in exchange for my highest quality αγαπη, then you need to give me something else to make up for the imbalance in the exchange – you need to “feed my sheep.” Therefore, Jesus is demanding two things: αγαπη and “feed my sheep”. Then, in the third question, Jesus asks for φιλια, lowering his expectations in one of his two demands to the same as Simon’s in order to make the deal. If Jesus moves toward the middle on one thing, then in a typical barter situation Simon would move toward the middle on the other thing, and agree to the “feed my sheep” clause. But the text tells us that Simon is ελυπηθη (elypēthē) that Jesus is still demanding a hard bargain: he is not “grieved”, as this is usually translated, but “vexed”; especially when Jesus says he still requires the added value of “feed my sheep.” It probably means Simon uttered a loud sigh of frustration to say he was giving up the negotiation. Their barter arrangement at this point falls apart and is not consummated.

Note also that Jesus commands Simon first “Feed my lambs” (αρνια, arnia), then “Shepherd my sheep”, then “Feed my sheep” (προβατα, probata). This shift seems rather clearly to be mere stylistic variations until we look at the Aramaic versions – these have Jesus tell Simon to “feed/tend/graze” first ܐܡܪܝ (emrāy, “lambs”), then ܢܩܘܬܝ (neqyāta, “ewes”), and last ܥܪܒܝ (ˁerbā, “sheep”): the young, the adult females, and the adult males. The slightly later Peshitta reverses the order of the second and third, but the point is the same. Especially interesting is that the verb ܐܪܥܝ (rˁy) can mean “feed/tend/graze” or “become reconciled”. The first word for sheep, ܐܡܪܝ (imarā), is very similar to Mary’s name, ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam), and the specific mention of ewes also provides a hint. Les Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a late 1300s “book of hours” illuminated manuscript, includes two very similar depictions of this immersion scene, however the dove descending from overhead is replaced in the other by a lamb putting its forepaws on John’s arm, which may recall what John 1:32 suggests, that Mary came down to Jesus at his immersion. The picture given in several early texts of a less than harmonious relationship between Simon and Mary (cf. The Gospel of John, page 188) that apparently eventually was healed (I Peter 5:13). Thus Jesus may be demanding Simon, at least in part, to reconcile himself to Mary, to take care of not only her sister Martha, Simon’s wife, but Mary too.

This subtext may also explain why, instantly after this conversation, Simon pointedly asks Jesus about Mary (21:20-21). She is in an agapē relationship with Jesus, the kind he is demanding of Simon, and Simon is asking, “Well, what kind of further ‘feed my sheep’ demand did you impose on her when you bartered with her about love?” And Jesus’s answer clearly says (21:22), “What I negotiated with her is none of your business.”

At the same time, Jesus is saying, “Take care of all my followers: male, female, and children.” In response to this, Simon may have thought to himself, “Well, feeding the sheep is what I do for a living!”, since his business was to catch fish and sell them wholesale for human consumption. Then it might slowly have dawned on him (the gospel often has dawning comprehension come at the dawn of the day) that this command had a metaphorical meaning; one does not get the impression from this gospel that Simon readily comprehended such subtleties.

Who, then, specifically were the sheep Jesus had in mind is open to question. They could be the Jewish and Samaritan residents of Palestine. They could be the Diaspora. They could even be (as Acts 15:7 suggests) the gentiles.

In the first question Jesus asks Simon if he loves him “more than these” – and it is unclear if by “these” Jesus means the things of this world, or the fish for which he fishes as his work, or the other disciples. If the other disciples, then there is irony that this tripartite conversation about love is followed by a conversation about the disciple whom Jesus has (always) loved.

This exchange may at first glance appear unrelated to what follows, in verses 18-19. Moreover, one may wonder why John provides the tripartite love-bargain and the talk about Simon’s old age when the sole stated purpose of this letter is to counter the rumor of Mary’s immortality by clarifying exactly what Jesus said on that matter on the day in question.

The answer to this is that this tripartite dialogue and the old age comments have everything to do with the final question and answer. This is affirmed by Jesus saying in 21:19, as a closure to the conversation, “Follow me.” When we are young, Jesus says, we wear what we want and go where we wish; when we are old, we wear what others put on us and go where they wish. But, if Simon were to “Follow me”, to go where Jesus wishes, he will enter the Æon and be truly free. Jesus wants Simon to affirm αγαπη, oneness-in-love with God and Jesus and all life, as Mary has accepted it. But Simon will only accept φιλια, he will not let go of his selfish little sense of personal identity, he will not relinquish his wealth, he will not sacrifice himself as Jesus did on the cross, and as Mary did at the resurrection (in the Syriac Aramaic version of John 20:1-16 the words ܩܪܒ [qrb] and ܣܠܩ [klm], referring to Mary, carry the sense of lifting oneself up in sacrifice).

And so, if Simon insists on keeping his possessions of wealth and especially the possession of self, Jesus requires him to relinquish at least the physical possessions so precious to him, and use them to “Feed my sheep.” And so, too, Jesus warns Simon (21:18) that the possession of self is ephemeral, that Simon will grow old and will be pushed and pulled around where he does not want to go, and eventually will die. And so again Jesus says to him (21:19b), as he did at the beginning to Simon and the first disciples (John 1:43) “Follow me!” But here Jesus means not simply that Simon should follow Jesus as rabbi through Galilee and Judæa, but that he should follow Jesus’s example and let go of self, enter the Æon, and become one with God, with Jesus, and with all life.

The verb Jesus uses is ακολουθεω (akoloutheō). It means much more than “to follow”. In Aristophanes and Plutarch it can mean “to follow as a disciple”. Sometimes it is used in reference to the obedience of a servant. It can carry the sense of “conform oneself to” or “adhere to” the example set by someone else, which I think is the case here. It comes from κελευθος (keleuthos), which means “road” or “path”, and metaphorically, in Æschylus and Euripides for example, a way of life. The latter word is a synonym of οδος (hodos) in John 14:6. Jesus is still holding out the ideal of αγαπη and urging Simon, if not now, some day to accept this oneness.

The verb Jesus uses is ακολουθεω (akoloutheō). It means much more than “to follow”. In Aristophanes and Plutarch it can mean “to follow as a disciple”. Sometimes it is used in reference to the obedience of a servant. It can carry the sense of “conform oneself to” or “adhere to” the example set by someone else, which I think is the case here. It comes from κελευθος (keleuthos), which means “road” or “path”, and metaphorically, in Æschylus and Euripides for example, a way of life. The latter word is a synonym of οδος (hodos) in John 14:6. Jesus is still holding out the ideal of αγαπη and urging Simon, if not now, some day to accept this oneness.

Given the statement in verse 19a, commentators are forever contorting themselves to explain how Jesus’s statement, clearly about old age, is actually about Simon the Rock (Peter) being tied to a cross and thus forced to go where he doesn’t want to go – because, according to various early sources, Simon was executed by Rome at a relatively early age; he did not live to be an old man. Yet verse 18 is not to be taken as a prophecy of Simon’s death.It clearly says “when you grow old”, and Simon was not old when according to Christian tradition he was executed. And it clearly says “tie your cincture”, the rope belt used to secure one’s outer tunic. Jesus is simply assuming Simon will someday be old, just as anyone would in speaking to another person about his or her future. Jesus is neither foreseeing nor prophesying about Simon’s fate. It was later dogma of the Christian religion that Jesus is God incarnate and thus during his lifetime knew exactly what was going to take place in the future; for the Presbyter, Jesus is a very wise human being, but still a human being, with no more ability to see the future than you or I. Rather, Jesus was speaking in general terms of the future of all human beings: that when we are old and weak we are taken about against our will by the young. The statement in verse 19a, therefore, as an obvious interpolation by the redactor, is removed from the text. It reads as follows:


τουτο δε ειπεν σημαινων ποιω θανατω δοξασει τον θεον


This, indeed, he said to signal by what death he was to glorify God.


Absent the statement in 19a, what is Jesus saying? He is saying care for “my lambs” because some day in the future they will care for you (“you” referring to Simon, but also to everyone), so take good care of them now so they will take good care of you in your final years. And, to take good care of them now, “Follow me”: follow the example and teaching of Jesus and love them even as he loved you.



The Female Beloved Disciple

Two Unnamed Disciples Named – and the Beloved One is a Woman!

A Look at John 21:2 and 24 in Greek and Aramaic


By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Works of John Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.


The two unnamed disciples in John 21:2 might be Andrew and Levi son of Hilphai; the only extant fragment we have of the Gospel of Peter breaks off with a reference to this fishing episode, and it mentions Peter, Andrew, and Levi as taking part. One of them could also be Philip, who like Andrew is mentioned in the gospel proper. But arguing against this view is the fact that Andrew at least and probably Philip too were associated with John the Presbyter (The Gospel of John, page 234), as surely were others as well who would have remembered who the unnamed two were, whom he could have asked to fill in any gaps in memory (his or Mary’s) on this point.

To arrive at the best understanding of these two unnamed disciples it is essential to recall the point that this letter was written to set the record straight as to what happened on that fateful morning; thus it would hardly begin by conceding faulty memory! And so I think the two disciples are identified, but rather than here they are identified in the last verse, which is an example of the Presbyter’s inclusio technique, since it also speaks of two disciples: one who “bears witness” as to what happened that day and one who has written it down. In fact, verse 24 is deliberately meant to identify the two disciples in verse 2: it begins ουτοςεστιν, “this is”, with the “this” clearly referring back to those two mentioned at the beginning. The first is of course the Beloved Disciple, who is being counted among the seven disciples present in this scene: she being on shore with Jesus, and the other six in the boat. The other can only be John himself, the Presbyter-to-be, having left the Temple priesthood to join this little band of Jesus followers. That the other, John, “knows that her (Mary’s) testimony is true” tells us that he was there with the disciples that morning, whether or not he was privy to the private conversation. The use of inclusio in the Gospel of John is so prominent that its appearance here also serves to confirm the authorship of the Presbyter.

In verse 21:24 we find both individuals responsible for this letter have in effect “signed their names” to it: The first phrase, “This is the disciple who bears witness concerning all this”, is the signature of Mary, the Beloved Disciple, the primary eyewitness. The second phrase, “…and (this is) the one who has written these things”, refers to John the Presbyter, the amanuensis and secondary eyewitness. Therefore, these phrases give us a picture of the working relationship between the two, as discussed in the Introduction. The third phrase refers to the two of them together: “…and we (both) know that her (Mary’s) testimony is true.” The gospel would later be given seven certifications of verity similar to this one; this is the first, and in it both Mary and John here certify their certainty that Mary’s testimony is true. The gospel makes references, such as at 8:13, to the requirement in the laws of the Torah (e.g., Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15) of at least two witnesses, and any first-century Jew reading this text would instantly think of this requirement, and so Mary and John present themselves here as the two witnesses.

These two disciples are the two unnamed disciples mentioned at the end of verse 2; by in effect saying who they are here at the end this short work has an A-B-A symmetry, which of course prefigures its monumental presence in the Gospel of John.

The Greek pronouns in this verse are inspecific as to gender: either disciple could be of either gender. But the Aramaic versions are quite different in this regard. Verse 24 in the early Codex Syriac Sinaiticus says:


ܗܢܘ ܬܠܡܝܕܐ ܕܐܣܗܕ ܥܠ ܗܠܝܢ ܘܟܬܒ ܐܢ̈ܝܢ ܘܝܕܥܝܢ ܐܢܚܢܢ ܕܫܪܝܪܐ ܗܝ ܣܗܕܘܬܗ


This disciple (is) the one who witnessed about these (things), and also (this is the disciple who) has written them. And we know that she, the first one, (has testified) true testimony.


The personal pronoun referring back to the disciple who giving the testimony, the Beloved Disciple, ܗܝ (), without question means “she”. And the somewhat later Peshitta reads:


ܗܢܘ ܬܠܡܝܕܐ ܕܐܣܗܕ ܥܠ ܗܠܝܢ ܟܠܗܝܢ ܘܐܦ ܟܬܒ ܐܢܝܢ ܘܝܕܥܝܢ ܚܢܢ ܕܫܪܝܪܐ ܗܝ ܣܗܕܘܬܗ


This disciple witnessed about all these (things); also (this is the disciple who) has written them. We know that she (has testified) true testimony.


Again the same feminine pronoun. While the sense of the verse is on the whole identical to the Greek, no surviving Greek text has anything like a feminine pronoun here. Since the wording of these two Aramaic texts is slightly different but in nothing important, they have to be based on an earlier text that does not survive that specifically said the Beloved Disciple was a “she”. There are no specifically feminine pronouns in the Greek of this period, so no way to say she has testified true testimony or her testimony is true. This strongly suggests not a Greek but an Aramaic original behind the the two texts cited above, which were modified in slightly different ways by the copyists who prepared them.

Given the facts of the text, it is astonishing to me that every major translation of the Codex Syriac Sinaiticus and the Peshitta puts down “he” in the English instead of “she”. This is not just reading what the text clearly says through the soiled and distorting lenses of later dogma, this is irresponsible translating. Since most New Testament scholars rely on these translations, being unacquainted with the Aramaic language, the fact of this feminine pronoun has not been properly studied.



Making Mary Male: Misogyny?

Making Mary Male:

Is Gospel of Thomas Logion 114 Really Misogynist?


By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

In logion 36 of the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “Do not worry from dawn to dusk, or from dusk to dawn, about what you shall wear” (cf. Matthew 6:25-30). In the following logion (the Coptic text and my translation may be found on page 1051) 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 has Jesus reply similarly, but adds a further thought: “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.” This is an eschatology in which the two genders become one, in which they become again the image and likeness of their Creator, Elohim, in which male and female are one.

This eschatology is found also in the Gospel of Thomas, particularly in the last logion in the book (114), which, unfortunately, is widely misunderstood:

Simon the Rock said this to them: “Let Mariam [Mary] go away from us, for women are not worthy of the [Æonian] life.”


Jesus said this: “Look, I will draw her into myself so I may make her male, so she may also be a living spirit resembling you males: for any woman who makes herself male will enter the Realm of Heaven.”


Viewing it with modern sensibilities, scholars often dismiss this logion as an example of first-century misogyny, insisting Jesus couldn’t possibly have said the Æon, the Realm of Heaven, was an all-male bastion! But Jesus is actually referring to the Hebrew myth of the creation of male and female. In the first creation story Elohim (God understood as comprising male and female aspects wholly united) creates by separating complementary opposites: day from night, above from below, land from sea, and the many living creatures male from female; but, last, Elohim creates the single hermaphroditic human in Elohim’s own image, hence undivided, male-and-female as one.

Note that the traditional translation of Genesis 1:26-27 (“in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”) is faulty. The word usually translated “man” is הָֽאָדָם֙ (hā’āḏām), “the human being”/”humanity”, from a root meaning “red”, referring to blood, which is the essence of life in ancient Hebrew thinking; being the first one, this being needed no name, and “Adam” only became a name when later there were other humans. The words usually translated “him” and “them”, אֹת֑וֹ(’ō·ṯōw) and אֹתָֽם(’ō·ṯām), are spelling variations of the word אוֹת (oth), which is simply an accusative marker in Hebrew, providing a direct object when a verb requires one, but it is inspecific; in English, yes, it can suggest “him” or “them”, but just as easily “her” or “it” or even “you” (singular or plural); in this case, “it” is appropriate, but the plural “you” is implied, especially in the Talmudic interpretations, for we were all created in this creature that encompasses all humanity: we all exist in potentia in this first godly human creature. Moreover, note that the second word, the one usually translated “them”, אֹתָֽם (’ō·ṯām), is a double entendre that also means “sign” (in the sense of “miracle”): the first human is a miracle: it is not separated complementary opposites, but a single being that integrates its complements in Elohim’s image.

The second creation story then has YHWH draw forth womankind, in the person of Eve, from the side of the prototypical hermaphrodite, leaving him male, and now with a name, Adam. The word given as “Eve” in English, חַוָּה (chavvah), means “life” or “life-giver”: YHWH takes the very essence of life out of the male; a man (the Talmud assures us) has no life except when he is united with a woman.

With this understood, Jesus thus is saying in Thomas 114 that the female and the male, in order to enter into the Æon, the Realm of Heaven, must again become one. Mary, as is made clear in this resurrection scene, is reborn to a new life along with her husband Jesus: they experience in this scene a hierogamy, a spiritual marriage, which renders them truly one, hence truly reflecting the image and likeness of Elohim, and fully capable of entering into the Æon.

F. F. Bruce (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament) is the only scholar who to my knowledge interprets this logion correctly; he nicely summarizes Jesus’s point thus:

Jesus’s promise that she will become a man, so as to gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven, envisages the reintegration of the original order, when Adam was created male and female (Genesis 1.27). Adam was “the man” as much before the removal of Eve from his side as after (Genesis 2:18-25). Therefore, when the primal unity is restored and death is abolished, man will still be man (albeit more perfectly so), but woman will no longer be woman; she will be reabsorbed into man.


Jesus thus transforms and elevates Mary’s humble nakedness, the nakedness of a menial laborer and destitute widow, into the highest sacredness here truly he and she are transfigured into δοξα (doxa), the splendor of highest glory.

This interpretation of logion 114 is supported by logion 22, in which Jesus says in part, “When you make the two one … when you make the male and the female a single one, such that the male is not male nor the female female … then you shall enter into [the Realm of Heaven].” Likewise he says in logion 75, “There are many standing at the door, but the united/whole/single ones (are) the ones who will go in to the bridal chamber.” Speaking to his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus says that of two who share a bed (who are married) one shall live and the other die, implying the crucifixion and also Mary becoming one with him, and adds: “If one is whole, one will be filled with light; however, if one is divided (into separate male and female), one will be filled with darkness”.

We also find the exact same theology in the Naassene Document, as quoted by Hippolytus (Adversus Hæreses [Against Heresies], 5:1); it compares the First Man (the Protanthropos), Adam, the fundamental being who was at first hermaphroditic but then separated into two gendered individuals, to the Son of Humanity,Jesus,who is restored as hermaphroditic. And he quotes (12:1) a Naassene hymn that refers to Jesus and Mary thus: “From you the Father, and through you the Mother, the two immortal names, the progenitors of the Æon.”

And in the Gospel of Philip, for instance in logion 76:

In the days (when) Eve was within Adam, death did not exist. (When) she was separated from him, death came into being. If again she goes into (him), and he takes her into himself, death shall not exist.


This interpretation of the Adam-and-Eve story was not new to John or Philip, and it was absolutely not Gnostic; it was a prominent feature in Judaism. The Talmud speaks of this uniting of male and female; I have previously quoted this line: “Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘Any man who has no wife is no proper man; for it is written, “Male and female created He them and called their name Adam”’” (Yebamoth 63). Talmudic midrashim (commentaries) on Genesis 1:27 offer several examples. Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar says that the first adam was created an androgynous, a male-female. Gen. Rabbah 8:1, Ber. 61a, and Eruvin 18a all say that the first adam was in the image of Elohim, being both male and female, and thus “double-faced”, and that God later, in Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman’s words, “split him apart”. Some rabbis even found a reference to this “double-faced” first human in Psalm 139:5. While the verse is usually translated “Behind me and before me you [God] have beset me, and laid your hand (on me)”, the first verb צוּר can mean not only “to beset” but “to create” or even “to fashion” as does an artisan, as it does in Jeremiah 1:5. With the verb taken this way, the rabbis read the psalmist as saying God fashioned him (“laid your hand [on me]”) with a face “behind me and before me”.

Even Paul seems quite aware of this uniting-of-the-sexes-in-the-image-and-likeness-of-God at Galatians 3:28, though he puts on it his usual spin, saying that all human differences are eliminated if we become one with God in the form of Jesus.

In the commentary to 19:31-35 I pointed out the similarities between the word for “side” or “rib” in Genesis 2:21, צְלָעֹת (tselah), and in John 19:34, πλευρας (pleuras), and suggested that Jesus in that moment died, just as God put a “deep sleep” on Adam, and that the soldier’s death-thrust was the beginning of God’s spiritual surgery, putting Eve back into Adam, Mary back into Jesus, female back into male, and restoring the original hermaphroditic human whose nature is in the image of Elohim, God understood as male and female as one. Again note that צְלָעֹת is a feminine word in Hebrew, and that the Talmud thus associates Adam’s side, and Eve, with the Tabernacle of God, pointing as well to Exodus 26:20, where the same word צְלָעֹת appears in the description of the construction of the Tabernacle; the Talmud also often draws a connection between having a family and the construction of the blessed Tabernacle.

Note also that the word for Tabernacle, מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan), literally means “dwelling place”, and that the Torah specifies a tent (אֹ֫הֶל; ohel) is put over it, and that the glory (כָּבוֺד; kabod) of God (e.g., Exodus 40:34-35), a presence of God that was in time understood as the feminine aspect of God, שכינה‎, the Shekhina. Note further, as detailed on page 625, that the Samaritans are probably right to say the Tabernacle was kept at Mount Gerizim, and that the Samaritan Torah is correct to say in Deuteronomy 16 “at the place that was chosen at Mount Gerizim”, the mountain where the Samaritan Temple had been located, and at the foot of which he met with his wife-to-be, the priestess Mary. The Jewish Torah changed these references to a vague “the place that God will choose”, since they couldn’t pretend the Torah said either that Jerusalem was that early in their hands, or that Jerusalem was made the political and religious center for anything but political reasons. Still, the Jerusalem Temple was the eventual location where Solomon placed the Tabernacle (I Kings 8:4), where it joined the Ark of the Covenant, placed by David in the Temple, which was conveniently interpreted as its “tent” (II Samuel 6:16 and I Chronicles 15:1).

With all this in mind we turn to Revelation 21:2-4, wherein we are told of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having been prepared as a bride, having been adorned for her husband,” and a voice saying “the tent (σκηνη; skēnē) is with/in humanity”, and that “death will be no more”. The city is described in detail; surprisingly, we are told (21:23) that it has no Temple, nor that it has need of sunlight or moonlight, because “the glory of God has lit it up, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Of course, in Jesus’s time Samaria had no Temple, and soon (70 C.E.) Jerusalem would also never again have one – but Jesus is implying, as he does in 4:21-24, that we, humanity, are the proper Temple for the presence of God! Throughout the Revelation, the bride of the Lamb refers to Mary, Jesus’s bride, the priestess of Gerizim, the “woman clothed with the sun” (12:1), that is, naked, who bears his child. Thus, as in the Talmud, we find here in John the Presbyter’s last masterpiece that the city is Jesus’s bride, and that the tent, the Tabernacle, with humanity is filled with Mary’s presence too: the Shekhina. We are told that Heaven and Earth are one, and that the holy city is full of God and the Lamb: in short, Jesus’s and Mary’s oneness are found everywhere in the Æon as described in the Revelation, and their becoming one is why “death will be no more”.

And this Revelation theology of Jesus and Mary, the new primordial couple reunited in the image of Elohim, is the same theology which the Presbyter presents to us also in this resurrection scene. Jesus emerges from his “deep sleep” (Genesis 2:21) of death, naked in the primordial garden, and is presented by God with his bride, Mary, but now she is for him literally “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”, for they are completely one. The Tabernacle of God, we are being told, is not found in Jerusalem or at Gerizim or in any other such mundane location (John 4:21-24), but in our very being, when we overcome the separation into individuality and the fear or arrogation that this separation produces, and become one first with our spouses, but beyond that with all humanity (17:21, I John 4:7).

While it is no shock to find this image of the first human as hermaphroditic in the Talmud, it may be surprising that the same story appears, with even many of the same details, in Plato, with whom the Presbyter often herein demonstrates his familiarity. The philosopher’s friend, the playwright Aristophanes, summarizes the following Greek myth in Symposium, one that is rich in similarities to the story in Genesis. This could have provided as much inspiration to John the Presbyter as did Genesis and the Talmud, since it is all but certain that he studied Plato in his youth with Philo of Alexandria.

Now [at first] the sexes were three, … because the sun, moon, and earth are three; and the man was originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved round and round because they resembled their parents. Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods.


[Zeus decided:] … “I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us.” … After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they began to die from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them, – being the sections of entire men or women – and clung to that. …


And such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together, and yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment. … And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.


There was a time, I say, when we were one, but now because of the wickedness of mankind God has dispersed us. … For if we are friends of God and at peace with him we shall find our own true loves, which rarely happens in this world at present. … Wherefore, if we would praise him who has given to us the benefit, we must praise the god Love, who is our greatest benefactor, both leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future, for he promises that if we are pious, he will restore us to our original state.


Mary, Myrrh, and the Oil of Chrism

By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Writings of John the Presbyter Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.


This small section of the Didachē, 10b:1-2, originally written for the leaders of the seven local congregations under the purview of John the Presbyter as regional bishop, and not for general readers in very different civilizations and centuries, assumes a shared knowledge, not written here, about the ointment and what it was used for; therefore, we today cannot be sure of what that shared knowledge was. So, to begin to form a strong hypothesis as to the meaning and use implied by this text, we turn first as we should to another writing on this subject from the Presbyter himself, I John 2:20 and 27, found on page ###. From these two verses we gather that the seven local congregational leaders were anointed (χρισμα, chrisma) in recognition of their graduation from the status of disciples, students, since they now “know all things” and “have no need of anyone to teach [them]”. The text tells us that this anointing came from the Holy One (τουαγιου, tou hagiou), God, and that it served to teach them about all things; a phrase that recalls John 14:26 (“But the Paraclete, the Sacred Spirit/Breath/Wind whom the father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of all the things that I said to you.”), and so was in John’s mind closely associated with the Paraclete, the Spirit of God. The Presbyter came to believe that the Paraclete was incarnated into (i.e., that its physical form was) the Gospel of John, which as he drafted I John was in the final stages of completion (he never would entirely finish it). Thus it is nigh impossible that all seven of these local congregational leaders had written copies of the gospel; John is in the letter referring rather to its oral equivalent, his witness (μαρτυρια, martyria) he has shared with them to the teachings and deeds of Jesus, which, in terms of content, was of course pretty much equivalent.

The Greek word translated “ointment”, μυρου (myrou), appears in Homer and Hesiod to mean a flow of tears and in Herodotus to mean an ointment. Both senses are intended here; the Greek word is etymologically related to the Hebrew (also Aramaic) words מֹר (mor, “myrrh”), referring to the resin of a thorny tree, harvested by wounding the tree until drop by drop it bleeds out its bitter lifeblood; מָר (mar, “drop”), as in a drop of myrrh resin but also by extension a teardrop; and הרמ (mara, “bitter”), which goes back to the root referring to the resin, but often by extension is used to describe tears. Myrrh, the ointment, was used as a narcotic, as an anæsthetic to induce deathlike unconsciousness for surgery, and as an embalming ointment. No wonder that the word in both languages was associated with death. Myrrh was also a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud. The name of Mary, which of course is that of Jesus’s wife, is in Judaism traditionally explained as coming from the new name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter myrrhlike tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13, though its actual origin lies in Egyptian theology; see The Gospel of John, pages 969-71). The “crown of thorns” put on Jesus’s head in John 19:2, really a wreath, was almost certainly made from myrrh branches, since there would have been plenty of myrrh in the area of the Temple in those final hours before Passover began for the compounding of ketoret. Ironic that Jesus dies just a year after his wedding to Mary, since Jewish bridal couples in that time wore wreaths. And myrrh was almost certainly in the narcotic palliative mixture given to Jesus in the sour wine (John 19:29), and was also part of the embalming mixture (John 19:39).

In Temple-based Judaism oil was used to consecrate: animal sacrifices, and also people, usually to the priesthood. But there was a shift in its sacramental purpose: Jesus’s disciples used oil to heal (Mark 6:13), which suggests Jesus taught this use, even if no surviving text says so. Indeed, he must have emphasized it, since the use of anointing oil to heal persisted among among the early Jerusalemite congregations, those overseen by James and John and Simon (James 5:14); there is no clear reference in the Pauline letters to this practice. What is the connection between oil as consecrating and oil as healing? The connection probably is that the oil was administered in order to heal the catechumen of the many illnesses and cleanse away the many pollutions that had collected in the catechumen over a lifetime living in the κοσμος, the human world of cheating and lying and hating – illnesses and pollutions both physiological and psychological; in classical thinking there was little difference between the two, since in those days unlike our post-Cartesian times, the mind/soul and body were seen as intimately connected. Thus, healed of these illness, the catechumen was a “perfect sacrifice”, fit to be recognized as a sacred witness to God’s revelation through Jesus.

In his teachings the Presbyter would have associated this oil for anointing the catechumen with Mary because of all the homophonic connections it would evoke with myrrh and teras and her very name, as just discussed, and especially because Mary anointed Jesus as Messiah and king just before his death (John 12:3) and was prepared to do so afterward (John 20:1) but anointed him instead with her tears of joy (John 20:16-17). Oils and ointments are still used today to alleviate pain and promote healing; in the first century they were used the very same way with both humans and animals. Mary also was Jesus’s healer: she drew him forth from the waters of the Jordan (John 1:32), she anointed him with healing balm (John 12:3), and after the resurrection, so the texts tell us, she continued to take care of him (see The Gospel of John, pages 208-10).

Likewise, John would associate the waters of immersion (baptism) with Jesus, because of John’s immersion of Jesus (John 1:30-34) and Jesus’s washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-11). Therefore, for John, these two together, the oil and the water, would have invoked the living presence of Mary and Jesus: the catechumen was welcomed into the community by Mary and Jesus, the sacred couple who together image Elohim, through those who knew them, such as John, and through the text in the Didachē read aloud over the catechumen for his or her edification, through those who knew those (like John) who knew them.

It was just as much a truism in the first century as it is now that “oil and water do not mix” – but the miracle here is that they did and do when they are symbolic of Mary and Jesus the primal couple. They became one through death and rebirth, and the administration of oil and water to invoke their presence was likewise intended to make the catechumen one with them.

We know very little about the bridal chamber ceremony that was evidently central to these Jerusalemite congregations, just the few hints we can cull especially from the Gospel of Philip (see the references listed at page 1082 in The Gospel of John). But these hints suggest that catechumens entered into the spiritual community as couples, as husbands and wives, and I think they were anointed with the oil and water as part of the bridal chamber ceremony, since oil and water represented that primal couple Mary and Jesus who at the resurrection became one person in the image of Elohim. The ceremony also apparently involved coïtus as the commentaries to John 20 (q.v.) make clear.

This Didachē passage tells us the μυρου – the bitter tears, the ointment, the myrrh of lifesaving operations and death, the bitter tears of Mary, the stone of dreams – was made known to John and his people through (δια, dia) Jesus. Thus to be anointed with oil is to be recognized as a priest or king or prophet; to be anointed with myrrh, associated with death, is to be made a living record of the story of Jesus’s life, a living gospel, a μαρτυρια, martyria, witness, a living ευαγγελιον (euangelion, “gospel”, literally, the reward that was given to a messenger for delivering good news). It did not matter that technically speaking (so far as we know) none of John’s disciples had ever even seen Jesus as he had; what was important was that in accepting John’s own testimony into themselves they made his testimony theirs too, and so they were also witnesses to Jesus. This, ultimately, was Paul’s mistake: the fact that he never had met Jesus was not really an issue, but his refusal to listen to the witness of those who had listened to Jesus, and his insistence on pontificating about Jesus as if he were one of those who had listened to him, such that Paul’s disciples took in this false testimony as their own and spread the false testimony to their disciples, and on and on over the generations to our day today: that was for John and James and Simon Peter the real issue. They would have been glad if Paul had come to them and learned the truth from the eyewitnesses, and had become himself a proper living witness to the truth about Jesus, and then put his extraordinary skills at rhetoric at the service of giving others that true witness; but, alas, this he did not do, because he wanted to be in full charge.

Cyril of Jerusalem, writing in the late 300s, confirms this understanding of I John 2:20 and 27 and Didachē 10b by saying about the oil of chrism that και τω μεν φαινομενω μυρω το σωμα χριεται, τω δε αγιω και ζωοποιω Πνευματι η ψυχη αγιαζεται. (“while with the apparent ointment the body is being anointed, with the holy and life-giving Spirit the soul is sanctified”; On the Mysteries, 3:3). The Coptic Orthodox Church teaches that confirmation was in the beginning performed by the laying on of hands by the first apostles; but as it was believed the ability to confirm by this means could not be transferred to the recipient, John Mark, the son of Jesus, began their tradition of using instead a mixture of the spices used to anoint Jesus’s body, together with oil, to form what they called forming the first mayrun (cognate to the Greek and Hebrew words given above). The Constitutions of the Apostles and Cyril of Jerusalem both say the person was stripped naked, then anointed with oil, says Cyril, “from the hairs of the head to the soles of the feet”, and then led by the hand to the baptismal waters. Even in modern Orthodoxy this understanding survives: Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says in The Orthodox Church (1963), “Through Chrismation every member of the Church becomes a prophet and receives a share in the royal priesthood of Christ; all Christians alike, because they are chrismated, are called to act as conscious witnesses to the Truth.”

As a side comment, it is sad that today so much of Christianity, especially in the West, especially in Protestantism, has lost and forgotten the ritual of anointing oil: this seems to me intimately connected with Christianity historically forgetting how Mary and Jesus were united as one being at the resurrection, and demoting Mary from his wife and co-Messiah, his κοινωνος, his συνεκλεκτη, into a humble prostitute begging his absolution.

The term מָשִׁיחַ (mashiach, garbled into English as “messiah”) means “anointed one”. In early times it was used in reference to historical leaders the Israelites believed had been sent by God to bring the people to freedom. In later ages it became a standardized ritual means of investing kings and Temple priests by anointing them over the head with oil (cf. Psalm 23:5b), signifying their adoption by God, and therefore they were called “sons of God” (cf. e.g. II Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:6-7). John believed an anointed one, a Jewish king or priest, for instance, was an ordinary human being consecrated to God, who thus followed God’s will, the Logos. John himself had not only been an anointed Temple priest but sometimes, Polycrates a student of Polycarp and bishop in Ephesus tells us, “wore the petalon”, meaning he occasionally filled in as high priest (see The Gospel of John, pages 207-09). He must have adapted the Temple investiture of priests that he remembered to invest his own “bishops” as witnesses and prophets to Jesus, to the gospel, to the Logos.

This much gives us the general picture. But the details are unknown. Did this ceremony now known as chrism to the Roman Catholic Church and chrismation to the Orthodox Church extend only to John’s local bishops, or to all of the members of the seven communities? By Cyril’s time, it seems every confirmed Christian was first anointed with oil and then baptized in water (later the order was reversed, and later yet the Protestants eliminated the oil of chrism altogether) – but that was after this Jewish movement of Jesus followers had become a new, separate religion, after mikvah (ritual immersion) had become baptism, and after the Johannine theology, the original teachings of Jesus, had been squelched in favor of the doctrines of Paul, a man who had never met Jesus. So such questions will probably remain forever unanswered.


The Aramaic Revelation

By James David Audlin. Drafts for the introduction to the restoration of the original Aramaic text of The Revelation to John, to be published in 2015 by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

It is all but certain that the Revelation was composed in Aramaic; the most obvious reason among others is that the Greek text is riddled with grammatical mistakes, nearly all of which turn out to be good grammar in Aramaic. This is a clear sign that the scribe who put it into Greek was so filled with piety for the holy, inspired work in front of him that he rendered it with slavish literality, preferring to translate it so exactly that his Greek syntax suffered to the point of frequent near-incomprehensibility. So verbatim is this translation that to anyone familiar with both languages it has the same clumsy clunkiness of a text translated by computer. Unfortunately, this putative original author’s version in Aramaic does not survive. But the good news is that the Greek Textus Receptus must be very close to that original, and, where it is difficult to follow, the solution should be found by consulting the best and earliest Aramaic text we have, the so-called Crawford Revelation.

It is also a near certainty that this best and earliest Aramaic text is not a direct translation from the Greek. The Crawford manuscript (so named for a previous owner) is the oldest complete New Testament in Aramaic; by “complete” I mean that it includes the Antilegomena (II Peter, II and III John, and Jude) and the Revelation, works which for centuries were not part of the New Testament in Eastern Christianity. In fact, the Crawford includes the earliest extant Aramaic version of the Revelation. In its entirety, especially in the Revelation, this Syriac manuscript displays an eloquent, literary, often explicitly poetic, and virtually flawless Aramaic. Moreover, when the Crawford New Testament quotes the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament), the wording clearly comes from a Semitic original, either the Hebrew Bible or the Aramaic Targum, and not from the Greek version, the Septuagint. And also, no Greek text or combination of Greek texts could possibly be the original behind the Crawford Revelation. Thus it overstrains credulity to believe that an Aramaic original of presumably high literary quality was translated into inferior Greek, which was then back-translated into beautiful Aramaic.

For the most part the Crawford and the standard Greek text of Revelation agree in meaning, and that is an important consideration; the latter, as a direct translation of the lost Aramaic original, must be consulted in any effort to establish that original. Still, there are many significant differences between the two that strongly suggest the Crawford does not rely on the Greek. Indeed, when compared to the Crawford, the Textus Receptus displays another fault: the translator’s decision to mirror the Aramaic in the Greek ran into a problem when he came upon Aramaic words that had no exact Greek equivalent, and so he was forced to make up some kind of approximation in Greek.

For instance, in the very first chapter, in verse 13, the Crawford says the figure is wearing an ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ (ˀăpūḏā), an ephod, the breastplate traditionally worn by the high priests in the Temple, but the Greek incorrectly says instead that the figure is ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη, “clothed to the feet”. If the scribe responsible for the Crawford had been basing it on the Greek, he would have simply translated “clothed to the feet” into Aramaic, for there is nothing in that phrase that even hints at the ephod. Only if he were endowed with the most astonishing parapsychological powers could he have known to put down ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ for ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη.

What is not clear is the relationship between these two Aramaic texts, the lost original and the Crawford. The author’s draft of the Revelation was written down in the year 68, and the Crawford manuscript dates to the twelfth century, more than a millennium later. It would thus be foolish to say it is a faithful copy of the Presbyter’s original text, or something close to it, or that it is the source for the Greek Textus Receptus, as does one Crawford translator, David Bauscher.

Some scholars think the Crawford New Testament may be, or may be closely related to, the Philoxenian (completed in 508) or Harklean New Testaments, which may or may not be the same thing; I think not, since what we have of these versions (completed respectively in 508 and 616) is heavily influenced in vocabulary and text by the Greek, and the Crawford shows not the least sign of such influence.

First, we must remember that during those twelve hundred years Eastern Christianity had virtually no interest in the Revelation: it was for that communion not even part of the New Testament canon, and so no wonder that, though a plethora of Eastern theological texts and hymns survive, there is very little that even might be based on the apocalyptic imagery of the Revelation.

Second, the shelf life of manuscripts was usually far shorter than a millennium; they often were destroyed by fire, mold, worms, political tyrants, or (worse) self-appointed theological censors and santizers. In fact, it is a miracle that we have as many New Testament manuscripts as we do, and we must not forget that they are but a tiny (and very likely in some ways unrepresentative and even misleading) portion of all the manuscripts that were produced, to say nothing of the far greater provenance of oral witness, in a day when oral witness was not only much more common but generally more trusted (see The Gospel of John, pages 219-21). Therefore, the chain of manuscripts that led to the Crawford had to comprise a minimum of links, and in every generation of copies only one or a very few copies must have been made. Since it is a basic fact in the study of ancient manuscripts that the more copies the greater the number of textual variations, this situation tells us that over the centuries there was far less possibility of multiple versions than in the West, where the Greek (and later Latin) copies were in such abundance that the number of variant readings for nearly every New Testament verse is bewildering. In turn, the small chance of variant readings in the Syriac Aramaic Revelation over these twelve centuries maximizes the possibility of the Crawford being reasonably faithful to its predecessors.

Put another way, the fact that we have not even a single stepping stone of textual evidence between the original manuscript of Revelation and the Crawford Revelation actually is far from a fatal blow to any theory that the two are related. In fact, it tells us something extremely important: that the number of generations of copies between them – each of which could easily result in some straying here and there from the original text; indeed, even a lot of straying – is decidedly small. There is always that chance, be it great or small, that the Crawford was copied directly from the autograph or an early and faithful copy thereof.

There are internal clues in the Crawford. For the most part, it is equivalent to the much later Peshitta version, but clearly with added corrections. Sometimes the Crawford text simply reads differently from the Peshitta as if it were at such a point copied directly from another manuscript unlike the Peshitta. Sometimes we find a corrected word squeezed into the available space after the incorrect Peshitta word was scraped away by the scribe. Sometimes, when the corrections would not fit within the body of the text, we find them added in the margin, together with notes regarding their proper placement, as in verse 2:23.

Therefore, a reasonable guess is that the Crawford was made by consulting two earlier manuscripts. One must have resembled the Peshitta text, and this one was the main one used for simply copying text. The other was one that was carefully compared by the same or another scribe to the Peshitta-type text, and where it differed from the latter, he saw to it that the Crawford followed this non-Peshitta-type manuscript. The fact that the Crawford was not simply copied from this better non-Peshitta manuscript but the less correct Peshitta-type text suggests that the latter was more recent and therefore sturdy enough to withstand constant daily use required by the copying process, and the other, better, text that was the source of the corrections was fragile – too fragile to use on a constant basis as a base text, but that still be carefully consulted for purposes of comparison and correction. This scenario suggests that the better manuscript was far older than the one used simply for copying.

Of course it is possible that the older, better manuscript was the autograph or something very close to it. But we must not leap to that conclusion. Arguing against such a claim is the presence of obvious interpolations, such as the one in verse 1:7 that comes from Matthew 24:30, a gospel that was not written for quite a few years after the Revelation was first composed. Certainly this interpolation may be present in the Crawford simply because it was found in both the source manuscript and the correction manuscript. On the other hand, any number of scenarios could explain why the scribe might retain such interpolations even if he found them only in his source (Peshitta-type) manuscript: for instance, because they were by then considered authentically part of the Revelation, or because since they came from other parts of scripture (Matthew in this case) they had to be retained because they were scripture.

I think the Crawford is probably closely related to the Presbyter’s original text, but what the exact relationship might or might not be I care not to guess – and nobody knows, despite all the arguing. While I admire the many scholars and amateur enthusiasts who insist that much or all of the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic, I am frustrated by the energy they put into foolish rationalizations. If any canonical text was written in Aramaic, it is the Revelation, but calm and caution will serve better to establish that than histrionics. I am equally frustrated by the scholars who insist that the entire New Testament, including the Revelation, was composed in Greek, who even as they sneer at the Aramaic primacists resort to irrationally complex and hence unlikely theories to explain away the plain evidence and common-sense conclusion that the Crawford is related to the autograph.

My conclusion that both the Crawford and the Greek Textus Receptus are close to the autograph, though in different ways. Therefore my decision is to base the reconstruction herein of the original text primarily on the Crawford – not only is it the only Syriac manuscript of Revelation that is not overtly a translation from the Greek, but it is a work of extremely high literary quality. As a close second to the Crawford my approximation is founded on the Greek Textus Receptus, and tertiarily on the standard Syriac version that is now (but was not originally) part of the Peshitta New Testament, referred to henceforth simply as the Peshitta.


There is more discussion and explanation of the Aramaic original in my commentaries to this work than of Greek in the commentaries in the previous volumes. Even though presumably most readers read neither Greek nor Aramaic, they are still more familiar with the Greek language, which as an ancestor of most Western European tongues has contributed a vast number of words to them: the modern speaker of English is talking in Greek far more often than he or she realizes. What is more, modern Westerners are the children of the Greek world. Its philosophers, poets, and historians are the founders of their culture, and the Græco-Roman way of viewing the world in the first centuries of the common era still pertains today as normative: like those Greek philosophers, the modern Westerner has a sense of self as somewhat divorced from its surroundings, in which the individual takes precedence over the people, and in which one must compete with one’s fellows rather than coöperate with them for the greater good. The Bible, though written almost entirely by Semitic people, is read and interpreted through an exclusively Greek perspective, from which God and heaven are hope distant in time and space (if not nonexistent for them) and Satan or at least evil, seen as a puissant force of malevolence nurtured in the hearts of everyone they hate, is constantly besieging them and requiring a doughty defense using the same methods used by these others.

Thus to do my job adequately well I must hold up as often as I can a Semitic lens to this text, and one important way to do this is by discussing the original language of the text to enable the reader to have a better sense of its meaning for the author and his original readers.

Indeed, I think John the Presbyter was very conscious of these two extremely different worlds. His earlier works, with the probable exception of the short letter called II John, and most prominently the Gospel of John, were originally written in Greek – excellent Greek to be sure, but still a foreign language to him. John was taught the tools of logic and historical analysis by Philo in Greek, but he was taught about life and God by Jesus in Aramaic. John wrote Greek well, but he did his deepest thinking in his mother tongue, Aramaic.

Why then, after decades of composing great works almost exclusively in Greek, did the Presbyter on Patmos and ever after write his last major works, the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One, in Aramaic? In short, his earlier Greek works brought Jesus to the world, but his later Aramaic works brought the world to Jesus.

John’s Greek writings were immediately intelligible to most people in the eastern Mediterranean region and a large plurality in the Italian peninsula and to its west as well. But what these readers were reading were translations: they were John’s best approximation in Greek of Jesus’s teachings in Aramaic, and so the sublime wisdom was inevitably distorted to a degree. His last works would have been comprehensible to only a very few outside the communities of Jews and Samaritans in Judæa and the surrounding countryside, and in the cities of the Diaspora, such as Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rome – but no more. Still, these works were the truth: they were lenses without defect, letting through directly and ideally the light of Jesus’s teachings, which John believed was given to Jesus by God.

John’s first works were also in what were familiar formats in the pervasive Græco-Roman civilization. His gospel was structurally modelled on classical plays, Platonic dialogues, and histories. They use the Greek mind-tools of logic and reason. But his last works were not only linguistically but culturally foreign to the imperial world. The Greeks and Romans as individuals and as a culture believed in seizing power and using it to take advantage of others before they did the same thing to you, but faithful Jews and Samaritans sought to love their neighbors as themselves; they saw holiness and deity as extremely vividly present in their daily lives, as more present to them than even this mundane world, more present to them than even themselves: with every breath they inhaled the ruach of God and exhaled the sacred name YHWH. Thus at the climax of his first great work in Aramaic, when in Revelation 21:1-3 John saw heaven coming down to be united with earth, he was seeing the Semitic way being imposed upon the Greek way: heaven as no longer far away, God no longer as just a distant concept, but coming down to earth and wiping away all the tears of pain and grief.

So John’s shift to Aramaic was a shift from adjusting Jesus’s teachings to fit the Greek world (the Gospel of John) to expecting the world to adjust to Jesus’s teachings (the Revelation and the Songs). The world might or might not do so – but, to adopt Ezekiel’s analogy, John’s responsibility was only to blow the warning bugle; if the world ignored his clarion alarm, it was the world’s fault, not John’s.

The Presbyter’s “return to his roots” is also intimately related to a fundamental change in his central philosophy, as has been discussed elsewhere in this group of books. John, together with Simon the Rock (Peter) and James the Just (Jesus’s brother) had originally expected Jesus to retire from the world stage for a time, while they spread his teachings far and wide, among the Semitic peoples and the Greeks and Romans as well; and then Jesus would come back and lead a peaceful revolution of his followers to overthrow and replace the evil Roman Empire with an earthly approximation of God’s sacred realm, the Æon. This, of course, is the original sense of the “immediate parousia”; the word παρουσια refers to a king coming in full pomp and splendor to review the troops after they have won the war, to receive from them power over the newly conquered territory.

But Jesus (as discussed for instance in The Gospel of John at pages 1039-40) was in terrible physical condition following his crucifixion, and eventually he with Mary relocated in Rome and then Gaul (ibid., pages 208-18). Furthermore, a man known both as Saul and Paul, who had never even met Jesus, let alone discipled with him, had single-handedly taken nearly complete control of the Jesus movement, teaching Jesus as a Roman-style incarnated godling in a spiritual body not subject to the pain or desires of human flesh, and assuring gentile converts that Jesus did not require them to obey the laws of the Torah. Paul also urged docile obedience to the imperial hegemony, and vehemently dismissed Simon, James, and especially John as hypocritical charlatans. And Paul’s highly evangelistic followers were actively seeking converts among John’s own congregations (as the seven letters in the Revelation attest), even sometimes arranging their arrest or execution (as the Revelation letters suggest Paul himself did to John; see ibid., pages 255-57) such that the number of those who held to the original teachings of Jesus as imparted by John was rapidly and significantly shrinking. Given these two contextual realities, to say nothing of the adamant might of the Roman Empire, the possibility of Jesus establishing a heavenly kingdom on earth would be impossible.

Struggling with this issue, John eventually settled on what I call his “brave new theology” (ibid., pages 362-70), in which the troops were Jesus’s teaching and the new territory not on land but the soul of the individual, and the objective was to persuade each person who encountered this teaching to live in accordance with God’s Logos, God’s perfect plan and natural law for the unfolding of the universe, such that individual by individual the Æon would be established – not as a territory but as a people. And thus the παρουσιαwas the individual’s welcoming of God and God’s appointed emissary-son, the Master Jesus, into one’s soul. This “brave new theology” is expressed in the later chapters of the gospel, but it it is at the heart of the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One – and, written in Aramaic, they come from John’s heart and ultimately from Jesus’s heart, and challenge the reader to adjust him- or herself to these teachings, not to read them as already adjusted to one’s own language and culture, as watered down and made palatable to questionable foreign ways.

Ironically, this idealistic hope on John’s part that he could open the Græco-Roman world up to the Semitic spirituality was in vain. The Revelation was blatantly reinterpreted in a Greek way, as some kind of Sibylline Oracle, as something mad spouted by a priestess at Delphi drunk on poisonous fumes venting from deep caverns. Today the book is smothered under two millennia of misunderstanding, widely used by religious leaders as a fear-eliciting tool to keep the faithful masses under their thumb and providing them with money and power out of dread of an end-of-the-world scenario that has always been just around the corner for two thousand years. And the Songs of the Perfect One – with their very physical Jesus coïtally and spiritually one with his wife Mary, so contrary to the Pauline dogma of Jesus as God in a spiritual body free from human desires – were not banned, which would have encouraged covert attention to them, were not burned, which would have sent copies into hiding, but simply labelled as uninstructive and uninteresting, so they would be destroyed by time: languishing forgotten on dusty back sheles until every copy had moldered or been consumed by worms. This brilliant move very nearly succeeded: today very few manuscripts survive of the Songs, part of the first song and all of the second are utterly lost to time, and only a handful of specialists (and a few dedicated if wacky New Age writers) have even looked at this last and most sublime work of the Presbyter.


Jesus the Blue-Eyed White Guy

By James David Audlin. Adapted from The Writings of John Restored and Translated, and The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume I, published by Editores Volcán Barú, and The Revelation to John, to be published soon by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2013,2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

Voltaire once quipped: if God made man in his own image and likeness, then man (non-inclusive language intended) has certainly returned the favor. And Xenophanes before him said not only do the black Ethiopians have black gods, and the Thracians gods have red hair like the Thracians themselves, but, if horses or cows could paint pictures, they would depict gods that resembled horses and cows.

Little is known about Jesus, but the organized Christian religion has seized control of every extant detail and how to interpret it, filling in the mystery with doctrine, and instructing its believers exactly what to think about him, and to believe that it is their own view. Thus all mystery is dispelled, and the vaunted nature of Jesus tightly controlled as a tool to maintain and extend the worldly control and wealth of religious powers.

But mystery, I believe, is a good thing. And I believe that when we free our minds from organizational control we find in the mysterious shreds of information we have of Jesus that they form a cipher, a mirror, in which we encounter not Jesus so much as ourselves. For two thousand years, interpretations of his life have said far more about the interpreters than about the master. Scholars have mocked each other for creating a Jesus in the other’s image, little realizing not only that the accusers do the very same thing, but that this is inevitable to human nature, and a good thing. For the mystery serves as a mirror: in our image of Jesus we find our own spiritual nature revealed. And I believe that in finding ourselves in the nature of God, the reverse is true, and we find God revealed in our nature. Such is the true meaning of a personal Savior!

Indeed, the canonical gospels tell of Jesus’s transfigured appearance. Several early noncanonical texts, and early Christian writers such as Irenæus, speak of Jesus as appearing in a multiplicity of images. This was not to suggest he was not a historical figure, or that, as a real person his physical form was not fixed in nature, but to express a spiritual truth, that Jesus comes to each of us as we are, meeting us in our nature, and leading us on from there. In the noncanonical Acts of John, for instance, some disciples at the same time see Jesus variously as a child, a handsome youth, and a bald older man with flowing beard; sometimes he is solid to the touch and sometimes immaterial. The Gospel of Philip says: “Jesus took them all by surprise, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to perceive him. … He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to humans as a human. Because of this, his word hid itself from everyone. Some indeed saw him, thinking that they were seeing themselves, but when he appeared to his disciples in glory on the mount, he was not small. He became great, but he made the disciples great, that they might be able to see him in his greatness.” Origen, an early Christian apologist, quotes this agraphon (saying not found in the four canonical gospels) of Jesus: “On account of the sick I was sick, and on account of the hungry I was hungry, and on account of the thirsty I was thirsty.” And the canonical gospels have Jesus say, after a similar comment, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers [and sisters], you did for me.”

The modern cant is to dismiss these descriptions of a Jesus-of-flowing-appearance as Gnosticism or Docetism. Current-day scholars label as “Gnostic” (often with a disparaging literary sneer, sometimes insinuating certain modern-day “New Age” values that are alien to these works) any ante-Nicene theological view that is unfamiliar to them, or that doesn’t fit snugly within the Pauline-Nicæan framework that became the foundation of institutional Christianity.

But this Jesus-of-flowing-appearance is not Gnostic. The most common quality that helps us recognize the rather amorphous Gnostic movement is that it is dualistic: texts are likely to speak of a “good God” and an “evil God”, responsible respectively for creating a good world and this world, which is not good but mixed or else outright evil, and often not really real. This world not being good, Gnosticism is often marked by a condemnation of the human body, especially its sexuality. It is also noted for a tendency to insist that doctrine must be accepted not by rational thought about solid facts, but by meek acceptance “on faith” on the part of the neophyte of what is taught by the elders: this fits with the meaning of the Greek word from which the term is derived: γνωσις (gnōsis) refers to a sequestered wisdom that is only handed out to those who have merited it. If anyone was Gnostic in the early Jesus movement, it was Paul. Paul, the author or ascribed author of much of the New Testament, the architect of the main framework of orthodox Christian belief for the past two thousand years, was a Gnostic. Paul’s letters repeatedly disparage this universe and discourage our involvement with it. He invests his “evil god”, Satan, with power all but equal to God’s, and puts this universe firmly in Satan’s hands (Ephesians 2). He says our physical nature is riddled with appetitive sin and subject to injury, sickness, old age, death – he even mentions body odor (II Corinthians 2:14-16)! Since in this life we have carnal bodies, which for Paul must be subdued, he insists that the best life is lived in celibacy.

Nor is this vision of Jesus Docetic. Commonly misdefined, Docetism properly speaking is the doctrine that Jesus had a body, one that was fully sensible, including to the touch, however it was not a human body of flesh subject to injury, sickness, age, and death, but one of immutable spiritual substance. Scholars still argue today about whether Paul was a docetist; perhaps he was, perhaps not, and perhaps as with so many other things he waffled on this matter, depending on his audience. (Paul’s propensity for equivocating reminds me of one of Groucho Marx’s quips: “Those are my principles; and, if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”) The important question here, however, is whether John the Presbyter might have reason to believe Paul was a docetist. And the answer is clear. In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul says that though Jesus “existed in God’s own form [μορφην] … he voided [εκενωσεν] his nature, taking on the form [μορφην] of a slave, coming in human semblance [ομοιωματι], and was found to be human in appearance [σχηματι].” In Romans 8:3 he writes: “God sending his own son in the semblance [ομοιωματι] of sinful human flesh.”

In addition to these descriptions of early Christian leaders like Irenæus and Origen, occasionally we find in early iconography depictions from Asia of Jesus with an Oriental appearance, from Africa as a black man, and so on. Occasionally modern artists have dared to image Jesus as having a sexual-erotic aspect to his naturek as even a woman, almost always to a reception of massive derision and even book-banning and the removal of offensive depictions from museum walls, notwithstanding the chimæra, the lie that we humans have a right to free speech.

However the vast preponderance of Jesus imagery, especially that sanctioned by the organized Christian religion, depicts him with the skin, hair, and eyes of a Northern European – when he was surely far from that in his physical appearance. This cannot be accident: it delivers a message to all non-white people that they by their very natures fail to be like Jesus and God, by their very natures they are lesser, and that the White Man is superior and is ordained by God to control all others as his minions, taking from everything of value, including their labor and their raw materials, and replacing their own culture with his own.

Modern Westerners are obsessed with their outer appearance. They spend hours every day grooming themselves, putting on makeup, buying and dressing themselves, checking their look in the mirror, taking pictures of themselves, and assessing others almost entirely on the basis of their own physical natures. These early descriptions and the iconography and art depicting Jesus as anything but the strutting white male reflect his actual teachings that we all have the image of God stamped in our natures, no matter our unimportant outward appearances.

Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are predisposed to read the ancient texts assuming that descriptions of Jesus are physical – when they are spiritual, when they are meant to teach us that he is one with us, and we one with him. Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are nonplussed and offended by images of an African Jesus, a Native American Jesus, a female Jesus.

What, then, should we make of these early descriptions of Jesus with mutable form? We should understand them the same way we do efforts ancient and modern to find the nature of Jesus, the sacred nature that Jesus lived and taught, in ourselves. We are all made in the image and likeness of Elohim, the Bible teaches us – and that is all of us, of both genders, of all sexual orientations and races and ages and abilities and appearances and economic-social statuses.

Jesus’s teaching, in sum, is that we should reject outer appearance as our way of judging the worth of ourselves and others – indeed, we should reject judging altogether, and seek to be one with each other and the God-in-us just as Jesus did (John 17:21-23). We should not even love others in the way we love ourselves, for many of us fail even to love ourselves. Rather, what Leviticus 19:18 literally tells us, and what Jesus meant by quoting it, is that we should love others as ourselves: recognize that they are us, and we are them, that your neighbor is you, and you are your neighbor: that we must be truly one with all.

Jesus indeed often speaks about this matter in the canonical gospels, especially John, though clearly his teachings are universally honored but rarely actually followed. But nowhere does he do so more clearly than in two related agraphons (quotations attributed to him from outside the four canonical gospels). The first comes from a scholar who is called today Pseudo-Cyprian. This third-century and probably Irish scholar, in his Liber de duobus montibus Sina et Sion, 13), says he found this quotation in an epistula Iohannis discipuli sui ad populum (“a letter of John his [Jesus’s] disciple to the people”). That is, it comes from a fourth letter to his seven congregations from John the Presbyter, an eyewitness to Jesus and one of his larger group of disciples.

 Ita me in vobis videte, quomodo quis vestrum se videt in aquam aut in speculum.

See me in yourself as any one of you sees himself in water or in a mirror.

The second is found in a passage in the early second-century potpourri titled the Acts of John, one that I conclude is also genuinely by the Presbyter:

 Λυχνος ειμι σοι τω βλεποτι με. Αμην.

Εσοπτρον ειμι σοι τω νοουντι με. Αμην.

Θυρα ειμι σοι προυοντι με. Αμην.

Οδος ειμι σοι παροδιτη. [Αμην.]


I am a lamp, therefore, to one who looks at me. Amen.

I am a mirror, therefore, to one who thinks of me. Amen.

I am a door to one who passes through me. Amen.

I am a way to the wayfarer. [Amen.]

Given what Jesus was originally teaching, I reject the false idol, the Roman godling that struts above the world at the command of religious and political potentates. I reject too Blond and Blue-Eyed Jesus, Divine Son of the Big White Guy With a Beard Behind the Sky, the pretty but inhuman image caught unmoving in the amber of veneration, and in his manifestation as the Great White Father forced down the throats of non-white people throughout the world.

Give me instead a Jesus who lives and breathes, who loves his wife and children, who loathes hypocrisy, who enjoys talking about faith, who loves to laugh – for that is my nature too. This is the kind of Jesus I find in the Gospel of John: the gospel reflects my nature. In the commentaries to these restorations and translations of the works of the Presbyter I support my assertions with facts and careful deductive logivc, for my view is right-for-me. But I know it may be wrong-for-you. Don’t condemn me; tell me what Jesus you see in this mirror, the Gospel of John! Back it up with facts and logic! And then, let us enjoy a good conversation about the face each sees in the mirror of faith. And let us love this One who shows you yourself and me myself in himself!