Jacobovici’s Crucifixion Nails

Nailing Down the Facts:

Questions to Ask Before Saying the Crucifixion Nails are Identified


James David Audlin


The following text is not part of any of Audlin’s published writings. However the publisher does wish to direct your attention to the definitive edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volumes I and II, published 23 December 2014 by Editores Volcán Barú.

For more information: http://audlinbooks.com/about-james-david-audlin/nonfiction-james-david-audlin/

 * * *


Documentary maker Simcha Jacobovici made the following promotional claim in advance of a documentary that aired recently on television in the United States and other countries:

Here’s a scoop you won’t read anywhere else: According to a new study and a documentary (“Biblical Conspiracies: Nails of the Cross”) that is getting broadcast exclusively on the Science Channel in the US, the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion have been identified – and there’s still bone residue and slivers of ironized wood adhering to the nails!


In the documentary SJ backs away from this promotional claim; he says, quote: “We’re not saying these are the nails. We’re saying these could be the nails.”

Well, yes. They could also be nails from Noah’s Ark. They could be nails from Abraham Lincoln’s first log cabin. But the proving of any such claim is what we need to look at carefully.

I have been asked for my response to the above claim that Jesus’s crucifixion nails have been identified. I am not an expert in archæology, nor in forensics, but I do have a number of questions.

True and proper scholars in all fields follow, as best they can, the standard procedures of scholarly inquiry, including the “scientific method”. They study the evidence from all perspectives. They construct a hypothesis, and then they test it very, very hard, actually trying to find the faults and weaknesses in that hypothesis. They do not arrive at a conclusion, and announce it to the world as fact, until they and other scholars have universally concluded that it is fact.

True and proper scholars in all fields start with the evidence. They analyze it carefully, considering all possibilities. They construct a hypothesis that explains the evidence. And then they themselves “throw darts at it”, to see if they can find weaknesses in the hypothesis. If they do, they change it. They invite and welcome the criticisms of their fellow scholars to the same purpose. And, if necessary, they abandon their hypothesis and, if possible, derive another from the evidence.

True and proper scholars always prefer the most “elegant” hypothesis. That term comes from philosophical logic: the elegant theory is the simplest. When theories get overly complex, like a Rube Goldberg invention, the complexity brings in ever more statistical weight against them. The simplest theory is statistically the likeliest. This “elegance” is a vital “razor” – which is another term in philosophical logic: a “razor” (think of Occam’s Razor) is a means by which a good scholar can decide which hypothesis is the best.

In this light, I am asking questions. The following are some questions that I think need to be asked before any statement of vaunted fact is made about the nails to which Simcha Jacobovici was referring:

How are we to know these nails in Jacobovici’s possession were found, so he says, in Ossuary Three? I understand that Gordon Franz says they came from a collection that was known and catalogued before the Caiaphas tomb was even discovered. We do not have clear photographs of the nails as found in the tomb, nor of Jacobovici’s nails. Without carefully calibrated measurements and photographs it is certainly going to be very hard to say if these are the same nails. What is the pedigree of Jacobovici’s nails? How did they come into his possession? I agree with SJ (and others) that it is unconscionable that the nails were “lost” by the IAA for a period of time, and moreover that they were never properly photographed and catalogued. Still, I remain unsure on the identity of SJ’s nails with those from the Caiaphas tomb. Joe Zias (quoted in Haaretz) says the nails in SJ’s possession went from his laboratory when it was shut down to Dr. Herschkowitz’s laboratory. But Zias also says that these are not the “Caiaphas” nails. Zias and Jacobovici have a long history of mutual antipathy, and so, until the story is cleared up, it’s one man’s word against the other. I am in no position to judge between them (and certainly don’t want to wind up in the crossfire between them), so I do not know who to believe.

But let us assume for the purpose of discussion, that Jacobovici’s nails do come from the Peace Forest tomb. Greenhut’s final archæological report says:

Two iron nails were found in this cave. One was found inside one of the ossuaries and the other in Kokhim IV. It is possible that these nails were used to inscribe the ossuaries after the bones had been deposited in them, possibly even after some of the ossuaries were placed inside the kokhim.


Greenhut has stated elsewhere that the ossuary in which one of the nails was found was Ossuary One.

Simcha Jacobovici claims that Caiaphas’s remains, plus the nails, were found in Ossuary Three. The Greenhut report specifies that Ossuary Three contains the remains of an adult woman, a juvenile, two seven-year-old children, and an infant – but no adult male. It is Ossuary Six that has scratched into the exterior the name of Joseph bar Caiaphas. It is not Ossuary Three. And it is Ossuary One that contained one of the nails, not Ossuary Three.

SJ, in a .pdf text titled “The Nails of the Cross”, gives an interesting scenario to explain the lack of an adult male. He says that they “found their way into the [nearby] bone repository”. To my way of thinking, bones in a sealed tomb don’t find their way anywhere but generally stay where they have been put. Jacobovici’s scenario requires that every bone belonging to the putative adult male he believes was Caiaphas would have to have “found its way” to the repository. After a number of years, of course, the remains in an ossuary are no longer distinguishable from each other, making it impossible to remove just this one man’s bones and no other person’s. If this occurred, someone would have had to have removed Caiaphas’s remains very soon after interment. Granted, this is possible, but it is extremely complex, running afoul of the razor of elegance.

The simplest explanation is that the famous Caiaphas, if his remains are present at all, are in Ossuary Six. There are the remains of six people in Ossuary Six, none of which has been definitively identified as Joseph bar Caiaphas; the assumption, by process of elimination, is that the remains of a male of about 60 years of age, are those of Caiaphas. Ossuary Three, as noted above, does not contain an adult male’s remains, and Jacobovici’s theory that the remains were in there but “found their way” elsewhere is overly complex.

Do we know the famous Caiaphas to be in the ossuary? There were others named Joseph bar Caiaphas, including the famous one’s grandfather and also his grandson. And the fathers of all three were named Caiaphas. So, even if we assume there is someone named Caiaphas interred in the ossuary, we cannot be (yet) certain that this is the famous Caiaphas. Also, assuming one of the remains is that of the high priest, how do we know the nails and organic material if any are to be associated with him, and not with one of the five persons whose remains are in the ossuary?

Next, how are we to know these were nails used in crucifixion? My understanding is that the nails used in the Giv’at ha-Mivtar find (“Yehohanan”) are 11.5 cm., where the two in the possession of Simcha Jacobovici appear to measure 4.5 cm. or less. In general, Romans used nails 13 to 18 cm. That raises the question of whether they could have been used in crucifixion. At the hand or wrist, nails that short would have easily been pulled out by the victim. They would moreover be too short by far to secure ankles or feet.

Herschkowitz says in Jacobovici’s documentary that the nails, short as they are, could have been driven through the palms of a crucifixion victim’s hands. But it is pretty well established that that wasn’t customary in crucifixions; for one thing, the body weight of the victim would pull his hands free from such a nailing, between the fingers. Moreover, I am uncomfortable with the logical leap from “could have been” to “were”. These nails “could have been” used to put up the signboard at Pilate’s order saying Jesus was the Jewish king; why doesn’t Jacobovici consider that? They could have been used to nail Martin Luther’s theses to the church door, too. They “could have been” used for lots of things. Only if we work backwards from a desired conclusion and work the evidence to support it do we see “could have been” turn into “were”.

Dr. Rahmani helpfully points out two important uses for nails in Jewish tombs. First, nails were used to scratch names onto ossuaries, and the one nail found in one of the kokhim in this tomb was likely used for that purpose. This theory is elegant: it explains why the nail is there; but, unfortunately for Jacobovici, it would mean the nail has nothing to do with Jesus’s crucifixion. Dr. Rahmani further says nails were used to secure the ossuary lids to the bone boxes inside. That would serve to explain the presence of the other nail in Ossuary One, should a securing nail have inadvertently fallen into the bone box at any point over two thousand years. But bear in mind that the final report does not mention a nail in Ossuary Three (where Jacobovici puts Caiaphas) nor Ossuary Six (where others think Caiaphas may be).

Jacobovici alleges, correctly, that crucifixion nails were believed to have certain magical healing powers (Mishnah Shab. 6.10). He also acknowledges in his .pdf account that the Mishnah goes on immediately to advise faithful Jews not to use such nails for such a purpose, as it is the practice of Amorites (pagans) – but SJ does not ponder fully the import of this statement. Caiaphas was a high priest; presumably he was punctilious about following the mitzvot of the Torah, which would prevent him from touching objects that had been in contact with human corpses. The Mishnah was compiled within a century after Caiaphas’s life, and its precepts likely reflect what was already held as proper in the high priest’s time. The simplest, most elegant explanation does not require a high priest to have in his possession ritually impure objects for the purposes of engaging in pagan magical practices. The simplest explanation is, as Rahmani suggests, that one nail was for scratching names and the other was to secure the bone box and ossuary lid. But, unfortunately for Jacobovici, that explanation does not lead to his desired conclusion, that these are the crucifixion nails of Jesus.

Making yet another for-the-sake-of-discussion assumption that these are crucifixion nails, how are we to know they are Jesus’s crucifixion nails? Quite a few people were crucified around the time of Caiaphas. And, while Jesus is certainly a major world figure in history ever since his lifetime, he was not celebrated during his lifetime, and in fact appears to have been viewed by leaders such as Caiaphas as more of a problem to be scuttled away out of sight than a hero. Indeed, there is little if anything in the literature to cause us to think that Caiaphas thought so highly of Jesus that he (or someone on his behalf) put these nails in the ossuary.

Further, as to Jacobovici’s claim that there is organic material on the nails. This was established by whom? Analyzed by whom? The DNA was collected and analyzed and determined to be Jesus’s (since Jacobovici implies it is Jesus’s organic material) by whom? How do we know the organic material is not from one of the six people whose remains are in Ossuary Six – or Ossuary Three, or Ossuary One, or the bone repository, given the confusion above? Why and how would Caiaphas preserve not only the “magical talisman” nails, but do so with the care of a modern forensic scientist, such that the organic material was not lost, and ensure that after he had died the people who put his remains in the ossuary also put in the nails with the same care? Much more logical, it seems to me, is the conclusion that, if there is indeed organic material, it belongs to someone’s remains inside the ossuary, not to someone whose remains have nothing to do with the ossuary, and certainly not Jesus, who was crucified many years before Joseph bar Caiaphas’s death, with the likelihood of organic remains coming along with the nails through years of handling rather remote.

I also find it amazing that Simcha Jacobovici handles these nails with his bare hands in the documentary. If they are indeed what he claims, one would think they would be treated with the proverbial “kid gloves”.

Professor Gabriel Barkay has written:

There is no proof whatsoever that those nails came from the cave of Caiaphas. There is no proof that the nails are connected to any bones or any bone residue attached to the nails and no proof from textual data that Caiaphas had the nails for the crucifixion with him after the crucifixion took place and after Jesus was taken down from the cross.


To emphasize again, I am not an expert in the fields that are most relevant to reaching solid fact-based conclusions about the nails in Simcha Jacobovici’s possession. But neither is Simcha Jacobovici. Yet he states clearly in the quotation I give above, “…that the nails of Jesus’s crucifixion have been identified.” Another scholar, defending Jacobovici, characterizes this statement as speculation. Jacobovici, of course, is as entitled to speculate as anyone, expert or not, but this statement is phrased not as mere speculation, but as if it is an established fact. A responsible scholar always clearly labels his or her speculations as speculations, and does not try to characterize them as fact.

Indeed, when it comes to matters revolving around a figure so central to Western history as Jesus, perhaps one should go far more slowly than to go on camera, “playing to the pit”, as it was called in Shakespeare’s time, getting the masses of ordinary people, of relatively credulous television watchers, to swell the parade before experts in the field have really fully done their work, so the experts are made to look like sticks-in-the-mud, suspiciously pinko liberal egghead curmudgeons, who are ashamed of their failures and Jacobovici’s brilliance, and so do not want to accept the latter; characterized thus, the eggheads are easily dismissed in an ad hominem manner. I admire people like Prof. Karen L. King, who to her vast credit has gone ahead with painstaking care on the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” fragment, an item at least as potentially explosive as these nails, and has ignored the scorn and derision aimed at her as she does her job, and as she consults with experts in fields in which she is not well-versed.

Jacobovici’s complex theory does not successfully account for how it is that Caiaphas’s bones aren’t in Ossuary Six, the ornate ossuary that one would expect to be used for the remains of a high priest, but rather in Three, oops, but not in Three but in the bone repository. Nor does it explain satisfactorily how one nail is in Ossuary One and another on the floor elsewhere. Here we have to wonder what happened to the aforementioned “razor” of “elegance” – the philosophical preference for the theory that is simple, not complex, because complexity has too much statistical weight against it.

The simplest explanation is that Caiaphas’s remains are, if anywhere, in Ossuary Six, that a nail used to secure the bone box was in Ossuary One, and that another nail used to scratch names was in one of the kokhim, and thus that they aren’t from Jesus’s or anyone’s crucifixion. The problem with this simple, elegant hypothesis is that it does not lead to Jacobovici’s desired conclusion, that these are the nails from Jesus’s crucifixion.

Clearly Jacobovici is trying to position himself in the role of a scholar, claiming a scientific assessment of these nails. Fine. But if he does so he needs to expect what any decent scholar not just expects, but WELCOMES: the challenges of his or her peers. Any decent scholar takes those challenges seriously, and, if necessary, changes his or her mind as to the summary hypothesis. I ask my questions in this manner.

I hope it is clear that I have no wish to join the many people who, yes, are calling Jacobovici a fraud, an opportunist, and worse in reference to his declarations about the Talpiot/Patio tombs, the ancient Jewish novel Joseph and Aseneth, and now this nail business.

But if anyone at all publicly states that the nails from Jesus’s crucifixion have been identified (the promotional statement above) or may have been identified (the documentary itself), it is right and proper for scholars to question and challenge that assertion. Any good scholar, including the good scholar Jacobovici wants us to believe he is, welcomes such challenges! Therefore, I am not questioning Simcha Jacobovici’s character; I am only questioning his assertion that these are Jesus’s crucifixion nails, and no more.

Simcha Jacobovici is doing his job. His job is making documentaries. But those who are expert in the relevant fields need to do theirs, and he needs to wait for and pay heed to their findings. So should we.

Behold Your Mother

Behold Your Mother: A Poetic Last Testament in John 19:26-27

James David Audlin

From the upcoming new edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II, as published by Editores Volcán Barú, Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

* * *

This essay first discusses who the Gospel of John names as witnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus, deals with the confusion over Clopas/Cleopas/Alphæus/Hilphai, and reconstructs the quatrain in which Jesus confers on the Beloved Disciple filial responsibility for Jesus’s mother. The following includes new material that will be first published in the January 2015 edition.

 * * *

The Beloved Disciple does not appear to be mentioned in the list of witnesses to the crucifixion in these verses, but a closer examination will show that in fact this disciple, Mary, is indeed cited as present, and further identified as the Beloved Disciple and as Jesus’s wife.

Analysis will begin with verse 26, which tells us who were the witnesses to the crucifixion. The Gospel of John gives us a very limited number, and these will be discussed shortly.

First, however, we must discuss which witnesses the Synoptic gospels say were present. (Luke only tells us that “his friends”, including “the women who had followed him from Galilee” were there, so the women present must be more or less those in the lists given in Luke 8:1-3 and Luke 24:10, and the following is based on that assumption.) All three Synoptics put Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion, as does John. They also all place Mary the mother of James the Younger and Joses on the scene; in my opinion this is one way that Jesus’s mother was designated following her remarriage (see the essay on page 410); hence, though there is no specific reference to “Jesus’s mother” in the Synoptics, they still cohere with John, which specifically says his mother was there. Matthew says the mother of the sons of Zebedee was there, but the earlier Gospel of Mark, based on Simon’s eyewitness accounts, lists instead Salome (a garbled Greek version of the Hebrew/Aramaic word for “peace”), who I believe was the mother of Mary Magdalene (see pages 204-05). In sum, there is a reasonable coherence among the three Synoptic gospels that present were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and either Salome (who as we shall see was the mother of the Magdalene) or the wife of Zebedee too.

It is not immediately clear who the women are who are mentioned in the Gospel of John as witnesses to the crucifixion. Depending on how the text is read, either four, three, or two women are mentioned in 19:25.

Four women – Depending on how it is punctuated, this would be either a: Jesus’s mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene; or b: Jesus’s mother, his mother’s sister Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. It is unlikely that two sisters would be both named Mary, and so the second alternative is rejected. The main problem with the four-women hypothesis is that the word και (“and”) appears inconveniently between the first two and second two, and not as would be grammatically correct, either only before the last (Mary Magdalene) or between all four. Also, this alternative would conflict with the Synoptic accounts.

Three women – This would be either a: a kind of acrostic involving all elements except Mary Magdalene: Jesus’s mother Mary, his mother’s sister the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene; or b: Jesus’s mother, his mother’s sister Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Again, the second is eliminated because two sisters would not be named Mary. The first is possible, but the two-women reading that follows is much more satisfying grammatically, factually, and poetically. This option, too, would conflict with the Synoptic account.

Two women – I agree with James D. Tabor that this list comprises an acrostic involving all elements in the verse, including Mary Magdalene, and that therefore Jesus’s mother is here named as Mary wife of Clopas. This would cohere with the Synoptic accounts, which agree that Jesus’s mother and the Magdalene were present. (If Mark is right that the Magdalene’s mother Salome [see pages 204-05] also was there, then she went unmentioned in the Gospel of John, since the author does not include anything extraneous, and she is uninvolved in Jesus’s final command in 19:26-27.) What is more, in this reading, the two instances in the verse of και (“and”) set up a fine division of the names into a couplet of semipoetic lines:

His mother and his mother’s sister,

Mary (the wife) of Clopas and Mary the Magdalene.


This seems typical Hebrew poetry, saying the same thing or a parallel thing twice but with different wording the second time. Let us now look more closely.

Who “Mary of Clopas” might be is by no means clear. Certainly this construction suggests that Mary is the wife of Clopas, but who Clopas is is by no means clear. The confusion begins when we realize Luke 24:18 refers to someone with a similar name, κλεοπας (Kleopas). Neither name is found elsewhere in the Bible, and neither name appears anywhere in classical literature before their appearances in the gospels.

Scholars often explain that this Clopas in John 19:25 was probably known in Aramaic as Hilphai; Joseph Henry Thayer suggests in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament that κλωπας (Klōpas) is a transliteration of חילפאי (Hilphai), but that, since there is no letter for “H” in Greek, the initial ח in the name was rendered into Greek with a κ, “K”; the “p” sound, more euphonious to Greeks than the “ph”, was substituted; and a Greek-style suffix was added. Some scholars further contort themselves by declaring the Greek name Αλφαιος (Alphæus in English; “changing”), which appears a handful of times in the Synoptic gospels, is another transliteration of Hilphai.

Scholars also often assert, without the slightest proof, that κλεοπας is a contracted form of the name Κλειοπατρος (Kleiopatros, “Renowned Father”), best known today in its feminine form, anglicized as Cleopatra, the notorious Egyptian queen. One problem with this baseless assertion is that πας already means something in Greek: not “father”, but “all” or “everything”.

Though ingenious, neither theory holds up under a close inspection.

Thayer’s theory would require John 19:25 to say ܐܢܬܬܐ, Hilphai, yet while the Greek has κλεοπας (kleopas) at Luke 24:18 and κλωπας (klōpas) at John 19:25, the Aramaic of the Peshitta has ܩܠܝܘܦܐ (Qlywpa) Cleopas, in both places. (Unfortunately, this verse is missing from both Old Syriac texts.) Forced to set aside Thayer, we must turn to the Kleiopatros theory.

The first problem with that theory is that κλεω (kleō) is a very unusual (hence unlikely) variant spelling of κλειω (kleiō, “renowned”). However neither variation is a root of κλεοπας in Luke or κλωπας in John. The actual root of both κλεοπας and κλωπας refers to thievery. (This root is also behind the English word “kleptomaniac”.)

The second problem is that this theory requires πας to be a contraction of πατρος, “father”, but πας already means something in Greek: not “father”, but “all” or “everything”. In fact, the infamous king Herod Antipatros, Herod As-Oppose-to-his-Father (of the same name), is far better known by the nasty epithet given him by the people, Herod Antipas, Herod Against-Everything. Therefore, both κλεοπας in Luke and κλωπας in John would mean “Thief-of-Everything”! Leaving aside the issues this raises in Luke, I think it is a safe assumption that no one intended John 19:25 to say Mary was the wife of a burglar.

This forces us back to the Peshitta, to consider what ܩܠܝܘܦܐ (Qlywpa) can mean in not Greek but Aramaic. Most New Testament scholars are beset with a mental deficiency I call græcomyopia: they are unable to think of any New Testament text except in Greek terms – notwithstanding the fact that Jesus and his followers spoke in Aramaic!

Aramaic, as often noted herein, is a poet’s delight but a translator’s nightmare, since nearly every word has several unrelated meanings. This Qlywpa could come from a: ܩܠܘܦܐ (qlwpa), a verb meaning to peel off the skin of a fruit; b: ܩܠܝ (qlē) “burned” ܦܣ (pas) “palm” of the hand, hence “burned palm”; or c: ܩܠܝܦܪܣ (qlyprs), which according to Sokoloff’s lexicon comes from the Greek κλοιοφόρος (kloiophoros), meaning someone who wears a chain around the neck, as a mark of honor, hence an important person.

Early Christian writers Papias and Hegesippus both declare Clopas to be the brother of Jesus’s father, Joseph. I think James D. Tabor is right to say that this Cleopas almost certainly married Mary after his brother Joseph’s death, and that therefore Mary the wife of Clopas in John 19:25 is Jesus’s mother, and Cleopas his stepfather. The Greek and Aramaic texts merely say “Mary of Clopas” and neither “wife” nor “widow”, so we do not know whether this stepfather was still alive, but the fact that Jesus hands off responsibility for his mother to the Beloved Disciple suggests that he is either dead or incapacitated by age or illness.

It has often been suggested that the Johannine Cl(e)opas and the Cleopas who appears in Luke 24:13-35 are the same man. If that is so, if Jesus’s mother still has a husband in good enough health to walk to Emmæus, then why does the Gospel of John specify that after Jesus’s death the Beloved Disciple took Mary “for her own [mother]” (19:27)? Either a: Cl(e)opas and Mary have separated; or b: there are two different men named Cl(e)opas; or c: the Lukan episode tells of a son of Clopas, probably the Levi (ben Clopas) discussed in the essay beginning on page 403. I think both b: and c: together properly describe the situation. More about Clopas and Jesus’s brothers and half-brothers may be read in the same essay.

Returning to a consideration of this couplet,

His mother and his mother’s sister,

Mary (the wife) of Clopas and Mary the Magdalene.

the reference to “his mother” and “Mary of Clopas” make an acceptable parallel. The problem in the parallelism of this couplet is that “his mother’s sister” does not match up with “Mary the Magdalene”: Mary was certainly not Jesus’s aunt! This glaring mismatch is undeniable proof that the redactor of the original text was as usual removing any reference to Jesus’s marital status. Further, there is no other mention of this supposed aunt in the gospel, and since every detail and every character mentioned therein is significant, that makes this reference highly suspect.

To begin hypothesizing how the text originally read let us look at the parallels to Mary in all three couplets. In the Textus Receptus they read thus:


His mother and his mother’s sister,

Mary (the wife) of Clopas and Mary the Magdalene.


Jesus, therefore, having seen his mother

And standing beside (her) the disciple whom he loved,


He says to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.”

Then he says to the disciple, “Behold your mother.”


Mary Magdalene is put into parallel with “his mother’s sister”, “the disciple whom he loved”, and in the last line a missing form of address equivalent to Jesus addressing his mother as “woman”, which would go in this place:


He says to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.”

Then he says to the disciple, “[___], behold your mother.”


The paralleling of Mary to the Beloved Disciple is clearly original; the evidence as presented throughout this work points to Mary being the Beloved Disciple. Simply by looking carefully at the Textus Receptus, before even beginning to hypothesize about restoration of these lines, it is abundantly clear that the text is specifically telling us that Mary is both Jesus’s wife and his Beloved Disciple.

However some other parallels have obviously meddled with in an attempt to obscure certain aspects of Mary’s relationship with Jesus. Let us one by one consider how best these can be repaired.

Line 1 – Removing the obviously interpolated αδελφη της μητρος (“sister of the mother”) leaves η μητηρ αυτου και η [___] αυτου (“the mother of him and the [___] of him”). The obvious choice would be to fill this gap with γυνη (gynē, “wife”), but parallelism requires that this word be used in reconstructing line 2, as we shall see, so here another word must have originally appeared.

John’s original word is to be found in the Gospel of Philip, written by an acquaintance of his, Philip the Evangelist, who is mentioned in Acts 21:8-9. Philip was like John a witness to Jesus who was not one of the inner circle of disciples; also like John he was and still is often confused with the inner-circle disciple of the same name. He is buried, together with two of his four daughters, in one of the seven communities under John’s guidance as regional bishop, namely Hierapolis, where later the local bishop would be Papias, who was to receive the precious autograph of this gospel when it was thought lost. Philip’s work is not really a gospel in the usual sense, but more of a meditation on the Johannine understanding of the sacred-sexual nature of the resurrection as uniting Jesus and Mary in the image of Elohim. It refers to Mary as Jesus’s κοινωνος (koinōnos), usually translated as “companion”. This Greek word κοινωνος is actually stronger than γυνη; it carries the sense of “spouse”, “equal partner”, and “consort”, and it implies a romantic/erotic aspect to the relationship.

This term is also the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew and Aramaic word רֵאשִׁית (reshith). This word appears in the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, to describe the first of God’s creations, which then serves not merely as God’s consort, but as the feminine part of God (of Elohim, God understood as male and female completely united), and even as God’s co-creator. The first word of Genesis, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית (bereshith), is usually translated, incorrectly, as “In the beginning”, and sometimes, not incorrectly, as “When”. But a more literal rendering is “From the head” (in the sense of “starting-point”). Some classical rabbis noted that the word is the same as saying “With Reshith”, with the God’s spouse the Firstfruit (Proverbs 8:22), and since the Torah is often called “Reshith” (probably because of this verse), they took the beginning of Genesis as saying God created the heavens and the earth with the Torah, not the physical book, of course, but the eternal spiritual Torah. The seventh-century poet Eleazar be-Rabbi Qillir records an old tradition in which Reshith, the Torah personified as a woman, refuses to help Elohim create the universe until she is wedded to the right man, who will teach humanity the Word of God. That man is Moses. The Gospel of John repeatedly compares and associates Jesus with Moses, and portrays Mary as an incarnation of the Word, equivalent to Reshith, especially at the resurrection and in the earlier Aramaic version of 4:27. Revelation 3:18a continues to draw this parallel between God/coworker and Jesus/Mary, by using imagery familiar from Proverbs 8:10 and 19, where God’s חָכְמָ֥ה (hokhma, “wisdom”), personified as a woman equivalent to the reshith.

In Proverbs 8:30 this “companion” of God is further described as אָ֫מ֥וֹן (amōn), as the “master worker” who worked alongside God to create the universe. John uses this last term in Revelation 3:14 in reference to Mary, but when his Aramaic original was later rendered into Greek not by John but someone far less qualified to do so than he, it was misunderstood as אָמֵן (amēn, “truly”), and put down as such into the Greek version. Similarly, the end of the verse originally spoke of “the רֵאשִׁית (reshith) of the creation of God”, according to Philip Alexander; indeed, the Aramaic actually has reshith, ܪܼܫܼܝܬܼܵܐ. This should have gone into the Greek version as κοινωνος, but again the less-than-expert translator made a mistake, putting it into the Textus Receptus as the αρχη (archē), the “beginning” of the creation of God. That nicely implies John 1:1, but it loses the intended comparison of Mary to God’s coworker in Proverbs 8.

Such a word would grate against the sensibilities of Polycarp as redactor; as we have seen several times previously, he began in his editing of this gospel the process of demoting Mary from Jesus’s full equal to, eventually, a penitent prostitute. However, in view of Philip’s usage of the word, and its implied presence in John’s Aramaic original of Revelation 3:14, both in reference to Mary, I conclude that the original word here was κοινωνος: John was calling Mary the companion of Jesus.

Line 2 – The cognomen “Magdalene” obviously did not come from the author of the original text: Mary has been heretofore named in this gospel only as Mary, and, other than here and 20:1, she is never once called “Magdalene”; that is exclusively the Synoptic cognomen for her. Indeed, I am certain that the redactor inserted “Magdalene” into 20:1 and 18 as well. If we take it out again, we are again left with a gap: “Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the [   ]” after he had excised what the text originally said. The obvious and only reasonable reconstitution of the original would establish a parallel with the first part of this line: “Mary (the wife) of Clopas and Mary (the wife) of Jesus”.

Line 5 – There is a small possibility that John actually intended the word “son” (υιος, huios) here, notwithstanding Mary’s gender. This conclusion would be based directly on other early works, for instance in the final logion of the Gospel of Thomas, in which Jesus says eic.hyyte ano.k` ].na.cwk` m.mo.c je.kaac e.ei.na.a.c n.hoout` sina c.na.sw.pe hw.wc n.ou.pna e.f.onh ef.eine m.mw.tn n.hoout` je c.hime.nim` ec.na.a.c n.hoout` c.na.bwk` ehoun e.t.mntero.n.m.pyue (“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”). The Gospel of John itself suggests implicitly the same thing at the resurrection, as shall be discussed below. And in John’s final major work, The Songs of the Perfect One, Mary sings: ܐܬܡܙܓܬ ܡܛܠ ܕܐܫܟܚ ܪܚܡܐ ܠܗܘ ܪܚܝܡܐ ܡܛܠ ܕܐܪܚܡ ܠܗܘ ܒܪܐ ܐܗܘܐ ܒܪܐ (“Because I will always love him who is the son, I too shall become a son”). Such texts as these point to the understanding John and his associates held that at the resurrection Mary was literally made one with Jesus, the female “Eve” reabsorbed into the male “Adam”, such that she became a son of God herself. But the resurrection has not yet happened; this is the crucifixion, and so Mary has not yet been made a male.

Therefore, while it is possible that the Presbyter wrote “son” here, it is simpler and more logical to assume he wrote “daughter”, θυγατηρ (thugatēr).

Line 6 – The missing parallel here is glaring in the text as we have it, but here is the lacuna made visible:


He says to the mother, “Woman, behold your son.”

Then he says to the disciple, “[___], behold your mother.”


It is extremely evident here that the redactor took out a word, and also that he did not fill it in with another word, since the text makes sense with nothing added to replace the excision. The lacuna calls for either a relationship word such as “son” or “daughter”) or else the disciple’s name, but either of those would have given away the identity that the redactor wished to conceal. The only one available to him would have sounded quite clumsy: “Then he says to the disciple, ‘Disciple, behold your mother.’” And so his decision was not to put anything in place of the original.

If we label the nouns with letters, such that “mother” = A, “woman” = B, and “son” and “disciple” = C, we can see more clearly that the internal structure is ABC in the first line and C_A in the second line. Thus it becomes self-evident that the excised word is another B: it is γυνη (gynē), which can mean woman, as Jesus uses it in reference to his mother (but also with the implicit sense of “wife”, for she is the wife of Clopas), but in the second line with its primary meaning of “wife”. As an aside, this ABC-CBA structuring also appears in the poetry that opens the Presbyter’s letter known as I John.

We have had all along in the Textus Receptus intact lines that clearly identify Mary as the Beloved Disciple through parallelism. But the text here, as it stands, even before we engage in any reconstruction thereof, names for us exactly who the Beloved Disciple is right at this climax of the entire gospel. Let no one say any longer that her identity is a mystery. The above effort at reconstruction only serves to support this clear identification; it only amplifies it by adding that she is Jesus’s wife and his spiritual companion.

Note that a third mother-child pair was there at the crucifixion, according to Mark 15:40, which notes the presence of Salome, the mother of Jesus’s wife Mary (see pages 452-53). This further adds to the poignancy of this scene. But the Presbyter puts his focus entirely on the presence of the two mothers named Mary. The parallels between these two Marys are astounding: the first is a widow already and the second is about to become one, the second has experienced the intense anguish of watching her son die and the first is about to. Both of their sons have been called “son of the father”: Jesus says frequently in this gospel that he is son of the father, and Lazarus was only an hour or two before the crucifixion released by Pontius Pilate under the name Barabbas, which means the same thing.

All of these connections between the two mothers Mary were certainly clear to Jesus long before he was hung on the cross. Thus quickly to Jesus’s mind would come the idea of charging Mary, who as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) with him shares fully his obligations, with this filial responsibility. He may indeed have already decided that he would do this at his last moment, since a final request coming at the moment of death would decisively oblige the survivors to carry it out.

Clearly this declaration at the moment of death was taken by the two Marys as binding (19:27b), and the Beloved Disciple eyewitness Mary’s sharp memory of this charge, rendered in poetry no less by the Presbyter, tells us just how seriously it was taken. In ancient times, the most important texts were in poetry, not prose – because poetry, by its nature, is more easily memorized and enunciated later, and thus can outlast such ephemeral documents as bills of lading and shopping lists, which were written down precisely because they were unworthy of memorization. With his final breath of life, inhaled with great difficulty by pulling his torso up, wracking his body with more pain, then sagging down exhaustedly while exhaling, arousing new pain in his body, his very last inhalations and exhalations of the Spirit of God, and no moment to waste, Jesus was arranging for his wife to care for his mother. This is love, and it must have been a most emotional and memorable moment for the two Marys, and Salome too, also close by.

This poetic “last will” of Jesus is again clearly meant again to establish a parallel between him and the greatest of the prophets, Moses and Elijah. Since these parallels are drawn several times in the early chapters of the gospel, this also forms another inclusio. The Torah has Moses, like Jesus, reciting poetry before his death (Deuteronomy 32-33), and the account of Elijah’s death (II Kings 2) has him likewise orating a kind of “last will”, giving Elisha his sacred powers.

The text tells us (verse 27b) that after this event the Beloved Disciple took Jesus’s mother as her own mother. The preposition εις has many possible meanings; usually Bible interpreters mistakenly read it as saying “into”, and then they take the phrase εις τα ιδια as “into his own home”, with the word “home”, they say, unwritten but understood. The preposition εις clearly should be taken rather as meaning “as”, and the phrase as saying she takes her as her own mother.

And this burst of original poetry is preceded immediately by another couplet taken from the Tanakh (Psalm 22:18):


They divided my garments among themselves,

And for my clothing they cast lots.


But then, in stunning chiaroscuro, immediately following this bouquet of poetry, the author gives us in terse prose the death of Jesus.


Do Your Homework First!

Do Your Homework First:

An Oft-Stated Scholarly Factoid about John 3:3 is Not True

 James David Audlin


The following text comprises material from the upcoming new edition of The Gospel of  John Restored and Translated, Volume II, as 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.

 GOJ-front 2vol II

The Greek word ανωθεν (anōthen) can mean “from above” or “anew”/“again”. The usual scholarly understanding is that while the references to the πνευμα and the חוּר work equally well in both Greek and Hebrew (since both words have the triple meaning of wind/breath/spirit), the double entendre presented by ανωθεν as meaning either “from above” or “again” only exists in Greek, so this passage would suggest that Jesus and Nicodemus held their conversation in that language. The usual interpretation goes on to say that Jesus intended the word to be taken in the former sense, but that Nicodemus misunderstood him to mean the latter sense, as the next verse shows. This standard explanation of the text is correct, so far as it goes. Though, to be sure, as is often noted, certain sects of modern Christianity still misunderstand the word ανωθεν ironically, just as did Nicodemus evidently did – and thus they still promote today a “born again” theology.GOJ-two vol back vol i lulu

However, it is not correct to say that a double entendre is only possible in Greek, as scholars (Bart Ehrman, for instance, in Jesus, Interrupted) often say. The very early Aramaic versions of the gospel (both the Peshitta and the older Syriac Sinaiticus [the text is missing in the Curetonian Gospels]) have Jesus saying one must be born ܡܢ ܕܪܝܫ (men d’riysh) – the first word, of course, means “from”, but the second word, ܪܝܫ (minus the suffix), is slippery in its significations, as is ανωθεν in Greek, but with a somewhat different range of meanings. In I Corinthians 12:21 it means “the head” (i.e., the body part). In Galatians 4:9,19 it means “again”. It can also mean “origin”, “keystone”, “cornerstone”, and even “end/outcome” in the sense of the Spanish word exito. It also appears in the Aramaic Torah in Genesis 1:1 with a prefix, ܒܪܫܝܬ (b’rishiyt), equivalent to the highly evocative Hebrew noun רֵאשִׁית (reshith; see pages 521 and 933), meaning “in/from the beginning”, with a similar use in the Aramaic versions of Mark 1:1 – and of course in John 1:1, where it is the very first word, consciously recalling Genesis 1:1, taking the place of εν αρχη in the Greek version of the gospel.

All that said, the gospel’s Aramaic text suggests a number of possible interpretations, that we must be born: a: “from the head”, in the sense of ܒܪܫܝܬ in Genesis 1:1, implying that we must be born (or reborn) as a part of God’s Logos, presumably by our decision to align our words and deeds with God’s λογος, God’s overall plan for the universe, so we can enter into the Æon; b: “again”; c: “the beginning”, implying the beginning of the world or of our lives; or d: “the outcome”, implying God’s overall plan again. When the Presbyter was in his mind selecting a Greek word that carries the multiple meanings of ܕܪܝܫ, he wisely chose ανωθεν, whose range of meanings enables the Greek text to record Nicodemus’s confusedly thinking Jesus was saying “again”. But scholars who announce that the ανωθεν pun only works in Greek are guilty of sloppy scholarship. Before you say it, check it!

Option a makes the best sense. Since the word ܒܪܫܝܬ is the Aramaic equivalent to εν αρχη in this gospel, which always refers to the Λογος, I take the phrase here as referring to the Logos as well. Jesus is, I conclude, telling Nicodemus that we must be “born into” the Logos, that we must fully accept it and become a part of it: hence, in the Greek version, we must be “born from above”. Whatever Jesus’s actual intended meaning here, as mediated by the gospel author, he clearly is pointing at our need to be born into the realm of God, the Æon, the greater universe, heaven, wherein is God and those whom God draws thither because they have chosen to live in accordance with the Λογος, the divine plan/order or Logos, mediated by Jesus. Jesus is not saying we should be born again, physically, from our mother, but born anew, in the Logos, with our spouse! This is a reference to the bridal chamber theology that pervades this gospel; cf. pages 384-89, 932-33, and 1009-13.

Both the Greek and Aramaic words are found in this book’s reëstablishment of the original text, and the translation of the Aramaic follows the lead of John 1:1, which the Aramaic of this verse clearly implies.

In conclusion we see that, while in Greek the double entendre is that εν αρχη can mean either “from above” or “again”, in Aramaic a similar double entendre is possible: the word ܒܪܫܝܬ clearly is meant by Jesus as referring to the logical priority (αρχη) of the Logos, but Nicodemus could take the Aramaic word, too, as meaning “again”, as in Galatians 4:9,19. Note also that Jesus speaks of ανωθεν to Pilate in 19:11, forming an inclusio with this passage.

Early in these commentaries it should be noted that we always must approach these early Aramaic versions of the gospel with care. Yes, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, but Galilean Aramaic was somewhat different from this later church Aramaic. These Aramaic versions may have been translations from the Greek (as Western scholars insist) or original texts of which the Greek is the copy (as Eastern scholars aver), and it can only be guessed whether they are closer to the original manuscript of this gospel than the Greek. But they are in Aramaic, and Jesus spoke Aramaic, at least with everyone except foreigners.

This discussion raises the question whether Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in Greek or Aramaic. They were both Jews, and thus one would expect them to be more likely to speak in either Aramaic or even Hebrew. Still, this Nicodemus, certainly if he was Nicodemus ben Gorion (see the biographical notes beginning on page 480) was a seasoned, well-educated, and worldly man at the same time that he was a “teacher of Israel” and a Sanhedrin member, and spoke Greek as easily as his native tongues. To support this, it may be noted that his name as given in the text is a Greek variant on an Aramaic name. And Jesus (despite the common Christian belief that he came out of very humble origins and had little if any education) was the same: he was from a well-connected patrician family, and also was a quite well-educated rabbi. I conclude that the conversation could have been in either language, and the two men could just as easily have slipped back and forth between the two, as I have many times heard multilingual residents of Canada, Europe, and Latin America do.