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.

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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.

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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` je.kaac n.hoout` sina hw.wc n.ou.pna e.f.onh ef.eine n.hoout` je c.hime.nim` n.hoout`` 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.


James David Audlin (91 Posts)

Born in the Thousand Islands. Retired; after decades as a pastor, newspaper editor, university professor, caregiver, musician, editor. Most recently lived in southern France; now lives in rural mountainous Panama; married to a Spanish-speaking local lady. Two children in Vermont. Author of 18+ books, with a dozen more on the way.

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