The Wind and the Dove Descend upon Jesus

The Wind and the Dove Descend upon Jesus:
Multiple Meanings in John 1:32

From the new edition to be published in the second week of March 2014 of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II as published by Editores Volcán Barú

This verse is loaded with multiple meanings. The Greek word πνευμα means “wind”, “breath”, and “spirit” as do the Hebrew and Aramaic words behind it. The verb καταβαινω (“to descend”) appears here significantly for the second of three times in the opening episodes, clearly to bring back to mind the opening Prologue (3:13) and to anticipate Jesus’s concluding statement to Nathanael (1:51). The word ουρανος means both the physical “sky” and “heaven” (in the spiritual sense) as is the case in every language I know except English. Thus John is talking at the same time about a wind out of the sky, God’s breath exhaled down from heaven, and God’s Spirit descending from heaven.

The verb θεαομαι (theaomai) is related to our modern word “theater”; it is more specific than the English verb “to see”, more exactly meaning to observe something intensely but passively, as a spectator watches a performance on stage. In classical literature it carries the strong suggestion of being deeply affected by what one is observing. This verb anticipates a point introduced in the next paragraph, that in this gospel John never actually administers to Jesus his immersion ceremony. If he had, the text here would say, “As I was immersing him…”, or, “As I was about to immerse him…” One gains the sense from the phrasing here that John was not close to Jesus as this miraculous event occurred; he may not even have been in the Jordan but still on dry land watching this profoundly moving drama with helpless awe.

Unlike the self-administered mikvah, John’s immersion ceremony was one that he had to execute himself. Hints of may survive in the ceremony done in John’s name to this day by the Mandæans of southern Iraq (cf. Sabian Mandaean the Secret Root of Christianity, by Salim Berenjie). Rabbi Ben Abrahamson says the Sabian Mandæans were originally Notzrim, a group John and Jesus both appear closely associated with, but changed their designation in the face of rejection by orthodox Christians “to continue to live under the protection Allah SWT gives to the ‘people of the book’”.

John’s declaration does not say he actually performed the immersion ceremony for Jesus. Scholars usually say the author left it understood that it was done. But I ask: How he could have performed it if he felt unworthy even to untie Jesus’s sandals (1:27)? I think it was not done, because a miraculous event superseded it, and John was frozen into immobility. That event is bound up in a close reading of the verse. The word περιστερα (peristera, “dove”) that we find in the text is virtually identical in pronunciation to another word, πρηστηρ (prēstēr, “whirlwind”), especially as declined in this verse, περιστεραν/πρηστηρον (peristeran/prēstēran) – the consonants are exactly the same, which would jump right out at Lazarus and John the Presbyter, whose first languages were Hebrew and Aramaic, which at the time were written with only consonants. It is possible
that this is a scribal error on the part of the amanuensis or else extremely early in the subsequent history of the gospel text, since the words for “dove” and “whirlwind” are quite unlike in Hebrew and Aramaic. But I reject this possibility, and also the possibility that this was a “correction” by the much later redactor to make this gospel conform to the three Synoptic gospels, since as is argued below both words would be very appropriate here.

This verse has always been understood to be saying one thing came down: a wind in the form of a dove. But I believe two things happened at about the same time – that both a whirlwind and a “dove” descended on and remained with Jesus, as I shall now explore.

Any first-century Jew reading this text would not need to be reminded of Elijah’s whirlwind as a spiritual father of this event, but the dove connection would not have been quite so clearly evident; I think this is why the Presbyter added a phrase saying that just the wind came down, so also did a dove. John testifies that he saw the πνευμα come down out of the sky/heaven. The word πνευμα can mean “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit” depending on context, and the context here, that it came down from the sky, tells us the intended main meaning is “wind”. (Still, to remind the reader of these other meanings, the translation retains all three.)

We know from experience that a wind out of the sky sometimes does take the form of a whirlwind; the text clearly makes sense with that reading. The usual reading, that a wind came out of the sky/heaven in the form of a dove, makes little sense. A wind can no more take the form of a dove than it can take the form of a barn or a banana or the Beatles. However a wind can take the form of a whirlwind. Besides being nothing like a mighty gale, a fragile dove would not be able to withstand a whirlwind out of the sky, let alone safely alight on Jesus and manage to stay on his shoulder, without getting blown away. In any case, the very next verse, 33, seals the matter by expressly saying the πνευμα, the wind (and not a dove), descended onto Jesus.

This provisional reconstruction of the author’s original intent also makes contextual sense. Immediately before this episode is the Prologue, which contains significant references to the Breath/Wind/Spirit of God that moved across the surface of the waters in Creation (Genesis 1:2) and that was breathed into Adam’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7). The conversation with Nicodemus, which picks up this theme, comes soon hereafter. And this passage forms an inclusio (that is to say, it is in A-B-A symmetry) with 19:30, in which Jesus breathes out the wind/breath/spirit within him for the last time as he dies, and 20:22, in which Jesus exhales on the disciples and says “Receive the πνευμα άγιον” (the sacred breath/spirit/wind – equivalent in Greek to [ רוּחַ Ruach], the Breath/Soul of Life); by exhaling he proves he is alive, but also with that breath he heals them, he blesses them, and he fills them with the Name and Spirit of God.

I wonder if John the Presbyter’s focus here on the whirlwind, πρηστηρ, led to the Mediæval Prester John legend.

YHWH was clearly conceived of anciently as a storm god, as imaged in Psalm 2l, especially verse 3, in which the roar of YHWH’s voice is over the waters just as was the YHWH’s breath in Genesis 1:2, and as is the whirlwind here. The Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai and, on the third day, there is darkness and storm (Exodus 19:16), and Moses comes down the mountain to deliver the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Those three days parallel the three day revolving around John the Immerser in chapter 1, with this day being dark and stormy. Again, obviously, an association is being drawn with Moses.

Any first-century Jew reading this account of a whirlwind hovering about Jesus would instantly think not only of Genesis, Exodus, and the Psalm, but also of Isaiah 11:1-2, which says the wind/breath/spirit of God will rest upon the expected Messiah. And a whirlwind resting on a prophet at the Jordan River (1:28) would also immediately call to the mind of that reader, as it clearly did the delegation that came to ask John questions (see the commentary above to John 1:20-21), the story of Elijah, also at the Jordan, transferring his prophetic power to Elisha (II Kings 2). Elijah strikes the river with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part, echoing the story of Moses, to whom this gospel often compares Jesus, likewise parting the waters. After Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, a chariot and horses of fire appear, and Elijah is taken into heaven in a whirlwind. Except for the mantle and the chariot and horses of fire, everything matches up. An older prophet (Elijah/John) nearing the close of his ministry ordains the beginning of the ministry of a younger prophet (Elisha/Jesus) who has a double portion of the older one’s spirit; the River Jordan is passed through or entered into; and a whirlwind comes from heaven. One pertinent difference is that the whirlwind takes one waning prophet, Elijah, to heaven, but not John, since he is to die at Herod’s hand; rather, the whirlwind comes down to anoint Jesus, evidently conferring on him something of the nature and spirit of Elijah as it did Elisha. This whirlwind is the presence of God, the voice of God, the breath of God, which Moses only saw after it had passed by and it was safe to leave the cave where he was hidden.

This whirlwind is ֶאְהֶיה ֲאֶשר ֶאְהֶיה (“I Am and Will Be What I Am and Will Be”), it is God’s name. Occasionally God confers the rare honor of being “taken up into heaven”; II Kings 2 aside, Genesis 5:24 is also interpreted to say the same of Enoch, and it is generally believed that Moses too was taken up into heaven, though there is nothing to say so in the Torah. This gospel suggests this was going to happen with Jesus too (cf. 6:62 and 20:17); certainly, in the theology of Jesus as presented in this gospel this would further validate his status as Messiah. (Much later, the Ascension of Jesus would become church doctrine, but with an entirely different import; it is fancifully described in Luke-Acts and in a late addition to Mark.) The Talmud often speaks of the spirit/wind/breath descending from the sky/heaven to anoint the Messiah (e.g., Test. Levi 18, Test. Judah 24:2). The storm here returns as an inclusio during the crucifixion, as discussed on page 915. All in all, the gospel is drawing a strong comparison between Jesus and both Elijah and Moses, clearly telling us the gospel is directed at least at a Jewish audience.

As presaged above, there are at least two obvious conclusions. One is that the amanuensis meant to write the Greek word for “whirlwind” as he was taking down the Beloved Disciple’s spoken reminiscences, but accidentally wrote the similar Greek word for “dove”. The other is that this was a deliberate change effected later by the redactor of this gospel, to bring it into conformity with the by-then-published Synoptic gospels. Those three gospels all feature (rightly or wrongly) a dove; since Matthew and Luke based their tellings on the version in Mark, we can conclude – if in reality it was a whirlwind that visited itself upon Jesus at his immersion – that the scribal error occurred in the early stages of composition of Mark’s text, and Matthew and Luke simply repeated the mistake, and then John was edited to conform to the other three.

A third, less obvious conclusion requires us to put aside two thousand years of assumptions about this text and read it afresh. The Greek adverb ως (hōs) has in this text always been taken to mean “like”, to say there is one thing, the wind, which takes on the form of another thing, a dove; but ως, as noted in standard references like Strong’s, can also mean “just as”, “in the same manner as”, which here would say there are two things that have something in common – that the wind and the dove both came down to Jesus and remained on/with him. The Aramaic adverb ( ܐܝܟ, hayk) in the Curetonian Gospels text, usually translated in this verse as “like” as is ως, also can take this latter sense, as noted in standard dictionaries such as Jastrow’s.

The double entendre of πρηστηρ/περιστερα, typical of the Presbyter’s style, is only possible in Greek, since the Aramaic words for “dove” and “wind” are considerably different, but the latter text still can be clearly read as saying both the wind and dove came down to Jesus.

Since this reading clears up the issue of how wind can take on the totally unlike appearance of a dove, my translation presents these two meanings, such that both the whirlwind and dove come down and remain with him. This double entendre analogy is well-rooted in the Tanakh, in passages that would have occurred to any first-century Jew. The Talmud and Dead Sea Scrolls both offer an analogy that conjoins both parts of the double entendre, comparing the ruach of God that moved over the surface of the waters in Genesis 1:2 to a female dove: Shimon ben Zoma in the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 15a, for instance, says that the ruach hovered over the waters in the way a mother bird hovers over her young without touching them (though he was criticized for this analogy, whereupon he was so mortified that he instantly dropped dead). John Milton, who took much of his material from the Talmud, put it thus (Paradise Lost, I, 17-22):

… Thou O Spirit …
… Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant …

In many other passages the common thread is their portrayal of the dove as seeking out a sanctuary from one’s enemies in the wilderness, a theme common to John, Jesus, and this gospel. In Genesis 8, the dove guides Noah out of the torment of water and wind to dry land, as, so I will suggest below, Mary does here. Psalm 55:6-8 refers to a dove flying away to safety, out of the dangerous whirlwind. Jeremiah 48:28 urges one to imitate the dove, living in safety among the inaccessible crags. Psalm 11:1,3 similarly has the psalmist upbraid his advisors: “How (can you) say to my soul, ‘Flee (as) a bird to your mountain’? … If the foundations are torn down, what do the righteous do?”, which for Jesus would be a salient question: How can Mary flee back to the Samaritan community at Mount Gerizim for safety if that place is in danger? In 2:19 he will speak of the foundations of the Jerusalem Temple being pulled down.

And the most significant reference to a dove: the Shulammite, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs, which this gospel associates with Mary by way of frequent paraphrases from that work, is often compared in the Song to a dove. In Song 2:14 the man asks the woman, whom he calls his dove, to show herself in the concealed place along the steep way – the landscape described in that verse is one that the eyewitness and amanuensis would have agreed describes accurately this rock-strewn, craggy countryside where John was immersing people, which Gulielmus Tyrius described as also abounding in what the locals called dragons, which he defined as “hidden passages and windings underground”. Visitors to the region today will find it continues to be full of concealed places along steep ways. This verse in the Song of Songs suggests the possibility that the whirlwind and the dove could both have been present at the immersion – that would be the case if the dove, the beloved, “showed herself in the concealed place” in the form of Mary, called the Magdalene in the Synoptics. This famous cognomen may indeed refer to doves, as is discussed in the essay on page 406. Every time she appears in this gospel the text includes references to the beloved woman, the “dove” of the Song of Songs.

The whirlwind could literally have come down from heaven and remained on Jesus, and the “dove”, Mary, could also have come down from the shore and helped Jesus, likely a bit disoriented by the frigid currents and fierce wind, out of the water, and “remained” with him – remained forever, as his wife. This helping Jesus from the death- waters is an inclusio-reversal of Jesus guiding Mary out of the darkness of his tomb into the dawn light at the resurrection. As at the resurrection, Simon and Lazarus, at present John’s disciples, are here but ineffective. Everyone else watches helplessly as the whirlwind descends on Jesus in the frigid turbulent current, thinking that they about to see a man swept away to his death. But she knows what to do; she enters the water – and the whirlwind ceases and she guides him to shore, just as the wind ceases when Jesus enters the boat in 6:21 and he guides the disciples to shore. In her first appearance in this gospel Mary is portrayed as a κοινωνος, a co-Messiah with Jesus.

The presence of the Breath/Wind/Spirit tells us that God is in this scene in the aspect called in the Tanakh YHWH (the proper pronunciation of this name being an exhalation). The Prologue, as we have seen, evokes from its first words the creation stories that begin Genesis, and GOJ-front 2vol Ibthat theme continues here. Where Elohim created the first human in Elohim’s own image, as a hermaphrodite, comprising as one both masculine and feminine (Genesis 1:27), it was YHWH who then split this first human into two, a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-22). Here, however, the whirlwind-presence of YHWH begins the process of reversing that separation, driving together this new Adam and Eve, Jesus and Mary, such that, by the end of this gospel they will be again completely one flesh (Genesis 2:24) in Elohim’s image. Strengthening the view that Mary is present in this scene is the clear inclusio between John, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah after his symbolic death-and- resurrection in the Jordan (1:43), and Mary, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah during his ministry (4:29; John only discusses Jesus as Messiah with certain religious officials, and the disciples only privately, in chapter 1); she is also the first to declare him Messiah after his literal death-and-resurrection (20:18). Moreover, there is an inclusio inasmuch as here Mary watches while Jesus enters the water, and again when he dies on the cross (19:25), and as here she runs to help him from the river waters, and again runs to him at the resurrection. There is another inclusio: Jesus is reunited with Mary in a garden after arising from the dead in chapter 20, just as he will be reunited soon after this immersion scene with this woman, at a gardenlike spring in chapter 4. And the whirlwind here is mirrored by suggestions discussed below of a wind and storm at the time of the crucifixion. With so many clear correspondences being drawn between John and Mary, the possibility that Mary was present at Jesus’s immersion must be considered.

It will be established below that Lazarus was Mary’s son and at this time a disciple of John. If so, then Mary could have come from Shechem to visit her son, who at the time of the immersion would have been there to witness it. Mary may even have come to be herself immersed by John, to recollect her Jewish heritage after serving as a Samaritan priestess, to make herself Jewish-kosher, to have her past “washed away” through the immersion. If so, then not only Jesus but Mary too would have been naked for the immersion, as was customary. Logion 107 in the Gospel of Philip says we are to undress before we “go down into the water” such that we may be “clothed with the Living Water”). So too does the Diataxis [Ordinances] of the Holy Apostles (more commonly called “The Apostolic Tradition” or the Anaphora of Hippolytus of Rome), at 21:1-5, which in recording the baptism rite of the early 300s in the Eastern Church, very likely the practice in John’s Asian churches as well:

At the hour when the cock crows, they shall make prayer over the water. The water shall be flowing through the baptismal enclosure, or pour into it from above where there is abundant water; if water is not abundant, use whatever water is available. They shall then remove all of their clothing. The children shall be immersed first. If they can speak for themselves, they should do so; otherwise, their parents or other relatives should speak for them. Then the men are immersed and, last, the women, after they have first unbound their hair and put aside their gold and silver ornaments that they are wearing. Let no one take any foreign object with him down into the water.

And, needless to say, this is also still today the practice in the mikvah. The mikvah, like this early Christian baptism, was intentionally celebrated as a birth ritual and we are all born naked (Job 1:21). Jesus’s nakedness in this scene forms an inclusio with his being nearly so to wash the disciples’ feet (13:3-12a), and his complete nakedness on the cross (19:23-24) and at the resurrection (20:6-7), when he was spiritually reborn and spiritually remarried to Mary. She would probably have been nigh naked herself at the crucifixion, and certainly at the resurrection, since the tradition then was for a grieving person to rend his or her clothes into pieces. That increases the sense of an implicit eroticism to this scene of a man and a woman naked together in the water, which parallels the implicit eroticism at the spring in Samaria and forms an inclusio with the clear eroticism at the resurrection (see the references under “eroticism” in the final index).

It is possible that Mary was assisting John in the immersion rites; as a former Temple priestess this would be a familiar role for her, and John would be known to her if, as I think, her sister Martha was the wife of his son Simon the Rock. Thus, she may have helped Jesus and others there for the ritual to undress, and to untie his sandals, the very act that John felt he could not do himself (1:27), and to throw around him a fresh white linen robe afterwards. Thus too she was quick to respond, going to Jesus in the wild current and wind to rescue him when everyone else was frozen. If, as suggested above, John’s immersion ritual was preëmpted by a miracle, a whirlwind descending on Jesus, then John may never even have entered the Jordan to do the rite! – and a second miracle, a dove, Mary, descended on Jesus in the Jordan to bring him to shore. If Mary undressed and reclothed him in this scene, there is an inclusio with her coming to the tomb (20:1) to undertake the wifely responsibility of tohorah, the ritual purification of a body by undressing it, washing it (equivalent to the immersion here), and then reclothing it in a fresh white takhrikhin (linen wrapping). And if the great preacher John felt unworthy of unlacing Jesus’s sandals and helping him to undress, and these tasks fell instead to Mary, then Mary must already have been in a very special capacity on GOJ-front 2vol IIbehalf of John. The Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim had had a dove image for veneration, and though the Temple was destroyed it or a replacement may still have been on display in Mary’s time, as suggested by the Talmud (Hul. 6a) – in fact, the dove image originally worshipped there was reportedly the idol buried by Jacob under the oak here at Shechem (Genesis 35:4; Tosafot Ḥul. 6a); it could be that it was found and put back on display. Also, while as noted above the Aramaic words for “dove” and “wind” are quite unlike, the Aramaic word for “dove”, ( ܝܘܢܐ, yawna), is so similar to John’s name in Aramaic, ( ܝܘܚܢܢ yawhnn) that it could have been as a feminine variant of the name; though no such variant has been found in early writings, that does not exclude the possibility. The two words are not quite as close in Hebrew, in which “dove” is ( יֺוָנה, yonah; also the name “Jonah”; no surprise, the tale of Jonah is yet another dove-resurrection connection) and John is ( יוָֹחָנן, yochanan). The meaning of John’s name, “God has been gracious”, has nothing to do with doves, though note that the etymology of yawna is unknown, so the possibility of its being related to yawhnn cannot be firmly ruled out. Still, Lazarus and/or John the Presbyter could have noted the phonetic similarity as they worked out the double entendre they adopted in their original Greek text – or, possibly, Mary was called yawna because of her putative role as John’s assistant; indeed, this might be the root of her Synoptic cognomen “Magdalene”; cf. pages 409-10. Doves were often used as government, commercial, or military messengers, and, writes Rabbi Ben Abrahamson, as a means of divination of the “word from heaven” for the Notzrim, a religious sect embracing the Essenes, with whom John and Jesus may have been aligned.

The Gospel of Philip may provide support for this possible involved presence of Mary at Jesus’s immersion. This noncanonical gospel, more of a reflection on Jesus’s life and teaching than a narrative gospel, was apparently written by Philip the Evangelist, not to be confused with the apostle; he was known to John the Presbyter, and like him one of the larger group of disciples who followed Jesus. Often wrongly labelled Gnostic, the gospel is theologically and imagistically not far from the Gospel of John. At logion 82 it closely associates immersion, resurrection, and marriage in terms of the reconciliation of male with female in the image of Elohim – a theme that will come up several times in this work: [This website will not reproduce the Coptic original text.] “The immersion has the resurrection [with] the reconciliation coming into the bridal chamber; yet, the bridal chamber is more exalted than these. … One will never find its like.” And it may be speaking of John (as the friend of the bridegroom; cf. John 3:29) and the disciples (as the sons of the bridegroom; Jesus often addresses them as his children; at least some were in their actual childhood) when it says the nakedness of the bride may only be seen by her parents, the friend of the groom (here, the Immerser) and the groom’s sons (here, the disciples) (logion 131). Note also that Mary’s mother Salome was among the women at the tomb according to Mark 16:1. [This website will not reproduce the Coptic original text.] “Let her [the bride] come forth and be revealed only to her father and mother with her, before the friend of the bridegroom, [and] before the sons of the bridegroom.”

In the much-debated fragment from the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Jesus not only calls Mary “my wife” (tahime), but says “As for me, I dwell/exist/live with her in order to […] an image […]”. The verb [Coptic] suggests “I live with her” in three senses: the ordinary sense of cohabitation, the higher sense of spiritual union, and the highest sense, of the vitality in all things that vivifies life. Thus, Jesus is probably saying his marriage to Mary is part of the Messianic image he hopes to convey; applied to the immersion, their meeting at his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the river is perfectly matched by their meeting anew after his very real death and resurrection.

Doves in this part of the world are not white, as in European paintings. More properly called turtledoves, they are buff on the breast, with gold-grey-brown wings. They are migratory, coming to this land from Africa in early spring (Song of Songs 2:11-12) and returning thither in August; curiously, Mary only appears in this gospel in Acts One and Four, which take place in the spring, and not in Acts Two or Three, which take place in October and December. Their coming from Africa is also reminiscent of the possibility (discussed on pages 408-09 and elsewhere) that Mary may have been a priestess in Egypt. The turtledove’s arrival coincides with the fierce spring wind best known in the West by its Arabic name, ( خمسين khamsin, written as חמסין in modern Hebrew), which in Biblical times was called (רוחַקדים ruach qadīm, “east wind”). This dual arrival of the dove and the wind could in fact have suggested the metaphor of πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) at the immersion.

Why the dove imagery? Because it tells the informed reader that Mary is there with Jesus: in this first episode of the gospel this is the first appearance of the divine couple, the Messiah and the Priestess, the whirlwind and the dove, the Spirit and the Bride (Revelation 22:17). Dove imagery was at the time universal in the spiritual traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, and it vividly supports the identification of Mary with a dove. James A. Montgomery (in The Samaritans: The Earliest Jewish Sect) discusses the oft-cited belief that the then considerably eclectic Samaritans worshipped a dove on Mount Gerizim, where Mary was a priestess. He eventually dismisses it, mistakenly, since indeed John Hyrcanus’s stated pretext for destroying the Samaritan Temple in 110 B.C.E. was its dove imagery, but yet he speaks approvingly of other scholars (Selden and Ronzevalle) who associate the dove cult with the goddess Semiramis and the Ashima mentioned in II Kings 17:30. Donald A. MacKenzie (in Myths of Babylonia and Assyria) discusses the close connections between Semiramis and doves in the myths about her. Her Assyrian name, Sammu-rammat, derived from Summat (“Dove”), signifies “The Dove Goddess Loves Her”. In the most ancient form of the myth, says MacKenzie, she was turned into a dove and took flight into heaven in that form. He adds that Robertson Smith demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semitic nations, often closely associated with love, also symbolizing innocence, gentleness, and holiness. The Greek Aphrodite was also associated with doves, signifying love. Like περιστερα (“dove”) and πρηστηρ (“whirlwind”) in Greek, amenu, “dove” in Egyptian and Amen, the Egyptian god of wind, are near homonyms. And the dove Mary’s name comes from Mari-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the original name of Moses’s sister Miriam, who watched as he was drawn, sacredly reborn, out of the Nile by the pharaoh’s daughter as she ritually bathed, no doubt naked: as Mary, also surely naked, here draws Jesus sacredly reborn from the Jordan. The mother of this pharaoh’s daughter was Ahmes (“Daughter of Amon”). In being reborn from the river, Moses is renamed as a god’s son and Jesus is anointed as God’s son/Messiah. So ultimately in the doubles entendres of πρηστηρ and περιστερα, amenu and Amen, we have as one the two aspects of Elohim, God and Goddess, arriving to anoint this the first encounter of Jesus and Mary.

The episodes at the Samaritan well, in Cana, and of the resurrection will continue this theme of joining together humanity, originally severed into male and female in Eden, to create the united male-female being, Jesus and Mary, that reflects the image and likeness of Elohim. The meticulously constructed inclusio nature of this gospel just about requires the presence of Mary at the immersion: symbolic spiritual rebirth was for Jesus (at least as presented in this gospel) was all about undoing the sin of our first forebears in Eden, such that male and female can be rejoined. This major theme of the gospel, discussed at length in the commentaries on the resurrection, forms an inclusio with this symbolic spiritual rebirth, though that one is not symbolic but literally a rebirth from death; Mary was present at his death and resurrection, and so for literary reasons the author must want us to conclude that she was present at this immersion too: his spiritual rebirth in both places is the rejoining of Eve with Adam, so Mary can be joined with him in both places.

If the theory that Mary was actively present at the immersion is true, then why was it not clearly stated in the gospel? It may be the redactor found it unacceptable (for the clear suggestion that Jesus was involved with this woman) and excised it; I reject this possibility because the redactor let stand other similarly “romantic” passages with but minimal changes. It may be that the amanuensis meant to make her presence more specific in the telling of the immersion, but never got to it; we know that the original version of the gospel was never completed. The compositional problem might have been that the author put the description of the immersion in the mouth of John (even though Lazarus the eyewitness was certainly there), and either an expansion would have to be still in the first person or else a new narrative strand based on Lazarus’s memories would need to be inserted. And it may simply be that the gospel author decided what he had written was clue enough for the intelligent reader to recognize and interpret correctly what transpired – and it is only we modern gentiles who miss the clue that would have been instantly clear to any reasonably literate first-century Jew, since we do not share the necessary symbolic Weltansicht, and since the lenses of our comprehension are clouded by two thousand years of errant dogma.

Should this hypothesis of Mary at the immersion be correct, it is not hard to theorize how it would have been recounted in this gospel. As discussed in the Introduction, many scenes in the gospel appear to be sketches that were going to be expanded later, but, alas, there was no opportunity to do so probably because of the Roman decimation of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. John’s narration of what happened (1:31-33) is complete as it stands, but it could have been slightly extended, to say that after the whirlwind churned up the water in a miniature inundating storm of water (a parallel to the Flood [Genesis 7:17-23], in which everything died, just as this immersion was a symbol of death, and after which a wind descended from heaven [Genesis 8:1, the Hebrew wording of which is close to Genesis 1:2]), the dove came down to the waters in the person of Mary, to guide Jesus to dry land (Genesis 8:8-12), to draw him forth from the waters (Exodus 2:5). If Mary was there to be immersed herself, and/or to assist John, then likely Jesus took notice of Mary, whom Lazarus would have told his new teacher was his mother, and/or whom Simon the Rock (Peter) said was the sister of his wife Martha. This would have led to the arranging of their meeting at the spring in Shechem, the next episode. This is of course speculative, but it would connect this scene closely with the next, at Jacob’s Spring, and explain why this scene is followed immediately by that one, and then the wedding. It would also help explain the disciples’ surprise in 4:27; she is not entirely unfamiliar to them!

Les Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a late 1300s “book of hours” illuminated manuscript, provides a fascinating footnote discussed by Ariadne Green in her book Jesus Mary Joseph. It includes two very similar depictions of this immersion scene, however in one there is no descending dove overhead, but rather a lamb putting its forepaws on John’s arm. This may be a reference to John calling Jesus “the lamb of God” (1:36/29), and it may record an old tradition that Mary was at the immersion: the Aramaic word for “lamb”, ܐܵܡܪܐ, amara) is close to her name in Aramaic.

The Shame of New Testament Scholars

I have been asked by a reader to comment on the relationship between a scholar’s personal faith and his/her scholarly work. This is a very tricky and often touchy subject. Some scholars, such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, hint at their current personal faith-views in their writings, but never actually confirm their nature (so far as I have noticed). Others, such as James D. Tabor, seem to me, if I have it right, to prefer to discuss their faith-views on a private basis, not publicly. I hate to generalize, but I think most mainstream scholars are more or less along these lines, hesitant to discuss publicly their personal faith, or lack thereof. When they do describe their personal faiths, mainstream scholars often sound hesitant, even apologetic for their stances.

On the evangelical and charismatic end of the spectrum, it is quite different: many — probably most — scholars proudly proclaim their theological views. Their theological views, with fanfare and without apology, are prominently displayed in their scholarly writings, if I may use the latter term loosely. There are exceptions, of course; there are several scholars of a more conservative theological view who, while they are clear as to their faith, provude us with scholarship that is excellent and free from polemic; I might include here such luminaries as Richard Bauckham and the late Raymond Brown.

For mainstream scholars, the brash proclaiming of faith on the part of the “religious right” is often a part of the problem, and for two reasons.

First, the “religious right” so often attacks “liberals” that the latter feel defensive, and so they react defensively, pulling their faith (or lack thereof) inside their turtle-shells of self-protection. Every New Testament scholar is aware of the shameful and scurrilous attacks on, for instance, Reza Aslan, a scholar who wrote a fine book about Jesus, who was mercilessly trashed on “Faux Noise” (the Fox News channel) simply because he happens to be a Muslim, forgetting that Jesus is vastly important in the Muslim faith, with more about Jesus in the Qur’an than in the New Testament! One also recalls the vicious attacks on François Bovon and James D. Tabor simply because their scholarly views were “popularized” on television shows (such that the shows didn’t necessarily nuance things correctly, and may have dramatized things up a bit); to his credit, Tabor holds firm, though sadly Bovon backed down and “changed his mind”. There seems to be a certain hesitation in the work of scholars such as Karen L. King, for instance in her discursus about the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” she keeps her conclusions extremely small and (to be blunt) shy; without at all impugning her research or her writing, I sense a nervousness on her part, a fear of being attacked by the “religious right” for daring to write about an ancient text that says Jesus was married – in view of the fact that the “religious right” is monolithic in its dogmatic insistence that he was not only unmarried, not only a virgin, but entirely devoid of the least shred of natural human sexual desire. King may hesitate to elicit the kind of screaming denunciations in the popular media to novels like The Da Vinci Code and pseudo-research like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which has created such a negative climate that serious scholars usually make a wide detour around serious consideration of the possibility that Jesus was married, that he had children, that (despite the stunning work of scholar Edward Conze) he might have heard about Hinduism or Buddhism, and so on. Given this situation, one can understand if mainstream scholars, those outside the pugnacious Christian right wing, are hesitant to share their personal views publicly.

Second, many mainstream scholars, including I myself, agree that there should be a one-way street between a scholar’s personal faith (or lack thereof) and her or his scholarship. Good scholarship can and should deepen and strengthen one’s faith; good scholarship is only a “threat” to faith that is weak to begin with. On the other hand, faith should never influence good scholarship.

When faith influences scholarship, the latter suffers.

When scholarship influences faith, the latter flourishes (or should).


An example is the one faced by Karen King: the notion that Jesus might have been married. The nearly universal position among scholars, even mainstream scholars, is that the burden of proof lies on those who assert Jesus was a husband, and not on those who assert he never married. King herself, for instance, has noted that no canonical New Testament text says Jesus was married, and thus we should start with the default position that he was not.

I say that this is an example of how mainstream scholars have been so cowed by the religious right that they have lost track of their own strength: the objectivity of facts and logic. In Jesus’s time among his people, it was nearly universal for a young adult male like him, especially a rabbi, to be married; those who were not married usually spent a great deal of time defending their bachelorhood: Jeremiah the prophet and Paul, for example. Therefore, I say the opposite of Karen King: I say that the canonical New Testament does not say Jesus was un-married (as it does Paul), and thus we should start with the default position assumption that he was married, and that the burden of proof rests on those who assert Jesus was a bachelor, and not on those who assert he was married (though this is not to say the latter do not need to support the view that he was married with facts and logic). Further, if we read with care several scenes in the canonical gospels, especially those of the anointing of Jesus’s feet and his resurrection, we may realize that in fact the New Testament does tell us rather clearly his marital status. It is clear to me where objective facts and logic lead. Shrill polemic only suffocates objective facts and logic — which, indeed, is all too often its point, for instance on the Faux Noise channel.

I, for one, don’t hesitate to take on those subjects that invite attacks by the “religious right” — e.g., Jesus possibly being married and having children — if, and only if, the scholarship, the facts themselves, uncolored by faith or polemic or creed, lead me to a consideration of such matters. I often am attacked by “religious right” folks — and not a single one of them has evidenced that they have read even the first page of my scholarly work, and yet they have no hesitation to tell me I am going to Hell, judging where Jesus said not to judge, hating where Jesus said to love, and condemning where Jesus said to forgive and embrace. When I am faced with such attitudes, the conversation is as far as I am concerned at an end; there is no point discussing facts with those who have blinded themselves to them. I remain always eager to discuss facts with anybody, including those of a theologically conservative bent, as long as they remain open to an unbiased. logical consideration of them.

I don’t make any secret of my personal faith, since I’m not afraid of the “conservatives”, but with the same breath I always make it extremely clear that my faith has absolutely no influence on my scholarly work – which I undertake strictly in accordance with the facts. I never practice selectivity with the facts in order to promote some faith-stance. And, while I do not hesitate to state my personal spiritual views, I always point out that they have deepened as a result of my scholarly work, and that I hope my scholarly work — and the work of all scholars of quality, whatever their personal faith or lack thereof may be — will likewise deepen the faith of their readers, or encourage nonbelievers at least to take more seriously the rationality of believing.

I strongly urge other New Testament scholars to join me in this matter: not to cede the battleground to the “religious right”. We should insist on our right to speak out about our personal faith (or lack thereof), whenever we so choose, without fear of scurrilous attacks. We should insist on the use of unbiased logic and unweighted facts. We should demand that scholarship be judged for its own sake, and not on the basis of irrelevancies such as the scholar’s views on matters of faith. We should be proud of our work, and not ashamed.

Author-Signed Books; Native American Shawls!

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My wife Andrea and I will be in the United States from mid-January to mid-April. If you live in the States, this is your chance to get signed-to-order copies of my books and/or Andrea’s made-to-order traditional Panamanian shawls at a discount, because you avoid the international shipping and duty from the country of Panama!

Books and shawls make wonderful gifts for Chanukkah or Christmas. Your literate friends and family can warm up during a cold night with a shawl made on a hand-loom in the ancient style of the Ngäbe Buglé nation of Panama, and enjoying a good book!

Choose what books you want by using the drop-down menu in the black bar just under the photo at the top of this page to navigate to novels, nonfiction, and so on. Follow the links with each book to order the version you want (hardcover, paperback, etc.). Have the book shipped to this address –> 202 Wilmont Road / Syracuse, N.Y. 13219 <-- and also submit $12 per book to cover the cost of going to the post office and reshipping it back to you. Be sure to include your United States mailing address with the Paypal payment. The Paypal account is accessed by putting in this e-mail address: distant_e@yahoo.com - no e-mail to that address, please; this is just to deposit to the correct Paypal account. Or, for easy one-step signed books, remit through Paypal the cover price of the books you want plus $20 for the first book ($8 for subsequent books) to cover shipping to me so I can sign them and then shipping to you. Be sure to specify titles of books, which edition (hardcover if available or softcover), and provide a United States mailing address. DSCN4326

Our visit to the United States is also an opportunity to order one of my wife’s handmade shawls. There will be a limited quantity of these, as each one takes a few days to weave, so NO ORDERS WILL BE TAKEN once the maximum has been reached. If in doubt, send an inquiry through editor@audlinbooks.com

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You may specify what colors and style (see the photos) you would like for your shawl(s). Or, if you want to be very sure, you can always mail large skeins of the colors you want to the above address.

Each handmade shawl costs $80, which includes shipping to a United States address. Remit through the above Paypal account.

John’s Gospel as the Eyewitness Event Itself

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. Ordering information here, but coming soon is the new two-volume edition!

In the preface to his five-volume opus, Papias (an early second-century Christian bishop and writer) explains his own approach to establishing the truth about Jesus in the following passage. Without doubt he was describing the historiographical method that his master John the Presbyter taught him, which means it is also the method John adopted in writing the gospel.

εἰ δέ που καὶ παρηκολουθηκώς τις τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις ἔλθοι, τοὺς τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἀνέκρινον λόγους, τί Ἀνδρέας ἢ τί Πέτρος εἴπεν ἢ τί Φίλιππος ἢ τί Θωμᾶς ἢ Ἰάκωβος ἢ τί Ἰωάννης ἢ Ματθαῖος ἢ τις ἕτερος τῶν τοῦ κυρίου μαθητῶν ἅ τε Ἀριστίων καὶ ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωάννης, τοῦ κυρίου μαθηταί, λέγουσιν. οὐ γὰρ τὰ ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων τοσοῦτόν με ὠφελεῖν ὑπελάμβανον ὅσον τὰ παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς καὶ μενούσης.

And so whenever anyone who had followed the presbyters came along, I would ask carefully for the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or Peter had said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew, or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and John the Presbyter, disciples of the Lord say too. For I did not assume that whatever comes from books is as helpful to me as what comes from a living and persevering voice.

This quotation is not (as some have written) dismissing the value of books; certainly not when Papias wrote these words in a massive written work of his own. He is rather saying that when an actual eyewitness is still alive, still persevering in stating aloud in words his vivid memories, he deserves to be heeded more than a book, no matter how helpful the latter. It is saying that even the best books are of less value because they are indirect, coming between the student and the eyewitness descriptions, and that the eyewitness descriptions are superior because they are only one step away from the actual events themselves.

Modern historiography, while it pays lip service to primary sources, relies mainly on previously written works, as any survey of published material will amply demonstrate. And modern historiography, when it does turn to primary sources, insists that the best eyewitness is dispassionate, perceiving facts without their being distorted by the least shred of emotional attachment, free from subjective interpretation – in this case, spiritual understanding.

The classical historian, on the other hand, would aver that to lack emotional attachment to the event, that is, to not care about what one is observing, reduces one’s effectiveness as a witness. The best witness, that historian would say, is one who is invested in the event, and thus has senses well attuned and memory carefully storing the event away. The best witness is one who not just cares enough about the event to remember it well, but cares about it enough to recount it again and again to various audiences, who therefore has had good practice at the craft of putting memory into words, which strengthens the recall and prevents the memory from fading away.

As it is put in The Circle of Life:

Traditional peoples see time and place in terms of story. Everything around us is alive, and has its story. To exist, to live, is to create story: when we fall in love, when we have a child, and so on, we’re beginning a story, and the only way we can learn how the story is going to come out is by creating the story. The past, to the traditional way of thinking, is the stories that have been told and can still be told; the future is the stories that have not yet been told. Thus, this present moment is ceremony in progress, stories in the making. This moment now, with you holding this book in your hands as you read it, is your story-in-the-making. Some day to come you will remember reading this book. You won’t have this book in your hands, but you will remember reading something in it that really struck you, and what it made you think about, and what you did that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. This remembering will be for you a story, part of the greater story of your life. Death, in this view, is an ending not of life, but of a story – and other stories will always follow.

This issue was no doubt important to Papias because, as the Gospel of John demonstrates, it was crucial to his mentor John the Presbyter. The book, the gospel, that John wrote seeks to be something unique: to be not just a book of history like other books of history, even the best of them. It seeks to be more than merely an indirect witness to Jesus, a mere record of oral recollections like other written histories. Rather, it seeks to be itself a direct observer and describer of the events, telling the reader the story about them just the way a witness does – more than that, it seeks to be the event itself, such that we are not mere readers of a text that quotes witnesses about the event of Jesus, but that we are direct witnesses to the event itself. I said above that for classical historians the best witness is “invested in the event, and thus has senses well attuned and memory carefully storing the event away, … and cares about it enough to recount it again and again to various audiences”, which describes this gospel very well. For Jesus promises, in the gospel itself, that a new kind of eyewitness will come to the faithful; he speaks of it as the Paraclete (Παρακλητος), “the Spirit/Wind/Breath of truth … that will bear witness concerning me” (15:26), adding, “Whatever it hears it will speak … [it] will teach you all things and will remind you of all the things that I said to you” (14:26). That new kind of witness is the gospel itself. It is the eyewitness we attend to, so it is the event-itself that gives us Jesus.

In this modern age of malls and superhighways drained of all real intrinsic meaning, meaning, or the mere appearance of meaning, is a commodity that is bought and sold like any other: information technology, as it is called. The “ruler of this cosmos”, as Jesus calls him in this gospel, or Big Brother, as George Orwell called him, tells us to trust him and go home now, and he will explain everything to us later. We are in this modern age to believe what we are told to believe. Scholars in this modern age argue about what this gospel means. Most people just allow their religious organization to tell them what the meaning of this and other scriptures is, rather than discovering it for themselves through intelligent reading. The organized religious establishments took over the role of assigning meaning to events. And the scholars, just as bad, squeeze the scriptures for meaning and throw away the works themselves like an empty orange skin. Yet in fact Marshall McLuhan was right: don’t look for hidden meanings in the gospel; the medium, this gospel, is the message, and the message is the gospel itself.

For classical people, the event, the experience, and the meaning were all inextricably mixed. For the classical mind the truth as to the meaning of any event (historical or happening in front of one) was in the event itself, not in descriptions of the event – the descriptions contain truth to the degree that they conform their words to the truth in the event itself. That is the main criterion by which classical books of history were judged in classical times as to their quality, and it should remain such.

Moderns deem the meaning of an event or a teaching more important than the event or teaching itself. They suggest that there is something defective about a powerful symbolic work like the Gospel of John, and that therefore it needs the official explainers to explain it. They suggest that there is something defective about you and me, in that we are not able to appreciate the gospel fully unless we listen to the official explainers. This has the effect not only of devaluing the work itself and the readers themselves, but it creates a relativism of meaning: the meaning is whatever those powerful enough to take control of the social institutions of education, communication, media, and often government say is its meaning.

Symbols are not like highway signs. A red hexagon tells us to stop the car because we are trained by our culture so to do; someone from another culture will not know to stop. But a symbol, an archetype, is immediately a powerful spiritual dynamo for any human being of any culture in any epoch. It needs no explaining, and in fact explaining does it a disservice, suggesting that the symbol is of lesser importance, and that rather the big-mouthed bonehead who wants us to know how smart he is that he can explain a symbol is the real point. As Jung taught, symbols, archetypes, are hard-wired into our psyches as a species; they are ultimately a primal root part of the World Soul, the collective unconscious. Symbols are like bodies that express the ineffable archetypes; the archetypes are the souls inside the symbols that make the symbols come alive. So in my view symbols do not point at something beyond themselves: they simply are, and we can only gape at their inexpressible forever astonishing wonder. They are numinous. Like the famous “Flower Sermon” of Gautama Buddha, John the Presbyter was wise not to put a lot of explanations into this gospel. He simply gives us the symbols, points toward the allusions in the classics and the Tanakh, and leaves us to contemplate this glorious beauty that means what it is.

Most Jews and most Hellenes weaned on Plato would have agreed with John the Presbyter that the ultimate source of all truth is God, not the official explainers. If there is truth in someone’s words or deeds, in any situation, it is because these things are said or done in accordance with the will of God: they are, in the Presbyter’s terms, in accordance with the Λογος. Hence, if the Gospel of John was written by God’s will, then to the degree John the Presbyter wrote it as God wishes, it carries the truth of the words and events recorded. If it is more than an historic record, if it is in Kant’s term a Ding an sich, if it is in Lao-tse’s term 自然 (ziran; “self-so”), if it is in Borges’s term an aleph, then it is God’s own deed, and the Presbyter is but the instrument. And, if that is the case, then the gospel does not just embody the truth, but it is the truth, because the presence of God is in it.

Thus, the Gospel of John, as the Paraclete, by its established nature as the event itself, does not therefore reflect the truth of the event in its words as the moon reflects the sun, as we humans (should) reflect the image of Elohim, but rather it has the truth within its own very nature. And therefore it is for us, as not readers but eyewitnesses to this gospel-event and its inherent truth, to believe. Thus Jesus says the truth will set us free if we know it (8:32), that God’s word is truth (17:17), that he bears witness to the truth such that those who hear his voice have truth in them (18:37), and of course says to Thomas and us

“You believe because you have seen me.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!”

For example, the resurrection appearances of Jesus were for the disciples new experiences that at first they could not understand. They were receiving sensory data that did not make sense to them, and had to be explained to them. They probably discussed and even argued with each other as to the meaning of these appearances. They may have realized that their guesses at the meaning might be wrong or incomplete. But they would never once have thought it was for them to establish the meaning, that the meaning was theirs to decide, but rather that the meaning was in the event itself and was something that they must discern in the event. Thus, as an event in its own right, the gospel does not like other works of classical history seek to reproduce faithfully the meaning in the event; it is the event, and so it carries its own intrinsic meaning. The meaning it gives to the resurrection is that this is no ordinary man but Messiah, and no ordinary event but a kairos, a tirtha, a moment-place where the veil between the worlds has grown thin and one can glimpse the eternal, the Æon.

This gospel is to be accepted, then, not an ordinary history based on the accounts of witnesses but a witness itself; more than that, it is to be taken as the direct experience of Jesus: by reading it we are there with Jesus. Therefore, we are not mere readers, removed from the event by the intervening media of witness and book; rather, we are witnesses ourselves to the gospel-as-event/teaching, we are put squarely in front of the truth itself, the event-presence itself, and thus we are anointed as disciples and presbyters and apostles and elders ourselves. Jesus in effect addresses us, the readers of the gospel, when in the gospel’s very last words he says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!” We, the readers of the gospel, have not seen the events and teachings in the gospel, but by reading we know them, and are called to believe. And the Envoi to the gospel, which follows immediately, drives home this same point:

πολλα δε και αλλα σημεια α εποιησεν ο ιησους ενωπιον των μαθητων αυτου α ουκ εστιν γεγραμμενα εν τω βιβλιω τουτω ατινα εαν γραφηται καθ εν ουδ αυτον οιμαι τον κοσμον χωρησαι τα γραφομενα βιβλια ταυτα δε γεγραπται ινα πιστευσητε οτι ιησους εστιν ο χριστος ο υιος του θεου και ινα πιστευοντες ζωην *αιωνιον* εχητε εν τω ονοματι αυτου

Indeed there are also many other signs Jesus has been doing in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book, which, if each one of them were written, I think not even the cosmos itself could contain all the books (that would have to be) written. These, however, have been written so you might believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, the son of God, and that, by believing, you might have Æonian life in his name.

The Jewish view in John’s day was that truth flowed from the Torah and from the Temple – whichever Temple, and hence the conflicting “truths” espoused by the priesthoods in Jerusalem, Samaria, and Leontopolis in Egypt; Mary and Jesus allude to this conflict in 4:20-21. But the gospel seeks to present God as the only source of truth and valid meaning; God has sent Jesus as emissary to express this truth, and the gospel is presenting itself as the Paraclete, continuing to express God’s truth, the only real truth.

In saying we are blessed who have not seen and yet believe, in saying the gospel was written “so you might believe”, the gospel is saying that those who believe are good witnesses to the experience of Jesus. As the Paracete the gospel presents itself, as I have often said, not as a history book, but as in itself the experience-of-Jesus, which makes us not mere readers of a book but witnesses to an event. Some people over the millennia have read the gospel and remain readers, remain agnostic, because for them this book remains a book; no harm in this. Yet some organizations, while they pay lip service to calling this book scripture, treat it as a book that they will interpret for their adherents, despite the fact that the meaning of the event is in the event, not enforced upon it by a social institution, in this case the meaning is in the book, not the institution, and to separate meaning from event, like separating the spirit from the body, kills both.

But for those who read and believe, the book becomes not just a witness to Jesus, but moreover an event, the experience-of-Jesus. As I have also previously noted, classical historians preferred to base their writings on witnesses who were emotionally involved, because that quality better engraved their memories of what they observed than the “dispassionate observer” preferred today; also, they had experience in telling the story of what they witnessed, and so their wording would be useful to the historian. Like a dream quickly written down at dawn or immediately told to someone, verbalizing an experience helps to firm up and fix the details in the memory with exactitude.

Perhaps thousands of people heard and saw Jesus – but only a relatively very few were so moved that they didn’t just “hear and see” but listened and observed. The difference is in this very factor of becoming involved in, committed to, the event, such that one absorbs it: the individual becomes a part of the event and it becomes a part of the individual. Therefore, for the gospel to discuss belief as a result of reading this gospel is to say it is possible for some readers to become more than readers: to become believers, that is, emotionally involved, committed witnesses to the experience-of-Jesus as mediated by the gospel (20:29,31).

Classical and modern historians both understand that the truth known to human beings is subjective: the only truth we have is the knowable truth, the truth from our finite perspective. And of course in ancient times like now, people would “spin” their telling to make the truth appear in ways that furthered their desires. Thus the wise historian, then and now, presents various perspectives as if in a courtroom, and evaluates the evidence supporting each in order to arrive at the truth in the event itself. Thus in the Gospel of John we find occasional courtroom terminology; even the original title, The Paraclete, is a courtroom term. Thus too we find the gospel focused on the nature of truth: Pilate asks what it is, and Jesus says I AM is the truth that, if we know it, frees us.

Pontius (“What is truth?”) Pilate had no more access to objective truth than any other human being; thus he like most others sought only the truth that would serve him, he like most others sought to be the master of the truth, but Jesus said to him, in effect, “You would have no truth at all, unless it comes to you from above.” John the Presbyter would agree with George Berkeley that, while our human truths are subjective, that we have at best an asymptotic relationship with the truth, God is a priori the one entity for whom truth is objective, whole, and perfect. We human beings cannot bridge the asymptotic gap to perfect truth – the closer we get the harder it is to get closer, like approaching absolute zero or the speed of light. But in the Messiah of Jesus, and therefore in the gospel that embodies his teaching, the truth has come to us, God has come to us – for, where we cannot bridge the asymptotic gap, God can. This is a major point in the Prologue to the gospel, and this coming of God into the human experience is the very essence of kairos, the Greek concept of sacred time, the “eternal now” moment when all ordinary life hushes in the presence of the inexplicable.

The final two words in the quotation from the Muratorian Canon, saying that John wrote “all the wonderful things of the Lord in order” (italics added), are significant here. For a central factor in classical historiography, besides primary reliance on committed eyewitnesses, was the arrangement of the raw observational reports of the eyewitnesses interviewed into a seamless historical narrative: that is, imparting an architecture to that narrative, a pattern as pleasing to the mind as the structure of a cathedral is pleasing to the eye. In Hegelian terms, this is the dialectical relationship between content and form, between truth and beauty, in Greek terms, between χρειαι (units of oral recollection) and συνταξις (organization into a large-scale work): while the eyewitness and historian could be the same person, properly speaking the former was the provider of content, of truth, and the latter the provider of form, of beauty. A classical historical work of fine quality had both blended into a unity; indeed, in classical works of history – indeed, in all great classical literature – these two were the same thing: in the words of Keats, “Truth is beauty, beauty truth.” Put another way, the classical historian saw his task as a form of fine art, painting a truthful image of the past with the raw materials of testimony and records. The structure of the gospel, which is detailed in the Commentaries, is clearly modeled on that of a Greek play, in four major sections (called Acts in my translation), with at least the beginnings of a seven signs and seven seals substructure. It is also filled with inclusio (details or themes or phrases in the early chapters that return in the final chapters), as well as with abundant references to Greek poets such as Sappho and Homer, the philosopher Plato, and the playwright Euripides.

John the Presbyter’s work included more than putting the reminiscences into chronological order and inserting later marginal additions where they seemed best to go into the narrative flow. It included more than refining the literary language was and adding artful references to Hellenistic philosophy and literature, and composing the Prologue. It included more than arranging an artful A-B-A symmetry or inclusio format.

The Presbyter also was determined a: to attest to the truth of this gospel and its hard-to-believe contents, b: to effectively quash the inevitable allegations by cynics (Celsus being the first in a line of them to the present day) that the whole thing about Jesus was made up or a matter of delusion, and c: to prevent ideological tampering with the text. He did this as did the great prophets (e.g., Isaiah 8:2,16; cf. the concern expressed in Jeremiah 8:8), by writing into the text statements that in modern terms are written legal depositions or affidavits, solemnly certififying that the text tells the truth. Therefore, the structure includes a “seven seals” arrangement that was at least partly fleshed out.

Thus we find factual certifications at 1:14, 3:33-34, 19:24, 19:35, 20:30-31, plus two more by John the Immerser at 1:32 and 34. These seven certifications are mentioned in Revelation 5:1-9; they are “seven seals” that seal the codex which is clearly this gospel; the imagery is borrowed from Ezekiel 2:9-3:3. (Note: I do not include a separate certification at the end of chapter 21, since the latter was not originally part of the gospel, nor the approximately seven times that Jesus serves as his own witness, at 3:11, 7:7, 8:18, 5:39, 5:43, 5:46, 18:37, since these are certifications about Jesus, not of Jesus.)

There is also a partly fleshed-out structure of “seven signs” (in modern parlance, miracles) done by Jesus, equivalent to the seven trumpets in Revelation 8-9, trumpeting Jesus’s identity as Messiah. These seven signs are themselves certifications as well: in the Jewish faith then and now a putative Messiah is expected to perform certain signs (אוֺתוֺת; otot; the singular is אוֹת; oth, rhyming with “oat”) to certify themselves as meriting that recognition. However here John evidently ran into a problem which may have delayed completion of the gospel (permanently, as it turned out): the chiastic structure of the seven signs should have had the healings of the paralytic and blind man mirror each other as the third and fifth sign, with the loaves-and-fishes taking the center spot – however, that would only be possible in the text if it were to ignore the chronological fact that the loaves-and-fishes sign preceded that of the paralytic man. The amanuensis could easily have “solved” this problem by just changing the order – but the man who had criticized John Mark for putting events out of their actual temporal order, now had to choose between doing just that or accepting a flaw in the chiasm.

Why all these artistic devices, especially the inclusio and the references to classical literature, in an account that stresses its eyewitness nature? Artifice to our contemporary thinking suggests hyperbole, exaggeration, even outright deception and fallacy. How can these accounts be truthful, we moderns may well ask, when they are so beautifully contrived? The answer is found in such classical philosophers as Plato and Aristotle whom the gospel writer clearly admired and studied. To the classical person, if not the modern, Keats was correct in saying, “Truth is beauty, beauty truth.” All of the great works, in all genres of artistry, are beautiful and true, even when they are ugly and raw. Guernica, Inferno, Hamlet, Rashomon, Don Quixote, Le Sacre du Printemps; these works are jarring and difficult to appreciate – but, for me, that is their beauty. This gospel has its brutal scenes, most especially the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, as well as some that are exquisitely lovely – and note that it is during the crucifixion that the prose gives way to several lines of the most pure, passionate, poignant poetry. Yet without doubt the composition of the gospel was intended, or inspired, to make this another one of these truthful, beautiful works, beautiful even as Jesus struggles on the cross through the last tortured gasps of life. So, for the first century reader, this careful arrangement of the raw materials to create the inclusio effect and bring out the allusions to classical literature is not as we might think today – after too much exposure to the bathetic blandishments of mendacious politicians and hypocritical clergy – to deceive us, but, quite the opposite, to make the gospel more trustworthy and true.

John the Presbyter clearly states the intention that this gospel be the event itself, that it be the presence of Jesus, in 15:26-27. “The Paraclete,” he quotes Jesus as saying, “will bear witness concerning me, and you too (will) bear witness because you have been with me from the first.” The last two words, απ αρχης, form a double entendre: to his actual disciples he means the phrase in its common sense, that they have been with him since this whole series of events began; but to those who are reading this the Paraclete, he means that they, we, have been with him from the first (απ αρχης) word of the gospel, which is, though conjugated differently, this very word, εν αρχη. In other words, we are not just reading about, but experiencing, observing, and witnessing Jesus as he teaches and performs signs. Thus 15:27, like 20:29, can be understood as Jesus speaking directly to the reader of the gospel.

These two verses, therefore, provide future generations with two witnesses: the gospel and its readers. Since under Jewish law the consistent testimony given by two witnesses of probity is to be accepted as truth, the combination of this gospel Paraclete and its readers – readers who become involved, committed witnesses, which in this case is a demonstration of their probity – is to be accepted as the truth. Once again we see how this gospel is laid on a strong legal foundation.

Following these two verses in this reconstruction of the original gospel is verse 13:20, in which the Presbyter further drives home his point through Jesus’s words: “Anyone who receives what I will send receives me,” which is to say again that this Paraclete-gospel is Jesus’s continuing presence, and if we become involved, committed witnesses by receiving it, we thereby receive Jesus; and then he adds, “who receives me receives the One who sent me”, which is to say if we accept and live by Jesus’s teachings we are living in accordance with the Λογος, and hence we become part of the Æon, and are one not only with each other but also one with God (17:26,22,21,23).

This understanding of the gospel as not merely witness but the event itself would have been immediately comprehensible to first-century Jews, and would be to most Jews today were it not for the mental barriers erected between religions that often blind us to their shared elements.

Jesus gives this teaching about the Paraclete, hence about this gospel, mere hours before the beginning of the Passover. Exodus teaches us in the generations following the Exodus to observe the Passover with the understanding that we were there too, for if our spiritual ancestors had not miraculously escaped bondage in Egypt, we their descendants would not be free today. Notice how the following verses do not say “our ancestors”, but “me” or “us”. Exodus 13:8 says, והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה יהוה לי בצאתי ממצרים (“And you shall avow to your son on that day, saying, ‘This is done because of that which YHWH did to me when I came out of Egypt’”), and verse 14 says, והיה כי־ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה־זאת ואמרת אליו בחזק יד הוציאנו יהוה ממצרים מבית עבדים (“And it will be, when in future times your son asks you ‘What is this?’, that you will say to him, ‘With a mighty hand YHWH brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage’”). For this reason, the Haggadah, the story of the Exodus, is told to this day at the Passover Seder as not our ancestors’ story, but our story, that we were there too.

Surgeon God Unites Jesus and Mary in Own Image

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. Ordering information here, but coming soon is the new two-volume edition!

Commentary on John 19:34 – The word πλευρας, from which comes the modern term “pleurisy”, is usually translated “side”. It comes from a root referring to the ribs (hence this translation has “ribs”), so this was a stab to or near the heart. …

In Genesis 2:21 God takes a צְלָעֹת from Adam, separating the first human, Adam, who was hermaphroditic, into male and female. This word, tselah, can be translated “rib” or “side”, and so is similar in meaning to πλευρας, the word in 19:34. Note that it is a feminine word in Hebrew, which is part of why the Talmud associates Adam’s side, and hence Eve, with the Tabernacle of God. The early rabbis point out that the same word צְלָעֹת appears in Exodus 26:20, in describing how the Tabernacle is to be constructed, and they also often draw a connection between having a family and the construction of the blessed Tabernacle. Thus, while no doubt this sword thrust actually happened (hence the attestation in 19:35), it was rich in spiritual meaning for the gospel author. Just as with Adam, a “deep sleep” (for ancient peoples there was no major distinction between “coma” and “death”) has now come upon Jesus. But where God was separating female from male in Genesis, God is here, in complementary oppositeness to Adam, through this soldier, beginning the process of reuniting male and female, Jesus and Mary.

Commentary on John 20:16-17 – This resurrection scene differs from the raising of Lazarus in one essential detail: the latter came out still bound in his grave clothes. The text here does not specifically say Jesus and Mary are naked, but it doesn’t need to, since this fact is clearly apparent and significant. We know Jesus is naked since his entombment linens are still in the tomb (20:5-7) – they would in any case be much too soiled with blood and bodily fluids to serve as makeshift garments – and he cannot have gone somewhere to pick up a fresh suit. If he has gone anywhere before the encounter with Mary, it would only be nearby, to one of the abundant springs and streams in this garden, to wash himself clean, and this may be assumed because of the inclusio with the baptism at the beginning of the gospel. As for Mary, I believe that, once she was left alone by her friends (the women and the two disciples) she would have torn her clothes asunder in the traditional keriah ritual. In any case, the text here, by vividly evoking the naked couple in the garden of Eden and in the Song of Songs, clearly signals Mary’s nakedness to match Jesus’s. Her nakedness in terms of mourning is discussed above; now the nakedness of the couple in the context of resurrection and reuniting is to be discussed.

First to note, their nakedness represents birth and death; as in Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.” The “mother” here is the Earth herself, and Jesus returned into her, specifically the tomb, and now has come forth from her womb. This is a second birth for Jesus, just as he “preenacted” it with John (1:32-33) and discussed it with Nicodemus (3:3-7) and so this scene forms an inclusio with the beginning of the gospel. Moreover, in terms of Plato’s allegory, we are born owning none of the things of this world, which are just shadows cast by the more real world, the Æon, and at death we release all property, including the body. Clothing, and property in general, proclaims our social status and wealth; it divides us from others. Without clothes we are united in our common heritage, the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Adam was punished by having to wear clothing, having to toil for his daily bread, and by being returned to the earth at death (Genesis 3:17-21). And ever since Adam and Eve, mythopoetically speaking, humanity has had to wear clothes – because in being separated, male and female forever desire to be joined together again, and there is shame for humanity in that desire. Jesus accepted this Adam’s punishment, but came back up out of the earth again. Since Jesus and Mary are truly and fully united in this hierogamy, they do not need to wear clothes any longer. Thus Jesus’s and Mary’s nakedness here implies that in the Æon we are one, unencumbered by worldly things and their shadows.

Second, their nakedness in a garden brings to mind Adam and Eve naked in the garden of Eden. The primordial couple is not at first aware of being naked, nor are Mary and Jesus, which is why the gospel makes no mention of this fact. But where Adam and Eve’s guilt and shame over their sin of disobedience, for which God punishes them with mortality, is associated by Genesis with the primordial couple clothing their naked bodies; here, Jesus and Mary unclothing their bodies represents for them (and us if we follow them spiritually) a return to the human condition before the first pair ate of the fruit. Modern readers, reading Genesis through their own cultural lenses, often think that Adam and Eve clothed themselves out of a kind of sexually fueled embarrassment for being “naked in public”. But a careful reading of the text reveals that, no, they were afraid of God’s omnipotent wrath in the face of their vulnerability, especially following their disobedience of God, and so they sewed leaves together to disguise themselves as trees in this garden of trees. Thus the nakedness of Jesus and Mary is to say no person need feel any longer afraid of God, as needing to hide her- or himself from God or ignore God, that “all is forgiven”, as the classic prophets often emphasize, as long as the individual accepts the Λογος, the truth and wisdom of the plan of God. Spiritually speaking, true trust and true nakedness are the same thing, with no need to hide oneself, or to make of oneself something other than naturally human. In this sense, the nakedness is not just to bring Adam and Eve to mind; it is an eschatological nakedness: Jesus and Mary are the “Adam and Eve” of the people of the future who are completely integrated into the Λογος, who trust God completely, and do not put clothes on out of fear or misrepresentation of their true selves. (In the next chapter, Simon the Rock is fishing naked, but puts on his clothes before swimming ashore where Jesus is; he has not yet “understood the scripture” [20:9].)

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 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:

[The Coptic text cannot be reproduced on this website.]

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 Kingdom of Heaven.”

Viewing it with modern sensibilities, scholars often dismiss this logion as an example of first-century misogyny, saying Jesus couldn’t possibly have said the Æon, the Kingdom 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 God creates by separating complementary opposites: day from night, above from below, land from sea; finally, God takes the hermaphroditic human who was made male-and-female in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) and separates it into two humans, the primordial couple. The second creation story likewise has womankind, in the person of Eve, drawn forth from the side of the prototypical hermaphrodyte, Adam. Jesus thus is saying in the above logion that the female and the male, in order to enter into the Æon, the Kingdom 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, 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 Kingdom 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.” In a conversation with his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus makes the same point: “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 Gospel of Philip, for instance in logion 76:

[The Coptic text cannot be reproduced on this website.]

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 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 androgynos. 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.

Above [the first paragraph above] 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 that the when the Israelites reached the Promised Land the Tabernacle was kept according to Jews in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), but the Samaritans make a stronger case that it was kept at Mount Gerizim: the several times in Deuteronomy 16 where it says “at the place that YHWH your God will choose to have his name reside there” the most likely original wording preserved in the Samaritan Torah says “at the place that was chosen at Mount Gerizim”, the mountain where the Samaritan Temple in Jesus’s day was located, and at the foot of which he met with his wife-to-be, the priestess Mary. The Jewish Torah changed these references; the editors couldn’t make the text say Jerusalem when that city was not yet in Israelite hands, so they referred indirectly with “the place that God will choose” the eventual location where Solomon placed the Tabernacle: the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8:4), where it joined the Ark of the Covenant, placed by David in the Temple, which was interpreted as its “tent” (II Samuel 6:16 and I Chronicles 15:1) – this the earthly Jerusalem chosen for strictly political reasons, not spiritual.

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 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 lit it up, and its lamp is the Lamb.” 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) 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 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. The philosopher’s friend Aristophanes, the playwright, 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, and heal us and make us happy and blessed.to our original state, and heal us and make us happy and blessed.

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

This sexual element is related to the previous point that their Edenic nakedness has spiritual meaning. In the act of coïtus the man and woman become physically one, and their conscious minds are set aside, allowing them a moment of sheer ecstasy, which is a harbinger of the joy of living in the Æon. (This wakan aspect to lovemaking is explored in detail in The Circle of Life.) Further, the act of coïtus can result in the creation of new life, in the form of a child. Thus, Elohim appears in Genesis as Creator, Father-Mother to all life, and the man and woman, when they are truly one (including physically, during coïtus), are in the image and likeness of Elohim also creating life. This points to the deep meanings of the “bridal chamber” theology found in several early gospels, certainly Thomas and especially Philip. Logion 86 in the latter, quoted on page 621, says that when male and female are mated together again in the bridal chamber they gain eternal life; death is overcome for them. It is beyond the scope of this work to speculate in detail on what physical manifestation, if anything, the “bridal chamber” references pointed to. Generally, the strand of spirituality leading from the early Gnostics (especially Marcus and Valentinius) to the Cathars eschewed the panoply of ritual, ceremony-as-sacrament, and preferred inner, spiritual transcendence. The depiction in Philip is of a bride and groom entering into the bridal chamber privately.

Joined as one, Jesus-and-Mary are no longer Blake’s “ratio”, scattered fragments of the whole, but the restored First Human, complete and perfect: they are the Platonic ίδεα, the image and likeness of Elohim. As such, this Human is not static, not yet (20:17) at the destination, the Æon, but still follows God’s Λογος.

Jesus’s Vine and Horace’s Branches

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. Ordering information here, but coming soon is the new two-volume edition!

Commentary on John 15:1-6 – Jesus shows his agrarian roots not in drawing this analogy, since it appears in the prophets (cf. Isaiah 5:1-10), but by amplifying it with knowledgeable references to the husbandry of grape vines. The Greek word καθαιρω means both “to prune” and “to clean(se)”, so there is something of a double entendre in these verses. A farmer carefully prunes grape branches that are bearing much fruit, so they bear even more, and in the same way, in this analogy, the Word (again, the word Λογος, suggesting God’s plan for the entirety of creation) that Jesus brings prunes away or cleanses anything that is dross in those who accept that plan, such that they are fruitful.

The Latin poet Horace (65-8 B.C.E.) often refers poetically to the husbanding of grapes, for instance these lines from his second epode:

Adulta vitium propagine
Altas maritat populos …
Unutilisque falce ramos amputans
Feliciores inserit.

He weds the tall poplar
To the productive vine; …
With his knife he cuts out useless branches
And grafts better in their place.

There are but scant suggestions that John the Presbyter, clearly well versed in the Greek classics, was at all familiar with the Latin masters; the only other I have found is a possible reference to Vergil in chapter 20. If it was not Horace himself in the gospel writer’s mind as he shaped Jesus’s speech, it may have been any of several Greek poets; pastoral verse of this sort was not uncommon. I am not at all implying that Jesus’s comments here were made up by the Presbyter by borrowing from classical poets, but rather that, as ancient poets often did, he found reflections of Jesus’s greatness in the classical works he knew and loved, which he knew would also be known to and loved by many of his potential readers, and which he would have believed, in a manner typical of his day, proved not just the validity and immortality of Jesus’s teaching, but that it came from God.

This passage from Horace suggests a possible alternate understanding of Jesus’s metaphor. Horace speaks of wedding the vine and the tree together: without the branches of the tree to hold up the vine, the latter cannot flourish. Of course, wedding metaphors permeate this gospel, finding their rootage in the Tanakh’s frequent analogy of the covenant between God and the Israelites as a marriage. If 15:1-6 is read in that light, then the branches of which Jesus speaks are not tendrils growing out from the mainstock of the vine, but rather the branches of a tree which hold up the vine, which enable it to live and produce fruit, and which make it and its fruit visible to the entire world, like the “serpent of Moses” (3:14). And the tree in question would be, symbolically, the Tree of Life (which is the same as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), the tree that also appears in Revelation 2:7 and 22:1-2.

Building on this reading, Jesus is saying his disciples bear Jesus’s fruit indirectly, inasmuch as they like tree branches bear and lift up the fruiting vine, and they cannot bear fruit by themselves, but only if they stay with the vine (15:4). And he is saying that those who live by his teaching will make it possible for the vine to bear fruit well into the future – but that any tree branches which fail to hold up the vine are cut away and burned in the fire (15:6). This interpretation not only carries the gospel’s frequent marriage motif and the motif of lifting up Jesus so he is visible to the world, but it also alludes to the Paraclete: this gospel, which is the promised Paraclete as discussed elsewhere, is the means by which followers of Jesus can all him to “abide in them”, keeping him ever alive and ever before the world. And the fruits of this vine are the fulfillment of the Λογος, the plan of God, the vintner in this metaphor.

Curiously, the Persian Diatessaron has Jesus say in 15:1 not “I am the true vine”, but ﻣـاـن ﺩـرـاـکــحــطى ﻣـوـاﯽ ﺭـاـثــطـى ﺭـاـثــطـى (man dirakht-i mīva-yi rāstī). This has been rendered into English as “I am the tree of the fruit of truth” (Craig D. Allert) and, adhering more closely to the word-for-word meaning, as “I am the fruit-tree of truth” (Robert Murray, from the Italian of Guiseppe Messina). However, a careful rendering of the suffixes has the Persian saying “I am the fruit of the tree of truth”. This version of 15:1, as an obvious reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil forbidden to Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:17), supports the conclusion above, based on Horace’s poetry, that Jesus was speaking of himself in terms of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This Diatessaron is a thirteenth century version of a now-lost very early Syriac text that retained many readings from Tatian’s original second century Diatessaron, the original text of which is, but for a couple of small bits, known only in part from quotations in later writers. (A diatessaron is a single work that draws together the four canonical gospels into one narrative.) With at least one link in the chain of copies lost, we cannot know whether this version of 15:1 comes from Tatian, or a later scribe of extremely unusual inventiveness in his handling of what was by then sacred scripture not to be edited. Yet there is a chance that this Persian version preserves an extremely early text from the Cæsarean family of manuscripts, even earlier than the Syriac Sinaiticus, one close in time and text to Tatian’s Diatessaron – in short a very early text originating in the nearest circle to John the Presbyter’s original manuscript.

And both the Syriac Sinaiticus and the Peshitta seem to support the Persian (the only other early Syriac manuscript, the Curetonian Gospels, is missing the final chapters of John). In those versions the beginning of 15:1 reads: ܐܢܐ ܐܢܐ ܓܦܬܐ ܕܫܪܪܐ (“I I the vine of truth”). There is no apparent reason for the repeated “I” (pronounced enā or ănā), raising a near certainty of a scribal error here, since the Aramaic word for “fruit”, ܐܒܐ (ebā), easily could have been misread and miswritten as ܐܢܐ. If this probable error is repaired, the phrase reads “I am the fruit of the vine of truth”, which is so close to the Persian version that the shift from “vine” to “tree” could be just an accident in the shift from Aramaic to Persian. The word for “fruit” is a homonym in pronunciation and spelling of ܐܒܐ, ABA, the word for “father” that appears in the second half of this verse (ܘܐܒܝ ܗܘ ܦܠܚܐ; “my father is the laborer”), so an early scribe may have misunderstood ܐܒܐ as meaning not “fruit” but “father”, making the sentence seem to read “I am the father of truth and my father is the laborer”, and he then corrected the apparent dittography of “father”. Strengthening this analysis is the fact that in verse two an entirely different word from ܐܒܐ is used; though this word, ܦܐܪܐ (peryā) is usually translated as “fruit”, it is closer to the English noun “produce”. As noted above in reference to the Greek, the Aramaic of 15:4 also speaks of tree branches that cannot bear the fruit of the vine by themselves, but only if they hold up the vine. The meaning is clear: these texts have Jesus saying that we must lift up Jesus and his teaching, just as trees lift up the fruit-bearing vine in Horace’s image; if we fail to do so, we will be taken away by the husbandman, the father.

All this is so impressive that it seems quite likely that Horace suggests, and the Persian Diatessaron and the Syriac Sinaiticus point to, the now-lost original reading. But, since there is no solid textual support for what is ultimately just a conjecture, I include the Persian-Syriac versions of 15:1-2 as alternate readings in my translation.
This last parabolic teaching in the Last Supper discourse appropriately echoes the first and last of the gospel’s seven miracles, that of the water turned wine and that of the fruiting grains. It thus emphasizes Jesus’s central teaching in the gospel that if we choose to be part of God’s Λογος we will bear much fruit and live into the Æon; but, if not, we will be “pruned away”. In this metaphor, Jesus means to say I AM, God, is the mainstem of the vine, and provides the lifegiving loving sap/blood that gives us life and envigors our souls, and it is for us to turn that sap into the fruit of love, and Jesus serves (like all prophets) as mediator/means for the nourishment of God to fill us.

Jesus’s Æon Found in Western Greece

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. Ordering information here, but coming soon is the new two-volume edition!

The word “Æon” (αιον) is the word used in the Gospel of John (and elsewhere in early Christian texts) as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word םלוע (olam) and the Aramaic word ܥܠܡܐ (almah). These two Semitic words literally mean “concealed” or “hidden”. In temporal references the concept is of a length of time rendered indefinite by virtue of proportion: a time period so long that the end of it is hidden/concealed from the vantage point of its beginning moment, and the present moment as well. It could thus be rendered into English as “time immemorial” or “time out of mind”; the New World Translation renders it well as “indefinitely lasting” in English, and tiempo indefinido in Spanish. The term often carries the suggestion of everlasting (at least in the past or future), or even of eternal (beyond linear chronological time altogether; i.e., the kairos). Even in non-temporal references it can suggest “hidden”, as in Isaiah 60:19-20 it refers to the spiritual light of our inner being.

The Hebrew (עַלְמָה; almah) and Aramaic (ܥܠܝܡܗ; alymah) word for “maiden” or “young woman”, plus its equivalents for “stripling” or “young man”, may go back to the same root meaning of “concealed” or “hidden”, on the logic that young men or women who are marriageable but not yet married are kept back by their parents as hidden from those who would seek to steal their sexual potential, and as valuable in the arrangements of advantageous marriages. However, Koehler and Baumgartner in their Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament trace the word to an Aramaic root ܥܠܡ (alma) that refers to youthful vigor, and associate it with a cognate in Ugaritic that means “to be agitated” and one in Arabic that means “to be filled with passionate desire”. I suspect both derivations may be valid; parents may want to keep hidden at home their teenaged children when they are overwhelmed with sexual hormones.

In the Gospel of John the term “Æon” is not for a physical place or chronological time, but a state of being that is beyond mere time and space, beyond mere being, a term not unlike nirvana in Buddhist theology. It is often used with a meaning similar to “heaven” (ουρανος, which also means “sky”), but not in the sense that we enter the Æon at death, but rather that, by living in accordance with the Λογος, the divine plan/order or Word, mediated by Jesus, we enter the Æon immediately, while still in this life, and thus at death we do not simply cease to exist, but continue to be part of the Æon. We enter it by loving all life, by recognizing our oneness with all being, which is also the essence of compassion in Buddhism. So it is heaven when we choose to live in harmony with God’s Λογος, plan, being one with all God’s creatures (17:21) for by doing so God draws us thither, into the Æon. This loving is particularly accomplished by becoming completely one with our spouse: through sexual desire one conjoins with one’s partner, and thus embodies the image of Elohim, God understood as including both male and female as one. Thus, in the term “Æon” there is the sense of the Semitic root that refers to sexual desire. We see this acted out at John 20:16-17 (see the commentaries).

Therefore, the term “Æon” is used to refer to the greater existence beyond corporeal existence. This κοσμος, the physical universe, is bounded – in three physical dimensions and one temporal dimension. Scientists postulate other universes with other numbers of physical and temporal dimensions, and medicine men and women often are able to spirit-travel in these other universes. But these, too, are still κοσμος, finite, bounded existence. The Æon is transcendent, beyond all possible bounded universes, but incorporating them: in the Æon, every possible bounded universe is but an infinitesimal dot without dimensions. Within these dots, time is χρονος, the slow tick-tock time of finitude in which seconds and hours, if laid side by side, are always of the same length, while in the Æon time is καιρος, the “Eternal Now”, as Tillich put it, in which every moment is eternal and eternity is a moment. Likewise, in these physical universes, space is τοπος, stretched out in physical dimensions, wherein all miles laid side by side are of the same length, while in the Æon space is γαια, in which great distances are nothing and immediately adjacent is infinitely far – as is often the case in our dreams, as with lung gom, the Tibetan technique for walking great distances in a single step.

In one sense the Æon is the Platonic realm of ιδεα, where everything is its own archetype or blueprint for the “thousand and one things” (in Lao-tse’s phrase) in the physical universe. This realm is beyond all bounded universes; as Plato put it, “it is not anywhere in another thing, not in an animal, nor in the earth, nor in heaven, nor in anything else, but is itself by itself within itself” (Symposium 211b). As Lao-tse put it in the first chapter of the Tao-te Ching, 道 可 道 非,常 道 名。可 名 非,常 名。– it is the path that cannot be walked; the name that cannot be named. As Lakota theologian and Christian catechist Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk) put it, “The Holy Land is everywhere.” Or as Joseph Campbell put it (in The Power of Myth):

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.

This spark of eternity is the soul within us, our aperture from mundane individuality into nirvana, making us one with all being throughout time and space: “He has made everything beautiful in (the course of) time, but he has also placed eternity in their heart such that humans will not find out the work that God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Jesus’s teaching anticipates – or, in my thinking, is an early example of – Kabbalistic philosophy, especially as found in the Zohar, which comprises, for those not familiar with it, what can be briefly put as the “mystical” tradition of Judaism. The Zohar speaks of the “forbidden fruit” of the Tree as a nut (as regards the belief that it was an apple see page ###) that contains concentric spheres that are each one greater than the one around it – and the last one is a palace containing a primal point of infinite dimensionality, composed of the light of Creation (Genesis 1:3). This “nut” also symbolizes the nature of humanity, with the body containing a mind, the mind a soul, which is the “Temple for the Spirit” containing within the infinite presence of God (I Corinthians 6:19 dimly adumbrates this).

In all Utopias – not only that of More, who invented the term, but those of Plato, Butler, Morris, Bellamy, Wells, and many others – there are lavish, loving descriptions of the realm of perfection, and no matter how well written they are, they all ultimately fall flat, because though we can know (connaître, kennen) Eternity with our intuitive hearts, we can never know (savoir, wissen) it with our logical minds. Jesus (through the gospel writer) does not make this fatal mistake of trying to describe the indescribable Tao. The one thing he tells us is that in the father’s house there are “many abodes”, which strongly suggests that it is not everlasting but eternal, of infinite dimensionality.

Still, we may have a hint or two by way of the classical writers from which the gospel writer drew his imagery for the Æon. Æonia was a name for part of the ancient Greek land of Bœotia. It was probably the basis on which were built descriptions of the legendary country of Elysium, which the poets called the “Elysian Fields”, a region said by the classical Greek poets to be somewhere to the west, facing the sea. The name may come from ἀλυουσας (aluousas), whose root suggests being deeply stirred by joy, or from ἀλύτως (alutōs), a synonym of ἀφθάρτως (aphthartōs), meaning “incorruptible”, as in the eternity in which souls live in that place.

Æonia, Bœotia, does in fact look out westward at the wide expanse of the western Mediterranean. This bucolic region was the birthplace of Semele, the mother of Dionysos, who died and lived again like Jesus, and who was remembered with a sacred meal of bread and wine. Semele’s father, the hero and ruler Cadmus, introduced the Greek alphabet, and abdicated in favor of his grandson Pentheus, who is the equivalent to Pontius Pilate; Pentheus sought as ruler to outlaw the ecstatic religion of Dionysus, and in his trial of the god, as related by Euripides, the two have a deeply profound philosophical discussion reminiscent of the one between Jesus and Pilate.

All of this would have been well known to the amanuensis of the gospel, John the Presbyter. He was a Hellenized Jew, certainly educated at the university in Alexandria, which specialized in the Greek classics, and in his later years he was a respected writer and teacher in the Hellenic city of Ephesus with its famous library. John might have known Æonia from his travels but, if not, he had certainly knew about it from the classical literature he had read in his youth. Thus, in writing about the Æon he probably was picturing in his mind the rolling verdant hills of Æonia, also associated with Elysium, the land where the blessed dead lived in eternity.

This land is thus extolled in Paradise Lost, III, 565-70:

Amongst innumerable Starrs, that shon
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds,
Or other Worlds they seemd, or happy Iles,
Like those Hesperian Gardens fam’d of old,
Fortunate Fields, and Groves, and flourie Vales;
Thrice happy isles …

Of course the gospel author could not have read John Milton, but he would have known well the poets whose descriptions of this land were to inspire the Englishman. As a young man under the tutelage of Philo, the Presbyter would have learned this glorious depiction of Elysium in Homer (IV, 563, 565-68):

… Ἠλύσιον πεδίον καὶ πείρατα γαίης …
τῇ περ ῥηίστη βιοτὴ πέλει ἀνθρώποισιν:
οὐ νιφετός, οὔτ᾽ ἂρ χειμὼν πολὺς οὔτε ποτ᾽ ὄμβρος,
ἀλλ᾽ αἰεὶ Ζεφύροιο λιγὺ πνείοντος ἀήτας
Ὠκεανὸς ἀνίησιν ἀναψύχειν ἀνθρώπους:
οὕνεκ᾽ ἔχεις Ἑλένην καί σφιν γαμβρὸς Διός ἐσσι.

…the Elysian plain at the edge of the earth, …
There, everyone comes to exist in a gentle life,
Never any blast of snow, never cold, lacking in heavy rainstorms;
Rather, the Zephyr always blows free,
And Oceanus breathes refreshing breezes …

He would have read Pindar’s written portrayal of this land, and also how Hesiod described it aloud (Works and Days, 166-73):

… ἔνθ᾽ ἤτοι τοὺς μὲν θανάτου τέλος ἀμφεκάλυψε,
τοῖς δὲ δίχ᾽ ἀνθρώπων βίοτον καὶ ἤθε᾽ ὀπάσσας
Ζεὺς Κρονίδης κατένασσε πατὴρ ἐς πείρατα γαίης.
170καὶ τοὶ μὲν ναίουσιν ἀκηδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντες
ἐν μακάρων νήσοισι παρ᾽ Ὠκεανὸν βαθυδίνην,
ὄλβιοι ἥρωες, τοῖσιν μελιηδέα καρπὸν
τρὶς ἔτεος θάλλοντα φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα.

… Truly some were forever enfolded in death,
But some other souls dwelt in abodes alone
Where God the father, son of Time, made them to settle at the end of the earth,
And thus indeed to dwell free from care, souls living
In the blessed isles by the deep-rolling Ocean,
Blessed heroes who fed on honey-sweet fruit
That ripened three times a year in fecund meadows.

He might even have read the Latin of Vergil. And surely he knew Korinna’s lovely lyric (fragment 15):

…καλλιχορω χθονος
Ουριας θουγατερ…

… a land richly blessed
With lovely dancing meadows …

Whether John knew or merely knew of this land, he would have been aware that Bœotia’s twin spiritual mountains where dwelt the heavenly Muses, Helicon and Cithæron, were akin to another pair of sacred peaks where the God of Abraham was said to reside, Sinai and Gerizim. He would have recognized the similarity of Semele mother of Dionysos to Mary mother of Jesus, and the parallel of Pentheus to Pontius. And most of all he would have seen the connections between Dionysos son of Jupiter, הי-Πατερ, Yah-Pater, God the father, and Jesus, son of YHWH, God the father.

The Presbyter may have had in mind not Bœotia, Æonia, the country that apparently served as the factual foundation for the Hellenic myth of Elysium, or not only that country, but instead or also Gaul. The references in the just-quoted lines of Homer and Hesiod to Oceanus are to the Atlantic Ocean, though in classical times what lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) was conceived of as an oceanic girdle around the earth. Thus a “plain at the edge of the earth” “in blessed isles by deep-rolling Oceanus” could be a reference to Gaul. It is not entirely inconceivable that John heard that Jesus and Mary had gone to this region not far from Oceanus. That oral history in southern France remembers Jesus’s attendance of the dedication of a Christian cemetery in Arles called Alyscamps, “Elysian Fields” in Occitan, as discussed on page ###, is ironic. It could be that Jesus expected that he himself would be buried in these Alyscamps – and that this too got back to the Presbyter by way of letters or visitors, and was in his mind as he composed these gospel references to the Æon.

Be it specifically founded on descriptions of Bœotia or Gaul, John must have had in his mind an Elysium associated by the poets with life after death; Bœotia besides being a land not just praised in literature, not just celebrated for its masters of literature, but exalted as the very birthplace of Greek literature, since its mountains, where the art of writing was introduced, were sacred to the Muses. And so the Presbyter must have framed Jesus’s references to the Æon in the gospel with his mind going back to these poems describing Elysium as a fair and gentle place where there is no weeping, with fruits ripening throughout the year.

While he did not provide his own poetic description of the Æon in the gospel, he did in his last great work, the Revelation, with 21:4 and 22:1-2 especially vividly recalling these classical poets.

και εξαλειψει παν δακρυον εκ των οφθαλμων αυτων και ο θανατος ουκ εσται ετι ουτε πενθος ουτε κραυγη ουτε πονος ουκ εσται ετι οτι τα πρωτα απηλθαν … και εδειξεν μοι ποταμον υδατος ζωης λαμπρον ως κρυσταλλον εκπορευομενον εκ του θρονου του θεου και του αρνιου εν μεσω της πλατειας αυτης και του ποταμου εντευθεν και εκειθεν ξυλον ζωης ποιουν καρπους δωδεκα κατα μηνα εκαστον αποδιδουν τον καρπον αυτου και τα φυλλα του ξυλου εις θεραπειαν των εθνων

And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, nor mourning, nor weeping, nor pain: they will be no more because what was at first has departed. … And he showed me a river of living water, clear like crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its [i.e., the city’s] street. And on this side and that side of the river was the tree of life, producing twelve fruits, yielding [a different] fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree, for the healing of the peoples.

And these culminating passages in Revelation include a sacred marriage, a hierogamy, of Heaven and Earth, Bride and Lamb, Mary and Jesus, as an echo of John 20:16-17, and again bringing out that sense of the Æon found in its Semitic roots as having a strong connotation of sexual desire fulfilled and thereby embodying the image of Elohim, male and female as one.

John the Presbyter, Author of the Gospel of John

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here.

John the Presbyter (also known as “John the Elder”, the latter being a loose translation of the cognomen Πρεσβύτερος), as amanuensis to Lazarus, was the formal author of the Gospel of John. According to early accounts John had actually seen and heard Jesus teach. Of course many people had done without it changing their lives one whit, but moreover he had accepted Jesus as his spiritual master, and he dedicated the rest of his life to passing on the wisdom of his master. Therefore, he is also described as a “disciple of the Lord”, albeit not one of the inner circle that comprised Simon (Peter), Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, and certainly Lazarus. These disciple-eyewitnesses, when they had the talent to instruct and exhort, were authorized by the movement’s leaders as rabbis, in effect, teachers who imparted the genuine message of Jesus to communities here and there in the Roman Empire.

Little is known of John the Presbyter’s early life, other than that he was apparently a priest in one or another Jewish temple. Eusebius quotes or paraphrases from a letter written by Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus to Victor, Bishop of Rome, written toward the end of the second century. The salient sentence reads as follows:

ἔτι δὲ καὶ Ἰωάννης ὁ ἐπὶ τὸ στῆθος τοῦ κυρίου ἀναπεσών, ὃς ἐγενήθη ἱερεὺς τὸ πέταλον πεφορεκὼς καὶ μάρτυς καὶ διδάσκαλος: οὗτος ἐν Ἐφέσῳ κεκοίμηται.

And moreover John, who reclined on the Lord’s bosom, and who became a priest and wore the petalon, and a witness and a teacher: he sleeps at Ephesus.

Before discussing what this sentence does tell us, one phrase in it must first be dismissed as not original to it. A couple of centuries after Jesus, Christian apologists often conflated John the Presbyter with John the Apostle the son of Zebedee, in a process Richard Bauckham rather kindly calls “exegetical procedure”, but which I call confusion, not always unintentional. It is all but certain that Eusebius added the phrase about reclining on the Lord’s bosom (referring to John 13:23) surely trying to be helpful to his readers in identifying just who this John was. For Polycrates, as bishop in Ephesus, where memories of his august predecessor John the Presbyter would have been fresh, who was a disciple of Polycarp, Irenæus, and perhaps even Papias in his last days, men who were themselves disciples of the Presbyter, would never have confused him with the son of Zebedee. Papias, in fact, is quoted as saying in his masterwork introduced below that James and John the two Zebedee brothers ὑπὸ Ἰουδαίων ἀνῃρέθησαν (“were killed by the Jewish authorities”), which would effectively rule out the old age, death, and burial at Ephesus that he ascribes to the Presbyter. Besides, there is nothing in the early Christian writings to suggest that John Zebedee’s son, a fisherman, was a Temple priest. What is more, the bosom reference is out of chronological order with the the rest of the sentence, which comprises a brief summary of John’s life: it first mentions John being a priest, which would have been before John’s discipleship to Jesus, followed by his time as a witness to Jesus, then later in life as a teacher about Jesus, and closing with his death at Ephesus.

That highly doubtful phrase laid aside, this quotation tells us that John was a priest, and that at least briefly he was high priest. In the salient Jewish literature no John is listed as serving as high priest in the first century, and attempts to identify him as High Priest Jonathan fail especially in view of Acts 4:6, which names that son of the notorious Annas (Ananus) who tried Jesus as among those standing in judgement of Peter and John – John the Presbyter. Yet it was not uncommon for ordinary priests, especially those likely to advance in the sacerdotal ranks, to temporarily be permitted to put on the petalon (the medallion that the high priest wore) and fill in if the actual high priest were sick or travelling or otherwise unavailable.

It must have been while he was still a priest that John the Presbyter saw and heard Jesus – for he was a witness to Jesus, as Polycrates, and others who will be quoted below, confirms. Very likely he took part in some of the Gospel of John’s extended debates with Temple priests, especially those in Acts Two and Three, and his own memories joined with those of the Beloved Disciple Lazarus in reconstructing those conversations. He may indeed have been present at the deliberations of the Sanhedrin that started the process of sentencing Jesus to death, though the description in the gospel (11:47-53) may have come, instead or also, from Nicodemus and/or Joseph of Arimathæa, who were friends and supporters of Jesus. And clearly John must have left the priesthood, no doubt persuaded to do so in part by the persuasive power of Jesus’s teachings, and ultimately by his resurrection, which would have been more than ample proof that he was Messiah. After Jesus was gone, among his followers, he would have surely been respected as a former priest who had defected to their cause; he became part of the central leadership of the Jerusalemite community of Jesus followers, along with Simon the Rock (Peter) and James the Just, a brother of Jesus.

As a priest, John would have received a superlative education. It was common in those days for Jewish religious leaders to be well instructed not only in the Torah but also in the Hellenic classical culture that was by then universal. Josephus and Philo come immediately to mind as near-contemporaries who were masters of both branches of learning. The Saduccee priests display knowledge of Roman law in John 18:31b and 19:12,15. Paul, too, who as a Pharisee studied with the legendary Rabbi Gamaliel I, also showed off his familiarity with the great Greek literature; for instance, the playwright Menander in I Corinthians 15:33, a paradox composed by the poet Epimenides in Titus 1:12-13, and probably Epimenides again as well as another poet, Aratus, in Acts 17:28. Paul also refers to the spectacles presented in the coliseums – theatrical plays, footraces, and the like – suggesting he often enjoyed these very Roman events. (Thus, by the way, it strikes one as hypocritical that Paul accuses Simon Peter of living like a gentile, in Galatians 2:14.)

In that time, students did not study Greek as they do now, by memorizing verb charts and vocabulary, but by memorizing particularly eloquent passages from the Greek (and often Latin) classic writings. The Gospel of John is especially replete with paraphrases of Plato, Homer, and Euripides – and this particular set of literary giants strongly suggests John received his classical education in Alexandria, Egypt. With about one million Jewish residents, the city had more members of the faith than any other city in the world, including even Jerusalem. They worshipped not only at a major synagogue in Alexandria but also at the only Temple outside the Levant, in nearby Leontopolis, where professional priests were ready to help local Jews make the sacrifices required in the Torah. It was in Alexandria that the Septuagint was translated, the famous Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures; that is, the Tanakh, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Though its extensive library had been largely destroyed in a fire in 48 B.C.E., the collection was largely restored by the time John would have studied there. This edifice was one of the major institutes of learning in the empire, particularly renowned for its high-level textual analyses of Homer and Plato – the two literati most prominent in the Gospel of John.

John certainly would have studied with Philo of Alexandria, a Jew who wrote and taught about Plato and the Torah. Certainly the Gospel of John’s focus on the Λογος, the Logos, and such concepts as “circumcision of the heart”, which appears in the gospel at 7:22, show strong signs of Philo’s philosophy. John may have begun as a priest in the Leontopolis Temple, but must have continued his upward career after returning to Jerusalem.

It was after that return that he saw and heard Jesus teach, and committed himself to this new Jewish sect for whom Jesus was the mary, the master. He became close with Simon Peter (Acts 1:13; 3:1,3,4,11; 4:13,19; and 8:14), and inevitably also James – these three are often mentioned together in the New Testament as the leaders in Jerusalem of the sect. These passages in Acts, as well as Galatians 2:9, begin the confusion of John the former priest, who will be called the Presbyter, and John the son of Zebedee. That this is the former priest is suggested by his entry into the Second Temple and and of course by how he and Simon are quickly recognized. But John son of Zebedee is referred to only once, at 12:2, well after the former priest has faded from the story told in the book.

And John would quickly have become acquainted with Simon’s dear young friend Lazarus (Eliezer). Probably still at most hardly more than a teenager, Lazarus was not one of the leaders, but he was loved for being Jesus’s adopted son (as will be explained in the Commentaries). The rumor was swirling around then that the young man was never going to die again, because Jesus had raised him from death – not only among the apostles (John 21:23), but among the public at large (12:9-11). Soon John undertook to help Lazarus with a writing project, composing a letter to be circulated among the spiritual community, aimed at dispelling that false assumption. Posthumously, this letter was grafted onto the Gospel of John as a kind of appendix (chapter 21), probably by Polycarp, the redactor.

That first effort clearly led the two men to commence the larger undertaking, the writing of the gospel itself. By several accounts, this work was done in Ephesus, away from the dangerous place that Jerusalem had become; this is borne out by the way John is simply not mentioned again after Acts 8:14; if he had been martyred, as were the sons of Zebedee, that would have been noted. It is self-evident that John and Lazarus, and no doubt other members of this Jerusalemite community, got out of the city, which was in a constant frightened expectation of obliteration by Rome, which eventually came about in 70 C.E.

John likely lived in one of the upscale condominiums on what is called Curetes Street, found by taking walkways between the stores and restaurants that faced the streets under an attractive colonnade – a first-century “strip mall”. Each unit was of more than one story, with several rooms decorated with frescoes or mosaics, surrounding an interior patio or courtyard that provided the rooms with abundant light and fresh air. These living quarters were provided with water from a citywide system, and they even had ceramic heating pipes within the walls. The nights were illuminated by streetlights, a convenience and safety feature otherwise found at the time only in Rome and Antioch.

On a plaza at the end of Curetes Street was a public library that John would have found delightfully reminiscent of the gigantic library in Alexandria where he had studied. In 110 a gorgeous new edifice would be built to house it, the famous Library of Celsus, but it was already in John’s time one of the largest in the Roman Empire, with some twelve thousand books. Adjacent to the library was the Mithridates Gate, whose dedicatory superscription in Latin would have been striking to John and Lazarus as they wrote about Jesus son of God; it began: “From the Emperor Cæsar Augustus, son of the god, greatest of the priests…”.

The spiritual community in Ephesus was first led, beginning around 52-53 C.E., by Apollos, a Jewish follower of John the Immerser (Acts 18:24), though soon a husband-wife pair of Jesus evangelists, Aquila and Prisca, drew him into Jesus’s theology (Acts 18:26). But Apollos moved on to evangelize in the city of Corinth before Paul arrived in the city, around the year 55. I surmise that John the Presbyter took over the leadership of the church from Apollos, though no text gives us this detail. Certainly the two men would have gravitated to each other; they were both Jews well learned in classical Greek studies. Apollos in fact was originally from Alexandria, where John had no doubt received his secular education. The two men may even have remembered each other from when they were students back in Egypt; if not, they had enough in common to have quickly become friends in Ephesus. Apollos was likely a secondary source for the Gospel of John’s narrative sequences about the Immerser.

Upon arriving, Paul barged his way into the local spiritual community in his usual way, preaching his message of not the faith of Jesus but faith in Christ, as he preferred to call Jesus, as if the Greek translation for “Messiah” (Anointed One) were his surname. However, his rather heavy-handed evangelism method, which recast the rabbi as a Roman-style godling (Acts 19:2-7), aroused such resistance that he was forced out of the synagogue, and thereafter for about two years he gave his daily lectures in a school auditorium (Acts 19:8-10). That Paul and his followers were the ones to move out of the synagogue suggests that the “orthodox” group that still met in the synagogue thought of themselves as Jewish, simply as a new and somewhat amorphous sect of the faith that adhered to the very Jewish teachings of Jesus – and that Paul’s “heterodox” group and its like in other cities was well on the way toward being a separate religion, Christianity. Paul was at the time (cf. I Corinthians 1:2, Romans 16:1) starting to call his congregations εκκλησια (ekklesia), literally “called out of and into” – that is, literally called out of the synagogues and into Paul’s new, non-Jewish religion – the root of “ecclesiastical” in English and of the words for “church” in the Romance languages, such as eglise in French and iglesia in Spanish. As the leader of the synagogal community, John was then without doubt instrumental in booting Paul out. John’s theology, as evidenced by his writings, is extremely different from Paul’s. John saw Jesus not as God incarnate, upon whom we are to place our faith, but as a messenger from God, God’s messiah, adopted as God’s son, who teaches us how to follow the will of God.

Paul, for his part, did not take the ouster blithely. Evidently he was infuriated by John’s teaching that at death we will go to live in the Æon, the heavenly realm; Paul found it no different from just being dead as are nonbelievers when they die; Paul, rather, promised his followers that, if they died putting their faith in Christ they would be resurrected back into their physical bodies, miraculously restored to health and youth, at some point in the future.

The New Testament retains to this day each man’s summary opinion of the other. In the following, Paul is not content with calling John a wild animal, and someone who knows nothing about God; he goes so far as to burlesque the Epicurean philosophy that he thinks John espouses, and to quote the Greek playwright Menander – deliberately mocking John’s highly literary style of preaching and writing (I Corinthians 15:32-34, 16:8-9):

ει κατα ανθρωπον εθηριομαχησα εν εφεσω τι μοι το οφελος ει νεκροι ουκ εγειρονται φαγωμεν και πιωμεν αυριον γαρ αποθνησκομεν μη πλανασθε φθειρουσιν ηθη χρηστα ομιλιαι κακαι εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λαλω … επιμενω δε εν εφεσω εως της πεντηκοστης θυρα γαρ μοι ανεωγεν μεγαλη και ενεργης και αντικειμενοι πολλοι

If in human terms I fought with wild beasts in Ephesus, of what benefit is it to me if the dead are not to be raised up? “We may as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be misled! “Bad friends corrupt a good character.” Get yourselves legally sober and do not make an error! For indeed certain people know nothing about God! I am speaking to your shame! … But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a big, useful door has been opened to me, and there are many enemies.

And, about a decade later (in 68), John shot back with these words. They are found in a letter to the principals of the synagogue he led in Ephesus before and after his exile to Patmos, a letter that Jesus dictated to him in a vision (Revelation 2:2). Here, John touches Paul at his most vulnerable point: that he claimed to be an apostle of Jesus, to the intense irritation of James and Simon Peter and the other Jerusalemite leaders who had been Jesus’s closest friends and family, Paul was usurping a term normally reserved for that innermost circle of Jesus’s disciples, those who had been with him through his entire ministry – even though Paul had never even met Jesus.

οιδα τα εργα σου και τον κοπον και την υπομονην σου και οτι ου δυνη βαστασαι κακους και επειρασας τους λεγοντας εαυτους αποστολους και ουκ εισιν και ευρες αυτους ψευδεις

I know your works and your labor and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evildoers, and that you tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and that you found them to be liars.

Yet the local schism caused by Paul, unpleasant though it obviously was, did not have a lasting impact on John or even the Ephesian community. On the other hand, John’s arrest several years later by Roman authorities did. In his own words in Revelation 1:9, John was convicted δια τον λογον του θεου και την μαρτυριαν Ιησου, “because of the Word of God and the witness to Jesus.” This is without doubt a reference to the Gospel of John, which is described in two ways. The gospel focuses from its very first verse on the Logos – a Greek term that no English word, including “Word”, fully conveys; it means God’s beautiful and natural plan for the entire universe, which, if we act in accordance with it, leads us to the Æon, the heavenly realm; but, if we oppose it, our deeds eventually come to naught, and we risk the same annihilation. And the gospel speaks of itself as the Paraclete (Παρακλητος), the Advocate, “the Spirit/Wind/Breath of truth … that will bear witness concerning me” (15:26): as a witness to Jesus equivalent to the men and women who were his disciples, but not dead already or soon to die as mortals are, especially in times of persecution.

Why he should be arrested in connection with a gospel that was in draft only, not yet finished (nor would it ever be) and far from published, is not at all clear. (In passing, we can note that Revelation 1:9 confirms that John wrote the gospel, or as much of it as he was to complete, before being sent to Patmos, not after his return to Ephesus, as some aver.) The possibility that seems most likely to me is that John took someone into his confidence, reading passages from the manuscript to that individual or allowing him to read it himself, maybe a new acquaintance at the public library on Curetes Street. And perhaps that someone read in the gospel a number of lines, of which the following at 12:31-32, in which Jesus is speaking to his followers, are an example:

νυν κρισις εστιν του κοσμου τουτου νυν ο αρχων του κοσμου τουτου εκβληθησεται εξω καγω εαν υψωθω εκ της γης παντας ελκυσω προς εμαυτον

Now is the judgement of this cosmos: Now the ruler of this cosmos will be banished. And I, should I be lifted up over the earth, shall draw everything to myself.

and surmised, correctly, that this was a prophecy of the fall of imperial power, and moreover a warning that Jesus, and/or his followers, meant to take control of the cosmos, which was often used as a synonym for the Roman Empire.

It was very possibly deemed a fitting sentence that John was banished in the emperor’s name for writing that the emperor would be banished! And John certainly thought of the reference he had written into the gospel, not far from the above verse (in 13:18), to David’s turncoat advisor Ahithophel, part of the passage about Judas turning Jesus in to the authorities. John likely drew strength from knowing his master Jesus had been turned in by a friend too.

Indeed, ironies abound; in time the Christian religion did exactly what the verse predicts, banishing the Roman Empire and taking over power as the new Christian empire, lifting the cross up over the entire earth and taking over the “cosmos”, the entire Western world, and enslaving and exploiting the rest of the world, “drawing everything to itself”. John, could he have seen the future, wuld have objected to a religion in Jesus’s name controlled by merchants in mitres – this world conquest was the work of the movement descended from Paul’s teachings of domination of the world, not John’s of living by the Λογος and entering into another, better world, the Æon.

At the time John was close to finishing the gospel, in the sixth decade of the first century, widespread public fear was prevalent, like that in any country ruled by a mad, willful dictator; I think of the Noriega years here in this country of Panamá, so terrible that several people I know continue to suffer from various symptoms of serious post-traumatic stress. The fear is, in brief, a debilitating, dehumanizing, unceasing fear of inadvertently doing the “wrong thing” or failing to do the “right thing”, for what is wrong and what is right is constantly changing and one never can be sure, and being suddenly arrested and executed without trial. In John’s case, someone became so afraid after reading certain lines in the gospel that th individua erred on the side of caution and turned John in – or else it was someone who betrayed him hoping to curry favor with the emperor’s minions.

Nero – the mad emperor through the years that the gospel was being drafted (from 13 October 54 to 9 June 68) – was especially sensitive to anyone who prophesied against him. He was fascinated by magic and astrology and the like, but only when it foretold what he wanted to hear, though he at least tolerated those that were well entrenched and could not be shut down without risking a major uprising, such as the famous Delphic Oracle discussed in the essay on page ###. But he often took angry action when what might be called unauthorized fortune-telling said things that he found discomforting or threatening. However, bear in mind that many reasonable Roman citizens would have agreed with him; even a dangerous emperor had a genius that must be protected for the sake of peace and plenty for the people, and many people would have considered such prophecies an offense against Nero’s genius, and hence a threat to their financial and physical security, and the security of the empire as a whole against unrest within and invasion from without. (The Latin term genius refers to an emperor’s right to rule, as ordained by the gods and fate [cf. John 19:11]; in other words, to the pervading spirit that emanated from the emperor into all parts of the realm and maintained the status quo throughout.) Moreover, this manuscript was written by a Jew about another Jew, and Nero knew well that Judæa was constantly turbulent, and a locus of possible insurrection. As a result his distrust of and dislike for Judaism, there was during Nero’s reign more persecution of Jews and those who would become known as Christians than any other; what is more, Nero was the ruler who ordered the destruction of Jerusalem, though it actually took place after his assassination, in 70.

There is more reason to conclude that John’s banishment resulted from something written in the draft copy of the Gospel of John: the manuscript disappeared around this very time. It was only after John’s death, well past the horrible Neronic years, that the monograph, plus a number of his letters, turned up again in the Pontus, in what is now Turkey. This peaceful town, far from the madness of Nero and the tensions that engulfed the entire Roman Empire, was a pretty place on the shores of the Black Sea, surrounded by mountains and forests of tall pines mentioned in the odes of Horace. The nature of this location strongly suggests that, when John was arrested, trusted allies in Ephesus spirited his gospel and other writings there, to be kept safe by the large community of Jesus followers in that peaceful, distant city.

John was sentenced to exile on Patmos, a small island well out to sea southwest of Ephesus. Tacitus (Annals, 3:68, 4:30, 15:71) makes passing reference to the use of these Ægean islands for the banishment of those who had lost imperial favor. Still, John was clearly not confined to a cell but had the freedom to roam the shores and low hills – and one day he was vouchsafed a vision which he wrote down in Aramaic; this is the work known today as the Revelation or the Apocalypse.

John lived on the island for roughly a year, after which his sentence was commuted. Clement of Alexandria writes (On the Salvation of the Rich Man, 42):

επειδη γαρ του τυραννου τελευτησαντος, απο της Πατμου της νησου μετηλθεν επι την Εφεσον, απηει παρακαλουμενος και επι τα πλησιοχωρα των εθνων, οπου μεν επισκοπους καταστησων, οπου δε ολας Εκκλησιας απμοσων, οπου δε κληρον, ενα τε τινα κληρωσων υπο του Πνευματος σημαινομενων.

When, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.

Clement does not specify which emperor following Nero allowed John’s return from exile. It was surely neither Galba nor Vitellius, both cruel, but rather Otho, whose reign of only three months at least at least began well. Plutarch (Life of Otho 1:1-3) says among his first royal acts was the abrogation of a considerable number of like sentences, so John no doubt benefited too.

Remaining in Ephesus for the rest of his life, John took on an elder statesman role, writing letters to the faithful in various communities as did Paul, Simon Peter, Jesus’s brothers James and Judas, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and others. John’s letters (like those of Jesus’s brothers and unlike Paul’s) are clearly directed to Jewish followers of Jesus’s teachings. Of his death, Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3:1) tells us only that Ἰωάννης τὴν Ἀσίαν, πρὸς οὓς καὶ διατρίψας ἐν Ἐφέσῳ τελευτᾷ (“John was in Asia, and after much time living there, died in Ephesus.” Polycrates adds, οὗτος ἐν Ἐφέσῳ κεκοίμηται (“He sleeps in Ephesus”), which hints that his tomb was not infrequently visited by faithful pilgrims.

Let us close this summary of John’s life with how his devoted disciple Polycarp describes the way a presbyter should comport himself – for these words not only summarize the teachings of Polycarp’s beloved master, but no doubt are an accurate assessment of the life and example of John the Presbyter himself, and a fitting eulogy to this spiritual leader:

Και οι πρεσβυτεροι δε ευσπλαγχνοι εισ παντας ελεημονεσ, εποστρεφοντες τα αποπεπλανημενα, επισκεπτομενοι παντας ασθενεις, μη αμελουντες χηρασ η οπφανου η πενητος αλλα προνοουτες αει του καλου ενωπιον θεου και ανθρωπων, απεχομενοι πασης, προσωποληψιας, μυ ταχεως πισευοντες κατα τινος, μη αποτομοι εν κρισει, ειδοτες οτι παντες οφειλεται εσμεν αμαρτιας.

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those who wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always “providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man”; abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from. all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against anyone, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin.

Jesus the Notzri and the Samaritan Resistance

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here.

Today, the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” is universal. But there are no references to a village called Nazareth before 221 C.E. except in the New Testament – and later Christian writers apparently misunderstood Y’shuah ha Notzri in the earliest New Testament writings to say he was from a not-yet-existing village. Rather, he was apparently associated with the Notzrim, a group that expected a Messiah, and which opposed the Herodian petty kings, the Romans, and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. The name Notzrim refers to the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11:1, in which “a shoot” (נֵ֫צֶר, ne-tser) comes forth from the stump of Jesse, i.e., the “tree” of the Davidic monarchy was long since cut down, but a new shoot will grow from the stump, the coming Messiah.

In John 1 Jesus calls Nathanael “a son of Israel” – an implication of these hated Herodian kings, vassals to the despised Roman rulers; therefore, the term “son of Israel” suggests that Nathanael is at least sympathetic to the cause of the many who would overthrow those rulers. It also suggests that Nathanael was a Samaritan, people who had no more love for the Jewish priests who ruled daily life in Jerusalem than for the Romans; see the second paragraph following. Jesus’s joke also refers to Jacob, later renamed Israel, who used deceit to steal the blessing of their father from his elder brother Esau (Genesis 27); if Nathanael was as is suggested below the son of Joseph of Arimathæa and nephew of Simon ben Nathanael, both religious leaders in Jerusalem, then as himself a young religious leader in Samaria he certainly had not like Jacob stolen his father’s or uncle’s blessing! In sum, therefore, the remark to Nathanael is a mix of pride and shame for Israelite history.

In John 8:48 his Pharisee interlocutors call Jesus a Samaritan, and he doesn’t deny this! This comes right after 8:44, which which Jesus refers not to the “Satan” of much later Christian mythology, but a very human shaitan [hinderer] mentioned in the Tanakh, at Zechariah 3:1-2. These verses feature Joshua the High Priest, who served at the time of the laying of the foundation for the Second Temple, wherein this very conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees is taking place. Jesus evidently associated himself with Joshua: the two shared, of course, the same Hebrew/Aramaic name, and in Zechariah 3:8 God tells the High Priest about “my servant the Shoot”, referring to Isaiah 11:1, an expected Messiah with whom Jesus here also identifies himself. Standing with Joshua is the Messenger (Angel) of God, also equivalent to Jesus, who is also a Messenger of God in the theology of this gospel. The shaitan in this scene, leader of an opposing faction of priests in the Temple, is standing by Joshua ready to challenge him, but has no chance to do so because the Messenger rebukes him.

By “the Shoot” Zechariah was referring to a priest named Manasseh, grandson of High Priest Eliashib (grandson of Joshua), who had married a daughter of the governor of Samaria, Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s political rival. Nehemiah, who Zechariah portrays as the shaitan, threw Manasseh out of the Jerusalem Temple (Nehemiah 13:28, Josephus: Ant. 11:185-297). Manasseh went on to be high priest at the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim, which Sanballat (or a descendant by the same name; time may be telescoped here) erected.

Likewise in this passage Jesus rebukes these Pharisees, who, as descended from Nehemiah’s camp, he characterizes as sons of this same shaitan – in other words, as priests who oppose God’s will (λογος) and God’s appointed emissary, and who still cause trouble in the Temple now just as in Zechariah’s time. Jesus is thus hinting at the still virulent enmity and rivalry between Gerizim and Jerusalem; he sides here with the former. He may also be referring to the Notzrim , a group who hated alike the Jerusalem religious establishment, the Herodians, and Rome. These Pharisees must have been incensed by his comparing them to the shaitan in Zechariah’s prophecy, as they were by his earlier insinuation that they resembled the despicable King Ahaz (John 5:2-18).

Next, Pilate says “Behold the man!” (Ecce homo! in Latin) at John 19:5. This almost certainly is meant to echo Zechariah 6:12, “Look at the man whose name is Shoot, wherefrom he shall branch out and shall (re)build/(re)grow the Temple of YHWH,” and indirectly Isaiah 11:1, the Messianic prophecy of new life shooting up out of “the stump of Jesse”, all that is left of the Tree, the Davidic monarchy. It is possible that Pilate actually said “Look at the man!” and his hearers, especially Jesus’s disciples, heard in it echoes of Zechariah unintended by Pilate, who was not likely familiar with the Tanakh, though meeting often with the Jewish religious leadership may have changed that, as may also his wife Claudia Procula, who early Christians said was a follower of Jesus and friend of Mary his wife. It is far less likely that this phrase is here put into Pilate’s mouth by the author of the gospel, given his clear determination to be as faithful and accurate in his account as possible, and his quoted criticism of John Mark for failing to be so in his Gospel of Mark.

This verse again helps us see the intent in the gospel to paint Pilate as benignly disposed toward Jesus, since otherwise Pilate would never be given to say such a positive thing. As does the debate at 8:44 and 48, Pilate’s allusion here clearly associates Jesus with the Samaritans: Zechariah’s Shoot prophecies take the side of the Samaritans in their battle with the Jerusalem Temple establishment, who in this passage are conniving and implicitly antagonistic toward Pilate. The Shoot refers to a priest ejected from the Jerusalem Temple who became high priest in the newly established Samaritan Temple.

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” may come from “Magdalu in Egypt”, as it is called in the letters of Šuta in the 1340s B.C.E. On the northeastern frontier of Egypt, this ancient town was near the last encampment of the Israelites before they crossed the Reed Sea during the Exodus. The name probably comes from גָּדַל (gadal), meaning “to increase in size or importance”. Jeremiah 44:1 says Migdol (as he and Ezekiel call it) and other nearby Egyptian communities had significant colonies of Diaspora Jews. These Jews worshipped at a temple in Elephantine built as a replica of the one in Jerusalem, supported by the family of Sanballat with whom Jesus identified (as in his reference to Zechariah discussed above); James D. Purvis and Eric Meyers say the cultus at Elephantine was a mix of Yahwistic and Canaanite ways, and (as suggested by the Elephantine Papyrii) much influenced by Egyptian religion. Indeed, Jeremiah 44 describes the cultus at Migdol in detail, including worship of “the Queen of Heaven”, whom K. van der Toorn (Numen 39:1) says was similar to the Ugaritic goddess Anat and called Anath-Yahu.

This temple was destroyed by the Egyptians in 410 B.C.E., but another was built by Onias (or Honiah) IV in the first century B.C.E. in Leontopolis, near Magdalu, north of Heliopolis. According to Josephus (Ant. 13:3:2,14:8:2), this came after Judah Maccabee denied Onias the high priesthood in Jerusalem. It was demolished by Rome in 73 C.E., shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, to prevent it from harboring insurrectionists. Hanan Eshel (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State) suggests Onias IV may have been the Teacher of Righteousness often referred to in the Qumran texts, and some classical Jewish literature, such as the Yuhasin, associates his temple with the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim; indeed, Rabbi Ben Abrahamson says Samaria at times had alliances with Egypt.

All this points to the good possibility that Jesus and Mary had some connections with an anti-Rome, anti-Jerusalem Samaria/Leontopolis alliance perhaps affiliated with the Notzrim. In any case, the several passages in this gospel, especially the resurrection, suggest both Jesus and Mary were reasonably familiar with the Egyptian language.

Jesus’s Last Words

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What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here. But note that the book will not be available again until around mid-August, when a revised version comes off the presses with about 100 pages of new material.

Jesus’s final words in the Gospel of John 19:30 echo Genesis 2:1 and Revelation 21:6. And they form an inclusio with 4:34 and a parallel with 17:4. The same Greek verb, τελειοω, appears in all three verses.

After he says these words he breathes out the wind/breath/spirit within him for the last time as he dies; this forms an inclusio with 1:32, where John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and the πνευμα, the Wind/Breath/Spirit of God, descends from Heaven like a whirlwind, and a parallel with 20:22, where Jesus exhales on the disciples and says “Receive the πνεθμα άγιον” (the sacred breath/spirit/wind – equivalent in Greek to חוּר [Ruach], the Breath/Soul of Life that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils); by exhaling he proves he is alive, but also with that breath he heals them, he blesses them, and he fills them with the Name and Spirit of God.

This verse is unfortunately missing from such very early Aramaic codices as the Syriac Sinaiticus. But the slightly later Aramaic version called the Peshitta reveals some interesting features. Jesus’s last words in this verse are ܗܳܐ ܡܫܰܠܰܡ. The first word (ܗܳܐ) means “Lo!” or “Behold!”, basically a word to secure attention on what is to follow. The second word (ܡܫܠܡ) needs to be preceded by “It is” to make for a comprehensible English rendering; in Aramaic this kind of phrasing is not said but understood. The word ܡܫܠܡ itself means “fulfilled”, “finished”, “completed” (in the sense of time completed, like the end of a day or a lifetime or an epoch of time), “obeyed”, “agreed”, “followed”, “delivered up”, “gave up”, or “perfected”.

The word ܡܫܠܡ can also mean “to say shalom”; that is, to refer to saying a greeting or a farewell. And the word can mean “to exhale” and “to die”. In fact, the very same word, if conjugated a bit differently, appears in the last two-word phrase in the verse – ܘܰܐܫܠܶܡ ܪܽܘܚܶܗ – to mean “(he) delivered up / exhaled his spirit/breath”.

What is more, the word is very closely akin to several other Aramaic words, including a: ܡܣܘܪ, the word for “someone who arranges to hand over another person” (as mentioned several times herein, “betrayer” is not the correct English word); b: ܡܫܝܢܘ, the word for “peacemaking”; and c: ܡܣܘܪܝ, the word for “tradition”.

Thus, in the Gospel of John in Aramaic (Jesus’s own language), his last words could be: “It is finished!”, “This makes for peace!”, “It is perfected!”, “My life is completed!”, “This epoch is completed!”, “ I am saying Shalom! [Farewell!]”, “I am dying!”, and several others besides.

Modern Christians like to think that every word Jesus ever said was directed to the ages, and especially those living now (whichever “now” over two thousand years is reading the text). But no, Jesus was speaking to his most beloved ones in this moment of his death: his mother, his wife, and his son, formally adopted just moments before. So, of the alternate interpretations of this last sentence, I lean toward “I am saying farewell!” or “I am dying!”.

Notwithstanding the considerable array of possible meanings in Jesus’s last words as given in the version in his own Aramaic language, I translate it in this work with the familiar, traditional “It is finished”, which covers both the Greek and Aramaic, but I urge the reader to remember that this rendering is very limited, and the ambiguity, the range of meanings, in the Aramaic is almost certainly intended – to make us ponder Jesus’s death with our thought and spirit.