Fluffy Blue-Eyed Jesus Exploded

Taken from The Gospel of John Restored and Translated,

copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved.

Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

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

 

It is not certain whether the language of the original text [of the Gospel of John] was Greek or Aramaic. … There is throughout the gospel a reliance on not only the Greek language, especially in the Prologue, but also on Greek literature, for instance, the allusions to Herakleitos and Plato in the Prologue and to the Odyssey in chapter 20. Though often stated as fact, it is not true, however, that doubles entendres like ανωθεν (meaning either “from above” or “again”) in John 3:3 are only possible in Greek, as is discussed in the commentariesñ though, as is well known, the references to the πνευμα, the חוּר, work equally well in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic (both terms mean “wind/breath/spirit”).

On the other hand, several words or phrases are in the Hebrew-related language Aramaic, the lingua franca of Judæa and Galilee at that time. There are several passages where the Syriac Aramaic versions reveal doubles entendres (in which the gospel author frequently indulges) that only make sense in Aramaic, and not in Greek, such as the subtle eroticism in chapter 4, the puns founded on the Aramaic word for manna and “What?” in chapter 6, and most especially the extremely complex mary/Mary word associations in chapter 20 that actually encompass a third Semitic language, Egyptian. What is more, some passages that are quite confusing in Greek, such as Jesus’s statement at John 8:39 and the beginning of chapter 10 become much clearer when read from those very early Aramaic versions.

Both Mary [the Beloved Disciple, and eyewitness source for much of the gospel] and John [the Presbyter, its author and its secondary eyewitness source] would have had Aramaic as their first language, and at least John knew Greek. John’s two other major works, the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One, appear to have been composed in Aramaic and later translated (the Songs by John himself, the Revelation by someone else) into the lingua franca of Greek. My theory is that the earliest drafts of the gospel were in Aramaic, and that there was a transitional period when refinements and additional information were recorded a mix of both languages, likely sometimes both appearing even in the same phrase, and that the final draft – that from which Polycarp, who knew virtually no Aramaic or Hebrew, prepared the published gospel – was mostly or entirely composed in Greek, with the Presbyter doing his best to render the Aramaic doubles entendres in Greek, but evidently giving up on transposing some; that these latter are retained in the Syriac texts suggests that an original Aramaic text of at least some passages was available in the first century. In the final stages of John’s composing it, the quotations from the Tanakh were added that obviously come from not the Hebrew original but the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tanakh by Jewish scholars, widely popular among Jews in the first century, especially in the Diaspora. The many references to secular literature, which rely on Greek, of course – Homer, Plato, Euripides, and so on – were surely also brought into the manuscript by the amanuensis at this late stage.

By referring to the greatest poet and philosopher and playwright of what was then still the indispensable central Western literature, John the Presbyter signified his belief that this gospel belonged in their company. And this melding of Jewish and Greek literature suggests that the authors’ intended audience was universal: Jews steeped in the Tanakh and gentiles familiar with their own literature and philosophy.

 

This passage [John 10:1-18] is one that strongly suggests it was originally composed not in Greek but in Aramaic. The Syriac Sinaiticus version is very clear in meaning, and more in line with Jesus’s teachings as presented in this gospel. Like other passages, chapters 4 and 20 for example, it may preserve an early author’s text drafted in Aramaic. A careful analysis deflates the usual image of smiling blue-eyed Jesus in fluffy pastel colors guiding people of European features in favor of a hard verbal thrust against the Temple hegemony of Jesus’s day. Let us first review the very different Old Syriac version:

 

10:1 ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܪܢܐ ܠܟܘܢ ܕܡܢ ܕܠܐ ܥܐܠ ܡܢ ܬܪܥܐ ܠܕܪܬܐ ܕܐܝܬ ܒܗ ܥܢܐ ܐܠܐ ܣܠܩ ܠܗ ܡܢ ܕܘܟܐ ܐܚܪܢܝܐ ܗܘ ܓܝܣܐ ܘܓܢܒܐ 10:2 ܘܐܝܢܐ ܕܡܢ ܬܪܥܐ ܥܐܠ ܗܘ ܪܥܝܗ ܗܘ ܕܥܢܐ 10:3 ܢܛܪ ܬܪܥܐ ܦܬܚ ܠܗ ܬܪܥܐ ܘܥܢܐ ܫܡܥܐ ܩܠܗ ܘܚܝܘܬܗ ܗܘ ܩܪܐ ܥܪܒܐ ܒܫܡܗ ܘܗܘ ܡܦܩ ܠܗ 10:4 ܘܡܐ ܕܐܦܩ ܚܝܘܬܗ ܩܕܡܝܗ ܐܙܠ ܘܚܕܐ ܕܝܠܗ ܒܬܪܗ ܐܙܠܐ ܡܛܠ ܕܝܕܥܐ ܥܢܐ ܩܠܗ 10:5 ܒܬܪ ܢܘܟܪܝܐ ܕܝܢ ܠܐ ܐܙܠܐ ܥܢܐ ܐܠܐ ܡܬܦܣܩܐ ܥܢܐ ܡܢܗ ܡܛܠ ܕܠܐ ܝܕܥܐ ܩܠܗ ܕܢܘܟܪܝܐ

10:6ܗܠܝܢ ܡܠܠ ܥܡܗܘܢ ܝܫܘܥ ܒܦܠܐܬܐ ܘܗܢܘܢ ܠܐ ܡܣܬܟܠܝܢ ܗܘܘ

10:7ܬܘܒ ܐܡܪ ܠܗܘܢ ܝܫܘܥ ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܪܢܐ ܠܟܘܢ ܕܐܢܐ ܐܢܐ ܬܪܥܗ ܕܥܢܐ 10:8 ܘܟܠ ܐܝܠܝܢ ܕܐܬܘ ܓܢܒ̈ܐ ܐܢܘܢ ܘܓܝܣ̈ܐ ܐܠܐ ܠܐ ܫܡܥܬ ܐܢܘܢ ܚܝܘܬܐ 10:9 ܐܢܐ ܐܢܐ ܬܪܥܗ ܕܥܢܐ܂ ܘܒܝ ܟܘܠ ܕܢܥܘܠ ܢܝܚܐ ܘܢܥܠ ܘܢܦܩ ܘܪܥܝܐ ܢܫܟܚ 10:10 ܓܢܒܐ ܕܝܢ ܠܐ ܐܬܐ ܐܠܐ ܕܢܓܢܒ ܘܢܩܛܠ ܘܢܘܒܕ ܐܢܐ ܕܝܢ ܐܬܝܬ ܕܚ̈ܝܐ ܢܗܘܘܢ ܠܗܘܢ ܘܝܘܬܪܢܐ ܢܗܘܐ ܠܗܘܢ 10:11 ܐܢܐ ܐܢܐ ܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ ܘܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ ܝܗܒ ܢܦܫܗ ܥܠ ܐܦܝ ܥܢܗ 10:12 ܐܓܝܪܐ ܕܝܢ ‍‍‍‍>ܢܩܘܕܐ‍>‍ ܕܠܐ ܗܘܬ ܕܝܠܗ ܥܢܐ ܡܐ ܕܚܙܐ ܕܐܒܐ ܕܐܬܐ ܫܒܩ ܠܗ ܠܥܢܐ ܘܥܪܩ ܘܐܬܐ ܕܐܒܐ ܚܛܦ ܘܡܒܕܪ 10:13 ܡܛܠ ܕܐܓܝܪܐ ܗܼܘ ܒܗ ܘܠܐ ܒܛܝܠ ܠܗ ܥܠܝܗ

10:14 ܐܢܐ ܐܢܐ ܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ ܘܝܕܥ ܐܢܐ ܠܕܝܠܝ ܘܝܕܥ ܠܝ ܕܝܠܝ ܘܡܬܝܕܥܢܐ ܡܢ ܕܝܠܝ 10:15 ܐܝܟܢܐ ܕܝܕܥ ܠܝ ܐܒܝ ܘܝܕܥ ܐܢܐ ܠܐܒܝ܂ ܘܢܦܫܝ ܣܐܡ ܐܢܐ ܥܠ ܐܦ̈ܝܗ ܕܥܢܐ 10:16 ܘܐܝܬ ܠܝ ܥܪܒܐ ܐܚܪܢܐ ܐܝܠܝܢ ܕܠܐ ܗܘܘ ܡܢܗ ܡܢ ܕܪܬܐ ܗܕܐ܂ ܘܐܦ ܠܗܘܢ ܘܠܐ ܠܝ ܠܡܝܬܝܘ ܐܢܘܢ ܘܐܦ ܗܢܘܢ ܩܠܝ ܢܫܡܥܘܢ ܘܬܗܘܐ ܥܢܐ ܟܘܠܗ ܚܕܐ ܘܚܕ ܪܥܝܐ 10:17 ܘܐܒܝ ܡܛܠ ܗܢܐ ܪܚܡ ܠܝ ܕܣܐܡ ܐܢܐ ܢܦܫܝ ܕܬܘܒ ܐܣܒܝܗ 10:18 ܘܠܐ ܐܝܬ ܐܢܫ ܫܩܠ ܠܗ ܡܢܝ ܐܠܐ ܐܢܐ ܣܐܡ ܐܢܐ ܠܗ ܡܢܝ ܫܘܠܛܢܐ ܓܝܪ ܕܐܣܝܡܝܗܝ ܘܬܘܒ ܐܫܩܠܝܗܝ ܡܛܠ ܕܗܢܐ ܦܘܩܕܢܐ ܩܒܠܬ ܡܢ ܐܒܝ

 

10:1 “Amen amen, I tell you, anyone who does not enter into the courtyard/social group by the gate, though he is among the flock he rises in rank there from another place/house. He is an invading army and a thief. 10:2 But the one who enters in by the gate is the shepherd of the flock. 10:3 He (the shepherd) watches over/guards/is at readiness at the gate; he opens the gate. And when the flock reacts to the voice of the wild animals, he calls the sheep by name, and he goes out with them. 10:4 And so he goes out to face the animals, and behind him they rejoice because the flock responds to his voice. 10:5 After an alien / a non-family-member the flock will not go, but the flock will break away from him because they do not respond to his voice.”

10:6 Jesus said this figure of speech to them but they did not know what it was that he said to them.

10:7 So Jesus said again to them, “Amen amen, I tell you, I AM (is) / I am the gatekeeper for the flock. 10:8 And all who come are thieves and band-of-raiders but they (the flock) do not respond to animals. 10:9 I AM (is) / I am the gatekeeper of the flock, and all who enter within will live and find pasturage. 10:10 But the thief does not enter except to steal / to do secretive mischief, and to destroy. I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly. 10:11 I AM (is) / I am the true/correct/proper shepherd. The true/correct/proper shepherd puts on the breath-of-life for the flock. 10:12 But the hireling is a <liar>, who is not with the flock, who does not watch for the wolf who comes, who leaves the flock and flees, and the wolf seizes and scatters them, 10:13 because he is a hireling, since he is not concerned about the flock.

10:14 “I AM (is) / I am the true/correct/proper shepherd. I know myself and I also know my own. 10:15 Just as my father knows me, so I know my father, and I put on my breath-of-life for the flock. 10:16 And I have other sheep who are not of this fold; it is necessary for me to bring them too, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd. 10:17 For this my father loves me, because I put on my breath-of-life and that furthermore I undertake (my task). 10:18 And there is no one who can bear (this task) but me; I put on (my breath-of-life), I!, from authority; indeed, I put it on and undertake it because of this command I have received from my father.”

 

Jesus is not using allegory but imagery. In allegory, there is a specific relationship between each image and what it represents; in imagery, the relationship is broader and more flexible. The Greek loses the sense of Jesus entering the Temple inner courts, turning image into allegory of cosmic Jesus pastoring the gentile Christians of future centuries. But Jesus herein speaks of himself as the shepherd of the Jews, not Christians, and as gatekeeper to the Temple, not the sheepfold of Christendom. The owner of the farm is, presumably, God. The stranger, the thief, and the hired hand are all, presumably, these religious leaders who oppose Jesus and his message, in this gospel not the Pharisees but the Sadducees, Levites, and priests who control the Temple without godly sanction, not as heir. Here he speaks of them as thieves, wild animals, who take what they want from the defenseless sheep. The Greek mentions no wild animals until verse 12; the Aramaic introduces them in verse 3.

By calling himself the gatekeeper, the true/correct/proper shepherd, Jesus is heavily implying that he is Messiah: he is the legitimate king and high priest, not these Levites. The Aramaic word can mean “gate” or “gatekeeper”; the Greek Textus Receptus appears mistranslated when Jesus says he is the gate for the flock.

The Greek word σωζω (sōzō) that appears in verse 9 is usually translated to say a person who enters by the gate that Jesus opens will be “saved”, but that is anachronistic, reflecting the creeds of the later, dogmatic Christian religion. The word means “safe” or “protected from harm”, and is exactly the word that would have been used in common speech about sheep in the sheepfold protected from carnivorous animals and thieving humans. And the Aramaic, if as I believe it is closer to the original text, confirms this.

Jesus saying he is the gatekeeper is the same as his message at 14:6, that he is the Way: he represents in his teaching and person the way to God. He is one who can open a tirtha, a gate from this mundane cosmos to the Æon, where God can be found.

That Jesus enters the Temple inner courts by the gate is to say he is legitimately a Jew, and more so of royal blood. His words are a stab at the Herodians, Jewish wannabes, who had control of the Temple in Jesus’s time, as not a legitimate priesthood; foreign conquerors had forced entry through the walls into the inner courts. The Presbyter may also have heard in this remark an anticipation of Paul, likewise a Jewish wannabe, who similarly took control of what was to become Christianity.

Note that the gate to the high priest’s compound is mentioned in 18:16, and the gatekeeper in that and the following verse is a slave girl. Here the gate is to the “sheepfold”, the inner court of the Temple; Jesus is the gatekeeper, and the wild animals and thieves are the priests and Sadducees. Since there is almost certainly an intended parallel between the two gates, that puts the slave girl as congruent to Jesus, the spiritual shepherd/gatekeeper.

The Tanakh often analogizes the Jewish people and their leaders to sheep and shepherds; Exodus 3:1 and II Samuel 5:2, for example. As he spoke, Jesus probably had most in mind Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 33:11-31, in which God promises to take back direct shepherding of his sheep from the “false shepherds”. The imagery is also common in the classical myths; in the religions of Dionysos, Demeter, Inanna, and Cybele, among others, wherein the consort of the Goddess, made by her the Shepherd of the Land, is publicly humiliated, stripped, and beaten (John 19:1-5), and then killed, in some versions as an expiation for the sins of the people and in others for continued fertility of the land. In most versions of this archetypal myth he comes to life again. While this imagery was familiar to everyone in the first century – not only Jews but people in nearly every part of the Western world – most readers of the Bible today have not the slightest familiarity with sheep and shepherding. Sheep have virtually no natural defenses against predators, and they have a tendency to wander off and get into trouble; therefore, they need to be constantly well-secured and attentively watched over to protect them from harm.

That Jesus calls the sheep by name (verse 3) echoes his calling of the disciples in chapter 1 and especially his calling Mary by name in 20:16. That the sheep know his voice (verse 4) anticipates dead Lazarus coming at Jesus’s call in 11:43-44, and again Mary.

The Syriac Sinaiticus has a clear mistake in verse 12, calling the hireling a shepherd (ܢܩܘܕܐ‍, nāqdā) instead of a liar (ܫܩܘܪܐ, šāqōrā).

The “other sheep” in verse 16 are most likely the Jews in the Diaspora, but perhaps also gentiles who accept Jesus’s teaching. Since John’s seven congregations included gentiles, the latter surely were also acceptable to Jesus.

The later Christian dogma is probably behind the Greek rendering that Jesus intended to die and take up his life again. But the Aramaic says rather that Jesus takes up the breath of life and his God-given task at the behest of his father, God. And the thrust of this passage, aimed primarily at Jews and Samaritans in the homeland, secondarily at the Diaspora, and tertiarily at sympathetic gentiles, is: Hold fast to your faith in these dangerous times when internecine struggles and rebellion against Roman repression are imminent, and your faith will give you safety. It is not a celestial Jesus promising future gentile converts to a faith not yet invented that he as God incarnate will always be spiritually protecting them.

 

The Beloved Disciple was Female!

Two Unnamed Disciples Named –

and the Beloved One is a Woman!

 

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

 

James David Audlin

 

The following text comprises material from The Works of John Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú, copyright © 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

 

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

 

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

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

In verse 21:24 we find both individuals responsible for this letter have in effect “signed their names” to it. The grammar in the Greek version is rather confusing, while the Aramaic is not; this is rather obviously because the scribe who translated the latter into the former made a mistake. To make the mistake clear first we must discuss the Aramaic.

The Codex Syriac Sinaiticus begins with ܗܢܘ ܬܠܡܝܕܐ, which grammatically can be understood as being in the singular (“This is the disciple”) or the plural (“These are the disciples”), depending on the context. In this case it should be taken as plural, and here are two reasons.

First, it serves as a classic example of inclusio, or A-B-A symmetry. Throughout his writings John the Presbyter makes great use of this literary technique, in which elements from the beginning of a work are reinvoked at its end – this technique is of course a most prominent feature in the gospel. The beginning of this letter mentions “two others of his disciples” as participating in this seaside event, and here at the end they are mentioned again. They are specifically named neither in 21:2 nor here, but presumably the letter’s salutation, which as explained above was no doubt lopped off when the letter was grafted into the gospel, provided the two names: Mary and John. Thus the “These” here refers not only to 21:2 but surely also to the missing salutation, to confirm that the unnamed disciples are specifically Mary and John.

Second, it creates A-B-B-A symmetry within this verse: it provides the necessary antecedent plural to which the phrase later in the verse, ܘܝܕܥܝܢ ܐܢܚܢܢ (“we know…”), refers. These plural phrases, “These are…” and “we know…”, frame the two phrases between them, which delineate singly the disciples who make up that plural: the one who gave the testimony and the one who wrote it down. After the “we know” the sentence concludes with a second reference to the first, testifying disciple, giving the sentence an overall A-B-B-A-B structure.

The first disciple is witness to the events described, the Beloved Disciple about whom Jesus and Simon have just spoken in the preceding verses. The Beloved Disciple, of course, is Mary, as is firmly established in The Gospel of John. The Aramaic of this verse confirms that it is Mary with the personal pronoun in the last phrase, the one that refers back to the disciple who gives the testimony, whom we know to be the Beloved Disciple. That pronoun is ܗܝ (). Even though it is pronounced like the English “he”, it means “she”. Indeed, though the Peshitta, a later Syriac Aramaic version to some degree edited to conform to the by-then-standard Greek text, contains some minor variations in wording that do not affect the meaning of the verse in the least, it too has the ܗܝ (“she”) very much in evidence. (Note that this “she” functions in this context as a possessive: in English, “her”.)

Thus, despite the masculine nouns that usually would have prompted the author to use a masculine pronoun for this disciple, ܗܘ (hw), he uses ܗܝ (). The effect is to emphasize not the role (disciple) but the person: he wants us to know not just that this is a woman but a particular woman. And, whether or not the missing letter introduction mentioned her by name, as I said a few pages ago only one woman in the story of Jesus is so central that she does not need to be named by name: Mary.

A correspondent hoping to defend the dogma that the Beloved Disciple is male insisted to me that the feminine pronoun here agrees with the feminine noun ܣܗܕܘܬܗ at the end of the verse. They interpret this word as “witness”, in the sense of “a person who gives testimony”, and then say the feminine pronoun ܗܝ referring to the disciple is agreeing in gender with the feminine noun. However, ܣܗܕܘܬܗ really refers to the testimony itself, and so it cannot modify the pronoun pointing to the disciple. Besides, there is a related but different noun, ܣܗܕܐ, which does mean “a person who gives testimony”, i.e., a “witness” in the sense of a person, but this word is masculine, and so, if it had been written here, it could never change the masculine pronoun for a male disciple to a feminine pronoun. We must conclude that the pronoun ܗܝ refers to the disciple, and the noun ܣܗܕܘܬܗ refers to the testimony given by that disciple, that they are only coincidentally both feminine, and that one does not modify the other. Indeed, this “she”, despite the masculine nouns, serves to emphasize this disciple’s identity as Mary.

Thus the phrase describing the first disciple as the one “who has witnessed to all this” is in effect Mary the Beloved Disciple’s signature to this letter. The second phrase, “…and also (the one who) has written (about all this)”, is likewise the signature of John the Presbyter.

Why these signatures? And why do they then provide a joint affidavit of truthfulness, “We (both) know that she is truthful, the one who gives witness.”? The Gospel of John contains references, such as at 8:13, to the requirement of at least two witnesses in the laws of the Torah (e.g., Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15), and any first-century Jew reading this affidavit in which Mary and John present themselves as the two witnesses would instantly have recalled that requirement. Indeed, the gospel would later be given not one but seven certifications of verity similar to this one, further demonstrating the Presbyter’s determination to prove by Torah-based law to his fellow Jews that these writings contain the truth.

These two phrases also give us a picture of the working relationship between the two, as discussed in the Introduction: Mary recalling aloud in detail the events, and John taking notes later to develop into a finished work. The final phrase has the two of them join in an affidavit of veracity: “We (both) know…”, confirming that they worked together on this letter.

As noted, the first delineating phrase in Aramaic, ܗܢܘ ܬܠܡܝܕܐ, can be understood as being in the singular (“This is the disciple”) or the plural (“These are the disciples”). I think I have made a good case for the latter. However, the Greek translator apparently took this phrase in the singular, as describing one disciple who both gave the testimony and wrote it down: ο μαρτυρων περι τουτων και ο γραψας ταυτα (“the one bearing witness about these things and the one having written these things”). As a result he put the first phrase into Greek as ουτος εστιν ο μαθητης. As a result, the beginning of the last phrase, “We know…”, loses in Greek its antecedent plural noun – a grammatical error frowned upon in Greek (and English) but wholly unacceptable in Aramaic, and yet it remains there for the careful reader to see.

The Greek pronouns in this verse are inspecific as to gender, giving no hint that one of the disciples is female. Indeed, the Greek language of this period had no specifically feminine pronoun that would fit this context, so it had no way to say she has testified true testimony or her testimony is true. Indeed, most likely the scribe who prepared even the first Greek version, being in a later time in which Paul’s asexual Jesus was doctrine, believed (like my interlocutor referred to above) that all of the disciples were men, and would never have even entertained the thought, let alone suggest, that the Beloved Disciple was female.

It is inconceivable, if the Aramaic was originally rendered from a Greek text (which I do not believe was the case), that the translator in that later time would put the Aramaic feminine pronoun in the place of a Greek neuter pronoun. That could only be if he and his community believed the Beloved Disciple was female. That is possible, but unlikely except around Ephesus where John’s teachings survived for a while, but increasingly less likely as over the years the Pauline dogma of a spiritual-bodied sexless Jesus and twelve male disciples took increasing hold.

How then is it that the Aramaic versions state her gender clearly? The philosophical term “elegant” refers to the simplest, likeliest, and most logical solution. And here the most elegant conclusion is that John wrote this letter in Aramaic and he knew the Beloved Disciple to be female. He wrote the gospel itself in Greek, and the early Aramaic versions like the Syriac Sinaiticus and Curetonian are translations into Aramaic but translations from the Syriac Aramaic community in the area of Ephesus, perhaps even prepared with John’s help in his last years. But these versions would not have needed to translate chapter 21 into Aramaic if they had access to the original text as composed by John in that language!

This Aramaic-first explanation is also supported by the thesis expressed in the introduction that John wrote this letter primarily to Simon and his disciples, to counter the rumor he was fostering that Mary was immortal – since Simon’s mother tongue, like John’s, was Aramaic, not Greek.

Given the fact of the Syriac feminine pronoun, I find it astonishing that every major translation of the Syriac Sinaiticus and the Peshitta puts down “he” in the English instead of “she”. This is not just reading what the text clearly says through the soiled and distorting lenses of later dogma, this is irresponsible translating. Most New Testament scholars suffer from what I call græcomyopia litteratus, the inability to take seriously any early text unless it is in Greek, they are unacquainted with the Aramaic language and must rely on these translations. It pains me even more deeply when New Testament scholars who do study the early Aramaic texts are so blinded by the Textus Receptus that they put an obviously feminine pronoun into English and other modern languages with a masculine pronoun. As a result, the fact of this feminine pronoun has not been properly noticed by New Testament scholars, let alone studied, as it should be.

 

 

 

United in the Image of God

United in the Image of God:

Jesus’s Objective, in the Gospel of John, is to Restore Humanity to Reflecting the Nature of Elohim

 

James David Audlin

 

Put together from several portions of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volumes I and II, copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

 

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

 

 

The Talmud, in the Pirkei Avot, quotes Rabbi Eliezer as saying, “God sought advice from the Torah before He created the universe.” The Zohar (Parshas Terumah 161) declares, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, gazed into the Torah, and created the universe.” And the Midrash Beraishis Rabbah (1:1) says: “God wrote the Torah before He created the worlds, for it was the blueprint of all creation. Before He formed the universe, God consulted with the Torah as an architect refers to his blueprint. God spoke to the Torah and asked him, ‘How shall we create the universe, my son?’ The Torah itself declared, ‘A king builds a palace not according to his own ideas, but according to the guidelines of his blueprint. And the architect depends on parchment and tables on which are drawn the plans for the rooms and entrances.’ Thus, the Torah said, ‘I am your blueprint and you are my architect.’ And so God looked into the Torah and, accordingly, created the worlds.”

The first word of Genesis, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית (bereshith), is translated well as “When”. But a more literal rendering is “From the head” (in the sense of “starting-point”). Some classical rabbis noted that the word is the same as saying “with Reshith”, with the Firstfruit (God’s spouse, referring to Proverbs 8:22), and since the Torah is often called רֵאשִׁית, Reshith (probably because of this verse), they took the beginning of Genesis as saying God created the heavens and the earth with the Torah. Eleazar be-Rabbi Qillir records an old tradition in his poetry in which Reshith, as a woman, refuses to assist God in creating the universe until she is wedded to the right man (who will reveal her to humanity): that man is Moses. Thus Jesus, who the Gospel of John portrays as a new Moses, is married to Mary as an incarnation of the Logos, equivalent to Reshith. The Gospel of John repeatedly compares and associates Jesus with Moses, and portrays Mary as an incarnation of the Word, equivalent to Reshith, especially at the resurrection and in the earlier Aramaic version of 4:27. Revelation 3:18a continues to draw this parallel between God/coworker and Jesus/Mary, by using imagery familiar from Proverbs 8:10 and 19, where God’s חָכְמָ֥ה (hokhma, “wisdom”), personified as a woman equivalent to the reshith. In Proverbs 8:30 this “companion” of God is further described as אָ֫מ֥וֹן (amōn), as the “master worker” who worked alongside God to create the universe. John uses this last term in Revelation 3:14 in reference to Mary, but when his Aramaic original was later rendered into Greek not by John but someone far less qualified to do so than he, it was misunderstood as אָמֵן (amēn, “truly”), and put down as such into the Greek version. Similarly, the end of the verse originally spoke of “the רֵאשִׁית (reshith) of the creation of God”, according to Philip Alexander; indeed, the Aramaic actually has reshith, ܪܼܫܼܝܬܼܵܐ. This should have gone into the Greek version as κοινωνος, but again the less-than-expert translator made a mistake, putting it into the Textus Receptus as the αρχη (archē), the “beginning” of the creation of God. That nicely implies John 1:1 (εν αρχη ην ο λογος), but it loses the intended comparison of Mary to God’s coworker in Proverbs 8.

The first chapter of Genesis goes on to describe the creation of the universe by אֱלֹהִים (Elohim) – a term for God in which a feminine singular noun is given a masculine plural suffix. The singular in Aramaic is ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ, “Alaha”, which is cognate to the very rare Hebrew אלוהּ (“Eloah”). Though rare in Hebrew, this singular form is common in Aramaic, and is of course the standard word for God in Arabic, Allah, written in the Qur’an as ﷲ, and in Punjabi, in the Śri Guru Granth Sahib, as ਅਲਹੁ. These are feminine words that literally mean “Goddess” (though they are almost never translated that way); they suggest the feminine aspect of God. When given a masculine suffix, as in Elohim, they become the familiar name of God found in Genesis 1 and elsewhere, the male-and-female-as-one understanding of God who made the first human in the same hermaphroditic image.

Elohim speaks of Godself with plural pronouns (“Let us make… in our own…”), but takes the singular form of the verb. The reason for this is simple: Elohim is male and female as one, which is why Elohim says השענ נתומדכ ונמלצב םדא (“Let us make humanity in our image and after our likeness”), and creates a human individual who is at once both male and female. And therefore, neither man nor woman alone perfectly images God, but rather man and woman together. What is more, only male and female together can imitate Elohim’s ability to create life. This is why there are a number of comments in the Talmud to this effect: “Rabbi Eleazer wrote, ‘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). Rabbi Joseph of Hamadan similarly wrote, “The Divine Unity is conceived as the union of the King and the Queen”, adding that the sacred body of the King is meant to be united with that of the Queen; then, “he will be One, as it is written: ‘Hear Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH is One’” (Sefer Tashak; Rabbi Joseph ends by quoting the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4). Likewise, the Sheqel ha Qodesh says: “The secret of the Shema Israel [is that] the Bride returns to her Bridegroom in order that they unite in a real unity.”

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

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

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

The second creation story, beginning at Genesis 2:4b, then has YHWH draw forth womankind, in the person of Eve, from the side of the prototypical hermaphrodite, leaving him male, and now with a name, Adam. Adam’s name means “red earth/clay”, but the name “Eve” is a variation of the name of God found in this second story: in Hebrew it is חַוָּה (“Chavvah”), the infinitive form of the verb “to become”; in Aramaic it is ܚܘܐ.  This verb becomes אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (I Shall Be What I Shall Be); when conjugated in the causative form and imperfect state it is הוהי (YHWH), which is the other most sacred name for God, which refers to the Wind/Breath/Spirit. It is appropriate that “the mother of all living”, as Adam referred to his wife (Genesis 3:20), be named with the Sacred Breath that is God’s name. In removing Eve YHWH takes the very essence of life out of the male; a man (the Talmud thus assures us) has no life and can create no life except when he is united with a woman.

A number of scholars have opined that the Hebrew story of the first woman coming from the side of the first man to be his consort was a deliberate inversion by the Hebrews, a rare patriarchal society in the Mesopotamian region, of the far more common story of the first woman giving birth to the first man and then taking him as her consort, found among such matriarchal Goddess-centered cultures as Sumeria and Babylonia. This may be true to an extent, the Hebrew story may have been influenced in its telling by the earlier stories, but such a theory ultimately fails because of the unique nature of the Genesis account: it does not have the reverse of the staggered creation of the sexes just described, such that the first male somehow “gives birth” to the first female, but rather Genesis has the hermaphroditic first human, made in the image of God, torn asunder by God to create the first male and the first female. Ultimately, the Mesopotamian creation stories, and both the first and second creation stories in Genesis agree on one point: male and female were created at the same time.

Thus not only do we see a connection between the name Elohim and the woman, but also YHWH and the woman. Nor is that all. Harriet Lutzky and John J. Parsons, apparently independently, make a similar point about “El Shaddai”, a common term for God in the Tanakh, which modern translators usually render as “the Almighty”, following the lead of the scholars who created the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh), who believed that it was derived from shadad, which means “to vanquish” or “to destroy”. Lutzky and Parsons point out that the blessing Jacob gives in Genesis 49:25 includes both masculine and feminine imagery, the latter being the “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” (בִּרְכת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם), a phrase that suggests “El Shaddai” may come from שַׁד (shad; “breast” in the sense of mammary gland), with the plural being שָׁדַ֖יִם (shadaim; “breasts”), as an indication of God’s all-sufficiency and ability to nourish, to care for, all creation. No doubt earlier Christian Bible scholars were not even capable of conceiving of this female image as the root of a name for God!

In short, the two related Genesis accounts, as seen through Talmudic eyes, tell us that since the act of coïtus can result in the creation of new life, in the form of a child, in doing so (at least properly, in the covenant of marriage), man and woman are in the image and likeness of Elohim, YHWH, El Shaddai, who is given to us 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.

The early Gnostic traditions understood the serpent in Genesis 3 not as Satan or a Satanic ambassador, but quite the opposite, as an emissary from God. Note that Eve’s name is similar to הוח, which is Aramaic for “snake”, and, as Wayne Johnson points out, the famous phrase in Genesis 3:1, וְהַנָּחָשׁ֙ (wəhannāāš; “Now the serpent…”), in which נָּחָשׁ֙ (āš), the word for “serpent”, combines with הָ (ha), the word for “the”, to create in the very middle of this word a variant form of her name, “Hannah”. This supports this ancient contention that the serpent was good. So too does the fact that throughout the Mesopotamian cultures the serpent was anciently universally understood as both good and wise, which is why to this day the caduceus, two snakes intertwining in a double helix reminiscent of DNA, are the symbol of the medical profession.

The tree in question is the Tree of Life, which is the same as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Truth, since to know wisdom is to know the Λογος, and to know the Λογος is to gain entry to the Æon. This Tree is the Torah, says the Gospel of Philip, logion 100, of which Jesus is the fruit. The Tree also appears in Revelation 2:7 and 22:1-2, and is imaged as a menorah in 1:12,20 and 2:1, with seven lamps (the fruits), held up as in Horace by the branches of the menorah.

YHWH tells the primordial couple that if they eat the forbidden fruit they will die. The serpent tells them that if they eat it they will their eyes will be opened, and they will “be like כֵּֽאלֹהִ֔ים, Elohim, knowing what is beautiful/pleasant and what is disagreeable.” Both are correct. For it is disagreeable to be separated into two people aching for unity again, and far more pleasant to be one, and so the woman and her husband eat the fruit. Several Talmudic rabbis say that the first, composite human, and Adam and Eve after the division, were perfectly aware of the differences between good and evil before eating the fruit, and naturally preferred the good and eschewed the evil, but that the fruit brought these complementary opposites back together in their thoughts and desires, such that they could choose either as they wished. Thus YHWH’s statement to them that they would enjoy becoming parents but there would be pain associated with childbirth, and they would be able to eat the produce of the earth, but it would be at the cost of toil: after eating the fruit, YHWH says, good and evil will now inevitably be mixed together for humanity. Most of all, male and female will yearn for each other, but ultimately be unable to become fully one again. (The parables in Matthew 13:24-30 and Mark 4:3-9 pick up on this midrash.) The justice, then, is inherent in the division into two, into separate male and female persons – in other words, now humanity, in being not a unitary composite of complements but complements divided from each other, was “fallen” from being in the image and likeness of God, now as mundane as the other separated complements, such as light and dark, above and below, and sea and dry land, and any ordinary male or female creature living in this creation of separated natures. And therefore neither man nor woman alone perfectly images God, nor alone can create new life as God can. Athanasius concludes that “Humanity was in danger of disappearing” ever since this fall, which Father Stephen Freeman thus illuminates: “Refusing communion with the only truly existing God, we began to fall back towards the nothing from which we were created. Either we are sustained by grace and flourish, or we increasingly cease to exist.”

Curiously, the Persian Diatessaron has Jesus say in John 15:1 not “I am the true vine”, but من درخت میوه راستی (man derakhte mīveye rāstī). This has been put into English as “I am the tree of the fruit of truth” (Craig D. Allert) and, adhering a bit more closely to the word-for-word meaning, as “I am the fruit-tree of truth” (Robert Murray, from the Italian of Giuseppe Messina). However, a careful rendering of the Persian yields this translation: “I am the tree that bears the fruit of truth”. The mention of fruit in this version of 15:1 leads to the conclusion that Jesus was speaking of himself in these same terms: that one who partakes of the fruit of the Tree will die (תָּמֽוּת, tāmūt) (Genesis 2:17) and will become like Elohim (כֵּֽאלֹהִ֔ים, kêlōhîm) (Genesis 3:5). John, in mediating Jesus’s teachings, appears to be reading these verses as saying the individual male and female will die in order to become reborn as a united being, like Elohim.

So, in Genesis 3:7, when the primordial couple eat the fruit they become aware of their nakedness, and they yearn for each other, and they are afraid of this intense desire within themselves, and so they make clothing to subdue and control their desires. For a man and a woman naked together is indeed the likeness of the Creator!

Thus in the earliest Christian texts there is an emphasis on union of wife and husband in nakedness. The Gospel of Philip says in logia 85 and 112:

 

Those to whom it has been given to be clothed in the perfect light can never be seen by the powers (of this world), nor are they able to grasp them. For such a person it shall be given to be clothed with the light in the mystery/ceremony of the union.

Not only will they be unable to grasp the perfected one, but they will not even be able to see him. For if they could see him, they would grasp him. In no other way can one be begotten of him (God) in this grace; only if he is clothed in the perfect light, and the perfect light is around him. Robed in this manner, he shall go forth out of the cosmos. This is the perfected son of the bridal chamber.

 

Philip makes the same point in logion 86, building on the notion that humanity is meant to eat the fruit of the Tree, to attain all wisdom, to die to individual self and become Elohim, male-and-female-as-one:

 

If the female had not been separated from the male, she would not be dying along with the male. Their separation brought this about; it became the origin of death. For this the Christ came, so that he could rectify again to himself the separation which had existed since the beginning by his mating together the two. As for those who have died by the separation he shall give back to them their own lives by his mating them together. Thus it is that the female mates with her husband in the bridal chamber. Those who have mated in the bridal chamber can no longer be separated. Thus it is that Eve was separated from Adam, because she did not mate with him in the bridal chamber.

 

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

 

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

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

 

Viewing it with modern sensibilities, scholars often dismiss this logion as an example of first-century misogyny, insisting Jesus couldn’t possibly have said the Æon, the Realm of Heaven, was an all-male bastion! But Jesus is actually referring to the Hebrew myth of the creation of male and female. In the first creation story Elohim (God understood as comprising male and female aspects wholly united) creates by separating complementary opposites: day from night, above from below, land from sea, and the many living creatures male from female; but, last, Elohim creates the single hermaphroditic human in Elohim’s own image, hence unlike the rest of creation undivided, male-and-female as one. In the second story, viewed in the Talmud (not as it is by scholars today as a totally different story that disconforms with the first) as entirely a harmonious complement and continuation of the first, this unique creation, with its complementary opposites of masculine and feminine aspects undivided in exactly the nature of Elohim, is now divided into two, male and female: it is now no longer in the divine image, but common, like everything else: day divided from night, land from sea, sky from earth, and woman from man. Only in uniting these opposites again, said the rabbis, only when man and woman come together, can we once more be in the image and likeness of Elohim.

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 … then you shall enter into [the Realm of Heaven].” Likewise he says in logion 75, “There are many standing at the door, but the united/whole/single ones (are) the ones who will go in to the bridal chamber.” Speaking to his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus says that of two who share a bed (who are married) one shall live and the other die, implying the crucifixion and also Mary becoming one with him, and adds: “If one is whole, one will be filled with light; however, if one is divided (into separate male and female), one will be filled with darkness”.

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

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

 

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

 

Hence it was spiritually essential for Jesus to have a wife at the beginning on his ministry. They are far too lengthy to include here, but the analyses in The Gospel of John of these two scenes demonstrate that the gospel begins and closes with a sacred hierogamy between Jesus and Mary. Thus Jesus “dies” in the Jordan at the beginning and then is united with Mary at Cana, and hangs like “strange fruit” on the Tree and then is united with Mary at the resurrection, and both are naked in that last scene as a close reading of the text reveals. The gospel’s writer (and Jesus through him) is telling us that love and marriage are part of the Λογος, the most significant part, since Jesus restores by that means humanity, from its severing into separate male and female, into the perfect image of God.

Thus, the eschatological image pictured here of a return to the nakedness of the garden of Eden is not just perfect equality, without the uniforms that divide and stratify human beings. It is not even just perfect unity. It is perfect union (John 17:22,21,23). It means that this time, unlike Adam and Eve, we shall stand naked and not be ashamed (Gospel of Thomas 37) or afraid (I John 4:18). We shall rather be “clothed with the sun” (Revelation 12:1), garbed in the love that is the very nature of God (I John 4:16b). 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 quite yet (John 20:17) at the destination, the Æon, but still following God’s Λογος.

 

Jacobovici’s Crucifixion Nails

Nailing Down the Facts:

Questions to Ask Before Saying the Crucifixion Nails are Identified

 

James David Audlin

 

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

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

 * * *

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Gabriel Barkay has written:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold Your Mother

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

James David Audlin

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

* * *

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

 * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to a consideration of this couplet,

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

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

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

 

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

 

Jesus, therefore, having seen his mother

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

They divided my garments among themselves,

And for my clothing they cast lots.

 

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

 

Do Your Homework First!

Do Your Homework First:

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

 James David Audlin

 

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

Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved.

Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Lost Gospel: Neither a Gospel Nor Lost!

Was Jesus married?

This question is resurfacing as a result of the media hype over The Lost Gospel, alost-gospel book by Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson. The vaunted discovery of a “lost gospel” that this work is loudly proclaiming just in time for the Christmas profiteering season is highly questionable, and folks can read my views in earlier posts.

First, let us deal with the controversy over the Jacobovici and Wilson tome.

This book claims a Jewish inspirational entertainment fiction is about Jesus. My study of the Syriac original leads me to conclude that it dates from before the life of Jesus. Put that aside.

The authors claim that it is a manuscript ignored by scholars that has been gathering dust until they brought it to the attention of the world. The fact is that it has been translated several times since the late nineteenth century, and I have myself consulted two critical editions currently in print. It is well studied and well known by the scholars. Here is a link to a superb bibliography of critical editions put together by the excellent Prof. Mark Goodacre — http://www.markgoodacre.org/aseneth/biblio.htm Put the “lost” allegation aside.

The authors further claim that it is an encoded gospel about Jesus. The story, however, is a fanciful expansion of Genesis 41:50. It does not mention Jesus. The authors claim that Joseph is encoded Jesus because he is called a “son of G-d”. If the authors were more familiar with the Jewish faith and the Tanakh, they’d know that every king and prophet and Temple priest was also traditionally considered a “son of G-d”. The authors claim that Aseneth is encoded Mary Magdalene because she lives in a tower and “Magdalene” may refer to the town of Magdala, which apparently got its name from a prominent watchtower therein. But by this reasoning, the Lady of Shalott and Rapunzel are Mary Magdalene, too. In my Gospel of John restored original version I do an exhaustive analysis of the cognomen “Magdalene” and conclude that it has nothing to do with towers. Even if it does, it’s still a cosmic leap to put Mary in Aseneth’s tower. Put that too aside.

The authors claim that the story is an encoded telling of the life of Jesus and Mary. Despite the fact that there are no miracles, no revelations of G-d’s will, no crucifixion, and no resurrection. What this Jewish text does is explain and defend Joseph’s marriage to a foreign (Egyptian) woman. Moses too married an Egyptian woman. I don’t know of anyone who claims Mary Magdalene was an Egyptian, though I do find her family has some connections with Cyrene and she may have been involved with the Leontopolis Temple, though this is coincidental to the Aseneth tale. Put that aside as well.

The authors claim that the story is encoded when no gospel about Jesus was encoded. One must ask why encode a “gospel” when other gospel writers saw no need to do so? One must also ask how this is a gospel when it in absolutely no way proclaims the “good news” of Jesus. So put that aside too.

By now we’ve put aside everything that this work wants to tell us. There’s nothing left. It saddens me that this book is jumping off the bookshop shelves. It saddens me that it will scare legitimate scholars away from taking seriously the thesis that Jesus was married and had children (which I hold). It saddens me that people like Karen King, Elaine Pagels, William E. Phipps, and if I may be so bold myself as well spend years in meticulous study of ancient fragmentary texts in their original languages, and are ignored or sometimes even excoriated (Karen King) in the public media, and yet this book is given a big boost.

The timing, just before Christmas, is highly suspect. It’s heavily promoted in the media. But it’s not been peer reviewed, and the legitimate scholars are overwhelmingly panning it as worthless. Sadly, it’s still selling like hotcakes. Jacobovici says to the critics, buy it and read it before you criticize. He doesn’t care as long as he gets his money, apparently. My criticisms are without wasting money on his worthless tripe; the title itself contains two lies (that it’s a gospel and that it was lost). That’s enough to tell me plenty.

Also suspect is that an amateur scholar has come up with similarly cockeyed ideas before Jacobovici and Wilson, and one cannot help but wonder if the latter were aware of it and, er, um, borrowed its ideas without bothering to give credit. See for yourself at — http://www.themirroredbridalchamber.com/Commentaries/joseph-and-asenath-ca-56-ce.html

Of course the book should be given a chance. It deserves a fair reading as much as any book. However the authors themselves make the claims I cite above, and I find none of them bears up under serious scrutiny. I am in no hurry to give this book a chance. Yes, I will read it eventually, just as I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail eventually. But by what the authors themselves say about The Lost Gospel, about a text which is neither a gospel nor lost, does not encourage me to do so any time soon, or to be prepared for even a speck of enlightenment.

Meanwhile, serious scholars like April D. Deconick, James D. Tabor, Elaine Pagels, and Karen L. King, and (if I may be so bold) I too get ignored or reviled in the media. Even when some of us reach the SAME CONCLUSIONS as Jacobovici and Wilson — mainly that there are texts supporting the conclusion that Jesus was indeed married to Mary Magdalene.

Despite Jacobovici and Wilson, the question of Jesus’s marital status remains a legitimate one to ask. Respected scholars like Karen L. King and Greg Carey say we know next to nothing about Jesus’s personal life. Other respected scholars like James D. Tabor (http://jamestabor.com/) beg to differ, bravo to them!

Here is my own view.

In my view, the canonical New Testament tells us quite a bit about Jesus’s life, but non-Jewish scholars sometimes have trouble picking up the clues, just as a non-Westerner might not recognize the ring on my left hand as signifying my own married status. For instance…. a Jewish woman would only unbind her hair in front of the closest family members and her husband; Mary unbinds her hair to lave Jesus’s feet. A Jewish woman sitting shivah could only be called forth from the house of mourning by her father if unmarried or her husband if married; Martha comes out unbidden to meet Jesus because Martha is not sitting shivah, but Mary comes forth to meet Jesus at his bidding. And Mary comes to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s dead body, which (as I discuss at length in my Gospel of John) was the province of the wife. And so on; these are just three examples.

If we go further, into noncanonical literature, there’s lots more. The Gospel of Philip speaks of Jesus and Mary as κοινωνος to each other – a word that is deeper than “spouse”, more like they are so united that they are in effect one being; this gospel also says Jesus often kissed Mary on the mouth in front of the other disciples. The fragmentary “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” (there’s some controversy over it, but my study of the original Coptic concludes that it is almost certainly genuine) specifically calls Mary Jesus’s wife. The Gospel of Mary puts her at the leadership position of the apostles after Jesus’s resurrection – a point well established by Jane Schaberg in a recent book. I could go on and on and bore y’all to tears, but you get the idea.
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Without a time machine parked in the garage, we cannot get prima facie evidence of Jesus’s married status. But I disagree with Carey and others who assert that we know nothing. It is clear that many early followers of Jesus, including some who knew him personally, such as John the Presbyter, believed he was married. Since all of my friends and neighbors believe I am married, it’s a safe assumption that I actually am. The same is a reasonable conclusion as regards Jesus as well.

In my Gospel of John, Volume II, published two years before The Lost Gospel, I even concluded that John the Presbyter was aware of “Joseph and Aseneth”. To quote myself:

Another curious parallel may be the early Jewish novel Joseph and Aseneth, which expands Genesis 41:50, telling of Joseph’s marriage to Aseneth, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. On (אן in Hebrew) comes from the Egyptian  word meaning “Pillar(s)”. This is the same city known in the first century as Heliopolis and Leontopolis, where Mary, daughter of Simon the Leper, a priest and Pharisee, apparently served as priestess in the Jewish-Samaritan Temple, loosely paralleling Potiphera. The novel was likely published before John began writing this gospel;even if this was not the case, it shows what kind of story was popular around the Presbyter’s time. In one scene Aseneth is brought a pitcher of water from a “spring of living water” in the courtyard, in which she sees that her face is “like the sun and her eyes like the morning star arising.” Immediately after that, Joseph comes and marries her. The pitcher and the spring of living water recur in this gospel’s meeting in Samaria and the morning imagery recurs at the resurrection.

The analogies to Zipporah and Aseneth support the conclusion that Mary had familial roots (see page 208) and personal ties (see pages 447-48) to Egypt.

Frequently in the past few days I have expressed the hope that legitimate scholars will not back away from serious consideration of this thesis about Jesus’s married status. I am grateful to people like Tabor for maintaining his views in the wake of “The Lost Gospel”. I hope King and Carey and others will do likewise. I certainly shall.

Star Riders

Star Riders:

The Aramaic Revelation Text and a Correct Identification of

the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

 

James David Audlin

 

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

Nonfiction by James David Audlin

 

 

Two of Zechariah’s visions are often proposed as source material here, though they have little in common with John’s vision except that horses and the number four are mentioned, as well as colors that partly correspond. In Zechariah 1:8-11 the prophet sees by night a man under myrtle trees, astride a red horse, with red, sorrel, and white horses behind him: perhaps one of each color but it could also be a large group of horses. The man tells the prophet that “they”, presumably the horses, were sent out by YHWH to walk about the earth and report. And in Zechariah 6:1-8 the prophet sees four chariots pulled respectively by red, black, white, and dappled horses. The latter is specifically four sets of horses rather than a group, and the colors are closer to those of the four horses in Revelation, though in a different order and including the quite ordinary horse-color of sorrel rather than the fourth horse’s anything-but-horselike color of ܝܘܪܩܐ (ywrāq), which was somewhere between blue-green and greenish-yellow. The Presbyter often shows his deep familiarity with the prophets, so certainly these two prophecies were in the back of his mind yet still they do not appear to be a direct source for this his own prophecy.

The four horsemen are usually understood, not wrongly, as four “curses” in civilization: the charismatic leader who opens up conquest, the bloodshed that follows, then the poverty and pestilence that enable usurious merchants to profit from desperation, and the inevitable “collateral damage” of victims to war and plague.

Better to understand these four horsemen we must review the classical concept of fourness associated with this material world. Besides those about to be named, there were the four cardinal directions, four traditional elements, four oceans, and four continents, among others. This fourness is, of course, prominent in the Revelation.

Empedocles (490-430 B.C.E.), on the basis of his careful observations and the work of predecessors, saw all things and events in the world in terms of constant interaction of four complements arranged in two pairs: wet and dry, hot and cold. Water is the product of wet and cold, air of wet and hot, earth dry and cold, fire dry and hot. Earth and water, having the attribute of mass, gather below (hence land and sea), and fire and air, lacking that attribute, gather above. Philo, who I conclude was the Presbyter’s teacher at the Mouseion, the great university in Alexandria, was one of several prominent Jewish scholars who believed there was no conflict between the Tanakh and Greek philosophy; Philo indeed approvingly quotes Empedocles on this very subject in his essay “On Providence”.

On Empedocles’s foundation Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.E.) proposed the humoral theory of medicine. Even though it dominated in Western medicine for two millennia, surviving well into the nineteenth century, it is largely forgotten today, which is surely why to my awareness no New Testament scholar or commentator has brought it up in this context. According to this theory four humors flow in complex patterns in all living bodies, human and those of other species. When the humors are in their proper balance, Hippocrates wrote, the overall bodily system is in good health; when that balance is lost sickness results and, in the extreme, death. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) and, after John’s lifetime, Galen further developed this theory, as did many others over the centuries.

These four humors are φλεγμα (phlegm), αιμα (blood), χολη (yellow bile), and μελαν χολη (black bile). They are associated with the four seasons, respectively beginning with winter; with the traditional four elements: water, air, fire, and earth; with four classical planets: the moon, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn; and with four primary colors, white, red, yellow, and black. These groups of four do not match in exact order the descriptions of the four horsemen, but they are very close.

Another cultural factor that would have been in John’s mind is the four colors can be associated with leprosy. I refer not to what is called leprosy today, which is an entirely different disease, but what the Bible means when it speaks of צרעת (tzaraath). This malady was the outward manifestation of an essentially spiritual affliction: Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch insightfully points out that Exodus 21:19 advises someone who develops the symptoms not to see a doctor, as the Torah usually does, but a priest. The implication of the relevant Tanakh passages are that the disease results from selfishness, arrogation, greed, and insensitivity to the plight of others: of forgetting to “love one’s brother as oneself” (Leviticus 19:18b). In modern terms, if one seals oneself off from interaction, one’s skin grows necrotic and one’s body unhealthy, and one’s homes in which one barricade oneself with one’s possessions cultivate bacteria and fungi. The Torah specifies the earliest signs of the disease as whitened hairs or skin, and red rashes or lesions. One’s clothing and the walls of one’s house can show signs of this leprosy by turning the same green as the grass of the field – and of course, if untreated, one can eventually die of the disease, as suggested by the fourth seal.

One may also interpret the four horsemen as the four stages of the individual’s life: childhood, when one explores and discovers one’s world like a conqueror; youth, when one fights and struggles for a place in society; maturity, when one is in charge of the merchanting of whatever one sells; and old age, when one decays and dies. In this sense the four are about how the κοσμος, the cosmos, as John calls the human world, takes us over and grinds us down until we fit without remonstrance into the machine of mutual exploitation – even learning to love the bars that shut us in, the system that exploits us when we are valuable and kicks us to the ditch when we are not.

But there is nothing in the text to suggest a temporal cause-and-effect consecutiveness to these four; that is an assumption arising from the modern categorical imperative. John may have intended them as temporally consecutive, one leading to the next, but we do not know that. The four might just as well be four contemporaneous figure or forces. This fits with their most likely scriptural source, Leviticus 26:14-33, Jeremiah 15:2-3, and Ezekiel 14:21, which list exactly the several deaths that the horsemen bring as coming to those who do not listen to God. Better put, most likely the Presbyter saw these four at once, in the same place in the field of the vision, and only described them consecutively because that is the nature of written description.

These four horsemen are no doubt a depiction of what John actually saw with spiritual sight as he looked up at the stars in this night of visions. It should therefore not be difficult to determine what exactly he was observing as he saw the vision of these four horsemen, and what the sight meant to him.

There were several planets aloft that night. In the early evening, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury were in close conjunction setting to the west. Saturn remained aloft much of the night in the constellation Virgo. Mars, the obvious choice for the second, red horse, was to rise in the hours before dawn, well after the others, except Saturn, had all disappeared. And the others are not usually associated with a particular color as is Mars. There simply is no obvious way that the planets of that night can be seen as inspiring the Four Horsemen.

And so we turn to stars instead. There certainly cannot be many configurations that comprise only a white, red, black, and green star.

The first thing we must realize is that the green of the fourth horse has nothing directly to do with its rider, Death, and its companion, Sheol. The Aramaic color ܝܘܪܩܐ (ywrāq) encompassed what for us modern Westerners is the range between blue-green and greenish-yellow. It was, in short, the color of vegetation in all its variations, thus including the deep dark hue of some tree leaves and needles and the bright chartreuse of wildgrasses, as well as the yellow cast they take in dry seasons. Vegetation of course is living, and so this color has no intrinsic association with Death. The Textus Receptus, lacking a Greek word that embraced this full range of vegetative hues, translated ܝܘܪܩܐas χλωρος (chlōros), which focuses on the greenish-yellow end of the above spectrum.

Modern commentators, not ancient, often try to get around the problem of unrelation between the color and death by suggesting that John chose this color because it is that of decaying corpses. Perhaps it is the shade of decomposition, but that doesn’t get around the fact that the ancient Greeks thought of the word mainly in association with not dead things but living things, most often verdure. In the dictionaries the word is associated with young shoots, and by extension (without reference to color) with the human qualities of “fresh” and by further extension “young” and “lively”. Homer describes both honey and a nightingale as χλωρος. It appears only a couple of times in the classical literature to describe victims of a plague, but even this unusual usage does not mean death, let alone rotting corpses. Indeed, the three other times χλωρος appears in the New Testament, at Mark 6:39 and twice more in Revelation itself, at 8:7 and 9:4, it always refers to living greenery. In any case, we must not forget that what John wrote was ܝܘܪܩܐ and not χλωρος, and the Aramaic word has no associations with death. In the Peshitta Bible, both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament, it always refers to verdure, especially grass.

We encounter the same basic problem with the color of the third horse. John says it is ܐܘܟܡܐ (ˀwkamā), which is usually translated as “black”. For moderns black is the total absence of color, but it was classically understood not as without color but as with much more color than usual, because dyeing a fabric very dark took a lot of saturating with costly dyes, as well as much time and expertise. Hence black (really very dark blue or purple) garments – the ܐܪܓܘܢܐ or πορφυρας of Revelation 17:4 and 18:12,16 – were worn only by the rich.

In fact, just as for us moderns χλωροςis not a color, so too the ancient Greeks and Semites did not conceive of blue as an actual discrete color; so conclude several scholars of color perception, beginning with William E. Gladstone (Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age). Homer speaks of the sea as wine-dark and the sky as bronze (i.e., shining like metal), not blue. The aforementioned Empedocles, also a color theorist, names only black, white, χλωρος, and red as colors. The Greek word κυάνεος (kyaneos, “cyan”), often translated as “blue”, really means “very dark”, and is a synonym for μελας (melas), what the Greek in 6:5 calls the color of the third horse. The color blue never appears in the Bible, Jewish or Christian: in the Tanakh the Hebrew word סַפִּיר (sapir, “sapphire”), though sometimes rendered as “blue”, really is a form of green, and תְּכֵ֫לֶת (tekeleth) a form of purple.

My sense of the matter is that we think of blue and black as two different colors, but to the ancients they were the same color, with what we call blue being the color of the sky by day and what we call black being the color of the sky by night: the latter sky, you might say, being more deeply dyed. Likewise, even moderns, if they look closely at the fur of a black horse will see that it is not black exactly, but a very deep blue color; I personally have many times seen horses that were a sleek blue-black in color. And I have met many men and women from Africa whose skins are so black that they appear blue – John inevitably had encountered some of these truly beautiful people too.

Besides all this, logic comes to our aid. If John was observing four stars in the night sky as these four horses, then he could not have seen a black star. While there are such things as black stars – both the burned-out remains of formerly shining stars and the so-called black holes, whose gravitation is so great that no radiation, including light, can escape them. If it was not a black star, then John must have been looking at a deep blue star.

Since green in first-century Greek and Aramaic is neither a horse-color nor a death-color, and since deep blue is not easily understood as a horse-color, we are forced to conclude with a simpler explanation: that John put down these colors not to be abstrusely symbolic but simply because they are the colors he saw. Which means they are the colors of the stars he saw.

And that brings us to a difficulty, but a felicitous one. There are white, red, and blue stars aplenty in the night sky, but the fourth horse, the fourth star, being green, is generally understood as an impossibility. Stars are by nature close to the ideal “black body” of physics, which by definition absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation. Therefore, in accordance with Planck’s Law, each star emits black-body radiation that is of a certain color wavelength depending on the star’s actual temperature at thermal equilibrium. The physics dictate that all stars have colors in the range of red, orange, yellow, white, and light blue. A handful of light blue stars appear green by an optical illusion thanks to a nearby red star in their multiple star systems; Antares B and Almach provide examples.

Yet there is one and only one star that is often described as intrinsically green, and not because it is bathed in the light of a nearby red star – and, since the colors of the other three horses (white, red, and blue) are common star colors, we must seek this unique star as the means by which we can with certainty identify the four horses of John’s vision.

The genuinely green star is called Zuben Eschamali (or β Libræ), in the constellation Libra. The name comes from the Arabic الزبن العقرب (al-zuban al-šamāliyya), meaning “the Northern Claw”, because in ancient Mediterranean cultures from the Babylonian to the Roman, and including the Semitic and Greek, this constellation was sometimes seen as a scorpion – a creature that will figure prominently later in the Revelation.

There is some recent controversy over whether this star is green or blue-white, but Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, one of the most reliable standard references, quotes two earlier scholars William T. Olcott as saying it is the only green star visible to the naked eye, and T. H. Webb’s description of its “beautiful pale-green hue”. The latter word choice is interesting, since English translations put the fourth horse’s color into English as either “pale” or “green”. Another leading astronomer, James B. Kaler, states a growing consensus that its color may indeed have been green in the past but that for some reason it has relatively recently changed to blue-white.

Adding to the sense that this star represents the fourth horse of John’s vision, it displays a regular variation in magnitude that must be caused by a companion star not yet actually seen from Earth. This dark, mysterious companion star could be the one John calls Sheol and says is following behind the green horse – but that raises a provocative question. Was John simply seeing the stars of night and the visions were to a large degree the product of his cultural worldview and his imagination, or was he actually seeing, presumably by God’s will, the dark companion star that to date the best telescopes have not yet detected? Another question is whether this unseen companion is a burned-out star or even a black hole.

The other three stars in Libra are Zuben Elgenubi, “the Southern Claw, which is white; Zuben Elakrab, “the Shears of the Scorpion”, which is orange-red, and Iota Libræ, which is blue. Starting with Zuben Elgenubi, the colors are a perfect match with those of the four horses in John’s vision. And what is more they form, depending on how you observe it, the shape of a kite or box – but since the ancient astronomers such as Ptolemy saw the constellations not so much as areas but as lines, they form something more like a cross.

Next, these four stars make up a constellation often associated in ancient times with a scorpion. The word for “scorpion” in Aramaic is ܥܩܪܒܐ (ˁqrbˀ). The roots of this word suggest grabbing hold of one by the heel, to follow one closely, to take one’s place in public office. In short, the name of this constellation well fits Paul, who grabbed hold of Jesus’s public image and sought to succeed him (and surpass him) as the leader of the religion he, Paul, and not Jesus, founded. In the commentary to 6:2 I will discuss the probable identity of the first horseman as that of Paul.

Note also that the same Aramaic word, vocalized a little differently, is the word for “soldier”. The first two of these four horsemen are portrayed with soldier imagery. And, as we will with scorpions, we will see much more of soldiers as this vision continues.

Finally, note that the classical Mediterranean cultures also often associated this constellation with the balance-scales. In Aramaic the balance-scales are called ܡܐܣܬܐ (messəṯā), which is of course the equivalent name for this constellation. That very word appears in verse 6:5, the balance-scales in the hand of the third horseman, and I cannot help but think John looking at the constellation we call Libra inspired that element in the vision.

 

6:2 – One school of thought is that the first horseman is to be understood as Jesus. No less than Irenæus, student of John the Presbyter’s student Polycarp, was the first to make this suggestion. Jesus is similarly described as wearing a wreath in 14:14, though his is described as golden, and as astride a white horse in 19:11-12. (While usually translated as “crown”, a later accoutrement of European kings, the word in both Aramaic and Greek refers to a wreath, which would be bestowed in ceremonies of acclaim on military and sporting victors as wcan should be understood as Jesus is found in the Aramaic.) The phrase ܤܘܤܝܐ ܚܘܪܐ (sūsyā ḥawrā), usually taken to mean “a white horse”, can also be rendered, according to J. Payne Smith’s dictionary, as “a yearling lamb tending the sick”, an image of Jesus, the lamb of God (John 1:36) to be sacrificed at Passover, healing the sick.

However the text is clear that this first figure is not acclaimed by God but more allowed or suffered by God for a limited period of time. The description of this first horseman is in direct parallel with the three that follow, such that, if this were indeed Jesus, then we would have to wonder why one good figure is juxtaposed with three evil figures. Indeed, the concept of fourness in reference to the earth, this physical realm, was so universal in the classical age that we must take these four horsemen as a unit, as sharing all essential characteristics. There can be no division into one versus three. Thus all four are forms of scourges visited upon the earth.

This first image has often been compared to that of a Parthian horseman. A few centuries before John’s lifetime the Parthians (whose homeland is now northeastern Iraq) had developed some fearsome military innovations, including armored archers mounted on white Parthian horses, just as described here. Western history, which is focused on Greece and Rome, tends to ignore the great Parthian Empire, which from the century before John to the century after they were Rome’s main enemy. At the same time that the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 721 B.C.E., new Semitic populations sprang up in Parthia and nearby countries, suggesting a massive displacement of Israelites; no wonder that these Parthians spoke a tongue very close to Hebrew, and that among them was a sizable and influential Jewish population. After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., Babylonia in the Parthian realm became the center of Judaism for the subsequent millennium. No wonder Josephus originally composed his Jewish Wars in Aramaic so Parthian Jews would be able to read it.

The Parthian Empire invaded Judæa in 40 B.C.E. and briefly ruled it, forcing Rome to hold its nose and put Herod the Great on the Jewish throne – and Herod like a juggler managed to maintain friendly relations with the two implacable empires, Rome and Parthia. How could he do this? A scholar named István Horvát (1784–1846) reached the conclusion that Herod accomplished this feat because he was himself of Parthian Scythian ancestry. Horvát goes even further, saying Paul of Tarsus too was of the same blood. These conclusions have been almost universally ignored; only a few scholars bother to dismiss them, though never by providing solid counterevidence. Nevertheless, this always meticulous Romanian polymath deserves to be taken seriously, since a number of facts suggest he may have been correct.

Paul was almost certainly a Herodian, part of the religious-political movement that embraced descendants of King Herod who were determined to be accepted as Jews. Paul greets his kinsman named Herodian in Romans 16:11, and Josephus appears to refer to him as Saulus, “a kinsman of (Herod) Agrippa” (Antiquities 20:9:4). Robert Eisenman further strengthens the case in an excellent article, “Paul as Herodian” (JHC 3:1, Spring 1996). Paul spoke Syro-Chaldæan, the lingua franca of Parthia (Acts 21:40 and 26:14). He was from the city of Tarsus, which though never within the Parthian Empire was originally called Parthenia, suggesting its Parthian heritage. And he declared himself (Philippians 3:5) a descendant “of the Tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews”. The Tribe of Benjamin is often associated with Parthia, and the royal family of Afghanistan (in the first century part of the Parthian Empire) claims to this day to be descended from that line. The name “Hebrew” literally comes from הַנָּהָר עֵבֶר, “from the far side of the Euphrates”, traditionally referring to when Abraham crossed it, and in the first century that river was the agreed-upon border between the Roman and Parthian empires; Paul, who often made words dance to his tune of equivocation, may well have been saying truthfully that his family had originated in the Parthian Empire beyond the Euphrates, while letting his readers assume he meant to say his ancestors were Judæans, which they were not.

In sum, the description of the first horseman goes far to suggest the Presbyter had Paul in mind. At I John 2:18,22 and 4:3, and II John 7 John calls Paul the αντιχριστος, the “anti-Christ”. The English prefix “anti-” denotes active opposition or hostility, but this is a shift in meaning away from the Greek prefix αντι-, which suggests something more like mirror reversal: identical but backwards. John invented the word to describe Paul as an opposite-but-equal-to alternative to Jesus – as a kind of would-be messiah himself using the real Messiah as the sheep’s clothing over the fox, to drape himself in the garb of authenticity.

From the perspective of this understanding of verse 6:2, its doubles entendres come into sharper focus. The phrase ܤܘܤܝܐ ܚܘܪܐ (sūsyā ḥawrā) overtly means “a white horse” but implicitly “a yearling lamb tending the sick” – something Paul never did, even though he was reminded to do so at the so-called Council of Jerusalem in 49 or 50. And the wreath the figure is given suggests that yes, John concedes that Paul has won the battle for supremacy, turning the Jewish movement centered on Jesus’s teachings into a new Roman-style religion: the awarding of a wreath to victors was a Roman ceremony, not a Jewish; even in declaring Paul the victor John is saying he did so by becoming a Roman and putting Jesus into a toga as well. The Presbyter’s mature “brave new theology” was in effect his response: let Paul have the wreath in this world he is so determined to win, since what matters is our living by the Logos in this world such that we will be able to enter the sacred realm, the Æon.

One critical word appears three times at the end of this verse in three different forms.

The first, ܙܟܝ (zakāy), is the adjective form, which can mean “just”, “innocent”, “righteous”, “free”, “victorious”, “deserving”, “worthy”, “entitled to (the) possession” (of something), or “having the right/authority” (to do something). This adjective is also used to describe oils and incenses that are clear, free of impurities – which is interesting in view of the remark at the end of 6:6. The second form, ܘܙܟܐ (wazakā), is the present active participle. The third form,ܘܕܢܙܟܐ (w’d’nzakā) has two prefixes “and in-order-to”) followed by the infinitive.

There are two main senses in which this word can be understood. One focuses on righteousness and overcoming, overcoming what is bad within oneself or the world, and the other is about victory and conquering, overcoming others in the world. In neither case is there a single word that in different inflections can appear all three times, so I must resort to “righteous” and “overcoming/overcome” for the one meaning, and “victorious” and “conquering/conquer” for the other.

This dual meaning is reminiscent of the Arabic word جهاد (jihad), which originally and properly refers to the inward struggle to live by God’s will and thus become the person God intended when one was created, but which has been twisted by fearmongering news media in both predominantly Muslim countries and in the West to give it the false meaning of, respectively, an unprovoked full-scale attack on innocent Western citizens and the necessity to attack the West as a defensive measure against the West’s full-frontal efforts through economic and military belligerence to destroy the essential Muslim character of those countries.

These two highly contrastive meanings of this Aramaic word suggests again, as do other elements in this verse, both the right path and the wrong path. Paul talks often in his letters about overcoming evil and being righteous, but his behavior is clearly aimed at being victorious over his (perceived) enemies, especially John, and “conquering the world for Christ”, that is, for himself. Paul could have used his obviously abundant gift for evangelizing for good, but he chose otherwise. So God will give him the wreath in this world, but ultimately he is but another scourge in this world, like the conqueror, the extorting merchant, and the plague.

 

6:5 – Given the voice calling out prices, the assumption is always that the individual with the balance-scale is a merchant, that he is using the instrument to measure out quantities of wheat and barley. But the image (if not what the voice says) is also the ancient one of a goddess holding a balance-scale. It originates in the Egyptian Ma’at and Isis and progresses through the Greek Themis and Dike, into whose hands classical artists first placed the balance-scale, and then the Roman Iustitia, who was often portrayed blindfolded and also carrying a sword to enforce her verdict. The conjunction of merchant and goddess of justice is that in most societies the wealthiest merchants also control or even are the government, such that they can make and enforce laws to protect and increase the flow of fortune into their purses. By holding the scale of justice even as he exacts exorbitant prices for basic necessary food items the third horseman is saying his prices are lawful and fair, and if you complain you will be imprisoned by his justice.

 

6:6 – The text specified in the preceding verse that the third living being (the one with a human face) invites John to “Come!” Here it says the voice of this horse rider with the balance-scale comes from among the four living beings. It is not one of the four speaking; rather, the voice comes out from among them. It is evident that these visions John is witnessing are visual only, as they should be since they are clearly stellar in nature.

What the merchant-voice says can be understood on two levels. The first is the standard rendering, in which the voice states prices, the kind of hawker’s voice John must have heard constantly not on the lonely island of Patmos but in the street outside his window in Ephesus, the kind of call I hear all the time here in Paso Ancho. In terms of that rendering, these notes: A denarius was a day’s wage for the typical working-class man. A ܩܒܐ, qabā, is equal to about 1.175 liters or 1.24 quarts, which would hardly be enough to feed that man and his family too, and leave the man no money to pay for other necessities. The word ܬܗܪ (tahar) is a command which, with the preceding negative particle, means “Do not harm”, but it also can mean, with the negative, “Do not marvel at”; the first would be a warning to the customers to keep their hands away from the costly goods; the second would be typical of a hawker’s enticement patter.

But the word ܩܒܐ also can mean “receptacle” or “enclosure”; in Arabic it means “womb”, and a sexual sense is very likely here too, since the word ܚܛܐ (ḥṭy, “wheat”) also can mean “sin”, appearing in the very early Syriac Sinaiticus text of John 1:29, in fact. The prefix ܕ (d’) attached to ܚܛܐ is ordinarily translated as “of”, such that the standard translation makes sense, “a qabā of wheat for a denarius”. But this prefix more accurately means “which” or “that”, so it actually makes more sense to render this phrase “a receptacle/womb that sins for a denarius”.

That there is a second level of meaning is apparent in the next phrase too, though it is not as clear. Scholars assume the word ܩܐܒܝܢ (qābyn) is a variation of ܩܒܐ (qabā); on one level it may be, but the Presbyter’s love for doubles entendres leads to awareness that in the related Mandaic dialect the word means “marriage contract”, and it could also be connected to ܩܒܝܐ (qabya), a round metal pot. The standard translation of ܤܥܪܐ (šˁārā) is “barley”, but it can also mean “hair” and “storm” or “whirlwind”. Jastrow writes in his dictionary that ܤܥܪܐ appears in Job 9:17 classical Aramaic is from decorous texts, scriptural or magical or poetical, so we know next to nothing about the slang and gutter speech that might be at play here. But “hair” and “storm”, at least, imply quite an exciting time for your denarius.

The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 are freighted with John’s outrage at the wayward members of his congregations who were indulging in sexual impropriety at the urgning of a woman he calls Jezebel. This sexual undercurrent to the third seal appears to be a reprise of that outrage.

Since the other meaning of the barley phrase is unclear, my decision is not to give the second meaning of the wheat phrase. The reader is advised to recall that both phrases have a dual meaning.

 

6:8 – The standard reading of this verse is that it says the fourth rider is named ܡܘܬܐ (mawtā), Death, and that ܫܝܘܠ, Sheol follows him. The first word often carries in the classical writings the connotation of unexpected or violent death, which the latter half of the verse makes clear is the case here. And, the text goes on to say, Sheol follows behind the horseman Death. Sheol, the Jewish-Samaritan abode of the dead, not to be confused with the later Christian dogmatic invention hell. It is discussed on page ###. Jesus told John in 1:18 that he has the key of death and Sheol, and here the lamb, Jesus, opens the seal that releases Death and Sheol.

This fourth being is allowed to kill a quarter of the world’s population by means of four deaths: in war, by famine, by plague, and by wild animals. These four deaths do not match up exactly with the nature of the first three horsemen: death by sword/slaughter sounds like the second horseman, famine and plague sound like the third horseman, but wild animals is a newly mentioned death here. This non-matchup is because John was rather recording the list of four deaths found in Leviticus 26:14-33 and Ezekiel 14:21. But the sense still is clear that all four horsemen represent various forms of untimely death. All of us in mortal vesture, to quote Shakespeare, are going to die in one way or another, and the sum of these four horsemen is that we may die to executioners, conquering armies, poverty, famine, plague, or wild creatures, but in the times that lay ahead as John wrote there was no chance of dying peacefully in our old age, because the coming years were going to be rife with dangers on all sides – and that for those striving to hold to the teachings of Jesus there was no escaping such a fate. (Ironically, John the Presbyter is recorded as being most unhappy when it was clear that he would die of old age and not to the executioner in defense of his faith; see The Gospel of John, page ###.)

Bartering Faith in John 21

Simon the Wannabe:

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

τουτο δε ειπεν σημαινων ποιω θανατω δοξασει τον θεον

 

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

 

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

 

 

The Female Beloved Disciple

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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