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.
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.