Behold Your Mother

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

James David Audlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to a consideration of this couplet,

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

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

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

 

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

 

Jesus, therefore, having seen his mother

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

They divided my garments among themselves,

And for my clothing they cast lots.

 

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

 

Do Your Homework First!

Do Your Homework First:

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

 James David Audlin

 

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

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

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

 GOJ-front 2vol II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.
GOJ-front 2vol II
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.

 

 

Making Mary Male: Misogyny?

Making Mary Male:

Is Gospel of Thomas Logion 114 Really Misogynist?

 

By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, published 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.

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

In logion 36 of the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “Do not worry from dawn to dusk, or from dusk to dawn, about what you shall wear” (cf. Matthew 6:25-30). In the following logion (the Coptic text and my translation may be found on page 1051) the disciples ask Jesus, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”, and he replies, “When you can take off your clothes without feeling ashamed, and you take your clothes and throw them beneath your feet like little children and trample them; then you will see the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.” The (Greek) Gospel of the Egyptians has Jesus reply similarly, but adds a further thought: “When you have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one, and the male with the female is neither male nor female.” This is an eschatology in which the two genders become one, in which they become again the image and likeness of their Creator, Elohim, in which male and female are one.

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

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 undivided, male-and-female as one.

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’āḏām), “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(’ō·ṯōw) and אֹתָֽם(’ō·ṯām), 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 (’ō·ṯām), 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.

The second creation story 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. The word given as “Eve” in English, חַוָּה (chavvah), means “life” or “life-giver”: YHWH takes the very essence of life out of the male; a man (the Talmud assures us) has no life except when he is united with a woman.

With this understood, Jesus thus is saying in Thomas 114 that the female and the male, in order to enter into the Æon, the Realm of Heaven, must again become one. Mary, as is made clear in this resurrection scene, is reborn to a new life along with her husband Jesus: they experience in this scene a hierogamy, a spiritual marriage, which renders them truly one, hence truly reflecting the image and likeness of Elohim, and fully capable of entering into the Æon.

F. F. Bruce (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament) is the only scholar who to my knowledge interprets this logion correctly; he nicely summarizes Jesus’s point thus:

Jesus’s promise that she will become a man, so as to gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven, envisages the reintegration of the original order, when Adam was created male and female (Genesis 1.27). Adam was “the man” as much before the removal of Eve from his side as after (Genesis 2:18-25). Therefore, when the primal unity is restored and death is abolished, man will still be man (albeit more perfectly so), but woman will no longer be woman; she will be reabsorbed into man.

 

Jesus thus transforms and elevates Mary’s humble nakedness, the nakedness of a menial laborer and destitute widow, into the highest sacredness here truly he and she are transfigured into δοξα (doxa), the splendor of highest glory.

This interpretation of logion 114 is supported by logion 22, in which Jesus says in part, “When you make the two one … when you make the male and the female a single one, such that the male is not male nor the female female … then you shall enter into [the 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.

 

This interpretation of the Adam-and-Eve story was not new to John or Philip, and it was absolutely not Gnostic; it was a prominent feature in Judaism. The Talmud speaks of this uniting of male and female; I have previously quoted this line: “Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘Any man who has no wife is no proper man; for it is written, “Male and female created He them and called their name Adam”’” (Yebamoth 63). Talmudic midrashim (commentaries) on Genesis 1:27 offer several examples. Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar says that the first adam was created an 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.

In the commentary to 19:31-35 I pointed out the similarities between the word for “side” or “rib” in Genesis 2:21, צְלָעֹת (tselah), and in John 19:34, πλευρας (pleuras), and suggested that Jesus in that moment died, just as God put a “deep sleep” on Adam, and that the soldier’s death-thrust was the beginning of God’s spiritual surgery, putting Eve back into Adam, Mary back into Jesus, female back into male, and restoring the original hermaphroditic human whose nature is in the image of Elohim, God understood as male and female as one. Again note that צְלָעֹת is a feminine word in Hebrew, and that the Talmud thus associates Adam’s side, and Eve, with the Tabernacle of God, pointing as well to Exodus 26:20, where the same word צְלָעֹת appears in the description of the construction of the Tabernacle; the Talmud also often draws a connection between having a family and the construction of the blessed Tabernacle.

Note also that the word for Tabernacle, מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan), literally means “dwelling place”, and that the Torah specifies a tent (אֹ֫הֶל; ohel) is put over it, and that the glory (כָּבוֺד; kabod) of God (e.g., Exodus 40:34-35), a presence of God that was in time understood as the feminine aspect of God, שכינה‎, the Shekhina. Note further, as detailed on page 625, that the Samaritans are probably right to say the Tabernacle was kept at Mount Gerizim, and that the Samaritan Torah is correct to say in Deuteronomy 16 “at the place that was chosen at Mount Gerizim”, the mountain where the Samaritan Temple had been located, and at the foot of which he met with his wife-to-be, the priestess Mary. The Jewish Torah changed these references to a vague “the place that God will choose”, since they couldn’t pretend the Torah said either that Jerusalem was that early in their hands, or that Jerusalem was made the political and religious center for anything but political reasons. Still, the Jerusalem Temple was the eventual location where Solomon placed the Tabernacle (I Kings 8:4), where it joined the Ark of the Covenant, placed by David in the Temple, which was conveniently interpreted as its “tent” (II Samuel 6:16 and I Chronicles 15:1).

With all this in mind we turn to Revelation 21:2-4, wherein we are told of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having been prepared as a bride, having been adorned for her husband,” and a voice saying “the tent (σκηνη; skēnē) is with/in humanity”, and that “death will be no more”. The city is described in detail; surprisingly, we are told (21:23) that it has no Temple, nor that it has need of sunlight or moonlight, because “the glory of God has lit it up, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Of course, in Jesus’s time Samaria had no Temple, and soon (70 C.E.) Jerusalem would also never again have one – but Jesus is implying, as he does in 4:21-24, that we, humanity, are the proper Temple for the presence of God! Throughout the Revelation, the bride of the Lamb refers to Mary, Jesus’s bride, the priestess of Gerizim, the “woman clothed with the sun” (12:1), that is, naked, who bears his child. Thus, as in the Talmud, we find here in John the Presbyter’s last masterpiece that the city is Jesus’s bride, and that the tent, the Tabernacle, with humanity is filled with Mary’s presence too: the Shekhina. We are told that Heaven and Earth are one, and that the holy city is full of God and the Lamb: in short, Jesus’s and Mary’s oneness are found everywhere in the Æon as described in the Revelation, and their becoming one is why “death will be no more”.

And this Revelation theology of Jesus and Mary, the new primordial couple reunited in the image of Elohim, is the same theology which the Presbyter presents to us also in this resurrection scene. Jesus emerges from his “deep sleep” (Genesis 2:21) of death, naked in the primordial garden, and is presented by God with his bride, Mary, but now she is for him literally “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”, for they are completely one. The Tabernacle of God, we are being told, is not found in Jerusalem or at Gerizim or in any other such mundane location (John 4:21-24), but in our very being, when we overcome the separation into individuality and the fear or arrogation that this separation produces, and become one first with our spouses, but beyond that with all humanity (17:21, I John 4:7).

While it is no shock to find this image of the first human as hermaphroditic in the Talmud, it may be surprising that the same story appears, with even many of the same details, in Plato, with whom the Presbyter often herein demonstrates his familiarity. The philosopher’s friend, the playwright Aristophanes, summarizes the following Greek myth in Symposium, one that is rich in similarities to the story in Genesis. This could have provided as much inspiration to John the Presbyter as did Genesis and the Talmud, since it is all but certain that he studied Plato in his youth with Philo of Alexandria.

Now [at first] the sexes were three, … because the sun, moon, and earth are three; and the man was originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved round and round because they resembled their parents. Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods.

 

[Zeus decided:] … “I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us.” … After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they began to die from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them, – being the sections of entire men or women – and clung to that. …

 

And such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together, and yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment. … And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.

 

There was a time, I say, when we were one, but now because of the wickedness of mankind God has dispersed us. … For if we are friends of God and at peace with him we shall find our own true loves, which rarely happens in this world at present. … Wherefore, if we would praise him who has given to us the benefit, we must praise the god Love, who is our greatest benefactor, both leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future, for he promises that if we are pious, he will restore us to our original state.

 

Mary, Myrrh, and the Oil of Chrism

By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Writings of John the Presbyter 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/

 

This small section of the Didachē, 10b:1-2, originally written for the leaders of the seven local congregations under the purview of John the Presbyter as regional bishop, and not for general readers in very different civilizations and centuries, assumes a shared knowledge, not written here, about the ointment and what it was used for; therefore, we today cannot be sure of what that shared knowledge was. So, to begin to form a strong hypothesis as to the meaning and use implied by this text, we turn first as we should to another writing on this subject from the Presbyter himself, I John 2:20 and 27, found on page ###. From these two verses we gather that the seven local congregational leaders were anointed (χρισμα, chrisma) in recognition of their graduation from the status of disciples, students, since they now “know all things” and “have no need of anyone to teach [them]”. The text tells us that this anointing came from the Holy One (τουαγιου, tou hagiou), God, and that it served to teach them about all things; a phrase that recalls John 14:26 (“But the Paraclete, the Sacred Spirit/Breath/Wind whom the father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of all the things that I said to you.”), and so was in John’s mind closely associated with the Paraclete, the Spirit of God. The Presbyter came to believe that the Paraclete was incarnated into (i.e., that its physical form was) the Gospel of John, which as he drafted I John was in the final stages of completion (he never would entirely finish it). Thus it is nigh impossible that all seven of these local congregational leaders had written copies of the gospel; John is in the letter referring rather to its oral equivalent, his witness (μαρτυρια, martyria) he has shared with them to the teachings and deeds of Jesus, which, in terms of content, was of course pretty much equivalent.

The Greek word translated “ointment”, μυρου (myrou), appears in Homer and Hesiod to mean a flow of tears and in Herodotus to mean an ointment. Both senses are intended here; the Greek word is etymologically related to the Hebrew (also Aramaic) words מֹר (mor, “myrrh”), referring to the resin of a thorny tree, harvested by wounding the tree until drop by drop it bleeds out its bitter lifeblood; מָר (mar, “drop”), as in a drop of myrrh resin but also by extension a teardrop; and הרמ (mara, “bitter”), which goes back to the root referring to the resin, but often by extension is used to describe tears. Myrrh, the ointment, was used as a narcotic, as an anæsthetic to induce deathlike unconsciousness for surgery, and as an embalming ointment. No wonder that the word in both languages was associated with death. Myrrh was also a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud. The name of Mary, which of course is that of Jesus’s wife, is in Judaism traditionally explained as coming from the new name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter myrrhlike tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13, though its actual origin lies in Egyptian theology; see The Gospel of John, pages 969-71). The “crown of thorns” put on Jesus’s head in John 19:2, really a wreath, was almost certainly made from myrrh branches, since there would have been plenty of myrrh in the area of the Temple in those final hours before Passover began for the compounding of ketoret. Ironic that Jesus dies just a year after his wedding to Mary, since Jewish bridal couples in that time wore wreaths. And myrrh was almost certainly in the narcotic palliative mixture given to Jesus in the sour wine (John 19:29), and was also part of the embalming mixture (John 19:39).

In Temple-based Judaism oil was used to consecrate: animal sacrifices, and also people, usually to the priesthood. But there was a shift in its sacramental purpose: Jesus’s disciples used oil to heal (Mark 6:13), which suggests Jesus taught this use, even if no surviving text says so. Indeed, he must have emphasized it, since the use of anointing oil to heal persisted among among the early Jerusalemite congregations, those overseen by James and John and Simon (James 5:14); there is no clear reference in the Pauline letters to this practice. What is the connection between oil as consecrating and oil as healing? The connection probably is that the oil was administered in order to heal the catechumen of the many illnesses and cleanse away the many pollutions that had collected in the catechumen over a lifetime living in the κοσμος, the human world of cheating and lying and hating – illnesses and pollutions both physiological and psychological; in classical thinking there was little difference between the two, since in those days unlike our post-Cartesian times, the mind/soul and body were seen as intimately connected. Thus, healed of these illness, the catechumen was a “perfect sacrifice”, fit to be recognized as a sacred witness to God’s revelation through Jesus.

In his teachings the Presbyter would have associated this oil for anointing the catechumen with Mary because of all the homophonic connections it would evoke with myrrh and teras and her very name, as just discussed, and especially because Mary anointed Jesus as Messiah and king just before his death (John 12:3) and was prepared to do so afterward (John 20:1) but anointed him instead with her tears of joy (John 20:16-17). Oils and ointments are still used today to alleviate pain and promote healing; in the first century they were used the very same way with both humans and animals. Mary also was Jesus’s healer: she drew him forth from the waters of the Jordan (John 1:32), she anointed him with healing balm (John 12:3), and after the resurrection, so the texts tell us, she continued to take care of him (see The Gospel of John, pages 208-10).

Likewise, John would associate the waters of immersion (baptism) with Jesus, because of John’s immersion of Jesus (John 1:30-34) and Jesus’s washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-11). Therefore, for John, these two together, the oil and the water, would have invoked the living presence of Mary and Jesus: the catechumen was welcomed into the community by Mary and Jesus, the sacred couple who together image Elohim, through those who knew them, such as John, and through the text in the Didachē read aloud over the catechumen for his or her edification, through those who knew those (like John) who knew them.

It was just as much a truism in the first century as it is now that “oil and water do not mix” – but the miracle here is that they did and do when they are symbolic of Mary and Jesus the primal couple. They became one through death and rebirth, and the administration of oil and water to invoke their presence was likewise intended to make the catechumen one with them.

We know very little about the bridal chamber ceremony that was evidently central to these Jerusalemite congregations, just the few hints we can cull especially from the Gospel of Philip (see the references listed at page 1082 in The Gospel of John). But these hints suggest that catechumens entered into the spiritual community as couples, as husbands and wives, and I think they were anointed with the oil and water as part of the bridal chamber ceremony, since oil and water represented that primal couple Mary and Jesus who at the resurrection became one person in the image of Elohim. The ceremony also apparently involved coïtus as the commentaries to John 20 (q.v.) make clear.

This Didachē passage tells us the μυρου – the bitter tears, the ointment, the myrrh of lifesaving operations and death, the bitter tears of Mary, the stone of dreams – was made known to John and his people through (δια, dia) Jesus. Thus to be anointed with oil is to be recognized as a priest or king or prophet; to be anointed with myrrh, associated with death, is to be made a living record of the story of Jesus’s life, a living gospel, a μαρτυρια, martyria, witness, a living ευαγγελιον (euangelion, “gospel”, literally, the reward that was given to a messenger for delivering good news). It did not matter that technically speaking (so far as we know) none of John’s disciples had ever even seen Jesus as he had; what was important was that in accepting John’s own testimony into themselves they made his testimony theirs too, and so they were also witnesses to Jesus. This, ultimately, was Paul’s mistake: the fact that he never had met Jesus was not really an issue, but his refusal to listen to the witness of those who had listened to Jesus, and his insistence on pontificating about Jesus as if he were one of those who had listened to him, such that Paul’s disciples took in this false testimony as their own and spread the false testimony to their disciples, and on and on over the generations to our day today: that was for John and James and Simon Peter the real issue. They would have been glad if Paul had come to them and learned the truth from the eyewitnesses, and had become himself a proper living witness to the truth about Jesus, and then put his extraordinary skills at rhetoric at the service of giving others that true witness; but, alas, this he did not do, because he wanted to be in full charge.

Cyril of Jerusalem, writing in the late 300s, confirms this understanding of I John 2:20 and 27 and Didachē 10b by saying about the oil of chrism that και τω μεν φαινομενω μυρω το σωμα χριεται, τω δε αγιω και ζωοποιω Πνευματι η ψυχη αγιαζεται. (“while with the apparent ointment the body is being anointed, with the holy and life-giving Spirit the soul is sanctified”; On the Mysteries, 3:3). The Coptic Orthodox Church teaches that confirmation was in the beginning performed by the laying on of hands by the first apostles; but as it was believed the ability to confirm by this means could not be transferred to the recipient, John Mark, the son of Jesus, began their tradition of using instead a mixture of the spices used to anoint Jesus’s body, together with oil, to form what they called forming the first mayrun (cognate to the Greek and Hebrew words given above). The Constitutions of the Apostles and Cyril of Jerusalem both say the person was stripped naked, then anointed with oil, says Cyril, “from the hairs of the head to the soles of the feet”, and then led by the hand to the baptismal waters. Even in modern Orthodoxy this understanding survives: Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says in The Orthodox Church (1963), “Through Chrismation every member of the Church becomes a prophet and receives a share in the royal priesthood of Christ; all Christians alike, because they are chrismated, are called to act as conscious witnesses to the Truth.”

As a side comment, it is sad that today so much of Christianity, especially in the West, especially in Protestantism, has lost and forgotten the ritual of anointing oil: this seems to me intimately connected with Christianity historically forgetting how Mary and Jesus were united as one being at the resurrection, and demoting Mary from his wife and co-Messiah, his κοινωνος, his συνεκλεκτη, into a humble prostitute begging his absolution.

The term מָשִׁיחַ (mashiach, garbled into English as “messiah”) means “anointed one”. In early times it was used in reference to historical leaders the Israelites believed had been sent by God to bring the people to freedom. In later ages it became a standardized ritual means of investing kings and Temple priests by anointing them over the head with oil (cf. Psalm 23:5b), signifying their adoption by God, and therefore they were called “sons of God” (cf. e.g. II Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:6-7). John believed an anointed one, a Jewish king or priest, for instance, was an ordinary human being consecrated to God, who thus followed God’s will, the Logos. John himself had not only been an anointed Temple priest but sometimes, Polycrates a student of Polycarp and bishop in Ephesus tells us, “wore the petalon”, meaning he occasionally filled in as high priest (see The Gospel of John, pages 207-09). He must have adapted the Temple investiture of priests that he remembered to invest his own “bishops” as witnesses and prophets to Jesus, to the gospel, to the Logos.

This much gives us the general picture. But the details are unknown. Did this ceremony now known as chrism to the Roman Catholic Church and chrismation to the Orthodox Church extend only to John’s local bishops, or to all of the members of the seven communities? By Cyril’s time, it seems every confirmed Christian was first anointed with oil and then baptized in water (later the order was reversed, and later yet the Protestants eliminated the oil of chrism altogether) – but that was after this Jewish movement of Jesus followers had become a new, separate religion, after mikvah (ritual immersion) had become baptism, and after the Johannine theology, the original teachings of Jesus, had been squelched in favor of the doctrines of Paul, a man who had never met Jesus. So such questions will probably remain forever unanswered.

 

The Aramaic Revelation

By James David Audlin. Drafts for the introduction to the restoration of the original Aramaic text of The Revelation to John, to be published in 2015 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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It is all but certain that the Revelation was composed in Aramaic; the most obvious reason among others is that the Greek text is riddled with grammatical mistakes, nearly all of which turn out to be good grammar in Aramaic. This is a clear sign that the scribe who put it into Greek was so filled with piety for the holy, inspired work in front of him that he rendered it with slavish literality, preferring to translate it so exactly that his Greek syntax suffered to the point of frequent near-incomprehensibility. So verbatim is this translation that to anyone familiar with both languages it has the same clumsy clunkiness of a text translated by computer. Unfortunately, this putative original author’s version in Aramaic does not survive. But the good news is that the Greek Textus Receptus must be very close to that original, and, where it is difficult to follow, the solution should be found by consulting the best and earliest Aramaic text we have, the so-called Crawford Revelation.

It is also a near certainty that this best and earliest Aramaic text is not a direct translation from the Greek. The Crawford manuscript (so named for a previous owner) is the oldest complete New Testament in Aramaic; by “complete” I mean that it includes the Antilegomena (II Peter, II and III John, and Jude) and the Revelation, works which for centuries were not part of the New Testament in Eastern Christianity. In fact, the Crawford includes the earliest extant Aramaic version of the Revelation. In its entirety, especially in the Revelation, this Syriac manuscript displays an eloquent, literary, often explicitly poetic, and virtually flawless Aramaic. Moreover, when the Crawford New Testament quotes the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament), the wording clearly comes from a Semitic original, either the Hebrew Bible or the Aramaic Targum, and not from the Greek version, the Septuagint. And also, no Greek text or combination of Greek texts could possibly be the original behind the Crawford Revelation. Thus it overstrains credulity to believe that an Aramaic original of presumably high literary quality was translated into inferior Greek, which was then back-translated into beautiful Aramaic.

For the most part the Crawford and the standard Greek text of Revelation agree in meaning, and that is an important consideration; the latter, as a direct translation of the lost Aramaic original, must be consulted in any effort to establish that original. Still, there are many significant differences between the two that strongly suggest the Crawford does not rely on the Greek. Indeed, when compared to the Crawford, the Textus Receptus displays another fault: the translator’s decision to mirror the Aramaic in the Greek ran into a problem when he came upon Aramaic words that had no exact Greek equivalent, and so he was forced to make up some kind of approximation in Greek.

For instance, in the very first chapter, in verse 13, the Crawford says the figure is wearing an ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ (ˀăpūḏā), an ephod, the breastplate traditionally worn by the high priests in the Temple, but the Greek incorrectly says instead that the figure is ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη, “clothed to the feet”. If the scribe responsible for the Crawford had been basing it on the Greek, he would have simply translated “clothed to the feet” into Aramaic, for there is nothing in that phrase that even hints at the ephod. Only if he were endowed with the most astonishing parapsychological powers could he have known to put down ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ for ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη.

What is not clear is the relationship between these two Aramaic texts, the lost original and the Crawford. The author’s draft of the Revelation was written down in the year 68, and the Crawford manuscript dates to the twelfth century, more than a millennium later. It would thus be foolish to say it is a faithful copy of the Presbyter’s original text, or something close to it, or that it is the source for the Greek Textus Receptus, as does one Crawford translator, David Bauscher.

Some scholars think the Crawford New Testament may be, or may be closely related to, the Philoxenian (completed in 508) or Harklean New Testaments, which may or may not be the same thing; I think not, since what we have of these versions (completed respectively in 508 and 616) is heavily influenced in vocabulary and text by the Greek, and the Crawford shows not the least sign of such influence.

First, we must remember that during those twelve hundred years Eastern Christianity had virtually no interest in the Revelation: it was for that communion not even part of the New Testament canon, and so no wonder that, though a plethora of Eastern theological texts and hymns survive, there is very little that even might be based on the apocalyptic imagery of the Revelation.

Second, the shelf life of manuscripts was usually far shorter than a millennium; they often were destroyed by fire, mold, worms, political tyrants, or (worse) self-appointed theological censors and santizers. In fact, it is a miracle that we have as many New Testament manuscripts as we do, and we must not forget that they are but a tiny (and very likely in some ways unrepresentative and even misleading) portion of all the manuscripts that were produced, to say nothing of the far greater provenance of oral witness, in a day when oral witness was not only much more common but generally more trusted (see The Gospel of John, pages 219-21). Therefore, the chain of manuscripts that led to the Crawford had to comprise a minimum of links, and in every generation of copies only one or a very few copies must have been made. Since it is a basic fact in the study of ancient manuscripts that the more copies the greater the number of textual variations, this situation tells us that over the centuries there was far less possibility of multiple versions than in the West, where the Greek (and later Latin) copies were in such abundance that the number of variant readings for nearly every New Testament verse is bewildering. In turn, the small chance of variant readings in the Syriac Aramaic Revelation over these twelve centuries maximizes the possibility of the Crawford being reasonably faithful to its predecessors.

Put another way, the fact that we have not even a single stepping stone of textual evidence between the original manuscript of Revelation and the Crawford Revelation actually is far from a fatal blow to any theory that the two are related. In fact, it tells us something extremely important: that the number of generations of copies between them – each of which could easily result in some straying here and there from the original text; indeed, even a lot of straying – is decidedly small. There is always that chance, be it great or small, that the Crawford was copied directly from the autograph or an early and faithful copy thereof.

There are internal clues in the Crawford. For the most part, it is equivalent to the much later Peshitta version, but clearly with added corrections. Sometimes the Crawford text simply reads differently from the Peshitta as if it were at such a point copied directly from another manuscript unlike the Peshitta. Sometimes we find a corrected word squeezed into the available space after the incorrect Peshitta word was scraped away by the scribe. Sometimes, when the corrections would not fit within the body of the text, we find them added in the margin, together with notes regarding their proper placement, as in verse 2:23.

Therefore, a reasonable guess is that the Crawford was made by consulting two earlier manuscripts. One must have resembled the Peshitta text, and this one was the main one used for simply copying text. The other was one that was carefully compared by the same or another scribe to the Peshitta-type text, and where it differed from the latter, he saw to it that the Crawford followed this non-Peshitta-type manuscript. The fact that the Crawford was not simply copied from this better non-Peshitta manuscript but the less correct Peshitta-type text suggests that the latter was more recent and therefore sturdy enough to withstand constant daily use required by the copying process, and the other, better, text that was the source of the corrections was fragile – too fragile to use on a constant basis as a base text, but that still be carefully consulted for purposes of comparison and correction. This scenario suggests that the better manuscript was far older than the one used simply for copying.

Of course it is possible that the older, better manuscript was the autograph or something very close to it. But we must not leap to that conclusion. Arguing against such a claim is the presence of obvious interpolations, such as the one in verse 1:7 that comes from Matthew 24:30, a gospel that was not written for quite a few years after the Revelation was first composed. Certainly this interpolation may be present in the Crawford simply because it was found in both the source manuscript and the correction manuscript. On the other hand, any number of scenarios could explain why the scribe might retain such interpolations even if he found them only in his source (Peshitta-type) manuscript: for instance, because they were by then considered authentically part of the Revelation, or because since they came from other parts of scripture (Matthew in this case) they had to be retained because they were scripture.

I think the Crawford is probably closely related to the Presbyter’s original text, but what the exact relationship might or might not be I care not to guess – and nobody knows, despite all the arguing. While I admire the many scholars and amateur enthusiasts who insist that much or all of the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic, I am frustrated by the energy they put into foolish rationalizations. If any canonical text was written in Aramaic, it is the Revelation, but calm and caution will serve better to establish that than histrionics. I am equally frustrated by the scholars who insist that the entire New Testament, including the Revelation, was composed in Greek, who even as they sneer at the Aramaic primacists resort to irrationally complex and hence unlikely theories to explain away the plain evidence and common-sense conclusion that the Crawford is related to the autograph.

My conclusion that both the Crawford and the Greek Textus Receptus are close to the autograph, though in different ways. Therefore my decision is to base the reconstruction herein of the original text primarily on the Crawford – not only is it the only Syriac manuscript of Revelation that is not overtly a translation from the Greek, but it is a work of extremely high literary quality. As a close second to the Crawford my approximation is founded on the Greek Textus Receptus, and tertiarily on the standard Syriac version that is now (but was not originally) part of the Peshitta New Testament, referred to henceforth simply as the Peshitta.

 

There is more discussion and explanation of the Aramaic original in my commentaries to this work than of Greek in the commentaries in the previous volumes. Even though presumably most readers read neither Greek nor Aramaic, they are still more familiar with the Greek language, which as an ancestor of most Western European tongues has contributed a vast number of words to them: the modern speaker of English is talking in Greek far more often than he or she realizes. What is more, modern Westerners are the children of the Greek world. Its philosophers, poets, and historians are the founders of their culture, and the Græco-Roman way of viewing the world in the first centuries of the common era still pertains today as normative: like those Greek philosophers, the modern Westerner has a sense of self as somewhat divorced from its surroundings, in which the individual takes precedence over the people, and in which one must compete with one’s fellows rather than coöperate with them for the greater good. The Bible, though written almost entirely by Semitic people, is read and interpreted through an exclusively Greek perspective, from which God and heaven are hope distant in time and space (if not nonexistent for them) and Satan or at least evil, seen as a puissant force of malevolence nurtured in the hearts of everyone they hate, is constantly besieging them and requiring a doughty defense using the same methods used by these others.

Thus to do my job adequately well I must hold up as often as I can a Semitic lens to this text, and one important way to do this is by discussing the original language of the text to enable the reader to have a better sense of its meaning for the author and his original readers.

Indeed, I think John the Presbyter was very conscious of these two extremely different worlds. His earlier works, with the probable exception of the short letter called II John, and most prominently the Gospel of John, were originally written in Greek – excellent Greek to be sure, but still a foreign language to him. John was taught the tools of logic and historical analysis by Philo in Greek, but he was taught about life and God by Jesus in Aramaic. John wrote Greek well, but he did his deepest thinking in his mother tongue, Aramaic.

Why then, after decades of composing great works almost exclusively in Greek, did the Presbyter on Patmos and ever after write his last major works, the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One, in Aramaic? In short, his earlier Greek works brought Jesus to the world, but his later Aramaic works brought the world to Jesus.

John’s Greek writings were immediately intelligible to most people in the eastern Mediterranean region and a large plurality in the Italian peninsula and to its west as well. But what these readers were reading were translations: they were John’s best approximation in Greek of Jesus’s teachings in Aramaic, and so the sublime wisdom was inevitably distorted to a degree. His last works would have been comprehensible to only a very few outside the communities of Jews and Samaritans in Judæa and the surrounding countryside, and in the cities of the Diaspora, such as Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rome – but no more. Still, these works were the truth: they were lenses without defect, letting through directly and ideally the light of Jesus’s teachings, which John believed was given to Jesus by God.

John’s first works were also in what were familiar formats in the pervasive Græco-Roman civilization. His gospel was structurally modelled on classical plays, Platonic dialogues, and histories. They use the Greek mind-tools of logic and reason. But his last works were not only linguistically but culturally foreign to the imperial world. The Greeks and Romans as individuals and as a culture believed in seizing power and using it to take advantage of others before they did the same thing to you, but faithful Jews and Samaritans sought to love their neighbors as themselves; they saw holiness and deity as extremely vividly present in their daily lives, as more present to them than even this mundane world, more present to them than even themselves: with every breath they inhaled the ruach of God and exhaled the sacred name YHWH. Thus at the climax of his first great work in Aramaic, when in Revelation 21:1-3 John saw heaven coming down to be united with earth, he was seeing the Semitic way being imposed upon the Greek way: heaven as no longer far away, God no longer as just a distant concept, but coming down to earth and wiping away all the tears of pain and grief.

So John’s shift to Aramaic was a shift from adjusting Jesus’s teachings to fit the Greek world (the Gospel of John) to expecting the world to adjust to Jesus’s teachings (the Revelation and the Songs). The world might or might not do so – but, to adopt Ezekiel’s analogy, John’s responsibility was only to blow the warning bugle; if the world ignored his clarion alarm, it was the world’s fault, not John’s.

The Presbyter’s “return to his roots” is also intimately related to a fundamental change in his central philosophy, as has been discussed elsewhere in this group of books. John, together with Simon the Rock (Peter) and James the Just (Jesus’s brother) had originally expected Jesus to retire from the world stage for a time, while they spread his teachings far and wide, among the Semitic peoples and the Greeks and Romans as well; and then Jesus would come back and lead a peaceful revolution of his followers to overthrow and replace the evil Roman Empire with an earthly approximation of God’s sacred realm, the Æon. This, of course, is the original sense of the “immediate parousia”; the word παρουσια refers to a king coming in full pomp and splendor to review the troops after they have won the war, to receive from them power over the newly conquered territory.

But Jesus (as discussed for instance in The Gospel of John at pages 1039-40) was in terrible physical condition following his crucifixion, and eventually he with Mary relocated in Rome and then Gaul (ibid., pages 208-18). Furthermore, a man known both as Saul and Paul, who had never even met Jesus, let alone discipled with him, had single-handedly taken nearly complete control of the Jesus movement, teaching Jesus as a Roman-style incarnated godling in a spiritual body not subject to the pain or desires of human flesh, and assuring gentile converts that Jesus did not require them to obey the laws of the Torah. Paul also urged docile obedience to the imperial hegemony, and vehemently dismissed Simon, James, and especially John as hypocritical charlatans. And Paul’s highly evangelistic followers were actively seeking converts among John’s own congregations (as the seven letters in the Revelation attest), even sometimes arranging their arrest or execution (as the Revelation letters suggest Paul himself did to John; see ibid., pages 255-57) such that the number of those who held to the original teachings of Jesus as imparted by John was rapidly and significantly shrinking. Given these two contextual realities, to say nothing of the adamant might of the Roman Empire, the possibility of Jesus establishing a heavenly kingdom on earth would be impossible.

Struggling with this issue, John eventually settled on what I call his “brave new theology” (ibid., pages 362-70), in which the troops were Jesus’s teaching and the new territory not on land but the soul of the individual, and the objective was to persuade each person who encountered this teaching to live in accordance with God’s Logos, God’s perfect plan and natural law for the unfolding of the universe, such that individual by individual the Æon would be established – not as a territory but as a people. And thus the παρουσιαwas the individual’s welcoming of God and God’s appointed emissary-son, the Master Jesus, into one’s soul. This “brave new theology” is expressed in the later chapters of the gospel, but it it is at the heart of the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One – and, written in Aramaic, they come from John’s heart and ultimately from Jesus’s heart, and challenge the reader to adjust him- or herself to these teachings, not to read them as already adjusted to one’s own language and culture, as watered down and made palatable to questionable foreign ways.

Ironically, this idealistic hope on John’s part that he could open the Græco-Roman world up to the Semitic spirituality was in vain. The Revelation was blatantly reinterpreted in a Greek way, as some kind of Sibylline Oracle, as something mad spouted by a priestess at Delphi drunk on poisonous fumes venting from deep caverns. Today the book is smothered under two millennia of misunderstanding, widely used by religious leaders as a fear-eliciting tool to keep the faithful masses under their thumb and providing them with money and power out of dread of an end-of-the-world scenario that has always been just around the corner for two thousand years. And the Songs of the Perfect One – with their very physical Jesus coïtally and spiritually one with his wife Mary, so contrary to the Pauline dogma of Jesus as God in a spiritual body free from human desires – were not banned, which would have encouraged covert attention to them, were not burned, which would have sent copies into hiding, but simply labelled as uninstructive and uninteresting, so they would be destroyed by time: languishing forgotten on dusty back sheles until every copy had moldered or been consumed by worms. This brilliant move very nearly succeeded: today very few manuscripts survive of the Songs, part of the first song and all of the second are utterly lost to time, and only a handful of specialists (and a few dedicated if wacky New Age writers) have even looked at this last and most sublime work of the Presbyter.

 

Jesus the Blue-Eyed White Guy

By James David Audlin. Adapted from The Writings of John Restored and Translated, and The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume I, published by Editores Volcán Barú, and 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.

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Voltaire once quipped: if God made man in his own image and likeness, then man (non-inclusive language intended) has certainly returned the favor. And Xenophanes before him said not only do the black Ethiopians have black gods, and the Thracians gods have red hair like the Thracians themselves, but, if horses or cows could paint pictures, they would depict gods that resembled horses and cows.

Little is known about Jesus, but the organized Christian religion has seized control of every extant detail and how to interpret it, filling in the mystery with doctrine, and instructing its believers exactly what to think about him, and to believe that it is their own view. Thus all mystery is dispelled, and the vaunted nature of Jesus tightly controlled as a tool to maintain and extend the worldly control and wealth of religious powers.

But mystery, I believe, is a good thing. And I believe that when we free our minds from organizational control we find in the mysterious shreds of information we have of Jesus that they form a cipher, a mirror, in which we encounter not Jesus so much as ourselves. For two thousand years, interpretations of his life have said far more about the interpreters than about the master. Scholars have mocked each other for creating a Jesus in the other’s image, little realizing not only that the accusers do the very same thing, but that this is inevitable to human nature, and a good thing. For the mystery serves as a mirror: in our image of Jesus we find our own spiritual nature revealed. And I believe that in finding ourselves in the nature of God, the reverse is true, and we find God revealed in our nature. Such is the true meaning of a personal Savior!

Indeed, the canonical gospels tell of Jesus’s transfigured appearance. Several early noncanonical texts, and early Christian writers such as Irenæus, speak of Jesus as appearing in a multiplicity of images. This was not to suggest he was not a historical figure, or that, as a real person his physical form was not fixed in nature, but to express a spiritual truth, that Jesus comes to each of us as we are, meeting us in our nature, and leading us on from there. In the noncanonical Acts of John, for instance, some disciples at the same time see Jesus variously as a child, a handsome youth, and a bald older man with flowing beard; sometimes he is solid to the touch and sometimes immaterial. The Gospel of Philip says: “Jesus took them all by surprise, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to perceive him. … He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to humans as a human. Because of this, his word hid itself from everyone. Some indeed saw him, thinking that they were seeing themselves, but when he appeared to his disciples in glory on the mount, he was not small. He became great, but he made the disciples great, that they might be able to see him in his greatness.” Origen, an early Christian apologist, quotes this agraphon (saying not found in the four canonical gospels) of Jesus: “On account of the sick I was sick, and on account of the hungry I was hungry, and on account of the thirsty I was thirsty.” And the canonical gospels have Jesus say, after a similar comment, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers [and sisters], you did for me.”

The modern cant is to dismiss these descriptions of a Jesus-of-flowing-appearance as Gnosticism or Docetism. Current-day scholars label as “Gnostic” (often with a disparaging literary sneer, sometimes insinuating certain modern-day “New Age” values that are alien to these works) any ante-Nicene theological view that is unfamiliar to them, or that doesn’t fit snugly within the Pauline-Nicæan framework that became the foundation of institutional Christianity.

But this Jesus-of-flowing-appearance is not Gnostic. The most common quality that helps us recognize the rather amorphous Gnostic movement is that it is dualistic: texts are likely to speak of a “good God” and an “evil God”, responsible respectively for creating a good world and this world, which is not good but mixed or else outright evil, and often not really real. This world not being good, Gnosticism is often marked by a condemnation of the human body, especially its sexuality. It is also noted for a tendency to insist that doctrine must be accepted not by rational thought about solid facts, but by meek acceptance “on faith” on the part of the neophyte of what is taught by the elders: this fits with the meaning of the Greek word from which the term is derived: γνωσις (gnōsis) refers to a sequestered wisdom that is only handed out to those who have merited it. If anyone was Gnostic in the early Jesus movement, it was Paul. Paul, the author or ascribed author of much of the New Testament, the architect of the main framework of orthodox Christian belief for the past two thousand years, was a Gnostic. Paul’s letters repeatedly disparage this universe and discourage our involvement with it. He invests his “evil god”, Satan, with power all but equal to God’s, and puts this universe firmly in Satan’s hands (Ephesians 2). He says our physical nature is riddled with appetitive sin and subject to injury, sickness, old age, death – he even mentions body odor (II Corinthians 2:14-16)! Since in this life we have carnal bodies, which for Paul must be subdued, he insists that the best life is lived in celibacy.

Nor is this vision of Jesus Docetic. Commonly misdefined, Docetism properly speaking is the doctrine that Jesus had a body, one that was fully sensible, including to the touch, however it was not a human body of flesh subject to injury, sickness, age, and death, but one of immutable spiritual substance. Scholars still argue today about whether Paul was a docetist; perhaps he was, perhaps not, and perhaps as with so many other things he waffled on this matter, depending on his audience. (Paul’s propensity for equivocating reminds me of one of Groucho Marx’s quips: “Those are my principles; and, if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”) The important question here, however, is whether John the Presbyter might have reason to believe Paul was a docetist. And the answer is clear. In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul says that though Jesus “existed in God’s own form [μορφην] … he voided [εκενωσεν] his nature, taking on the form [μορφην] of a slave, coming in human semblance [ομοιωματι], and was found to be human in appearance [σχηματι].” In Romans 8:3 he writes: “God sending his own son in the semblance [ομοιωματι] of sinful human flesh.”

In addition to these descriptions of early Christian leaders like Irenæus and Origen, occasionally we find in early iconography depictions from Asia of Jesus with an Oriental appearance, from Africa as a black man, and so on. Occasionally modern artists have dared to image Jesus as having a sexual-erotic aspect to his naturek as even a woman, almost always to a reception of massive derision and even book-banning and the removal of offensive depictions from museum walls, notwithstanding the chimæra, the lie that we humans have a right to free speech.

However the vast preponderance of Jesus imagery, especially that sanctioned by the organized Christian religion, depicts him with the skin, hair, and eyes of a Northern European – when he was surely far from that in his physical appearance. This cannot be accident: it delivers a message to all non-white people that they by their very natures fail to be like Jesus and God, by their very natures they are lesser, and that the White Man is superior and is ordained by God to control all others as his minions, taking from everything of value, including their labor and their raw materials, and replacing their own culture with his own.

Modern Westerners are obsessed with their outer appearance. They spend hours every day grooming themselves, putting on makeup, buying and dressing themselves, checking their look in the mirror, taking pictures of themselves, and assessing others almost entirely on the basis of their own physical natures. These early descriptions and the iconography and art depicting Jesus as anything but the strutting white male reflect his actual teachings that we all have the image of God stamped in our natures, no matter our unimportant outward appearances.

Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are predisposed to read the ancient texts assuming that descriptions of Jesus are physical – when they are spiritual, when they are meant to teach us that he is one with us, and we one with him. Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are nonplussed and offended by images of an African Jesus, a Native American Jesus, a female Jesus.

What, then, should we make of these early descriptions of Jesus with mutable form? We should understand them the same way we do efforts ancient and modern to find the nature of Jesus, the sacred nature that Jesus lived and taught, in ourselves. We are all made in the image and likeness of Elohim, the Bible teaches us – and that is all of us, of both genders, of all sexual orientations and races and ages and abilities and appearances and economic-social statuses.

Jesus’s teaching, in sum, is that we should reject outer appearance as our way of judging the worth of ourselves and others – indeed, we should reject judging altogether, and seek to be one with each other and the God-in-us just as Jesus did (John 17:21-23). We should not even love others in the way we love ourselves, for many of us fail even to love ourselves. Rather, what Leviticus 19:18 literally tells us, and what Jesus meant by quoting it, is that we should love others as ourselves: recognize that they are us, and we are them, that your neighbor is you, and you are your neighbor: that we must be truly one with all.

Jesus indeed often speaks about this matter in the canonical gospels, especially John, though clearly his teachings are universally honored but rarely actually followed. But nowhere does he do so more clearly than in two related agraphons (quotations attributed to him from outside the four canonical gospels). The first comes from a scholar who is called today Pseudo-Cyprian. This third-century and probably Irish scholar, in his Liber de duobus montibus Sina et Sion, 13), says he found this quotation in an epistula Iohannis discipuli sui ad populum (“a letter of John his [Jesus’s] disciple to the people”). That is, it comes from a fourth letter to his seven congregations from John the Presbyter, an eyewitness to Jesus and one of his larger group of disciples.

 Ita me in vobis videte, quomodo quis vestrum se videt in aquam aut in speculum.

See me in yourself as any one of you sees himself in water or in a mirror.

The second is found in a passage in the early second-century potpourri titled the Acts of John, one that I conclude is also genuinely by the Presbyter:

 Λυχνος ειμι σοι τω βλεποτι με. Αμην.

Εσοπτρον ειμι σοι τω νοουντι με. Αμην.

Θυρα ειμι σοι προυοντι με. Αμην.

Οδος ειμι σοι παροδιτη. [Αμην.]

 

I am a lamp, therefore, to one who looks at me. Amen.

I am a mirror, therefore, to one who thinks of me. Amen.

I am a door to one who passes through me. Amen.

I am a way to the wayfarer. [Amen.]

Given what Jesus was originally teaching, I reject the false idol, the Roman godling that struts above the world at the command of religious and political potentates. I reject too Blond and Blue-Eyed Jesus, Divine Son of the Big White Guy With a Beard Behind the Sky, the pretty but inhuman image caught unmoving in the amber of veneration, and in his manifestation as the Great White Father forced down the throats of non-white people throughout the world.

Give me instead a Jesus who lives and breathes, who loves his wife and children, who loathes hypocrisy, who enjoys talking about faith, who loves to laugh – for that is my nature too. This is the kind of Jesus I find in the Gospel of John: the gospel reflects my nature. In the commentaries to these restorations and translations of the works of the Presbyter I support my assertions with facts and careful deductive logivc, for my view is right-for-me. But I know it may be wrong-for-you. Don’t condemn me; tell me what Jesus you see in this mirror, the Gospel of John! Back it up with facts and logic! And then, let us enjoy a good conversation about the face each sees in the mirror of faith. And let us love this One who shows you yourself and me myself in himself!