Jesus’s Æon Found in Western Greece


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…καλλιχορω χθονος
Ουριας θουγατερ…

… a land richly blessed
With lovely dancing meadows …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’s Last Words


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Structure of the Resurrection Scene


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

James Daniel Tabor has suggested in his blog here that the account in John 20:1-10 is a separate and older story than what is told in verses 11-18, that it is essentially complete in itself, and perhaps the first written account of the post-crucifixion events. In favor of his view, it can be pointed out that 1-10 have Mary go to the tomb and then go home to tell the two disciples, but that there is nothing about her returning to the tomb. As a result, verse 11 opens rather inexplicably with Mary back at the tomb and no reference to her returning there. This may suggest a separate history to verses 1-2 from the history of the following verses.

However, unlike Tabor, my view is that the tomb narrative in verses 1-18 is a single unit deliberately structured with three main sections: verses 1-2, verses 3-10, and verses 11-18; and that the third section also has three parts: verses 11-13, 14-17, and 18. And that both sets of three parts are examples of inclusio, a kind of narrative structuring also called A-B-A symmetry.

The first of the three main sections centers on Mary. The second centers on Simon the Rock and the Beloved Disciple, and the third again centers on Mary. Each one begins with the witness(es) in question coming to the tomb, observing or experiencing something, and then returning home with information to deliver to the group of disciples.

At Mary’s first visit to the tomb in section one she just looks in and sees that the body is missing, like her son Lazarus in section two, and in section three (her second visit to the tomb) she goes into it, like Simon the Rock in section two.

What is more, the narrative itself has a home-away-home structure: Mary is the “home” character in the first section, but the narrative “goes away” from her in the second section to the two disciples, and the third section returns to the “home” of Mary’s experiences. The nearly identical phrasing of Mary’s message in the first section (verse 2b) and third section (verse 13b) again strongly suggests that this is a single narrative with a tripartite structure.

The first and second sections both convey the “empty tomb” motif familiar from the Synoptics: the first has Mary deliver the message that Jesus’s body is missing, and the second has the disciples confirm it. Verses 1-2, in fact, are a very brief equivalent to the Synoptic “empty tomb” accounts in which Mary goes to the tomb accompanied by certain other women; this is clear because she speaks in the first person plural: “…we don’t know where they have laid him!” These two verses cannot be a later addition based on the Synoptics since the narrative in verses 3-18 stems from and depends on 1-2, and is incomplete without those two verses as a preamble.

The third section (verses 11-18) repeats in miniature the same inclusio or A-B-A symmetry of the whole passage. The first part of the third section (verses 11-13) begins with Mary alone in her “home” position in front of the empty tomb, looking into it, in a parallel to verse 1. Then she apparently goes “away from home” into the tomb (a verb is missing, as will be discussed below), just as in verses 2 and 18 she goes to the disciples. There in the tomb she sees two angels, equivalent in number to the two disciples, and delivers to them the same message that that she delivered to the two disciples in verse 2, in very nearly identical wording. Thus the narrative of this first part is close to that of the first part of the overall text (verses 1-2).

The beginning of the second part (verses 14-17) is signalled by a typical Greek transitional summary phrase, “Having said all this,” and also by her act of turning around, an action that was traditionally used in narratives to signify a new section; after this the text introduces Jesus. She delivers to him the same anguished message about the missing body, but in a new wording. Jesus identifies himself to her, and she runs from within the tomb (in a phrase preserved by a few manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus) to her “home” position in front of the tomb, to the home of her heart, Jesus, just as in the first major section she had run home to the two disciples and they had run to the tomb. But where the disciples found only an empty tomb she finds and embraces Jesus. Thus the second part of this third section has narrative parallels to the second section about the two disciples.

The third and final part of this third section (verse 18) has Mary again go home to deliver a message to the disciples, just as she and the disciples went home again at the end of the first two sections – however, this time it is not with mystified concern over an empty tomb and a missing body, but that she has seen their master (and embraced him, though she does not mention this)!

This structural integrity is also confirmed by the use of “Mary!” in all three sections. In the Peshitta and the Codex Syriac Sinaiticus, two very early Aramaic New Testament versions, Mary refers to Jesus as mary, which means “master/lord” in Aramaic, and which is of course a homonym with her name. This pun is clear in the Aramaic versions (but not in the Greek), and it could well have been part of the actual original conversation between Mary and Jesus, since of course both of them spoke Aramaic. The pun was, either on Jesus’s part or by the intention of the gospel’s author, meant to imply Jesus’s prayer in 17:22-23 “that they may all be one”.

Specifically she refers to him as mary in the message that concludes the first section (verse 2b) and that concludes its parallel, the first part of the third section (verse 13b), that the tomb is empty and the body missing, and again in the message at the conclusion of the third section (verse 18), that she has seen Jesus alive. In the second and third sections, another example of A-B-A symmetry has her refer to Jesus as mary (verse 13b), then has Jesus call her “Mary” (verse 16a), and then has her again refer to Jesus as mary (verse 18).

Given all of this intricate inclusio structuring, it is hard to conclude as others do that certain verses have a separate history and were clumsily stitched together into chapter 20.

A problem remains, which is that verse 11 opens rather inexplicably with Mary back at the tomb and no reference to her returning there. It may be that the three sections were narrated at different times by Lazarus to the amanuensis, John the Presbyter, and that therefore the narrative gap was an oversight as the latter assembled these sections and wove them together into a narrative whole. Another possibility is that the author left it for the reader to assume that Mary returned to the tomb with the two disciples. A third possibility is that there is a lacuna in the text; as discussed in the Introduction, the author left the gospel still in a draft, and the redactor (probably Polycarp of Smyrna) may have neglected it during his work of refining prior to publication. I personally lean toward the second option, the reason being that the author intended to keep the focus in the second section strictly on the two disciples, and so not mentioning Mary’s return to the tomb is deliberate.

Much of the foregoing will be explained and expanded upon in the verse-by-verse commentaries that follow [ìn the book].

The Feminine Spirit, the Masculine Truth


What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here. This excerpt discusses what Jesus means by saying to Mary Magdalene that God is Spirit (John 4:24)

The opening phrase, πνευμα ο θεος, lacks a verb in Greek, meaning literally “Spirit/Breath/Wind the God”. (Note that it is customary in Greek to use the definite article with θεος, “God”.) Translators usually transpose the words and put in a verb that isn’t there, rendering the phrase as “God is a spirit” or “God is Spirit”. It can just as well be read as “Spirit is God”, or, of course, “Breath is God” or “Wind is God”, since all can be meant by the word πνευμα. The ambiguity here may be an early scribal mistake, or it may be Jesus or the gospel writer saying both at the same time.

The Aramaic, ܪܽܘܚܳܐ ܗܽܘ ܓ݁ܶܝܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ, makes much more sense, meaning literally “For God is Spirit/Breath/Wind”. We cannot know if this version predates the Greek, if it is closer to the original manuscript of the gospel, but still in my mind it settles the above ambiguity just barely enough for me to render the phrase as “God is Spirit/Breath/Wind”.

It may well be that, on this hot day in Samaria a breath of wind came momentarily to cool and refresh this man and woman as they spoke, and Jesus used this analogy from nature as he will use another one in a few moments (4:35).

It may also be that Jesus, by identifying spirit/breath/wind as God, was invoking the Name of God, YHWH, which is an exhalation, the Name which was breathed into us to give us life (Genesis 2:7), and which we say every time we exhale (see page 30). But much more is going on here.

Since Jesus was in actuality speaking Aramaic here, the Greek version of this verse is inevitably a translation, so it merely has the Greek word for God, θεος. Since the Peshitta is in Aramaic, it is far likelier to relate exactly what Jesus actually said. The name for God in this Aramaic version quoted two paragraphs above is not, as one would expect from the foregoing paragraph, some variation on YHWH. It is not even ܐܠܘܗܝܡ, the Aramaic version of the Hebrew “Elohim”, the familiar to most readers from the creation story at Genesis 1:2, wherin God’s spirit/wind/breath hovers over or moves across the waters (see page 265). Rather, it is ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ, “Alaha”, which is related to the Hebrew אלוהּ (“Eloah”). Both are a feminine word (literally, “Goddess”); both suggest the feminine aspect of God, united with the masculine in Elohim (see pages 309-10), the familiar name of God known from Genesis 1.

One clue to comprehension is in the context: Jesus says twice (verses 23-24) that true/steadfast (ܫܪܝܪܐ means both in Aramaic) worshippers are to worship God “in spirit and in truth”, as it is usually translated; again the word for “truth”, ܘܒܫܪܪܐ, carries the connotation of “steadfastness” or “firmness”. The phrase brings to mind Joshua’s oration at Shechem – the man for whom Jesus was named, speaking as Jesus would be very aware at Shechem, this very place! – in which he calls on the forebears of both Jews and Samaritans to worship God in בְּתָמִ֣ים וּבֶֽאֱמֶ֑ת, “sincerity and truth” (Joshua 24:14), concluding that the Israelites had to choose whether to worship YHWH or the gods of the Amorites, whose land they were entering. By this reference to Joshua’s speech Jesus is underlining his point that Jews and Samaritans both, as one, have a choice to worship the true God or the gods of others – in this case, the Greeks and Romans. (For the author of this gospel, surely aware of Paul’s repackaging of Jesus as a Græco-Roman deity [see the Introduction], this would have been a significant message in opposition.)

But Alaha (Aramaic), Eloah (Hebrew) is specifically the feminine aspect of God (“Goddess”), and Jesus associates this aspect with spirit/breath/wind. Jesus associates the Jewish aspect of God in verse 22 with the Jews knowing God better than the Samaritans – hence, he is suggesting, the time is coming when sectarian differences between Jew (the masculine “truth”) and Samaritan (the feminine “spirit”) will be put aside, when God will be worshipped neither on the Jewish holy mountain nor the Samaritan holy mountain (4:21). And Jesus is further suggesting that by union in marriage Jesus the Jew and Mary the Samaritan can point out the way toward this union.

Mary Magdalene: What’s in a Name?


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

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” is only associated with the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Other than two highly doubtful references, it never appears in the Gospel of John. Its author must have known her, since she had to be a primary source for chapters 4 and 20, and was besides the mother of his eyewitness, Lazarus. And Mary clearly wished to distance herself from her priestess life, which “Magdalene” implies. Nevertheless, it is so commonly associated with her still today that its origin and meaning must be considered. One of the following explanations is usually offered, that the cognomen:

a: Says she came originally from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

b: Comes from the Hebrew לדגמ (migdal, “tower”, related to μαγδωλος in Greek, “watchtower”).

c: Comes from the related word in Aramaic, the language then commonly spoken by Jews and Samaritans, ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (magdala, “tower” but also suggesting “elegant” or “great”, likewise related to μαγδωλος). This could be simply a reference to the Samaritan Temple high on Mount Gerizim, where as the “woman at the well” Mary served as a priestess. Coins minted in Nablus (Shechem) portray an architectural complex that appears to include a tower. Or it could refer to Song of Songs 4:4, and other similar verses; this one compares the Shulammite’s neck to the Tower of David (cf. Nehemiah 3:25). Similarly, her breasts are likened to towers at 8:10. Her “dance of Mahanaim” (Song 6:13; see option e) is an indirect reference to a tower as well.

d: Comes from megaddelá, an Aramaic word for a woman with ܓܕܠܐ (g’dalw; plaited or braided hair), and later, by extension, a word for a hairdresser. The term carried, later in time, an aroma of “harlot” about it, and some passages in the Talmud appear to associate it with Temple priestesses.

Before evaluating the four above, I also propose:

e: Comes from Mahanaim (מַחֲנָ֫יִם in Hebrew), literally meaning “Two Camps”, a place so called by Jacob because he and God both camped there. The “h” would have shifted in the Greek transliteration into a “g” (since the “h” does not appear in Greek words except at the beginning) and a Greek-style suffix added. At this place Jacob erected a watchtower (Genesis 31:48-52; see b, c, and h). The “dance of Mahanaim” is mentioned at Song of Songs 6:13 in reference to the Shulammite (who is discussed in relation to the Magdalene below).

f: Comes from Song of Songs 4:15, the same verse discussed on page 614, where the Hebrew for the “spring of water” in the garden is מעין גנים (mayan gannim). This could have gotten garbled by Greek ears into “Magdalene” the same way pretty much all of the proper names in the New Testament mutated when shifting from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek. Through this verse she would be associated with living waters, mentioned in the same verse of the Song, of which Jesus spoke to her in their first conversation (John 4:10); also, the waters of spiritual purification, as in the mikvah, and in John’s baptism.

g: Comes from ܩܕܠܐ (’qda:la), “neck” in Aramaic, should Mary have had a long, beautiful neck. This is a near-homonym with ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (magdala, “tower”), lacking only the initial ܡܰ (ma-), and also with ܡܓܕܠܝܬܐ (magdalayta, Magdalene), lacking the ma- and the suffix -ta. But the final “m” (ܡ) in her Aramaic name, ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam), could very well have elided over onto ܩܕܠܐ (’qda:la), creating ܡܩܕܠܐ (Maqdala). This could possibly a reference to, or for the amanuensis reminiscent of, several references in the Song of Songs, especially at 4:4, to the Shulammite’s neck, though a different word for neck (ܝܟܪܘܨ; sawara) is used there.

h: Comes from the Tower of Eder (מִגְדַּל־עֵ֫דֶר, Migdal Eder, literally “the Tower of the Flock [of Sheep]”) beyond which Jacob (then renamed “Israel”) pitched his tent after the death of his wife Rachel (Genesis 35:21). Jesus and Mary are implicitly associated with Jacob and Rachel at Jacob’s Spring in chapter 4 of John. The only other Tanakh reference to this tower is at Micah 4:8, where it is mentioned in a messianic prophecy that the greatness of Judah and Jerusalem will return, a very meaningful reference should this be the cognomen of Jesus’s consort. Rachel died on the way to Ephrath (Bethlehem); Josephus writes that the tower site was about a Roman mile (4,860 feet) beyond Bethlehem. But in which direction Israel was going is unclear. The original Hebrew text has him going south, toward Hebron, but the Septuagint transposes Genesis 35:16 and 21, likely correcting a mistake, which would have him going north, toward Bethel; this would put the Tower very close to Bethany, which was Mary’s home town.

i: Comes from the Greek μαγδαλια, a late contraction of the classical word απομαγδαλια, which appears in Aristophanes and Plutarch as a term for the inside of a loaf of bread, used by Greeks as a kind of napkin for their hands, which they then threw to the dogs; hence, “dog’s meat”.

j: Comes from the Aramaic ܡܓܕܐ ܐܠܗܬܐ (maqd’ alaht’a; “precious to the Goddess” or “gift of/to the Goddess”), which is very close to the Aramaic original of the cognomen “Magdalene”, ܡܓܕܠܝܬܐ (magdalayta).

k: Comes originally from μάγος δαλος (a magic torch or lamp or thunderbolt), which would have been contracted to μάγα-δαλος and then to μαγδαλος. Many oil lamps from the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim and Samaritan synagogues in the region have been found. They were probably used ceremonially, perhaps tended by priestesses, and are customarily decorated with spiritual imagery. One common motif is a ladder; this was probably a representation of Jacob’s ladder, since the Samaritans believed and still believe that Bethel, where Jacob had his famous dream (Genesis 28:12-15) was on Mount Gerizim (A Companion to Samaritan Studies, by Alan David Crown, Reinhard Pummer, and Abraham Tal).

l: Comes from “Magdalu in Egypt”, as it is called in the letters of Šuta in the 1340s B.C.E. On the northeastern frontier of Egypt, this ancient town was near the last encampment of the Israelites before they crossed the Reed Sea during the Exodus. The name probably comes from גָּדַל (gadal), meaning “to increase in size or importance”. Jeremiah 44:1 says Migdol (as he and Ezekiel call it) and other nearby Egyptian communities had significant colonies of Diaspora Jews. These Jews worshipped at a temple in Elephantine built on the same scale as the one in Jerusalem; James D. Purvis and Eric Meyers say scholars generally agree that the cultus at Elephantine was a mix of Yahwistic and Canaanite ways, and (as strongly suggested by the Elephantine Papyrii) heavily influenced by Egyptian religion. Indeed, Jeremiah 44 describes the cultus at Migdol in some detail, including worship of “the Queen of Heaven”. This temple was destroyed by the Egyptians in 410 B.C.E., but another was built by Onias IV in the first century B.C.E. in Leontopolis, near Magdalu, after Judah Maccabee denied him the high priesthood in Jerusalem. Some classical Jewish literature, such as the Yuhasin, associates it with the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim. What makes the possibility interesting that Jesus and/or Mary were at one time connected with it is the number of passages in this gospel, especially the resurrection, that suggest they were both more than passingly familiar with the Egyptian language.

m: Comes from the Aramaic ܝܘܢܐ ܡܓܕܠܝ (magdal’ yawna; “dove tower”). Ancient columbaria, also called dovecotes in English, have been found throughout the Levant, and indeed the entire Mediterranean region; they were known in Greek as περιστερεῶνα (peristereōna). For Jews and Samaritans they would provide not only food and crop fertilizer, but Temple sacrifices, as required in the Torah. Sometimes they were made in caves, but, where caves were not available towers were constructed: at the famous Masada site, for instance, three towers served as columbaria. There had to be columbaria in Mary’s day atop Mount Gerizim to provide sacrificial birds as well as to feed the priests, priestesses, and staff. Mary may have had duties associated with the columbaria. This explanation would also amplify the theory outlined that the “dove” at Jesus’s baptism was Mary.

n: Comes from the Aramaic ܢܐ ܕܘܠܐ ܡܓܕܗ (magdh-dawla-na). The first two words mean “to draw-up-to-oneself a-bucket-of-water”, and the imperative/cohortative suffix ܢܐ (na) signifies that this request for a bucket of water is deeply yearning and implored for). This would have contracted to ܕܘܠܐ ܢܐ ܡܓ (mag-dawla-na), and the accent would fall on –la, giving just about exactly the sound of μαγδαληνη (magdalēnē), her cognomen in the Greek text; it is not quite as close to ܡܰܓ݂ܕ݁ܠܳܝܬ݁ܳܐ (magdalata), her cognomen in the Aramaic text of the Peshitta, though that is probably a transliteration of the Greek. The origin of this cognomen would be the event at the Samaritan spring, wherein Mary, in a memorable statement recorded at John 4:11, suddenly refers not to the spring in front of them but to a well, saying the well is deep and Jesus, unfortunately, doesn’t have a bucket. As noted in the commentary to that verse, she is making an oblique reference to Moses’s first encounter with his wife Zipporah by a well (Exodus 2:16), and to the deep, dry well of her heart.

Option a, the most frequent explanation of Mary’s cognomen, is straightforward, and should be adopted if it can be proven that Mary came from Magdala. But, alas, there is nothing connecting her to that village. Her family home is in Bethany, her father probably originally came from Ramathaim (Arimathea) in Kohath (in northern Judæa just south of Samaria), and she herself had lived in Samaria proper. She wasn’t even a Galilean, let alone a resident of Magdala. Therefore option a is to be rejected.

The pronunciation of the Aramaic word magdala is closer to the text’s Greek version of Mary’s cognomen than the Hebrew migdal, and these were Aramaic speakers, so option b is rejected.

Option d is also rejected; the textual evidence is flimsy, and there is no reason to assume that the Talmudic writers were merely recalling in a subsequent generation how this word was used in the first century: these comments may have been no more than unfounded anti-Christian polemical aspersions, of which in subsequent generations there was quite a bit. They may even have been based on the persistent later Christian legend that described Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute.

Option i is rejected too, lacking a solid rationale for adoption.

Options e, f, and h, and probably c and g as well, are Biblical in origin. All of these except h could refer to the Song of Songs; e comes indirectly and h directly from the story of Jacob and Rachel in Genesis, with whom the gospel often implicitly associates Jesus and Mary. Options c, e, h, and m all suggest a watchtower, with c carrying the indirect meaning of “elegant” or “great”, and e referring to the Shulammite’s dance.

Option f is a fascinating but unlikely possibility, and options e and h are logical but abstruse, therefore weak as explanations for why Mary’s friends and family would call her “Magdalene”. Still, the erudite amanuensis could well have had e and h and especially f in his own mind as he composed the gospel, in particular as he sought appropriate imagery for describing the nearly indescribable scene of Jesus’s resurrection. In the process of borrowing Song of Songs 4:15 in his composition of that episode he could well have read mayan gannim, in the same verse, been struck by the phonetic resemblance to Magdalena, and borne in mind a poetic association between the “wellspring of water” (which is what mayan gannim means) and Mary’s overflowing tears.

That leaves either c, g, j, k, l, m, or n as the reason that she was generally known as “Magdalene”. Either c or g or some combination would be a sensible if cautious conclusion, especially if Mary had a beautiful neck or breasts; certainly we learn from 20:17 that she was sexually attractive. Options j, k, l, m, and n are risky conclusions and would have to prove themselves through time and scholarly debate, but the ground has long been prepared for them by such scholars as Raphael Patai (The Hebrew Goddess) and Merlin Stone (When God was a Woman).

I myself lean toward j, m, or n as the best solution. The first two would succinctly denote the fact about Mary that most stood out to those who knew her: her having been a Temple priestess. The third, which is the one that by a hair’s breadth I favor most of all, would directly relate her cognomen to her first encounter with Jesus, amply explaining why it caught on in the Christian community and is well remembered to this day.

Any of these three would also answer a very good point made by Karen L. King (as quoted in “The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus”, by Ariel Sabar,, 18 September 2012). She notes that in the first century “women’s status was determined by the men to whom they were attached,” citing as an example “Mary, Mother of Jesus, Wife of Joseph” (and later, I add, “Wife of Clopas”). If Mary Magdalene had been Jesus’s wife, King insists, she would have been known as that, and the fact that she isn’t King calls the strongest argument against the contention that she was Jesus’s wife. But, if “Magdalene” means “sacred of/to the goddess” or refers to a dove tower on Gerizim, then that was her “marital status” as a priestess in the Samaritan Temple, and she would have been already well known by that cognomen before wedding Jesus. And if her cognomen refers to Jesus going into the well of her spirit and drawing forth water – in short, becoming one with her such that they, together, embody the very image and likeness of Elohim (God understood as comprising male and female as one), returning the state of perfect, androgynous Adam, before the disobedience and before Eve had been removed from his side – then the cognomen does, as King would wish, refer (albeit cryptically) to her marital status. In deed, this gospel strongly suggests that what made Mary so appropriate a spouse to Jesus’s thinking was that she was a κοινωνος, his spiritual equal, and this interpretation of her cognomen emphasizes this central fact about Mary.

All this said, the cognomen “Magdalene” only appears in John twice, in the crucifixion and resurrection episodes. But this is enough to lead many scholars to conclude that she is a different woman from the Mary who lives in Bethany, and whose name is always just Mary, without any cognomen. As discussed in the commentaries to the two episodes where “Magdalene” appears, I believe this cognomen was added therein by the redactor, and that the Beloved Disciple and amanuensis in the original text referred to her as “Mary”, without cognomen. Thus, in this translation, “Magdalene” is excised. My belief is that the eyewitness’s mother told him she wanted no more to be known by a cognomen referring to her time as a priestess.

Her given name, Μαριαμ (Mariam), has two origin explanations: the traditional one and the actual one. Both would have been commonly known to reasonably well-educated Jews in the first century. The actual derivation of her name is from the Egyptian Mari-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the name of Moses’s elder sister, referring to the Egyptian deity who was so pervasive by the time of the Middle Kingdom, in the last centuries B.C.E., that Egypt was essentially monotheistic. (I reject Madan Mohan Shukla’s idea, in an article published by the Oriental Institute at Baroda in 1979, that the name Mari may go back to Sanskrit मातृ [matri; the “t” is very gently pronounced], meaning “wife” and “mother”, which evolved into that English word, as well as the first half of “matrimony”. Shukla’s reference to an Indian goddess named Mari is likelier since she might be etymologically associated with the Egyptian Mari [Beloved].)

The traditional explanation is that it comes from the Hebrew word הרמ (mara, “bitter”), referring to tears; it is the name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13). The traditional name has a deeper root meaning in מָר (mar, “drop”), as in a teardrop, but going even farther back to מֹר (mor, “myrrh”), which is the resin of a thorny tree, harvested by wounding the tree until it bleeds out, drop by drop, its bitter lifeblood, hence the name. Myrrh was associated with death, being an embalming compound. It was also a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud – and thus would then have been very much in the nostrils of Mary and the disciples during the commemoration of Passover at the Temple.

How ironic that, before Jesus’s death, a thorny wreath, very possibly from the myrrh tree, was placed on his head (19:2), and that he was whipped and stabbed like the tree until his blood came forth as does the liquid myrrh (19:1,34). How ironic that after his death Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea prepared his body with myrrh and aloes (19:39-40). How ironic it is that Mary Magdalene, with such a name as that, but recently weeping bitter tears for her son (John 11:31,33), now again had drops of tears falling like drops of myrrh from her eyes for her husband (20:11).

How could a woman so clearly central to Jesus’s life, central enough to grieve for him at the very thought of his impending death (Luke 7:38) and to come by night with spices to anoint his body, only be mentioned at the very end? Without a doubt, she does appear previously in the gospel, and my contention is that Mary Magdalene, Mary “of Bethany”, the unnamed woman in Mark 14, and “the woman at the well” are one and the same.

This perspective is underscored in the noncanonical Gospel of Philip, which calls Mary Jesus’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort), and also lifts up the spiritual eroticism between them, saying for instance that “he used to kiss her often on the mouth”, implying not only romance but the sharing of sacred breath, πνευμα. The recently published Gospel of Jesus’s Wife also appears to back this perspective.

What is more, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs is called (in Song 6:13) the Shulammite. For centuries it has been said that this cognomen deliberately fuses the Hebrew word for peace (shalom) with the cognomen of the Shunammite woman introduced in II Kings 4:8, a wealthy woman who the passages that follow strongly imply was Elisha’s lover despite having a husband, and whose dead son Elisha brought back to life. There are obvious similarities to Mary Magdalene, a wealthy woman (Luke 8:3) who was surely Jesus’s wife, who had previously had “husbands” (John 4:16-18), and who was probably the mother of Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back to life.

This scene with Elisha in its turn bears a strong resemblance to the story (I Kings 17:8-24) of Elijah his teacher. This tale begins with Elijah asking the woman for a drink of water from her water pot (verse 10); she has some shame on her conscience (verse 18). Both of those details mirror the “woman at the well”. And Elijah raises her son from death (verse 22), as Jesus does Mary’s son Lazarus. Again, the similarities between the two lives are striking. Since every detail in this gospel is clearly carefully chosen, these connections to Elijah and Elisha must be taken very seriously, and certainly they draw more sharply the nature of the connection between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Mary Magdalene’s Later Life

What happened to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection? At first glance, it appears there is nothing more said about her in the New Testament — but the facts suggest otherwise. This blog entry discusses passages in the Bible that may shed light on what the rest of Mary’s life was like. This is a revision of a section of the introduction to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion. You will find ordering information here.


It is often averred that we know next to nothing about Mary’s life after the resurrection. This, I believe, is not quite true. Acts 12:13-16 has Mary as evidently still living in the family compound in Bethany; she has now given birth to John Mark, her son by Jesus. While Acts, which dates from the early second century, is none too reliable, the events in chapter 12 appear to take place about two years after the resurrection.

I think she appears several times in the Revelation, albeit wrapped in symbols; first in chapter 12, where she is naked (“clothed with the sun”) as she was at Jesus’s baptism and resurrection, and pregnant, as she was at the resurrection. She gives birth to a son who “rules with a rod of iron”; the complex symbology is mostly based on Psalm 2. John Mark, her son by Jesus, founded the church in Alexandria in 49 C.E., according to the Coptic Christians. But this child is killed (Revelation 12:5), just as John Mark was reportedly executed by the Romans in either 62 or 68 C.E., and the woman flees into the wilderness, there to be nourished as was Elijah.

I believe that it is Mary mentioned as the Bride in Revelation 19:7-8, clothed in βυσσινος (from βυσσος), which is the term for strips of linen used to bury the dead (basically synonymous with οθονιον in John 20). The Bride makes another appearance in the poetic imagery of 21:2.

I find another possible clue in the second letter of John the Presbyter. It is almost universally believed that “the elect lady” to whom he addresses it is the growing community of followers of Jesus, or one of its local congregations. However I read the letter as addressed to Jesus’s wife, Mary, whom John the Presbyter must have come to know well during the process of writing the Gospel of John. In Greek he begins by greeting εκλεκτη κυρια και τοις τεκνοις αυτης. The first word means “chosen” and the second word is the female equivalent to κυριος, the Greek word used to render the Aramaic ܡܪܐ (mari); it means “lord”, “master”, or “husband”. Since the latter (in the Greek New Testament and the Peshitta, the Aramaic New Testament) is how Jesus is addressed, this would well apply to his chosen “lordess”, his chosen wife. The letter next affirms John’s love for her, and then he assures her that he has observed certain of her children as walking in the truth – likely a reference to John Mark and Lazarus writing the truth in, respectively, the gospels of Mark and John. He says there are things he wishes to speak directly, “mouth to mouth” to her, and not through a letter, and he concludes by passing along to her the love of the children of her “chosen sister”. Assuming Martha, Mary’s sister, is still in Bethany, then this would suggest Mary has moved elsewhere in the world.

Thus I believe both II John and Revelation tell us that Mary went far from her home in Bethany. The first letter of Peter, written from Rome, in which he sends greetings from “she [who is] in Babylon chosen together with Mark my son.” Babylon is always in Jewish writings of the time a euphemism for the city of Rome, and “Mark” refers to John Mark, Jesus’s and Mary’s son, who was working on the Gospel of Mark with Peter as the eyewitness-source; this effort was undertaken in Rome, as John the Presbyter, Papias, and Irenæus all attest. As discussed elsewhere, Simon the Rock appears to have adopted the son of his beloved teacher and half-brother of his dearest friend Lazarus.

We don’t know what she was travelling for. Very probably she went to see her now adult children. Possibly also she met with leaders of the new Christian religion, which had turned her husband into a quasi-Roman godling, but though or perhaps because she was his wife and “merely a woman” she would have been shunted aside and prevented from having any influence, because there was far too much worldly wealth and power in a well-organized religious institution. But she was also certainly travelling abroad for her health.

Indeed, I tentatively conclude that there is sufficient merit in it to take seriously Val Wineyard’s hypothesis. She thinks that Sejanus, de facto emperor in Tiberius’s madness, and the father of Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula, owned an estate in the Corbières, near Narbonne, France. Pilate supposedly advised Jesus to flee to this estate and restore his health in the curative baths at Rennes-les-Bains, as did Claudia’s grandfather, Emperor Augustus, another “son of god” (but in his case the “god” was Julius Cæsar). She and her companions would have disembarked at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which I have visited, and which has a strong local tradition to this effect. Wineyard also refers to another local legend that says Jesus was buried in a hidden cave about a kilometer outside the current-day hamlet of Saint-Salvayre, close to Rennes-les-Bains.

Calling a Mary a Mary (extensively revised)

This blog entry discusses exactly what Jesus and Mary say to each other in John 20:16, especially through an analysis of the Peshitta, the ancient Aramaic New Testament (and bear in mind that Jesus and Mary spoke to each other in Aramaic!). I also take a look at the Egyptian root of the words in question, but you’ll have to use your imagination to see the hieroglyphics, which this website will not accept. This is a revision of a section of the introduction to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion. You will find ordering information here.

20:16 – Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb by name in 11:43, but here, in a dramatic reversal, he the resurrected one calls Mary by name, the one who has come to his tomb. The implication is that Mary has, in a sense, died, and he is calling her back to life and faith, hence that this is a resurrection for both of them, in one way or the other.

In every other instance in this gospel where Jesus speaks to a woman – to Mary in the verse immediately preceding, to the woman at the well (who this work concludes is Mary), and to his mother – the Greek has him address the woman as γυνη (“woman”). In that context, the intimacy of his saying “Mary” here is overpowering.

Someone, probably the amanuensis, has inserted here and at 1:38 the statement that “rabbi” means “teacher”. That is true only in a very loose sense. The root meaning is “great”, and the word was early used as a title denoting respect. In the Second Temple period the word came to mean “my master”, and was commonly used not just to refer to religious authorities but anyone whom the speaker respected as authoritative in any subject, religious or not. It would be a couple generations after Jesus that “rabbi” would begin to refer specifically and only to a Jewish religious master. The Aramaic word in this verse of the Peshitta is ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy), which comes from the root ܪܒܢ (raban), meaning “great” or “master”.

But could Mary have called Jesus something else entirely? Mary, in verses 2, 13, and 18 calls Jesus κυριε/κυριος, meaning “master”. Only here does she appear to say something different, and there is no clear reason in Greek why she should switch from “master” to “teacher”. It is a natural question to ask whether she might have said here the same thing she says in those other verses.

To answer this question we can turn to the Peshitta, the very early Aramaic version of the New Testament. The Eastern, Syriac Church claims the Peshitta is the original New Testament, and that the Greek version on which the Western Church (including Roman Catholic and Protestant) bases its modern translations is itself a translation! Determining which of the two is the original is beyond the scope of this book. Still, the fact of the matter is that Jesus and Mary in this conversation (as is the case with every conversation in this gospel, except perhaps those with Nicodemus and Pontius Pilate) were certainly speaking Aramaic, and not Greek. Therefore, unavoidably, the Greek in this resurrection scene is itself a translation – and so, whether or not the Peshitta is the “original New Testament”, it nevertheless is far more likely to tell us exactly what the two of them actually said – simply because it is in Aramaic.

The Aramaic word for “lord”, “master”, or “husband” in the Peshitta version of this verse is ܡܳܪܝ (mary); elsewhere in classical Aramaic texts it is more often ܡܪܐ (mara). The relatively uncommon variant spelling here, not mara but mary, is surely to emphasize the similarity to Mary’s name. Some scholars say the Aramaic root means “to flap”, as in wings, such as the dove which is associated in this gospel with Mary; others say it means “to lift” or “to raise up”, which might have Messianic implications (Jesus here is raised up from death), or even “to arouse (sexually)”, which the very next verse (17), in both Greek and Aramaic, suggests is happening to Jesus. The theory has been made that the Aramaic word is related etymologically to मर (mara), meaning “death” or “delusion” in Sanskrit, and “-mare” in English, as in “nightmare”, a prophetic and even frightening dream, from mara in Old French and going back to a theoretical Indic root. Certainly Jesus and Mary have both just been through a nightmare of death and have held strong through delusion; this proposed etymological lineage again raises the thought that the “fringe” scholars who say Jesus may have spent his young adult years in the Himalayas might be right. Nevertheless, there is no clear lineage in terms of meaning between the Aramaic “master” and the Sanskrit “death” or “delusion”, just a coincidental homophony, and therefore this theory is to be rejected. Rather, the Aramaic word ܡܳܪܝ (mary), meaning “lord” or “master” in reference to Jesus, far more likely comes from a classical Egyptian root, the word mer; “overseer”. Most interestingly, it has as a homonym its own antonym, the word mer; “servant”, pronounced the same way but written with different hieroglyphics. (This Egyptian-based pun may well have been behind Jesus’s comment in 13:16.)

Curiously, the word “rabbi” would later, especially in Arabic, pick up the connotation of “lord” specifically referring to God. The etymologically related Arabic word رب‎ (rabb) means “lord” or “master”, and is used in reference to the husband/father of a household, the master of the house, and also in reference to God. But this sense comes later than the origination of this gospel, and it has never become prominent in Judaism.

We do not know whether the Beloved Disciple described his memories to his amanuensis in Aramaic or Greek; we do not even know whether the amanuensis (John the Presbyter), whose first language clearly was Greek, was even slightly familiar with Aramaic; probably no more than that, since his inserted quotations from the Tanakh come from the Septuagint, the classical translation of the Jewish scriptures into Greek. Yet certainly our eyewitness’s memory of these vivid experiences were carried in the vessel of Aramaic. And we know that the actual conversations Jesus engaged in (certainly with those closest to him, Mary and his disciples) were in Aramaic, excepting probably only those with foreigners, such as Pontius Pilate and maybe highly educated Jews like Nicodemus. It is absolutely inconceivable that Mary and the disciples would have interjected Greek into their Aramaic, Aramaic-speaking Jews describing the Jewish religious status of another Aramaic-speaking Jew, Jesus, with the word κυριη (kyrie); that foreign word, from the language (at least in the eastern part of the Roman Empire) of the imperial oppressor, would have been an uncomfortable form of address on their lips. There can be no question but that they variously called Jesus ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy, “rabbi”, but with the significance of “master”) or ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (baal, “lord” or “master”) or ܡܳܪܝ (mary, “lord” or “master”). A handful of times in this gospel Jesus is addressed as “rabbi”, with the significance of “master”, but it most likely appears here because the redactor inserted it here in a later generation when the term was common. It is far more likely that Mary said mary in 20:16, consistent with the rest of the chapter. Not only is it her form of address for Jesus everywhere else in the chapter except in this verse (20:2,13,18), but the double entendre it would present in this critical moment, each calling the other one mary, emphasizing the closeness and even unity of Jesus and Mary, would be clear – and is doubtlessly why the redactor would have replaced the word with rabbouni, to reduce the significance of Mary to that of only a humble disciple grateful for the master’s forgiveness. Besides, similar doubles entendres are frequently encountered in the gospel, including in this very scene, with isha/isha. What is more, there are close connections between this scene and 4:1-26, wherein “the woman at the well”, clearly Mary, calls Jesus mary throughout. (And that the redactor almost certainly made a change here from mary to rabbouni makes it extremely likely that he did the same at 1:38, and that the original text there also had mary.) The implications of Jesus and Mary saying Mary! to each other may have simply been too incomprehensible or too romantic for the redactor, seeking at a late stage in the devolution of the original gospel to conform it to the dogma of the new Christian religion, which declared that Jesus was entirely lacking in sexual desire and remained a virgin lifelong; he would thus have quickly changed mary for the slightly anachronistic rabbouni. and even incorrectly adding that this is a word in Hebrew and further adding his not-quite-right translation “teacher”.

Mary’s name appears in its given, formal version in the Aramaic text – ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam) – but it was more likely on the lips of her husband in a more intimate form, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (Marya) or ܡܰܪܺܝܰ (Mary). The latter is almost certainly the case, since that creates a homophony with mary meaning “lord”, “master”, or “husband”. (In either case, whether the homonyms are mara/Mara or mary/Mary doesn’t matter; in both cases, the two words, the word meaning “master” and the woman’s name, though they come from different roots, are spelled and pronounced identically.) The author of this gospel frequently uses sacred puns, doubles entendres, in order to underline the spiritual meanings. It is all but certain, then, that in the original manuscript of verse 16, in Lazarus’s recollection of what his mother later told him of this event, Jesus said her name, either “Mary!” (ܡܰܪܺܝܰ), and Mary replied with not ܪܒܢ (raban), but the homonym. This, then, is the double entendre: in the early verses of this chapter she is looking for her mary, her master and husband, and here he calls her his Mary, and she responds again by again calling him her mary. Since it is impossible to translate, the double entendre has been added parenthetically in this translation.

To drive home the point, to make sure the reader does not miss this subtlety, the Aramaic has the verb ܐܳܡܰܪ (amar; “said”) when both Jesus and Mary speak – a verb that is nearly a homonym to mary. Thus, the original verse almost certainly was rhetorically euphonious, literally reading: “Amar (Said) to her Jesus, Mary! Turned around and amar (said) to him Mary, Mary!” In Aramaic this would be: ܐܳܡܰܪ ܠܳܗ ܝܶܫܽܘܥ ܡܰܪܺܝܰ ܘܶܐܬ݂ܦ݁ܰܢܝܰܬ݂ ܘܳܐܡܪܳܐ ܠܶܗ ܡܰܪܺܝܰ ܡܳܪܝ The intricacy of this sentence is more than mere punning; this is poetry.

These doubles entendres, like others in this gospel, are of course not meant to be taken as comical, as are puns in the modern Western civilization, though the author of the gospel no doubt intended the “Mary!” “Mary!” exchange at the very least to elicit a smile from readers: it is amusing, and the gospel is laced with a good deal of this kind of gentle humor. But here, and always in this gospel, it was primarily intended to deliver a sacred message; in this case, to make very clear to us the closeness of this man and this woman, indeed their unity in God as a couple, as “one flesh”, as each a κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort) to the other.

The intimacy of this exchange may be even deeper if Mary’s name is taken back not to the traditional but unfactual “bitter tears” explanation (as suggested by Ruth 1:13,20), but to its actual Egyptian root. When Jesus calls her “Mary” he is on one level simply saying her familiar Aramaic name in its intimate form. Yet, at the same time, he is saying the Egyptian word from which her name was derived: meri, which means “beloved” or “lover”. Her given name “Mariam” actually goes back to “Miriam”, the name of Moses’s sister, which is a Semitic garbling of the Egyptian name Meri-Amun, “Beloved Amun”. (The plural of meri is merti or mertæ, from which the name of Mary’s sister, Martha, was derived. That the sisters were given names that are closely related in the Egyptian language was probably intentional.) The ancient Egyptians often called their gods meri, “beloved”. Amun was originally the god of wind (which brings to mind the whirlwind at Jesus’s baptism, when he met Mary), but in the “New Kingdom” period (about a millennium before the first century) he was conflated with Ra, the sun god (which brings to mind this gospel’s use of sun and light imagery in reference to God); and as Amun-Ra his worship became so universal in Egypt that it was virtually monotheism. Thus, there is another level to Jesus’s use of the word here: he is calling her his beloved, but also by saying this name he is also hinting that she is godly, that she is beloved as a deity is beloved.

Therefore, Jesus calls her by her name, which means “Beloved!”; and her immediate response (as recorded in the Peshitta) is Mary!, must therefore also be interpreted as “Beloved!”, even as “Beloved Deity!”, not merely as “Master!” or “Husband!”; and, what is more, with this reference Jesus retroactively transforms her Mary! (“Master!” or “Husband!”) in earlier verses into Mary! (“Beloved!”). With one word Mary is stating what Thomas will later (20:28) exclaim: “My Lord and my God!” At the same time they are confirming their love for each other and their oneness in each other.

When Mary replies thus to Jesus by saying Mary!, she is perforce also making some subtle and sublime puns – perhaps not consciously, but Jesus would have interpreted her response thus. She intends only to say the Aramaic word that means “master” or “husband” (ܡܳܪܝ). But Jesus hears in her exclamation the identically pronounced Egyptian word for “master”, implying thereby – since this word’s antonym in Egyptian is also its homonym – that she is lesser than he, his mere servant, the then-typical wife subservient to her husband, her lord and master. But, by calling her Mary!, Beloved!, and thus turning her response of Mary!, Master!, into Mary!, Beloved!, Jesus is making it clear that she is not at all less than he, a mere servant, but that she is rather “one flesh” with him (Genesis 2:24), united with him in God (John 17:23), his κοινωνος, his equal counterpart, like Wisdom as the counterpart of God in Creation (Proverbs 8:22-30), his “better half” as people say today.

Lest anyone wonder, the answer is, yes, an educated Jew like Jesus would have been very likely to know and to think about the Egyptian cognates of Aramaic words. Jews were then and still are very aware of their cultural roots in nearby Egypt, especially by celebrating the exodus from Egypt every year at Passover. In the first century, not only educated Jews but those involved in commerce would have been acquainted with the Egyptian language, and probably able to speak at least some basic phrases. Indeed, these complexities of doubles entendres involving Greek, Aramaic, and Egyptian may well have been in Jesus’s mind during the actual encounter outside the tomb; he was clearly an extremely well-educated man. Mary, as a former Samaritan Temple priestess, might possibly have learned about these matters, but there is no reason to assume they were clear to Mary at that moment. It is not unlikely that Jesus later explained these meanings of mary to her. And later yet, Mary may have tried to explain them to her son Lazarus. If that is so, then Lazarus must have done his best to pass these insights on by third hand to his amanuensis, John the Presbyter – and here they took root. We can tell from this gospel (and his other works) that John was, like Jesus, a highly educated man, in not just Jewish studies but classical literature. Even if the subtleties in the words isha and mary, and so on, were muddled by the time Lazarus tried to explain them, and even if these linguistic connections only occurred to John and did not originate with Jesus or Mary or Lazarus, they were still evidently how John chose to put into written form the oral descriptions he had been given of these events, and they were in his mind, no doubt in consultation with Lazarus and perhaps Mary, and, because he was responsible to them to record as accurately as possible the truth about what happened, an appropriate and accurate literary framework for describing these events.

(Another possibility to mention in passing is that in chapter 20 Mary may also have called Jesus ܒܥܠ [baal], as she did at the well in Sychar [John 4:16-18]; if she did, this would be another inclusio. In both Hebrew [בַּעַל] and Aramaic the word baal, like mary, means “husband”, “lord”, “master”, and also “God”. Still, because the Peshitta has Mary call Jesus mary throughout the chapter [except in verse 16, but I conclude that the original version also had that title], I reject this possibility.)

Always in this gospel from the Prologue onward, the coming of the light of day represents the dawning of spiritual enlightenment. And so it is that at this moment, as Jesus says “Mary!” and Mary says “Mary!”, the light dawns on them, both literally and figuratively. Mary now understands. And, in the new light of day, the first thing each of them sees is the beloved other.

Love and Gods at Jacob’s Well

This blog entry discusses the identities of the amanuensis of the Gospel of John (that is, the “ghostwriter” who took down the oral recollections of Lazarus, the Beloved Disciple, who was the eyewitness behind the gospel, and drafted the gospel’s original version), and the redactor of the final version (who made it conform to the later organized Christian religion’s dogma and creed). This is a revision of a section of the introduction to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text. You will find ordering information here.

4:11-16 – Except for verse 11, this water source is exclusively referred to in Greek as a πηγη (pele) and in Aramaic as a ܐܢܝܥܡ (miyna). Both words suggest a “spring” or “fountain” from which water is bubbling or gushing forth. Such a water source, obviously, is not “deep”, and hence does not require a bucket, despite what the woman says here. She also switches to another noun here, calling the water source a φρεαρ (phrear) in Greek, or a ܐܪܒܘ (wbəira) in Aramaic, which is specifically a well, an underground cistern, into which one collects water by descending with a bucket or paying out a rope with a bucket tied to it. And besides, as a spring or fountain, this water source provides “living water” (יִׁי ח םִׁי מ (mayim hayyim).

Clearly, the woman is not speaking of this water source in front of them, as all commentators on this passage have assumed. They both can see it in front of them; it has not suddenly changed its nature. Therefore, something else is surely going on here.

What is more, the woman notes that Jesus doesn’t have a bucket, so she asks how he can draw forth living water from the well (whatever well she is referring to, which clearly not this spring in front of them). This is a strange question to ask, as living water (or, as we say in modern English, running water) flows forth of its own accord, would not have to be laboriously drawn out in a bucket; also, if living water is put in a bucket, it is not living water (running water) any longer! It also loses its potency, in both Jewish and Samaritan practice, for spiritual cleansing.

She asks this question in response to Jesus’s declaration that, if she knew who he was, she would have asked him and he would have given her living water. He is referring not to water for quenching thirst (which water in a bucket would do), but living water, which, as in the baptism of John, washes away sins. Taken together, Jesus’s statement followed by the woman’s question are about living water, the water of mikvah and baptism. They both seem to be strongly implying their first encounter at the Jordan River, at the baptism of John.

Jesus goes on (4:13) to say that ordinary water, even “living water”, will leave one thirsty again – he is hinting that she washed away her sins at the baptism of John, but here she is again in Samaria, back at serving as a Temple priestess, and back at needing baptism to be ritually purified again. She is still thirsting for a different life, a better life. Thus he tells her (4:14) that if she takes his “living water”, which is spiritual in nature, she will never thirst again for a better life because she will have it! She will in fact not need to go to the Jordan River, or to Jacob’s Well, because she will have become herself a πηγη, a ܐܢܝܥܡ, a fountain gushing forth living water, giving her life in the Æon. Put another way, she won’t need a ritual, at the hands of John or anyone; by accepting what Jesus is offering, and becoming herself a source of living water, she will be able to keep herself spiritually pure!

To this offer she replies in a manner that is humorous, practical, and flirtatious. She asks with a smile for Jesus to give her this water, so she won’t have to come here every day and take a bucket of water home with her for her daily needs. And she hints not in the empirical content of her statement but in its bantering delivery that she finds Jesus romantically interesting, in effect hinting that she would like to be united with him in marriage.

But she is also saying something subtler that her smile does not entirely hide: I thirst for love, to give and receive real love, to be loved as I want to be loved. But this well, the well of my heart, has been betrayed and wounded many times by men, and its waters have withdrawn deep within, no longer bubbling over to flow freely like this spring before us. So how are you going to reach the waters far down inside this heart when you have no bucket?

And she is also saying: Water that will satisfy all my longings forever? Give me this water so I can leave this place, Samaria, so I won’t have to draw water from this spring ever again! Give me this water so I don’t keep getting drawn back to working as a priestess by my desperate circumstances as a single mother who cannot go back to her father because he has disowned me! Give me this water so I can hold my head up high again, as a woman of Judæa, as a respected wife; give me this water so I can go back home again and stay home!

Both the romantic and desperate aspects of her statement are clear in the fact that she is referring to what would have been, for both of them, a familiar tale in the Torah. Moses, avoiding the power of Pharaoh, goes into a foreign land, Midian, just as Jesus is avoiding the authorities in Jerusalem by entering Samaria (John 4:1-3). Moses sits down by a well (Exodus 2:15) as does Jesus (John 4:6). The seven daughters of Reuel the priest of Midian come to the well, including Moses’s future wife Zipporah (Exodus 2:16), just as does Mary, daughter of the Pharisee-priest Simon ben Nathanael (also known as Simon the Leper) (John 4:7). Moses helps Zipporah and her sisters to draw water – and here the parallel breaks down, or does it not? The answer lies in the Hebrew of Exodus 2:16. The verb דלה (dalah, “to draw” [water]) which appears therein is closely related to the noun דְּלִי (deli, “bucket”); in fact, דלה is doubled, which suggests a better translation would be “they came and drew with a bucket”. Thus we have Moses meeting his future wife as he helps her to draw water with a bucket, and Mary teases Jesus that, unlike Moses (to whom this gospel often compares Jesus), he doesn’t have a bucket to help her draw water! Thus Mary’s otherwise incomprehensible references to this bubbling spring as a deep well and to a bucket come clear.

The parallels continue: Zipporah and her sisters hurry back home exclaiming about the amazing man at the well, but leaving him there to do so (Exodus 2:18-19), like Mary (John 4:28-29); and then Reuel, and presumably his entire family and even the servants, come to the well to meet Moses (Exodus 2:20), as do the Samaritans in John 4:30.

Jesus’s reply in the next verse, 4:16, appears to the casual reader to be a sudden shift in subject, telling her to go call her husband. But it is in every way a response to her hint of romantic interest and her deeper message to Jesus that she wants to escape this life. By saying “Call your husband” Jesus is obviously stating two things:

First, he is subtly referring to her marital status. No doubt thanks to her son his disciple Lazarus he already knows what it is, as further conversation will make clear. But by referring to her nonexistent husband he is giving her an opening for saying she is unmarried (which indeed she does say), which in turn gives him the opportunity to ask her to marry him.

Second, the Greek has Jesus telling her “Call your ανδρα” (ανδρος [andros], literally means “man”, but depending on context it can carry the sense of “husband”, and it does in the Greek here).

But there is a third implication in Jesus’s words. The Aramaic of the Peshitta has him telling her to “Call your ܝܟܠܥܒܠ ;”(ܠܐܥܒ [baal], which can literally mean “lord” or “master” or “husband”, but in this case must also be taken as Jesus literally saying, “Call your god! Call your Baal!” This is a reference to her work as priestess in the Samaritan Temple; she would invoke the presence of Baal by calling upon him. His command also brings strongly to mind the challenge Elijah offered to the priests of the same Baal, priests who were the acolytes of another priestess of Baal, Queen Jezebel. He repeatedly urged them to call on Baal to light a sacrificial fire atop Mount Carmel, another sacred mountain to the north of Gerizim, mockingly saying perhaps their god doesn’t respond because he is busy, or taking a nap, or in the privy. But in reply “there was no voice and no one answering” (I Kings 18:26). Then Elijah soaked with water the altar dedicated to his God, the God of Judah, called on that God, and fire came from heaven to light the sacrifice. By referring to this event Jesus is in effect telling her that there is nothing for her here, nothing but a god who isn’t there. “You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know,” he will say in verse 22, for there is nothing here to know, let alone worship. The Temple is empty now for her, forlorn and bereft; in Shakespeare’s words, it is but “Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”

Thus, in this conversation, Jesus is offering the woman, Mary, an entirely new life: she will no longer be forced by economic circumstances to work as a priestess, for she will have her own life back in Judæa, her own God back, and a husband. It is out of this graciousness that we see Mary as continuingly grateful to Jesus (John 12:3 and Luke 7:38), and no doubt why she felt she should go back home and make peace with her family, which is why she is living in Bethany again by chapter 11. He is at the same time calling her to believe in him as Messiah and asking her to accept his hand in marriage.

The Whirlwind and the Dove: Commentary on John 1:32

This blog entry discusses what exactly happened at the baptism of Jesus by John, as reported in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. This is a revision of a section of my commentaries to The Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The book is available in hardcover and paperback; you will find ordering information here.


The word περιστερα (peristera, “dove”) that we find in the text is very close in pronunciation to another word, πρηστηρ (prēstēr, “whirlwind”), and I believe there was considerable deliberation on the part of the amanuensis, probably in consultation with the eyewitness, as to which should be written. It is possible that this is a scribal error on the part of the amanuensis or else extremely early in the subsequent history of the gospel text, since the words for “dove” and “whirlwind” are quite unlike in Hebrew and Aramaic, but I reject this possibility, and also the possibility that this was a “correction” by the much later redactor to make this gospel conform to the three Synoptic gospels, since as is argued below both words would be very appropriate here.

The word πνευμα can mean “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit” depending on context, and the context here, that it came down from the sky, suggests the meaning is “wind”. (Still, to remind readers of these other meanings, the translation retains all three.) We know from experience that a wind out of the sky often does take the form of a whirlwind; the text clearly makes sense with that reading, since there is no more reason to expect a wind to take the form of a dove than for it to take the form of a barn or a banana or the Beatles. Besides being unlike a mighty wind, a fragile dove would not be able to withstand a mighty wind out of the sky, let alone safely alight on Jesus and manage to stay on his shoulder, without getting blown away. In any case, the very next verse seals the matter by expressly saying the πνευμα, the wind (and not a dove), descended onto Jesus.

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

The baptism of Jesus took place at the Jordan River (1:28), and a whirlwind at that location would immediately call to the mind of any first-century Jew reading this account the story of Elijah, also at the Jordan, transferring his prophetic power to Elisha (II Kings 2): Elijah strikes the river with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part (echoing the story of the Exodus). Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then a chariot and horses of fire appear, and Elijah is taken into Heaven in a whirlwind. Except for the mantle and the chariot and horses of fire, everything matches up. We have an older prophet (Elijah/John) at the close of his ministry ordaining the beginning of the ministry of a younger prophet (Elisha/Jesus) who has a double portion of the older one’s spirit; the River Jordan is passed through or entered into; and a whirlwind comes from Heaven. One pertinent difference is that the whirlwind takes one waning prophet, Elijah, to Heaven, but not John, since he is to die at Herod’s hand; rather, the whirlwind comes down to anoint Jesus, evidently conferring on him something of the nature and spirit of Elijah as it did Elisha. This whirlwind is the presence of God, the voice of God, the breath of God which Moses only saw after it had passed by and it was safe to leave the cave where he was hidden. This whirlwind is אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (“I Am/Will Be What I Am/Will Be”), it is God’s Name (see the Introduction). The text is drawing a strong comparison between Jesus and both Elijah and Moses; this clearly tells us the gospel is directed at least at a Jewish audience.

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

There is a third, less obvious conclusion, which is that since the text in effect says both “dove” and “wind” (in the received text of 1:32 John says, literally translated, “‘I have beheld the wind descending in the form of a dove from the sky, and it remained upon him.’”), both were intended. In other words, this may be an intended double entendre, and both πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) are suggested, rather like υσσωπος (javelin) and υσσως (hyssop) appear to have both been intended in 19:34.

First, this double entendre would be well-rooted in the Tanakh. Psalm 55:6-8 refers to a dove flying away from the dangerous whirlwind. This and other passages (e.g., Genesis 8, where the dove is associated with the subsiding of waters and wind, as here at the baptism, and Jeremiah 48:28) portray the dove in connection with a sanctuary in the wilderness from one’s enemies, a theme common to John, Jesus, and this gospel. And significantly, the Shulammite, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs, which this gospel associates with Mary by way of frequent paraphrases from that work, is often compared to a dove. In Song 2:14 the man asks the woman, whom he calls his dove, to show herself in the concealed place along the steep way – the landscape described in that verse is one that the eyewitness and amanuensis would have agreed describes accurately this rock-strewn, craggy countryside where John was baptizing, which Gul. Tyrius described as also abounding in dragons, defined as “hidden passages and windings underground”. Visitors to the region today will find it continues to be full of concealed places along steep ways.

This verse in the Song of Songs suggests the possibility that the whirlwind and the dove could both have been present at the baptism – that would be the case if the dove, the beloved, “showed herself in the concealed place” in the form of Mary, called the Magdalene in the Synoptics. In this gospel, every time she appears there are strong references to the beloved woman, the “dove” of the Song of Songs. The whirlwind could literally have come down from Heaven and remained on Jesus, and the “dove”, Mary, could also have come down to the shore and helped Jesus out of the water, and “remained” with him for life, as his wife.

Strengthening this possibility is the clear inclusio between John, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah after his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the Jordan (1:43), and Mary, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah during his ministry (4:29; John only discusses Jesus as Messiah with certain religious officials, and the disciples only privately, in chapter 1); she was also the first to declare him such after his literal crucifixion-and-resurrection (20:18). Moreover, Mary watched as Jesus died on the cross (19:25) and was first witness to his resurrection, which would form an inclusio if she watched his symbolic death-and-resurrection here. Another inclusio is formed by Jesus being reunited with Mary in a garden right after his resurrection in chapter 20 just as he will be reunited with the woman he glimpsed during the baptism at a gardenlike well, in chapter 4, very soon after this symbolic resurrection of baptism. With so many clear correspondences being drawn between John and Mary, the possibility that Mary was present for the baptism of Jesus must be considered.

We know that Lazarus was at this time a disciple of John, so Mary, his mother, could have come from Sychar to visit her son, who was at the time of the baptism still a disciple of John, and thus certainly there to witness it. Mary may even have come to be herself baptized by John, to recollect her Jewish heritage after serving as a Samaritan priestess, to have her past “washed away” through the baptism. If so, then not only Jesus but Mary too would have been naked for the baptism, as was customary (and still is today in the mikvah), for this was a birth ritual and we are all born naked (Job 1:21). Jesus’s nakedness in this scene forms an inclusio with his being nearly so to wash the disciples’ feet (13:3-12a), and his complete nakedness on the cross (19:23-24) and at the resurrection (20:6-7) when he was spiritually reborn and spiritually remarried to Mary. At the crucifixion and resurrection Mary would again have been nigh naked herself, since the tradition then was for a grieving person to rend his or her clothes into pieces.

It is not inconceivable that Mary was assisting John in the baptism ritual; as a former Temple priestess this would be a familiar role for her to take. She may have helped Jesus (and others there for the ritual) to undress, and to untie his sandals, the very act that John felt he could not do himself (1:27), and throw around him a fresh white linen robe afterwards. If Mary undressed and reclothed him in this scene, there is an inclusio with her coming to the tomb (20:1) to undertake the wifely responsibility of tohorah, the ritual purification of a body by unclothing it, washing it (equivalent to the baptism here), and then dressing it again in a takhrikhin, a fresh white linen wrapping. And if the great preacher John felt he was not worthy of unlacing Jesus’s sandals and helping him undress, and these tasks fell instead to Mary, then Mary must already have been in a very special capacity as regards Jesus; at the least she would be such as a Temple priestess.

The Gospel of Philip may provide some support for this possible involved presence of Mary at the baptism of Jesus. (I agree with others that this noncanonical gospel appears to have preserved some oral traditions; it most decidedly should not be derided as Gnostic, for it portrays a very physical, real-world Jesus, and it speaks of this mundane earth as God’s creation, quite real and good.) At verse 82 it closely associates baptism and marriage: “The baptism has the resurrection [with] the Atonement coming into the bridal chamber; yet, the bridal chamber is more exalted than these. … One will never find its like”. And it may be speaking of John (as the friend of the bridegroom; cf. John 3:29) and the disciples (as the sons of the bridegroom; Jesus often addresses the disciples as his children) when it says of the nakedness of the bride (verse 131): “Let her [the bride] come forth and be revealed only to her father and mother with her, before the friend of the bridegroom, [and] before the sons of the bridegroom”. And, in the recently published fragment from the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, Jesus not only calls Mary “my wife”, but says, “As for me, I dwell/exist/live with her in order to […] an image […].” The verb suggests “I live with her” in three senses: the ordinary sense of cohabitation, the higher sense of spiritual union, and the highest sense, of the vitality in all things that vivifies life. Thus, Jesus is probably saying that his marriage to Mary is part of the Messianic image that he hopes to convey; applied to the baptism, their meeting at his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the river would be perfectly matched by their meeting again following his very real death and resurrection.

Dove imagery is universal in the spiritual traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, and it supports the identification of Mary with a dove. James A. Montgomery (in The Samaritans: the Earliest Jewish Sect) discusses the oft-cited belief that the Samaritans worshipped a dove on Mount Gerizim, where Mary was a priestess. He eventually dismisses it, but yet he speaks approvingly of other scholars (Selden and Ronzevalle) who associate the dove cult with the goddess Semiramis and the Ashima mentioned in II Kings 17:30. Donald A. MacKenzie (in Myths of Babylonia and Assyria) discusses the close connections between Semiramis and doves in the myths about her. Her Assyrian name, Sammu-rammat, is probably derived from Summat (“Dove”), and signifies “The Dove Goddess Loves Her”. In the most ancient form of the myth, says MacKenzie, she was turned into a dove and took flight into heaven in that form. He adds that Robertson Smith has demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semitic nations, often closely associated with love, and also symbolizes innocence, gentleness, and holiness. So, ultimately, in the double entendre of πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) we have masculine and feminine, god and goddess, anointing this first encounter of Jesus and Mary.

If this theory that Mary was actively present at the baptism is true, then it must be asked why there is nothing about it in the gospel. It may be that the amanuensis meant to add it to the telling of the baptism, but never got to it; we know that the original version of the gospel was never completed. It may also be that the redactor found it unacceptable (for the clear suggestion that Jesus was involved with this woman) and excised it; I reject this possibility because the redactor let other similarly “romantic” passages stand with but minimal changes. The compositional problem may have been because the author has put the description of the baptism in the mouth of John (even though Lazarus the eyewitness was certainly there), and either an expansion would have to be still in the first person or else a new narrative strand based on Lazarus’s memories would need to be inserted.

Should this hypothesis of Mary at the baptism be correct, it is not hard to theorize how it would have been recounted in this gospel. As discussed in the Introduction, many scenes in the gospel appear to be sketches that were going to be expanded later, but, alas, there was no opportunity to do so, probably because of the Roman decimation of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. John’s narration of what happened (1:31-33) is complete as it stands, but it could have been slightly extended, to say that after the whirlwind churned up the water in a miniature inundating storm of water (a parallel to the Flood [Genesis 7:17-23], in which everything died, just as this baptism was a symbol dying, and after which a wind descended from heaven [Genesis 8:1, the Hebrew wording of which is close to Genesis 1:2]), the dove came down to the waters in the person of Mary, to guide Jesus to dry land (Genesis 8:8-12), to draw him forth from the waters (Exodus 2:5).

If Mary was there to be baptized herself, and/or to assist John, then likely Jesus took notice of Mary, whom Lazarus would have told his teacher was his mother, and that would have led to the arranging of their meeting in the next episode, at the well in Sychar. This is, of course, pure speculation, but it would connect this scene closely with the next one, at Jacob’s Well, and explain why this scene is immediately followed by that one, and then the wedding. It would also help explain the disciples’ surprise in 4:27, since she is not entirely unfamiliar to them!

“I, I, Speak I With”: Commentary on John 4:26

This blog entry discusses the conversation between Jesus and Mary at a well in Samaria, specifically in John 4:26. This is a revision of a section of my commentaries to The Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The book is available in hardcover and paperback; you will find ordering information here.


Here for the first time in the gospel Jesus reveals his being Messiah. That he does so to this woman tells us she is significant, and not merely a minor, nameless character who does not appear again. It forms an inclusio with chapter 20, where he reveals himself at his resurrection to the same woman, Mary, not just saying he is Messiah, but being fully realized as Messiah.

This verse is another deliberate double entendre. It is usually, and not incorrectly, translated as Jesus confirming her guess that he is Messiah, rendered in this translation as “I am (he), the one who is speaking to you.” In this sense he is referring to himself, at least as a vehicle for the message, for in this gospel his role as Messiah is as the chosen spokesperson (prophet, נְבִיא in Hebrew, προφητης in Greek) for God.

However, Jesus will use this odd syntactical construction many times in this gospel, which means (given an author for whom every detail is carefully chosen) it is significant. Jesus is instead, or also, saying to her the phrase ΈΓΩ ΈΙΜΙ, “I AM”. This is the Greek rendering of one of the seven most sacred names for God in the Torah, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, which is often translated “I Am What I Am”, but literally means “I Shall Be What I Shall Be”, though the Hebrew implies the past and present tenses too. In this sense, Jesus is referring not to himself but to God, except insofar as God communicates through him. He here speaks like the prophets of centuries past, who often spoke for God, in the first person, to give the sense that God was talking through the prophet. This sense is rendered in the translation as “I AM (is) the one who is speaking to you.” This gospel presents Jesus as Messiah in the Jewish sense, as an emissary from God, who as was traditional in classical cultures, is treated by those who receive him not as an emissary but as, in effect, the presence of the sending potentate – in this case, God. It is not to say Jesus equals God, as Christian dogma was later to claim, since the gospel sees him as wholly human, but rather that the presence and words of Jesus were and are to be taken as the presence and words of God who sent him as an emissary.

As discussed above [see the book], there are a lot of inclusio connections between this passage and 20:1-18. There is another that must be considered.

In chapter 20 in the Peshitta (the very early Aramaic version of the New Testament), Mary refers to Jesus thrice as ܡܳܪܝ (mary; “master”, “lord”, “husband”, “God”), in verses 2, 13, and 15; in these verses she doesn’t recognize Jesus standing before her. In the same passage Jesus refers to her once, at verse 15, as ܐܰܢ݈ܬ݁ܬ݂ܳܐ in Aramaic (“woman” or, especially, “wife”; the word in the Greek text is γυνη), and in verse 16 by her name. After that she almost certainly calls him mary again in verse 16, but that appears changed by the redactor (see the commentary to that verse), and she does speak of him as mary in verse 18.

In chapter 4 in the Peshitta, Mary refers to Jesus thrice as ܡܳܪܝ (mary), in verses 11, 15, and 19; in these verses she doesn’t recognize Jesus standing before her as Messiah. In the same passage Jesus refers to her once, at verse 21, as ܐܰܢ݈ܬ݁ܬ݂ܳܐ in Aramaic (“woman” or, especially, “wife”). But, in the standard text in neither Greek nor Aramaic, Jesus does not address her by her name. In this encounter by the well Jesus certainly knew her name, having learned it after the baptism from either Lazarus or John, and having come here to the well specifically to meet her again, because he wants her for his wife. Yet the close similarities in how the two conversations are structured force us to consider the possibility.

The redactor clearly has gone to some lengths to remove any hint that the marriage at Cana is Jesus’s own marriage to Mary. As discussed elsewhere, this scene at the well is separated from the wedding, and any clues as to the identity of the bridal couple are removed from the latter. Here also, I believe, the name “Mary” is removed, leaving the female character nameless and (apparently) never to reappear in the gospel, something very odd in a gospel where every detail is carefully managed.

If indeed in the original version Jesus did call her by name, it would be – as in chapter 20 – in the culminating moment of the conversation; that is, in this verse 26. In this moment when Jesus reveals himself as Messiah, it would be a finer moment if at the same time he reveals that he knows her name; he has already made it clear he knows she is a Temple priestess.

The Greek for what Jesus says in this verse, Εγω ειμι ο λαλων σοι, is reasonably clear in meaning, as discussed above. The Aramaic, ܐܶܢܳܐ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܕ݁ܰܡܡܰܠܶܠ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܥܰܡܶܟ݂ܝ, is not quite so clear. Literally, it translates as: “I I speak I with.” By adding a few words in parentheses to clarify the meaning implicit in the Aramaic, it is somewhat more readable: “I, I (who) speak with (you); (it is) I.” Still, this is not only confusing in English; even in Aramaic the grammatical structure of this sentence is rather unfocused, mainly because of the repeated personal pronoun at the beginning. However, if Mary’s name is added, it grows much clearer: ܐܶܢܳܐ ܡܳܪܝ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܕ݁ܰܡܡܰܠܶܠ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܥܰܡܶܟ݂ܝ (“I, Mary, I [who] speak with [you], [it is] I.”) That suggests in turn that the Greek might have originally read, Εγω ειμι Μαριαμ ο λαλων σοι (“I AM, Mary, who is speaking to you”).

Neither Aramaic nor Greek in the first century used punctuation; what punctuation you see in all of the translations herein, including the phrase above, was added because it is necessary in modern English. The lack of punctuation in the original can cause some ambiguity in meaning, and that ambiguity may well have been intentional. Adding to the ambiguity, the word ܡܳܪܝ could be understood as her name “Mary”, and also as mary, meaning “lord”, “master”, “teacher”, “husband”, and even “God”. With these factors in mind, Jesus in this sentence could be understood as saying:

a: “I am (your) lord/master (mary) (who) is speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus confirming himself to her as Messiah;

b: “I am (your) husband (mary), I (who) am speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus confirming the aspect of their conversation in which they subtly explore the possibility of marriage and agree to it;

c: “I AM, Mary, is speaking with (you).” This would be God speaking through Jesus to say Jesus is Messiah and that God, I AM, is speaking to Mary through him;

d: “I am (Messiah), Mary, I (who) am speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus answering personally (i.e., not God speaking through Jesus, but Jesus on his own) Mary’s comment about expectation of a Messiah; and even

e: “I AM / I am Mary, I speaking with (you). This would be God and/or Jesus speaking as Mary on Jesus’s lips stating that, since in God all humanity is one (John 17:23), then Jesus and Mary are not only one flesh in marriage but they are also one with each other and all humanity in God. Far from affirming opposition between Jew and Samaritan, this is Jesus affirming a perfect unity of all Creation.

Or, as I believe, not one but all of the above are implicit. Jesus here with one word, “Mary”, expresses his entire theology – just as he will again at 20:16 with the same name.