That Joseph of Arimathæa was also Joseph Caiaphas

That Joseph of Arimathæa was also Joseph Caiaphas

James David Audlin

The following text comprises material from the upcoming third edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, from all three volumes, published by Editores Volcán Barú, copyright © 2012-2018 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

Joseph of Arimathæa is always called this in English as if it were his full proper name, but only “Joseph” is his name. The “of Arimathæa” is not even a cognomen, but merely an additional comment to specify which Joseph is meant, that this one disposing of Jesus’s body is not his legal father, whom the reader could otherwise understandably assume was the Joseph who took charge of it. It is not a cognomen in the synoptic gospels: Mark 15:43 introduces him as Joseph and adds that he is ο απο αριμαθαιας (“the one from Arimathæa”). Matthew 27:57 calls him ανθρωπος πλουσιος απο αριμαθαιας τουνομα ιωσηφ (“a rich man from Arimathæa named Joseph”). Luke 23:50 presents him as named Joseph, and only after two informational clauses does it mention, in the next verse, that he is from Arimathæa.

The early Greek versions of John 19:38 vary somewhat; 01 says, like Mark, ιωσηφ ο απο αριμαθαιας (“Joseph, the one from Arimathæa”), 𝕻66 and 03 have ιωσηφ απο αριμαθαιας (Joseph from Arimathæa”), while 02 has ο ιωσηφ ο απο αριμαθαιας (“the Joseph from Arimathæa”). The only surviving early Aramaic texts, the Peshitta and the Palestinian Lectionaries refer to him as ܝܘܣܝܦ ܗܕܝܢ ܡܢ ܪܡܬܝܣ (“Joseph, who was from Ramtys”). This location name will be discussed shortly, but again it is clear that “of Arimathæa” should not be taken as a cognomen, but just a phrase specifying which Joseph is meant.

Like his associate Nicodemus, Joseph was clearly a man of considerable substance, and without doubt another Sanhedrin member, as is implied by the word βουλευτης (“counsellor”) in Mark 15:43. John 19:38 in Greek adds that he was a follower of Jesus but secretly because of his “fear of the Jews”; i.e., of other members of the Sanhedrin. This makes little sense, because surely Joseph realized that the religious authorities would quickly learn that he had secured the body and might take action against him.
The much earlier Palestinian Lectionaries say, far more subtly, that ܝܘܣܝܦ ܗܕܝܢ ܡܢ ܪܡܬܝܣ ܕܗܘܐ ܬܠܡܝܕܗ ܗܘܐ ܕܝ ܛܡܝܪ ܡܢ ܠܓܠܠ ܕܚܠܬܗܘܢ ܕܝܘܕܝܝ ܘܫܠܛܗ ܝܠܛܘܣ (“Joseph, who was from Ramtys, who was among his disciples, but hidden as such because of their fear of the Jew[ish authoritie]s and Pilate’s power”). This phrase will be discussed at greater length in the commentary on this verse; suffice it to say here that clearly Joseph was a very powerful ally, and so his association with Jesus’s following was kept secret such that the religious authorities might not take action to prevent him from utilizing it in behalf of that following in serious situations, such as this one.

Joseph bought a costly Egyptian grade of linen to wrap the body in, and Nicodemus provided a hundred pounds of embalming spices. This tells us that both men were very rich, as Luke confirms. It can only be concluded – even though he is not mentioned in the canonical gospels except in reference to this disposal of the body – that the man was closely connected to Jesus, especially inasmuch as he could persuade Pilate to give him the family’s right of disposal, and the man was wealthy enough to be taken very seriously by Pilate. The early apocryphal Gospel of Peter describes a supposed conversation between Joseph and Pilate; while this text is not necessarily reliable as a source of factual information, it is very early, and may reflect oral reports of a reasonably amicable connection between the two men.

A persistently repeated bit of misinformation in modern Christian apologetics insists that the Talmud (an exact location in this massive collection of writings is never given, because this is an invented attribution) claims that Joseph of Arimathæa was the younger brother of the father of Jesus’s mother Mary. And that claim I cannot with certainty trace back farther than Mediæval British polemical writing. However always with rumors of this sort we must ask ourselves if there might be a kernel of truth imbedded in them, just as (as noted elsewhere in this book), Pope Gregory the Great’s declaration that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute was in high probability derived from the likely fact that she had been a priestess in the Samaritan religion on Mount Gerizim. Therefore I wonder if this Mediæval legend simply names the wrong Mary (because the Magdalene was perceived as a “fallen woman” and thus could be countenanced as having no more relationship with Jesus than would any pitiable, humble supplicant), and that in fact Joseph of Arimathæa was the younger brother of not the father of Mary Jesus’s mother, but the mother of Mary Magdalene, Salome, who was married to a man variously known as Simon the Leper, Simon the Pharisee, Simon ben Nathanael, and Simon Iscariot. As the maternal uncle of Jesus’s wife, Joseph would be a logical family member to take a fatherly role during and after the crucifixion of her husband, given that Jesus’s own father Joseph is evidently out of the picture at this point.

There may be valuable information hidden in plain sight.

Though this man (at least in his appearance here) has gone down in history as if his name were Joseph of Arimathæa, the canonical texts always call him Joseph, with his place of origin specified. By the common style of writing at the time, in both Aramaic and Greek, this indicates that more than one Joseph has been mentioned before, and the descriptive phrase may be to say this is an additional Joseph newly mentioned, but we must entertain the possibility that the Joseph here named is one of those mentioned before. Indeed, in John and the synoptics, two Josephs have been mentioned previously – Joseph Jesus’s legal father and Joseph called Caiaphas. If this Joseph were Jesus’s adoptive father surely one of the four gospels would say so. Let us consider instead the possibility, strange as it may sound, that this is Joseph Caiaphas.

Let us look again at the Greek descriptive ο απο αριμαθαιας (“the one from Harimathaias”). Despite its common pronunciation in English, the Greek for Arimathæa has a diacritical mark on the first “a” that indicates a very un-Greek aspirated “h” sound is supposed to precede it: “Harimathaia”. The name is, in fact, a Greek version of the Hebrew הרָמַת (ha-Ramata; literally, “toward Ramah”), a town in the Shfelah Hills region, just south of Samaria, where, or close to where, the modern West Bank Palestinian town of رنتيس‎ (Rantis) is located. In the Peshitta version of 19:30 Joseph is said to come from ܪܡܬܐ (ramtā), which is exactly how the Aramaic Tanakh has “Ramah” in, for instance, I Samuel 1:19. In the Galilean Aramaic of the earlier Palestinian Lectionaries the name is ܪܡܬܝܣ (Ramtys). A colophon in that source (see

Lectionaries_A_Mere_Caesarean_Anomaly_or_the_Closest_Text_We_Have_to_the_Original) suggests, probably a step along the way to the modern name Rantis. But keep in mind that Arimathæa is הרָמַת (ha-Ramata), “toward Ramah”, and not actually Ramah itself. That places his home farther northeast and closer to the Samaritan capital, Shechem, and hence nearer to where Jesus and Mary met at the side of a spring (John 4).
The cognomen “Iscariot” is usually understood as a Greek garbling of “Ish-Kerioth”, “Man from Kerioth”, the latter being a town in far southern Judæa. On the face of it, that is reasonable, but there is nothing else to connect Judas or Simon to this distant community. A stronger alternative is that it refers instead to Kohath: אּישׁ קְהָת would be “Ish-Kohath”. The “sh” diphthong does not exist in Greek and would become an “s” sound. There being no way in Greek to put an “h” sound into the middle of a word, it was transliterated with a ρι (ri) substituting for the “h”. And since Greek words never end with the “th” diphthong (represented by θ in Greek), the last sound would have become a “t” (τ) in Greek. The result would make this word, rendered into Greek, the familiar “Iscariot”. Thus, if indeed Joseph and Simon were brothers-in-law, they may have both come from Ramathaim (Arimathæa) in Kohath.

Mary Magdalene’s cognomen also could refer to this same region. One common theory is that it comes from ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (magdala, “tower” but also suggesting “elegant” or “great”, likewise related to μαγδωλος). That brings to mind the two Zophs in the Shfelah Hills region where her family originated, a pair of mountains named from the wordצָפָה (tsaphah), which means “watchers”, even “watchtowers”. Mary, who by her “five husbands” is depicted at her introduction in John 4 as a Temple priestess on Mount Gerizim (Note: this is discussed elsewhere in the book), is closely associated in this gospel with the Samaritans. The Gospel of John also associates her at the death of Lazarus with Rachel, who wept for her “lost sons” in this land of Ramah (Jeremiah 31:15-16): Mary and Jesus met in chapter 4 at Jacob’s Spring, just as Jacob and Rachel met at a well, perhaps the same well. With all of these close family ties to Samaria, there were quite likely Samaritans in the family, which may help explain how it is that Mary Magdalene was able to enter service as a Samaritan priestess. Indeed, this raises the possibility that she often visited, even lived with, her uncle, especially considering how his brother her father Simon the Leper had pretty much rejected her.

Joseph, as the wealthy businessman brother-in-law of the wealthy businessman Simon the Leper, could go to Pontius Pilate, saying his appearance was on behalf of both father and widowed daughter, with sufficient leverage to take control of the body of Jesus before others (especially the Roman authorities and those among the Sanhedrin who thought ill of Jesus) tried to do the same. Roman practice was for a crucified body to be left for days on the cross as a “lesson” to the populace, pecked at by vultures, consumed by insects, and gnawed at by carnivores; Horace refers to crucified victims as feeding crows (Ep. 1:16:46-48). The body of Jesus, with all its volatile political implications, would need to be disposed of quickly, to say nothing of the laws in the Torah requiring this. Additionally, if Joseph and/or Nicodemus were aware of the possible plans for Jesus to take drugs, in the soured wine of 19:28-30, to put him into a deep coma (see the essay on page 395), then there was all the more reason to gain speedy control of his body.

Roman practice was for a crucified body to be left for days on the cross as a “lesson” to the populace, pecked at by vultures, consumed by insects, and gnawed at by carnivores; Horace refers to crucified victims as feeding crows (Ep. 1:16:46-48). The body of Jesus, with all its volatile political potential, would need to be disposed of quickly, to say nothing of the laws in the Torah requiring this. What is more, if Joseph and/or Nicodemus were aware of or the agents of the possible plans for Jesus to take drugs in the soured wine of 19:28-30 to put him into a deep coma (see the essay on page 395), then there was all the more reason to gain speedy control of his body. In John 19:38 the Presbyter tells us that Joseph ηρωτησεν (ērōtēsen, “asked”) Pilate if he might take control of Jesus body; this verb denotes not a humble supplication but a request made with the full expectation that it will be granted because of the close personal relationship between the one who asks and the one asked. The Peshitta and the Palestinian Lectionaries have the verb ܒܥܐ (bˁā), which carries the same sense as the Greek, especially in the latter’s Galilean Aramaic dialect, in which it can mean “to require” or even “to assert”.

That Joseph of Arimathæa went to Pilate on short notice knowing he could secure the body of Jesus argues that he was quite highly placed indeed. If Joseph could do this and maintain his “secret weapon” status that the Palestinian Lectionaries ascribe to him, such that he could collect Jesus’s body and dispose it in the tomb without fear of the Sanhedrin, requires us to conclude that he could do so because Pilate was the sole authority in Judæa with more power than the Sanhedrin. This confident request of Pilate supports the theory that this Joseph of Arimathæa must be Joseph Caiaphas, who as all early texts, notably Josephus, confirm had a strong, trusting simpatico with Pilate; their many years of tenure holding the two most powerful positions in Judæa are nearly identical. Joseph, wealthy businessman brother-in-law of the wealthy businessman Simon the Leper, could go to Pontius Pilate, saying his appearance was on behalf of both father and widowed daughter, with sufficient leverage to take control of the body of Jesus before other forces (especially those among the Sanhedrin who thought ill of Jesus) tried to do the same.

The Tosefta (Yevamot 1:10) passingly mentions Caiaphas thus: “the family of the house of Caiaphai of Beth Mekoshesh … and some of them were high priests”. Ben-Zion Rosenfeld identifies Beth Mekoshesh with Khirbet Marah el-Jum‘a (Nabi Daniy’al), in the northern Hebron Hills, based on the preservation of the word Mekoshesh in the Arabic name of the spring north of the site, ‘Ein Qusis. And David Amit, exploring the site, found plenty of archæological evidence to support this. Supporting this contention that the family of Caiaphas was from that region, the well-known Miriam ossuary is inscribed thus: מרימ ברת ישוע בר קיפא כהנמ מעזה אמרי (“Miriam daughter of Y’shua son of Caiapha, priests [of the priestly course of] Ma‘aziah, from Beth ’Imri”). Boaz Zissu and Yuval Goren (in an article in Israel Exploration Journal 61:1, 2011) conclude that, if Beth ’Imri is a toponym, then it names a place in the northern Hebron Hills. Putting these two hypotheses together, the probable locus of Caiaphas’s family, Nabi Daniy’al, is a mere fifteen kilometers southwest of Rantis, the theorized location for Joseph of Arimathæa’s family, in the area where the northern Hebron Hills meet the Shfelah Hills. This puts Joseph Caiaphas from exactly the same region as Joseph of Arimathæa, in the Shfelah Hills. Given that Rosenfeld and Amit are offering only a theoretical locative, there is a reasonable chance that Mekoshesh and Ramah were originally not just close but identical. And that raises in my mind the possibility that Joseph Caiaphas and Joseph of Arimathæa were at the least related.

As further support of that conjecture, note the following facts:

John’s gospel presents Joseph as working closely together with Nicodemus to dispose of Jesus’s both quickly yet carefully before the beginning of the Passover. Note that not only were both men allies in the Sanhedrin but, according to the Talmud (Erub 3:17), Nicodemus also had an estate in Ramah (Arimathæa). Thus he and Joseph were not just colleagues and friends but neighbors as well.

Joseph of Arimathæa is very highly placed in the Sanhedrin, according to Mark 15:43; and indeed the very early Syriac Sinaiticus version of that verse doesn’t mince words, calling him ܓܒܪܐ ܡܝܩܪܐ ܒܘܠܘܛܐ (gbra myqra bwlwṭa) which means the most honored man among the counsellors; i.e., members of the Sanhedrin. The body is placed in his own previously prepared and unused tomb, wrapped in an incredible amount of spices and fine cloth, according to John; signs of Joseph being wealthy and powerful to accomplish all this in the very short time between Jesus’s death and the sundown beginning Passover.

Consider further that according to Josephus the high priest’s name was Joseph, and Caiaphas was a Greek cognomen based on his family name, similar to how Buni took the Greek cognomen of Nicodemus and Simon that of Peter. Caiaphas, καιαφας, mentioned twice in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, is the Greek rendition of ܩܝܦܐ in Aramaic orקיפא in Hebrew (both pronounced qypā), which as noted above is mentioned in Yevamot 1:10 and on the Miriam ossuary. There is no scholarly agreement on what the name actually means. Still, in the context of the ossuary inscription, together with the names Miriam and Y’shua, Mary and Jesus, it may possibly have meant to convey the meaning of ܢܩܝܦܐ (nqypā), “followed” or “agreed with”, since Caiaphas agreed with Jesus as to a messianic death and Arimathæa followed him, albeit secretly. Also note that ܙܩܝܦܐ (zqypā) is the Aramaic word for not exactly the “cross” of dogma, but still the instrument of torture on which Jesus was executed. Such allusions may even more have been in John’s mind as he wrote.

Annas, who ruled the Temple, had two daughters. One was married to Caiaphas, also known as Joseph of Arimathaea, the high priest. The other, Anna, was married to John the Presbyter, the sagan (second in command) in the Temple, and author of this gospel. His son was Prochoros, who served as his father’s scribe for many years. Caiaphas had a daughter named the same as Jesus’s wife, and she had a son named the same as Jesus. I have elsewhere established that Joseph of Arimathaea is the maternal uncle of Mary, Jesus’s wife. That makes Caiaphas, like Salome Mary’s mother, a direct descendant of the great rabbis Hillel and Gamaliel, explaining his rise to the high priest position. Salome was married to Simon the Leper, of little innate quality, who managed through marriage to become a priest and a Pharisee, and even get quoted once in the Talmud. Their daughter is Mary, to whom Lazarus is born before her marriage to Jesus.

Caiaphas’s intervention in John 11:49-52 was not antagonistic toward Jesus, as later Christian dogma has characterized it, but meant to give Jesus exactly what he wanted: a messianic death (see Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain’s brilliantly persuasive article “To Die for the People: A Kabbalistic Reinterpretation of the Crucifixion of Jesus”, The Priest: A Journal of Catholic Theology [April 1996]). Indeed, the Miriam ossuary suggests Caiaphas had a son named Y’shua (Jesus) and a granddaughter named Miriam (Mary); while neither name was unusual at the time, it is curious that his direct descendants have the names of Jesus and his mother and wife.

Finally, note that the early Gospel of Peter refers to Joseph of Arimathæa as ο φιλος πειλατου, “the friend of Pilate” and calls the burial site κηπον ιωσηφ, “the Garden of Joseph”.

If my hypothesis is correct it explains how Joseph of Arimathæa was able to secure Jesus’s body. It explains why Caiaphas cuts a brilliant course between two undesirable alternatives, managing to get the Sanhedrin to give Jesus exactly what he wants. If Jesus was married to Caiaphas’s niece, for above I conclude that Joseph of Arimathæa is her uncle, it further explains (in addition to several other reasons provided in the commentaries in this book) why the usually brutally decisive Pilate was uncustomarily delicate in his treatment of Jesus, and why the Sanhedrin took the entire issue so extremely seriously. This identification also tells us why Jesus had Judas arrange the arrest (13:27): he would thus have been nephew to Caiaphas, who worked quite collegially with Pilate.

Before he left to become a student of Jesus John the Presbyter was the sagan in the Temple, so we can gather from Polycrates and others, which is to say he was lieutenant to Caiaphas the high priest. Hence few knew him better than the author of this gospel. If we read the narrative with clear eyes we see Caiaphas presented fairly, and indeed positively. This is even more evident if we conclude that Joseph of Arimathæa is another name for Caiaphas. Indeed, the phrasing of 19:38 suggests that John assumed the reader knows just who Joseph is – he tells us no more than this Joseph disposing of the body is the one from Arimathæa, and not Jesus’s legal father.

It is also worth noting in passing that two later works of relatively dubious worth as sources, but which yet might recall an oral tradition, list Caiaphas as a secret believer in Jesus. One is a Syriac text called The Teaching of the Apostles, not to be confused with the Didachē, which is also known as The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles; the former does bear some similarities to the latter and may have been in portion based thereupon. The other is the so-called Syriac Infancy Gospel, the extant version of which was put down around the sixth century.

The problem is that two millennia of dogmatic indoctrination are hard to shed, and so scholars and general readers alike cannot see any chance that these two names point to the same man. Yet I think they do. I remind the reader that the gospel simply calls him Joseph, with the “from Arimathæa” added simply to make it clear which Joseph is meant. And indeed I think this is another sign of the Presbyter’s literary artistry: he refers to the man by his Greek cognomen, Caiaphas, when Joseph is negotiating “like a Greek” with his powerful confrères, but by his Jewish name when he exhibits compassionate humanity, as at the end of chapter 19.

There is nothing further known with any degree of certainty about Caiaphas after his removal from office in 36, at about the same time as his ally Pontius Pilate. But certainly he was by that removal free from the need for secrecy about his support for Jesus, and perhaps also he wanted or needed to get away from the seething chaos in Jerusalem that in 70 culminated in its destruction. There is also nothing further on Joseph of Arimathæa in the canonical record, though later Christian writers suggest Joseph went on to travel through Europe as a missionary beyond the reach of Paul’s dogmatic heirs; very early texts even say he reached the British Isles. Some texts make him a worker and trader in metals. None of this is incomprehensible; already in this time Ireland in particular was well on its way to being gloriously if briefly Europe’s intellectual and artistic capital.

Mediæval legends add that he bore the mystical Holy Grail, which today is the name for the common cup Jesus shared with the disciples at the Last Supper, often said to have magical properties, and often said to have been used by Joseph of Arimathæa to collect blood draining from Jesus’s body as he died. The word “grail” is without a genuine pedigree, though etymologists try to explain it as coming from gradalis, Latin for “plate, as in the flat item on which a meal is served. It more likely began as a misunderstanding of the Old French sang réal, “royal blood” (to say that the King of the Jews and possibly progeny came to Gaul) as san gréal, “Holy Grail”; you can see the confusion, since this supposed cup was used to collect Jesus’s “holy blood”, but in the literal sense. Yet when the word first appears, in a romance by Chrétien de Troyes, it is not yet the Cup. While I love Chrétien’s works, they are to be taken as entertainment, and not in any sense as good history. In his Perceval he mentions un graal (“a grail”). The indefinite article indicates that it is not unique, and that a Communion waver is served on it tells us it is a plate, not a cup. For Wolfram von Eschenbach, one of the world’s greatest poets, it was a stone, the lapsit exiliis, now best known as the Philosopher’s Stone, which transmutes common substances into gold. It is only much later, in the writings of Robert de Boron, comparable to Chrétien’s for the lack of hesitation to make things up for the sake of a good story, that we have the Grail take the form of a cup. Several scholars have traced how this grail business hooked up with pre-Christian indigenous legends of Northern Europe about the Fisher King dying of his “dolorous wound”, and so on. These matters also hooked up with Mediæval popular tales that asserted Joseph of Arimathaea came into France and England after the New Testament events. I must emphasize that the rise of the Grail legends was concurrent with the height of the Cathar movement, (see the indexed references) and then its genocidal decimation by the Roman Catholics; the Cathars believed Jesus and Mary Magdalene – who as his consort carried his seed, his sang réal – came in later years to Gaul, and even travelled up to Great Britain. Indeed, Joseph Goering (The Virgin and the Grail) describes early Grail imagery in twelfth century wall paintings in Cathar churches of Occitania, depicting for instance images of Mary bearing a bowl that radiates tongues of fire., which may be depictions or perhaps memories of a bowl or chalice that Joseph as metalworker might have made, among images of Jesus with his wife and children. These wall paintings serve as a record of the stories widely believed as truth about the sang réal coming to the fields of Gaul, as does also the Matter of Britain, all of which the organized Roman Catholic Church sought to extinguish.

The Gospel of John in the Palestinian Lectionaries: A Mere Caesarean Anomaly or the Closest Text We Have to the Original?

The Gospel of John in the Palestinian Lectionaries:
A Mere Cæsarean Anomaly or the Closest Text We Have to the Original?

James David Audlin

The following text comprises material from the upcoming third edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volumes I and III, in three volumes, published by Editores Volcán Barú, copyright © 2012-2018 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

A sample page from the Palestinian Lectionaries, of Matthew 27:24-32.

In my reconstruction of the original gospel the standard Greek text is the “base text”, appearing wherever it appears to be reasonably close to that original. But in my view an Aramaic text, found in the so-called Palestinian Lectionaries, is the most important source for reconstructing the original version, and so they appear very often herein. Therefore I think they need a special introduction. Lectionaries are collections of readings from the New Testament, in the earliest centuries specifically from the gospels. The readings are not in the original narrative ordering of the gospels themselves but passages taken out and arranged in a special way that conforms to the needs in various seasons in the liturgical year.

There are three manuscripts of the Palestinian Lectionaries: A was inked in 1030, B in 1104, and C in 1118. A transcription of all three published in 1899 by Agnes Smith Lewis is my textual source. Lewis also provides fragments of a fourth lectionary, scant bits of John chapters 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, and 15-17, which can be conveniently referred to as Palestinian Lectionary D. Other very similar lectionaries have been found, mostly in Greek, but these four are uniquely in Galilean Aramaic. Sadly, these Palestinian Lectionaries have never been translated even in part, and indeed this work may be the first in any modern language to translate and analyze most of the passages quoted herein. Since Lewis’s publication it has been customary to call them the Palestinian Lectionaries as she did, but the text is is more properly called Galilean Aramaic, as I do herein. Curiously, the script, that is to say the alphabetary used in these manuscripts, is not Galilean but Syriac, a matter that will be explained presently.

One of the first things scholars ask about an unfamiliar New Testament manuscript is which text-type it is. There are three generally accepted families of manuscripts, recognized by certain peculiar features of phrasing, vocabulary, and the like: The Alexandrian (on which the Textus Receptus of today is based), Western, and Byzantine. Some scholars include a fourth, the Cæsarean, but this one is an embarrassment poorly if at all defined, basically just a place to put a manuscript that doesn’t fit comfortably into one of the other three. Some scholars categorize these Lectionaries as Cæsarean, and therefore also the gospels from which they were evidently arranged, but that just begs the question. The fact of the matter is that these Galilean Aramaic texts are their own text-type: throughout the gospels we find an abundance of remarkably different readings that almost never even vaguely resemble anything found in any other manuscript. I hereby propose that they be denoted as the Galilean text-type.

So far as we know, such lectionaries began to appear in the eighth century, taking their liturgical readings, of course, from earlier New Testament or gospel manuscripts. The question is whether these Palestinian Lectionaries drew their material from manuscripts in Aramaic or whether they were translated from Greek sources. George Henry Gwilliam (The Palestinian Version of the Holy Scriptures, 1893) argues for the former, while Eberhard Nestle (as quoted in Lewis’s A Palestinian Syriac Lectionary containing Lessons from the Pentateuch, Job, Proverbs, Prophets, Acts, and Epistles, 1897) and Bruce Metzger (New Testament Tools and Studies, Vol. X, 1977) propound the latter view. Nestle and Metzger point out how sometimes the same verses are translated more than once in a given lectionary, but often with a number of variations, mostly minor (spelling or word order), and conclude that each reading was independently translated from a Greek source rather than just copying a previous rendering into Aramaic. The same text in the different Lectionaries have manifold variations of the same minor nature, and occasionally significantly wide differences in meaning. Metzger highlights the fact that common and familiar names, even originally Aramaic names like those of Jesus, John the Immerser, Mary, and Simon Peter are transliterations of the Greek versions, rather than the Aramaic originals. Metzger also points out how verses that in the Greek purport to explain the meanings of Aramaic words are translated so literally that the result is nonsensical: in John 1:42, for example, Jesus says “You shall be called Kephas” and the narrative then explains that “being interpreted this is Petros”. If this were an English text it would be like saying “You shall be called Rock” and then informing the English reader that what “Rock” means is ܟܝܦܐ.

If each reading was independently translated into Aramaic from a Greek gospels collection or a Greek lectionary, that would easily explain the variations in wording of the same passage in the different Lectionaries and between different appearances of the same text in a single Lectionary. However different wordings can still record the same meaning, and this hypothesis fails to explain how the very meaning of a text can be extremely different from one Lectionary to another (this issue is not found when the same text appears more than once in the same Lectionary). Metzger accepts Sebastian Brock’s belief (Journal of Semitic Studies, X [1970]) that the Lectionaries are indirectly based on a Greek source, though the direct source or sources might be in either Greek or Aramaic, either in lectionary form or gospels collection form. If the Greek is at second hand, Brock goes on to say, then “where differences do occur these should be attributed to revision made on the basis of [the] Greek manuscripts.” That is to say sometimes a given Lectionary scribe double-checked his immediate Aramaic source against an earlier Greek New Testament, and sometimes not.

I personally think the direct source(s) must be one or more of certain Galilean Aramaic gospel collections, some fragments of examples of which have been published (by J[an] P[ieter] N[icolaas] Land in Anecdota Syriaca, Agnes Smith Lewis in Codex Climaci Rescriptus, and Friedrich Schulthess in Christlich-Palästinische Fragmente). The wording of the John fragments published by Land is very close to that of their equivalents in the Palestinian Lectionaries, and so this text or a close relative is the likeliest source for the latter. The other fragmentary gospels are less similar. Land provides very little analysis of the Evangeliaria Londinensia as he calls the main Galilean Aramaic gospels collection that includes the relevant John fragments, but I think it is safe to assume that the gospels collection(s) used by the Lectionaries scribes was composed closer to their own time as a daughter or granddaughter of the original gospels collection copied from the original source, of which I shall speak presently.

Obviously the three complete Lectionaries we have, plus a very fragmentary fourth, differ from each other in their wording, almost always simply in spelling and wording with pretty much the same sense and rarely in significant ways; this suggests that they did not copy their texts from the same gospel collection but different ones, similar but not identical, of which the published fragments just mentioned would be typical and/or that they adapted the older Aramaic spellings found in their source to the forms prevalent in each scribe’s time and place. And clearly the Lectionaries scribes did not scruple to add certain perceived improvements, such as a far more liberal use of colons to separate phrases than is the case in the gospels collections – though (at 2:4 for instance) not always in the right place.

On this subject of Greekified names it is interesting that Jesus’s name is always represented in the Lectionaries and the Evangeliaria Londinensia (but not the others) as ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ (Mrā Ysws, “Master Jesus”). This usage must go back to the original sources, John’s Aramaic drafts inked by Prochoros and the first Greek fair copy for publication inked by Papias with guidance from Polycarp and Prochoros, and so it must point to how these men, at least two of whom knew him personally, spoke of Jesus. The first word, ܡܪܐ, is used in place of YHWH, the Name of God, in such early Aramaic copies of the Tanakh as the Biblica Petropolitana or in the Syriac Tanakh as the nearly identical ܡܪܝܐ (Mryā), though of course in the Lectionaries it is mainly a title of respect for Jesus. But note too that ܝܣܘܣ is orthographically very similar to ܝܗܘܗ, which is how that very Name, YHWH, is written in Syriac letters. And note that is ܡܪܐ close to how Mary’s name is written in the Lectionaries, ܡܪܝܡ (Mrym) in Lectionaries B and C, and even closer in the oldest, Lectionary A, as ܡܪܝܐܡ (Mryām). I suspect that this ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ was, therefore, a kind of theological statement about Jesus and Mary as united together recreating the First Child made in Elohim’s image in Genesis 1:26-27. Note that when in my original text reconstructions I quote the Lectionaries, for the most part I do not translate the title ܡܪܐ but just Jesus’s name, unless the context demands me to do so.
Scholars generally say these Galilean lectionaries first arose sometime in the third to sixth centuries, and I agree. On the other hand, the extremely unusual meanings of many verses and passages (which nearly always appear in the restored text) would certainly have been considered heretical by the second century, even as early as the first centuries in congregations following the Pauline dogma – for instance for suggesting the beloved disciple was a woman and that she and Jesus were sexually involved. Here Brock’s and Metzger’s two-stage source theory again has merit: I conclude that the immediate source was an Aramaic gospels collection that preserved the wording of an extremely early text written down before the later dogmas were to stamp out such heresies, and though that version has disappeared entirely it must have survived long enough for these Lectionaries to be indirectly based thereupon. Though lost, this putative source behind the Lectionaries and the gospel collection(s) is in my view at least close and arguably all but identical to John’s original text, barring later changes in the Lectionaries.

My contention is that the source was an Aramaic version by Prochoros of the original fair copy Greek manuscript of the gospel prepared for publication in the early 90s by Polycarp, Papias, and John’s son Prochoros, but utilizing as much as possible the early drafts dictated by John to Prochoros in Aramaic.

I support this conclusion first with logic. Galilean Aramaic was never widely spoken anywhere but in Galilee, Samaria, and northern Judæa, and by the time these Aramaic lectionaries first appeared in the third to sixth centuries Syriac Aramaic was universal, even in the Holy Land. These texts would have seemed as archaic to most Aramaic-speaking Christians as the King James Version is to English-speakers today. That they were still being copied suggests the texts were valued for their origin, and that indicates Galilean-speakers, hence individuals from the Holy Land itself. And that suggests they were, or were closely associated with, one or more of the original apostles. As noted, a colophon to be discussed next indicates the source text was prepared in Ephesus in Greek, based on John’s original drafts in Galilean Aramaic. In the third and perhaps the fourth centuries the Greek publication manuscript was publicly available in Ephesus (Pseudo-Hippolytus quotes from it in the second century, Tertullian in the early third century, in his Against Marcion 4:5 and The Prescription Against Heretics 36:1, urges his readers to go to see it Ephesus as he did, and a century thereafter, Peter of Alexandria saw it in Ephesus and quotes from it), and likely also its equivalent prepared by Prochoros in Galilean Aramaic. Hence the minor spelling and wording differences among the Lectionaries and the gospels collection(s) from which they took their texts may simply be because each scribe consulted that display copy in Greek when he had questions about one or another passage, but not always the same passages and not always did they correct their Aramaic the same way. Also, consider the fact that many passages in the Lectionaries fly in the face of what was already dogma in the nascent Christian religion – especially the Lectionaries’ depiction of eroticism between Jesus and Mary when the view of Paul was widely accepted that Jesus inhabited a “spiritual body” that lacked appetitive desires such as for sexuality. Elsewhere at this time scribes who found something that ran counter to the dogma in their source texts were bound to “correct” the wording to agree with (depending on where one was located) the Alexandrian, Western, or Byzantine standardization. Yet the Lectionaries never seem to embrace the later dogmas, including most notably in passages emphasizing Jesus’s union with Mary, which was after all a central theme in John’s œuvre. Only if there were some unquestionably superior force that prevailed over a standardized text can I imagine a scribe choosing not to conform his copy to the latter. And I submit that the only such force with this supremacy would be the wording found in Ephesus manuscript, then believed to be the original handwritten monograph of the apostle himself. Elsewhere – in Syria, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Rome, for instance – scribes had no access to the primal copy on display in Ephesus, so they would be sure to adhere to the common reading. But in and near Ephesus, at least with the Gospel of John, scribes had a choice – and given a choice between a standardized text and what the apostle himself wrote, any reasonable scribe would certainly choose the latter.
Thus I think that the first Lectionaries scribes, like the gospels collections scribes before them, were able to peruse that original display manuscript in Greek to clarify any textual questions they may have had. And, given this conclusion I further conclude that these Lectionaries provide us with the best surviving source of anything approximating John’s original intention for the gospel.

Proof of this logical conclusion is found in the lectionary readings themselves. The “partitions” first described by Bultmann are in their familiar disorder, and the marginal additions put into the original manuscript by John are found in their customary incorrect location – for instance the verses about John the Immerser in chapter 1. These are both characteristics of the display copy prepared by Prochoros et al., as I argue in the first volume. And if as I theorize Prochoros also produced the organized gospel text in Aramaic at about the same time as the Greek text, he would have conformed it to the decisions as to order made for the Greek text by Polycarp, Papias, and himself – because there was no overall order to the original drafts in Aramaic, being separate pericopes each on its own sheet of papyrus (as discussed in the first volume).
An interesting confirmation that the Greek publication manuscript is the main source of the Lectionaries is derived from a certain set of colophons found in the Lectionaries. Colophons are comments added by scribes at the end of manuscripts that say something about their production or, especially in the Middle Ages, that take the form of a brief prayer of thanksgiving or petition, or, especially in the Middle Ages, even humorous “I’m glad I’ve finished at last!” kinds of comment. Such colophons served in a way something like a modern copyright notice to certify the textual contents: the scribe was in effect attesting to his work as a faithful copy of the source text. They also protected the integrity of the contents: no unscrupulous person could add material to the end of the work as if it were part thereof.

It is a strange fact that all three Palestinian Lectionaries have colophons following the John 7:37-8:2 lection. But why, then, do these colophons appear in in the middle of the Lectionaries, neither at the end of the Lectionaries nor at the traditional 21:25 end of the actual gospel, nor even at the gospel’s original end, 20:31? I think J. Rendel Harris (paraphrased by Agnes Smith Lewis on page xv in her 1899 æditio princeps) offers a plausible theory. He suggests that the gospels collections positioned 7:37-8:2 after the final chapter of John probably because though these verses were considered part of the gospel in the milieu that prepared the collection, but yet there was a lack of clarity regarding its proper location. So then a colophon was added after this episode, he continues, at what was now in effect the end of the gospel text, after 8:2, to indicate that the gospel was now complete. Finally, he surmises, 8:3-11 was added too, after the colophon, indicating that that passage was not necessarily to be considered part of the gospel proper. This location indicating uncertainty about the pericope led the B and C scribes not to include 8:3-11 in their Lectionaries. Only Palestinian Lectionary A contains it. Harris concludes that the scribes of these three Lectionaries manuscripts “were not highly endowed with intelligence”, since they copied the colophons after verse 8:2 as if they were part of the gospel text and so necessarily part of the particular lection they were preparing.

So far as I know none of the surviving fragments of relevant Aramaic gospel collections includes John 8:2, so I cannot ascertain if any might have included a similar colophon. A fragment of Codex Romano published by J. P. N. Land does include 21:25, but either there was no colophon or Land saw fit not to transcribe it. Nevertheless, I agree with Harris in every particular but his final remark, since I believe there was a very good reason (other than stupidity) for these colophons to follow 8:3-11 into the interior of the Lectionaries. To my thinking, the natural place for a colophon is just beneath the conclusion of the gospel as a narrative whole, where to the classical mind the colophon acted as a part of the gospel presentation, its effect being something like a modern copyright notice to certify and protect the textual contents. Therefore the scribes probably reasoned that the colophon should accompany that conclusion in the Lectionaries, since the end of the gospel is still the end of the gospel, no matter where the end of the gospel may wind up relocated in the liturgical year, and the colophon is functionally part of the work to the classical mind just like the copyright notice today.
What is more, if I am right that the source from which the Gospel of John text was drawn, directly or indirectly, was the very manuscript believed by the faithful in Ephesus to be written by sacred inspiration by the apostle himself, and if they believed the apostle himself wrote the colophon, then who were they to fail to faithfully copy what the apostle had been moved the Spirit to write? So of course they would carry the colophon along with the 7:37-8:2 text! (But by the time of Lectionary C, either its scribe was not so impressed with the apostolic source or didn’t care, and so replaced the original colophon with his own.) The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist was at the time one of the biggest tourist destinations for faithful pilgrims, who came to stand before the tomb and look at the manuscript written by the apostle himself. Such ordinary visitors cared not for textual precision, but visiting scholars like Peter of Alexandria very much did so, as pointed out on page 413. In short, no scribe would have dared make up what by this time was considered heresy and put it in a lectionary for common use, and if he had it would have been burned. No, only if it were taken directly from the original writing of the Blessed Presbyter himself would these Lectionaries contain such wordings.

Indeed logic insists that the colophon had to come from the original manuscript. None of the other three gospels has a colophon in the Lectionaries, just John – and the two colophons in the Lectionaries both speak of only the completion of the copying of the Gospel of John. Yes, John is customarily the last gospel in a collection, but still if a gospels collection scribe had composed such a colophon, he would take note of the completion of the entire lectionary, not just of John. Likewise, if a lectionary scribe had written it it would again note completion of the entire lectionary, since the four gospels are throughout jumbled together in it, and he would have placed it at the end of the Lectionary, not in the middle. But, no, the colophons we find mention only the Gospel of John, which means they could only have originated at the end of a source (scroll or codex) that contained only the Gospel of John. And in this textual history there is only one such manuscript, and that is the one that was on display in Ephesus.

In addition it is worth noting that all three scribes of all three Lectionaries did the same thing, and I doubt all three were as stupid as Harris concludes; besides, the rest of their work was discharged excellently well. And besides, if it was a stupid mistake in Lectionary A, then surely someone would have noticed during the seventy-four years that that book of readings was in constant use before B was undertaken, to say nothing of the fourteen more years that lapsed between B and C, and so, if such a someone noticed, he would certainly have ensured that the later scribes did not make the same stupid mistake. After all, A mistakenly included 8:3-11 as a lectionary reading, and this mistake was corrected in B and C!

But there is more to consider. As just noted, seventy-four years passed between the composition of Lectionaries A and B, and yet, though B is not a direct copy of A, they both have the same colophon in the same spot, notwithstanding two minor differences in spelling. The Evangeliaria Londinensia fragments that survive do not include any passages whereafter a colophon might be found, unfortunately, nor do other less similar gospels collection fragments, so nothing is known about colophons in any Galilean gospels collection colophon. Still it is self-evident that this colophon in Lectionaries A and B came from the gospels collection that was the source for both sets of lectionary readings.

The colophon says: ܫܠܡ ܒܣܘܪܗ ܕܝܘܚܢܝܣ ܗܝܠܢܣܛܝ ܒܐܦܣܝܣ (“It is completed in accordance with the Syriac of John, in Greek, in Ephesus”).

The first word, ܫܠܡ (šlm), appears immediately after most of the lections to mark their termination (“it is completed”), especially in A, but here marks the end of the entire gospel by beginning the colophon. The word can also mean “peace”, being cognate to the familiar Hebrew “shalom”.

The second word, ܒܣܘܪܗ (b’syrh), begins with a prefix that usually means “in” or “within”, but in this case it takes the meaning “in accordance with”, as best noted in the Payne-Smith dictionary; hence the word here is “in accordance with his Syriac”. The author of the colophon would most likely have written in Greek εβραιστι (Hebraisti), the general Greek term at the time for Hebrew or Aramaic. This term occurs, in fact, five times in the Textus Receptus of this gospel and twice in the Revelation. But by the time the Greek text that concluded with this colophon was back-translated into Aramaic again, the language had shifted from the Galilean dialect of Jesus and John to the dominance of the Syriac dialect throughout the Middle East into Central Asia. Syriac was rising rapidly in the third century and remained prominent until about the eighth century, which coïncides with my estimation of when the Greek text of the Gospel of John was back-translated into Aramaic again. Thus, the scribe who did the translation would have translated the term for the language as “Syriac”. But, to be very clear, “the Syriac of John” which the colophon mentions was not Syriac, properly speaking, for the text we have in the Palestinian Lectionaries is that older dialect, Galilean Aramaic, which goes a long way toward confirming that this is a first-century text, and that it originates from an apostolic source, someone who came to Ephesus from the Holy Land – someone such as John the Presbyter.

The same word ends with a suffix denoting “his”, and the next word, ܕܝܘܚܢܝܣ (d’ywḥnys), with its ܕ (d’) genitive prefix, means “of John”; thus the colophon says the preceding text is in accordance with John’s Aramaic; since ܕܝܘܚܢܝܣ (“of John”) is acting as a possessive adjective modifying ܒܣܘܪܗ (“his Syriac”) and not anything resembling “his gospel”, this reference to John is to the man, not to the gospel.

The penultimate word, ܗܝܠܢܣܛܝ (hylnsṭy, “in Greek”), is a borrow-word from Greek, ελληνιστι (hellēnisti); it appears in the Lectionaries version (but not the Peshitta) of 19:20 in reference to the notice Pilate had put on Jesus’s cross. And the final word, ܒܐܦܣܝܣ (b’āpsys, “in Ephesus”), confirms that the scribe prepared this translation-transcription of John’s Syriac in Ephesus.

The colophon appears virtually identically in Lectionaries A and B despite the seventy-four-year gap between them, which confirms a common source. Its location in the middle of the Lectionaries also signals that it is not original thereto. Indeed, the author of the colophon claims to have put John’s gospel into Greek from a source manuscript in Aramaic, so neither the Lectionaries nor the gospels collection(s) on which they were based can be the original location of the colophon, since they are in Aramaic.

The next step was a scribe translating this fair copy in Greek of John’s Aramaic drafts back into Aramaic. This was not necessarily done in Ephesus with access to the Aramaic manuscript by John himself mentioned in the colophon – but it is possible that the scribe was in Ephesus and could check his Aramaic against the original. This scribe copied the colophon, translating it from Greek into Aramaic as he copied it. Either this scribe was putting John directly into an Aramaic gospels collection or he made a codex or scroll containing only John, and a later scribe put it into the gospels collection. Then, as the last step, yet another scribe arranged this gospels collection text into the lections of the Gospel of John for the Palestinian Lectionaries, with the colophon still following along in its original position following 8:2. In the first of these two last steps the scribes switched from the old Galilean alphabet, by then largely neglected and forgotten, to the Estrangelo (Syriac) forms that were far more common by that time. This we know because the gospels collections fragments, like the Lectionaries, are in the latter script.
The guarantee of fidelity to John’s Aramaic applies only to the original Greek copy of the Syriac text ascribed to John. We have fragments of later Aramaic gospels collections published by J. P. N. Land, and of course the Lectionaries were composed after centuries had passed, between 1030 and 1118, and so surely their scribes did not have the advantage of which the collections scholar could have availed himself of being able to check their work against the original copy displayed in Ephesus. Thus we might expect the scribes of these Aramaic versions to conform their wording at least sometimes to the Textus Receptus, and in fact there are a few rare instances where this may be the case, which I will discuss in the Commentaries. But there is such a weighty preponderance of passages, in at least the Gospel of John, that differ radically from the Textus Receptus that we must conclude that the scribes held the source text in such awe and respect that they chose to abide by it rather than the Textus Receptus. The only text that could supersede the Textus Receptus in later centuries would be an original New Testament Text. Further, there is an impressive fidelity between especially Lectionary A and Land’s fragments; they differ only in minor spelling variations and once or twice copying errors, such as a missing or doubled word.

Therefore Land’s fragmentary gospels collections and the Lectionaries themselves are very probably, on the whole, faithful copies of John’s original Aramaic draft of his gospel. As such, the importance of both cannot be understated. And this theoretical history behind the Lectionaries coheres perfectly with the history of the original text on page 406, that the drafts dictated by John to Prochoros in Aramaic were sent away for safekeeping in Sinope upon John’s arrest in 68, returned to Ephesus twenty or more years later by Marcion, and then translated into Greek by Papias, surely with the assistance of Prochoros and Polycarp.

What is more, a fragment from his long-lost five-volume masterwork επιγεγραπται λογιων κυριακων εξηγησεως (Explanations of the Sayings of the Master, found in the Vaticanus Reg. Lat. 14, quoted in full on page ###), Papias says that he … descripsit vero evangelium dictante Iohanne recte verum (“… indeed transcribed, accurately and truly, the gospel dictated by John”). Both this and the colophon were composed in Greek, yet even though this comment survives only in an execrably bad Latin translation and the colophon comes down in no manner other than an Aramaic rendering, they are astonishingly similar. I conclude, therefore, that the colophon is most likely by Papias, and that the Greek copy that the colophon originally followed was the publication manuscript on display for a few centuries in Ephesus.

Surely those successor-leaders of John’s spiritual flocks in Anatolia considered this first Aramaic version highly important, since the language was increasingly prevalent not only in that region but also to the east, to Edessa and beyond: just as prevalent as Greek was to the west of Ephesus. Who, then, produced the Aramaic retranslation that served as the basis for the gospels collections and the Palestinian Lectionaries? My tentative conclusion is that it was done by Prochoros, the son of John. First, note that the text is in Galilean Aramaic, which indicates it was done early, no later than the second century, when the Syriac dialect was beginning to surpass Galilean in popularity, and probably that it was done by someone from Judæa. Second, it remains faithful to the Urtext, despite its wide divergences from the later Textus Receptus.
A number of early texts, in fact, assign Prochoros this role of secretary to John. Some early works attribute to him the inking of the first fair copy of the Revelation in its original Aramaic, in the years between the gospel’s Aramaic rough drafts and its formal publication version in that tongue. So I believe Prochoros was the scribe as John dictated the original drafts for the gospel in Aramaic, and so he knew the text well in that language. He would have had access to these drafts as Papias prepared the Greek version for publication, and so could have retained as much of the original drafts as possible but revising his new version such that it cohered with the Papian text in ordering and phrasing.

If this is so, that the Aramaic version preserves to some degree John’s initial drafts dating from between the years 43 and 68, decades before they were edited, refined, and translated into Greek by Papias with the help of Prochoros and Polycarp around 95, then to the same degree this Aramaic text is more precious than the lost first Greek manuscript. Recovery of the latter would be invaluable to scholars, to be sure, but it would certainly prove to be far closer to the Textus Receptus than the Lectionaries because it would retain far less of John’s original writing and embrace all of the revisions by Papias, Polycarp, and Prochoros; the main differences would mostly be no more than the other random errors that crept into the text in later times. This Aramaic text, however, if it utilized as much as possible the prototypical gospel drafts dictated by John to Prochoros, should be relatively free of the changes wrought around 95 – and indeed as passages therefrom are introduced and discussed herein, that will again and again prove to be the case.

Another question deserves to be addressed, though a full examination is beyond the scope of this work. There will be occasion to quote from the Palestinian Lectionaries’ versions of passages in the other three canonical gospels, which will prove no less divergent from the Textus Receptus as many from John itself. I have not read the other three gospels in their entirety in the Lectionaries, but what I have studied assures me that they too are not uncommonly quite different from the standard text. Some of these will be quoted in passing in the Commentaries.

My provisional answer takes note of the fact that at about the same time that Papias was inking the publication manuscript of John’s gospel Polycarp of Smyrna was engaged with editing a number of manuscripts that would become the main part of the New Testament, and Papias himself was equally occupied with the composition of his just-mentioned five-volume analysis of Jesus’s teachings found in the four gospels that would eventually be recognized as canonical, as well as other sources; indeed, part of Papias’s intent was to further the petition of the Fourth Gospel to be accepted as canon by his equal treatment of it in his work with the synoptics. My suggestion is that this group of scholars personally knew the writers of these other gospels, or at least persons closely associated with them. John the Presbyter knew John Mark, the son of Jesus and Mary, and indeed wrote a kind of “review” of his gospel, which appears in The Writings of John. As universally recognized leaders of the Jesus movement, they would have had access to these gospels just about as soon as they were initially published, perhaps even before, to read and offer suggestions before publication.

Here is one interesting example of a variant text in the Gospel of John from the Palestinian Lectionaries. The story of the healing of the young blind man is different in many respects, but I will share just the last scene, where Jesus comes to where some friendly Pharisees have hidden the young man, who can be identified in this version as the son of the gospel author, John the Presbyter. Commentaries follow, but note first that this pericope continues into chapter 10, such that the famous Good Shepherd discourse is not found in this early version. Also note that the Lectionaries offer evidence in support of what Polycrates and others aver, that John sometimes wore the πεταλον, suggesting (since he could not have been high priest himself) that he was the second in command, the ܣܓܢ (sagan).

9:35ܘܟܕ ܐܫܟܝܚ ܝܬܗ ܡܪܐ ܐܡܪ ܠܗ : ܗܐ ܐܬ ܡܗܝܡܢ ܒܒܪܗ ܕܐܠܗܐ
9:36 ܗܘ ܕܝ ܐܓܝܒ ܘܐܡܪ ܠܗ : ܘܡܢ ܗܘ ܡܪܝ ܕܝܗܝܡܢ ܒܗ
9:37 ܐܡܪ ܠܗ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ ܚܡܝܬ ܝܬܗ ܘܗܘ ܗܕܝܢ ܕܡܡܠܠ ܥܡܟ
9:38 ܘܐܡܪ ܠܗ ܡܗܝܡܢ ܐܢܐ ܡܪܝ ܘܣܓ ܠܗ ܕܝܫ ܕܒܝܬܗ
9:39ܘܐܡܪ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ ܠܝܘܕܝܢ : ܠܕܝܢ ܐܬܝܬ ܠܥܠܝܡܐ ܗܕܝܢ ܕܗܠܝܢ ܕܠܐ ܚܡܝܢ ܝܚܡܘܢ : ܘܗܠܝܢ ܕܚܡܝܢ ܡܥܘܪܝܢ ܝܬܥܒܕܘܢ
9:40 ܘܫܡܥܘ ܦܪܝܫܝ ܕܗܘܘ ܥܡܗ ܗܠܝܢ ܡܠܝܐ ܘܐܡܪܘ ܠܗ : ܕܡܐ ܐܘܦ ܐܢܝܢ ܡܥܘܪܝܢ ܐܢܗ
9:41 ܐܡܪ ܠܗܘܢ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ ܐܠܘ ܗܘܝܬܘܢ ܡܥܘܪܝܢ ܠܗ ܗܘܬ ܠܟܘܢ ܣܟܠܐ : ܟܕܘ ܕܝ ܗܐ ܐܬܘܢ ܐܡܪܝܢ ܕܐܢܗ ܚܡܝܢ ܘܣܟܠܬܟܘܢ ܩܐܡܢ ܠܕܪܬܐ ܗܢܘܢ
10:1ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܪ ܐܢܐ ܠܟܘܢ : ܕܡܢ ܕܠܐ ܥܠܠ ܥܠ ܕܬܪܥܐ ܠܕܪܬܐ ܕܐܡܪܬܐ : ܐܠܐ ܣܠܩ ܠܗ ܥܠ ܕܚܘܪܝ : ܝܬܗ ܓܢܒ ܐܝܬ ܗܘ ܘܠܣܛܝܣ 10:2 ܕܝܢ ܕܝ ܕܥܠܠ ܥܠ ܕܬܪܥܐ ܗܘ ܪܥܝܐ ܐܡܪܬܐ 10:3 ܠܗܕܝܢ ܬܪܥܐ ܦܬܚ : ܐܡܪܬܐ
ܠܩܠܗ ܫܡܥܢ : ܘܗܘ ܩܪܐ ܠܐܡܪܬܐ ܟܘܠ ܚܕܐ ܡܢܗܘܢ 10:4 ܘܡܦܩ ܠܗܘܢ ܘܟܕ ܝܦܩ ܝܬܗܘܢ ܩܘܕܡܝܗܘܢ ܗܘ ܗܘܐ ܐܙܠ : ܘܐܡܪܬܐ ܕܒܩܢ ܝܬܗ ܕܗܢܘܢ ܡܟܪܢ ܩܠܗ 10:5ܒܬܪ ܚܘܪܝܢ ܕܝ ܠܐ ܕܒܩܢ : ܐܠܐ ܥܪܩܢ ܡܢܗ ܕܠܐ 10:6 ܡܟܪܢ ܩܠܗܘܢ ܕܢܘܟܪܝ ܗܕܢ ܡܬܠܐ ܐܡܪ ܠܗܘܢ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ : ܗܢܘܢ ܕܝ ܠܐ ܝܕܥܘ ܡܐ ܗܘܐ ܡܡܠܠ ܠܗܘܢ
10:7 ܘܐܡܪ ܠܗܘܢ ܬܘܒܢ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ : ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܪ ܐܢܐ ܠܟܘܢ 10:8ܕܐܢܐ ܬܪܥܐ ܕܐܡܪܬܐ : ܟܘܠ ܗܠܝܢ ܕܐܬܘ ܓܢܒܝܢ ܗܘܘ ܘܠܝܣܛܝܢ : ܐܠܐ ܠܐ ܠܗܘܢ ܐܡܪܬܐ 10:9ܐܢܐ ܗܘ ܬܪܥܐ ܥܠ ܕܥܠܐܝ ܡܢ ܕܥܠܠ ܚܝܐ : ܘܥܠܠ ܘܢܦܩ ܘܡܫܟܝܚ ܡܪܥܐ 10:10ܓܢܒܐ ܠܐ ܐܬܐ ܐܠܐ ܕܝܓܢܘܒ ܘܝܟܘܣ ܘܝܘܒܕ : ܐܢܐ ܐܬܝܬ ܕܚܝܝܢ ܝܗܐ ܠܗܘܢ : ܘܡܘܬܪ ܝܗܐ ܠܗܘܢ 10:11 ܐܢܐ ܗܘ ܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ : ܘܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ ܢܦܫܗ ܗܘ ܝܗܝܒ ܥܠ ܛܒ ܐܡܪܬܗ 10:12ܕܝܢ ܕܐܓܝܪ ܘܠܝܬ ܗܘ ܪܥܐ : ܗܕܝܢ ܕܠܝܬ ܐܡܪܬܐ ܕܝܠܗ ܚܡܐ ܗܘ ܕܝܒܐ ܐܬܐ ܘܫܒܩ ܐܡܪܬܐ ܘܥܪܩ 10:13 ܘܕܝܒܐ ܚܛܦ ܝܬܗܝܢ ܕܗܘ ܐܓܝܪ : ܘܠܐ ܟܦܠ ܠܗ ܥܠ ܛܒ ܐܡܪܬܐ
10:14 ܐܢܐ ܗܘ ܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ : ܘܐܢܐ ܡܟܪ ܕܝܠܝ ܘܕܝܠܝ ܡܟܪܝܢ ܠܝ
10:15ܗܝܟ ܡܐ ܕܐܒܐ ܡܟܪ ܠܝ : ܘܐܢܐ ܡܟܪ ܠܐܒܐ : ܘܢܦܫܝ ܐܢܐ ܡܣܝܡ ܥܠ ܕܛܒ ܐܡܪܬܝ 10:16ܘܐܡܪܝܢ ܚܘܪܢܝܐܢ ܐܝܬ ܠܝ ܆ ܗܠܝܢ ܕܠܝܬ ܗܢܘܢ ܡܢ ܗܕܐ ܕܪܬܐ : ܐܘܦ ܠܗܠܝܟ ܢܛܘܣ ܠܝ ܕܝܐܬܐ : ܘܠܩܠܝ ܫܡܥܘܢ܆ ܘܝܬܥܒܕܢ ܚܕܐ ܡܪܥܝ ܘܚܕܐܘܚܕ ܪܥܐ 10:17ܗܠܢܢ ܐܬܘ ܠܓܠܠ ܟܕܢ ܐܒܐ ܡܚܒ ܠܝ ܕܐܢܐ ܡܣܡ ܢܦܫܝ 10:18 ܕܬܘܒ ܝܬܗ ܐܢܫ ܠܐ ܢܣܒ ܝܬܗ ܡܢܝ ܐܠܐ ܐܢܐ ܡܣܝܡ ܝܬܗ ܡܢ ܓܪܡܝ : ܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܕܝܣܡ ܝܬܗ ܘܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܬܘܒܢ ܕܝܣܒ ܝܬܗ

9:35 And when he had found him the master said to him, “Look! Do you trust in the child of God?”
9:36 He answered and said, “Who is it, master, whom I might trust?”
9:37 Jesus said to him, “He himself sees / is angry, and of this he would speak with you.”
9:38 And he said to him, “I trust, my master”, and (after letting Jesus in) he closed securely the door of his house.
9:39 And Jesus said to the Jew(ish authoritie)s, “This is why I came to this one. Those who are not of the father-in-law see / are angry, and those who are of the father-in-law make themselves blind.”
9:40 And the Pharisees who were with him heard these (words and) were satisfied, and they said to him, “It is even like we ourselves have been blind!”
9:41 Jesus said to them, “As long as you blinded yourselves to him, that was foolish. But now, look! We are met together. We can speak of the father-in-law and your fools who remain in the atrium.
10:1 (Jesus begins the conversation:) “Amen, I tell you: I was drawing the lady out of the entrance to the gateway to the atrium, but he (Annas) went up to him (Prochoros) from behind. He would have abducted him; he is a robber. 10:2 So at the entrance of the gateway she, the lady, tended to him. 10:3 The gate opened and he gets out.”
(John speaks:) “To his voice we responded; he was crying out to the lady in front of everyone. 10:4 I go out to them, but when I go he was passing in front of them. He was leaving, and the lady kept close to him. Their voices were upset, 10:5 but they didn’t look behind them. I was staying close, but moreover I was fleeing from him (Annas); I went up/out. 10:6 I was concerned to hear Master Jesus’s foreign-accented voice; the simile that he spoke to them. But they did not recognize him when he was speaking to them.”
10:7 And Jesus said to them again: “Amen, I tell you: 10:8 I (was at) the gateway where the lady was. All those who went by, they were stealing, they were thieves. So because of them we did not hear the lady. 10:9 I was near the gateway, above the entrance. She saved him, and he went out the entrance, and I found (within) the sick/infirm ones. 10:10 The thief does not come except to steal and destroy. I arrived; we saved him (Prochoros) from them. He is of benefit to them. 10:11 I am the good shepherd, and the soul of the good shepherd is devoted much to the good of his (John’s) lady. 10:12 He (Annas) is a hireling and is not the shepherd; this one is not his own lady. The father-in-law, the wolf; came, he left the lady alone and fled; they delayed and scared away the ravening wolf. 10:13 And he, being hired, was not concerned about the good of the lady.”
10:14 (John’s wife Anna speaks:) “I take good care of him, and I gather together my own, and my own gather together to me.”
10:15 (Jesus speaks:) “Just as when those of the father gather themselves to me, and I gather them to the father. And I place the good of my lambs in my soul. 10:16 But other lambs are mine: they are not from among those who belong to them in the atrium (i.e., Annas’s confederates); also, those of Pontius (Pilate) come to me, and they hear my voice, and they celebrate she whom I take care of and he whom she takes care of; these have come. 10:17 For this the father loves me: I am completing/uniting my soul; indeed, no one can take it from me. 10:18 But rather I complete/unite it by myself: I am permitted to give it and I am permitted likewise to receive it.”

Selections from the commentaries on this passage follow, taken from The Gospel of John Restored and Translated.

9:35 – The final word in verse 38, ܒܝܬܗ (byth, “his house”), indicates that the young man is at this point safely at home, in the company and under the protection of sympathetic Pharisees. Jesus’s testimony in verses 10:7-8 will make it clear that he did not see what happened after these malevolent Pharisees attacked the young man, or where he was taken. But Jesus knows or quickly learns his identity – his comments in 9:3-4 suggest as much – and that makes it easy to find the family home, since every Jerusalemite at the time would have known exactly where the sagan’s mansion was found. …
As to this verse, several curious differences immediately evidence themselves.
First, the Textus Receptus begins with an explanatory phrase, that ηκουσεν ιησους οτι εξεβαλον αυτον εξω (“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out”), referring to the young man, but which is not found in the Lectionaries. In the previous verse I rejected the Greek reading that says the Pharisees threw him out, and here as well I follow instead the Lectionaries – ܘܟܕ ܐܫܟܝܚ ܝܬܗ ܡܪܐ ܐܡܪ ܠܗ (“And when he found him the master said to him”).

Second, the Lectionaries have Jesus begin his statement with ܗܐ (hā!), The beginning of Jesus’s question is usually rendered “Do you believe”. See the commentary to 3:15. Like interjections in all languages, Jesus uses it here to gather attention on himself. If it means anything literal at all (what interjection really does?), it means “Here!” and could be Jesus saying “Here I am!” to announce his own presence, or else “Here you are!” in conclusion of his search for the whereabouts of the formerly blind young man. But it is more than that: though this exclamation ܗܐ was as common as its equivalent in modern colloquial English, “Look!”, here it gains considerable poetic and rhetorical power coming from Jesus’s lips and from the fingers of the brilliant writer responsible for this scene (John is besides quoting his beloved master speaking to his beloved son): Jesus urges the young man to Look! – not so much with the eyes but with mind and heart – and see just who and what this Jesus is and see the corruption that has infested the Temple like a destroying cancer, and make a choice between them.

Third, the Greek has Jesus ask the young man συ πιστευεις εις τον υιου του ανθροπου, and in meaning the Peshitta agrees exactly. The first phrase, συ πιστευεις (su pisteueis), is traditionally translated as “Do you believe”. That is because Christianity quickly garbed the verb in the liturgical vestments of dogma, starting with Paul, for whom believing in Jesus as the only Son of God was sufficient and essential to receive eternal life. But at the time the gospel was written the word had the sense of “have confidence in” or “trust”. The Lectionaries equivalent here, ܡܗܝܡܢ (mhymn), which appears in all three surviving early texts, carries exactly the same sense. Obviously, this verb does not point to a textual contrast between the Textus Receptus and the Palestinian Lectionaries – πιστευεις and ܡܗܝܡܢ both can mean either “believe” or “trust” – but rather in which of these two senses this verb is used. In the Greek and Peshitta this entire conversation in verses 35-41 is entirely about believing in Jesus, and requires that πιστευεις be read meaning “believe”. But, as we shall see, the quite different conversation reported in the Lectionaries is about whether the young man and those who are protecting him trust Jesus enough to let him in the door and talk frankly with him, requiring the word ܡܗܝܡܢ be read meaning “trust”.

Fourth, Jesus completes this question by asking if the young man trusts him, i.e., Jesus. In the Greek Textus Receptus and the Peshitta Jesus refers to himself as τον υιου του ανθροπου “the son of man”, as it is usually translated, or “the child of the (first) human being” as I prefer herein. In the Lectionaries, on the other hand, he uses the phrase ܒܪܗ ܕܐܠܗܐ, “child of God”. This is interesting mainly because in every other place where the Greek has τον υιου του ανθροπου the Lectionaries have the Galilean Aramaic equivalent, ܒܪܗ ܕܓܒܪܐ. This verse is the sole exception. It is also possibly the only (at most one of the very few) times the narrative, as opposed to someone speaking, refers to Jesus not as ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ (“the master Jesus”) but as justܡܪܐ (mrā, “the master”).
My suspicion is that the latter is merely an easily ignored scribal error. The former issue may be because Jesus apparently comes alone to this hideout, without Mary. Since it is Mary and Jesus together that comprise the child of the first human being created in Genesis 1:26-27 and who YHWH pulled apart in Genesis 2 into Adam and Eve, then Jesus alone is Adam. Mary and Jesus together may thus be called τον υιου του ανθροπου, “the child of the (first) human being”, but Jesus like Adam is just a ܒܪܗ ܕܐܠܗܐ, “child of God”. In conclusion, then, given the fact that I rely on the Lectionaries for the rest of this chapter, I accept as well the Lectionaries version of this final portion of verse 35, despite a few small qualms, for the restored text.

9:36 – Prochoros, not having seen Jesus’s face before is unable to recognize visually the stranger at the door, though blind people typically compensate with a fine ability to remember voices. He asks in the Palestinian Lectionaries, “Who is it, master, whom I might trust?” His inquiry is pretty much the same in the Textus Receptus, if we read it free from the lenses of later dogma. However the young man is not really asking a theological question as to who is the child of God (Lectionaries) or who is the child of humanity (Textus Receptus), but a simple “Who is this standing at the door?”: he is merely asking the stranger to identify himself. And this is what Jesus does in verse 37, though in widely differing ways in the Lectionaries and the Textus Receptus, as shall be explained in the following commentary.

9:37 – In terms of meaning, the Lectionaries version of verse 36 is essentially the same as the standard text. The following verse is where the variations between the two sources begin in manifest themselves in earnest. The Greek Textus Receptus has ειπεν αυτω ο ιησους και εωρακας αυτον και ο λαλων μετα σου εκεινος εστιν (“Jesus said to him, ‘You have beheld him, and he who is speaking to you is he.’”). The Old Syriac and Peshitta have the same, with the verb ܚܙܝܬܝܗܝ (ḥzytyhy, “you have seen him”). This is an odd statement, to say the least. Jesus seems to mean that, since the young man saw his, Jesus’s face after gaining his sight, he should be able to recognize Jesus again now. But the glaring problem is that the text in all versions is clear that Jesus is not present when in verse 7 Prochoros returns home seeing, for he talks about Jesus with the neighbors in a way that indicates Jesus is not there. Jesus applied the mud in the portico of Solomon, the young man began to see at Šylwḥā (Siloam), and then went home, where he talked with the neighbors and Pharisees in front of his family’s home; now, in this final scene, he is inside the home. Hence the young man has not beheld him and thus has no way to recognize Jesus’s face at the door.

In the Palestinian Lectionaries Jesus begins the conversation at the door by identifying himself as someone in whom the young man can place his trust. In reply the latter asks for something more specific about Jesus that will help him decide whether indeed he can put his confidence in Jesus. And so, to this, Jesus replies by saying he shares Prochoros’s anger toward these antagonistic Shammai Pharisees. Jesus denotes this anger with the verb ܚܡܐ (ḥma), which, tellingly, is the same verb that in verses 11 and 25 was associated with the young man since he gained the ability to see. Like Prochoros Jesus has seen the antagonistic attitude of these Shammai Pharisees, and generally has seen the corruption in the Temple, and so here he assures the young man and his protectors that he shares their anger, hence that he is on their side. By acknowledging that he feels the same anger as the young man and those with him Jesus further makes it clear that, unlike those Pharisees, he “saw” the double entendre in Prochoros’s use of the word meaning both “to see” and “to be angry”.

9:38 – Referring to the formerly blind young man the Textus Receptus has ο δε εφη πιστευω κυριε και προσεκυνησεν αυτω (“And he said, ‘Master, I believe!’, and he bowed down to him”).

The verb πιστευω (pisteuō) can mean “believe in” or “put faith in” a deity, and carries most often that sense in later Christian writings as well as in how earlier Christian writings (such as this one) were interpreted. However at the time this gospel was written the word much more often had the sense of choosing to place one’s trust in someone or something in a situation where it is by no means certain that this trust is warranted – that is to say it was the kind of confidence that today, for instance, one puts in one’s surgeon before agreeing to a major operation.

Which is the sense intended here? That is indicated by the verb προσεκυνησεν (prosekunēsen), which is usually translated to say that the man “worshipped” Jesus. Its literal meaning, however, is that he “kissed towards”, that is, toward the ground; in other words, that he bowed or knelt in respect as was done by Jews before a great and powerful figure such as a king, prophet, or high priest. Therefore the standard “worshipped” translation, though not literal, is accurate.

And so, if the Textus Receptus conveys the message that the young man worshipped Jesus, we can be sure that it likewise tells the reader that he now “believes in” Jesus as in some sense divine: either an emissary from God or God incarnate: this is not a matter of trusting Jesus enough to let him in but of spiritual believing that in some sense the presence of Jesus is the presence of God. At the time Jesus wrote this gospel this dogma was promoted only by Paul, who cribbed it from gentile cults, largely those from his Parthian homeland; the idea was abhorrent to John, and would have been to any traditional Jew of his time (and is still today) that a mortal man could be incarnate deity and believing in that man as incarnate deity is both necessary and sufficient to gain the privilege of eternal life.

Besides all this, the general sense in the Jewish faith is that it is not proper to bow or kneel before any mortal being, because that at least implies idolatry: the making of a created being into the simulacrum of deity. As the familiar Aleinu prayer, after speaking of other peoples prostrating themselves before false idols, reminds Jews: וַאֲנַחְנוּ כֹּרעִים ומִשְׁתַּחֲוִים ומוֹדים לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים (“But we bend the knee and bow before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he”). Much is made in Jewish tradition of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau (Genesis 33:7) or to Joseph (Genesis 42:6), and also of Mordechai, his descendant, not bowing to Haman, descendant of Esau (Esther 3:1-5). John, as a traditional Jew, was of this philosophy, as Revelation 19:10 and 22:9 attest; so too, apparently, was Simon the Rock (Acts 10:26), which suggests that this is also how Jesus taught his disciples; in his time, this was something the gentiles did, for instance to their emperors who were in loco dei for them. If whoever wrote this matter of the formerly blind young man bowing or kneeling to Jesus was aware that Jews reserve such actions for God alone, then that individual must have believed that Jesus was God incarnate, making the genuflection not only appropriate but required for the faithful. Again this appears to be a form of instruction by emulation: the Christian reader is expected to genuflect like the blind man to Christ and to his earthly representatives, the religious hierarchy.

In several ways, then, it is clear that the Textus Receptus version of this verse cannot have been written by the Presbyter. He could not have written this expression of a dogma and a behavior he rejected. In time it would become (and it still is) central to mainstream Christian apologetics that Jesus is God made flesh; this acceptance was gradual, but I cannot believe this text, with this message, could have been composed sooner than, at minimum, a generation after John.

As the religion Christianity developed, it strove to separate itself from its Jewish origins in which such incarnation theology was anathema; it also constituted itself with a hierarchical bureaucracy that was (and in most branches of Christianity still is today) determined to train the faithful masses to unquestioningly believe what they are taught and bow down to that very hierarchy of the established religion, the self-proclaimed successors to the mantle of the authority of Christ (they prefer to call him “Christ” to minimize Jesus’s humanity) who saw to the rewriting of this verse to provide justification and proof of their claim to be in locus christi. This version of verse 38 is without doubt an invocation of the creed of the later religion of belief in Christ, rather than a faithful record of the teachings of Jesus. The young man is here turned by the hierarchy of the established Christian religion into an example set before readers of the gospel: the message is that the faithful should emulate: him in bowing/kneeling before God incarnate – whose presence today is in the episcopacy found in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and no less in the more autocratic and dogmatic denominations of Protestantism.

So we turn to the Palestinian Lectionaries. The young man says to Jesus ܡܗܝܡܢ ܐܢܐ ܡܪܝ (mhymn ānā mary), “I trust, my master.” All that I say above about πιστευω is also the case with this verb, ܡܗܝܡܢ: its general sense in the late Second Temple period was the decision to trust in a situation where there is abundant reason not to trust, but as the Pauline dogma took root in early Christianity it took on the dogmatic meaning of faith in deity.

What, then, is the nature of this situation in which trust is not confidently and immediately placed in Jesus? One might think the young man would be certain to trust the man who has just given him the gift of sight after a lifetime of blindness. But the situation here is that this youth (whom I believe to be John’s son Prochoros) has just argued fiercely with a group of Shammai Pharisees, succeeding in making them look like fools, and getting thrown out for his pains. And now the young man’s family and supporters are expecting nasty consequences, which is why they have him secreted away in this place as a precaution.

That brings us to the second verb. As we have it, the final clause isܘܣܓܕ ܠܗ (w’sgd l’h). The prefix ܘ (w’, “and”) precedes the verb ܣܓܕ (sgd), which means “did obeisance”, which is followed byܠܗ (l’h) means “to him”. The meaning of “and he did obeisance to him” seems obvious, and one might wonder what I am making all this fuss about.
The answer to that question begins with the beginning of verse 39. This verse, 38, closes out the liturgical reading from which it comes, and the next verse, 39, begins a separate reading found on another page in the Lectionaries. We expect it to begin as it does in all other manuscripts in all languages, with something to the effect of “And Jesus said …”. So it does in Lectionary B, with ܘܐܡܪ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ. However an extraneous word appears in the other two Lectionaries just before this phrase. In Lectionary A that word is ܕܝܫ (dyš), which means “door” or “entranceway”, and in C it is ܘܒܝܬܗ (w’byth), meaning “and his house”, referring to the structure, or “and his household”, referring to the family within it. Neither word makes any sense immediately preceding “And Jesus said …”. I believe all three Lectionaries took their text from a gospels collection that was translated into Galilean Aramaic from the original Greek-language publication manuscript prepared by Polycarp et al. (see the essay on page Error! Bookmark not defined.). In that manuscript there were, of course, no verse divisions, since these were invented much later. Since two out of three Lectionaries have a strange word leading off verse 39 that I think should go at the end of verse 38 I conclude that the gospels collection scribe made a mistake here by dividing these lines into verses a little too early, such that a remnant of the rest of the verse appears in A and C, while the scribe of Lectionary B simply left it out because as noted it makes no sense at the beginning of 39.

As noted, ܣܓܕ means “did obeisance”, but if the final letter ܕ (d) is removed, the resulting word ܣܓ (sg) means “restrained” or “closed securely”. Not only does that make perfect sense before the word ܕܝܫ, “door”, but note that the ܕ that begins the word might have crept into these manuscripts by scribal error – or by intention, since the addition of the ܕ turns ܣܓ, “closed securely” into ܣܓܕ, “did obeisance”, and a scribe might have decided in this way to repair a perceived error in his source text, and by correcting it make it conform to the reading found in the Peshitta and the Greek Textus Receptus – which had been standard for centuries by the time the surviving copies of the Lectionaries were inked.

If Lectionary C’s extraneous word, ܘܒܝܬܗ, were to follow ܣܓ, the result does not make sense: “he closed securely and his household”. But it could make sense following ܘܣܓ ܠܗ ܕܝܫ (“and he closed securely the door” if the prefix ܘ (w’, “and”) is replaced with ܕ (d’, “of”), perhaps the same ܕ that has apparently attached itself to ܣܓ, turning it into ܣܓܕ.
So I think the original Greek publication manuscript on display for several centuries in Ephesus had a phrase at the end of verse 38 that an early scribe faithfully put into Aramaic in the gospels collection, but, not knowing what to do with it and wanting to conform verse 38’s meaning to the Textus Receptus, the Lectionary A and C scribes put one or another part of the phrase at the beginning of verse 39 while the B scribe ignored it altogether. That phrase in its entirety was apparently ܘܣܓ ܠܗ ܕܝܫ ܕܒܝܬܗ (“and he closed securely the door to his house”). I emphasize that all of this phrase is apparent in A and C, and the only change I have made is one prefix.

But the result is fascinating: the resulting phrases do not say the young man expressed faith in Jesus and did obeisance to him, but that he trusted Jesus enough to let him in, and secured the door of the house behind him. This reading fits perfectly the sense of these final verses in chapter 9, in which the young man is in a secret location protected by sympathetic Pharisees. And the word found in Lectionary C, ܒܝܬܗ, “his house”, confirms what I surmise above, that this hiding place is in fact the home John and his family. This version seems far more likely to be close to the original, and is adopted in the reconstruction.

The motif of Jesus being afforded entry into a locked room in which certain men are hiding out from their fellow Jews forms an inclusio with 20:19. In both places they are at first blind to his identity and he needs in some way to restore their ability to see who he is.

9:39 – The wide difference between the Textus Receptus and the Palestinian Lectionaries continues. The former says here: και ειπεν ο ιησους εις κριμα εγω εις τον κοσμον τουτον ηλθον ινα οι μη βλεποντες βλεπωσιν και οι βλεποντες τυφλοι γενωνται (“And Jesus said, “I came into this cosmos for judgement, so that those who cannot see may perceive, and (that) those who see might become blind”).

Again, this seems not an unlikely thing for Jesus to say, not in small part because it has become so familiar to all those in the Christian faith. This saying carries very much the apparently paradoxical quality of Eastern wisdom, reminiscent of Lao-tse’s 言知不者, 言不者知 (literally, “[The one] who knows does not speak; [the one] who speaks does not know”, from the Tao-te Ching, 56), and the koöns (“knots”) of Zen. It is also reminiscent of a recurrent theme in the prophets of the humble being exalted and the proud being debased (e.g., Isaiah 65:13, and also Luke 1:51-53), and of God telling Isaiah to preach to these people until their ears are plugged and their eyes glued together so they can hear and see no more, and until the city is crushed into ruins (Isaiah 6:10-11), meant as a reference to the coming destruction by the Assyrians, and in Jesus’s day taken as a reference to the one coming at the hands of Rome. What Jesus is reported as saying here, then, is that those who humbly concede their inability to see spiritually will be given wisdom, and those who claim falsely to be wise will be unmasked as without any true insight.

There is nothing in this Greek version that betrays it as unoriginal in its wording. Still, I accept the Palestinian Lectionaries’ very different wording of this verse as more likely best representing the original. My reason is not that there is something obviously wrong with this verse in the Textus Receptus – there is not – but that in both the Textus Receptus and the Lectionaries these several verses form a unit, but each of those two units tells a very different story. Therefore, if I reject the claim of any one Textus Receptus verse to be original and replace it with the Lectionaries version (as indeed I have), I must do the same with all of these verses or lose the coherence of the narrative.

The first word of Jesus’s statement in the Lectionaries text is ܠܕܝܢ (l’dyn). This can be construed as meaning “for judgement”, which leads to the dogmatic sense of the Textus Receptus, but another more common meaning of the word, as “for this”, i.e., “for this reason” or “this is why”, fits the context better. In like manner the word ܠܥܠܝܡܐ (l’ˁlymā) looks like ܠܥܠܡܐ (l’ˁlmā) the word for “world” or “eternity” with the ܠ (l’) prefix meaning “to”, and later scribes must have assumed as much in order to conform the meaning of this verse to that in the Textus Receptus. But note that the actual word is spelled slightly differently. It actually means “to the young man”. Thus the Lectionaries do not have Jesus say “I came into the world for judgement” but “This is why I came to this young man.”

The second sentence in the Lectionaries version of the verse focuses on ܚܡܝܢ (ḥmyn), “father-in-law”. Since Jesus is speaking to Pharisees, his auditors of course work within the Temple administration; thus it is evident who he means by this term: Annas, the former high priest who is still the power behind the office, like a scheming Mafia don, like a vulture fledged in darkness crouching warily over its prey,: so powerful that he has and will continue yet for decades to rule through his five sons, each of whom is eventually to serve a term as high priest, plus the current office-holder, his son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas. It is conceivable that Annas was widely referred to as “the father-in-law” at the time, and so this was just a manner of speech for Jesus. This may be yet, at the same time, Jesus use the word with a suffix that gives it the meaning of “your father-in-law”: he is speaking to a son-in-law or sons-in-law of Annas.

At least one actual son-in-law of Annas is surely present in this conversation: the father of the formerly blind young man, John the future Presbyter, whose marriage to a daughter of Annas is discussed on pages 277-85. This notion must be considered since the narrative introduction to Jesus’s words says he spoke to Jewish leaders, in the plural, not one alone, and the leaders according to the text reply together saying they feel “as if we have been blind”. And so in fact I think it very possible that another son-in-law is also part of this conversation with Jesus: the current high priest himself, John’s immediate superior, Joseph Caiaphas, also known as Joseph of Arimathæa (Editorial note: This is documented elsewhere in this book.), whose house was nearby John the sagan’s. Caiaphas’s marriage to a daughter of Annas is well attested in Josephus as well as this gospel (18:13). Despite the uninformed castigation of his memory for two millennia, Caiaphas was no diabolical enemy; he strove to broker a compromise in the Sanhedrin as regards Jesus’s death (11:49-53) and, as Joseph of Arimathæa he generously led the rapid efforts to dispose of Jesus’s body before Passover began (19:38-42), though in secret because of his vulnerability were this support discovered by opposing factions (12:42 and 19:38). In short, the reason John and his wife Anna (Editorial note: Her identity is documented elsewhere in this book.) avoid the probing questions of the Shammai group in verses 20-23 is the same reason the door of the house is shut and no one other than friends is allowed entry: neither of these men is at this point ready to sacrifice his high Temple office for Jesus’s sake. Still, as the first and second in power in the Temple the two surely worked closely together and had become loyal friends who could rely on each other for vital protection and honest advice amidst all the scheming and intrigues of factions in the hierarchy; thus it would be natural for Caiaphas to help John protect his son from these antipathetic Shammai Pharisees. While the text does not specifically say Caiaphas was also present, it is certainly possible given the plurals in Jesus’s words and the fact that more than one sympathetic Pharisee (or Jewish leader, as the text has it) is part of this scene.

In this entire episode in chapter 9 and as restored in chapter 10 only verse 9:40 suggests Pharisees other than John were present in this place of retreat away from danger. In that case the main candidates for our consideration must be Nicodemus, who I believe was John’s father (Editorial note: This is documented elsewhere in this book.), and Joseph Caiaphas, John’s colleague in the Temple who was also known as Joseph of Arimathæa.

In this verse Jesus draws a contrast between Annas’s allies, who are blind to the evil they are doing by extorting the public and ignoring the mitzvot of the Torah, and those who oppose Annas or are at least not allied with him. Since the former are called blind, we expect Jesus to say the latter are seeing. The word that appears, however, is ܚܡܘܢ (ḥmwn), “they have seen / been angry”. As before, the suggestion is that those unallied with Annas see what evil he and his associates are committing, and they are angry to see it.

A contrastive statement like this is a hallmark of John’s writing style, and thus it supports my conclusion that the Lectionaries text is original or close to it. This verse includes a second indicator that this is how John originally wrote the verse: his style includes frequent alliteration, and the Aramaic here is highly alliterative – ܕܗܠܝܢ ܕܠܐ ܚܡܝܢ ܝܚܡܘܢ (d’hlyn dlā ḥmyn yḥmwn): Jesus says those (ܕܗܠܝܢ, d’hlyn) who are not with (ܕܠܐ, dlā) your father-in-law (ܚܡܝܢ, ḥmyn) can see (ܝܚܡܘܢ, yḥmwn).

9:40-41 – The Textus Receptus of verse 40 reads: ηκουσαν εκ των φαρισαιων ταυτα οι μετ αυτου οντες και ειπον αυτω μη και ημεις τυφλοι εσμεν ειπεν (“The Pharisees, those who were with him there, heard these things, and they said to him, ‘We are not also blind?’”). Verse 41 says: ειπεν αυτοις ο ιησους ει τυφλοι ητε ουκ αν ειχετε αμαρτιαν νυν δε λεγετε οτι βλεπομεν η αμαρτια υμων μενει (“Jesus said to them, ‘If you (acknowledged that you) are blind, you’d be without error. But, since you say “We perceive”, your error remains’”).

In this standard version these Pharisees challenge Jesus, haughtily saying in effect, “Surely you are not contending that we are blind!”, and he rebuts their pride with a stinging judgement. This is another example of what is often the case in the Textus Receptus: priests and Pharisees tend to be presented monolithically, as all bad. This was part of the beginnings of Christian anti-Semitism that is still far too often in evidence today, and it is also behind such derogatory terms still used, such as “pharisaical”. This Textus Receptus version continues the dogma that faithful Christians must be humble and obedient to their spiritual masters, believing as they are told to believe, and that they should never insist that they can perceive truth on their own, independently of the organized religion, and even less insist that their truth is better than the doctrines in which the organized religion instructs them.

Again in these last two verses of chapter 9 the Palestinian Lectionaries have something quite different. The implied challenge and the stern judgement in the Textus Receptus are not to be found. Rather these Pharisees sound rather wistful, even regretful, about how blind they have been during their years in Temple service, blindly obedient to Annas, sycophantic and servile, sacrificing their ethics, the Torah requirements that found their faith, for the sake of their careers.

The term ܕܪܬܐ (drtā) literally means “the courtyard” or “the atrium”. Given the context, it must refer here to the atrium around the pool of Šylwḥā. This location has been located and partially excavated in recent years. From the Temple Mount the blind young man went south to the pool on a pedestrian road which descended by broad, deep steps, ending after it had passed by the building housing the pool to the left (east), with the city’s main drainage channel descending to the right (west) side of the road. Being blind, the young man surely needed assistance lest he take a tumble on the steps amidst all the hurrying foot traffic. After reaching the bottom of the steps he turned left and walked to the center of the building’s south face, coming to the large gateway entrance. This entrance took him into the gateway itself, passing through the building itself to the pool. The building was a quadrilateral structure under a stone roof supported by double rows of columns, housing rooms for various purposes related to the pool. At the inner end of the passageway the young man reached the pool itself, which was within the surrounding structure, exposed to the sky. Such an open area within a building was called in Latin an atrium, which is still what it is called in English. As noted, in Aramaic it was called a ܕܪܬܐ.

Jesus means far more than a simple assertion when he says it was foolish of them to blind themselves to what Annas has been doing. Not long ago, in 8:34, he spoke what was probably a common saying but in that moment clearly a barb aimed at Annas and his allies: “If a fool has a slave his slave too is a fool”, using the same word, ܣܟܠ (skl). Here, reminiscent of that comment, he says these Pharisees were just such fools to enslave themselves to the great fool Annas. Besides, in verse 34 the antagonistic Pharisees insultingly called John and Anna ܣܟܠܢ (skln, “fools”). So also Jesus is no doubt deliberately picking up on that accusation, saying in effect that those Pharisees were right – the parents were fools for at least as long as they remained allied with Annas. But now, Jesus implies, they see plainly the situation in the Temple, and so Jesus invites them to relate their experiences at the pool of Šylwḥā.

10:1-16 – With verse 9:41 the Textus Receptus in Greek, and also the Peshitta and the Old Syriac versions in Aramaic, conclude the story of the blind young man. An entirely different pericope begins with verse 10:1, a parabolic declaration by Jesus that he is the “Good Shepherd”. The Textus Receptus presents an allegory which has been universally understood as Jesus pastoring the Christians of future centuries, an interpretation which needless to say is highly anachronistic and cannot be original. In all of the just mentioned versions the text is rather confusedly organized and often muddled in meaning.

The Syriac Sinaiticus is rather clearer than the Greek. It specifies that Jesus enters through the gates into the Temple’s inner courts. Jesus speaks of himself more specifically as shepherd of the Jews, not of the yet-to-exist adherents to the Christian religion, and as the gatekeeper of the Temple, not the sheepfold of Christendom. The Syriac likewise depicts the stranger, the thief, and the hired hand as, presumably, those Jewish religious leaders who oppose Jesus and his message, in this gospel sometimes Pharisees of the Shammai philosophy and also Sadducees, Levites, and priests who control the Temple under the sanction not of God but of Annas. Jesus denies that they are legitimately in control. He speaks of them as thieves, as wild animals who take what they want from the defenseless sheep. By calling himself the gatekeeper, the true/correct/proper shepherd, Jesus is heavily implying that he is messiah: he is the legitimate king and high priest, rather than anyone in the current Temple hierarchy.
But a close examination reveals a good deal of confusion. The Aramaic word ܬܪܥܐ (tarˁā), for instance, can mean “gate” or “gatekeeper”. But whoever put this into Greek chose the wrong meaning, mistakenly writing that Jesus called himself the θυρα (thyra, “gate”) rather than the θυρωρος (thyrōros, “gatekeeper”) of the flock.

Jesus’s words about “sheep not of this fold” are taken by organized Christianity as a reference to organized Christianity, where presumably Jesus would have been referring only to Jews in the Diaspora, Jews and proselytes in the Diaspora, gentiles, or even to all humanity other than Jews. By “one flock, one shepherd”, however, Jesus is not talking about one religion. The Christian religion, separate from Judaism, was yet to be invented, so its often forcible conversion methods would be an anachronism here; indeed, odious to Jesus. He would more likely have spoken about the entire world of humanity, Jewish or not, hearing his teaching about the Λογος and the Æon, and every person individually choosing whether to be united in God’s beautiful order/plan. It is evident that Jesus did not believe God only loved Jews, and certainly Jesus has repeatedly suggested in this gospel that some of the most prominent Jews of his time were not loved by God, mainly for their execrable deeds. Rather, Jesus often insists that the central issue is living a life that is in harmony with the Λογος, and this, apparently, Jesus felt was compatible with any religious tradition or none at all. This serves as a kind of answer to the loaded question asked about Jesus at 7:35 – yes, he did hope to teach in the Diaspora, and not just the Diaspora, but the entire world. …

The Greek of 10:18 reads: ουδεις αιρει/ηρεν αυτην απ εμου αλλ εγω τιθημι αυτην απ εμαυτου εξουσιαν εχω θειναι αυτην και εξουσιαν εχω παλιν λαβειν αυτην ταυτην την εντολην ελαβον παρα του πατρος μου (“No one takes/took it (my life) from me but I lay it down by myself; I have the authority to lay it down and I have the authority to take it up again; this command I received from my father”). Note that the second Greek word appears in the aorist [past] tense in 𝕻45 and a few later manuscripts. Notwithstanding this suggestion of a past tense, this verse appears to be Jesus prophesying his death. But that is not what the larger passage is about; it is about cleansing the thieves from the Temple, and so suddenly talking about the crucifixion here is quite out of context. The Syriac Sinaiticus, on the other hand, seems to be focused on Jesus having breath (being alive) such that he can fulfill the command with which he is tasked to cleanse the Temple.

All such issues disappear, however, in the Palestinian Lectionaries. In fact, the entire “Good Shepherd” allegory vanishes. The final verse of chapter 9 therein has Jesus invite the Pharisees protecting the blind young man to tell him about Annas and his supporters. Other than Jesus the speakers are not named, but the clues I see lead me to identify them as Prochoros’s mother Anna and father John (who as author of this gospel would remember best what the two of them said).

I cannot overemphasize that what follows is a completely different narrative from the Good Shepherd passage. When I read it for the first time in the Galilean Aramaic original I felt astonishment that a very familiar book, the Gospel of John, was presenting me with a totally new passage. Granted, some few words and phrases therein also appear in the familiar Good Shepherd allegory, and one can see plainly that these were used in order to construct the latter. But the overall differences are so massive that we must make a choice which is the best representation for a restored edition, and to me the choice must be to go with the Lectionaries. Throughout this work the reader will see by my analyses that whenever it differs from the later texts it has the best claim to authenticity.

The author of the Good Shepherd discourse, not John, has evidently taken some words and phrases (examples of which will be discussed below) from the Lectionaries version to use in his own text. Despite its unpolished nature, this passage perfectly continues upon the account of Prochoros’s healing; certainly Jesus isn’t going to change the subject so radically from the corruption in the Temple to a prediction of his own death and resurrection and a promise to shepherd the gentiles who several generations from now were to constitute the Christian religion. All of the criticisms herein of Annas and those aligned with him have a lot of supporting passages in the Tanakh, such as (to name but one) Ezekiel’s condemnation of his fellow priests and his description of the spirit of God leaving the Temple. And this passage has a clear intent: the effect of this healing and Jesus’s subsequent teachings must have had a mighty and lasting effect on these Pharisees, especially John, who would very soon now leave his high Temple position and spend the rest of his life as an apostle to Jesus’s teachings. Joseph Caiaphas remained secretive about his support for Jesus and his bid to be recognized as messiah (19:38), but he would soon negotiate a brilliant compromise in the Sanhedrin enabling Jesus to meet with the death that would assure that recognition (11:49-50). He and Nicodemus would see together to Jesus being provided with a burial that not only was sumptuous (19:39-41) but was conducive to a miraculous reanimation of Jesus’s corpse.

Usually it is my manner to begin these commentaries with what the Textus Receptus says and then contrast it to the Lectionaries reading. So different is the latter in this passage that I must largely forego this comparative approach here. I discuss the Good Shepherd passage separately, beginning on page 190.

Since this passage is so completely different, its division into verses is not traditional, but rather how it was arranged by Agnes Smith Lewis in her æditio princeps. Occasionally in the translation I put a word she has in one verse into the preceding or succeeding verse in order to make sense of the sentence; I do this without making note of the change.

While the Good Shepherd discourse is entirely proclaimed by Jesus, this passage is something of a conversation. Jesus is the only clearly identified speaker, and at least two others also express themselves. They are unnamed, so I have added within parentheses my tentative conclusions as to the identities of the other speakers, with the logic by which I reach each conclusion explained in the commentaries below – but I wish to emphasize that this is only tentative and meant merely as a guide to the reader.
Without question the Good Shepherd is a beautiful bit of writing, even if as I believe it is not by John. This conversation recorded in the Palestinian Lectionaries, on the other hand, seems to be a mere sketch that only indicates how the discussion went. While each of the finished pericopes of the gospel has a clear and certain purpose, this one does not. There is some discussion of what happened, and Jesus utters some spiritual profundities, but that is that: there is no dramatic conclusion as in every other episode of the gospel. It is very interesting for us to read such an entirely new lengthy passage amidst the familiar gospel, but the fact remains that ultimately it is just a sketch that John never was able to give his wonted literary polish.

It is evident from the rather aimless quality of this passage, the lack of names, the imprecise writing, and the lack of a conclusion, that it had not yet been put into a final draft form by John before his arrest in 68 and the conveyance of the unfinished manuscript to Sinope for safekeeping. And I think this conversation scene was not finalized precisely because John was still unsure just how to do it. The manuscript came back to Anatolia when John was in his very last years and in failing health, and his literary heirs – Papias, Polycarp, and his son Prochoros – had to make some decisions as regards this and other passages that were not in proper shape for publication. The Lectionaries (arranged from a gospel manuscript prepared, I believe, by Prochoros) appear faithful overall to the manuscript, and here they preserve the unrefined character of the dialogue; Prochoros had a vested interest in preserving the original of this entire pericope, since it is about Jesus miraculously giving him sight and the consequences thereof. However those responsible for the text we find in the later Syriac and Greek versions evidently decided against this unfinished passage and instead to take some of the words and phrases found in the conversation and develop a Good Shepherd discourse of the kind that Jesus might have spoken but never did as a replacement for this sketch of the conversation recorded in the Lectionaries.

10:1-3a – Jesus in the preceding verse, 9:41, has invited these Pharisees to join him in sharing what each did and saw happening as Annas and his Pharisee allies attacked Prochoros at the pool of Šylwḥā. As the one calling for it, he begins the exchange, which was the custom, in for example the dialogues of Plato. The earmark “Amen amen, I tell you” formula assures us that these are Jesus’s words; in verse 7 the narrative says Jesus “again” utters this formula, so this is clearly the first time.
Jesus introduces a female character who is referred to as the ܐܡܪܬܐ (āmartā). In the Syriac dialect this word refers to a female lamb, an ewe, and this meaning would suggest Jesus is talking about his wife Mary, who is often compared in the Johannine writings to a lamb. But there is nothing, neither in the text nor by reasoning, to support the contention that she was encumbered with the care of Prochoros. Indeed, in the first scene of this pericope both parents (9:18-23) are depicted as concerned for his safety and wellbeing, so logic would conclude that this ܐܡܪܬܐ is Prochoro’s mother. A deeper look at the word reveals that its sense in Galilean Aramaic is quite different, apparently from another lexeme altogether: it appears related to ܡܪܝܐ (maryā), meaning “master”, “teacher”, or “husband”. On page 834 of his dictionary Marcus Jastrow gives several examples of ܐܡܪ (amr, a form of the preceding) as meaning “master”, and suggests ܡܪܬܐ (martā) was the feminine equivalent. J. P. N. Land, on page 221 of his Anecdota Syriaca, says ܡܪܘܬܐ is equivalent to κυρια (kuria), the Greek word meaning “lady”, “wife”, or “mistress” (though I prefer “masteress” to avoid certain unfortunate connotations). The word may also be connected to the Galilean noun ܐܡܗܬܐ (āmhtā, “mother”). Therefore I conclude that ܐܡܪܬܐ does not refer to an ewe but to a certain lady, and thus I translate it. The context tells us that the lady had blind Prochoros in her care, and in fact that she rather valiantly rescued him: I conclude that this is the young man’s mother, John the future Presbyter’s wife, Anna. And Anna, in fact, was the daughter of the very Annas who here acts as the villain, and certain comments made in this exchange support this identification.

Jesus must have sensed impending trouble just as soon as Annas arrived on the scene (9:7b). He begins his narrative as he is bringing Prochoros and the lady, John’s wife, out through the building entranceway, apparently intending to send them safely on her way home. As Jesus was doing so Annas apparently made a move from behind to detain his grandson Prochoros. But Jesus says the gate opened and so the young man was able to leave. It is very likely that Annas had ordered the gate sealed, but John’s words in verse 3b clarify the situation: he heard his son’s screaming and so he and those with him (he says “we”) had the gate opened or opened it themselves.

Since by his description Jesus is already in the scene, I suspect he must have accompanied Anna and Prochoros from the Temple to the pool. Thus he was near them when Annas arrived, and so was able to move them quickly in the direction of safety.
Annas was determined to keep his monopoly on all things Jewish, and so any dispensations of God’s beneficence had to be funneled through the Temple. And without doubt he was not pleased about a miracle that had not been authorized by his hegemony, and which was sure to enhance the reputation of Jesus, to whom Annas had conceived an intense hatred, probably ever since Jesus overthrew the moneychangers’ tables (2:14-22) eight months before. Without doubt the potentate was less pleased that this was in his eyes an attack on his own family, that this upstart from up north had put hands on his own grandson. But by now Annas surely was apprised that his son-in-law John, as the sagan the second-in-command in the Temple, was now suspect too for becoming a follower of this Jesus. By now even Anna John’s wife, named for her father, was under suspicion as well – and now, as she, John, and Prochoros run from Annas, there can no longer be any doubt of his enmity. And this enmity, this rift within the family, was bound now to intensify once Annas realized that the Galilean he failed to recognize was Jesus himself, the perpetrator of the crime of unauthorized healing. Indeed, Jesus may have had John’s in-laws in mind when he made the comments recorded in Matthew 10:32-39, or even Jesus’s own in-laws, for there too as we shall see soon in this gospel, a rupture developed between Mary Jesus’s wife and her own father Simon. And so Annas probably meant to take young Prochoros captive and either “talk some sense into him” so he would say publicly what Annas wanted him to say, or, should that fail, in one way or another close his mouth permanently.

10:3b-6 – This conversation is taking place in John’s house, so by first century decorum John himself should next recount his memories. The narrative does not identify this speaker, but the clues point to him. First, the orator mentions Jesus, so he is not Jesus, and Jesus’s Galilean accent is to him foreign-sounding, which suggests a Judæan. This man also expresses concern for Jesus’s safety and calls Jesus “Master”, suggesting a follower of Jesus. The individual also shows great love and concern for Prochoros’s and Anna’s safety, that he “was staying close” to them. All of these factors fit John’s profile. Additionally, note the constant theme of voices: the young man “crying out to the lady”, Prochoros and Anna’s “voices were upset”, and “Master Jesus’s foreign-accented voice”, even noting that what Jesus said was a simile. (What simile Jesus said to them John does not relate, but he would surely have repaired this deficiency had this scene been revised.) And there is attention to visual detail, that “they didn’t look behind them”. All of this is typical of John sharp sensory awareness.

For all John knew Prochoros was still blind and would be unable to escape the situation without guidance. Though, yes, his sight was now returned to him, a fact traumatic enough in itself, and besides sight must have been of little use to a young man blind from birth who has not yet learned how to analyze visual data with much efficiency. Even his own parents’ faces were new to him, and here he was in the midst of a screaming, milling crowd! No wonder that Prochoros was in panic, shouting as his mother sought to sweep him along the path of escape with Jesus’s help. Prochoros would have been further upset because his mother was upset too, as John says, since Annas and his gang were coming quickly up the entranceway.

John was evidently not as close as Jesus to his wife and son when the mêlée began, but just inside the gate area. John heard his son screaming rather than first seeing what was happening. He recognized the voice and got the gate open. By the time he saw his family they were passing through the building entrance, reaching the gate just ahead of Annas and his henchmen. The beginning of verse 4 suggests that John wound up running behind Jesus, Anna, and Prochoros, and in front of Annas.

The comment that Prochoros and the maidservant “didn’t look behind them” is probably a conscious reference to Lot and his family, instructed not to look back as they run to escape the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:17), but Lot’s wife famously does look back and is turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). This story was important in the early Jesus movement, Jesus mentions it in Q (Matthew 10:15, 11:24, and Luke 10:12) Luke 17:28-32, and II Peter 2:6-7. The analogy is plain: the disobedience of the powers-that-be in Sodom/Jerusalem, implications of sexual excess (and the Temple practices in this time as in others may have included sexual rituals; Editorial note: This is documented elsewhere in this book.), and the city’s imminent destruction: just as these two run from Annas’s clutches here, John and his family will in 38 run to Ephesus from Jerusalem, anticipating its destruction. As John wrote this scene, not long before his exile in 68, that destruction was ever more imminent.

Apparently Jesus stayed within the gate, in the entrance corridor, to speak to Annas. No doubt this was a delay tactic to afford the family time to get away, for John confirms at the end of verse 5 that he left the building as well. But as he was departing John apparently felt some anxiety should Annas recognize and violently detain the Galilean-accented rabbi as the one who had performed an unauthorized healing of Annas’s grandson – having missed catching Prochoros Annas would have been glad to catch the even bigger prize – but John notes with evident relief that Jesus went unrecognized.
Note that John speaks of Jesus here in the third person. He is talking to the others present, presumably his wife and son.

10:7-13 – Jesus again takes up the narrative. He uses a mix of first-person singular pronouns to describe his own actions, but in at least verses 8 and 10 he switches to the first-person plural. This may be without importance, but at least verse 8 also could indicate that he was not alone in his effort to rescue the mother and son. He may have been accompanied by one or more disciples, or else Mary his wife. Verse 10 can also be read as Jesus speaking in general terms of all the rescuers.

Jesus begins this second part of his summary at the point when he is at the gateway with Anna and Prochoros, with John hurrying to join them just ahead of his father-in-law Annas and henchmen. But meanwhile, Jesus says, there’s also an onrush of thieves who have evidently taken advantage of the situation.

This detail informs us that a veritable riot had broken loose inside the atrium. The cause was not the healing itself, since chapter 9 gives several discussions that immediately followed upon it. The spark was supplied by Annas and his cronies, when they “flung themselves upon” Prochoros, as the Lectionaries put it in 9:34. This attempt inevitably resulted in Prochoros struggling to escape and screaming for help, which in turn must have precipitated a panic – and no wonder. The crowd may have thought a kidnapper or even a murderer had a victim in his grip: in this time perpetrators of such violent crimes often took advantage of the distracting cover of crowd situations just like this one at the pool of Šylwḥā. Members of such anti-Roman groups as the Zealots and especially the Sicarii were known to kill important pagans or Jewish sympathizers, and of course personal vendettas were often settled through murder, which also was used to silence victims of robbery, rape, and other crimes. And of course the entire Jerusalem community was constantly on edge, expecting at any moment, for the least provocation, the Roman military to come down hard on the Jewish population.

Meanwhile, professional pickpockets and thieves were everpresent in such public situations as this one to take advantage of the unwary. From what Jesus says here it is likely that the chaotic situation enabled some of these professionals to snatch purses from distracted people, as well as to rifle personal belongings in the changing areas. And then, according to Jesus, the robbers were making a quick exit, no doubt pushing people out of the way.

In the Textus Receptus of the canonical gospels Jesus is rarely if ever depicted in such a very human manner, as unaware of what is happening around him and unable to do anything to ameliorate it. The Jesus of the dogma-driven organized religion was of course God incarnate, hence omniscient and omnipotent. So startling is this aspect of these two verses that it may be one significant reason why this conversation was later replaced with the Good Shepherd discourse. Still, Jesus’s testimony – which makes it clear that he personally observed nothing of what was going on with Prochoros, John his father, and the maidservant – fully fits the context in the Lectionaries text: it is precisely his ignorance of what happened that prompted him in 9:41 to ask the others to tell him what they had seen and done.

Jesus next again specifies that he was outside, “above the entrance”. The entrance to the edifice housing the pool was at the bottom of a hill, as noted in the commentary to 9:40-41; this makes clear Jesus’s location, outdoors near that entrance. From this outdoor position he says he saw the maidservant come safely out of the building with Prochoros (“She saved him”), and then says he saw John come out (“and he went out the entrance”). Jesus then went into the building – surely struggling against the crowds of people surging the other way as they strove to leave the pool complex – and found within the sick and infirm who were typically lying beside pools or in the waters seeking relief from pain and perchance hoping for a miraculous healing. Many of them, blind or lame or otherwise severely incapacitated, would have been unable to leave in the panic, and indeed were vulnerable to being trampled by the fleeing crowd or robbed by thieves. Jesus does not say what he did, but he probably at least helped them to safety, and might even have miraculously healed some of them.

The sentence in verse 10 about thieves coming only to steal and destroy was probably a common saying at the time, one which Jesus here applies to Annas. Jesus then sums up the situation by saying together they succeeded in rescuing Prochoros and saying Annas and his associates now no longer will have any desire to steal the young man. The attempted abduction was to prevent Prochoros from enhancing Jesus’s reputation in Jerusalem by telling everyone how Jesus gave him the sight that he had never had before in his life. But now that Prochoros is in friendly hands they have no further preventing this.
Again, there is virtually nothing in common with the Textus Receptus; just coïncidental references to a gateway, thieves, and sheep, though ܥܪܒܐ (ˁrbā, “sheep”), which appears in the latter, is quite a different word from ܐܡܪܬܐ (āmartā), which usually refers to a female lamb in Syriac but apparently could designate a maidservant in Galilean Aramaic. And the saying in verse 10a, that the thief only comes to steal and destroy appears in the Lectionaries as well as in the standard reading – which shows that whoever composed the Good Shepherd discourse was taking what he could from this original version.

Verse 11 is obviously Jesus still speaking, calling himself the good shepherd. This verse is the main foundation of the so-called Good Shepherd discourse written later to replace this conversation. But in this passage Jesus is not speaking in a timeless manner as in the pastiche that replaces it in the Textus Receptus; he may not be doing anything more than commenting on the situation they all just experienced, saying that he was a good shepherd to bring Anna and Prochoros safely out of the volatile situation, but see the next paragraph. Jesus’s assessment of safekeeping expands: in verse 9 he says Anna saved Prochoros; in verse 10 he says “we saved him”, meaning he and Anna together, and then in 11 he says he is devoted to the safety and protection of John’s wife.

Verse 12 then states the facts. Anna may be Annas’s daughter, but she no longer is under his authority, being married to John. Thus he is called the father-in-law here. And then he is called “the wolf”, which is much more appropriate than the casual Bible reader might realize. Not only are there numerous verses such as Ezekiel 22:27 and Zephaniah 3:3 in which rulers of Judah are condemned as vicious wolves plundering the people, but passages like Ezekiel 34 which says a “good shepherd” is needed to protect the people from such a wolf as Annas.

In verse 13 Jesus denounces Annas even further, saying he is so corrupt as a hireling in the Temple that he is “not concerned about the good of” his own daughter, the mother of his grandson.

10:14 – Having just been mentioned, Anna herself now speaks. The feminine suffixes indicate a woman talking, and there are no other female candidates present, at least so far as we know. And what is said here is obviously Anna’s confirmation of her responsibility as a mother and wife. This verse was of course later revised and put on the lips of Jesus in the Good Shepherd discourse, again in verse 14.

It is notable that John gives voice in the gospel not only to major female characters, most obviously Mary Jesus’s wife, but also to minor female characters, such as the girl in charge of the gate to the high priest’s compound (18:17) and John’s wife Anna here. And that John includes her statement in the gospel documents his own love and respect for his spouse, as well as his awareness of Jesus’s – if I may use a modern term – feminist perspective. This surely is a reflection of the Hillel-Gamaliel tradition of which both Jesus and John were a part, which championed the rights of women, and also the teachings of Jesus himself.

10:15-18 – That verse 15 begins with ܗܝܟ (hyk), “just as”, tell us that another individual begins to speak here, picking up on what Anna has just said about gathering her charges to herself and taking it not just in a new direction but one that is spiritually sublime. Even though this statement too is unascribed, it is certain that Jesus is again talking – the themes are familiarly on his lips throughout the gospel.

Verses 14-15 in the Textus Receptus share with verse 15 here the imagery of Jesus gathering his sheep together, though they add the idea that Jesus will lay down his life for his sheep, a theme that appears throughout the Good Shepherd discourse but not in this Lectionaries text.

Likewise, the Textus Receptus of verse 16 has Jesus say he will draw into his “one flock (with) one shepherd” “other sheep that are not of this fold”. The Lectionaries version also includes this theme, though it is more specific, mentioning sympathetic priests in the Temple hierarchy and also, rather surprisingly, associates of Pontius Pilate. Still, the latter should not come as a complete surprise to careful readers of this restored gospel, in which I often point out that Pilate is characterized as a friend and supporter of Jesus and his determination to be recognized as messiah and replace by force the Annas clique in the Temple with a priesthood that is genuinely Jewish and fully committed to obeying the mitzvot (laws) of the Torah.

It is interesting that Jesus refers here to Pilate by his nomen gentilicum. Intimates, such as immediate family, addressed a Roman of the higher classes (and Pilate was one of these) by her or his prænomen, equivalent to the modern Western first name; Pilate’s has been lost to time. Personal, informal friends usually addressed the person by the nomen gentilicum, which indicated the individual’s gens, or familial clan; Pilate’s is Pontius. Strangers and formal acquaintances used the cognomen, and that explains why this man is known today as Pilate: because the authors of canonical gospels were not among his personal friends.

Pontius in Latin became ποντιος (pontios) in Greek and went unchanged into English. However in the two places in the Galilean Aramaic text of the Palestinian Lectionaries where the name appears, here and in 3:14 (the latter confirmed by one surviving fragment of the Evangeliaria Londinensia, likely the source of the Lectionaries’ text), the name appears as ܢܬܘܣ (Pntws) – as it also does in Luke 3:1, the solitary place where it is found in the Textus Receptus of the four canonical gospels. Therefore this can only be a reference to Pilate, and not to something else, for instance Pontus, a region then to the south of the Black Sea. Besides, Pontus does not logically fit the context of any of these three appearances.

It is a long sentence through verse 16, and its final phrase appears (by æditio princeps editor Agnes Smith Lewis’s mistake in verse division) at the beginning of 17. I have corrected this, marking the beginning of 18 after this phrase. Unknown in any other version, Jesus says in the phrase that certain ones among the Temple Pharisees and the associates of Pilate “have come” to him. Obviously, one of these is John the sagan himself, he who was to write this gospel.

The differences between this text and the Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta are typical of the later efforts to create textual supports for the dogma of Jesus as God incarnate and to emphasize his Godly omniscience, including about the future. The significant differences are as follows:

First, where Jesus calls God ܐܒܐ (ābā, “the father”) in the Lectionaries, implying that God is father not just of Jesus but of all humanity, the two later texts have him say ܐܒܝ (āby, “my father”), to say Jesus, as the unique Son of God, God incarnate, has a special relationship with God.

Second, the verb which in my translation I have as “am completing/uniting”, is ܡܣܝܡ (msym) in Lectionary A, the oldest of the three. It becomes ܡܣܡ (msm) in Lectionaries B and C, and then ܣܐܡ (sām) in the Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta. The first, ܡܣܝܡ, is the active present participle of the verb ܣܝܡ (sym) or ܣܝܝܡ (syym), which as Marcus Jastrow’s dictionary makes especially plain, means “to finish”, “to complete”, or “to unite”. Lectionaries B and C have ܡܣܡ (msm) which should be translated the same way but can, if we stretch the conjugations and definitions a bit, be made to mean “to place”. By a further stretch this can be thought of as meaning “to place/put down”. The word ܣܐܡ in the yet later texts confidently means “to place”, and it doesn’t need so much of a stretch to make it mean “to lay down”. Each of these progressive verb substitutions may have been accidental or deliberate (I think the first was not intended to change the meaning but the second was), but the result is that they increasingly clearly present Jesus as predicting he will “put down” his life, and the intentional nature is loudly signalled by the next difference to be discussed.

Third, the Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta add a phrase to verse 17 not found in the Lectionaries: ܕܬܘܒ ܐܣܒܝܗ, “again I will take it” and appearing in the Greek (ινα παλιν λαβω αυτην), but in all cases with the “up again” added in translations even though nothing in these early texts really has that meaning, in order to have Jesus predicting his resurrection.

As Lewis divides the verses, 18 begins with the last clause of the sentence in 17; I have moved it to the end of 17 so the sentence is complete. Jesus says in this clause that no one can take his soul from him, completed as it is with and by Mary. Of course the later versions shifted the meaning to Jesus saying no one can take his life away from him, but rather that “I surrender it on my own initiative.”

That final clause placed in my restoration of 17 again has the verb ܡܣܝܡ, meaning “to unite” or “to complete”. In support of my certainty that ܡܣܝܡ is the original word is the fact of its similarity to another verb which is extremely similar in its feminine present participle conjugation, ܡܣܝܐ (msyā, “blinded”) – this is quite the kind of double entendre that John loved, and here it brings back to mind the blindness both physical and spiritual that began this episode, and Jesus’s efforts to heal the one in Prochoros and the other in his father, John himself.

A pair of verbs appear in verse 18, obviously meant to be in parallel, since the rest of the two succeeding phrases is identical in both: ܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܕܝܣܝܡ ܝܬܗ ܘܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܬܘܒܢ ܕܝܣܒ ܝܬܗ (“I am permitted ___ it/him/her and I am permitted also ___ it/him/her”). The first verb is ܝܣܝܡ (ysym) and the second is ܝܣܒ (ysb). Neither verb, however, appears to be exactly correct as conjugated. The first I take as ܣܝܡ (sym), with the initial ܝ (y) added to how the word appears in Syriac; Galilean Aramaic sprinkles its texts liberally with the letter. And ܣܝܡ as a present participle means “(am) giving”. There is nothing at all, however, that can possibly be construed as the second verb, ܝܣܒ. I think this may be an error in Lewis’s transcription, and that the very originally was either ܝܗܒ (yhb), a present participle also meaning “am giving”, or ܢܣܒ (nsb), a present participle meaning “(am) receiving”. Since I establish the first verb as meaning “(am) giving”, this second verb must have a different but related sense, and so ܢܣܒ, “(am) receiving” makes the best sense. Besides, it is orthographically closer to ܝܣܒ and more alliteratively resonant with ܣܝܡ with the “s” sound common to both.

Verse 16 referred to Mary, Jesus’s wife, 17 implies the union of Mary and Jesus; now this final portion of 18 says that Jesus gives his very self, his ܢܦܫ (npš, “soul”) to Mary and likewise he receives from her her soul – referring to their oneness as a single composite being in Elohim’s image. The Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta, composed later, have a very different pair of verbs in the imperfect (future) tense such that Jesus is predicting that he “will put down” his life and “take (it) up again”. These verbs (ܐܣܝܡܝܗ and ܐܫܩܠܝܗܝ in the Syriac Sinaiticus with a synonym for the second in the Peshitta, ܐܣܒܝܗ) extend the desired dogmatic emphasis in these verses.

Thus altogether the later versions of these lines have Jesus declaring he has the power to lay down his life in death and to take it up again in resurrection. The Lectionaries, on the other hand, have Jesus continuing to talk about what he mentioned at the end of verse 16: that he is completing his soul – that is, uniting himself with Mary such that together they recreate the both-genders-as-one child of Elohim made in Genesis 1:26-27.

The Beloved Disciple was Female!

Two Unnamed Disciples Named –

and the Beloved One is a Woman!


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


James David Audlin


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




United in the Image of God

United in the Image of God:

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


James David Audlin


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



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

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

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

Elohim speaks of Godself with plural pronouns (“Let us make… in our own…”), but takes the singular form of the verb. The reason for this is simple: Elohim is male and female as one, which is why Elohim says השענ נתומדכ ונמלצב םדא (“Let us make humanity in our image and after our likeness”), and creates a human individual who is at once both male and female. And therefore, neither man nor woman alone perfectly images God, but rather man and woman together. What is more, only male and female together can imitate Elohim’s ability to create life. This is why there are a number of comments in the Talmud to this effect: “Rabbi Eleazer wrote, ‘Any man who has no wife is no proper man; for it is written, “Male and female created He them and called their name Adam”’” (Yebamoth 63). Rabbi Joseph of Hamadan similarly wrote, “The Divine Unity is conceived as the union of the King and the Queen”, adding that the sacred body of the King is meant to be united with that of the Queen; then, “he will be One, as it is written: ‘Hear Israel, YHWH is our God, YHWH is One’” (Sefer Tashak; Rabbi Joseph ends by quoting the Shema, found in Deuteronomy 6:4). Likewise, the Sheqel ha Qodesh says: “The secret of the Shema Israel [is that] the Bride returns to her Bridegroom in order that they unite in a real unity.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

In short, the two related Genesis accounts, as seen through Talmudic eyes, tell us that since the act of coïtus can result in the creation of new life, in the form of a child, in doing so (at least properly, in the covenant of marriage), man and woman are in the image and likeness of Elohim, YHWH, El Shaddai, who is given to us in Genesis as Creator, Father-Mother to all life, and the man and woman, when they are truly one (including physically, during coïtus), are in the image and likeness of Elohim also creating life.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

This interpretation of logion 114 is supported by logion 22, in which Jesus says in part, “When you make the two one … when you make the male and the female a single one, such that the male is not male nor the female … then you shall enter into [the Realm of Heaven].” Likewise he says in logion 75, “There are many standing at the door, but the united/whole/single ones (are) the ones who will go in to the bridal chamber.” Speaking to his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus says that of two who share a bed (who are married) one shall live and the other die, implying the crucifixion and also Mary becoming one with him, and adds: “If one is whole, one will be filled with light; however, if one is divided (into separate male and female), one will be filled with darkness”.

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

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


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


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

Thus, the eschatological image pictured here of a return to the nakedness of the garden of Eden is not just perfect equality, without the uniforms that divide and stratify human beings. It is not even just perfect unity. It is perfect union (John 17:22,21,23). It means that this time, unlike Adam and Eve, we shall stand naked and not be ashamed (Gospel of Thomas 37) or afraid (I John 4:18). We shall rather be “clothed with the sun” (Revelation 12:1), garbed in the love that is the very nature of God (I John 4:16b). Joined as one, Jesus-and-Mary are no longer Blake’s “ratio”, scattered fragments of the whole, but the restored First Human, complete and perfect: they are the Platonic ίδεα, the image and likeness of Elohim. As such, this Human is not static, not quite yet (John 20:17) at the destination, the Æon, but still following God’s Λογος.


Fluffy Blue-Eyed Jesus Exploded

Fluffy Blue-Eyed Jesus Exploded:

The “Good Shepherd” in John 10 is Not the Later Dogma of Jesus Gently Guiding Gentiles but an Attack on the Temple Hegemony


James David Audlin


Taken from The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved.

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

The Tanakh often analogizes the Jewish people and their leaders to sheep and shepherds; Exodus 3:1 and II Samuel 5:2, for example. As he spoke, Jesus probably had most in mind Psalm 23 and Ezekiel 33:11-31, in which God promises to take back direct shepherding of his sheep from the “false shepherds”. The imagery is also common in the classical myths; in the religions of Dionysos, Demeter, Inanna, and Cybele, among others, wherein the consort of the Goddess, made by her the Shepherd of the Land, is publicly humiliated, stripped, and beaten (John 19:1-5), and then killed, in some versions as an expiation for the sins of the people and in others for continued fertility of the land. In most versions of this archetypal myth he comes to life again.

While this imagery was familiar to everyone in the first century – not only Jews but people in nearly every part of the Western world – most readers of the Bible today have not the slightest familiarity with sheep and shepherding. Sheep have virtually no natural defenses against predators, and they have a tendency to wander off and get into trouble; therefore, they need to be constantly well-secured and attentively watched over to protect them from harm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Behold Your Mother

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

James David Audlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to a consideration of this couplet,

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

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

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


His mother and his mother’s sister,

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


Jesus, therefore, having seen his mother

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


They divided my garments among themselves,

And for my clothing they cast lots.


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


Do Your Homework First!

Do Your Homework First:

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

 James David Audlin


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

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

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

 GOJ-front 2vol II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Star Riders

Star Riders:

The Aramaic Revelation Text and a Correct Identification of

the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


James David Audlin


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

Nonfiction by James David Audlin



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Bartering Faith in John 21

Simon the Wannabe:

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


τουτο δε ειπεν σημαινων ποιω θανατω δοξασει τον θεον


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


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



The Female Beloved Disciple

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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