Jacobovici’s Crucifixion Nails

Nailing Down the Facts:

Questions to Ask Before Saying the Crucifixion Nails are Identified

 

James David Audlin

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Gabriel Barkay has written:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behold Your Mother

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

James David Audlin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to a consideration of this couplet,

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

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

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

 

His mother and his mother’s sister,

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

 

Jesus, therefore, having seen his mother

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

They divided my garments among themselves,

And for my clothing they cast lots.

 

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

 

Behold Your Mothers: Adopted at the Crucifixion

GOJ-front 2vol Ib From the recently published complete edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II, as published by Editores Volcán Barú, available here.

This essay, taken from The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II, first discusses who the Gospel of John names as witnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus, and second considers the nature of the Beloved Disciple’s adoption by Jesus. 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 371); 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 452-53). 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 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 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 452-53] 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 Magdalene.

This seems typical Hebrew poetry, saying the same thing or a parallel thing twice but with different wording the second time. The problem is that Mary Magdalene 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. It seems logical to conclude that he may have changed the text at the end of the first line from νυξς (“daughter-in-law”) to αδελφη (“sister”), and removed the obvious missing parallel to “the wife of Clopas”, which would make this a perfect acrostic: “the wife of Jesus”. The redactor would then have replaced the offending phrase with her Synoptic cognomen “Magdalene”, lest it be unclear who this Mary might be.

This Clopas in verse 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 חילפ ( אי 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. Early Christian writers Papias and Hegesippus both declare Clopas to be the brother of Jesus’s father, Joseph. James Tabor is right to say that Hilphai (Clopas) almost certainly married Mary after his brother Joseph’s death, and so Mary the wife of Clopas here is Jesus’s mother, and Clopas (Hilphai) his stepfather. Since in this scene Jesus is concerned for his mother’s care, she must be widowed for the second time: Hilphai must be now dead like his brother Joseph before him.

It has often been suggested that Clopas and the Cleopas who appears in Luke 24:13-35 are the same man. If that is so, if Mary still has a husband, then why does the Gospel of John specify that after Jesus’s death the Beloved Disciple took Mary “for his own [mother]” (19:27)? Either a: Clopas and Cleopas are different men with similar names, and bear in mind that these are clumsy transliterations into Greek, so the original Aramaic names could be almost anything; or b: Clopas/Cleopas and Mary have separated; or c: the Lukan episode tells of a son of Clopas, possibly the Levi (ben Clopas) discussed in the essay beginning on page 371. I think the first and third alternatives are the most likely. More about Clopas and Jesus’s brothers and half-brothers may be read in the essay on the same page.

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. The author of this gospel must have known her, since she had to be a primary source for chapters 4 and 20, and was besides the mother of his main eyewitness, Lazarus. The redactor inserted this nickname here to fill the obvious gap in the phrase “Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the [__]” after he had excised what the text originally said. Indeed, I am certain that the redactor inserted “Magdalene” into 20:1 as well. In both places I think he used the cognomen to help bring this gospel into closer coherence with the Synoptics.

Thus the text here may have originally read:

His mother and his mother’s daughter-in-law,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.

This couplet bears the classic earmark of Hebrew verse, being a pair of lines that says the same thing twice, but wording it differently the second time. And it succinctly describes all the relationships. However, the wording is rather clumsy, especially for poetry, so let us remain open to other possibilities.

Here in verse 25, as elsewhere in the gospel, we see the Beloved Disciple’s modest reluctance to mention himself unless utterly necessary, and also how the amanuensis adds no detail that doesn’t further the story and message of the gospel. So, in this verse, the focus is intent on this couplet about the two mothers Mary, and the eyewitness does not yet mention himself. He lists the two mothers because of what Jesus is about to say, but what Jesus is about to say involves the Beloved Disciple too, and so he is finally mentioned as present in verse 26.

The conclusion that these two lines are verse is supported by the presence of another very similar couplet at verses 26-27. Jesus’s dying instruction to his relatives also comes in the form of Hebrew poetic parallelism, though as we have it it appears incomplete:

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

The construction of the first line of this couplet, in which Jesus appears to address his mother as “woman” (see discussion of this form of address in the commentary to 2:4), requires a similar kind of salutation of the Beloved Disciple, but it is glaringly absent. The lacuna is best filled in with either a relationship word (for instance, “son” or “brother-in-law”) or else the disciple’s name; clearly something has been suppressed here by the final redactor of the text to hide the identity of the disciple. Certainly the original did not clumsily read, “Then he says to the disciple, ‘Disciple, behold your mother.’” Surely, and especially in his dying moments, Jesus is going to hand off that responsibility to a very close family member. It is not likely a brother of Jesus, since the wording strongly suggests Jesus is designating with his words a new mother-son relationship, while such a brother would already have the same mother. This handing-off, actually, was traditionally to a dying father’s son, no one else.

Involved in this scene are two mother-son pairs: Jesus and his mother, and Lazarus and his mother. Both mothers are named Mary; both have known the intense anguish a mother feels mother feels as she helplessly watches her son die. 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). Further, according to Mark 15:40, a third mother-child pair was there: Salome and Mary Magdalene (see pages 452-53 on Salome as Mary’s mother), adding to the poignancy of this scene.

All of these connections between the two mothers 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 his stepson Lazarus with this filial responsibility for his own mother. He may indeed have already decided that he would do this at his last moment, since a dying person’s final request would decisively oblige the survivors to carry it out.

The text makes very clear the strong connection between the two mothers, by naming them and them only as witnesses, notwithstanding who else in actuality may have been there, such as Salome. Verse 25 specifically refers to “his mother” (that is, Jesus’s) and also, as we shall see below, originally referred to “the disciple’s mother”. However, this connection between the two Marys, the two mothers of “Sons of the Father” whom they have watched die is emphasized in another, subtler way: the Greek text of verse 26, though it is typically translated “his mother”, instead actually twice says “the mother”. Normally in Greek, after the first reference to Jesus’s mother (η μητηρ αυτου, literally, “the mother of-him”), it wouldn’t be necessary to repeat the word αυτου (“of-him”) in immediately subsequent references to his mother. That is why scholars render the two “the mother” references in verse 26 as “his mother”. But, with two mothers mentioned in verse 25, Jesus’s and Lazarus’s – what is more, two mothers with several significant things in common, as noted – it is not so clearcut. Jesus could be telling Lazarus to behold his own mother, Mary Magdalene, or Jesus’s mother, or (and this is what I think) both mothers.

Quite conceivable is the possibility that the original text had the words “women” and “mothers”, in the plural form, and that the redactor either thought this was a grammatical error or, more likely, he fully understood that this was meant to refer both to Jesus’s mother Mary and to Jesus’s wife Mary and the Beloved Disciple’s mother, and so, wishing as always to emphasize Jesus’s divinity, he reduced the plural to the singular.

It is universally believed that Jesus is speaking to his mother when he says, “Woman, behold your son.” I believe that he is speaking to both mothers, affirming to each of the two Marys that Lazarus is still or henceforth her son. That is why he does not say, “Mother, behold your son,” or, for that matter, “Wife, behold your son.” Indeed, dying on the cross, he doesn’t have the breath to be long-winded! By saying γυνη, “woman”, or better yet the nearly identically pronounced γυναι, “women”, he encompasses both of these Marys with so much in common.

It is also universally believed that Jesus is referring to his own mother when he says to the Beloved Disciple, “Behold your mother”: he is requiring Lazarus to take on the duty of filial responsibility for his step-grandmother, his stepfather’s mother. Again I believe that he is referring to both mothers, asking Lazarus to take care of both of them when he, Jesus, is dead. The two mothers and the son hear this as Jesus realizing that this death may be final, that he may not rise again to take care of his wife and his mother, and their despair and grief is intensified in response.

Keep in mind how much these two Marys have in common, in their names and in their death-facing son-of-the-father sons, a close relationship highlighted by this couplet and by the use of “the mother” in verse 26 to refer to both mothers. What we can draw from this is that, when Jesus says to Lazarus “Behold your mother,” he is speaking not only about his own mother, but Lazarus’s mother, Mary Magdalene, as well. He is saying “Take care of my mother, and your mother my wife, when I am dead.”

Carrying out this final wish is the duty of a son, not a stepson, and so it becomes clear, in this Jesus’s dying instruction, that his words incorporate his formal adoption and recognition of his stepson Lazarus as his own son. Yigal Levin (“Jesus, ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of David’: The ‘Adoption’ of Jesus into the Davidic Line” [JSNT 28.4; 2006]), makes it clear that there was then no adoption under Jewish law. Roman law allowed a more formal adrogatio, which needed several approvals in the Roman courts, and the much more informal adoptio, which was certainly the case here. It was usually between relatives, and was usually not a humanitarian gesture for the adoptee’s sake, but for the father’s, under hereditas nominis pecuniæ sacrorum, a phrase referring to the assurance of stability and continuity of the family honor; in this case, to ensure that Jesus’s responsibilities to his mother and wife were properly discharged. If Jesus was indeed a Roman citizen, as suggested on pages 376, he would likely have known about this means of adoption.

This adoption of Lazarus by Jesus, son of God, Messiah of God, emissary or ambassador of God, is also emblematic of God’s adoption of the people of Israel as his child, during the Exodus from Egypt. Thus, this adoption forms a parallel with the reference to adoption in the Prologue (see the commentary to 1:11-13).

Clearly this declaration at the moment of death was taken by Lazarus and the two Marys as binding (19:27b), and the acutely remembered and carefully transcribed recounting of this statement by Lazarus, the Beloved Disciple and eyewitness, in poetry no less, tells us just how seriously it was taken by them. 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 precisely because they were unworthy of memorization. With his final breath of life, inhaled with great difficulty by pulling his torso up with his nailed wrists, then sagging down exhaustedly while exhaling, arousing new pain in his wrists, his very last inhalations and exhalations of the Spirit of God, and no moment to waste, Jesus was arranging for his mother and his wife to be cared for, and at the same time was acknowledging his stepson as his own son. This would have been a highly emotional and memorable moment for the two Marys, with Lazarus standing between them, and his other grandmother, Salome, also close by.

The text tells us (verse 27b) that after this event the disciple took her or them as his own mother(s). The pronoun αυτην can mean either “her”, in which case it is referring to Jesus’s mother, or “them”, in which case both mothers are meant. 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 he takes her/them as his own mother(s). With the word “mother” recently written several times, the author had no need to repeat it again here, except if only to help two millennia of interpreters avoid the mistake just described. This interpretation is much more thematically united: Jesus commands the Beloved Disciple to take the two women as his two mothers, and this sentence, directly from the disciple himself confirms that he obeyed this final request of Jesus.

Also, 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.

As a result of all this, I conclude that this couplet originally read as follows:

He says to the mothers, “Women, behold your son.”
Then he says to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

The following would be absolutely perfect parallelism,

He says to the women, “Mothers, behold your son.”
Then he says to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

but the grammar of Greek and Aramaic would allow Jesus to address only his own mother as “Mother”, not his wife; besides, he calls his mother γυνη (gynē, “woman”), in 2:4, so this must be an inclusio that the narrative calls the two “women” here. What is more, Salome, Lazarus’s maternal grandmother is present too (Mark 15:40), so Jesus’s words could be taken as gracefully including her. Therefore, the first of these two is the one I adopt as the reconstruction.

Clearly here the redactor removed the offending word “son”, without replacing it with anything; the only option he had was “disciple” or “the beloved disciple”, both of which would sound odd if forced here into Jesus’s dying words. And he reduced “women” and “mothers” to their singular forms.

If this second couplet refers so evidently to sons and mothers, then the strong possibility follows that the original version of the couplet in verse 25 also used the same manner to specify the relationships involved:

His mother and the disciple’s mother,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.

This would have perfectly set up the dual change in relationship that Jesus specifies to Lazarus and his mother: his stepson becomes his son, and his mother becomes his son’s mother. And Lazarus, as the eyewitness, confirms this dual change at the end of verse 27: “And from that hour the disciple took [ελαβεν] them [αυτην] as (his) own [τα ιδια].” The same Greek words are found in 1:11, to say that the Λογος “came into its own, but its own did not take it in,” so here, as an inclusio, it suggests that these three, Jesus’s family, have taken not only each other, but the Word as their own. The phrase τα ιδια is often translated “his own home”, with the word “home” understood, and that’s not necessarily wrong, but it is better taken to say that Lazarus took them both as his own mother – both Marys as his mothers, and also Jesus as his own father. At least here, the Word has been taken in by its own.

But all this would have been far too much of an affront to the dogma the new religion was developing, driving the redactor to change the “disciple’s mother” to “mother’s sister” and “the wife of Jesus” to “Magdalene”. The two couplets read perfectly together:

His mother and the disciple’s mother,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.
He says to the mothers, “Women, behold your son.”
Then he says to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

which in Greek would be:

η μητηρ αυτου και η μητηρ της μαθητην
μαρια η του κλωπα και μαρια η του ιεσους.
λεγει τας μητρας γυναι ιδε ο υιος σου
ειτα λεγει τω μαθητη ιδε αι μητηρες σου

And, just in case anyone still should fail to see the poetry, the author placed immediately before these two couplets another couplet taken from the Tanakh (Psalm 22:18) of what is universally recognized as poetry:

They divided my garments among themselves,
And for my clothing they cast lots.

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

Surgeon God Unites Jesus and Mary in Own Image

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

Commentary on John 19:34 – The word πλευρας, from which comes the modern term “pleurisy”, is usually translated “side”. It comes from a root referring to the ribs (hence this translation has “ribs”), so this was a stab to or near the heart. …

In Genesis 2:21 God takes a צְלָעֹת from Adam, separating the first human, Adam, who was hermaphroditic, into male and female. This word, tselah, can be translated “rib” or “side”, and so is similar in meaning to πλευρας, the word in 19:34. Note that it is a feminine word in Hebrew, which is part of why the Talmud associates Adam’s side, and hence Eve, with the Tabernacle of God. The early rabbis point out that the same word צְלָעֹת appears in Exodus 26:20, in describing how the Tabernacle is to be constructed, and they also often draw a connection between having a family and the construction of the blessed Tabernacle. Thus, while no doubt this sword thrust actually happened (hence the attestation in 19:35), it was rich in spiritual meaning for the gospel author. Just as with Adam, a “deep sleep” (for ancient peoples there was no major distinction between “coma” and “death”) has now come upon Jesus. But where God was separating female from male in Genesis, God is here, in complementary oppositeness to Adam, through this soldier, beginning the process of reuniting male and female, Jesus and Mary.

Commentary on John 20:16-17 – This resurrection scene differs from the raising of Lazarus in one essential detail: the latter came out still bound in his grave clothes. The text here does not specifically say Jesus and Mary are naked, but it doesn’t need to, since this fact is clearly apparent and significant. We know Jesus is naked since his entombment linens are still in the tomb (20:5-7) – they would in any case be much too soiled with blood and bodily fluids to serve as makeshift garments – and he cannot have gone somewhere to pick up a fresh suit. If he has gone anywhere before the encounter with Mary, it would only be nearby, to one of the abundant springs and streams in this garden, to wash himself clean, and this may be assumed because of the inclusio with the baptism at the beginning of the gospel. As for Mary, I believe that, once she was left alone by her friends (the women and the two disciples) she would have torn her clothes asunder in the traditional keriah ritual. In any case, the text here, by vividly evoking the naked couple in the garden of Eden and in the Song of Songs, clearly signals Mary’s nakedness to match Jesus’s. Her nakedness in terms of mourning is discussed above; now the nakedness of the couple in the context of resurrection and reuniting is to be discussed.

First to note, their nakedness represents birth and death; as in Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.” The “mother” here is the Earth herself, and Jesus returned into her, specifically the tomb, and now has come forth from her womb. This is a second birth for Jesus, just as he “preenacted” it with John (1:32-33) and discussed it with Nicodemus (3:3-7) and so this scene forms an inclusio with the beginning of the gospel. Moreover, in terms of Plato’s allegory, we are born owning none of the things of this world, which are just shadows cast by the more real world, the Æon, and at death we release all property, including the body. Clothing, and property in general, proclaims our social status and wealth; it divides us from others. Without clothes we are united in our common heritage, the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Adam was punished by having to wear clothing, having to toil for his daily bread, and by being returned to the earth at death (Genesis 3:17-21). And ever since Adam and Eve, mythopoetically speaking, humanity has had to wear clothes – because in being separated, male and female forever desire to be joined together again, and there is shame for humanity in that desire. Jesus accepted this Adam’s punishment, but came back up out of the earth again. Since Jesus and Mary are truly and fully united in this hierogamy, they do not need to wear clothes any longer. Thus Jesus’s and Mary’s nakedness here implies that in the Æon we are one, unencumbered by worldly things and their shadows.

Second, their nakedness in a garden brings to mind Adam and Eve naked in the garden of Eden. The primordial couple is not at first aware of being naked, nor are Mary and Jesus, which is why the gospel makes no mention of this fact. But where Adam and Eve’s guilt and shame over their sin of disobedience, for which God punishes them with mortality, is associated by Genesis with the primordial couple clothing their naked bodies; here, Jesus and Mary unclothing their bodies represents for them (and us if we follow them spiritually) a return to the human condition before the first pair ate of the fruit. Modern readers, reading Genesis through their own cultural lenses, often think that Adam and Eve clothed themselves out of a kind of sexually fueled embarrassment for being “naked in public”. But a careful reading of the text reveals that, no, they were afraid of God’s omnipotent wrath in the face of their vulnerability, especially following their disobedience of God, and so they sewed leaves together to disguise themselves as trees in this garden of trees. Thus the nakedness of Jesus and Mary is to say no person need feel any longer afraid of God, as needing to hide her- or himself from God or ignore God, that “all is forgiven”, as the classic prophets often emphasize, as long as the individual accepts the Λογος, the truth and wisdom of the plan of God. Spiritually speaking, true trust and true nakedness are the same thing, with no need to hide oneself, or to make of oneself something other than naturally human. In this sense, the nakedness is not just to bring Adam and Eve to mind; it is an eschatological nakedness: Jesus and Mary are the “Adam and Eve” of the people of the future who are completely integrated into the Λογος, who trust God completely, and do not put clothes on out of fear or misrepresentation of their true selves. (In the next chapter, Simon the Rock is fishing naked, but puts on his clothes before swimming ashore where Jesus is; he has not yet “understood the scripture” [20:9].)

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

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

[The Coptic text cannot be reproduced on this website.]

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 Kingdom of Heaven.”

Viewing it with modern sensibilities, scholars often dismiss this logion as an example of first-century misogyny, saying Jesus couldn’t possibly have said the Æon, the Kingdom 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 God creates by separating complementary opposites: day from night, above from below, land from sea; finally, God takes the hermaphroditic human who was made male-and-female in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) and separates it into two humans, the primordial couple. The second creation story likewise has womankind, in the person of Eve, drawn forth from the side of the prototypical hermaphrodyte, Adam. Jesus thus is saying in the above logion that the female and the male, in order to enter into the Æon, the Kingdom of Heaven, must again become one. Mary, as is made clear in this resurrection scene, is reborn to a new life along with her husband Jesus: they experience in this scene a hierogamy, a spiritual marriage, which renders them truly one, hence truly reflecting the image and likeness of Elohim, and fully capable of entering into the Æon.

F. F. Bruce (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament) is the only scholar who to my knowledge interprets this logion correctly; he nicely summarizes Jesus’s point thus: “Jesus’s promise that she will become a man, so as to gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven, envisages the reintegration of the original order, when Adam was created male and female (Genesis 1.27). Adam was ‘the man’ as much before the removal of Eve from his side as after (Genesis 2.18-25). Therefore, when the primal unity is restored and death is abolished, man will still be man (albeit more perfectly so), but woman will no longer be woman; she will be reabsorbed into man.” Jesus thus transforms and elevates Mary’s humble nakedness, the nakedness of a menial laborer and destitute widow, into the highest sacredness: here truly he and she are transfigured into δοξα, the splendor of highest glory.

This interpretation of logion 114 is supported by logion 22, in which Jesus says in part, “When you make the two one … when you make the male and the female a single one, such that the male is not male nor the female female … then you shall enter into [the Kingdom 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.” In a conversation with his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus makes the same point: “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 Gospel of Philip, for instance in logion 76:

[The Coptic text cannot be reproduced on this website.]

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

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

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

Note also that the word for Tabernacle, מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan), literally means “dwelling place”, and that the Torah specifies a tent (אֹ֫הֶל; ohel) is put over it, and that the glory (כָּבוֺד; kabod) of God (e.g., Exodus 40:34-35), a presence of God that was in time understood as the feminine aspect of God, שכינה‎, the Shekhina. Note further that the when the Israelites reached the Promised Land the Tabernacle was kept according to Jews in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), but the Samaritans make a stronger case that it was kept at Mount Gerizim: the several times in Deuteronomy 16 where it says “at the place that YHWH your God will choose to have his name reside there” the most likely original wording preserved in the Samaritan Torah says “at the place that was chosen at Mount Gerizim”, the mountain where the Samaritan Temple in Jesus’s day was located, and at the foot of which he met with his wife-to-be, the priestess Mary. The Jewish Torah changed these references; the editors couldn’t make the text say Jerusalem when that city was not yet in Israelite hands, so they referred indirectly with “the place that God will choose” the eventual location where Solomon placed the Tabernacle: the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8:4), where it joined the Ark of the Covenant, placed by David in the Temple, which was interpreted as its “tent” (II Samuel 6:16 and I Chronicles 15:1) – this the earthly Jerusalem chosen for strictly political reasons, not spiritual.

With all this in mind we turn to Revelation 21:2-4, wherein we are told of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having been prepared as a bride, having been adorned for her husband,” and a voice saying “the tent (σκηνη; skēnē) is with humanity”, and that “death will be no more”. The city is described in detail; surprisingly, we are told (21:23) that it has no Temple, nor that it has need of sunlight or moonlight, because “the glory of God lit it up, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Throughout the Revelation, the bride of the Lamb refers to Mary, Jesus’s bride, the priestess of Gerizim, the “woman clothed with the sun” (12:1) who bears his child. Thus, as in the Talmud, we find here in John the Presbyter’s last masterpiece that the city is Jesus’s bride, and that the tent, the Tabernacle, with humanity is filled with Mary’s presence too: the Shekhina. We are told that Heaven and Earth are one, and that the holy city is full of God and the Lamb: in short, Jesus’s and Mary’s oneness are found everywhere in the Æon as described in the Revelation, and their becoming one is why “death will be no more”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third, while the sexual element is not prominent in the garden of Eden story, it certainly is in the Song of Songs, and very much so here as well. There had to be some sexual energy in their embrace (and no doubt a kiss, as the paraphrases of the Odyssey suggest; see below) in the next verse; Jerome’s Noli me tangere (“Do not touch me”) is emphatically repugnant as a translation. This is Jesus’s and Mary’s hierogamy, their spiritual (re)marriage, so it has to be erotic.

This sexual element is related to the previous point that their Edenic nakedness has spiritual meaning. In the act of coïtus the man and woman become physically one, and their conscious minds are set aside, allowing them a moment of sheer ecstasy, which is a harbinger of the joy of living in the Æon. (This wakan aspect to lovemaking is explored in detail in The Circle of Life.) Further, the act of coïtus can result in the creation of new life, in the form of a child. Thus, Elohim appears 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. This points to the deep meanings of the “bridal chamber” theology found in several early gospels, certainly Thomas and especially Philip. Logion 86 in the latter, quoted on page 621, says that when male and female are mated together again in the bridal chamber they gain eternal life; death is overcome for them. It is beyond the scope of this work to speculate in detail on what physical manifestation, if anything, the “bridal chamber” references pointed to. Generally, the strand of spirituality leading from the early Gnostics (especially Marcus and Valentinius) to the Cathars eschewed the panoply of ritual, ceremony-as-sacrament, and preferred inner, spiritual transcendence. The depiction in Philip is of a bride and groom entering into the bridal chamber privately.

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 yet (20:17) at the destination, the Æon, but still follows God’s Λογος.

Jesus’s Last Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isha-Isha and Mary-Mary

From my commentaries-in-development on the resurrection scene in the Gospel of John chapter 20. (For those tuning in late, I am restoring the original version from before the organized post-Pauline religious authorities edited the gospel to conform with their dogma, and translating it afresh from the Greek.)

20:13,15 – In the Peshitta (the very early Aramaic New Testament that some Christian groups consider the original), the Aramaic word for “woman” here is ܐܢܬܬܐ (a’entəṯā)– which has as its primary meaning not “woman”, but “wife”. Elsewhere in the gospel, this word clearly means “woman”, but only when the context makes this secondary meaning clear, such as when Jesus addresses his mother in 2:4. Here, without such a context, the Aramaic must be taken as Jesus calling her his wife.

However, something deeper yet may have been the original. This scene is clearly meant to reflect the beginning of Genesis, wherein Adam (in the Hebrew of Genesis 2:23) calls his newly created companion אשה (isha, “woman”). Rod Borghese points out the fact that Jesus is called Isha (ईश) in Sanskrit and Issa (عيسى) in Arabic, and other Eastern languages, probably from a root meaning “lord”, “master”, or “God”. There have been persistent rumors for two millennia that Jesus spent his early adult years in India, and there is an amount of circumstantial evidence to support this view; see for example Jesus Lived in India, by Holger Kersten; The Original Jesus, by Elmar Gruber and Holger Kersten; or Jesus in Kashmir, by Suzanne Olsson). Therefore, there may have been a sacred pun or euphony in this first stage of the encounter of reborn husband and wife – Mary says she is looking for her isha, her lord, and the “angel” (actually, as discussed below, the shadow of Jesus on the wall of the tomb by the new dawn light) replies with isha, woman.

Why this isha/isha pun? Because Jesus and Mary, as portrayed in this gospel (as in the Gospel of Philip), are each the other’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort). And this sacred pun may have been just too romantic or incomprehensible to the redactor, who would have been strongly motivated to change the text to read as it has come down to us.

20:16 – Someone, probably the amanuensis, has inserted here and at 1:38 the statement that “rabbi” means “teacher”. That is true only in a very loose sense. The root meaning is “great”, and was used as a title denoting reverence. In the Second Temple period the word meant “my master”, and was commonly used not with religious authorities but with anyone whom the speaker respected as authoritative in any way, religious or not. The Peshitta gives the word ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy), which comes from the root ܪܒܢ (raban), meaning “great” or “master”.

But could Mary have called Jesus something else entirely? Mary, in verses 2, 13, and 18 calls Jesus κυριε/κυριος, meaning “lord”. Only here does she appear to say something different; could she have said the same thing she does in those other verses? The Aramaic word for “lord” in the Peshitta is ܡܪܝܐ, which is pronounced “mary”, and her name, “Mary”, is either ܡܪܝܡ (maryam) or, more familiarly, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (marya) – the latter, though from a different root, is spelled and pronounced almost identically as mary, the word for “lord”; only the vowel markings differ. Thus these verses have a kind of sacred pun: she is looking for her mary, her lord, and he calls her his Mary. Very possibly, in the original verse 16 Jesus said “Mary”, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (marya), and Mary replied, not ܪܒܢ (raban), but “mary”, ܡܪܝܐ (mary). And again, the redactor, seeking at a late stage in the devolution of the original gospel to conform it to the dogma of the new Christian religion, would either have failed to understand this dual mary/Mary or found it objectionably romantic, and replaced mary with Rabbouni.

Supporting this possible mary/Mary reading is the fact that, as James Daniel Tabor has documented, the Talpiot tomb includes one ossuary marked “Marya”, and another marked “Maramenon he [known as] Mara”, two affectionate diminutives of the name Mariam (Mary). The organic material in the latter ossuary bears no mitochondrial DNA relation on the mothers’ sides to the material in the ossuary marked “Yeshuah bar Yehosef” (Jesus son of Joseph), raising the strong likelihood that it is the one Mary significant in Jesus’s life who wasn’t blood-related to him: Mary Magdalene. (The first ossuary, Tabor concludes, contains the remains of Mary the mother of Jesus.) Add to that the fact that the noncanonical Acts of Philip refers to her as Mariamne (a slightly different Greek spelling of “Maramenon”), suggesting an oral remembrance of her being called that during her life.

And it is not unlikely that she also said ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al), as at the well in Sychar (John 4:16-18). In both Hebrew (בָּעַל in Hebrew) and Aramaic the word ba’al means “husband”, “lord”, “master”, and “god”. Or she might have said both mary and ba’al.

Poetry Beneath the Cross

The following are commentaries on John 19:24-27 from my translation-in-progress of the Gospel of John. The original text is being restored, by taking out accidental displacements and the redactions imposed on it by the post-Pauline church leaders intent on conforming the gospel to their dogma. The translation is a new one from the Greek.

Although in the list of witnesses to the crucifixion in verse 25 the Beloved Disciple is not mentioned, clearly Mary Magdalene has brought him along, since he is mentioned in the subsequent two verses. That Mary has brought Lazarus along adds to the body of evidence that he is her son.

Let us begin this analysis with verse 26, which tells us who was present as witnesses to Jesus’s crucifixion. The Gospel of John gives us a very limited number, and these will be discussed shortly.

First, however, a summary of what the Synoptic gospels tell us. Luke only tells us that “his friends”, including “the women who had followed him from Galilee” were there, but the women present must be more or less 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. They also all place Mary the mother of James the Younger and Joses on the scene; in my opinion this is how Jesus’s mother was designated following her remarriage (see the essay “On the Brothers of Jesus”); 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. Mark also says Salome was there; she is probably the mother of James and John the sons of Zebedee, who Matthew puts at the cross; I also believe her to be the sister of Jesus’s mother. So there is a reasonable agreement among the four gospels on Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and probably Salome wife of Zebedee too.

Exactly who are the women mentioned in the Gospel of John as witnesses to the crucifixion? Either four, three, or two women are mentioned in 19:25.

Four women – 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 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 Daniel Tabor that this verse includes an acrostic involving all elements in the verse, including Mary Magdalene, an acrostic that names Jesus’s mother as Mary the wife of Clopas. This would cohere with the Synoptic accounts, which agree that Jesus’s mother and the Magdalene were there (if Mark and Matthew are right that Salome the wife of Zebedee also was there, then that fact was suppressed in this gospel because it is irrelevant to 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 beautiful division of the names into a couplet of semipoetic lines:

His mother and his mother’s sister,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.

This seems to be typical Hebrew poetry, saying the same thing or a parallel thing twice but with different wording the second time, except that Mary Magdalene 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. It seems logical to conclude that he may have changed the text here from νυξς (“daughter-in-law”) to αδελφη (“sister”), and removed the obvious missing parallel to “the wife of Clopas”, which would make this a perfect acrostic: “the wife of Jesus”. The redactor then replaced the offending phrase with “Magdalene” lest it be unclear who this Mary might be.

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”; this is the Synoptic cognomen for her. The nickname is only used here to fill the obvious gap in the phrase “Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary.” (Indeed, I am certain that “Magdalene” was inserted by the redactor into 20:1 as well. In both places I think the redactor used the cognomen to help him bring this gospel into closer coherence with the Synoptics.)

Thus the text here may have originally read:

His mother and his mother’s daughter-in-law,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.

This couplet bears the classic earmark of Hebrew verse, being a pair of lines that says the same thing twice, but wording it differently the second time. And it succinctly describes all the relationships. However, the wording is rather clumsy, especially for poetry, so let us remain open to other possibilities.

Here in verse 25, as elsewhere in the gospel, we see the Beloved Disciple’s modest reluctance to mention himself unless absolutely necessary, and also how overall he includes no detail that doesn’t further the story and message of the gospel. Therefore, in this verse, he remains intent on this poetic couplet about the two mothers named Mary, and so he does not mention himself. He lists the two mothers because of what Jesus is about to say, but what Jesus is about to say involves the Beloved Disciple too, and yet he is only mentioned as present in verse 26. Clearly his mother Mary Magdalene has brought him along, which points toward his being her son.

The conclusion that these two lines are verse is supported by the presence of another very similar couplet at verses 26-27. Jesus’s dying instruction to his relatives also comes in the form of Hebrew poetic parallelism, though as we have it it appears incomplete:

He said to the mother, “Woman, behold your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “[___], behold your mother.”

The text only clearly says “his mother” in verse 25. In this couplet and in the prose between the two couplets (verse 26a), the text says in Greek “the mother”, though translators routinely put this into English as “his mother”. This will be discussed later.

The construction of the first line of this couplet, in which Jesus appears to address his mother as “woman” (see discussion of this form of address in the commentary to 2:4), requires a similar kind of salutation of the Beloved Disciple, but it is glaringly absent. The lacuna is best filled in with either a relationship word (for instance, “son” or “brother-in-law”) or the disciple’s name; clearly something has been suppressed here by the final redactor of the text to hide the identity of the disciple. Surely, and especially in his dying moments, Jesus is going to hand off that responsibility to a close family member. It is not likely a brother of Jesus, since the wording strongly suggests Jesus is designating with his words a new mother-son relationship, while such a brother would already have the same mother.

But involved in this scene are two mother-son pairs: Jesus and his mother, and Lazarus and his mother. Both mothers are named Mary, and both have known the intense anguish a mother feels as she watches her son die. Both of their offspring have been called the 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 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 his stepson Lazarus with this filial responsibility for his own mother. He may indeed have already decided that he would do this at his last moment, when the dying person’s will decisively obliges the survivors to carry it out.

The text makes very clear the strong connection between the two mothers, by naming them, and them only, as witnesses, notwithstanding who else in actuality may have been there. Verse 25 specifically refers to “his mother” (that is, Jesus’s) and also, as we shall see below, originally referred to “the disciple’s mother”. However, this connection between the two Marys, the two mothers of “Sons of the Father” whom they have watched died is emphasized in another, subtler way: the Greek text of verse 26, though it is typically translated “his mother”, instead actually twice says “the mother”. Normally in Greek, after the first reference to Jesus’s mother (η μητηρ αυτου, literally, “the mother of-him”), it wouldn’t be necessary to repeat the word αυτου (“of-him”) in immediately subsequent references to his mother. That is what scholars assume, in translating the two “the mother” references in verse 26 as “his mother”. But, with two mothers mentioned in verse 25, Jesus’s and Lazarus’s – what is more, two mothers with several significant things in common, as noted – it is not so clearcut. Jesus could be telling the Lazarus to behold his actual mother, Mary Magdalene, or Jesus’s own mother, or (and this is what I think) both mothers.

Quite conceivable is the possibility that the original text had the word “mother” in the plural form, and that the redactor either thought this was a grammatical error or, more likely, he fully understood that this was meant to refer both to Jesus’s mother and to Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s wife and the Beloved Disciple’s mother, and so he reduced the plural to singular.

It is universally believed that Jesus is speaking to his mother when he says, “Woman, behold your son.” I believe that he is speaking to both mothers, affirming to each of the two Marys that Lazarus is her son. That is why he does not say, “Mother, behold your son,” or, for that matter, “Wife, behold your son.” By saying γυνη, “woman”, he encompasses both of these Marys with so much in common.

It is universally believed that Jesus is referring to his own mother when he says to the Beloved Disciple, “Behold your mother”: he is requiring Lazarus to take on the duty of filial responsibility for his step-grandmother, his stepfather’s mother. I believe that he is referring to both mothers, asking Lazarus to take care of both of them when he, Jesus, is dead.

Keep in mind how much these two Marys have in common, in their names and in their death-facing son-of-the-Father sons, a close relationship highlighted by this couplet and by the use of “the mother” in verse 26 to refer to both mothers. What we can draw from this is that, when Jesus says to Lazarus “Behold your mother,” he is speaking not only about his own mother, but Lazarus’s mother, Mary Magdalene, as well. He is saying “Take care of my mother, and your mother my wife, when I am dead.”

Both of these duties are the duty of a son, not a stepson, and so it becomes clear, in this Jesus’s dying instruction, that his words incorporate his formal recognition of his stepson Lazarus as his own son. Such a final command as this was in that age not merely taken seriously, but was binding on the dying person’s family; it was as formal as a legal will today – and the carefully worded recounting of this statement by Lazarus the Beloved Disciple and eyewitness, in poetry no less, tells us just how serious it was. With his final breath of life – his final inhalations and exhalations of the Spirit of God – Jesus was arranging for his mother and his wife to be cared for, and at the same time but he was acknowledging his stepson as his own son. This would have been a highly emotional and memorable moment for the two Marys and Lazarus standing between them. And the text tells us that after this event the disciple took αυτην – a pronoun that can mean either “her” (one mother) or “them” (both mothers) – into his home.

And also this poetic “last will” of Jesus is 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.

As a result of all this, I conclude that this couplet originally read as follows:

He said to the mothers, “Women, behold your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

Clearly here the redactor removed the offending word “son”, without replacing it with anything; the only option he had was “disciple” or “the beloved disciple”, both of which would have sounded odd if forced here into Jesus’s dying words. And he reduced “women” and “mothers” to their singular forms.

If this second couplet refers so clearly to sons and mothers, then the strong possibility follows that the original version of the couplet in verse 25 also exactly specified the relationships involved:

His mother and the disciple’s mother,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.

This would have perfectly set up the dual change in relationship that Jesus specifies to Lazarus and his mother: his stepson becomes his son, and his mother becomes his son’s mother. But this would have been far too much of an affront to the dogma the new religion was developing, driving the redactor to change the “disciple’s mother” to “mother’s sister” and “the wife of Jesus” to “Magdalene”.

The two couplets read perfectly together:

His mother and the disciple’s mother,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.

He said to the mothers, “Women, behold your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

which in Greek would be:

η μητηρ αυτου και η μητηρ της μαθητην
μαρια η του κλωπα και μαρια η του ιεσους.

λεγει τας μητρας γυναι ιδε ο υιος σου
ειτα λεγει τω μαθητη ιδε αι μητηρες σου

And, just in case anyone still should fail to see the poetry, the author placed immediately before these two couplets another couplet taken from the Tanakh (Psalm 22:18) of what is universally recognized as poetry:

They divided my garments among themselves,
And for my clothing they cast lots.

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

This Clopas to whom verse 25 says Jesus’s mother was married was probably known in Aramaic, as Hilfai or Halfai; Joseph Henry Thayer suggests in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament that κλωπας (Clopas) is a transliteration of חילפאי (Hilfai or Halfai), 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”, and a Greek-style suffix was added.

Early Christian writers Papias and Hegesippus both declare Clopas to be the brother of Jesus’s father, Joseph. Again I concur with James Daniel Tabor that Hilfai (Clopas) married Mary after his brother Joseph’s death, and so Mary the wife of Clopas is Jesus’s mother, and Clopas (Hilfai) his stepfather.

It has often been suggested that Clopas and the Cleopas who appears in Luke 24:13-35 are the same man. If that is so, if Mary still has a husband, then why does the Gospel of John specify that after Jesus’s death the Beloved Disciple took Mary “into his own home” (19:27)? Either a) Clopas and Cleopas are different men with similar names, and bear in mind that these are clumsy transliterations into Greek, so the original Aramaic names could be almost anything; or b) Clopas/Cleopas and Mary have separated; or c) the Lukan episode is of a son of Clopas, possibly the Levi (ben Clopas) discussed above. I think the first and third alternatives are the most likely.

More about Clopas and Jesus’s brothers and half-brothers may be read in the essay in this volume titled “On the Brothers of Jesus”.