Mary Magdalene as Author

Mary Magdalene as Author:

II John and Revelation 3:14-22 as Responses to the “Problem of Paul”

 James David Audlin

 Adapted from The Writings of John Restored and Translated,

to be published summer 2014 by Editores Volcán Barú,

with references to The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volumes I and II,

already in publication by Editores Volcán Barú.

Copyright © 2013,2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved.

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

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

 

 

The last of the famous seven letters in the early chapters of John the Presbyter’s Revelation is addressed to the congregation in Laodicea. But where Jesus is the putative author of the first six, this one appears to be from another source. Let us look at Revelation 3:14, not only at the Greek, but also at the Aramaic version from the Peshitta, which can help us approximate the original version, which the evidence suggests John wrote in Aramaic – for instance, that the “bad grammar” of the Greek version is consistent, and would be good grammar in Aramaic. My theory is that the Presbyter, writing down his vision quickly lest he lose any details, wrote in his first language, Aramaic. Later someone else, whose Greek was not as good as his, translated that Aramaic rather too literally, hence the “bad grammar”, into the Greek of the Textus Receptus.

ܘܲܠܡܲܠܲܐܟܼܵܐ ܕܿܥܼܕ̱ܿܬܿܵܐ ܕܿܠܲܐܝܼܕܼܼܝܩܼܝܲܐ ܟܿܬܼܘܼܒܼ܃ ܗܵܟܼܲܢܵܐ ܐܵܡܲܪ <ܐܘܡܢܐ>܃ ܣܵܗܕܿܵܐ ܡܗܲܝܡܢܵܐ ܘܫܲܪܼܝܪܵܐ܃ ܘܪܼܫܼܝܬܼܵܐ ܕܿܲܒܼܪܼܝܬܼܸܗ ܕܿܲܐܠܵܗܵܐ܂

 

και τω αγγελω της εν λαοδικεια εκκλησιας γραψον ταδε λεγει ο <αμων> και ο μαρτυς ο πιστος και ο αληθινος και η αρχη της κτισεως του θεου

 

And to the angel in the congregation of Laodicea write: Thus says the <Amon>, the witness faithful and true: the firstfruit (reshith) of the creation of God:

 

L. H. Silberman suggests that “the Amen” in the Greek Textus Receptus may be a misreading of אָ֫מ֥וֹן (amōn) in Hebrew, or ܐܘܡܢܐ (umānu) in Aramaic. This is the term for the female “master worker” in Proverbs 8:30, who is God’s “intense delight” (שַׁעְשֻׁ֫עַ; shaashuah); that is, God’s spouse. She was indeed the “firstfruit” (רֵאשִׁית, reshith) of God’s creation (Proverbs 8:22).

Chapter 8 of Proverbs is Wisdom (חָכְמָה; Hokhma), incarnate as a woman, speaking to humanity. Proverbs 8:22 says God acquired (קָ֭נָנִי; qānāni) her as the first of God’s works, and that verb is the one Eve uses in Genesis 4:1 to say she has “acquired” a son, with the help not of Adam!, but, she says, of God. Proverbs is drawing an analogy between Wisdom being created by God out of God and then mated to God, and Eve being created by God out of Adam and then mated to Adam. This pairing of God with his spouse is the nature of Elohim, God understood as comprising male and female aspects as one. Adam and Eve were supposed to be wholly united in the same way, but events unfolded differently; the composite male-female human was separated into a man and a woman. In the works of John the Presbyter, following the teaching of Jesus, this failure with Adam and Eve turned to success with Jesus and Mary, who were κοινωνος (sacred companion, consort, coworker, with an implied erotic connection) each to the other. They reversed the tearing-apart of the original hermaphroditic human into a separate solitary man Adam and a separate solitary woman Eve, by becoming wholly united at the resurrection into a single sacred being in Elohim’s image.

Without dismissing this understanding, derived from Silberman’s suggestion, let us turn to another explanation of “the Amen” in Revelation 3:14. It is one that appears prominently in the Gospel of John, at the resurrection. In the restored original text of that scene, Jesus and Mary each call the other “Mary”. This double entendre is founded on Mary’s name (ܡܰܪܺܝܰ) being a homonym with the Aramaic word mary, meaning “lord”, “master”, or “husband”, coming from the Egyptian word for “master”, pronounced nearly identically, mer, which has an antonym that is also its homonym, mer, “servant” – Jesus is making it clear that she is not at all less than he, a mere servant, but that she is rather “one flesh” with him (Genesis 2:24), united with him in God (John 17:23), his κοινωνος, his equal counterpart. Mary’s name originally comes from Egyptian, which was another Semitic language; Mari-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the original name of Moses’s sister Miriam,. And this leads to another double entendre: the name of the Egyptian wind god, Amen, is virtually the same as the word for “dove”, amenu, just as, by felicitous coincidence, the Greek words πρηστηρ (“whirlwind”) and περιστερα The Writings of John cover(“dove”), significant in the scene of John’s ritual immersion by John, are near homonyms. Thus Revelation 3:14, if it is read as “Amen” (not Silberman’s “Amōn”), may be referring to Mary as God (Amen) and as the dove (amenu) that descended on Jesus.

The point of all this is that, whether we take the Wisdom explanation or the Mari-Amen explanation as intended by John the Presbyter, or (as I suspect he intended) both views, what we must conclude here is that “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” is Mary. It would be quite typical of John the Presbyter’s writings if indeed both of these explanations lie behind his use of the word.

Since by the time of this letter the Beloved Disciple had described aloud her memories of Jesus’s ministry to the Presbyter, who carefully wrote them down, Mary had probably also already shared with John, directly or else indirectly through her son Lazarus, the sacred-erotic details of her encounter with the resurrected Jesus, which no one but she could have known, which clarify their union in Elohim’s image (John 20:1-17; see the commentaries in The Gospel of John).

Philip Alexander suggests that behind the Greek of the last phrase in Revelation 3:14, η αρχη της κτισεως του θεου, is a Hebrew/Aramaic word: “the אָ֫מ֥וֹן (reshith) of the creation of God”. He is right; the Aramaic recension of this verse, given above, has this exact word reshith, ܪܼܫܼܝܬܼܵܐ, and its presence ties the Revelation verse not only to Proverbs 8:22 and 30, but also to Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 The very early Curetonian Gospels, written in Syrian Aramaic likewise have this word reshith at John 1:1 (1:1 is unfortunately missing from the even earlier Syriac Sinaiticus.) 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”, 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 but the 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 and equivalent to the amōn, the reshith.

All in all, it seems abundantly clear that the seventh and final letter in Revelation is ascribed not to Jesus but to Mary – and that it is to the Laodicean congregation, whose works the text says she knows (Revelation 3:15). In the works of John, Jesus and Mary are entirely one being ever after the resurrection, therefore it is no inconsistency here that the first six letters in Revelation 2-3 are given as from Jesus and the seventh letter as from Mary.

In 68, when these letters were written, she must have still have been held in the highest esteem by the Laodiceans from when she lived among them. For there are indications in this text and elsewhere that, for a period of time, Jesus and Mary lived in Laodicea ad Lycum (“Laodicea on the Lycus”, the latter being the name of a river). This was a gorgeous city in the Roman province of Asia, what is now western Turkey. Significantly, it was a mere six miles south of Hierapolis, where John the Presbyter’s student Papias was to be appointed bishop, twelve miles northwest of Colossæ, and ninety-nine miles east of Ephesus, where lived John himself, author of this letter. The city had a considerable Jewish population since, according to the historian Josephus, Antiochus the Great had generations before relocated some two thousand Jewish families there. It was a peaceful city where the couple could live quietly and, since Jesus evidently suffered some physical problems resulting from the trauma of crucifixion (ibid., pages 1009-10), it was surely important to them that Laodicea had a medical university, praised highly by Strabo the Geographer (12:519).

Jesus’s continued presence not just on earth but for a few years at least still in the eastern Mediterranean region was apparently a secret known only to a few, mainly Peter, James, and John, the leaders of the Jerusalemite community. Clement of Alexandria (especially in his Stromateis) and Eusebius, among other early writers, confirm the existence of a strong but secret oral tradition of γνοσις (gnosis, wisdom kept in reserve) given by Jesus after his resurrection to Peter, James, and John, and this must have been during these years.

But Paul, who – as was common in those days – had his spies and informers, must have heard rumors of Jesus living in retirement in Laodicea, and must have craved this exclusive access to the gnosis. Thus Paul writes in Colossians 2:6,9-10a to his followers in nearby Colossæ:

 ως ουν παρελαβετε τον χριστον ιησουν τον κυριον εν αυτω περιπατειτε … οτι εν αυτω κατοικει παν το πληρωμα της θεοτητος σωματικως και εστε εν αυτω πεπληρωμενοι

 

Therefore, just as you have welcomed Christ Jesus the Master, walk in/with him … for in him dwells the full measure of bodily godliness and so you are made full (of godliness) in him.

 

Everybody today thinks this is mere metaphor, that Paul just means to say the Colossians have welcomed Jesus in their hearts. But verse 6 could have been quite literally saying that the Colossians welcomed Jesus to live with them, and so they should walk with him; Verse 9, speaking in Docetic terms of Jesus’s incorruptible body, uses a verb that means “inhabits” or “dwells”, and could be another hint of this illustrious presence. Interspersed with Paul’s veiled references to Jesus’s presence are several condemnations of a “philosopher” (2:8) who might criticize Paul’s followers for breaking the kosher laws of the Torah, even for eating food that had been sacrificed to Roman idols (2:16-23; cf. The Gospel of John, page 399). Clearly Paul is afraid of the influence of this “philosopher”, and wants to keep him away from his followers, and exert a monopoly over their interpretation of Jesus’s person and message. (And, again, evidently Jesus cannot do so for himself.)

But note that Paul’s phrase at the end of Colossians 2:6, εν αυτω περιπατειτε “walk in/with him” is the identical phrase found at the end of II John 6. Paul is here just about taunting John and his followers by quoting him: he is heavily implying he knows who has control of Jesus’s person, and that the Laodiceans should walk with Jesus, even as the “philosopher” has said, and not with that “philosopher”; hence, they will need first to free Jesus from the jurisdiction of that “philosopher”.

At 3:19 in the Revelation, in the letter ascribed to Mary and directed to the congregation in Laodicea, we find these memorable words:

 

ܐܸܢܵܐ ܠܲܐܝܠܸܝܢ ܕܿܪܵܚܸܡ ܐ̱ܢܵܐ ܡܲܟܸܿܣ ܐ̱ܢܵܐ ܘܪܵܕܼܸܐ ܐ̱ܢܵܐ܂ ܛܲܢ ܗܵܟܼܼܝܠ ܘܬܼܘܼܒܼ

 

εγω οσους εαν φιλω ελεγχω και παιδευω ζηλευε ουν και μετανοησον

 

Whomsoever I love, I admonish and GREEK: edify them; therefore, be zealous and transform yourself! ARAMAIC: edify them. I am zealous; therefore, never again (do as you once did)!

 

It is reasonably certain that Paul never actually met Jesus, so John does not mean here that the Laodiceans let Paul have access to Jesus. Still, this line tells us that the Laodiceans failed in some wise. Two things are likely what John meant by this comment: one is that the Laodiceans were the ones who foolishly told Paul that Jesus was living among them (and maybe even fed Paul John’s phrase εν αυτω περιπατειτε (“walk in/with him”), hence Paul’s comments in Colossians that he knew this fact; and/or that the Laodiceans accepted Paul’s theological views to some degree. Both may have been the case, but I think John alludes in Revelation 3:19 to the former, since the Greek suggests a certain specific single action in the past, and not a tendency over time that is still the case in the present time, the year 68. We have John’s letter today because his own personal copy was sent for safekeeping in Sinope; for all we know, Paul did manage to ascertain the contents of the copy that was sent to Mary, perhaps by well-meaning but foolish Laodiceans Mary equally foolishly showed it or read it to, and that is how Paul could taunt John by quoting II John in Colossians 2:6. It may even be that it was by way of this very letter that Paul learned about Jesus’s presence in Laodicea.

In II John 8, John is specific about exactly how Mary could “lose all that we have accomplished”. With a hundred miles between Ephesus, where John lived, and Laodicea, where Mary and Jesus were staying, John could not quickly step in should Paul decide to take advantage of the situation. Thus he decided a letter was necessary to advise Mary – especially if, as I theorize, Jesus was to some degree debilitated after the resurrection, and could not himself prevent his wife from inadvertently causing a great difficulty.

Paul maintained through the decades that he was an apostle fully the equal of “Peter, James, and John”, those who had actually walked with Jesus during his ministry. He built this bold assertion on the claim that, while the apostles had only known Jesus in the past, Paul knew Jesus on an ongoing basis, through visions – even though some people then and now have suspected them of being invented. Paul espoused docetistic views of Jesus, which very nicely excused the glaring fact that he never met the Master: what point would there have been in their meeting “in the flesh” if Jesus had no flesh for Paul to meet? In Romans 8:3 he says: ο θεος τον εαυτου υιον πεμψας ενομ οιωματι σαρκος αμαρτιας (“God, sending his own son in the semblance of sinful human flesh…”). Paul says of Jesus in Philippians 2:7 with no fewer than three words of docetic import, underlined:

 

αλλ εαυτον εκενωσεν μορφην δουλου λαβων εν ομοιωματι ανθρωπων γενομενος και σχηματι ευρεθεις ως ανθρωπος

 

He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human semblance, and found human in appearance.

 

Similarly, Paul consistently taught that those who believe in Jesus as God will come back from death not in their mortal bodies but in new bodies that will be αφθαρτος (aphthartos, both “imperishable” and “incorruptible”): that is, in spiritual bodies just like the one Jesus “the first-born of the dead” already has. Here is how Paul describes it in I Corinthians 15:40a, 44a, 47, and 53:

 

και σωματα επουρανια και σωματα επιγεια … σπειρεται σωμα ψυχικον εγειρεται σωμα πνευματικον … ο πρωτος ανθρωπος εκ γης χοικος ο δευτερος ανθρωπος εξ ουρανου … δει γαρ το φθαρτον τουτο ενδυσασθαι αφθαρσιαν και το θνητον τουτο ενδυσασθαι αθανασιαν

 

And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies … What is sown a physical body is raised up a spiritual body. … The first man is made out of the earth, from soil; the second man (is made) out of heaven. … Indeed, it is necessary that that this, the perishable, put on the imperishable, and this, the mortal, put on immortality.

 

These Pauline letters were not yet written when John was composing this letter to Mary; I Corinthians, was sent from Ephesus, just as was the letter at hand, II John, around 55. Still, there is no doubt that this is the kind of theology Paul was preaching in 43, and John could easily have heard or heard about the other’s views. And indeed there would be several confrontations between Paul and John on this and other similar matters in the decades that lay ahead.

The writings we have by Peter and James the Just, Jesus’s brother, make it clear that they like John the Presbyter believed Paul to have more loose screws than a hardware store; cf. The Gospel of John, pages 294-95 and 398-400).

Nonetheless, for Paul the glaring issue centered on the fact that he had never actually met Jesus, and yet was claiming to Jesus’s best and only true apostle. That matter could be easily handled as long as Paul continued to emphasize his “spin” that he knew Jesus better than those other disciples because of the vaunted visions that supposedly afforded him a present relationship with Jesus, unlike “Peter, James, and John” only knowing him in the past – and as long as Jesus didn’t suddenly pop up, still around in this mundane world, and very much allied with the same three, to embarrass Paul by denying the validity of his claims.

Therefore, if “Peter, James, and John” still had a present relationship with Jesus, not through highly doubtful visions but a Jesus in the flesh, the very flesh that Paul denied he had ever had, and Paul found about this, then he was surely apprehensive of the possibility that Jesus might issue, or in his view be manipulated into issuing, a pronouncement that Paul was a charlatan, falsely claiming to visions Jesus had never sent him, and issuing theological declarations in Jesus’s name that the real Jesus found odious. The only thing preventing something like this was that for some reason Jesus had completely withdrawn from the public arena – I surmise this was because of chronic, serious health issues following the grave physical and emotional trauma of the crucifixion, but Paul likely did not know for certain any more than we do today. Paul may have simply concluded that Jesus was being silenced, kept under house arrest by “Peter, James, and John”, perhaps even against his will, so they could persist in promulgating (what were from Paul’s perspective) their own false claims to be the exclusive and proper agents of the true nature and teachings of Jesus.

Paul would therefore have intensely desired a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, in order to justify his flimsy claim to apostlehood, and that he was Jesus’s exclusive spokesman, not “Peter, James, and John”. Paul may even have entertained ideas of liberating Jesus from the control of those three, and himself taking over control of Commodity Jesus, using him as a prop for his Pauline theology and religious community. The Presbyter knew that just to be welcomed into Jesus’s presence would be a card Paul would play to the fullest; if Jesus was unable for health reasons to withstand Paul’s forceful personality, Paul could legitimately claim that Jesus had approved Paul as his sole representative, and Jesus would be in no condition to gainsay him. And Paul could also declare that Jesus had placed his blessing on Paul’s complete makeover of who and what Jesus was – not a country rabbi appointed by God as a Messiah to urge humanity to live in accordance with God’s plan, the Logos, but rather that Jesus was literally God incarnate, and that merely to believe in Jesus as God was sufficient, with no need to obey the laws of the Torah or just about anything else. The Presbyter knew Paul to be an adept “spin doctor”, who would be able to take whatever Jesus said and work it to his advantage.

The weak link, in John’s perspective, as suggested by this letter, was Mary. John fully expected Paul to attempt a meeting face-to-face with Jesus, and take advantage of the entrée to secure his complete retail monopoly on Jesus-as-product. John surely had in mind that Mary was an extremely nice woman, who was certain to be polite, as women in traditional cultures have always been trained to be: to welcome to anyone who comes to the door claiming friendship and kindred faith, to sit Paul down in the most comfortable chair, to bring him a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine and then set about preparing a meal for him – and above all to be invisible while Paul and Jesus engaged in a conversation of deep philosophy of the kind that in those days only men took part in. John surely knew Mary, as a daughter of her traditional culture, would not be, like the song in My Fair Lady, “like a man”, ready to speak sharply to Paul if he crossed the line, and prepared to throw him out if despite the semblance of brotherliness he was really about manipulating Jesus into support of his schemes. In short, John knew that, once Paul got his foot in the door, the game was lost.

Hence John’s first bit of advice to Mary, in verse 10, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home.”

Furthermore, as was and is well known, for he often brags about it in his letters, Paul throve on making connections with influential people and taking fullest advantage of them – what today is called “networking”. Thus, Mary could say the same kind of good-mannered greetings people have said to each other throughout human history, and Paul would use mere politeness, mere social convention, as fuel for his “evil work”.

Thus John’s second bit of advice, in verses 10-11, “Nor say you are glad to see him, for indeed anyone who says to him, ‘Glad to see you!’ contributes to his evil work” – that is, Paul would crow loudly throughout the Roman Empire, “Jesus and Mary were glad to see me, and so clearly he approves of my mission to the gentiles,” etc., etc., etc.

The evidence suggests that Jesus had a plan in mind, entrusted to Peter, James, and John but not the disciples in general, shortly before and/or shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection. That plan was that they see to the building of a strong following of Jesus followers especially in the Jewish community through the Roman Empire, and then Jesus would return after some years and lead a revolution against the Roman Empire. This is the basis of all the “Second Coming” theology that has been orthodoxy for centuries. This plan never came to fruition, of course, and after the second generation of followers (men like Papias and Polycarp) it was forgotten. What happened instead, of course, was not that the followers of Jesus destroyed the Roman Empire but that they became it.

At this time, in the year 43, however, this plan was still alive – and John was also no doubt extremely concerned that, if Paul did succeed in meeting with Jesus, he might find out about this plan, and, given his very gentile-friendly and pro-Roman stance, reveal it to the wrong people and ruin everything.

Were John’s concerns unrealistic? Paul answers this question for himself in Colossians 4:3-4, after dropping several hints in this letter that he knows the secret these faithful have been keeping about Jesus’s presence in Laodicea. (By the word “word”, λογος in Greek, Paul refers not as John does to God’s plan for the unfolding of the universe, but to Paul’s own kerygma, his sound-byte, his constantly repeated central message.)

 

 

προσευχομενοι αμα και περι ημων ινα ο θεος ανοιξη ημιν θυραν του λογου εν παρρησια λαλησαι το μυστηριον του χριστου δι ο και δεδεμαι ινα φανερωσω αυτο ως δει με λαλησαι

 

At the same time, pray for us, that God might open a door to us for the word, to declare candidly the secret about Christ, in reference to which I too have been constrained, so I can make him (Jesus) visible, as it is incumbent on me to speak (about this).

 

With all of this evidence it is reasonable to conclude that II John was written to Mary while she was living with Jesus in Laodicea, and the seventh letter in Revelation is ascribed to Mary, and that both deal with the “problem of Paul”.

 

Calling a Mary a Mary (extensively revised)

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

GJohn-Mockup1
20:16 – Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb by name in 11:43, but here, in a dramatic reversal, he the resurrected one calls Mary by name, the one who has come to his tomb. The implication is that Mary has, in a sense, died, and he is calling her back to life and faith, hence that this is a resurrection for both of them, in one way or the other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary and her Formerly Dead Husband

This blog entry discusses the conversation between Jesus and Mary at the resurrection, specifically in John 20:16. This is a revision of a section of my commentaries to The Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The book is available in hardcover and paperback; you will find ordering information here.

GJohn-Mockup1

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

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

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

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

The Aramaic word for “lord”, “master”, or “husband” in the Peshitta version of this verse is ܡܳܪܝ (mary); elsewhere in classical Aramaic texts it is more often ܡܪܐ (mara). The relatively uncommon variant spelling here, not mara but mary, is surely to emphasize the similarity to Mary’s name. Some scholars say the Aramaic root means “to flap”, as in wings, such as the dove which is associated in this gospel with Mary (cf. the commentary to the baptism of Jesus); others say it means “to lift” or “to raise up”, which might have Messianic implications (Jesus here is raised up from death), or even “to arouse (sexually)”, which the very next verse (17), in both Greek and Aramaic, suggests has happened to Jesus; see the commentary to 20:17. The theory has been made that the Aramaic word is related etymologically to मर (mara), meaning “death” or “delusion” in Sanskrit, and “-mare” in English, as in “nightmare”, a prophetic and even frightening dream, from mara in Old French and going back to a theoretical Indic root. Certainly Jesus and Mary have both just been through a nightmare of death and have held strong through delusion; this proposed etymological lineage again raises the thought that the “fringe” scholars who say Jesus may have spent his young adult years in the Himalayas might be right. Nevertheless, there is no clear lineage in terms of meaning between the Aramaic “master” and the Sanskrit “death” or “delusion”, just a coincidental homophony, and therefore this theory is to be rejected. Rather, the Aramaic word ܡܳܪܝ (mary), meaning “lord” or “master” in reference to Jesus, far more likely comes from a classical Egyptian root, the word  (mer; “overseer”). Most interestingly, it has as a homonym its own antonym, the word  (mer; “servant”), pronounced the same way but written with different hieroglyphics. (This Egyptian-based pun may well have been behind Jesus’s comment in 13:16.)

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

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

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

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

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

And so, when Mary replies to Jesus by saying Mary!, she is perforce also making some subtle and sublime puns – perhaps not consciously, but Jesus would have interpreted her response thus. She intends only to say the Aramaic word that means “master” or “husband” (ܡܳܪܝ). But Jesus hears implied the identically pronounced Egyptian word for “master” (), implying thereby – since this word’s antonym is also a homonym () – that she is lesser than he, his mere servant. But, by calling her Mary!, Beloved!, and thus turning her response of Mary!, Master!, into Mary!, Beloved!, Jesus is making it clear that she is not at all less than he, a mere servant, but that she is rather “one flesh” with him(Genesis 2:24), united with him in God (John 17:23).

It is at about this moment, as Jesus says “Mary!” and Mary says “Mary!”, that the light dawns on them, both literally and figuratively. Mary now understands. And, in the new light of day, the first thing each of them sees is the beloved other.

Lest anyone wonder, the answer is, yes, an educated Jew like Jesus would have been very likely to know and to think about the Egyptian cognates of Aramaic words. Jews were then and still are very aware of their cultural roots in Egypt, especially by celebrating the exodus from Egypt every year at Passover. In the first century, not only educated Jews but those involved in commerce would have been acquainted with the Egyptian language, and probably able to speak at least some basic phrases. Indeed, these complexities of doubles entendres involving Greek, Aramaic, and Egyptian may well have been in Jesus’s mind during the actual encounter outside the tomb; he was clearly an extremely well-educated man. Mary, as a former Samaritan Temple priestess, might possibly have learned about these matters, but there is no reason to assume they were clear to Mary at that moment. It is not unlikely that Jesus later explained these meanings of mary to her. And later yet, Mary may have tried to explain them to her son Lazarus. If that is so, then Lazarus must have done his best to pass these insights on by third hand to his amanuensis, John the Presbyter – and here they took root. We can tell from this gospel (and his other works) that John was, like Jesus, a highly educated man, in not just Jewish studies but world literature. Even if these subtleties in the word mary were muddled by the time Lazarus tried to explain them, John would have understood instantly – and clearly did understand, since this resurrection scene clearly is meant to suggest them.