The Wind and Dove Descend on Jesus

The Wind and the Dove Descend upon Jesus:

Multiple Meanings in John 1:32

James David Audlin

From the new edition to be published in the second week of March 2014 of

The Gospel  of John Restored and Translated, Volume II

as published by Editores Volcán Barú

Nonfiction by James David Audlin

This verse is loaded with multiple meanings. The Greek word πνευμα means “wind”, “breath”, and “spirit” as do the Hebrew and Aramaic words behind it. The verb καταβαινω (“to descend”) appears here significantly for the second of three times in the opening episodes, clearly to bring back to mind the opening Prologue (3:13) and to anticipate Jesus’s concluding statement to Nathanael (1:51). The word ουρανος means both the physical“sky” and “heaven” (in the spiritual sense) as is the case in every language I know except English. Thus John is talking at the same time about a wind out of the sky, God’s breath exhaled down from heaven, and God’s Spirit descending from heaven.

The verb θεαομαι (theaomai) is related to our modern word “theater”; it is more specific than the English verb “to see”, more exactly meaning to observe something intensely but passively, as a spectator watches a performance on stage. In classical literature it GOJ-front 2vol IIcarries the strong suggestion of being deeply affected by what one is observing. This verb anticipates a point introduced in the next paragraph, that in this gospel John never actually administers to Jesus his immersion ceremony. If he had, the text here would say, “As I was immersing him…”, or, “As I was about to immerse him…” One gains the sense from the phrasing here that John was not close to Jesus as this miraculous event occurred; he may not even have been in the Jordan but still on dry land watching this profoundly moving drama with helpless awe.

Unlike the self-administered mikvah,John’s immersion ceremony was one that he had to execute himself. Hints may survive in the ceremony done in John’s name to this day by the Mandæans of southern Iraq (cf. Sabian Mandaean the Secret Root of Christianity, by Salim Berenjie). Rabbi Ben Abrahamson says the Sabian Mandæans were originally Notzrim, a group John and Jesus both appear closely associated with, but changed their designation in the face of rejection by orthodox Christians “to continue to live under the protection Allah SWT gives to the ‘people of the book’”.

John’s declaration does not say he actually performed the immersion ceremony for Jesus. Scholars usually say the author left it understood that it was done. But I ask: How he could have performed it if he felt unworthy even to untie Jesus’s sandals (1:27)? I think it was not done, because a miraculous event superseded it, and John was frozen into immobility.

That event is bound up in a close reading of the verse. The word περιστερα (peristera, “dove”) that we find in the text is virtually identical in pronunciation to another word, πρηστηρ (prēstēr, “whirlwind”), especially as declined in this verse, περιστεραν/πρηστηρον (peristeran/prēstēran) – the consonants are exactly the same, which would jump right out at Lazarus and John the Presbyter, whose first languages were Hebrew and Aramaic, which at the time were written with only consonants. It is possible that this is a scribal error on the part of the amanuensis or else extremely early in the subsequent history of the gospel text, since the words for “dove” and “whirlwind” are quite unlike in Hebrew and Aramaic. But I reject this possibility, and also the possibility that this was a “correction” by the much later redactor to make this gospel conform to the three Synoptic gospels, since as is argued below both words would be very appropriate here.

This verse has always been understood to be saying one thing came down: a wind in the form of a dove. But I believe two things happened at about the same time – that both a whirlwind and a “dove” descended on and remained with Jesus, as I shall now explore. Any first-century Jew reading this text would not need to be reminded of Elijah’s whirlwind as a spiritual father of this event, but the dove connection would not have been quite so clearly evident; I think this is why the Presbyter added a phrase saying that just the wind came down, so also did a dove.

John testifies that he saw the πνευμα come down out of the sky/heaven. The word πνευμα can mean“wind”, “breath”,or “spirit”depending on context, and the context here, that it came down from the sky, tells us the intended main meaning is “wind”. (Still, to remind the reader of these other meanings, the translation retains all three.) We know from experience that a wind out of the sky sometimes does take the form of a whirlwind; the text clearly makes sense with that reading. The usual reading, that a wind came out of the sky/heaven in the form of a dove, makes little sense. A wind can no more take the form of a dove than it can take the form of a barn or a banana or the Beatles. However a wind can take the form of a whirlwind.

Besides being nothing like a mighty gale, a fragile dove would not be able to withstand a whirlwind out of the sky, let alone safely alight on Jesus and manage to stay on his shoulder, without getting blown away. In any case, the very next verse, 33, seals the matter by expressly saying the πνευμα, the wind (and not a dove), descended onto Jesus.

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

I wonder if John the Presbyter’s focus here on the whirlwind, πρηστηρ, led to the Mediæval Prester John legend.

YHWH was clearly conceived of anciently as a storm god, as imaged in Psalm 2l, especially verse 3, in which the roar of YHWH’s voice is over the waters just as was the YHWH’s breath in Genesis 1:2, and as is the whirlwind here. The Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai and, on the third day, there is darkness and storm (Exodus 19:16), and Moses comes down the mountain to deliver the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Those three days parallel the three day revolving around John the Immerser in chapter 1, with this day being dark and stormy. Again, obviously, an association is being drawn with Moses.

Any first-century Jew reading this account of a whirlwind hovering about Jesus would instantly think not only of Genesis, Exodus, and the Psalm, but also of Isaiah 11:12, which says the wind/breath/spirit of God will rest upon the expected Messiah. And a whirlwind resting on a prophet at the Jordan River (1:28) would also immediately call to the mind of that reader, as it clearly did the delegation that came to ask John questions (see the commentary above to John 1:20-21), the story of Elijah, also at the Jordan, transferring his prophetic power to Elisha (II Kings 2). Elijah strikes the river with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part, echoing the story of Moses, to whom this gospel often compares Jesus, likewise parting the waters. After Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, a chariot and horses of fire appear, and Elijah is taken into heaven in a whirlwind. Except for the mantle and the chariot and horses of fire, everything matches up. An older prophet (Elijah/John) nearing the close of his ministry ordains the beginning of the ministry of a younger prophet (Elisha/Jesus) who has a double portion of the older one’s spirit; the River Jordan is passed through or entered into; and a whirlwind comes from heaven. One pertinent difference is that the whirlwind takes one waning prophet, Elijah, to heaven, but not John, since he is to die at Herod’s hand; rather, the whirlwind comes down to anoint Jesus, evidently conferring on him something of the nature and spirit of Elijah as it did Elisha. This whirlwind is the presence of God, the voice of God, the breath of God, which Moses only saw after it had passed by and it was safe to leave the cave where he was hidden. This whirlwind is אֶהְֶיֶה אֲֶשֶר אֶהְֶיֶה(“I Am and Will Be What I Am and Will Be”), it is God’s name. Occasionally God confers the rare honor of being “taken up into heaven”; II Kings 2 aside, Genesis 5:24 is also interpreted to say the same of Enoch, and it is generally believed that Moses too was taken up into heaven, though there is nothing to say so in the Torah. This gospel suggests this was going to happen with Jesus too (cf. 6:62 and 20:17); certainly, in the theology of Jesus as presented in this gospel this would further validate his status as Messiah. (Much later, the Ascension of Jesus would become church doctrine, but with an entirely different import; it is fancifully described in Luke-Acts and in a late addition to Mark.) The Talmud often speaks of the spirit/wind/breath descending from the sky/heaven to anoint the Messiah (e.g., Test. Levi 18, Test. Judah 24:2). The storm here returns as an inclusio during the crucifixion, as discussed on page 915. All in all, the gospel is drawing a strong comparison between Jesus and both Elijah and Moses, clearly telling us the gospel is directed at least at a Jewish audience.

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

A third, less obvious conclusion requires us to put aside two thousand years of assumptions about this text and read it afresh. The Greek adverb ως (hōs) has in this text always been taken to mean “like”, to say there is one thing, the wind, which takes on the form of another thing, a dove; but ως, as noted in standard references like Strong’s, can also mean “just as”, “in the same manner as”, which here would say there are two things that have something in common – that the wind and the dove both came down to Jesus and remained on/with him. The Aramaic adverb ܐܝܟ (hayk) in the Curetonian Gospels text, usually translated in this verse as “like” as is ως, also can take this latter sense, as noted in standard dictionaries such as Jastrow’s. The double entendre of πρηστηρ/περιστερα, typical of the Presbyter’s style, is only possible in Greek, since the Aramaic words for “dove” and “wind” are considerably different, but the latter text still can be clearly read as saying both the wind and dove came down toJesus.Since this reading clears up the issue of how wind can take on the totally unlike appearance of a dove, my translation presents these two meanings, such that both the whirlwind and dove come down and remain with him.

This double entendre analogy is well-rooted in the Tanakh, in passages that would have occurred to any first-century Jew. The Talmud and Dead Sea Scrolls both offer an analogy that conjoins both parts of the double entendre, comparing the ruach of God that moved over the surface of the waters in Genesis 1:2 to a female dove: Shimon ben Zoma in the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 15a, for instance, says that the ruach hovered over the waters in the way a mother bird hovers over her young without touching them (though he was criticized for this analogy, whereupon he was so mortified that he instantly dropped dead). John Milton, who took much of his material from the Talmud, put it thus (Paradise Lost, I, 17-22):

… Thou O Spirit …

… Thou from the first

Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread

Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss

And mad’st it pregnant …

In many other passages the common thread is their portrayal of the dove as seeking out a sanctuary from one’s enemies in the wilderness, a theme common to John, Jesus, and this gospel. In Genesis 8, the dove guides Noah out of the torment of water and wind to dry land, as, so I will suggest below, Mary does here. Psalm 55:6-8 refers to a dove flying away to safety, out of the dangerous whirlwind. Jeremiah 48:28 urges one to imitate the dove, living in safety among the inaccessible crags. Psalm 11:1,3 similarly has the psalmist upbraid his advisors: “How (can you) say to my soul, ‘Flee (as) a bird to your mountain’? … If the foundations are torn down, what do the righteous do?”, which for Jesus would be a salient question: How can Mary flee back to the Samaritan community at Mount Gerizim for safety if that place is in danger? In 2:19 he will speak of the foundations of the Jerusalem Temple being pulled down.

And the most significant reference to a dove: the Shulammite, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs, which this gospel associates with Mary by way of frequent paraphrases from that work, is often compared in the Song to a dove. In Song 2:14 the man asks the woman, whom he calls his dove, to show herself in the concealed place along the steep way – the landscape described in that verse is one that the eyewitness and amanuensis would have agreed describes accurately this rock-strewn, craggy countryside where John was immersing people, which Gulielmus Tyrius described as also abounding in what the locals called dragons, which he defined as “hidden passages and windings underground”. Visitors to the region today will find it continues to be full of concealed places along steep ways.

This verse in the Song of Songs suggests the possibility that the whirlwind and the dove could both have been present at the immersion – that would be the case if the dove, the beloved, “showed herself in the concealed place” in the form of Mary, called the Magdalene in the Synoptics. This famous cognomen may indeed refer to doves, as is discussed in the essay on page 406. Every time she appears in this gospel the text includes references to the beloved woman, the “dove” of the Song of Songs.

The whirlwind could literally have come down from heaven and remained on Jesus, and the “dove”, Mary, could also have come down from the shore and helped Jesus, likely a bit disoriented by the frigid currents and fierce wind, out of the water, and “remained” with him – remained forever, as his wife. This helping Jesus from the death waters is an inclusio-reversal of Jesus guiding Mary out of the darkness of his tomb into the dawn light at the resurrection. As at the resurrection, Simon and Lazarus, at present John’s disciples, are here but ineffective. Everyone else watches helplessly as the whirlwind descends on Jesus in the frigid turbulent current, thinking that they about to see a man swept away to his death.But she knows what to do; she enters the water – and the whirlwind ceases and she guides him to shore, just as the wind ceases when Jesus enters the boat in 6:21 and he guides the disciples to shore. In her first appearance in this gospel Mary is portrayed as a κοινωνος, a co-Messiah with Jesus.

The presence of the Breath/Wind/Spirit tells us that God is in this scene in the aspect called in the Tanakh YHWH (the proper pronunciation of this name being an exhalation). The Prologue, as we have seen, evokes from its first words the creation stories that begin Genesis, and that theme continues here. Where Elohim created the first human in Elohim’s own image, as a hermaphrodite, comprising as one both masculine and feminine (Genesis 1:27), it was YHWH who then split this first human into two, a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-22). Here, however, the whirlwind-presence of YHWH begins the process of reversing that separation, driving together this new Adam and Eve, Jesus and Mary, such that, by the end of this gospel they will be again completely one flesh (Genesis 2:24) in Elohim’s image.

Strengthening the view that Mary is present in this scene is the clear inclusio between John, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah after his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the Jordan (1:43), and Mary, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah during his ministry (4:29; John only discusses Jesus as Messiah with certain religious officials, and the disciples only privately, in chapter 1); she is also the first to declare him Messiah after his literal death-and-resurrection (20:18). Moreover, there is an inclusio inasmuch as here Mary watches while Jesus enters the water, and again when he dies on the cross (19:25), and as here she runs to help him from the river waters, and again runs to him at the resurrection. There is another inclusio: Jesus is reunited with Mary in a garden after arising from the dead in chapter 20, just as he will be reunited soon after this immersion scene with this woman, at a gardenlike spring in chapter 4. And the whirlwind here is mirrored by suggestions discussed below of a wind and storm at the time of the crucifixion. With so many clear correspondences being drawn between John and Mary, the possibility that Mary was present at Jesus’s immersion must be considered.

It will be established below that Lazarus was Mary’s son and at this time a disciple of John.If so, then Mary could have come from Shechem to visit her son, who at the time of the immersion would have been there to witness it. Mary may even have come to be herself immersed by John, to recollect her Jewish heritage after serving as a Samaritan priestess, to make herself Jewish-kosher, to have her past “washed away” through the immersion. If so, then not only Jesus but Mary too would have been naked for the immersion, as was customary. Logion 107 in the Gospel of Philip says we are to undress before we “go down into the water” such that we may be “clothed with the Living Water”). So too does the Diataxis [Ordinances] of the Holy Apostles (more commonly called “The Apostolic Tradition” or the Anaphora of Hippolytus of Rome), at 21:1-5, which in recording the baptism rite of the early 300s in the Eastern Church, very likely the practice in John’s Asian churches as well:

At the hour when the cock crows, they shall make prayer over the water. The water shall be flowing through the baptismal enclosure, or pour into it from above where there is abundant water; if water is not abundant, use whatever water is available. They shall then remove all of their clothing. The children shall be immersed first. If they can speak for themselves, they should do so; otherwise, their parents or other relatives should speak for them. Then the men are immersed and, last, the women, after they have first unbound their hair and put aside their gold and silver ornaments that they are wearing. Let no one take any foreign object with him down into the water.

And, needless to say, this is also still today the practice in the mikvah. The mikvah, like this early Christian baptism, was intentionally celebrated as a birth ritual and we are all born naked (Job 1:21).

Jesus’s nakedness in this scene forms an inclusio with his being nearly so to wash the disciples’ feet (13:3-12a), and his complete nakedness on the cross (19:23-24) and at the resurrection (20:6-7), when he was spiritually reborn and spiritually remarried to Mary. She would probably have been nigh naked herself at the crucifixion, and certainly at the resurrection, since the tradition then was for a grieving person to rend his or her clothes into pieces. That increases the sense of an implicit eroticism to this scene of a man and a woman naked together in the water, which parallels the implicit eroticism at the spring in Samaria and forms an inclusio with the clear eroticism at the resurrection(see the references under “eroticism” in the final index).

It is possible that Mary was assisting John in the immersion rites; as a former Temple priestess this would be a familiar role for her, and John would be known to her if, as I think, her sister Martha was the wife of his son Simon the Rock. Thus, she may have helped Jesus and others there for the ritual to undress, and to untie his sandals, the very act that John felt he could not do himself (1:27), and to throw around him a fresh white linen robe afterwards. Thus too she was quick to respond, going to Jesus in the wild current and wind to rescue him when everyone else was frozen. If, as suggested above, John’s immersion ritual was preëmpted by a miracle, a whirlwind descending on Jesus, then John may never even have entered the Jordan to do the rite! – and a second miracle, a dove, Mary, descended on Jesus in the Jordan to bring him to shore. If Mary undressed and reclothed him in this scene, there is an inclusio with her coming to the tomb (20:1) to undertake the wifely responsibility of tohorah, the ritual purification of a body by undressing it, washing it (equivalent to the immersion here), and then reclothing it in a fresh white takhrikhin (linen wrapping). And if the great preacher John felt unworthy of unlacing Jesus’s sandals and helping him to undress, and these tasks fell instead to Mary, then Mary must already have been in a very special capacity on behalf of John.

The Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim had had a dove image for veneration, and though the Temple was destroyed it or a replacement may still have been on display in Mary’s time, as suggested by the Talmud (Hul. 6a) – in fact, the dove image originally worshipped there was reportedly the idol buried by Jacob under the oak here at Shechem (Genesis 35:4; Tosafot Ḥul. 6a); it could be that it was found and put back on display.

Also, while as noted above the Aramaic words for “dove” and “wind” are quite unlike, the Aramaic word for “dove”, ܝܘܢܐ (yawna), is so similar to John’s name in Aramaic, ܝܘܚܢܢ (yawhnn) that it could have been as a feminine variant of the name; though no such variant has been found in early writings, that does not exclude the possibility. The two words are not quite as close in Hebrew, in which “dove” is יוָֺנָה (yonah; also the name “Jonah”; no surprise, the tale of Jonah is yet another dove-resurrection connection) and John is יוֹחָָנָן (yochanan). The meaning of John’s name, “God has been gracious”, has nothing to do with doves, though note that the etymology of yawna is unknown, so the possibility of its being related to yawhnn cannot be firmly ruled out. Still, Lazarus and/or John the Presbyter could have noted the phonetic similarity as they worked out the double entendre they adopted in their original Greek text – or, possibly, Mary was called yawna because of her putative role as John’s assistant; indeed, this might be the root of her Synoptic cognomen “Magdalene”; cf. pages 409-10.Doves were often used as government, commercial, or military messengers, and, writes Rabbi Ben Abrahamson, as a means of divination of the “word from heaven” for the Notzrim, a religious sect embracing the Essenes, with whom John and Jesus may have been aligned.

The Gospel of Philip may provide support for this possible involved presence of Mary at Jesus’s immersion. This noncanonical gospel, more of a reflection on Jesus’s life and teaching than a narrative gospel, was apparently written by Philip the Evangelist, not to be confused with the apostle; he was known to John the Presbyter, and like him one of the larger group of disciples who followed Jesus. Often wrongly labelled Gnostic, the gospel is theologically and imagistically not far from the Gospel of John. At logion 82 it closely associates immersion, resurrection, and marriage in terms of the reconciliation of male with female in the image of Elohim – a theme that will come up several times in this work:

The immersion has the resurrection [with] the reconciliation coming into the bridal chamber; yet, the bridal chamber is more exalted than these.… One will never find its like.

And it may be speaking of John (as the friend of the bridegroom; cf. John 3:29) and the disciples (as the sons of the bridegroom; Jesus often addresses them as his children; at least some were in their actual childhood) when it says of the nakedness of the bride (logion 131). Note also that Mary’s mother Salome was among the women at the tomb according to Mark 16:1.

Let her [the bride] come forth and be revealed only to her father and mother with her, before the friend of the bridegroom, [and] before the sons of the bridegroom.

In the much-debated fragment from the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Jesus not only calls Mary “my wife” (tahime), but says “Asforme, I dwell/exist/live with her in order to […] an image […]”. The verb suggests “I live with her” in three senses: the ordinary sense of cohabitation, the higher sense of spiritual union, and the highest sense, of the vitality in all things that vivifies life. Thus, Jesus is probably saying his marriage to Mary is part of the Messianic image he hopes to convey; applied to the immersion, their meeting at his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the river is perfectly matched by their meeting anew after his very real death and resurrection.

Doves in this part of the world are not white, as in European paintings. More properly called turtledoves, they are buff on the breast, with gold-grey-brown wings. They are migratory, coming to this land from Africa in early spring (Song of Songs 2:11-12) and returning thither in August; curiously, Mary only appears in this gospel in Acts One and Four, which take place in the spring, and not in Acts Two or Three, which take place in October and December. Their coming from Africa is also reminiscent of the possibility

(discussed on pages 408-09 and elsewhere) that Mary may have been a priestess in Egypt. The turtledove’s arrival coincides with the fierce spring wind best known in the West by its Arabic name, خمسين (khamsin, written as חמסין in modern Hebrew), which in Biblical times was called רוחַַקדים (ruach qadīm, “east wind”). This dual arrival of the dove and the wind could in fact have suggested the metaphor of πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) at the immersion.

Why the dove imagery? Because it tells the informed reader that Mary is there with Jesus: in this first episode of the gospel this is the first appearance of the divine couple, the Messiah and the Priestess, the whirlwind and the dove, the Spirit and the Bride (Revelation 22:17). Dove imagery was at the time universal in the spiritual traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, and it vividly supports the identification of Mary with a dove. James A. Montgomery (in The Samaritans: The Earliest Jewish Sect)discusses the oft-cited belief that the then considerably eclectic Samaritans worshipped a dove on Mount Gerizim, where Mary was a priestess. He eventually dismisses it, mistakenly, since indeed John Hyrcanus’s stated pretext for destroying the Samaritan Temple in 110 B.C.E. was its dove imagery, but yet he speaks approvingly of other scholars (Selden and Ronzevalle) who associate the dove cult with the goddess Semiramis and the Ashima mentioned in II Kings 17:30. Donald A. MacKenzie (in Myths of Babylonia and Assyria) discusses the close connections between Semiramis and doves in the myths about her. Her Assyrian name, Sammu-rammat, derived from Summat (“Dove”), signifies “The Dove Goddess Loves Her”. In the most ancient form of the myth, says MacKenzie, she was turned into a dove and took flight into heaven in that form. He adds that Robertson Smith demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semitic nations, often closely associated with love, also symbolizing innocence, gentleness, and holiness. The Greek Aphrodite was also associated with doves, signifying love.

Like περιστερα (“dove”) and πρηστηρ (“whirlwind”) in Greek, amenu, “dove” in Egyptian and , Amen, the Egyptian god of wind, are near homonyms. And the dove Mary’s name comes from Mari-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the original name ofvMoses’s sister Miriam, who watched as he was drawn, sacredly reborn, out of the Nile by the pharaoh’s daughter as she ritually bathed, no doubt naked: as Mary, also surely naked, here draws Jesus sacredly reborn from the Jordan. The mother of this pharaoh’s daughter was Ahmes (“Daughter of Amon”). In being reborn from the river, Moses is renamed as a god’s son and Jesus is anointed as God’s son/Messiah.

So ultimately in the doubles entendres of πρηστηρ and περιστερα, amenu and Amen, we have as one the two aspects of Elohim, God and Goddess, arriving to anoint this the first encounter of Jesus and Mary. The episodes at the Samaritan well, in Cana, and of the resurrection will continue this theme of joining together humanity, originally severed into male and female in Eden, to create the united male-female being, Jesus and Mary, that reflects the image and likeness of Elohim. The meticulously constructed inclusio nature of this gospel just about requires the presence of Mary at the immersion: symbolic spiritual rebirth was for Jesus (at least as presented in this gospel) was all about undoing the sin of our first forebears in Eden, such that male and female can be rejoined. This major theme of the gospel, discussed at length in the commentaries on the resurrection, forms an inclusio with this symbolic spiritual rebirth, though that one is not symbolic but literally a rebirth from death; Mary was present at his death and resurrection, and so for literary reasons the author must want us to conclude that she was present at this immersion too: his spiritual rebirth in both places is the rejoining of Eve with Adam, so Mary can be joined with him in both places.

If the theory that Mary was actively present at the immersion is true, then why was it not clearly stated in the gospel? It may be the redactor found it unacceptable (for the clear suggestion that Jesus was involved with this woman) and excised it; I reject this possibility because the redactor let stand other similarly “romantic” passages with but minimal changes. It may be that the amanuensis meant to make her presence more specific in the telling of the immersion, but never got to it; we know that the original version of the gospel was never completed. The compositional problem might have been that the author put the description of the immersion in the mouth of John (even though Lazarus the eyewitness was certainly there), and either an expansion would have to be still in the first person or else a new narrative strand based on Lazarus’s memories would need to be inserted. And it may simply be that the gospel author decided what he had written was clue enough for the intelligent reader to recognize and interpret correctly what transpired – and it is only we modern gentiles who miss the clue that would have been instantly clear to any reasonably literate first-century Jew, since we do not share the necessary symbolic Weltansicht, and since the lenses of our comprehension are clouded by two thousand years of errant dogma.

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

If Mary was there to be immersed herself, and/or to assist John, then likely Jesus took notice of Mary, whom Lazarus would have told his new teacher was his mother, and/or whom Simon the Rock (Peter) said was the sister of his wife Martha. This would have led to the arranging of their meeting at the spring in Shechem, the next episode. This is of course speculative, but it would connect this scene closely with the next, at Jacob’s Spring, and explain why this scene is followed immediately by that one, and then the wedding. It would also help explain the disciples’ surprise in 4:27; she is not entirely unfamiliar to them!

Les Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a late 1300s “book of hours” illuminated manuscript, provides a fascinating footnote discussed by Ariadne Green in her book Jesus Mary Joseph. It includes two very similar depictions of this immersion scene, however in one there is no descending dove overhead, but rather a lamb putting its forepaws on John’s arm. This may be a reference to John calling Jesus “the lamb of God” (1:36/29), and it may record an old tradition that Mary was at the immersion: the Aramaic word for “lamb”, ܵamara, is close to her name in Aramaic, Mara.

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.

Mary Magdalene: What’s in a Name?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Before evaluating the four above, I also propose:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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