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.



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”.


Who Wrote and Who Wrecked the Gospel of John?

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


In concluding this discussion we may wish to speculate on the actual identity of the amanuensis, despite the paucity of extant clues, and even though his very existence is theoretical (albeit his existence is pretty clearly necessary by logic). If an amanuensis was involved in the creation of the original gospel, as seems all but certain, he was extremely well educated in the Greek classics, but apparently not the Latin (which are not quoted), so he was from the Eastern (not Western) half of the Roman Empire. And he was both artistic and meticulous in his work. His name almost certainly was John (Ἰωαννης), and thus it is his name that became associated with the gospel, not that of the Beloved Disciple, if the conclusion above is correct that the Beloved Disciple is most likely Lazarus.

That this gospel may be named after the amanuensis and not the eyewitness is more than mere hypothesis. It is clearly the case with the Gospel of Mark, named after the amanuensis John Mark who (as was noted above, quoting Eusebius’s reference to John the Presbyter’s remarks) put it together from Peter’s oral reminiscences. And it is also the case with the Gospel of Luke, whose author clearly states in the opening verses that his work was that of reading earlier gospels and collating his own version therefrom on behalf of his employer, whom he refers to as Theophilus (“Lover/Friend of God”) – the work of an amanuensis.

The best conclusion is that the amanuensis of the Fourth Gospel is the mysterious first-century figure known to us as John the Presbyter, sometimes called John the Elder. This John is the self-named author of II and III John, and almost certainly I John too, though probably jointly with Lazarus; there is also a surviving small fragment of a fourth letter. These letters bear very strong similarities in style, vocabulary, and subject to the gospel.

Papias was a student of John the Presbyter; his five-volume Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord, of which just quotations survive, is a main source for what little we know about the man. Eusebius in his History of the Church paraphrases Papias in a way that associates John the Presbyter with the disciples’ oral recollections of Jesus, which fits well with the scenario described above. Similarly, a ninth-century Latin text, the Codex Vaticanus Reg. lat. 14, says: Evangelium Iohannis manifestum et datum est ecclesiis ab Johanne adhuc in corpore constituto; sicut Papias nomine, Hieropolitanus, discipulus Johannis carus, in exotericis, id est in extremis quinque libris retulit; descripsit vero evangelium dictante Johanne recte verum. (“The Gospel of John was published and given to the churches by John [the Presbyter] when he was in the flesh; so a beloved disciple of John, Papias, named [by John as the bishop] of Hierapolis, recalled in Exotericis, the last of [his] five books; John in fact wrote the gospel down faithfully from the correct truth dictated to him.”)

There being no other strong (or weak) candidates, I feel confident enough about identifying as John the Presbyter the John to whom the early Christian leaders always and universally attributed the main authorship of the gospel that I have put his name on the title page of the gospel text, on page 99.

After the Beloved Disciple and amanuensis were no longer involved, the gospel manuscript was somehow passed to the very early Christian community in Pontus (on the south shore of the Black Sea, in what is now Turkey) and from them into the hands of John the Presbyter’s student Papias.

During its peregrinations, large blocs of material in the manuscript got inadvertently disordered. Since these displaced “partitions” generally contain a similar volume of writing, scholar Rudolf Bultmann proposed that the displacements occurred within a single manuscript that had been written on papyrus sheets of about the same length. As examples of these displacements: Chapter 2:1-12 (which begins “On the third day…”) clearly should go between 4:45 and 46b. The sixth chapter clearly should follow immediately on 4:54. Jesus telling the disciples to get up and leave with him at the end of chapter 14 clearly should be the end of the Last Supper discourse, not followed by two more chapters of it. The same “partition theory” may explain why the trial interview of Jesus by Caiaphas is missing from the text; it may have filled one page exactly, and that page went missing at around this time.

A reasonable hypothesis to explain the same-length displacements is that the original draft of the gospel was prepared in the form of a codex: not a scroll, but something like a modern book, with writing on both sides of pages that were then sewn together; a method that in the late first century was just beginning to appear. It would have been something very much like the manuscript from which comes Rylands P52, a surviving fragment (see the image of it on the back cover of this volume), which dates to no later than the early second century, and could have been produced as early as 90 C.E. (Another theory is that the earliest complete manuscript of the original gospel was composed on scrap ends cut from finished scrolls and sold relatively inexpensively.)

Given its age, it is not inconceivable that P52 comes from the manuscript of the original gospel, the writing of the amanuensis himself. The handwriting is neat and careful, but it lacks a professional secretary’s stylistic finesse and flourish, suggesting that it was not scribed with publication in mind but rather for use as a careful private-use working copy. Since P52 was found in Egypt, it could be hypothesized that the amanuensis, escaping Jerusalem around the time of its destruction in 70 C.E., had it with him in his travels that eventually took him to Patmos. Unfortunately, the verses it contains are not among those that would show signs of redaction, which makes it impossible to say whether this was the version prepared by the amanuensis or that produced by the later redactor.

However, Bultmann’s excellent conjecture does not answer all of the textual displacements. Within several lengthy passages which as a whole are complete (though not necessarily in their proper locations, per Bultmann) there are sentences and phrases that are also clearly badly disordered. The theory described above, involving the eyewitness and the amanuensis, could well account for this. Most likely, the gospel was originally drafted with multiple columns, and the collation of material in these columns into a united narrative was never completed by the amanuensis, and the later redactor finished this work, though often the insertions are not in what would seem the proper and intended location. Thus in this matter too we see here again signs of its incomplete state.

Eventually Papias acquired the papers of his former teacher, John the Presbyter, from the Christians in Pontus. Immediately after speaking about John as faithfully writing from dictation (as quoted above), the Codex Vaticanus Reg. lat. 14 goes on to say: Marcion haereticus cum ab eo fuisset improbatus eo quod contraria sentiebat, abjectus est. A Johanne is vero scripta vel epistolas ad eum pertulerat a fratribus qui in Ponto fuerunt. (“Marcion, the heretic, when he had been rejected by him [Papias] because he [Marcion] had suggested contrary matters, was expelled. He [Papias] had even brought him [Marcion] the writings and letters by John from the brothers who were in Pontus.”)

This tells us that Papias had vainly hoped Marcion might refine the roughed-out Gospel of John before expelling him for heresy. Indeed, Marcion was experienced with this kind of work, having turned out an extensively revised version of the Gospel of Luke. After failing to engage Marcion, Papias apparently next turned to his elder colleague Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. That he asked Marcion first, despite the theological differences that eventually caused them to split, suggests that Papias had serious reservations about how Polycarp would revise the gospel. The reservations may cohere with what we can see in the text was done to the gospel, as discussed throughout this work.

Tertullian and Irenæus (who studied with Polycarp) both confirm that he was a student of John the Apostle, which could be a reference to John the Presbyter; the two were often confused. Polycarp’s only known surviving work, a letter to the Christian community in Philippi, is of exactly the high Christology that we find in the final version of the Gospel of John. The letter is bristling with quotations and paraphrases from New Testament writings, reminiscent of the quotations inserted by the redactor into the gospel’s final version. What is more, David Trobisch has persuasively argued that Polycarp was a significant figure in the editing and finalizing of the New Testament into the form in which we have it today; he could well have given the Fourth Gospel a thorough makeover as part of this overall task.

This redactor revised the text (as left by the Beloved Disciple and the amanuensis), mainly to make it conform to the doctrine of the organized Christian religion, and to add phrases aimed at emphasizing the orthodoxy of a high Christology. It was at this point, for instance, that anything suggesting that Jesus was the bridegroom at Cana and that the Beloved Disciple was Jesus’s son/stepson (especially 19:27) was extracted. By now the nascent Jesus movement was establishing itself as a new religion separate from Judaism; even without the breakup of the Jewish core of the Jesus movement in the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70, the evidence is clear that the views held by that Jewish core were already on the wane in favor of the Pauline perspective featuring this “high Christology”. Thus, the redactor probably was in his own thinking simply taking what appeared to him as a rough draft and correcting what he assumed were mistakes, and making sharper and more specific various vague statements (that appeared to the redactor to be) about Jesus’s divinity. No doubt he believed that the eyewitness would have approved of these refinements. The redactor is also probably the one who smoothed out some abrupt textual transitions caused by displacement, by adding some (often clumsy) bridges; an example is how he filled a transitional gap at 4:46a.

This redactor may have been responsible for some or all of various glosses that provide Greek translations of Aramaic or Hebrew words. It is unlikely that they were added by the amanuensis, since often they are incorrect, calling Aramaic “Hebrew” and providing not-quite-correct translations into Greek. The amanuensis seems to have been at least acquainted with Aramaic, and in any case had the fluent Beloved Disciple to consult with; there is no reason to suppose this redactor knew any Aramaic.

The redactor certainly also added several “This was to fulfill” verses referring to passages in the Tanakh (Old Testament) – the kind of clumsy technique used in the Synoptic gospels; these additions are quite unlike the work of the amanuensis, who seamlessly and intricately integrated his references to the Tanakh into the text.

Probably soon after the redactor had done his work some copyist inserted the Lucan narrative at 7:53-8:11, since many early manuscripts of the gospel lack it altogether. Though an interesting episode, it clearly does not belong in this gospel.

The intention of this book is to peel away, layer by layer as it were, these post-Beloved-Disciple distortions of his gospel, until we reach something as close to his Ur-text, the original version, as possible – and then with considerable and conservative care, as much as is possible, completing the refinement of the original gospel that the Beloved Disciple did not do himself.