Jesus the Notzri and the Samaritan Resistance


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.

Today, the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” is universal. But there are no references to a village called Nazareth before 221 C.E. except in the New Testament – and later Christian writers apparently misunderstood Y’shuah ha Notzri in the earliest New Testament writings to say he was from a not-yet-existing village. Rather, he was apparently associated with the Notzrim, a group that expected a Messiah, and which opposed the Herodian petty kings, the Romans, and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. The name Notzrim refers to the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11:1, in which “a shoot” (נֵ֫צֶר, ne-tser) comes forth from the stump of Jesse, i.e., the “tree” of the Davidic monarchy was long since cut down, but a new shoot will grow from the stump, the coming Messiah.

In John 1 Jesus calls Nathanael “a son of Israel” – an implication of these hated Herodian kings, vassals to the despised Roman rulers; therefore, the term “son of Israel” suggests that Nathanael is at least sympathetic to the cause of the many who would overthrow those rulers. It also suggests that Nathanael was a Samaritan, people who had no more love for the Jewish priests who ruled daily life in Jerusalem than for the Romans; see the second paragraph following. Jesus’s joke also refers to Jacob, later renamed Israel, who used deceit to steal the blessing of their father from his elder brother Esau (Genesis 27); if Nathanael was as is suggested below the son of Joseph of Arimathæa and nephew of Simon ben Nathanael, both religious leaders in Jerusalem, then as himself a young religious leader in Samaria he certainly had not like Jacob stolen his father’s or uncle’s blessing! In sum, therefore, the remark to Nathanael is a mix of pride and shame for Israelite history.

In John 8:48 his Pharisee interlocutors call Jesus a Samaritan, and he doesn’t deny this! This comes right after 8:44, which which Jesus refers not to the “Satan” of much later Christian mythology, but a very human shaitan [hinderer] mentioned in the Tanakh, at Zechariah 3:1-2. These verses feature Joshua the High Priest, who served at the time of the laying of the foundation for the Second Temple, wherein this very conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees is taking place. Jesus evidently associated himself with Joshua: the two shared, of course, the same Hebrew/Aramaic name, and in Zechariah 3:8 God tells the High Priest about “my servant the Shoot”, referring to Isaiah 11:1, an expected Messiah with whom Jesus here also identifies himself. Standing with Joshua is the Messenger (Angel) of God, also equivalent to Jesus, who is also a Messenger of God in the theology of this gospel. The shaitan in this scene, leader of an opposing faction of priests in the Temple, is standing by Joshua ready to challenge him, but has no chance to do so because the Messenger rebukes him.

By “the Shoot” Zechariah was referring to a priest named Manasseh, grandson of High Priest Eliashib (grandson of Joshua), who had married a daughter of the governor of Samaria, Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s political rival. Nehemiah, who Zechariah portrays as the shaitan, threw Manasseh out of the Jerusalem Temple (Nehemiah 13:28, Josephus: Ant. 11:185-297). Manasseh went on to be high priest at the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim, which Sanballat (or a descendant by the same name; time may be telescoped here) erected.

Likewise in this passage Jesus rebukes these Pharisees, who, as descended from Nehemiah’s camp, he characterizes as sons of this same shaitan – in other words, as priests who oppose God’s will (λογος) and God’s appointed emissary, and who still cause trouble in the Temple now just as in Zechariah’s time. Jesus is thus hinting at the still virulent enmity and rivalry between Gerizim and Jerusalem; he sides here with the former. He may also be referring to the Notzrim , a group who hated alike the Jerusalem religious establishment, the Herodians, and Rome. These Pharisees must have been incensed by his comparing them to the shaitan in Zechariah’s prophecy, as they were by his earlier insinuation that they resembled the despicable King Ahaz (John 5:2-18).

Next, Pilate says “Behold the man!” (Ecce homo! in Latin) at John 19:5. This almost certainly is meant to echo Zechariah 6:12, “Look at the man whose name is Shoot, wherefrom he shall branch out and shall (re)build/(re)grow the Temple of YHWH,” and indirectly Isaiah 11:1, the Messianic prophecy of new life shooting up out of “the stump of Jesse”, all that is left of the Tree, the Davidic monarchy. It is possible that Pilate actually said “Look at the man!” and his hearers, especially Jesus’s disciples, heard in it echoes of Zechariah unintended by Pilate, who was not likely familiar with the Tanakh, though meeting often with the Jewish religious leadership may have changed that, as may also his wife Claudia Procula, who early Christians said was a follower of Jesus and friend of Mary his wife. It is far less likely that this phrase is here put into Pilate’s mouth by the author of the gospel, given his clear determination to be as faithful and accurate in his account as possible, and his quoted criticism of John Mark for failing to be so in his Gospel of Mark.

This verse again helps us see the intent in the gospel to paint Pilate as benignly disposed toward Jesus, since otherwise Pilate would never be given to say such a positive thing. As does the debate at 8:44 and 48, Pilate’s allusion here clearly associates Jesus with the Samaritans: Zechariah’s Shoot prophecies take the side of the Samaritans in their battle with the Jerusalem Temple establishment, who in this passage are conniving and implicitly antagonistic toward Pilate. The Shoot refers to a priest ejected from the Jerusalem Temple who became high priest in the newly established Samaritan Temple.

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” may come 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 as a replica of the one in Jerusalem, supported by the family of Sanballat with whom Jesus identified (as in his reference to Zechariah discussed above); James D. Purvis and Eric Meyers say the cultus at Elephantine was a mix of Yahwistic and Canaanite ways, and (as suggested by the Elephantine Papyrii) much influenced by Egyptian religion. Indeed, Jeremiah 44 describes the cultus at Migdol in detail, including worship of “the Queen of Heaven”, whom K. van der Toorn (Numen 39:1) says was similar to the Ugaritic goddess Anat and called Anath-Yahu.

This temple was destroyed by the Egyptians in 410 B.C.E., but another was built by Onias (or Honiah) IV in the first century B.C.E. in Leontopolis, near Magdalu, north of Heliopolis. According to Josephus (Ant. 13:3:2,14:8:2), this came after Judah Maccabee denied Onias the high priesthood in Jerusalem. It was demolished by Rome in 73 C.E., shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, to prevent it from harboring insurrectionists. Hanan Eshel (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State) suggests Onias IV may have been the Teacher of Righteousness often referred to in the Qumran texts, and some classical Jewish literature, such as the Yuhasin, associates his temple with the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim; indeed, Rabbi Ben Abrahamson says Samaria at times had alliances with Egypt.

All this points to the good possibility that Jesus and Mary had some connections with an anti-Rome, anti-Jerusalem Samaria/Leontopolis alliance perhaps affiliated with the Notzrim. In any case, the several passages in this gospel, especially the resurrection, suggest both Jesus and Mary were reasonably familiar with the Egyptian language.

Mary Magdalene the Oracular Priestess

Gospel of John Second Edition

What follows is a addition to the Second Edition of 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 Magdalene’s duties as (apparently high) priestess at the Samaritan Temple may have been not only sacred-sexual but oracular, since John the Presbyter’s text mentions several matters that he, as a literary Greek, would have known were also the case with the typical Mediterranean oracle, especially in Greece. Let us, for example, consider the most famous, the Oracle at Delphi.

The Pythia (the oracular priestess) muttered her mysteries (the English words come from the same root) at Mount Parnassus, near the Castalian Spring, just as Mary’s sacred duties were at Mount Gerizim, near Jacob’s Spring. Indeed, Mary in John 4 may have been collecting water for oracular purposes, which would underscore Jesus’s reference to her “five husbands”, to the deities invoked at Gerizim. Note that Parnassus is in the region of Greece called Æonia, which on page 576 is associated with Jesus’s use of the term “Æon”.

The adyton (“inaccessible” in Greek, the place at Delphi where the oracles were given) was presided over by five όσιοι (“holy ones”). It is no longer known who or what these were, but they were probably gods or god-avatars; they sound much like Origen’s “five gods” (page 294) explanation of Jesus’s comment about “five husbands” (John 4:18). Besides, if having five όσιοι was the typical arrangement at these oracles that were so common in the Mediterranean region, this may explain why Origen said five gods instead of the actual seven (II Kings 17:24-34).

Every month on the seventh day (because Apollo was born on the seventh day of the month Thargelion) the Pythia would ceremonially purify herself by bathing naked in the Castalian Spring, and then drink from the holy waters of the Kassotis, nearer the temple. Jesus and Mary likewise met when they ceremonially bathed naked at the beginning of the Jewish year (pages 260-65), and then they met again to drink from the waters of Jacob’s Well on the eve of the seventh day.

Diodorus Siculus (16:26:4) says the Pythia was traditionally a beautiful virgin, married to the god, likely meaning that her sexual activities were reserved as ceremonial. Other sources suggest she may have been of any age and background, the important factor being her oracular ability. Plutarch, who served as a priest at Delphi, tells how Maenads (female dévotées of Dionysos) held ceremonies in the Korykion Cave on Parnassus, surely of a sexual nature; he adds that his dear friend the Delphic priestess Clea was also involved with the Dionysian rites, suggesting a friendly cooperation, a coordination of rituals. Mary as oracular priestess would have been likewise central to the sexual rites at Gerizim, and Jesus is frequently associated in this gospel with Dionysos. Jesus in early iconography is often depicted as Dionysos or Apollo; Apollo too is closely associated with the Delphic oracle.

There was a priesthood associated with the Pythia, as there was a priesthood in the Samaritan Temple. There were also “prophets” at Delphi, whose work may have included interpretation of the oracles. This gives new meaning to Mary saying “I see you are a prophet” (4:19).

Diodorus also says at Delphi people would often experience a frenzied state, and even convulsions and trances, in a narrative that brings to mind Celsus’s description of Mary (page 601).

Plutarch says the giving of the oracle would be occasionally accompanied by “a fragrance and a breeze, as if the adyton were exuding the sweetest and most expensive of perfumes from a spring” (Moralia, 437c). And the setting of Jacob’s Spring is clearly scented by flowers, and Mary is associated with perfume (12:3).

Plutarch mentions too the prominent ancient image of the letter Ε at Delphi, and in a Platonic-style dialogue he and his friends discuss its meaning, which was at the time much debated. Most interesting in this context is that this letter represents in Greek script the number five (the five όσιοι ? Origen’s “five gods” again?), and as a word its meaning is “thou art”, the second person singular of the verb “to be”, equivalent to the Hindu तत् त्वम् असि (tat tvam asi; “that thou art”, that the individual soul, atman, is one with the universal soul, Brahman), similar to Jesus’s hope that “they may all be one” in God, through the Λογος, just as Jesus and God already are (7:21-23).

The Tanakh has several references to such oracular divination, including at Deuteronomy 18:11 and Isaiah 8:19, 29:4. Even Paul seems to describe this phenomenon at Romans 8:26-27. This means of divination was found everywhere in these eastern Mediterranean lands, and indeed in the entire world at that time. Jesus, Mary, and first-century readers of this gospel both Jew and gentile, would have been familiar with it. While there is nothing directly linking the Samaritan Temple to it, we know that it accepted Hellenistic influence, as discussed on page 597, and so, especially to cater to the considerable inflow of Greeks and Romans in the region, an oracle may well have been among the Temple’s offerings.

Second Edition of THE GOSPEL OF JOHN On Sale!

The Second Edition of The Gospel of John is now on sale.

This translation is the first in two thousand years to attempt a restoration of the original version of the gospel text. Several portions are out of proper sequence in the familiar version, probably from when the manuscript was transported from Jerusalem to Pontus and then Ephesus. After that, the leaders of the nascent Christian religion cut passages out that conflicted with their dogma of Jesus as a Roman-style godling, and they also added other passages.

Gospel of John Second EditionThis is a fresh translation, besides, from the original Greek. It is also unique among translations because the extremely early Aramaic version of the Gospel of John was also constantly reviewed, and sometimes that version is the basis for the translation, rather than the Greek. This Aramaic version is so old that some Christian denominations consider it the original. And remember, Jesus and his friends all spoke Aramaic!

Besides, there are some six hundred pages of introduction and commentaries to guide the reader through the intricacies of this text. It gives the deeper meanings of words and discusses their implications. It gives the famous classical works that the gospel paraphrases – Homer’s Odyssey, Plato’s Republic, and Euripides’s Bacchae, amongst others.

What’s new in the Second Edition?

Several of the blogs below will give you a taste of the additional material – what Jesus and Mary were really saying to each other outside the tomb of resurrection, for instance – and it was definitely not “Do not touch me!”

Click on “Books by James David Audlin” in the black bar above, and navigate to “Nonfiction by James David Audlin”. There, you will find an introduction to this masterwork and links for ordering your own copy.

Jesus and Dionysos

This blog entry discusses some of the clearly deliberate parallels made by the author of the Gospel of John to the god Dionysos (Bacchus to the Romans). These are additions I will be inserting into the commentaries of The Gospel of John, which is my recently published restoration of the original text of that work. You will find ordering information here. I welcome feedback on this and all blog posts!


In reference to the miracle of the water-turned-wine at Cana:

To any first-century reader this miracle would have been clearly meant to cast Jesus not just as like Dionysos, but even as superior to him. Didorus Siculus (Library of History, 3:66) and Pliny the Elder (Natural History, 2:106) both mention springs of water, at locations sacred to Dionysos, that on festival days would miraculously produce wine. One of these is known from Corinth in the fifth century B.C.E. (Campbell Bonner: “A Dionysiac Miracle at Corinth”, Am. Journal of Archæology 33 [1929]). Pausanius (Description of Greece, 6:26) tells of another from Ellis, saying that during one Dionysian festival the priests would seal three empty jars within the temple in the presence of the local citizens, and in the morning they would be filled with wine. Jesus here performs a similar miracle in the presence of the locals, but he outdoes the miracle of Ellis with six jars, not three, and instantaneously.

In reference to Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate:

Dionysos like Jesus was put on trial before a hardhearted ruler determined to maintain control over the people despite the rise of an ecstatic new cultus; indeed, the names are quite similar: Pentheus and Pontius. Jesus, like Dionysos in Bacchæ, by Euripides, also sees the ruler

ὃς θεομαχεῖ τὰ κατ᾽ ἐμὲ καὶ σπονδῶν ἄπο
ὠθεῖ μ᾽, ἐν εὐχαῖς τ᾽ οὐδαμοῦ μνείαν ἔχει.
ὧν οὕνεκ᾽ αὐτῷ θεὸς γεγὼς ἐνδείξομαι
πᾶσίν τε Θηβαίοισιν.

…as one who struggles against God, pushing off
Any concord with me. His prayers have none of me.
Thus I will show him that I am God,
And all Thebes as well.

In both Euripides’s play and the gospel the two engage in a deep conversation on godhead, power, revolution, and the nature of truth. In the myth, Dionysos is killed and then resurrected from the dead by his father-god Zeus (or Jupiter, a name that carried Jewish implications; it at least sounded to Jews as הי-Πατερ, Yah-Pater, God the Father, and may in fact even have come from such linguistic roots). His dévotés communed with him by ingesting bread and wine said to have been transubstantiated into his sacred flesh and blood.

In the religions of Dionysos and Demeter and in the Mystery Religions of Inanna and Cybele, among others, the consort of the Goddess, made by her the Shepherd of the Land (cf. John 10:1-16), is publicly humiliated, stripped, and beaten (cf. John 19:1-5), and then killed, in some versions as an expiation for the sins of the people and in others for continued fertility. In most versions of this archetypal myth he comes to life again.

In reference to the miracle of the seeds turning into fruiting plants, from the Egerton papyrus:

As with the miracle at Cana, with which this event forms an inclusio, there is an implication here of the Dionysian cultus that would have been immediately apparent to any first-century reader. Dionysos is often associated with this kind of miracle. In the seventh of the Homeric Hymns, for instance, he reveals his godliness to the Tyrrhenian pirates by causing grape vines to grow around the mast, already heavy with fruit. Sophocles, in Thyestes, speaks of the holy vine growing and fruiting within a single day, and Euphorion explains that this miracle was caused by Dionysos’s worshippers executing cultic dances and singing choral hymns (Fragmenta, 118). Similar miracles took place in several other places, most notably at Parnassus, according to Walter Otto in his book Dionysus.

In reference to Jesus speaking of the greater dimension beyond this physical universe as the Æon:

Æonia is a name for part of the ancient Greek land of Bœotia, including the mountains Helicon and Cithæron that were sacred to the Muses. This bucolic region is the birthplace of Semele, the mother of Dionysos, who died and lived again like Jesus, and who was remembered with a sacred meal of bread and wine. Semele’s father, the hero and ruler Cadmus, introduced the Greek alphabet, and abdicated in favor of his grandson Pentheus, who is the equivalent to Pontius Pilate; sought as ruler to outlaw the ecstatic religion of Dionysus, and in his trial of the god, as related by Euripides, the two have a profound philosophical discussion reminiscent of the one between Jesus and Pilate.

All of this would be well known to the amanuensis of this volume, John the Presbyter. He was a Greek, associated by Eusebius with the city of Ephesus, and tradition suggests the gospel was composed there; John also received a vision while on the island of Patmos that became his Book of Revelation. John may have known Æonia from his travels, or even originally have been from there (nothing more than what has just been said is known about his life). In writing about the Æon he may have pictured the Æonian hills, what Milton called those “Fortunate fields and groves and flowery vales, Thrice happy isles” (Paradise Lost, III, 568). Elysium, the “Elysian Fields”, the after-death abode of the blessed, was found according to the classical Greek authors to the west, fronting the sea, which could be based on Bœotia, which faces out toward the expanse of the western Mediterranean.

Whether or not he had seen it, the highly literate John the Presbyter surely knew from his reading the glorious depictions of this land in Homer, Pindar, and Virgil. And therefore a land associated with life after death, a land celebrated not just in literature but for the very birth of literature (its mountains sacred to the Muses and the introduction of writing) would be significant to him. Nor would he have overlooked the connections between two spiritual mountains (Helicon and Cithæron, and Sinai and Gerizim), Semele and Mary mother of Jesus, Pentheus and Pontius, and most of all Dionysos son of Jupiter, הי-Πατερ, Yah-Pater, God the Father, and Jesus, son of God the Father.

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.

The Whirlwind and the Dove: Commentary on John 1:32

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


The word περιστερα (peristera, “dove”) that we find in the text is very close in pronunciation to another word, πρηστηρ (prēstēr, “whirlwind”), and I believe there was considerable deliberation on the part of the amanuensis, probably in consultation with the eyewitness, as to which should be written. 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.

The word πνευμα can mean “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit” depending on context, and the context here, that it came down from the sky, suggests the meaning is “wind”. (Still, to remind readers of these other meanings, the translation retains all three.) We know from experience that a wind out of the sky often does take the form of a whirlwind; the text clearly makes sense with that reading, since there is no more reason to expect a wind to take the form of a dove than for it to take the form of a barn or a banana or the Beatles. Besides being unlike a mighty wind, a fragile dove would not be able to withstand a mighty wind 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 seals the matter by expressly saying the πνευμα, the wind (and not a dove), descended onto Jesus.

This provisional reconstruction of the Beloved Disciple’s original intent also makes considerable 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 emphasizes the same 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 רוּחַ [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.

The baptism of Jesus took place at the Jordan River (1:28), and a whirlwind at that location would immediately call to the mind of any first-century Jew reading this account 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 the Exodus). Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then 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. We have an older prophet (Elijah/John) at the close of his ministry ordaining 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 אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (“I Am/Will Be What I Am/Will Be”), it is God’s Name (see the Introduction). The text is drawing a strong comparison between Jesus and both Elijah and Moses; this clearly tells us the gospel is directed at least at a Jewish audience.

As presaged above, there are two most 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 very 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 baptism – 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.

There is a third, less obvious conclusion, which is that since the text in effect says both “dove” and “wind” (in the received text of 1:32 John says, literally translated, “‘I have beheld the wind descending in the form of a dove from the sky, and it remained upon him.’”), both were intended. In other words, this may be an intended double entendre, and both πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) are suggested, rather like υσσωπος (javelin) and υσσως (hyssop) appear to have both been intended in 19:34.

First, this double entendre would be well-rooted in the Tanakh. Psalm 55:6-8 refers to a dove flying away from the dangerous whirlwind. This and other passages (e.g., Genesis 8, where the dove is associated with the subsiding of waters and wind, as here at the baptism, and Jeremiah 48:28) portray the dove in connection with a sanctuary in the wilderness from one’s enemies, a theme common to John, Jesus, and this gospel. And significantly, 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 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 baptizing, which Gul. Tyrius described as also abounding in dragons, 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 baptism – 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. In this gospel, every time she appears there are strong 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 to the shore and helped Jesus out of the water, and “remained” with him for life, as his wife.

Strengthening this possibility 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 was also the first to declare him such after his literal crucifixion-and-resurrection (20:18). Moreover, Mary watched as Jesus died on the cross (19:25) and was first witness to his resurrection, which would form an inclusio if she watched his symbolic death-and-resurrection here. Another inclusio is formed by Jesus being reunited with Mary in a garden right after his resurrection in chapter 20 just as he will be reunited with the woman he glimpsed during the baptism at a gardenlike well, in chapter 4, very soon after this symbolic resurrection of baptism. With so many clear correspondences being drawn between John and Mary, the possibility that Mary was present for the baptism of Jesus must be considered.

We know that Lazarus was at this time a disciple of John, so Mary, his mother, could have come from Sychar to visit her son, who was at the time of the baptism still a disciple of John, and thus certainly there to witness it. Mary may even have come to be herself baptized by John, to recollect her Jewish heritage after serving as a Samaritan priestess, to have her past “washed away” through the baptism. If so, then not only Jesus but Mary too would have been naked for the baptism, as was customary (and still is today in the mikvah), for this was 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. At the crucifixion and resurrection Mary would again have been nigh naked herself, since the tradition then was for a grieving person to rend his or her clothes into pieces.

It is not inconceivable that Mary was assisting John in the baptism ritual; as a former Temple priestess this would be a familiar role for her to take. 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 throw around him a fresh white linen robe afterwards. 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 unclothing it, washing it (equivalent to the baptism here), and then dressing it again in a takhrikhin, a fresh white linen wrapping. And if the great preacher John felt he was not worthy of unlacing Jesus’s sandals and helping him undress, and these tasks fell instead to Mary, then Mary must already have been in a very special capacity as regards Jesus; at the least she would be such as a Temple priestess.

The Gospel of Philip may provide some support for this possible involved presence of Mary at the baptism of Jesus. (I agree with others that this noncanonical gospel appears to have preserved some oral traditions; it most decidedly should not be derided as Gnostic, for it portrays a very physical, real-world Jesus, and it speaks of this mundane earth as God’s creation, quite real and good.) At verse 82 it closely associates baptism and marriage: “The baptism has the resurrection [with] the Atonement 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 the disciples as his children) when it says of the nakedness of the bride (verse 131): “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”. And, in the recently published fragment from the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, Jesus not only calls Mary “my wife”, but says, “As for me, 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 that his marriage to Mary is part of the Messianic image that he hopes to convey; applied to the baptism, their meeting at his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the river would be perfectly matched by their meeting again following his very real death and resurrection.

Dove imagery is universal in the spiritual traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, and it 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 Samaritans worshipped a dove on Mount Gerizim, where Mary was a priestess. He eventually dismisses it, 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, is probably derived from Summat (“Dove”), and 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 has demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semitic nations, often closely associated with love, and also symbolizes innocence, gentleness, and holiness. So, ultimately, in the double entendre of πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) we have masculine and feminine, god and goddess, anointing this first encounter of Jesus and Mary.

If this theory that Mary was actively present at the baptism is true, then it must be asked why there is nothing about it in the gospel. It may be that the amanuensis meant to add it to the telling of the baptism, but never got to it; we know that the original version of the gospel was never completed. It may also be that 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 other similarly “romantic” passages stand with but minimal changes. The compositional problem may have been because the author has put the description of the baptism 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.

Should this hypothesis of Mary at the baptism 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 baptism was a symbol dying, 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 baptized herself, and/or to assist John, then likely Jesus took notice of Mary, whom Lazarus would have told his teacher was his mother, and that would have led to the arranging of their meeting in the next episode, at the well in Sychar. This is, of course, pure speculation, but it would connect this scene closely with the next one, at Jacob’s Well, and explain why this scene is immediately followed by that one, and then the wedding. It would also help explain the disciples’ surprise in 4:27, since she is not entirely unfamiliar to them!

“I, I, Speak I With”: Commentary on John 4:26

This blog entry discusses the conversation between Jesus and Mary at a well in Samaria, specifically in John 4:26. This is a revision of a section of my commentaries to The Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The book is available in hardcover and paperback; you will find ordering information here.


Here for the first time in the gospel Jesus reveals his being Messiah. That he does so to this woman tells us she is significant, and not merely a minor, nameless character who does not appear again. It forms an inclusio with chapter 20, where he reveals himself at his resurrection to the same woman, Mary, not just saying he is Messiah, but being fully realized as Messiah.

This verse is another deliberate double entendre. It is usually, and not incorrectly, translated as Jesus confirming her guess that he is Messiah, rendered in this translation as “I am (he), the one who is speaking to you.” In this sense he is referring to himself, at least as a vehicle for the message, for in this gospel his role as Messiah is as the chosen spokesperson (prophet, נְבִיא in Hebrew, προφητης in Greek) for God.

However, Jesus will use this odd syntactical construction many times in this gospel, which means (given an author for whom every detail is carefully chosen) it is significant. Jesus is instead, or also, saying to her the phrase ΈΓΩ ΈΙΜΙ, “I AM”. This is the Greek rendering of one of the seven most sacred names for God in the Torah, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, which is often translated “I Am What I Am”, but literally means “I Shall Be What I Shall Be”, though the Hebrew implies the past and present tenses too. In this sense, Jesus is referring not to himself but to God, except insofar as God communicates through him. He here speaks like the prophets of centuries past, who often spoke for God, in the first person, to give the sense that God was talking through the prophet. This sense is rendered in the translation as “I AM (is) the one who is speaking to you.” This gospel presents Jesus as Messiah in the Jewish sense, as an emissary from God, who as was traditional in classical cultures, is treated by those who receive him not as an emissary but as, in effect, the presence of the sending potentate – in this case, God. It is not to say Jesus equals God, as Christian dogma was later to claim, since the gospel sees him as wholly human, but rather that the presence and words of Jesus were and are to be taken as the presence and words of God who sent him as an emissary.

As discussed above [see the book], there are a lot of inclusio connections between this passage and 20:1-18. There is another that must be considered.

In chapter 20 in the Peshitta (the very early Aramaic version of the New Testament), Mary refers to Jesus thrice as ܡܳܪܝ (mary; “master”, “lord”, “husband”, “God”), in verses 2, 13, and 15; in these verses she doesn’t recognize Jesus standing before her. In the same passage Jesus refers to her once, at verse 15, as ܐܰܢ݈ܬ݁ܬ݂ܳܐ in Aramaic (“woman” or, especially, “wife”; the word in the Greek text is γυνη), and in verse 16 by her name. After that she almost certainly calls him mary again in verse 16, but that appears changed by the redactor (see the commentary to that verse), and she does speak of him as mary in verse 18.

In chapter 4 in the Peshitta, Mary refers to Jesus thrice as ܡܳܪܝ (mary), in verses 11, 15, and 19; in these verses she doesn’t recognize Jesus standing before her as Messiah. In the same passage Jesus refers to her once, at verse 21, as ܐܰܢ݈ܬ݁ܬ݂ܳܐ in Aramaic (“woman” or, especially, “wife”). But, in the standard text in neither Greek nor Aramaic, Jesus does not address her by her name. In this encounter by the well Jesus certainly knew her name, having learned it after the baptism from either Lazarus or John, and having come here to the well specifically to meet her again, because he wants her for his wife. Yet the close similarities in how the two conversations are structured force us to consider the possibility.

The redactor clearly has gone to some lengths to remove any hint that the marriage at Cana is Jesus’s own marriage to Mary. As discussed elsewhere, this scene at the well is separated from the wedding, and any clues as to the identity of the bridal couple are removed from the latter. Here also, I believe, the name “Mary” is removed, leaving the female character nameless and (apparently) never to reappear in the gospel, something very odd in a gospel where every detail is carefully managed.

If indeed in the original version Jesus did call her by name, it would be – as in chapter 20 – in the culminating moment of the conversation; that is, in this verse 26. In this moment when Jesus reveals himself as Messiah, it would be a finer moment if at the same time he reveals that he knows her name; he has already made it clear he knows she is a Temple priestess.

The Greek for what Jesus says in this verse, Εγω ειμι ο λαλων σοι, is reasonably clear in meaning, as discussed above. The Aramaic, ܐܶܢܳܐ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܕ݁ܰܡܡܰܠܶܠ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܥܰܡܶܟ݂ܝ, is not quite so clear. Literally, it translates as: “I I speak I with.” By adding a few words in parentheses to clarify the meaning implicit in the Aramaic, it is somewhat more readable: “I, I (who) speak with (you); (it is) I.” Still, this is not only confusing in English; even in Aramaic the grammatical structure of this sentence is rather unfocused, mainly because of the repeated personal pronoun at the beginning. However, if Mary’s name is added, it grows much clearer: ܐܶܢܳܐ ܡܳܪܝ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܕ݁ܰܡܡܰܠܶܠ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܥܰܡܶܟ݂ܝ (“I, Mary, I [who] speak with [you], [it is] I.”) That suggests in turn that the Greek might have originally read, Εγω ειμι Μαριαμ ο λαλων σοι (“I AM, Mary, who is speaking to you”).

Neither Aramaic nor Greek in the first century used punctuation; what punctuation you see in all of the translations herein, including the phrase above, was added because it is necessary in modern English. The lack of punctuation in the original can cause some ambiguity in meaning, and that ambiguity may well have been intentional. Adding to the ambiguity, the word ܡܳܪܝ could be understood as her name “Mary”, and also as mary, meaning “lord”, “master”, “teacher”, “husband”, and even “God”. With these factors in mind, Jesus in this sentence could be understood as saying:

a: “I am (your) lord/master (mary) (who) is speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus confirming himself to her as Messiah;

b: “I am (your) husband (mary), I (who) am speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus confirming the aspect of their conversation in which they subtly explore the possibility of marriage and agree to it;

c: “I AM, Mary, is speaking with (you).” This would be God speaking through Jesus to say Jesus is Messiah and that God, I AM, is speaking to Mary through him;

d: “I am (Messiah), Mary, I (who) am speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus answering personally (i.e., not God speaking through Jesus, but Jesus on his own) Mary’s comment about expectation of a Messiah; and even

e: “I AM / I am Mary, I speaking with (you). This would be God and/or Jesus speaking as Mary on Jesus’s lips stating that, since in God all humanity is one (John 17:23), then Jesus and Mary are not only one flesh in marriage but they are also one with each other and all humanity in God. Far from affirming opposition between Jew and Samaritan, this is Jesus affirming a perfect unity of all Creation.

Or, as I believe, not one but all of the above are implicit. Jesus here with one word, “Mary”, expresses his entire theology – just as he will again at 20:16 with the same name.

Mary and her Formerly Dead Husband

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


After thirty-seven years of work, my nineteenth book is coming out – and this is a special one!

Many of you have let me know your appreciation for the blogs below, which are “teasers” from the commentaries included in this work. If you’ve read them, you’ll want to read the whole thing. If you haven’t read them, enjoy them below, and know that there’s MUCH more of the same in this book.

So what is this nineteenth and special published book?

The Gospel of John is one of the world’s greatest works of literature, modelled on classical Greek philosophy and drama, but soaring above these in its own new genre. It was itself less successfully imitated later.

And John’s is the only narrative gospel with a legitimate claim to composition by an eyewitness to Jesus – the anonymous Beloved Disciple. But the original work was never completed. Others later edited the manuscript to suit the doctrines of the new Christian religion, even adding some spurious new material. Making things worse, much of the book got badly disordered over time. Simply put, the gospel as we have it today is a mess.

This translation undoes the damage to restore – not the unfinished original text, but the masterpiece the Beloved Disciple and his amanuensis sought to compose. By so doing, we gain a sharply drawn first-hand account of Jesus of Nazareth. Here we encounter a vividly real man sent by God to urge humanity to accept God’s will – described in a narrative set down before creeds and doctrines repackaged him as God incarnate.

For a world that has replaced truth with lies, spirituality with commerce, wisdom with hatred, this is a work that gives us pure, undiluted sacred wisdom as shared with us by a man many call the greatest who has ever lived.

Includes Introduction and Commentaries that burnish this masterpiece for the modern reader.

Several of the blog entries below are taken from the Introduction, giving you a taste of what this book has to say.

The book is available now in hardcover IF YOU CLICK HERE and also in softcover IF YOU CLICK HERE.

And either you can watch here or THIS PAGE for a link to the e-book editions as well, which will be published very soon.