Do Your Homework First!

Do Your Homework First:

An Oft-Stated Scholarly Factoid about John 3:3 is Not True

 James David Audlin


The following text comprises material from the upcoming new edition of The Gospel of  John Restored and Translated, Volume II, as published by Editores Volcán Barú.

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

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

 GOJ-front 2vol II

The Greek word ανωθεν (anōthen) can mean “from above” or “anew”/“again”. The usual scholarly understanding is that while the references to the πνευμα and the חוּר work equally well in both Greek and Hebrew (since both words have the triple meaning of wind/breath/spirit), the double entendre presented by ανωθεν as meaning either “from above” or “again” only exists in Greek, so this passage would suggest that Jesus and Nicodemus held their conversation in that language. The usual interpretation goes on to say that Jesus intended the word to be taken in the former sense, but that Nicodemus misunderstood him to mean the latter sense, as the next verse shows. This standard explanation of the text is correct, so far as it goes. Though, to be sure, as is often noted, certain sects of modern Christianity still misunderstand the word ανωθεν ironically, just as did Nicodemus evidently did – and thus they still promote today a “born again” theology.GOJ-two vol back vol i lulu

However, it is not correct to say that a double entendre is only possible in Greek, as scholars (Bart Ehrman, for instance, in Jesus, Interrupted) often say. The very early Aramaic versions of the gospel (both the Peshitta and the older Syriac Sinaiticus [the text is missing in the Curetonian Gospels]) have Jesus saying one must be born ܡܢ ܕܪܝܫ (men d’riysh) – the first word, of course, means “from”, but the second word, ܪܝܫ (minus the suffix), is slippery in its significations, as is ανωθεν in Greek, but with a somewhat different range of meanings. In I Corinthians 12:21 it means “the head” (i.e., the body part). In Galatians 4:9,19 it means “again”. It can also mean “origin”, “keystone”, “cornerstone”, and even “end/outcome” in the sense of the Spanish word exito. It also appears in the Aramaic Torah in Genesis 1:1 with a prefix, ܒܪܫܝܬ (b’rishiyt), equivalent to the highly evocative Hebrew noun רֵאשִׁית (reshith; see pages 521 and 933), meaning “in/from the beginning”, with a similar use in the Aramaic versions of Mark 1:1 – and of course in John 1:1, where it is the very first word, consciously recalling Genesis 1:1, taking the place of εν αρχη in the Greek version of the gospel.

All that said, the gospel’s Aramaic text suggests a number of possible interpretations, that we must be born: a: “from the head”, in the sense of ܒܪܫܝܬ in Genesis 1:1, implying that we must be born (or reborn) as a part of God’s Logos, presumably by our decision to align our words and deeds with God’s λογος, God’s overall plan for the universe, so we can enter into the Æon; b: “again”; c: “the beginning”, implying the beginning of the world or of our lives; or d: “the outcome”, implying God’s overall plan again. When the Presbyter was in his mind selecting a Greek word that carries the multiple meanings of ܕܪܝܫ, he wisely chose ανωθεν, whose range of meanings enables the Greek text to record Nicodemus’s confusedly thinking Jesus was saying “again”. But scholars who announce that the ανωθεν pun only works in Greek are guilty of sloppy scholarship. Before you say it, check it!

Option a makes the best sense. Since the word ܒܪܫܝܬ is the Aramaic equivalent to εν αρχη in this gospel, which always refers to the Λογος, I take the phrase here as referring to the Logos as well. Jesus is, I conclude, telling Nicodemus that we must be “born into” the Logos, that we must fully accept it and become a part of it: hence, in the Greek version, we must be “born from above”. Whatever Jesus’s actual intended meaning here, as mediated by the gospel author, he clearly is pointing at our need to be born into the realm of God, the Æon, the greater universe, heaven, wherein is God and those whom God draws thither because they have chosen to live in accordance with the Λογος, the divine plan/order or Logos, mediated by Jesus. Jesus is not saying we should be born again, physically, from our mother, but born anew, in the Logos, with our spouse! This is a reference to the bridal chamber theology that pervades this gospel; cf. pages 384-89, 932-33, and 1009-13.

Both the Greek and Aramaic words are found in this book’s reëstablishment of the original text, and the translation of the Aramaic follows the lead of John 1:1, which the Aramaic of this verse clearly implies.

In conclusion we see that, while in Greek the double entendre is that εν αρχη can mean either “from above” or “again”, in Aramaic a similar double entendre is possible: the word ܒܪܫܝܬ clearly is meant by Jesus as referring to the logical priority (αρχη) of the Logos, but Nicodemus could take the Aramaic word, too, as meaning “again”, as in Galatians 4:9,19. Note also that Jesus speaks of ανωθεν to Pilate in 19:11, forming an inclusio with this passage.

Early in these commentaries it should be noted that we always must approach these early Aramaic versions of the gospel with care. Yes, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, but Galilean Aramaic was somewhat different from this later church Aramaic. These Aramaic versions may have been translations from the Greek (as Western scholars insist) or original texts of which the Greek is the copy (as Eastern scholars aver), and it can only be guessed whether they are closer to the original manuscript of this gospel than the Greek. But they are in Aramaic, and Jesus spoke Aramaic, at least with everyone except foreigners.

This discussion raises the question whether Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in Greek or Aramaic. They were both Jews, and thus one would expect them to be more likely to speak in either Aramaic or even Hebrew. Still, this Nicodemus, certainly if he was Nicodemus ben Gorion (see the biographical notes beginning on page 480) was a seasoned, well-educated, and worldly man at the same time that he was a “teacher of Israel” and a Sanhedrin member, and spoke Greek as easily as his native tongues. To support this, it may be noted that his name as given in the text is a Greek variant on an Aramaic name. And Jesus (despite the common Christian belief that he came out of very humble origins and had little if any education) was the same: he was from a well-connected patrician family, and also was a quite well-educated rabbi. I conclude that the conversation could have been in either language, and the two men could just as easily have slipped back and forth between the two, as I have many times heard multilingual residents of Canada, Europe, and Latin America do.


Jesus’s Æon Found in Western Greece


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

The word “Æon” (αιον) is the word used in the Gospel of John (and elsewhere in early Christian texts) as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word םלוע (olam) and the Aramaic word ܥܠܡܐ (almah). These two Semitic words literally mean “concealed” or “hidden”. In temporal references the concept is of a length of time rendered indefinite by virtue of proportion: a time period so long that the end of it is hidden/concealed from the vantage point of its beginning moment, and the present moment as well. It could thus be rendered into English as “time immemorial” or “time out of mind”; the New World Translation renders it well as “indefinitely lasting” in English, and tiempo indefinido in Spanish. The term often carries the suggestion of everlasting (at least in the past or future), or even of eternal (beyond linear chronological time altogether; i.e., the kairos). Even in non-temporal references it can suggest “hidden”, as in Isaiah 60:19-20 it refers to the spiritual light of our inner being.

The Hebrew (עַלְמָה; almah) and Aramaic (ܥܠܝܡܗ; alymah) word for “maiden” or “young woman”, plus its equivalents for “stripling” or “young man”, may go back to the same root meaning of “concealed” or “hidden”, on the logic that young men or women who are marriageable but not yet married are kept back by their parents as hidden from those who would seek to steal their sexual potential, and as valuable in the arrangements of advantageous marriages. However, Koehler and Baumgartner in their Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament trace the word to an Aramaic root ܥܠܡ (alma) that refers to youthful vigor, and associate it with a cognate in Ugaritic that means “to be agitated” and one in Arabic that means “to be filled with passionate desire”. I suspect both derivations may be valid; parents may want to keep hidden at home their teenaged children when they are overwhelmed with sexual hormones.

In the Gospel of John the term “Æon” is not for a physical place or chronological time, but a state of being that is beyond mere time and space, beyond mere being, a term not unlike nirvana in Buddhist theology. It is often used with a meaning similar to “heaven” (ουρανος, which also means “sky”), but not in the sense that we enter the Æon at death, but rather that, by living in accordance with the Λογος, the divine plan/order or Word, mediated by Jesus, we enter the Æon immediately, while still in this life, and thus at death we do not simply cease to exist, but continue to be part of the Æon. We enter it by loving all life, by recognizing our oneness with all being, which is also the essence of compassion in Buddhism. So it is heaven when we choose to live in harmony with God’s Λογος, plan, being one with all God’s creatures (17:21) for by doing so God draws us thither, into the Æon. This loving is particularly accomplished by becoming completely one with our spouse: through sexual desire one conjoins with one’s partner, and thus embodies the image of Elohim, God understood as including both male and female as one. Thus, in the term “Æon” there is the sense of the Semitic root that refers to sexual desire. We see this acted out at John 20:16-17 (see the commentaries).

Therefore, the term “Æon” is used to refer to the greater existence beyond corporeal existence. This κοσμος, the physical universe, is bounded – in three physical dimensions and one temporal dimension. Scientists postulate other universes with other numbers of physical and temporal dimensions, and medicine men and women often are able to spirit-travel in these other universes. But these, too, are still κοσμος, finite, bounded existence. The Æon is transcendent, beyond all possible bounded universes, but incorporating them: in the Æon, every possible bounded universe is but an infinitesimal dot without dimensions. Within these dots, time is χρονος, the slow tick-tock time of finitude in which seconds and hours, if laid side by side, are always of the same length, while in the Æon time is καιρος, the “Eternal Now”, as Tillich put it, in which every moment is eternal and eternity is a moment. Likewise, in these physical universes, space is τοπος, stretched out in physical dimensions, wherein all miles laid side by side are of the same length, while in the Æon space is γαια, in which great distances are nothing and immediately adjacent is infinitely far – as is often the case in our dreams, as with lung gom, the Tibetan technique for walking great distances in a single step.

In one sense the Æon is the Platonic realm of ιδεα, where everything is its own archetype or blueprint for the “thousand and one things” (in Lao-tse’s phrase) in the physical universe. This realm is beyond all bounded universes; as Plato put it, “it is not anywhere in another thing, not in an animal, nor in the earth, nor in heaven, nor in anything else, but is itself by itself within itself” (Symposium 211b). As Lao-tse put it in the first chapter of the Tao-te Ching, 道 可 道 非,常 道 名。可 名 非,常 名。– it is the path that cannot be walked; the name that cannot be named. As Lakota theologian and Christian catechist Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk) put it, “The Holy Land is everywhere.” Or as Joseph Campbell put it (in The Power of Myth):

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.

This spark of eternity is the soul within us, our aperture from mundane individuality into nirvana, making us one with all being throughout time and space: “He has made everything beautiful in (the course of) time, but he has also placed eternity in their heart such that humans will not find out the work that God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Jesus’s teaching anticipates – or, in my thinking, is an early example of – Kabbalistic philosophy, especially as found in the Zohar, which comprises, for those not familiar with it, what can be briefly put as the “mystical” tradition of Judaism. The Zohar speaks of the “forbidden fruit” of the Tree as a nut (as regards the belief that it was an apple see page ###) that contains concentric spheres that are each one greater than the one around it – and the last one is a palace containing a primal point of infinite dimensionality, composed of the light of Creation (Genesis 1:3). This “nut” also symbolizes the nature of humanity, with the body containing a mind, the mind a soul, which is the “Temple for the Spirit” containing within the infinite presence of God (I Corinthians 6:19 dimly adumbrates this).

In all Utopias – not only that of More, who invented the term, but those of Plato, Butler, Morris, Bellamy, Wells, and many others – there are lavish, loving descriptions of the realm of perfection, and no matter how well written they are, they all ultimately fall flat, because though we can know (connaître, kennen) Eternity with our intuitive hearts, we can never know (savoir, wissen) it with our logical minds. Jesus (through the gospel writer) does not make this fatal mistake of trying to describe the indescribable Tao. The one thing he tells us is that in the father’s house there are “many abodes”, which strongly suggests that it is not everlasting but eternal, of infinite dimensionality.

Still, we may have a hint or two by way of the classical writers from which the gospel writer drew his imagery for the Æon. Æonia was a name for part of the ancient Greek land of Bœotia. It was probably the basis on which were built descriptions of the legendary country of Elysium, which the poets called the “Elysian Fields”, a region said by the classical Greek poets to be somewhere to the west, facing the sea. The name may come from ἀλυουσας (aluousas), whose root suggests being deeply stirred by joy, or from ἀλύτως (alutōs), a synonym of ἀφθάρτως (aphthartōs), meaning “incorruptible”, as in the eternity in which souls live in that place.

Æonia, Bœotia, does in fact look out westward at the wide expanse of the western Mediterranean. This bucolic region was 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; Pentheus 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 deeply profound philosophical discussion reminiscent of the one between Jesus and Pilate.

All of this would have been well known to the amanuensis of the gospel, John the Presbyter. He was a Hellenized Jew, certainly educated at the university in Alexandria, which specialized in the Greek classics, and in his later years he was a respected writer and teacher in the Hellenic city of Ephesus with its famous library. John might have known Æonia from his travels but, if not, he had certainly knew about it from the classical literature he had read in his youth. Thus, in writing about the Æon he probably was picturing in his mind the rolling verdant hills of Æonia, also associated with Elysium, the land where the blessed dead lived in eternity.

This land is thus extolled in Paradise Lost, III, 565-70:

Amongst innumerable Starrs, that shon
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds,
Or other Worlds they seemd, or happy Iles,
Like those Hesperian Gardens fam’d of old,
Fortunate Fields, and Groves, and flourie Vales;
Thrice happy isles …

Of course the gospel author could not have read John Milton, but he would have known well the poets whose descriptions of this land were to inspire the Englishman. As a young man under the tutelage of Philo, the Presbyter would have learned this glorious depiction of Elysium in Homer (IV, 563, 565-68):

… Ἠλύσιον πεδίον καὶ πείρατα γαίης …
τῇ περ ῥηίστη βιοτὴ πέλει ἀνθρώποισιν:
οὐ νιφετός, οὔτ᾽ ἂρ χειμὼν πολὺς οὔτε ποτ᾽ ὄμβρος,
ἀλλ᾽ αἰεὶ Ζεφύροιο λιγὺ πνείοντος ἀήτας
Ὠκεανὸς ἀνίησιν ἀναψύχειν ἀνθρώπους:
οὕνεκ᾽ ἔχεις Ἑλένην καί σφιν γαμβρὸς Διός ἐσσι.

…the Elysian plain at the edge of the earth, …
There, everyone comes to exist in a gentle life,
Never any blast of snow, never cold, lacking in heavy rainstorms;
Rather, the Zephyr always blows free,
And Oceanus breathes refreshing breezes …

He would have read Pindar’s written portrayal of this land, and also how Hesiod described it aloud (Works and Days, 166-73):

… ἔνθ᾽ ἤτοι τοὺς μὲν θανάτου τέλος ἀμφεκάλυψε,
τοῖς δὲ δίχ᾽ ἀνθρώπων βίοτον καὶ ἤθε᾽ ὀπάσσας
Ζεὺς Κρονίδης κατένασσε πατὴρ ἐς πείρατα γαίης.
170καὶ τοὶ μὲν ναίουσιν ἀκηδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντες
ἐν μακάρων νήσοισι παρ᾽ Ὠκεανὸν βαθυδίνην,
ὄλβιοι ἥρωες, τοῖσιν μελιηδέα καρπὸν
τρὶς ἔτεος θάλλοντα φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα.

… Truly some were forever enfolded in death,
But some other souls dwelt in abodes alone
Where God the father, son of Time, made them to settle at the end of the earth,
And thus indeed to dwell free from care, souls living
In the blessed isles by the deep-rolling Ocean,
Blessed heroes who fed on honey-sweet fruit
That ripened three times a year in fecund meadows.

He might even have read the Latin of Vergil. And surely he knew Korinna’s lovely lyric (fragment 15):

…καλλιχορω χθονος
Ουριας θουγατερ…

… a land richly blessed
With lovely dancing meadows …

Whether John knew or merely knew of this land, he would have been aware that Bœotia’s twin spiritual mountains where dwelt the heavenly Muses, Helicon and Cithæron, were akin to another pair of sacred peaks where the God of Abraham was said to reside, Sinai and Gerizim. He would have recognized the similarity of Semele mother of Dionysos to Mary mother of Jesus, and the parallel of Pentheus to Pontius. And most of all he would have seen the connections between Dionysos son of Jupiter, הי-Πατερ, Yah-Pater, God the father, and Jesus, son of YHWH, God the father.

The Presbyter may have had in mind not Bœotia, Æonia, the country that apparently served as the factual foundation for the Hellenic myth of Elysium, or not only that country, but instead or also Gaul. The references in the just-quoted lines of Homer and Hesiod to Oceanus are to the Atlantic Ocean, though in classical times what lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) was conceived of as an oceanic girdle around the earth. Thus a “plain at the edge of the earth” “in blessed isles by deep-rolling Oceanus” could be a reference to Gaul. It is not entirely inconceivable that John heard that Jesus and Mary had gone to this region not far from Oceanus. That oral history in southern France remembers Jesus’s attendance of the dedication of a Christian cemetery in Arles called Alyscamps, “Elysian Fields” in Occitan, as discussed on page ###, is ironic. It could be that Jesus expected that he himself would be buried in these Alyscamps – and that this too got back to the Presbyter by way of letters or visitors, and was in his mind as he composed these gospel references to the Æon.

Be it specifically founded on descriptions of Bœotia or Gaul, John must have had in his mind an Elysium associated by the poets with life after death; Bœotia besides being a land not just praised in literature, not just celebrated for its masters of literature, but exalted as the very birthplace of Greek literature, since its mountains, where the art of writing was introduced, were sacred to the Muses. And so the Presbyter must have framed Jesus’s references to the Æon in the gospel with his mind going back to these poems describing Elysium as a fair and gentle place where there is no weeping, with fruits ripening throughout the year.

While he did not provide his own poetic description of the Æon in the gospel, he did in his last great work, the Revelation, with 21:4 and 22:1-2 especially vividly recalling these classical poets.

και εξαλειψει παν δακρυον εκ των οφθαλμων αυτων και ο θανατος ουκ εσται ετι ουτε πενθος ουτε κραυγη ουτε πονος ουκ εσται ετι οτι τα πρωτα απηλθαν … και εδειξεν μοι ποταμον υδατος ζωης λαμπρον ως κρυσταλλον εκπορευομενον εκ του θρονου του θεου και του αρνιου εν μεσω της πλατειας αυτης και του ποταμου εντευθεν και εκειθεν ξυλον ζωης ποιουν καρπους δωδεκα κατα μηνα εκαστον αποδιδουν τον καρπον αυτου και τα φυλλα του ξυλου εις θεραπειαν των εθνων

And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, nor mourning, nor weeping, nor pain: they will be no more because what was at first has departed. … And he showed me a river of living water, clear like crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its [i.e., the city’s] street. And on this side and that side of the river was the tree of life, producing twelve fruits, yielding [a different] fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree, for the healing of the peoples.

And these culminating passages in Revelation include a sacred marriage, a hierogamy, of Heaven and Earth, Bride and Lamb, Mary and Jesus, as an echo of John 20:16-17, and again bringing out that sense of the Æon found in its Semitic roots as having a strong connotation of sexual desire fulfilled and thereby embodying the image of Elohim, male and female as one.

The Structure of the Resurrection Scene


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

James Daniel Tabor has suggested in his blog here that the account in John 20:1-10 is a separate and older story than what is told in verses 11-18, that it is essentially complete in itself, and perhaps the first written account of the post-crucifixion events. In favor of his view, it can be pointed out that 1-10 have Mary go to the tomb and then go home to tell the two disciples, but that there is nothing about her returning to the tomb. As a result, verse 11 opens rather inexplicably with Mary back at the tomb and no reference to her returning there. This may suggest a separate history to verses 1-2 from the history of the following verses.

However, unlike Tabor, my view is that the tomb narrative in verses 1-18 is a single unit deliberately structured with three main sections: verses 1-2, verses 3-10, and verses 11-18; and that the third section also has three parts: verses 11-13, 14-17, and 18. And that both sets of three parts are examples of inclusio, a kind of narrative structuring also called A-B-A symmetry.

The first of the three main sections centers on Mary. The second centers on Simon the Rock and the Beloved Disciple, and the third again centers on Mary. Each one begins with the witness(es) in question coming to the tomb, observing or experiencing something, and then returning home with information to deliver to the group of disciples.

At Mary’s first visit to the tomb in section one she just looks in and sees that the body is missing, like her son Lazarus in section two, and in section three (her second visit to the tomb) she goes into it, like Simon the Rock in section two.

What is more, the narrative itself has a home-away-home structure: Mary is the “home” character in the first section, but the narrative “goes away” from her in the second section to the two disciples, and the third section returns to the “home” of Mary’s experiences. The nearly identical phrasing of Mary’s message in the first section (verse 2b) and third section (verse 13b) again strongly suggests that this is a single narrative with a tripartite structure.

The first and second sections both convey the “empty tomb” motif familiar from the Synoptics: the first has Mary deliver the message that Jesus’s body is missing, and the second has the disciples confirm it. Verses 1-2, in fact, are a very brief equivalent to the Synoptic “empty tomb” accounts in which Mary goes to the tomb accompanied by certain other women; this is clear because she speaks in the first person plural: “…we don’t know where they have laid him!” These two verses cannot be a later addition based on the Synoptics since the narrative in verses 3-18 stems from and depends on 1-2, and is incomplete without those two verses as a preamble.

The third section (verses 11-18) repeats in miniature the same inclusio or A-B-A symmetry of the whole passage. The first part of the third section (verses 11-13) begins with Mary alone in her “home” position in front of the empty tomb, looking into it, in a parallel to verse 1. Then she apparently goes “away from home” into the tomb (a verb is missing, as will be discussed below), just as in verses 2 and 18 she goes to the disciples. There in the tomb she sees two angels, equivalent in number to the two disciples, and delivers to them the same message that that she delivered to the two disciples in verse 2, in very nearly identical wording. Thus the narrative of this first part is close to that of the first part of the overall text (verses 1-2).

The beginning of the second part (verses 14-17) is signalled by a typical Greek transitional summary phrase, “Having said all this,” and also by her act of turning around, an action that was traditionally used in narratives to signify a new section; after this the text introduces Jesus. She delivers to him the same anguished message about the missing body, but in a new wording. Jesus identifies himself to her, and she runs from within the tomb (in a phrase preserved by a few manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus) to her “home” position in front of the tomb, to the home of her heart, Jesus, just as in the first major section she had run home to the two disciples and they had run to the tomb. But where the disciples found only an empty tomb she finds and embraces Jesus. Thus the second part of this third section has narrative parallels to the second section about the two disciples.

The third and final part of this third section (verse 18) has Mary again go home to deliver a message to the disciples, just as she and the disciples went home again at the end of the first two sections – however, this time it is not with mystified concern over an empty tomb and a missing body, but that she has seen their master (and embraced him, though she does not mention this)!

This structural integrity is also confirmed by the use of “Mary!” in all three sections. In the Peshitta and the Codex Syriac Sinaiticus, two very early Aramaic New Testament versions, Mary refers to Jesus as mary, which means “master/lord” in Aramaic, and which is of course a homonym with her name. This pun is clear in the Aramaic versions (but not in the Greek), and it could well have been part of the actual original conversation between Mary and Jesus, since of course both of them spoke Aramaic. The pun was, either on Jesus’s part or by the intention of the gospel’s author, meant to imply Jesus’s prayer in 17:22-23 “that they may all be one”.

Specifically she refers to him as mary in the message that concludes the first section (verse 2b) and that concludes its parallel, the first part of the third section (verse 13b), that the tomb is empty and the body missing, and again in the message at the conclusion of the third section (verse 18), that she has seen Jesus alive. In the second and third sections, another example of A-B-A symmetry has her refer to Jesus as mary (verse 13b), then has Jesus call her “Mary” (verse 16a), and then has her again refer to Jesus as mary (verse 18).

Given all of this intricate inclusio structuring, it is hard to conclude as others do that certain verses have a separate history and were clumsily stitched together into chapter 20.

A problem remains, which is that verse 11 opens rather inexplicably with Mary back at the tomb and no reference to her returning there. It may be that the three sections were narrated at different times by Lazarus to the amanuensis, John the Presbyter, and that therefore the narrative gap was an oversight as the latter assembled these sections and wove them together into a narrative whole. Another possibility is that the author left it for the reader to assume that Mary returned to the tomb with the two disciples. A third possibility is that there is a lacuna in the text; as discussed in the Introduction, the author left the gospel still in a draft, and the redactor (probably Polycarp of Smyrna) may have neglected it during his work of refining prior to publication. I personally lean toward the second option, the reason being that the author intended to keep the focus in the second section strictly on the two disciples, and so not mentioning Mary’s return to the tomb is deliberate.

Much of the foregoing will be explained and expanded upon in the verse-by-verse commentaries that follow [ìn the book].

The Feminine Spirit, the Masculine Truth


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. This excerpt discusses what Jesus means by saying to Mary Magdalene that God is Spirit (John 4:24)

The opening phrase, πνευμα ο θεος, lacks a verb in Greek, meaning literally “Spirit/Breath/Wind the God”. (Note that it is customary in Greek to use the definite article with θεος, “God”.) Translators usually transpose the words and put in a verb that isn’t there, rendering the phrase as “God is a spirit” or “God is Spirit”. It can just as well be read as “Spirit is God”, or, of course, “Breath is God” or “Wind is God”, since all can be meant by the word πνευμα. The ambiguity here may be an early scribal mistake, or it may be Jesus or the gospel writer saying both at the same time.

The Aramaic, ܪܽܘܚܳܐ ܗܽܘ ܓ݁ܶܝܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ, makes much more sense, meaning literally “For God is Spirit/Breath/Wind”. We cannot know if this version predates the Greek, if it is closer to the original manuscript of the gospel, but still in my mind it settles the above ambiguity just barely enough for me to render the phrase as “God is Spirit/Breath/Wind”.

It may well be that, on this hot day in Samaria a breath of wind came momentarily to cool and refresh this man and woman as they spoke, and Jesus used this analogy from nature as he will use another one in a few moments (4:35).

It may also be that Jesus, by identifying spirit/breath/wind as God, was invoking the Name of God, YHWH, which is an exhalation, the Name which was breathed into us to give us life (Genesis 2:7), and which we say every time we exhale (see page 30). But much more is going on here.

Since Jesus was in actuality speaking Aramaic here, the Greek version of this verse is inevitably a translation, so it merely has the Greek word for God, θεος. Since the Peshitta is in Aramaic, it is far likelier to relate exactly what Jesus actually said. The name for God in this Aramaic version quoted two paragraphs above is not, as one would expect from the foregoing paragraph, some variation on YHWH. It is not even ܐܠܘܗܝܡ, the Aramaic version of the Hebrew “Elohim”, the familiar to most readers from the creation story at Genesis 1:2, wherin God’s spirit/wind/breath hovers over or moves across the waters (see page 265). Rather, it is ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ, “Alaha”, which is related to the Hebrew אלוהּ (“Eloah”). Both are a feminine word (literally, “Goddess”); both suggest the feminine aspect of God, united with the masculine in Elohim (see pages 309-10), the familiar name of God known from Genesis 1.

One clue to comprehension is in the context: Jesus says twice (verses 23-24) that true/steadfast (ܫܪܝܪܐ means both in Aramaic) worshippers are to worship God “in spirit and in truth”, as it is usually translated; again the word for “truth”, ܘܒܫܪܪܐ, carries the connotation of “steadfastness” or “firmness”. The phrase brings to mind Joshua’s oration at Shechem – the man for whom Jesus was named, speaking as Jesus would be very aware at Shechem, this very place! – in which he calls on the forebears of both Jews and Samaritans to worship God in בְּתָמִ֣ים וּבֶֽאֱמֶ֑ת, “sincerity and truth” (Joshua 24:14), concluding that the Israelites had to choose whether to worship YHWH or the gods of the Amorites, whose land they were entering. By this reference to Joshua’s speech Jesus is underlining his point that Jews and Samaritans both, as one, have a choice to worship the true God or the gods of others – in this case, the Greeks and Romans. (For the author of this gospel, surely aware of Paul’s repackaging of Jesus as a Græco-Roman deity [see the Introduction], this would have been a significant message in opposition.)

But Alaha (Aramaic), Eloah (Hebrew) is specifically the feminine aspect of God (“Goddess”), and Jesus associates this aspect with spirit/breath/wind. Jesus associates the Jewish aspect of God in verse 22 with the Jews knowing God better than the Samaritans – hence, he is suggesting, the time is coming when sectarian differences between Jew (the masculine “truth”) and Samaritan (the feminine “spirit”) will be put aside, when God will be worshipped neither on the Jewish holy mountain nor the Samaritan holy mountain (4:21). And Jesus is further suggesting that by union in marriage Jesus the Jew and Mary the Samaritan can point out the way toward this union.

Mary Magdalene: What’s in a Name?


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

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

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

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

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

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

Before evaluating the four above, I also propose:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Magdalene’s Later Life

What happened to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection? At first glance, it appears there is nothing more said about her in the New Testament — but the facts suggest otherwise. This blog entry discusses passages in the Bible that may shed light on what the rest of Mary’s life was like. This is a revision of a section of the introduction to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion. You will find ordering information here.


It is often averred that we know next to nothing about Mary’s life after the resurrection. This, I believe, is not quite true. Acts 12:13-16 has Mary as evidently still living in the family compound in Bethany; she has now given birth to John Mark, her son by Jesus. While Acts, which dates from the early second century, is none too reliable, the events in chapter 12 appear to take place about two years after the resurrection.

I think she appears several times in the Revelation, albeit wrapped in symbols; first in chapter 12, where she is naked (“clothed with the sun”) as she was at Jesus’s baptism and resurrection, and pregnant, as she was at the resurrection. She gives birth to a son who “rules with a rod of iron”; the complex symbology is mostly based on Psalm 2. John Mark, her son by Jesus, founded the church in Alexandria in 49 C.E., according to the Coptic Christians. But this child is killed (Revelation 12:5), just as John Mark was reportedly executed by the Romans in either 62 or 68 C.E., and the woman flees into the wilderness, there to be nourished as was Elijah.

I believe that it is Mary mentioned as the Bride in Revelation 19:7-8, clothed in βυσσινος (from βυσσος), which is the term for strips of linen used to bury the dead (basically synonymous with οθονιον in John 20). The Bride makes another appearance in the poetic imagery of 21:2.

I find another possible clue in the second letter of John the Presbyter. It is almost universally believed that “the elect lady” to whom he addresses it is the growing community of followers of Jesus, or one of its local congregations. However I read the letter as addressed to Jesus’s wife, Mary, whom John the Presbyter must have come to know well during the process of writing the Gospel of John. In Greek he begins by greeting εκλεκτη κυρια και τοις τεκνοις αυτης. The first word means “chosen” and the second word is the female equivalent to κυριος, the Greek word used to render the Aramaic ܡܪܐ (mari); it means “lord”, “master”, or “husband”. Since the latter (in the Greek New Testament and the Peshitta, the Aramaic New Testament) is how Jesus is addressed, this would well apply to his chosen “lordess”, his chosen wife. The letter next affirms John’s love for her, and then he assures her that he has observed certain of her children as walking in the truth – likely a reference to John Mark and Lazarus writing the truth in, respectively, the gospels of Mark and John. He says there are things he wishes to speak directly, “mouth to mouth” to her, and not through a letter, and he concludes by passing along to her the love of the children of her “chosen sister”. Assuming Martha, Mary’s sister, is still in Bethany, then this would suggest Mary has moved elsewhere in the world.

Thus I believe both II John and Revelation tell us that Mary went far from her home in Bethany. The first letter of Peter, written from Rome, in which he sends greetings from “she [who is] in Babylon chosen together with Mark my son.” Babylon is always in Jewish writings of the time a euphemism for the city of Rome, and “Mark” refers to John Mark, Jesus’s and Mary’s son, who was working on the Gospel of Mark with Peter as the eyewitness-source; this effort was undertaken in Rome, as John the Presbyter, Papias, and Irenæus all attest. As discussed elsewhere, Simon the Rock appears to have adopted the son of his beloved teacher and half-brother of his dearest friend Lazarus.

We don’t know what she was travelling for. Very probably she went to see her now adult children. Possibly also she met with leaders of the new Christian religion, which had turned her husband into a quasi-Roman godling, but though or perhaps because she was his wife and “merely a woman” she would have been shunted aside and prevented from having any influence, because there was far too much worldly wealth and power in a well-organized religious institution. But she was also certainly travelling abroad for her health.

Indeed, I tentatively conclude that there is sufficient merit in it to take seriously Val Wineyard’s hypothesis. She thinks that Sejanus, de facto emperor in Tiberius’s madness, and the father of Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula, owned an estate in the Corbières, near Narbonne, France. Pilate supposedly advised Jesus to flee to this estate and restore his health in the curative baths at Rennes-les-Bains, as did Claudia’s grandfather, Emperor Augustus, another “son of god” (but in his case the “god” was Julius Cæsar). She and her companions would have disembarked at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which I have visited, and which has a strong local tradition to this effect. Wineyard also refers to another local legend that says Jesus was buried in a hidden cave about a kilometer outside the current-day hamlet of Saint-Salvayre, close to Rennes-les-Bains.

Calling a Mary a Mary (extensively revised)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love and Gods at Jacob’s Well

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.

4:11-16 – Except for verse 11, this water source is exclusively referred to in Greek as a πηγη (pele) and in Aramaic as a ܐܢܝܥܡ (miyna). Both words suggest a “spring” or “fountain” from which water is bubbling or gushing forth. Such a water source, obviously, is not “deep”, and hence does not require a bucket, despite what the woman says here. She also switches to another noun here, calling the water source a φρεαρ (phrear) in Greek, or a ܐܪܒܘ (wbəira) in Aramaic, which is specifically a well, an underground cistern, into which one collects water by descending with a bucket or paying out a rope with a bucket tied to it. And besides, as a spring or fountain, this water source provides “living water” (יִׁי ח םִׁי מ (mayim hayyim).

Clearly, the woman is not speaking of this water source in front of them, as all commentators on this passage have assumed. They both can see it in front of them; it has not suddenly changed its nature. Therefore, something else is surely going on here.

What is more, the woman notes that Jesus doesn’t have a bucket, so she asks how he can draw forth living water from the well (whatever well she is referring to, which clearly not this spring in front of them). This is a strange question to ask, as living water (or, as we say in modern English, running water) flows forth of its own accord, would not have to be laboriously drawn out in a bucket; also, if living water is put in a bucket, it is not living water (running water) any longer! It also loses its potency, in both Jewish and Samaritan practice, for spiritual cleansing.

She asks this question in response to Jesus’s declaration that, if she knew who he was, she would have asked him and he would have given her living water. He is referring not to water for quenching thirst (which water in a bucket would do), but living water, which, as in the baptism of John, washes away sins. Taken together, Jesus’s statement followed by the woman’s question are about living water, the water of mikvah and baptism. They both seem to be strongly implying their first encounter at the Jordan River, at the baptism of John.

Jesus goes on (4:13) to say that ordinary water, even “living water”, will leave one thirsty again – he is hinting that she washed away her sins at the baptism of John, but here she is again in Samaria, back at serving as a Temple priestess, and back at needing baptism to be ritually purified again. She is still thirsting for a different life, a better life. Thus he tells her (4:14) that if she takes his “living water”, which is spiritual in nature, she will never thirst again for a better life because she will have it! She will in fact not need to go to the Jordan River, or to Jacob’s Well, because she will have become herself a πηγη, a ܐܢܝܥܡ, a fountain gushing forth living water, giving her life in the Æon. Put another way, she won’t need a ritual, at the hands of John or anyone; by accepting what Jesus is offering, and becoming herself a source of living water, she will be able to keep herself spiritually pure!

To this offer she replies in a manner that is humorous, practical, and flirtatious. She asks with a smile for Jesus to give her this water, so she won’t have to come here every day and take a bucket of water home with her for her daily needs. And she hints not in the empirical content of her statement but in its bantering delivery that she finds Jesus romantically interesting, in effect hinting that she would like to be united with him in marriage.

But she is also saying something subtler that her smile does not entirely hide: I thirst for love, to give and receive real love, to be loved as I want to be loved. But this well, the well of my heart, has been betrayed and wounded many times by men, and its waters have withdrawn deep within, no longer bubbling over to flow freely like this spring before us. So how are you going to reach the waters far down inside this heart when you have no bucket?

And she is also saying: Water that will satisfy all my longings forever? Give me this water so I can leave this place, Samaria, so I won’t have to draw water from this spring ever again! Give me this water so I don’t keep getting drawn back to working as a priestess by my desperate circumstances as a single mother who cannot go back to her father because he has disowned me! Give me this water so I can hold my head up high again, as a woman of Judæa, as a respected wife; give me this water so I can go back home again and stay home!

Both the romantic and desperate aspects of her statement are clear in the fact that she is referring to what would have been, for both of them, a familiar tale in the Torah. Moses, avoiding the power of Pharaoh, goes into a foreign land, Midian, just as Jesus is avoiding the authorities in Jerusalem by entering Samaria (John 4:1-3). Moses sits down by a well (Exodus 2:15) as does Jesus (John 4:6). The seven daughters of Reuel the priest of Midian come to the well, including Moses’s future wife Zipporah (Exodus 2:16), just as does Mary, daughter of the Pharisee-priest Simon ben Nathanael (also known as Simon the Leper) (John 4:7). Moses helps Zipporah and her sisters to draw water – and here the parallel breaks down, or does it not? The answer lies in the Hebrew of Exodus 2:16. The verb דלה (dalah, “to draw” [water]) which appears therein is closely related to the noun דְּלִי (deli, “bucket”); in fact, דלה is doubled, which suggests a better translation would be “they came and drew with a bucket”. Thus we have Moses meeting his future wife as he helps her to draw water with a bucket, and Mary teases Jesus that, unlike Moses (to whom this gospel often compares Jesus), he doesn’t have a bucket to help her draw water! Thus Mary’s otherwise incomprehensible references to this bubbling spring as a deep well and to a bucket come clear.

The parallels continue: Zipporah and her sisters hurry back home exclaiming about the amazing man at the well, but leaving him there to do so (Exodus 2:18-19), like Mary (John 4:28-29); and then Reuel, and presumably his entire family and even the servants, come to the well to meet Moses (Exodus 2:20), as do the Samaritans in John 4:30.

Jesus’s reply in the next verse, 4:16, appears to the casual reader to be a sudden shift in subject, telling her to go call her husband. But it is in every way a response to her hint of romantic interest and her deeper message to Jesus that she wants to escape this life. By saying “Call your husband” Jesus is obviously stating two things:

First, he is subtly referring to her marital status. No doubt thanks to her son his disciple Lazarus he already knows what it is, as further conversation will make clear. But by referring to her nonexistent husband he is giving her an opening for saying she is unmarried (which indeed she does say), which in turn gives him the opportunity to ask her to marry him.

Second, the Greek has Jesus telling her “Call your ανδρα” (ανδρος [andros], literally means “man”, but depending on context it can carry the sense of “husband”, and it does in the Greek here).

But there is a third implication in Jesus’s words. The Aramaic of the Peshitta has him telling her to “Call your ܝܟܠܥܒܠ ;”(ܠܐܥܒ [baal], which can literally mean “lord” or “master” or “husband”, but in this case must also be taken as Jesus literally saying, “Call your god! Call your Baal!” This is a reference to her work as priestess in the Samaritan Temple; she would invoke the presence of Baal by calling upon him. His command also brings strongly to mind the challenge Elijah offered to the priests of the same Baal, priests who were the acolytes of another priestess of Baal, Queen Jezebel. He repeatedly urged them to call on Baal to light a sacrificial fire atop Mount Carmel, another sacred mountain to the north of Gerizim, mockingly saying perhaps their god doesn’t respond because he is busy, or taking a nap, or in the privy. But in reply “there was no voice and no one answering” (I Kings 18:26). Then Elijah soaked with water the altar dedicated to his God, the God of Judah, called on that God, and fire came from heaven to light the sacrifice. By referring to this event Jesus is in effect telling her that there is nothing for her here, nothing but a god who isn’t there. “You [Samaritans] worship what you do not know,” he will say in verse 22, for there is nothing here to know, let alone worship. The Temple is empty now for her, forlorn and bereft; in Shakespeare’s words, it is but “Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.”

Thus, in this conversation, Jesus is offering the woman, Mary, an entirely new life: she will no longer be forced by economic circumstances to work as a priestess, for she will have her own life back in Judæa, her own God back, and a husband. It is out of this graciousness that we see Mary as continuingly grateful to Jesus (John 12:3 and Luke 7:38), and no doubt why she felt she should go back home and make peace with her family, which is why she is living in Bethany again by chapter 11. He is at the same time calling her to believe in him as Messiah and asking her to accept his hand in marriage.

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.