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.

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.

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

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


The word περιστερα (peristera, “dove”) that we find in the text is very close in pronunciation to another word, πρηστηρ (prēstēr, “whirlwind”), and I believe there was considerable deliberation on the part of the amanuensis, probably in consultation with the eyewitness, as to which should be written. It is possible that this is a scribal error on the part of the amanuensis or else extremely early in the subsequent history of the gospel text, since the words for “dove” and “whirlwind” are quite unlike in Hebrew and Aramaic, but I reject this possibility, and also the possibility that this was a “correction” by the much later redactor to make this gospel conform to the three Synoptic gospels, since as is argued below both words would be very appropriate here.

The word πνευμα can mean “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit” depending on context, and the context here, that it came down from the sky, suggests the meaning is “wind”. (Still, to remind readers of these other meanings, the translation retains all three.) We know from experience that a wind out of the sky often does take the form of a whirlwind; the text clearly makes sense with that reading, since there is no more reason to expect a wind to take the form of a dove than for it to take the form of a barn or a banana or the Beatles. Besides being unlike a mighty wind, a fragile dove would not be able to withstand a mighty wind out of the sky, let alone safely alight on Jesus and manage to stay on his shoulder, without getting blown away. In any case, the very next verse seals the matter by expressly saying the πνευμα, the wind (and not a dove), descended onto Jesus.

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

The baptism of Jesus took place at the Jordan River (1:28), and a whirlwind at that location would immediately call to the mind of any first-century Jew reading this account the story of Elijah, also at the Jordan, transferring his prophetic power to Elisha (II Kings 2): Elijah strikes the river with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part (echoing the story of the Exodus). Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then a chariot and horses of fire appear, and Elijah is taken into Heaven in a whirlwind. Except for the mantle and the chariot and horses of fire, everything matches up. We have an older prophet (Elijah/John) at the close of his ministry ordaining the beginning of the ministry of a younger prophet (Elisha/Jesus) who has a double portion of the older one’s spirit; the River Jordan is passed through or entered into; and a whirlwind comes from Heaven. One pertinent difference is that the whirlwind takes one waning prophet, Elijah, to Heaven, but not John, since he is to die at Herod’s hand; rather, the whirlwind comes down to anoint Jesus, evidently conferring on him something of the nature and spirit of Elijah as it did Elisha. This whirlwind is the presence of God, the voice of God, the breath of God which Moses only saw after it had passed by and it was safe to leave the cave where he was hidden. This whirlwind is אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (“I Am/Will Be What I Am/Will Be”), it is God’s Name (see the Introduction). The text is drawing a strong comparison between Jesus and both Elijah and Moses; this clearly tells us the gospel is directed at least at a Jewish audience.

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

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

First, this double entendre would be well-rooted in the Tanakh. Psalm 55:6-8 refers to a dove flying away from the dangerous whirlwind. This and other passages (e.g., Genesis 8, where the dove is associated with the subsiding of waters and wind, as here at the baptism, and Jeremiah 48:28) portray the dove in connection with a sanctuary in the wilderness from one’s enemies, a theme common to John, Jesus, and this gospel. And significantly, the Shulammite, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs, which this gospel associates with Mary by way of frequent paraphrases from that work, is often compared to a dove. In Song 2:14 the man asks the woman, whom he calls his dove, to show herself in the concealed place along the steep way – the landscape described in that verse is one that the eyewitness and amanuensis would have agreed describes accurately this rock-strewn, craggy countryside where John was baptizing, which Gul. Tyrius described as also abounding in dragons, defined as “hidden passages and windings underground”. Visitors to the region today will find it continues to be full of concealed places along steep ways.

This verse in the Song of Songs suggests the possibility that the whirlwind and the dove could both have been present at the baptism – that would be the case if the dove, the beloved, “showed herself in the concealed place” in the form of Mary, called the Magdalene in the Synoptics. In this gospel, every time she appears there are strong references to the beloved woman, the “dove” of the Song of Songs. The whirlwind could literally have come down from Heaven and remained on Jesus, and the “dove”, Mary, could also have come down to the shore and helped Jesus out of the water, and “remained” with him for life, as his wife.

Strengthening this possibility is the clear inclusio between John, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah after his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the Jordan (1:43), and Mary, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah during his ministry (4:29; John only discusses Jesus as Messiah with certain religious officials, and the disciples only privately, in chapter 1); she was also the first to declare him such after his literal crucifixion-and-resurrection (20:18). Moreover, Mary watched as Jesus died on the cross (19:25) and was first witness to his resurrection, which would form an inclusio if she watched his symbolic death-and-resurrection here. Another inclusio is formed by Jesus being reunited with Mary in a garden right after his resurrection in chapter 20 just as he will be reunited with the woman he glimpsed during the baptism at a gardenlike well, in chapter 4, very soon after this symbolic resurrection of baptism. With so many clear correspondences being drawn between John and Mary, the possibility that Mary was present for the baptism of Jesus must be considered.

We know that Lazarus was at this time a disciple of John, so Mary, his mother, could have come from Sychar to visit her son, who was at the time of the baptism still a disciple of John, and thus certainly there to witness it. Mary may even have come to be herself baptized by John, to recollect her Jewish heritage after serving as a Samaritan priestess, to have her past “washed away” through the baptism. If so, then not only Jesus but Mary too would have been naked for the baptism, as was customary (and still is today in the mikvah), for this was a birth ritual and we are all born naked (Job 1:21). Jesus’s nakedness in this scene forms an inclusio with his being nearly so to wash the disciples’ feet (13:3-12a), and his complete nakedness on the cross (19:23-24) and at the resurrection (20:6-7) when he was spiritually reborn and spiritually remarried to Mary. At the crucifixion and resurrection Mary would again have been nigh naked herself, since the tradition then was for a grieving person to rend his or her clothes into pieces.

It is not inconceivable that Mary was assisting John in the baptism ritual; as a former Temple priestess this would be a familiar role for her to take. She may have helped Jesus (and others there for the ritual) to undress, and to untie his sandals, the very act that John felt he could not do himself (1:27), and throw around him a fresh white linen robe afterwards. If Mary undressed and reclothed him in this scene, there is an inclusio with her coming to the tomb (20:1) to undertake the wifely responsibility of tohorah, the ritual purification of a body by unclothing it, washing it (equivalent to the baptism here), and then dressing it again in a takhrikhin, a fresh white linen wrapping. And if the great preacher John felt he was not worthy of unlacing Jesus’s sandals and helping him undress, and these tasks fell instead to Mary, then Mary must already have been in a very special capacity as regards Jesus; at the least she would be such as a Temple priestess.

The Gospel of Philip may provide some support for this possible involved presence of Mary at the baptism of Jesus. (I agree with others that this noncanonical gospel appears to have preserved some oral traditions; it most decidedly should not be derided as Gnostic, for it portrays a very physical, real-world Jesus, and it speaks of this mundane earth as God’s creation, quite real and good.) At verse 82 it closely associates baptism and marriage: “The baptism has the resurrection [with] the Atonement coming into the bridal chamber; yet, the bridal chamber is more exalted than these. … One will never find its like”. And it may be speaking of John (as the friend of the bridegroom; cf. John 3:29) and the disciples (as the sons of the bridegroom; Jesus often addresses the disciples as his children) when it says of the nakedness of the bride (verse 131): “Let her [the bride] come forth and be revealed only to her father and mother with her, before the friend of the bridegroom, [and] before the sons of the bridegroom”. And, in the recently published fragment from the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, Jesus not only calls Mary “my wife”, but says, “As for me, I dwell/exist/live with her in order to […] an image […].” The verb suggests “I live with her” in three senses: the ordinary sense of cohabitation, the higher sense of spiritual union, and the highest sense, of the vitality in all things that vivifies life. Thus, Jesus is probably saying that his marriage to Mary is part of the Messianic image that he hopes to convey; applied to the baptism, their meeting at his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the river would be perfectly matched by their meeting again following his very real death and resurrection.

Dove imagery is universal in the spiritual traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, and it supports the identification of Mary with a dove. James A. Montgomery (in The Samaritans: the Earliest Jewish Sect) discusses the oft-cited belief that the Samaritans worshipped a dove on Mount Gerizim, where Mary was a priestess. He eventually dismisses it, but yet he speaks approvingly of other scholars (Selden and Ronzevalle) who associate the dove cult with the goddess Semiramis and the Ashima mentioned in II Kings 17:30. Donald A. MacKenzie (in Myths of Babylonia and Assyria) discusses the close connections between Semiramis and doves in the myths about her. Her Assyrian name, Sammu-rammat, is probably derived from Summat (“Dove”), and signifies “The Dove Goddess Loves Her”. In the most ancient form of the myth, says MacKenzie, she was turned into a dove and took flight into heaven in that form. He adds that Robertson Smith has demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semitic nations, often closely associated with love, and also symbolizes innocence, gentleness, and holiness. So, ultimately, in the double entendre of πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) we have masculine and feminine, god and goddess, anointing this first encounter of Jesus and Mary.

If this theory that Mary was actively present at the baptism is true, then it must be asked why there is nothing about it in the gospel. It may be that the amanuensis meant to add it to the telling of the baptism, but never got to it; we know that the original version of the gospel was never completed. It may also be that the redactor found it unacceptable (for the clear suggestion that Jesus was involved with this woman) and excised it; I reject this possibility because the redactor let other similarly “romantic” passages stand with but minimal changes. The compositional problem may have been because the author has put the description of the baptism in the mouth of John (even though Lazarus the eyewitness was certainly there), and either an expansion would have to be still in the first person or else a new narrative strand based on Lazarus’s memories would need to be inserted.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary, Mary, Quite Samaritan

This blog about the origin of Mary Magdalene’s name is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of the original text. The gospel as generally known, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The forthcoming book will also include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” is to be associated with the Synoptics. Other than two highly doubtful references, it never appears in the Gospel of John. Nevertheless, it is so commonly associated with her still today that its origin and meaning must be considered. One of the following explanations are usually offered:

a: Saying she came originally from Magdala, certainly likely since the village is on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, a prominently featured area in this gospel.

b: Coming from the Hebrew מגדל (migdal, “tower”, related to μαγδωλος in Greek, “watchtower”.

c: Coming from the related word in Aramaic, the language more commonly spoken at the time by Jews and Samaritans, ܡܓܕܠܗ or ܡܲܓ݂ܕܿܠܵܐ (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. 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: Coming from megaddelá, an Aramaic word for a woman with 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: Coming from Mahanaim (הַֽמַּחֲנָֽיִם in Hebrew, ܡܰܗܰܢܰܺܡ in Aramaic), 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 there is no “h” in Greek) 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 in the biographical notes about Mary on page ___, and also below).

f: Coming from Song of Songs 4:15, the same verse discussed above, where the Hebrew for the “wellspring of water” in the garden is גַּנִּ֔ים מַעְיַ֣ (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 shifted 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: Coming from ܩܕܳܠܳܐ (’qda:la), “neck” in Aramaic, should Mary have had a long, beautiful neck. This is a near-homonym with ܡܲܓ݂ܕܿܠܵܐ (magdala, “tower”), lacking only the initial ܡܰ (ma-), and also with ܡܰܓ݂ܕ݁ܠܳܝܬ݁ܳܐ (magdalayta, Magdalene), lacking the ma– and the suffix –ta. But the final “m” (ܡ) in her Aramaic name, ܡܰܪܝܰܡ (Maryam), could very well have ellided over onto ܩܕܳܠܳܐ (’qda:la), creating ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (Magdalay). 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 (ܨܘܪܟܝ, sawara) is used there.

h: Coming from the Tower of Eder (מִגְדַּל־ עֵ֗דֶר, 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). 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 in 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 hometown.

i: Coming 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: Coming from the Aramaic ܡܰܩܕ݁ ܐܰܠܳܗܬ݁ܳܐ (maqd’ alaht’a; “sacred of/to the goddess”), which is very close to the Aramaic original of the cognomen “Magdalene” ܡܰܓ݂ܕ݁ܠܳܝܬ݁ܳܐ (magdalayta, “Magdalene”).

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 from Ramathaim (Arimathea) in Kohath, northern Judæa just south of Samaria, and she herself had lived in Samaria itself. Therefore option a is to be rejected.

The pronunciation of the Aramaic word magdala is closer to the Greek original of Mary’s cognomen than the Hebrew migdal, so option b is rejected.

Option d is also rejected; the textual evidence is flimsy, and there is no reason to assume that the Talmud writers were merely recalling in a subsequent generation how this word was used in the first century: these comments may have been merely 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 also rejected as lacking a strong rationale for adopting it.

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, to whom the gospel often implicitly associates Jesus and Mary. Options c, e, and h 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 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, especially 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 tears.

That leaves either c, g, or j as the reason that her friends called her “Magdalene”. Some combination of c and g would be a sensible if cautious conclusion, especially if Mary had a beautiful neck or breasts. Option j is the risky conclusion and has to prove itself through time and scholarly debate, but the ground has long been prepared for it by such scholars as Raphael Patai (The Hebrew Goddess) and Merlin Stone (When God was a Woman). I myself lean toward it as the best solution. It would succinctly denote what fact about this Mary most stood out to those who knew, what they would have considered the most significant fact about her: her having been a Samaritan Temple priestess.

All this said, the cognomen “Magdalene” only appears in the crucifixion and resurrection episodes. This has led 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.

Bear in mind, too, that her given name, Μαριαμ (“Maria” or “Mary” in English), refers to tears. The original Hebrew name is מרה (Mara, “bitter”); 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 word has a deeper root meaning in מַר (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 a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud – and it would recently have been 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 “crown”, very possibly from the myrrh tree, was placed on his head (19:2), and that he was wounded like the tree and his blood came forth as does the liquid myrrh (19:32). 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, who was 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 his death and to come 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). And Elijah raises her son from death (verse 22). Again, the similarities to Mary Magdalene 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.

A House Bigger on the Inside

The following is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, which are appended to my restoration of the original text (before it was heavily edited by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling) and translation of that text from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year. Thanks to scholar Rod Borghese, whose thinking is quoted in this essay.

In some classical writers the word μονη suggests a waystation, quarters, or billets. In others it seems to suggest something more permanent: an apartment (in a building whose inhabitants take their meals together in a common dining room); therefore, a dwelling-place or abode. I have translated it with the word “abode”.

The reference to “the house of my Father” can also be taken in different ways. One possible reference is to the Second Temple; in 2:16, for instance, Jesus speaks of the Temple as “my Father’s house”. As noted before, the Levites associated with Temple operations had their living quarters around the Portico of Solomon. In this sense, Jesus could be saying that, when he is recognized as Messiah he will be able to uproot these Sadducees, priests, and Levites who are so badly managing the Temple (the “hired hands” as he refers to them in 10:12-13, and “slaves” as he says in 8:35), and then there will be rooms available for Jesus’s disciples and others who believe in him. In this interpretation, that is why Jesus adds “if not,” if these quarters in the Temple are not available at present, then “I am going to prepare a place for you.”

(This last phrase is usually translated “if it were not so I would have told you that I go to prepare a place for you,”, or “if it were not so I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you” or as a rhetorical question, “if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”. But there is no other verse in this discourse, to which Jesus could be referring, in which he speaks of preparing a place for them.” The Greek is not in the form of a question. Of these three, the second is the closest to what the Greek actually is saying: that if there are not many abodes available for those whose who believe in Jesus in his Father’s house, then in that case Jesus is going to make them available and ready.)

Next, Jesus may have intended here a reference to himself, specifically to his body, as his Father’s house. That level of meaning appears in 2:19,21. Jesus, as Messiah, as Messenger of God, is in effect a vessel containing the presence of God, the Spirit of God. Indeed, Paul uses this very metaphor at I Corinthians 3:16-17.

Finally, Jesus may have been referring to the Æon theology that fills this gospel, as in 8:35-36. In that passage, by the word “house” Jesus is referring not merely to the Second Temple in Jerusalem, a mere finite, physical structure that was built by human hands and could (and was, in 70 C.E.) be destroyed by human hands, but moreover to the House of God, the House of the Æon; that is to say, the Λογος itself, God’s overarching plan and purpose and pattern for the entirety of creation, not just the κοσμος, this physical aspect of it. In this house, which is infinite, there are indeed many abodes, and Jesus assures them that he is leaving this physical life for the heavenly realm to prepare their abodes for them. This interpretation of the verse is strengthened by Jesus’s several references in this final discourse before his death to that imminent death.

Both meanings are probably intended, and this is therefore a double entendre.

The phrase “house of my Father” also gives a visual message. The word for “house” in both Aramaic (ܒ݁ܶܝܬ݂) and Hebrew (בית) is pronounced beyt. It is not a concidence that the name for the second letter in both alphabets is also called beyt; the orthographical symbol that represents that letter is (along with the entire alphabet of both languages) pictographic in origin, and that symbol is the depiction of a house.

The word for “Father” in Aramaic is ܐܒܐ (ABA, often transliterated as “Abba”). That letter at the beginning and end of the word is aleph, ܐ in Aramaic and א in Hebrew, the first letter in the alphabet of both languages.

Pictographically, it depicts an ox; this can still be seen in the English letter A: if we invert it thus – ∀ – we can see more easily the ox’s head with the horns above. Thus, imagistically, ABA is a farmstead: a home with oxen around it.

More than that, as Rod Borghese points out, that first letter, א, aleph, has been for the classical Jewish mystics since ancient times symbolic of the sacred Breath/Spirit/Wind of God that preceded even sound itself, the breath that existed before even the first Word was uttered, even before the Λογος came into being. Therefore, I would add, this makes it equivalent to the חָכְמָ֥ה (Hokhma, Wisdom), which Proverbs 8:23 says was the first of God’s creations, and his mainstay support in the act of creating the universe.

This first letter also symbolizes the oneness of God. According to the Jewish mystics, the letter comprises an upper yud, representing the hidden, ineffable deepest nature of God; a lower yud, representing the revealed presence of God in the world; and a vav (“hook”) on a diagonal like a ladder or stairway, uniting these two realms, the heavenly and earthly. Jesus speaks of himself in these very terms, as the emissary, the Messenger of God who goes back and forth between these two realms, like the angels on Jacob’s ladder (cf. John 1:51); the Prologue to the gospel is very much built on this imagery. Yud and vav are the first and third letters in יהוה (YHWH), the Sacred Breath that is God’s Name, with a he following each one.

The symbol א has often represented infinity, in both mathematics and also in the symbolic work of Jorge Luis Borges. According to Borghese, “Infinity, nothingness, and continuity are concepts which have intrigued mathematicians, as well as Jewish scholars, throughout history. In many religions and philosophies it is believed that one must reduce one’s mind to a state which approaches ‘nothingness’ before one can begin to grasp the infinite knowledge and the divine connection between all things.” The sages note that the letter begins all three words in the most sacred name of God, אהיה אשר אהיה. And ב (beyt), the second letter, refers even more anciently than “house” to “container” or “vessel”, according to Borghese. Again, we can see this pictographically in the fourth side open to take contents into the vessel. Thus, Borghese concludes, this name for God, ABA shows us symbolically “the Infinite contained in the vessels, the Mystery of the Infinite contained within the Finite.” That is to say, all finite, created things in this universe contain in microcosm the Infinite, God. This very Jewish philosophy has been around from Philo to Martin Buber, who writes eloquently of God playing hide-and-go-seek with us, begging us to find the Sacred Presence hidden in every leaf and flower. Yet also and again this philosophy of immanence, the idea that the presence of God can be seen in and through every thing in creation, is very Buddhist and Taoist, as well as very Native American. In short, it is the ancient truth that the modern civilization of arrogation and greed has forgotten.

With this understanding in mind, we can see that Jesus meant “the house of my Father” not only (as discussed above) to refer to the Second Temple or his body or to the Æon, but to how every created thing in this universe, though evanescent and ephemeral, still contains the glory of the presence of God, if only we realize it – and so too does each one of us.

Mary and her Mary

Following is a heavily revised section of my commentaries on John 20:16, in reference to what Mary and Jesus call each other at the resurrection. This is part of my ongoing project of establishing the original text of the Gospel of John (before later religious authorities edited it to bring it into line with their Jesus-as-Roman-godling dogma), and translating it from the Greek with commentaries.

The Aramaic word in this passage of the Peshitta for “lord” or “master” is ܡܪܝܐ, which is pronounced mary. Her name, “Mary”, is either ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam) or, more likely on the lips of her husband, in its familiar form, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (Marya) – this name, though from a different root, is spelled and pronounced identically to mary, the word for “lord” or “master”; only the vowel markings differ. Therefore, if this was what Mary said, then these verses contain a kind of sacred pun: she is looking for her mary, her master, and he calls her his Mary. Very possibly, in the original verse 16, or in the recollection of Lazarus of what his mother later told him of this event, Jesus said “Mary!”, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (marya), and Mary replied with not ܪܒܢ (raban), but “Mary!”, ܡܪܝܐ (mary).

This pun, like others in this gospel, is of course not to be comical, as are puns in the modern Western civilization – though the author of the gospel no doubt intended the “Mary!” “Mary!” exchange 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 would primarily be 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 as a couple, as “one flesh”, as each a κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort) to the other, to cite the term the Gospel of Philip uses in reference to them.

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 Greek-speaking amanuensis (probably John the Presbyter) was at all familiar with Aramaic; probably not, since his Hebrew was so weak that 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 carried them 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 perhaps only those with foreigners, such as Pontius Pilate. It is absolutely inconceivable that Mary and the disciples would have interjected Greek into their Aramaic, calling Jesus κυριη; that foreign word would have been uncomfortable on their lips. There can be no question but that they called Jesus either ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy, “rabbi”) or ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al, “lord” or “master”) or ܡܪܝܐ, mary. The first was not yet common as a term of respect for religious leaders; thus, the possibility that Mary said mary is very strong, not only by the force of the pun it would present in this scene, but in that similar punning is frequently encountered in the gospel, including this very scene, with isha/isha.

What is more, given the complex inclusio of this entire conversation with that in 1:38-42, this strong possibility raises the question whether the word in 1:41 was originally mary as well, to preserve the several parallels. Indeed, μεσσιας is simply a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic ܡܫܝܚܐ (meshiha), which is in its spelling and pronunciation not far from ܡܪܝܐ, and quite conceivably the redactor could have been reminded of this near-homonym and near-synonym when he was deciding what to substitute for the latter. Strengthening this possibility is the fact that, out of the entire New Testament, the transliteration μεσσιας is found only here and at 4:25,29, where Jesus first meets Mary. It seems extremely likely therefore, that here, 4:25,29, and at 20:16 (and perhaps verses 2, 13, and 18) the original text had mary.

Again, as with isha/isha, this sacred pun would be to emphasize how Jesus and Mary, as portrayed in this gospel (as in the Gospel of Philip), were each the other’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort). And again, this may have simply been too incomprehensible or 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, who would have quickly changed mary (“lord”) for rabbouni, and even incorrectly adding that this is a word in Hebrew.

Supporting this possible mary/Mary reading is the fact that, as James Daniel Tabor has documented, the Talpiot tomb includes one ossuary marked “Marya”, and another marked “Maramenon he [known as] Mara”, two affectionate diminutives of the name Mariam (Mary). The organic material in the latter ossuary bears no mitochondrial DNA relation on the mothers’ side to the material in the ossuary marked “Yeshuah bar Yehosef” (Jesus son of Joseph), raising the strong likelihood that these are the remains of the one Mary significant in Jesus’s life who wasn’t blood-related to him: Mary Magdalene. (The first ossuary, Tabor concludes, contains the remains of Mary the mother of Jesus.) Add to that the fact that the noncanonical Acts of Philip refers to her as Mariamne (a slightly different Greek spelling of “Maramenon”), suggesting an oral remembrance of her being called that during her life. Add to that, as Wayne Johnson points out, the fact that the word mari (“husband” in French) and the English word “marry” are etymologically rooted in this woman’s name; etymology, i.e., linguistic archæology, often reveals facts that have otherwise been lost to time.

Isha-Isha and Mary-Mary

From my commentaries-in-development on the resurrection scene in the Gospel of John chapter 20. (For those tuning in late, I am restoring the original version from before the organized post-Pauline religious authorities edited the gospel to conform with their dogma, and translating it afresh from the Greek.)

20:13,15 – In the Peshitta (the very early Aramaic New Testament that some Christian groups consider the original), the Aramaic word for “woman” here is ܐܢܬܬܐ (a’entəṯā)– which has as its primary meaning not “woman”, but “wife”. Elsewhere in the gospel, this word clearly means “woman”, but only when the context makes this secondary meaning clear, such as when Jesus addresses his mother in 2:4. Here, without such a context, the Aramaic must be taken as Jesus calling her his wife.

However, something deeper yet may have been the original. This scene is clearly meant to reflect the beginning of Genesis, wherein Adam (in the Hebrew of Genesis 2:23) calls his newly created companion אשה (isha, “woman”). Rod Borghese points out the fact that Jesus is called Isha (ईश) in Sanskrit and Issa (عيسى) in Arabic, and other Eastern languages, probably from a root meaning “lord”, “master”, or “God”. There have been persistent rumors for two millennia that Jesus spent his early adult years in India, and there is an amount of circumstantial evidence to support this view; see for example Jesus Lived in India, by Holger Kersten; The Original Jesus, by Elmar Gruber and Holger Kersten; or Jesus in Kashmir, by Suzanne Olsson). Therefore, there may have been a sacred pun or euphony in this first stage of the encounter of reborn husband and wife – Mary says she is looking for her isha, her lord, and the “angel” (actually, as discussed below, the shadow of Jesus on the wall of the tomb by the new dawn light) replies with isha, woman.

Why this isha/isha pun? Because Jesus and Mary, as portrayed in this gospel (as in the Gospel of Philip), are each the other’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort). And this sacred pun may have been just too romantic or incomprehensible to the redactor, who would have been strongly motivated to change the text to read as it has come down to us.

20:16 – 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 was used as a title denoting reverence. In the Second Temple period the word meant “my master”, and was commonly used not with religious authorities but with anyone whom the speaker respected as authoritative in any way, religious or not. The Peshitta gives the word 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 “lord”. Only here does she appear to say something different; could she have said the same thing she does in those other verses? The Aramaic word for “lord” in the Peshitta is ܡܪܝܐ, which is pronounced “mary”, and her name, “Mary”, is either ܡܪܝܡ (maryam) or, more familiarly, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (marya) – the latter, though from a different root, is spelled and pronounced almost identically as mary, the word for “lord”; only the vowel markings differ. Thus these verses have a kind of sacred pun: she is looking for her mary, her lord, and he calls her his Mary. Very possibly, in the original verse 16 Jesus said “Mary”, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (marya), and Mary replied, not ܪܒܢ (raban), but “mary”, ܡܪܝܐ (mary). And again, 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, would either have failed to understand this dual mary/Mary or found it objectionably romantic, and replaced mary with Rabbouni.

Supporting this possible mary/Mary reading is the fact that, as James Daniel Tabor has documented, the Talpiot tomb includes one ossuary marked “Marya”, and another marked “Maramenon he [known as] Mara”, two affectionate diminutives of the name Mariam (Mary). The organic material in the latter ossuary bears no mitochondrial DNA relation on the mothers’ sides to the material in the ossuary marked “Yeshuah bar Yehosef” (Jesus son of Joseph), raising the strong likelihood that it is the one Mary significant in Jesus’s life who wasn’t blood-related to him: Mary Magdalene. (The first ossuary, Tabor concludes, contains the remains of Mary the mother of Jesus.) Add to that the fact that the noncanonical Acts of Philip refers to her as Mariamne (a slightly different Greek spelling of “Maramenon”), suggesting an oral remembrance of her being called that during her life.

And it is not unlikely that she also said ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al), as at the well in Sychar (John 4:16-18). In both Hebrew (בָּעַל in Hebrew) and Aramaic the word ba’al means “husband”, “lord”, “master”, and “god”. Or she might have said both mary and ba’al.