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.

That They All May Be One

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.

In Jesus’s pastoral prayer following the Last Supper (Gospel of John chapter 17), he says (in my translation from the Greek): “And I made your name known to them and I will (continue to) make it known … that they all may be one (just) as we are one: (just) as you, Father, (are) in me and I in you, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one…

For Jesus, and Jews of his time (and indeed many classical cultures worldwide), to refer to someone’s name was not merely to the vocalization which is semiotically associated with them, but to the person’s teaching and example; thus to give even a cup of cold water in Jesus’s name (Matthew 10:42) or Kṛṣṇa’s name (Bhagavad-Gita 9:26) is to do it as that person’s disciple.

More than that, names in all traditional (non-Western) cultures are powerful, magic spells in a sense that evoke their spiritual presence. In this gospel, the Name of God (as mentioned in these three verses) is the πνευμα, the Divine Breath that is also the Divine Wind and the Divine Spirit that blew in Creation (Genesis 1:2) and many times upon the prophets. Josephus calls it the “four vowels” of the Name of God, יהוה, the exhalation. Since all other names can only be spoken by exhaling, the Name of God is hidden inside every other name. This, as it is put in The Circle of Life, “Those who keep the traditional ways know that spoken words can carry a little glint of moonlight – a tiny sliver of the silent Word, the exhaled breath, the divine Name of G-d spoken in the beginning that echoes still in everything that exists.” And our sacred names, known only to God, are, as the same book says, “ultimately one name, and point to the same Spirit that is in us all.” Therefore, Jesus would agree with this Apache proverb: “It makes no difference as to the name of the God, since love is the real God of all the world.”

In the decades after Jesus, those who claimed to be his followers took the path of separating from Judaism and establishing a strong central authority, and imposing from above on their followers a you-must-believe-it-or-else dogma. This dogma would have us believe that Jesus is God, the second person in the Trinity. Many passages in the New Testament (which, with the exception of Pauline and post-Pauline texts, was written free of this dogma) were then either interpreted or even edited to conform to this doctrine.

These verses serve as an example. They clearly state that Jesus believed not merely that he and God were one (the phraseology that these dogmaticians insisted supported their Jesus-equals-God creed), but that he and all humanity were one in God. This view is perfectly in line with other passages in the gospel, including especially 1:12. What Jesus believed was unique about himself was not that he was God incarnate, but that he had been appointed by God as God’s Messenger (αγγελος, “angel”) and Prophet προφητης (“prophet”, literally meaning “speaker on behalf of”), hence as Messiah. This was, in his view, far from an exclusive relationship; Jesus repeatedly stresses in this gospel that he wishes those who have heard the Word (Λογος) that he brings, those who believe “in my name” (meaning in his teaching and example), to go out themselves doing the same as he did: urging people to accept the Λογος of God and thereby recognize their universal oneness in God.

Therefore, far from what the Church was going to start dictating in a generation or two, this is the central statement of the central theological theme in the gospel. Today, the theology that Jesus states here is known by the terms “immanence” and “monism”.

Immanence is the belief that the divine manifests itself and and through the physical universe. It is not to be confused with pantheism, the belief that God equals all things, but panentheism, in which the sacred realm permeates the mundane. In this sense, all things, including you and me – even a turd in the road, as in the famous example of Chuang-tse – are imbued with the presence of holiness. This is a concept found frequently in Jewish philosophy, and therefore it would not at all be unlikely for Jesus to voice it. It is also found in the East, in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism especially, and these verses are often taken as support of the theory that Jesus travelled to India and Tibet in his early adult years.

Monism is the belief that all things only appear to be discrete, and that beneath such outer appearances of separateness all things are ultimately one. This view is not frequently found in Jewish thinking, but it is also a mainstay of Eastern philosophy.

Both of these perspectives are prominent in these verses, as they are in another very early text containing Jesus’s teachings, the Gospel of Thomas. Logion 77 in the latter reads: “Jesus said, ‘I am the light over all things. I am all; all came forth from me, and all have attained to me. Split a piece of wood, I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.’” Very likely, as in the Gospel of John, Jesus is here talking in I AM language, not so much speaking for himself as a man but speaking for God, as God’s messenger (αγγελος, “angel”) or prophet (προφητης, literally, someone who speaks on behalf of a king or God), saying directly and exactly the words of God. That there is light in all things is part of Kabbalistic Jewish thought, the Shviras Hekeilim (“Shattering of the Vessels”): God concentrated part of Godself into vessels of light in order to create the universe. But these vessels shattered, and their shards became sparks of light which became trapped, one within each thing in creation. Prayer charges and reveals these hidden sparks, reuniting them with God.

As noted in the commentaries to 14:2, this was also the philosophy of Martin Buber, who saw God as playing “hide and go seek” with us, hiding in every leaf and stone and flower and begging us to come and look for the Almighty in even the humblest of things around us. And once we see that Presence, like finding the face hidden in a puzzle drawing of a landscape, we can never “unsee” it again, and we wonder how we could ever have possibly not seen it before. Thus it is, as noted above, that all ordinary names, including yours and mine, have the Name of God hidden in them, in the very Breath (πνευμα) with which we pronounce them.

Referring to Thomas 77 and these verses in John, Rod Borghese says Jesus taught that: “You too are one with the All – a part of the tree, a part of the stone. And that the light exists even within a branch and even beneath a rock and within a rock. When you study science you see this is so. We all come from one source of light, one tiny speck of Light.” He adds this profound observation: “The only thing that sets Jesus apart [from other spiritual masters] is that he was crucified for saying ‘Ì am one with God. … He had followers – netzarim – who recorded his sayings, and some of those followers thought he was saying ‘Ònly I am one with God,’ when he actually said that anybody could realize the oneness of God, and therefore do greater things than Jesus.” Yet, “if you walk around today saying you are the All, you are God, or even you are one with God, you would probably also be crucified.”

The Identity of the Paraclete

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.

At the Last Supper as recounted in the Gospel of John, after saying he and the disciples will part ways, Jesus promises “another helper” will come. The word in Greek is παρακλητος (“parakletos”, often spelled “paraclete” in English), and from its roots it means “to make a judgement call from close beside”. It is basically a legal term that in the first century was often used in reference to a lawyer, a wise person who could offer convincing testimony in court. (Note that lawyers in those days were no more “professionals” in the modern sense than rabbis. Rather, someone slowly gained the reputation over the years of being a good lawyer [or rabbi, etc.] after consistently demonstrating sagacity and ability; that reputation could be lost at a stroke, should the individual do poorly in but one instance, and so individuals worked hard to preserve their long-cultivated reputations.) More generally, the word referred to someone close enough to the situation at hand (in observation and good judgement) to make a good call as regards what should be done.

The word has been variously rendered in translations of this gospel as “comforter”, “helper”, and “advocate”, among others. In this translation I have chosen the latter, since it comes closest to the nuances of the first-century Greek word.

The early principals of the Christian religion followed the lead of Paul in establishing their movement as a new religion separate from Judaism, and imposing on its followers a certain dogma. As a part of this effort, they also imposed on the New Testament (which had largely been written, of course, before their dogma had been invented) interpretations that forced it anachronistically to conform to their dogma. Their success is measured in the fact that to this day the vast preponderance of Christians believe the Paraclete that Jesus promised to send came in the form of the Holy Spirit – an invented entity as part of the dogmatic trinity, none of which has any real foundation in the New Testament (let alone the Jewish scriptures).

Scholars have offered many guesses as to the actual identity of the Paraclete. It is my contention that the Paraclete is this very gospel itself. The gospel’s very last sentence (i.e., 20:31, barring the epilogue of chapter 21) says that the gospel was written so its readers will “come to believe that Jesus is Messiah, son of God, and that through believing [they] might have life in his name.” In short, the gospel was written to testify persuasively about Jesus, his teachings and his nature.

And this is the work of the Paraclete, as described in the verses following. Jesus begins by saying “another advocate”; he is saying that he himself has been an advocate, someone who speaks with wise judgement, and that this Paraclete will function exactly the same as Jesus in this regard; since this gospel is an eyewitness record of Jesus’s teachings and a testament to his nature, it is indeed therefore equivalent to Jesus, another advocate like him.

Verse 17 vividly recalls Jesus’s words to Nicodemus about the Spirit/Breath/Wind (3:8), the breath that speaks the word of God. He added to that religious leader, “We speak of what we perceive, and we bear witness to what we have seen, and you do not grasp our witness” (3:11) with the Greek verb λαμβανω carrying the same double meaning as the English verb “to grasp”: Nicodemus and his fellow religious leaders did not grasp (understand) this witness, nor could they grasp (take hold of) it in order to stamp it out. The same verb is found at 1:5, where it says the darkness is unable to grasp the light. Likewise in 14:17, “the world is not able to grasp” this truth, again, in both senses of the verb. However, Jesus goes on, the disciples know this truth since it will be near them and in them – in my view, he refers to their memories of his words and example as in them and, when this gospel is written, also “near them”, near at hand to be read as often as needed.

In 16:13 Jesus will amplify this analogy, saying that the Paraclete “will not speak on its own” but rather “what it hears”, what is written into it, which will be Jesus’s words and example: “it is from me that it will receive what it will make known to you.”

The only other New Testament reference to the Paraclete is found at I John 2:1, written by John the Presbyter, whom this work argues was the amanuensis for this gospel. There we are told that we have a Paraclete with the Father; this passage then identifies the Paraclete as Jesus (2:1-2) and as his commandments (2:3-4), his word (2:5ab), and his example (2:5c-6) – all, in my view, to make clear that this gospel is the Paraclete.

A royal messenger always bears some kind of credentials to certify that he and his message are legitimate. In ancient times, they might have been a signet ring or a document sealed in wax. The gospel as Paraclete, a royal messenger from God, bears several assertions of its eyewitness nature which serve as credentials of this kind, including those at 1:14, 3:33-34, 19:35, 20:30-31, and 21:24-25.

It is a truism that most people over two millennia, when they have written about Jesus, say more about themselves in their interpretations than they do about Jesus himself. This has been true from the first. Paul, who loved the spotlight on himself, who loved being a big man in the Roman world, presented Jesus as a Roman-style godling. Barnabas, as a Levite, portrays Jesus in the Letter to the Hebrews as High Priest. And Lazarus and John the Presbyter, whose own work was as communicators, present Jesus as Messenger (αγγελος, angel), and as a vessel (temple) containing the Word of God – and this gospel is exactly that as well: a messenger, and a vessel (book) containing the Word of God as given by the Messenger Jesus. This is how Jesus says in the gospel that he will still be present with them/us: this gospel, the Paraclete, is his continuing presence in the world.

This gospel is, of course, a story, a recollection in words. The modern Western civilization has reduced storytelling to mere entertainment, to a commodity, and disregards its power to inspire and teach. But classical cultures worldwide, in all periods of time including the present (Native American, Native African, Taoist, Aborigine, and others), know stories not only inspire and teach, but actually evoke the sacred presence of “those who have gone before”. As it is put in The Circle of Life:

Stories are powerful ceremonies that, told properly and well, evoke powerful sacred presences; they can be healing. … As the storyteller is telling it, the story is vivid in the minds of both teller and hearers; the hearers enter into the story themselves, becoming a part of it. … In the way of the traditional peoples, names and stories are everpresent, just as visions are everpresent, if only we have the eyes to see them – and, more than the names, the spirits are everpresent. As Jesus promised his disciples before leaving them, “Lo, I am with you always.” … Through stories we transcend the contours of linear time, moving into the past and future and coming back enriching the present moment with meaning. Through stories we experience the deeds, the very lives, of our ancestors, and gain perspective on our own lives. Every time we tell or hear a particular story we recharge it, making it come alive again in the here and now. … Storytelling is central to traditional cultures worldwide. It is stories – and the visions and dreams behind them – that gather the people of a nation together and give them a common identity. More than that: stories – and the visions and dreams behind them – are a nation’s treasure: the common heritage, the common wisdom, and the source of its sacred power. Stories are sacred ceremonies: when told properly and well, they evoke powerful presences. … The past, to the traditional way of thinking, is the stories that have been told and can still be told; the future is the stories that have not yet been told. Thus, this present moment is ceremony in progress, stories in the making. This moment now, with you holding this book in your hands as you read it, is your story-in-the-making. Some day to come you will remember reading this book. You won’t have this book in your hands, but you will remember reading something in it that really struck you, and what it made you think about, and what you did that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. This remembering will be for you a story, part of the greater story of your life. … Stories, and their kin – songs, dances, art works – are examples of gateways, as I call them: gateways between worlds and dimensions. Stories, you see, are ceremonies of shared experience: when we tell stories of the First Persons, the apparent distance in time and space is bridged by these gateways, and they are present with us; even more, we become one with them. Therefore we tell stories with care, since telling the stories activates those gateways and brings closer the beings of other worlds and dimensions, or even the incomprehensible beings deep in the Spirit World. When we tell the classic stories that have been told for generations, we are indeed drawing close some powerful spirits indeed….