Star Riders

Star Riders:

The Aramaic Revelation Text and a Correct Identification of

the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

 

James David Audlin

 

Adapted and abridged from The Revelation to John, to be published soon by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2013,2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

Nonfiction by James David Audlin

 

 

Two of Zechariah’s visions are often proposed as source material here, though they have little in common with John’s vision except that horses and the number four are mentioned, as well as colors that partly correspond. In Zechariah 1:8-11 the prophet sees by night a man under myrtle trees, astride a red horse, with red, sorrel, and white horses behind him: perhaps one of each color but it could also be a large group of horses. The man tells the prophet that “they”, presumably the horses, were sent out by YHWH to walk about the earth and report. And in Zechariah 6:1-8 the prophet sees four chariots pulled respectively by red, black, white, and dappled horses. The latter is specifically four sets of horses rather than a group, and the colors are closer to those of the four horses in Revelation, though in a different order and including the quite ordinary horse-color of sorrel rather than the fourth horse’s anything-but-horselike color of ܝܘܪܩܐ (ywrāq), which was somewhere between blue-green and greenish-yellow. The Presbyter often shows his deep familiarity with the prophets, so certainly these two prophecies were in the back of his mind yet still they do not appear to be a direct source for this his own prophecy.

The four horsemen are usually understood, not wrongly, as four “curses” in civilization: the charismatic leader who opens up conquest, the bloodshed that follows, then the poverty and pestilence that enable usurious merchants to profit from desperation, and the inevitable “collateral damage” of victims to war and plague.

Better to understand these four horsemen we must review the classical concept of fourness associated with this material world. Besides those about to be named, there were the four cardinal directions, four traditional elements, four oceans, and four continents, among others. This fourness is, of course, prominent in the Revelation.

Empedocles (490-430 B.C.E.), on the basis of his careful observations and the work of predecessors, saw all things and events in the world in terms of constant interaction of four complements arranged in two pairs: wet and dry, hot and cold. Water is the product of wet and cold, air of wet and hot, earth dry and cold, fire dry and hot. Earth and water, having the attribute of mass, gather below (hence land and sea), and fire and air, lacking that attribute, gather above. Philo, who I conclude was the Presbyter’s teacher at the Mouseion, the great university in Alexandria, was one of several prominent Jewish scholars who believed there was no conflict between the Tanakh and Greek philosophy; Philo indeed approvingly quotes Empedocles on this very subject in his essay “On Providence”.

On Empedocles’s foundation Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.E.) proposed the humoral theory of medicine. Even though it dominated in Western medicine for two millennia, surviving well into the nineteenth century, it is largely forgotten today, which is surely why to my awareness no New Testament scholar or commentator has brought it up in this context. According to this theory four humors flow in complex patterns in all living bodies, human and those of other species. When the humors are in their proper balance, Hippocrates wrote, the overall bodily system is in good health; when that balance is lost sickness results and, in the extreme, death. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) and, after John’s lifetime, Galen further developed this theory, as did many others over the centuries.

These four humors are φλεγμα (phlegm), αιμα (blood), χολη (yellow bile), and μελαν χολη (black bile). They are associated with the four seasons, respectively beginning with winter; with the traditional four elements: water, air, fire, and earth; with four classical planets: the moon, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn; and with four primary colors, white, red, yellow, and black. These groups of four do not match in exact order the descriptions of the four horsemen, but they are very close.

Another cultural factor that would have been in John’s mind is the four colors can be associated with leprosy. I refer not to what is called leprosy today, which is an entirely different disease, but what the Bible means when it speaks of צרעת (tzaraath). This malady was the outward manifestation of an essentially spiritual affliction: Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch insightfully points out that Exodus 21:19 advises someone who develops the symptoms not to see a doctor, as the Torah usually does, but a priest. The implication of the relevant Tanakh passages are that the disease results from selfishness, arrogation, greed, and insensitivity to the plight of others: of forgetting to “love one’s brother as oneself” (Leviticus 19:18b). In modern terms, if one seals oneself off from interaction, one’s skin grows necrotic and one’s body unhealthy, and one’s homes in which one barricade oneself with one’s possessions cultivate bacteria and fungi. The Torah specifies the earliest signs of the disease as whitened hairs or skin, and red rashes or lesions. One’s clothing and the walls of one’s house can show signs of this leprosy by turning the same green as the grass of the field – and of course, if untreated, one can eventually die of the disease, as suggested by the fourth seal.

One may also interpret the four horsemen as the four stages of the individual’s life: childhood, when one explores and discovers one’s world like a conqueror; youth, when one fights and struggles for a place in society; maturity, when one is in charge of the merchanting of whatever one sells; and old age, when one decays and dies. In this sense the four are about how the κοσμος, the cosmos, as John calls the human world, takes us over and grinds us down until we fit without remonstrance into the machine of mutual exploitation – even learning to love the bars that shut us in, the system that exploits us when we are valuable and kicks us to the ditch when we are not.

But there is nothing in the text to suggest a temporal cause-and-effect consecutiveness to these four; that is an assumption arising from the modern categorical imperative. John may have intended them as temporally consecutive, one leading to the next, but we do not know that. The four might just as well be four contemporaneous figure or forces. This fits with their most likely scriptural source, Leviticus 26:14-33, Jeremiah 15:2-3, and Ezekiel 14:21, which list exactly the several deaths that the horsemen bring as coming to those who do not listen to God. Better put, most likely the Presbyter saw these four at once, in the same place in the field of the vision, and only described them consecutively because that is the nature of written description.

These four horsemen are no doubt a depiction of what John actually saw with spiritual sight as he looked up at the stars in this night of visions. It should therefore not be difficult to determine what exactly he was observing as he saw the vision of these four horsemen, and what the sight meant to him.

There were several planets aloft that night. In the early evening, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury were in close conjunction setting to the west. Saturn remained aloft much of the night in the constellation Virgo. Mars, the obvious choice for the second, red horse, was to rise in the hours before dawn, well after the others, except Saturn, had all disappeared. And the others are not usually associated with a particular color as is Mars. There simply is no obvious way that the planets of that night can be seen as inspiring the Four Horsemen.

And so we turn to stars instead. There certainly cannot be many configurations that comprise only a white, red, black, and green star.

The first thing we must realize is that the green of the fourth horse has nothing directly to do with its rider, Death, and its companion, Sheol. The Aramaic color ܝܘܪܩܐ (ywrāq) encompassed what for us modern Westerners is the range between blue-green and greenish-yellow. It was, in short, the color of vegetation in all its variations, thus including the deep dark hue of some tree leaves and needles and the bright chartreuse of wildgrasses, as well as the yellow cast they take in dry seasons. Vegetation of course is living, and so this color has no intrinsic association with Death. The Textus Receptus, lacking a Greek word that embraced this full range of vegetative hues, translated ܝܘܪܩܐas χλωρος (chlōros), which focuses on the greenish-yellow end of the above spectrum.

Modern commentators, not ancient, often try to get around the problem of unrelation between the color and death by suggesting that John chose this color because it is that of decaying corpses. Perhaps it is the shade of decomposition, but that doesn’t get around the fact that the ancient Greeks thought of the word mainly in association with not dead things but living things, most often verdure. In the dictionaries the word is associated with young shoots, and by extension (without reference to color) with the human qualities of “fresh” and by further extension “young” and “lively”. Homer describes both honey and a nightingale as χλωρος. It appears only a couple of times in the classical literature to describe victims of a plague, but even this unusual usage does not mean death, let alone rotting corpses. Indeed, the three other times χλωρος appears in the New Testament, at Mark 6:39 and twice more in Revelation itself, at 8:7 and 9:4, it always refers to living greenery. In any case, we must not forget that what John wrote was ܝܘܪܩܐ and not χλωρος, and the Aramaic word has no associations with death. In the Peshitta Bible, both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament, it always refers to verdure, especially grass.

We encounter the same basic problem with the color of the third horse. John says it is ܐܘܟܡܐ (ˀwkamā), which is usually translated as “black”. For moderns black is the total absence of color, but it was classically understood not as without color but as with much more color than usual, because dyeing a fabric very dark took a lot of saturating with costly dyes, as well as much time and expertise. Hence black (really very dark blue or purple) garments – the ܐܪܓܘܢܐ or πορφυρας of Revelation 17:4 and 18:12,16 – were worn only by the rich.

In fact, just as for us moderns χλωροςis not a color, so too the ancient Greeks and Semites did not conceive of blue as an actual discrete color; so conclude several scholars of color perception, beginning with William E. Gladstone (Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age). Homer speaks of the sea as wine-dark and the sky as bronze (i.e., shining like metal), not blue. The aforementioned Empedocles, also a color theorist, names only black, white, χλωρος, and red as colors. The Greek word κυάνεος (kyaneos, “cyan”), often translated as “blue”, really means “very dark”, and is a synonym for μελας (melas), what the Greek in 6:5 calls the color of the third horse. The color blue never appears in the Bible, Jewish or Christian: in the Tanakh the Hebrew word סַפִּיר (sapir, “sapphire”), though sometimes rendered as “blue”, really is a form of green, and תְּכֵ֫לֶת (tekeleth) a form of purple.

My sense of the matter is that we think of blue and black as two different colors, but to the ancients they were the same color, with what we call blue being the color of the sky by day and what we call black being the color of the sky by night: the latter sky, you might say, being more deeply dyed. Likewise, even moderns, if they look closely at the fur of a black horse will see that it is not black exactly, but a very deep blue color; I personally have many times seen horses that were a sleek blue-black in color. And I have met many men and women from Africa whose skins are so black that they appear blue – John inevitably had encountered some of these truly beautiful people too.

Besides all this, logic comes to our aid. If John was observing four stars in the night sky as these four horses, then he could not have seen a black star. While there are such things as black stars – both the burned-out remains of formerly shining stars and the so-called black holes, whose gravitation is so great that no radiation, including light, can escape them. If it was not a black star, then John must have been looking at a deep blue star.

Since green in first-century Greek and Aramaic is neither a horse-color nor a death-color, and since deep blue is not easily understood as a horse-color, we are forced to conclude with a simpler explanation: that John put down these colors not to be abstrusely symbolic but simply because they are the colors he saw. Which means they are the colors of the stars he saw.

And that brings us to a difficulty, but a felicitous one. There are white, red, and blue stars aplenty in the night sky, but the fourth horse, the fourth star, being green, is generally understood as an impossibility. Stars are by nature close to the ideal “black body” of physics, which by definition absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation. Therefore, in accordance with Planck’s Law, each star emits black-body radiation that is of a certain color wavelength depending on the star’s actual temperature at thermal equilibrium. The physics dictate that all stars have colors in the range of red, orange, yellow, white, and light blue. A handful of light blue stars appear green by an optical illusion thanks to a nearby red star in their multiple star systems; Antares B and Almach provide examples.

Yet there is one and only one star that is often described as intrinsically green, and not because it is bathed in the light of a nearby red star – and, since the colors of the other three horses (white, red, and blue) are common star colors, we must seek this unique star as the means by which we can with certainty identify the four horses of John’s vision.

The genuinely green star is called Zuben Eschamali (or β Libræ), in the constellation Libra. The name comes from the Arabic الزبن العقرب (al-zuban al-šamāliyya), meaning “the Northern Claw”, because in ancient Mediterranean cultures from the Babylonian to the Roman, and including the Semitic and Greek, this constellation was sometimes seen as a scorpion – a creature that will figure prominently later in the Revelation.

There is some recent controversy over whether this star is green or blue-white, but Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, one of the most reliable standard references, quotes two earlier scholars William T. Olcott as saying it is the only green star visible to the naked eye, and T. H. Webb’s description of its “beautiful pale-green hue”. The latter word choice is interesting, since English translations put the fourth horse’s color into English as either “pale” or “green”. Another leading astronomer, James B. Kaler, states a growing consensus that its color may indeed have been green in the past but that for some reason it has relatively recently changed to blue-white.

Adding to the sense that this star represents the fourth horse of John’s vision, it displays a regular variation in magnitude that must be caused by a companion star not yet actually seen from Earth. This dark, mysterious companion star could be the one John calls Sheol and says is following behind the green horse – but that raises a provocative question. Was John simply seeing the stars of night and the visions were to a large degree the product of his cultural worldview and his imagination, or was he actually seeing, presumably by God’s will, the dark companion star that to date the best telescopes have not yet detected? Another question is whether this unseen companion is a burned-out star or even a black hole.

The other three stars in Libra are Zuben Elgenubi, “the Southern Claw, which is white; Zuben Elakrab, “the Shears of the Scorpion”, which is orange-red, and Iota Libræ, which is blue. Starting with Zuben Elgenubi, the colors are a perfect match with those of the four horses in John’s vision. And what is more they form, depending on how you observe it, the shape of a kite or box – but since the ancient astronomers such as Ptolemy saw the constellations not so much as areas but as lines, they form something more like a cross.

Next, these four stars make up a constellation often associated in ancient times with a scorpion. The word for “scorpion” in Aramaic is ܥܩܪܒܐ (ˁqrbˀ). The roots of this word suggest grabbing hold of one by the heel, to follow one closely, to take one’s place in public office. In short, the name of this constellation well fits Paul, who grabbed hold of Jesus’s public image and sought to succeed him (and surpass him) as the leader of the religion he, Paul, and not Jesus, founded. In the commentary to 6:2 I will discuss the probable identity of the first horseman as that of Paul.

Note also that the same Aramaic word, vocalized a little differently, is the word for “soldier”. The first two of these four horsemen are portrayed with soldier imagery. And, as we will with scorpions, we will see much more of soldiers as this vision continues.

Finally, note that the classical Mediterranean cultures also often associated this constellation with the balance-scales. In Aramaic the balance-scales are called ܡܐܣܬܐ (messəṯā), which is of course the equivalent name for this constellation. That very word appears in verse 6:5, the balance-scales in the hand of the third horseman, and I cannot help but think John looking at the constellation we call Libra inspired that element in the vision.

 

6:2 – One school of thought is that the first horseman is to be understood as Jesus. No less than Irenæus, student of John the Presbyter’s student Polycarp, was the first to make this suggestion. Jesus is similarly described as wearing a wreath in 14:14, though his is described as golden, and as astride a white horse in 19:11-12. (While usually translated as “crown”, a later accoutrement of European kings, the word in both Aramaic and Greek refers to a wreath, which would be bestowed in ceremonies of acclaim on military and sporting victors as wcan should be understood as Jesus is found in the Aramaic.) The phrase ܤܘܤܝܐ ܚܘܪܐ (sūsyā ḥawrā), usually taken to mean “a white horse”, can also be rendered, according to J. Payne Smith’s dictionary, as “a yearling lamb tending the sick”, an image of Jesus, the lamb of God (John 1:36) to be sacrificed at Passover, healing the sick.

However the text is clear that this first figure is not acclaimed by God but more allowed or suffered by God for a limited period of time. The description of this first horseman is in direct parallel with the three that follow, such that, if this were indeed Jesus, then we would have to wonder why one good figure is juxtaposed with three evil figures. Indeed, the concept of fourness in reference to the earth, this physical realm, was so universal in the classical age that we must take these four horsemen as a unit, as sharing all essential characteristics. There can be no division into one versus three. Thus all four are forms of scourges visited upon the earth.

This first image has often been compared to that of a Parthian horseman. A few centuries before John’s lifetime the Parthians (whose homeland is now northeastern Iraq) had developed some fearsome military innovations, including armored archers mounted on white Parthian horses, just as described here. Western history, which is focused on Greece and Rome, tends to ignore the great Parthian Empire, which from the century before John to the century after they were Rome’s main enemy. At the same time that the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 721 B.C.E., new Semitic populations sprang up in Parthia and nearby countries, suggesting a massive displacement of Israelites; no wonder that these Parthians spoke a tongue very close to Hebrew, and that among them was a sizable and influential Jewish population. After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., Babylonia in the Parthian realm became the center of Judaism for the subsequent millennium. No wonder Josephus originally composed his Jewish Wars in Aramaic so Parthian Jews would be able to read it.

The Parthian Empire invaded Judæa in 40 B.C.E. and briefly ruled it, forcing Rome to hold its nose and put Herod the Great on the Jewish throne – and Herod like a juggler managed to maintain friendly relations with the two implacable empires, Rome and Parthia. How could he do this? A scholar named István Horvát (1784–1846) reached the conclusion that Herod accomplished this feat because he was himself of Parthian Scythian ancestry. Horvát goes even further, saying Paul of Tarsus too was of the same blood. These conclusions have been almost universally ignored; only a few scholars bother to dismiss them, though never by providing solid counterevidence. Nevertheless, this always meticulous Romanian polymath deserves to be taken seriously, since a number of facts suggest he may have been correct.

Paul was almost certainly a Herodian, part of the religious-political movement that embraced descendants of King Herod who were determined to be accepted as Jews. Paul greets his kinsman named Herodian in Romans 16:11, and Josephus appears to refer to him as Saulus, “a kinsman of (Herod) Agrippa” (Antiquities 20:9:4). Robert Eisenman further strengthens the case in an excellent article, “Paul as Herodian” (JHC 3:1, Spring 1996). Paul spoke Syro-Chaldæan, the lingua franca of Parthia (Acts 21:40 and 26:14). He was from the city of Tarsus, which though never within the Parthian Empire was originally called Parthenia, suggesting its Parthian heritage. And he declared himself (Philippians 3:5) a descendant “of the Tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews”. The Tribe of Benjamin is often associated with Parthia, and the royal family of Afghanistan (in the first century part of the Parthian Empire) claims to this day to be descended from that line. The name “Hebrew” literally comes from הַנָּהָר עֵבֶר, “from the far side of the Euphrates”, traditionally referring to when Abraham crossed it, and in the first century that river was the agreed-upon border between the Roman and Parthian empires; Paul, who often made words dance to his tune of equivocation, may well have been saying truthfully that his family had originated in the Parthian Empire beyond the Euphrates, while letting his readers assume he meant to say his ancestors were Judæans, which they were not.

In sum, the description of the first horseman goes far to suggest the Presbyter had Paul in mind. At I John 2:18,22 and 4:3, and II John 7 John calls Paul the αντιχριστος, the “anti-Christ”. The English prefix “anti-” denotes active opposition or hostility, but this is a shift in meaning away from the Greek prefix αντι-, which suggests something more like mirror reversal: identical but backwards. John invented the word to describe Paul as an opposite-but-equal-to alternative to Jesus – as a kind of would-be messiah himself using the real Messiah as the sheep’s clothing over the fox, to drape himself in the garb of authenticity.

From the perspective of this understanding of verse 6:2, its doubles entendres come into sharper focus. The phrase ܤܘܤܝܐ ܚܘܪܐ (sūsyā ḥawrā) overtly means “a white horse” but implicitly “a yearling lamb tending the sick” – something Paul never did, even though he was reminded to do so at the so-called Council of Jerusalem in 49 or 50. And the wreath the figure is given suggests that yes, John concedes that Paul has won the battle for supremacy, turning the Jewish movement centered on Jesus’s teachings into a new Roman-style religion: the awarding of a wreath to victors was a Roman ceremony, not a Jewish; even in declaring Paul the victor John is saying he did so by becoming a Roman and putting Jesus into a toga as well. The Presbyter’s mature “brave new theology” was in effect his response: let Paul have the wreath in this world he is so determined to win, since what matters is our living by the Logos in this world such that we will be able to enter the sacred realm, the Æon.

One critical word appears three times at the end of this verse in three different forms.

The first, ܙܟܝ (zakāy), is the adjective form, which can mean “just”, “innocent”, “righteous”, “free”, “victorious”, “deserving”, “worthy”, “entitled to (the) possession” (of something), or “having the right/authority” (to do something). This adjective is also used to describe oils and incenses that are clear, free of impurities – which is interesting in view of the remark at the end of 6:6. The second form, ܘܙܟܐ (wazakā), is the present active participle. The third form,ܘܕܢܙܟܐ (w’d’nzakā) has two prefixes “and in-order-to”) followed by the infinitive.

There are two main senses in which this word can be understood. One focuses on righteousness and overcoming, overcoming what is bad within oneself or the world, and the other is about victory and conquering, overcoming others in the world. In neither case is there a single word that in different inflections can appear all three times, so I must resort to “righteous” and “overcoming/overcome” for the one meaning, and “victorious” and “conquering/conquer” for the other.

This dual meaning is reminiscent of the Arabic word جهاد (jihad), which originally and properly refers to the inward struggle to live by God’s will and thus become the person God intended when one was created, but which has been twisted by fearmongering news media in both predominantly Muslim countries and in the West to give it the false meaning of, respectively, an unprovoked full-scale attack on innocent Western citizens and the necessity to attack the West as a defensive measure against the West’s full-frontal efforts through economic and military belligerence to destroy the essential Muslim character of those countries.

These two highly contrastive meanings of this Aramaic word suggests again, as do other elements in this verse, both the right path and the wrong path. Paul talks often in his letters about overcoming evil and being righteous, but his behavior is clearly aimed at being victorious over his (perceived) enemies, especially John, and “conquering the world for Christ”, that is, for himself. Paul could have used his obviously abundant gift for evangelizing for good, but he chose otherwise. So God will give him the wreath in this world, but ultimately he is but another scourge in this world, like the conqueror, the extorting merchant, and the plague.

 

6:5 – Given the voice calling out prices, the assumption is always that the individual with the balance-scale is a merchant, that he is using the instrument to measure out quantities of wheat and barley. But the image (if not what the voice says) is also the ancient one of a goddess holding a balance-scale. It originates in the Egyptian Ma’at and Isis and progresses through the Greek Themis and Dike, into whose hands classical artists first placed the balance-scale, and then the Roman Iustitia, who was often portrayed blindfolded and also carrying a sword to enforce her verdict. The conjunction of merchant and goddess of justice is that in most societies the wealthiest merchants also control or even are the government, such that they can make and enforce laws to protect and increase the flow of fortune into their purses. By holding the scale of justice even as he exacts exorbitant prices for basic necessary food items the third horseman is saying his prices are lawful and fair, and if you complain you will be imprisoned by his justice.

 

6:6 – The text specified in the preceding verse that the third living being (the one with a human face) invites John to “Come!” Here it says the voice of this horse rider with the balance-scale comes from among the four living beings. It is not one of the four speaking; rather, the voice comes out from among them. It is evident that these visions John is witnessing are visual only, as they should be since they are clearly stellar in nature.

What the merchant-voice says can be understood on two levels. The first is the standard rendering, in which the voice states prices, the kind of hawker’s voice John must have heard constantly not on the lonely island of Patmos but in the street outside his window in Ephesus, the kind of call I hear all the time here in Paso Ancho. In terms of that rendering, these notes: A denarius was a day’s wage for the typical working-class man. A ܩܒܐ, qabā, is equal to about 1.175 liters or 1.24 quarts, which would hardly be enough to feed that man and his family too, and leave the man no money to pay for other necessities. The word ܬܗܪ (tahar) is a command which, with the preceding negative particle, means “Do not harm”, but it also can mean, with the negative, “Do not marvel at”; the first would be a warning to the customers to keep their hands away from the costly goods; the second would be typical of a hawker’s enticement patter.

But the word ܩܒܐ also can mean “receptacle” or “enclosure”; in Arabic it means “womb”, and a sexual sense is very likely here too, since the word ܚܛܐ (ḥṭy, “wheat”) also can mean “sin”, appearing in the very early Syriac Sinaiticus text of John 1:29, in fact. The prefix ܕ (d’) attached to ܚܛܐ is ordinarily translated as “of”, such that the standard translation makes sense, “a qabā of wheat for a denarius”. But this prefix more accurately means “which” or “that”, so it actually makes more sense to render this phrase “a receptacle/womb that sins for a denarius”.

That there is a second level of meaning is apparent in the next phrase too, though it is not as clear. Scholars assume the word ܩܐܒܝܢ (qābyn) is a variation of ܩܒܐ (qabā); on one level it may be, but the Presbyter’s love for doubles entendres leads to awareness that in the related Mandaic dialect the word means “marriage contract”, and it could also be connected to ܩܒܝܐ (qabya), a round metal pot. The standard translation of ܤܥܪܐ (šˁārā) is “barley”, but it can also mean “hair” and “storm” or “whirlwind”. Jastrow writes in his dictionary that ܤܥܪܐ appears in Job 9:17 classical Aramaic is from decorous texts, scriptural or magical or poetical, so we know next to nothing about the slang and gutter speech that might be at play here. But “hair” and “storm”, at least, imply quite an exciting time for your denarius.

The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 are freighted with John’s outrage at the wayward members of his congregations who were indulging in sexual impropriety at the urgning of a woman he calls Jezebel. This sexual undercurrent to the third seal appears to be a reprise of that outrage.

Since the other meaning of the barley phrase is unclear, my decision is not to give the second meaning of the wheat phrase. The reader is advised to recall that both phrases have a dual meaning.

 

6:8 – The standard reading of this verse is that it says the fourth rider is named ܡܘܬܐ (mawtā), Death, and that ܫܝܘܠ, Sheol follows him. The first word often carries in the classical writings the connotation of unexpected or violent death, which the latter half of the verse makes clear is the case here. And, the text goes on to say, Sheol follows behind the horseman Death. Sheol, the Jewish-Samaritan abode of the dead, not to be confused with the later Christian dogmatic invention hell. It is discussed on page ###. Jesus told John in 1:18 that he has the key of death and Sheol, and here the lamb, Jesus, opens the seal that releases Death and Sheol.

This fourth being is allowed to kill a quarter of the world’s population by means of four deaths: in war, by famine, by plague, and by wild animals. These four deaths do not match up exactly with the nature of the first three horsemen: death by sword/slaughter sounds like the second horseman, famine and plague sound like the third horseman, but wild animals is a newly mentioned death here. This non-matchup is because John was rather recording the list of four deaths found in Leviticus 26:14-33 and Ezekiel 14:21. But the sense still is clear that all four horsemen represent various forms of untimely death. All of us in mortal vesture, to quote Shakespeare, are going to die in one way or another, and the sum of these four horsemen is that we may die to executioners, conquering armies, poverty, famine, plague, or wild creatures, but in the times that lay ahead as John wrote there was no chance of dying peacefully in our old age, because the coming years were going to be rife with dangers on all sides – and that for those striving to hold to the teachings of Jesus there was no escaping such a fate. (Ironically, John the Presbyter is recorded as being most unhappy when it was clear that he would die of old age and not to the executioner in defense of his faith; see The Gospel of John, page ###.)

Bartering Faith in John 21

Simon the Wannabe:

The Barter Scene in John 21:15-19 in the Syriac Aramaic

 

By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Works of John Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

http://audlinbooks.com/about-james-david-audlin/nonfiction-james-david-audlin/

 

 

Jesus wants Simon to know that what he is about to say is very, very serious. Thus he notably does not refer to Simon by his nickname “the Rock”, which he jestingly gave him at the beginning of the gospel. Rather, he speaks in a formal way, getting Simon’s attention with his formal name, σιμονιωαννου (Simon Iōannou), in effect Simon son of John, in those days the equivalent to saying one’s surname. More than that, this formal naming is to remind Simon of his father, John the Immerser (who is just called “John” in John’s gospel; he is usually today called the Baptist, that being an approximate transliteration of the Greek word, which lacks any meaning in English), who three times in the first chapter of the gospel affirmed Jesus’s status as Messiah.

But the Aramaic has Jesus call Simon by a very different formal name, one that makes it even clearer how very serious he is! The Syriac Sinaiticus has Jesus call him ܫܡܥܘܢ ܒܪܗ ܕܝܘܢܢ (Shimon bar d’Ywnn), which other translators have always put into English as “Simon son of John” or else “Simon son of Jonah”. The problem is that Simon’s father’s name is always spelled ܝܘܚܢܢ (Ywḥnn, Yochanan, equivalent to John in English) in the gospel, including in the identical phrase “Simon son of John” at John 1:42, and every time John the Immerser is mentioned in the gospel. This is, in fact, also the case everywhere in the New Testament: John is always called ܝܘܚܢܢ – except only here. The name “John” means “God has been gracious”; it is not related to the name “Jonah”, which comes from the word ܝܘܢܐ (yawnā, “dove”). If Jesus is calling him “son of Jonah”, the reference is to the tale of Jonah, whose three days inside the sea monster have been taken since very early in Christianity as prefiguring Jesus’s three days in death (see The Gospel of John, page 574).

The slightly later Peshitta is almost the same; it calls him “son of (the) dove”, ܝܘܢܐ (yawnā), the word from which the name Jonah is derived. And the overt reference to “dove” here is all but certainly a reference to Mary, Jesus’s wife. Jesus refers to his disciples as his children, and thus by extension they are the spiritual children of Mary as well. And Mary is frequently equated in the gospel with a dove, especially in the baptism scene (see the “dove” references in the index on page 1082 of The Gospel of John).

As a result, the suggestion here is that Simon was the son of John the Immerser, not only literally but as his disciple (John 1:35-42), but now he is the disciple of Jesus-and-Mary, who since the resurrection are one person in the image of the male-and-female-as-one Elohim. And this status is implied with the one word, Jonah/dove. Therefore, Jesus is not only formally addressing Simon by his legal name to get his attention and to say the ensuing conversation is highly serious; Jesus is also reminding him that he is his spiritual child, his disciple, and so required to obey Jesus(-and-Mary) in all things; thus, whatever Jesus demands of Simon he must do, and it is really not a matter for bartering and bargaining.

But that, of course, is exactly what transpires in the next verses: Simon the businessman turns Jesus’s demand into haggling, the kind of negotiations he would often have engaged in at fish markets, selling his hauls wholesale. More than that, the reference to Mary here, as dove, remains relevant. As we shall see, in these next verses Jesus will again implicitly refer to Mary, and the subsequent exchange (21:21-22) will be overtly about her; in fact, this entire letter was written to “clear the air” about Mary in regard to what Simon was told about her by Jesus. Jesus, as shall be discussed, is about to demand Simon to make peace with Mary (with whom he is often contentious), and moreover to become one with Jesus in the love of αγαπη, as Mary already has.

Nor is this all. When Jesus calls Simon ܒܪܗ ܕܝܘܢܢ (bar d’ywnn), the same word ܝܘܢܢ (ywnn) also can mean someone who has learned to speak Greek or someone who is not really a Greek but is trying to be a Greek – what today is called a “wannabe” (cf. R Payne Smith’s Aramaic dictionaries). And the wordܒܪܗ (bar), which usually means “son of”, can mean someone who is a member of a certain group or class. Thus Jesus is also accusing Simon of being one of the “wannabe Greek” class, a Galilean who thinks his nouveau riche financial success can buy him acceptance as a member of the larger Græco-Roman society. Becoming a Greek was indeed the goal of many wealthy Judæans, such as Buni, one of the two or three most prosperous Jews in Jerusalem, and who spoke fluent Greek and went by the name Nicodemus (cf. The Gospel of John, pages 226-28). And being a wannabe Greek is in fact the very criticism that Paul lobs at him in Galatians 2, as will be discussed below; Paul, in fact, was trying to go in the other direction: he was one of the Herodians, a group who had no Hebrew ancestry but who wanted to be accepted as Jews! By making this “wannabe Greek” insinuation, Jesus is implying the very question he is about to ask, if the businessman Simon, interested mainly in making lots of money, who negotiates hard, refusing to be flexible, and gets what he wants, “loves me more than these”, the fish and the money they will earn him. In this scene Simon fails: he negotiates hard with Jesus, refusing to be flexible, and offers to love Jesus with φιλια, but not with the αγαπη that would be a love “more than these”.

None of these Jonah-dove-wannabe are to be found in the Greek Textus Receptus. A single manuscript, the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus (A or 02), reads σιμων ιωνα (Simon [son of] Jonah). This manuscript is hard to classify, containing Byzantine and Alexandrian textual variations, and it is not impossible that this reading connects somehow with the Syriac reading. I believe this text was published as a separate letter to the seven congregations of Asia overseen by John the Presbyter to counter the rumor then circulating that the Beloved Disciple was not going to die, and that it was thus written in Greek for communities of Diaspora Jews and gentiles that would have had more facility with Greek than Aramaic or Hebrew. Still, the complex subtlety of Jesus’s naming of Simon here, which is very Johannine in its style, and its persistence in the Aramaic (the Codex Syriac Sinaiticus, the Peshitta, and the Crawford) suggests it is an old reading that was widespread in that language, which in turn raises the possibility that this letter was originally composed in Aramaic, and later put into Greek.

To us, the parallels are obvious between this scene and both the Immerser’s triple affirmation of Jesus and the Rock’s triple denial of him because we have always known this letter as the Textus Receptus presents it to us, at the end of the gospel. But the Presbyter did not necessarily mean for them to come prominently to his first readers’ minds because, of course, at the time John wrote this letter he was not yet even seriously contemplating writing the gospel – it would take the council in Ephesus to persuade him to compose it. Yes, he probably had told his disciples about the triple affirmation and triple denial, but these would not likely come to their minds in reading or hearing this letter unless he had added something to make the analogies plain; John is always an author of considerable precision.

Therefore, what he probably intended should first strike the minds of the seven congregations of Asia as this letter was read aloud to them is the threeness of this charge to Simon and that it is another failure on the latter’s part. Threeness has been associated with deity since the most ancient times in the West, long before the Christians invented the Trinity as part of their dogma. To ask this question of Simon, with his formal name and three times, therefore, is equivalent to asking him under oath in the courtroom of God: it implies Jesus is concerned that Simon might not be entirely truthful unless he uses these means (the formal name, the threeness) to compel him to truth.

It is usually stated by scholars, and it is true to a degree, that αγαπη means unconditional love, a love given without price, such as the love of spouse or children; and φιλια as the love between equals, as defined by Aristotle a love dispassionate and virtuous, and yet also often used in referring to close relatives or spouses. However we must remember that αγαπη is not found in classical texts dating from before it appears in early proto-Christian writings, especially those of the Presbyter. In fact it is not at all unlikely that John made up this word: indeed, several other words appear for the first time in his œuvre. If he did invent it, he did so on a firm foundation; the verb ἀγαπάω (agapaō) is well attested in the classical literature, meaning “to love” with overtones of desire for, content with, and pleasure in the beloved. In his writings John uses the word αγαπη to refer to the love of God for Jesus and/or his for God, Jesus’s love for his followers and/or theirs for him, theirs for God and/or God’s for them, or Jesus’s love for Mary, the Beloved Disciple. This is the love that establishes to the oneness that Jesus prayed would be evidenced among his followers (John 17:21), the oneness that he demonstrated by becoming wholly one with Mary at the resurrection. In The Gospel of John (pages 525-27) I argue that Jesus may have been and John certainly was exposed to Buddhism; John’s articulation of Jesus’s philosophy is undeniably close to that of Buddhism, and it is sad that Christianity ignored this closeness and for two millennia, until Thomas Merton, was antipathetic toward Buddhism and all other faiths despite the essential unity of truth and love at the core of every faith. That said, the concept here is close to one central to Buddhism of करुणा (karuṇā), the love/mercy/compassion that flows naturally when one recognizes one’s oneness with all beings. More than oneness, it really means giving up the idea of myself in favor of the great self, the letting-go of आत्मन् (atman, the individual soul) so it is one with ब्रह्मन् (Brahman, the universal soul), the relinquishment of the delusory “little I” in favor of the reality of “the great I AM”, as Coleridge translates אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, the phrase that was shortened to יהוה, YHWH (see The Gospel of John, pages 171-74). Note that I try to reproduce the subtleties of αγαπη and φιλια in English with, respectively, “love” and “have affection for”.

Thus, by twice asking αγαπας με (agapas me), “Do you love me?” Jesus is essentially asking Simon the Rock if he is willing to be one with Jesus. But every time Jesus asks about αγαπη, Simon replies “Yes”, but in terms of φιλια, not a sacred love of oneness but a secular love of equality. And in response to Simon affirming the love of equality, Jesus commands him to humility: “Feed my sheep.”

The traditional explanation of these verses is that Jesus by this means forgives Simon for denying him thrice. Yet since I find this text to have been written before composition of the gospel was even seriously contemplated, I think that while the Presbyter may have had the connection in mind it was not what he wanted to primarily impart to his first readers/hearers.

A careful analysis of the text reveals the nature of this tripartite exchange to be in effect a negotiation, such as is common in barter economies between buyer and seller. And it is not only a failure to negotiate to mutually acceptable terms; it also records Simon’s failure to measure up to Jesus’s expectations. The question Jesus asks changes subtly each time, and Simon’s reply does not change: Simon is holding fast to his “price” and refusing to barter. Jesus twice asks Simon: “Do you love me more than these?”, a question in which the word for “love” is αγαπη (agapē). The third time Jesus asks, he switches to the word φιλια (philia), “have affection for”, which is the word with which Simon has been answering all along.

We begin by considering what Jesus means by “more than these”. The text does not say what he means by the pronoun, and so we must assume that the always careful Presbyter means something obvious to the reader. To find the obvious, we must remember the context: men fishing by night, frustrated that they have found nothing, and then Jesus guides them to a haul so remarkable that they counted the fish. Peter, not wanting to lose this huge and valuable catch, singlehandedly drags the net to safety closer to shore. So the answer is that “these” means the fish, and by extension Simon’s livelihood, and in fact his wealth. The word τούτων (toutōn) usually means “these” as indicating something visibly present before the speaker and hearer. If he is speaking of fish, Jesus is certainly pointing to the one hundred and fifty-three of them in the net. (Note that the Syriac Sinaiticus version lacks this phrase “more than these”; it does appear in the somewhat later Peshitta.)

There are abundant hints in the New Testament that his business was doing quite well. Galilee’s fishing and farming economy was foundering at the time under low wholesale market rates and heavy Roman taxation, forcing many local residents to sell out to wealthy magnates in Jerusalem and elsewhere, becoming employees of what once had been their own businesses, tenants on what had once been their own land. However the gospels portray Simon the Rock’s fishing business as highly successful, employing several men, which suggests he had some special arrangement with the Roman authorities – say, to provide fish to the military cohort – and probably a special break on the taxes. Some early writers, most notably Nonnus of Panopolis (late fourth or early fifth century), speculate that what Mary mentioned to the gatekeeper about in John 18:16, in order to get him admitted into the precincts of the consul, Pontius Pilate, was that Simon was an authorized supplier of fish to the Roman military and governmental presence in Jerusalem. It is also possible that this deal ensuring success at the expense of his fellow Galileans, this deal with the monster who sentenced Christ (as Paul calls him) to death, is the shame in Simon’s past to which Paul alludes in Galatians 2:6; Paul goes on to accuse Simon of indulging in a lavish gentile lifestyle (Galatians 2:11-14). The same in John’s past alluded to in Galatians 2:6 would be that he was a one of the highest priests in the Temple, and so was associated with those who arranged Jesus’s arrest. Paul is trying to make Simon and John guilty by association of the death of Jesus.

Thus, Jesus opens his barter negotiation with Simon the rich businessman by asking if he loves him more than he loves the fish that make him so wealthy. In other words, he is asking which of these Simon values higher, and if he is ready to give up his dedication to making money to follow Jesus. Clearly, by his replies (in which he sticks with φιλια, the lower form of love), Simon is not ready to do so. And, though Paul never heard about this conversation, it shows that he had named a serious fault on Simon’s part in Galatians 2.

Next we turn to a consideration of the shift in terminology. The first two times Jesus asks if Simon loves him he uses the word αγαπη (agapē), and Simon answers with the word φιλια (philia). The third time Jesus switches to φιλια, as in a bargaining situation, and Simon responds with the same. In other words, Jesus twice asks Simon to “exchange” αγαπη with him, Jesus’s αγαπη for Simon’s αγαπη, with the result of this “exchange” being their oneness. But in return for the αγαπη of Jesus, “goods” of higher quality, Simon replies that he is only willing to provide “goods” of still fine but lesser quality, φιλια. To this, every time, Jesus says in effect, “If you are going to give lesser quality φιλια in exchange for my highest quality αγαπη, then you need to give me something else to make up for the imbalance in the exchange – you need to “feed my sheep.” Therefore, Jesus is demanding two things: αγαπη and “feed my sheep”. Then, in the third question, Jesus asks for φιλια, lowering his expectations in one of his two demands to the same as Simon’s in order to make the deal. If Jesus moves toward the middle on one thing, then in a typical barter situation Simon would move toward the middle on the other thing, and agree to the “feed my sheep” clause. But the text tells us that Simon is ελυπηθη (elypēthē) that Jesus is still demanding a hard bargain: he is not “grieved”, as this is usually translated, but “vexed”; especially when Jesus says he still requires the added value of “feed my sheep.” It probably means Simon uttered a loud sigh of frustration to say he was giving up the negotiation. Their barter arrangement at this point falls apart and is not consummated.

Note also that Jesus commands Simon first “Feed my lambs” (αρνια, arnia), then “Shepherd my sheep”, then “Feed my sheep” (προβατα, probata). This shift seems rather clearly to be mere stylistic variations until we look at the Aramaic versions – these have Jesus tell Simon to “feed/tend/graze” first ܐܡܪܝ (emrāy, “lambs”), then ܢܩܘܬܝ (neqyāta, “ewes”), and last ܥܪܒܝ (ˁerbā, “sheep”): the young, the adult females, and the adult males. The slightly later Peshitta reverses the order of the second and third, but the point is the same. Especially interesting is that the verb ܐܪܥܝ (rˁy) can mean “feed/tend/graze” or “become reconciled”. The first word for sheep, ܐܡܪܝ (imarā), is very similar to Mary’s name, ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam), and the specific mention of ewes also provides a hint. Les Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a late 1300s “book of hours” illuminated manuscript, includes two very similar depictions of this immersion scene, however the dove descending from overhead is replaced in the other by a lamb putting its forepaws on John’s arm, which may recall what John 1:32 suggests, that Mary came down to Jesus at his immersion. The picture given in several early texts of a less than harmonious relationship between Simon and Mary (cf. The Gospel of John, page 188) that apparently eventually was healed (I Peter 5:13). Thus Jesus may be demanding Simon, at least in part, to reconcile himself to Mary, to take care of not only her sister Martha, Simon’s wife, but Mary too.

This subtext may also explain why, instantly after this conversation, Simon pointedly asks Jesus about Mary (21:20-21). She is in an agapē relationship with Jesus, the kind he is demanding of Simon, and Simon is asking, “Well, what kind of further ‘feed my sheep’ demand did you impose on her when you bartered with her about love?” And Jesus’s answer clearly says (21:22), “What I negotiated with her is none of your business.”

At the same time, Jesus is saying, “Take care of all my followers: male, female, and children.” In response to this, Simon may have thought to himself, “Well, feeding the sheep is what I do for a living!”, since his business was to catch fish and sell them wholesale for human consumption. Then it might slowly have dawned on him (the gospel often has dawning comprehension come at the dawn of the day) that this command had a metaphorical meaning; one does not get the impression from this gospel that Simon readily comprehended such subtleties.

Who, then, specifically were the sheep Jesus had in mind is open to question. They could be the Jewish and Samaritan residents of Palestine. They could be the Diaspora. They could even be (as Acts 15:7 suggests) the gentiles.

In the first question Jesus asks Simon if he loves him “more than these” – and it is unclear if by “these” Jesus means the things of this world, or the fish for which he fishes as his work, or the other disciples. If the other disciples, then there is irony that this tripartite conversation about love is followed by a conversation about the disciple whom Jesus has (always) loved.

This exchange may at first glance appear unrelated to what follows, in verses 18-19. Moreover, one may wonder why John provides the tripartite love-bargain and the talk about Simon’s old age when the sole stated purpose of this letter is to counter the rumor of Mary’s immortality by clarifying exactly what Jesus said on that matter on the day in question.

The answer to this is that this tripartite dialogue and the old age comments have everything to do with the final question and answer. This is affirmed by Jesus saying in 21:19, as a closure to the conversation, “Follow me.” When we are young, Jesus says, we wear what we want and go where we wish; when we are old, we wear what others put on us and go where they wish. But, if Simon were to “Follow me”, to go where Jesus wishes, he will enter the Æon and be truly free. Jesus wants Simon to affirm αγαπη, oneness-in-love with God and Jesus and all life, as Mary has accepted it. But Simon will only accept φιλια, he will not let go of his selfish little sense of personal identity, he will not relinquish his wealth, he will not sacrifice himself as Jesus did on the cross, and as Mary did at the resurrection (in the Syriac Aramaic version of John 20:1-16 the words ܩܪܒ [qrb] and ܣܠܩ [klm], referring to Mary, carry the sense of lifting oneself up in sacrifice).

And so, if Simon insists on keeping his possessions of wealth and especially the possession of self, Jesus requires him to relinquish at least the physical possessions so precious to him, and use them to “Feed my sheep.” And so, too, Jesus warns Simon (21:18) that the possession of self is ephemeral, that Simon will grow old and will be pushed and pulled around where he does not want to go, and eventually will die. And so again Jesus says to him (21:19b), as he did at the beginning to Simon and the first disciples (John 1:43) “Follow me!” But here Jesus means not simply that Simon should follow Jesus as rabbi through Galilee and Judæa, but that he should follow Jesus’s example and let go of self, enter the Æon, and become one with God, with Jesus, and with all life.

The verb Jesus uses is ακολουθεω (akoloutheō). It means much more than “to follow”. In Aristophanes and Plutarch it can mean “to follow as a disciple”. Sometimes it is used in reference to the obedience of a servant. It can carry the sense of “conform oneself to” or “adhere to” the example set by someone else, which I think is the case here. It comes from κελευθος (keleuthos), which means “road” or “path”, and metaphorically, in Æschylus and Euripides for example, a way of life. The latter word is a synonym of οδος (hodos) in John 14:6. Jesus is still holding out the ideal of αγαπη and urging Simon, if not now, some day to accept this oneness.

The verb Jesus uses is ακολουθεω (akoloutheō). It means much more than “to follow”. In Aristophanes and Plutarch it can mean “to follow as a disciple”. Sometimes it is used in reference to the obedience of a servant. It can carry the sense of “conform oneself to” or “adhere to” the example set by someone else, which I think is the case here. It comes from κελευθος (keleuthos), which means “road” or “path”, and metaphorically, in Æschylus and Euripides for example, a way of life. The latter word is a synonym of οδος (hodos) in John 14:6. Jesus is still holding out the ideal of αγαπη and urging Simon, if not now, some day to accept this oneness.

Given the statement in verse 19a, commentators are forever contorting themselves to explain how Jesus’s statement, clearly about old age, is actually about Simon the Rock (Peter) being tied to a cross and thus forced to go where he doesn’t want to go – because, according to various early sources, Simon was executed by Rome at a relatively early age; he did not live to be an old man. Yet verse 18 is not to be taken as a prophecy of Simon’s death.It clearly says “when you grow old”, and Simon was not old when according to Christian tradition he was executed. And it clearly says “tie your cincture”, the rope belt used to secure one’s outer tunic. Jesus is simply assuming Simon will someday be old, just as anyone would in speaking to another person about his or her future. Jesus is neither foreseeing nor prophesying about Simon’s fate. It was later dogma of the Christian religion that Jesus is God incarnate and thus during his lifetime knew exactly what was going to take place in the future; for the Presbyter, Jesus is a very wise human being, but still a human being, with no more ability to see the future than you or I. Rather, Jesus was speaking in general terms of the future of all human beings: that when we are old and weak we are taken about against our will by the young. The statement in verse 19a, therefore, as an obvious interpolation by the redactor, is removed from the text. It reads as follows:

 

τουτο δε ειπεν σημαινων ποιω θανατω δοξασει τον θεον

 

This, indeed, he said to signal by what death he was to glorify God.

 

Absent the statement in 19a, what is Jesus saying? He is saying care for “my lambs” because some day in the future they will care for you (“you” referring to Simon, but also to everyone), so take good care of them now so they will take good care of you in your final years. And, to take good care of them now, “Follow me”: follow the example and teaching of Jesus and love them even as he loved you.

 

 

Making Mary Male: Misogyny?

Making Mary Male:

Is Gospel of Thomas Logion 114 Really Misogynist?

 

By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2013, 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

http://audlinbooks.com/about-james-david-audlin/nonfiction-james-david-audlin/

In logion 36 of the Gospel of Thomas Jesus says, “Do not worry from dawn to dusk, or from dusk to dawn, about what you shall wear” (cf. Matthew 6:25-30). In the following logion (the Coptic text and my translation may be found on page 1051) the disciples ask Jesus, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”, and he replies, “When you can take off your clothes without feeling ashamed, and you take your clothes and throw them beneath your feet like little children and trample them; then you will see the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.” The (Greek) Gospel of the Egyptians has Jesus reply similarly, but adds a further thought: “When you have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one, and the male with the female is neither male nor female.” This is an eschatology in which the two genders become one, in which they become again the image and likeness of their Creator, Elohim, in which male and female are one.

This eschatology is found also in the Gospel of Thomas, particularly in the last logion in the book (114), which, unfortunately, is widely misunderstood:

Simon the Rock said this to them: “Let Mariam [Mary] go away from us, for women are not worthy of the [Æonian] life.”

 

Jesus said this: “Look, I will draw her into myself so I may make her male, so she may also be a living spirit resembling you males: for any woman who makes herself male will enter the Realm of Heaven.”

 

Viewing it with modern sensibilities, scholars often dismiss this logion as an example of first-century misogyny, insisting Jesus couldn’t possibly have said the Æon, the Realm of Heaven, was an all-male bastion! But Jesus is actually referring to the Hebrew myth of the creation of male and female. In the first creation story Elohim (God understood as comprising male and female aspects wholly united) creates by separating complementary opposites: day from night, above from below, land from sea, and the many living creatures male from female; but, last, Elohim creates the single hermaphroditic human in Elohim’s own image, hence undivided, male-and-female as one.

Note that the traditional translation of Genesis 1:26-27 (“in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”) is faulty. The word usually translated “man” is הָֽאָדָם֙ (hā’āḏām), “the human being”/”humanity”, from a root meaning “red”, referring to blood, which is the essence of life in ancient Hebrew thinking; being the first one, this being needed no name, and “Adam” only became a name when later there were other humans. The words usually translated “him” and “them”, אֹת֑וֹ(’ō·ṯōw) and אֹתָֽם(’ō·ṯām), are spelling variations of the word אוֹת (oth), which is simply an accusative marker in Hebrew, providing a direct object when a verb requires one, but it is inspecific; in English, yes, it can suggest “him” or “them”, but just as easily “her” or “it” or even “you” (singular or plural); in this case, “it” is appropriate, but the plural “you” is implied, especially in the Talmudic interpretations, for we were all created in this creature that encompasses all humanity: we all exist in potentia in this first godly human creature. Moreover, note that the second word, the one usually translated “them”, אֹתָֽם (’ō·ṯām), is a double entendre that also means “sign” (in the sense of “miracle”): the first human is a miracle: it is not separated complementary opposites, but a single being that integrates its complements in Elohim’s image.

The second creation story then has YHWH draw forth womankind, in the person of Eve, from the side of the prototypical hermaphrodite, leaving him male, and now with a name, Adam. The word given as “Eve” in English, חַוָּה (chavvah), means “life” or “life-giver”: YHWH takes the very essence of life out of the male; a man (the Talmud assures us) has no life except when he is united with a woman.

With this understood, Jesus thus is saying in Thomas 114 that the female and the male, in order to enter into the Æon, the Realm of Heaven, must again become one. Mary, as is made clear in this resurrection scene, is reborn to a new life along with her husband Jesus: they experience in this scene a hierogamy, a spiritual marriage, which renders them truly one, hence truly reflecting the image and likeness of Elohim, and fully capable of entering into the Æon.

F. F. Bruce (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament) is the only scholar who to my knowledge interprets this logion correctly; he nicely summarizes Jesus’s point thus:

Jesus’s promise that she will become a man, so as to gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven, envisages the reintegration of the original order, when Adam was created male and female (Genesis 1.27). Adam was “the man” as much before the removal of Eve from his side as after (Genesis 2:18-25). Therefore, when the primal unity is restored and death is abolished, man will still be man (albeit more perfectly so), but woman will no longer be woman; she will be reabsorbed into man.

 

Jesus thus transforms and elevates Mary’s humble nakedness, the nakedness of a menial laborer and destitute widow, into the highest sacredness here truly he and she are transfigured into δοξα (doxa), the splendor of highest glory.

This interpretation of logion 114 is supported by logion 22, in which Jesus says in part, “When you make the two one … when you make the male and the female a single one, such that the male is not male nor the female female … then you shall enter into [the Realm of Heaven].” Likewise he says in logion 75, “There are many standing at the door, but the united/whole/single ones (are) the ones who will go in to the bridal chamber.” Speaking to his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus says that of two who share a bed (who are married) one shall live and the other die, implying the crucifixion and also Mary becoming one with him, and adds: “If one is whole, one will be filled with light; however, if one is divided (into separate male and female), one will be filled with darkness”.

We also find the exact same theology in the Naassene Document, as quoted by Hippolytus (Adversus Hæreses [Against Heresies], 5:1); it compares the First Man (the Protanthropos), Adam, the fundamental being who was at first hermaphroditic but then separated into two gendered individuals, to the Son of Humanity,Jesus,who is restored as hermaphroditic. And he quotes (12:1) a Naassene hymn that refers to Jesus and Mary thus: “From you the Father, and through you the Mother, the two immortal names, the progenitors of the Æon.”

And in the Gospel of Philip, for instance in logion 76:

In the days (when) Eve was within Adam, death did not exist. (When) she was separated from him, death came into being. If again she goes into (him), and he takes her into himself, death shall not exist.

 

This interpretation of the Adam-and-Eve story was not new to John or Philip, and it was absolutely not Gnostic; it was a prominent feature in Judaism. The Talmud speaks of this uniting of male and female; I have previously quoted this line: “Rabbi Eliezer said, ‘Any man who has no wife is no proper man; for it is written, “Male and female created He them and called their name Adam”’” (Yebamoth 63). Talmudic midrashim (commentaries) on Genesis 1:27 offer several examples. Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar says that the first adam was created an androgynous, a male-female. Gen. Rabbah 8:1, Ber. 61a, and Eruvin 18a all say that the first adam was in the image of Elohim, being both male and female, and thus “double-faced”, and that God later, in Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman’s words, “split him apart”. Some rabbis even found a reference to this “double-faced” first human in Psalm 139:5. While the verse is usually translated “Behind me and before me you [God] have beset me, and laid your hand (on me)”, the first verb צוּר can mean not only “to beset” but “to create” or even “to fashion” as does an artisan, as it does in Jeremiah 1:5. With the verb taken this way, the rabbis read the psalmist as saying God fashioned him (“laid your hand [on me]”) with a face “behind me and before me”.

Even Paul seems quite aware of this uniting-of-the-sexes-in-the-image-and-likeness-of-God at Galatians 3:28, though he puts on it his usual spin, saying that all human differences are eliminated if we become one with God in the form of Jesus.

In the commentary to 19:31-35 I pointed out the similarities between the word for “side” or “rib” in Genesis 2:21, צְלָעֹת (tselah), and in John 19:34, πλευρας (pleuras), and suggested that Jesus in that moment died, just as God put a “deep sleep” on Adam, and that the soldier’s death-thrust was the beginning of God’s spiritual surgery, putting Eve back into Adam, Mary back into Jesus, female back into male, and restoring the original hermaphroditic human whose nature is in the image of Elohim, God understood as male and female as one. Again note that צְלָעֹת is a feminine word in Hebrew, and that the Talmud thus associates Adam’s side, and Eve, with the Tabernacle of God, pointing as well to Exodus 26:20, where the same word צְלָעֹת appears in the description of the construction of the Tabernacle; the Talmud also often draws a connection between having a family and the construction of the blessed Tabernacle.

Note also that the word for Tabernacle, מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan), literally means “dwelling place”, and that the Torah specifies a tent (אֹ֫הֶל; ohel) is put over it, and that the glory (כָּבוֺד; kabod) of God (e.g., Exodus 40:34-35), a presence of God that was in time understood as the feminine aspect of God, שכינה‎, the Shekhina. Note further, as detailed on page 625, that the Samaritans are probably right to say the Tabernacle was kept at Mount Gerizim, and that the Samaritan Torah is correct to say in Deuteronomy 16 “at the place that was chosen at Mount Gerizim”, the mountain where the Samaritan Temple had been located, and at the foot of which he met with his wife-to-be, the priestess Mary. The Jewish Torah changed these references to a vague “the place that God will choose”, since they couldn’t pretend the Torah said either that Jerusalem was that early in their hands, or that Jerusalem was made the political and religious center for anything but political reasons. Still, the Jerusalem Temple was the eventual location where Solomon placed the Tabernacle (I Kings 8:4), where it joined the Ark of the Covenant, placed by David in the Temple, which was conveniently interpreted as its “tent” (II Samuel 6:16 and I Chronicles 15:1).

With all this in mind we turn to Revelation 21:2-4, wherein we are told of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having been prepared as a bride, having been adorned for her husband,” and a voice saying “the tent (σκηνη; skēnē) is with/in humanity”, and that “death will be no more”. The city is described in detail; surprisingly, we are told (21:23) that it has no Temple, nor that it has need of sunlight or moonlight, because “the glory of God has lit it up, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Of course, in Jesus’s time Samaria had no Temple, and soon (70 C.E.) Jerusalem would also never again have one – but Jesus is implying, as he does in 4:21-24, that we, humanity, are the proper Temple for the presence of God! Throughout the Revelation, the bride of the Lamb refers to Mary, Jesus’s bride, the priestess of Gerizim, the “woman clothed with the sun” (12:1), that is, naked, who bears his child. Thus, as in the Talmud, we find here in John the Presbyter’s last masterpiece that the city is Jesus’s bride, and that the tent, the Tabernacle, with humanity is filled with Mary’s presence too: the Shekhina. We are told that Heaven and Earth are one, and that the holy city is full of God and the Lamb: in short, Jesus’s and Mary’s oneness are found everywhere in the Æon as described in the Revelation, and their becoming one is why “death will be no more”.

And this Revelation theology of Jesus and Mary, the new primordial couple reunited in the image of Elohim, is the same theology which the Presbyter presents to us also in this resurrection scene. Jesus emerges from his “deep sleep” (Genesis 2:21) of death, naked in the primordial garden, and is presented by God with his bride, Mary, but now she is for him literally “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”, for they are completely one. The Tabernacle of God, we are being told, is not found in Jerusalem or at Gerizim or in any other such mundane location (John 4:21-24), but in our very being, when we overcome the separation into individuality and the fear or arrogation that this separation produces, and become one first with our spouses, but beyond that with all humanity (17:21, I John 4:7).

While it is no shock to find this image of the first human as hermaphroditic in the Talmud, it may be surprising that the same story appears, with even many of the same details, in Plato, with whom the Presbyter often herein demonstrates his familiarity. The philosopher’s friend, the playwright Aristophanes, summarizes the following Greek myth in Symposium, one that is rich in similarities to the story in Genesis. This could have provided as much inspiration to John the Presbyter as did Genesis and the Talmud, since it is all but certain that he studied Plato in his youth with Philo of Alexandria.

Now [at first] the sexes were three, … because the sun, moon, and earth are three; and the man was originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved round and round because they resembled their parents. Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods.

 

[Zeus decided:] … “I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us.” … After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one, they began to die from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them, – being the sections of entire men or women – and clung to that. …

 

And such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together, and yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lover’s intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment. … And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.

 

There was a time, I say, when we were one, but now because of the wickedness of mankind God has dispersed us. … For if we are friends of God and at peace with him we shall find our own true loves, which rarely happens in this world at present. … Wherefore, if we would praise him who has given to us the benefit, we must praise the god Love, who is our greatest benefactor, both leading us in this life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future, for he promises that if we are pious, he will restore us to our original state.

 

Mary, Myrrh, and the Oil of Chrism

By James David Audlin.  The following text comprises material from: The Writings of John the Presbyter Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

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This small section of the Didachē, 10b:1-2, originally written for the leaders of the seven local congregations under the purview of John the Presbyter as regional bishop, and not for general readers in very different civilizations and centuries, assumes a shared knowledge, not written here, about the ointment and what it was used for; therefore, we today cannot be sure of what that shared knowledge was. So, to begin to form a strong hypothesis as to the meaning and use implied by this text, we turn first as we should to another writing on this subject from the Presbyter himself, I John 2:20 and 27, found on page ###. From these two verses we gather that the seven local congregational leaders were anointed (χρισμα, chrisma) in recognition of their graduation from the status of disciples, students, since they now “know all things” and “have no need of anyone to teach [them]”. The text tells us that this anointing came from the Holy One (τουαγιου, tou hagiou), God, and that it served to teach them about all things; a phrase that recalls John 14:26 (“But the Paraclete, the Sacred Spirit/Breath/Wind whom the father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of all the things that I said to you.”), and so was in John’s mind closely associated with the Paraclete, the Spirit of God. The Presbyter came to believe that the Paraclete was incarnated into (i.e., that its physical form was) the Gospel of John, which as he drafted I John was in the final stages of completion (he never would entirely finish it). Thus it is nigh impossible that all seven of these local congregational leaders had written copies of the gospel; John is in the letter referring rather to its oral equivalent, his witness (μαρτυρια, martyria) he has shared with them to the teachings and deeds of Jesus, which, in terms of content, was of course pretty much equivalent.

The Greek word translated “ointment”, μυρου (myrou), appears in Homer and Hesiod to mean a flow of tears and in Herodotus to mean an ointment. Both senses are intended here; the Greek word is etymologically related to the Hebrew (also Aramaic) words מֹר (mor, “myrrh”), referring to the resin of a thorny tree, harvested by wounding the tree until drop by drop it bleeds out its bitter lifeblood; מָר (mar, “drop”), as in a drop of myrrh resin but also by extension a teardrop; and הרמ (mara, “bitter”), which goes back to the root referring to the resin, but often by extension is used to describe tears. Myrrh, the ointment, was used as a narcotic, as an anæsthetic to induce deathlike unconsciousness for surgery, and as an embalming ointment. No wonder that the word in both languages was associated with death. Myrrh was also a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud. The name of Mary, which of course is that of Jesus’s wife, is in Judaism traditionally explained as coming from the new name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter myrrhlike tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13, though its actual origin lies in Egyptian theology; see The Gospel of John, pages 969-71). The “crown of thorns” put on Jesus’s head in John 19:2, really a wreath, was almost certainly made from myrrh branches, since there would have been plenty of myrrh in the area of the Temple in those final hours before Passover began for the compounding of ketoret. Ironic that Jesus dies just a year after his wedding to Mary, since Jewish bridal couples in that time wore wreaths. And myrrh was almost certainly in the narcotic palliative mixture given to Jesus in the sour wine (John 19:29), and was also part of the embalming mixture (John 19:39).

In Temple-based Judaism oil was used to consecrate: animal sacrifices, and also people, usually to the priesthood. But there was a shift in its sacramental purpose: Jesus’s disciples used oil to heal (Mark 6:13), which suggests Jesus taught this use, even if no surviving text says so. Indeed, he must have emphasized it, since the use of anointing oil to heal persisted among among the early Jerusalemite congregations, those overseen by James and John and Simon (James 5:14); there is no clear reference in the Pauline letters to this practice. What is the connection between oil as consecrating and oil as healing? The connection probably is that the oil was administered in order to heal the catechumen of the many illnesses and cleanse away the many pollutions that had collected in the catechumen over a lifetime living in the κοσμος, the human world of cheating and lying and hating – illnesses and pollutions both physiological and psychological; in classical thinking there was little difference between the two, since in those days unlike our post-Cartesian times, the mind/soul and body were seen as intimately connected. Thus, healed of these illness, the catechumen was a “perfect sacrifice”, fit to be recognized as a sacred witness to God’s revelation through Jesus.

In his teachings the Presbyter would have associated this oil for anointing the catechumen with Mary because of all the homophonic connections it would evoke with myrrh and teras and her very name, as just discussed, and especially because Mary anointed Jesus as Messiah and king just before his death (John 12:3) and was prepared to do so afterward (John 20:1) but anointed him instead with her tears of joy (John 20:16-17). Oils and ointments are still used today to alleviate pain and promote healing; in the first century they were used the very same way with both humans and animals. Mary also was Jesus’s healer: she drew him forth from the waters of the Jordan (John 1:32), she anointed him with healing balm (John 12:3), and after the resurrection, so the texts tell us, she continued to take care of him (see The Gospel of John, pages 208-10).

Likewise, John would associate the waters of immersion (baptism) with Jesus, because of John’s immersion of Jesus (John 1:30-34) and Jesus’s washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:3-11). Therefore, for John, these two together, the oil and the water, would have invoked the living presence of Mary and Jesus: the catechumen was welcomed into the community by Mary and Jesus, the sacred couple who together image Elohim, through those who knew them, such as John, and through the text in the Didachē read aloud over the catechumen for his or her edification, through those who knew those (like John) who knew them.

It was just as much a truism in the first century as it is now that “oil and water do not mix” – but the miracle here is that they did and do when they are symbolic of Mary and Jesus the primal couple. They became one through death and rebirth, and the administration of oil and water to invoke their presence was likewise intended to make the catechumen one with them.

We know very little about the bridal chamber ceremony that was evidently central to these Jerusalemite congregations, just the few hints we can cull especially from the Gospel of Philip (see the references listed at page 1082 in The Gospel of John). But these hints suggest that catechumens entered into the spiritual community as couples, as husbands and wives, and I think they were anointed with the oil and water as part of the bridal chamber ceremony, since oil and water represented that primal couple Mary and Jesus who at the resurrection became one person in the image of Elohim. The ceremony also apparently involved coïtus as the commentaries to John 20 (q.v.) make clear.

This Didachē passage tells us the μυρου – the bitter tears, the ointment, the myrrh of lifesaving operations and death, the bitter tears of Mary, the stone of dreams – was made known to John and his people through (δια, dia) Jesus. Thus to be anointed with oil is to be recognized as a priest or king or prophet; to be anointed with myrrh, associated with death, is to be made a living record of the story of Jesus’s life, a living gospel, a μαρτυρια, martyria, witness, a living ευαγγελιον (euangelion, “gospel”, literally, the reward that was given to a messenger for delivering good news). It did not matter that technically speaking (so far as we know) none of John’s disciples had ever even seen Jesus as he had; what was important was that in accepting John’s own testimony into themselves they made his testimony theirs too, and so they were also witnesses to Jesus. This, ultimately, was Paul’s mistake: the fact that he never had met Jesus was not really an issue, but his refusal to listen to the witness of those who had listened to Jesus, and his insistence on pontificating about Jesus as if he were one of those who had listened to him, such that Paul’s disciples took in this false testimony as their own and spread the false testimony to their disciples, and on and on over the generations to our day today: that was for John and James and Simon Peter the real issue. They would have been glad if Paul had come to them and learned the truth from the eyewitnesses, and had become himself a proper living witness to the truth about Jesus, and then put his extraordinary skills at rhetoric at the service of giving others that true witness; but, alas, this he did not do, because he wanted to be in full charge.

Cyril of Jerusalem, writing in the late 300s, confirms this understanding of I John 2:20 and 27 and Didachē 10b by saying about the oil of chrism that και τω μεν φαινομενω μυρω το σωμα χριεται, τω δε αγιω και ζωοποιω Πνευματι η ψυχη αγιαζεται. (“while with the apparent ointment the body is being anointed, with the holy and life-giving Spirit the soul is sanctified”; On the Mysteries, 3:3). The Coptic Orthodox Church teaches that confirmation was in the beginning performed by the laying on of hands by the first apostles; but as it was believed the ability to confirm by this means could not be transferred to the recipient, John Mark, the son of Jesus, began their tradition of using instead a mixture of the spices used to anoint Jesus’s body, together with oil, to form what they called forming the first mayrun (cognate to the Greek and Hebrew words given above). The Constitutions of the Apostles and Cyril of Jerusalem both say the person was stripped naked, then anointed with oil, says Cyril, “from the hairs of the head to the soles of the feet”, and then led by the hand to the baptismal waters. Even in modern Orthodoxy this understanding survives: Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says in The Orthodox Church (1963), “Through Chrismation every member of the Church becomes a prophet and receives a share in the royal priesthood of Christ; all Christians alike, because they are chrismated, are called to act as conscious witnesses to the Truth.”

As a side comment, it is sad that today so much of Christianity, especially in the West, especially in Protestantism, has lost and forgotten the ritual of anointing oil: this seems to me intimately connected with Christianity historically forgetting how Mary and Jesus were united as one being at the resurrection, and demoting Mary from his wife and co-Messiah, his κοινωνος, his συνεκλεκτη, into a humble prostitute begging his absolution.

The term מָשִׁיחַ (mashiach, garbled into English as “messiah”) means “anointed one”. In early times it was used in reference to historical leaders the Israelites believed had been sent by God to bring the people to freedom. In later ages it became a standardized ritual means of investing kings and Temple priests by anointing them over the head with oil (cf. Psalm 23:5b), signifying their adoption by God, and therefore they were called “sons of God” (cf. e.g. II Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:6-7). John believed an anointed one, a Jewish king or priest, for instance, was an ordinary human being consecrated to God, who thus followed God’s will, the Logos. John himself had not only been an anointed Temple priest but sometimes, Polycrates a student of Polycarp and bishop in Ephesus tells us, “wore the petalon”, meaning he occasionally filled in as high priest (see The Gospel of John, pages 207-09). He must have adapted the Temple investiture of priests that he remembered to invest his own “bishops” as witnesses and prophets to Jesus, to the gospel, to the Logos.

This much gives us the general picture. But the details are unknown. Did this ceremony now known as chrism to the Roman Catholic Church and chrismation to the Orthodox Church extend only to John’s local bishops, or to all of the members of the seven communities? By Cyril’s time, it seems every confirmed Christian was first anointed with oil and then baptized in water (later the order was reversed, and later yet the Protestants eliminated the oil of chrism altogether) – but that was after this Jewish movement of Jesus followers had become a new, separate religion, after mikvah (ritual immersion) had become baptism, and after the Johannine theology, the original teachings of Jesus, had been squelched in favor of the doctrines of Paul, a man who had never met Jesus. So such questions will probably remain forever unanswered.

 

The Aramaic Revelation

By James David Audlin. Drafts for the introduction to the restoration of the original Aramaic text of The Revelation to John, to be published in 2015 by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

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It is all but certain that the Revelation was composed in Aramaic; the most obvious reason among others is that the Greek text is riddled with grammatical mistakes, nearly all of which turn out to be good grammar in Aramaic. This is a clear sign that the scribe who put it into Greek was so filled with piety for the holy, inspired work in front of him that he rendered it with slavish literality, preferring to translate it so exactly that his Greek syntax suffered to the point of frequent near-incomprehensibility. So verbatim is this translation that to anyone familiar with both languages it has the same clumsy clunkiness of a text translated by computer. Unfortunately, this putative original author’s version in Aramaic does not survive. But the good news is that the Greek Textus Receptus must be very close to that original, and, where it is difficult to follow, the solution should be found by consulting the best and earliest Aramaic text we have, the so-called Crawford Revelation.

It is also a near certainty that this best and earliest Aramaic text is not a direct translation from the Greek. The Crawford manuscript (so named for a previous owner) is the oldest complete New Testament in Aramaic; by “complete” I mean that it includes the Antilegomena (II Peter, II and III John, and Jude) and the Revelation, works which for centuries were not part of the New Testament in Eastern Christianity. In fact, the Crawford includes the earliest extant Aramaic version of the Revelation. In its entirety, especially in the Revelation, this Syriac manuscript displays an eloquent, literary, often explicitly poetic, and virtually flawless Aramaic. Moreover, when the Crawford New Testament quotes the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament), the wording clearly comes from a Semitic original, either the Hebrew Bible or the Aramaic Targum, and not from the Greek version, the Septuagint. And also, no Greek text or combination of Greek texts could possibly be the original behind the Crawford Revelation. Thus it overstrains credulity to believe that an Aramaic original of presumably high literary quality was translated into inferior Greek, which was then back-translated into beautiful Aramaic.

For the most part the Crawford and the standard Greek text of Revelation agree in meaning, and that is an important consideration; the latter, as a direct translation of the lost Aramaic original, must be consulted in any effort to establish that original. Still, there are many significant differences between the two that strongly suggest the Crawford does not rely on the Greek. Indeed, when compared to the Crawford, the Textus Receptus displays another fault: the translator’s decision to mirror the Aramaic in the Greek ran into a problem when he came upon Aramaic words that had no exact Greek equivalent, and so he was forced to make up some kind of approximation in Greek.

For instance, in the very first chapter, in verse 13, the Crawford says the figure is wearing an ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ (ˀăpūḏā), an ephod, the breastplate traditionally worn by the high priests in the Temple, but the Greek incorrectly says instead that the figure is ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη, “clothed to the feet”. If the scribe responsible for the Crawford had been basing it on the Greek, he would have simply translated “clothed to the feet” into Aramaic, for there is nothing in that phrase that even hints at the ephod. Only if he were endowed with the most astonishing parapsychological powers could he have known to put down ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ for ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη.

What is not clear is the relationship between these two Aramaic texts, the lost original and the Crawford. The author’s draft of the Revelation was written down in the year 68, and the Crawford manuscript dates to the twelfth century, more than a millennium later. It would thus be foolish to say it is a faithful copy of the Presbyter’s original text, or something close to it, or that it is the source for the Greek Textus Receptus, as does one Crawford translator, David Bauscher.

Some scholars think the Crawford New Testament may be, or may be closely related to, the Philoxenian (completed in 508) or Harklean New Testaments, which may or may not be the same thing; I think not, since what we have of these versions (completed respectively in 508 and 616) is heavily influenced in vocabulary and text by the Greek, and the Crawford shows not the least sign of such influence.

First, we must remember that during those twelve hundred years Eastern Christianity had virtually no interest in the Revelation: it was for that communion not even part of the New Testament canon, and so no wonder that, though a plethora of Eastern theological texts and hymns survive, there is very little that even might be based on the apocalyptic imagery of the Revelation.

Second, the shelf life of manuscripts was usually far shorter than a millennium; they often were destroyed by fire, mold, worms, political tyrants, or (worse) self-appointed theological censors and santizers. In fact, it is a miracle that we have as many New Testament manuscripts as we do, and we must not forget that they are but a tiny (and very likely in some ways unrepresentative and even misleading) portion of all the manuscripts that were produced, to say nothing of the far greater provenance of oral witness, in a day when oral witness was not only much more common but generally more trusted (see The Gospel of John, pages 219-21). Therefore, the chain of manuscripts that led to the Crawford had to comprise a minimum of links, and in every generation of copies only one or a very few copies must have been made. Since it is a basic fact in the study of ancient manuscripts that the more copies the greater the number of textual variations, this situation tells us that over the centuries there was far less possibility of multiple versions than in the West, where the Greek (and later Latin) copies were in such abundance that the number of variant readings for nearly every New Testament verse is bewildering. In turn, the small chance of variant readings in the Syriac Aramaic Revelation over these twelve centuries maximizes the possibility of the Crawford being reasonably faithful to its predecessors.

Put another way, the fact that we have not even a single stepping stone of textual evidence between the original manuscript of Revelation and the Crawford Revelation actually is far from a fatal blow to any theory that the two are related. In fact, it tells us something extremely important: that the number of generations of copies between them – each of which could easily result in some straying here and there from the original text; indeed, even a lot of straying – is decidedly small. There is always that chance, be it great or small, that the Crawford was copied directly from the autograph or an early and faithful copy thereof.

There are internal clues in the Crawford. For the most part, it is equivalent to the much later Peshitta version, but clearly with added corrections. Sometimes the Crawford text simply reads differently from the Peshitta as if it were at such a point copied directly from another manuscript unlike the Peshitta. Sometimes we find a corrected word squeezed into the available space after the incorrect Peshitta word was scraped away by the scribe. Sometimes, when the corrections would not fit within the body of the text, we find them added in the margin, together with notes regarding their proper placement, as in verse 2:23.

Therefore, a reasonable guess is that the Crawford was made by consulting two earlier manuscripts. One must have resembled the Peshitta text, and this one was the main one used for simply copying text. The other was one that was carefully compared by the same or another scribe to the Peshitta-type text, and where it differed from the latter, he saw to it that the Crawford followed this non-Peshitta-type manuscript. The fact that the Crawford was not simply copied from this better non-Peshitta manuscript but the less correct Peshitta-type text suggests that the latter was more recent and therefore sturdy enough to withstand constant daily use required by the copying process, and the other, better, text that was the source of the corrections was fragile – too fragile to use on a constant basis as a base text, but that still be carefully consulted for purposes of comparison and correction. This scenario suggests that the better manuscript was far older than the one used simply for copying.

Of course it is possible that the older, better manuscript was the autograph or something very close to it. But we must not leap to that conclusion. Arguing against such a claim is the presence of obvious interpolations, such as the one in verse 1:7 that comes from Matthew 24:30, a gospel that was not written for quite a few years after the Revelation was first composed. Certainly this interpolation may be present in the Crawford simply because it was found in both the source manuscript and the correction manuscript. On the other hand, any number of scenarios could explain why the scribe might retain such interpolations even if he found them only in his source (Peshitta-type) manuscript: for instance, because they were by then considered authentically part of the Revelation, or because since they came from other parts of scripture (Matthew in this case) they had to be retained because they were scripture.

I think the Crawford is probably closely related to the Presbyter’s original text, but what the exact relationship might or might not be I care not to guess – and nobody knows, despite all the arguing. While I admire the many scholars and amateur enthusiasts who insist that much or all of the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic, I am frustrated by the energy they put into foolish rationalizations. If any canonical text was written in Aramaic, it is the Revelation, but calm and caution will serve better to establish that than histrionics. I am equally frustrated by the scholars who insist that the entire New Testament, including the Revelation, was composed in Greek, who even as they sneer at the Aramaic primacists resort to irrationally complex and hence unlikely theories to explain away the plain evidence and common-sense conclusion that the Crawford is related to the autograph.

My conclusion that both the Crawford and the Greek Textus Receptus are close to the autograph, though in different ways. Therefore my decision is to base the reconstruction herein of the original text primarily on the Crawford – not only is it the only Syriac manuscript of Revelation that is not overtly a translation from the Greek, but it is a work of extremely high literary quality. As a close second to the Crawford my approximation is founded on the Greek Textus Receptus, and tertiarily on the standard Syriac version that is now (but was not originally) part of the Peshitta New Testament, referred to henceforth simply as the Peshitta.

 

There is more discussion and explanation of the Aramaic original in my commentaries to this work than of Greek in the commentaries in the previous volumes. Even though presumably most readers read neither Greek nor Aramaic, they are still more familiar with the Greek language, which as an ancestor of most Western European tongues has contributed a vast number of words to them: the modern speaker of English is talking in Greek far more often than he or she realizes. What is more, modern Westerners are the children of the Greek world. Its philosophers, poets, and historians are the founders of their culture, and the Græco-Roman way of viewing the world in the first centuries of the common era still pertains today as normative: like those Greek philosophers, the modern Westerner has a sense of self as somewhat divorced from its surroundings, in which the individual takes precedence over the people, and in which one must compete with one’s fellows rather than coöperate with them for the greater good. The Bible, though written almost entirely by Semitic people, is read and interpreted through an exclusively Greek perspective, from which God and heaven are hope distant in time and space (if not nonexistent for them) and Satan or at least evil, seen as a puissant force of malevolence nurtured in the hearts of everyone they hate, is constantly besieging them and requiring a doughty defense using the same methods used by these others.

Thus to do my job adequately well I must hold up as often as I can a Semitic lens to this text, and one important way to do this is by discussing the original language of the text to enable the reader to have a better sense of its meaning for the author and his original readers.

Indeed, I think John the Presbyter was very conscious of these two extremely different worlds. His earlier works, with the probable exception of the short letter called II John, and most prominently the Gospel of John, were originally written in Greek – excellent Greek to be sure, but still a foreign language to him. John was taught the tools of logic and historical analysis by Philo in Greek, but he was taught about life and God by Jesus in Aramaic. John wrote Greek well, but he did his deepest thinking in his mother tongue, Aramaic.

Why then, after decades of composing great works almost exclusively in Greek, did the Presbyter on Patmos and ever after write his last major works, the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One, in Aramaic? In short, his earlier Greek works brought Jesus to the world, but his later Aramaic works brought the world to Jesus.

John’s Greek writings were immediately intelligible to most people in the eastern Mediterranean region and a large plurality in the Italian peninsula and to its west as well. But what these readers were reading were translations: they were John’s best approximation in Greek of Jesus’s teachings in Aramaic, and so the sublime wisdom was inevitably distorted to a degree. His last works would have been comprehensible to only a very few outside the communities of Jews and Samaritans in Judæa and the surrounding countryside, and in the cities of the Diaspora, such as Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rome – but no more. Still, these works were the truth: they were lenses without defect, letting through directly and ideally the light of Jesus’s teachings, which John believed was given to Jesus by God.

John’s first works were also in what were familiar formats in the pervasive Græco-Roman civilization. His gospel was structurally modelled on classical plays, Platonic dialogues, and histories. They use the Greek mind-tools of logic and reason. But his last works were not only linguistically but culturally foreign to the imperial world. The Greeks and Romans as individuals and as a culture believed in seizing power and using it to take advantage of others before they did the same thing to you, but faithful Jews and Samaritans sought to love their neighbors as themselves; they saw holiness and deity as extremely vividly present in their daily lives, as more present to them than even this mundane world, more present to them than even themselves: with every breath they inhaled the ruach of God and exhaled the sacred name YHWH. Thus at the climax of his first great work in Aramaic, when in Revelation 21:1-3 John saw heaven coming down to be united with earth, he was seeing the Semitic way being imposed upon the Greek way: heaven as no longer far away, God no longer as just a distant concept, but coming down to earth and wiping away all the tears of pain and grief.

So John’s shift to Aramaic was a shift from adjusting Jesus’s teachings to fit the Greek world (the Gospel of John) to expecting the world to adjust to Jesus’s teachings (the Revelation and the Songs). The world might or might not do so – but, to adopt Ezekiel’s analogy, John’s responsibility was only to blow the warning bugle; if the world ignored his clarion alarm, it was the world’s fault, not John’s.

The Presbyter’s “return to his roots” is also intimately related to a fundamental change in his central philosophy, as has been discussed elsewhere in this group of books. John, together with Simon the Rock (Peter) and James the Just (Jesus’s brother) had originally expected Jesus to retire from the world stage for a time, while they spread his teachings far and wide, among the Semitic peoples and the Greeks and Romans as well; and then Jesus would come back and lead a peaceful revolution of his followers to overthrow and replace the evil Roman Empire with an earthly approximation of God’s sacred realm, the Æon. This, of course, is the original sense of the “immediate parousia”; the word παρουσια refers to a king coming in full pomp and splendor to review the troops after they have won the war, to receive from them power over the newly conquered territory.

But Jesus (as discussed for instance in The Gospel of John at pages 1039-40) was in terrible physical condition following his crucifixion, and eventually he with Mary relocated in Rome and then Gaul (ibid., pages 208-18). Furthermore, a man known both as Saul and Paul, who had never even met Jesus, let alone discipled with him, had single-handedly taken nearly complete control of the Jesus movement, teaching Jesus as a Roman-style incarnated godling in a spiritual body not subject to the pain or desires of human flesh, and assuring gentile converts that Jesus did not require them to obey the laws of the Torah. Paul also urged docile obedience to the imperial hegemony, and vehemently dismissed Simon, James, and especially John as hypocritical charlatans. And Paul’s highly evangelistic followers were actively seeking converts among John’s own congregations (as the seven letters in the Revelation attest), even sometimes arranging their arrest or execution (as the Revelation letters suggest Paul himself did to John; see ibid., pages 255-57) such that the number of those who held to the original teachings of Jesus as imparted by John was rapidly and significantly shrinking. Given these two contextual realities, to say nothing of the adamant might of the Roman Empire, the possibility of Jesus establishing a heavenly kingdom on earth would be impossible.

Struggling with this issue, John eventually settled on what I call his “brave new theology” (ibid., pages 362-70), in which the troops were Jesus’s teaching and the new territory not on land but the soul of the individual, and the objective was to persuade each person who encountered this teaching to live in accordance with God’s Logos, God’s perfect plan and natural law for the unfolding of the universe, such that individual by individual the Æon would be established – not as a territory but as a people. And thus the παρουσιαwas the individual’s welcoming of God and God’s appointed emissary-son, the Master Jesus, into one’s soul. This “brave new theology” is expressed in the later chapters of the gospel, but it it is at the heart of the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One – and, written in Aramaic, they come from John’s heart and ultimately from Jesus’s heart, and challenge the reader to adjust him- or herself to these teachings, not to read them as already adjusted to one’s own language and culture, as watered down and made palatable to questionable foreign ways.

Ironically, this idealistic hope on John’s part that he could open the Græco-Roman world up to the Semitic spirituality was in vain. The Revelation was blatantly reinterpreted in a Greek way, as some kind of Sibylline Oracle, as something mad spouted by a priestess at Delphi drunk on poisonous fumes venting from deep caverns. Today the book is smothered under two millennia of misunderstanding, widely used by religious leaders as a fear-eliciting tool to keep the faithful masses under their thumb and providing them with money and power out of dread of an end-of-the-world scenario that has always been just around the corner for two thousand years. And the Songs of the Perfect One – with their very physical Jesus coïtally and spiritually one with his wife Mary, so contrary to the Pauline dogma of Jesus as God in a spiritual body free from human desires – were not banned, which would have encouraged covert attention to them, were not burned, which would have sent copies into hiding, but simply labelled as uninstructive and uninteresting, so they would be destroyed by time: languishing forgotten on dusty back sheles until every copy had moldered or been consumed by worms. This brilliant move very nearly succeeded: today very few manuscripts survive of the Songs, part of the first song and all of the second are utterly lost to time, and only a handful of specialists (and a few dedicated if wacky New Age writers) have even looked at this last and most sublime work of the Presbyter.

 

Jesus the Blue-Eyed White Guy

By James David Audlin. Adapted from The Writings of John Restored and Translated, and The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume I, published by Editores Volcán Barú, and The Revelation to John, to be published soon by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2013,2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

 http://audlinbooks.com/about-james-david-audlin/nonfiction-james-david-audlin/

Voltaire once quipped: if God made man in his own image and likeness, then man (non-inclusive language intended) has certainly returned the favor. And Xenophanes before him said not only do the black Ethiopians have black gods, and the Thracians gods have red hair like the Thracians themselves, but, if horses or cows could paint pictures, they would depict gods that resembled horses and cows.

Little is known about Jesus, but the organized Christian religion has seized control of every extant detail and how to interpret it, filling in the mystery with doctrine, and instructing its believers exactly what to think about him, and to believe that it is their own view. Thus all mystery is dispelled, and the vaunted nature of Jesus tightly controlled as a tool to maintain and extend the worldly control and wealth of religious powers.

But mystery, I believe, is a good thing. And I believe that when we free our minds from organizational control we find in the mysterious shreds of information we have of Jesus that they form a cipher, a mirror, in which we encounter not Jesus so much as ourselves. For two thousand years, interpretations of his life have said far more about the interpreters than about the master. Scholars have mocked each other for creating a Jesus in the other’s image, little realizing not only that the accusers do the very same thing, but that this is inevitable to human nature, and a good thing. For the mystery serves as a mirror: in our image of Jesus we find our own spiritual nature revealed. And I believe that in finding ourselves in the nature of God, the reverse is true, and we find God revealed in our nature. Such is the true meaning of a personal Savior!

Indeed, the canonical gospels tell of Jesus’s transfigured appearance. Several early noncanonical texts, and early Christian writers such as Irenæus, speak of Jesus as appearing in a multiplicity of images. This was not to suggest he was not a historical figure, or that, as a real person his physical form was not fixed in nature, but to express a spiritual truth, that Jesus comes to each of us as we are, meeting us in our nature, and leading us on from there. In the noncanonical Acts of John, for instance, some disciples at the same time see Jesus variously as a child, a handsome youth, and a bald older man with flowing beard; sometimes he is solid to the touch and sometimes immaterial. The Gospel of Philip says: “Jesus took them all by surprise, for he did not appear as he was, but in the manner in which they would be able to perceive him. … He appeared to the great as great. He appeared to the small as small. He appeared to the angels as an angel, and to humans as a human. Because of this, his word hid itself from everyone. Some indeed saw him, thinking that they were seeing themselves, but when he appeared to his disciples in glory on the mount, he was not small. He became great, but he made the disciples great, that they might be able to see him in his greatness.” Origen, an early Christian apologist, quotes this agraphon (saying not found in the four canonical gospels) of Jesus: “On account of the sick I was sick, and on account of the hungry I was hungry, and on account of the thirsty I was thirsty.” And the canonical gospels have Jesus say, after a similar comment, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brothers [and sisters], you did for me.”

The modern cant is to dismiss these descriptions of a Jesus-of-flowing-appearance as Gnosticism or Docetism. Current-day scholars label as “Gnostic” (often with a disparaging literary sneer, sometimes insinuating certain modern-day “New Age” values that are alien to these works) any ante-Nicene theological view that is unfamiliar to them, or that doesn’t fit snugly within the Pauline-Nicæan framework that became the foundation of institutional Christianity.

But this Jesus-of-flowing-appearance is not Gnostic. The most common quality that helps us recognize the rather amorphous Gnostic movement is that it is dualistic: texts are likely to speak of a “good God” and an “evil God”, responsible respectively for creating a good world and this world, which is not good but mixed or else outright evil, and often not really real. This world not being good, Gnosticism is often marked by a condemnation of the human body, especially its sexuality. It is also noted for a tendency to insist that doctrine must be accepted not by rational thought about solid facts, but by meek acceptance “on faith” on the part of the neophyte of what is taught by the elders: this fits with the meaning of the Greek word from which the term is derived: γνωσις (gnōsis) refers to a sequestered wisdom that is only handed out to those who have merited it. If anyone was Gnostic in the early Jesus movement, it was Paul. Paul, the author or ascribed author of much of the New Testament, the architect of the main framework of orthodox Christian belief for the past two thousand years, was a Gnostic. Paul’s letters repeatedly disparage this universe and discourage our involvement with it. He invests his “evil god”, Satan, with power all but equal to God’s, and puts this universe firmly in Satan’s hands (Ephesians 2). He says our physical nature is riddled with appetitive sin and subject to injury, sickness, old age, death – he even mentions body odor (II Corinthians 2:14-16)! Since in this life we have carnal bodies, which for Paul must be subdued, he insists that the best life is lived in celibacy.

Nor is this vision of Jesus Docetic. Commonly misdefined, Docetism properly speaking is the doctrine that Jesus had a body, one that was fully sensible, including to the touch, however it was not a human body of flesh subject to injury, sickness, age, and death, but one of immutable spiritual substance. Scholars still argue today about whether Paul was a docetist; perhaps he was, perhaps not, and perhaps as with so many other things he waffled on this matter, depending on his audience. (Paul’s propensity for equivocating reminds me of one of Groucho Marx’s quips: “Those are my principles; and, if you don’t like them, well, I have others.”) The important question here, however, is whether John the Presbyter might have reason to believe Paul was a docetist. And the answer is clear. In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul says that though Jesus “existed in God’s own form [μορφην] … he voided [εκενωσεν] his nature, taking on the form [μορφην] of a slave, coming in human semblance [ομοιωματι], and was found to be human in appearance [σχηματι].” In Romans 8:3 he writes: “God sending his own son in the semblance [ομοιωματι] of sinful human flesh.”

In addition to these descriptions of early Christian leaders like Irenæus and Origen, occasionally we find in early iconography depictions from Asia of Jesus with an Oriental appearance, from Africa as a black man, and so on. Occasionally modern artists have dared to image Jesus as having a sexual-erotic aspect to his naturek as even a woman, almost always to a reception of massive derision and even book-banning and the removal of offensive depictions from museum walls, notwithstanding the chimæra, the lie that we humans have a right to free speech.

However the vast preponderance of Jesus imagery, especially that sanctioned by the organized Christian religion, depicts him with the skin, hair, and eyes of a Northern European – when he was surely far from that in his physical appearance. This cannot be accident: it delivers a message to all non-white people that they by their very natures fail to be like Jesus and God, by their very natures they are lesser, and that the White Man is superior and is ordained by God to control all others as his minions, taking from everything of value, including their labor and their raw materials, and replacing their own culture with his own.

Modern Westerners are obsessed with their outer appearance. They spend hours every day grooming themselves, putting on makeup, buying and dressing themselves, checking their look in the mirror, taking pictures of themselves, and assessing others almost entirely on the basis of their own physical natures. These early descriptions and the iconography and art depicting Jesus as anything but the strutting white male reflect his actual teachings that we all have the image of God stamped in our natures, no matter our unimportant outward appearances.

Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are predisposed to read the ancient texts assuming that descriptions of Jesus are physical – when they are spiritual, when they are meant to teach us that he is one with us, and we one with him. Therefore, inevitably, modern Westerners are nonplussed and offended by images of an African Jesus, a Native American Jesus, a female Jesus.

What, then, should we make of these early descriptions of Jesus with mutable form? We should understand them the same way we do efforts ancient and modern to find the nature of Jesus, the sacred nature that Jesus lived and taught, in ourselves. We are all made in the image and likeness of Elohim, the Bible teaches us – and that is all of us, of both genders, of all sexual orientations and races and ages and abilities and appearances and economic-social statuses.

Jesus’s teaching, in sum, is that we should reject outer appearance as our way of judging the worth of ourselves and others – indeed, we should reject judging altogether, and seek to be one with each other and the God-in-us just as Jesus did (John 17:21-23). We should not even love others in the way we love ourselves, for many of us fail even to love ourselves. Rather, what Leviticus 19:18 literally tells us, and what Jesus meant by quoting it, is that we should love others as ourselves: recognize that they are us, and we are them, that your neighbor is you, and you are your neighbor: that we must be truly one with all.

Jesus indeed often speaks about this matter in the canonical gospels, especially John, though clearly his teachings are universally honored but rarely actually followed. But nowhere does he do so more clearly than in two related agraphons (quotations attributed to him from outside the four canonical gospels). The first comes from a scholar who is called today Pseudo-Cyprian. This third-century and probably Irish scholar, in his Liber de duobus montibus Sina et Sion, 13), says he found this quotation in an epistula Iohannis discipuli sui ad populum (“a letter of John his [Jesus’s] disciple to the people”). That is, it comes from a fourth letter to his seven congregations from John the Presbyter, an eyewitness to Jesus and one of his larger group of disciples.

 Ita me in vobis videte, quomodo quis vestrum se videt in aquam aut in speculum.

See me in yourself as any one of you sees himself in water or in a mirror.

The second is found in a passage in the early second-century potpourri titled the Acts of John, one that I conclude is also genuinely by the Presbyter:

 Λυχνος ειμι σοι τω βλεποτι με. Αμην.

Εσοπτρον ειμι σοι τω νοουντι με. Αμην.

Θυρα ειμι σοι προυοντι με. Αμην.

Οδος ειμι σοι παροδιτη. [Αμην.]

 

I am a lamp, therefore, to one who looks at me. Amen.

I am a mirror, therefore, to one who thinks of me. Amen.

I am a door to one who passes through me. Amen.

I am a way to the wayfarer. [Amen.]

Given what Jesus was originally teaching, I reject the false idol, the Roman godling that struts above the world at the command of religious and political potentates. I reject too Blond and Blue-Eyed Jesus, Divine Son of the Big White Guy With a Beard Behind the Sky, the pretty but inhuman image caught unmoving in the amber of veneration, and in his manifestation as the Great White Father forced down the throats of non-white people throughout the world.

Give me instead a Jesus who lives and breathes, who loves his wife and children, who loathes hypocrisy, who enjoys talking about faith, who loves to laugh – for that is my nature too. This is the kind of Jesus I find in the Gospel of John: the gospel reflects my nature. In the commentaries to these restorations and translations of the works of the Presbyter I support my assertions with facts and careful deductive logivc, for my view is right-for-me. But I know it may be wrong-for-you. Don’t condemn me; tell me what Jesus you see in this mirror, the Gospel of John! Back it up with facts and logic! And then, let us enjoy a good conversation about the face each sees in the mirror of faith. And let us love this One who shows you yourself and me myself in himself!

Behold Your Mothers: Adopted at the Crucifixion

GOJ-front 2vol Ib From the recently published complete edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II, as published by Editores Volcán Barú, available here.

This essay, taken from The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II, first discusses who the Gospel of John names as witnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus, and second considers the nature of the Beloved Disciple’s adoption by Jesus. Analysis will begin with verse 26, which tells us who were the witnesses to the crucifixion. The Gospel of John gives us a very limited number, and these will be discussed shortly.

First, however, we must discuss which witnesses the Synoptic gospels say were present. (Luke only tells us that “his friends”, including “the women who had followed him from Galilee” were there, so the women present must be more or less those in the lists given in Luke 8:1-3 and Luke 24:10, and the following is based on that assumption.) All three Synoptics put Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion, as does John. They also all place Mary the mother of James the Younger and Joses on the scene; in my opinion this is one way that Jesus’s mother was designated following her remarriage (see the essay on page 371); hence, though there is no specific reference to “Jesus’s mother” in the Synoptics, they still cohere with John, which specifically says his mother was there. Matthew says the mother of the sons of Zebedee was there, but the earlier Gospel of Mark, based on Simon’s eyewitness accounts, lists instead Salome (a garbled Greek version of the Hebrew/Aramaic word for “peace”), who I believe was the mother of Mary Magdalene (see pages 452-53). In sum, there is a reasonable coherence among the three Synoptic gospels that present were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, and either Salome mother of the Magdalene or the wife of Zebedee too.

It is not immediately clear who the women are who are mentioned in the Gospel of John as witnesses to the crucifixion. Depending on how the text is read, either four, three, or two women are mentioned in 19:25.

Four women – Depending on how it is punctuated, this would be either a: Jesus’s mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene; or b: Jesus’s mother, his mother’s sister Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. It is unlikely that two sisters would be both named Mary, and so the second alternative is rejected. The main problem with the four-women hypothesis is that the word και (“and”) appears inconveniently between the first two and second two, and not as would be grammatically correct, either only before the last (Mary Magdalene) or between all four. Also, this alternative would conflict with the Synoptic accounts.

Three women – This would be either a: a kind of acrostic involving all elements except Mary Magdalene: Jesus’s mother Mary, his mother’s sister the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene; or b: Jesus’s mother, his mother’s sister Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Again, the second is eliminated because two sisters would not be named Mary. The first is possible, but the two-women reading that follows is much more satisfying grammatically, factually, and poetically. This option, too, would conflict with the Synoptic account.

Two women – I agree with James Tabor that this list comprises an acrostic involving all elements in the verse, including Mary Magdalene, and that therefore Jesus’s mother is here named as Mary wife of Clopas. This would cohere with the Synoptic accounts, which agree that Jesus’s mother and the Magdalene were present. (If Mark is right that the Magdalene’s mother Salome [see pages 452-53] also was there, then she went unmentioned in the Gospel of John, since the author does not include anything extraneous, and she is uninvolved in Jesus’s final command in 19:26-27.) What is more, in this reading, the two instances in the verse of και (“and”) set up a fine division of the names into a couplet of semipoetic lines:

His mother and his mother’s sister,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.

This seems typical Hebrew poetry, saying the same thing or a parallel thing twice but with different wording the second time. The problem is that Mary Magdalene was certainly not Jesus’s aunt! This glaring mismatch is undeniable proof that the redactor of the original text was as usual removing any reference to Jesus’s marital status. It seems logical to conclude that he may have changed the text at the end of the first line from νυξς (“daughter-in-law”) to αδελφη (“sister”), and removed the obvious missing parallel to “the wife of Clopas”, which would make this a perfect acrostic: “the wife of Jesus”. The redactor would then have replaced the offending phrase with her Synoptic cognomen “Magdalene”, lest it be unclear who this Mary might be.

This Clopas in verse 25 was probably known in Aramaic as Hilphai; Joseph Henry Thayer suggests in his Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament that κλωπας (Klōpas) is a transliteration of חילפ ( אי Hilphai), but that, since there is no letter for “H” in Greek, the initial ח in the name was rendered into Greek with a κ, “K”; the “p” sound, more euphonious to Greeks than the “ph”, was substituted; and a Greek-style suffix was added. Early Christian writers Papias and Hegesippus both declare Clopas to be the brother of Jesus’s father, Joseph. James Tabor is right to say that Hilphai (Clopas) almost certainly married Mary after his brother Joseph’s death, and so Mary the wife of Clopas here is Jesus’s mother, and Clopas (Hilphai) his stepfather. Since in this scene Jesus is concerned for his mother’s care, she must be widowed for the second time: Hilphai must be now dead like his brother Joseph before him.

It has often been suggested that Clopas and the Cleopas who appears in Luke 24:13-35 are the same man. If that is so, if Mary still has a husband, then why does the Gospel of John specify that after Jesus’s death the Beloved Disciple took Mary “for his own [mother]” (19:27)? Either a: Clopas and Cleopas are different men with similar names, and bear in mind that these are clumsy transliterations into Greek, so the original Aramaic names could be almost anything; or b: Clopas/Cleopas and Mary have separated; or c: the Lukan episode tells of a son of Clopas, possibly the Levi (ben Clopas) discussed in the essay beginning on page 371. I think the first and third alternatives are the most likely. More about Clopas and Jesus’s brothers and half-brothers may be read in the essay on the same page.

The cognomen “Magdalene” obviously did not come from the author of the original text: Mary has been heretofore named in this gospel only as Mary, and, other than here and 20:1, she is never once called “Magdalene”; that is exclusively the Synoptic cognomen for her. The author of this gospel must have known her, since she had to be a primary source for chapters 4 and 20, and was besides the mother of his main eyewitness, Lazarus. The redactor inserted this nickname here to fill the obvious gap in the phrase “Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the [__]” after he had excised what the text originally said. Indeed, I am certain that the redactor inserted “Magdalene” into 20:1 as well. In both places I think he used the cognomen to help bring this gospel into closer coherence with the Synoptics.

Thus the text here may have originally read:

His mother and his mother’s daughter-in-law,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.

This couplet bears the classic earmark of Hebrew verse, being a pair of lines that says the same thing twice, but wording it differently the second time. And it succinctly describes all the relationships. However, the wording is rather clumsy, especially for poetry, so let us remain open to other possibilities.

Here in verse 25, as elsewhere in the gospel, we see the Beloved Disciple’s modest reluctance to mention himself unless utterly necessary, and also how the amanuensis adds no detail that doesn’t further the story and message of the gospel. So, in this verse, the focus is intent on this couplet about the two mothers Mary, and the eyewitness does not yet mention himself. He lists the two mothers because of what Jesus is about to say, but what Jesus is about to say involves the Beloved Disciple too, and so he is finally mentioned as present in verse 26.

The conclusion that these two lines are verse is supported by the presence of another very similar couplet at verses 26-27. Jesus’s dying instruction to his relatives also comes in the form of Hebrew poetic parallelism, though as we have it it appears incomplete:

He says to the mother, “Woman, behold your son.”
Then he says to the disciple, “[___], behold your mother.”

The construction of the first line of this couplet, in which Jesus appears to address his mother as “woman” (see discussion of this form of address in the commentary to 2:4), requires a similar kind of salutation of the Beloved Disciple, but it is glaringly absent. The lacuna is best filled in with either a relationship word (for instance, “son” or “brother-in-law”) or else the disciple’s name; clearly something has been suppressed here by the final redactor of the text to hide the identity of the disciple. Certainly the original did not clumsily read, “Then he says to the disciple, ‘Disciple, behold your mother.’” Surely, and especially in his dying moments, Jesus is going to hand off that responsibility to a very close family member. It is not likely a brother of Jesus, since the wording strongly suggests Jesus is designating with his words a new mother-son relationship, while such a brother would already have the same mother. This handing-off, actually, was traditionally to a dying father’s son, no one else.

Involved in this scene are two mother-son pairs: Jesus and his mother, and Lazarus and his mother. Both mothers are named Mary; both have known the intense anguish a mother feels mother feels as she helplessly watches her son die. Both of their sons have been called son of the father (Jesus says frequently in this gospel that he is son of the father, and Lazarus was only an hour or two before the crucifixion released by Pontius Pilate under the name Barabbas, which means the same thing). Further, according to Mark 15:40, a third mother-child pair was there: Salome and Mary Magdalene (see pages 452-53 on Salome as Mary’s mother), adding to the poignancy of this scene.

All of these connections between the two mothers were certainly clear to Jesus long before he was hung on the cross. Thus quickly to Jesus’s mind would come the idea of charging his stepson Lazarus with this filial responsibility for his own mother. He may indeed have already decided that he would do this at his last moment, since a dying person’s final request would decisively oblige the survivors to carry it out.

The text makes very clear the strong connection between the two mothers, by naming them and them only as witnesses, notwithstanding who else in actuality may have been there, such as Salome. Verse 25 specifically refers to “his mother” (that is, Jesus’s) and also, as we shall see below, originally referred to “the disciple’s mother”. However, this connection between the two Marys, the two mothers of “Sons of the Father” whom they have watched die is emphasized in another, subtler way: the Greek text of verse 26, though it is typically translated “his mother”, instead actually twice says “the mother”. Normally in Greek, after the first reference to Jesus’s mother (η μητηρ αυτου, literally, “the mother of-him”), it wouldn’t be necessary to repeat the word αυτου (“of-him”) in immediately subsequent references to his mother. That is why scholars render the two “the mother” references in verse 26 as “his mother”. But, with two mothers mentioned in verse 25, Jesus’s and Lazarus’s – what is more, two mothers with several significant things in common, as noted – it is not so clearcut. Jesus could be telling Lazarus to behold his own mother, Mary Magdalene, or Jesus’s mother, or (and this is what I think) both mothers.

Quite conceivable is the possibility that the original text had the words “women” and “mothers”, in the plural form, and that the redactor either thought this was a grammatical error or, more likely, he fully understood that this was meant to refer both to Jesus’s mother Mary and to Jesus’s wife Mary and the Beloved Disciple’s mother, and so, wishing as always to emphasize Jesus’s divinity, he reduced the plural to the singular.

It is universally believed that Jesus is speaking to his mother when he says, “Woman, behold your son.” I believe that he is speaking to both mothers, affirming to each of the two Marys that Lazarus is still or henceforth her son. That is why he does not say, “Mother, behold your son,” or, for that matter, “Wife, behold your son.” Indeed, dying on the cross, he doesn’t have the breath to be long-winded! By saying γυνη, “woman”, or better yet the nearly identically pronounced γυναι, “women”, he encompasses both of these Marys with so much in common.

It is also universally believed that Jesus is referring to his own mother when he says to the Beloved Disciple, “Behold your mother”: he is requiring Lazarus to take on the duty of filial responsibility for his step-grandmother, his stepfather’s mother. Again I believe that he is referring to both mothers, asking Lazarus to take care of both of them when he, Jesus, is dead. The two mothers and the son hear this as Jesus realizing that this death may be final, that he may not rise again to take care of his wife and his mother, and their despair and grief is intensified in response.

Keep in mind how much these two Marys have in common, in their names and in their death-facing son-of-the-father sons, a close relationship highlighted by this couplet and by the use of “the mother” in verse 26 to refer to both mothers. What we can draw from this is that, when Jesus says to Lazarus “Behold your mother,” he is speaking not only about his own mother, but Lazarus’s mother, Mary Magdalene, as well. He is saying “Take care of my mother, and your mother my wife, when I am dead.”

Carrying out this final wish is the duty of a son, not a stepson, and so it becomes clear, in this Jesus’s dying instruction, that his words incorporate his formal adoption and recognition of his stepson Lazarus as his own son. Yigal Levin (“Jesus, ‘Son of God’ and ‘Son of David’: The ‘Adoption’ of Jesus into the Davidic Line” [JSNT 28.4; 2006]), makes it clear that there was then no adoption under Jewish law. Roman law allowed a more formal adrogatio, which needed several approvals in the Roman courts, and the much more informal adoptio, which was certainly the case here. It was usually between relatives, and was usually not a humanitarian gesture for the adoptee’s sake, but for the father’s, under hereditas nominis pecuniæ sacrorum, a phrase referring to the assurance of stability and continuity of the family honor; in this case, to ensure that Jesus’s responsibilities to his mother and wife were properly discharged. If Jesus was indeed a Roman citizen, as suggested on pages 376, he would likely have known about this means of adoption.

This adoption of Lazarus by Jesus, son of God, Messiah of God, emissary or ambassador of God, is also emblematic of God’s adoption of the people of Israel as his child, during the Exodus from Egypt. Thus, this adoption forms a parallel with the reference to adoption in the Prologue (see the commentary to 1:11-13).

Clearly this declaration at the moment of death was taken by Lazarus and the two Marys as binding (19:27b), and the acutely remembered and carefully transcribed recounting of this statement by Lazarus, the Beloved Disciple and eyewitness, in poetry no less, tells us just how seriously it was taken by them. In ancient times, the most important texts were in poetry, not prose – because poetry, by its nature, is more easily memorized and enunciated later, and thus can outlast such ephemeral documents as bills of lading and shopping lists, which were written precisely because they were unworthy of memorization. With his final breath of life, inhaled with great difficulty by pulling his torso up with his nailed wrists, then sagging down exhaustedly while exhaling, arousing new pain in his wrists, his very last inhalations and exhalations of the Spirit of God, and no moment to waste, Jesus was arranging for his mother and his wife to be cared for, and at the same time was acknowledging his stepson as his own son. This would have been a highly emotional and memorable moment for the two Marys, with Lazarus standing between them, and his other grandmother, Salome, also close by.

The text tells us (verse 27b) that after this event the disciple took her or them as his own mother(s). The pronoun αυτην can mean either “her”, in which case it is referring to Jesus’s mother, or “them”, in which case both mothers are meant. The preposition εις has many possible meanings; usually Bible interpreters mistakenly read it as saying “into”, and then they take the phrase εις τα ιδια as “into his own home”, with the word “home”, they say, unwritten but understood. The preposition εις clearly should be taken rather as meaning “as”, and the phrase as saying he takes her/them as his own mother(s). With the word “mother” recently written several times, the author had no need to repeat it again here, except if only to help two millennia of interpreters avoid the mistake just described. This interpretation is much more thematically united: Jesus commands the Beloved Disciple to take the two women as his two mothers, and this sentence, directly from the disciple himself confirms that he obeyed this final request of Jesus.

Also, this poetic “last will” of Jesus is again clearly meant again to establish a parallel between him and the greatest of the prophets, Moses and Elijah. Since these parallels are drawn several times in the early chapters of the gospel, this also forms another inclusio. The Torah has Moses, like Jesus, reciting poetry before his death (Deuteronomy 32-33), and the account of Elijah’s death (II Kings 2) has him likewise orating a kind of “last will”, giving Elisha his sacred powers.

As a result of all this, I conclude that this couplet originally read as follows:

He says to the mothers, “Women, behold your son.”
Then he says to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

The following would be absolutely perfect parallelism,

He says to the women, “Mothers, behold your son.”
Then he says to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

but the grammar of Greek and Aramaic would allow Jesus to address only his own mother as “Mother”, not his wife; besides, he calls his mother γυνη (gynē, “woman”), in 2:4, so this must be an inclusio that the narrative calls the two “women” here. What is more, Salome, Lazarus’s maternal grandmother is present too (Mark 15:40), so Jesus’s words could be taken as gracefully including her. Therefore, the first of these two is the one I adopt as the reconstruction.

Clearly here the redactor removed the offending word “son”, without replacing it with anything; the only option he had was “disciple” or “the beloved disciple”, both of which would sound odd if forced here into Jesus’s dying words. And he reduced “women” and “mothers” to their singular forms.

If this second couplet refers so evidently to sons and mothers, then the strong possibility follows that the original version of the couplet in verse 25 also used the same manner to specify the relationships involved:

His mother and the disciple’s mother,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.

This would have perfectly set up the dual change in relationship that Jesus specifies to Lazarus and his mother: his stepson becomes his son, and his mother becomes his son’s mother. And Lazarus, as the eyewitness, confirms this dual change at the end of verse 27: “And from that hour the disciple took [ελαβεν] them [αυτην] as (his) own [τα ιδια].” The same Greek words are found in 1:11, to say that the Λογος “came into its own, but its own did not take it in,” so here, as an inclusio, it suggests that these three, Jesus’s family, have taken not only each other, but the Word as their own. The phrase τα ιδια is often translated “his own home”, with the word “home” understood, and that’s not necessarily wrong, but it is better taken to say that Lazarus took them both as his own mother – both Marys as his mothers, and also Jesus as his own father. At least here, the Word has been taken in by its own.

But all this would have been far too much of an affront to the dogma the new religion was developing, driving the redactor to change the “disciple’s mother” to “mother’s sister” and “the wife of Jesus” to “Magdalene”. The two couplets read perfectly together:

His mother and the disciple’s mother,
Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary the wife of Jesus.
He says to the mothers, “Women, behold your son.”
Then he says to the disciple, “Son, behold your mothers.”

which in Greek would be:

η μητηρ αυτου και η μητηρ της μαθητην
μαρια η του κλωπα και μαρια η του ιεσους.
λεγει τας μητρας γυναι ιδε ο υιος σου
ειτα λεγει τω μαθητη ιδε αι μητηρες σου

And, just in case anyone still should fail to see the poetry, the author placed immediately before these two couplets another couplet taken from the Tanakh (Psalm 22:18) of what is universally recognized as poetry:

They divided my garments among themselves,
And for my clothing they cast lots.

And then, in stunning chiaroscuro, immediately following this bouquet of poetry, the author gives us in terse prose the death of Jesus.

The Gospel of John as the Paraclete: Jesus’s Continuing Presence

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From the just-released new edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II as published by Editores Volcán Barú available here.

In the following passage from the preface to his five-volume opus, Papias explains his own approach to establishing the truth about Jesus. Without doubt he was describing the historiographical method that his master John the Presbyter taught him, which means it is also the method John adopted in writing the gospel.

εἰ δέ που καὶ παρηκολουθηκώς τις τοῖς πρεσβυτέροις ἔλθοι, τοὺς τῶν πρεσβυτέρων ἀνέκρινον λόγους, τί Ἀνδρέας ἢ τί Πέτρος εἴπεν ἢ τί Φίλιππος ἢ τί Θωμᾶς ἢ Ἰάκωβος ἢ τί Ἰωάννης ἢ Ματθαῖος ἢ τις ἕτερος τῶν τοῦ κυρίου μαθητῶν ἅ τε Ἀριστίων καὶ ὁ πρεσβύτερος Ἰωάννης, τοῦ κυρίου μαθηταί, λέγουσιν. οὐ γὰρ τὰ ἐκ τῶν βιβλίων τοσοῦτόν με ὠφελεῖν ὑπελάμβανον ὅσον τὰ παρὰ ζώσης φωνῆς καὶ μενούσης.

And so whenever anyone who had followed the presbyters came along, I would ask carefully for the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or Peter had said, or what Philip, or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew, or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and John the Presbyter, disciples of the Lord say too. For I did not assume that whatever comes from books is as helpful to me as what comes from a living and persevering voice.

This quotation is not (as some have written) dismissing the value of books; certainly not when Papias wrote these words in a massive written work of his own. He is saying rather that when an actual eyewitness is still alive, still persevering in putting his vivid memories into words, again and again for different audiences, such a person deserves to be heeded more than a book, no matter how helpful the latter. He is saying that even the best of books are still of lesser value because they are indirect, coming between the student and the eyewitness descriptions, and that the eyewitness descriptions are superior because they are only one step away from the actual events themselves.

From the Presbyter’s historiographical approach (as mediated by Papias) we gain an insight into another matter that surely troubled John enough to call for the conference: if a book, no matter how good, is inevitably not as valuable as the account of an eyewitness, why should he put years into the solitary work of writing such a second-best rather than serving himself an eyewitness, using those years to tell as many people as he could about his experience of seeing and hearing Jesus? The answer he hit upon, as shall be seen, was not to write a book like any other, even a book as good as those by Herodotus or Plato or Homer – but to compose in book form the actual presence of Jesus. The logic is thus: if the gospel records the witness not of (just) human beings but of God, then the gospel records the truth of God, the absolute and objective truth, the perfect truth that mortal witnesses, even when they share and discuss their views together, can never fully reach. Since God is Creator, then for those who read and accept the gospel, the gospel creates for and within us the very presence of Jesus. To accept the gospel is to accept not only God’s truth, but to accept the Logos, to accept Jesus’s presence. As the Presbyter himself put it in I John 5:9-10:

ει την μαρτυριαν των ανθρωπων λαμβανομεν η μαρτυρια του θεου μειζων εστιν οτι αυτη εστιν η μαρτυρια του θεου οτι μεμαρτυρηκεν περι του υιου αυτου *και αυτη εστιν η μαρτυρια οτι ζωην αιωνιον εδωκεν ημιν ο θεος* ο πιστευων εις τον υιον του θεου εχει την μαρτυριαν εν αυτω ο μη πιστευων τω θεω ψευστην πεποιηκεν αυτον οτι ου πεπιστευκεν εις την μαρτυριαν ην μεμαρτυρηκεν ο θεος περι του υιου αυτου

If we receive human witness/testimony, God’s witness/testimony is greater. For this is God’s witness/testimony: that (God) has witnessed to / testified about his son, *and this is the witness/testimony, that Æonian life is given to us by God*. Those who believe God’s witness/testimony about his son have it within themselves; those who do not believe God have made him a liar, because they have not believed the testimony to which God has testified about his son.

To have God’s witness/testimony “within themselves” is John’s way of saying that those who experience the witness of God as a phenomenon become not just witnesses themselves, but committed witnesses, who have taken the experience into themselves. (Note that the phrase between asterisks is only found in one manuscript, the Codex Athous Lauræ (044 or Ψ), but, given its very Johannine reference to Æonian life, I lean toward the conclusion that it is original. Note for those who read Greek that I take του θεου in verse 10 as operating in possessive of both τον υιον and την μαρτυριαν.)

Modern historiography pays lip service to primary oral sources, but current-day histories rely mainly on previously written works, as any survey of published material will amply demonstrate. And modern historiography, when it does turn to oral sources, insists that the best eyewitness is dispassionate, perceiving and remembering facts without their being distorted by the lens of emotional attachment, free from subjective interpretation – in this case, spiritual understanding. The reader may have noticed that in this work I am unusual for a modern in not hesitating to rely on oral history, for instance what I heard in France about Jesus coming to Gaul in his later years, or about the continuing presence of Cathars.

The classical historian, on the other hand, would aver that to be dispassionate, supposedly “objective”, to lack emotional attachment to the event – that is, to not care about what one has observed, reduces one’s effectiveness as a witness. To the classical historian there is no difference between “disinterested” and “uninterested”, and both result in uninvolved and unreliable. The best witness, that historian would say, is one who is invested in the event, and thus has senses well attuned so memory can carefully store the event away. The best witness is one who not just cares enough about the event to remember it well, but cares enough about it to recount it again and again to various audiences, who therefore has had good practice at the craft of putting memory into words, which strengthens the recall and prevents the memory from fading away. Witnesses involved in the event, who participated in it, are commonly not just preferred bur required in traditional Jewish law. Those who signed a ketubah (marriage contract) and someone who saw the first faint crescent of the new moon, for instance, are not mere dispassionate observers but involved in the matter being adjudicated, and as such, the Talmudic scholars agree, are needed for their reliable testimony.

Quite the opposite from a witness unmoved by the event, the classical historian would recognize that the ultimate objective nature of the truth can only be known to a Being with a universal perspective, as George Berkeley pointed out. We humans, with our limited, subjective viewpoints, can never as individuals know the truth perfectly. The best we can do, says the classical historian and philosopher, is share our views with each other, in Platonic-style dialogues, each person seeking not (as moderns do when they discuss) to win the debate, not to prove his or her view correct and the others wrong, but, through listening, speaking, and reflecting, to contribute to the common quest, to get as close as humanly possible to the objective truth known only to God. (We can see here again why those who walked with Jesus, including the Presbyter, were so offended by Paul’s teachings: not only was he never an eyewitness to Jesus, but he refused to join with those who had observed and listened to Jesus to strive with them in the quest to come closer to the truth: instead, he insisted that they were wrong and that his interpretation imposed on the life of a man he never met were right.)

So it is that in Luke 24:32 and John 20:19-29, for instance, we are told that the disciples joined together in discussion of the events they witnessed, precisely in order to seek the truth together. One individual alone has a very limited perspective on the truth about something, but when more individuals who have a perspective at all on that something (i.e., are eyewitnesses to it) join with that individual in dialogue, the larger the perspective grows: it can never be universal, never objective, never absolutely correct, as is God’s perspective, but at least by adding more individual viewpoints to the dialogue it becomes larger, thus to the same degree closer to the truth. This is why the superior classical historian sought to listen to as many eyewitnesses as possible: not to decide which individual was right about a certain matter (and thus that the others were wrong), but – since these witnesses were likely not together in the same place engaged in discussion – at least within the historian’s own mind and even in the written work the historian could enable these witnesses to discuss the truth, as he reflects on what they said. As it is put in The Circle of Life:

Traditional peoples see time and place in terms of story. Everything around us is alive, and has its story. To exist, to live, is to create story: when we fall in love, when we have a child, and so on, we’re beginning a story, and the only way we can learn how the story is going to come out is by creating the story. 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. Death, in this view, is an ending not of life, but of a story – and other stories will always follow.

This issue was no doubt important to Papias because, as the Gospel of John demonstrates, it was crucial to his mentor John the Presbyter. The book, the gospel, that John wrote seeks to be something unique: to be much more than just a book of history like other books of history, even the best of them. It seeks to be more even than merely an indirect witness to Jesus, a mere record of oral recollections like other written histories. In addition to seeking to be itself a direct observer and describer of the events, telling the reader the story about them just the way a witness does, it seeks to be the event itself, such that we are not mere readers of a text that quotes witnesses about the event of Jesus, but that we become direct witnesses to Jesus himself. A perfect map of the world would be identical to the world and thus be the world itself; likewise, a perfect history of Jesus would be the event of Jesus himself; where humanity cannot reach such absolute truth, God can bridge the asymptotic gap and create a history that is what it describes. As stated above, the best witness is “invested in the event, and thus has senses well attuned and memory carefully storing the event away, … and cares about it enough to recount it again and again to various audiences”, which describes this gospel very well. For Jesus promises, in the gospel itself, that a new kind of eyewitness will come to the faithful; he speaks of it as the Paraclete (Παρακλητος), “the Spirit/Wind/Breath of truth … that will bear witness concerning me” (15:26), adding, “Whatever it hears it will speak … [it] will teach you all things and will remind you of all the things that I said to you” (14:26). That new kind of witness is the gospel itself. It is the event itself, the event of Jesus, and by attending to it we become the eyewitnesses to not so much the gospel but to Jesus himself.GOJ-front 2vol II

The modern sense of time is strictly linear: ancient events and people are divided from us by an unbridgable gulf of past centuries. For classical people that gulf could be breached in ceremony, uniting the present and past in kairos, uniting us with our spiritual ancestors in the “Eternal Now”; indeed, becoming spiritually one with them (cf. The Circle of Life). Still today the Passover Haggadah stresses that in sharing this meal we today are there with our ancestors as God brings them forth from Egypt (Exodus 13:14). And Jesus here shares the Samaritan Passover with his disciples and by extension us. Thus, after often comparing Jesus favorably to the ancient patriarchs, here Moses especially, whom this sacred meal invokes, is present at this climactic meal, in effect supporting Jesus, going with him to the cross – and when we read this gospel, the Paraclete, Jesus’s presence today, they are both with us now.

The Last Supper discourse helps to show that the Paraclete, the “Spirit/Breath/Wind of Truth”, is this gospel. It will not speak for itself (being a book, not a person), but what is written therein “it will speak”; it will take Jesus’s words and deeds and “declare them to you,” and “remind you of all the things that I said to you.” In all ancient literature this phrase the “Spirit/Breath/Wind of Truth” appears only in this discourse (14:17, 15:26, 16:13) and the Community Rule (3:18, 4:21,23) of the Dead Sea Scrolls; the phrase “the Sacred Spirit/Breath/Wind” (traditionally rendered “the Holy Spirit”) also is found only here (14:26) and likewise in the Community Rule (4:21). Later dogma turned it into a “person” in the Trinity.

The end of the gospel proper, verse 20:29, further supports the thesis that this gospel is the Paraclete, Jesus’s continuing physical presence in this world. John’s cognomen “the Presbyter” was applied by the movement’s early leaders to those like he who had heard Jesus preach and who became his followers as a result, but who were not among Jesus’s first and most central disciples. In concluding the gospel with this statement, therefore, the amanuensis is saying to us, “This gospel represents the man I saw and heard, and I believe. Now you have read this gospel; now you know exactly what I know: everything about Jesus. So now I ask you: Do you believe?

This gospel is the Paraclete, the reminder, the messenger. It is like Jesus himself an emissary from God. It is, in effect, the presence of Jesus. Jesus calls himself the truth (14:6), and says the Paraclete will be the spirit of the truth (15:26, 14:26) – his spirit. It gives us the teachings and signs that Jesus did. It shows us the wounds, as it were, as Jesus did to Thomas. And here at the end, miraculously, it gives us Jesus, speaking directly to us, to you and me, the reader.

In this the last verse of the gospel proper (before the Envoi) Jesus steps out of the narrative framework, outside the telling of the story, to address the reader directly. This is a stylistic technique that was not rediscovered for nearly two millennia, despite the provenance of the Bible putting this example in front of pretty much every Western novelist since. Of course, you the reader realize intellectually that Jesus cannot directly address you personally; you realize that this is merely a literary technique never otherwise used in scriptures, even the most erudite of them, such as Jeremiah and Second Isaiah, and, later, the Qur’an. But then you start wondering: Jesus could have said this; it is immediately followed (20:30-31) by a certification of the eyewitness, and then you are moved because the gospel is saying that Jesus knew the Λογος so well that he knew the Beloved Disciple would remember his words and some day dictate them to his amanuensis, and that he knew some day you, the reader, would read those words.

he technique is highly effective: you read it and see, in your mind’s eye, Jesus look up from his twin brother to you, look up from the page of the book to you, the reader, and speak directly to you. At this last verse of the story proper, this technique draws you firmly into the microcosm of the gospel. It causes the gospel – like a mirror that is a universal, for it reflects all things but shows us only one thing, ourselves – to show you yourself in the story. You realize that it is not just Thomas who is Jesus’s twin, but you yourself, the reader; Jesus, like Baudelaire, calls you mon semblable, mon frère. He is saying in effect, “You, reader, like Thomas, were not with me when I came the first time. You, reader, like Thomas, demand proofs. But hearken to me; this gospel is the proof. This gospel is my presence in your life. And you are hereby invited to see the marks from the nails in my hands, to see and to believe. You too are my twin brother, my Διδυμος, for no longer do I call you ‘disciple’ but ‘brother’ (15:15) or ‘sister’, and I will come to you if you keep my word (14:23). You are invited to be reborn, this time of the Spirit/Wind/Breath of God. So blessed are you if you have not seen and yet believe, for, through this gospel, you have seen – and you too can be a gospel, a witness (μαρτυριαν), a messenger (αγγελος), a prophet (προφητης, literally, someone who speaks for another) to my words of truth about the Λογος.”

As the Introduction [to this translation] suggests, this gospel was written after Jesus was no longer on the earth, and at a time when those who had seen and heard him were dying, often at the hands of Rome. This forced the movement to change from a widespread belief that Jesus was “returning soon”, such that there was no need to write anything more than letters to answer issues of the moment, to a recognition that the world was going to continue on as it always had, and thus that there was a need to write down eyewitness recollections of Jesus’s deeds and teachings before these eyewitnesses had all died.

These final verses of the gospel proper make this clear; the gospel was written to be an “eyewitness” (the Paraclete) that cannot die but continue to testify to the actual, observed, words and deeds of Jesus, such that the message from God that he so eloquently delivered might keep on being delivered. Indeed, it is a miracle that we have this ever-living Paraclete gospel, since it could have been destroyed when John was arrested, or confiscated in Pontus, or edited into a dutiful mimic of the later dogmas, or a thousand other things. But we do have it, and so at least in this sense, Jesus is wrong in 12:8, since, through this gospel, we do always have him with us. This gospel, therefore, is presented to us as his continued presence on earth; it is like a living thing; that is why, as noted above, it is an aleph, a finite thing that contains in microcosm the entire universe. Parenthetically, the Śri Guru Granth Sahib, the scripture of the Sikh faith, also is a self-testifying document that states it is its own witness, rather than any guru or holy spirit.

To recapitulate a point made in the commentaries to the Prologue: Jewish mysticism speaks of the physical and spiritual Torah as a pair of complements. The former, the five books in their form that is written on paper, is a physical approximation or refection of the latter, the spiritual Torah, which is ineffable and eternal, in the Æon, the wisdom of God that God consulted when preparing to bring this universe into being (as discussed in the commentaries to the Prologue). The parallel is like that of the body to the spirit: the body needs the spirit in it to live, and the spirit needs the body in order to manifest itself effectively in this physical world. This pairing of physical and spiritual Torah is similar to the teaching about the physical and spiritual Chanunpah Wakan (Sacred Pipe), as discussed in The Circle of Life.

The tale is told about the deeply revered Baal Shem Tov (Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer) dancing first with a Torah scroll in his arms, andGOJ-two vol back vol i lulu then with his arms empty. A disciple observing this said, wisely, that he had “put aside the physical Torah and taken up the spiritual Torah.” In this manner, as we read the last words of the gospel, we are implicitly asked by Jesus himself to put aside the physical gospel and take up the spiritual gospel with our minds and hearts and souls:

“You [ i.e., Thomas] believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!”

Jesus’s words during the Last Supper and again to Thomas here mark this gospel as the Paraclete, as not just a book but much more as the living presence of Jesus, such that this verse tells us who did not see him “in the flesh” that we can witness him in the spirit, by way of this gospel. Therefore, this gospel can be seen, just like the Torah, as a book (the physical Paraclete) or as the sacred presence of Jesus (the spiritual Paraclete). The physical Jesus, like the physical Torah, made it possible for him to teach and heal in this physical world, and the physical gospel in the same way can be printed and distributed throughout the world, such that anyone can read it. The spiritual Jesus, like the spiritual Torah, is his presence in the minds and hearts of the faithful, and the spiritual gospel is essentially identical to the spiritual Jesus in this way. The physical Torah/Jesus/gospel is the way the spiritual Torah/Jesus/gospel gets around in this world. For those who have “not seen” Jesus, they can read this gospel, and, by the time they get to this final verse thereof, they have seen him.

But, as noted before, many people saw and heard Jesus during his ministry – only a relative few observed and listened to him, only a relative few had their lives change as a result. For the rest he was just another man spouting religious teachings. It is the same thing with this gospel: many millions have read it over the millennia, and a large part of that many believe their lives are different as a result of reading it, but the fact is they have only accepted the worldly dogmas invented by other human beings. Only a few will not just read but attend to this gospel, such that their lives change, and as a result they follow the Logos and become fully a part of the Æon. For them, this is not a book, or even an inspired spiritual work; it is Jesus looking at them and saying, “Blessed are you because you have not seen me and yet you believe.”

The Wind and the Dove Descend upon Jesus

The Wind and the Dove Descend upon Jesus:
Multiple Meanings in John 1:32

From the new edition to be published in the second week of March 2014 of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume II as published by Editores Volcán Barú

This verse is loaded with multiple meanings. The Greek word πνευμα means “wind”, “breath”, and “spirit” as do the Hebrew and Aramaic words behind it. The verb καταβαινω (“to descend”) appears here significantly for the second of three times in the opening episodes, clearly to bring back to mind the opening Prologue (3:13) and to anticipate Jesus’s concluding statement to Nathanael (1:51). The word ουρανος means both the physical “sky” and “heaven” (in the spiritual sense) as is the case in every language I know except English. Thus John is talking at the same time about a wind out of the sky, God’s breath exhaled down from heaven, and God’s Spirit descending from heaven.

The verb θεαομαι (theaomai) is related to our modern word “theater”; it is more specific than the English verb “to see”, more exactly meaning to observe something intensely but passively, as a spectator watches a performance on stage. In classical literature it carries the strong suggestion of being deeply affected by what one is observing. This verb anticipates a point introduced in the next paragraph, that in this gospel John never actually administers to Jesus his immersion ceremony. If he had, the text here would say, “As I was immersing him…”, or, “As I was about to immerse him…” One gains the sense from the phrasing here that John was not close to Jesus as this miraculous event occurred; he may not even have been in the Jordan but still on dry land watching this profoundly moving drama with helpless awe.

Unlike the self-administered mikvah, John’s immersion ceremony was one that he had to execute himself. Hints of may survive in the ceremony done in John’s name to this day by the Mandæans of southern Iraq (cf. Sabian Mandaean the Secret Root of Christianity, by Salim Berenjie). Rabbi Ben Abrahamson says the Sabian Mandæans were originally Notzrim, a group John and Jesus both appear closely associated with, but changed their designation in the face of rejection by orthodox Christians “to continue to live under the protection Allah SWT gives to the ‘people of the book’”.

John’s declaration does not say he actually performed the immersion ceremony for Jesus. Scholars usually say the author left it understood that it was done. But I ask: How he could have performed it if he felt unworthy even to untie Jesus’s sandals (1:27)? I think it was not done, because a miraculous event superseded it, and John was frozen into immobility. That event is bound up in a close reading of the verse. The word περιστερα (peristera, “dove”) that we find in the text is virtually identical in pronunciation to another word, πρηστηρ (prēstēr, “whirlwind”), especially as declined in this verse, περιστεραν/πρηστηρον (peristeran/prēstēran) – the consonants are exactly the same, which would jump right out at Lazarus and John the Presbyter, whose first languages were Hebrew and Aramaic, which at the time were written with only consonants. 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.

This verse has always been understood to be saying one thing came down: a wind in the form of a dove. But I believe two things happened at about the same time – that both a whirlwind and a “dove” descended on and remained with Jesus, as I shall now explore.

Any first-century Jew reading this text would not need to be reminded of Elijah’s whirlwind as a spiritual father of this event, but the dove connection would not have been quite so clearly evident; I think this is why the Presbyter added a phrase saying that just the wind came down, so also did a dove. John testifies that he saw the πνευμα come down out of the sky/heaven. The word πνευμα can mean “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit” depending on context, and the context here, that it came down from the sky, tells us the intended main meaning is “wind”. (Still, to remind the reader of these other meanings, the translation retains all three.)

We know from experience that a wind out of the sky sometimes does take the form of a whirlwind; the text clearly makes sense with that reading. The usual reading, that a wind came out of the sky/heaven in the form of a dove, makes little sense. A wind can no more take the form of a dove than it can take the form of a barn or a banana or the Beatles. However a wind can take the form of a whirlwind. Besides being nothing like a mighty gale, a fragile dove would not be able to withstand a whirlwind 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, 33, seals the matter by expressly saying the πνευμα, the wind (and not a dove), descended onto Jesus.

This provisional reconstruction of the author’s original intent also makes 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 picks up this 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.

I wonder if John the Presbyter’s focus here on the whirlwind, πρηστηρ, led to the Mediæval Prester John legend.

YHWH was clearly conceived of anciently as a storm god, as imaged in Psalm 2l, especially verse 3, in which the roar of YHWH’s voice is over the waters just as was the YHWH’s breath in Genesis 1:2, and as is the whirlwind here. The Israelites arrive at Mount Sinai and, on the third day, there is darkness and storm (Exodus 19:16), and Moses comes down the mountain to deliver the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Those three days parallel the three day revolving around John the Immerser in chapter 1, with this day being dark and stormy. Again, obviously, an association is being drawn with Moses.

Any first-century Jew reading this account of a whirlwind hovering about Jesus would instantly think not only of Genesis, Exodus, and the Psalm, but also of Isaiah 11:1-2, which says the wind/breath/spirit of God will rest upon the expected Messiah. And a whirlwind resting on a prophet at the Jordan River (1:28) would also immediately call to the mind of that reader, as it clearly did the delegation that came to ask John questions (see the commentary above to John 1:20-21), 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 Moses, to whom this gospel often compares Jesus, likewise parting the waters. After Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, 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. An older prophet (Elijah/John) nearing the close of his ministry ordains 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 ֶאְהֶיה ֲאֶשר ֶאְהֶיה (“I Am and Will Be What I Am and Will Be”), it is God’s name. Occasionally God confers the rare honor of being “taken up into heaven”; II Kings 2 aside, Genesis 5:24 is also interpreted to say the same of Enoch, and it is generally believed that Moses too was taken up into heaven, though there is nothing to say so in the Torah. This gospel suggests this was going to happen with Jesus too (cf. 6:62 and 20:17); certainly, in the theology of Jesus as presented in this gospel this would further validate his status as Messiah. (Much later, the Ascension of Jesus would become church doctrine, but with an entirely different import; it is fancifully described in Luke-Acts and in a late addition to Mark.) The Talmud often speaks of the spirit/wind/breath descending from the sky/heaven to anoint the Messiah (e.g., Test. Levi 18, Test. Judah 24:2). The storm here returns as an inclusio during the crucifixion, as discussed on page 915. All in all, the gospel is drawing a strong comparison between Jesus and both Elijah and Moses, clearly telling us the gospel is directed at least at a Jewish audience.

As presaged above, there are at least two 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 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 immersion – 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.

A third, less obvious conclusion requires us to put aside two thousand years of assumptions about this text and read it afresh. The Greek adverb ως (hōs) has in this text always been taken to mean “like”, to say there is one thing, the wind, which takes on the form of another thing, a dove; but ως, as noted in standard references like Strong’s, can also mean “just as”, “in the same manner as”, which here would say there are two things that have something in common – that the wind and the dove both came down to Jesus and remained on/with him. The Aramaic adverb ( ܐܝܟ, hayk) in the Curetonian Gospels text, usually translated in this verse as “like” as is ως, also can take this latter sense, as noted in standard dictionaries such as Jastrow’s.

The double entendre of πρηστηρ/περιστερα, typical of the Presbyter’s style, is only possible in Greek, since the Aramaic words for “dove” and “wind” are considerably different, but the latter text still can be clearly read as saying both the wind and dove came down to Jesus.

Since this reading clears up the issue of how wind can take on the totally unlike appearance of a dove, my translation presents these two meanings, such that both the whirlwind and dove come down and remain with him. This double entendre analogy is well-rooted in the Tanakh, in passages that would have occurred to any first-century Jew. The Talmud and Dead Sea Scrolls both offer an analogy that conjoins both parts of the double entendre, comparing the ruach of God that moved over the surface of the waters in Genesis 1:2 to a female dove: Shimon ben Zoma in the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 15a, for instance, says that the ruach hovered over the waters in the way a mother bird hovers over her young without touching them (though he was criticized for this analogy, whereupon he was so mortified that he instantly dropped dead). John Milton, who took much of his material from the Talmud, put it thus (Paradise Lost, I, 17-22):

… Thou O Spirit …
… Thou from the first
Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant …

In many other passages the common thread is their portrayal of the dove as seeking out a sanctuary from one’s enemies in the wilderness, a theme common to John, Jesus, and this gospel. In Genesis 8, the dove guides Noah out of the torment of water and wind to dry land, as, so I will suggest below, Mary does here. Psalm 55:6-8 refers to a dove flying away to safety, out of the dangerous whirlwind. Jeremiah 48:28 urges one to imitate the dove, living in safety among the inaccessible crags. Psalm 11:1,3 similarly has the psalmist upbraid his advisors: “How (can you) say to my soul, ‘Flee (as) a bird to your mountain’? … If the foundations are torn down, what do the righteous do?”, which for Jesus would be a salient question: How can Mary flee back to the Samaritan community at Mount Gerizim for safety if that place is in danger? In 2:19 he will speak of the foundations of the Jerusalem Temple being pulled down.

And the most significant reference to a dove: 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 in the Song 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 immersing people, which Gulielmus Tyrius described as also abounding in what the locals called dragons, which he 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 immersion – 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. This famous cognomen may indeed refer to doves, as is discussed in the essay on page 406. Every time she appears in this gospel the text includes 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 from the shore and helped Jesus, likely a bit disoriented by the frigid currents and fierce wind, out of the water, and “remained” with him – remained forever, as his wife. This helping Jesus from the death- waters is an inclusio-reversal of Jesus guiding Mary out of the darkness of his tomb into the dawn light at the resurrection. As at the resurrection, Simon and Lazarus, at present John’s disciples, are here but ineffective. Everyone else watches helplessly as the whirlwind descends on Jesus in the frigid turbulent current, thinking that they about to see a man swept away to his death. But she knows what to do; she enters the water – and the whirlwind ceases and she guides him to shore, just as the wind ceases when Jesus enters the boat in 6:21 and he guides the disciples to shore. In her first appearance in this gospel Mary is portrayed as a κοινωνος, a co-Messiah with Jesus.

The presence of the Breath/Wind/Spirit tells us that God is in this scene in the aspect called in the Tanakh YHWH (the proper pronunciation of this name being an exhalation). The Prologue, as we have seen, evokes from its first words the creation stories that begin Genesis, and GOJ-front 2vol Ibthat theme continues here. Where Elohim created the first human in Elohim’s own image, as a hermaphrodite, comprising as one both masculine and feminine (Genesis 1:27), it was YHWH who then split this first human into two, a man and a woman (Genesis 2:21-22). Here, however, the whirlwind-presence of YHWH begins the process of reversing that separation, driving together this new Adam and Eve, Jesus and Mary, such that, by the end of this gospel they will be again completely one flesh (Genesis 2:24) in Elohim’s image. Strengthening the view that Mary is present in this scene 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 is also the first to declare him Messiah after his literal death-and-resurrection (20:18). Moreover, there is an inclusio inasmuch as here Mary watches while Jesus enters the water, and again when he dies on the cross (19:25), and as here she runs to help him from the river waters, and again runs to him at the resurrection. There is another inclusio: Jesus is reunited with Mary in a garden after arising from the dead in chapter 20, just as he will be reunited soon after this immersion scene with this woman, at a gardenlike spring in chapter 4. And the whirlwind here is mirrored by suggestions discussed below of a wind and storm at the time of the crucifixion. With so many clear correspondences being drawn between John and Mary, the possibility that Mary was present at Jesus’s immersion must be considered.

It will be established below that Lazarus was Mary’s son and at this time a disciple of John. If so, then Mary could have come from Shechem to visit her son, who at the time of the immersion would have been there to witness it. Mary may even have come to be herself immersed by John, to recollect her Jewish heritage after serving as a Samaritan priestess, to make herself Jewish-kosher, to have her past “washed away” through the immersion. If so, then not only Jesus but Mary too would have been naked for the immersion, as was customary. Logion 107 in the Gospel of Philip says we are to undress before we “go down into the water” such that we may be “clothed with the Living Water”). So too does the Diataxis [Ordinances] of the Holy Apostles (more commonly called “The Apostolic Tradition” or the Anaphora of Hippolytus of Rome), at 21:1-5, which in recording the baptism rite of the early 300s in the Eastern Church, very likely the practice in John’s Asian churches as well:

At the hour when the cock crows, they shall make prayer over the water. The water shall be flowing through the baptismal enclosure, or pour into it from above where there is abundant water; if water is not abundant, use whatever water is available. They shall then remove all of their clothing. The children shall be immersed first. If they can speak for themselves, they should do so; otherwise, their parents or other relatives should speak for them. Then the men are immersed and, last, the women, after they have first unbound their hair and put aside their gold and silver ornaments that they are wearing. Let no one take any foreign object with him down into the water.

And, needless to say, this is also still today the practice in the mikvah. The mikvah, like this early Christian baptism, was intentionally celebrated as 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. She would probably have been nigh naked herself at the crucifixion, and certainly at the resurrection, since the tradition then was for a grieving person to rend his or her clothes into pieces. That increases the sense of an implicit eroticism to this scene of a man and a woman naked together in the water, which parallels the implicit eroticism at the spring in Samaria and forms an inclusio with the clear eroticism at the resurrection (see the references under “eroticism” in the final index).

It is possible that Mary was assisting John in the immersion rites; as a former Temple priestess this would be a familiar role for her, and John would be known to her if, as I think, her sister Martha was the wife of his son Simon the Rock. Thus, 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 to throw around him a fresh white linen robe afterwards. Thus too she was quick to respond, going to Jesus in the wild current and wind to rescue him when everyone else was frozen. If, as suggested above, John’s immersion ritual was preëmpted by a miracle, a whirlwind descending on Jesus, then John may never even have entered the Jordan to do the rite! – and a second miracle, a dove, Mary, descended on Jesus in the Jordan to bring him to shore. 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 undressing it, washing it (equivalent to the immersion here), and then reclothing it in a fresh white takhrikhin (linen wrapping). And if the great preacher John felt unworthy of unlacing Jesus’s sandals and helping him to undress, and these tasks fell instead to Mary, then Mary must already have been in a very special capacity on GOJ-front 2vol IIbehalf of John. The Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim had had a dove image for veneration, and though the Temple was destroyed it or a replacement may still have been on display in Mary’s time, as suggested by the Talmud (Hul. 6a) – in fact, the dove image originally worshipped there was reportedly the idol buried by Jacob under the oak here at Shechem (Genesis 35:4; Tosafot Ḥul. 6a); it could be that it was found and put back on display. Also, while as noted above the Aramaic words for “dove” and “wind” are quite unlike, the Aramaic word for “dove”, ( ܝܘܢܐ, yawna), is so similar to John’s name in Aramaic, ( ܝܘܚܢܢ yawhnn) that it could have been as a feminine variant of the name; though no such variant has been found in early writings, that does not exclude the possibility. The two words are not quite as close in Hebrew, in which “dove” is ( יֺוָנה, yonah; also the name “Jonah”; no surprise, the tale of Jonah is yet another dove-resurrection connection) and John is ( יוָֹחָנן, yochanan). The meaning of John’s name, “God has been gracious”, has nothing to do with doves, though note that the etymology of yawna is unknown, so the possibility of its being related to yawhnn cannot be firmly ruled out. Still, Lazarus and/or John the Presbyter could have noted the phonetic similarity as they worked out the double entendre they adopted in their original Greek text – or, possibly, Mary was called yawna because of her putative role as John’s assistant; indeed, this might be the root of her Synoptic cognomen “Magdalene”; cf. pages 409-10. Doves were often used as government, commercial, or military messengers, and, writes Rabbi Ben Abrahamson, as a means of divination of the “word from heaven” for the Notzrim, a religious sect embracing the Essenes, with whom John and Jesus may have been aligned.

The Gospel of Philip may provide support for this possible involved presence of Mary at Jesus’s immersion. This noncanonical gospel, more of a reflection on Jesus’s life and teaching than a narrative gospel, was apparently written by Philip the Evangelist, not to be confused with the apostle; he was known to John the Presbyter, and like him one of the larger group of disciples who followed Jesus. Often wrongly labelled Gnostic, the gospel is theologically and imagistically not far from the Gospel of John. At logion 82 it closely associates immersion, resurrection, and marriage in terms of the reconciliation of male with female in the image of Elohim – a theme that will come up several times in this work: [This website will not reproduce the Coptic original text.] “The immersion has the resurrection [with] the reconciliation 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 them as his children; at least some were in their actual childhood) when it says the nakedness of the bride may only be seen by her parents, the friend of the groom (here, the Immerser) and the groom’s sons (here, the disciples) (logion 131). Note also that Mary’s mother Salome was among the women at the tomb according to Mark 16:1. [This website will not reproduce the Coptic original text.] “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.”

In the much-debated fragment from the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Jesus not only calls Mary “my wife” (tahime), but says “As for me, I dwell/exist/live with her in order to […] an image […]”. The verb [Coptic] 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 his marriage to Mary is part of the Messianic image he hopes to convey; applied to the immersion, their meeting at his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the river is perfectly matched by their meeting anew after his very real death and resurrection.

Doves in this part of the world are not white, as in European paintings. More properly called turtledoves, they are buff on the breast, with gold-grey-brown wings. They are migratory, coming to this land from Africa in early spring (Song of Songs 2:11-12) and returning thither in August; curiously, Mary only appears in this gospel in Acts One and Four, which take place in the spring, and not in Acts Two or Three, which take place in October and December. Their coming from Africa is also reminiscent of the possibility (discussed on pages 408-09 and elsewhere) that Mary may have been a priestess in Egypt. The turtledove’s arrival coincides with the fierce spring wind best known in the West by its Arabic name, ( خمسين khamsin, written as חמסין in modern Hebrew), which in Biblical times was called (רוחַקדים ruach qadīm, “east wind”). This dual arrival of the dove and the wind could in fact have suggested the metaphor of πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) at the immersion.

Why the dove imagery? Because it tells the informed reader that Mary is there with Jesus: in this first episode of the gospel this is the first appearance of the divine couple, the Messiah and the Priestess, the whirlwind and the dove, the Spirit and the Bride (Revelation 22:17). Dove imagery was at the time universal in the spiritual traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, and it vividly 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 then considerably eclectic Samaritans worshipped a dove on Mount Gerizim, where Mary was a priestess. He eventually dismisses it, mistakenly, since indeed John Hyrcanus’s stated pretext for destroying the Samaritan Temple in 110 B.C.E. was its dove imagery, 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, derived from Summat (“Dove”), 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 demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semitic nations, often closely associated with love, also symbolizing innocence, gentleness, and holiness. The Greek Aphrodite was also associated with doves, signifying love. Like περιστερα (“dove”) and πρηστηρ (“whirlwind”) in Greek, amenu, “dove” in Egyptian and Amen, the Egyptian god of wind, are near homonyms. And the dove Mary’s name comes from Mari-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the original name of Moses’s sister Miriam, who watched as he was drawn, sacredly reborn, out of the Nile by the pharaoh’s daughter as she ritually bathed, no doubt naked: as Mary, also surely naked, here draws Jesus sacredly reborn from the Jordan. The mother of this pharaoh’s daughter was Ahmes (“Daughter of Amon”). In being reborn from the river, Moses is renamed as a god’s son and Jesus is anointed as God’s son/Messiah. So ultimately in the doubles entendres of πρηστηρ and περιστερα, amenu and Amen, we have as one the two aspects of Elohim, God and Goddess, arriving to anoint this the first encounter of Jesus and Mary.

The episodes at the Samaritan well, in Cana, and of the resurrection will continue this theme of joining together humanity, originally severed into male and female in Eden, to create the united male-female being, Jesus and Mary, that reflects the image and likeness of Elohim. The meticulously constructed inclusio nature of this gospel just about requires the presence of Mary at the immersion: symbolic spiritual rebirth was for Jesus (at least as presented in this gospel) was all about undoing the sin of our first forebears in Eden, such that male and female can be rejoined. This major theme of the gospel, discussed at length in the commentaries on the resurrection, forms an inclusio with this symbolic spiritual rebirth, though that one is not symbolic but literally a rebirth from death; Mary was present at his death and resurrection, and so for literary reasons the author must want us to conclude that she was present at this immersion too: his spiritual rebirth in both places is the rejoining of Eve with Adam, so Mary can be joined with him in both places.

If the theory that Mary was actively present at the immersion is true, then why was it not clearly stated in the gospel? It may be 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 stand other similarly “romantic” passages with but minimal changes. It may be that the amanuensis meant to make her presence more specific in the telling of the immersion, but never got to it; we know that the original version of the gospel was never completed. The compositional problem might have been that the author put the description of the immersion 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. And it may simply be that the gospel author decided what he had written was clue enough for the intelligent reader to recognize and interpret correctly what transpired – and it is only we modern gentiles who miss the clue that would have been instantly clear to any reasonably literate first-century Jew, since we do not share the necessary symbolic Weltansicht, and since the lenses of our comprehension are clouded by two thousand years of errant dogma.

Should this hypothesis of Mary at the immersion 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 immersion was a symbol of death, 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 immersed herself, and/or to assist John, then likely Jesus took notice of Mary, whom Lazarus would have told his new teacher was his mother, and/or whom Simon the Rock (Peter) said was the sister of his wife Martha. This would have led to the arranging of their meeting at the spring in Shechem, the next episode. This is of course speculative, but it would connect this scene closely with the next, at Jacob’s Spring, and explain why this scene is followed immediately by that one, and then the wedding. It would also help explain the disciples’ surprise in 4:27; she is not entirely unfamiliar to them!

Les Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, a late 1300s “book of hours” illuminated manuscript, provides a fascinating footnote discussed by Ariadne Green in her book Jesus Mary Joseph. It includes two very similar depictions of this immersion scene, however in one there is no descending dove overhead, but rather a lamb putting its forepaws on John’s arm. This may be a reference to John calling Jesus “the lamb of God” (1:36/29), and it may record an old tradition that Mary was at the immersion: the Aramaic word for “lamb”, ܐܵܡܪܐ, amara) is close to her name in Aramaic.

The Shame of New Testament Scholars

I have been asked by a reader to comment on the relationship between a scholar’s personal faith and his/her scholarly work. This is a very tricky and often touchy subject. Some scholars, such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, hint at their current personal faith-views in their writings, but never actually confirm their nature (so far as I have noticed). Others, such as James D. Tabor, seem to me, if I have it right, to prefer to discuss their faith-views on a private basis, not publicly. I hate to generalize, but I think most mainstream scholars are more or less along these lines, hesitant to discuss publicly their personal faith, or lack thereof. When they do describe their personal faiths, mainstream scholars often sound hesitant, even apologetic for their stances.

On the evangelical and charismatic end of the spectrum, it is quite different: many — probably most — scholars proudly proclaim their theological views. Their theological views, with fanfare and without apology, are prominently displayed in their scholarly writings, if I may use the latter term loosely. There are exceptions, of course; there are several scholars of a more conservative theological view who, while they are clear as to their faith, provude us with scholarship that is excellent and free from polemic; I might include here such luminaries as Richard Bauckham and the late Raymond Brown.

For mainstream scholars, the brash proclaiming of faith on the part of the “religious right” is often a part of the problem, and for two reasons.

First, the “religious right” so often attacks “liberals” that the latter feel defensive, and so they react defensively, pulling their faith (or lack thereof) inside their turtle-shells of self-protection. Every New Testament scholar is aware of the shameful and scurrilous attacks on, for instance, Reza Aslan, a scholar who wrote a fine book about Jesus, who was mercilessly trashed on “Faux Noise” (the Fox News channel) simply because he happens to be a Muslim, forgetting that Jesus is vastly important in the Muslim faith, with more about Jesus in the Qur’an than in the New Testament! One also recalls the vicious attacks on François Bovon and James D. Tabor simply because their scholarly views were “popularized” on television shows (such that the shows didn’t necessarily nuance things correctly, and may have dramatized things up a bit); to his credit, Tabor holds firm, though sadly Bovon backed down and “changed his mind”. There seems to be a certain hesitation in the work of scholars such as Karen L. King, for instance in her discursus about the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” she keeps her conclusions extremely small and (to be blunt) shy; without at all impugning her research or her writing, I sense a nervousness on her part, a fear of being attacked by the “religious right” for daring to write about an ancient text that says Jesus was married – in view of the fact that the “religious right” is monolithic in its dogmatic insistence that he was not only unmarried, not only a virgin, but entirely devoid of the least shred of natural human sexual desire. King may hesitate to elicit the kind of screaming denunciations in the popular media to novels like The Da Vinci Code and pseudo-research like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which has created such a negative climate that serious scholars usually make a wide detour around serious consideration of the possibility that Jesus was married, that he had children, that (despite the stunning work of scholar Edward Conze) he might have heard about Hinduism or Buddhism, and so on. Given this situation, one can understand if mainstream scholars, those outside the pugnacious Christian right wing, are hesitant to share their personal views publicly.

Second, many mainstream scholars, including I myself, agree that there should be a one-way street between a scholar’s personal faith (or lack thereof) and her or his scholarship. Good scholarship can and should deepen and strengthen one’s faith; good scholarship is only a “threat” to faith that is weak to begin with. On the other hand, faith should never influence good scholarship.

When faith influences scholarship, the latter suffers.

When scholarship influences faith, the latter flourishes (or should).


An example is the one faced by Karen King: the notion that Jesus might have been married. The nearly universal position among scholars, even mainstream scholars, is that the burden of proof lies on those who assert Jesus was a husband, and not on those who assert he never married. King herself, for instance, has noted that no canonical New Testament text says Jesus was married, and thus we should start with the default position that he was not.

I say that this is an example of how mainstream scholars have been so cowed by the religious right that they have lost track of their own strength: the objectivity of facts and logic. In Jesus’s time among his people, it was nearly universal for a young adult male like him, especially a rabbi, to be married; those who were not married usually spent a great deal of time defending their bachelorhood: Jeremiah the prophet and Paul, for example. Therefore, I say the opposite of Karen King: I say that the canonical New Testament does not say Jesus was un-married (as it does Paul), and thus we should start with the default position assumption that he was married, and that the burden of proof rests on those who assert Jesus was a bachelor, and not on those who assert he was married (though this is not to say the latter do not need to support the view that he was married with facts and logic). Further, if we read with care several scenes in the canonical gospels, especially those of the anointing of Jesus’s feet and his resurrection, we may realize that in fact the New Testament does tell us rather clearly his marital status. It is clear to me where objective facts and logic lead. Shrill polemic only suffocates objective facts and logic — which, indeed, is all too often its point, for instance on the Faux Noise channel.

I, for one, don’t hesitate to take on those subjects that invite attacks by the “religious right” — e.g., Jesus possibly being married and having children — if, and only if, the scholarship, the facts themselves, uncolored by faith or polemic or creed, lead me to a consideration of such matters. I often am attacked by “religious right” folks — and not a single one of them has evidenced that they have read even the first page of my scholarly work, and yet they have no hesitation to tell me I am going to Hell, judging where Jesus said not to judge, hating where Jesus said to love, and condemning where Jesus said to forgive and embrace. When I am faced with such attitudes, the conversation is as far as I am concerned at an end; there is no point discussing facts with those who have blinded themselves to them. I remain always eager to discuss facts with anybody, including those of a theologically conservative bent, as long as they remain open to an unbiased. logical consideration of them.

I don’t make any secret of my personal faith, since I’m not afraid of the “conservatives”, but with the same breath I always make it extremely clear that my faith has absolutely no influence on my scholarly work – which I undertake strictly in accordance with the facts. I never practice selectivity with the facts in order to promote some faith-stance. And, while I do not hesitate to state my personal spiritual views, I always point out that they have deepened as a result of my scholarly work, and that I hope my scholarly work — and the work of all scholars of quality, whatever their personal faith or lack thereof may be — will likewise deepen the faith of their readers, or encourage nonbelievers at least to take more seriously the rationality of believing.

I strongly urge other New Testament scholars to join me in this matter: not to cede the battleground to the “religious right”. We should insist on our right to speak out about our personal faith (or lack thereof), whenever we so choose, without fear of scurrilous attacks. We should insist on the use of unbiased logic and unweighted facts. We should demand that scholarship be judged for its own sake, and not on the basis of irrelevancies such as the scholar’s views on matters of faith. We should be proud of our work, and not ashamed.