Satan’s Angel

Satan’s Angel:

Quotations from the Gospel of John in the Letters of Paul

James David Audlin

Adapted and abridged from The Gospel of John, copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin, and The Writings of John, copyright © 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin, published by Editores Volcán Barú. All worldwide rights reserved.

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


The later gospels of Luke and Matthew could not have used the Gospel of John, yet unpublished, as a textual source, but they may have been influenced at least indirectly by John the Presbyter as an oral source. Paul N. Anderson (The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus) convinces me that Luke dozens of times follows the oral Johannine tradition rather than Mark.

Anderson also brilliantly argues (in Bible and Interpretation, September 2010) that Acts 4:20 could be a genuine oral statement by John, echoed later in his written work, such as at I John 1:3 and John 3:32. If so, this puts the Presbyter among the eyewitness apostles and has him at least orally preaching about Jesus decades before Luke-Acts was released in the 90s.

In addition to Anderson seeing evidences of quotations in Matthew and Luke-Acts from John as an oral source, there are structural similarities. Luke and Matthew put an equal focus on Jesus’s words and deeds, like John and unlike “sayings gospels” like Thomas, and also unlike Paul’s letters and the pseudo-Pauline letters, which put the focus neither on Jesus’s message (nearly nothing of what Jesus said is recounted) nor on his deeds (likewise hardly mentioned). But these two gospels recount Jesus’s words and deeds mainly to support what Paul does emphasize: his radical reinterpretation of Jesus as being divine and his resurrection as with a spiritual, non-mortal body that his followers too will be given. And in their un-Pauline attention to Jesus’s words and deeds Luke and Matthew could have emulated not only oral John, as might be construed from Anderson, but Mark and perhaps the Gospel of Peter. In this sense they take a median position between the Johannine and Pauline views.

Anderson’s excellent hypotheses regarding quotations of John as an oral source in Luke-Acts raises the question whether there are other such references in the New Testament. And it is my conclusion that there are – specifically, in the letters of Paul.


We begin by noting that there is obviously a verb missing in John 20:11 in Greek: παρεκυψεν εις το μνημειον, “…crouched down [__] into the tomb”. One cannot crouch down into a tomb, since the feet do not change position in the act of crouching down; crouching is a vertical action and “into the tomb” requires a horizontal motion, unless the entrance were a most untraditional aperture in the tomb ceiling, but in that case she wouldn’t crouch into the tomb but drop in. But one can crouch down to look into a tomb or to enter into a tomb. That is the exact succession of verbs in 20:5-6 – in verse 5 Lazarus crouches down (the same verb in Greek) to look, but, the text adds immediately, he does not enter; then in verses 6-8 Simon and he do enter the tomb. In another early gospel, Mark 16:5, Mary and the other women are said to enter the tomb, as apparently also did Marcion’s Gospel of the Master (cf. Tertullian, Against Marcion 4:43:6). In the pre-dawn darkness, looking into the tomb from outside would have been futile, since unlike the women and the two disciples, Mary did not have a lamp and her body crouched at the small entrance would have blocked what little sunlight there was. It is harder to see into a dark chamber from an even slightly brighter outside, since one’s eyes will not be sufficiently dilated to see the particulars within.

All of this raises the likelihood that “to enter” or “to look about” is the missing verb here. The verb in my reconstruction of the original text in 20:11 is εμβατευω (embateuō), which means “entered in” and also “scrutinized carefully”. Ironically, it is Paul who confirms this verb; he uses it in Colossians 2:18, which as I will discuss shortly, is Paul criticizing John for relying on Mary’s witness about seeing angels in the tomb. This verb conforms with the Aramaic text as found in the Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta of 20:11. They both say she ܐܰܕ݂ܺܝܩܰܬ݂, “inspected” or “looked about” the tomb, which presumes that she has entered into it in order to do just this. The same Aramaic verb appears in verse 5 to say Lazarus looked about the interior, but it is qualified, stating clearly that he did not go in – a qualification missing in verse 11, which in its absence in verse 11 confirms that Mary did go in, especially after the intervening verse 6, in which Simon goes in. Further, in verses 1-11 the Aramaic always says ܩܒܘܪܐ (t qbūrā), literally “the house of the body-niche(s)”, meaning the tomb as a whole, but in 11a it says she was standing in front of the ܩܒܪܐ (qbūrā), the body-niche itself, and in 11b, while weeping, she looked about the t qbūrā. This can only mean she was by then in the tomb. And verse 12, in which Mary sees angels above the body-niche, further suggests she had entered the tomb, since such details would be impossible to discern from outside, given the viewing angle and lack of light.

In the tomb, according to the Greek text of John 20:12, Mary saw δυο αγγελους εν λευκοις, “two messengers in light”. The word λευκοις (leukois), usually translated “white”, means more an effulgence or radiance, flickering and shimmering, composed of light itself. And, notwithstanding the usual translation, the word εν does not mean here “in” light in the English sense better expressed as “of” light. If they were made of light, the word would be λευκόινος. This is to say, the shapes were not composed of light, but were within light, that is, outlined by, surrounded by, a faint, shimmering light, etched out on the far wall of the tomb above the body-niche by the first rays of morning shining through the tomb opening. The word λευκοις could be another example of John’s homonymic doubles entendres, this one evoking εκόνες (eikones), “images” or “phantoms”, especially phantoms of the mind – which instantly brings to mind this word’s appearance in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which the Presbyter is clearly referencing in this passage. The Aramaic supports this dual interpretation of the Greek: the word in the Peshitta and Syriac Sinaiticus is ܚܰܘܪܳܐ (iwwār), though it can mean “white”, it can also mean (in II Timothy 1:13, for example) “form”, “outline”, or “pattern” – and the Aramaic prefix ܒ݁ means “in” in exactly the same sense of “within”, not of “of”. In conclusion, then, these shape are shadows, silhouettes, limned out by the dawn light.

Confirmation of this reading comes again from Paul. In II Corinthians 11:14, in the midst of one of his diatribes against John the Presbyter, he suggests that John has been preaching about “an angel in light” (αγγελον φωτος), and avers that the manifestation was really Satan disguising his appearance as its own opposite (μετασχηματίζεται); that is, the demon of shadow taking on a cloak of light, thus with the outer seeming of an angel, but still a shadow within. Scholars have never been able to point to any such reference in the Tanakh, or even in what was to become the New Testament. But does not the phrase sharply evoke the image of δυο αγγελους εν λευκοις in John 20:12, the “two angels in shimmering light”, the two shadows etched out by light?


These apparent connections between John 20 and comments in two of Paul’s letters call for further examination of the latter.

Colossians 2:18 reads thus:


μηδεις υμας καταβραβευετω θελων εν ταπεινοφροσυνη και θρησκεια των αγγελων α εορακεν εμβατευων εικη φυσιουμενος υπο του νοος της σαρκος αυτου


Let no one disqualify you who brags about his humility, nor one who venerates angels whom she saw while entering in / inspecting carefully, vainly hyperventilating over the thought of his body.


In the first phrase Paul uses a sports term, καταβραβευω (katabrabeuō, referring to when an umpire declares a play to be out of bounds or ejects a player from the game), to say John, simply because he knew Jesus, thinks he gets to judge the actions of others. No doubt Paul was still rankling over being judged by the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts 15). Three men, Simon Peter, James, and John, spoke against Paul, which tells us that this trial was deemed a capital case requiring a minimum of two or three credible witnesses, conducted in accordance with Jewish law (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15).

John is mentioned by Paul in Galatians 2:9 as participating in this trial. He is not mentioned by name in Acts 15, just in 15:5 as a Pharisee. He was indeed a priest and no doubt a Pharisee too; according to a letter written by Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus, paraphrased by Eusebius, John, he “who sleeps [was buried] in Ephesus”, τ πέταλον πεφορεκς (“wore the petalon”, the breastplate of the high priest). Since there is no record of a high priest in this time named John this would be that he substituted for the high priest when the latter was sick or travelling. So it is John who insisted (Acts 15:5) and argued strongly (verse 7) that Paul’s gentile converts be circumcised, but he was overruled by Simon and James, who gave conciliatory speeches in Acts while John sat silent. (Since John is never again mentioned in Acts, this disagreement may be part of why he moves to Ephesus.) Paul’s gentile converts were accepted (Deuteronomy 10:17-19); though John’s insistence on circumcision was rejected, the compromise did require Paul to hold his converts to “remember the poor” and to obey the so-called Noahide laws, including not eating food containing blood, food offered to idols, or food that came from strangled animals; and refraining from ritual sexual impropriety, such as the ceremonial sexuality practiced at both the Jerusalem and Samaritan Temples at various times. Given Paul’s astonishing success at evangelizing, he couldn’t be harnessed and the three leaders knew it; their only leverage was the imprimatur of their good will.

Paul says in Galatians that the circumcision issue was brought up by “false brothers” (ψευδαδελφους) secretly invited (παρεισάκτους) to appear unexpectedly (παρεισλθον) before Paul: this would be the mentioned Pharisee, John. Paul makes it all sound very positive and chummy (Galatians 2:9); still, one hears the hissing sarcasm in Galatians 2:6, where Paul describes the leaders, mainly the just-mentioned Pharisee, as


…των δοκουντων ειναι τι οποιοι ποτε ησαν ουδεν μοι διαφερει προσωπον ο θεος ανθρωπου ου λαμβανει εμοι γαρ οι δοκουντες ουδεν προσανεθεντο


… those esteemed (by others) to be something – whatever they used to be makes no difference to me (since) God does not accept a man’s outward seeming – these esteemed had, indeed, nothing to add.


Note that the adjective δοκουντων, dokountōn, has a barb in its tail. In this quotation it appears to suggest the meaning of “esteemed” or “held in high opinion”. However in his next phrase Paul suggests that the people hold these three in such high esteem because of their former-but-no-more achievements (that once upon a time they were Jesus’s disciples, or that John was a high priest, for instance) and so they have been taken in by their claims to fame, the show that they give the world; literally, the “face” that they show the world. At any rate, Paul is in no position to make such insinuations, considering his own rather despicable past deeds, though at least to his credit he often mentions them. But God is not so taken in, he goes on, adding with arch piety that though their followers are fooled God is not, and so God’s one faithful follower Paul is likewise not fooled. Yet that he alludes to their past greatness at all implies it does make a difference to him, and he sounds both envious and gossipy simply for hinting at it.

Paul uses the adjective δοκουντων again in verse 9 to modify the noun στυλοι (styloi), which usually means “pillars”, hence “esteemed pillars”, in the modern sense of “pillars of the church”. But the latter word was also used to refer to writing styluses (in fact the English word is descended from it), and δοκουντων can also mean “opinionated” or even “judgemental”. Thus, no doubt intentionally, Paul intends this phrase to carry a second meaning: “judgemental styluses”; by implication, “judgemental writers”; the equivalent in modern English would be “poison pens”. (Paul might have had in mind the עט שקר (“deceitful styluses”) of Jeremiah 8:8.) And immediately after this taunt, Paul drives it home by relating the story about Simon being hypocritical about demanding Paul to keep kosher when Simon himself does not.

If as suggested above this trial was conducted in accordance with Jewish law (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15), for Paul to ignore the verdict, as he did, was not only to break relations with these three men but moreover with Jewish law and the Jewish faith. No wonder his subsequent letters say faith in Jesus eradicates any need to obey the Torah. Paul now had little choice but to seek respect among the gentiles.

So James, John, and Simon broke off relations with Paul, never again to communicate except for one last council described in Acts 21. Paul for his part refused to travel and preach any longer with either Barnabas or John Mark, whom he replaced with another young man of an apparently more amenable disposition, named Silas. After pushing Barnabas and John Mark aside (despite one being the man who had given Saul his start in the movement and the other being the son of the Messiah he claimed to represent!) he redoubled his efforts alone, as missionary to the Roman Empire, at least according to the book of Acts, but there is little reason to doubt this, since the sheer numbers of converts racked up by Paul conferred on him considerable power, if not authority, in the early years of this spiritual movement.


In the second phrase of Colossians 2:18 Paul turns his invective on Mary. It is she, according to John 20:11-12, who entered into the tomb and inspected it (the verb εμβατευω) the interior of Jesus’s tomb and saw two angels (John 20:11-12; the Greek word means “messengers”); Paul accuses her of worshipping (θρησκεια) the angels. And Paul increases the outrage: Mary’s testimony is untrustworthy, he avers, because, as John himself concedes in the gospel, she was sexually aroused at the resurrection, “vainly hyperventilating over the thought of his body.” (Note that The Gospel of John studies at considerable length the strong erotic implications of John 20, particularly through isolating quotations from the Song of Songs, Sappho, and Homer.) Thus, Paul concludes, using his sports imagery, Umpire John did not see the event in question, relying on the questionable testimony of Mary, and is therefore a hypocrite for saying he is an eyewitness of the risen Jesus. It was Mary, not John, who professed she saw these messengers and Jesus, Paul points out, and her testimony is worthless because of her sexual desire. On the other hand, Paul often vigorously claims to have really seen the risen Christ, albeit in visions.

The “hyperventilating” comment points clearly to Mary. The second-century Greek philosopher Celsus wrote a book giving his logical arguments against Christianity. Picking up on Paul’s accusation, he insisted we cannot take seriously the witness of a frenzied female that Jesus rose from the dead; she may have only had a wish-fulfillment fantasy or deliberately pretended to a vision. He says the solitary resurrection witness (Mary, according to John 20), was


… εί τις άλλος των έκ της αύτης γοητειας, ήτοι κατα τινα διαθεσιν όνειρωξας και κατα την αύτου βουλησιν δοξη πεπλανημενη φαντασιωθεις, όπερ ήδη μυριοις σθμβεβηκεν, ή, όπερ μαλλον άπο γε τουτων, οίς άπαγορευει πειθεσθαι Μωωσης ή Μωυσεα εξ ών έτεροθς περι σημειων και τερατων διεβαλε


… perhaps one of those engaged in that kind of magic, who had either undergone a dream of this, having been willing to let her mind wander causing images to form in it, as many people have done; or, more likely, one who desired to impress others with this sign, and by such a falsehood to furnish support for other impostors like herself.


Apparently these matters were still widely known in the second century, to be known even by a critic, and have since been forgotten, deliberately so by the institutional religion.

Paul’s view is that Mary was in vain “hyperventilating over the thought of his [Jesus’s] body” because, so Paul believed, Jesus didn’t have a normal human body of flesh but rather a spiritual body, one without sexual desire, without sin. Thus it was not just in vain for Mary to “hyperventilate” over such a body, but a sin against God to want to sin with a body made of heavenly material.

So Paul here calls John a false apostle for basing his apostolic claim on not his own witness of the resurrected Jesus but that of a crazy woman, and further calls him a servant of Satan since, so Paul alleges, it was Satan who appeared in the tomb to Mary as an angel in light.

Still rankling some years later, and never at a loss for words to express his views, Paul lets loose again in his second surviving letter to his community of followers in Corinth (II Corinthians 11:12-15):


ο δε ποιω και ποιησω ινα εκκοψω την αφορμην των θελοντων αφορμην ινα εν ω καυχωνται ευρεθωσιν καθως και ημεις οι γαρ τοιουτοι ψευδαποστολοι εργαται δολιοι μετασχηματιζομενοι εις αποστολους χριστου και ου θαυμα αυτος γαρ ο σατανας μετασχηματιζεται εις αγγελον φωτος ου μεγα ουν ει και οι διακονοι αυτου μετασχηματιζονται ως διακονοι δικαιοσυνης ων το τελος εσται κατα τα εργα αυτων


So what I am doing I will keep on doing in order to cut off the opportunity for those who seek one, to be taken in their boasting as equal to us. For such are pseudo-apostles, workers of deceit, turning themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder; Satan himself transforms his appearance into an angel in light! So it is no surprise if his servants also masquerade as servants of justice, whose end will be in accordance with their deeds.


Here Paul says he himself is an apostle, and that John is not – an astonishing statement, when in fact it was the other way around –and that John et al. who judged Paul in Jerusalem will be judged in the end. In the early usage, an apostle was someone who had heard and seen Jesus, and whose life had been changed by Jesus, and who then dedicated his life to spreading his first-hand accounts of Jesus’s teachings. Paul never witnessed Jesus in the flesh (be that flesh physical or spiritual) as the Presbyter did, and Paul’s demand to be accepted as a full apostle therefore grated on the real apostles, especially Jesus’s closest friends and family in the leadership community based in Jerusalem until its destruction in 70 C.E. Much of John’s surviving correspondence include defenses of John’s claim to apostleship as genuine (especially I John 1) and a condemnation of Paul’s false claim to apostleship, such as this warning in Paul in II John 7,9:


οτι πολλοι πλανοι εξηλθον εις τον κοσμον οι μη ομολογουντες ιησουν χριστον ερχομενον εν σαρκι ουτος εστιν ο πλανος και ο αντιχριστος … πας ο προαγων και μη μενων εν τη διδαχη του χριστου θεον ουκ εχει ο μενων εν τη διδαχη ουτος και τον πατερα και τον υιον εχει


For many misleaders have gone off into the cosmos, those who do not say as we do that Jesus the Anointed One came in flesh. … Anyone who leads (others) outside of, who does not abide within, the teaching of God, does not have God.


and John’s praise of his own congregation in Ephesus in Revelation 2:2:


οιδα τα εργα σου και τον κοπον και την υπομονην σου και οτι ου δυνη βαστασαι κακους και επειρασας τους λεγοντας εαυτους αποστολους και ουκ εισιν και ευρες αυτους ψευδεις


I know your [the synagogue’s] works and your labor and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evildoers, and that you tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and that you found them to be liars.


In II Corinthians 11 Paul goes further with his allegation made in Colossians 2:18. The latter verse simply accuses John and Mary of “venerating angels”, but here he says in actuality those supposed angels were Satan having transformed (μετασχηματίζεται, metaschēmatizetai) his appearance into “an angel in light” (αγγελον φωτος, angelon phōtos). The verb μετασχηματίζεται here suggests that Satan is disguising himself (Josephus so uses this word in Antiquities 8:11:1) by turning his outer appearance into its exact opposite: the demon of shadow takes on a cloak of light: it is still a shadow within, but with the outer seeming of an angel. As noted, scholars have never been able to point to any such reference in the Tanakh, or even in what was to become the New Testament, but I think the phrase echoes δυο αγγελους εν λευκοις in John 20:12, the “two angels in shimmering light” (λευκοις, leukois, is a poetic synonym for φωτος).


It is entirely possible that Paul or one of his acolytes attended a sermon by John and heard him talking about what Mary had told him about the resurrection of Jesus. (Spying on competitors seems to have been common; cf. e.g., Galatians 2:4.)

John, of course, would have emphasized that the hierogamy of Jesus and Mary beside the tomb, their total union physical and spiritual, sexual and mystical, shows us how to heal the spiritual wound caused by Elohim’s separation of the first human into Adam and Eve, the aloneness and emptiness in every human individual, and that it opens the way to the Æon. But Paul, who was not only rather misogynistic but strongly disgusted by the very idea of sexuality, found it most offensive that John was preaching Jesus in an erotic embrace with Mary at his resurrection, and outright heretical that John suggested Jesus showed the way to heaven in (to borrow Blake’s lovely phrase) “the lineaments of gratified Desire”.

Thus Paul paints John as a charlatan who, despite claiming to be an eyewitness, relies on hearsay. And, even if John was an eyewitness disciple of Jesus, Paul says he is better than John (and Peter and James, for that matter) because they falsely claim to be Jesus’s disciples when he, Paul, is the only true and best disciple of Jesus because, by way of his vaunted visions, Paul claims he still is in close contact with Jesus. Thus Paul, with his usual skill at debating, seeks to turn his biggest deficit – that he never even met Jesus – into a strength. As always, Paul judges others to be judgemental and vindicates himself as unjudgemental; he brags about his lack of braggadocio, he is loudly proud of his humility. Paul indulges in self-effacement with all the illogic of the famous paradox about the chronic liar who says, “I am lying.”



Second Edition of THE GOSPEL OF JOHN On Sale!

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

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

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

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

What’s new in the Second Edition?

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

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

Jesus and Dionysos

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


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

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

In reference to Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Wrote and Who Wrecked the Gospel of John?

This blog entry discusses the identities of the amanuensis of the Gospel of John (that is, the “ghostwriter” who took down the oral recollections of Lazarus, the Beloved Disciple, who was the eyewitness behind the gospel, and drafted the gospel’s original version), and the redactor of the final version (who made it conform to the later organized Christian religion’s dogma and creed). This is a revision of a section of the introduction to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text. You will find ordering information here.


In concluding this discussion we may wish to speculate on the actual identity of the amanuensis, despite the paucity of extant clues, and even though his very existence is theoretical (albeit his existence is pretty clearly necessary by logic). If an amanuensis was involved in the creation of the original gospel, as seems all but certain, he was extremely well educated in the Greek classics, but apparently not the Latin (which are not quoted), so he was from the Eastern (not Western) half of the Roman Empire. And he was both artistic and meticulous in his work. His name almost certainly was John (Ἰωαννης), and thus it is his name that became associated with the gospel, not that of the Beloved Disciple, if the conclusion above is correct that the Beloved Disciple is most likely Lazarus.

That this gospel may be named after the amanuensis and not the eyewitness is more than mere hypothesis. It is clearly the case with the Gospel of Mark, named after the amanuensis John Mark who (as was noted above, quoting Eusebius’s reference to John the Presbyter’s remarks) put it together from Peter’s oral reminiscences. And it is also the case with the Gospel of Luke, whose author clearly states in the opening verses that his work was that of reading earlier gospels and collating his own version therefrom on behalf of his employer, whom he refers to as Theophilus (“Lover/Friend of God”) – the work of an amanuensis.

The best conclusion is that the amanuensis of the Fourth Gospel is the mysterious first-century figure known to us as John the Presbyter, sometimes called John the Elder. This John is the self-named author of II and III John, and almost certainly I John too, though probably jointly with Lazarus; there is also a surviving small fragment of a fourth letter. These letters bear very strong similarities in style, vocabulary, and subject to the gospel.

Papias was a student of John the Presbyter; his five-volume Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord, of which just quotations survive, is a main source for what little we know about the man. Eusebius in his History of the Church paraphrases Papias in a way that associates John the Presbyter with the disciples’ oral recollections of Jesus, which fits well with the scenario described above. Similarly, a ninth-century Latin text, the Codex Vaticanus Reg. lat. 14, says: Evangelium Iohannis manifestum et datum est ecclesiis ab Johanne adhuc in corpore constituto; sicut Papias nomine, Hieropolitanus, discipulus Johannis carus, in exotericis, id est in extremis quinque libris retulit; descripsit vero evangelium dictante Johanne recte verum. (“The Gospel of John was published and given to the churches by John [the Presbyter] when he was in the flesh; so a beloved disciple of John, Papias, named [by John as the bishop] of Hierapolis, recalled in Exotericis, the last of [his] five books; John in fact wrote the gospel down faithfully from the correct truth dictated to him.”)

There being no other strong (or weak) candidates, I feel confident enough about identifying as John the Presbyter the John to whom the early Christian leaders always and universally attributed the main authorship of the gospel that I have put his name on the title page of the gospel text, on page 99.

After the Beloved Disciple and amanuensis were no longer involved, the gospel manuscript was somehow passed to the very early Christian community in Pontus (on the south shore of the Black Sea, in what is now Turkey) and from them into the hands of John the Presbyter’s student Papias.

During its peregrinations, large blocs of material in the manuscript got inadvertently disordered. Since these displaced “partitions” generally contain a similar volume of writing, scholar Rudolf Bultmann proposed that the displacements occurred within a single manuscript that had been written on papyrus sheets of about the same length. As examples of these displacements: Chapter 2:1-12 (which begins “On the third day…”) clearly should go between 4:45 and 46b. The sixth chapter clearly should follow immediately on 4:54. Jesus telling the disciples to get up and leave with him at the end of chapter 14 clearly should be the end of the Last Supper discourse, not followed by two more chapters of it. The same “partition theory” may explain why the trial interview of Jesus by Caiaphas is missing from the text; it may have filled one page exactly, and that page went missing at around this time.

A reasonable hypothesis to explain the same-length displacements is that the original draft of the gospel was prepared in the form of a codex: not a scroll, but something like a modern book, with writing on both sides of pages that were then sewn together; a method that in the late first century was just beginning to appear. It would have been something very much like the manuscript from which comes Rylands P52, a surviving fragment (see the image of it on the back cover of this volume), which dates to no later than the early second century, and could have been produced as early as 90 C.E. (Another theory is that the earliest complete manuscript of the original gospel was composed on scrap ends cut from finished scrolls and sold relatively inexpensively.)

Given its age, it is not inconceivable that P52 comes from the manuscript of the original gospel, the writing of the amanuensis himself. The handwriting is neat and careful, but it lacks a professional secretary’s stylistic finesse and flourish, suggesting that it was not scribed with publication in mind but rather for use as a careful private-use working copy. Since P52 was found in Egypt, it could be hypothesized that the amanuensis, escaping Jerusalem around the time of its destruction in 70 C.E., had it with him in his travels that eventually took him to Patmos. Unfortunately, the verses it contains are not among those that would show signs of redaction, which makes it impossible to say whether this was the version prepared by the amanuensis or that produced by the later redactor.

However, Bultmann’s excellent conjecture does not answer all of the textual displacements. Within several lengthy passages which as a whole are complete (though not necessarily in their proper locations, per Bultmann) there are sentences and phrases that are also clearly badly disordered. The theory described above, involving the eyewitness and the amanuensis, could well account for this. Most likely, the gospel was originally drafted with multiple columns, and the collation of material in these columns into a united narrative was never completed by the amanuensis, and the later redactor finished this work, though often the insertions are not in what would seem the proper and intended location. Thus in this matter too we see here again signs of its incomplete state.

Eventually Papias acquired the papers of his former teacher, John the Presbyter, from the Christians in Pontus. Immediately after speaking about John as faithfully writing from dictation (as quoted above), the Codex Vaticanus Reg. lat. 14 goes on to say: Marcion haereticus cum ab eo fuisset improbatus eo quod contraria sentiebat, abjectus est. A Johanne is vero scripta vel epistolas ad eum pertulerat a fratribus qui in Ponto fuerunt. (“Marcion, the heretic, when he had been rejected by him [Papias] because he [Marcion] had suggested contrary matters, was expelled. He [Papias] had even brought him [Marcion] the writings and letters by John from the brothers who were in Pontus.”)

This tells us that Papias had vainly hoped Marcion might refine the roughed-out Gospel of John before expelling him for heresy. Indeed, Marcion was experienced with this kind of work, having turned out an extensively revised version of the Gospel of Luke. After failing to engage Marcion, Papias apparently next turned to his elder colleague Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. That he asked Marcion first, despite the theological differences that eventually caused them to split, suggests that Papias had serious reservations about how Polycarp would revise the gospel. The reservations may cohere with what we can see in the text was done to the gospel, as discussed throughout this work.

Tertullian and Irenæus (who studied with Polycarp) both confirm that he was a student of John the Apostle, which could be a reference to John the Presbyter; the two were often confused. Polycarp’s only known surviving work, a letter to the Christian community in Philippi, is of exactly the high Christology that we find in the final version of the Gospel of John. The letter is bristling with quotations and paraphrases from New Testament writings, reminiscent of the quotations inserted by the redactor into the gospel’s final version. What is more, David Trobisch has persuasively argued that Polycarp was a significant figure in the editing and finalizing of the New Testament into the form in which we have it today; he could well have given the Fourth Gospel a thorough makeover as part of this overall task.

This redactor revised the text (as left by the Beloved Disciple and the amanuensis), mainly to make it conform to the doctrine of the organized Christian religion, and to add phrases aimed at emphasizing the orthodoxy of a high Christology. It was at this point, for instance, that anything suggesting that Jesus was the bridegroom at Cana and that the Beloved Disciple was Jesus’s son/stepson (especially 19:27) was extracted. By now the nascent Jesus movement was establishing itself as a new religion separate from Judaism; even without the breakup of the Jewish core of the Jesus movement in the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in 70, the evidence is clear that the views held by that Jewish core were already on the wane in favor of the Pauline perspective featuring this “high Christology”. Thus, the redactor probably was in his own thinking simply taking what appeared to him as a rough draft and correcting what he assumed were mistakes, and making sharper and more specific various vague statements (that appeared to the redactor to be) about Jesus’s divinity. No doubt he believed that the eyewitness would have approved of these refinements. The redactor is also probably the one who smoothed out some abrupt textual transitions caused by displacement, by adding some (often clumsy) bridges; an example is how he filled a transitional gap at 4:46a.

This redactor may have been responsible for some or all of various glosses that provide Greek translations of Aramaic or Hebrew words. It is unlikely that they were added by the amanuensis, since often they are incorrect, calling Aramaic “Hebrew” and providing not-quite-correct translations into Greek. The amanuensis seems to have been at least acquainted with Aramaic, and in any case had the fluent Beloved Disciple to consult with; there is no reason to suppose this redactor knew any Aramaic.

The redactor certainly also added several “This was to fulfill” verses referring to passages in the Tanakh (Old Testament) – the kind of clumsy technique used in the Synoptic gospels; these additions are quite unlike the work of the amanuensis, who seamlessly and intricately integrated his references to the Tanakh into the text.

Probably soon after the redactor had done his work some copyist inserted the Lucan narrative at 7:53-8:11, since many early manuscripts of the gospel lack it altogether. Though an interesting episode, it clearly does not belong in this gospel.

The intention of this book is to peel away, layer by layer as it were, these post-Beloved-Disciple distortions of his gospel, until we reach something as close to his Ur-text, the original version, as possible – and then with considerable and conservative care, as much as is possible, completing the refinement of the original gospel that the Beloved Disciple did not do himself.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So what is this nineteenth and special published book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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