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.”

That They All May Be One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Kind of Peace

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

The Greek verb απψιημι does not mean “to leave” or “to give”, as it is often translated in this verse. It means, rather, “to send off”, “to remit”, “to discharge” or “to forgive” (in the sense of outstanding debt), or “to leave behind in the time of death”. I take it in the latter sense because Jesus was indeed talking about his death, and translate it here “to bequeath”.

Translators have universally given this statement a soft translation, making it beautiful. Christians have universally taken it as a soft, gentle statement. But in saying “I am giving it [peace] to you not as the cosmos gives (it)” Jesus was referring to the Hebrew word of greeting and farewell, then and now, “Shalom!” (“Peace!”), suggesting a kind of hypocrisy in how people say that word to each other’s faces and then knife each other in the back. He was also referring to the famous Pax Romana, the generally peaceful period in the history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Augustus Cæsar, beginning in 27 B.C.E., and continuing until the fall of Nero and the “Year of the Four Emperors” in 69 C.E. and, of staggering local repercussions, a Jewish uprising which triggered the total destruction of Jerusalem under General (and later Emperor) Titus in 70. Pontius Pilate, before whom Jesus was about to be tried, like other local arbiters of Roman power, had to maintain that peace at all costs; as will be explored below, he was often so ruthless in keeping peace that it was hard to distinguish his methods from near-genocidal military actions; often the peace that results from the use of force is no more than the peace of people frightened out of the streets and into the shadows, people too scared to speak out, the peace of the graveyard. Hence the evident sarcasm on Jesus’s part in his reference to what the world then and now calls peace.

Still, given the context (16:5,6,12), in which Jesus registers his awareness of the disciples’ agitation at his impending death, there is a gentle, reassuring aspect to this statement. Here Jesus promises the disciples not the peace as the world gives it, but another kind of peace: the peace that comes from knowing that, by committing themselves to the Λογος, the Word of God, God’s beautiful plan for the entire creation, they are safe, protected by God, who loves them for loving Jesus.

A House Bigger on the Inside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Identity of the Paraclete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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