Behold Your Mothers: Adopted at the Crucifixion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus the text here may have originally read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following would be absolutely perfect parallelism,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

which in Greek would be:

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

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

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

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

John the Presbyter, Author of the Gospel of John


What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here.

John the Presbyter (also known as “John the Elder”, the latter being a loose translation of the cognomen Πρεσβύτερος), as amanuensis to Lazarus, was the formal author of the Gospel of John. According to early accounts John had actually seen and heard Jesus teach. Of course many people had done without it changing their lives one whit, but moreover he had accepted Jesus as his spiritual master, and he dedicated the rest of his life to passing on the wisdom of his master. Therefore, he is also described as a “disciple of the Lord”, albeit not one of the inner circle that comprised Simon (Peter), Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, and certainly Lazarus. These disciple-eyewitnesses, when they had the talent to instruct and exhort, were authorized by the movement’s leaders as rabbis, in effect, teachers who imparted the genuine message of Jesus to communities here and there in the Roman Empire.

Little is known of John the Presbyter’s early life, other than that he was apparently a priest in one or another Jewish temple. Eusebius quotes or paraphrases from a letter written by Polycrates, Bishop of Ephesus to Victor, Bishop of Rome, written toward the end of the second century. The salient sentence reads as follows:

ἔτι δὲ καὶ Ἰωάννης ὁ ἐπὶ τὸ στῆθος τοῦ κυρίου ἀναπεσών, ὃς ἐγενήθη ἱερεὺς τὸ πέταλον πεφορεκὼς καὶ μάρτυς καὶ διδάσκαλος: οὗτος ἐν Ἐφέσῳ κεκοίμηται.

And moreover John, who reclined on the Lord’s bosom, and who became a priest and wore the petalon, and a witness and a teacher: he sleeps at Ephesus.

Before discussing what this sentence does tell us, one phrase in it must first be dismissed as not original to it. A couple of centuries after Jesus, Christian apologists often conflated John the Presbyter with John the Apostle the son of Zebedee, in a process Richard Bauckham rather kindly calls “exegetical procedure”, but which I call confusion, not always unintentional. It is all but certain that Eusebius added the phrase about reclining on the Lord’s bosom (referring to John 13:23) surely trying to be helpful to his readers in identifying just who this John was. For Polycrates, as bishop in Ephesus, where memories of his august predecessor John the Presbyter would have been fresh, who was a disciple of Polycarp, Irenæus, and perhaps even Papias in his last days, men who were themselves disciples of the Presbyter, would never have confused him with the son of Zebedee. Papias, in fact, is quoted as saying in his masterwork introduced below that James and John the two Zebedee brothers ὑπὸ Ἰουδαίων ἀνῃρέθησαν (“were killed by the Jewish authorities”), which would effectively rule out the old age, death, and burial at Ephesus that he ascribes to the Presbyter. Besides, there is nothing in the early Christian writings to suggest that John Zebedee’s son, a fisherman, was a Temple priest. What is more, the bosom reference is out of chronological order with the the rest of the sentence, which comprises a brief summary of John’s life: it first mentions John being a priest, which would have been before John’s discipleship to Jesus, followed by his time as a witness to Jesus, then later in life as a teacher about Jesus, and closing with his death at Ephesus.

That highly doubtful phrase laid aside, this quotation tells us that John was a priest, and that at least briefly he was high priest. In the salient Jewish literature no John is listed as serving as high priest in the first century, and attempts to identify him as High Priest Jonathan fail especially in view of Acts 4:6, which names that son of the notorious Annas (Ananus) who tried Jesus as among those standing in judgement of Peter and John – John the Presbyter. Yet it was not uncommon for ordinary priests, especially those likely to advance in the sacerdotal ranks, to temporarily be permitted to put on the petalon (the medallion that the high priest wore) and fill in if the actual high priest were sick or travelling or otherwise unavailable.

It must have been while he was still a priest that John the Presbyter saw and heard Jesus – for he was a witness to Jesus, as Polycrates, and others who will be quoted below, confirms. Very likely he took part in some of the Gospel of John’s extended debates with Temple priests, especially those in Acts Two and Three, and his own memories joined with those of the Beloved Disciple Lazarus in reconstructing those conversations. He may indeed have been present at the deliberations of the Sanhedrin that started the process of sentencing Jesus to death, though the description in the gospel (11:47-53) may have come, instead or also, from Nicodemus and/or Joseph of Arimathæa, who were friends and supporters of Jesus. And clearly John must have left the priesthood, no doubt persuaded to do so in part by the persuasive power of Jesus’s teachings, and ultimately by his resurrection, which would have been more than ample proof that he was Messiah. After Jesus was gone, among his followers, he would have surely been respected as a former priest who had defected to their cause; he became part of the central leadership of the Jerusalemite community of Jesus followers, along with Simon the Rock (Peter) and James the Just, a brother of Jesus.

As a priest, John would have received a superlative education. It was common in those days for Jewish religious leaders to be well instructed not only in the Torah but also in the Hellenic classical culture that was by then universal. Josephus and Philo come immediately to mind as near-contemporaries who were masters of both branches of learning. The Saduccee priests display knowledge of Roman law in John 18:31b and 19:12,15. Paul, too, who as a Pharisee studied with the legendary Rabbi Gamaliel I, also showed off his familiarity with the great Greek literature; for instance, the playwright Menander in I Corinthians 15:33, a paradox composed by the poet Epimenides in Titus 1:12-13, and probably Epimenides again as well as another poet, Aratus, in Acts 17:28. Paul also refers to the spectacles presented in the coliseums – theatrical plays, footraces, and the like – suggesting he often enjoyed these very Roman events. (Thus, by the way, it strikes one as hypocritical that Paul accuses Simon Peter of living like a gentile, in Galatians 2:14.)

In that time, students did not study Greek as they do now, by memorizing verb charts and vocabulary, but by memorizing particularly eloquent passages from the Greek (and often Latin) classic writings. The Gospel of John is especially replete with paraphrases of Plato, Homer, and Euripides – and this particular set of literary giants strongly suggests John received his classical education in Alexandria, Egypt. With about one million Jewish residents, the city had more members of the faith than any other city in the world, including even Jerusalem. They worshipped not only at a major synagogue in Alexandria but also at the only Temple outside the Levant, in nearby Leontopolis, where professional priests were ready to help local Jews make the sacrifices required in the Torah. It was in Alexandria that the Septuagint was translated, the famous Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures; that is, the Tanakh, known to Christians as the Old Testament. Though its extensive library had been largely destroyed in a fire in 48 B.C.E., the collection was largely restored by the time John would have studied there. This edifice was one of the major institutes of learning in the empire, particularly renowned for its high-level textual analyses of Homer and Plato – the two literati most prominent in the Gospel of John.

John certainly would have studied with Philo of Alexandria, a Jew who wrote and taught about Plato and the Torah. Certainly the Gospel of John’s focus on the Λογος, the Logos, and such concepts as “circumcision of the heart”, which appears in the gospel at 7:22, show strong signs of Philo’s philosophy. John may have begun as a priest in the Leontopolis Temple, but must have continued his upward career after returning to Jerusalem.

It was after that return that he saw and heard Jesus teach, and committed himself to this new Jewish sect for whom Jesus was the mary, the master. He became close with Simon Peter (Acts 1:13; 3:1,3,4,11; 4:13,19; and 8:14), and inevitably also James – these three are often mentioned together in the New Testament as the leaders in Jerusalem of the sect. These passages in Acts, as well as Galatians 2:9, begin the confusion of John the former priest, who will be called the Presbyter, and John the son of Zebedee. That this is the former priest is suggested by his entry into the Second Temple and and of course by how he and Simon are quickly recognized. But John son of Zebedee is referred to only once, at 12:2, well after the former priest has faded from the story told in the book.

And John would quickly have become acquainted with Simon’s dear young friend Lazarus (Eliezer). Probably still at most hardly more than a teenager, Lazarus was not one of the leaders, but he was loved for being Jesus’s adopted son (as will be explained in the Commentaries). The rumor was swirling around then that the young man was never going to die again, because Jesus had raised him from death – not only among the apostles (John 21:23), but among the public at large (12:9-11). Soon John undertook to help Lazarus with a writing project, composing a letter to be circulated among the spiritual community, aimed at dispelling that false assumption. Posthumously, this letter was grafted onto the Gospel of John as a kind of appendix (chapter 21), probably by Polycarp, the redactor.

That first effort clearly led the two men to commence the larger undertaking, the writing of the gospel itself. By several accounts, this work was done in Ephesus, away from the dangerous place that Jerusalem had become; this is borne out by the way John is simply not mentioned again after Acts 8:14; if he had been martyred, as were the sons of Zebedee, that would have been noted. It is self-evident that John and Lazarus, and no doubt other members of this Jerusalemite community, got out of the city, which was in a constant frightened expectation of obliteration by Rome, which eventually came about in 70 C.E.

John likely lived in one of the upscale condominiums on what is called Curetes Street, found by taking walkways between the stores and restaurants that faced the streets under an attractive colonnade – a first-century “strip mall”. Each unit was of more than one story, with several rooms decorated with frescoes or mosaics, surrounding an interior patio or courtyard that provided the rooms with abundant light and fresh air. These living quarters were provided with water from a citywide system, and they even had ceramic heating pipes within the walls. The nights were illuminated by streetlights, a convenience and safety feature otherwise found at the time only in Rome and Antioch.

On a plaza at the end of Curetes Street was a public library that John would have found delightfully reminiscent of the gigantic library in Alexandria where he had studied. In 110 a gorgeous new edifice would be built to house it, the famous Library of Celsus, but it was already in John’s time one of the largest in the Roman Empire, with some twelve thousand books. Adjacent to the library was the Mithridates Gate, whose dedicatory superscription in Latin would have been striking to John and Lazarus as they wrote about Jesus son of God; it began: “From the Emperor Cæsar Augustus, son of the god, greatest of the priests…”.

The spiritual community in Ephesus was first led, beginning around 52-53 C.E., by Apollos, a Jewish follower of John the Immerser (Acts 18:24), though soon a husband-wife pair of Jesus evangelists, Aquila and Prisca, drew him into Jesus’s theology (Acts 18:26). But Apollos moved on to evangelize in the city of Corinth before Paul arrived in the city, around the year 55. I surmise that John the Presbyter took over the leadership of the church from Apollos, though no text gives us this detail. Certainly the two men would have gravitated to each other; they were both Jews well learned in classical Greek studies. Apollos in fact was originally from Alexandria, where John had no doubt received his secular education. The two men may even have remembered each other from when they were students back in Egypt; if not, they had enough in common to have quickly become friends in Ephesus. Apollos was likely a secondary source for the Gospel of John’s narrative sequences about the Immerser.

Upon arriving, Paul barged his way into the local spiritual community in his usual way, preaching his message of not the faith of Jesus but faith in Christ, as he preferred to call Jesus, as if the Greek translation for “Messiah” (Anointed One) were his surname. However, his rather heavy-handed evangelism method, which recast the rabbi as a Roman-style godling (Acts 19:2-7), aroused such resistance that he was forced out of the synagogue, and thereafter for about two years he gave his daily lectures in a school auditorium (Acts 19:8-10). That Paul and his followers were the ones to move out of the synagogue suggests that the “orthodox” group that still met in the synagogue thought of themselves as Jewish, simply as a new and somewhat amorphous sect of the faith that adhered to the very Jewish teachings of Jesus – and that Paul’s “heterodox” group and its like in other cities was well on the way toward being a separate religion, Christianity. Paul was at the time (cf. I Corinthians 1:2, Romans 16:1) starting to call his congregations εκκλησια (ekklesia), literally “called out of and into” – that is, literally called out of the synagogues and into Paul’s new, non-Jewish religion – the root of “ecclesiastical” in English and of the words for “church” in the Romance languages, such as eglise in French and iglesia in Spanish. As the leader of the synagogal community, John was then without doubt instrumental in booting Paul out. John’s theology, as evidenced by his writings, is extremely different from Paul’s. John saw Jesus not as God incarnate, upon whom we are to place our faith, but as a messenger from God, God’s messiah, adopted as God’s son, who teaches us how to follow the will of God.

Paul, for his part, did not take the ouster blithely. Evidently he was infuriated by John’s teaching that at death we will go to live in the Æon, the heavenly realm; Paul found it no different from just being dead as are nonbelievers when they die; Paul, rather, promised his followers that, if they died putting their faith in Christ they would be resurrected back into their physical bodies, miraculously restored to health and youth, at some point in the future.

The New Testament retains to this day each man’s summary opinion of the other. In the following, Paul is not content with calling John a wild animal, and someone who knows nothing about God; he goes so far as to burlesque the Epicurean philosophy that he thinks John espouses, and to quote the Greek playwright Menander – deliberately mocking John’s highly literary style of preaching and writing (I Corinthians 15:32-34, 16:8-9):

ει κατα ανθρωπον εθηριομαχησα εν εφεσω τι μοι το οφελος ει νεκροι ουκ εγειρονται φαγωμεν και πιωμεν αυριον γαρ αποθνησκομεν μη πλανασθε φθειρουσιν ηθη χρηστα ομιλιαι κακαι εκνηψατε δικαιως και μη αμαρτανετε αγνωσιαν γαρ θεου τινες εχουσιν προς εντροπην υμιν λαλω … επιμενω δε εν εφεσω εως της πεντηκοστης θυρα γαρ μοι ανεωγεν μεγαλη και ενεργης και αντικειμενοι πολλοι

If in human terms I fought with wild beasts in Ephesus, of what benefit is it to me if the dead are not to be raised up? “We may as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be misled! “Bad friends corrupt a good character.” Get yourselves legally sober and do not make an error! For indeed certain people know nothing about God! I am speaking to your shame! … But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a big, useful door has been opened to me, and there are many enemies.

And, about a decade later (in 68), John shot back with these words. They are found in a letter to the principals of the synagogue he led in Ephesus before and after his exile to Patmos, a letter that Jesus dictated to him in a vision (Revelation 2:2). Here, John touches Paul at his most vulnerable point: that he claimed to be an apostle of Jesus, to the intense irritation of James and Simon Peter and the other Jerusalemite leaders who had been Jesus’s closest friends and family, Paul was usurping a term normally reserved for that innermost circle of Jesus’s disciples, those who had been with him through his entire ministry – even though Paul had never even met Jesus.

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 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.

Yet the local schism caused by Paul, unpleasant though it obviously was, did not have a lasting impact on John or even the Ephesian community. On the other hand, John’s arrest several years later by Roman authorities did. In his own words in Revelation 1:9, John was convicted δια τον λογον του θεου και την μαρτυριαν Ιησου, “because of the Word of God and the witness to Jesus.” This is without doubt a reference to the Gospel of John, which is described in two ways. The gospel focuses from its very first verse on the Logos – a Greek term that no English word, including “Word”, fully conveys; it means God’s beautiful and natural plan for the entire universe, which, if we act in accordance with it, leads us to the Æon, the heavenly realm; but, if we oppose it, our deeds eventually come to naught, and we risk the same annihilation. And the gospel speaks of itself as the Paraclete (Παρακλητος), the Advocate, “the Spirit/Wind/Breath of truth … that will bear witness concerning me” (15:26): as a witness to Jesus equivalent to the men and women who were his disciples, but not dead already or soon to die as mortals are, especially in times of persecution.

Why he should be arrested in connection with a gospel that was in draft only, not yet finished (nor would it ever be) and far from published, is not at all clear. (In passing, we can note that Revelation 1:9 confirms that John wrote the gospel, or as much of it as he was to complete, before being sent to Patmos, not after his return to Ephesus, as some aver.) The possibility that seems most likely to me is that John took someone into his confidence, reading passages from the manuscript to that individual or allowing him to read it himself, maybe a new acquaintance at the public library on Curetes Street. And perhaps that someone read in the gospel a number of lines, of which the following at 12:31-32, in which Jesus is speaking to his followers, are an example:

νυν κρισις εστιν του κοσμου τουτου νυν ο αρχων του κοσμου τουτου εκβληθησεται εξω καγω εαν υψωθω εκ της γης παντας ελκυσω προς εμαυτον

Now is the judgement of this cosmos: Now the ruler of this cosmos will be banished. And I, should I be lifted up over the earth, shall draw everything to myself.

and surmised, correctly, that this was a prophecy of the fall of imperial power, and moreover a warning that Jesus, and/or his followers, meant to take control of the cosmos, which was often used as a synonym for the Roman Empire.

It was very possibly deemed a fitting sentence that John was banished in the emperor’s name for writing that the emperor would be banished! And John certainly thought of the reference he had written into the gospel, not far from the above verse (in 13:18), to David’s turncoat advisor Ahithophel, part of the passage about Judas turning Jesus in to the authorities. John likely drew strength from knowing his master Jesus had been turned in by a friend too.

Indeed, ironies abound; in time the Christian religion did exactly what the verse predicts, banishing the Roman Empire and taking over power as the new Christian empire, lifting the cross up over the entire earth and taking over the “cosmos”, the entire Western world, and enslaving and exploiting the rest of the world, “drawing everything to itself”. John, could he have seen the future, wuld have objected to a religion in Jesus’s name controlled by merchants in mitres – this world conquest was the work of the movement descended from Paul’s teachings of domination of the world, not John’s of living by the Λογος and entering into another, better world, the Æon.

At the time John was close to finishing the gospel, in the sixth decade of the first century, widespread public fear was prevalent, like that in any country ruled by a mad, willful dictator; I think of the Noriega years here in this country of Panamá, so terrible that several people I know continue to suffer from various symptoms of serious post-traumatic stress. The fear is, in brief, a debilitating, dehumanizing, unceasing fear of inadvertently doing the “wrong thing” or failing to do the “right thing”, for what is wrong and what is right is constantly changing and one never can be sure, and being suddenly arrested and executed without trial. In John’s case, someone became so afraid after reading certain lines in the gospel that th individua erred on the side of caution and turned John in – or else it was someone who betrayed him hoping to curry favor with the emperor’s minions.

Nero – the mad emperor through the years that the gospel was being drafted (from 13 October 54 to 9 June 68) – was especially sensitive to anyone who prophesied against him. He was fascinated by magic and astrology and the like, but only when it foretold what he wanted to hear, though he at least tolerated those that were well entrenched and could not be shut down without risking a major uprising, such as the famous Delphic Oracle discussed in the essay on page ###. But he often took angry action when what might be called unauthorized fortune-telling said things that he found discomforting or threatening. However, bear in mind that many reasonable Roman citizens would have agreed with him; even a dangerous emperor had a genius that must be protected for the sake of peace and plenty for the people, and many people would have considered such prophecies an offense against Nero’s genius, and hence a threat to their financial and physical security, and the security of the empire as a whole against unrest within and invasion from without. (The Latin term genius refers to an emperor’s right to rule, as ordained by the gods and fate [cf. John 19:11]; in other words, to the pervading spirit that emanated from the emperor into all parts of the realm and maintained the status quo throughout.) Moreover, this manuscript was written by a Jew about another Jew, and Nero knew well that Judæa was constantly turbulent, and a locus of possible insurrection. As a result his distrust of and dislike for Judaism, there was during Nero’s reign more persecution of Jews and those who would become known as Christians than any other; what is more, Nero was the ruler who ordered the destruction of Jerusalem, though it actually took place after his assassination, in 70.

There is more reason to conclude that John’s banishment resulted from something written in the draft copy of the Gospel of John: the manuscript disappeared around this very time. It was only after John’s death, well past the horrible Neronic years, that the monograph, plus a number of his letters, turned up again in the Pontus, in what is now Turkey. This peaceful town, far from the madness of Nero and the tensions that engulfed the entire Roman Empire, was a pretty place on the shores of the Black Sea, surrounded by mountains and forests of tall pines mentioned in the odes of Horace. The nature of this location strongly suggests that, when John was arrested, trusted allies in Ephesus spirited his gospel and other writings there, to be kept safe by the large community of Jesus followers in that peaceful, distant city.

John was sentenced to exile on Patmos, a small island well out to sea southwest of Ephesus. Tacitus (Annals, 3:68, 4:30, 15:71) makes passing reference to the use of these Ægean islands for the banishment of those who had lost imperial favor. Still, John was clearly not confined to a cell but had the freedom to roam the shores and low hills – and one day he was vouchsafed a vision which he wrote down in Aramaic; this is the work known today as the Revelation or the Apocalypse.

John lived on the island for roughly a year, after which his sentence was commuted. Clement of Alexandria writes (On the Salvation of the Rich Man, 42):

επειδη γαρ του τυραννου τελευτησαντος, απο της Πατμου της νησου μετηλθεν επι την Εφεσον, απηει παρακαλουμενος και επι τα πλησιοχωρα των εθνων, οπου μεν επισκοπους καταστησων, οπου δε ολας Εκκλησιας απμοσων, οπου δε κληρον, ενα τε τινα κληρωσων υπο του Πνευματος σημαινομενων.

When, on the tyrant’s death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit.

Clement does not specify which emperor following Nero allowed John’s return from exile. It was surely neither Galba nor Vitellius, both cruel, but rather Otho, whose reign of only three months at least at least began well. Plutarch (Life of Otho 1:1-3) says among his first royal acts was the abrogation of a considerable number of like sentences, so John no doubt benefited too.

Remaining in Ephesus for the rest of his life, John took on an elder statesman role, writing letters to the faithful in various communities as did Paul, Simon Peter, Jesus’s brothers James and Judas, Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and others. John’s letters (like those of Jesus’s brothers and unlike Paul’s) are clearly directed to Jewish followers of Jesus’s teachings. Of his death, Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3:1) tells us only that Ἰωάννης τὴν Ἀσίαν, πρὸς οὓς καὶ διατρίψας ἐν Ἐφέσῳ τελευτᾷ (“John was in Asia, and after much time living there, died in Ephesus.” Polycrates adds, οὗτος ἐν Ἐφέσῳ κεκοίμηται (“He sleeps in Ephesus”), which hints that his tomb was not infrequently visited by faithful pilgrims.

Let us close this summary of John’s life with how his devoted disciple Polycarp describes the way a presbyter should comport himself – for these words not only summarize the teachings of Polycarp’s beloved master, but no doubt are an accurate assessment of the life and example of John the Presbyter himself, and a fitting eulogy to this spiritual leader:

Και οι πρεσβυτεροι δε ευσπλαγχνοι εισ παντας ελεημονεσ, εποστρεφοντες τα αποπεπλανημενα, επισκεπτομενοι παντας ασθενεις, μη αμελουντες χηρασ η οπφανου η πενητος αλλα προνοουτες αει του καλου ενωπιον θεου και ανθρωπων, απεχομενοι πασης, προσωποληψιας, μυ ταχεως πισευοντες κατα τινος, μη αποτομοι εν κρισει, ειδοτες οτι παντες οφειλεται εσμεν αμαρτιας.

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those who wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always “providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man”; abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from. all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against anyone, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin.

Mary Magdalene: What’s in a Name?


What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here.

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” is only associated with the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Other than two highly doubtful references, it never appears in the Gospel of John. Its author must have known her, since she had to be a primary source for chapters 4 and 20, and was besides the mother of his eyewitness, Lazarus. And Mary clearly wished to distance herself from her priestess life, which “Magdalene” implies. Nevertheless, it is so commonly associated with her still today that its origin and meaning must be considered. One of the following explanations is usually offered, that the cognomen:

a: Says she came originally from Magdala, a village on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.

b: Comes from the Hebrew לדגמ (migdal, “tower”, related to μαγδωλος in Greek, “watchtower”).

c: Comes from the related word in Aramaic, the language then commonly spoken by Jews and Samaritans, ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (magdala, “tower” but also suggesting “elegant” or “great”, likewise related to μαγδωλος). This could be simply a reference to the Samaritan Temple high on Mount Gerizim, where as the “woman at the well” Mary served as a priestess. Coins minted in Nablus (Shechem) portray an architectural complex that appears to include a tower. Or it could refer to Song of Songs 4:4, and other similar verses; this one compares the Shulammite’s neck to the Tower of David (cf. Nehemiah 3:25). Similarly, her breasts are likened to towers at 8:10. Her “dance of Mahanaim” (Song 6:13; see option e) is an indirect reference to a tower as well.

d: Comes from megaddelá, an Aramaic word for a woman with ܓܕܠܐ (g’dalw; plaited or braided hair), and later, by extension, a word for a hairdresser. The term carried, later in time, an aroma of “harlot” about it, and some passages in the Talmud appear to associate it with Temple priestesses.

Before evaluating the four above, I also propose:

e: Comes from Mahanaim (מַחֲנָ֫יִם in Hebrew), literally meaning “Two Camps”, a place so called by Jacob because he and God both camped there. The “h” would have shifted in the Greek transliteration into a “g” (since the “h” does not appear in Greek words except at the beginning) and a Greek-style suffix added. At this place Jacob erected a watchtower (Genesis 31:48-52; see b, c, and h). The “dance of Mahanaim” is mentioned at Song of Songs 6:13 in reference to the Shulammite (who is discussed in relation to the Magdalene below).

f: Comes from Song of Songs 4:15, the same verse discussed on page 614, where the Hebrew for the “spring of water” in the garden is מעין גנים (mayan gannim). This could have gotten garbled by Greek ears into “Magdalene” the same way pretty much all of the proper names in the New Testament mutated when shifting from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek. Through this verse she would be associated with living waters, mentioned in the same verse of the Song, of which Jesus spoke to her in their first conversation (John 4:10); also, the waters of spiritual purification, as in the mikvah, and in John’s baptism.

g: Comes from ܩܕܠܐ (’qda:la), “neck” in Aramaic, should Mary have had a long, beautiful neck. This is a near-homonym with ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (magdala, “tower”), lacking only the initial ܡܰ (ma-), and also with ܡܓܕܠܝܬܐ (magdalayta, Magdalene), lacking the ma- and the suffix -ta. But the final “m” (ܡ) in her Aramaic name, ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam), could very well have elided over onto ܩܕܠܐ (’qda:la), creating ܡܩܕܠܐ (Maqdala). This could possibly a reference to, or for the amanuensis reminiscent of, several references in the Song of Songs, especially at 4:4, to the Shulammite’s neck, though a different word for neck (ܝܟܪܘܨ; sawara) is used there.

h: Comes from the Tower of Eder (מִגְדַּל־עֵ֫דֶר, Migdal Eder, literally “the Tower of the Flock [of Sheep]”) beyond which Jacob (then renamed “Israel”) pitched his tent after the death of his wife Rachel (Genesis 35:21). Jesus and Mary are implicitly associated with Jacob and Rachel at Jacob’s Spring in chapter 4 of John. The only other Tanakh reference to this tower is at Micah 4:8, where it is mentioned in a messianic prophecy that the greatness of Judah and Jerusalem will return, a very meaningful reference should this be the cognomen of Jesus’s consort. Rachel died on the way to Ephrath (Bethlehem); Josephus writes that the tower site was about a Roman mile (4,860 feet) beyond Bethlehem. But in which direction Israel was going is unclear. The original Hebrew text has him going south, toward Hebron, but the Septuagint transposes Genesis 35:16 and 21, likely correcting a mistake, which would have him going north, toward Bethel; this would put the Tower very close to Bethany, which was Mary’s home town.

i: Comes from the Greek μαγδαλια, a late contraction of the classical word απομαγδαλια, which appears in Aristophanes and Plutarch as a term for the inside of a loaf of bread, used by Greeks as a kind of napkin for their hands, which they then threw to the dogs; hence, “dog’s meat”.

j: Comes from the Aramaic ܡܓܕܐ ܐܠܗܬܐ (maqd’ alaht’a; “precious to the Goddess” or “gift of/to the Goddess”), which is very close to the Aramaic original of the cognomen “Magdalene”, ܡܓܕܠܝܬܐ (magdalayta).

k: Comes originally from μάγος δαλος (a magic torch or lamp or thunderbolt), which would have been contracted to μάγα-δαλος and then to μαγδαλος. Many oil lamps from the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim and Samaritan synagogues in the region have been found. They were probably used ceremonially, perhaps tended by priestesses, and are customarily decorated with spiritual imagery. One common motif is a ladder; this was probably a representation of Jacob’s ladder, since the Samaritans believed and still believe that Bethel, where Jacob had his famous dream (Genesis 28:12-15) was on Mount Gerizim (A Companion to Samaritan Studies, by Alan David Crown, Reinhard Pummer, and Abraham Tal).

l: Comes from “Magdalu in Egypt”, as it is called in the letters of Šuta in the 1340s B.C.E. On the northeastern frontier of Egypt, this ancient town was near the last encampment of the Israelites before they crossed the Reed Sea during the Exodus. The name probably comes from גָּדַל (gadal), meaning “to increase in size or importance”. Jeremiah 44:1 says Migdol (as he and Ezekiel call it) and other nearby Egyptian communities had significant colonies of Diaspora Jews. These Jews worshipped at a temple in Elephantine built on the same scale as the one in Jerusalem; James D. Purvis and Eric Meyers say scholars generally agree that the cultus at Elephantine was a mix of Yahwistic and Canaanite ways, and (as strongly suggested by the Elephantine Papyrii) heavily influenced by Egyptian religion. Indeed, Jeremiah 44 describes the cultus at Migdol in some detail, including worship of “the Queen of Heaven”. This temple was destroyed by the Egyptians in 410 B.C.E., but another was built by Onias IV in the first century B.C.E. in Leontopolis, near Magdalu, after Judah Maccabee denied him the high priesthood in Jerusalem. Some classical Jewish literature, such as the Yuhasin, associates it with the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim. What makes the possibility interesting that Jesus and/or Mary were at one time connected with it is the number of passages in this gospel, especially the resurrection, that suggest they were both more than passingly familiar with the Egyptian language.

m: Comes from the Aramaic ܝܘܢܐ ܡܓܕܠܝ (magdal’ yawna; “dove tower”). Ancient columbaria, also called dovecotes in English, have been found throughout the Levant, and indeed the entire Mediterranean region; they were known in Greek as περιστερεῶνα (peristereōna). For Jews and Samaritans they would provide not only food and crop fertilizer, but Temple sacrifices, as required in the Torah. Sometimes they were made in caves, but, where caves were not available towers were constructed: at the famous Masada site, for instance, three towers served as columbaria. There had to be columbaria in Mary’s day atop Mount Gerizim to provide sacrificial birds as well as to feed the priests, priestesses, and staff. Mary may have had duties associated with the columbaria. This explanation would also amplify the theory outlined that the “dove” at Jesus’s baptism was Mary.

n: Comes from the Aramaic ܢܐ ܕܘܠܐ ܡܓܕܗ (magdh-dawla-na). The first two words mean “to draw-up-to-oneself a-bucket-of-water”, and the imperative/cohortative suffix ܢܐ (na) signifies that this request for a bucket of water is deeply yearning and implored for). This would have contracted to ܕܘܠܐ ܢܐ ܡܓ (mag-dawla-na), and the accent would fall on –la, giving just about exactly the sound of μαγδαληνη (magdalēnē), her cognomen in the Greek text; it is not quite as close to ܡܰܓ݂ܕ݁ܠܳܝܬ݁ܳܐ (magdalata), her cognomen in the Aramaic text of the Peshitta, though that is probably a transliteration of the Greek. The origin of this cognomen would be the event at the Samaritan spring, wherein Mary, in a memorable statement recorded at John 4:11, suddenly refers not to the spring in front of them but to a well, saying the well is deep and Jesus, unfortunately, doesn’t have a bucket. As noted in the commentary to that verse, she is making an oblique reference to Moses’s first encounter with his wife Zipporah by a well (Exodus 2:16), and to the deep, dry well of her heart.

Option a, the most frequent explanation of Mary’s cognomen, is straightforward, and should be adopted if it can be proven that Mary came from Magdala. But, alas, there is nothing connecting her to that village. Her family home is in Bethany, her father probably originally came from Ramathaim (Arimathea) in Kohath (in northern Judæa just south of Samaria), and she herself had lived in Samaria proper. She wasn’t even a Galilean, let alone a resident of Magdala. Therefore option a is to be rejected.

The pronunciation of the Aramaic word magdala is closer to the text’s Greek version of Mary’s cognomen than the Hebrew migdal, and these were Aramaic speakers, so option b is rejected.

Option d is also rejected; the textual evidence is flimsy, and there is no reason to assume that the Talmudic writers were merely recalling in a subsequent generation how this word was used in the first century: these comments may have been no more than unfounded anti-Christian polemical aspersions, of which in subsequent generations there was quite a bit. They may even have been based on the persistent later Christian legend that described Mary Magdalene as a repentant prostitute.

Option i is rejected too, lacking a solid rationale for adoption.

Options e, f, and h, and probably c and g as well, are Biblical in origin. All of these except h could refer to the Song of Songs; e comes indirectly and h directly from the story of Jacob and Rachel in Genesis, with whom the gospel often implicitly associates Jesus and Mary. Options c, e, h, and m all suggest a watchtower, with c carrying the indirect meaning of “elegant” or “great”, and e referring to the Shulammite’s dance.

Option f is a fascinating but unlikely possibility, and options e and h are logical but abstruse, therefore weak as explanations for why Mary’s friends and family would call her “Magdalene”. Still, the erudite amanuensis could well have had e and h and especially f in his own mind as he composed the gospel, in particular as he sought appropriate imagery for describing the nearly indescribable scene of Jesus’s resurrection. In the process of borrowing Song of Songs 4:15 in his composition of that episode he could well have read mayan gannim, in the same verse, been struck by the phonetic resemblance to Magdalena, and borne in mind a poetic association between the “wellspring of water” (which is what mayan gannim means) and Mary’s overflowing tears.

That leaves either c, g, j, k, l, m, or n as the reason that she was generally known as “Magdalene”. Either c or g or some combination would be a sensible if cautious conclusion, especially if Mary had a beautiful neck or breasts; certainly we learn from 20:17 that she was sexually attractive. Options j, k, l, m, and n are risky conclusions and would have to prove themselves through time and scholarly debate, but the ground has long been prepared for them by such scholars as Raphael Patai (The Hebrew Goddess) and Merlin Stone (When God was a Woman).

I myself lean toward j, m, or n as the best solution. The first two would succinctly denote the fact about Mary that most stood out to those who knew her: her having been a Temple priestess. The third, which is the one that by a hair’s breadth I favor most of all, would directly relate her cognomen to her first encounter with Jesus, amply explaining why it caught on in the Christian community and is well remembered to this day.

Any of these three would also answer a very good point made by Karen L. King (as quoted in “The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus”, by Ariel Sabar,, 18 September 2012). She notes that in the first century “women’s status was determined by the men to whom they were attached,” citing as an example “Mary, Mother of Jesus, Wife of Joseph” (and later, I add, “Wife of Clopas”). If Mary Magdalene had been Jesus’s wife, King insists, she would have been known as that, and the fact that she isn’t King calls the strongest argument against the contention that she was Jesus’s wife. But, if “Magdalene” means “sacred of/to the goddess” or refers to a dove tower on Gerizim, then that was her “marital status” as a priestess in the Samaritan Temple, and she would have been already well known by that cognomen before wedding Jesus. And if her cognomen refers to Jesus going into the well of her spirit and drawing forth water – in short, becoming one with her such that they, together, embody the very image and likeness of Elohim (God understood as comprising male and female as one), returning the state of perfect, androgynous Adam, before the disobedience and before Eve had been removed from his side – then the cognomen does, as King would wish, refer (albeit cryptically) to her marital status. In deed, this gospel strongly suggests that what made Mary so appropriate a spouse to Jesus’s thinking was that she was a κοινωνος, his spiritual equal, and this interpretation of her cognomen emphasizes this central fact about Mary.

All this said, the cognomen “Magdalene” only appears in John twice, in the crucifixion and resurrection episodes. But this is enough to lead many scholars to conclude that she is a different woman from the Mary who lives in Bethany, and whose name is always just Mary, without any cognomen. As discussed in the commentaries to the two episodes where “Magdalene” appears, I believe this cognomen was added therein by the redactor, and that the Beloved Disciple and amanuensis in the original text referred to her as “Mary”, without cognomen. Thus, in this translation, “Magdalene” is excised. My belief is that the eyewitness’s mother told him she wanted no more to be known by a cognomen referring to her time as a priestess.

Her given name, Μαριαμ (Mariam), has two origin explanations: the traditional one and the actual one. Both would have been commonly known to reasonably well-educated Jews in the first century. The actual derivation of her name is from the Egyptian Mari-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the name of Moses’s elder sister, referring to the Egyptian deity who was so pervasive by the time of the Middle Kingdom, in the last centuries B.C.E., that Egypt was essentially monotheistic. (I reject Madan Mohan Shukla’s idea, in an article published by the Oriental Institute at Baroda in 1979, that the name Mari may go back to Sanskrit मातृ [matri; the “t” is very gently pronounced], meaning “wife” and “mother”, which evolved into that English word, as well as the first half of “matrimony”. Shukla’s reference to an Indian goddess named Mari is likelier since she might be etymologically associated with the Egyptian Mari [Beloved].)

The traditional explanation is that it comes from the Hebrew word הרמ (mara, “bitter”), referring to tears; it is the name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13). The traditional name has a deeper root meaning in מָר (mar, “drop”), as in a teardrop, but going even farther back to מֹר (mor, “myrrh”), which is the resin of a thorny tree, harvested by wounding the tree until it bleeds out, drop by drop, its bitter lifeblood, hence the name. Myrrh was associated with death, being an embalming compound. It was also a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud – and thus would then have been very much in the nostrils of Mary and the disciples during the commemoration of Passover at the Temple.

How ironic that, before Jesus’s death, a thorny wreath, very possibly from the myrrh tree, was placed on his head (19:2), and that he was whipped and stabbed like the tree until his blood came forth as does the liquid myrrh (19:1,34). How ironic that after his death Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea prepared his body with myrrh and aloes (19:39-40). How ironic it is that Mary Magdalene, with such a name as that, but recently weeping bitter tears for her son (John 11:31,33), now again had drops of tears falling like drops of myrrh from her eyes for her husband (20:11).

How could a woman so clearly central to Jesus’s life, central enough to grieve for him at the very thought of his impending death (Luke 7:38) and to come by night with spices to anoint his body, only be mentioned at the very end? Without a doubt, she does appear previously in the gospel, and my contention is that Mary Magdalene, Mary “of Bethany”, the unnamed woman in Mark 14, and “the woman at the well” are one and the same.

This perspective is underscored in the noncanonical Gospel of Philip, which calls Mary Jesus’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort), and also lifts up the spiritual eroticism between them, saying for instance that “he used to kiss her often on the mouth”, implying not only romance but the sharing of sacred breath, πνευμα. The recently published Gospel of Jesus’s Wife also appears to back this perspective.

What is more, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs is called (in Song 6:13) the Shulammite. For centuries it has been said that this cognomen deliberately fuses the Hebrew word for peace (shalom) with the cognomen of the Shunammite woman introduced in II Kings 4:8, a wealthy woman who the passages that follow strongly imply was Elisha’s lover despite having a husband, and whose dead son Elisha brought back to life. There are obvious similarities to Mary Magdalene, a wealthy woman (Luke 8:3) who was surely Jesus’s wife, who had previously had “husbands” (John 4:16-18), and who was probably the mother of Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back to life.

This scene with Elisha in its turn bears a strong resemblance to the story (I Kings 17:8-24) of Elijah his teacher. This tale begins with Elijah asking the woman for a drink of water from her water pot (verse 10); she has some shame on her conscience (verse 18). Both of those details mirror the “woman at the well”. And Elijah raises her son from death (verse 22), as Jesus does Mary’s son Lazarus. Again, the similarities between the two lives are striking. Since every detail in this gospel is clearly carefully chosen, these connections to Elijah and Elisha must be taken very seriously, and certainly they draw more sharply the nature of the connection between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

The Mess at the End of the Gospel of John


What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here.

This volume several times discusses the theory that chapter 21 was originally a letter composed by the team of the eyewitness, Lazarus, and the amanuensis, John the Presbyter; verse 24 represents the “signature” of that team. The letter was written to early followers of Jesus, especially and perhaps only to “the brothers”, the other original disciples, specifically those named in verse 2, and certainly most of all Simon the Rock, who the text suggests was the originator of the rumor addressed by the letter. The rumor among those disciples that Lazarus was never (again) going to die a natural death, because Jesus had raised him from the dead, and the letter was written to eradicate it. The letter, as will be discussed below, was in my view this team’s first written opus, and it led them to decide to take up the much larger task of writing a gospel. It is possible that the letter had some limited distribution (perhaps no farther than those fellow original disciples; as discussed below.

The letter apparently was placed by Papias, together with the gospel manuscript, into the hands of Polycarp, whom I believe was the redactor. By the time these two men were involved, decades later, it would strain credulity to believe the letter came to Polycarp by any other means.

I believe that the amanuensis, John the Presbyter, had intended to bring the contents of the letter into the text of the gospel proper, but never got to that task, along with many other refinements of that work, as discussed elsewhere in this book. Thus, when much later the gospel and letter manuscripts came to Polycarp, this task fell to the latter.

The redactor decided, reasonably, to place the general letter which we now know as chapter 21 as an Epilogue at the end of the gospel. But that created two problems in fitting a letter smoothly into the gospel narrative.

I think the redactor solved the one problem, the beginning of the letter, by rewriting it. As a letter, it would have almost certainly had at the beginning some kind of salutation, probably to Lazarus’s fellow disciples, and a statement of purpose, that this letter was written to counteract that rumor about Lazarus’s vaunted mortal life without end. I believe that the redactor had no choice but to remove such a salutation and statement of purpose in order to bring the letter into the gospel text as much as possible, and to write a new first verse to bridge the narrative gap from chapter 20. A careful reading establishes that 21:1 is an obvious composition of the redactor:

First, the opening phrase μετα ταυτα (“After these things”) appears only in the Synoptics; it is not otherwise found in the Gospel of John. The author of the latter would never have been so vague about the passage of time; he was so meticulous about specifically stating the number of days between a given episode and the previous or a high holy day that this translation can include the exact dates as subheadings.

Second, the verb φανεροω (“to reveal oneself”, “to appear”) is again a Synoptic word; it does not appear in any of Jesus’s three meetings in John 20, but it is the verb of choice most interestingly in Mark 16:12 and 14, the so-called “Longer Ending” of the gospel, which was evidently added to Mark, very early versions of which apparently had no resurrection appearance – and I strongly suspect this “Longer Ending” also to be the work of the redactor of the Gospel of John, Polycarp, accomplished mainly by summarizing the Lukan accounts.

Third, the lake is called the Sea of Tiberias. This designation otherwise appears only once in this gospel, at 6:1, where, strangely, it is conjoined to the older name, the Sea of Galilee. As noted in the commentary to 6:1, the name “Sea of Tiberias” only grew common later than Jesus’s lifetime, as Rome strengthened its grip on the region and its imperial designations for major locations took hold. I concluded at 6:1 that this was an addition of the redactor for the sake of readers who, in the second century, might not have been familiar with the lake’s older name. I conclude the same thing again here.

Since the conclusion is therefore inevitable that this verse was composed by the redactor, in my restoration of the original gospel it was relegated to the Appendix, as was done with all other such verses. However, that created a problem. I did fill in a very few obvious lacunæ elsewhere in the text, where the very short missing phrases were obvious. But to reconstruct the greeting and statement of purpose from a disciple to his close personal friends, his “brothers”, that I believe opened the original letter would be much more than the mere minor repair of those small gaps elsewhere; it would go too far into outright creativity. Further, such a reconstructed beginning of the letter would interrupt the flow of the tale of Jesus’s post-resurrection meetings. Thus I decided the best solution was simply to leave the gap as it is, and let the reader accept the difficulties of the manuscript as something that cannot be at this late date satisfactorily overcome.

The other problem for the redactor in fitting the letter into the gospel was that the conclusion of the letter was not sufficiently sweeping and eloquent for the very last verse of the gospel – in fact, the end of chapter 20 was everything the end of 21 was not.

Some early manuscripts lack verse 21:25, which suggests that it was not a part of the original manuscript, at least not at the end of chapter 21. If chapter 21 was, as I theorize, written before the gospel (likely before even the idea of writing this gospel was under serious consideration), as a general letter, simply to explain the facts regarding Jesus’s rumored promise that Lazarus would never die, then this verse does not fit, since it presumes chapter 21 is located at the end of the entire gospel. The verse doesn’t fit thematically either, as discussed below.

It could be that the verse does not appear in some early gospel manuscripts because chapter 21 had some limited circulation as a letter, and those manuscripts adhered to that original form. If added later, the verse would have to have been added by the redactor to create a fitting conclusion for the gospel along the lines of the Envoi in 20:30-31. Verse 21:24 is a sufficient conclusion for chapter 21 as a separate work, a general letter, being the “signature” of the eyewitness, “who bears witness concerning all this” and of the amanuensis, “who has written these things”. It is not, however, a fitting conclusion for this great masterwork, the entire gospel. Yes, over the centuries the “all this” and “these things” have been usually considered to refer to the entire gospel, but a careful reading concludes that they refer specifically and only to the episode described in the general letter that became chapter 21 – and thus, the redactor properly felt the need for a more fittingly glorious conclusion here.

In bringing the letter into the gospel, I think the redactor faced a choice as regards its ending: he could have a: simply moved the Envoi at the end of 20 (as originally written; see below) to the end of 21, or b: written his own new conclusion to 21, but he decided instead c: to “stretch” the available material by the original author: to take just a part of the conclusion of 20, leaving the rest of it where he found it, and then to construct from it a second Envoi to go at the end of chapter 21, as much as possible using the original author’s words in both places.

The main supporting clue for this theory is the very similar phraseology throughout 20:30-31 and 21:24-25. All four verses stress the verb γραφω, “to write”. Verses 20:30 and 21:25 both have, with only slight differences in the Greek, the phrase και πολλα αλλα [σημεια] εποιησεν ο ιεσους (“also many other [signs] that Jesus did”), with the minor variations easily accounted for as conscious efforts by the redactor to vary the double-use of the same text, in order to avoid any obvious signs of verbatim copying. The sole exception to the consistency is not in wording but in topic; 21:24 is a certification that the events described in chapter 21 are true, and verse 25 switches abruptly to saying Jesus did so many signs that the cosmos could not contain all the descriptions of them. From these clues I conclude that Polycarp took part of the original 20:30 and worked it up to create 21:25, leaving at the end of 20 only part of the original 20:30, with 20:31 (assuming it is original) following immediately.

We can be sure that all of this material with the exception of 20:31 (discussed below) is genuine, first because it has a logical, integral flow, in the amanuensis’s familiar style, that leads inevitably from “Jesus did many other signs not written in this book” to its finish, that the world could not contain the books that could be written describing those other signs; and second, because it is a final recapitulation of the theology stressed throughout the gospel by its original author: that, as is Borges’s aleph, this gospel is a universal, a finite thing that contains all things in microcosm. Like a circle it appears finite from without, but from within it reveals its nature as infinite. The cosmos, the book says, could not contain all the books that would have to be written to describe all the signs (σημεια) that Jesus did, so this book, with the seven signs it describes (seven being a number that, as in John the Presbyter’s Revelation) symbolizes completeness, is by implication itself larger than the cosmos: and indeed it is, for as the gospel theology repeatedly states, it is a guide for finding our way out of the cosmos and into the Æon. And, as discussed in the Introduction, this gospel was written after Jesus was no longer on the earth, such that the message, as he so eloquently delivered it, might keep on being delivered. Therefore this gospel is in a way a living thing, his continued presence on earth, one that embraces all things within it. Thus it is confirmed that this gospel is the Paraclete.

The author was likely thinking, when composing verse 21:25b, of Ecclesiastes 12:12, which similarly introduces the conclusion of that work: “There is no end to the making of books,” it says, embracing infinity, “and”, it adds in an image that calls to mind Borges’s Library of Babel, “much interest in them is tiring to the flesh.” Indeed, the envoi of Ecclesiastes has more thematic closeness with this gospel than does John 20:31, since it describes its author’s efforts to search for proverbs (like 21:24, the amanuensis seeking the teachings of Jesus from the eyewitness) and put in the correct order (which the reader will remember John the Presbyter criticized John Mark for failing to do in the Gospel of Mark, his arrangement of Simon the Rock’s reminiscences) the words of truth (this gospel often stresses truth in relation to the Λογος, and certifies itself several times as true, 21:24 being an example at hand) given by “one shepherd” (a significant image in John 10) to “my son” (and this gospel has God giving the truth to Jesus as his son, and Jesus memorably adopts the eyewitness, Lazarus, as his own son at the crucifixion).

Verse 20:31 clearly picks up on the conversation with Thomas about believing (20:27-29), so I conclude that it is genuine; however, it feels not quite complete. Where, one wonders, is the core point of the Gospel of John’s theology, which one would reasonably expect the author to state at the very end (discounting the Epilogue) of this great work? That core point is that Jesus was sent by God to urge humanity to live in accordance with the Λογος, God’s plan for the universe, and thus become worthy to live in the Æon. The expectation of this core point is intensified because, as noted, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes (12:13-14), which immediately follows 12:12, the verse alluded to in John 21:25b, is closer to that core point than is John 20:31. It is possible that a continuation of 20:31 was contemplated but unwritten, or written but lost like many other verses in the years of the original manuscript’s peregrinations (the outer page of a codex is especially vulnerable to loss), or, far less likely, excised by the redactor, though he let other such statements remain in his revised gospel. However that central theology is restored if this reconstructed original follows one early manuscript, 01, which includes the word αιωνιον (Æonian), a word we associate with the author of the gospel, and not the redactor.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said of the Paraclete (Advocate) that “it will bear witness concerning me” (15:26) and “will teach you all things and will remind you of all the things that I said to you” (14:26). Here in 20:31, the gospel writer tells us that this work was written “so you might believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, the son of God, and that, by believing, you might have life in his name.” We are being emphatically told here that the gospel is that Paraclete. The gospel’s message here is that the gospel is the message.

Christian Wars in Southern France

Local legends have Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus living their last years in southern France. They may sound like mere fanciful tales at first glance, but the brutal massacres by Roman Catholic forces of the Cathars – a movement with a theology eerily like that in the restored original Gospel of John – lend considerable weight to the possibility that these legends are true. What follows is a addition to the commentary section of The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion. You will find ordering information here.

There is nothing in either the New Testament about the rest of Lazarus’s life, or in the writings of early Christian leaders. Many romantic legends developed in time, including one that I love which (with some variations) has Mary, Martha, and Lazarus put to sea in a boat without sails, oars, or helm by Jews hostile to the Christians, and managing by a miracle to land safely at Les-Saintes-Maries-de- la-Mer, which I have visited, a lovely seacoast village in the Camargues. Soon thereafter, they say in that region, he was made the first bishop of Marseilles.

Romantic, but possible. Val Wineyard notes that Sejanus, de facto emperor in Tiberius’s madness, and the father of Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula, owned an estate in the Corbières, near Narbonne, in Gaul (France). Wineyard quotes French scholar André Douzet as theorizing that Pilate advised Jesus to flee to this estate and restore his health in the curative baths at Rennes-les-Bains, as had Claudia’s grandfather, Emperor Augustus, another “son of god” (but in his case the “god” was Julius Cæsar). If Jesus’s father was indeed Pantera (see pages 306-07), I add that he may have been motivated to go there and meet the soldier, stationed at the time farther inland, in what is now Germany. Wineyard also refers to local legend as saying Jesus was buried in a hidden cave about a kilometer outside the current-day hamlet of Saint-Salvayre, close to Rennes-les-Bains. She refers to another local legend that says Sergius Paulus (Acts 13) came the Narbonne region in the 50s C.E. and preached the teachings of Jesus, and even married Mary after Jesus’s death. It is thus possible that what I myself heard in Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is right, and that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus disembarked there. (Curiously, according to Eusebius, Pontius Pilate himself was exiled to the same region, perhaps to the same estate of his father-in-law Sejanus, in around 37 C.E., and committed suicide in Vienne.)

Adding gravity to this possibility of early eyewitnesses to Jesus’s actual teachings, and perhaps even Jesus himself, is the fact of the Cathars. This movement had a theology and practice astonishingly similar to those of the Jerusalemite branch of the earliest followers of Jesus, those who (unlike the Pauline branch that ultimately became dominant) did not turn Jesus into a Roman-style deity. The Cathars avoided as un-Biblical any highly organized religious institution (unlike the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches then solidifying and strengthening their grip on power and wealth) and any dogma or creed as a “test of faith”, as a set of required beliefs; as a result, their own beliefs are rather diffuse. They seemed to be more or less Arian (believing that Jesus was fully human, and appointed by God as “Son of God”, rather than existing through all time as an intrinsic part of God) and Sabellian (that different aspects of the nature of God are more in the eye of the beholder, the believer, and thus are subjective and intuitive, not dogmatic fact). Zoé Oldenbourg has written that the Cathar views on reincarnation, attributed to Jesus, are virtually identical to that found in Buddhism (another curious connection between Jesus and Eastern philosophy). The Cathars abstained from killing, and thus often did not eat meat, and they tended to prefer celibacy.

What is particularly interesting in the current discussion is that, while the Cathars were also found in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere, they always had their strongest presence in the same region of southern France where legend has Jesus, Mary, Lazarus, Sergius Paulus, and others spending their last years, and that the faith of the Cathars was eerily similar to that found in this restored original gospel. The Albigensian Crusade and the Inquisition were both intended to root out this major threat to the monopolistic power held by the mafialike bosses of Roman Catholicism. In 1210, Crusaders slaughtered some seven thousand Cathar citizens and their Catholic allies at Béziers; their leader, asked how the soldiers could tell Catholics apart such that they might not be killed, said, chillingly, Caedite eos; novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (“Kill them all; the Lord will recognize his own”). Inquisitional forces burned alive at the last Cathar redoubt, Monségur, about two hundred bonshommes (Cathars who had undergone their only sacrament, Consolamentum [Consolation], and were effectively free from sin), putting an effective end to the movement. Could this have been the final destruction, by those who claimed to venerate Jesus, of a movement actually founded on his original teachings? Scholars like my friend Bertran de la Farge have dedicated their lives to shoring up what little we know about the Cathars.

Credible too is the Eastern Orthodox Church tradition that Lazarus escaped various plots on his life by moving at Barnabas’s suggestion to the latter’s homeland of Cyprus; Barnabas, as noted above, mentored Lazarus’s half-brother John Mark. In Cyprus Laarus was appointed the first bishop of Kition, now called Larnaka. The Orthodox tradition says Lazarus never smiled during the thirty years he lived after his resurrection – perhaps an aftereffect of his death-and-resurrection, perhaps even an effect of the drugs he theoretically took to induce a near-death coma; see the essay on page 547. A tomb discovered in 890 C.E. in Larnaka bears the inscription “Lazarus the Friend of Christ”. The sarcophagus reportedly is still displayed, though Lazarus’s actual remains were brought to Constantinople in 898. But then Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople in 1204 and, it is said, took the precious relics to Marseilles; who knows, perhaps this was because he, his mother Mary, and Jesus had previously spent time there and the French considered him an adoptive son.

Mary Magdalene’s Later Life

What happened to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection? At first glance, it appears there is nothing more said about her in the New Testament — but the facts suggest otherwise. This blog entry discusses passages in the Bible that may shed light on what the rest of Mary’s life was like. This is a revision of a section of the introduction to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion. You will find ordering information here.


It is often averred that we know next to nothing about Mary’s life after the resurrection. This, I believe, is not quite true. Acts 12:13-16 has Mary as evidently still living in the family compound in Bethany; she has now given birth to John Mark, her son by Jesus. While Acts, which dates from the early second century, is none too reliable, the events in chapter 12 appear to take place about two years after the resurrection.

I think she appears several times in the Revelation, albeit wrapped in symbols; first in chapter 12, where she is naked (“clothed with the sun”) as she was at Jesus’s baptism and resurrection, and pregnant, as she was at the resurrection. She gives birth to a son who “rules with a rod of iron”; the complex symbology is mostly based on Psalm 2. John Mark, her son by Jesus, founded the church in Alexandria in 49 C.E., according to the Coptic Christians. But this child is killed (Revelation 12:5), just as John Mark was reportedly executed by the Romans in either 62 or 68 C.E., and the woman flees into the wilderness, there to be nourished as was Elijah.

I believe that it is Mary mentioned as the Bride in Revelation 19:7-8, clothed in βυσσινος (from βυσσος), which is the term for strips of linen used to bury the dead (basically synonymous with οθονιον in John 20). The Bride makes another appearance in the poetic imagery of 21:2.

I find another possible clue in the second letter of John the Presbyter. It is almost universally believed that “the elect lady” to whom he addresses it is the growing community of followers of Jesus, or one of its local congregations. However I read the letter as addressed to Jesus’s wife, Mary, whom John the Presbyter must have come to know well during the process of writing the Gospel of John. In Greek he begins by greeting εκλεκτη κυρια και τοις τεκνοις αυτης. The first word means “chosen” and the second word is the female equivalent to κυριος, the Greek word used to render the Aramaic ܡܪܐ (mari); it means “lord”, “master”, or “husband”. Since the latter (in the Greek New Testament and the Peshitta, the Aramaic New Testament) is how Jesus is addressed, this would well apply to his chosen “lordess”, his chosen wife. The letter next affirms John’s love for her, and then he assures her that he has observed certain of her children as walking in the truth – likely a reference to John Mark and Lazarus writing the truth in, respectively, the gospels of Mark and John. He says there are things he wishes to speak directly, “mouth to mouth” to her, and not through a letter, and he concludes by passing along to her the love of the children of her “chosen sister”. Assuming Martha, Mary’s sister, is still in Bethany, then this would suggest Mary has moved elsewhere in the world.

Thus I believe both II John and Revelation tell us that Mary went far from her home in Bethany. The first letter of Peter, written from Rome, in which he sends greetings from “she [who is] in Babylon chosen together with Mark my son.” Babylon is always in Jewish writings of the time a euphemism for the city of Rome, and “Mark” refers to John Mark, Jesus’s and Mary’s son, who was working on the Gospel of Mark with Peter as the eyewitness-source; this effort was undertaken in Rome, as John the Presbyter, Papias, and Irenæus all attest. As discussed elsewhere, Simon the Rock appears to have adopted the son of his beloved teacher and half-brother of his dearest friend Lazarus.

We don’t know what she was travelling for. Very probably she went to see her now adult children. Possibly also she met with leaders of the new Christian religion, which had turned her husband into a quasi-Roman godling, but though or perhaps because she was his wife and “merely a woman” she would have been shunted aside and prevented from having any influence, because there was far too much worldly wealth and power in a well-organized religious institution. But she was also certainly travelling abroad for her health.

Indeed, I tentatively conclude that there is sufficient merit in it to take seriously Val Wineyard’s hypothesis. She thinks that Sejanus, de facto emperor in Tiberius’s madness, and the father of Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula, owned an estate in the Corbières, near Narbonne, France. Pilate supposedly advised Jesus to flee to this estate and restore his health in the curative baths at Rennes-les-Bains, as did Claudia’s grandfather, Emperor Augustus, another “son of god” (but in his case the “god” was Julius Cæsar). She and her companions would have disembarked at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which I have visited, and which has a strong local tradition to this effect. Wineyard also refers to another local legend that says Jesus was buried in a hidden cave about a kilometer outside the current-day hamlet of Saint-Salvayre, close to Rennes-les-Bains.

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 Tears of Myrrh, the Roman Son of God

This is the second of two blogs about the real meaning of the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Both come from 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 forthcoming book will include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

18:38-40 – Pilate, after this first conversation with Jesus, does not wish to execute him. As noted elsewhere in this book he has never had any problem ruthlessly using brutal force to maintain a fierce control over this volatile Roman province – but here is someone different, a man who is clearly no threat, a man in whom Pilate is sure he could find a great deal of wisdom: another Socrates, even, combined with a worker of miracles like those travellers bring back to the Empire from the Asian lands.

And then Pilate comes up with what to him is the perfect solution: he has been boxed by the Sanhedrin, who have with loud meekness proclaimed that only he, and not they, can execute convicts. But he can offer to release this Jesus to them, and, if they refuse his release, they have not technically sentenced him to death, but in point of fact they have, and Pilate is not to blame. In this manner the populace won’t be stirred up against Rome, the Sanhedrin is mollified, and the only unfortunate thing is that this Jesus must die.

So Pilate offers to the crowd a choice between the father and the stepson, both of whom have called themselves Barabbas, Son of the Father, both of whom have stirred up a great deal of potential among the people of Judæa – the father by his many miracles, the most dramatic of which was raising this handsome young man his son from the dead. As a result, the crowds have so idolized them both it would be hard to say which they prefer.

So Pilate puts it to the to the Sanhedrin leaders – and that may be his error, for these religious leaders are not the crowd, and, though they want Lazarus out of the way too (12:10-11), they are even more determined to see Jesus dead (11:50-53).

Lazarus’s legal state is unstated in the text (because of the Beloved Disciple’s usual reticence to say more than is absolutely necessary about himself) but still reasonably clear. The Sanhedrin wants him dead, and he has surely been avoiding arrest by the Temple police through the simple expedient of avoiding the Temple, since the police had little authority outside the Temple complex. Thus, Lazarus was able to attend the Last Supper. But, when the Temple police perhaps unexpectedly accompanied the Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus in the garden, Lazarus may have been apprehended as well, or at least (in modern parlance) “brought along for questioning”. If not in the garden, then certainly Lazarus was detained in the precincts of Annas and Caiaphas. Either way, it may be that Lazarus stayed with Jesus not through courage but because he was in custody. The text tells us that he was known by the high priest (probably Annas, possibly Caiaphas or both), which would have been because his maternal family was very highly regarded; note how they came out to console Mary after Lazarus’s death (11:31,45); because of this and his youth, he would have been rather more gently than Jesus, and probably with some kindliness, hence his ability to get Rocky Simon let through the gate (18:16). He was probably sent in by the high priests and Pharisees at the same time as Jesus so both could be tried before Pilate; they probably wanted to persuade Pilate to give both of them a sentence of death. Without this explanation there is no logical explanation how Pilate would allow this young man to witness these closed-door proceedings with Jesus. Lazarus was being tried as well, but a good thing for our sake is that he was there to witness and later remember vividly in some detail (from 18:29 to 19:16) the entire proceedings within the prætorium. By contrast, the only other eyewitness gospel, Mark, recounts the private interview in just four verses (Mark 15:2-5), a summary that Lazarus probably gave to him later on.

Lazarus must have had all along the nickname Barabbas. It means “Son of the Father”, and certainly refers to his being born to a Samaritan Temple priestess: if she got pregnant in the course of her service in the Temple, the child would be considered to be sired by God, that is, the Father. The name in Aramaic is actually “Baraba” (באראבא with Hebrew letters and ܒ݂ܰܐܪ‌ܐܰܒ݁ܰܐ in Syriac; though the alpha in the first syllable is superfluous it brings out the sacred meaning), and it is rich in the sacred significance discussed at length in the commentary to 14:2. The comment that Barabbas was an insurrectionist makes no sense at all in comparison to what the gospel tells us: Barabbas, Lazarus, was sentenced to death for the reason stated in 12:10-11. This must be an interpolation of the redactor to “explain” this otherwise unmentioned Barabbas. Very likely the redactor had taken out a sentence that gave a correct explanation of who Barabbas was that ran afoul of the later Christian dogma.

19:1-4 – It might seem to the reader that the order to flog Jesus doesn’t fit with the context, in which Pilate repeatedly declares him innocent and expresses an understanding and even intellectual kinship with him. A careful reading of the text reveals that Pilate is hoping rather that the pain might persuade Jesus to “see reason” and retreat from his desire to be executed, or that a flogging might either satisfy these Jewish leaders calling for his execution. Indeed, Pilate shows Jesus to these Sanhedrin leaders and says, “Look at the man!”, in other words, “See him tortured; he’s only a man; he bleeds; surely this is sufficient to satisfy you!”

19:2 – Paul was himself subjected to this kind of institutionalized torture of suspects (cf. e.g. II Corinthians 11:23-25), so it appears to have been rather common. The unusual aspect here is the soldiers mockingly acclaiming Jesus as a king.

The “crown of thorns” was likely made from a branch or two of myrrh (a small tree whose bitter resin is used in embalming, perfumery, and incense). There would have been plenty of it available in Jerusalem at this time just before Passover; myrrh was a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud.

This crown of myrrh is ironic, considering myrrh would soon be used to embalm Jesus (19:39 and probably in the hands of Mary, 20:1). The greater irony is that myrrh is collected by wounding the tree until it bleeds, drop by drop, its sap, its lifeblood, as Jesus is here and on the cross wounded to the point of bleeding. What is more, the word מֹר, mor (“myrrh”), is related to מַר, mar (“drop”, referring to the resin), as in a teardrop, and this is the root of the name מרה, Mara ( “bitter”), the name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13) – and it is the name of Mary, who in this gospel weeps bitter tears for the death of her son (11:31,33) and her husband (20:11).

19:6 – Note that “the Pharisees” have disappeared from the narrative. All these shouted demands to execute Jesus are coming only from “the chief priests and the officers”, with the latter comprising both Temple police and Roman soldiers, since the Greek word υπηρεται is used here, which heretofore has designated both groups. The last time the Pharisees are mentioned is at 18:3, and that is literally the last time; the Pharisees are never mentioned again for the remainder of the gospel. In 18:3 we are informed of their tacit support for Jesus’s arrest. But after that he is taken before the former and current high priests, Annas and Joseph ben Caiaphas; the priestly forces evidently have taken charge of Jesus’s prosecution, and the Pharisees have evidently backed away from this increasingly distasteful procedure. Jesus, it must be recalled, had strong connections to the Pharisees: he has friends (e.g., Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) and in-laws (e.g., Simon the Leper) among them, and his education and general philosophy suggest that he was virtually a member of their group himself. Where certainly the gospel portrays occasional Pharisaical antagonism toward Jesus (e.g., 7:32,47-48; 8:13; 9:16), and the Synoptic gospels suggest all but constant Pharisaical antipathy toward Jesus, some of this may have been no more than their love of a good intellectual debate on religious matters (which we see in the Talmud, which at times reads like one of Plato’s dialogues). The priestly class, on the other hand, certainly saw Jesus as more of a direct threat: he has roundly criticized them (e.g., 7:18; 10:12-13) and spoken about the destruction of their precious Temple (2:19), and they fear that his strong statements might yet lead to the Roman military tearing down the Temple (and all of Jerusalem, as eventually happened in 70 C.E.).

19:6-8 – To the Temple priests’ shouted demand that Pilate crucify Jesus Pilate replies by saying they should crucify him themselves, for he finds Jesus innocent of any charge. Pilate, of course, errs in this statement; by the Roman law that he represents these Temple authorities do not have the power to exert capital punishment, neither by their own traditional method, stoning, nor by the Roman method, crucifixion.

The Temple authorities, for their part, are also wrong about their law; there is no law in the Torah forbidding Jews from claiming to be children of God. Scholars point to Leviticus 24:16, which forbids blasphemy. But, as noted in the commentary to John 10:33, the accusation of blasphemy against Jesus and the demand that he be executed for it is a canard. The Talmud clearly declares that: “If a man says to you, ‘I am God,’ he is [merely] a liar; if [he says ‘I am] the son of man,’ people will ultimately [just] laugh at him.” (Tr. Yer. Taan. 65b). And Jesus himself cites Psalm 82:6 at John 10:34, a verse that speaks of the Jewish people as the children of God. (Another of several is found at Psalm 2:6-7.) Caiaphas took a far more reasonable position by saying that if Jesus was indeed Messiah then his death was customary; see the essay on page ____.

But Pilate, ignorant of all but the basic facts about Judaism, does not know this is a canard, and even less knows the idea of a kingly sacrifice raised by Caiaphas. So, faced with these unknowns-to-him, and constantly worried about insurrection, he is filled with dread (φοβέομαι, often mistranslated as “fear”).

This statement of the priests may, however, be more than a canard. These high priests knew the Torah and would be unlikely to cite it incorrectly. However, several times in this episode they are clearly using psychological ploys to goad or entrap Pilate such that he has no choice but to execute Jesus. This could well be another example: it may not be against the Torah to call oneself the son of God, but from a Roman perspective it was a treasonous and heretical statement to make: only the emperor had the right to call himself Divi Filius (“Son of God”). If this is their meaning, then when they say “we have a law” they are identifying themselves as good subjects of Rome and furthermore are saying that Rome has a law to this effect. In verse 11 these priests imply that they are loyal to the emperor and in verse 15 they say “We have no king if not Cæsar!” If here they are referring to Roman, not Jewish, law, then all three of their statements to Pilate are to say he had better not appear less Roman than they.

And this too, the threat that it might get back to Rome that Pilate wasn’t fully loyal to his emperor the Son of God, once again would be calculated to fill him with dread (φοβέομαι).

19:9-11 – Jesus remains silent to the question “Where are you from?”. The text does not say why; it could be the “suffering servant” motif (Isaiah 53:7), but that is relatively unlikely since Jesus otherwise does not hesitate to rely to Pilate’s interrogations. It may be that this was simply the wrong question to ask, an irrelevant question, that Pilate wasn’t in effect “following the script”. And, ultimately, Jesus does answer it in his reference to ανωθεν (“from above”) in verse 11, the same word that appears in the Prologue at 3:31, and in the conversation with Nicodemus at 3:3,7; hence, this forms an inclusio.

Jesus says Pilate would have no power unless it came “from above”, a clear double entendre; Pilate probably first thinks Jesus is referring to the emperor, in behalf of whom he speaks, and then realizes that Jesus is really alluding to God. Both meanings serve to undergird Jesus’s next words of relative exoneration for Pilate: as the representative of the Roman emperor Pilate is constrained to execute Jesus, and he has been ultimately given that power to execute by God. Given the nature of this point, Jesus is also here again urging Pilate to order his execution.

In this verse, as in 14:30, Jesus (or the amanuensis through Jesus’s mouth) is paraphrasing Herakleitos (Logion 114 in Diels-Kranz): τρέφονται γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἀνθρώπειοι νόμοι ὑπὸ ἑνὸς τοῦ θείου· κρατέει γὰρ τοσοῦτον ὁκόσον ἐθέλει καὶ ἐξαρκέει πᾶσι καὶ περιγίνεται (“For all human laws are nourished by the one divine law, which holds sway as far as it wishes, and suffices for all, even to spare”).

Hair, Tears, and Feet – Part I

This is the first part of the draft of commentaries to John 12:1-11, part of my continuing work of restoring the original version of the gospel, from before it was redacted by post-Pauline church leaders to conform it to their new dogma, and translating the gospel afresh from the Greek.

The anointing of Jesus by Mary is a beautifully loving, wifely thing to do. Mark 14:3 says she anointed Jesus’s head with astronomically expensive nard. John says she massaged the nard into his feet, which she then wiped with her hair. Luke has her laving Jesus’s feet with her tears and drying them with her hair, and then applying ointment. The details vary slightly, but in all three cases, the woman undertakes an emotionally complex action:

First, Mary (as she is identified in John) clearly has become estranged from her father Simon (Luke 7:39), and yet she is fulfilling, as an uninvited presence in his house, his responsibility of ritually anointing his guest Jesus’s head (Luke 7:46), which he failed to perform. By this act she is being the good daughter despite her father’s rigidity, seeking to correct not only her own past misdeeds, but her father’s present misdeed; she is displaying love for her father by displaying love for her husband, and a sorrow at the estrangement of father from daughter that desires reconciliation. Simon, however, clearly takes her action as showing him up.

Second, the Markan version has her administering nard to Jesus’s head; if she anointed his hair as well as his feet, this was for classical Jews not just a way to welcome a guest to one’s home, but how a man was sanctified and proclaimed as king or priest. She was signifying what few others understood, even among his disciples, and very few dared to say aloud: that he was Messiah, sent by God to urge humanity to accept the Λογος.

Third, it has been but a few days since Mary endured the grief of her son Lazarus’s death and the overwhelming emotion of his being brought back to life by this man her husband (John 11). Now she is staggering beneath an even heavier burden of grief: the anticipation of her husband’s own death, his imminent execution. It is no wonder that her tears flow copiously enough to bathe his feet.

Fourth, the overwhelming aroma of the nard, the unbinding of her long hair, and the bathing of his feet with her tears are actions intensely intimate, even erotic. Even a man’s feet were in a sense a private, erogenous zone; throughout the Tanakh, for instance repeatedly in the book of Ruth, “feet” serves as a euphemism for the male genitalia. Though Mary was anointing Jesus’s feet in a literal sense (not his genitalia), Jesus and Mary, and the others at this dinner, would have been subconsciously aware of this connection, and the implied eroticism of this scene. And it would likewise occur to any first-century Jewish reader of this passage.

Therefore, this was not a simple act of veneration of her rabbi by a disciple, nor was it that of a penitent grateful for his forgiveness, though certainly she was grateful for it (Luke 7:47). This was the act of a loving, dutiful, already mourning wife (John 12:7). In those days, a Jewish woman’s hair was considered as personal and erotically charged as her private parts; therefore, she could only unbind her hair at home in strict privacy, or at most in the presence of her closest female relations, or her closest male relations under strictures of propriety, and/or her husband (Sus 32 [Theodotion], m. Ketub. 2:1, 7:4; Avot de R. Natan B 9:25, 42:117; b. Ketub 72a-b). The Biur Halachah, for instance, declares that “the prevailing custom in all places is for women to cover their hair even in the privacy of their own homes” and that this “has taken on the full force of Jewish law and is obligatory.” The Græco-Roman style was similarly for a woman to bind up the mass of her hair (in Latin called the tutulus) in a large rectangular kerchief (in Greek the ίματιον, in Latin the palla). Paul in I Corinthians 7:5-15 insists that a woman must have her head covered when praying. It would have been allowed, if unusual, for Mary to unbind her hair in front of close male relatives, and every man mentioned in this scene except Jesus was such a relative: the eyewitness Beloved Disciple, Lazarus, was her son; Simon was her father; and Judas was her brother. (If Rocky Simon [Simon Peter] was also present, as the Gospel of Mark’s vivid account suggests, then he was the husband of her sister, just outside that circle of closest relatives.) The intimacy of bathing with her tears the feet of the central male figure in this tableau, Jesus, and then wiping them with her hair and anointing them with nard, would have been rather beyond the bounds of decency in this period, but Mary, in her agony, didn’t care. She had learned that her husband was going to be condemned very shortly to death, and her passionate sorrow overrode all other compunctions.

The details also delineate for us the emotion of this scene. Mary had to break the long neck of the alabaster (translucent gypsum) jar to pour out the ointment (Mark 14:3), a small act that anticipated the breaking of Jesus’s body on the cross and the pouring out of his blood. Even though there is a lacuna in John 12:7 (see the commentary to that verse), the intent is clear; Mary had been holding this costly nard in reserve, in anticipation of embalming her husband. And costly it is: Judas’s own estimate (12:5) was that it was worth three hundred denarii, nearly a year’s earnings by a typical laborer of the time. The spikenard plant and the ointment rendered from it came from the Himalayan region; scholars are just beginning to take seriously the possibility long suggested that Jesus travelled and studied in Asia in his young adult years (see for example Jesus Lived in India, by Holger Kersten; The Original Jesus, by Elmar Gruber and Holger Kersten; or Jesus in Kashmir, by Suzanne Olsson).

(In reference to the eroticism between Jesus and Mary, John Mark was likely conceived around this time, since there does not seem to be another likely period earlier when he and Mary could have done so, while travelling on the road with the disciples. And after the resurrection/hierogamy and before Jesus’s eventual death he was probably not in good physical condition, considering the horrible torture his body, especially his heart, had undergone. Therefore, she was very likely pregnant this night and at the time of the crucifixion and resurrection.)

By Jewish religious law, Mary was also doing the proper thing. Jesus was to die and be entombed just before the beginning of Passover, leaving no time to prepare his body properly, and the Shabbat would come immediately after, during which again none of the traditional anointing of the body could be seen to. By then his body would be starting to decompose, so she chose to “embalm” her husband, at least ritually, beforehand.

In composing this scene the well-read amanuensis certainly had in mind the passage from the Odyssey wherein Penelope wife of Odysseos has Eurykleia bathe her husband’s feet; Eurykleia is weeping all the while. The Odyssey likewise helps shape scenes during the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Hair, Tears, and Feet – Part II

This is the second part of the draft of commentaries to John 12:1-11, part of my continuing work of restoring the original version of the gospel, from before it was redacted by post-Pauline church leaders to conform it to their new dogma, and translating the gospel afresh from the Greek.

The Gospel of John does not fully recount the tensions and confrontations that marred this celebratory dinner. The Gospels of Mark and Luke give us enough details to fill in the rest.

Simon the Leper – Simon must have been away at the country house in Capernaum (Mark 1:29), unaware that Mary and her son Lazarus were staying in his house in Bethany. As noted previously, Mary had probably not been in the house very long, only since about 17 March, less than two weeks before this night of Jesus’s anointing. At the time of the supper Simon had probably just returned, as required by the Torah, to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem. Mary was not at home when her father arrived, very likely to postpone the inevitable confrontation with him. But she obviously had heard of the Sanhedrin’s decision to arrange Jesus’s death – it would have been on everybody’s lips – and decided to face her father’s wrath as the only way to anoint her husband.

Now, Simon had abruptly learned that his daughter, from whom (as the Gospel of Mark suggests) he had estranged himself if he had not entirely disowned her, had been staying in his house in Bethany while he was away from it. What is more, she was cohabitating in his house with the very same man whose words and deeds were threatening to instigate a popular revolution, which would trigger Rome destroying Jerusalem and the Second Temple. And, he had learned, she had married this man without his permission.

Thus it is that he failed to perform the usual duties of a host to a guest, including the ritual washing of Jesus’s feet (Luke 7:44-46). Moreover, Simon provocatively said, if Jesus knew her actual history he wouldn’t let her touch him (Luke 7:39) – that is to say, she was ritually unclean from consorting with Samaritans.

And if indeed Mary had left the Samaritan Temple for good, and perhaps even sought to wash that all away in the baptism of John, then obviously Simon was unimpressed. Others may have forgiven her, but he hadn’t forgiven her for the shame done to the family – more specifically, the risk to his career in business and his reputation among his fellow Pharisees (bear in mind, as discussed elsewhere, that Simon ben Nathanael was a very wealthy businessman who had married into a renowned Pharasaical family and only become a rabbi recently, mainly to please his in-laws). He didn’t care that Martha’s husband Simon son of John liked Mary. And the very sight of Lazarus only served to remind him of what she had been doing in the Samaritan Temple. Hence he was surely among those in the Sanhedrin calling for Jesus’s death.

Finally, Simon was being shown up by the same daughter whom he had so piously rejected; she performed the niceties that Simon as host had failed to offer, and indeed she overcame her “untouchable” status (Luke 7:39) to do so.

Judas – The Gospel of John tells us (12:4-5) that Judas criticized Jesus and Mary for, as he saw it, wasting the ointment. Judas was clearly a businessman (he probably worked with his father), so he knew very well the value of the nard. Judas was also probably trying to impress his father by being the little bully who kicks the helpless victim whom the big bully has already taken down.

Judas probably thought Jesus had betrayed his values, that he was being inconsistent or even hypocritical, by accepting this rich gift (and, if I have reconstructed the original text correctly, given it to Mary in the first place) instead of selling it to aid the poor. Within his mind, he decided, “So we will not always have you with us? So you want them to kill you? Fine. Then I will go and make the arrangements.” Judas knew that Jesus wanted to die. He knew that his father hated Jesus. He knew that Caiaphas saw Jesus’s death as the only viable means of avoiding a disastrous confrontation with Rome. Thus Judas decided his best course was to do what everybody wanted (except his sister, but no matter since he and their father had just attacked her); at some time between this private dinner and the Last Supper he was to go to the leaders of the Sanhedrin to make the arrangements for handing Jesus over to their custody.

Without doubt, Simon supported Judas in this decision, and may have made the arrangements to bring Judas before the right people. So angry were they (and so concerned about their appearance before their peers) that they would rather arrange the arrest of their son-in-law than suffer his presence. The Song of Songs was clearly never far from the mind of the amanuensis, and Song 1:6 may have been in his thoughts when writing this scene.

Martha – Through all these confrontations, Mary cowered close to Jesus for his protection, “sitting at his feet” (Luke 10:39). He stoutly defended his wife from Simon (Luke 7:40-48), though that elicited further criticism (Luke 7:49). And he defended Mary from her brother Judas (John 12:7-8), quite properly quoting in return Deuteronomy 15:11, from the same passage that Judas had just quoted.

Martha her sister was probably still feeling the effects of a tongue-lashing from Simon their father, since it would have been Martha who had approved Mary’s request that she and Lazarus stay in this house. And, meanwhile, she was overwhelmed with the preparation of this meal to honor her sister’s husband, and yet her sister was not helping (Luke 10:40a); rather, cowering at her husband’s feet (Luke 10:39). So, in classic misdirected anger, Martha vented her anger not at Simon but at Mary (Luke 10:40b). Jesus had to defend Mary yet again (Luke 10:41-42), by saying she “has chosen the better part”; in modern parlance, the better part of valor: that is to say, she had chosen not to argue but to stay close to Jesus for his husbandly protection, “which will not be taken away from her”. And no doubt again the refusal to argue – while it was the proper course to take – would come across to these bickering relatives as Mary once again trying to show them up.

Despite the rather deep conversation she had with Jesus at 11:21-27 and 39-40, Martha now entirely disappears from all the New Testament texts, strongly suggesting she took the side of her father and brother against Jesus and Mary. She (with any other sisters or sisters-in-law Mary might have had) would have been the natural one to watch at the cross with Mary, and to go with Mary after Passover to anoint Jesus’s body, and so her absence from both scenes is glaring.

Only Jesus and Lazarus (and Peter, if he attended the meal as Martha’s husband) weren’t incensed with Mary. And Jesus, at least, was no doubt defending his wife in a strident, even stentorian manner. Thus what was supposed to be a joyful event, a celebratory dinner, had become engulfed in family strife (Proverbs 15:17). And then, to make things even more tense, those inside the house learned that there were crowds outside the gate of the family compound (see the mentioning of the gate in Acts 12:13-16) who wanted to see the resurrected Lazarus (John 12:9).

Logion 101 of the Gospel of Thomas, to which the beginning of the fragment of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is very similar, says, “Anyone who does not hate his father and his mother as I do cannot be my disciple. And whoever does [not] love his father and his mother as I do cannot be my [disciple]. For my mother [gave me death], but [my] true [mother] gave me life.” Jesus said similar things in the canonical gospels, for instance at Matthew 10:34-37. In saying such things Jesus may well have had in mind the clear strain between Mary and her family, and as well the signs of strain between Jesus and his family (e.g., Mark 3:31-35).

So radical is the split in Mary’s family that the Last Supper, no doubt planned for Simon’s house in Bethany, had to be quickly arranged elsewhere. Jesus evidently made those arrangements (Mary may have helped, since she, as the “local girl”, would have known people in Bethany), and instructed the disciples accordingly (Mark 14:12-16). And Jesus’s female relatives graciously took over Mary’s family’s responsibilities (e.g., his own aunts went with his mother and wife to the cross and tomb). This, in effect, adds to the “showing up” of the family of Simon the Leper.