The Beloved Disciple was Female!

Two Unnamed Disciples Named –

and the Beloved One is a Woman!


A Look at John 21:2 and 24 in Greek and Aramaic


James David Audlin


The following text comprises material from The Works of John Restored and Translated, published by Editores Volcán Barú, copyright © 2014, 2015 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.


The two unnamed disciples in John 21:2 might be Andrew and Levi son of Hilphai; the only extant fragment we have of the Gospel of Peter breaks off with a reference to this fishing episode, and it mentions Peter, Andrew, and Levi as taking part. One of them could also be Philip, who like Andrew is mentioned in the gospel proper. But arguing against this view is the fact that Andrew at least and probably Philip too were associated with John the Presbyter (The Gospel of John, page 234), as surely were others as well who would have remembered who the unnamed two were, whom he could have asked to fill in any gaps in memory (his or Mary’s) on this point.

To arrive at the best understanding of these two unnamed disciples it is essential to recall the point that this letter was written to set the record straight as to what happened on that fateful morning; thus it would hardly begin by conceding faulty memory! And so I think the two disciples are identified, but rather than here they are identified in the last verse, which is an example of the Presbyter’s inclusio technique, since it also speaks of two disciples: one who “bears witness” as to what happened that day and one who has written it down. The first is of course the Beloved Disciple, who is being counted among the seven disciples present in this scene: she being on shore with Jesus, and the other six in the boat. The other can only be John himself, the Presbyter-to-be, having left the Temple priesthood to join this little band of Jesus followers. That the other, John, “knows that her (Mary’s) testimony is true” tells us that he was there with the disciples that morning, whether or not he was privy to the private conversation. The use of inclusio in the Gospel of John is so prominent that its appearance here also serves to confirm the authorship of the Presbyter.

In verse 21:24 we find both individuals responsible for this letter have in effect “signed their names” to it. The grammar in the Greek version is rather confusing, while the Aramaic is not; this is rather obviously because the scribe who translated the latter into the former made a mistake. To make the mistake clear first we must discuss the Aramaic.

The Codex Syriac Sinaiticus begins with ܗܢܘ ܬܠܡܝܕܐ, which grammatically can be understood as being in the singular (“This is the disciple”) or the plural (“These are the disciples”), depending on the context. In this case it should be taken as plural, and here are two reasons.

First, it serves as a classic example of inclusio, or A-B-A symmetry. Throughout his writings John the Presbyter makes great use of this literary technique, in which elements from the beginning of a work are reinvoked at its end – this technique is of course a most prominent feature in the gospel. The beginning of this letter mentions “two others of his disciples” as participating in this seaside event, and here at the end they are mentioned again. They are specifically named neither in 21:2 nor here, but presumably the letter’s salutation, which as explained above was no doubt lopped off when the letter was grafted into the gospel, provided the two names: Mary and John. Thus the “These” here refers not only to 21:2 but surely also to the missing salutation, to confirm that the unnamed disciples are specifically Mary and John.

Second, it creates A-B-B-A symmetry within this verse: it provides the necessary antecedent plural to which the phrase later in the verse, ܘܝܕܥܝܢ ܐܢܚܢܢ (“we know…”), refers. These plural phrases, “These are…” and “we know…”, frame the two phrases between them, which delineate singly the disciples who make up that plural: the one who gave the testimony and the one who wrote it down. After the “we know” the sentence concludes with a second reference to the first, testifying disciple, giving the sentence an overall A-B-B-A-B structure.

The first disciple is witness to the events described, the Beloved Disciple about whom Jesus and Simon have just spoken in the preceding verses. The Beloved Disciple, of course, is Mary, as is firmly established in The Gospel of John. The Aramaic of this verse confirms that it is Mary with the personal pronoun in the last phrase, the one that refers back to the disciple who gives the testimony, whom we know to be the Beloved Disciple. That pronoun is ܗܝ (). Even though it is pronounced like the English “he”, it means “she”. Indeed, though the Peshitta, a later Syriac Aramaic version to some degree edited to conform to the by-then-standard Greek text, contains some minor variations in wording that do not affect the meaning of the verse in the least, it too has the ܗܝ (“she”) very much in evidence. (Note that this “she” functions in this context as a possessive: in English, “her”.)

Thus, despite the masculine nouns that usually would have prompted the author to use a masculine pronoun for this disciple, ܗܘ (hw), he uses ܗܝ (). The effect is to emphasize not the role (disciple) but the person: he wants us to know not just that this is a woman but a particular woman. And, whether or not the missing letter introduction mentioned her by name, as I said a few pages ago only one woman in the story of Jesus is so central that she does not need to be named by name: Mary.

A correspondent hoping to defend the dogma that the Beloved Disciple is male insisted to me that the feminine pronoun here agrees with the feminine noun ܣܗܕܘܬܗ at the end of the verse. They interpret this word as “witness”, in the sense of “a person who gives testimony”, and then say the feminine pronoun ܗܝ referring to the disciple is agreeing in gender with the feminine noun. However, ܣܗܕܘܬܗ really refers to the testimony itself, and so it cannot modify the pronoun pointing to the disciple. Besides, there is a related but different noun, ܣܗܕܐ, which does mean “a person who gives testimony”, i.e., a “witness” in the sense of a person, but this word is masculine, and so, if it had been written here, it could never change the masculine pronoun for a male disciple to a feminine pronoun. We must conclude that the pronoun ܗܝ refers to the disciple, and the noun ܣܗܕܘܬܗ refers to the testimony given by that disciple, that they are only coincidentally both feminine, and that one does not modify the other. Indeed, this “she”, despite the masculine nouns, serves to emphasize this disciple’s identity as Mary.

Thus the phrase describing the first disciple as the one “who has witnessed to all this” is in effect Mary the Beloved Disciple’s signature to this letter. The second phrase, “…and also (the one who) has written (about all this)”, is likewise the signature of John the Presbyter.

Why these signatures? And why do they then provide a joint affidavit of truthfulness, “We (both) know that she is truthful, the one who gives witness.”? The Gospel of John contains references, such as at 8:13, to the requirement of at least two witnesses in the laws of the Torah (e.g., Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15), and any first-century Jew reading this affidavit in which Mary and John present themselves as the two witnesses would instantly have recalled that requirement. Indeed, the gospel would later be given not one but seven certifications of verity similar to this one, further demonstrating the Presbyter’s determination to prove by Torah-based law to his fellow Jews that these writings contain the truth.

These two phrases also give us a picture of the working relationship between the two, as discussed in the Introduction: Mary recalling aloud in detail the events, and John taking notes later to develop into a finished work. The final phrase has the two of them join in an affidavit of veracity: “We (both) know…”, confirming that they worked together on this letter.

As noted, the first delineating phrase in Aramaic, ܗܢܘ ܬܠܡܝܕܐ, can be understood as being in the singular (“This is the disciple”) or the plural (“These are the disciples”). I think I have made a good case for the latter. However, the Greek translator apparently took this phrase in the singular, as describing one disciple who both gave the testimony and wrote it down: ο μαρτυρων περι τουτων και ο γραψας ταυτα (“the one bearing witness about these things and the one having written these things”). As a result he put the first phrase into Greek as ουτος εστιν ο μαθητης. As a result, the beginning of the last phrase, “We know…”, loses in Greek its antecedent plural noun – a grammatical error frowned upon in Greek (and English) but wholly unacceptable in Aramaic, and yet it remains there for the careful reader to see.

The Greek pronouns in this verse are inspecific as to gender, giving no hint that one of the disciples is female. Indeed, the Greek language of this period had no specifically feminine pronoun that would fit this context, so it had no way to say she has testified true testimony or her testimony is true. Indeed, most likely the scribe who prepared even the first Greek version, being in a later time in which Paul’s asexual Jesus was doctrine, believed (like my interlocutor referred to above) that all of the disciples were men, and would never have even entertained the thought, let alone suggest, that the Beloved Disciple was female.

It is inconceivable, if the Aramaic was originally rendered from a Greek text (which I do not believe was the case), that the translator in that later time would put the Aramaic feminine pronoun in the place of a Greek neuter pronoun. That could only be if he and his community believed the Beloved Disciple was female. That is possible, but unlikely except around Ephesus where John’s teachings survived for a while, but increasingly less likely as over the years the Pauline dogma of a spiritual-bodied sexless Jesus and twelve male disciples took increasing hold.

How then is it that the Aramaic versions state her gender clearly? The philosophical term “elegant” refers to the simplest, likeliest, and most logical solution. And here the most elegant conclusion is that John wrote this letter in Aramaic and he knew the Beloved Disciple to be female. He wrote the gospel itself in Greek, and the early Aramaic versions like the Syriac Sinaiticus and Curetonian are translations into Aramaic but translations from the Syriac Aramaic community in the area of Ephesus, perhaps even prepared with John’s help in his last years. But these versions would not have needed to translate chapter 21 into Aramaic if they had access to the original text as composed by John in that language!

This Aramaic-first explanation is also supported by the thesis expressed in the introduction that John wrote this letter primarily to Simon and his disciples, to counter the rumor he was fostering that Mary was immortal – since Simon’s mother tongue, like John’s, was Aramaic, not Greek.

Given the fact of the Syriac feminine pronoun, I find it astonishing that every major translation of the Syriac Sinaiticus and the Peshitta puts down “he” in the English instead of “she”. This is not just reading what the text clearly says through the soiled and distorting lenses of later dogma, this is irresponsible translating. Most New Testament scholars suffer from what I call græcomyopia litteratus, the inability to take seriously any early text unless it is in Greek, they are unacquainted with the Aramaic language and must rely on these translations. It pains me even more deeply when New Testament scholars who do study the early Aramaic texts are so blinded by the Textus Receptus that they put an obviously feminine pronoun into English and other modern languages with a masculine pronoun. As a result, the fact of this feminine pronoun has not been properly noticed by New Testament scholars, let alone studied, as it should be.




Do Your Homework First!

Do Your Homework First:

An Oft-Stated Scholarly Factoid about John 3:3 is Not True

 James David Audlin


The following text comprises material from the upcoming new edition of The Gospel of  John Restored and Translated, Volume II, as published by Editores Volcán Barú.

Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved.

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

 GOJ-front 2vol II

The Greek word ανωθεν (anōthen) can mean “from above” or “anew”/“again”. The usual scholarly understanding is that while the references to the πνευμα and the חוּר work equally well in both Greek and Hebrew (since both words have the triple meaning of wind/breath/spirit), the double entendre presented by ανωθεν as meaning either “from above” or “again” only exists in Greek, so this passage would suggest that Jesus and Nicodemus held their conversation in that language. The usual interpretation goes on to say that Jesus intended the word to be taken in the former sense, but that Nicodemus misunderstood him to mean the latter sense, as the next verse shows. This standard explanation of the text is correct, so far as it goes. Though, to be sure, as is often noted, certain sects of modern Christianity still misunderstand the word ανωθεν ironically, just as did Nicodemus evidently did – and thus they still promote today a “born again” theology.GOJ-two vol back vol i lulu

However, it is not correct to say that a double entendre is only possible in Greek, as scholars (Bart Ehrman, for instance, in Jesus, Interrupted) often say. The very early Aramaic versions of the gospel (both the Peshitta and the older Syriac Sinaiticus [the text is missing in the Curetonian Gospels]) have Jesus saying one must be born ܡܢ ܕܪܝܫ (men d’riysh) – the first word, of course, means “from”, but the second word, ܪܝܫ (minus the suffix), is slippery in its significations, as is ανωθεν in Greek, but with a somewhat different range of meanings. In I Corinthians 12:21 it means “the head” (i.e., the body part). In Galatians 4:9,19 it means “again”. It can also mean “origin”, “keystone”, “cornerstone”, and even “end/outcome” in the sense of the Spanish word exito. It also appears in the Aramaic Torah in Genesis 1:1 with a prefix, ܒܪܫܝܬ (b’rishiyt), equivalent to the highly evocative Hebrew noun רֵאשִׁית (reshith; see pages 521 and 933), meaning “in/from the beginning”, with a similar use in the Aramaic versions of Mark 1:1 – and of course in John 1:1, where it is the very first word, consciously recalling Genesis 1:1, taking the place of εν αρχη in the Greek version of the gospel.

All that said, the gospel’s Aramaic text suggests a number of possible interpretations, that we must be born: a: “from the head”, in the sense of ܒܪܫܝܬ in Genesis 1:1, implying that we must be born (or reborn) as a part of God’s Logos, presumably by our decision to align our words and deeds with God’s λογος, God’s overall plan for the universe, so we can enter into the Æon; b: “again”; c: “the beginning”, implying the beginning of the world or of our lives; or d: “the outcome”, implying God’s overall plan again. When the Presbyter was in his mind selecting a Greek word that carries the multiple meanings of ܕܪܝܫ, he wisely chose ανωθεν, whose range of meanings enables the Greek text to record Nicodemus’s confusedly thinking Jesus was saying “again”. But scholars who announce that the ανωθεν pun only works in Greek are guilty of sloppy scholarship. Before you say it, check it!

Option a makes the best sense. Since the word ܒܪܫܝܬ is the Aramaic equivalent to εν αρχη in this gospel, which always refers to the Λογος, I take the phrase here as referring to the Logos as well. Jesus is, I conclude, telling Nicodemus that we must be “born into” the Logos, that we must fully accept it and become a part of it: hence, in the Greek version, we must be “born from above”. Whatever Jesus’s actual intended meaning here, as mediated by the gospel author, he clearly is pointing at our need to be born into the realm of God, the Æon, the greater universe, heaven, wherein is God and those whom God draws thither because they have chosen to live in accordance with the Λογος, the divine plan/order or Logos, mediated by Jesus. Jesus is not saying we should be born again, physically, from our mother, but born anew, in the Logos, with our spouse! This is a reference to the bridal chamber theology that pervades this gospel; cf. pages 384-89, 932-33, and 1009-13.

Both the Greek and Aramaic words are found in this book’s reëstablishment of the original text, and the translation of the Aramaic follows the lead of John 1:1, which the Aramaic of this verse clearly implies.

In conclusion we see that, while in Greek the double entendre is that εν αρχη can mean either “from above” or “again”, in Aramaic a similar double entendre is possible: the word ܒܪܫܝܬ clearly is meant by Jesus as referring to the logical priority (αρχη) of the Logos, but Nicodemus could take the Aramaic word, too, as meaning “again”, as in Galatians 4:9,19. Note also that Jesus speaks of ανωθεν to Pilate in 19:11, forming an inclusio with this passage.

Early in these commentaries it should be noted that we always must approach these early Aramaic versions of the gospel with care. Yes, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, but Galilean Aramaic was somewhat different from this later church Aramaic. These Aramaic versions may have been translations from the Greek (as Western scholars insist) or original texts of which the Greek is the copy (as Eastern scholars aver), and it can only be guessed whether they are closer to the original manuscript of this gospel than the Greek. But they are in Aramaic, and Jesus spoke Aramaic, at least with everyone except foreigners.

This discussion raises the question whether Jesus spoke with Nicodemus in Greek or Aramaic. They were both Jews, and thus one would expect them to be more likely to speak in either Aramaic or even Hebrew. Still, this Nicodemus, certainly if he was Nicodemus ben Gorion (see the biographical notes beginning on page 480) was a seasoned, well-educated, and worldly man at the same time that he was a “teacher of Israel” and a Sanhedrin member, and spoke Greek as easily as his native tongues. To support this, it may be noted that his name as given in the text is a Greek variant on an Aramaic name. And Jesus (despite the common Christian belief that he came out of very humble origins and had little if any education) was the same: he was from a well-connected patrician family, and also was a quite well-educated rabbi. I conclude that the conversation could have been in either language, and the two men could just as easily have slipped back and forth between the two, as I have many times heard multilingual residents of Canada, Europe, and Latin America do.


Jesus’s Vine and Horace’s Branches


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. Ordering information here, but coming soon is the new two-volume edition!

Commentary on John 15:1-6 – Jesus shows his agrarian roots not in drawing this analogy, since it appears in the prophets (cf. Isaiah 5:1-10), but by amplifying it with knowledgeable references to the husbandry of grape vines. The Greek word καθαιρω means both “to prune” and “to clean(se)”, so there is something of a double entendre in these verses. A farmer carefully prunes grape branches that are bearing much fruit, so they bear even more, and in the same way, in this analogy, the Word (again, the word Λογος, suggesting God’s plan for the entirety of creation) that Jesus brings prunes away or cleanses anything that is dross in those who accept that plan, such that they are fruitful.

The Latin poet Horace (65-8 B.C.E.) often refers poetically to the husbanding of grapes, for instance these lines from his second epode:

Adulta vitium propagine
Altas maritat populos …
Unutilisque falce ramos amputans
Feliciores inserit.

He weds the tall poplar
To the productive vine; …
With his knife he cuts out useless branches
And grafts better in their place.

There are but scant suggestions that John the Presbyter, clearly well versed in the Greek classics, was at all familiar with the Latin masters; the only other I have found is a possible reference to Vergil in chapter 20. If it was not Horace himself in the gospel writer’s mind as he shaped Jesus’s speech, it may have been any of several Greek poets; pastoral verse of this sort was not uncommon. I am not at all implying that Jesus’s comments here were made up by the Presbyter by borrowing from classical poets, but rather that, as ancient poets often did, he found reflections of Jesus’s greatness in the classical works he knew and loved, which he knew would also be known to and loved by many of his potential readers, and which he would have believed, in a manner typical of his day, proved not just the validity and immortality of Jesus’s teaching, but that it came from God.

This passage from Horace suggests a possible alternate understanding of Jesus’s metaphor. Horace speaks of wedding the vine and the tree together: without the branches of the tree to hold up the vine, the latter cannot flourish. Of course, wedding metaphors permeate this gospel, finding their rootage in the Tanakh’s frequent analogy of the covenant between God and the Israelites as a marriage. If 15:1-6 is read in that light, then the branches of which Jesus speaks are not tendrils growing out from the mainstock of the vine, but rather the branches of a tree which hold up the vine, which enable it to live and produce fruit, and which make it and its fruit visible to the entire world, like the “serpent of Moses” (3:14). And the tree in question would be, symbolically, the Tree of Life (which is the same as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), the tree that also appears in Revelation 2:7 and 22:1-2.

Building on this reading, Jesus is saying his disciples bear Jesus’s fruit indirectly, inasmuch as they like tree branches bear and lift up the fruiting vine, and they cannot bear fruit by themselves, but only if they stay with the vine (15:4). And he is saying that those who live by his teaching will make it possible for the vine to bear fruit well into the future – but that any tree branches which fail to hold up the vine are cut away and burned in the fire (15:6). This interpretation not only carries the gospel’s frequent marriage motif and the motif of lifting up Jesus so he is visible to the world, but it also alludes to the Paraclete: this gospel, which is the promised Paraclete as discussed elsewhere, is the means by which followers of Jesus can all him to “abide in them”, keeping him ever alive and ever before the world. And the fruits of this vine are the fulfillment of the Λογος, the plan of God, the vintner in this metaphor.

Curiously, the Persian Diatessaron has Jesus say in 15:1 not “I am the true vine”, but ﻣـاـن ﺩـرـاـکــحــطى ﻣـوـاﯽ ﺭـاـثــطـى ﺭـاـثــطـى (man dirakht-i mīva-yi rāstī). This has been rendered into English as “I am the tree of the fruit of truth” (Craig D. Allert) and, adhering more closely to the word-for-word meaning, as “I am the fruit-tree of truth” (Robert Murray, from the Italian of Guiseppe Messina). However, a careful rendering of the suffixes has the Persian saying “I am the fruit of the tree of truth”. This version of 15:1, as an obvious reference to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil forbidden to Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:17), supports the conclusion above, based on Horace’s poetry, that Jesus was speaking of himself in terms of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

This Diatessaron is a thirteenth century version of a now-lost very early Syriac text that retained many readings from Tatian’s original second century Diatessaron, the original text of which is, but for a couple of small bits, known only in part from quotations in later writers. (A diatessaron is a single work that draws together the four canonical gospels into one narrative.) With at least one link in the chain of copies lost, we cannot know whether this version of 15:1 comes from Tatian, or a later scribe of extremely unusual inventiveness in his handling of what was by then sacred scripture not to be edited. Yet there is a chance that this Persian version preserves an extremely early text from the Cæsarean family of manuscripts, even earlier than the Syriac Sinaiticus, one close in time and text to Tatian’s Diatessaron – in short a very early text originating in the nearest circle to John the Presbyter’s original manuscript.

And both the Syriac Sinaiticus and the Peshitta seem to support the Persian (the only other early Syriac manuscript, the Curetonian Gospels, is missing the final chapters of John). In those versions the beginning of 15:1 reads: ܐܢܐ ܐܢܐ ܓܦܬܐ ܕܫܪܪܐ (“I I the vine of truth”). There is no apparent reason for the repeated “I” (pronounced enā or ănā), raising a near certainty of a scribal error here, since the Aramaic word for “fruit”, ܐܒܐ (ebā), easily could have been misread and miswritten as ܐܢܐ. If this probable error is repaired, the phrase reads “I am the fruit of the vine of truth”, which is so close to the Persian version that the shift from “vine” to “tree” could be just an accident in the shift from Aramaic to Persian. The word for “fruit” is a homonym in pronunciation and spelling of ܐܒܐ, ABA, the word for “father” that appears in the second half of this verse (ܘܐܒܝ ܗܘ ܦܠܚܐ; “my father is the laborer”), so an early scribe may have misunderstood ܐܒܐ as meaning not “fruit” but “father”, making the sentence seem to read “I am the father of truth and my father is the laborer”, and he then corrected the apparent dittography of “father”. Strengthening this analysis is the fact that in verse two an entirely different word from ܐܒܐ is used; though this word, ܦܐܪܐ (peryā) is usually translated as “fruit”, it is closer to the English noun “produce”. As noted above in reference to the Greek, the Aramaic of 15:4 also speaks of tree branches that cannot bear the fruit of the vine by themselves, but only if they hold up the vine. The meaning is clear: these texts have Jesus saying that we must lift up Jesus and his teaching, just as trees lift up the fruit-bearing vine in Horace’s image; if we fail to do so, we will be taken away by the husbandman, the father.

All this is so impressive that it seems quite likely that Horace suggests, and the Persian Diatessaron and the Syriac Sinaiticus point to, the now-lost original reading. But, since there is no solid textual support for what is ultimately just a conjecture, I include the Persian-Syriac versions of 15:1-2 as alternate readings in my translation.
This last parabolic teaching in the Last Supper discourse appropriately echoes the first and last of the gospel’s seven miracles, that of the water turned wine and that of the fruiting grains. It thus emphasizes Jesus’s central teaching in the gospel that if we choose to be part of God’s Λογος we will bear much fruit and live into the Æon; but, if not, we will be “pruned away”. In this metaphor, Jesus means to say I AM, God, is the mainstem of the vine, and provides the lifegiving loving sap/blood that gives us life and envigors our souls, and it is for us to turn that sap into the fruit of love, and Jesus serves (like all prophets) as mediator/means for the nourishment of God to fill us.

Jesus’s Last Words


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. But note that the book will not be available again until around mid-August, when a revised version comes off the presses with about 100 pages of new material.

Jesus’s final words in the Gospel of John 19:30 echo Genesis 2:1 and Revelation 21:6. And they form an inclusio with 4:34 and a parallel with 17:4. The same Greek verb, τελειοω, appears in all three verses.

After he says these words he breathes out the wind/breath/spirit within him for the last time as he dies; this forms an inclusio with 1:32, where John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and the πνευμα, the Wind/Breath/Spirit of God, descends from Heaven like a whirlwind, and a parallel with 20:22, where Jesus exhales on the disciples and says “Receive the πνεθμα άγιον” (the sacred breath/spirit/wind – equivalent in Greek to חוּר [Ruach], the Breath/Soul of Life that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils); by exhaling he proves he is alive, but also with that breath he heals them, he blesses them, and he fills them with the Name and Spirit of God.

This verse is unfortunately missing from such very early Aramaic codices as the Syriac Sinaiticus. But the slightly later Aramaic version called the Peshitta reveals some interesting features. Jesus’s last words in this verse are ܗܳܐ ܡܫܰܠܰܡ. The first word (ܗܳܐ) means “Lo!” or “Behold!”, basically a word to secure attention on what is to follow. The second word (ܡܫܠܡ) needs to be preceded by “It is” to make for a comprehensible English rendering; in Aramaic this kind of phrasing is not said but understood. The word ܡܫܠܡ itself means “fulfilled”, “finished”, “completed” (in the sense of time completed, like the end of a day or a lifetime or an epoch of time), “obeyed”, “agreed”, “followed”, “delivered up”, “gave up”, or “perfected”.

The word ܡܫܠܡ can also mean “to say shalom”; that is, to refer to saying a greeting or a farewell. And the word can mean “to exhale” and “to die”. In fact, the very same word, if conjugated a bit differently, appears in the last two-word phrase in the verse – ܘܰܐܫܠܶܡ ܪܽܘܚܶܗ – to mean “(he) delivered up / exhaled his spirit/breath”.

What is more, the word is very closely akin to several other Aramaic words, including a: ܡܣܘܪ, the word for “someone who arranges to hand over another person” (as mentioned several times herein, “betrayer” is not the correct English word); b: ܡܫܝܢܘ, the word for “peacemaking”; and c: ܡܣܘܪܝ, the word for “tradition”.

Thus, in the Gospel of John in Aramaic (Jesus’s own language), his last words could be: “It is finished!”, “This makes for peace!”, “It is perfected!”, “My life is completed!”, “This epoch is completed!”, “ I am saying Shalom! [Farewell!]”, “I am dying!”, and several others besides.

Modern Christians like to think that every word Jesus ever said was directed to the ages, and especially those living now (whichever “now” over two thousand years is reading the text). But no, Jesus was speaking to his most beloved ones in this moment of his death: his mother, his wife, and his son, formally adopted just moments before. So, of the alternate interpretations of this last sentence, I lean toward “I am saying farewell!” or “I am dying!”.

Notwithstanding the considerable array of possible meanings in Jesus’s last words as given in the version in his own Aramaic language, I translate it in this work with the familiar, traditional “It is finished”, which covers both the Greek and Aramaic, but I urge the reader to remember that this rendering is very limited, and the ambiguity, the range of meanings, in the Aramaic is almost certainly intended – to make us ponder Jesus’s death with our thought and spirit.

The Structure of the Resurrection Scene


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. But note that the book will not be available again until around mid-August, when a revised version comes off the presses with about 100 pages of new material.

James Daniel Tabor has suggested in his blog here that the account in John 20:1-10 is a separate and older story than what is told in verses 11-18, that it is essentially complete in itself, and perhaps the first written account of the post-crucifixion events. In favor of his view, it can be pointed out that 1-10 have Mary go to the tomb and then go home to tell the two disciples, but that there is nothing about her returning to the tomb. As a result, verse 11 opens rather inexplicably with Mary back at the tomb and no reference to her returning there. This may suggest a separate history to verses 1-2 from the history of the following verses.

However, unlike Tabor, my view is that the tomb narrative in verses 1-18 is a single unit deliberately structured with three main sections: verses 1-2, verses 3-10, and verses 11-18; and that the third section also has three parts: verses 11-13, 14-17, and 18. And that both sets of three parts are examples of inclusio, a kind of narrative structuring also called A-B-A symmetry.

The first of the three main sections centers on Mary. The second centers on Simon the Rock and the Beloved Disciple, and the third again centers on Mary. Each one begins with the witness(es) in question coming to the tomb, observing or experiencing something, and then returning home with information to deliver to the group of disciples.

At Mary’s first visit to the tomb in section one she just looks in and sees that the body is missing, like her son Lazarus in section two, and in section three (her second visit to the tomb) she goes into it, like Simon the Rock in section two.

What is more, the narrative itself has a home-away-home structure: Mary is the “home” character in the first section, but the narrative “goes away” from her in the second section to the two disciples, and the third section returns to the “home” of Mary’s experiences. The nearly identical phrasing of Mary’s message in the first section (verse 2b) and third section (verse 13b) again strongly suggests that this is a single narrative with a tripartite structure.

The first and second sections both convey the “empty tomb” motif familiar from the Synoptics: the first has Mary deliver the message that Jesus’s body is missing, and the second has the disciples confirm it. Verses 1-2, in fact, are a very brief equivalent to the Synoptic “empty tomb” accounts in which Mary goes to the tomb accompanied by certain other women; this is clear because she speaks in the first person plural: “…we don’t know where they have laid him!” These two verses cannot be a later addition based on the Synoptics since the narrative in verses 3-18 stems from and depends on 1-2, and is incomplete without those two verses as a preamble.

The third section (verses 11-18) repeats in miniature the same inclusio or A-B-A symmetry of the whole passage. The first part of the third section (verses 11-13) begins with Mary alone in her “home” position in front of the empty tomb, looking into it, in a parallel to verse 1. Then she apparently goes “away from home” into the tomb (a verb is missing, as will be discussed below), just as in verses 2 and 18 she goes to the disciples. There in the tomb she sees two angels, equivalent in number to the two disciples, and delivers to them the same message that that she delivered to the two disciples in verse 2, in very nearly identical wording. Thus the narrative of this first part is close to that of the first part of the overall text (verses 1-2).

The beginning of the second part (verses 14-17) is signalled by a typical Greek transitional summary phrase, “Having said all this,” and also by her act of turning around, an action that was traditionally used in narratives to signify a new section; after this the text introduces Jesus. She delivers to him the same anguished message about the missing body, but in a new wording. Jesus identifies himself to her, and she runs from within the tomb (in a phrase preserved by a few manuscripts, including the Codex Sinaiticus) to her “home” position in front of the tomb, to the home of her heart, Jesus, just as in the first major section she had run home to the two disciples and they had run to the tomb. But where the disciples found only an empty tomb she finds and embraces Jesus. Thus the second part of this third section has narrative parallels to the second section about the two disciples.

The third and final part of this third section (verse 18) has Mary again go home to deliver a message to the disciples, just as she and the disciples went home again at the end of the first two sections – however, this time it is not with mystified concern over an empty tomb and a missing body, but that she has seen their master (and embraced him, though she does not mention this)!

This structural integrity is also confirmed by the use of “Mary!” in all three sections. In the Peshitta and the Codex Syriac Sinaiticus, two very early Aramaic New Testament versions, Mary refers to Jesus as mary, which means “master/lord” in Aramaic, and which is of course a homonym with her name. This pun is clear in the Aramaic versions (but not in the Greek), and it could well have been part of the actual original conversation between Mary and Jesus, since of course both of them spoke Aramaic. The pun was, either on Jesus’s part or by the intention of the gospel’s author, meant to imply Jesus’s prayer in 17:22-23 “that they may all be one”.

Specifically she refers to him as mary in the message that concludes the first section (verse 2b) and that concludes its parallel, the first part of the third section (verse 13b), that the tomb is empty and the body missing, and again in the message at the conclusion of the third section (verse 18), that she has seen Jesus alive. In the second and third sections, another example of A-B-A symmetry has her refer to Jesus as mary (verse 13b), then has Jesus call her “Mary” (verse 16a), and then has her again refer to Jesus as mary (verse 18).

Given all of this intricate inclusio structuring, it is hard to conclude as others do that certain verses have a separate history and were clumsily stitched together into chapter 20.

A problem remains, which is that verse 11 opens rather inexplicably with Mary back at the tomb and no reference to her returning there. It may be that the three sections were narrated at different times by Lazarus to the amanuensis, John the Presbyter, and that therefore the narrative gap was an oversight as the latter assembled these sections and wove them together into a narrative whole. Another possibility is that the author left it for the reader to assume that Mary returned to the tomb with the two disciples. A third possibility is that there is a lacuna in the text; as discussed in the Introduction, the author left the gospel still in a draft, and the redactor (probably Polycarp of Smyrna) may have neglected it during his work of refining prior to publication. I personally lean toward the second option, the reason being that the author intended to keep the focus in the second section strictly on the two disciples, and so not mentioning Mary’s return to the tomb is deliberate.

Much of the foregoing will be explained and expanded upon in the verse-by-verse commentaries that follow [ìn the book].

The Feminine Spirit, the Masculine Truth


What follows is a addition to The Gospel of John, my restoration of that original text, free from the later interpolations and excisions of the organized Christian religion, and translated afresh from the Greek. You will find ordering information here. This excerpt discusses what Jesus means by saying to Mary Magdalene that God is Spirit (John 4:24)

The opening phrase, πνευμα ο θεος, lacks a verb in Greek, meaning literally “Spirit/Breath/Wind the God”. (Note that it is customary in Greek to use the definite article with θεος, “God”.) Translators usually transpose the words and put in a verb that isn’t there, rendering the phrase as “God is a spirit” or “God is Spirit”. It can just as well be read as “Spirit is God”, or, of course, “Breath is God” or “Wind is God”, since all can be meant by the word πνευμα. The ambiguity here may be an early scribal mistake, or it may be Jesus or the gospel writer saying both at the same time.

The Aramaic, ܪܽܘܚܳܐ ܗܽܘ ܓ݁ܶܝܪ ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ, makes much more sense, meaning literally “For God is Spirit/Breath/Wind”. We cannot know if this version predates the Greek, if it is closer to the original manuscript of the gospel, but still in my mind it settles the above ambiguity just barely enough for me to render the phrase as “God is Spirit/Breath/Wind”.

It may well be that, on this hot day in Samaria a breath of wind came momentarily to cool and refresh this man and woman as they spoke, and Jesus used this analogy from nature as he will use another one in a few moments (4:35).

It may also be that Jesus, by identifying spirit/breath/wind as God, was invoking the Name of God, YHWH, which is an exhalation, the Name which was breathed into us to give us life (Genesis 2:7), and which we say every time we exhale (see page 30). But much more is going on here.

Since Jesus was in actuality speaking Aramaic here, the Greek version of this verse is inevitably a translation, so it merely has the Greek word for God, θεος. Since the Peshitta is in Aramaic, it is far likelier to relate exactly what Jesus actually said. The name for God in this Aramaic version quoted two paragraphs above is not, as one would expect from the foregoing paragraph, some variation on YHWH. It is not even ܐܠܘܗܝܡ, the Aramaic version of the Hebrew “Elohim”, the familiar to most readers from the creation story at Genesis 1:2, wherin God’s spirit/wind/breath hovers over or moves across the waters (see page 265). Rather, it is ܐܰܠܳܗܳܐ, “Alaha”, which is related to the Hebrew אלוהּ (“Eloah”). Both are a feminine word (literally, “Goddess”); both suggest the feminine aspect of God, united with the masculine in Elohim (see pages 309-10), the familiar name of God known from Genesis 1.

One clue to comprehension is in the context: Jesus says twice (verses 23-24) that true/steadfast (ܫܪܝܪܐ means both in Aramaic) worshippers are to worship God “in spirit and in truth”, as it is usually translated; again the word for “truth”, ܘܒܫܪܪܐ, carries the connotation of “steadfastness” or “firmness”. The phrase brings to mind Joshua’s oration at Shechem – the man for whom Jesus was named, speaking as Jesus would be very aware at Shechem, this very place! – in which he calls on the forebears of both Jews and Samaritans to worship God in בְּתָמִ֣ים וּבֶֽאֱמֶ֑ת, “sincerity and truth” (Joshua 24:14), concluding that the Israelites had to choose whether to worship YHWH or the gods of the Amorites, whose land they were entering. By this reference to Joshua’s speech Jesus is underlining his point that Jews and Samaritans both, as one, have a choice to worship the true God or the gods of others – in this case, the Greeks and Romans. (For the author of this gospel, surely aware of Paul’s repackaging of Jesus as a Græco-Roman deity [see the Introduction], this would have been a significant message in opposition.)

But Alaha (Aramaic), Eloah (Hebrew) is specifically the feminine aspect of God (“Goddess”), and Jesus associates this aspect with spirit/breath/wind. Jesus associates the Jewish aspect of God in verse 22 with the Jews knowing God better than the Samaritans – hence, he is suggesting, the time is coming when sectarian differences between Jew (the masculine “truth”) and Samaritan (the feminine “spirit”) will be put aside, when God will be worshipped neither on the Jewish holy mountain nor the Samaritan holy mountain (4:21). And Jesus is further suggesting that by union in marriage Jesus the Jew and Mary the Samaritan can point out the way toward this union.

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.

Calling a Mary a Mary

This blog discusses John 20:16. Does Mary embrace Jesus? Does she call him a mary, Aramaic for “lord” or “master”? This comes 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.

Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb by name in 11:43, but here, in a dramatic reversal, he the resurrected one calls Mary by name, the one who has come to his tomb. The implication is that Mary has, in a sense, died, and he is calling her back to life and faith, hence that this is a resurrection for both of them, in one way or the other.
Someone, probably the amanuensis, has inserted here and at 1:38 the statement that “rabbi” means “teacher”. That is true only in a very loose sense. The root meaning is “great”, and the word was early used as a title denoting reverence. In the Second Temple period the word came to mean “my master”, and was commonly used not just to refer to religious authorities but anyone whom the speaker respected as authoritative in any subject, religious or not. The Aramaic word in this verse of the Peshitta is ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy), which comes from the root ܪܒܢ (raban), meaning “great” or “master”.

But could Mary have called Jesus something else entirely? Mary, in verses 2, 13, and 18 calls Jesus κυριε/κυριος, meaning “master”. Only here does she appear to say something different; could she have said the same thing she does in those other verses?

To answer this question we can turn to the Peshitta, the very early Aramaic version of the New Testament. The Eastern, Syriac Church claims the Peshitta is the original New Testament, and that the Greek version on which the Western Church (including Roman Catholic and Protestant) bases its modern translations is itself a translation! Determining which of the two is the original is beyond the scope of this book. Still, the fact of the matter is that Jesus and Mary in this conversation (as is the case with every conversation in this gospel, except perhaps that between Jesus and Pontius Pilate) were certainly speaking Aramaic, and not Greek. Therefore, unavoidably, the Greek in this resurrection scene is a translation – and so, whether or not the Peshitta is the original New Testament, it nevertheless is far more likely to tell us exactly what the two of them actually said.

The Aramaic word in this passage of the Peshitta for “lord” or “master” is ܡܳܪܝ (mary); elsewhere in classical Aramaic texts it is ܡܪܐ (mara). The root apparently means “to lift” or “to raise up”, which might have Messianic implications. Her name, “Mary”, is either ܡܪܝܡ (Maryam) or, more likely on the lips of her husband, in a more intimate form, ܡܰܪܺܝܰܐ (Marya), or even in its original version from Ruth 1:13,20, ܡܪܐ (Mara); the root of this name means “bitter”. The two words, though from different roots, are spelled and pronounced identically. Therefore, if this was what Mary said, then these verses contain a kind of sacred pun: she is looking for her mary, her master, and he calls her his Mary. Very possibly, then, in the original verse 16, or in Lazarus’s recollection of what his mother later told him of this event, Jesus said “Mara!”, ܡܪܐ (Mara), and Mary replied with not ܪܒܢ (raban), but “Mara!”, ܡܪܐ (mara).

This double entendre or pun, like others in this gospel, is of course not meant to be taken as comical, as are puns in the modern Western civilization – though the author of the gospel no doubt intended the “Mary!” “Mary!” exchange to elicit a smile from readers: it is amusing, and the gospel is laced with a good deal of this kind of gentle humor. But here and always in this gospel it would primarily be intended to deliver a sacred message; in this case, to make very clear to us the closeness of this man and this woman, indeed their unity as a couple, as “one flesh”, as each a κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort) to the other, to cite the term the Gospel of Philip uses in reference to them.

We do not know whether the Beloved Disciple described his memories to his amanuensis in Aramaic or Greek; we do not even know whether the amanuensis (probably John the Presbyter), whose first language clearly was Greek, was even slightly familiar with Aramaic; probably not, since his Hebrew was so weak that his inserted quotations from the Tanakh come from the Septuagint, the classical translation of the Jewish scriptures into Greek. Yet certainly our eyewitness’s memory of these vivid experiences were carried in the vessel of Aramaic. And we know that the actual conversations Jesus engaged in (certainly with those closest to him, Mary and his disciples) were in Aramaic, excepting probably only those with foreigners, such as Pontius Pilate. It is absolutely inconceivable that Mary and the disciples would have interjected Greek into their Aramaic, calling Jesus κυριη; that foreign word, from the language of the imperial oppressor (at least in the eastern part of the Roman Empire), would have been uncomfortable on their lips. There can be no question but that they variously called Jesus by any or all of these synonyms, ܪܒܘܠܝ (rab’uwliy, “rabbi”, but with the significance of “master”) or ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al, “lord” or “master”) or ܡܪܝܐ, (mary, “lord” or “master”). The first was not yet common as a term of respect for religious leaders; thus, the possibility that Mary said mary in 20:16 is very strong. Not only is it her form of address for Jesus everywhere else in the chapter (verses 2, 13, and 18), but the double entendre it would present in this critical moment, emphasizing the closeness between Jesus and Mary, would be clear (and is doubtlessly why the redactor would have replaced the word with rabbouni. Besides, similar doubles entendres are frequently encountered in the gospel, including in this very scene, with isha/isha. What is more, the complex inclusio of this entire conversation with that in 1:38-42, raises the question whether the word in 1:38 was originally mary as well. It seems extremely likely therefore, that at 4:25,29 and at 20:16) the original text had mary, as the Peshitta does at 20:2,13,18.

Again, as with isha/isha, this sacred pun would be to emphasize how Jesus and Mary, as portrayed in this gospel (as in the Gospel of Philip), were each the other’s κοινωνος (companion, partner, or consort). And again, this may have simply been too incomprehensible or romantic for the redactor, seeking at a late stage in the devolution of the original gospel to conform it to the dogma of the new Christian religion, who would have quickly changed mary (“lord”) for rabbouni. and even incorrectly adding that this is a word in Hebrew and further adding his not-quite-correct translation “teacher”.

After much consideration I do not see the Talpiot “Mariamenou” ossuary as shedding light on this matter. See the essay on that subject [posted as the blog beneath this one].

Another possibility to mention in passing is that in chapter 20 Mary may also have called Jesus ܠܒ݂ܰܥܠܶܟ݂ܝ (ba’al), as she did at the well in Sychar (John 4:16-18); if she did, this would be another inclusio. In both Hebrew (בָּעַל) and Aramaic the word ba’al, like mary, means “husband”, “lord”, “master”, and also “God”. Still, because the Peshitta has Mary call Jesus mary throughout the chapter (except in verse 16, but I conclude that the original version also had this title), I reject this possibility.

It is at about this moment, as Jesus says “Mary!” and Mary says “Mary!”, that the light dawns, both literally and figuratively. Mary now understands. And, in the new light of day, the first thing they see is each other.

Jesus is naked, since his entombment shrouds are said (20:5-7) to be still in the tomb, and Mary is pretty close to naked herself, since the tradition was for those in mourning to tear their clothes asunder. This is different from Lazarus, who came out still bound in his grave clothes, hence clearly the portrayal of a man and a woman naked and alone in a garden is intentional.

Their nakedness first represents birth and death; as Job puts it (Job 1:21), “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.” This is, of course, a second birth for Jesus, just as he enacted it with John (1:32-33) and discussed it with Nicodemus (3:3-7) and so an inclusio with the beginning of the gospel.

Second, their nakedness brings to mind Adam and Eve naked in the Garden of Eden, hence a return to the condition of humanity before that primordial couple ate of the fruit. Modern readers, reading Genesis through their own cultural lenses, often think that they clothed themselves out of a kind of sexually fueled embarrassment for being “naked in public”. But a careful reading of the text reveals that, no, they were afraid of their vulnerability in the face of God’s omnipotence, especially following their disobedience of God, and so they sewed leaves together to disguise themselves as trees in this garden of trees. So the nakedness of Jesus and Mary is to say that no person need feel any longer afraid of God, as needing to hide her- or himself from God or ignore God, that “all is forgiven”, as the classic prophets often put it, as long as the individual accepts the Λογος, the truth and wisdom of the plan of God. Spiritually speaking, true trust is true nakedness, with no need to hide oneself, or to make of oneself something other than naturally human. In that sense, this is not just a recalling of Adam and Eve, but an eschatological nakedness: Jesus and Mary are the “Adam and Eve” of the people of the future who are completely integrated into the Λογος, who trust God completely, and do not put clothes on out of fear or misrepresentation of their true selves. In Logion 37 of the Gospel of Thomas the disciples ask Jesus, “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”, and he replies, “When you can take off your clothes without feeling ashamed, and you take your clothes and throw them beneath your feet like little children and trample them; then you will see the Son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.” The (Greek) Gospel of the Egyptians similarly has Jesus reply, “When you have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one, and the male with the female is neither male nor female.” So here Jesus appears, his and his bride’s clothes removed and unashamed thereof. (Ironically, in the next chapter, Simon the Rock is fishing naked, but puts on his clothes before swimming ashore where Jesus is.)

Third, while the sexual element may or may not have been prominent in the Garden of Eden story, it is in the Song of Songs story, and very much so here as well. There had to be some sexual energy in their embrace (and no doubt a kiss, as the implications of the Odyssey suggest) in the next verse; most emphatically, Jerome’s Noli me tangere (“Do not touch me”) is repugnant as a translation. This is Jesus’s and Mary’s hierogamy, their spiritual (re)marriage, and so it has to be erotic.

This scene is frighteningly beautiful, joyfully fearsome. Mary encounters a dead body that speaks to her: in her culture he is a ghost or an angel, perhaps, or Death Incarnate even, and it is impossible for her not to be afraid. And yet, when she comes close to him, and looks through the bruises and wounds, she sees a familiar face. She smells the comfortable scent of his skin. She feels the warmth of his body against hers, the wonderful strength of his arms. She is scared and ecstatic at once. In the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, if an angel

… gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

put itself before me and pulled
me suddenly against its heart, I would be overwhelmed by its
prodigious existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we can barely endure,
and we admire it so, because it serenely scorns
to destroy us. Even a single angel is terrifying.

And so: “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). The first rays of dawn reveal to Mary the face of her beloved husband. They embrace and kiss, naked as they are, in a garden, they are the eternal lovers, beginning with Adam and Eve, and their wedding at the beginning of the gospel is now confirmed and made holy, and the celestial clock is set back to the moment of Creation, εν αρχη ην ο λογος, with the first sin of humanity trying to separate itself from God now forgiven, and the entire universe is reborn.

Only a few manuscripts, most importantly the Codex Sinaiticus (01C2a), have the critical phrase at the end of this verse, “And she runs to embrace him.” This may be one cut by the redactor which some early copies of the gospel managed to retain. It is, in any case essential, setting up Jesus’s saying “Do not keep clinging to me.” That she ran dramatically informs the reader as to her sudden change from the depths of deepest despair to cerulean euphoria. It also adds confirmation that she was inside the tomb, with some distance intervening between her and Jesus.

Without doubt the gospel writer had in mind these lines from the Song of Songs: ἕως οὗ διαπνεύσῃ ἡ ἡμέρα καὶ κινηθῶσιν αἱ σκιαί. ἀπόστρεψον (“Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn around, my beloved”) and ἐκράτησα αὐτὸν καὶ οὐκ ἀφῆκα αὐτόν (“I took hold of him and did not let (him) go”), Song 2:17a and 3:4b.

But in these brief but mighty phrases of verse 16 we find not only an echo of the Song of Songs; the Odyssey too is very clearly in the author’s mind. Consider these lines (205, 207-208, 231-232, 241, 247-250), from when Odysseus reveals himself to his longsuffering wife Penelope:

τῆς δ’ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ …
δακρύσασα δ’ ἔπειτ’ ἰθὺς κίεν, ἀμφὶ δὲ χεῖρας
δειρῇ βάλλ’ Ὀδυσῆϊ, κάρη δ’ ἔκυσ …
τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο:
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κέδν’ εἰδυῖαν. …
καί νύ κ’ ὀδυρομένοισι φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς …
καὶ τότ’ ἄρ’ ἣν ἄλοχον προσέφη πολύμητις Ὀδυσσεύς
ὦ γύναι, οὐ γάρ πω πάντων ἐπὶ πείρατ’ ἀέθλων
ἤλθομεν, ἀλλ’ ἔτ’ ὄπισθεν ἀμέτρητος πόνος ἔσται,
πολλὸς καὶ χαλεπός, τὸν ἐμὲ χρὴ πάντα τελέσσαι.

And then her knees and precious heart gave way …
Then in tears she ran to him, to throw her arms
Around Odysseus’s neck, to kiss his face …
And she elicited in him even more the desire to weep;
He held his wife, beloved and loyal, and shed his tears.
Rosy-fingered Dawn would have risen upon them as they wept …
And then resourceful Odysseus said to his wife,
“Woman, we haven’t finished yet with all our trials
For I must yet undertake, in the future, a great work,
Long and difficult, before I have completely finished. …”

Like Penelope, Mary is tottering on her legs, exhausted by considerable stress, and is weeping copious tears (20:11). Like Penelope, Mary runs to Jesus and embraces him (20:16). As in the Odyssey, this moving moment comes at dawn (20:1). And like Odysseus, Jesus says there are things that they both yet must accomplish, especially he himself (20:17).

This embrace was more than romantic and erotic, though it was that too; this embrace is what Jung calls the coincidentia oppositorum, the union of complementary opposites. As it is put in The Circle of Life:

The embrace is a sign of love that symbolizes the Sacred Hoop: both persons are within the circle. When we embrace, first we open our arms, becoming vulnerable in a sense, exposing our hearts both literally and figuratively, to create space in ourselves to welcome the other into us. Then we close our arms around each other, one with each other within the Sacred Hoop. (Sexuality is an extension of the embrace, of course – an even closer joining in which we each enter even more deeply into the other, body and soul.) Then, when the ceremony of embrace ends, we open again, and return to our separate identities, but enriched by the moment in which we were one together. Now and forever after, we are connected, and carry a little bit of the other in us.

And likewise the kiss is more than “just a kiss”; it is the eternal man and woman exchanging their sacred breath/spirit (ר֖וּחַ [ruach] in Hebrew and πνευμα [pneuma] in Greek). As Plotinus would later put it (in his Enneads, II.7), “All things depend on each other; as has been said, ‘Everything breathes together.’” And as the noncanonical Gospel of Philip would put it in years to come (35, 59):

[Grace comes] from him, from the mouth, the place from which the Word came forth, to be nourished from the mouth and to become perfected. The perfect conceive and give birth by a kiss. This is why we also kiss each other, to receive conception from the grace that is in each other.
And the companion of the [Anointed One] is Mariam the Magdalene. [The Lord] loved her more than the other disciples, and would kiss her often on her mouth. The other [women saw how much he loved Mariam], and say to him, “Why do you love her more than us?” The Savior answered and says to them, “Why do I not love you (as I do) her?”