John’s Gospel as the Eyewitness Event Itself


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!

In the preface to his five-volume opus, Papias (an early second-century Christian bishop and writer) explains his own approach to establishing the truth about Jesus in the following passage. Without doubt he was describing the historiographical method that his master John the Presbyter taught him, which means it is also the method John adopted in writing the gospel.

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

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

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

Modern historiography, while it pays lip service to primary sources, relies mainly on previously written works, as any survey of published material will amply demonstrate. And modern historiography, when it does turn to primary sources, insists that the best eyewitness is dispassionate, perceiving facts without their being distorted by the least shred of emotional attachment, free from subjective interpretation – in this case, spiritual understanding.

The classical historian, on the other hand, would aver that to lack emotional attachment to the event, that is, to not care about what one is observing, reduces one’s effectiveness as a witness. The best witness, that historian would say, is one who is invested in the event, and thus has senses well attuned and memory carefully storing the event away. The best witness is one who not just cares enough about the event to remember it well, but cares about it enough to recount it again and again to various audiences, who therefore has had good practice at the craft of putting memory into words, which strengthens the recall and prevents the memory from fading away.

As it is put in The Circle of Life:

Traditional peoples see time and place in terms of story. Everything around us is alive, and has its story. To exist, to live, is to create story: when we fall in love, when we have a child, and so on, we’re beginning a story, and the only way we can learn how the story is going to come out is by creating the story. The past, to the traditional way of thinking, is the stories that have been told and can still be told; the future is the stories that have not yet been told. Thus, this present moment is ceremony in progress, stories in the making. This moment now, with you holding this book in your hands as you read it, is your story-in-the-making. Some day to come you will remember reading this book. You won’t have this book in your hands, but you will remember reading something in it that really struck you, and what it made you think about, and what you did that you wouldn’t have done otherwise. This remembering will be for you a story, part of the greater story of your life. Death, in this view, is an ending not of life, but of a story – and other stories will always follow.

This issue was no doubt important to Papias because, as the Gospel of John demonstrates, it was crucial to his mentor John the Presbyter. The book, the gospel, that John wrote seeks to be something unique: to be not just a book of history like other books of history, even the best of them. It seeks to be more than merely an indirect witness to Jesus, a mere record of oral recollections like other written histories. Rather, it seeks to be itself a direct observer and describer of the events, telling the reader the story about them just the way a witness does – more than that, it seeks to be the event itself, such that we are not mere readers of a text that quotes witnesses about the event of Jesus, but that we are direct witnesses to the event itself. I said above that for classical historians the best witness is “invested in the event, and thus has senses well attuned and memory carefully storing the event away, … and cares about it enough to recount it again and again to various audiences”, which describes this gospel very well. For Jesus promises, in the gospel itself, that a new kind of eyewitness will come to the faithful; he speaks of it as the Paraclete (Παρακλητος), “the Spirit/Wind/Breath of truth … that will bear witness concerning me” (15:26), adding, “Whatever it hears it will speak … [it] will teach you all things and will remind you of all the things that I said to you” (14:26). That new kind of witness is the gospel itself. It is the eyewitness we attend to, so it is the event-itself that gives us Jesus.

In this modern age of malls and superhighways drained of all real intrinsic meaning, meaning, or the mere appearance of meaning, is a commodity that is bought and sold like any other: information technology, as it is called. The “ruler of this cosmos”, as Jesus calls him in this gospel, or Big Brother, as George Orwell called him, tells us to trust him and go home now, and he will explain everything to us later. We are in this modern age to believe what we are told to believe. Scholars in this modern age argue about what this gospel means. Most people just allow their religious organization to tell them what the meaning of this and other scriptures is, rather than discovering it for themselves through intelligent reading. The organized religious establishments took over the role of assigning meaning to events. And the scholars, just as bad, squeeze the scriptures for meaning and throw away the works themselves like an empty orange skin. Yet in fact Marshall McLuhan was right: don’t look for hidden meanings in the gospel; the medium, this gospel, is the message, and the message is the gospel itself.

For classical people, the event, the experience, and the meaning were all inextricably mixed. For the classical mind the truth as to the meaning of any event (historical or happening in front of one) was in the event itself, not in descriptions of the event – the descriptions contain truth to the degree that they conform their words to the truth in the event itself. That is the main criterion by which classical books of history were judged in classical times as to their quality, and it should remain such.

Moderns deem the meaning of an event or a teaching more important than the event or teaching itself. They suggest that there is something defective about a powerful symbolic work like the Gospel of John, and that therefore it needs the official explainers to explain it. They suggest that there is something defective about you and me, in that we are not able to appreciate the gospel fully unless we listen to the official explainers. This has the effect not only of devaluing the work itself and the readers themselves, but it creates a relativism of meaning: the meaning is whatever those powerful enough to take control of the social institutions of education, communication, media, and often government say is its meaning.

Symbols are not like highway signs. A red hexagon tells us to stop the car because we are trained by our culture so to do; someone from another culture will not know to stop. But a symbol, an archetype, is immediately a powerful spiritual dynamo for any human being of any culture in any epoch. It needs no explaining, and in fact explaining does it a disservice, suggesting that the symbol is of lesser importance, and that rather the big-mouthed bonehead who wants us to know how smart he is that he can explain a symbol is the real point. As Jung taught, symbols, archetypes, are hard-wired into our psyches as a species; they are ultimately a primal root part of the World Soul, the collective unconscious. Symbols are like bodies that express the ineffable archetypes; the archetypes are the souls inside the symbols that make the symbols come alive. So in my view symbols do not point at something beyond themselves: they simply are, and we can only gape at their inexpressible forever astonishing wonder. They are numinous. Like the famous “Flower Sermon” of Gautama Buddha, John the Presbyter was wise not to put a lot of explanations into this gospel. He simply gives us the symbols, points toward the allusions in the classics and the Tanakh, and leaves us to contemplate this glorious beauty that means what it is.

Most Jews and most Hellenes weaned on Plato would have agreed with John the Presbyter that the ultimate source of all truth is God, not the official explainers. If there is truth in someone’s words or deeds, in any situation, it is because these things are said or done in accordance with the will of God: they are, in the Presbyter’s terms, in accordance with the Λογος. Hence, if the Gospel of John was written by God’s will, then to the degree John the Presbyter wrote it as God wishes, it carries the truth of the words and events recorded. If it is more than an historic record, if it is in Kant’s term a Ding an sich, if it is in Lao-tse’s term 自然 (ziran; “self-so”), if it is in Borges’s term an aleph, then it is God’s own deed, and the Presbyter is but the instrument. And, if that is the case, then the gospel does not just embody the truth, but it is the truth, because the presence of God is in it.

Thus, the Gospel of John, as the Paraclete, by its established nature as the event itself, does not therefore reflect the truth of the event in its words as the moon reflects the sun, as we humans (should) reflect the image of Elohim, but rather it has the truth within its own very nature. And therefore it is for us, as not readers but eyewitnesses to this gospel-event and its inherent truth, to believe. Thus Jesus says the truth will set us free if we know it (8:32), that God’s word is truth (17:17), that he bears witness to the truth such that those who hear his voice have truth in them (18:37), and of course says to Thomas and us

“You believe because you have seen me.
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!”

For example, the resurrection appearances of Jesus were for the disciples new experiences that at first they could not understand. They were receiving sensory data that did not make sense to them, and had to be explained to them. They probably discussed and even argued with each other as to the meaning of these appearances. They may have realized that their guesses at the meaning might be wrong or incomplete. But they would never once have thought it was for them to establish the meaning, that the meaning was theirs to decide, but rather that the meaning was in the event itself and was something that they must discern in the event. Thus, as an event in its own right, the gospel does not like other works of classical history seek to reproduce faithfully the meaning in the event; it is the event, and so it carries its own intrinsic meaning. The meaning it gives to the resurrection is that this is no ordinary man but Messiah, and no ordinary event but a kairos, a tirtha, a moment-place where the veil between the worlds has grown thin and one can glimpse the eternal, the Æon.

This gospel is to be accepted, then, not an ordinary history based on the accounts of witnesses but a witness itself; more than that, it is to be taken as the direct experience of Jesus: by reading it we are there with Jesus. Therefore, we are not mere readers, removed from the event by the intervening media of witness and book; rather, we are witnesses ourselves to the gospel-as-event/teaching, we are put squarely in front of the truth itself, the event-presence itself, and thus we are anointed as disciples and presbyters and apostles and elders ourselves. Jesus in effect addresses us, the readers of the gospel, when in the gospel’s very last words he says: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!” We, the readers of the gospel, have not seen the events and teachings in the gospel, but by reading we know them, and are called to believe. And the Envoi to the gospel, which follows immediately, drives home this same point:

πολλα δε και αλλα σημεια α εποιησεν ο ιησους ενωπιον των μαθητων αυτου α ουκ εστιν γεγραμμενα εν τω βιβλιω τουτω ατινα εαν γραφηται καθ εν ουδ αυτον οιμαι τον κοσμον χωρησαι τα γραφομενα βιβλια ταυτα δε γεγραπται ινα πιστευσητε οτι ιησους εστιν ο χριστος ο υιος του θεου και ινα πιστευοντες ζωην *αιωνιον* εχητε εν τω ονοματι αυτου

Indeed there are also many other signs Jesus has been doing in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book, which, if each one of them were written, I think not even the cosmos itself could contain all the books (that would have to be) written. These, however, have been written so you might believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, the son of God, and that, by believing, you might have Æonian life in his name.

The Jewish view in John’s day was that truth flowed from the Torah and from the Temple – whichever Temple, and hence the conflicting “truths” espoused by the priesthoods in Jerusalem, Samaria, and Leontopolis in Egypt; Mary and Jesus allude to this conflict in 4:20-21. But the gospel seeks to present God as the only source of truth and valid meaning; God has sent Jesus as emissary to express this truth, and the gospel is presenting itself as the Paraclete, continuing to express God’s truth, the only real truth.

In saying we are blessed who have not seen and yet believe, in saying the gospel was written “so you might believe”, the gospel is saying that those who believe are good witnesses to the experience of Jesus. As the Paracete the gospel presents itself, as I have often said, not as a history book, but as in itself the experience-of-Jesus, which makes us not mere readers of a book but witnesses to an event. Some people over the millennia have read the gospel and remain readers, remain agnostic, because for them this book remains a book; no harm in this. Yet some organizations, while they pay lip service to calling this book scripture, treat it as a book that they will interpret for their adherents, despite the fact that the meaning of the event is in the event, not enforced upon it by a social institution, in this case the meaning is in the book, not the institution, and to separate meaning from event, like separating the spirit from the body, kills both.

But for those who read and believe, the book becomes not just a witness to Jesus, but moreover an event, the experience-of-Jesus. As I have also previously noted, classical historians preferred to base their writings on witnesses who were emotionally involved, because that quality better engraved their memories of what they observed than the “dispassionate observer” preferred today; also, they had experience in telling the story of what they witnessed, and so their wording would be useful to the historian. Like a dream quickly written down at dawn or immediately told to someone, verbalizing an experience helps to firm up and fix the details in the memory with exactitude.

Perhaps thousands of people heard and saw Jesus – but only a relatively very few were so moved that they didn’t just “hear and see” but listened and observed. The difference is in this very factor of becoming involved in, committed to, the event, such that one absorbs it: the individual becomes a part of the event and it becomes a part of the individual. Therefore, for the gospel to discuss belief as a result of reading this gospel is to say it is possible for some readers to become more than readers: to become believers, that is, emotionally involved, committed witnesses to the experience-of-Jesus as mediated by the gospel (20:29,31).

Classical and modern historians both understand that the truth known to human beings is subjective: the only truth we have is the knowable truth, the truth from our finite perspective. And of course in ancient times like now, people would “spin” their telling to make the truth appear in ways that furthered their desires. Thus the wise historian, then and now, presents various perspectives as if in a courtroom, and evaluates the evidence supporting each in order to arrive at the truth in the event itself. Thus in the Gospel of John we find occasional courtroom terminology; even the original title, The Paraclete, is a courtroom term. Thus too we find the gospel focused on the nature of truth: Pilate asks what it is, and Jesus says I AM is the truth that, if we know it, frees us.

Pontius (“What is truth?”) Pilate had no more access to objective truth than any other human being; thus he like most others sought only the truth that would serve him, he like most others sought to be the master of the truth, but Jesus said to him, in effect, “You would have no truth at all, unless it comes to you from above.” John the Presbyter would agree with George Berkeley that, while our human truths are subjective, that we have at best an asymptotic relationship with the truth, God is a priori the one entity for whom truth is objective, whole, and perfect. We human beings cannot bridge the asymptotic gap to perfect truth – the closer we get the harder it is to get closer, like approaching absolute zero or the speed of light. But in the Messiah of Jesus, and therefore in the gospel that embodies his teaching, the truth has come to us, God has come to us – for, where we cannot bridge the asymptotic gap, God can. This is a major point in the Prologue to the gospel, and this coming of God into the human experience is the very essence of kairos, the Greek concept of sacred time, the “eternal now” moment when all ordinary life hushes in the presence of the inexplicable.

The final two words in the quotation from the Muratorian Canon, saying that John wrote “all the wonderful things of the Lord in order” (italics added), are significant here. For a central factor in classical historiography, besides primary reliance on committed eyewitnesses, was the arrangement of the raw observational reports of the eyewitnesses interviewed into a seamless historical narrative: that is, imparting an architecture to that narrative, a pattern as pleasing to the mind as the structure of a cathedral is pleasing to the eye. In Hegelian terms, this is the dialectical relationship between content and form, between truth and beauty, in Greek terms, between χρειαι (units of oral recollection) and συνταξις (organization into a large-scale work): while the eyewitness and historian could be the same person, properly speaking the former was the provider of content, of truth, and the latter the provider of form, of beauty. A classical historical work of fine quality had both blended into a unity; indeed, in classical works of history – indeed, in all great classical literature – these two were the same thing: in the words of Keats, “Truth is beauty, beauty truth.” Put another way, the classical historian saw his task as a form of fine art, painting a truthful image of the past with the raw materials of testimony and records. The structure of the gospel, which is detailed in the Commentaries, is clearly modeled on that of a Greek play, in four major sections (called Acts in my translation), with at least the beginnings of a seven signs and seven seals substructure. It is also filled with inclusio (details or themes or phrases in the early chapters that return in the final chapters), as well as with abundant references to Greek poets such as Sappho and Homer, the philosopher Plato, and the playwright Euripides.

John the Presbyter’s work included more than putting the reminiscences into chronological order and inserting later marginal additions where they seemed best to go into the narrative flow. It included more than refining the literary language was and adding artful references to Hellenistic philosophy and literature, and composing the Prologue. It included more than arranging an artful A-B-A symmetry or inclusio format.

The Presbyter also was determined a: to attest to the truth of this gospel and its hard-to-believe contents, b: to effectively quash the inevitable allegations by cynics (Celsus being the first in a line of them to the present day) that the whole thing about Jesus was made up or a matter of delusion, and c: to prevent ideological tampering with the text. He did this as did the great prophets (e.g., Isaiah 8:2,16; cf. the concern expressed in Jeremiah 8:8), by writing into the text statements that in modern terms are written legal depositions or affidavits, solemnly certififying that the text tells the truth. Therefore, the structure includes a “seven seals” arrangement that was at least partly fleshed out.

Thus we find factual certifications at 1:14, 3:33-34, 19:24, 19:35, 20:30-31, plus two more by John the Immerser at 1:32 and 34. These seven certifications are mentioned in Revelation 5:1-9; they are “seven seals” that seal the codex which is clearly this gospel; the imagery is borrowed from Ezekiel 2:9-3:3. (Note: I do not include a separate certification at the end of chapter 21, since the latter was not originally part of the gospel, nor the approximately seven times that Jesus serves as his own witness, at 3:11, 7:7, 8:18, 5:39, 5:43, 5:46, 18:37, since these are certifications about Jesus, not of Jesus.)

There is also a partly fleshed-out structure of “seven signs” (in modern parlance, miracles) done by Jesus, equivalent to the seven trumpets in Revelation 8-9, trumpeting Jesus’s identity as Messiah. These seven signs are themselves certifications as well: in the Jewish faith then and now a putative Messiah is expected to perform certain signs (אוֺתוֺת; otot; the singular is אוֹת; oth, rhyming with “oat”) to certify themselves as meriting that recognition. However here John evidently ran into a problem which may have delayed completion of the gospel (permanently, as it turned out): the chiastic structure of the seven signs should have had the healings of the paralytic and blind man mirror each other as the third and fifth sign, with the loaves-and-fishes taking the center spot – however, that would only be possible in the text if it were to ignore the chronological fact that the loaves-and-fishes sign preceded that of the paralytic man. The amanuensis could easily have “solved” this problem by just changing the order – but the man who had criticized John Mark for putting events out of their actual temporal order, now had to choose between doing just that or accepting a flaw in the chiasm.

Why all these artistic devices, especially the inclusio and the references to classical literature, in an account that stresses its eyewitness nature? Artifice to our contemporary thinking suggests hyperbole, exaggeration, even outright deception and fallacy. How can these accounts be truthful, we moderns may well ask, when they are so beautifully contrived? The answer is found in such classical philosophers as Plato and Aristotle whom the gospel writer clearly admired and studied. To the classical person, if not the modern, Keats was correct in saying, “Truth is beauty, beauty truth.” All of the great works, in all genres of artistry, are beautiful and true, even when they are ugly and raw. Guernica, Inferno, Hamlet, Rashomon, Don Quixote, Le Sacre du Printemps; these works are jarring and difficult to appreciate – but, for me, that is their beauty. This gospel has its brutal scenes, most especially the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, as well as some that are exquisitely lovely – and note that it is during the crucifixion that the prose gives way to several lines of the most pure, passionate, poignant poetry. Yet without doubt the composition of the gospel was intended, or inspired, to make this another one of these truthful, beautiful works, beautiful even as Jesus struggles on the cross through the last tortured gasps of life. So, for the first century reader, this careful arrangement of the raw materials to create the inclusio effect and bring out the allusions to classical literature is not as we might think today – after too much exposure to the bathetic blandishments of mendacious politicians and hypocritical clergy – to deceive us, but, quite the opposite, to make the gospel more trustworthy and true.

John the Presbyter clearly states the intention that this gospel be the event itself, that it be the presence of Jesus, in 15:26-27. “The Paraclete,” he quotes Jesus as saying, “will bear witness concerning me, and you too (will) bear witness because you have been with me from the first.” The last two words, απ αρχης, form a double entendre: to his actual disciples he means the phrase in its common sense, that they have been with him since this whole series of events began; but to those who are reading this the Paraclete, he means that they, we, have been with him from the first (απ αρχης) word of the gospel, which is, though conjugated differently, this very word, εν αρχη. In other words, we are not just reading about, but experiencing, observing, and witnessing Jesus as he teaches and performs signs. Thus 15:27, like 20:29, can be understood as Jesus speaking directly to the reader of the gospel.

These two verses, therefore, provide future generations with two witnesses: the gospel and its readers. Since under Jewish law the consistent testimony given by two witnesses of probity is to be accepted as truth, the combination of this gospel Paraclete and its readers – readers who become involved, committed witnesses, which in this case is a demonstration of their probity – is to be accepted as the truth. Once again we see how this gospel is laid on a strong legal foundation.

Following these two verses in this reconstruction of the original gospel is verse 13:20, in which the Presbyter further drives home his point through Jesus’s words: “Anyone who receives what I will send receives me,” which is to say again that this Paraclete-gospel is Jesus’s continuing presence, and if we become involved, committed witnesses by receiving it, we thereby receive Jesus; and then he adds, “who receives me receives the One who sent me”, which is to say if we accept and live by Jesus’s teachings we are living in accordance with the Λογος, and hence we become part of the Æon, and are one not only with each other but also one with God (17:26,22,21,23).

This understanding of the gospel as not merely witness but the event itself would have been immediately comprehensible to first-century Jews, and would be to most Jews today were it not for the mental barriers erected between religions that often blind us to their shared elements.

Jesus gives this teaching about the Paraclete, hence about this gospel, mere hours before the beginning of the Passover. Exodus teaches us in the generations following the Exodus to observe the Passover with the understanding that we were there too, for if our spiritual ancestors had not miraculously escaped bondage in Egypt, we their descendants would not be free today. Notice how the following verses do not say “our ancestors”, but “me” or “us”. Exodus 13:8 says, והגדת לבנך ביום ההוא לאמר בעבור זה עשה יהוה לי בצאתי ממצרים (“And you shall avow to your son on that day, saying, ‘This is done because of that which YHWH did to me when I came out of Egypt’”), and verse 14 says, והיה כי־ישאלך בנך מחר לאמר מה־זאת ואמרת אליו בחזק יד הוציאנו יהוה ממצרים מבית עבדים (“And it will be, when in future times your son asks you ‘What is this?’, that you will say to him, ‘With a mighty hand YHWH brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage’”). For this reason, the Haggadah, the story of the Exodus, is told to this day at the Passover Seder as not our ancestors’ story, but our story, that we were there too.

Surgeon God Unites Jesus and Mary in Own Image


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 19:34 – The word πλευρας, from which comes the modern term “pleurisy”, is usually translated “side”. It comes from a root referring to the ribs (hence this translation has “ribs”), so this was a stab to or near the heart. …

In Genesis 2:21 God takes a צְלָעֹת from Adam, separating the first human, Adam, who was hermaphroditic, into male and female. This word, tselah, can be translated “rib” or “side”, and so is similar in meaning to πλευρας, the word in 19:34. Note that it is a feminine word in Hebrew, which is part of why the Talmud associates Adam’s side, and hence Eve, with the Tabernacle of God. The early rabbis point out that the same word צְלָעֹת appears in Exodus 26:20, in describing how the Tabernacle is to be constructed, and they also often draw a connection between having a family and the construction of the blessed Tabernacle. Thus, while no doubt this sword thrust actually happened (hence the attestation in 19:35), it was rich in spiritual meaning for the gospel author. Just as with Adam, a “deep sleep” (for ancient peoples there was no major distinction between “coma” and “death”) has now come upon Jesus. But where God was separating female from male in Genesis, God is here, in complementary oppositeness to Adam, through this soldier, beginning the process of reuniting male and female, Jesus and Mary.

Commentary on John 20:16-17 – This resurrection scene differs from the raising of Lazarus in one essential detail: the latter came out still bound in his grave clothes. The text here does not specifically say Jesus and Mary are naked, but it doesn’t need to, since this fact is clearly apparent and significant. We know Jesus is naked since his entombment linens are still in the tomb (20:5-7) – they would in any case be much too soiled with blood and bodily fluids to serve as makeshift garments – and he cannot have gone somewhere to pick up a fresh suit. If he has gone anywhere before the encounter with Mary, it would only be nearby, to one of the abundant springs and streams in this garden, to wash himself clean, and this may be assumed because of the inclusio with the baptism at the beginning of the gospel. As for Mary, I believe that, once she was left alone by her friends (the women and the two disciples) she would have torn her clothes asunder in the traditional keriah ritual. In any case, the text here, by vividly evoking the naked couple in the garden of Eden and in the Song of Songs, clearly signals Mary’s nakedness to match Jesus’s. Her nakedness in terms of mourning is discussed above; now the nakedness of the couple in the context of resurrection and reuniting is to be discussed.

First to note, their nakedness represents birth and death; as in Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.” The “mother” here is the Earth herself, and Jesus returned into her, specifically the tomb, and now has come forth from her womb. This is a second birth for Jesus, just as he “preenacted” it with John (1:32-33) and discussed it with Nicodemus (3:3-7) and so this scene forms an inclusio with the beginning of the gospel. Moreover, in terms of Plato’s allegory, we are born owning none of the things of this world, which are just shadows cast by the more real world, the Æon, and at death we release all property, including the body. Clothing, and property in general, proclaims our social status and wealth; it divides us from others. Without clothes we are united in our common heritage, the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Adam was punished by having to wear clothing, having to toil for his daily bread, and by being returned to the earth at death (Genesis 3:17-21). And ever since Adam and Eve, mythopoetically speaking, humanity has had to wear clothes – because in being separated, male and female forever desire to be joined together again, and there is shame for humanity in that desire. Jesus accepted this Adam’s punishment, but came back up out of the earth again. Since Jesus and Mary are truly and fully united in this hierogamy, they do not need to wear clothes any longer. Thus Jesus’s and Mary’s nakedness here implies that in the Æon we are one, unencumbered by worldly things and their shadows.

Second, their nakedness in a garden brings to mind Adam and Eve naked in the garden of Eden. The primordial couple is not at first aware of being naked, nor are Mary and Jesus, which is why the gospel makes no mention of this fact. But where Adam and Eve’s guilt and shame over their sin of disobedience, for which God punishes them with mortality, is associated by Genesis with the primordial couple clothing their naked bodies; here, Jesus and Mary unclothing their bodies represents for them (and us if we follow them spiritually) a return to the human condition before the first pair ate of the fruit. Modern readers, reading Genesis through their own cultural lenses, often think that Adam and Eve 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 God’s omnipotent wrath in the face of their vulnerability, especially following their disobedience of God, and so they sewed leaves together to disguise themselves as trees in this garden of trees. Thus the nakedness of Jesus and Mary is to say 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 emphasize, as long as the individual accepts the Λογος, the truth and wisdom of the plan of God. Spiritually speaking, true trust and true nakedness are the same thing, with no need to hide oneself, or to make of oneself something other than naturally human. In this sense, the nakedness is not just to bring Adam and Eve to mind; it is 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 the next chapter, Simon the Rock is fishing naked, but puts on his clothes before swimming ashore where Jesus is; he has not yet “understood the scripture” [20:9].)

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

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

[The Coptic text cannot be reproduced on this website.]

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

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

Viewing it with modern sensibilities, scholars often dismiss this logion as an example of first-century misogyny, saying Jesus couldn’t possibly have said the Æon, the Kingdom of Heaven, was an all-male bastion! But Jesus is actually referring to the Hebrew myth of the creation of male and female. In the first creation story God creates by separating complementary opposites: day from night, above from below, land from sea; finally, God takes the hermaphroditic human who was made male-and-female in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) and separates it into two humans, the primordial couple. The second creation story likewise has womankind, in the person of Eve, drawn forth from the side of the prototypical hermaphrodyte, Adam. Jesus thus is saying in the above logion that the female and the male, in order to enter into the Æon, the Kingdom of Heaven, must again become one. Mary, as is made clear in this resurrection scene, is reborn to a new life along with her husband Jesus: they experience in this scene a hierogamy, a spiritual marriage, which renders them truly one, hence truly reflecting the image and likeness of Elohim, and fully capable of entering into the Æon.

F. F. Bruce (Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament) is the only scholar who to my knowledge interprets this logion correctly; he nicely summarizes Jesus’s point thus: “Jesus’s promise that she will become a man, so as to gain admittance to the kingdom of heaven, envisages the reintegration of the original order, when Adam was created male and female (Genesis 1.27). Adam was ‘the man’ as much before the removal of Eve from his side as after (Genesis 2.18-25). Therefore, when the primal unity is restored and death is abolished, man will still be man (albeit more perfectly so), but woman will no longer be woman; she will be reabsorbed into man.” Jesus thus transforms and elevates Mary’s humble nakedness, the nakedness of a menial laborer and destitute widow, into the highest sacredness: here truly he and she are transfigured into δοξα, the splendor of highest glory.

This interpretation of logion 114 is supported by logion 22, in which Jesus says in part, “When you make the two one … when you make the male and the female a single one, such that the male is not male nor the female female … then you shall enter into [the Kingdom of Heaven].” Likewise he says in logion 75, “There are many standing at the door, but the united/whole/single ones (are) the ones who will go in to the bridal chamber.” In a conversation with his mother-in-law Salome in logion 61, Jesus makes the same point: “If one is whole, one will be filled with light; however, if one is divided (into separate male and female), one will be filled with darkness”.

We also find the exact same theology in the Gospel of Philip, for instance in logion 76:

[The Coptic text cannot be reproduced on this website.]

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

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

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

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

Note also that the word for Tabernacle, מִשְׁכָּן (mishkan), literally means “dwelling place”, and that the Torah specifies a tent (אֹ֫הֶל; ohel) is put over it, and that the glory (כָּבוֺד; kabod) of God (e.g., Exodus 40:34-35), a presence of God that was in time understood as the feminine aspect of God, שכינה‎, the Shekhina. Note further that the when the Israelites reached the Promised Land the Tabernacle was kept according to Jews in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), but the Samaritans make a stronger case that it was kept at Mount Gerizim: the several times in Deuteronomy 16 where it says “at the place that YHWH your God will choose to have his name reside there” the most likely original wording preserved in the Samaritan Torah says “at the place that was chosen at Mount Gerizim”, the mountain where the Samaritan Temple in Jesus’s day was located, and at the foot of which he met with his wife-to-be, the priestess Mary. The Jewish Torah changed these references; the editors couldn’t make the text say Jerusalem when that city was not yet in Israelite hands, so they referred indirectly with “the place that God will choose” the eventual location where Solomon placed the Tabernacle: the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8:4), where it joined the Ark of the Covenant, placed by David in the Temple, which was interpreted as its “tent” (II Samuel 6:16 and I Chronicles 15:1) – this the earthly Jerusalem chosen for strictly political reasons, not spiritual.

With all this in mind we turn to Revelation 21:2-4, wherein we are told of “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having been prepared as a bride, having been adorned for her husband,” and a voice saying “the tent (σκηνη; skēnē) is with humanity”, and that “death will be no more”. The city is described in detail; surprisingly, we are told (21:23) that it has no Temple, nor that it has need of sunlight or moonlight, because “the glory of God lit it up, and its lamp is the Lamb.” Throughout the Revelation, the bride of the Lamb refers to Mary, Jesus’s bride, the priestess of Gerizim, the “woman clothed with the sun” (12:1) who bears his child. Thus, as in the Talmud, we find here in John the Presbyter’s last masterpiece that the city is Jesus’s bride, and that the tent, the Tabernacle, with humanity is filled with Mary’s presence too: the Shekhina. We are told that Heaven and Earth are one, and that the holy city is full of God and the Lamb: in short, Jesus’s and Mary’s oneness are found everywhere in the Æon as described in the Revelation, and their becoming one is why “death will be no more”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This sexual element is related to the previous point that their Edenic nakedness has spiritual meaning. In the act of coïtus the man and woman become physically one, and their conscious minds are set aside, allowing them a moment of sheer ecstasy, which is a harbinger of the joy of living in the Æon. (This wakan aspect to lovemaking is explored in detail in The Circle of Life.) Further, the act of coïtus can result in the creation of new life, in the form of a child. Thus, Elohim appears in Genesis as Creator, Father-Mother to all life, and the man and woman, when they are truly one (including physically, during coïtus), are in the image and likeness of Elohim also creating life. This points to the deep meanings of the “bridal chamber” theology found in several early gospels, certainly Thomas and especially Philip. Logion 86 in the latter, quoted on page 621, says that when male and female are mated together again in the bridal chamber they gain eternal life; death is overcome for them. It is beyond the scope of this work to speculate in detail on what physical manifestation, if anything, the “bridal chamber” references pointed to. Generally, the strand of spirituality leading from the early Gnostics (especially Marcus and Valentinius) to the Cathars eschewed the panoply of ritual, ceremony-as-sacrament, and preferred inner, spiritual transcendence. The depiction in Philip is of a bride and groom entering into the bridal chamber privately.

Joined as one, Jesus-and-Mary are no longer Blake’s “ratio”, scattered fragments of the whole, but the restored First Human, complete and perfect: they are the Platonic ίδεα, the image and likeness of Elohim. As such, this Human is not static, not yet (20:17) at the destination, the Æon, but still follows God’s Λογος.

Pilate and Plato’s Philosopher-King

This blog about the real meaning of the conversation between Jesus and Pontius Pilate, 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 briefly explains to Pilate his theology of the Æon. The concept and terminology (this conversation most likely takes place in Greek) would immediately have been familiar ground for Pilate, who like all Romans of his class would have been very well read in the classical philosophers. “My kingdom is not in this cosmos,” Jesus says to Pilate, and Pilate instantly recognizes the concept of the philosopher-king. He understands that Jesus is speaking of a kingdom not of this cosmos as in hypothetical terms, the way Socrates in The Republic spoke of Kallipolis (“Beautiful City”) as the ιδεα of the ideal country, in the greater universe called the Æon (what is called in introductory philosophy classes “the world of forms”), where philosophers like this Jesus are indeed kings, and where these philosopher-kings, to quote from that work, “are lovers of the vision of truth,” just as this man claims to testify to the truth.

Ironically, Pilate (like Caiaphas) is one of Jesus’s few interlocutors who is sufficiently intellectual to understand very well the profound thinking of this man before him, who only outwardly seems a simple “country rabbi”. The text tells us that Pilate met with Jesus at about dawn (18:28), and as always in this gospel this fact is reported because it is meaningful; as Jesus speaks to Pilate, the latter understands, one could say that the light dawns on Pilate.

Only once before has Jesus spoken of his kingdom, and that is to another ruler, Nicodemus (3:3,5), hence there is an inclusio between the two passages. Elsewhere Jesus declares, “I am the way” to the I AM, the Father (14:6). This theology looks not to stake out an empire in this earthly universe of space and time (τοπος and χρονος, to use the precise Greek terms), but to seek the Æon, the greater, sacred universe, in which space and time are infinite and yet one, γαια and καιρος. To quote Tennyson’s “Ulysses”, it is to

Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

In such an infinity as the Æon there is no need to go forth “conquering and to conquer” (Revelation 6:2) like the Cæsar and the Hitler

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For, as Jesus said, there are many abodes in his Father’s house (14:2), an infinity of room for all. No point in conquering with unlimited abundance for all, and no craving for power and wealth there. There the faithful will live in the Father’s house which, unlike the “Father’s House” in Jerusalem, the Second Temple, will not be in the exclusive control of these few self-appointed religious leaders outside Pilate’s audience chamber, but (in a phrase breathing other dimensions, where something can be bigger within than it is without) will contain “many dwelling places”. This philosophy of Jesus is not an either/or, but to say that his kingdom, the Æon, surrounds and includes this mundane cosmos the way an infinitely dimensioned structure surrounds and includes a single finite point on a straight line (the present moment in χρονος), and a minuscule country in a tiny world orbiting an unremarkable star on the edges of a galaxy like thousands of others.

Jesus’s statement that his followers have no plans to fight in his defense is usually taken as an attempt to put Pilate’s mind at ease. That is not the case. This statement, ironically (and there is much irony here), is a paradox; it works at the same time to Jesus’s benefit and detriment. If Jesus is innocent of claiming kingship in this cosmos, then Pilate should find him innocent; but that would mean Jesus would not be executed – which goes against Jesus’s wishes. However, in order to be sentenced to death as he wishes, Jesus must mendaciously claim kingship in this cosmos, which he cannot do because, as he says, he represents the truth.

But a solution presents itself. Pontius Pilate seizes not on the kingdom being beyond this cosmos but on the kingship: “Then you are a king!”, with the emphasis on “are”. Jesus takes Pilate’s exclamation and turns it into a practical solution of this ironic paradox, this dilemma, this impasse, that they both see. It is found in his statement, “You say that I am a king.” Jesus is saying in effect: “You just need to say that I have declared myself a king. That is the truth, and I was born as a witness to the truth. That is the only truth that the others outside this room will understand, for they don’t understand this philosophical nicety that I am only their king in the greater universe, the Æon, only that I am their king. And, if you declare this, it will be sufficient for you to sentence me to death, and it was to die in this manner, that I was born and came into this cosmos.”

Pilate makes it clear that he too comprehends the subtlety of what Jesus is saying with his response “What is truth?” Pilate knows from his readings in Plato, especially the Allegory of the Cave, that people (including Pilate himself) commonly only understand the absolute truth from their limited, subjective viewpoints. The people chained in the cave can only see shadows on the wall cast by real people out of sight behind them and think these shadows are the truth, and this they condemn the philosopher who looks away from the shadows they call “the truth” and sees the real truth. Discussing the allegory, Socrates says in Plato’s dialogue that “the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.”

Pilate knows that the truth he puts down in his reports back to Rome is very different from the truth of his day-to-day experiences; it is carefully sanitized to avoid arousing the interest of powerful people. Pilate knows that the truth of what history will say about these events will probably diverge widely from what actually happened; as a high government official he has surely read Thucydides and Julius Cæsar and seen their selectivity with the facts. Pilate may even guess that this very observant young man in the room with Jesus and him, a young man whom he knows as Barabbas, will one day write a history containing this very conversation.