Star Riders

Star Riders:

The Aramaic Revelation Text and a Correct Identification of

the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse


James David Audlin


Adapted and abridged from The Revelation to John, to be published soon by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2013,2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

Nonfiction by James David Audlin



Two of Zechariah’s visions are often proposed as source material here, though they have little in common with John’s vision except that horses and the number four are mentioned, as well as colors that partly correspond. In Zechariah 1:8-11 the prophet sees by night a man under myrtle trees, astride a red horse, with red, sorrel, and white horses behind him: perhaps one of each color but it could also be a large group of horses. The man tells the prophet that “they”, presumably the horses, were sent out by YHWH to walk about the earth and report. And in Zechariah 6:1-8 the prophet sees four chariots pulled respectively by red, black, white, and dappled horses. The latter is specifically four sets of horses rather than a group, and the colors are closer to those of the four horses in Revelation, though in a different order and including the quite ordinary horse-color of sorrel rather than the fourth horse’s anything-but-horselike color of ܝܘܪܩܐ (ywrāq), which was somewhere between blue-green and greenish-yellow. The Presbyter often shows his deep familiarity with the prophets, so certainly these two prophecies were in the back of his mind yet still they do not appear to be a direct source for this his own prophecy.

The four horsemen are usually understood, not wrongly, as four “curses” in civilization: the charismatic leader who opens up conquest, the bloodshed that follows, then the poverty and pestilence that enable usurious merchants to profit from desperation, and the inevitable “collateral damage” of victims to war and plague.

Better to understand these four horsemen we must review the classical concept of fourness associated with this material world. Besides those about to be named, there were the four cardinal directions, four traditional elements, four oceans, and four continents, among others. This fourness is, of course, prominent in the Revelation.

Empedocles (490-430 B.C.E.), on the basis of his careful observations and the work of predecessors, saw all things and events in the world in terms of constant interaction of four complements arranged in two pairs: wet and dry, hot and cold. Water is the product of wet and cold, air of wet and hot, earth dry and cold, fire dry and hot. Earth and water, having the attribute of mass, gather below (hence land and sea), and fire and air, lacking that attribute, gather above. Philo, who I conclude was the Presbyter’s teacher at the Mouseion, the great university in Alexandria, was one of several prominent Jewish scholars who believed there was no conflict between the Tanakh and Greek philosophy; Philo indeed approvingly quotes Empedocles on this very subject in his essay “On Providence”.

On Empedocles’s foundation Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.E.) proposed the humoral theory of medicine. Even though it dominated in Western medicine for two millennia, surviving well into the nineteenth century, it is largely forgotten today, which is surely why to my awareness no New Testament scholar or commentator has brought it up in this context. According to this theory four humors flow in complex patterns in all living bodies, human and those of other species. When the humors are in their proper balance, Hippocrates wrote, the overall bodily system is in good health; when that balance is lost sickness results and, in the extreme, death. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) and, after John’s lifetime, Galen further developed this theory, as did many others over the centuries.

These four humors are φλεγμα (phlegm), αιμα (blood), χολη (yellow bile), and μελαν χολη (black bile). They are associated with the four seasons, respectively beginning with winter; with the traditional four elements: water, air, fire, and earth; with four classical planets: the moon, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn; and with four primary colors, white, red, yellow, and black. These groups of four do not match in exact order the descriptions of the four horsemen, but they are very close.

Another cultural factor that would have been in John’s mind is the four colors can be associated with leprosy. I refer not to what is called leprosy today, which is an entirely different disease, but what the Bible means when it speaks of צרעת (tzaraath). This malady was the outward manifestation of an essentially spiritual affliction: Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch insightfully points out that Exodus 21:19 advises someone who develops the symptoms not to see a doctor, as the Torah usually does, but a priest. The implication of the relevant Tanakh passages are that the disease results from selfishness, arrogation, greed, and insensitivity to the plight of others: of forgetting to “love one’s brother as oneself” (Leviticus 19:18b). In modern terms, if one seals oneself off from interaction, one’s skin grows necrotic and one’s body unhealthy, and one’s homes in which one barricade oneself with one’s possessions cultivate bacteria and fungi. The Torah specifies the earliest signs of the disease as whitened hairs or skin, and red rashes or lesions. One’s clothing and the walls of one’s house can show signs of this leprosy by turning the same green as the grass of the field – and of course, if untreated, one can eventually die of the disease, as suggested by the fourth seal.

One may also interpret the four horsemen as the four stages of the individual’s life: childhood, when one explores and discovers one’s world like a conqueror; youth, when one fights and struggles for a place in society; maturity, when one is in charge of the merchanting of whatever one sells; and old age, when one decays and dies. In this sense the four are about how the κοσμος, the cosmos, as John calls the human world, takes us over and grinds us down until we fit without remonstrance into the machine of mutual exploitation – even learning to love the bars that shut us in, the system that exploits us when we are valuable and kicks us to the ditch when we are not.

But there is nothing in the text to suggest a temporal cause-and-effect consecutiveness to these four; that is an assumption arising from the modern categorical imperative. John may have intended them as temporally consecutive, one leading to the next, but we do not know that. The four might just as well be four contemporaneous figure or forces. This fits with their most likely scriptural source, Leviticus 26:14-33, Jeremiah 15:2-3, and Ezekiel 14:21, which list exactly the several deaths that the horsemen bring as coming to those who do not listen to God. Better put, most likely the Presbyter saw these four at once, in the same place in the field of the vision, and only described them consecutively because that is the nature of written description.

These four horsemen are no doubt a depiction of what John actually saw with spiritual sight as he looked up at the stars in this night of visions. It should therefore not be difficult to determine what exactly he was observing as he saw the vision of these four horsemen, and what the sight meant to him.

There were several planets aloft that night. In the early evening, Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury were in close conjunction setting to the west. Saturn remained aloft much of the night in the constellation Virgo. Mars, the obvious choice for the second, red horse, was to rise in the hours before dawn, well after the others, except Saturn, had all disappeared. And the others are not usually associated with a particular color as is Mars. There simply is no obvious way that the planets of that night can be seen as inspiring the Four Horsemen.

And so we turn to stars instead. There certainly cannot be many configurations that comprise only a white, red, black, and green star.

The first thing we must realize is that the green of the fourth horse has nothing directly to do with its rider, Death, and its companion, Sheol. The Aramaic color ܝܘܪܩܐ (ywrāq) encompassed what for us modern Westerners is the range between blue-green and greenish-yellow. It was, in short, the color of vegetation in all its variations, thus including the deep dark hue of some tree leaves and needles and the bright chartreuse of wildgrasses, as well as the yellow cast they take in dry seasons. Vegetation of course is living, and so this color has no intrinsic association with Death. The Textus Receptus, lacking a Greek word that embraced this full range of vegetative hues, translated ܝܘܪܩܐas χλωρος (chlōros), which focuses on the greenish-yellow end of the above spectrum.

Modern commentators, not ancient, often try to get around the problem of unrelation between the color and death by suggesting that John chose this color because it is that of decaying corpses. Perhaps it is the shade of decomposition, but that doesn’t get around the fact that the ancient Greeks thought of the word mainly in association with not dead things but living things, most often verdure. In the dictionaries the word is associated with young shoots, and by extension (without reference to color) with the human qualities of “fresh” and by further extension “young” and “lively”. Homer describes both honey and a nightingale as χλωρος. It appears only a couple of times in the classical literature to describe victims of a plague, but even this unusual usage does not mean death, let alone rotting corpses. Indeed, the three other times χλωρος appears in the New Testament, at Mark 6:39 and twice more in Revelation itself, at 8:7 and 9:4, it always refers to living greenery. In any case, we must not forget that what John wrote was ܝܘܪܩܐ and not χλωρος, and the Aramaic word has no associations with death. In the Peshitta Bible, both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament, it always refers to verdure, especially grass.

We encounter the same basic problem with the color of the third horse. John says it is ܐܘܟܡܐ (ˀwkamā), which is usually translated as “black”. For moderns black is the total absence of color, but it was classically understood not as without color but as with much more color than usual, because dyeing a fabric very dark took a lot of saturating with costly dyes, as well as much time and expertise. Hence black (really very dark blue or purple) garments – the ܐܪܓܘܢܐ or πορφυρας of Revelation 17:4 and 18:12,16 – were worn only by the rich.

In fact, just as for us moderns χλωροςis not a color, so too the ancient Greeks and Semites did not conceive of blue as an actual discrete color; so conclude several scholars of color perception, beginning with William E. Gladstone (Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age). Homer speaks of the sea as wine-dark and the sky as bronze (i.e., shining like metal), not blue. The aforementioned Empedocles, also a color theorist, names only black, white, χλωρος, and red as colors. The Greek word κυάνεος (kyaneos, “cyan”), often translated as “blue”, really means “very dark”, and is a synonym for μελας (melas), what the Greek in 6:5 calls the color of the third horse. The color blue never appears in the Bible, Jewish or Christian: in the Tanakh the Hebrew word סַפִּיר (sapir, “sapphire”), though sometimes rendered as “blue”, really is a form of green, and תְּכֵ֫לֶת (tekeleth) a form of purple.

My sense of the matter is that we think of blue and black as two different colors, but to the ancients they were the same color, with what we call blue being the color of the sky by day and what we call black being the color of the sky by night: the latter sky, you might say, being more deeply dyed. Likewise, even moderns, if they look closely at the fur of a black horse will see that it is not black exactly, but a very deep blue color; I personally have many times seen horses that were a sleek blue-black in color. And I have met many men and women from Africa whose skins are so black that they appear blue – John inevitably had encountered some of these truly beautiful people too.

Besides all this, logic comes to our aid. If John was observing four stars in the night sky as these four horses, then he could not have seen a black star. While there are such things as black stars – both the burned-out remains of formerly shining stars and the so-called black holes, whose gravitation is so great that no radiation, including light, can escape them. If it was not a black star, then John must have been looking at a deep blue star.

Since green in first-century Greek and Aramaic is neither a horse-color nor a death-color, and since deep blue is not easily understood as a horse-color, we are forced to conclude with a simpler explanation: that John put down these colors not to be abstrusely symbolic but simply because they are the colors he saw. Which means they are the colors of the stars he saw.

And that brings us to a difficulty, but a felicitous one. There are white, red, and blue stars aplenty in the night sky, but the fourth horse, the fourth star, being green, is generally understood as an impossibility. Stars are by nature close to the ideal “black body” of physics, which by definition absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation. Therefore, in accordance with Planck’s Law, each star emits black-body radiation that is of a certain color wavelength depending on the star’s actual temperature at thermal equilibrium. The physics dictate that all stars have colors in the range of red, orange, yellow, white, and light blue. A handful of light blue stars appear green by an optical illusion thanks to a nearby red star in their multiple star systems; Antares B and Almach provide examples.

Yet there is one and only one star that is often described as intrinsically green, and not because it is bathed in the light of a nearby red star – and, since the colors of the other three horses (white, red, and blue) are common star colors, we must seek this unique star as the means by which we can with certainty identify the four horses of John’s vision.

The genuinely green star is called Zuben Eschamali (or β Libræ), in the constellation Libra. The name comes from the Arabic الزبن العقرب (al-zuban al-šamāliyya), meaning “the Northern Claw”, because in ancient Mediterranean cultures from the Babylonian to the Roman, and including the Semitic and Greek, this constellation was sometimes seen as a scorpion – a creature that will figure prominently later in the Revelation.

There is some recent controversy over whether this star is green or blue-white, but Burnham’s Celestial Handbook, one of the most reliable standard references, quotes two earlier scholars William T. Olcott as saying it is the only green star visible to the naked eye, and T. H. Webb’s description of its “beautiful pale-green hue”. The latter word choice is interesting, since English translations put the fourth horse’s color into English as either “pale” or “green”. Another leading astronomer, James B. Kaler, states a growing consensus that its color may indeed have been green in the past but that for some reason it has relatively recently changed to blue-white.

Adding to the sense that this star represents the fourth horse of John’s vision, it displays a regular variation in magnitude that must be caused by a companion star not yet actually seen from Earth. This dark, mysterious companion star could be the one John calls Sheol and says is following behind the green horse – but that raises a provocative question. Was John simply seeing the stars of night and the visions were to a large degree the product of his cultural worldview and his imagination, or was he actually seeing, presumably by God’s will, the dark companion star that to date the best telescopes have not yet detected? Another question is whether this unseen companion is a burned-out star or even a black hole.

The other three stars in Libra are Zuben Elgenubi, “the Southern Claw, which is white; Zuben Elakrab, “the Shears of the Scorpion”, which is orange-red, and Iota Libræ, which is blue. Starting with Zuben Elgenubi, the colors are a perfect match with those of the four horses in John’s vision. And what is more they form, depending on how you observe it, the shape of a kite or box – but since the ancient astronomers such as Ptolemy saw the constellations not so much as areas but as lines, they form something more like a cross.

Next, these four stars make up a constellation often associated in ancient times with a scorpion. The word for “scorpion” in Aramaic is ܥܩܪܒܐ (ˁqrbˀ). The roots of this word suggest grabbing hold of one by the heel, to follow one closely, to take one’s place in public office. In short, the name of this constellation well fits Paul, who grabbed hold of Jesus’s public image and sought to succeed him (and surpass him) as the leader of the religion he, Paul, and not Jesus, founded. In the commentary to 6:2 I will discuss the probable identity of the first horseman as that of Paul.

Note also that the same Aramaic word, vocalized a little differently, is the word for “soldier”. The first two of these four horsemen are portrayed with soldier imagery. And, as we will with scorpions, we will see much more of soldiers as this vision continues.

Finally, note that the classical Mediterranean cultures also often associated this constellation with the balance-scales. In Aramaic the balance-scales are called ܡܐܣܬܐ (messəṯā), which is of course the equivalent name for this constellation. That very word appears in verse 6:5, the balance-scales in the hand of the third horseman, and I cannot help but think John looking at the constellation we call Libra inspired that element in the vision.


6:2 – One school of thought is that the first horseman is to be understood as Jesus. No less than Irenæus, student of John the Presbyter’s student Polycarp, was the first to make this suggestion. Jesus is similarly described as wearing a wreath in 14:14, though his is described as golden, and as astride a white horse in 19:11-12. (While usually translated as “crown”, a later accoutrement of European kings, the word in both Aramaic and Greek refers to a wreath, which would be bestowed in ceremonies of acclaim on military and sporting victors as wcan should be understood as Jesus is found in the Aramaic.) The phrase ܤܘܤܝܐ ܚܘܪܐ (sūsyā ḥawrā), usually taken to mean “a white horse”, can also be rendered, according to J. Payne Smith’s dictionary, as “a yearling lamb tending the sick”, an image of Jesus, the lamb of God (John 1:36) to be sacrificed at Passover, healing the sick.

However the text is clear that this first figure is not acclaimed by God but more allowed or suffered by God for a limited period of time. The description of this first horseman is in direct parallel with the three that follow, such that, if this were indeed Jesus, then we would have to wonder why one good figure is juxtaposed with three evil figures. Indeed, the concept of fourness in reference to the earth, this physical realm, was so universal in the classical age that we must take these four horsemen as a unit, as sharing all essential characteristics. There can be no division into one versus three. Thus all four are forms of scourges visited upon the earth.

This first image has often been compared to that of a Parthian horseman. A few centuries before John’s lifetime the Parthians (whose homeland is now northeastern Iraq) had developed some fearsome military innovations, including armored archers mounted on white Parthian horses, just as described here. Western history, which is focused on Greece and Rome, tends to ignore the great Parthian Empire, which from the century before John to the century after they were Rome’s main enemy. At the same time that the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to Assyria in 721 B.C.E., new Semitic populations sprang up in Parthia and nearby countries, suggesting a massive displacement of Israelites; no wonder that these Parthians spoke a tongue very close to Hebrew, and that among them was a sizable and influential Jewish population. After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., Babylonia in the Parthian realm became the center of Judaism for the subsequent millennium. No wonder Josephus originally composed his Jewish Wars in Aramaic so Parthian Jews would be able to read it.

The Parthian Empire invaded Judæa in 40 B.C.E. and briefly ruled it, forcing Rome to hold its nose and put Herod the Great on the Jewish throne – and Herod like a juggler managed to maintain friendly relations with the two implacable empires, Rome and Parthia. How could he do this? A scholar named István Horvát (1784–1846) reached the conclusion that Herod accomplished this feat because he was himself of Parthian Scythian ancestry. Horvát goes even further, saying Paul of Tarsus too was of the same blood. These conclusions have been almost universally ignored; only a few scholars bother to dismiss them, though never by providing solid counterevidence. Nevertheless, this always meticulous Romanian polymath deserves to be taken seriously, since a number of facts suggest he may have been correct.

Paul was almost certainly a Herodian, part of the religious-political movement that embraced descendants of King Herod who were determined to be accepted as Jews. Paul greets his kinsman named Herodian in Romans 16:11, and Josephus appears to refer to him as Saulus, “a kinsman of (Herod) Agrippa” (Antiquities 20:9:4). Robert Eisenman further strengthens the case in an excellent article, “Paul as Herodian” (JHC 3:1, Spring 1996). Paul spoke Syro-Chaldæan, the lingua franca of Parthia (Acts 21:40 and 26:14). He was from the city of Tarsus, which though never within the Parthian Empire was originally called Parthenia, suggesting its Parthian heritage. And he declared himself (Philippians 3:5) a descendant “of the Tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews”. The Tribe of Benjamin is often associated with Parthia, and the royal family of Afghanistan (in the first century part of the Parthian Empire) claims to this day to be descended from that line. The name “Hebrew” literally comes from הַנָּהָר עֵבֶר, “from the far side of the Euphrates”, traditionally referring to when Abraham crossed it, and in the first century that river was the agreed-upon border between the Roman and Parthian empires; Paul, who often made words dance to his tune of equivocation, may well have been saying truthfully that his family had originated in the Parthian Empire beyond the Euphrates, while letting his readers assume he meant to say his ancestors were Judæans, which they were not.

In sum, the description of the first horseman goes far to suggest the Presbyter had Paul in mind. At I John 2:18,22 and 4:3, and II John 7 John calls Paul the αντιχριστος, the “anti-Christ”. The English prefix “anti-” denotes active opposition or hostility, but this is a shift in meaning away from the Greek prefix αντι-, which suggests something more like mirror reversal: identical but backwards. John invented the word to describe Paul as an opposite-but-equal-to alternative to Jesus – as a kind of would-be messiah himself using the real Messiah as the sheep’s clothing over the fox, to drape himself in the garb of authenticity.

From the perspective of this understanding of verse 6:2, its doubles entendres come into sharper focus. The phrase ܤܘܤܝܐ ܚܘܪܐ (sūsyā ḥawrā) overtly means “a white horse” but implicitly “a yearling lamb tending the sick” – something Paul never did, even though he was reminded to do so at the so-called Council of Jerusalem in 49 or 50. And the wreath the figure is given suggests that yes, John concedes that Paul has won the battle for supremacy, turning the Jewish movement centered on Jesus’s teachings into a new Roman-style religion: the awarding of a wreath to victors was a Roman ceremony, not a Jewish; even in declaring Paul the victor John is saying he did so by becoming a Roman and putting Jesus into a toga as well. The Presbyter’s mature “brave new theology” was in effect his response: let Paul have the wreath in this world he is so determined to win, since what matters is our living by the Logos in this world such that we will be able to enter the sacred realm, the Æon.

One critical word appears three times at the end of this verse in three different forms.

The first, ܙܟܝ (zakāy), is the adjective form, which can mean “just”, “innocent”, “righteous”, “free”, “victorious”, “deserving”, “worthy”, “entitled to (the) possession” (of something), or “having the right/authority” (to do something). This adjective is also used to describe oils and incenses that are clear, free of impurities – which is interesting in view of the remark at the end of 6:6. The second form, ܘܙܟܐ (wazakā), is the present active participle. The third form,ܘܕܢܙܟܐ (w’d’nzakā) has two prefixes “and in-order-to”) followed by the infinitive.

There are two main senses in which this word can be understood. One focuses on righteousness and overcoming, overcoming what is bad within oneself or the world, and the other is about victory and conquering, overcoming others in the world. In neither case is there a single word that in different inflections can appear all three times, so I must resort to “righteous” and “overcoming/overcome” for the one meaning, and “victorious” and “conquering/conquer” for the other.

This dual meaning is reminiscent of the Arabic word جهاد (jihad), which originally and properly refers to the inward struggle to live by God’s will and thus become the person God intended when one was created, but which has been twisted by fearmongering news media in both predominantly Muslim countries and in the West to give it the false meaning of, respectively, an unprovoked full-scale attack on innocent Western citizens and the necessity to attack the West as a defensive measure against the West’s full-frontal efforts through economic and military belligerence to destroy the essential Muslim character of those countries.

These two highly contrastive meanings of this Aramaic word suggests again, as do other elements in this verse, both the right path and the wrong path. Paul talks often in his letters about overcoming evil and being righteous, but his behavior is clearly aimed at being victorious over his (perceived) enemies, especially John, and “conquering the world for Christ”, that is, for himself. Paul could have used his obviously abundant gift for evangelizing for good, but he chose otherwise. So God will give him the wreath in this world, but ultimately he is but another scourge in this world, like the conqueror, the extorting merchant, and the plague.


6:5 – Given the voice calling out prices, the assumption is always that the individual with the balance-scale is a merchant, that he is using the instrument to measure out quantities of wheat and barley. But the image (if not what the voice says) is also the ancient one of a goddess holding a balance-scale. It originates in the Egyptian Ma’at and Isis and progresses through the Greek Themis and Dike, into whose hands classical artists first placed the balance-scale, and then the Roman Iustitia, who was often portrayed blindfolded and also carrying a sword to enforce her verdict. The conjunction of merchant and goddess of justice is that in most societies the wealthiest merchants also control or even are the government, such that they can make and enforce laws to protect and increase the flow of fortune into their purses. By holding the scale of justice even as he exacts exorbitant prices for basic necessary food items the third horseman is saying his prices are lawful and fair, and if you complain you will be imprisoned by his justice.


6:6 – The text specified in the preceding verse that the third living being (the one with a human face) invites John to “Come!” Here it says the voice of this horse rider with the balance-scale comes from among the four living beings. It is not one of the four speaking; rather, the voice comes out from among them. It is evident that these visions John is witnessing are visual only, as they should be since they are clearly stellar in nature.

What the merchant-voice says can be understood on two levels. The first is the standard rendering, in which the voice states prices, the kind of hawker’s voice John must have heard constantly not on the lonely island of Patmos but in the street outside his window in Ephesus, the kind of call I hear all the time here in Paso Ancho. In terms of that rendering, these notes: A denarius was a day’s wage for the typical working-class man. A ܩܒܐ, qabā, is equal to about 1.175 liters or 1.24 quarts, which would hardly be enough to feed that man and his family too, and leave the man no money to pay for other necessities. The word ܬܗܪ (tahar) is a command which, with the preceding negative particle, means “Do not harm”, but it also can mean, with the negative, “Do not marvel at”; the first would be a warning to the customers to keep their hands away from the costly goods; the second would be typical of a hawker’s enticement patter.

But the word ܩܒܐ also can mean “receptacle” or “enclosure”; in Arabic it means “womb”, and a sexual sense is very likely here too, since the word ܚܛܐ (ḥṭy, “wheat”) also can mean “sin”, appearing in the very early Syriac Sinaiticus text of John 1:29, in fact. The prefix ܕ (d’) attached to ܚܛܐ is ordinarily translated as “of”, such that the standard translation makes sense, “a qabā of wheat for a denarius”. But this prefix more accurately means “which” or “that”, so it actually makes more sense to render this phrase “a receptacle/womb that sins for a denarius”.

That there is a second level of meaning is apparent in the next phrase too, though it is not as clear. Scholars assume the word ܩܐܒܝܢ (qābyn) is a variation of ܩܒܐ (qabā); on one level it may be, but the Presbyter’s love for doubles entendres leads to awareness that in the related Mandaic dialect the word means “marriage contract”, and it could also be connected to ܩܒܝܐ (qabya), a round metal pot. The standard translation of ܤܥܪܐ (šˁārā) is “barley”, but it can also mean “hair” and “storm” or “whirlwind”. Jastrow writes in his dictionary that ܤܥܪܐ appears in Job 9:17 classical Aramaic is from decorous texts, scriptural or magical or poetical, so we know next to nothing about the slang and gutter speech that might be at play here. But “hair” and “storm”, at least, imply quite an exciting time for your denarius.

The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 are freighted with John’s outrage at the wayward members of his congregations who were indulging in sexual impropriety at the urgning of a woman he calls Jezebel. This sexual undercurrent to the third seal appears to be a reprise of that outrage.

Since the other meaning of the barley phrase is unclear, my decision is not to give the second meaning of the wheat phrase. The reader is advised to recall that both phrases have a dual meaning.


6:8 – The standard reading of this verse is that it says the fourth rider is named ܡܘܬܐ (mawtā), Death, and that ܫܝܘܠ, Sheol follows him. The first word often carries in the classical writings the connotation of unexpected or violent death, which the latter half of the verse makes clear is the case here. And, the text goes on to say, Sheol follows behind the horseman Death. Sheol, the Jewish-Samaritan abode of the dead, not to be confused with the later Christian dogmatic invention hell. It is discussed on page ###. Jesus told John in 1:18 that he has the key of death and Sheol, and here the lamb, Jesus, opens the seal that releases Death and Sheol.

This fourth being is allowed to kill a quarter of the world’s population by means of four deaths: in war, by famine, by plague, and by wild animals. These four deaths do not match up exactly with the nature of the first three horsemen: death by sword/slaughter sounds like the second horseman, famine and plague sound like the third horseman, but wild animals is a newly mentioned death here. This non-matchup is because John was rather recording the list of four deaths found in Leviticus 26:14-33 and Ezekiel 14:21. But the sense still is clear that all four horsemen represent various forms of untimely death. All of us in mortal vesture, to quote Shakespeare, are going to die in one way or another, and the sum of these four horsemen is that we may die to executioners, conquering armies, poverty, famine, plague, or wild creatures, but in the times that lay ahead as John wrote there was no chance of dying peacefully in our old age, because the coming years were going to be rife with dangers on all sides – and that for those striving to hold to the teachings of Jesus there was no escaping such a fate. (Ironically, John the Presbyter is recorded as being most unhappy when it was clear that he would die of old age and not to the executioner in defense of his faith; see The Gospel of John, page ###.)

The Aramaic Revelation

By James David Audlin. Drafts for the introduction to the restoration of the original Aramaic text of The Revelation to John, to be published in 2015 by Editores Volcán Barú. Copyright © 2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.

It is all but certain that the Revelation was composed in Aramaic; the most obvious reason among others is that the Greek text is riddled with grammatical mistakes, nearly all of which turn out to be good grammar in Aramaic. This is a clear sign that the scribe who put it into Greek was so filled with piety for the holy, inspired work in front of him that he rendered it with slavish literality, preferring to translate it so exactly that his Greek syntax suffered to the point of frequent near-incomprehensibility. So verbatim is this translation that to anyone familiar with both languages it has the same clumsy clunkiness of a text translated by computer. Unfortunately, this putative original author’s version in Aramaic does not survive. But the good news is that the Greek Textus Receptus must be very close to that original, and, where it is difficult to follow, the solution should be found by consulting the best and earliest Aramaic text we have, the so-called Crawford Revelation.

It is also a near certainty that this best and earliest Aramaic text is not a direct translation from the Greek. The Crawford manuscript (so named for a previous owner) is the oldest complete New Testament in Aramaic; by “complete” I mean that it includes the Antilegomena (II Peter, II and III John, and Jude) and the Revelation, works which for centuries were not part of the New Testament in Eastern Christianity. In fact, the Crawford includes the earliest extant Aramaic version of the Revelation. In its entirety, especially in the Revelation, this Syriac manuscript displays an eloquent, literary, often explicitly poetic, and virtually flawless Aramaic. Moreover, when the Crawford New Testament quotes the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament), the wording clearly comes from a Semitic original, either the Hebrew Bible or the Aramaic Targum, and not from the Greek version, the Septuagint. And also, no Greek text or combination of Greek texts could possibly be the original behind the Crawford Revelation. Thus it overstrains credulity to believe that an Aramaic original of presumably high literary quality was translated into inferior Greek, which was then back-translated into beautiful Aramaic.

For the most part the Crawford and the standard Greek text of Revelation agree in meaning, and that is an important consideration; the latter, as a direct translation of the lost Aramaic original, must be consulted in any effort to establish that original. Still, there are many significant differences between the two that strongly suggest the Crawford does not rely on the Greek. Indeed, when compared to the Crawford, the Textus Receptus displays another fault: the translator’s decision to mirror the Aramaic in the Greek ran into a problem when he came upon Aramaic words that had no exact Greek equivalent, and so he was forced to make up some kind of approximation in Greek.

For instance, in the very first chapter, in verse 13, the Crawford says the figure is wearing an ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ (ˀăpūḏā), an ephod, the breastplate traditionally worn by the high priests in the Temple, but the Greek incorrectly says instead that the figure is ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη, “clothed to the feet”. If the scribe responsible for the Crawford had been basing it on the Greek, he would have simply translated “clothed to the feet” into Aramaic, for there is nothing in that phrase that even hints at the ephod. Only if he were endowed with the most astonishing parapsychological powers could he have known to put down ܐܲܦܼܘܼܕܼܵܐ for ενδεδυμενον ποδηρη.

What is not clear is the relationship between these two Aramaic texts, the lost original and the Crawford. The author’s draft of the Revelation was written down in the year 68, and the Crawford manuscript dates to the twelfth century, more than a millennium later. It would thus be foolish to say it is a faithful copy of the Presbyter’s original text, or something close to it, or that it is the source for the Greek Textus Receptus, as does one Crawford translator, David Bauscher.

Some scholars think the Crawford New Testament may be, or may be closely related to, the Philoxenian (completed in 508) or Harklean New Testaments, which may or may not be the same thing; I think not, since what we have of these versions (completed respectively in 508 and 616) is heavily influenced in vocabulary and text by the Greek, and the Crawford shows not the least sign of such influence.

First, we must remember that during those twelve hundred years Eastern Christianity had virtually no interest in the Revelation: it was for that communion not even part of the New Testament canon, and so no wonder that, though a plethora of Eastern theological texts and hymns survive, there is very little that even might be based on the apocalyptic imagery of the Revelation.

Second, the shelf life of manuscripts was usually far shorter than a millennium; they often were destroyed by fire, mold, worms, political tyrants, or (worse) self-appointed theological censors and santizers. In fact, it is a miracle that we have as many New Testament manuscripts as we do, and we must not forget that they are but a tiny (and very likely in some ways unrepresentative and even misleading) portion of all the manuscripts that were produced, to say nothing of the far greater provenance of oral witness, in a day when oral witness was not only much more common but generally more trusted (see The Gospel of John, pages 219-21). Therefore, the chain of manuscripts that led to the Crawford had to comprise a minimum of links, and in every generation of copies only one or a very few copies must have been made. Since it is a basic fact in the study of ancient manuscripts that the more copies the greater the number of textual variations, this situation tells us that over the centuries there was far less possibility of multiple versions than in the West, where the Greek (and later Latin) copies were in such abundance that the number of variant readings for nearly every New Testament verse is bewildering. In turn, the small chance of variant readings in the Syriac Aramaic Revelation over these twelve centuries maximizes the possibility of the Crawford being reasonably faithful to its predecessors.

Put another way, the fact that we have not even a single stepping stone of textual evidence between the original manuscript of Revelation and the Crawford Revelation actually is far from a fatal blow to any theory that the two are related. In fact, it tells us something extremely important: that the number of generations of copies between them – each of which could easily result in some straying here and there from the original text; indeed, even a lot of straying – is decidedly small. There is always that chance, be it great or small, that the Crawford was copied directly from the autograph or an early and faithful copy thereof.

There are internal clues in the Crawford. For the most part, it is equivalent to the much later Peshitta version, but clearly with added corrections. Sometimes the Crawford text simply reads differently from the Peshitta as if it were at such a point copied directly from another manuscript unlike the Peshitta. Sometimes we find a corrected word squeezed into the available space after the incorrect Peshitta word was scraped away by the scribe. Sometimes, when the corrections would not fit within the body of the text, we find them added in the margin, together with notes regarding their proper placement, as in verse 2:23.

Therefore, a reasonable guess is that the Crawford was made by consulting two earlier manuscripts. One must have resembled the Peshitta text, and this one was the main one used for simply copying text. The other was one that was carefully compared by the same or another scribe to the Peshitta-type text, and where it differed from the latter, he saw to it that the Crawford followed this non-Peshitta-type manuscript. The fact that the Crawford was not simply copied from this better non-Peshitta manuscript but the less correct Peshitta-type text suggests that the latter was more recent and therefore sturdy enough to withstand constant daily use required by the copying process, and the other, better, text that was the source of the corrections was fragile – too fragile to use on a constant basis as a base text, but that still be carefully consulted for purposes of comparison and correction. This scenario suggests that the better manuscript was far older than the one used simply for copying.

Of course it is possible that the older, better manuscript was the autograph or something very close to it. But we must not leap to that conclusion. Arguing against such a claim is the presence of obvious interpolations, such as the one in verse 1:7 that comes from Matthew 24:30, a gospel that was not written for quite a few years after the Revelation was first composed. Certainly this interpolation may be present in the Crawford simply because it was found in both the source manuscript and the correction manuscript. On the other hand, any number of scenarios could explain why the scribe might retain such interpolations even if he found them only in his source (Peshitta-type) manuscript: for instance, because they were by then considered authentically part of the Revelation, or because since they came from other parts of scripture (Matthew in this case) they had to be retained because they were scripture.

I think the Crawford is probably closely related to the Presbyter’s original text, but what the exact relationship might or might not be I care not to guess – and nobody knows, despite all the arguing. While I admire the many scholars and amateur enthusiasts who insist that much or all of the New Testament was originally written in Aramaic, I am frustrated by the energy they put into foolish rationalizations. If any canonical text was written in Aramaic, it is the Revelation, but calm and caution will serve better to establish that than histrionics. I am equally frustrated by the scholars who insist that the entire New Testament, including the Revelation, was composed in Greek, who even as they sneer at the Aramaic primacists resort to irrationally complex and hence unlikely theories to explain away the plain evidence and common-sense conclusion that the Crawford is related to the autograph.

My conclusion that both the Crawford and the Greek Textus Receptus are close to the autograph, though in different ways. Therefore my decision is to base the reconstruction herein of the original text primarily on the Crawford – not only is it the only Syriac manuscript of Revelation that is not overtly a translation from the Greek, but it is a work of extremely high literary quality. As a close second to the Crawford my approximation is founded on the Greek Textus Receptus, and tertiarily on the standard Syriac version that is now (but was not originally) part of the Peshitta New Testament, referred to henceforth simply as the Peshitta.


There is more discussion and explanation of the Aramaic original in my commentaries to this work than of Greek in the commentaries in the previous volumes. Even though presumably most readers read neither Greek nor Aramaic, they are still more familiar with the Greek language, which as an ancestor of most Western European tongues has contributed a vast number of words to them: the modern speaker of English is talking in Greek far more often than he or she realizes. What is more, modern Westerners are the children of the Greek world. Its philosophers, poets, and historians are the founders of their culture, and the Græco-Roman way of viewing the world in the first centuries of the common era still pertains today as normative: like those Greek philosophers, the modern Westerner has a sense of self as somewhat divorced from its surroundings, in which the individual takes precedence over the people, and in which one must compete with one’s fellows rather than coöperate with them for the greater good. The Bible, though written almost entirely by Semitic people, is read and interpreted through an exclusively Greek perspective, from which God and heaven are hope distant in time and space (if not nonexistent for them) and Satan or at least evil, seen as a puissant force of malevolence nurtured in the hearts of everyone they hate, is constantly besieging them and requiring a doughty defense using the same methods used by these others.

Thus to do my job adequately well I must hold up as often as I can a Semitic lens to this text, and one important way to do this is by discussing the original language of the text to enable the reader to have a better sense of its meaning for the author and his original readers.

Indeed, I think John the Presbyter was very conscious of these two extremely different worlds. His earlier works, with the probable exception of the short letter called II John, and most prominently the Gospel of John, were originally written in Greek – excellent Greek to be sure, but still a foreign language to him. John was taught the tools of logic and historical analysis by Philo in Greek, but he was taught about life and God by Jesus in Aramaic. John wrote Greek well, but he did his deepest thinking in his mother tongue, Aramaic.

Why then, after decades of composing great works almost exclusively in Greek, did the Presbyter on Patmos and ever after write his last major works, the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One, in Aramaic? In short, his earlier Greek works brought Jesus to the world, but his later Aramaic works brought the world to Jesus.

John’s Greek writings were immediately intelligible to most people in the eastern Mediterranean region and a large plurality in the Italian peninsula and to its west as well. But what these readers were reading were translations: they were John’s best approximation in Greek of Jesus’s teachings in Aramaic, and so the sublime wisdom was inevitably distorted to a degree. His last works would have been comprehensible to only a very few outside the communities of Jews and Samaritans in Judæa and the surrounding countryside, and in the cities of the Diaspora, such as Alexandria, Ephesus, and Rome – but no more. Still, these works were the truth: they were lenses without defect, letting through directly and ideally the light of Jesus’s teachings, which John believed was given to Jesus by God.

John’s first works were also in what were familiar formats in the pervasive Græco-Roman civilization. His gospel was structurally modelled on classical plays, Platonic dialogues, and histories. They use the Greek mind-tools of logic and reason. But his last works were not only linguistically but culturally foreign to the imperial world. The Greeks and Romans as individuals and as a culture believed in seizing power and using it to take advantage of others before they did the same thing to you, but faithful Jews and Samaritans sought to love their neighbors as themselves; they saw holiness and deity as extremely vividly present in their daily lives, as more present to them than even this mundane world, more present to them than even themselves: with every breath they inhaled the ruach of God and exhaled the sacred name YHWH. Thus at the climax of his first great work in Aramaic, when in Revelation 21:1-3 John saw heaven coming down to be united with earth, he was seeing the Semitic way being imposed upon the Greek way: heaven as no longer far away, God no longer as just a distant concept, but coming down to earth and wiping away all the tears of pain and grief.

So John’s shift to Aramaic was a shift from adjusting Jesus’s teachings to fit the Greek world (the Gospel of John) to expecting the world to adjust to Jesus’s teachings (the Revelation and the Songs). The world might or might not do so – but, to adopt Ezekiel’s analogy, John’s responsibility was only to blow the warning bugle; if the world ignored his clarion alarm, it was the world’s fault, not John’s.

The Presbyter’s “return to his roots” is also intimately related to a fundamental change in his central philosophy, as has been discussed elsewhere in this group of books. John, together with Simon the Rock (Peter) and James the Just (Jesus’s brother) had originally expected Jesus to retire from the world stage for a time, while they spread his teachings far and wide, among the Semitic peoples and the Greeks and Romans as well; and then Jesus would come back and lead a peaceful revolution of his followers to overthrow and replace the evil Roman Empire with an earthly approximation of God’s sacred realm, the Æon. This, of course, is the original sense of the “immediate parousia”; the word παρουσια refers to a king coming in full pomp and splendor to review the troops after they have won the war, to receive from them power over the newly conquered territory.

But Jesus (as discussed for instance in The Gospel of John at pages 1039-40) was in terrible physical condition following his crucifixion, and eventually he with Mary relocated in Rome and then Gaul (ibid., pages 208-18). Furthermore, a man known both as Saul and Paul, who had never even met Jesus, let alone discipled with him, had single-handedly taken nearly complete control of the Jesus movement, teaching Jesus as a Roman-style incarnated godling in a spiritual body not subject to the pain or desires of human flesh, and assuring gentile converts that Jesus did not require them to obey the laws of the Torah. Paul also urged docile obedience to the imperial hegemony, and vehemently dismissed Simon, James, and especially John as hypocritical charlatans. And Paul’s highly evangelistic followers were actively seeking converts among John’s own congregations (as the seven letters in the Revelation attest), even sometimes arranging their arrest or execution (as the Revelation letters suggest Paul himself did to John; see ibid., pages 255-57) such that the number of those who held to the original teachings of Jesus as imparted by John was rapidly and significantly shrinking. Given these two contextual realities, to say nothing of the adamant might of the Roman Empire, the possibility of Jesus establishing a heavenly kingdom on earth would be impossible.

Struggling with this issue, John eventually settled on what I call his “brave new theology” (ibid., pages 362-70), in which the troops were Jesus’s teaching and the new territory not on land but the soul of the individual, and the objective was to persuade each person who encountered this teaching to live in accordance with God’s Logos, God’s perfect plan and natural law for the unfolding of the universe, such that individual by individual the Æon would be established – not as a territory but as a people. And thus the παρουσιαwas the individual’s welcoming of God and God’s appointed emissary-son, the Master Jesus, into one’s soul. This “brave new theology” is expressed in the later chapters of the gospel, but it it is at the heart of the Revelation and the Songs of the Perfect One – and, written in Aramaic, they come from John’s heart and ultimately from Jesus’s heart, and challenge the reader to adjust him- or herself to these teachings, not to read them as already adjusted to one’s own language and culture, as watered down and made palatable to questionable foreign ways.

Ironically, this idealistic hope on John’s part that he could open the Græco-Roman world up to the Semitic spirituality was in vain. The Revelation was blatantly reinterpreted in a Greek way, as some kind of Sibylline Oracle, as something mad spouted by a priestess at Delphi drunk on poisonous fumes venting from deep caverns. Today the book is smothered under two millennia of misunderstanding, widely used by religious leaders as a fear-eliciting tool to keep the faithful masses under their thumb and providing them with money and power out of dread of an end-of-the-world scenario that has always been just around the corner for two thousand years. And the Songs of the Perfect One – with their very physical Jesus coïtally and spiritually one with his wife Mary, so contrary to the Pauline dogma of Jesus as God in a spiritual body free from human desires – were not banned, which would have encouraged covert attention to them, were not burned, which would have sent copies into hiding, but simply labelled as uninstructive and uninteresting, so they would be destroyed by time: languishing forgotten on dusty back sheles until every copy had moldered or been consumed by worms. This brilliant move very nearly succeeded: today very few manuscripts survive of the Songs, part of the first song and all of the second are utterly lost to time, and only a handful of specialists (and a few dedicated if wacky New Age writers) have even looked at this last and most sublime work of the Presbyter.


Mary Magdalene as Author

Mary Magdalene as Author:

II John and Revelation 3:14-22 as Responses to the “Problem of Paul”

 James David Audlin

 Adapted from The Writings of John Restored and Translated,

to be published summer 2014 by Editores Volcán Barú,

with references to The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volumes I and II,

already in publication by Editores Volcán Barú.

Copyright © 2013,2014 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved.

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



The last of the famous seven letters in the early chapters of John the Presbyter’s Revelation is addressed to the congregation in Laodicea. But where Jesus is the putative author of the first six, this one appears to be from another source. Let us look at Revelation 3:14, not only at the Greek, but also at the Aramaic version from the Peshitta, which can help us approximate the original version, which the evidence suggests John wrote in Aramaic – for instance, that the “bad grammar” of the Greek version is consistent, and would be good grammar in Aramaic. My theory is that the Presbyter, writing down his vision quickly lest he lose any details, wrote in his first language, Aramaic. Later someone else, whose Greek was not as good as his, translated that Aramaic rather too literally, hence the “bad grammar”, into the Greek of the Textus Receptus.

ܘܲܠܡܲܠܲܐܟܼܵܐ ܕܿܥܼܕ̱ܿܬܿܵܐ ܕܿܠܲܐܝܼܕܼܼܝܩܼܝܲܐ ܟܿܬܼܘܼܒܼ܃ ܗܵܟܼܲܢܵܐ ܐܵܡܲܪ <ܐܘܡܢܐ>܃ ܣܵܗܕܿܵܐ ܡܗܲܝܡܢܵܐ ܘܫܲܪܼܝܪܵܐ܃ ܘܪܼܫܼܝܬܼܵܐ ܕܿܲܒܼܪܼܝܬܼܸܗ ܕܿܲܐܠܵܗܵܐ܂


και τω αγγελω της εν λαοδικεια εκκλησιας γραψον ταδε λεγει ο <αμων> και ο μαρτυς ο πιστος και ο αληθινος και η αρχη της κτισεως του θεου


And to the angel in the congregation of Laodicea write: Thus says the <Amon>, the witness faithful and true: the firstfruit (reshith) of the creation of God:


L. H. Silberman suggests that “the Amen” in the Greek Textus Receptus may be a misreading of אָ֫מ֥וֹן (amōn) in Hebrew, or ܐܘܡܢܐ (umānu) in Aramaic. This is the term for the female “master worker” in Proverbs 8:30, who is God’s “intense delight” (שַׁעְשֻׁ֫עַ; shaashuah); that is, God’s spouse. She was indeed the “firstfruit” (רֵאשִׁית, reshith) of God’s creation (Proverbs 8:22).

Chapter 8 of Proverbs is Wisdom (חָכְמָה; Hokhma), incarnate as a woman, speaking to humanity. Proverbs 8:22 says God acquired (קָ֭נָנִי; qānāni) her as the first of God’s works, and that verb is the one Eve uses in Genesis 4:1 to say she has “acquired” a son, with the help not of Adam!, but, she says, of God. Proverbs is drawing an analogy between Wisdom being created by God out of God and then mated to God, and Eve being created by God out of Adam and then mated to Adam. This pairing of God with his spouse is the nature of Elohim, God understood as comprising male and female aspects as one. Adam and Eve were supposed to be wholly united in the same way, but events unfolded differently; the composite male-female human was separated into a man and a woman. In the works of John the Presbyter, following the teaching of Jesus, this failure with Adam and Eve turned to success with Jesus and Mary, who were κοινωνος (sacred companion, consort, coworker, with an implied erotic connection) each to the other. They reversed the tearing-apart of the original hermaphroditic human into a separate solitary man Adam and a separate solitary woman Eve, by becoming wholly united at the resurrection into a single sacred being in Elohim’s image.

Without dismissing this understanding, derived from Silberman’s suggestion, let us turn to another explanation of “the Amen” in Revelation 3:14. It is one that appears prominently in the Gospel of John, at the resurrection. In the restored original text of that scene, Jesus and Mary each call the other “Mary”. This double entendre is founded on Mary’s name (ܡܰܪܺܝܰ) being a homonym with the Aramaic word mary, meaning “lord”, “master”, or “husband”, coming from the Egyptian word for “master”, pronounced nearly identically, mer, which has an antonym that is also its homonym, mer, “servant” – Jesus is making it clear that she is not at all less than he, a mere servant, but that she is rather “one flesh” with him (Genesis 2:24), united with him in God (John 17:23), his κοινωνος, his equal counterpart. Mary’s name originally comes from Egyptian, which was another Semitic language; Mari-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the original name of Moses’s sister Miriam,. And this leads to another double entendre: the name of the Egyptian wind god, Amen, is virtually the same as the word for “dove”, amenu, just as, by felicitous coincidence, the Greek words πρηστηρ (“whirlwind”) and περιστερα The Writings of John cover(“dove”), significant in the scene of John’s ritual immersion by John, are near homonyms. Thus Revelation 3:14, if it is read as “Amen” (not Silberman’s “Amōn”), may be referring to Mary as God (Amen) and as the dove (amenu) that descended on Jesus.

The point of all this is that, whether we take the Wisdom explanation or the Mari-Amen explanation as intended by John the Presbyter, or (as I suspect he intended) both views, what we must conclude here is that “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” is Mary. It would be quite typical of John the Presbyter’s writings if indeed both of these explanations lie behind his use of the word.

Since by the time of this letter the Beloved Disciple had described aloud her memories of Jesus’s ministry to the Presbyter, who carefully wrote them down, Mary had probably also already shared with John, directly or else indirectly through her son Lazarus, the sacred-erotic details of her encounter with the resurrected Jesus, which no one but she could have known, which clarify their union in Elohim’s image (John 20:1-17; see the commentaries in The Gospel of John).

Philip Alexander suggests that behind the Greek of the last phrase in Revelation 3:14, η αρχη της κτισεως του θεου, is a Hebrew/Aramaic word: “the אָ֫מ֥וֹן (reshith) of the creation of God”. He is right; the Aramaic recension of this verse, given above, has this exact word reshith, ܪܼܫܼܝܬܼܵܐ, and its presence ties the Revelation verse not only to Proverbs 8:22 and 30, but also to Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 The very early Curetonian Gospels, written in Syrian Aramaic likewise have this word reshith at John 1:1 (1:1 is unfortunately missing from the even earlier Syriac Sinaiticus.) The first word of Genesis, בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית (bereshith), is usually translated, incorrectly, as “In the beginning”, and sometimes, not incorrectly, as“When”. But a more literal rendering is “From the head” (in the sense of “starting-point”). Some classical rabbis noted that the word is the same as saying “With Reshith”, and since the Torah is often called “Reshith” (probably because of this verse), they took the beginning of Genesis as saying God created the heavens and the earth with the Torah, not the physical book but the spiritual Torah.The seventh-century poet Eleazar be-Rabbi Qillir records an old tradition in which Reshith, the Torah personified as a woman, refuses to help Elohim create the universe until she is wedded to the right man, who will teach humanity the Word of God. That man is Moses. The Gospel of John repeatedly compares and associates Jesus with Moses, and portrays Mary as an incarnation of the Word, equivalent to Reshith, especially at the resurrection and in the earlier Aramaic version of 4:27. Revelation 3:18a continues to draw this parallel between God/coworker and Jesus/Mary, by using imagery familiar from Proverbs 8:10 and 19, where God’s חָכְמָ֥ה (hokhma, “wisdom”), personified as a woman and equivalent to the amōn, the reshith.

All in all, it seems abundantly clear that the seventh and final letter in Revelation is ascribed not to Jesus but to Mary – and that it is to the Laodicean congregation, whose works the text says she knows (Revelation 3:15). In the works of John, Jesus and Mary are entirely one being ever after the resurrection, therefore it is no inconsistency here that the first six letters in Revelation 2-3 are given as from Jesus and the seventh letter as from Mary.

In 68, when these letters were written, she must have still have been held in the highest esteem by the Laodiceans from when she lived among them. For there are indications in this text and elsewhere that, for a period of time, Jesus and Mary lived in Laodicea ad Lycum (“Laodicea on the Lycus”, the latter being the name of a river). This was a gorgeous city in the Roman province of Asia, what is now western Turkey. Significantly, it was a mere six miles south of Hierapolis, where John the Presbyter’s student Papias was to be appointed bishop, twelve miles northwest of Colossæ, and ninety-nine miles east of Ephesus, where lived John himself, author of this letter. The city had a considerable Jewish population since, according to the historian Josephus, Antiochus the Great had generations before relocated some two thousand Jewish families there. It was a peaceful city where the couple could live quietly and, since Jesus evidently suffered some physical problems resulting from the trauma of crucifixion (ibid., pages 1009-10), it was surely important to them that Laodicea had a medical university, praised highly by Strabo the Geographer (12:519).

Jesus’s continued presence not just on earth but for a few years at least still in the eastern Mediterranean region was apparently a secret known only to a few, mainly Peter, James, and John, the leaders of the Jerusalemite community. Clement of Alexandria (especially in his Stromateis) and Eusebius, among other early writers, confirm the existence of a strong but secret oral tradition of γνοσις (gnosis, wisdom kept in reserve) given by Jesus after his resurrection to Peter, James, and John, and this must have been during these years.

But Paul, who – as was common in those days – had his spies and informers, must have heard rumors of Jesus living in retirement in Laodicea, and must have craved this exclusive access to the gnosis. Thus Paul writes in Colossians 2:6,9-10a to his followers in nearby Colossæ:

 ως ουν παρελαβετε τον χριστον ιησουν τον κυριον εν αυτω περιπατειτε … οτι εν αυτω κατοικει παν το πληρωμα της θεοτητος σωματικως και εστε εν αυτω πεπληρωμενοι


Therefore, just as you have welcomed Christ Jesus the Master, walk in/with him … for in him dwells the full measure of bodily godliness and so you are made full (of godliness) in him.


Everybody today thinks this is mere metaphor, that Paul just means to say the Colossians have welcomed Jesus in their hearts. But verse 6 could have been quite literally saying that the Colossians welcomed Jesus to live with them, and so they should walk with him; Verse 9, speaking in Docetic terms of Jesus’s incorruptible body, uses a verb that means “inhabits” or “dwells”, and could be another hint of this illustrious presence. Interspersed with Paul’s veiled references to Jesus’s presence are several condemnations of a “philosopher” (2:8) who might criticize Paul’s followers for breaking the kosher laws of the Torah, even for eating food that had been sacrificed to Roman idols (2:16-23; cf. The Gospel of John, page 399). Clearly Paul is afraid of the influence of this “philosopher”, and wants to keep him away from his followers, and exert a monopoly over their interpretation of Jesus’s person and message. (And, again, evidently Jesus cannot do so for himself.)

But note that Paul’s phrase at the end of Colossians 2:6, εν αυτω περιπατειτε “walk in/with him” is the identical phrase found at the end of II John 6. Paul is here just about taunting John and his followers by quoting him: he is heavily implying he knows who has control of Jesus’s person, and that the Laodiceans should walk with Jesus, even as the “philosopher” has said, and not with that “philosopher”; hence, they will need first to free Jesus from the jurisdiction of that “philosopher”.

At 3:19 in the Revelation, in the letter ascribed to Mary and directed to the congregation in Laodicea, we find these memorable words:


ܐܸܢܵܐ ܠܲܐܝܠܸܝܢ ܕܿܪܵܚܸܡ ܐ̱ܢܵܐ ܡܲܟܸܿܣ ܐ̱ܢܵܐ ܘܪܵܕܼܸܐ ܐ̱ܢܵܐ܂ ܛܲܢ ܗܵܟܼܼܝܠ ܘܬܼܘܼܒܼ


εγω οσους εαν φιλω ελεγχω και παιδευω ζηλευε ουν και μετανοησον


Whomsoever I love, I admonish and GREEK: edify them; therefore, be zealous and transform yourself! ARAMAIC: edify them. I am zealous; therefore, never again (do as you once did)!


It is reasonably certain that Paul never actually met Jesus, so John does not mean here that the Laodiceans let Paul have access to Jesus. Still, this line tells us that the Laodiceans failed in some wise. Two things are likely what John meant by this comment: one is that the Laodiceans were the ones who foolishly told Paul that Jesus was living among them (and maybe even fed Paul John’s phrase εν αυτω περιπατειτε (“walk in/with him”), hence Paul’s comments in Colossians that he knew this fact; and/or that the Laodiceans accepted Paul’s theological views to some degree. Both may have been the case, but I think John alludes in Revelation 3:19 to the former, since the Greek suggests a certain specific single action in the past, and not a tendency over time that is still the case in the present time, the year 68. We have John’s letter today because his own personal copy was sent for safekeeping in Sinope; for all we know, Paul did manage to ascertain the contents of the copy that was sent to Mary, perhaps by well-meaning but foolish Laodiceans Mary equally foolishly showed it or read it to, and that is how Paul could taunt John by quoting II John in Colossians 2:6. It may even be that it was by way of this very letter that Paul learned about Jesus’s presence in Laodicea.

In II John 8, John is specific about exactly how Mary could “lose all that we have accomplished”. With a hundred miles between Ephesus, where John lived, and Laodicea, where Mary and Jesus were staying, John could not quickly step in should Paul decide to take advantage of the situation. Thus he decided a letter was necessary to advise Mary – especially if, as I theorize, Jesus was to some degree debilitated after the resurrection, and could not himself prevent his wife from inadvertently causing a great difficulty.

Paul maintained through the decades that he was an apostle fully the equal of “Peter, James, and John”, those who had actually walked with Jesus during his ministry. He built this bold assertion on the claim that, while the apostles had only known Jesus in the past, Paul knew Jesus on an ongoing basis, through visions – even though some people then and now have suspected them of being invented. Paul espoused docetistic views of Jesus, which very nicely excused the glaring fact that he never met the Master: what point would there have been in their meeting “in the flesh” if Jesus had no flesh for Paul to meet? In Romans 8:3 he says: ο θεος τον εαυτου υιον πεμψας ενομ οιωματι σαρκος αμαρτιας (“God, sending his own son in the semblance of sinful human flesh…”). Paul says of Jesus in Philippians 2:7 with no fewer than three words of docetic import, underlined:


αλλ εαυτον εκενωσεν μορφην δουλου λαβων εν ομοιωματι ανθρωπων γενομενος και σχηματι ευρεθεις ως ανθρωπος


He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human semblance, and found human in appearance.


Similarly, Paul consistently taught that those who believe in Jesus as God will come back from death not in their mortal bodies but in new bodies that will be αφθαρτος (aphthartos, both “imperishable” and “incorruptible”): that is, in spiritual bodies just like the one Jesus “the first-born of the dead” already has. Here is how Paul describes it in I Corinthians 15:40a, 44a, 47, and 53:


και σωματα επουρανια και σωματα επιγεια … σπειρεται σωμα ψυχικον εγειρεται σωμα πνευματικον … ο πρωτος ανθρωπος εκ γης χοικος ο δευτερος ανθρωπος εξ ουρανου … δει γαρ το φθαρτον τουτο ενδυσασθαι αφθαρσιαν και το θνητον τουτο ενδυσασθαι αθανασιαν


And there are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies … What is sown a physical body is raised up a spiritual body. … The first man is made out of the earth, from soil; the second man (is made) out of heaven. … Indeed, it is necessary that that this, the perishable, put on the imperishable, and this, the mortal, put on immortality.


These Pauline letters were not yet written when John was composing this letter to Mary; I Corinthians, was sent from Ephesus, just as was the letter at hand, II John, around 55. Still, there is no doubt that this is the kind of theology Paul was preaching in 43, and John could easily have heard or heard about the other’s views. And indeed there would be several confrontations between Paul and John on this and other similar matters in the decades that lay ahead.

The writings we have by Peter and James the Just, Jesus’s brother, make it clear that they like John the Presbyter believed Paul to have more loose screws than a hardware store; cf. The Gospel of John, pages 294-95 and 398-400).

Nonetheless, for Paul the glaring issue centered on the fact that he had never actually met Jesus, and yet was claiming to Jesus’s best and only true apostle. That matter could be easily handled as long as Paul continued to emphasize his “spin” that he knew Jesus better than those other disciples because of the vaunted visions that supposedly afforded him a present relationship with Jesus, unlike “Peter, James, and John” only knowing him in the past – and as long as Jesus didn’t suddenly pop up, still around in this mundane world, and very much allied with the same three, to embarrass Paul by denying the validity of his claims.

Therefore, if “Peter, James, and John” still had a present relationship with Jesus, not through highly doubtful visions but a Jesus in the flesh, the very flesh that Paul denied he had ever had, and Paul found about this, then he was surely apprehensive of the possibility that Jesus might issue, or in his view be manipulated into issuing, a pronouncement that Paul was a charlatan, falsely claiming to visions Jesus had never sent him, and issuing theological declarations in Jesus’s name that the real Jesus found odious. The only thing preventing something like this was that for some reason Jesus had completely withdrawn from the public arena – I surmise this was because of chronic, serious health issues following the grave physical and emotional trauma of the crucifixion, but Paul likely did not know for certain any more than we do today. Paul may have simply concluded that Jesus was being silenced, kept under house arrest by “Peter, James, and John”, perhaps even against his will, so they could persist in promulgating (what were from Paul’s perspective) their own false claims to be the exclusive and proper agents of the true nature and teachings of Jesus.

Paul would therefore have intensely desired a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, in order to justify his flimsy claim to apostlehood, and that he was Jesus’s exclusive spokesman, not “Peter, James, and John”. Paul may even have entertained ideas of liberating Jesus from the control of those three, and himself taking over control of Commodity Jesus, using him as a prop for his Pauline theology and religious community. The Presbyter knew that just to be welcomed into Jesus’s presence would be a card Paul would play to the fullest; if Jesus was unable for health reasons to withstand Paul’s forceful personality, Paul could legitimately claim that Jesus had approved Paul as his sole representative, and Jesus would be in no condition to gainsay him. And Paul could also declare that Jesus had placed his blessing on Paul’s complete makeover of who and what Jesus was – not a country rabbi appointed by God as a Messiah to urge humanity to live in accordance with God’s plan, the Logos, but rather that Jesus was literally God incarnate, and that merely to believe in Jesus as God was sufficient, with no need to obey the laws of the Torah or just about anything else. The Presbyter knew Paul to be an adept “spin doctor”, who would be able to take whatever Jesus said and work it to his advantage.

The weak link, in John’s perspective, as suggested by this letter, was Mary. John fully expected Paul to attempt a meeting face-to-face with Jesus, and take advantage of the entrée to secure his complete retail monopoly on Jesus-as-product. John surely had in mind that Mary was an extremely nice woman, who was certain to be polite, as women in traditional cultures have always been trained to be: to welcome to anyone who comes to the door claiming friendship and kindred faith, to sit Paul down in the most comfortable chair, to bring him a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine and then set about preparing a meal for him – and above all to be invisible while Paul and Jesus engaged in a conversation of deep philosophy of the kind that in those days only men took part in. John surely knew Mary, as a daughter of her traditional culture, would not be, like the song in My Fair Lady, “like a man”, ready to speak sharply to Paul if he crossed the line, and prepared to throw him out if despite the semblance of brotherliness he was really about manipulating Jesus into support of his schemes. In short, John knew that, once Paul got his foot in the door, the game was lost.

Hence John’s first bit of advice to Mary, in verse 10, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home.”

Furthermore, as was and is well known, for he often brags about it in his letters, Paul throve on making connections with influential people and taking fullest advantage of them – what today is called “networking”. Thus, Mary could say the same kind of good-mannered greetings people have said to each other throughout human history, and Paul would use mere politeness, mere social convention, as fuel for his “evil work”.

Thus John’s second bit of advice, in verses 10-11, “Nor say you are glad to see him, for indeed anyone who says to him, ‘Glad to see you!’ contributes to his evil work” – that is, Paul would crow loudly throughout the Roman Empire, “Jesus and Mary were glad to see me, and so clearly he approves of my mission to the gentiles,” etc., etc., etc.

The evidence suggests that Jesus had a plan in mind, entrusted to Peter, James, and John but not the disciples in general, shortly before and/or shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection. That plan was that they see to the building of a strong following of Jesus followers especially in the Jewish community through the Roman Empire, and then Jesus would return after some years and lead a revolution against the Roman Empire. This is the basis of all the “Second Coming” theology that has been orthodoxy for centuries. This plan never came to fruition, of course, and after the second generation of followers (men like Papias and Polycarp) it was forgotten. What happened instead, of course, was not that the followers of Jesus destroyed the Roman Empire but that they became it.

At this time, in the year 43, however, this plan was still alive – and John was also no doubt extremely concerned that, if Paul did succeed in meeting with Jesus, he might find out about this plan, and, given his very gentile-friendly and pro-Roman stance, reveal it to the wrong people and ruin everything.

Were John’s concerns unrealistic? Paul answers this question for himself in Colossians 4:3-4, after dropping several hints in this letter that he knows the secret these faithful have been keeping about Jesus’s presence in Laodicea. (By the word “word”, λογος in Greek, Paul refers not as John does to God’s plan for the unfolding of the universe, but to Paul’s own kerygma, his sound-byte, his constantly repeated central message.)



προσευχομενοι αμα και περι ημων ινα ο θεος ανοιξη ημιν θυραν του λογου εν παρρησια λαλησαι το μυστηριον του χριστου δι ο και δεδεμαι ινα φανερωσω αυτο ως δει με λαλησαι


At the same time, pray for us, that God might open a door to us for the word, to declare candidly the secret about Christ, in reference to which I too have been constrained, so I can make him (Jesus) visible, as it is incumbent on me to speak (about this).


With all of this evidence it is reasonable to conclude that II John was written to Mary while she was living with Jesus in Laodicea, and the seventh letter in Revelation is ascribed to Mary, and that both deal with the “problem of Paul”.


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.

Jesus’s Æon Found in Western Greece


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!

The word “Æon” (αιον) is the word used in the Gospel of John (and elsewhere in early Christian texts) as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word םלוע (olam) and the Aramaic word ܥܠܡܐ (almah). These two Semitic words literally mean “concealed” or “hidden”. In temporal references the concept is of a length of time rendered indefinite by virtue of proportion: a time period so long that the end of it is hidden/concealed from the vantage point of its beginning moment, and the present moment as well. It could thus be rendered into English as “time immemorial” or “time out of mind”; the New World Translation renders it well as “indefinitely lasting” in English, and tiempo indefinido in Spanish. The term often carries the suggestion of everlasting (at least in the past or future), or even of eternal (beyond linear chronological time altogether; i.e., the kairos). Even in non-temporal references it can suggest “hidden”, as in Isaiah 60:19-20 it refers to the spiritual light of our inner being.

The Hebrew (עַלְמָה; almah) and Aramaic (ܥܠܝܡܗ; alymah) word for “maiden” or “young woman”, plus its equivalents for “stripling” or “young man”, may go back to the same root meaning of “concealed” or “hidden”, on the logic that young men or women who are marriageable but not yet married are kept back by their parents as hidden from those who would seek to steal their sexual potential, and as valuable in the arrangements of advantageous marriages. However, Koehler and Baumgartner in their Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament trace the word to an Aramaic root ܥܠܡ (alma) that refers to youthful vigor, and associate it with a cognate in Ugaritic that means “to be agitated” and one in Arabic that means “to be filled with passionate desire”. I suspect both derivations may be valid; parents may want to keep hidden at home their teenaged children when they are overwhelmed with sexual hormones.

In the Gospel of John the term “Æon” is not for a physical place or chronological time, but a state of being that is beyond mere time and space, beyond mere being, a term not unlike nirvana in Buddhist theology. It is often used with a meaning similar to “heaven” (ουρανος, which also means “sky”), but not in the sense that we enter the Æon at death, but rather that, by living in accordance with the Λογος, the divine plan/order or Word, mediated by Jesus, we enter the Æon immediately, while still in this life, and thus at death we do not simply cease to exist, but continue to be part of the Æon. We enter it by loving all life, by recognizing our oneness with all being, which is also the essence of compassion in Buddhism. So it is heaven when we choose to live in harmony with God’s Λογος, plan, being one with all God’s creatures (17:21) for by doing so God draws us thither, into the Æon. This loving is particularly accomplished by becoming completely one with our spouse: through sexual desire one conjoins with one’s partner, and thus embodies the image of Elohim, God understood as including both male and female as one. Thus, in the term “Æon” there is the sense of the Semitic root that refers to sexual desire. We see this acted out at John 20:16-17 (see the commentaries).

Therefore, the term “Æon” is used to refer to the greater existence beyond corporeal existence. This κοσμος, the physical universe, is bounded – in three physical dimensions and one temporal dimension. Scientists postulate other universes with other numbers of physical and temporal dimensions, and medicine men and women often are able to spirit-travel in these other universes. But these, too, are still κοσμος, finite, bounded existence. The Æon is transcendent, beyond all possible bounded universes, but incorporating them: in the Æon, every possible bounded universe is but an infinitesimal dot without dimensions. Within these dots, time is χρονος, the slow tick-tock time of finitude in which seconds and hours, if laid side by side, are always of the same length, while in the Æon time is καιρος, the “Eternal Now”, as Tillich put it, in which every moment is eternal and eternity is a moment. Likewise, in these physical universes, space is τοπος, stretched out in physical dimensions, wherein all miles laid side by side are of the same length, while in the Æon space is γαια, in which great distances are nothing and immediately adjacent is infinitely far – as is often the case in our dreams, as with lung gom, the Tibetan technique for walking great distances in a single step.

In one sense the Æon is the Platonic realm of ιδεα, where everything is its own archetype or blueprint for the “thousand and one things” (in Lao-tse’s phrase) in the physical universe. This realm is beyond all bounded universes; as Plato put it, “it is not anywhere in another thing, not in an animal, nor in the earth, nor in heaven, nor in anything else, but is itself by itself within itself” (Symposium 211b). As Lao-tse put it in the first chapter of the Tao-te Ching, 道 可 道 非,常 道 名。可 名 非,常 名。– it is the path that cannot be walked; the name that cannot be named. As Lakota theologian and Christian catechist Hehaka Sapa (Black Elk) put it, “The Holy Land is everywhere.” Or as Joseph Campbell put it (in The Power of Myth):

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now which thinking and time cuts out. This is it. And if you don’t get it here, you won’t get it anywhere. And the experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life.

This spark of eternity is the soul within us, our aperture from mundane individuality into nirvana, making us one with all being throughout time and space: “He has made everything beautiful in (the course of) time, but he has also placed eternity in their heart such that humans will not find out the work that God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Jesus’s teaching anticipates – or, in my thinking, is an early example of – Kabbalistic philosophy, especially as found in the Zohar, which comprises, for those not familiar with it, what can be briefly put as the “mystical” tradition of Judaism. The Zohar speaks of the “forbidden fruit” of the Tree as a nut (as regards the belief that it was an apple see page ###) that contains concentric spheres that are each one greater than the one around it – and the last one is a palace containing a primal point of infinite dimensionality, composed of the light of Creation (Genesis 1:3). This “nut” also symbolizes the nature of humanity, with the body containing a mind, the mind a soul, which is the “Temple for the Spirit” containing within the infinite presence of God (I Corinthians 6:19 dimly adumbrates this).

In all Utopias – not only that of More, who invented the term, but those of Plato, Butler, Morris, Bellamy, Wells, and many others – there are lavish, loving descriptions of the realm of perfection, and no matter how well written they are, they all ultimately fall flat, because though we can know (connaître, kennen) Eternity with our intuitive hearts, we can never know (savoir, wissen) it with our logical minds. Jesus (through the gospel writer) does not make this fatal mistake of trying to describe the indescribable Tao. The one thing he tells us is that in the father’s house there are “many abodes”, which strongly suggests that it is not everlasting but eternal, of infinite dimensionality.

Still, we may have a hint or two by way of the classical writers from which the gospel writer drew his imagery for the Æon. Æonia was a name for part of the ancient Greek land of Bœotia. It was probably the basis on which were built descriptions of the legendary country of Elysium, which the poets called the “Elysian Fields”, a region said by the classical Greek poets to be somewhere to the west, facing the sea. The name may come from ἀλυουσας (aluousas), whose root suggests being deeply stirred by joy, or from ἀλύτως (alutōs), a synonym of ἀφθάρτως (aphthartōs), meaning “incorruptible”, as in the eternity in which souls live in that place.

Æonia, Bœotia, does in fact look out westward at the wide expanse of the western Mediterranean. This bucolic region was the birthplace of Semele, the mother of Dionysos, who died and lived again like Jesus, and who was remembered with a sacred meal of bread and wine. Semele’s father, the hero and ruler Cadmus, introduced the Greek alphabet, and abdicated in favor of his grandson Pentheus, who is the equivalent to Pontius Pilate; Pentheus sought as ruler to outlaw the ecstatic religion of Dionysus, and in his trial of the god, as related by Euripides, the two have a deeply profound philosophical discussion reminiscent of the one between Jesus and Pilate.

All of this would have been well known to the amanuensis of the gospel, John the Presbyter. He was a Hellenized Jew, certainly educated at the university in Alexandria, which specialized in the Greek classics, and in his later years he was a respected writer and teacher in the Hellenic city of Ephesus with its famous library. John might have known Æonia from his travels but, if not, he had certainly knew about it from the classical literature he had read in his youth. Thus, in writing about the Æon he probably was picturing in his mind the rolling verdant hills of Æonia, also associated with Elysium, the land where the blessed dead lived in eternity.

This land is thus extolled in Paradise Lost, III, 565-70:

Amongst innumerable Starrs, that shon
Stars distant, but nigh hand seemd other Worlds,
Or other Worlds they seemd, or happy Iles,
Like those Hesperian Gardens fam’d of old,
Fortunate Fields, and Groves, and flourie Vales;
Thrice happy isles …

Of course the gospel author could not have read John Milton, but he would have known well the poets whose descriptions of this land were to inspire the Englishman. As a young man under the tutelage of Philo, the Presbyter would have learned this glorious depiction of Elysium in Homer (IV, 563, 565-68):

… Ἠλύσιον πεδίον καὶ πείρατα γαίης …
τῇ περ ῥηίστη βιοτὴ πέλει ἀνθρώποισιν:
οὐ νιφετός, οὔτ᾽ ἂρ χειμὼν πολὺς οὔτε ποτ᾽ ὄμβρος,
ἀλλ᾽ αἰεὶ Ζεφύροιο λιγὺ πνείοντος ἀήτας
Ὠκεανὸς ἀνίησιν ἀναψύχειν ἀνθρώπους:
οὕνεκ᾽ ἔχεις Ἑλένην καί σφιν γαμβρὸς Διός ἐσσι.

…the Elysian plain at the edge of the earth, …
There, everyone comes to exist in a gentle life,
Never any blast of snow, never cold, lacking in heavy rainstorms;
Rather, the Zephyr always blows free,
And Oceanus breathes refreshing breezes …

He would have read Pindar’s written portrayal of this land, and also how Hesiod described it aloud (Works and Days, 166-73):

… ἔνθ᾽ ἤτοι τοὺς μὲν θανάτου τέλος ἀμφεκάλυψε,
τοῖς δὲ δίχ᾽ ἀνθρώπων βίοτον καὶ ἤθε᾽ ὀπάσσας
Ζεὺς Κρονίδης κατένασσε πατὴρ ἐς πείρατα γαίης.
170καὶ τοὶ μὲν ναίουσιν ἀκηδέα θυμὸν ἔχοντες
ἐν μακάρων νήσοισι παρ᾽ Ὠκεανὸν βαθυδίνην,
ὄλβιοι ἥρωες, τοῖσιν μελιηδέα καρπὸν
τρὶς ἔτεος θάλλοντα φέρει ζείδωρος ἄρουρα.

… Truly some were forever enfolded in death,
But some other souls dwelt in abodes alone
Where God the father, son of Time, made them to settle at the end of the earth,
And thus indeed to dwell free from care, souls living
In the blessed isles by the deep-rolling Ocean,
Blessed heroes who fed on honey-sweet fruit
That ripened three times a year in fecund meadows.

He might even have read the Latin of Vergil. And surely he knew Korinna’s lovely lyric (fragment 15):

…καλλιχορω χθονος
Ουριας θουγατερ…

… a land richly blessed
With lovely dancing meadows …

Whether John knew or merely knew of this land, he would have been aware that Bœotia’s twin spiritual mountains where dwelt the heavenly Muses, Helicon and Cithæron, were akin to another pair of sacred peaks where the God of Abraham was said to reside, Sinai and Gerizim. He would have recognized the similarity of Semele mother of Dionysos to Mary mother of Jesus, and the parallel of Pentheus to Pontius. And most of all he would have seen the connections between Dionysos son of Jupiter, הי-Πατερ, Yah-Pater, God the father, and Jesus, son of YHWH, God the father.

The Presbyter may have had in mind not Bœotia, Æonia, the country that apparently served as the factual foundation for the Hellenic myth of Elysium, or not only that country, but instead or also Gaul. The references in the just-quoted lines of Homer and Hesiod to Oceanus are to the Atlantic Ocean, though in classical times what lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) was conceived of as an oceanic girdle around the earth. Thus a “plain at the edge of the earth” “in blessed isles by deep-rolling Oceanus” could be a reference to Gaul. It is not entirely inconceivable that John heard that Jesus and Mary had gone to this region not far from Oceanus. That oral history in southern France remembers Jesus’s attendance of the dedication of a Christian cemetery in Arles called Alyscamps, “Elysian Fields” in Occitan, as discussed on page ###, is ironic. It could be that Jesus expected that he himself would be buried in these Alyscamps – and that this too got back to the Presbyter by way of letters or visitors, and was in his mind as he composed these gospel references to the Æon.

Be it specifically founded on descriptions of Bœotia or Gaul, John must have had in his mind an Elysium associated by the poets with life after death; Bœotia besides being a land not just praised in literature, not just celebrated for its masters of literature, but exalted as the very birthplace of Greek literature, since its mountains, where the art of writing was introduced, were sacred to the Muses. And so the Presbyter must have framed Jesus’s references to the Æon in the gospel with his mind going back to these poems describing Elysium as a fair and gentle place where there is no weeping, with fruits ripening throughout the year.

While he did not provide his own poetic description of the Æon in the gospel, he did in his last great work, the Revelation, with 21:4 and 22:1-2 especially vividly recalling these classical poets.

και εξαλειψει παν δακρυον εκ των οφθαλμων αυτων και ο θανατος ουκ εσται ετι ουτε πενθος ουτε κραυγη ουτε πονος ουκ εσται ετι οτι τα πρωτα απηλθαν … και εδειξεν μοι ποταμον υδατος ζωης λαμπρον ως κρυσταλλον εκπορευομενον εκ του θρονου του θεου και του αρνιου εν μεσω της πλατειας αυτης και του ποταμου εντευθεν και εκειθεν ξυλον ζωης ποιουν καρπους δωδεκα κατα μηνα εκαστον αποδιδουν τον καρπον αυτου και τα φυλλα του ξυλου εις θεραπειαν των εθνων

And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, nor mourning, nor weeping, nor pain: they will be no more because what was at first has departed. … And he showed me a river of living water, clear like crystal, flowing out from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of its [i.e., the city’s] street. And on this side and that side of the river was the tree of life, producing twelve fruits, yielding [a different] fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree, for the healing of the peoples.

And these culminating passages in Revelation include a sacred marriage, a hierogamy, of Heaven and Earth, Bride and Lamb, Mary and Jesus, as an echo of John 20:16-17, and again bringing out that sense of the Æon found in its Semitic roots as having a strong connotation of sexual desire fulfilled and thereby embodying the image of Elohim, male and female as one.

John the Presbyter, Author of the Gospel of John


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus and Mary Magdalene: The Image of God


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 how not Jesus alone but Jesus with Mary Magdalene is in the image and likeness of Elohim, God.

The Gospel of John begins by saying that those who believe in the Word of God, as put into the man Jesus, “who received it and believed in his name”, gain “the right to become children of God, … begotten (as such) not out of racial ancestries, nor out of a natural will, nor out of a man’s desire, but out of God” (1:12-13). To be a child of God is therefore not a oneness of identity with God, on the part of Jesus or anyone, but a oneness of unity and commitment. This is the oneness Jesus speaks of in his culminating pastoral prayer before his execution: he and the father are one (17:22), but the goal is for all humanity also to be one with God (17:20-23). This is the very Jewish concept of covenant, and marriage is the central example given thereof in the Bible. God creates in Genesis 1 by separating complements: light from darkness, sky from earth, land from sea, male from female – but then God brings one of these pairs together again, husband and wife (Genesis 2:24), in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). So, Jesus here and in chapter 20 is one with his wife in unity and commitment, jointly with her a sacred being that reflects God’s nature, and so we must be, and will be, if we heed his voice. Why this splitting apart of the nature of Elohim into male and female only to put them together again if it is not to teach us that the nature of God is love (I John 4:8)?

Indeed, Jesus is not alone in not just speaking the Word of God but delivering it also in his way of life, including his marital status: Jeremiah’s unusual, frowned-upon bachelorhood to say thus God feels no longer “married” to the Israelites; Ezekiel’s being forbidden to mourn his wife’s death to say thus God will not mourn the fall of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 24); and of course Hosea’s “ho”, his prostitute wife, whom he wedded to say the Israelites were likewise whoring after other gods (Hosea 1).

In the most ancient strata from which emerged the Samaritan and Jewish religions, God was a single deity comprising male and female aspects. In Genesis 1:27, for instance, Elohim created male and female human beings in the image and likeness of Elohim. Rod Borghese writes: “The word Elohim is a plural formed from the feminine singular ALH (Eloh), by adding IM to the word.” I add that the word Eloah appears to mean “Power”. Borghese continues:

But inasmuch as IM is usually the termination of the masculine plural, and is here added to a feminine noun, it gives to the word Elohim the sense of a female potency united to a masculine idea, and thereby capable of producing an offspring. Now we hear much of the Father and the Son, but we hear nothing of the Mother in the ordinary religions of the day. But in the Kabbalah we find that the Ancient of Days conforms himself simultaneously into the Father and the Mother, and thus begets the Son. Now this Mother is Elohim.

John J. Parsons ( makes a similar point about “El Shaddai”, a common term for God in the Tanakh, which modern translators usually render as “the Almighty”, following the lead of the scholars who created the Septuagint (an ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh), who believed that it was derived from shadad, which means “to vanquish” or “to destroy”. However, Parsons points out that the blessing Jacob gives in Genesis 49:25 includes both masculine and feminine imagery, the latter being the “blessings of the breasts and of the womb” (בִּרְכת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם), a phrase that suggests “El Shaddai” may come from shadaim (“breasts”), as an indication of God’s all-sufficiency and ability to nourish, to care for, all creation.

Thus, in the very first episode in Jesus’s ministry, following his baptism by John, he encounters a woman at a spring in Samaria. There is much in this scene [discussed elsewhere in the book and in this blog] to suggest a romantic, erotic subtext. Even the water of the spring itself implies a sense of courtship.

The first premise is that water was in the Mediterranean cultures of this time largely associated with women, since it was used mainly for cleaning and cooking. Wine, symbolically associated with blood, the blood of life, the “blood” of one’s ancestry (1:13), was associated with men, as being fiery in temperament and conducive of manly qualities such as courage and thought. According to several classical writers, including Plutarch, women were forbidden from drinking wine.

The second premise is that it was almost universal throughout the Mediterranean region, including the Levant, to drink water and wine mixed together. Water alone was considered too cooling to the spirit, and wine alone was too elevating of the passions (there are many stories from antiquity of men driven to madness and violence by drinking undiluted wine, which, so it was said, was only done by barbarians). Revelation 14:10 speaks of God’s wrath in terms of undiluted wine, suggesting that the wrath was unmixed with any “cooling water” emotions, such as mercy or forgiveness. Proverbs 9:2, II Maccabees 15:39, and I Timothy 3:8 have references to wine and water mixed together for drinking. Justin Martyr, in chapter 45 of his first Apology, gives very early evidence of wine and water being mixed together sacramentally, as is still done today in the more “catholic” denominations of Christianity. Finally, the Gospel of Philip says in logion 106:

The chalice of prayer has in it wine and water. It is designated as the symbol of the blood, over which they make their thanksgiving. And it is filled with the Holy Spirit, and it belongs to the one who is perfect and whole/complete. Whenever we drink this, we shall receive into us the perfect person.

That is to say for the Valentinian school that composed this gospel, and was mainly devoted to this Gospel of John, the sacramental mixture of wine and water represents the blood (mixed with water; John 19:34) of Jesus, who is the “perfect person”. Jesus is perfect, the text says, because he is whole/complete. Other passages in Philip (see pages 570-72) make it clear that this is because, united with Mary, he is androgynous, as was Adam before Eve was removed from him: he is male-and-female-as-one in the image and likeness (Genesis 1:27) of the male-and-female-as-one understanding of God, called Elohim in Hebrew.

Therefore, when Jesus asks this young, attractive, unmarried woman for water, he is at least subliminally suggesting she mix her feminine “water” with his masculine “wine”: that they marry. Bear in mind that in every subsequent scene in this gospel in which Mary appears there is water and wine mixed: at the wedding, where Jesus makes the feminine water into masculine wine; even if not mentioned water and wine mixed was served at the supper in chapter 12 and at the Last Supper; at the crucifixion a sword thrust brings forth “blood and water” from Jesus’s body; and at the resurrection, Jesus the wine and Mary the water are reborn and mixed together into “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) that is the very image and likeness (Genesis 1:27) of the male-female-as-one understanding of God, called Elohim in Hebrew.

Certainly the author of the gospel intended this combination of eroticism and spiritual profundity in the story. For the modern reader, as a child of Western philosophy with its unbridgeable divide between the physical and the spiritual realms and the latent repressiveness of the Puritans, this will come across as very strange, even distasteful. But it was not to first-century Jews, whose Tanakh often conjoins eroticism and spiritual profundity, nowhere more so than in the exquisite Song of Songs. The gospel’s writer (and Jesus through him) is telling us that love and marriage are also part of the Λογος, perhaps the most significant part, since the story of Jesus’s ministry begins with love and marriage. The first chapter of Genesis describes the creation of the universe by אֱלֹהִים (Elohim) – a term for God that is plural (the -im is a Hebrew plural suffix), speaks of Godself with plural pronouns (“Let us make… in our own…”), but takes the singular form of the verb. The reason for this is simple: Elohim is male and female as one, which is why Elohim says השענ נתומדכ ונמלצב םדא (“Let us make humanity in our image and after our likeness”), and creates at once both male and female. And therefore, neither man nor woman alone perfectly images God, but rather man and woman together. What is more, only male and female together can imitate Elohim’s ability to create life. This is why there are a number of comments in the Talmud to this effect: “Rabbi Eleazar 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). Hence, it was spiritually essential for Jesus to have a wife before beginning on his ministry.

Water and wine figure in the wedding at Cana, which in the restored original gospel immediately follows the scene at the Samaritan spring. At his own wedding to the woman at the spring Jesus turns water (feminine) into wine (masculine).

This act brings back to mind the final logion, 114, in the Gospel of Thomas, in which he says, in part, “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.” Here, by marrying her, Jesus is undoing the separation of Eve from (the originally androgynous) Adam, drawing Mary into himself. Since, as discussed above (page 291), water represents the feminine and wine the masculine, here the turning of feminine water into masculine wine symbolizes the union of Jesus and Mary into, in sacred terms, a single being that is like the original Adam in the image and likeness of Elohim, God understood as comprising both male and female as one.

At the resurrection, Jesus and Mary meet each other again-for-the-first-time. They are both naked and in a garden, with the obvious Edenic overtones.

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. Here the complete logion:

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.”

This verse is often put down as an example of first-century misogyny, as Jesus insisting that only males are welcome in the Æon, the Kingdom of Heaven. 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 androgynous 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 androgynous human, Adam. Jesus thus is saying in the above logion that women, in order to enter into the Æon, the Kingdom of Heaven, must again become one with the male. 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.”

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.”

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

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.

Paul seems to be quite aware of this uniting-of-the-sexes to be 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 Jesus-as-God.

While the sexual element is not clearly 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 implications of the Odyssey suggest; see below) 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. The eroticism is further discussed below.

This sexual element is related to the previous point that their Edenic nakedness has spiritual meaning. In the act of coïtus the couple 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 a Creator, as 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, especially Philip, and also Thomas. Logion 86, quoted on page 586, 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 Valentinius and Marcus) to the Cathars eschewed the panoply of ritual, ceremony-as-sacrament, and preferred inner, spiritual transcendence. The suggestion in Philip is that a bride and groom entered into the “bridal chamber” privately.

Karen L. King dates the recently published “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” fragment to the fourth century, but says the text, in view of its nature, seems originally written in the first or second century. It is clearly to me closely related to the Gospel of Thomas, because it includes phrases similar to logia 101 and 114 in that “sayings gospel”. A big difference, however, is that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife appears to weave these separate logia (sayings of Jesus) into a continuing narrative, that is, an extended discussion with the disciples. It may be somewhat later than Thomas, representing an editor’s attempt to create such a continuing narrative by weaving together unrelated sayings in Thomas, or it may be earlier, and Thomas is simply a collection of sayings lifted from the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife and perhaps other sources.

The latter gospel’s most notable feature is that it has Jesus specifically call Mary his wife: (“Jesus said to them, “my wife/woman…”). The prefix ta serves as the possessive pronoun “my”, and hime, just like נָשִׁים in Hebrew, ܐܢܬܬܐ in Aramaic, and γυνη in Greek, means “wife” or “woman” depending on context, and the context provided by the possessive prefix forces the meaning here to be “wife”. Jesus adds that she is “worthy of it”. King guesses the text said she was worthy of being a disciple; my guess is that it said she was worthy of being his wife, since the phrase (“she will be able to be my disciple”) follows the reference to her as wife and her worthiness. Jesus also says, “As for me, I dwell/exist/live with her in order to […] an image […]”. The verb implies cohabitation, spiritual union, and the vitality that vivifies life. I add that the phrase also implies eroticism, even sexuality, as part of their marital relationship. The last word is found in another line after a brief section of badly degraded manuscript, in my view too brief to fit in the ending of one sentence/thought and beginning of a new sentence/thought. I believe it is part of the previous phrase, and that this is Jesus saying that his union with Mary is intended to embody the very image and likeness of God, which male and female reflect (Genesis 1:27) as part of the Messianic image that he hoped to convey.

While – if it is eventually accepted as genuine – this is the first known early manuscript specifically to call Mary the wife of Jesus, it is far from unique in suggesting a very close relationship between them. The Magdalene is described as elevated to a special status as disciple in the Pistis Sophia and the Gospel of Mary (noncanonical texts probably composed in the second century). Most prominent among these texts is the Gospel of Philip, which calls Mary his κοινωνος (his companion, consort, coworker, the word also implying an erotic connection), and says the disciples were envious of how Jesus often kissed her often on the mouth. Kissing in this context does not, or does not merely, suggest romance but (as Philip says itself) it is an exchange of breaths (the breath representing the spirit) between spiritual companions in which spiritual truth is transferred – the πνευμα and hence the Λογος.