Quite Contrary: 21 Derivations for Magdalene

Quite Contrary:

Twenty-One New Proposed Derivations for the Cognomen “Magdalene”

James David Audlin

 From The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volume I,

as published 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.

 http://audlinbooks.com/about-james-david-audlin/nonfiction-james-david-audlin/

 

 

The cognomen “Magdalene” only appears thrice in the gospel of John, once at the crucifixion (19:25) and twice at the resurrection (20:1,18). As discussed in the commentaries, both appear to be insertions by the redactor to bring this gospel more into line with the Synoptics. Therefore the cognomen is removed from the restored text in this work, and relegated to the appendix. Nevertheless, it is so commonly associated GOJ-front 2vol Iwith her still today that its origin and meaning must be considered. One of the following four explanations is usually offered, that the cognomen:

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

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

c: Comes from the related word in Aramaic, the language then commonly spoken by Jews and Samaritans, ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (magdala, “tower” but also suggesting “elegant” or “great”, likewise related to μαγδωλος). This could be simply a reference to a tower in Mary’s personal history, perhaps in Shechem or on Mount Gerizim, where as the “woman at the well” she served as a priestess; Even more likely, it refers to the Temple at Leontopolis, where Mary probably served earlier as a priestess; this Temple was built in the form of a tower. Or it could refer to Song of Songs 4:4, and other similar verses; this one compares the Shulammite’s neck to the Tower of David (cf. Nehemiah 3:25). Similarly, her breasts are likened to towers at 8:10. Her “dance of Mahanaim” (Song 6:13; see option e) is an indirect reference to a tower as well.

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

Before evaluating the four above, I also propose:

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

f: Comes from Song of Songs 4:15, the same verse discussed on page 338, where the Hebrew for the “spring of water” in the garden is מעין גנים (mayan gannim). This could have gotten garbled by Greek ears into “Magdalene” the same way pretty much all of the proper names in the New Testament mutated when shifting from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek. Through this verse she would be associated with living waters, mentioned in the same verse of the Song, of which Jesus spoke to her in their first conversation (John 4:10); also, the waters of spiritual purification, as in the mikvah, and in John’s immersion.

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

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

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

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

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

l: Comes from “Magdalu in Egypt”, as it is called in the letters of Šuta in the1340s B.C.E. On the northeastern frontier of Egypt, this ancient town was near the last encampment of the Israelites before they crossed the Red Sea during the Exodus. The name probably comes from גָּדַל (gadal), meaning “to increase in size or importance”. Jeremiah 44:1 says Migdol (as he and Ezekiel call it) and other nearby Egyptian communities had significant colonies of Diaspora Jews. There was a significant presence of Samaritans in Egypt as well, from the second century B.C.E. well into the Christian period, according to Reinhard Pummer (“The Samaritans in Egypt”); they largely lived harmoniously with their Jewish neighbors according to Aryeh Kasher (The Jews in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt), though according to Josephus there were quarrels in the same century over whether Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim was the true Temple site.Both Jews and Samaritans worshipped at a temple in Elephantine built as a replica of the one in Jerusalem, supported by the family of Sanballat with whom Jesus identified (see pages 605-06 and 727); James D. Purvis and Eric Meyers say the cultus at Elephantine was a mix of Yahwistic and Canaanite ways, and (as suggested by the Elephantine Papyrii) much influenced by Egyptian religion. Indeed, Jeremiah 44 describes the cultus at Migdol in detail, including worship of “the Queen of Heaven”, whom K. van der Toorn (Numen 39:1) says was similar to the Ugaritic goddess Anat and called Anath-Yahu. This temple was destroyed by theEgyptiansin410 B.C.E., but another was built by Onias (or Honiah) IV in the first century B.C.E. in Leontopolis, near Magdalu, north of Heliopolis. Leontopolis was already the center of veneration of Sekhmet, a lion-headed war goddess of Upper Egypt, the fierce aspect of the cat goddess Bast, representing the incendiary heat of Ra’s gaze when it punishes evildoers. According to Josephus (Ant. 13:3:2,14:8:2), Onias built the temple after Judah Maccabee denied him the high priesthood in Jerusalem. It was demolished by Rome in 73 C.E., shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, to prevent it from harboring insurrectionists.Hanan Eshel (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State) suggests Onias IV may have been the Teacher of Righteousness often referred to in the Qumran texts, and some classical Jewish literature (such as Yuhasin, Me’or ’Enayim, and Seder ha-Dorot) associates his temple with the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim; indeed, Rabbi Ben Abrahamson says Samaria often ratified alliances with Egypt.All this points to the good possibility that Jesus and Mary had some connections with an anti-Rome, anti-Jerusalem Samaria/Leontopolis alliance perhaps affiliated with the Notzrim. In any case, the several passages in this gospel, especially the resurrection, suggest both Jesus and Mary were reasonably familiar with the Egyptian language and Jewish-Samaritan Egyptian spiritual community.

m: Comes from the Aramaic ܝܘܢܐܡܓܕܠܝ (magdal’ yawna; “dove tower”). Ancient columbaria, also called dovecotes in English, have been found throughout the Levant, and indeed the entire Mediterranean region; they were known in Greek as περιστερεῶνα (peristereōna). For Jews and Samaritans they would provide not only food and crop fertilizer, but Temple sacrifices, as required in the Torah. Sometimes they were made in caves, but, where caves were not available towers were constructed: at the famous Masada site, for instance, three towers served as columbaria. There had to be columbaria in Mary’s day atop Mount Gerizim to provide sacrificial birds as well as to feed the priests, priestesses, and staff. Mary may have had duties associated with the columbaria. It is known that an image of a dove had been the ostensible pretext for the Temple’s destruction in 110 B.C.E., and a similar image probably had been specially recreated before Mary’s day. This explanation would also amplify the theory outlined on pages 546-57 that the “dove” at Jesus’s immersion was Mary.

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

o: Comes from the Aramaic ܡܓܕܠܝܐ (magd’lya). The verb can mean “to tie”, “to make round”, or “to roll around”. This word appears in 20:1 as ܕܡܓܕܠܝܐ (d’magd’lya), with a prefix meaning “which” and the meaning determined from context “was rolled”. This word lacks only the ܬ (“t”) to be identical to the Aramaic version of Mary’s cognomen, ܡܓܕܠܝܬܐ (Magd’layta). With the suffix ܢܐ(na) mentioned just above in m, the meaning could be that she implored/prayed for the stone to be rolled away (and it was); the addition of this suffix would make the name virtually identical to the sound of μαγδαληνη in Greek. It is curious that 20:1 is one of only three verses in the Textus Receptus (the text as it has come down to us, with all its changes deliberate and accidental) of the Gospel of John where Mary is called “Magdalene”, and that in the same verse there is this homonym. Could the cognomen have referred to Mary being the discoverer of the rolled-away tombstone? Could it mean that she became aware of, witness to a miracle, that Jesus not only was alive but lifted away this stone like Jacob himself (Genesis 29:10)? At any rate, this conjunction of homonyms makes ܡܓܕܠܝܐan intriguing possibility.See further discussion of these matters in the commentary to 20:1.

p: Comes from the Aramaic ܢܐܕܠܗܝܡܓܗܐ (magāh dlhy na), “this/that particular dawn”, with the same suffix mentioned in m, signifying her intense desire for the memorable dawn in which she encountered her risen husband.

q: Includes ܕܠܛ (dalet), the fourth letter in the Aramaic and Hebrew alphabets, which mystically signifies a door because the letter originated in the Egyptian hieroglyph for “door”, perhaps the door into the “father’s house” (14:2) which is reached by the “ladder” (“Jacob’s ladder”) that unites earth and heaven. Remember that Mary’s cognomen in the Peshitta ends with a -ta, not a -na.

r: Comes from the Aramaic ܕܠܝܛܐܡܓܕ (magd dālīṯā), “the choice fruit (magd) of the vine shoot (dālīṯā)”, Mary as the first and best fruit of the vine (15:5), chosen by Jesus as the first person to reveal himself to as Messiah, his spouse and co-chosen (I Peter 5:13; see page 564).

s: Comes from the Aramaic ܠܘܬܐܡܓܕܗ (mgdh lwta), the attractive power (mgdh) that makes someone a partner/companion, that joins one to another (lwta).

t: Comes from the Aramaic ܢܐ ܡܕܠܐ (madly na), “a draft of water deeply yearned/implored for”. The word ܡܕܠܐ appears in Exodus 2:19, where Moses is meeting and romancing his wife-to-be Zipporah. The suffix ܢܐ is explained in n above.

u: Comes from the Aramaic ܡܕܠܝܢ (madalyānā), “to bring/draw up/out, to extract as from a hole/well”. This derivation would point to Jesus’s request that Mary draw him water to drink in chapter 4 – the related word ܕ݁ܳܠܝܳܐ (dalya), “to draw (water)” appears in 4:15 – and to Jesus being drawn forth from the tomb by God, and then his drawing Mary forth from the same tomb by saying mary, in 20:16.

v: Comes from Hebrew מָ֫ (ma; “water”), גְּדֹלָה (gadol; “great”), and אָנָה (anah; “seeks or enables oneself to meet”). This might refer to the opening scene, when Mary draws Jesus forth from the Jordan River to which he came to be immersed by John the Immerser, and/or to Jesus as the source of living water (4:10,14).

w: Comes from Aramaic ܡܕܠܐ (madla; “draft of water”) and ܠܬܐ(leta; “fellowship”), which would refer to the meeting by the spring in chapter 4. This would go back to the Aramaic spelling of the name “Magdalene” as “Magd’layta”.

x: Comes from the Sanskrit महाध्यान (Maha-Dhyāna), literally meaning “Great Path”; the word Dhyāna in origin refers to the channel in which flows a stream or river, but in current usage in both Hinduism and Buddhism it refers to the practice of stilling the mind so it reflects the universe perfectly without judging or craving or fearing.(Though they are often confused ,this is not quite the same thing as the Western practice of meditation.) If this is the source of “Magdalene”, then it would have been given her by Jesus, through his contacts with Eastern religion discussed several times in this work. As it got transliterated into Aramaic and Greek, it would have been given an “l” to make it easier for Westerners to pronounce; thus it would sound like Magdalena, “Magdalene” in Greek.

y: Comes from the Aramaic ܡܓܗܐ ܕܝ ܠܘܬܐ (magāh d’ lwta), “that particular dawn of making someone a partner/companion / joining one to another”. The word for “dawn” in the Syriac texts of chapter 20 is a synonym, ܫܦܪܐ (šap̄rā). But Mary’s cognomen could still remember that particular dawn when she and Jesus were joined as one together.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and some entries are quite unlikely; it is merely meant to be suggestive. Certainly there are many possibilities for explaining this cognomen, more than I have listed, since there are more possible combinations of some of the words and particles given above that are not mentioned. If nothing else, I hope this list encourages scholars to reopen the question as to the derivation of “Magdalene”, and not just to assume, but to do some more homework.

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

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

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

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

Options e, f, and h, and probably c, g,and t as well, find their origin in the Tanakh. All of these except h and t could refer to the Song of Songs; e comes indirectly and h directly from the story of Jacob and Rachel in Genesis, and t from the story of Moses and Zipporah both of which stories the gospel implicitly associates Jesus and Mary. Options c, e, h, and m all suggest a watchtower, with c carrying the indirect meaning of “elegant” or “great”, and e referring to the Shulammite’s dance.

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

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

I myself believe the best solution is one or more of l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, or y. The first two would succinctly denote the fact about Mary that most stood out to those who knew her: her having been a Temple priestess; m also would further clarify who is the “dove” that comes to Jesus at his immersion (1:32). The others would directly relate her cognomen to her relationship with Jesus, amply explaining why it caught on in the Christian community and is well remembered to this day; n and t center on her first encounter with Jesus, o, p, and y on her encounter with Jesus at the resurrection, u on both the first encounter and the resurrection, and r and s on her relationship with Jesus. So good are all of these explanations that it could have been a combination of any two or three or more that provided reason for her to gain this cognomen. Because they are more sweeping, hence more likely to lead to a cognomen, I lean most strongly toward l, r, and y; and, much as I find many others fascinating, if I had to choose a single one it would be y.

Any of this last group of explanations would also answer a very good point made by Karen L. King (as quoted in “The Inside Story of a ControversialNew Text About Jesus”, by Ariel Sabar, Smithsonian.com, 18 September 2012). She notes that in the first century “women’s status was determined by the men to whom they were attached,” citing as an example “Mary, Mother of Jesus, Wife of Joseph” (and later, I add, “Wife of Clopas”). If Mary Magdalene had been Jesus’s wife, King insists, she would have been known as that, and the fact that she isn’t King calls the strongest argument against the contention that she was Jesus’s wife. But if for instance “Magdalene” means “sacred of/to the goddess” or refers to a dove tower on Gerizim, then that was her “marital status” as a priestess in the Samaritan religion, and she would have been already well known by that cognomen before wedding Jesus.

And if her cognomen refers to Jesus going into the well of her spirit and drawing forth water, or to the stone drawn away from the tomb such that Jesus and Mary may embrace, or if it means “a draft of water deeply yearned for”, “the choice fruit of the vine shoot” or “the attractive power that makes someone a partner/companion” – in short, to Mary as one with Jesus such that they, together, embody the very image and likeness of Elohim (God understood as comprising male and female as one), returning to the state of the perfect hermaphroditic Adam, before the female nature was removed from the male’s side – then the cognomen does, as King would wish, refer to her marital status with Jesus. Indeed, this gospel strongly suggests that what made Mary so appropriate a spouse to Jesus’s thinking was that she was a κοινωνος, his spiritual equal, and all of these latter interpretations of her cognomen emphasizes this central fact about Mary.

All this said, the cognomen “Magdalene” only appears in John thrice, once in the crucifixion episode and twice in the resurrection episode. But this is enough to lead many scholars to conclude that she is a different woman from the Mary who lives in Bethany, and whose name is always just Mary, without any cognomen. As discussed in the commentaries to the two episodes where “Magdalene” appears, I believe it was added therein by the redactor, and that the Beloved Disciple and amanuensis in the original text referred to her simply as “Mary”, without cognomen. Thus, in this translation, “Magdalene” is excised.

Her given name, Μαριαμ (Mariam), has two origin explanations: the traditional one and the actual one. Both would have been commonly known to reasonably well-educated Jews in the first century. The actual derivation of her name is from the Egyptian Meri-Amen, “Beloved Amen”, the name of Moses’s elder sister, referring to the Egyptian deity who was so pervasive by the time of the Middle Kingdom, in the last centuries B.C.E., that Egypt was essentially monotheistic. Meri-Amen becomes Μαριαμνη (Mariamne) in the Gospel of Philip, by the Presbyter’s friend Philip the Evangelist. See the discussion on pages 969-70.

I reject Madan Mohan Shukla’s idea, in an article published by the Oriental Institute at Baroda in 1979, that the name may go back to the Sanskrit मातृ (matri; the “t” is very gently pronounced), meaning “wife” and “mother”, which evolved into the latter English word, as well as the first half of “matrimony”. Shukla’s reference to an Indian goddess named Mari is likelier since she might be etymologically associated with the Egyptian Meri (Beloved).

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

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

 

Jesus the Notzri and the Samaritan Resistance

GJohn-Mockup1

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.

Today, the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth” is universal. But there are no references to a village called Nazareth before 221 C.E. except in the New Testament – and later Christian writers apparently misunderstood Y’shuah ha Notzri in the earliest New Testament writings to say he was from a not-yet-existing village. Rather, he was apparently associated with the Notzrim, a group that expected a Messiah, and which opposed the Herodian petty kings, the Romans, and the religious authorities in Jerusalem. The name Notzrim refers to the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 11:1, in which “a shoot” (נֵ֫צֶר, ne-tser) comes forth from the stump of Jesse, i.e., the “tree” of the Davidic monarchy was long since cut down, but a new shoot will grow from the stump, the coming Messiah.

In John 1 Jesus calls Nathanael “a son of Israel” – an implication of these hated Herodian kings, vassals to the despised Roman rulers; therefore, the term “son of Israel” suggests that Nathanael is at least sympathetic to the cause of the many who would overthrow those rulers. It also suggests that Nathanael was a Samaritan, people who had no more love for the Jewish priests who ruled daily life in Jerusalem than for the Romans; see the second paragraph following. Jesus’s joke also refers to Jacob, later renamed Israel, who used deceit to steal the blessing of their father from his elder brother Esau (Genesis 27); if Nathanael was as is suggested below the son of Joseph of Arimathæa and nephew of Simon ben Nathanael, both religious leaders in Jerusalem, then as himself a young religious leader in Samaria he certainly had not like Jacob stolen his father’s or uncle’s blessing! In sum, therefore, the remark to Nathanael is a mix of pride and shame for Israelite history.

In John 8:48 his Pharisee interlocutors call Jesus a Samaritan, and he doesn’t deny this! This comes right after 8:44, which which Jesus refers not to the “Satan” of much later Christian mythology, but a very human shaitan [hinderer] mentioned in the Tanakh, at Zechariah 3:1-2. These verses feature Joshua the High Priest, who served at the time of the laying of the foundation for the Second Temple, wherein this very conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees is taking place. Jesus evidently associated himself with Joshua: the two shared, of course, the same Hebrew/Aramaic name, and in Zechariah 3:8 God tells the High Priest about “my servant the Shoot”, referring to Isaiah 11:1, an expected Messiah with whom Jesus here also identifies himself. Standing with Joshua is the Messenger (Angel) of God, also equivalent to Jesus, who is also a Messenger of God in the theology of this gospel. The shaitan in this scene, leader of an opposing faction of priests in the Temple, is standing by Joshua ready to challenge him, but has no chance to do so because the Messenger rebukes him.

By “the Shoot” Zechariah was referring to a priest named Manasseh, grandson of High Priest Eliashib (grandson of Joshua), who had married a daughter of the governor of Samaria, Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s political rival. Nehemiah, who Zechariah portrays as the shaitan, threw Manasseh out of the Jerusalem Temple (Nehemiah 13:28, Josephus: Ant. 11:185-297). Manasseh went on to be high priest at the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim, which Sanballat (or a descendant by the same name; time may be telescoped here) erected.

Likewise in this passage Jesus rebukes these Pharisees, who, as descended from Nehemiah’s camp, he characterizes as sons of this same shaitan – in other words, as priests who oppose God’s will (λογος) and God’s appointed emissary, and who still cause trouble in the Temple now just as in Zechariah’s time. Jesus is thus hinting at the still virulent enmity and rivalry between Gerizim and Jerusalem; he sides here with the former. He may also be referring to the Notzrim , a group who hated alike the Jerusalem religious establishment, the Herodians, and Rome. These Pharisees must have been incensed by his comparing them to the shaitan in Zechariah’s prophecy, as they were by his earlier insinuation that they resembled the despicable King Ahaz (John 5:2-18).

Next, Pilate says “Behold the man!” (Ecce homo! in Latin) at John 19:5. This almost certainly is meant to echo Zechariah 6:12, “Look at the man whose name is Shoot, wherefrom he shall branch out and shall (re)build/(re)grow the Temple of YHWH,” and indirectly Isaiah 11:1, the Messianic prophecy of new life shooting up out of “the stump of Jesse”, all that is left of the Tree, the Davidic monarchy. It is possible that Pilate actually said “Look at the man!” and his hearers, especially Jesus’s disciples, heard in it echoes of Zechariah unintended by Pilate, who was not likely familiar with the Tanakh, though meeting often with the Jewish religious leadership may have changed that, as may also his wife Claudia Procula, who early Christians said was a follower of Jesus and friend of Mary his wife. It is far less likely that this phrase is here put into Pilate’s mouth by the author of the gospel, given his clear determination to be as faithful and accurate in his account as possible, and his quoted criticism of John Mark for failing to be so in his Gospel of Mark.

This verse again helps us see the intent in the gospel to paint Pilate as benignly disposed toward Jesus, since otherwise Pilate would never be given to say such a positive thing. As does the debate at 8:44 and 48, Pilate’s allusion here clearly associates Jesus with the Samaritans: Zechariah’s Shoot prophecies take the side of the Samaritans in their battle with the Jerusalem Temple establishment, who in this passage are conniving and implicitly antagonistic toward Pilate. The Shoot refers to a priest ejected from the Jerusalem Temple who became high priest in the newly established Samaritan Temple.

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” may come from “Magdalu in Egypt”, as it is called in the letters of Šuta in the 1340s B.C.E. On the northeastern frontier of Egypt, this ancient town was near the last encampment of the Israelites before they crossed the Reed Sea during the Exodus. The name probably comes from גָּדַל (gadal), meaning “to increase in size or importance”. Jeremiah 44:1 says Migdol (as he and Ezekiel call it) and other nearby Egyptian communities had significant colonies of Diaspora Jews. These Jews worshipped at a temple in Elephantine built as a replica of the one in Jerusalem, supported by the family of Sanballat with whom Jesus identified (as in his reference to Zechariah discussed above); James D. Purvis and Eric Meyers say the cultus at Elephantine was a mix of Yahwistic and Canaanite ways, and (as suggested by the Elephantine Papyrii) much influenced by Egyptian religion. Indeed, Jeremiah 44 describes the cultus at Migdol in detail, including worship of “the Queen of Heaven”, whom K. van der Toorn (Numen 39:1) says was similar to the Ugaritic goddess Anat and called Anath-Yahu.

This temple was destroyed by the Egyptians in 410 B.C.E., but another was built by Onias (or Honiah) IV in the first century B.C.E. in Leontopolis, near Magdalu, north of Heliopolis. According to Josephus (Ant. 13:3:2,14:8:2), this came after Judah Maccabee denied Onias the high priesthood in Jerusalem. It was demolished by Rome in 73 C.E., shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, to prevent it from harboring insurrectionists. Hanan Eshel (The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State) suggests Onias IV may have been the Teacher of Righteousness often referred to in the Qumran texts, and some classical Jewish literature, such as the Yuhasin, associates his temple with the Samaritan Temple on Mount Gerizim; indeed, Rabbi Ben Abrahamson says Samaria at times had alliances with Egypt.

All this points to the good possibility that Jesus and Mary had some connections with an anti-Rome, anti-Jerusalem Samaria/Leontopolis alliance perhaps affiliated with the Notzrim. In any case, the several passages in this gospel, especially the resurrection, suggest both Jesus and Mary were reasonably familiar with the Egyptian language.

The Whirlwind and the Dove: Commentary on John 1:32

This blog entry discusses what exactly happened at the baptism of Jesus by John, as reported in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. This is a revision of a section of my commentaries to The Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The book is available in hardcover and paperback; you will find ordering information here.

GJohn-Mockup1

The word περιστερα (peristera, “dove”) that we find in the text is very close in pronunciation to another word, πρηστηρ (prēstēr, “whirlwind”), and I believe there was considerable deliberation on the part of the amanuensis, probably in consultation with the eyewitness, as to which should be written. It is possible that this is a scribal error on the part of the amanuensis or else extremely early in the subsequent history of the gospel text, since the words for “dove” and “whirlwind” are quite unlike in Hebrew and Aramaic, but I reject this possibility, and also the possibility that this was a “correction” by the much later redactor to make this gospel conform to the three Synoptic gospels, since as is argued below both words would be very appropriate here.

The word πνευμα can mean “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit” depending on context, and the context here, that it came down from the sky, suggests the meaning is “wind”. (Still, to remind readers of these other meanings, the translation retains all three.) We know from experience that a wind out of the sky often does take the form of a whirlwind; the text clearly makes sense with that reading, since there is no more reason to expect a wind to take the form of a dove than for it to take the form of a barn or a banana or the Beatles. Besides being unlike a mighty wind, a fragile dove would not be able to withstand a mighty wind out of the sky, let alone safely alight on Jesus and manage to stay on his shoulder, without getting blown away. In any case, the very next verse seals the matter by expressly saying the πνευμα, the wind (and not a dove), descended onto Jesus.

This provisional reconstruction of the Beloved Disciple’s original intent also makes considerable contextual sense. Immediately before this episode is the Prologue, which contains significant references to the Breath/Wind/Spirit of God that moved across the surface of the waters in Creation (Genesis 1:2) and that was breathed into Adam’s nostrils (Genesis 2:7). The conversation with Nicodemus, which emphasizes the same theme, comes soon hereafter. And this passage forms an inclusio (that is to say, it is in A-B-A symmetry) with 19:30, in which Jesus breathes out the wind/breath/spirit within him for the last time as he dies, and 20:22, in which Jesus exhales on the disciples and says “Receive the πνευμα άγιον” (the sacred breath/spirit/wind – equivalent in Greek to רוּחַ [Ruach], the Breath/Soul of Life); by exhaling he proves he is alive, but also with that breath he heals them, he blesses them, and he fills them with the Name and Spirit of God.

The baptism of Jesus took place at the Jordan River (1:28), and a whirlwind at that location would immediately call to the mind of any first-century Jew reading this account the story of Elijah, also at the Jordan, transferring his prophetic power to Elisha (II Kings 2): Elijah strikes the river with his rolled-up mantle and the waters part (echoing the story of the Exodus). Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Then a chariot and horses of fire appear, and Elijah is taken into Heaven in a whirlwind. Except for the mantle and the chariot and horses of fire, everything matches up. We have an older prophet (Elijah/John) at the close of his ministry ordaining the beginning of the ministry of a younger prophet (Elisha/Jesus) who has a double portion of the older one’s spirit; the River Jordan is passed through or entered into; and a whirlwind comes from Heaven. One pertinent difference is that the whirlwind takes one waning prophet, Elijah, to Heaven, but not John, since he is to die at Herod’s hand; rather, the whirlwind comes down to anoint Jesus, evidently conferring on him something of the nature and spirit of Elijah as it did Elisha. This whirlwind is the presence of God, the voice of God, the breath of God which Moses only saw after it had passed by and it was safe to leave the cave where he was hidden. This whirlwind is אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (“I Am/Will Be What I Am/Will Be”), it is God’s Name (see the Introduction). The text is drawing a strong comparison between Jesus and both Elijah and Moses; this clearly tells us the gospel is directed at least at a Jewish audience.

As presaged above, there are two most obvious conclusions. One is that the amanuensis meant to write the Greek word for “whirlwind” as he was taking down the Beloved Disciple’s spoken reminiscences, but accidentally wrote the very similar Greek word for “dove”. The other is that this was a deliberate change effected later by the redactor of this gospel, to bring it into conformity with the by-then-published Synoptic gospels. Those three gospels all feature (rightly or wrongly) a dove; since Matthew and Luke based their tellings on the version in Mark, we can conclude – if in reality it was a whirlwind that visited itself upon Jesus at his baptism – that the scribal error occurred in the early stages of composition of Mark’s text, and Matthew and Luke simply repeated the mistake, and then John was edited to conform to the other three.

There is a third, less obvious conclusion, which is that since the text in effect says both “dove” and “wind” (in the received text of 1:32 John says, literally translated, “‘I have beheld the wind descending in the form of a dove from the sky, and it remained upon him.’”), both were intended. In other words, this may be an intended double entendre, and both πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) are suggested, rather like υσσωπος (javelin) and υσσως (hyssop) appear to have both been intended in 19:34.

First, this double entendre would be well-rooted in the Tanakh. Psalm 55:6-8 refers to a dove flying away from the dangerous whirlwind. This and other passages (e.g., Genesis 8, where the dove is associated with the subsiding of waters and wind, as here at the baptism, and Jeremiah 48:28) portray the dove in connection with a sanctuary in the wilderness from one’s enemies, a theme common to John, Jesus, and this gospel. And significantly, the Shulammite, the beautiful woman in the Song of Songs, which this gospel associates with Mary by way of frequent paraphrases from that work, is often compared to a dove. In Song 2:14 the man asks the woman, whom he calls his dove, to show herself in the concealed place along the steep way – the landscape described in that verse is one that the eyewitness and amanuensis would have agreed describes accurately this rock-strewn, craggy countryside where John was baptizing, which Gul. Tyrius described as also abounding in dragons, defined as “hidden passages and windings underground”. Visitors to the region today will find it continues to be full of concealed places along steep ways.

This verse in the Song of Songs suggests the possibility that the whirlwind and the dove could both have been present at the baptism – that would be the case if the dove, the beloved, “showed herself in the concealed place” in the form of Mary, called the Magdalene in the Synoptics. In this gospel, every time she appears there are strong references to the beloved woman, the “dove” of the Song of Songs. The whirlwind could literally have come down from Heaven and remained on Jesus, and the “dove”, Mary, could also have come down to the shore and helped Jesus out of the water, and “remained” with him for life, as his wife.

Strengthening this possibility is the clear inclusio between John, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah after his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the Jordan (1:43), and Mary, the first to declare publicly Jesus as Messiah during his ministry (4:29; John only discusses Jesus as Messiah with certain religious officials, and the disciples only privately, in chapter 1); she was also the first to declare him such after his literal crucifixion-and-resurrection (20:18). Moreover, Mary watched as Jesus died on the cross (19:25) and was first witness to his resurrection, which would form an inclusio if she watched his symbolic death-and-resurrection here. Another inclusio is formed by Jesus being reunited with Mary in a garden right after his resurrection in chapter 20 just as he will be reunited with the woman he glimpsed during the baptism at a gardenlike well, in chapter 4, very soon after this symbolic resurrection of baptism. With so many clear correspondences being drawn between John and Mary, the possibility that Mary was present for the baptism of Jesus must be considered.

We know that Lazarus was at this time a disciple of John, so Mary, his mother, could have come from Sychar to visit her son, who was at the time of the baptism still a disciple of John, and thus certainly there to witness it. Mary may even have come to be herself baptized by John, to recollect her Jewish heritage after serving as a Samaritan priestess, to have her past “washed away” through the baptism. If so, then not only Jesus but Mary too would have been naked for the baptism, as was customary (and still is today in the mikvah), for this was a birth ritual and we are all born naked (Job 1:21). Jesus’s nakedness in this scene forms an inclusio with his being nearly so to wash the disciples’ feet (13:3-12a), and his complete nakedness on the cross (19:23-24) and at the resurrection (20:6-7) when he was spiritually reborn and spiritually remarried to Mary. At the crucifixion and resurrection Mary would again have been nigh naked herself, since the tradition then was for a grieving person to rend his or her clothes into pieces.

It is not inconceivable that Mary was assisting John in the baptism ritual; as a former Temple priestess this would be a familiar role for her to take. She may have helped Jesus (and others there for the ritual) to undress, and to untie his sandals, the very act that John felt he could not do himself (1:27), and throw around him a fresh white linen robe afterwards. If Mary undressed and reclothed him in this scene, there is an inclusio with her coming to the tomb (20:1) to undertake the wifely responsibility of tohorah, the ritual purification of a body by unclothing it, washing it (equivalent to the baptism here), and then dressing it again in a takhrikhin, a fresh white linen wrapping. And if the great preacher John felt he was not worthy of unlacing Jesus’s sandals and helping him undress, and these tasks fell instead to Mary, then Mary must already have been in a very special capacity as regards Jesus; at the least she would be such as a Temple priestess.

The Gospel of Philip may provide some support for this possible involved presence of Mary at the baptism of Jesus. (I agree with others that this noncanonical gospel appears to have preserved some oral traditions; it most decidedly should not be derided as Gnostic, for it portrays a very physical, real-world Jesus, and it speaks of this mundane earth as God’s creation, quite real and good.) At verse 82 it closely associates baptism and marriage: “The baptism has the resurrection [with] the Atonement coming into the bridal chamber; yet, the bridal chamber is more exalted than these. … One will never find its like”. And it may be speaking of John (as the friend of the bridegroom; cf. John 3:29) and the disciples (as the sons of the bridegroom; Jesus often addresses the disciples as his children) when it says of the nakedness of the bride (verse 131): “Let her [the bride] come forth and be revealed only to her father and mother with her, before the friend of the bridegroom, [and] before the sons of the bridegroom”. And, in the recently published fragment from the so-called Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, Jesus not only calls Mary “my wife”, but says, “As for me, I dwell/exist/live with her in order to […] an image […].” The verb suggests “I live with her” in three senses: the ordinary sense of cohabitation, the higher sense of spiritual union, and the highest sense, of the vitality in all things that vivifies life. Thus, Jesus is probably saying that his marriage to Mary is part of the Messianic image that he hopes to convey; applied to the baptism, their meeting at his symbolic death-and-resurrection in the river would be perfectly matched by their meeting again following his very real death and resurrection.

Dove imagery is universal in the spiritual traditions of the eastern Mediterranean, and it supports the identification of Mary with a dove. James A. Montgomery (in The Samaritans: the Earliest Jewish Sect) discusses the oft-cited belief that the Samaritans worshipped a dove on Mount Gerizim, where Mary was a priestess. He eventually dismisses it, but yet he speaks approvingly of other scholars (Selden and Ronzevalle) who associate the dove cult with the goddess Semiramis and the Ashima mentioned in II Kings 17:30. Donald A. MacKenzie (in Myths of Babylonia and Assyria) discusses the close connections between Semiramis and doves in the myths about her. Her Assyrian name, Sammu-rammat, is probably derived from Summat (“Dove”), and signifies “The Dove Goddess Loves Her”. In the most ancient form of the myth, says MacKenzie, she was turned into a dove and took flight into heaven in that form. He adds that Robertson Smith has demonstrated that the dove was of great sanctity among the Semitic nations, often closely associated with love, and also symbolizes innocence, gentleness, and holiness. So, ultimately, in the double entendre of πρηστηρ (wind) and περιστερα (dove) we have masculine and feminine, god and goddess, anointing this first encounter of Jesus and Mary.

If this theory that Mary was actively present at the baptism is true, then it must be asked why there is nothing about it in the gospel. It may be that the amanuensis meant to add it to the telling of the baptism, but never got to it; we know that the original version of the gospel was never completed. It may also be that the redactor found it unacceptable (for the clear suggestion that Jesus was involved with this woman) and excised it; I reject this possibility because the redactor let other similarly “romantic” passages stand with but minimal changes. The compositional problem may have been because the author has put the description of the baptism in the mouth of John (even though Lazarus the eyewitness was certainly there), and either an expansion would have to be still in the first person or else a new narrative strand based on Lazarus’s memories would need to be inserted.

Should this hypothesis of Mary at the baptism be correct, it is not hard to theorize how it would have been recounted in this gospel. As discussed in the Introduction, many scenes in the gospel appear to be sketches that were going to be expanded later, but, alas, there was no opportunity to do so, probably because of the Roman decimation of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. John’s narration of what happened (1:31-33) is complete as it stands, but it could have been slightly extended, to say that after the whirlwind churned up the water in a miniature inundating storm of water (a parallel to the Flood [Genesis 7:17-23], in which everything died, just as this baptism was a symbol dying, and after which a wind descended from heaven [Genesis 8:1, the Hebrew wording of which is close to Genesis 1:2]), the dove came down to the waters in the person of Mary, to guide Jesus to dry land (Genesis 8:8-12), to draw him forth from the waters (Exodus 2:5).

If Mary was there to be baptized herself, and/or to assist John, then likely Jesus took notice of Mary, whom Lazarus would have told his teacher was his mother, and that would have led to the arranging of their meeting in the next episode, at the well in Sychar. This is, of course, pure speculation, but it would connect this scene closely with the next one, at Jacob’s Well, and explain why this scene is immediately followed by that one, and then the wedding. It would also help explain the disciples’ surprise in 4:27, since she is not entirely unfamiliar to them!







“I, I, Speak I With”: Commentary on John 4:26

This blog entry discusses the conversation between Jesus and Mary at a well in Samaria, specifically in John 4:26. This is a revision of a section of my commentaries to The Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of its original text. The gospel as generally known today, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The book is available in hardcover and paperback; you will find ordering information here.

GJohn-Mockup1

Here for the first time in the gospel Jesus reveals his being Messiah. That he does so to this woman tells us she is significant, and not merely a minor, nameless character who does not appear again. It forms an inclusio with chapter 20, where he reveals himself at his resurrection to the same woman, Mary, not just saying he is Messiah, but being fully realized as Messiah.

This verse is another deliberate double entendre. It is usually, and not incorrectly, translated as Jesus confirming her guess that he is Messiah, rendered in this translation as “I am (he), the one who is speaking to you.” In this sense he is referring to himself, at least as a vehicle for the message, for in this gospel his role as Messiah is as the chosen spokesperson (prophet, נְבִיא in Hebrew, προφητης in Greek) for God.

However, Jesus will use this odd syntactical construction many times in this gospel, which means (given an author for whom every detail is carefully chosen) it is significant. Jesus is instead, or also, saying to her the phrase ΈΓΩ ΈΙΜΙ, “I AM”. This is the Greek rendering of one of the seven most sacred names for God in the Torah, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה, which is often translated “I Am What I Am”, but literally means “I Shall Be What I Shall Be”, though the Hebrew implies the past and present tenses too. In this sense, Jesus is referring not to himself but to God, except insofar as God communicates through him. He here speaks like the prophets of centuries past, who often spoke for God, in the first person, to give the sense that God was talking through the prophet. This sense is rendered in the translation as “I AM (is) the one who is speaking to you.” This gospel presents Jesus as Messiah in the Jewish sense, as an emissary from God, who as was traditional in classical cultures, is treated by those who receive him not as an emissary but as, in effect, the presence of the sending potentate – in this case, God. It is not to say Jesus equals God, as Christian dogma was later to claim, since the gospel sees him as wholly human, but rather that the presence and words of Jesus were and are to be taken as the presence and words of God who sent him as an emissary.

As discussed above [see the book], there are a lot of inclusio connections between this passage and 20:1-18. There is another that must be considered.

In chapter 20 in the Peshitta (the very early Aramaic version of the New Testament), Mary refers to Jesus thrice as ܡܳܪܝ (mary; “master”, “lord”, “husband”, “God”), in verses 2, 13, and 15; in these verses she doesn’t recognize Jesus standing before her. In the same passage Jesus refers to her once, at verse 15, as ܐܰܢ݈ܬ݁ܬ݂ܳܐ in Aramaic (“woman” or, especially, “wife”; the word in the Greek text is γυνη), and in verse 16 by her name. After that she almost certainly calls him mary again in verse 16, but that appears changed by the redactor (see the commentary to that verse), and she does speak of him as mary in verse 18.

In chapter 4 in the Peshitta, Mary refers to Jesus thrice as ܡܳܪܝ (mary), in verses 11, 15, and 19; in these verses she doesn’t recognize Jesus standing before her as Messiah. In the same passage Jesus refers to her once, at verse 21, as ܐܰܢ݈ܬ݁ܬ݂ܳܐ in Aramaic (“woman” or, especially, “wife”). But, in the standard text in neither Greek nor Aramaic, Jesus does not address her by her name. In this encounter by the well Jesus certainly knew her name, having learned it after the baptism from either Lazarus or John, and having come here to the well specifically to meet her again, because he wants her for his wife. Yet the close similarities in how the two conversations are structured force us to consider the possibility.

The redactor clearly has gone to some lengths to remove any hint that the marriage at Cana is Jesus’s own marriage to Mary. As discussed elsewhere, this scene at the well is separated from the wedding, and any clues as to the identity of the bridal couple are removed from the latter. Here also, I believe, the name “Mary” is removed, leaving the female character nameless and (apparently) never to reappear in the gospel, something very odd in a gospel where every detail is carefully managed.

If indeed in the original version Jesus did call her by name, it would be – as in chapter 20 – in the culminating moment of the conversation; that is, in this verse 26. In this moment when Jesus reveals himself as Messiah, it would be a finer moment if at the same time he reveals that he knows her name; he has already made it clear he knows she is a Temple priestess.

The Greek for what Jesus says in this verse, Εγω ειμι ο λαλων σοι, is reasonably clear in meaning, as discussed above. The Aramaic, ܐܶܢܳܐ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܕ݁ܰܡܡܰܠܶܠ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܥܰܡܶܟ݂ܝ, is not quite so clear. Literally, it translates as: “I I speak I with.” By adding a few words in parentheses to clarify the meaning implicit in the Aramaic, it is somewhat more readable: “I, I (who) speak with (you); (it is) I.” Still, this is not only confusing in English; even in Aramaic the grammatical structure of this sentence is rather unfocused, mainly because of the repeated personal pronoun at the beginning. However, if Mary’s name is added, it grows much clearer: ܐܶܢܳܐ ܡܳܪܝ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܕ݁ܰܡܡܰܠܶܠ ܐ݈ܢܳܐ ܥܰܡܶܟ݂ܝ (“I, Mary, I [who] speak with [you], [it is] I.”) That suggests in turn that the Greek might have originally read, Εγω ειμι Μαριαμ ο λαλων σοι (“I AM, Mary, who is speaking to you”).

Neither Aramaic nor Greek in the first century used punctuation; what punctuation you see in all of the translations herein, including the phrase above, was added because it is necessary in modern English. The lack of punctuation in the original can cause some ambiguity in meaning, and that ambiguity may well have been intentional. Adding to the ambiguity, the word ܡܳܪܝ could be understood as her name “Mary”, and also as mary, meaning “lord”, “master”, “teacher”, “husband”, and even “God”. With these factors in mind, Jesus in this sentence could be understood as saying:

a: “I am (your) lord/master (mary) (who) is speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus confirming himself to her as Messiah;

b: “I am (your) husband (mary), I (who) am speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus confirming the aspect of their conversation in which they subtly explore the possibility of marriage and agree to it;

c: “I AM, Mary, is speaking with (you).” This would be God speaking through Jesus to say Jesus is Messiah and that God, I AM, is speaking to Mary through him;

d: “I am (Messiah), Mary, I (who) am speaking with (you).” This would be Jesus answering personally (i.e., not God speaking through Jesus, but Jesus on his own) Mary’s comment about expectation of a Messiah; and even

e: “I AM / I am Mary, I speaking with (you). This would be God and/or Jesus speaking as Mary on Jesus’s lips stating that, since in God all humanity is one (John 17:23), then Jesus and Mary are not only one flesh in marriage but they are also one with each other and all humanity in God. Far from affirming opposition between Jew and Samaritan, this is Jesus affirming a perfect unity of all Creation.

Or, as I believe, not one but all of the above are implicit. Jesus here with one word, “Mary”, expresses his entire theology – just as he will again at 20:16 with the same name.







Mary, Mary, Quite Samaritan

This blog about the origin of Mary Magdalene’s name is taken from my commentaries on the Gospel of John, appended to my restoration of the original text. The gospel as generally known, suffered a hatchet job by early Christian leaders to conform it to their dogma that turned Jesus into a Roman-style godling. The forthcoming book will also include a fresh translation of the gospel from the original Greek. This is a work in progress; feedback is most welcome, and people are encouraged to get the book when it comes available, by the end of this year.

Mary’s cognomen “Magdalene” is to be associated with the Synoptics. Other than two highly doubtful references, it never appears in the Gospel of John. Nevertheless, it is so commonly associated with her still today that its origin and meaning must be considered. One of the following explanations are usually offered:

a: Saying she came originally from Magdala, certainly likely since the village is on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, a prominently featured area in this gospel.

b: Coming from the Hebrew מגדל (migdal, “tower”, related to μαγδωλος in Greek, “watchtower”.

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

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

Before evaluating the four above, I also propose:

e: Coming from Mahanaim (הַֽמַּחֲנָֽיִם in Hebrew, ܡܰܗܰܢܰܺܡ in Aramaic), literally meaning “Two Camps”, a place so called by Jacob because he and God both camped there. The “h” would have shifted in the Greek transliteration into a “g” (since there is no “h” in Greek) and a Greek-style suffix added. At this place Jacob erected a watchtower (Genesis 31:48-52; see b, c, and h). The “dance of Mahanaim” is mentioned at Song of Songs 6:13 in reference to the Shulammite (who is discussed in relation to the Magdalene in the biographical notes about Mary on page ___, and also below).

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

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

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

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

j: Coming from the Aramaic ܡܰܩܕ݁ ܐܰܠܳܗܬ݁ܳܐ (maqd’ alaht’a; “sacred of/to the goddess”), which is very close to the Aramaic original of the cognomen “Magdalene” ܡܰܓ݂ܕ݁ܠܳܝܬ݁ܳܐ (magdalayta, “Magdalene”).

Option a, the most frequent explanation of Mary’s cognomen, is straightforward, and should be adopted if it can be proven that Mary came from Magdala. But, alas, there is nothing connecting her to that village. Her family home is in Bethany, her father probably originally came from from Ramathaim (Arimathea) in Kohath, northern Judæa just south of Samaria, and she herself had lived in Samaria itself. Therefore option a is to be rejected.

The pronunciation of the Aramaic word magdala is closer to the Greek original of Mary’s cognomen than the Hebrew migdal, so option b is rejected.

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

Option i is also rejected as lacking a strong rationale for adopting it.

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

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

That leaves either c, g, or j as the reason that her friends called her “Magdalene”. Some combination of c and g would be a sensible if cautious conclusion, especially if Mary had a beautiful neck or breasts. Option j is the risky conclusion and has to prove itself through time and scholarly debate, but the ground has long been prepared for it by such scholars as Raphael Patai (The Hebrew Goddess) and Merlin Stone (When God was a Woman). I myself lean toward it as the best solution. It would succinctly denote what fact about this Mary most stood out to those who knew, what they would have considered the most significant fact about her: her having been a Samaritan Temple priestess.

All this said, the cognomen “Magdalene” only appears in the crucifixion and resurrection episodes. This has led many scholars to conclude that she is a different woman from the Mary who lives in Bethany, and whose name is always just Mary, without any cognomen. As discussed in the commentaries to the two episodes where “Magdalene” appears, I believe this cognomen was added therein by the redactor, and that the Beloved Disciple and amanuensis in the original text referred to her as “Mary”, without cognomen. Thus, in this translation, “Magdalene” is excised.

Bear in mind, too, that her given name, Μαριαμ (“Maria” or “Mary” in English), refers to tears. The original Hebrew name is מרה (Mara, “bitter”); it is the name that Naomi (which means “sweet” or “pleasant”) gave herself when she was weeping bitter tears for the death of her sons and her husband (Ruth 1:13). The word has a deeper root meaning in מַר (mar, “drop”), as in a teardrop, but going even farther back to מֹר (mor, “myrrh”), which is the resin of a thorny tree, harvested by wounding the tree until it bleeds out, drop by drop, its bitter lifeblood, hence the name. Myrrh was a component in ketoret, the consecrated incense used in the First and Second Temples at Jerusalem, according to the Tanakh and Talmud – and it would recently have been in the nostrils of Mary and the disciples during the commemoration of Passover at the Temple.

How ironic that, before Jesus’s death, a thorny “crown”, very possibly from the myrrh tree, was placed on his head (19:2), and that he was wounded like the tree and his blood came forth as does the liquid myrrh (19:32). How ironic that after his death Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea prepared his body with myrrh and aloes (19:39-40). How ironic it is that Mary Magdalene, with such a name as that, who was but recently weeping bitter tears for her son (John 11:31,33), now again had drops of tears falling like drops of myrrh from her eyes for her husband (20:11).

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

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

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

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