The Gospel of John in the Palestinian Lectionaries:
A Mere Cæsarean Anomaly or the Closest Text We Have to the Original?
James David Audlin
The following text comprises material from the upcoming third edition of The Gospel of John Restored and Translated, Volumes I and III, in three volumes, published by Editores Volcán Barú, copyright © 2012-2018 by James David Audlin. All worldwide rights reserved. Reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Editores Volcán Barú.
In my reconstruction of the original gospel the standard Greek text is the “base text”, appearing wherever it appears to be reasonably close to that original. But in my view an Aramaic text, found in the so-called Palestinian Lectionaries, is the most important source for reconstructing the original version, and so they appear very often herein. Therefore I think they need a special introduction. Lectionaries are collections of readings from the New Testament, in the earliest centuries specifically from the gospels. The readings are not in the original narrative ordering of the gospels themselves but passages taken out and arranged in a special way that conforms to the needs in various seasons in the liturgical year.
There are three manuscripts of the Palestinian Lectionaries: A was inked in 1030, B in 1104, and C in 1118. A transcription of all three published in 1899 by Agnes Smith Lewis is my textual source. Lewis also provides fragments of a fourth lectionary, scant bits of John chapters 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, and 15-17, which can be conveniently referred to as Palestinian Lectionary D. Other very similar lectionaries have been found, mostly in Greek, but these four are uniquely in Galilean Aramaic. Sadly, these Palestinian Lectionaries have never been translated even in part, and indeed this work may be the first in any modern language to translate and analyze most of the passages quoted herein. Since Lewis’s publication it has been customary to call them the Palestinian Lectionaries as she did, but the text is is more properly called Galilean Aramaic, as I do herein. Curiously, the script, that is to say the alphabetary used in these manuscripts, is not Galilean but Syriac, a matter that will be explained presently.
One of the first things scholars ask about an unfamiliar New Testament manuscript is which text-type it is. There are three generally accepted families of manuscripts, recognized by certain peculiar features of phrasing, vocabulary, and the like: The Alexandrian (on which the Textus Receptus of today is based), Western, and Byzantine. Some scholars include a fourth, the Cæsarean, but this one is an embarrassment poorly if at all defined, basically just a place to put a manuscript that doesn’t fit comfortably into one of the other three. Some scholars categorize these Lectionaries as Cæsarean, and therefore also the gospels from which they were evidently arranged, but that just begs the question. The fact of the matter is that these Galilean Aramaic texts are their own text-type: throughout the gospels we find an abundance of remarkably different readings that almost never even vaguely resemble anything found in any other manuscript. I hereby propose that they be denoted as the Galilean text-type.
So far as we know, such lectionaries began to appear in the eighth century, taking their liturgical readings, of course, from earlier New Testament or gospel manuscripts. The question is whether these Palestinian Lectionaries drew their material from manuscripts in Aramaic or whether they were translated from Greek sources. George Henry Gwilliam (The Palestinian Version of the Holy Scriptures, 1893) argues for the former, while Eberhard Nestle (as quoted in Lewis’s A Palestinian Syriac Lectionary containing Lessons from the Pentateuch, Job, Proverbs, Prophets, Acts, and Epistles, 1897) and Bruce Metzger (New Testament Tools and Studies, Vol. X, 1977) propound the latter view. Nestle and Metzger point out how sometimes the same verses are translated more than once in a given lectionary, but often with a number of variations, mostly minor (spelling or word order), and conclude that each reading was independently translated from a Greek source rather than just copying a previous rendering into Aramaic. The same text in the different Lectionaries have manifold variations of the same minor nature, and occasionally significantly wide differences in meaning. Metzger highlights the fact that common and familiar names, even originally Aramaic names like those of Jesus, John the Immerser, Mary, and Simon Peter are transliterations of the Greek versions, rather than the Aramaic originals. Metzger also points out how verses that in the Greek purport to explain the meanings of Aramaic words are translated so literally that the result is nonsensical: in John 1:42, for example, Jesus says “You shall be called Kephas” and the narrative then explains that “being interpreted this is Petros”. If this were an English text it would be like saying “You shall be called Rock” and then informing the English reader that what “Rock” means is ܟܝܦܐ.
If each reading was independently translated into Aramaic from a Greek gospels collection or a Greek lectionary, that would easily explain the variations in wording of the same passage in the different Lectionaries and between different appearances of the same text in a single Lectionary. However different wordings can still record the same meaning, and this hypothesis fails to explain how the very meaning of a text can be extremely different from one Lectionary to another (this issue is not found when the same text appears more than once in the same Lectionary). Metzger accepts Sebastian Brock’s belief (Journal of Semitic Studies, X ) that the Lectionaries are indirectly based on a Greek source, though the direct source or sources might be in either Greek or Aramaic, either in lectionary form or gospels collection form. If the Greek is at second hand, Brock goes on to say, then “where differences do occur these should be attributed to revision made on the basis of [the] Greek manuscripts.” That is to say sometimes a given Lectionary scribe double-checked his immediate Aramaic source against an earlier Greek New Testament, and sometimes not.
I personally think the direct source(s) must be one or more of certain Galilean Aramaic gospel collections, some fragments of examples of which have been published (by J[an] P[ieter] N[icolaas] Land in Anecdota Syriaca, Agnes Smith Lewis in Codex Climaci Rescriptus, and Friedrich Schulthess in Christlich-Palästinische Fragmente). The wording of the John fragments published by Land is very close to that of their equivalents in the Palestinian Lectionaries, and so this text or a close relative is the likeliest source for the latter. The other fragmentary gospels are less similar. Land provides very little analysis of the Evangeliaria Londinensia as he calls the main Galilean Aramaic gospels collection that includes the relevant John fragments, but I think it is safe to assume that the gospels collection(s) used by the Lectionaries scribes was composed closer to their own time as a daughter or granddaughter of the original gospels collection copied from the original source, of which I shall speak presently.
Obviously the three complete Lectionaries we have, plus a very fragmentary fourth, differ from each other in their wording, almost always simply in spelling and wording with pretty much the same sense and rarely in significant ways; this suggests that they did not copy their texts from the same gospel collection but different ones, similar but not identical, of which the published fragments just mentioned would be typical and/or that they adapted the older Aramaic spellings found in their source to the forms prevalent in each scribe’s time and place. And clearly the Lectionaries scribes did not scruple to add certain perceived improvements, such as a far more liberal use of colons to separate phrases than is the case in the gospels collections – though (at 2:4 for instance) not always in the right place.
On this subject of Greekified names it is interesting that Jesus’s name is always represented in the Lectionaries and the Evangeliaria Londinensia (but not the others) as ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ (Mrā Ysws, “Master Jesus”). This usage must go back to the original sources, John’s Aramaic drafts inked by Prochoros and the first Greek fair copy for publication inked by Papias with guidance from Polycarp and Prochoros, and so it must point to how these men, at least two of whom knew him personally, spoke of Jesus. The first word, ܡܪܐ, is used in place of YHWH, the Name of God, in such early Aramaic copies of the Tanakh as the Biblica Petropolitana or in the Syriac Tanakh as the nearly identical ܡܪܝܐ (Mryā), though of course in the Lectionaries it is mainly a title of respect for Jesus. But note too that ܝܣܘܣ is orthographically very similar to ܝܗܘܗ, which is how that very Name, YHWH, is written in Syriac letters. And note that is ܡܪܐ close to how Mary’s name is written in the Lectionaries, ܡܪܝܡ (Mrym) in Lectionaries B and C, and even closer in the oldest, Lectionary A, as ܡܪܝܐܡ (Mryām). I suspect that this ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ was, therefore, a kind of theological statement about Jesus and Mary as united together recreating the First Child made in Elohim’s image in Genesis 1:26-27. Note that when in my original text reconstructions I quote the Lectionaries, for the most part I do not translate the title ܡܪܐ but just Jesus’s name, unless the context demands me to do so.
Scholars generally say these Galilean lectionaries first arose sometime in the third to sixth centuries, and I agree. On the other hand, the extremely unusual meanings of many verses and passages (which nearly always appear in the restored text) would certainly have been considered heretical by the second century, even as early as the first centuries in congregations following the Pauline dogma – for instance for suggesting the beloved disciple was a woman and that she and Jesus were sexually involved. Here Brock’s and Metzger’s two-stage source theory again has merit: I conclude that the immediate source was an Aramaic gospels collection that preserved the wording of an extremely early text written down before the later dogmas were to stamp out such heresies, and though that version has disappeared entirely it must have survived long enough for these Lectionaries to be indirectly based thereupon. Though lost, this putative source behind the Lectionaries and the gospel collection(s) is in my view at least close and arguably all but identical to John’s original text, barring later changes in the Lectionaries.
My contention is that the source was an Aramaic version by Prochoros of the original fair copy Greek manuscript of the gospel prepared for publication in the early 90s by Polycarp, Papias, and John’s son Prochoros, but utilizing as much as possible the early drafts dictated by John to Prochoros in Aramaic.
I support this conclusion first with logic. Galilean Aramaic was never widely spoken anywhere but in Galilee, Samaria, and northern Judæa, and by the time these Aramaic lectionaries first appeared in the third to sixth centuries Syriac Aramaic was universal, even in the Holy Land. These texts would have seemed as archaic to most Aramaic-speaking Christians as the King James Version is to English-speakers today. That they were still being copied suggests the texts were valued for their origin, and that indicates Galilean-speakers, hence individuals from the Holy Land itself. And that suggests they were, or were closely associated with, one or more of the original apostles. As noted, a colophon to be discussed next indicates the source text was prepared in Ephesus in Greek, based on John’s original drafts in Galilean Aramaic. In the third and perhaps the fourth centuries the Greek publication manuscript was publicly available in Ephesus (Pseudo-Hippolytus quotes from it in the second century, Tertullian in the early third century, in his Against Marcion 4:5 and The Prescription Against Heretics 36:1, urges his readers to go to see it Ephesus as he did, and a century thereafter, Peter of Alexandria saw it in Ephesus and quotes from it), and likely also its equivalent prepared by Prochoros in Galilean Aramaic. Hence the minor spelling and wording differences among the Lectionaries and the gospels collection(s) from which they took their texts may simply be because each scribe consulted that display copy in Greek when he had questions about one or another passage, but not always the same passages and not always did they correct their Aramaic the same way. Also, consider the fact that many passages in the Lectionaries fly in the face of what was already dogma in the nascent Christian religion – especially the Lectionaries’ depiction of eroticism between Jesus and Mary when the view of Paul was widely accepted that Jesus inhabited a “spiritual body” that lacked appetitive desires such as for sexuality. Elsewhere at this time scribes who found something that ran counter to the dogma in their source texts were bound to “correct” the wording to agree with (depending on where one was located) the Alexandrian, Western, or Byzantine standardization. Yet the Lectionaries never seem to embrace the later dogmas, including most notably in passages emphasizing Jesus’s union with Mary, which was after all a central theme in John’s œuvre. Only if there were some unquestionably superior force that prevailed over a standardized text can I imagine a scribe choosing not to conform his copy to the latter. And I submit that the only such force with this supremacy would be the wording found in Ephesus manuscript, then believed to be the original handwritten monograph of the apostle himself. Elsewhere – in Syria, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Rome, for instance – scribes had no access to the primal copy on display in Ephesus, so they would be sure to adhere to the common reading. But in and near Ephesus, at least with the Gospel of John, scribes had a choice – and given a choice between a standardized text and what the apostle himself wrote, any reasonable scribe would certainly choose the latter.
Thus I think that the first Lectionaries scribes, like the gospels collections scribes before them, were able to peruse that original display manuscript in Greek to clarify any textual questions they may have had. And, given this conclusion I further conclude that these Lectionaries provide us with the best surviving source of anything approximating John’s original intention for the gospel.
Proof of this logical conclusion is found in the lectionary readings themselves. The “partitions” first described by Bultmann are in their familiar disorder, and the marginal additions put into the original manuscript by John are found in their customary incorrect location – for instance the verses about John the Immerser in chapter 1. These are both characteristics of the display copy prepared by Prochoros et al., as I argue in the first volume. And if as I theorize Prochoros also produced the organized gospel text in Aramaic at about the same time as the Greek text, he would have conformed it to the decisions as to order made for the Greek text by Polycarp, Papias, and himself – because there was no overall order to the original drafts in Aramaic, being separate pericopes each on its own sheet of papyrus (as discussed in the first volume).
An interesting confirmation that the Greek publication manuscript is the main source of the Lectionaries is derived from a certain set of colophons found in the Lectionaries. Colophons are comments added by scribes at the end of manuscripts that say something about their production or, especially in the Middle Ages, that take the form of a brief prayer of thanksgiving or petition, or, especially in the Middle Ages, even humorous “I’m glad I’ve finished at last!” kinds of comment. Such colophons served in a way something like a modern copyright notice to certify the textual contents: the scribe was in effect attesting to his work as a faithful copy of the source text. They also protected the integrity of the contents: no unscrupulous person could add material to the end of the work as if it were part thereof.
It is a strange fact that all three Palestinian Lectionaries have colophons following the John 7:37-8:2 lection. But why, then, do these colophons appear in in the middle of the Lectionaries, neither at the end of the Lectionaries nor at the traditional 21:25 end of the actual gospel, nor even at the gospel’s original end, 20:31? I think J. Rendel Harris (paraphrased by Agnes Smith Lewis on page xv in her 1899 æditio princeps) offers a plausible theory. He suggests that the gospels collections positioned 7:37-8:2 after the final chapter of John probably because though these verses were considered part of the gospel in the milieu that prepared the collection, but yet there was a lack of clarity regarding its proper location. So then a colophon was added after this episode, he continues, at what was now in effect the end of the gospel text, after 8:2, to indicate that the gospel was now complete. Finally, he surmises, 8:3-11 was added too, after the colophon, indicating that that passage was not necessarily to be considered part of the gospel proper. This location indicating uncertainty about the pericope led the B and C scribes not to include 8:3-11 in their Lectionaries. Only Palestinian Lectionary A contains it. Harris concludes that the scribes of these three Lectionaries manuscripts “were not highly endowed with intelligence”, since they copied the colophons after verse 8:2 as if they were part of the gospel text and so necessarily part of the particular lection they were preparing.
So far as I know none of the surviving fragments of relevant Aramaic gospel collections includes John 8:2, so I cannot ascertain if any might have included a similar colophon. A fragment of Codex Romano published by J. P. N. Land does include 21:25, but either there was no colophon or Land saw fit not to transcribe it. Nevertheless, I agree with Harris in every particular but his final remark, since I believe there was a very good reason (other than stupidity) for these colophons to follow 8:3-11 into the interior of the Lectionaries. To my thinking, the natural place for a colophon is just beneath the conclusion of the gospel as a narrative whole, where to the classical mind the colophon acted as a part of the gospel presentation, its effect being something like a modern copyright notice to certify and protect the textual contents. Therefore the scribes probably reasoned that the colophon should accompany that conclusion in the Lectionaries, since the end of the gospel is still the end of the gospel, no matter where the end of the gospel may wind up relocated in the liturgical year, and the colophon is functionally part of the work to the classical mind just like the copyright notice today.
What is more, if I am right that the source from which the Gospel of John text was drawn, directly or indirectly, was the very manuscript believed by the faithful in Ephesus to be written by sacred inspiration by the apostle himself, and if they believed the apostle himself wrote the colophon, then who were they to fail to faithfully copy what the apostle had been moved the Spirit to write? So of course they would carry the colophon along with the 7:37-8:2 text! (But by the time of Lectionary C, either its scribe was not so impressed with the apostolic source or didn’t care, and so replaced the original colophon with his own.) The Basilica of Saint John the Evangelist was at the time one of the biggest tourist destinations for faithful pilgrims, who came to stand before the tomb and look at the manuscript written by the apostle himself. Such ordinary visitors cared not for textual precision, but visiting scholars like Peter of Alexandria very much did so, as pointed out on page 413. In short, no scribe would have dared make up what by this time was considered heresy and put it in a lectionary for common use, and if he had it would have been burned. No, only if it were taken directly from the original writing of the Blessed Presbyter himself would these Lectionaries contain such wordings.
Indeed logic insists that the colophon had to come from the original manuscript. None of the other three gospels has a colophon in the Lectionaries, just John – and the two colophons in the Lectionaries both speak of only the completion of the copying of the Gospel of John. Yes, John is customarily the last gospel in a collection, but still if a gospels collection scribe had composed such a colophon, he would take note of the completion of the entire lectionary, not just of John. Likewise, if a lectionary scribe had written it it would again note completion of the entire lectionary, since the four gospels are throughout jumbled together in it, and he would have placed it at the end of the Lectionary, not in the middle. But, no, the colophons we find mention only the Gospel of John, which means they could only have originated at the end of a source (scroll or codex) that contained only the Gospel of John. And in this textual history there is only one such manuscript, and that is the one that was on display in Ephesus.
In addition it is worth noting that all three scribes of all three Lectionaries did the same thing, and I doubt all three were as stupid as Harris concludes; besides, the rest of their work was discharged excellently well. And besides, if it was a stupid mistake in Lectionary A, then surely someone would have noticed during the seventy-four years that that book of readings was in constant use before B was undertaken, to say nothing of the fourteen more years that lapsed between B and C, and so, if such a someone noticed, he would certainly have ensured that the later scribes did not make the same stupid mistake. After all, A mistakenly included 8:3-11 as a lectionary reading, and this mistake was corrected in B and C!
But there is more to consider. As just noted, seventy-four years passed between the composition of Lectionaries A and B, and yet, though B is not a direct copy of A, they both have the same colophon in the same spot, notwithstanding two minor differences in spelling. The Evangeliaria Londinensia fragments that survive do not include any passages whereafter a colophon might be found, unfortunately, nor do other less similar gospels collection fragments, so nothing is known about colophons in any Galilean gospels collection colophon. Still it is self-evident that this colophon in Lectionaries A and B came from the gospels collection that was the source for both sets of lectionary readings.
The colophon says: ܫܠܡ ܒܣܘܪܗ ܕܝܘܚܢܝܣ ܗܝܠܢܣܛܝ ܒܐܦܣܝܣ (“It is completed in accordance with the Syriac of John, in Greek, in Ephesus”).
The first word, ܫܠܡ (šlm), appears immediately after most of the lections to mark their termination (“it is completed”), especially in A, but here marks the end of the entire gospel by beginning the colophon. The word can also mean “peace”, being cognate to the familiar Hebrew “shalom”.
The second word, ܒܣܘܪܗ (b’syrh), begins with a prefix that usually means “in” or “within”, but in this case it takes the meaning “in accordance with”, as best noted in the Payne-Smith dictionary; hence the word here is “in accordance with his Syriac”. The author of the colophon would most likely have written in Greek εβραιστι (Hebraisti), the general Greek term at the time for Hebrew or Aramaic. This term occurs, in fact, five times in the Textus Receptus of this gospel and twice in the Revelation. But by the time the Greek text that concluded with this colophon was back-translated into Aramaic again, the language had shifted from the Galilean dialect of Jesus and John to the dominance of the Syriac dialect throughout the Middle East into Central Asia. Syriac was rising rapidly in the third century and remained prominent until about the eighth century, which coïncides with my estimation of when the Greek text of the Gospel of John was back-translated into Aramaic again. Thus, the scribe who did the translation would have translated the term for the language as “Syriac”. But, to be very clear, “the Syriac of John” which the colophon mentions was not Syriac, properly speaking, for the text we have in the Palestinian Lectionaries is that older dialect, Galilean Aramaic, which goes a long way toward confirming that this is a first-century text, and that it originates from an apostolic source, someone who came to Ephesus from the Holy Land – someone such as John the Presbyter.
The same word ends with a suffix denoting “his”, and the next word, ܕܝܘܚܢܝܣ (d’ywḥnys), with its ܕ (d’) genitive prefix, means “of John”; thus the colophon says the preceding text is in accordance with John’s Aramaic; since ܕܝܘܚܢܝܣ (“of John”) is acting as a possessive adjective modifying ܒܣܘܪܗ (“his Syriac”) and not anything resembling “his gospel”, this reference to John is to the man, not to the gospel.
The penultimate word, ܗܝܠܢܣܛܝ (hylnsṭy, “in Greek”), is a borrow-word from Greek, ελληνιστι (hellēnisti); it appears in the Lectionaries version (but not the Peshitta) of 19:20 in reference to the notice Pilate had put on Jesus’s cross. And the final word, ܒܐܦܣܝܣ (b’āpsys, “in Ephesus”), confirms that the scribe prepared this translation-transcription of John’s Syriac in Ephesus.
The colophon appears virtually identically in Lectionaries A and B despite the seventy-four-year gap between them, which confirms a common source. Its location in the middle of the Lectionaries also signals that it is not original thereto. Indeed, the author of the colophon claims to have put John’s gospel into Greek from a source manuscript in Aramaic, so neither the Lectionaries nor the gospels collection(s) on which they were based can be the original location of the colophon, since they are in Aramaic.
The next step was a scribe translating this fair copy in Greek of John’s Aramaic drafts back into Aramaic. This was not necessarily done in Ephesus with access to the Aramaic manuscript by John himself mentioned in the colophon – but it is possible that the scribe was in Ephesus and could check his Aramaic against the original. This scribe copied the colophon, translating it from Greek into Aramaic as he copied it. Either this scribe was putting John directly into an Aramaic gospels collection or he made a codex or scroll containing only John, and a later scribe put it into the gospels collection. Then, as the last step, yet another scribe arranged this gospels collection text into the lections of the Gospel of John for the Palestinian Lectionaries, with the colophon still following along in its original position following 8:2. In the first of these two last steps the scribes switched from the old Galilean alphabet, by then largely neglected and forgotten, to the Estrangelo (Syriac) forms that were far more common by that time. This we know because the gospels collections fragments, like the Lectionaries, are in the latter script.
The guarantee of fidelity to John’s Aramaic applies only to the original Greek copy of the Syriac text ascribed to John. We have fragments of later Aramaic gospels collections published by J. P. N. Land, and of course the Lectionaries were composed after centuries had passed, between 1030 and 1118, and so surely their scribes did not have the advantage of which the collections scholar could have availed himself of being able to check their work against the original copy displayed in Ephesus. Thus we might expect the scribes of these Aramaic versions to conform their wording at least sometimes to the Textus Receptus, and in fact there are a few rare instances where this may be the case, which I will discuss in the Commentaries. But there is such a weighty preponderance of passages, in at least the Gospel of John, that differ radically from the Textus Receptus that we must conclude that the scribes held the source text in such awe and respect that they chose to abide by it rather than the Textus Receptus. The only text that could supersede the Textus Receptus in later centuries would be an original New Testament Text. Further, there is an impressive fidelity between especially Lectionary A and Land’s fragments; they differ only in minor spelling variations and once or twice copying errors, such as a missing or doubled word.
Therefore Land’s fragmentary gospels collections and the Lectionaries themselves are very probably, on the whole, faithful copies of John’s original Aramaic draft of his gospel. As such, the importance of both cannot be understated. And this theoretical history behind the Lectionaries coheres perfectly with the history of the original text on page 406, that the drafts dictated by John to Prochoros in Aramaic were sent away for safekeeping in Sinope upon John’s arrest in 68, returned to Ephesus twenty or more years later by Marcion, and then translated into Greek by Papias, surely with the assistance of Prochoros and Polycarp.
What is more, a fragment from his long-lost five-volume masterwork επιγεγραπται λογιων κυριακων εξηγησεως (Explanations of the Sayings of the Master, found in the Vaticanus Reg. Lat. 14, quoted in full on page ###), Papias says that he … descripsit vero evangelium dictante Iohanne recte verum (“… indeed transcribed, accurately and truly, the gospel dictated by John”). Both this and the colophon were composed in Greek, yet even though this comment survives only in an execrably bad Latin translation and the colophon comes down in no manner other than an Aramaic rendering, they are astonishingly similar. I conclude, therefore, that the colophon is most likely by Papias, and that the Greek copy that the colophon originally followed was the publication manuscript on display for a few centuries in Ephesus.
Surely those successor-leaders of John’s spiritual flocks in Anatolia considered this first Aramaic version highly important, since the language was increasingly prevalent not only in that region but also to the east, to Edessa and beyond: just as prevalent as Greek was to the west of Ephesus. Who, then, produced the Aramaic retranslation that served as the basis for the gospels collections and the Palestinian Lectionaries? My tentative conclusion is that it was done by Prochoros, the son of John. First, note that the text is in Galilean Aramaic, which indicates it was done early, no later than the second century, when the Syriac dialect was beginning to surpass Galilean in popularity, and probably that it was done by someone from Judæa. Second, it remains faithful to the Urtext, despite its wide divergences from the later Textus Receptus.
A number of early texts, in fact, assign Prochoros this role of secretary to John. Some early works attribute to him the inking of the first fair copy of the Revelation in its original Aramaic, in the years between the gospel’s Aramaic rough drafts and its formal publication version in that tongue. So I believe Prochoros was the scribe as John dictated the original drafts for the gospel in Aramaic, and so he knew the text well in that language. He would have had access to these drafts as Papias prepared the Greek version for publication, and so could have retained as much of the original drafts as possible but revising his new version such that it cohered with the Papian text in ordering and phrasing.
If this is so, that the Aramaic version preserves to some degree John’s initial drafts dating from between the years 43 and 68, decades before they were edited, refined, and translated into Greek by Papias with the help of Prochoros and Polycarp around 95, then to the same degree this Aramaic text is more precious than the lost first Greek manuscript. Recovery of the latter would be invaluable to scholars, to be sure, but it would certainly prove to be far closer to the Textus Receptus than the Lectionaries because it would retain far less of John’s original writing and embrace all of the revisions by Papias, Polycarp, and Prochoros; the main differences would mostly be no more than the other random errors that crept into the text in later times. This Aramaic text, however, if it utilized as much as possible the prototypical gospel drafts dictated by John to Prochoros, should be relatively free of the changes wrought around 95 – and indeed as passages therefrom are introduced and discussed herein, that will again and again prove to be the case.
Another question deserves to be addressed, though a full examination is beyond the scope of this work. There will be occasion to quote from the Palestinian Lectionaries’ versions of passages in the other three canonical gospels, which will prove no less divergent from the Textus Receptus as many from John itself. I have not read the other three gospels in their entirety in the Lectionaries, but what I have studied assures me that they too are not uncommonly quite different from the standard text. Some of these will be quoted in passing in the Commentaries.
My provisional answer takes note of the fact that at about the same time that Papias was inking the publication manuscript of John’s gospel Polycarp of Smyrna was engaged with editing a number of manuscripts that would become the main part of the New Testament, and Papias himself was equally occupied with the composition of his just-mentioned five-volume analysis of Jesus’s teachings found in the four gospels that would eventually be recognized as canonical, as well as other sources; indeed, part of Papias’s intent was to further the petition of the Fourth Gospel to be accepted as canon by his equal treatment of it in his work with the synoptics. My suggestion is that this group of scholars personally knew the writers of these other gospels, or at least persons closely associated with them. John the Presbyter knew John Mark, the son of Jesus and Mary, and indeed wrote a kind of “review” of his gospel, which appears in The Writings of John. As universally recognized leaders of the Jesus movement, they would have had access to these gospels just about as soon as they were initially published, perhaps even before, to read and offer suggestions before publication.
Here is one interesting example of a variant text in the Gospel of John from the Palestinian Lectionaries. The story of the healing of the young blind man is different in many respects, but I will share just the last scene, where Jesus comes to where some friendly Pharisees have hidden the young man, who can be identified in this version as the son of the gospel author, John the Presbyter. Commentaries follow, but note first that this pericope continues into chapter 10, such that the famous Good Shepherd discourse is not found in this early version. Also note that the Lectionaries offer evidence in support of what Polycrates and others aver, that John sometimes wore the πεταλον, suggesting (since he could not have been high priest himself) that he was the second in command, the ܣܓܢ (sagan).
9:35ܘܟܕ ܐܫܟܝܚ ܝܬܗ ܡܪܐ ܐܡܪ ܠܗ : ܗܐ ܐܬ ܡܗܝܡܢ ܒܒܪܗ ܕܐܠܗܐ
9:36 ܗܘ ܕܝ ܐܓܝܒ ܘܐܡܪ ܠܗ : ܘܡܢ ܗܘ ܡܪܝ ܕܝܗܝܡܢ ܒܗ
9:37 ܐܡܪ ܠܗ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ ܚܡܝܬ ܝܬܗ ܘܗܘ ܗܕܝܢ ܕܡܡܠܠ ܥܡܟ
9:38 ܘܐܡܪ ܠܗ ܡܗܝܡܢ ܐܢܐ ܡܪܝ ܘܣܓ ܠܗ ܕܝܫ ܕܒܝܬܗ
9:39ܘܐܡܪ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ ܠܝܘܕܝܢ : ܠܕܝܢ ܐܬܝܬ ܠܥܠܝܡܐ ܗܕܝܢ ܕܗܠܝܢ ܕܠܐ ܚܡܝܢ ܝܚܡܘܢ : ܘܗܠܝܢ ܕܚܡܝܢ ܡܥܘܪܝܢ ܝܬܥܒܕܘܢ
9:40 ܘܫܡܥܘ ܦܪܝܫܝ ܕܗܘܘ ܥܡܗ ܗܠܝܢ ܡܠܝܐ ܘܐܡܪܘ ܠܗ : ܕܡܐ ܐܘܦ ܐܢܝܢ ܡܥܘܪܝܢ ܐܢܗ
9:41 ܐܡܪ ܠܗܘܢ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ ܐܠܘ ܗܘܝܬܘܢ ܡܥܘܪܝܢ ܠܗ ܗܘܬ ܠܟܘܢ ܣܟܠܐ : ܟܕܘ ܕܝ ܗܐ ܐܬܘܢ ܐܡܪܝܢ ܕܐܢܗ ܚܡܝܢ ܘܣܟܠܬܟܘܢ ܩܐܡܢ ܠܕܪܬܐ ܗܢܘܢ
10:1ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܪ ܐܢܐ ܠܟܘܢ : ܕܡܢ ܕܠܐ ܥܠܠ ܥܠ ܕܬܪܥܐ ܠܕܪܬܐ ܕܐܡܪܬܐ : ܐܠܐ ܣܠܩ ܠܗ ܥܠ ܕܚܘܪܝ : ܝܬܗ ܓܢܒ ܐܝܬ ܗܘ ܘܠܣܛܝܣ 10:2 ܕܝܢ ܕܝ ܕܥܠܠ ܥܠ ܕܬܪܥܐ ܗܘ ܪܥܝܐ ܐܡܪܬܐ 10:3 ܠܗܕܝܢ ܬܪܥܐ ܦܬܚ : ܐܡܪܬܐ
ܠܩܠܗ ܫܡܥܢ : ܘܗܘ ܩܪܐ ܠܐܡܪܬܐ ܟܘܠ ܚܕܐ ܡܢܗܘܢ 10:4 ܘܡܦܩ ܠܗܘܢ ܘܟܕ ܝܦܩ ܝܬܗܘܢ ܩܘܕܡܝܗܘܢ ܗܘ ܗܘܐ ܐܙܠ : ܘܐܡܪܬܐ ܕܒܩܢ ܝܬܗ ܕܗܢܘܢ ܡܟܪܢ ܩܠܗ 10:5ܒܬܪ ܚܘܪܝܢ ܕܝ ܠܐ ܕܒܩܢ : ܐܠܐ ܥܪܩܢ ܡܢܗ ܕܠܐ 10:6 ܡܟܪܢ ܩܠܗܘܢ ܕܢܘܟܪܝ ܗܕܢ ܡܬܠܐ ܐܡܪ ܠܗܘܢ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ : ܗܢܘܢ ܕܝ ܠܐ ܝܕܥܘ ܡܐ ܗܘܐ ܡܡܠܠ ܠܗܘܢ
10:7 ܘܐܡܪ ܠܗܘܢ ܬܘܒܢ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ : ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܝܢ ܐܡܪ ܐܢܐ ܠܟܘܢ 10:8ܕܐܢܐ ܬܪܥܐ ܕܐܡܪܬܐ : ܟܘܠ ܗܠܝܢ ܕܐܬܘ ܓܢܒܝܢ ܗܘܘ ܘܠܝܣܛܝܢ : ܐܠܐ ܠܐ ܠܗܘܢ ܐܡܪܬܐ 10:9ܐܢܐ ܗܘ ܬܪܥܐ ܥܠ ܕܥܠܐܝ ܡܢ ܕܥܠܠ ܚܝܐ : ܘܥܠܠ ܘܢܦܩ ܘܡܫܟܝܚ ܡܪܥܐ 10:10ܓܢܒܐ ܠܐ ܐܬܐ ܐܠܐ ܕܝܓܢܘܒ ܘܝܟܘܣ ܘܝܘܒܕ : ܐܢܐ ܐܬܝܬ ܕܚܝܝܢ ܝܗܐ ܠܗܘܢ : ܘܡܘܬܪ ܝܗܐ ܠܗܘܢ 10:11 ܐܢܐ ܗܘ ܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ : ܘܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ ܢܦܫܗ ܗܘ ܝܗܝܒ ܥܠ ܛܒ ܐܡܪܬܗ 10:12ܕܝܢ ܕܐܓܝܪ ܘܠܝܬ ܗܘ ܪܥܐ : ܗܕܝܢ ܕܠܝܬ ܐܡܪܬܐ ܕܝܠܗ ܚܡܐ ܗܘ ܕܝܒܐ ܐܬܐ ܘܫܒܩ ܐܡܪܬܐ ܘܥܪܩ 10:13 ܘܕܝܒܐ ܚܛܦ ܝܬܗܝܢ ܕܗܘ ܐܓܝܪ : ܘܠܐ ܟܦܠ ܠܗ ܥܠ ܛܒ ܐܡܪܬܐ
10:14 ܐܢܐ ܗܘ ܪܥܝܐ ܛܒܐ : ܘܐܢܐ ܡܟܪ ܕܝܠܝ ܘܕܝܠܝ ܡܟܪܝܢ ܠܝ
10:15ܗܝܟ ܡܐ ܕܐܒܐ ܡܟܪ ܠܝ : ܘܐܢܐ ܡܟܪ ܠܐܒܐ : ܘܢܦܫܝ ܐܢܐ ܡܣܝܡ ܥܠ ܕܛܒ ܐܡܪܬܝ 10:16ܘܐܡܪܝܢ ܚܘܪܢܝܐܢ ܐܝܬ ܠܝ ܆ ܗܠܝܢ ܕܠܝܬ ܗܢܘܢ ܡܢ ܗܕܐ ܕܪܬܐ : ܐܘܦ ܠܗܠܝܟ ܢܛܘܣ ܠܝ ܕܝܐܬܐ : ܘܠܩܠܝ ܫܡܥܘܢ܆ ܘܝܬܥܒܕܢ ܚܕܐ ܡܪܥܝ ܘܚܕܐܘܚܕ ܪܥܐ 10:17ܗܠܢܢ ܐܬܘ ܠܓܠܠ ܟܕܢ ܐܒܐ ܡܚܒ ܠܝ ܕܐܢܐ ܡܣܡ ܢܦܫܝ 10:18 ܕܬܘܒ ܝܬܗ ܐܢܫ ܠܐ ܢܣܒ ܝܬܗ ܡܢܝ ܐܠܐ ܐܢܐ ܡܣܝܡ ܝܬܗ ܡܢ ܓܪܡܝ : ܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܕܝܣܡ ܝܬܗ ܘܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܬܘܒܢ ܕܝܣܒ ܝܬܗ
9:35 And when he had found him the master said to him, “Look! Do you trust in the child of God?”
9:36 He answered and said, “Who is it, master, whom I might trust?”
9:37 Jesus said to him, “He himself sees / is angry, and of this he would speak with you.”
9:38 And he said to him, “I trust, my master”, and (after letting Jesus in) he closed securely the door of his house.
9:39 And Jesus said to the Jew(ish authoritie)s, “This is why I came to this one. Those who are not of the father-in-law see / are angry, and those who are of the father-in-law make themselves blind.”
9:40 And the Pharisees who were with him heard these (words and) were satisfied, and they said to him, “It is even like we ourselves have been blind!”
9:41 Jesus said to them, “As long as you blinded yourselves to him, that was foolish. But now, look! We are met together. We can speak of the father-in-law and your fools who remain in the atrium.
10:1 (Jesus begins the conversation:) “Amen, I tell you: I was drawing the lady out of the entrance to the gateway to the atrium, but he (Annas) went up to him (Prochoros) from behind. He would have abducted him; he is a robber. 10:2 So at the entrance of the gateway she, the lady, tended to him. 10:3 The gate opened and he gets out.”
(John speaks:) “To his voice we responded; he was crying out to the lady in front of everyone. 10:4 I go out to them, but when I go he was passing in front of them. He was leaving, and the lady kept close to him. Their voices were upset, 10:5 but they didn’t look behind them. I was staying close, but moreover I was fleeing from him (Annas); I went up/out. 10:6 I was concerned to hear Master Jesus’s foreign-accented voice; the simile that he spoke to them. But they did not recognize him when he was speaking to them.”
10:7 And Jesus said to them again: “Amen, I tell you: 10:8 I (was at) the gateway where the lady was. All those who went by, they were stealing, they were thieves. So because of them we did not hear the lady. 10:9 I was near the gateway, above the entrance. She saved him, and he went out the entrance, and I found (within) the sick/infirm ones. 10:10 The thief does not come except to steal and destroy. I arrived; we saved him (Prochoros) from them. He is of benefit to them. 10:11 I am the good shepherd, and the soul of the good shepherd is devoted much to the good of his (John’s) lady. 10:12 He (Annas) is a hireling and is not the shepherd; this one is not his own lady. The father-in-law, the wolf; came, he left the lady alone and fled; they delayed and scared away the ravening wolf. 10:13 And he, being hired, was not concerned about the good of the lady.”
10:14 (John’s wife Anna speaks:) “I take good care of him, and I gather together my own, and my own gather together to me.”
10:15 (Jesus speaks:) “Just as when those of the father gather themselves to me, and I gather them to the father. And I place the good of my lambs in my soul. 10:16 But other lambs are mine: they are not from among those who belong to them in the atrium (i.e., Annas’s confederates); also, those of Pontius (Pilate) come to me, and they hear my voice, and they celebrate she whom I take care of and he whom she takes care of; these have come. 10:17 For this the father loves me: I am completing/uniting my soul; indeed, no one can take it from me. 10:18 But rather I complete/unite it by myself: I am permitted to give it and I am permitted likewise to receive it.”
Selections from the commentaries on this passage follow, taken from The Gospel of John Restored and Translated.
9:35 – The final word in verse 38, ܒܝܬܗ (byth, “his house”), indicates that the young man is at this point safely at home, in the company and under the protection of sympathetic Pharisees. Jesus’s testimony in verses 10:7-8 will make it clear that he did not see what happened after these malevolent Pharisees attacked the young man, or where he was taken. But Jesus knows or quickly learns his identity – his comments in 9:3-4 suggest as much – and that makes it easy to find the family home, since every Jerusalemite at the time would have known exactly where the sagan’s mansion was found. …
As to this verse, several curious differences immediately evidence themselves.
First, the Textus Receptus begins with an explanatory phrase, that ηκουσεν ιησους οτι εξεβαλον αυτον εξω (“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out”), referring to the young man, but which is not found in the Lectionaries. In the previous verse I rejected the Greek reading that says the Pharisees threw him out, and here as well I follow instead the Lectionaries – ܘܟܕ ܐܫܟܝܚ ܝܬܗ ܡܪܐ ܐܡܪ ܠܗ (“And when he found him the master said to him”).
Second, the Lectionaries have Jesus begin his statement with ܗܐ (hā!), The beginning of Jesus’s question is usually rendered “Do you believe”. See the commentary to 3:15. Like interjections in all languages, Jesus uses it here to gather attention on himself. If it means anything literal at all (what interjection really does?), it means “Here!” and could be Jesus saying “Here I am!” to announce his own presence, or else “Here you are!” in conclusion of his search for the whereabouts of the formerly blind young man. But it is more than that: though this exclamation ܗܐ was as common as its equivalent in modern colloquial English, “Look!”, here it gains considerable poetic and rhetorical power coming from Jesus’s lips and from the fingers of the brilliant writer responsible for this scene (John is besides quoting his beloved master speaking to his beloved son): Jesus urges the young man to Look! – not so much with the eyes but with mind and heart – and see just who and what this Jesus is and see the corruption that has infested the Temple like a destroying cancer, and make a choice between them.
Third, the Greek has Jesus ask the young man συ πιστευεις εις τον υιου του ανθροπου, and in meaning the Peshitta agrees exactly. The first phrase, συ πιστευεις (su pisteueis), is traditionally translated as “Do you believe”. That is because Christianity quickly garbed the verb in the liturgical vestments of dogma, starting with Paul, for whom believing in Jesus as the only Son of God was sufficient and essential to receive eternal life. But at the time the gospel was written the word had the sense of “have confidence in” or “trust”. The Lectionaries equivalent here, ܡܗܝܡܢ (mhymn), which appears in all three surviving early texts, carries exactly the same sense. Obviously, this verb does not point to a textual contrast between the Textus Receptus and the Palestinian Lectionaries – πιστευεις and ܡܗܝܡܢ both can mean either “believe” or “trust” – but rather in which of these two senses this verb is used. In the Greek and Peshitta this entire conversation in verses 35-41 is entirely about believing in Jesus, and requires that πιστευεις be read meaning “believe”. But, as we shall see, the quite different conversation reported in the Lectionaries is about whether the young man and those who are protecting him trust Jesus enough to let him in the door and talk frankly with him, requiring the word ܡܗܝܡܢ be read meaning “trust”.
Fourth, Jesus completes this question by asking if the young man trusts him, i.e., Jesus. In the Greek Textus Receptus and the Peshitta Jesus refers to himself as τον υιου του ανθροπου “the son of man”, as it is usually translated, or “the child of the (first) human being” as I prefer herein. In the Lectionaries, on the other hand, he uses the phrase ܒܪܗ ܕܐܠܗܐ, “child of God”. This is interesting mainly because in every other place where the Greek has τον υιου του ανθροπου the Lectionaries have the Galilean Aramaic equivalent, ܒܪܗ ܕܓܒܪܐ. This verse is the sole exception. It is also possibly the only (at most one of the very few) times the narrative, as opposed to someone speaking, refers to Jesus not as ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ (“the master Jesus”) but as justܡܪܐ (mrā, “the master”).
My suspicion is that the latter is merely an easily ignored scribal error. The former issue may be because Jesus apparently comes alone to this hideout, without Mary. Since it is Mary and Jesus together that comprise the child of the first human being created in Genesis 1:26-27 and who YHWH pulled apart in Genesis 2 into Adam and Eve, then Jesus alone is Adam. Mary and Jesus together may thus be called τον υιου του ανθροπου, “the child of the (first) human being”, but Jesus like Adam is just a ܒܪܗ ܕܐܠܗܐ, “child of God”. In conclusion, then, given the fact that I rely on the Lectionaries for the rest of this chapter, I accept as well the Lectionaries version of this final portion of verse 35, despite a few small qualms, for the restored text.
9:36 – Prochoros, not having seen Jesus’s face before is unable to recognize visually the stranger at the door, though blind people typically compensate with a fine ability to remember voices. He asks in the Palestinian Lectionaries, “Who is it, master, whom I might trust?” His inquiry is pretty much the same in the Textus Receptus, if we read it free from the lenses of later dogma. However the young man is not really asking a theological question as to who is the child of God (Lectionaries) or who is the child of humanity (Textus Receptus), but a simple “Who is this standing at the door?”: he is merely asking the stranger to identify himself. And this is what Jesus does in verse 37, though in widely differing ways in the Lectionaries and the Textus Receptus, as shall be explained in the following commentary.
9:37 – In terms of meaning, the Lectionaries version of verse 36 is essentially the same as the standard text. The following verse is where the variations between the two sources begin in manifest themselves in earnest. The Greek Textus Receptus has ειπεν αυτω ο ιησους και εωρακας αυτον και ο λαλων μετα σου εκεινος εστιν (“Jesus said to him, ‘You have beheld him, and he who is speaking to you is he.’”). The Old Syriac and Peshitta have the same, with the verb ܚܙܝܬܝܗܝ (ḥzytyhy, “you have seen him”). This is an odd statement, to say the least. Jesus seems to mean that, since the young man saw his, Jesus’s face after gaining his sight, he should be able to recognize Jesus again now. But the glaring problem is that the text in all versions is clear that Jesus is not present when in verse 7 Prochoros returns home seeing, for he talks about Jesus with the neighbors in a way that indicates Jesus is not there. Jesus applied the mud in the portico of Solomon, the young man began to see at Šylwḥā (Siloam), and then went home, where he talked with the neighbors and Pharisees in front of his family’s home; now, in this final scene, he is inside the home. Hence the young man has not beheld him and thus has no way to recognize Jesus’s face at the door.
In the Palestinian Lectionaries Jesus begins the conversation at the door by identifying himself as someone in whom the young man can place his trust. In reply the latter asks for something more specific about Jesus that will help him decide whether indeed he can put his confidence in Jesus. And so, to this, Jesus replies by saying he shares Prochoros’s anger toward these antagonistic Shammai Pharisees. Jesus denotes this anger with the verb ܚܡܐ (ḥma), which, tellingly, is the same verb that in verses 11 and 25 was associated with the young man since he gained the ability to see. Like Prochoros Jesus has seen the antagonistic attitude of these Shammai Pharisees, and generally has seen the corruption in the Temple, and so here he assures the young man and his protectors that he shares their anger, hence that he is on their side. By acknowledging that he feels the same anger as the young man and those with him Jesus further makes it clear that, unlike those Pharisees, he “saw” the double entendre in Prochoros’s use of the word meaning both “to see” and “to be angry”.
9:38 – Referring to the formerly blind young man the Textus Receptus has ο δε εφη πιστευω κυριε και προσεκυνησεν αυτω (“And he said, ‘Master, I believe!’, and he bowed down to him”).
The verb πιστευω (pisteuō) can mean “believe in” or “put faith in” a deity, and carries most often that sense in later Christian writings as well as in how earlier Christian writings (such as this one) were interpreted. However at the time this gospel was written the word much more often had the sense of choosing to place one’s trust in someone or something in a situation where it is by no means certain that this trust is warranted – that is to say it was the kind of confidence that today, for instance, one puts in one’s surgeon before agreeing to a major operation.
Which is the sense intended here? That is indicated by the verb προσεκυνησεν (prosekunēsen), which is usually translated to say that the man “worshipped” Jesus. Its literal meaning, however, is that he “kissed towards”, that is, toward the ground; in other words, that he bowed or knelt in respect as was done by Jews before a great and powerful figure such as a king, prophet, or high priest. Therefore the standard “worshipped” translation, though not literal, is accurate.
And so, if the Textus Receptus conveys the message that the young man worshipped Jesus, we can be sure that it likewise tells the reader that he now “believes in” Jesus as in some sense divine: either an emissary from God or God incarnate: this is not a matter of trusting Jesus enough to let him in but of spiritual believing that in some sense the presence of Jesus is the presence of God. At the time Jesus wrote this gospel this dogma was promoted only by Paul, who cribbed it from gentile cults, largely those from his Parthian homeland; the idea was abhorrent to John, and would have been to any traditional Jew of his time (and is still today) that a mortal man could be incarnate deity and believing in that man as incarnate deity is both necessary and sufficient to gain the privilege of eternal life.
Besides all this, the general sense in the Jewish faith is that it is not proper to bow or kneel before any mortal being, because that at least implies idolatry: the making of a created being into the simulacrum of deity. As the familiar Aleinu prayer, after speaking of other peoples prostrating themselves before false idols, reminds Jews: וַאֲנַחְנוּ כֹּרעִים ומִשְׁתַּחֲוִים ומוֹדים לִפְנֵי מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים (“But we bend the knee and bow before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be he”). Much is made in Jewish tradition of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau (Genesis 33:7) or to Joseph (Genesis 42:6), and also of Mordechai, his descendant, not bowing to Haman, descendant of Esau (Esther 3:1-5). John, as a traditional Jew, was of this philosophy, as Revelation 19:10 and 22:9 attest; so too, apparently, was Simon the Rock (Acts 10:26), which suggests that this is also how Jesus taught his disciples; in his time, this was something the gentiles did, for instance to their emperors who were in loco dei for them. If whoever wrote this matter of the formerly blind young man bowing or kneeling to Jesus was aware that Jews reserve such actions for God alone, then that individual must have believed that Jesus was God incarnate, making the genuflection not only appropriate but required for the faithful. Again this appears to be a form of instruction by emulation: the Christian reader is expected to genuflect like the blind man to Christ and to his earthly representatives, the religious hierarchy.
In several ways, then, it is clear that the Textus Receptus version of this verse cannot have been written by the Presbyter. He could not have written this expression of a dogma and a behavior he rejected. In time it would become (and it still is) central to mainstream Christian apologetics that Jesus is God made flesh; this acceptance was gradual, but I cannot believe this text, with this message, could have been composed sooner than, at minimum, a generation after John.
As the religion Christianity developed, it strove to separate itself from its Jewish origins in which such incarnation theology was anathema; it also constituted itself with a hierarchical bureaucracy that was (and in most branches of Christianity still is today) determined to train the faithful masses to unquestioningly believe what they are taught and bow down to that very hierarchy of the established religion, the self-proclaimed successors to the mantle of the authority of Christ (they prefer to call him “Christ” to minimize Jesus’s humanity) who saw to the rewriting of this verse to provide justification and proof of their claim to be in locus christi. This version of verse 38 is without doubt an invocation of the creed of the later religion of belief in Christ, rather than a faithful record of the teachings of Jesus. The young man is here turned by the hierarchy of the established Christian religion into an example set before readers of the gospel: the message is that the faithful should emulate: him in bowing/kneeling before God incarnate – whose presence today is in the episcopacy found in Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and no less in the more autocratic and dogmatic denominations of Protestantism.
So we turn to the Palestinian Lectionaries. The young man says to Jesus ܡܗܝܡܢ ܐܢܐ ܡܪܝ (mhymn ānā mary), “I trust, my master.” All that I say above about πιστευω is also the case with this verb, ܡܗܝܡܢ: its general sense in the late Second Temple period was the decision to trust in a situation where there is abundant reason not to trust, but as the Pauline dogma took root in early Christianity it took on the dogmatic meaning of faith in deity.
What, then, is the nature of this situation in which trust is not confidently and immediately placed in Jesus? One might think the young man would be certain to trust the man who has just given him the gift of sight after a lifetime of blindness. But the situation here is that this youth (whom I believe to be John’s son Prochoros) has just argued fiercely with a group of Shammai Pharisees, succeeding in making them look like fools, and getting thrown out for his pains. And now the young man’s family and supporters are expecting nasty consequences, which is why they have him secreted away in this place as a precaution.
That brings us to the second verb. As we have it, the final clause isܘܣܓܕ ܠܗ (w’sgd l’h). The prefix ܘ (w’, “and”) precedes the verb ܣܓܕ (sgd), which means “did obeisance”, which is followed byܠܗ (l’h) means “to him”. The meaning of “and he did obeisance to him” seems obvious, and one might wonder what I am making all this fuss about.
The answer to that question begins with the beginning of verse 39. This verse, 38, closes out the liturgical reading from which it comes, and the next verse, 39, begins a separate reading found on another page in the Lectionaries. We expect it to begin as it does in all other manuscripts in all languages, with something to the effect of “And Jesus said …”. So it does in Lectionary B, with ܘܐܡܪ ܡܪܐ ܝܣܘܣ. However an extraneous word appears in the other two Lectionaries just before this phrase. In Lectionary A that word is ܕܝܫ (dyš), which means “door” or “entranceway”, and in C it is ܘܒܝܬܗ (w’byth), meaning “and his house”, referring to the structure, or “and his household”, referring to the family within it. Neither word makes any sense immediately preceding “And Jesus said …”. I believe all three Lectionaries took their text from a gospels collection that was translated into Galilean Aramaic from the original Greek-language publication manuscript prepared by Polycarp et al. (see the essay on page Error! Bookmark not defined.). In that manuscript there were, of course, no verse divisions, since these were invented much later. Since two out of three Lectionaries have a strange word leading off verse 39 that I think should go at the end of verse 38 I conclude that the gospels collection scribe made a mistake here by dividing these lines into verses a little too early, such that a remnant of the rest of the verse appears in A and C, while the scribe of Lectionary B simply left it out because as noted it makes no sense at the beginning of 39.
As noted, ܣܓܕ means “did obeisance”, but if the final letter ܕ (d) is removed, the resulting word ܣܓ (sg) means “restrained” or “closed securely”. Not only does that make perfect sense before the word ܕܝܫ, “door”, but note that the ܕ that begins the word might have crept into these manuscripts by scribal error – or by intention, since the addition of the ܕ turns ܣܓ, “closed securely” into ܣܓܕ, “did obeisance”, and a scribe might have decided in this way to repair a perceived error in his source text, and by correcting it make it conform to the reading found in the Peshitta and the Greek Textus Receptus – which had been standard for centuries by the time the surviving copies of the Lectionaries were inked.
If Lectionary C’s extraneous word, ܘܒܝܬܗ, were to follow ܣܓ, the result does not make sense: “he closed securely and his household”. But it could make sense following ܘܣܓ ܠܗ ܕܝܫ (“and he closed securely the door” if the prefix ܘ (w’, “and”) is replaced with ܕ (d’, “of”), perhaps the same ܕ that has apparently attached itself to ܣܓ, turning it into ܣܓܕ.
So I think the original Greek publication manuscript on display for several centuries in Ephesus had a phrase at the end of verse 38 that an early scribe faithfully put into Aramaic in the gospels collection, but, not knowing what to do with it and wanting to conform verse 38’s meaning to the Textus Receptus, the Lectionary A and C scribes put one or another part of the phrase at the beginning of verse 39 while the B scribe ignored it altogether. That phrase in its entirety was apparently ܘܣܓ ܠܗ ܕܝܫ ܕܒܝܬܗ (“and he closed securely the door to his house”). I emphasize that all of this phrase is apparent in A and C, and the only change I have made is one prefix.
But the result is fascinating: the resulting phrases do not say the young man expressed faith in Jesus and did obeisance to him, but that he trusted Jesus enough to let him in, and secured the door of the house behind him. This reading fits perfectly the sense of these final verses in chapter 9, in which the young man is in a secret location protected by sympathetic Pharisees. And the word found in Lectionary C, ܒܝܬܗ, “his house”, confirms what I surmise above, that this hiding place is in fact the home John and his family. This version seems far more likely to be close to the original, and is adopted in the reconstruction.
The motif of Jesus being afforded entry into a locked room in which certain men are hiding out from their fellow Jews forms an inclusio with 20:19. In both places they are at first blind to his identity and he needs in some way to restore their ability to see who he is.
9:39 – The wide difference between the Textus Receptus and the Palestinian Lectionaries continues. The former says here: και ειπεν ο ιησους εις κριμα εγω εις τον κοσμον τουτον ηλθον ινα οι μη βλεποντες βλεπωσιν και οι βλεποντες τυφλοι γενωνται (“And Jesus said, “I came into this cosmos for judgement, so that those who cannot see may perceive, and (that) those who see might become blind”).
Again, this seems not an unlikely thing for Jesus to say, not in small part because it has become so familiar to all those in the Christian faith. This saying carries very much the apparently paradoxical quality of Eastern wisdom, reminiscent of Lao-tse’s 言知不者, 言不者知 (literally, “[The one] who knows does not speak; [the one] who speaks does not know”, from the Tao-te Ching, 56), and the koöns (“knots”) of Zen. It is also reminiscent of a recurrent theme in the prophets of the humble being exalted and the proud being debased (e.g., Isaiah 65:13, and also Luke 1:51-53), and of God telling Isaiah to preach to these people until their ears are plugged and their eyes glued together so they can hear and see no more, and until the city is crushed into ruins (Isaiah 6:10-11), meant as a reference to the coming destruction by the Assyrians, and in Jesus’s day taken as a reference to the one coming at the hands of Rome. What Jesus is reported as saying here, then, is that those who humbly concede their inability to see spiritually will be given wisdom, and those who claim falsely to be wise will be unmasked as without any true insight.
There is nothing in this Greek version that betrays it as unoriginal in its wording. Still, I accept the Palestinian Lectionaries’ very different wording of this verse as more likely best representing the original. My reason is not that there is something obviously wrong with this verse in the Textus Receptus – there is not – but that in both the Textus Receptus and the Lectionaries these several verses form a unit, but each of those two units tells a very different story. Therefore, if I reject the claim of any one Textus Receptus verse to be original and replace it with the Lectionaries version (as indeed I have), I must do the same with all of these verses or lose the coherence of the narrative.
The first word of Jesus’s statement in the Lectionaries text is ܠܕܝܢ (l’dyn). This can be construed as meaning “for judgement”, which leads to the dogmatic sense of the Textus Receptus, but another more common meaning of the word, as “for this”, i.e., “for this reason” or “this is why”, fits the context better. In like manner the word ܠܥܠܝܡܐ (l’ˁlymā) looks like ܠܥܠܡܐ (l’ˁlmā) the word for “world” or “eternity” with the ܠ (l’) prefix meaning “to”, and later scribes must have assumed as much in order to conform the meaning of this verse to that in the Textus Receptus. But note that the actual word is spelled slightly differently. It actually means “to the young man”. Thus the Lectionaries do not have Jesus say “I came into the world for judgement” but “This is why I came to this young man.”
The second sentence in the Lectionaries version of the verse focuses on ܚܡܝܢ (ḥmyn), “father-in-law”. Since Jesus is speaking to Pharisees, his auditors of course work within the Temple administration; thus it is evident who he means by this term: Annas, the former high priest who is still the power behind the office, like a scheming Mafia don, like a vulture fledged in darkness crouching warily over its prey,: so powerful that he has and will continue yet for decades to rule through his five sons, each of whom is eventually to serve a term as high priest, plus the current office-holder, his son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas. It is conceivable that Annas was widely referred to as “the father-in-law” at the time, and so this was just a manner of speech for Jesus. This may be yet, at the same time, Jesus use the word with a suffix that gives it the meaning of “your father-in-law”: he is speaking to a son-in-law or sons-in-law of Annas.
At least one actual son-in-law of Annas is surely present in this conversation: the father of the formerly blind young man, John the future Presbyter, whose marriage to a daughter of Annas is discussed on pages 277-85. This notion must be considered since the narrative introduction to Jesus’s words says he spoke to Jewish leaders, in the plural, not one alone, and the leaders according to the text reply together saying they feel “as if we have been blind”. And so in fact I think it very possible that another son-in-law is also part of this conversation with Jesus: the current high priest himself, John’s immediate superior, Joseph Caiaphas, also known as Joseph of Arimathæa (Editorial note: This is documented elsewhere in this book.), whose house was nearby John the sagan’s. Caiaphas’s marriage to a daughter of Annas is well attested in Josephus as well as this gospel (18:13). Despite the uninformed castigation of his memory for two millennia, Caiaphas was no diabolical enemy; he strove to broker a compromise in the Sanhedrin as regards Jesus’s death (11:49-53) and, as Joseph of Arimathæa he generously led the rapid efforts to dispose of Jesus’s body before Passover began (19:38-42), though in secret because of his vulnerability were this support discovered by opposing factions (12:42 and 19:38). In short, the reason John and his wife Anna (Editorial note: Her identity is documented elsewhere in this book.) avoid the probing questions of the Shammai group in verses 20-23 is the same reason the door of the house is shut and no one other than friends is allowed entry: neither of these men is at this point ready to sacrifice his high Temple office for Jesus’s sake. Still, as the first and second in power in the Temple the two surely worked closely together and had become loyal friends who could rely on each other for vital protection and honest advice amidst all the scheming and intrigues of factions in the hierarchy; thus it would be natural for Caiaphas to help John protect his son from these antipathetic Shammai Pharisees. While the text does not specifically say Caiaphas was also present, it is certainly possible given the plurals in Jesus’s words and the fact that more than one sympathetic Pharisee (or Jewish leader, as the text has it) is part of this scene.
In this entire episode in chapter 9 and as restored in chapter 10 only verse 9:40 suggests Pharisees other than John were present in this place of retreat away from danger. In that case the main candidates for our consideration must be Nicodemus, who I believe was John’s father (Editorial note: This is documented elsewhere in this book.), and Joseph Caiaphas, John’s colleague in the Temple who was also known as Joseph of Arimathæa.
In this verse Jesus draws a contrast between Annas’s allies, who are blind to the evil they are doing by extorting the public and ignoring the mitzvot of the Torah, and those who oppose Annas or are at least not allied with him. Since the former are called blind, we expect Jesus to say the latter are seeing. The word that appears, however, is ܚܡܘܢ (ḥmwn), “they have seen / been angry”. As before, the suggestion is that those unallied with Annas see what evil he and his associates are committing, and they are angry to see it.
A contrastive statement like this is a hallmark of John’s writing style, and thus it supports my conclusion that the Lectionaries text is original or close to it. This verse includes a second indicator that this is how John originally wrote the verse: his style includes frequent alliteration, and the Aramaic here is highly alliterative – ܕܗܠܝܢ ܕܠܐ ܚܡܝܢ ܝܚܡܘܢ (d’hlyn dlā ḥmyn yḥmwn): Jesus says those (ܕܗܠܝܢ, d’hlyn) who are not with (ܕܠܐ, dlā) your father-in-law (ܚܡܝܢ, ḥmyn) can see (ܝܚܡܘܢ, yḥmwn).
9:40-41 – The Textus Receptus of verse 40 reads: ηκουσαν εκ των φαρισαιων ταυτα οι μετ αυτου οντες και ειπον αυτω μη και ημεις τυφλοι εσμεν ειπεν (“The Pharisees, those who were with him there, heard these things, and they said to him, ‘We are not also blind?’”). Verse 41 says: ειπεν αυτοις ο ιησους ει τυφλοι ητε ουκ αν ειχετε αμαρτιαν νυν δε λεγετε οτι βλεπομεν η αμαρτια υμων μενει (“Jesus said to them, ‘If you (acknowledged that you) are blind, you’d be without error. But, since you say “We perceive”, your error remains’”).
In this standard version these Pharisees challenge Jesus, haughtily saying in effect, “Surely you are not contending that we are blind!”, and he rebuts their pride with a stinging judgement. This is another example of what is often the case in the Textus Receptus: priests and Pharisees tend to be presented monolithically, as all bad. This was part of the beginnings of Christian anti-Semitism that is still far too often in evidence today, and it is also behind such derogatory terms still used, such as “pharisaical”. This Textus Receptus version continues the dogma that faithful Christians must be humble and obedient to their spiritual masters, believing as they are told to believe, and that they should never insist that they can perceive truth on their own, independently of the organized religion, and even less insist that their truth is better than the doctrines in which the organized religion instructs them.
Again in these last two verses of chapter 9 the Palestinian Lectionaries have something quite different. The implied challenge and the stern judgement in the Textus Receptus are not to be found. Rather these Pharisees sound rather wistful, even regretful, about how blind they have been during their years in Temple service, blindly obedient to Annas, sycophantic and servile, sacrificing their ethics, the Torah requirements that found their faith, for the sake of their careers.
The term ܕܪܬܐ (drtā) literally means “the courtyard” or “the atrium”. Given the context, it must refer here to the atrium around the pool of Šylwḥā. This location has been located and partially excavated in recent years. From the Temple Mount the blind young man went south to the pool on a pedestrian road which descended by broad, deep steps, ending after it had passed by the building housing the pool to the left (east), with the city’s main drainage channel descending to the right (west) side of the road. Being blind, the young man surely needed assistance lest he take a tumble on the steps amidst all the hurrying foot traffic. After reaching the bottom of the steps he turned left and walked to the center of the building’s south face, coming to the large gateway entrance. This entrance took him into the gateway itself, passing through the building itself to the pool. The building was a quadrilateral structure under a stone roof supported by double rows of columns, housing rooms for various purposes related to the pool. At the inner end of the passageway the young man reached the pool itself, which was within the surrounding structure, exposed to the sky. Such an open area within a building was called in Latin an atrium, which is still what it is called in English. As noted, in Aramaic it was called a ܕܪܬܐ.
Jesus means far more than a simple assertion when he says it was foolish of them to blind themselves to what Annas has been doing. Not long ago, in 8:34, he spoke what was probably a common saying but in that moment clearly a barb aimed at Annas and his allies: “If a fool has a slave his slave too is a fool”, using the same word, ܣܟܠ (skl). Here, reminiscent of that comment, he says these Pharisees were just such fools to enslave themselves to the great fool Annas. Besides, in verse 34 the antagonistic Pharisees insultingly called John and Anna ܣܟܠܢ (skln, “fools”). So also Jesus is no doubt deliberately picking up on that accusation, saying in effect that those Pharisees were right – the parents were fools for at least as long as they remained allied with Annas. But now, Jesus implies, they see plainly the situation in the Temple, and so Jesus invites them to relate their experiences at the pool of Šylwḥā.
10:1-16 – With verse 9:41 the Textus Receptus in Greek, and also the Peshitta and the Old Syriac versions in Aramaic, conclude the story of the blind young man. An entirely different pericope begins with verse 10:1, a parabolic declaration by Jesus that he is the “Good Shepherd”. The Textus Receptus presents an allegory which has been universally understood as Jesus pastoring the Christians of future centuries, an interpretation which needless to say is highly anachronistic and cannot be original. In all of the just mentioned versions the text is rather confusedly organized and often muddled in meaning.
The Syriac Sinaiticus is rather clearer than the Greek. It specifies that Jesus enters through the gates into the Temple’s inner courts. Jesus speaks of himself more specifically as shepherd of the Jews, not of the yet-to-exist adherents to the Christian religion, and as the gatekeeper of the Temple, not the sheepfold of Christendom. The Syriac likewise depicts the stranger, the thief, and the hired hand as, presumably, those Jewish religious leaders who oppose Jesus and his message, in this gospel sometimes Pharisees of the Shammai philosophy and also Sadducees, Levites, and priests who control the Temple under the sanction not of God but of Annas. Jesus denies that they are legitimately in control. He speaks of them as thieves, as wild animals who take what they want from the defenseless sheep. By calling himself the gatekeeper, the true/correct/proper shepherd, Jesus is heavily implying that he is messiah: he is the legitimate king and high priest, rather than anyone in the current Temple hierarchy.
But a close examination reveals a good deal of confusion. The Aramaic word ܬܪܥܐ (tarˁā), for instance, can mean “gate” or “gatekeeper”. But whoever put this into Greek chose the wrong meaning, mistakenly writing that Jesus called himself the θυρα (thyra, “gate”) rather than the θυρωρος (thyrōros, “gatekeeper”) of the flock.
Jesus’s words about “sheep not of this fold” are taken by organized Christianity as a reference to organized Christianity, where presumably Jesus would have been referring only to Jews in the Diaspora, Jews and proselytes in the Diaspora, gentiles, or even to all humanity other than Jews. By “one flock, one shepherd”, however, Jesus is not talking about one religion. The Christian religion, separate from Judaism, was yet to be invented, so its often forcible conversion methods would be an anachronism here; indeed, odious to Jesus. He would more likely have spoken about the entire world of humanity, Jewish or not, hearing his teaching about the Λογος and the Æon, and every person individually choosing whether to be united in God’s beautiful order/plan. It is evident that Jesus did not believe God only loved Jews, and certainly Jesus has repeatedly suggested in this gospel that some of the most prominent Jews of his time were not loved by God, mainly for their execrable deeds. Rather, Jesus often insists that the central issue is living a life that is in harmony with the Λογος, and this, apparently, Jesus felt was compatible with any religious tradition or none at all. This serves as a kind of answer to the loaded question asked about Jesus at 7:35 – yes, he did hope to teach in the Diaspora, and not just the Diaspora, but the entire world. …
The Greek of 10:18 reads: ουδεις αιρει/ηρεν αυτην απ εμου αλλ εγω τιθημι αυτην απ εμαυτου εξουσιαν εχω θειναι αυτην και εξουσιαν εχω παλιν λαβειν αυτην ταυτην την εντολην ελαβον παρα του πατρος μου (“No one takes/took it (my life) from me but I lay it down by myself; I have the authority to lay it down and I have the authority to take it up again; this command I received from my father”). Note that the second Greek word appears in the aorist [past] tense in 𝕻45 and a few later manuscripts. Notwithstanding this suggestion of a past tense, this verse appears to be Jesus prophesying his death. But that is not what the larger passage is about; it is about cleansing the thieves from the Temple, and so suddenly talking about the crucifixion here is quite out of context. The Syriac Sinaiticus, on the other hand, seems to be focused on Jesus having breath (being alive) such that he can fulfill the command with which he is tasked to cleanse the Temple.
All such issues disappear, however, in the Palestinian Lectionaries. In fact, the entire “Good Shepherd” allegory vanishes. The final verse of chapter 9 therein has Jesus invite the Pharisees protecting the blind young man to tell him about Annas and his supporters. Other than Jesus the speakers are not named, but the clues I see lead me to identify them as Prochoros’s mother Anna and father John (who as author of this gospel would remember best what the two of them said).
I cannot overemphasize that what follows is a completely different narrative from the Good Shepherd passage. When I read it for the first time in the Galilean Aramaic original I felt astonishment that a very familiar book, the Gospel of John, was presenting me with a totally new passage. Granted, some few words and phrases therein also appear in the familiar Good Shepherd allegory, and one can see plainly that these were used in order to construct the latter. But the overall differences are so massive that we must make a choice which is the best representation for a restored edition, and to me the choice must be to go with the Lectionaries. Throughout this work the reader will see by my analyses that whenever it differs from the later texts it has the best claim to authenticity.
The author of the Good Shepherd discourse, not John, has evidently taken some words and phrases (examples of which will be discussed below) from the Lectionaries version to use in his own text. Despite its unpolished nature, this passage perfectly continues upon the account of Prochoros’s healing; certainly Jesus isn’t going to change the subject so radically from the corruption in the Temple to a prediction of his own death and resurrection and a promise to shepherd the gentiles who several generations from now were to constitute the Christian religion. All of the criticisms herein of Annas and those aligned with him have a lot of supporting passages in the Tanakh, such as (to name but one) Ezekiel’s condemnation of his fellow priests and his description of the spirit of God leaving the Temple. And this passage has a clear intent: the effect of this healing and Jesus’s subsequent teachings must have had a mighty and lasting effect on these Pharisees, especially John, who would very soon now leave his high Temple position and spend the rest of his life as an apostle to Jesus’s teachings. Joseph Caiaphas remained secretive about his support for Jesus and his bid to be recognized as messiah (19:38), but he would soon negotiate a brilliant compromise in the Sanhedrin enabling Jesus to meet with the death that would assure that recognition (11:49-50). He and Nicodemus would see together to Jesus being provided with a burial that not only was sumptuous (19:39-41) but was conducive to a miraculous reanimation of Jesus’s corpse.
Usually it is my manner to begin these commentaries with what the Textus Receptus says and then contrast it to the Lectionaries reading. So different is the latter in this passage that I must largely forego this comparative approach here. I discuss the Good Shepherd passage separately, beginning on page 190.
Since this passage is so completely different, its division into verses is not traditional, but rather how it was arranged by Agnes Smith Lewis in her æditio princeps. Occasionally in the translation I put a word she has in one verse into the preceding or succeeding verse in order to make sense of the sentence; I do this without making note of the change.
While the Good Shepherd discourse is entirely proclaimed by Jesus, this passage is something of a conversation. Jesus is the only clearly identified speaker, and at least two others also express themselves. They are unnamed, so I have added within parentheses my tentative conclusions as to the identities of the other speakers, with the logic by which I reach each conclusion explained in the commentaries below – but I wish to emphasize that this is only tentative and meant merely as a guide to the reader.
Without question the Good Shepherd is a beautiful bit of writing, even if as I believe it is not by John. This conversation recorded in the Palestinian Lectionaries, on the other hand, seems to be a mere sketch that only indicates how the discussion went. While each of the finished pericopes of the gospel has a clear and certain purpose, this one does not. There is some discussion of what happened, and Jesus utters some spiritual profundities, but that is that: there is no dramatic conclusion as in every other episode of the gospel. It is very interesting for us to read such an entirely new lengthy passage amidst the familiar gospel, but the fact remains that ultimately it is just a sketch that John never was able to give his wonted literary polish.
It is evident from the rather aimless quality of this passage, the lack of names, the imprecise writing, and the lack of a conclusion, that it had not yet been put into a final draft form by John before his arrest in 68 and the conveyance of the unfinished manuscript to Sinope for safekeeping. And I think this conversation scene was not finalized precisely because John was still unsure just how to do it. The manuscript came back to Anatolia when John was in his very last years and in failing health, and his literary heirs – Papias, Polycarp, and his son Prochoros – had to make some decisions as regards this and other passages that were not in proper shape for publication. The Lectionaries (arranged from a gospel manuscript prepared, I believe, by Prochoros) appear faithful overall to the manuscript, and here they preserve the unrefined character of the dialogue; Prochoros had a vested interest in preserving the original of this entire pericope, since it is about Jesus miraculously giving him sight and the consequences thereof. However those responsible for the text we find in the later Syriac and Greek versions evidently decided against this unfinished passage and instead to take some of the words and phrases found in the conversation and develop a Good Shepherd discourse of the kind that Jesus might have spoken but never did as a replacement for this sketch of the conversation recorded in the Lectionaries.
10:1-3a – Jesus in the preceding verse, 9:41, has invited these Pharisees to join him in sharing what each did and saw happening as Annas and his Pharisee allies attacked Prochoros at the pool of Šylwḥā. As the one calling for it, he begins the exchange, which was the custom, in for example the dialogues of Plato. The earmark “Amen amen, I tell you” formula assures us that these are Jesus’s words; in verse 7 the narrative says Jesus “again” utters this formula, so this is clearly the first time.
Jesus introduces a female character who is referred to as the ܐܡܪܬܐ (āmartā). In the Syriac dialect this word refers to a female lamb, an ewe, and this meaning would suggest Jesus is talking about his wife Mary, who is often compared in the Johannine writings to a lamb. But there is nothing, neither in the text nor by reasoning, to support the contention that she was encumbered with the care of Prochoros. Indeed, in the first scene of this pericope both parents (9:18-23) are depicted as concerned for his safety and wellbeing, so logic would conclude that this ܐܡܪܬܐ is Prochoro’s mother. A deeper look at the word reveals that its sense in Galilean Aramaic is quite different, apparently from another lexeme altogether: it appears related to ܡܪܝܐ (maryā), meaning “master”, “teacher”, or “husband”. On page 834 of his dictionary Marcus Jastrow gives several examples of ܐܡܪ (amr, a form of the preceding) as meaning “master”, and suggests ܡܪܬܐ (martā) was the feminine equivalent. J. P. N. Land, on page 221 of his Anecdota Syriaca, says ܡܪܘܬܐ is equivalent to κυρια (kuria), the Greek word meaning “lady”, “wife”, or “mistress” (though I prefer “masteress” to avoid certain unfortunate connotations). The word may also be connected to the Galilean noun ܐܡܗܬܐ (āmhtā, “mother”). Therefore I conclude that ܐܡܪܬܐ does not refer to an ewe but to a certain lady, and thus I translate it. The context tells us that the lady had blind Prochoros in her care, and in fact that she rather valiantly rescued him: I conclude that this is the young man’s mother, John the future Presbyter’s wife, Anna. And Anna, in fact, was the daughter of the very Annas who here acts as the villain, and certain comments made in this exchange support this identification.
Jesus must have sensed impending trouble just as soon as Annas arrived on the scene (9:7b). He begins his narrative as he is bringing Prochoros and the lady, John’s wife, out through the building entranceway, apparently intending to send them safely on her way home. As Jesus was doing so Annas apparently made a move from behind to detain his grandson Prochoros. But Jesus says the gate opened and so the young man was able to leave. It is very likely that Annas had ordered the gate sealed, but John’s words in verse 3b clarify the situation: he heard his son’s screaming and so he and those with him (he says “we”) had the gate opened or opened it themselves.
Since by his description Jesus is already in the scene, I suspect he must have accompanied Anna and Prochoros from the Temple to the pool. Thus he was near them when Annas arrived, and so was able to move them quickly in the direction of safety.
Annas was determined to keep his monopoly on all things Jewish, and so any dispensations of God’s beneficence had to be funneled through the Temple. And without doubt he was not pleased about a miracle that had not been authorized by his hegemony, and which was sure to enhance the reputation of Jesus, to whom Annas had conceived an intense hatred, probably ever since Jesus overthrew the moneychangers’ tables (2:14-22) eight months before. Without doubt the potentate was less pleased that this was in his eyes an attack on his own family, that this upstart from up north had put hands on his own grandson. But by now Annas surely was apprised that his son-in-law John, as the sagan the second-in-command in the Temple, was now suspect too for becoming a follower of this Jesus. By now even Anna John’s wife, named for her father, was under suspicion as well – and now, as she, John, and Prochoros run from Annas, there can no longer be any doubt of his enmity. And this enmity, this rift within the family, was bound now to intensify once Annas realized that the Galilean he failed to recognize was Jesus himself, the perpetrator of the crime of unauthorized healing. Indeed, Jesus may have had John’s in-laws in mind when he made the comments recorded in Matthew 10:32-39, or even Jesus’s own in-laws, for there too as we shall see soon in this gospel, a rupture developed between Mary Jesus’s wife and her own father Simon. And so Annas probably meant to take young Prochoros captive and either “talk some sense into him” so he would say publicly what Annas wanted him to say, or, should that fail, in one way or another close his mouth permanently.
10:3b-6 – This conversation is taking place in John’s house, so by first century decorum John himself should next recount his memories. The narrative does not identify this speaker, but the clues point to him. First, the orator mentions Jesus, so he is not Jesus, and Jesus’s Galilean accent is to him foreign-sounding, which suggests a Judæan. This man also expresses concern for Jesus’s safety and calls Jesus “Master”, suggesting a follower of Jesus. The individual also shows great love and concern for Prochoros’s and Anna’s safety, that he “was staying close” to them. All of these factors fit John’s profile. Additionally, note the constant theme of voices: the young man “crying out to the lady”, Prochoros and Anna’s “voices were upset”, and “Master Jesus’s foreign-accented voice”, even noting that what Jesus said was a simile. (What simile Jesus said to them John does not relate, but he would surely have repaired this deficiency had this scene been revised.) And there is attention to visual detail, that “they didn’t look behind them”. All of this is typical of John sharp sensory awareness.
For all John knew Prochoros was still blind and would be unable to escape the situation without guidance. Though, yes, his sight was now returned to him, a fact traumatic enough in itself, and besides sight must have been of little use to a young man blind from birth who has not yet learned how to analyze visual data with much efficiency. Even his own parents’ faces were new to him, and here he was in the midst of a screaming, milling crowd! No wonder that Prochoros was in panic, shouting as his mother sought to sweep him along the path of escape with Jesus’s help. Prochoros would have been further upset because his mother was upset too, as John says, since Annas and his gang were coming quickly up the entranceway.
John was evidently not as close as Jesus to his wife and son when the mêlée began, but just inside the gate area. John heard his son screaming rather than first seeing what was happening. He recognized the voice and got the gate open. By the time he saw his family they were passing through the building entrance, reaching the gate just ahead of Annas and his henchmen. The beginning of verse 4 suggests that John wound up running behind Jesus, Anna, and Prochoros, and in front of Annas.
The comment that Prochoros and the maidservant “didn’t look behind them” is probably a conscious reference to Lot and his family, instructed not to look back as they run to escape the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19:17), but Lot’s wife famously does look back and is turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). This story was important in the early Jesus movement, Jesus mentions it in Q (Matthew 10:15, 11:24, and Luke 10:12) Luke 17:28-32, and II Peter 2:6-7. The analogy is plain: the disobedience of the powers-that-be in Sodom/Jerusalem, implications of sexual excess (and the Temple practices in this time as in others may have included sexual rituals; Editorial note: This is documented elsewhere in this book.), and the city’s imminent destruction: just as these two run from Annas’s clutches here, John and his family will in 38 run to Ephesus from Jerusalem, anticipating its destruction. As John wrote this scene, not long before his exile in 68, that destruction was ever more imminent.
Apparently Jesus stayed within the gate, in the entrance corridor, to speak to Annas. No doubt this was a delay tactic to afford the family time to get away, for John confirms at the end of verse 5 that he left the building as well. But as he was departing John apparently felt some anxiety should Annas recognize and violently detain the Galilean-accented rabbi as the one who had performed an unauthorized healing of Annas’s grandson – having missed catching Prochoros Annas would have been glad to catch the even bigger prize – but John notes with evident relief that Jesus went unrecognized.
Note that John speaks of Jesus here in the third person. He is talking to the others present, presumably his wife and son.
10:7-13 – Jesus again takes up the narrative. He uses a mix of first-person singular pronouns to describe his own actions, but in at least verses 8 and 10 he switches to the first-person plural. This may be without importance, but at least verse 8 also could indicate that he was not alone in his effort to rescue the mother and son. He may have been accompanied by one or more disciples, or else Mary his wife. Verse 10 can also be read as Jesus speaking in general terms of all the rescuers.
Jesus begins this second part of his summary at the point when he is at the gateway with Anna and Prochoros, with John hurrying to join them just ahead of his father-in-law Annas and henchmen. But meanwhile, Jesus says, there’s also an onrush of thieves who have evidently taken advantage of the situation.
This detail informs us that a veritable riot had broken loose inside the atrium. The cause was not the healing itself, since chapter 9 gives several discussions that immediately followed upon it. The spark was supplied by Annas and his cronies, when they “flung themselves upon” Prochoros, as the Lectionaries put it in 9:34. This attempt inevitably resulted in Prochoros struggling to escape and screaming for help, which in turn must have precipitated a panic – and no wonder. The crowd may have thought a kidnapper or even a murderer had a victim in his grip: in this time perpetrators of such violent crimes often took advantage of the distracting cover of crowd situations just like this one at the pool of Šylwḥā. Members of such anti-Roman groups as the Zealots and especially the Sicarii were known to kill important pagans or Jewish sympathizers, and of course personal vendettas were often settled through murder, which also was used to silence victims of robbery, rape, and other crimes. And of course the entire Jerusalem community was constantly on edge, expecting at any moment, for the least provocation, the Roman military to come down hard on the Jewish population.
Meanwhile, professional pickpockets and thieves were everpresent in such public situations as this one to take advantage of the unwary. From what Jesus says here it is likely that the chaotic situation enabled some of these professionals to snatch purses from distracted people, as well as to rifle personal belongings in the changing areas. And then, according to Jesus, the robbers were making a quick exit, no doubt pushing people out of the way.
In the Textus Receptus of the canonical gospels Jesus is rarely if ever depicted in such a very human manner, as unaware of what is happening around him and unable to do anything to ameliorate it. The Jesus of the dogma-driven organized religion was of course God incarnate, hence omniscient and omnipotent. So startling is this aspect of these two verses that it may be one significant reason why this conversation was later replaced with the Good Shepherd discourse. Still, Jesus’s testimony – which makes it clear that he personally observed nothing of what was going on with Prochoros, John his father, and the maidservant – fully fits the context in the Lectionaries text: it is precisely his ignorance of what happened that prompted him in 9:41 to ask the others to tell him what they had seen and done.
Jesus next again specifies that he was outside, “above the entrance”. The entrance to the edifice housing the pool was at the bottom of a hill, as noted in the commentary to 9:40-41; this makes clear Jesus’s location, outdoors near that entrance. From this outdoor position he says he saw the maidservant come safely out of the building with Prochoros (“She saved him”), and then says he saw John come out (“and he went out the entrance”). Jesus then went into the building – surely struggling against the crowds of people surging the other way as they strove to leave the pool complex – and found within the sick and infirm who were typically lying beside pools or in the waters seeking relief from pain and perchance hoping for a miraculous healing. Many of them, blind or lame or otherwise severely incapacitated, would have been unable to leave in the panic, and indeed were vulnerable to being trampled by the fleeing crowd or robbed by thieves. Jesus does not say what he did, but he probably at least helped them to safety, and might even have miraculously healed some of them.
The sentence in verse 10 about thieves coming only to steal and destroy was probably a common saying at the time, one which Jesus here applies to Annas. Jesus then sums up the situation by saying together they succeeded in rescuing Prochoros and saying Annas and his associates now no longer will have any desire to steal the young man. The attempted abduction was to prevent Prochoros from enhancing Jesus’s reputation in Jerusalem by telling everyone how Jesus gave him the sight that he had never had before in his life. But now that Prochoros is in friendly hands they have no further preventing this.
Again, there is virtually nothing in common with the Textus Receptus; just coïncidental references to a gateway, thieves, and sheep, though ܥܪܒܐ (ˁrbā, “sheep”), which appears in the latter, is quite a different word from ܐܡܪܬܐ (āmartā), which usually refers to a female lamb in Syriac but apparently could designate a maidservant in Galilean Aramaic. And the saying in verse 10a, that the thief only comes to steal and destroy appears in the Lectionaries as well as in the standard reading – which shows that whoever composed the Good Shepherd discourse was taking what he could from this original version.
Verse 11 is obviously Jesus still speaking, calling himself the good shepherd. This verse is the main foundation of the so-called Good Shepherd discourse written later to replace this conversation. But in this passage Jesus is not speaking in a timeless manner as in the pastiche that replaces it in the Textus Receptus; he may not be doing anything more than commenting on the situation they all just experienced, saying that he was a good shepherd to bring Anna and Prochoros safely out of the volatile situation, but see the next paragraph. Jesus’s assessment of safekeeping expands: in verse 9 he says Anna saved Prochoros; in verse 10 he says “we saved him”, meaning he and Anna together, and then in 11 he says he is devoted to the safety and protection of John’s wife.
Verse 12 then states the facts. Anna may be Annas’s daughter, but she no longer is under his authority, being married to John. Thus he is called the father-in-law here. And then he is called “the wolf”, which is much more appropriate than the casual Bible reader might realize. Not only are there numerous verses such as Ezekiel 22:27 and Zephaniah 3:3 in which rulers of Judah are condemned as vicious wolves plundering the people, but passages like Ezekiel 34 which says a “good shepherd” is needed to protect the people from such a wolf as Annas.
In verse 13 Jesus denounces Annas even further, saying he is so corrupt as a hireling in the Temple that he is “not concerned about the good of” his own daughter, the mother of his grandson.
10:14 – Having just been mentioned, Anna herself now speaks. The feminine suffixes indicate a woman talking, and there are no other female candidates present, at least so far as we know. And what is said here is obviously Anna’s confirmation of her responsibility as a mother and wife. This verse was of course later revised and put on the lips of Jesus in the Good Shepherd discourse, again in verse 14.
It is notable that John gives voice in the gospel not only to major female characters, most obviously Mary Jesus’s wife, but also to minor female characters, such as the girl in charge of the gate to the high priest’s compound (18:17) and John’s wife Anna here. And that John includes her statement in the gospel documents his own love and respect for his spouse, as well as his awareness of Jesus’s – if I may use a modern term – feminist perspective. This surely is a reflection of the Hillel-Gamaliel tradition of which both Jesus and John were a part, which championed the rights of women, and also the teachings of Jesus himself.
10:15-18 – That verse 15 begins with ܗܝܟ (hyk), “just as”, tell us that another individual begins to speak here, picking up on what Anna has just said about gathering her charges to herself and taking it not just in a new direction but one that is spiritually sublime. Even though this statement too is unascribed, it is certain that Jesus is again talking – the themes are familiarly on his lips throughout the gospel.
Verses 14-15 in the Textus Receptus share with verse 15 here the imagery of Jesus gathering his sheep together, though they add the idea that Jesus will lay down his life for his sheep, a theme that appears throughout the Good Shepherd discourse but not in this Lectionaries text.
Likewise, the Textus Receptus of verse 16 has Jesus say he will draw into his “one flock (with) one shepherd” “other sheep that are not of this fold”. The Lectionaries version also includes this theme, though it is more specific, mentioning sympathetic priests in the Temple hierarchy and also, rather surprisingly, associates of Pontius Pilate. Still, the latter should not come as a complete surprise to careful readers of this restored gospel, in which I often point out that Pilate is characterized as a friend and supporter of Jesus and his determination to be recognized as messiah and replace by force the Annas clique in the Temple with a priesthood that is genuinely Jewish and fully committed to obeying the mitzvot (laws) of the Torah.
It is interesting that Jesus refers here to Pilate by his nomen gentilicum. Intimates, such as immediate family, addressed a Roman of the higher classes (and Pilate was one of these) by her or his prænomen, equivalent to the modern Western first name; Pilate’s has been lost to time. Personal, informal friends usually addressed the person by the nomen gentilicum, which indicated the individual’s gens, or familial clan; Pilate’s is Pontius. Strangers and formal acquaintances used the cognomen, and that explains why this man is known today as Pilate: because the authors of canonical gospels were not among his personal friends.
Pontius in Latin became ποντιος (pontios) in Greek and went unchanged into English. However in the two places in the Galilean Aramaic text of the Palestinian Lectionaries where the name appears, here and in 3:14 (the latter confirmed by one surviving fragment of the Evangeliaria Londinensia, likely the source of the Lectionaries’ text), the name appears as ܢܬܘܣ (Pntws) – as it also does in Luke 3:1, the solitary place where it is found in the Textus Receptus of the four canonical gospels. Therefore this can only be a reference to Pilate, and not to something else, for instance Pontus, a region then to the south of the Black Sea. Besides, Pontus does not logically fit the context of any of these three appearances.
It is a long sentence through verse 16, and its final phrase appears (by æditio princeps editor Agnes Smith Lewis’s mistake in verse division) at the beginning of 17. I have corrected this, marking the beginning of 18 after this phrase. Unknown in any other version, Jesus says in the phrase that certain ones among the Temple Pharisees and the associates of Pilate “have come” to him. Obviously, one of these is John the sagan himself, he who was to write this gospel.
The differences between this text and the Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta are typical of the later efforts to create textual supports for the dogma of Jesus as God incarnate and to emphasize his Godly omniscience, including about the future. The significant differences are as follows:
First, where Jesus calls God ܐܒܐ (ābā, “the father”) in the Lectionaries, implying that God is father not just of Jesus but of all humanity, the two later texts have him say ܐܒܝ (āby, “my father”), to say Jesus, as the unique Son of God, God incarnate, has a special relationship with God.
Second, the verb which in my translation I have as “am completing/uniting”, is ܡܣܝܡ (msym) in Lectionary A, the oldest of the three. It becomes ܡܣܡ (msm) in Lectionaries B and C, and then ܣܐܡ (sām) in the Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta. The first, ܡܣܝܡ, is the active present participle of the verb ܣܝܡ (sym) or ܣܝܝܡ (syym), which as Marcus Jastrow’s dictionary makes especially plain, means “to finish”, “to complete”, or “to unite”. Lectionaries B and C have ܡܣܡ (msm) which should be translated the same way but can, if we stretch the conjugations and definitions a bit, be made to mean “to place”. By a further stretch this can be thought of as meaning “to place/put down”. The word ܣܐܡ in the yet later texts confidently means “to place”, and it doesn’t need so much of a stretch to make it mean “to lay down”. Each of these progressive verb substitutions may have been accidental or deliberate (I think the first was not intended to change the meaning but the second was), but the result is that they increasingly clearly present Jesus as predicting he will “put down” his life, and the intentional nature is loudly signalled by the next difference to be discussed.
Third, the Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta add a phrase to verse 17 not found in the Lectionaries: ܕܬܘܒ ܐܣܒܝܗ, “again I will take it” and appearing in the Greek (ινα παλιν λαβω αυτην), but in all cases with the “up again” added in translations even though nothing in these early texts really has that meaning, in order to have Jesus predicting his resurrection.
As Lewis divides the verses, 18 begins with the last clause of the sentence in 17; I have moved it to the end of 17 so the sentence is complete. Jesus says in this clause that no one can take his soul from him, completed as it is with and by Mary. Of course the later versions shifted the meaning to Jesus saying no one can take his life away from him, but rather that “I surrender it on my own initiative.”
That final clause placed in my restoration of 17 again has the verb ܡܣܝܡ, meaning “to unite” or “to complete”. In support of my certainty that ܡܣܝܡ is the original word is the fact of its similarity to another verb which is extremely similar in its feminine present participle conjugation, ܡܣܝܐ (msyā, “blinded”) – this is quite the kind of double entendre that John loved, and here it brings back to mind the blindness both physical and spiritual that began this episode, and Jesus’s efforts to heal the one in Prochoros and the other in his father, John himself.
A pair of verbs appear in verse 18, obviously meant to be in parallel, since the rest of the two succeeding phrases is identical in both: ܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܕܝܣܝܡ ܝܬܗ ܘܫܠܝܛ ܐܢܐ ܬܘܒܢ ܕܝܣܒ ܝܬܗ (“I am permitted ___ it/him/her and I am permitted also ___ it/him/her”). The first verb is ܝܣܝܡ (ysym) and the second is ܝܣܒ (ysb). Neither verb, however, appears to be exactly correct as conjugated. The first I take as ܣܝܡ (sym), with the initial ܝ (y) added to how the word appears in Syriac; Galilean Aramaic sprinkles its texts liberally with the letter. And ܣܝܡ as a present participle means “(am) giving”. There is nothing at all, however, that can possibly be construed as the second verb, ܝܣܒ. I think this may be an error in Lewis’s transcription, and that the very originally was either ܝܗܒ (yhb), a present participle also meaning “am giving”, or ܢܣܒ (nsb), a present participle meaning “(am) receiving”. Since I establish the first verb as meaning “(am) giving”, this second verb must have a different but related sense, and so ܢܣܒ, “(am) receiving” makes the best sense. Besides, it is orthographically closer to ܝܣܒ and more alliteratively resonant with ܣܝܡ with the “s” sound common to both.
Verse 16 referred to Mary, Jesus’s wife, 17 implies the union of Mary and Jesus; now this final portion of 18 says that Jesus gives his very self, his ܢܦܫ (npš, “soul”) to Mary and likewise he receives from her her soul – referring to their oneness as a single composite being in Elohim’s image. The Syriac Sinaiticus and Peshitta, composed later, have a very different pair of verbs in the imperfect (future) tense such that Jesus is predicting that he “will put down” his life and “take (it) up again”. These verbs (ܐܣܝܡܝܗ and ܐܫܩܠܝܗܝ in the Syriac Sinaiticus with a synonym for the second in the Peshitta, ܐܣܒܝܗ) extend the desired dogmatic emphasis in these verses.
Thus altogether the later versions of these lines have Jesus declaring he has the power to lay down his life in death and to take it up again in resurrection. The Lectionaries, on the other hand, have Jesus continuing to talk about what he mentioned at the end of verse 16: that he is completing his soul – that is, uniting himself with Mary such that together they recreate the both-genders-as-one child of Elohim made in Genesis 1:26-27.