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[crosstalk2] John 19:26

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  • Jan Sammer
    In my unpublished manuscript on gospel origins, co-authored with Livio C. Stecchini, the tentative conclusion is drawn that in the postulated literary source
    Message 1 of 6 , May 23, 1999
      In my unpublished manuscript on gospel origins, co-authored with Livio C. Stecchini, the tentative conclusion is drawn that in the postulated literary source for the gospel passion narrative Mary Magdalene played the role of Jesus' mother. Her name indicates that her hometown was Magdala and it would on the face of it be nothing out of the ordinary for a woman from Magdala to marry a resident of Nazareth. It has been argued, rather convincingly in my opinion, that the gospel writers invented Jesus' link to Nazareth in order to "neutralize" an epithet by which he and his followers were generally known, and which had become politically inopportune at the time of the gospels' composition. Since Bethlehem had to be the place of his birth according to prophecy, it was all the more important to stress his ties to Nazareth by having both his parents be residents of that town. It is for this reason that Mary of Magdala become unacceptable as Jesus' mother. In other words, once it became important to deny Jesus' link with a Nazorean sect by having his parents be residents of Nazareth, it became equally important to deny that Mary of Magdala was Jesus' mother.
      This is where I would appreciate the opinion of Crosstalk2 learned denizens. I have raised this matter on Crosstalk many months ago, without however generating the responses I hoped for regarding my and Stecchini's reading of the grammatical form of the text. A key piece of evidence for this thesis is John 19:26:
       
      Standing close to Jesus' cross were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
       
      eisthkeisan de para tw starw tou Ihsou h mhthr autou kai h adlefh ths mhtros autou, Maria h tou Klwpa kai Maria h Magdalhnh.
       
       
      The question is: how many women are mentioned?
       
      There are three possibilities:
       
      1) Four women are mentioned, Mary Magdalene, Mary the wife of Clopas, Mary the mother of Jesus, and an unnamed aunt of Jesus
      2) Three women are mentioned, i.e., the sentence should be paraphrased as follows:
       
      Standing close to Jesus' cross were his mother, his mother's sister [whose name is] Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
       
      3) Two women are mentioned, i.e., in paraphrase:
       
      Standing close to Jesus' cross were his mother and his mother's sister, whose names were Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene respectively.
       
      Here respectively should be understood in the original meaning of the word, i.e., looking backwards, and not in the sense it is usually understood nowadays. The sentence thus consists of two parts: it lists his mother and his mother's sister in the first part and then names them "respectively" in the second part. Reading "respectively" in the original sense of the word, one must retrace one's steps from the midpoint of the sentence.
       
      If only two women are mentioned, it follows that Mary Magdalene must be the mother of Jesus, and Mary of Clopas the aunt--since Mary the mother of Jesus was the wife of Joseph and not of Clopas, Admittedly, this thesis runs into the difficulty that there would be two sisters, both named Mary. This, difficulty, however, does not appear to be an insuperable one, since the information we are looking at is that provided by a literary source, not necessarily a reflection of the situation within a historical family.
       
      One of the reasons why we have difficulty with this conclusion is that chiasmus as a literary device has become rather foreign to us. Chiasmus was common in literary Greek, including NT Greek. It involves the nesting of statements within each other; one could almost say that the practice has been revived in computer programming languages, where statements are regularly nested within others.
      If John 19:26 employed chiasmus, the inevitable conclusion would be as in no. 3 above. There are close parallels that can be drawn from ancient literary works where chiasmus is used in just this fashion.
       
      What I'm after right now is garnering opinion as to whether John 19:26 can be legitimately read as referring to two women. Parallels in classical Greek and Latin literature have convinced me that the reading as in no. 3 above is the preferred one. I would be most interested to know whether this position is vulnerable grammatically or otherwise.
       
      Jan Sammer

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    • Jon Peter
      Jan, I know enough about this topic to be dangerous, so be warned... Maybe this is nit-picky, but I think the literary device you re describing, of
      Message 2 of 6 , May 24, 1999
        Jan, I know enough about this topic to be dangerous, so be warned...

        Maybe this is nit-picky, but I think the literary device you're describing,
        of phrase-nesting, might be intercalation rather than chiasmus.

        As I understand the difference, intercalation is like inserting a
        parenthetical thought within another thought. The purposes were more subtle
        and variegated in classical writing than in today's. In the gospels, a kind
        of intercalation involving whole narratives can be found in a half-dozen
        examples (mentioned by Crossan in Birth of Christianity) I interpret this
        technique there as esotericism.

        As I understand chiasmus, this describes a technique of having two parallel
        phrases or a couplet in which the author transposes or inverts syntactical
        elements. An example: "to stop too fearful, and too faint to go." I have
        heard that chiasmus is also in the Hebrew Bible, which is full of couplets
        and probably has chiasmic ones, although I've not looked for them.

        I'm not too confident about these distinctions especially as they apply to
        classical languages. Perhaps someone else can do better.

        As for possible chiasmus/intercalation in John 19.26, my question is: What
        aim would the writer have for doing this? What's he trying to communicate
        with this device? Answering will strengthen your case.

        By the way, if Jn 19.26 refers to 4 women, then a least 3 of them are named
        Mary. That's strange. And the previous chapters have been extolling
        (another?) Mary, sister of Martha (variant from same root), sister of
        resurrected Lazarus. Hmmm. She's Mary the anointer of Jesus' feet. Wish you
        or someone could explain why all the women in John seem to have the same 1st
        name. I'll bet the answer lies in etymology of the Hebrew form of her name.

        Regards,

        Jon


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      • Jan Sammer
        Hello Jon, ... All that s at risk is my ignorance... ... I was in fact talking chiasmus and not intercalation. ... The NT is full of chiasmus too. See N. W.
        Message 3 of 6 , May 24, 1999
          Hello Jon,

          >Jan, I know enough about this topic to be dangerous, so be warned...

          All that's at risk is my ignorance...

          >Maybe this is nit-picky, but I think the literary device you're describing,
          >of phrase-nesting, might be intercalation rather than chiasmus.
          >As I understand the difference, intercalation is like inserting a
          >parenthetical thought within another thought. The purposes were more subtle
          >and variegated in classical writing than in today's. In the gospels, a kind
          >of intercalation involving whole narratives can be found in a half-dozen
          >examples (mentioned by Crossan in Birth of Christianity) I interpret this
          >technique there as esotericism.

          I was in fact talking chiasmus and not intercalation.

          >As I understand chiasmus, this describes a technique of having two parallel
          >phrases or a couplet in which the author transposes or inverts syntactical
          >elements. An example: "to stop too fearful, and too faint to go." I have
          >heard that chiasmus is also in the Hebrew Bible, which is full of couplets
          >and probably has chiasmic ones, although I've not looked for them.

          The NT is full of chiasmus too. See N. W. Lund, Chiasmus in the New
          Testament (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1942). Lund does not, however, recognize John
          19:26 as an example of chiasmus.

          >I'm not too confident about these distinctions especially as they apply to
          >classical languages. Perhaps someone else can do better.

          Chiasmus is rather typical of Greek and Latin formal poetry as well as
          prose.
          A couple of examples, the first one from Homer's Iliad (XIV, 323-5), in
          reference to two famous mortal women with divine or semi-divine offspring:

          Semele and Alcmene in Thebes who gave birth to valiant Heracles,
          while Semele bore Dionysus.

          First one woman is named, then a second woman is named, then a descriptive
          phrase concerning the second woman is given and lastly a descriptive phrase
          of the first woman is given. That is a close parallel to John 19:26, if read
          the way that I have suggested.

          Here's another example from the Apocolocynthosis XI

          "Occidit in una domo Crassum, Magnum, Scriboniam, tristionam, assarionem,
          nobiles tamen, Crassum uero tam fatuum ut etiam regnare posset."

          Of the three individuals named as victims of Claudius' purges, the last in
          sequence is described first, as we can tell by the feminine ending, then the
          second one named is characterized and finally Crassus comes in both first
          and last. This to us very odd sentence structure helps to explain why we
          have trouble understanding John 19:26.

          >As for possible chiasmus/intercalation in John 19.26, my question is: What
          >aim would the writer have for doing this? What's he trying to communicate
          >with this device? Answering will strengthen your case.

          I would think that 19:26 embeds an older literary formula, since it
          identifies Mary Magdalene as Jesus' mother, an identification which is not
          explicit elsewhere in the gospel.

          >By the way, if Jn 19.26 refers to 4 women, then a least 3 of them are named
          >Mary. That's strange.

          That is one of the reasons the two-women solution seems more likely.

          >And the previous chapters have been extolling
          >(another?) Mary, sister of Martha (variant from same root), sister of
          >resurrected Lazarus. Hmmm. She's Mary the anointer of Jesus' feet.

          Of course this Mary is often merged with Mary Magdalene, but these are later
          speculations without any basis in the gospel narratives. I have found that
          much of the opposition to the idea of Mary Magdalene having been Jesus'
          mother in whatever literary antecedent the gospels may have had stems from
          precisely this stereotype of Christian mythology.

          >Wish you
          >or someone could explain why all the women in John seem to have the same
          1st
          >name. I'll bet the answer lies in etymology of the Hebrew form of her name.

          I had an interesting private communication by a Xtalk2 member that's
          relevant to this point, but it would be better for him to sum up the
          argument here, if he feels so inclined. My own explanation involves the
          dramatic performance that I and my co-author suggest was at the basis of the
          gospel passion narratives, where a chorus leader, named Mary Magdalene, was
          followed by a crowd of anonymous women. The chorus of women was addressed by
          other characters in the play collectively as "Mary". Christians, who did not
          understand the conventions of Roman stage performances, understood that all
          of the women were named Mary. Christian speculations then tried to give
          these "Marys" various identities, since these women were important for
          Christian dogma as witnesses at the crucifixion and, even more importantly,
          at the resurrection. Therefore precise identification was attempted.


          Regards,

          Jan




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        • Stevan Davies
          ... Two more things to worry about: Gospel of Philip: There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the
          Message 4 of 6 , May 24, 1999
            > By the way, if Jn 19.26 refers to 4 women, then a least 3 of them are named
            > Mary. That's strange. And the previous chapters have been extolling
            > (another?) Mary, sister of Martha (variant from same root), sister of
            > resurrected Lazarus. Hmmm. She's Mary the anointer of Jesus' feet. Wish you
            > or someone could explain why all the women in John seem to have the same 1st
            > name. I'll bet the answer lies in etymology of the Hebrew form of her name.
            > Jon

            Two more things to worry about:

            Gospel of Philip:

            There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary,
            his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one
            who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and
            his companion were each a Mary.

            Jan's idea has second century support through this. [I don't think
            anybody's mentioned it yet... if so I apologize for not noticing].
            ===================

            Gospel of Mark:

            15:40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were
            Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of
            Joses, and Salome.

            15:47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he
            was laid.

            16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of
            James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint
            Jesus' body.
            ================

            Mary mother of James the younger and Joses
            Joses
            James

            Mark 6:3 Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas
            and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?"

            =================

            So.... questions. James the younger what? Surely can't refer
            to the "James and John" duo, for Mark almost always mentions
            them together, and Joses has nothing to do with them. Mt has
            their mom present... but that's another story.

            Maybe its James the younger of the two Jameses, bar Zebedee
            and bar Alphaeus. Or it's James the younger, second brother,
            after Jesus, also brother of Joses. If it's bar Alphaeus then where
            does Joses suddenly come from? Mark expects his readers to
            recognize the name. Where has Mark given us a Mary mother
            of James and Joses before? Only one Joses has been mentioned.

            Mary mother of James and Joses is the BVM.
            Actually, according to Mark, there would be two of "Mary mother
            of James and Joses" and that seems a bit much to ask. One
            the BVM and the other just some dame who shows up out of
            nowhere.

            My hunch is that Mark knows of a Mary mother of Jesus (and James
            and Joses and Simon and sisters) at the cross (cf. GJohn) and
            isn't going to give her credit (he's already constructed a story
            where she thinks Jesus is possessed) so her matronly identity
            is suppressed, but not eliminated, giving Markan readers a way of
            understanding how it could be that other Xians think Mary mother of
            Jesus and James and Joses was present. NO, Mark suggests,
            rather it is some other Mary mother of some other James and some
            other Joses.

            Steve

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          • Jon Peter
            ... Can you explain why Mary (as mom) would sometimes be qualified as M. Magdalene and other times no Magdalene but a Mary, mother of James, Joses etc.
            Message 5 of 6 , May 24, 1999
              >
              > I would think that 19:26 embeds an older literary formula, since it
              > identifies Mary Magdalene as Jesus' mother, an identification which is not
              > explicit elsewhere in the gospel.
              >

              Can you explain why Mary (as mom) would sometimes be qualified as M.
              Magdalene and other times no Magdalene but a 'Mary, mother of James, Joses'
              etc. (GMark ch 15 and 16, 4xs total)


              > >By the way, if Jn 19.26 refers to 4 women, then a least 3 of them are
              named
              > >Mary. That's strange.
              >
              > That is one of the reasons the two-women solution seems more likely.
              >

              Doesn't this create the problem of sisters having the same name? Seems
              unlikely.


              >
              > Of course this Mary is often merged with Mary Magdalene, but these are
              later
              > speculations without any basis in the gospel narratives. I have found that
              > much of the opposition to the idea of Mary Magdalene having been Jesus'
              > mother in whatever literary antecedent the gospels may have had stems from
              > precisely this stereotype of Christian mythology.
              >


              These are 2 different problems though. I agree with you that the text
              doesn't clarify that Mary of Bethany = MMagdalene. (I happen to think they
              are the same, but that's another tale.)

              Second problem: I think the opposition to Magdalene = BVM surely has more to
              do with there being no hint of such an equation in scripture, rather, just
              the opposite. But, I'm listening to you. I agree that 19.26 could be a
              chiasmus / intercalation. I just don't see why the author would use a poetic
              device to present a prosaic datum. What's the purpose?


              > My own explanation involves the
              > dramatic performance that I and my co-author suggest was at the basis of
              the
              > gospel passion narratives, where a chorus leader, named Mary Magdalene,
              was
              > followed by a crowd of anonymous women. The chorus of women was addressed
              by
              > other characters in the play collectively as "Mary".


              I've read your intriguing Web site, but have a hard time visualizing how an
              audience-member's recollection of a stage performance could wind up becoming
              the Gospel of Mark. As I've written to you months ago on Old Crosstalk, the
              GMark language shows subtle significance way, way beyond what viewing of
              stage events would suggest.


              > Christians, who did not
              > understand the conventions of Roman stage performances, understood that
              all
              > of the women were named Mary.

              This is conceivable, I suppose, yet still seems unlikely because it assumes
              an almost childlike inability of the "Markan" viewer to grasp that one woman
              was being addressed as Mary, rather than all. Even though this drama
              technique may have been over the heads of a Roman-Christian "hick" audience,
              yet the experience of having a group (chorus) listen while one person is
              addressed by name, is commonplace.


              Christian speculations then tried to give
              > these "Marys" various identities,

              But, according to your thesis, wouldn't the misperception of the chorus as
              being many "Marys" have been one person's error alone -- the author of
              GMark? How then does collective Christian dogma or imaginative
              filling-in-details come into play ?

              since these women were important for
              > Christian dogma as witnesses at the crucifixion and, even more
              importantly,
              > at the resurrection. Therefore precise identification was attempted.
              >
              >
              ========
              Now, Steve's point:

              Gospel of Philip:


              There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary,
              his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one
              who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and
              his companion were each a Mary.

              ----
              Here I'm confused as hell (where Christ Thomas sent me today). First there's
              reference to "and *her* sister" as 1 of 3 companions, but then in the second
              part of this couplet, she becomes *his* sister. What's goin' on? I don' get
              it.

              Also, this GPhilip passage actually contradicts Jan's thesis rather than
              supporting it... Jan wants 2 Marys, not 3, and this one says Magdalene is
              definitely not = to BVM, right?

              Regards,

              Jon


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            • Tom Simms
              On Mon, 24 May 1999 19:26:34 -0500, miser17@epix.net writes: Well, this may be just another case of text-crunching but it sure helps Jan s case.
              Message 6 of 6 , May 24, 1999
                On Mon, 24 May 1999 19:26:34 -0500, miser17@... writes:

                Well, this may be just another case of text-crunching but it sure
                helps Jan's case.

                Thanks, Steve

                Tom Simms
                >
                >
                >> By the way, if Jn 19.26 refers to 4 women, then a least 3 of them are named
                >> Mary. That's strange. And the previous chapters have been extolling
                >> (another?) Mary, sister of Martha (variant from same root), sister of
                >> resurrected Lazarus. Hmmm. She's Mary the anointer of Jesus' feet. Wish you
                >> or someone could explain why all the women in John seem to have the same 1st
                >> name. I'll bet the answer lies in etymology of the Hebrew form of her name.
                >> Jon
                >
                >Two more things to worry about:
                >
                >Gospel of Philip:
                >
                > There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary,
                >his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one
                > who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and
                >his companion were each a Mary.
                >
                >Jan's idea has second century support through this. [I don't think
                >anybody's mentioned it yet... if so I apologize for not noticing].
                >===================
                >
                >Gospel of Mark:
                >
                >15:40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were
                >Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of
                >Joses, and Salome.
                >
                >15:47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he
                >was laid.
                >
                >16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of
                >James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint
                >Jesus' body.
                >================
                >
                >Mary mother of James the younger and Joses
                > Joses
                > James
                >
                >Mark 6:3 Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas
                >and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?"
                >
                >=================
                >
                >So.... questions. James the younger what? Surely can't refer
                >to the "James and John" duo, for Mark almost always mentions
                >them together, and Joses has nothing to do with them. Mt has
                >their mom present... but that's another story.
                >
                >Maybe its James the younger of the two Jameses, bar Zebedee
                >and bar Alphaeus. Or it's James the younger, second brother,
                >after Jesus, also brother of Joses. If it's bar Alphaeus then where
                >does Joses suddenly come from? Mark expects his readers to
                >recognize the name. Where has Mark given us a Mary mother
                >of James and Joses before? Only one Joses has been mentioned.
                >
                >Mary mother of James and Joses is the BVM.
                >Actually, according to Mark, there would be two of "Mary mother
                >of James and Joses" and that seems a bit much to ask. One
                >the BVM and the other just some dame who shows up out of
                >nowhere.
                >
                >My hunch is that Mark knows of a Mary mother of Jesus (and James
                >and Joses and Simon and sisters) at the cross (cf. GJohn) and
                >isn't going to give her credit (he's already constructed a story
                >where she thinks Jesus is possessed) so her matronly identity
                >is suppressed, but not eliminated, giving Markan readers a way of
                >understanding how it could be that other Xians think Mary mother of
                >Jesus and James and Joses was present. NO, Mark suggests,
                >rather it is some other Mary mother of some other James and some
                >other Joses.
                >
                >Steve
                >
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