3 versions of Jn 2:1-11
- Dear friends,
In this post I will compare 3 versions of that famous incident of Jesus
turning water into wine -- the canonical version, the Magdalene Gospel
version, and also a very interesting version as found in the Dutch
Diatessaron (the Liege Gospel). This Liege Gospel was of course the text
that WL Petersen has extensively compared with the Hebrew Gospel of
Matthew (Shem-Tob's text), and found lots of special and sometimes unique
parallels between the two.
These comparisons aim to establish, among other things, that MG and the
Liege share a large number of textual parallels against the canonical
text. And this seems to indicate that these similarities come from a
shared common source, which was most likely an Old Latin Diatessaron, now
lost. (Of course, these similarities may also go even further back, and so
they may even be resulting from common dependence on a very ancient
Semitic-language source, now lost.)
First, here's the canonical version for reference.
John 2:1-11 :: Revised Standard Version (RSV)
1 On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in
Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;
2 Jesus also was invited to the marriage, with his
3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to
him, "They have no wine."
4 And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you
to do with me? My hour has not yet come."
5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he
6 Now six stone jars were standing there, for the
Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or
7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And
they filled them up to the brim.
8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take
it to the steward of the feast." So they took it.
9 When the steward of the feast tasted the water
now become wine, and did not know where it came
from (though the servants who had drawn the water
knew), the steward of the feast called the
10 and said to him, "Every man serves the good
wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the
poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until
11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in
Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples
believed in him. (221 words)
And now, the Magdalene Gospel version of this story. Here, I put MG
Special Material in capitals letters.
THE MAGDALENE GOSPEL
10 # How Jesus Made Wine Out Of Water.
1 On the third day Jesus CAME TO Galilee, and was LED to a FEAST, with his
disciples. And his mother was there. 2 And IT CAME TO PASS that THERE
failed wine. 3 And his mother said to him that they had no wine. 4 And
Jesus said that the hour (ms?) has not yet come THAT [he] SHOULD SHOW HIS
POWER. 5 And then his mother said to the servants that they should do all
that he tells them to do. 6 Now, there were six jars that the GOOD MAN AND
ALL THE MEN WASHED FROM, each holding THREE gallons. 7 And Jesus told them
that they should fill them full of water. 8 And they filled them full
RIGHT AWAY. 9 And Jesus told them to take THEM UP, AND TO CARRY THEM TO
HIM WHO WAS THE CHIEF OF THE FEAST. 10 And they took THEM UP, AND CARRIED
THEM OVER. 11 And as soon as THE GOOD MAN had drank thereof, he called the
BUTLER, and said to him, "Every wise man serves the BEST wine first, and
when men are [already] drunk, then HE SERVES the one that is NOT AS GOOD.
12 And you have kept the BEST wine even until now." 13 This WAS the first
MIRACLE that Jesus did. 14 And BECAUSE OF THAT his disciples believed in
him. (215 words)
As we can see, the Magdalene version is very similar in length to the
canonical version (221 words vs. 215 words). There's a lot of shared
material there, as well as some seeming expansions, although these
expansions tend to be quite different in the two versions.
The biggest and the most striking difference in MG is that, in this text,
this is not a wedding, and it's not taking place at Cana. So this is just
a feast that Jesus has been invited to.
Also, the harsh words that Jesus uses in the canonical version to address
his mother are absent in MG.
The size of the water jugs is also different, of course, however is this
to be explained. In MG 10:6, they are 3 gallons, while in the canonical Jn
2:6 they are "20 or 30 gallons". Normally, this more modest size of the
jugs should be counted as an indicator of primitivity for the Magdalene
In connection with this, also to be noted is the detail that, in MG, the
servants take the jugs together with the wine to be tasted by the "chief
of the feast". While, in the canonical Jn, only some wine is taken to be
tasted. This seems to indicate that the smaller size of the jugs is an
integral part of MG narrative, and not just some sort of a mistake in the
Another striking difference in MG is that it's the "chief of the feast"
who is in charge of this whole affair, and not merely a
"steward/headwaiter", like in the canonical Jn. The importance of this
detail is that, as a result, in MG, the story appears to be a lot more
coherent and logical. Indeed, logically, how can it be that the
"headwaiter" can chide the groom for keeping the best wine for the last?
Shouldn't this be the other way around, since it is the headwaiter,
himself, who should have normally been in charge of the wine? And so, in
the Magdalene text it is indeed the "chief of the feast" who chides the
butler/headwaiter for keeping the best wine until later. And, importantly,
this narrative detail is also supported by the Dutch text. (Of course,
since in MG the feast is not a wedding, there is no "groom" involved in
this story at all.)
And now, here's the Middle Dutch text of this story. This medieval Liege
Diatessaron is a lot better studied, compared to the Magdalene Gospel. It
is also included in the apparatus of the standard Nestle-Aland Greek
gospels. Two English translations of this gospel have been published.
I have now counted 10 special parallels between MG and the Liege. They are
numbered in the text below, and then commented upon later.
THE LIEGE DIATESSARON; the English translation as printed in D. Plooij
edition, Koninklijke Akademie Wetenschappente, Amsterdam, 1929-1970, pp.
99-103. (This monumental work can be found in most large academic
libraries, although it's not listed under "Plooij". Rather, it came out as
part of the Proceedings of the Royal Dutch Academy, vol. 31.)
One day there was a wedding feast in a city which was called Chana, in the
land of Galilee, and there was Mary, Jesus' mother. Jesus and his
disciples were also called there to the feast. (1) It happened at this
wedding that (2) there lacked wine. Then Jesus' mother spoke to him and
said, "They lack wine". And Jesus answered her, "Woman, what have I in
common with thee? Mine hour is not yet come".
[Omit an 11 line theological expansion about the right interpretation of
this remark, and about Jesus' humanity vs. his divinity.]
Then his mother spoke to those that were serving there and said, "Whatever
he says to you, do that". There stood six stone jars, which had been set
there after the manner of the Jews, (3) who used to do their purification
in such vessels. Those held as much as two or three measures. Then Jesus
said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water". And they did so, and
filled them to the brim. "Now scoop and (4) carry it to (5) the master of
the house", and they did so. And when the master of the house tasted of
the wine that had been made of water, and knew not how it had happened,
(but the servants knew it well, who had filled the jars with water), the
master of the house asked for the bridegroom and said to him thus, "Every
man is wont to give first the (6) best wine, and after that, when they
have drunk of this, he gives wine of his which is weaker. But thou has
kept thy (7) best wine until now". (8) This was one of the first (9)
miracles that Jesus did in Chana of Galilee, and there he revealed his
divine power. And (10) therewith his disciples were strengthened in the
faith. (280 words)
So here are these 10 parallels, together with some comments.
MG: And IT CAME TO PASS
LIEGE DT: It happened at this wedding
This sort of a detail is a very conventional detail as used by traditional
storytellers. It looks like this may have been quite a primitive detail.
MG: that THERE failed wine
LIEGE DT: that there lacked wine
Exact parallel in these two passages with the word "there". In his notes,
Plooij does draw attention to this MG variant. And he also supplies a
parallel for this in Ephrem the Syrian.
MG: the GOOD MAN AND ALL THE MEN WASHED FROM
LIEGE DT: the Jews, who used to do their purification
Although the parallel is not exact here, still, these two expansions seem
to be in parallel overall. The canonical version lacks any of these
MG: CARRY THEM (used twice in MG)
LIEGE DT: carry it
A pretty close parallel here with this specific word "to carry". In the
canonical version, we find "to take".
MG: THE CHIEF OF THE FEAST
LIEGE DT: the master of the house
A very important parallel. For some reason, Plooij omits this parallel
between the Liege and MG in his notes.
MG: the BEST wine
LIEGE DT: the best wine
An exact parallel here. Again, Plooij omits this parallel with MG in his
notes. And yet he comments that the Liege version of this story does not
really involve any drunkenness. (In the Liege, this seems like one of
those later encratistic/ascetic expansions that the Diatessaron is
believed to feature, as noted by numerous scholars.)
MG: the BEST wine
LIEGE DT: thy best wine
Again, an exact parallel with the word "best". Not noted by Plooij.
MG: This WAS
LIEGE DT: This was
Again, like in #1, we have a much simpler grammatical construction here
both in MG and in the Liege. Such a turn of phrase seems more primitive
than what we find in the canonical version.
Plooij does cite MG here, and also notes a number of additional parallels
with some Old Latin mss.
LIEGE DT: miracles
This parallel seems quite important (not noted by Plooij). In my view, the
more primitive version of this story didn't yet have this rather odd word
MG: BECAUSE OF THAT
LIEGE DT: therewith
This parallel is pretty close (not noted by Plooij). Such a turn of
phrase, i.e. saying that the disciples believed _because_ of the miracle,
seems quite simple and rather primitive.
In his notes, Plooij also cites plenty of other parallels between the
Liege and various ancient sources, such as versions of Ephrem's
COMMENTARY, a wide variety of gospel and Diatessaron mss, Irenaeus, the
COMMENTARY by Zacharias Chrysopolitanus, etc. To me, this indicates that
the Liege is based on a version of an Old Latin Diatessaron that had
plenty of parallels with the texts that were quite common in the Ancient
Near East. And yet, most likely, this was a more developed version of the
Old Latin Diatessaron, compared to the one which served as the basis for
the Magdalene Gospel.
MG is cited by Plooij very often indeed (perhaps hundreds of times)
throughout this whole edition of the Dutch Diatessaron. And yet, as we
have seen, he also misses plenty of still other parallels between the
Liege and MG.
These close textual parallels between MG and the Liege seem to indicate
that both texts ultimately derive from some mysterious pre-canonical
version of the Gospel of John. And the same can of course be said in
regard to the other 3 NT gospels.
Yuri Kuchinsky -=O=- http://www.trends.ca/~yuku
What are the things of long ago? Tell us, that we may
reflect on them, and know their outcome; or declare
to us the things to come -=O=- Isaiah 41:22
----- Original Message -----
From: "Yuri Kuchinsky" <yuku@...>
Sent: Friday, March 08, 2002 10:34 AM
Subject: Re: [John_Lit] water jugs
> Hello, Paul,
> The standard Greek text of course says METRHTHS DUO HE TREIS, as Jack
> Kilmon has already helpfully noted. So the question then becomes, What did
> the translator of MG have in his/her source text? Was it METRHTHS, or
> perhaps some other word?
> But of course if one accepts your suggestion that our MG translator was
> aware of a tradition that was different from the standard canonical text,
> then it's also possible that this tradition was pre-canonical. Which is
> what my argument is all about.
This is the part of your argument that bothers me the most. It is equally
possible that this tradition is post-canonical. ISTM that your tendency is
to assume early provenance if no evidence supports late provenance.
Essentially it's an argument from silence, which is by far the weakest
argument one can make.
> As to Jack's suggestion that this variant reading was merely a
> mistranslation by the medieval translator, this is undermined somewhat by
> the fact that some further details in MG story are inconsistent with this.
> Namely, the same Chapter 10 includes the following,
> "9 And Jesus told them to take them up,
> and to carry them to him who was the chief
> of the feast. 10 And they took them up,
> and carried them over."
> So this looks like the servants are carrying the jugs, themselves, over to
> "the chief of the feast", rather than just a sample of the wine, like in
> the canonical version of the story. But this is only possible if the jugs
> are quite small.
Why is it only possible if they were quite small? 1) You're assuming the
servants couldn't carry large jugs full of wine and 2) you're assuming that
each servant carried one jug. What if they had devised a carrier that could
hold multiple jugs, with extensions so that several servants could carry
them? I'm not saying it's true, mind you, merely that it's possible. Again
I think this points out the weakness of arguments from silence. If we don't
*know* how it was done, there is no warrant to *assume* certain parameters.
ISTM there is so much speculation in your arguments that I remain thoroughly
Paul Schmehl pauls@...
- On Sat, 9 Mar 2002, Paul Schmehl wrote:
> ----- Original Message -----Paul,
> From: "Yuri Kuchinsky" <yuku@...>
> To: <email@example.com>
> Sent: Friday, March 08, 2002 10:34 AM
> Subject: Re: [John_Lit] water jugs
> > Hello, Paul,
> > The standard Greek text of course says METRHTHS DUO HE TREIS, as Jack
> > Kilmon has already helpfully noted. So the question then becomes, What did
> > the translator of MG have in his/her source text? Was it METRHTHS, or
> > perhaps some other word?
> > But of course if one accepts your suggestion that our MG translator was
> > aware of a tradition that was different from the standard canonical text,
> > then it's also possible that this tradition was pre-canonical. Which is
> > what my argument is all about.
> This is the part of your argument that bothers me the most. It is
> equally possible that this tradition is post-canonical. ISTM that
> your tendency is to assume early provenance if no evidence supports
> late provenance. Essentially it's an argument from silence, which is
> by far the weakest argument one can make.
I don't agree that it's equally possible that this tradition is
post-canonical. I think that, for a number of reasons, the chances are
greater that it's pre-canonical.
> > As to Jack's suggestion that this variant reading was merely aWell, my only point here is that the smaller size of jugs in MG is
> > mistranslation by the medieval translator, this is undermined somewhat by
> > the fact that some further details in MG story are inconsistent with this.
> > Namely, the same Chapter 10 includes the following,
> > "9 And Jesus told them to take them up,
> > and to carry them to him who was the chief
> > of the feast. 10 And they took them up,
> > and carried them over."
> > So this looks like the servants are carrying the jugs, themselves, over to
> > "the chief of the feast", rather than just a sample of the wine, like in
> > the canonical version of the story. But this is only possible if the jugs
> > are quite small.
> Why is it only possible if they were quite small? 1) You're assuming
> the servants couldn't carry large jugs full of wine and 2) you're
> assuming that each servant carried one jug. What if they had devised
> a carrier that could hold multiple jugs, with extensions so that
> several servants could carry them? I'm not saying it's true, mind
> you, merely that it's possible. Again I think this points out the
> weakness of arguments from silence. If we don't *know* how it was
> done, there is no warrant to *assume* certain parameters. ISTM there
> is so much speculation in your arguments that I remain thoroughly
consistent with the rest of the story, as we find it in MG. So this
decreases the chances that this was some sort of a mistranslation by a
Of course they could have had a whole army of servants carrying such huge
jugs around, but this is not what our texts are really indicating.
Yuri Kuchinsky -=O=- http://www.trends.ca/~yuku
The goal proposed by Cynic philosophy is apathy, which is
equivalent to becoming God -=O=- Julian