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Odd Gospel Greek: a few notes on Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ

March 31, 2013

Below are a few notes on Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ and other Greek phrases in the 20th chapter of the gospel of John.  The KJV is given [with a few, sometimes odd gospel Greek phrases interpolated].  The notes follow that.


1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene [ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ] early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.

Then she runneth [Τρέχει], and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.

Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.

So they ran [Ἔτρεχον] both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.

Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,

And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.

For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.

10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping [κλαίουσα]: and as she wept [εκλαιεν], she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,

12 And seeth two angels [ἀγγέλους] in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou [Γύναι, τί κλαίεις;]? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord [τὸν κύριόν μου], and I know not where they have laid him.

14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back [ἐστράφη], and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou [Γύναι, τί κλαίεις;]? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener [ὁ κηπουρός], saith unto him, Sir [Κύριε], if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself [Στραφεῖσα], and saith unto him, Rabboni which is to say, Master [Ἑβραϊστί Ραββουνι ὃ λέγεται, Διδάσκαλε].

17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not [Μή μου ἅπτου]; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go [πορεύου] to my brethren [τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου], and say [εἰπὲ] unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God [τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν, καὶ θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν].

18 Mary Magdalene came and told [ἀπαγγέλλουσα] the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her [ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῇ.].

19 Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you.

20 And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord.

21 Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost:

23 Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.

25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.

27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.

28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.

29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

30 And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book:

31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

1 Magdalene [ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ] – The first time the gospel uses this proper-noun phrase to identify this particular Miriam is just a few sentences earlier, when there is the scene of a few named women around the cross of Joshua.  Readers of this non-synoptic gospel (without the syn-optics) would not necessarily know anything about her prior to this mention.

2 she runneth [Τρέχει] – This is the first instance in the whole gospel of anybody running.   She gets the two men she is talking with running (see v. 4 – they ran [Ἔτρεχον])

11 weeping [κλαίουσα]: and as she wept [εκλαιεν] – Another Miriam, the sister of Lazarus, wept in grief at his tomb in an earlier passage, perhaps a foreshadowing of what this particular Miriam would do around the tomb of Joshua.

12 angels [ἀγγέλους] – These two messengers are seen, not by the two disciples earlier when they peer in the tomb, but rather by this Miriam.  She does the angelic message delivery to these men a bit later, so the Greek noun here and verb there [v 18] may be significant.

13a Woman, why weepest thou [Γύναι, τί κλαίεις;]? – This term for the woman is the one that Joshua uses for his mother Miriam, when he beholds her from the cross.  Joshua does not use a gendered counterpart phrase [such as Ἀνήρ] when directly addressing the man with his mother standing by the cross.  Why there is a marked term for women directly addressed is not clear. Joshua does verbatim repeat the angels’ vocative address to Miriam of Magdala in v 15.

13b my Lord [τὸν κύριόν μου] – Miriam refers to Joshua with the possessive pronoun, somewhat differently than when she addresses him directly as a stranger in v15 as Sir [Κύριε] .

14 she turned herself back [ἐστράφη] – The repeated action of turning herself shows agency and responsiveness to the angels, to Joshua in v16, and to their respective messages.

15 the gardener [ὁ κηπουρός] – Miriam’s mistake is reasonable given the context, the location of the tomb in a garden presumably and the first day of the work week.  However, the gospel writer’s Greek is odd.  This is a hapax legomenon, the only use of this word in all of the NT or the LXX.  Readers may want to read Plato’s dialogue Minos [316e] where he has his Socrates some explicate gardeners’ laws, κηπουρικοὶ νόμοι.  Is the gospel’s rare word here somehow alluding to this?  Would a gardener be inclined to move a corpse as is suggested by Miriam’s address here to Joshua?  How would a woman know this work of men?  Is the writer just showing how the woman is merely speculating about the work or the action of the supposed gardener?  Notice how she offers to remove the body if only this stranger allegedly supposedly having laid it somewhere would just tell her where it is.

15 Sir [Κύριε] – This is the address to the stranger. It is in contrast to Miriam’s more personal reference concerning Joshua, my Lord [τὸν κύριόν μου], in v13 when answering the angels about him.

16a She turned herself [Στραφεῖσα] – The repeated action of turning herself shows agency and responsiveness to the angels in v14, to Joshua in v16, and to their respective messages.

16b Rabboni which is to say, Master [Ἑβραϊστί Ραββουνι ὃ λέγεται, Διδάσκαλε] – Much secondary literature has offered copious commentary on this phrase.  The KJV translators were working from MSs that lacked  Ἑβραϊστί, which is a Johnnine term for a Hebraic language (whether Hebrew or Aramaic can’t be determined just by the Greekish word here).   Ραββουνι  is likely Greek-lettered Aramaic, an attempt to sound out what Miriam uttered in surprise.  The Greek translation is given as Διδάσκαλε, which suggests a trainer in a school, a disciplined educator, in Greek contexts.  The Hebraic and the Hellene terms are not literally or even dynamically equivalent.  In the gospel of John, the other uses of the Greek term in the vocative perhaps only coincidentally have it associated respectively with some rabbinic rendering and with the context of judging a woman:  Jn 1:38 and Jn 8:4.

The point the gospel narrative makes here is that a woman, this woman, sees herself as a disciple, a talmid, of this man, this rabbi.


Touch me not [Μή μου ἅπτου] – Of course the response from Joshua suggests that Miriam has been touching him or at the very least seems about to touch him.  The very strange thing is that later on he invites the men to touch him even before his ascencion, which is the reason he gives to the woman to prohibit her touching him.

go [πορεύου] / say [εἰπὲ] – The woman is the first to be sent, the first evangelist, the first apostle.

to my brethren [τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου] – This sister is to evangelize the brothers.

my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God [τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν, καὶ θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν]. – The KJV English cannot show the plurality of the pronoun ὑμῶν, which makes clear in Greek that Joshua is equating his Father, his God, with the Father and God of all the sisters and all of the brothers.  The odd thing about the Greek language here is how it is a personal, anthropomorphic, familial universal identification with a god.


told [ἀπαγγέλλουσα] – The Greek verb here can be transliterated ap-angel-lousa, and implicitly it shows that the woman is functioning exactly as any angel would, to and for the men.  She is the first to see the resurrected man and to tell the others about him.

he had spoken these things unto her [ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῇ].  –  Joshua not only shows himself to this woman, making her the first witness, but he also speaks things to her, and her testimony to the others, to the male disciples, to the brothers, is how the good news is broken to them.

19 – 31

The woman disappears from the narrative at this point.  No woman is included in the story through the rest of the gospel, which continues on beyond v31.  The woman is not required to believe, as the men are; Joshua draws no attention to her belief or unbelief as he does to that of the men.  The inference is that the woman’s witness and testimony to what she’s seen, touched, and heard has fallen flat on the men.  The last verse, v31, seems to be directed at male readers.  Even if it is more universal, a message of the need to believe for not only men but also for women readers, the Greek text here centers this woman, Miriam of Magdala, at the end of the story, as a key figure.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2013 7:50 pm

    Interesting. Let me pose to you this question: how certain are you that your interpretation of this Greek (in your commentary above) is correct. I know that others have read this chapter differently; do you believe your reading is the only consistent reading, or would you say that other readings are also possible?

  2. April 4, 2013 9:02 am

    I’m absolutely certain that you are correct to ask me, and all of us for that matter, to consider the majority studied interpretations. Please know that I’m being sincere when answering in this way. You’ve pointed to no specific point of difference between my reading and others’ so let me. Many for example, by a “feminist” interpretation (some might say), have seen gospel endings such as this one as showing how the first apostles and first Christian evangelists are women. I don’t know of anybody who has pointed to the Johannine verb ἀπαγγέλλουσα as meaning or even suggesting this. I do think Greek readers may (even subconsciously) have cause to see this word as foreshadowed by the noun ἀγγέλους. There has been a lot of ink spilled over angels, with many many various and differing interpretations about who and what these are. It’s an LXX phrase for translating a set of Hebrew Bible phrases. What does that have to do with this story or that person, a woman no less, and her rhetoric that fails to persuade, to convince, men?


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