Galaxy UGC1259. Hubble

The pdf file below contains the second edition of my book Classical Paganism And The Christian Ethos and supersedes previously issued extracts and editions.

The text was last revised on 17.xi.17.


Classical Paganism And The Christian Ethos
Second Edition

Image Credit:

Galaxy UGC 12591. NASA, ESA, Hubble Space telescope.

Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (P75). c. 175-225 CE. John, vv.1 ff. Vatican Library.

Nota Bene: This chapter (which is subject to revision) complements Volume I of my translation – chapters 1-4 – which was published in July 2017 (ISBN 978-1548913670). Volume II – containing chapters 5-10 – is scheduled for publication in 2018.

The text of chapter five was last revised on 16.x.17

Gospel of John: Chapter Five


Image credit: Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV (P75). c. 175-225 CE.
Gospel of John, vv.1 ff. Vatican Library


Δέησις Mosaic, Icon of Jesus, Hagia Sophia

The Way Of Jesus of Nazareth

A Question Of Hermeneutics?


As my translation of and commentary on the Gospel According To John so very slowly progresses [1] what I am (re)discovering is how different the ‘way of Jesus of Nazareth’ – as presenced in and by that particular Gospel over two thousand years ago – seems to me to be from what has so often been preached by so many and for so long regarding that religion which has become known as Christianity, dependant as such preaching so often is and has been on interpretations, and translations, of the Greek texts that form the ‘New Testament’.

What emerges from my own translation – that is, from my particular ‘interpretation of meaning’ of the Gospel According To John – is rather reminiscent of what individuals such as Julian of Norwich, George Fox, and William Penn wrote and said about Jesus and the spiritual way that the Gospels in particular revealed. This is the way of humility, of forgiveness, of love, of a personal appreciation of the divine, of the numinous; and a spiritual, interior, way somewhat different from supra-personal moralistic interpretations based on inflexible notions of ‘sin’ and thus on what is considered ‘good’ and what is considered ‘evil’.

A difference evident in many passages from the Gospel of John, such as the following two, one of which involves the Greek word πιστεύω, and which word is perhaps a relevant hermeneutical example. The conventional interpretation of meaning, in respect of New Testament texts, is ‘believe’, ‘have faith in’, so that John 3:16 is interpreted along the following lines:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (King James Bible)

Similarly in respect of other verses where πιστεύω occurs, so that the impression is of the necessity of believing, of having or acquiring faith.

Yet, and in regard to the aforementioned verse, if one interprets that particular (and another) Greek word in a more Hellenistic – a more Greek – way, then one has:

Theos so loved the world that he offered up his only begotten son so that all those trusting in him would not perish but might have life everlasting.

Not only is this personal, direct – as in personally trusting someone as opposed to a ‘blind believing’ – but there are no prior hermeneutic assumptions about ‘God’, derived as such assumptions are from over two thousand years of scriptural exegesis and preaching.

Example One. Chapter Three, 16-21


Theos so loved the world that he offered up his only begotten son so that all those trusting in him would not perish but might have life everlasting. For Theos did not dispatch his son to the world to condemn the world, but rather that the world might be rescued through him. Whosoever trusts in him is not condemned while whomsoever does not trust is condemned for he has not trusted in the Nomen of the only begotten son of Theos.

And this is the condemnation: That the Phaos arrived in the world but mortals loved the darkness more than the Phaos, for their deeds were harmful. For anyone who does what is mean dislikes the Phaos and does not come near the Phaos lest their deeds be exposed. But whomsoever practices disclosure goes to the Phaos so that their deeds might be manifest as having been done through Theos. [2]

King James Bible:

God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

Example Two. Chapter Five, 1-16


Following this, there was a Judaean feast and Jesus went to Jerusalem. And there is in Jerusalem by the place of the sheep a pool, named in the language of the Hebrews as Bethesda, which has five colonnades in which were a large number of the infirm – the blind, the limping, the withered – awaiting a change in the water since on occasion an Envoy of Theos descended into the pool, stirring the water, and whomsoever after that stirring of the water was first to enter became complete, the burden of their affliction removed.

And there was a man there who for eight and thirty years had been infirm. Jesus, seeing him lying there and knowing of that lengthy duration, said to him: “Do you seek to be complete?”

The infirm one replied: “Sir, I do not have someone who when the water is stirred could place me in that pool, and, when I go, someone else has descended before me.”

Jesus said to him: “Arise. Take your bedroll, and walk.”

And, directly, the man became complete, took up his bedroll and walked around. And it was the day of the Sabbath.

Thus did the Judaeans say to the one who had been treated: “It is the Sabbath and it is not permitted for you to carry your bedroll.”

To them he answered: “It was he who made me complete who said for me to take my bedroll and to walk around.”

So they asked him: “Who is the man who said for you to take the bedroll and walk?”

But the healed one did not know, for there was a crowd there with Jesus having betaken himself away.

Following this, Jesus discovered him in the temple and said to him: “Behold, you are complete. No more missteps, lest something worse befalls you.”

The man then went away and informed the Judaeans that it was Jesus who had made him complete, and thus did the Judaeans harass Jesus because he was doing such things on the Sabbath. [3][4]

King James Bible:

After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee. The man departed, and told the Jews that it was Jesus, which had made him whole.

And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.


The first example seems to me to be revealing of the personal nature of the ‘way of Jesus of Nazareth’ – of a personal trust in a particular person, in this instance a trust in Jesus because of how he and his life are recounted by the Evangelist – contrasting with a rather impersonal demand to believe, to have faith, based on doctrine as codified by someone else or by some organized regulatory and supra-local hierarchy.

The second example seems to me to be revealing of the contrast between the then organized supra-personal religion of the Judaeans – with its doctrinal forbiddance, sometimes on pain of death, of certain personal deeds – and the empathy and compassion of an individual, as evident in Jesus in the immediacy of the moment healing a long-suffering infirm man and bidding him to take up and carry his bedroll, undoubtedly aware as Jesus was that he was doing and inciting what was forbidden because for him empathy and compassion were more important than some established doctrine.

Is this contrast between what seems to be a particular dogmatism, a particular religious (hubriatic) intolerance by the Judaeans, and an individual being empathic and compassionate in the immediacy of the moment, still relevant today? Personally, I do believe it is, leading me to conclude that τὸ κατὰ Ἰωάννην εὐαγγέλιον – The Gospel According To John – contains certain truths not only about our physis as human beings but also about our relation to Being, to the divine, to the numinous. For, as described in tractate III of the Corpus Hermeticum,

The numen of all beings is theos: numinal, and of numinal physis. The origin of what exists is theos, who is Perceiveration and Physis and Substance: the sapientia which is a revealing of all beings. For the numinal is the origin: physis, vigour, incumbency, accomplishment, renewance […]

The divine is all of that mixion: renewance of the cosmic order through Physis, for Physis is presenced in the divine. [5]

David Myatt
October 2017



[1] Volume I (chapters 1-4) of my translation of and commentary on the Gospel According To John was published in July 2017 (ISBN 978-1548913670) with volume II (chapters 5-10) scheduled for publication in 2018.

A version in html – including chapter 5 and >, which is subject to revision and updated as and when new verses and the associated commentary are available – is (as of October 2017) at

[2] A (slightly edited) extract from my commentary on John 3:16-21.

° Nomos. νόμος. A transliteration since as with ‘logos’ a particular metaphysical principle is implied and one which requires contextual interpretation; a sense somewhat lost if the English word ‘law’ is used especially given what the word ‘law’ often now imputes.

° Phaos. Given that φάος metaphorically (qv. Iliad, Odyssey, Hesiod, etcetera) implies the being, the life, ‘the spark’, of mortals, and, generally, either (i) the illumination, the light, that arises because of the Sun and distinguishes the day from the night, or (ii) any brightness that provides illumination and thus enables things to be seen, I am inclined to avoid the vague English word ‘light’ which all other translations use and which, as in the case of God, has, in the context of the evangel of Jesus of Nazareth, acquired particular meanings mostly as a result of centuries of exegesis and which therefore conveys or might convey something that the Greek word, as used by the author of this particular Greek text, might not have done.

Hence my transliteration – using the Homeric φάος instead of φῶς – and which transliteration requires the reader to pause and consider what phaos may, or may not, mean, suggest, or imply. As in the matter of logos, it is most probably not some sort of philosophical principle, neo-Platonist or otherwise.

Interestingly, φῶς occurs in conjunction with ζωή and θεὸς and ἐγένετο and Ἄνθρωπος in the Corpus Hermeticum, thus echoing the evangel of John:

φῶς καὶ ζωή ἐστιν ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατήρ͵ ἐξ οὗ ἐγένετο ὁ Ἄνθρωπος (Poemandres, 1.21)

Life and phaos are [both] of Theos, The Father, Who brought human beings into existence

° For their deeds were harmful. ἦν γὰρ αὐτῶν πονηρὰ τὰ ἔργα. Harmful: that is, caused pain and suffering. To impute to πονηρός here the meaning of a moral abstract ‘evil’ is, in my view, mistaken. Similarly with the following φαῦλος in v.20 which imparts the sense of being ‘mean’, indifferent.

Since the Phaos is Jesus, those who are mean, those who do harm, avoid Jesus because (qv. 2.25) he – as the only begotten son of Theos – knows the person within and all their deeds. Thus, fearing being exposed, they avoid him, and thus cannot put their trust in him and so are condemned and therefore lose the opportunity of eternal life.

° whomsoever practices disclosure. ὁ δὲ ποιῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν. Literally, ‘they practising the disclosing.’ That is, those who disclose – who do not hide – who they are and what deeds they have done, and who thus have no reason to fear exposure. Here, as in vv.19-20, the meaning is personal – about the character of people – and not about abstractions such as “evil” and “truth”, just as in previous verses it is about trusting in the character of Jesus. Hence why here ἀλήθεια is ‘sincerity’, a disclosing, a revealing – the opposite of lying and of being deceitful – and not some impersonal ‘truth’.

[3] Note how Jesus does not disapprovingly preach about – does not even mention – the apparently superstitious practice of infirm individuals waiting by a ‘miraculous’ pool in order to be cured.

[4] A (slightly edited) extract from my commentary on John 5:1-16.

° the place of the sheep. Since the Greek προβατικός means “of or relating to sheep” and there is no mention of a ‘gate’ (or of anything specific such as a market) I prefer a more literal translation. It is a reasonable assumption that the sheep were, and had in previous times been, kept there prior to being offered as sacrifices, as for example sheep are still so held in particular places in Mecca during Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast of sacrifice.

° named in the language of the Hebrews. ἐπιλεγομένη Ἑβραϊστὶ.

° the infirm. The Greek word ἀσθενέω implies those lacking normal physical strength.

° awaiting a change in the water. Reading ἐκδεχομένων τὴν τοῦ ὕδατος κίνησιν with the Textus Receptus, omitted by NA28, but included in ASV, Tyndale, and Wycliffe.

° Envoy of Theos. Reading άγγελος γάρ κυρίου κατά καιρών κατέβαινεν (qv. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, Book II, V, 1-4, Migne Patrologia Graeca 73) and ἐν τῇ κολυμβήθρᾳ, καὶ ἐτάρασσεν τὸ ὕδωρ· ὁ οὖν πρῶτος ἐμβὰς μετὰ τὴν ταραχὴν τοῦ ὕδατος, ὑγιὴς ἐγίνετο, ᾧ δήποτε κατειχετο νοσήματι with the Textus Receptus. The verse is omitted by NA28, but included in ASV, Tyndale, and Wycliffe.

a) envoy. As noted in the commentary on 1:51, interpreting ἄγγελος as ‘envoy’ (of theos) and not as ‘angel’, particularly given the much later Christian iconography associated with the term ‘angel’.

b) Theos. Regarding άγγελος γάρ κυρίου, qv. Matthew 28.2 ἄγγελος γὰρ κυρίου καταβὰς ἐξ οὐρανοῦ, “an envoy of [the] Lord/Master descended from Empyrean/the heavens.” Since here κύριος implies Theos (cf. John 20.28 where it is used in reference to Jesus), an interpretation such as “envoy of Theos” avoids both the phrase “envoy of the Master” – which is unsuitable given the modern connotations of the word ‘master’ – and the exegetical phrase “angel/envoy of the Lord” with all its associated and much later iconography both literal, by means of Art, and figurative, in terms of one’s imagination. An alternative expression would be “envoy of the Domine,” with Domine (from the Latin Dominus) used in English as both a respectful form of address and as signifying the authority of the person or a deity.

c) became complete. ὑγιὴς ἐγίνετο. The suggestion is of the person becoming ‘whole’, complete, sanus, and thus ceasing to be ‘broken’, incomplete, infirm.

° bedroll. κράβαττος (Latin, grabatus) has no suitable equivalent in English since in context it refers to the portable bed and bedding of the infirm. The nearest English approximation is bedroll.

° And, directly, the man became complete. καὶ εὐθέως ἐγένετο ὑγιὴς ὁ ἄνθρωπος. Metaphysically, the Evangelist is implying that ‘completeness’ – wholeness – for both the healthy and the infirm (whether infirm because of sickness or a physical infirmity) arises because of and through Jesus.

° treated. Taking the literal sense of θεραπεύω here. Hence: cared for, treated, attended to. As a healer or a physician might care for, treat, or attend to, someone.

° no more missteps. μηκέτι ἁμάρτανε. That is, make no more mistakes in judgement or in deeds. Qv. the Introduction [to Volume I of the translation] regarding translating ἁμαρτία in a theologically neutral way as ‘mistake’ or ‘error’ instead of by the now exegetical English word ‘sin’. Cf. 1.29, 8.7, et seq.

° Judaeans. Qv. my essay A Note On The Term Jews In The Gospel of John, available at

° harass. διώκω. Cf. the Latin persequor, for the implication is of continually ‘following’ and pursuing him in order to not only try and worry or distress him but also (as becomes evident) to find what they regard is evidence against him in order to have him killed, qv. 5.18, 7.1, 7.19 et seq.

[5] Ιερός Λόγος: An Esoteric Mythos. Included in: David Myatt, Corpus Hermeticum: Eight Tractates: Translation and Commentary, 2017. ISBN 978-1976452369

Image credit: Icon of Jesus, Δέησις Mosaic, Hagia Sophia

Botticelli - Madonna del Magnificat

The first volume of a projected series of five volumes of my translation of and commentary on the Gospel Of John is now available in print.

The Gospel According To John: A Translation And Commentary – Volume I

Chapters 1-4

ISBN-13: 978-1548913670
BISAC: Religion / Biblical Criticism & Interpretation / New Testament

Image credit: Botticelli: Madonna del Magnificat
(from the 1481 painting now in Uffizi, Florence)

John the Evangelist: Folio 209v of the Lindisfarne Gospels


On Minutiae And The Art Of  Revision

Over forty years ago, many hours on many days on many months were spent in the library of a monastery reading many books that I now only vaguely recollect. But one of those which does still linger in memory was a work by John Chrysostom concerning the Gospel of John [1], homilies given toward the end of the fourth century Anno Domini, probably in Antioch, and over one and half thousand years before I sat down in a religious environment to read them. This continuity of religious tradition, of language, resonated with me then in a pleasing way as did the scholarly minutiae, sparsely scattered among the preaching, in which he explained some matters such as the use of the definite article in the phrase – from verse 1 of chapter one of the Gospel –  θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, Theos was the Logos.

Such minutiae make the process of translation – at least for me and in respect of the Gospel of John – somewhat slow, partly because they can change the meaning; or rather, provide a possible alternative interpretation as is the case in the matter of θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος. Why, for example, is θεὸς here not ὁ θεὸς (pedantically, the Theos/the God) as at verse 24 of chapter four, πνεῦμα ὁ θεός? Which apparently pedantic question formed part of a somewhat acrimonious theological dispute before, during, and after the time of John Chrysostom; a dispute centred around a possible distinction between (i) The God and (ii) God, father of Jesus, and thus whether Jesus was, like The God, eternally-living. Those who affirmed such a distinction, and who thus came to believe that both Jesus and the πνεύματος ἁγίου (the Holy Spirit) were not equal to The God, were termed ‘Arians’ (after the Alexandrian priest Arius) and were repeatedly condemned as heretics.

In respect of certain words or phrases it is, as so often, a personal choice between following what has become or is regarded as the scholarly consensus or undertaking one’s own research and possibly arriving at a particular, always disputable, interpretation. Such research takes time – days, weeks, months, sometimes longer – and may lead one to revise one’s own particular interpretation, as occurred recently in respect of my interpretation of θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος, which initially and in respect of grammar was a minority one (qv. Jean Daillé) of The Logos was Theos rather than the conventional Theos [God] was the Logos [Word].

In the matter of θεὸς and ὁ θεὸς the current consensus is that there is in the Gospel of John no distinction between them. However, the arguments used to support this – from Chrysostom on – are theological and devolve around the use of such terms by John, by other Evangelists, by early Christians such as Paul of Tarsus, and even by the authors of LXX. That is, arguments are made regarding, for example, why the Evangelist wrote ὁ λόγος (the logos) rather than just λόγος: because, it is argued, to distinguish Jesus (identified as the logos) from everyone else. In addition, the Evangelist, and thus his Gospel, are often considered to be divinely-inspired – guided by the Holy Spirit, with the Evangelist thus aware of τὰ βάθη τοῦ θεοῦ [2] – so that there are in that Gospel, as in the others, meanings beyond what an ordinary person might express in Hellenistic Greek.

Over forty years ago I, subsequent to some doubts, accepted such theological arguments and therefore had little interest – beyond disputations concerning the actual meaning of words such as λόγος in classical and Hellenistic Greek – in further questioning the accuracy of conventional interpretations of the Gospel of John such as that of the Douay–Rheims version.

            Now, as someone with a rather paganus weltanschauung, brought-into-being by πάθει μάθος, but respectful still of other manifestations of the numinous, I strive to understand that Gospel in the cultural milieu of the ancient Roman Empire and thus as a work, written in Hellenistic Greek, by a man who either had known Jesus and participated in his life, or who had known and was close to someone who did. That is, I approach the text as I did the tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum and the extant writings of Sophocles and Aeschylus; as an original work, possibly a self-contained one, where the author conveys something derived from their knowledge, learning, and personal experience, and where the meanings of certain words or passages may sometimes be explained or placed into context by comparison with other authors writing in the same language in the same or in a similar cultural milieu.

Thus, when I consider a phrase such as πνεῦμα ὁ θεός I wonder about the meaning of πνεῦμα, of θεός, and of ὁ θεός, not in terms of later explanations – in this instance ‘the Holy Spirit’, God, the God – and not in terms of assuming the author is learned concerning and referring to or quoting or paraphrasing texts such as LXX, but rather as terms, ideas, germane to the world, the place, in which the author lived. Understood thus, θεός is just theos; πνεῦμα is just pneuma or ‘spiritus’; with words such as those and other words such as λόγος possibly becoming explained or placed into context by the narrator as the narrative proceeds.

In the matter of my interpretation of the Gospel of John, revision is therefore inevitable as I proceed, slowly, hopefully studiously, from verse to verse and from chapter to chapter, for I really have no preconceptions about what such slow studious progress will or might reveal about what has already been interpreted (or misinterpreted) by me, especially as minutiae can take one on various detours, and which detours sometimes cause one to travel far away from the Judaea that existed when Pontius Pilate was Praefectus of that Roman province.

David Myatt
July 2017

[1] Homiliae in Ioannem, volume 59 of the Migne Patrologia Graeca series.

[2] “The profundities of Theos.” First Epistle To The Corinthians, 2.10. Wycliffe, and the King James Bible: “The deep things of God.”

Image credit: John the Evangelist: Folio 209v of the Lindisfarne Gospels
British Library Cotton MS Nero D.IV

John the Evangelist: Folio 209v of the Lindisfarne Gospels
A Note On The Term Jews In The Gospel of John

In the past century or so there has been much discussion about the term ‘the Jews’ in standard English translations of the Gospel of John and thus whether or not the Gospel portrays Jews in a negative way given such words about them as the following, from the translation known as the Douay-Rheims Bible:

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in the truth; because truth is not in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof. (8.44)

In the Gospel of John the term οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι first occurs in verse 19 of chapter one:

ὅτε ἀπέστειλαν πρὸς αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἐξ Ἱεροσολύμων ἱερεῖς καὶ Λευίτας ἵνα ἐρωτήσωσιν αὐτόν

In the Douay-Rheims Bible this is translated as: “when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to him.” In the King James Bible: “when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him.”

In my translation of John – a work in progress [1] – I translated as: “when the Judaeans dispatched priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him.”

For, after much consideration, I chose – perhaps controversially – to translate ἰουδαία by Judaeans, given (i) that the English terms Jews and Jewish (deriving from the 13th/14th century words gyv/gyw and Iewe) have acquired connotations (modern and medieval) which are not relevant to the period under consideration; and (ii) that the Greek term derives from a place name, Judaea (as does the Latin iudaeus); and (iii) that the Anglo-Saxon version (ASV) retains the sense of the Greek: here (iudeas) as elsewhere, as for example at 2.6, æfter iudea geclensunge, “according to Judaean cleansing.”

Such a translation not only dispenses with the “portraying Jews in a negative way” discussion but also reveals a consistent narrative, with the Evangelist not writing that “the Jews” saught to kill Jesus, but only that some Judaeans desired to do so. In addition, as the story of the Samarian (Samaritan) woman in chapter 4 makes clear, it places into perspective the difference between Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee, and why the Evangelist narrates that it was “necessary” for Jesus to pass through Samaria on the way to Galilee, Ἔδει δὲ αὐτὸν διέρχεσθαι διὰ τῆς Σαμαρείας.

Given what follows (chapter 4 vv.9-10) this suggests a certain historical antipathy between the people of Judaea and the people of Samaria even though the Samarians – as is apparent from the Gospel – shared many, but not all, of the religious traditions of the Judaeans, as did most of the people of Galilee, including Jesus. Since the Evangelist specifically writes that it was Judaeans who saught to kill Jesus (5.18; 7.1; 7.19 et seq) it seems as if the antipathy by Judaeans to Jesus of Nazareth in particular and to Samarians in general – with the Evangelist stating that Judaeans would not share or make use of (συγχράομαι) Samarian things – arose from Judaeans in general believing that their religious practices based on their particular interpretation of the religion of Moses and the Prophets were correct and that they themselves as a result were ‘righteous’ – better than Samarians – with Jesus the Galilean considered by many Judaeans, and certainly by the priestly authorities, as having committed (qv. 10.33) ‘blasphemy’ (βλασφημία) and thus should be killed.

Such differing religious traditions, such internecine feuds, such religious fanaticism and intolerance on behalf of some Judaeans – an intolerance exemplified also when (qv. 10.22) one of the guards of Caiaphas the High Priest (Καιάφαν τὸν ἀρχιερέα) physically assaults Jesus for not showing the High Priest “due deference” – exemplifies why in this Gospel ἰουδαία should be translated not by the conventional term ‘Jews’ but rather by Judaeans.


In respect of the term ἰουδαία, it is interesting to consider two writings by Flavius Josephus, and one by Cassius Dio Cocceianus (dating from c.230 CE). The two works by Josephus are conventionally entitled ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ (c. 93 CE) and ‘The Jewish Wars’ (c. 75 CE) although I incline toward the view that such titles are incorrect and that the former – entitled in Greek, Ιουδαικης αρχαιολογιας – should be ‘Judaean Antiquities’, while the latter – entitled in Greek, Ἱστορία Ἰουδαϊκοῦ πολέμου πρὸς Ῥωμαίου – should be ‘History of the Conflict Between Judaeans and Romaeans’, and this because of how Josephus, in those works, describes himself and that conflict.

Ιουδαικης αρχαιολογιας

In this work Josephus wrote:

1.4 τούτων δὴ τῶν προειρημένων αἰτιῶν αἱ τελευταῖαι δύο κἀμοὶ συμβεβήκασι· τὸν μὲν γὰρ πρὸς τοὺς Ῥωμαίους πόλεμον ἡμῖν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις γενόμενον […]

1.5 διάταξιν τοῦ πολιτεύματος ἐκ τῶν Ἑβραϊκῶν μεθηρμηνευμένην γραμμάτων […]

1.6 δηλῶσαι τίνες ὄντες ἐξ ἀρχῆς Ἰουδαῖοι

a) 1.4. τὸν μὲν γὰρ πρὸς τοὺς Ῥωμαίους πόλεμον ἡμῖν τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις γενόμενον, “how that conflict between Romaeans and we Judaeans came about.”

To be pedantic, Ῥωμαίους – Romaeans – implies those “of Rome”. That is, the word suggests those associated with a particular place, as does the term Judaeans. Which association of people with a particular place or region is historically germane.

b) 1.5. διάταξιν τοῦ πολιτεύματος τῶν Ἑβραϊκῶν μεθηρμηνευμένην γραμμάτων, “the decrees of our civitatium as expounded in the writings of the Hebrews.” Less literally, “the laws of our communities as expounded in the writings of the Hebrews.”

Thus he does not write about the “Jewish scriptures” or about “the scriptures of the Jews”, even though the consensus is that γραφῇ here – as throughout the New Testament – has the meaning ‘scripture’ rather than its normal sense of ‘that which is written’, with the English word ‘scripture’ (usually written with a capital S) having the specific meaning “the writings of the Old and/or of the New Testament”. However, this specific meaning only dates back to c.1300 and was used by Wycliffe in his 1389 translation, from whence, via Tyndale, it was used in the King James version. Prior to 1300, the ASV has gewrite – ‘what was written’, writing, inscription – with the Latin of Jerome having scripturae, as does Codex Palatinus of the earlier Vetus Latina. [2]  Classically understood, the Latin has the same meaning as the Greek γραφῇ: writing, something written, an inscription. [3]

c) 1.6 δηλῶσαι τίνες ὄντες ἐξ ἀρχῆς Ἰουδαῖοι, “to make known how Judaeans came about.”

Ἱστορία Ἰουδαϊκοῦ πολέμου πρὸς Ῥωμαίου

In the Προοίμιον of this book Josephus wrote:

a) Ἰώσηπος Ματθίου παῖς ἐξ Ἱεροσολύμων ἱερεύς

That is, Josephus describes himself as “the son of Matthias, a priest, from Jerusalem.”  He does not write that he is “Jewish” and nor does he write that he is from Judaea.

b) σχεδὸν δὲ καὶ ὧν ἀκοῇ παρειλήφαμεν ἢ πόλεων πρὸς πόλεις ἢ ἐθνῶν ἔθνεσι συρραγέντων.

A conventional translation would have πόλις as ‘city’ and ἔθνος as ‘nation’ so that the latter part would conventionally be translated along the following lines: “cities would have fought against cities, or nations against nations.”

However, the terms ‘nation’ and ‘city’ are or can be misleading, given their modern connotations, whereas a historical approximation for ἔθνος would be ‘tribe’, ‘people’, or ‘community’, and for πόλις – understood here as referring to a particular named place with a history of settlement – town, fortified town, burg, borough, municipality. Such choices would produce a translation such as: “municipality would have fought municipality, community with community.” The evocation is thus more parochial, more regional, as befits the historical past and the context: here, an insurrection, a conflict between the people of Judaea and the armed forces commanded by Roman citizens (those “of Rome”) duly appointed to positions of power.

Regarding The Term Ἰουδαικός

While the term is conventionally cited as meaning Jewish – although LSJ provides no sources, with the English words ‘Jew’ and ‘Jewish’ not existing until the 13th/14th century CE – the sense of the term in Ῥωμαϊκὴ Ἱστορία by Cassius Dio Cocceianus (for example, 67.14.2, 68.1.2) is Judaean, referring to the people of Judaea and their customs and way of life, Ἰουδαϊκοῦ βίου, τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἤθη:

ὑφ᾽ ἧς καὶ ἄλλοι ἐς τὰ τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἤθη ἐξοκέλλοντες πολλοὶ κατεδικάσθησαν καὶ οἱ μὲν ἀπέθανον οἱ δὲ τῶν γοῦν οὐσιῶν ἐστερήθησαν (67.14.2)



As noted in the Preface to my translation of The Gospel of John, I have endeavoured to avoid reading into the text the meanings that some of the English words conventionally used in other translations – and given in lexicons – may now suggest, or do suggest often as a result of over a thousand years of exegesis. In the matter of ἰουδαία the translation by the relatively recent term ‘Jews’ has suggested meanings which, at least in my fallible opinion, are irrelevant to the milieu of the Gospels and which thus distorts, or which can distort, the narrative of the Gospel of John.

David Myatt
July 2017

This article is based on, and includes quotations from, my commentary on John 1.19, 2.22, 4.4, et seq.

[1] As of July 2017, the translation of and a commentary on chapters one to four of The Gospel of John have been completed, which partial translation and commentary is available at:

[2] For context, the verse in the Latin version of Jerome is: cum ergo resurrexisset a mortuis recordati sunt discipuli eius quia hoc dicebat et crediderunt scripturae et sermoni quem dixit iesus.

The Latin of Codex Palatinus, Vetus Latina: Cum ergo resurrexit a mortuis commonefacti sunt discipuli eius quoniam hoc dicebat et crediderunt scripturae et sermoni quem dixit IHS.

The Latin of Codex Brixianusis, Vetus Latina: cum ergo resurre xisset a mortuis recordati sunt discipuli eius quia hoc dixerat et crediderunt scribturae et sermoni quem dixit IHS.

[3] Qv. Tacitus: “non diurna actorum scriptura reperio ullo insigni officio functam.” Annals, Book III, 3.

Image credit: John the Evangelist: Folio 209v of the Lindisfarne Gospels
British Library Cotton MS Nero D.IV


Extract from the ἐπίλογος of my forthcoming translation of the Gospel Of John.

A Question Of Interpretation

Vernacular translations are, by the nature of translation, interpretations, with the history of vernacular translations of the Bible – and especially of the Gospels – revealing how such interpretations could be used to support schisms; for example, in the case of Wycliffe’s English, the Lollards, and in the case of Luther’s German, the Protestant reformation. In addition, some translations enriched the vernacular language itself, as for example, the translations of Tyndale and the King James Bible did in respect of English.

My own interpretation of the Gospel of John is not intended to be schismatic but rather to be unfamiliar, with such unfamiliarity hopefully betaking some readers to the unfamiliar milieu of an ancient Judaea governed as it was by Rome and abode as it was of those Judaeans who believed in a Messias/Messiah, with it being written in the first chapter of the Gospel of John that in, reference to Jesus, Andrew – the brother of Simon Peter – announced: εὑρήκαμεν τὸν Μεσσίαν (we have found the Messias).

My interpretation is intended to be unfamiliar for several reasons. Firstly, because the Gospels were written in Hellenistic (Koine, κοινὴ) Greek, with the author of the Gospel of John by including colloquial Greek sayings and offering explanations for some particular terms [1] indicating that his intended or actual audience – those reading or hearing his Gospel in late first century and early second century CE – were most probably native speakers of Hellenistic Greek or at least quite familiar with that language.

Intended to be unfamiliar secondly because the standard English versions of the Gospel of John – and English versions of the other Gospels – have become so familiar to so many people in the West over so many centuries that certain words and terms have acquired particular meanings, with those meanings and certain passages – via iconography, exegesis, and preaching – assuming archetypal status. Hence, and to provide just some examples, our assumptions about God (theos), about ‘angels’ (τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ θεοῦ), about Heaven (οὐρανός), about sin (ἁμαρτία) and about ‘the Holy Spirit’ (τὸ πνεῦμα).

An interpretation intended to be unfamiliar, thirdly, because the Gospels were written at a time when Christianity was, in the lands of the Roman Empire, one small religious sect among many others and had yet to develope a standardized doctrinal theology or a centralized ecclesiastical authority, with the Gospel of John not providing any theological explanation of what is meant by theos, by τοὺς ἀγγέλους τοῦ θεοῦ, by οὐρανός, by ἁμαρτία, by τὸ πνεῦμα, and by many other terms. Thus, there is a natural tendency for us to project medieval, Renaissance, and modern meanings onto such terms with the inevitable consequence of us assuming that we understand the message of the Evangelist and thus comprehend at least something of Christianity itself.

In contrast, what are we to make of such translated passages as the following:

I beheld the Spiritus as a dove descend from Empyrean and remain there with him. (1.32)

It was He who sent me to baptize in water, saying to me: ‘Upon whosoever you behold the Spiritus descend and remain there with, is the same one who baptizes in Halig Spiritus.’ (1.33)

Having spoken to you of earthly things and you lack trust, how can you trust if I speak of things caelestien? (3.12)

And this is the condemnation: That the Phaos arrived in the world but mortals loved the darkness more than the Phaos, for their deeds were harmful. (3.19)

Are we betaken to an unfamiliar milieu where, having read or listened to the evangel attributed to John from familiar translations, we believe we may know something about such things as Heaven (οὐρανός, Empyrean) and the Spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα, the Spiritus) but now may have some doubts about their meaning and doubts about how they may relate to the Light (φῶς, Phaos) and thus to a man named Jesus? Are such doubts relevant or perhaps even necessary given that the emphasis in the Gospel seems to be on individuals trusting in the person of Jesus after they had accepted that the narrated signs (σημεῖᾰ) – such as the Passion, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and his Ascension – indicate that he may well be the only begotten Son of Theos so that, by trusting in him, we have the opportunity of life everlasting?

Such were some of the questions I pondered when a Christian monk, and my fallible interpretation of the Gospel of John, founded on some forty years of reflection and study, is my fallible attempt to find some answers.

David Myatt

[1] Qv. my comments on 1.42 and 1.51.

Image credit: folio from the William Tyndale English translation of the Gospel of John, printed in 1526 ce