There has been much speculation on the identity of "[T]he
disciple he [Jesus] loved...." This is the person who claims to
be the witness who wrote the Gospel of John. This paper is an
unsolicited speculation on the identity of that person.
It is my assertion that this person was in fact a woman,
namely Mary Magdalene. There are several assumptions I have made
which I will delineate to show my reasoning.
One should first look at the time in which the Gospels, Synoptic and otherwise, were
written, as they weren't written while Jesus was alive. Women
were definitely second-class citizenry, and often weren't
considered independent people unless they were widows who
had inherited enough money to make them a force to reckon
with. It would be acceptable (barely) for Jesus to witness to women, and even to have women
However, to have one of Jesus' chosen not be male might be an
uncomfortable thing for most Christians of the time. To top that
problem off, Mary Magdalene apparently wasn't a widow, and was
thus of questionable worth when it came to witnessing the words
of Christ. Indeed, to have women present in any important meeting
between Christ and his disciples seems to have been anathema.
This seems odd if one believes Paul's assertion that there
is no male or female in Christ, and Mark's belief that Christ
was there for all, including women. Why were there no female
disciples? Some of the disciples must have had sisters -- indeed,
according to the scriptures Jesus himself is supposed to have
had a few.
This may be a possibly deliberate omission on the part of
Jesus' chroniclers. Consider as an example the fact that a man's
word was worth more than a woman's in a Jewish court of law. It
would be in the best interests of anyone wanting to insert the
Gospel of John into accepted New Testament texts to have
the work credited to a man, not a woman.
This leads to my second thought -- why is this particular
disciple never referred to by name? Could it be that the name
was easily recognizable as that of a woman?
If the Johannine texts are indeed edited, as most modern
scholars assert, then it would be easy for an intelligent and
educated person of that time, of either gender, to realize a
man would be more acceptable as author than a woman. How easy it
would be to simply change all references to "her" into "him," and
to change the female name to that of "the disciple he loved."
With this thought in mind, I re-read all the references to
this particular disciple. The first one is the above-quoted verse
from John 13, which is the description of the Last Supper. If
the group was indeed using Roman couches and reclining two by
two, face-to-face on them, this would be a very intimate
Jews apparently heartily disapproved of homosexuality. Would
not that seating arrangement smack of "decadent Roman"
homosexuality -- if the apostle reclining with Jesus was
male? On the other hand, to recline so with a woman would be
The second time this disciple is possibly mentioned is when
s/he intercedes for Simon Peter so that he may enter Annas'
courtyard. It is not clear if this disciple is the one Jesus
loved. However, why would a fisherman following an itinerant preacher know the High Priest's
On the other hand, perhaps a wealthy and high-born young woman
might be able to speak with Annas. As it turns out, this person
was able to go into the house to speak to Annas (albeit
fruitlessly), while Peter was made to wait outside in the cold,
with Annas' servants.
The most telling part of the identity of this disciple occurred
for me in John 19:25-27. The names of the people standing at the
foot of Jesus' cross are all given. I quote "[N]ear the cross
where Jesus hung stood his mother, with her sister, Mary wife
of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Jesus saw his mother, with the
disciple whom he loved standing beside her." There are only two
people standing near his mother.
It is unlikely a married woman would recline with a somewhat
disreputable preacher, even if he
was her nephew. Who is left? Only Mary of Magdala.
She is never described as married, she is a devout follower,
and she seems to not be of a respectable age to be running around
by herself. Surely it seemed better to the author or editor of
John not to name her directly as the disciple Jesus loved.
Mary of Magdala is mentioned again, on Easter Sunday. It is
she who finds Christ's empty tomb. It is unsurprising to me that
someone who is so loved by Jesus should return that love. How
logical then that she should go alone to his tomb to grieve in
private. Unfortunately for my theory, she is described as talking
to Peter and "the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved."
Still, some wild- er, resourceful speculation can come
up with an answer to this dilemma. Mary mentions "...and we do
not know where they have laid him." Obviously she was alone,
and is not a plural person.
Perhaps the mention of "we" is literary license, and thus
the mention of her running up to Peter and the other disciple
is more of the same, to keep people from drawing the obvious
conclusion concerning the identity of the other disciple.
Indeed, it would make sense a small, slight woman afire with
conviction could outrun a disbelieving Peter, and yet might still
be too frightened to enter the tomb alone, as happens later in
the verse. Better to wait until Peter entered first and verified
the absence of possibly hostile grave-robbers.
There is no doubt in the writing of the author of John as to
whether Jesus loved that disciple. Is this a physical as well as
spiritual love? There is nothing in John to either verify or deny
this speculation. However, in the Gnostic
scriptures, also known as the Dead Sea scrolls, there is
some mention of Mary Magdalene being Jesus' favorite.
This -- a "mere woman" being Jesus' favorite -- might not be
such a radical thought to the Gnostics, since they believed Jesus
was pure spirit, and there is no carnality in spirit. However,
the later Apostles or their followers might find the notion, even
if true, of a female being Jesus' favorite disturbing --
it brings up unwanted allegations of possible sexuality.
This would be doubly annoying if it was indeed true -- that
God's "Chosen Pure One" might enjoy sex would be to sully the
pristine public relations image of Jesus that was being presented
to the world at that time. Carnality is not part of the Christian
concept of Christ. Better to simply remove any mention of such
a religiously embarrassing thing.
It would also be symmetrical, in a way, for Jesus to have
a female companion. Was not Jesus' Father supposed to have
had his Sophia, mentioned in the
Old Testament? Proverbs mentions "Sophia"; Philo Judaeus used
"Logos." This doesn't mean the female concept is lost, only that
Philo wished Jesus to be God's "companion."
The divine Logos (or Jesus) may have wanted some wise counsel
while he was flesh. How appropriate to emulate his Father,
and to pick a wise woman to counsel him.
Finally, in John 21:21, the scene where Jesus has risen from
the dead and is telling his apostles good-bye and good luck,
Peter asks "Lord, what will happen to him?" referring to the
disciple Jesus loved.
Why should Peter worry more about this person than any of the
other apostles? It would make more sense if this person were a
female, and now with Jesus' death legally without a protector
Furthermore, Jesus tells this person to follow him, away from
all the other apostles, for some small, unspecified amount of
time. As far as I know, privacy is a requirement for love-making
in almost all cultures, Judaism included. My fanciful thought
was perhaps Jesus wished one final night in the flesh with the
disciple he loved.
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