who is the beloved disciple?

Easter Saturday is usually a quiet day, a time of waiting, doing some house cleaning, anticipating the dawn of Easter. Yet as nothing thus far in 2021 has been “usual,” I was not surprised when my appointment for the COVID vaccination in a nearby town was scheduled for that day. Returning home with neither energy nor desire for housework, I reached for a book:The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, a translation made in 2010 from a previously little known first century Gospel written in Greek. It is thought to have been brought to the Languedoc in France (at that time Roman Gaul) from Alexandria in the early to middle part of the first century (thus showing it to be decades earlier than any of the four Gospels we know best).

The translator and commentator is Jehanne de Quillan, a woman with ties to a 12th Century Community in France whose members have guarded this treasure. In her commentary, de Quillan invites the reader to consider the question: “Who is the beloved disciple?” the one who lay back on the breast of Jesus as the disciples were seated for the Last Supper, the one to whom Jesus entrusted His mother as he was dying on the Cross?

It was not until the end of the second century that this “beloved disciple” became synonymous with the apostle John. De Quillan questions this designation, noting that for the Jewish people of that time, homophobia was as prevalent as in our own cultures. For a man to sit so intimately near to Jesus at the Last Supper would have been shocking.  

And if it were John to whom Jesus entrusted his mother as he died, why is John not listed as present at the foot of the cross?

The Gospel of John 19: 25-27 tells us: Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother,“Dear Woman here is your son.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.  

As de Quillan explains, the Greek word translated as “son” holds several layers of meaning to denote a relationship and may refer to either gender.

Yet the traditional interpretation has insisted  it must be John to whom Jesus speaks, even though he is not mentioned as being present.

In The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, it is the Mother of Jesus and Mary Migdalah who, in accordance with Jewish law, anoint the body of Jesus immediately after the crucifixion, with the spices brought to them by Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus.

Mary the Migdalah: artwork Sue Ellen Parkinson 

In The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, the encounter of the Magdalene with Jesus on Easter Morning is very similar to the account in the  Gospel of John. What’s different is that Mary upon her discovery of the empty tomb remains there alone.

The whole confusing incident of Mary leaving to tell Peter, of Peter and John racing to the tomb, then leaving again, is simply not there.

Here is  howThe Gospel of the Beloved Companion tells of Easter Morning:

40:3 Now on the first day of the week, Miryam the Migdalah went early, while it was still dark, to the tomb and saw the stone taken away from the entrance

40:4 Stooping and looking in, she saw that the tomb was empty and the linen cloths scattered where the body had been laid.

Yet she did not enter in, but remained standing outside at the tomb, weeping. And hearing a noise, she turned around and saw a figure standing close by.

Because of her weeping, she did not know that it was Yeshua.

40:5 Then Yeshua said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” She supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, ”Sir, if you or another have carried him away, tell me where he is laid, and I will go and take him away.”

  (As de Quillan comments: “She is in no doubt that she has the right to take his body, wherever it may be laid….we must examine the conventions of the first century to determine who would have such authority, such a right. The answer is quite obvious.” p. 172 )

Yeshua said to her, “Miryam.” She turned and, overcome with joy, said to him, “Rabbouni!”

40:6 Yeshua said to her, “Miryam, do not hold to me, for I am not of the flesh, yet neither am I one with the spirit. But rather go to my disciplesand tell them you have seen me, so that all may know that my words are true and that any who should choose to believe themand keep to my commandments will follow me on their last day.”

 40:7 And the Migdalah therefore returned onto her own and there in that place were gathered Martha her sister, Eleazar her brother,whom Yeshua had restored to life, and Miryam, the Mother of Ya’akov, Yosef and Salome. With them also was Toma, who was called the twin;and Yosef of Arimathaea, who had asked Pilate for the body of Yeshua; and Nicodemus, who at first came to Yeshua by night, and who had brought spices for his burial.

40:8 Also there were the disciples Levi who some have called Mattithyahu; (Matthew) and Joanna; and the other Salome,to whom Yeshua had spoken at the Well of Ya-akov. The Migdalah told the disciples that she had seen Yeshua  and that he had said these things to her.

And they knew the truth of her and were all filled with great joy and believed.  (The Gospel of the Beloved Companion pp.169-70) 

Jesus had told his apostles, “You will all be scattered…” That is what this Gospel shows, for of the eleven remaining apostles, only Matthew and Thomas were gathered with the other disciples in Mary’s home at Bethany.

Jehanne de Quillan concludes: 

“So, one might ask, where does that leave us? Was the Gospel of the Beloved Companion the source document for what we have come to know as the Gospel of John?

….Was Miryam not only the Apostle to the apostles, but in fact, truly the first and the last apostle, the true  Beloved Disciple, loyal to Yeshua from the beginning to the end, and known here as the Companion, Beloved of Yeshua, the Migdalah?

“My answer is simple: it is you, the reader who must decide. In the final analysis, it is your own heart that must be the adjudicator of this, and so many other questions…. .” (p. 194)

I encourage you, to read The Gospel of the Beloved Companion (Jehanne de Quillan, Editions Athara, 09000 Foix, Ariege, France, 2010)

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