The Gospel of Barnabas, and the Magdalene Gospel (Jn 2:1-11)

by Yuri Kuchinsky

This is Part 2 of my study of the First Miracle of Jesus, Turning Water into Wine. Part 1 can be found here.
SUMMARY: Two more Diatessaronic versions have now been added to the previous comparison, to bring the total number of the Diatessarons being compared here to five. As a result, the total number of significant textual parallels among these witnesses has now risen to 20. The new parallels between the Gospel of Barnabas and the Magdalene Gospel are particularly noteworthy. All 20 of these parallels seem to go back to an early precanonical version of the Gospel of John. Also, it is now concluded that the Gospel of Barnabas and the Venetian Diatessaron do not really demonstrate any close relationship between them (contrary to what has been suggested by Joosten).


Greetings, all,

Here's some new material about Jesus' "Water into Wine" miracle, in addition to what has already been available on my webpage. So this will now be Part 2 of that article.

I've already done quite a few comparisons involving the medieval Gospel of Barnabas before. Thanks to the recent work by J. Joosten, it is now demonstrated that, in its account of the Life of Jesus, GB was originally based on some sort of a very early Diatessaron. The dispute now is about the actual date of GB -- whether or not it's a late text overall.

Even if it was a late text overall, it could still have been based on a very early Diatessaron. And this is what Dr. Joosten argued has happened. According to him, GB was a late medieval production, but based on the Venetian Diatessaron, which is generally considered quite valuable by Diatessaronic scholars. (To be sure, according to Joosten, GB was based on one of the immediate precursors of the Venetian DT, rather than on our extant copy of it.)

Here's more info about Joosten's article, and about the Gospel of Barnabas.

"Joosten on Barnabas and the Diatessaron" (Part 1) -- Apr 14, 2003,

"Joosten on Barnabas and the Diatessaron" (Part 2) -- May 6, 2003,

In my own previous research, I have also discovered that the Gospel of Barnabas, although being in its present form a late medieval text, in fact incorporates a lot of very early Jewish-Christian material, that's available hardly anywhere else. So I suspected that, since GB was clearly for some period of time in the possession of Muslims (who expanded it with quite a few passages of their own), this document probably had its true home in the Middle East.

Any way one looks at it, there are clearly many links between GB and the ancient Syriac textual tradition of the gospels; the question only remains about how they derived.

In order to clarify some of these issues, I have now examined GB's treatment of Jesus' "Water into Wine" miracle, and have compared it with the way this story is treated in the Venetian Diatessaron.

Of course, once again, I've already analysed this passage in great detail in my long article entitled "4 VERSIONS OF TURNING WATER INTO WINE, where 4 versions of this text have been compared (the canonical Greek version, plus 3 Diatessaronic versions; see the link above).

So now, two more versions are being added to the consideration. (And also, I've now added some new material from Ephrem the Syrian; these two passages from Ephrem likewise happen to support my previous analysis.) The results of my analysis go strongly against Joosten's thesis that GB was based on the Venetian DT, or on anything like it. It will soon be obvious that the whole story looks very different in the GB, compared to the Venetian DT. At the same time, the Diatessaronic origin of GB is now being confirmed further.

Thus, my overall conclusion would be that GB was based on an early pre-Muslim harmonistic gospel, many elements of which can still be identified quite easily. Furthermore, it was also a distinctly non-canonical gospel, and quite possibly a pre-canonical gospel -- although later it was considerably expanded, possibly more than once by a number of hands. In any case, that old Diatessaronic tradition behind GB appears to be very valuable. This text may have split from the mainstream Catholic-oriented tradition -- to go its own way -- at a very early period, maybe even some time in the second century.

Now, specifically about Jn 2:1-11. I wrote in my previous treatment of this passage about some serious interpretative problems in the canonical version, that the scholars have been struggling with for a long time. I've itemised three problems in particular.


1. Why is Jesus being so rude to his mother, apparently gratuitously so?

2. Why are these water jugs so huge -- they seem to be more like water cisterns! How long would it take to fill all six of these up with water? There seems to be a distinctive lack of realism in the canonical version of this story.

3. But the biggest interpretative problem in the canonical text is what can be described as the "Mystery of the Architriklinos" -- which RSV translates as "steward of the feast". Who is this "steward", what exactly is his social status, and why is he ordering about even the bridegroom, of all people? This seems totally Imponderable, and all the commentators seem to be stumped by this...


Also, as I wrote previously, the Magdalene version of this passage helps to solve all these mysteries easily enough -- because all three of these problems are absent entirely in the Magdalene text! According to the Magdalene Gospel,

1. Jesus is not at all rude to his mother.
2. These water jugs are not in any way too big (thus, the story is presented more realistically).
3. There is no "Mystery of the Architriklinos" in MG, because the whole story is actually not about a wedding. There is no "bridegroom" in MG; instead, the owner of the house is present, and is in charge of this feast.

Well, now I can report that all three of these features are also supported by the Gospel of Barnabas! And especially #3 is very important, because, while the first two of these items also find support in some other Diatessaronic texts, the third is found nowhere else other than MG.

Yet, in the Venetian DT, only the second one of these unusual items is present.

In addition, it can also be noted that,

4. Just like in MG, the GB story is not taking place in Cana; instead its location remains anonymous.

I don't think that it is possible to see these similarities between MG and GB as purely accidental. Obviously, these two documents depend on a common archetype, and I think that this was a very early precanonical version of John.

So, below, you can see this story as it's found in the Gospel of Barnabas, and in the Venetian Diatessaron, side by side. All significant parallels in the two texts are numbered (according to my previous system of numeration) and underlined. A lot of these parallels (especially the ones in GB) are common omissions, and the numbers representing these are also underlined.


  (Chapter 15, based on Dr. Blackhirst's WWW edition)
  (p. 35 in Todesco's edition)
When the feast of tabernacles was near, a certain (9) rich man invited Jesus with his disciples and his mother to a marriage (17). Jesus therefore went, and as they were feasting the wine ran short. His mother accosted Jesus, saying: "They have no wine." Jesus answered: (3) "What is that to me, mother mine?" His mother commanded the servants that whatever Jesus should command them they should obey.

There were there six vessels (6) for water (18) according to the custom of Israel (5) to purify themselves for prayer.

Jesus said: "Fill these vessels with water." The servants did so. Jesus said to them: "In the name of God, (7) give to drink to them that are feasting."

The servants thereupon (8) bare to (9) the master of the ceremonies, who rebuked the attendants (20) saying:

"O worthless servants, why have you kept the better wine till now?" For he knew nothing of all that Jesus had done (19) The servants answered: "O Sir, there is here a holy man of God, for he has made of water, wine." The master of the ceremonies thought that the servants were drunken; ...

(Jesus being 31 years old), there was held a wedding in the region {terra} of Galilee that was called Chana, and the Mother of Jesus was at this wedding. And Jesus was invited with his disciples; and, as the wine was lacking, the Mother of Jesus said to him: "They have no wine". And Jesus said to her: "What is it to you and to me, woman {Ch'e a ti e a mi femena}? My hour is not yet come." The Mother of Jesus said to the servants: "Do all that my son tells you."

At the house where the wedding was held, there were six vessels of stone, (5) that held water for the washing of hands -- according to the purification custom of the Jews -- and each held (6) two or three measures {due au tre mesure}.

And Jesus said to the servants: "Fill them with water to the top." And the servants did like Jesus commanded them. And Jesus said to the servants: "Now (7) go and (8) carry {portatene} [them] to the architriklinos {sinescalcho}." And they did so.

When the architriklinos tasted of this water, the water was turned into wine, he knowing nothing of this (but the servants knew it well). He (10) called the bridegroom {spoxo} and said: "Every man, at his wedding, first gives the good wine, and when all (?) are drunk, the one that is not as good." This (15) miracle {miracolo} Jesus did as the first of those [performed] in Chana of Galilee, to show his glory and (4) power {posanca}, before those that were later performed by his disciples (?), and they believed in him.

First, let us look at this story as it is found in the Gospel of Barnabas. Overall, there are 10 parallels there with the Magdalene Gospel, 6 of which are also shared by other Diatessaronic witnesses. Most of the parallels with MG happen to be common omissions, so here is the listing of these omissions.

#17: the story is not located in Cana
#6: the jars seem smaller
#18: they are not "stone" jars
#7: "draw some out" is omitted
#19: no "bridegroom"
#20: no parenthetical note about the servants knowing


Now, a few words about the Venetian Diatessaron. This is a Diatessaronic version in the medieval Venetian dialect. It is found in one unique manuscript only, dated to the 14th century. The scholars are generally of a high opinion regarding this text, as it has been found to preserve many early Diatessaronic textual variants. It was published for the first time in 1938 (IL DIATESSARON IN VOLGARE ITALIANO, Todesco, et. al., eds.; Studi e Testi. The Vatican, 1938). No modern translation of this text exists, so I've translated this passage myself into English. I certainly don't claim to be a great authority on medieval Italian dialects, but most of this passage seems fairly straightforward. While a couple of places still seem somewhat doubtful (and are thus each noted with a question mark), these are not really relevant to the present analysis.

Further on, I will present a detailed listing of all the Diatessaronic parallels that I've identified so far in these stories from the Gospel of Barnabas and from the Venetian Diatessaron. This list will be a supplement to the 16-item list in Part 1 of my study. The numbering system will be the same as previously.

But before we go into the particulars, here's the basic summary of my results in the form of a Table. Each horizontal line represents a separate textual comparison. For example, the readings #1 and #2 are only attested in MG and in the Dutch Diatessaron.

MG: the Magdalene Gospel
L: the Liege Gospel (the Dutch Diatessaron)
P: the Persian Diatessaron
GB: the Gospel of Barnabas
V: the Venetian Diatessaron

20 Diatessaronic Readings In John 2:1-11

    MG L   P   GB V  
1 x x
2 x x
3 x x x
4 x x x x
5 x x x x
6 x x x x x
7 x x x x
8 x x x x x
9 x x x x
10 x x x x
11 x x
12 x x x
13 x x
14 x x x
15 x x x x
16 x x
    16 14 10 6 7

    MG GB
17 x         x    
18 x x
19 x x
20 x x
    20 14 10 10 7

As we can see above, among the 16 items in Part One of my study, GB happens to share in 6 of them. And the Venetian Diatessaron (V) happens to share in 7 out of 16. But among all these 16 items, only 4 overlap between V and GB. In 5 other cases, there's a difference there between V and GB.

Also, looking now at the second part of my study, MG is uniquely supported by GB in 4 new items, that had previously been unsupported by any witness (so these will now be numbered from 17 to 20). And in all of these 4 new cases, V goes along with the canonical version of John against GB.

Thus, to summarise, there have now been identified 9 important Diatessaronic readings within this short passage where V and GB disagree, which makes Joosten's theory rather unlikely.


In the following 4 cases, the Venetian DT follows the standard Greek version, whereas the Magdalene text appears to be pre-canonical.

#17 The story is not located in Cana

This seems to indicate that the placement of this miracle in Cana was a secondary feature.

#18 No stone jars
Just like in MG, the detail about those water jars being made of stone is lacking in GB. And yet it is present in V, and in other versions.

This item also seems to be supported by Ephrem's Commentary on the Diatessaron. This is what he writes,

"He summoned six water jars as witness to the unique virgin who had given birth to him." (C. McCarthy's translation, in SAINT EPHREM'S COMMENTARY ON TATIAN'S DIATESSARON, Oxford, 1993, p. 97, Paragraph 7)

Thus, we can see that neither in this passage, nor in the one immediately preceding it, does Ephrem make any mention of the detail about the jars being made of stone. (Although, of course, since the jars are being mentioned only within the Commentary, the citation could have been abbreviated.)

#19 No parenthetical note
Just like in MG, the parenthetical note about the servants "knowing where that wine came from" is lacking in GB. And yet, V merely follows the canonical version here. (Nevertheless, the strength of this parallel can be weakened somewhat when we consider that GB's ending of the story is generally so different.)

#20 No bridegroom
The master of the ceremonies talks to the servants only. There's no "bridegroom". So this is a direct parallel to MG, and a unique one. V has "bridegroom", following the canonical text. Thus, in MG and in GB, this feast in not a wedding!


#3 No rudeness to mother
MG = P = GB <> V

(What the above notations mean is that the Magdalene Gospel, the Persian DT, and the Gospel of Barnabas all read the same here. But the Venetian DT's reading is different.)

This is a very important parallel between MG, the Persian DT, and GB. In all three texts, Jesus' reply to his mother lacks any sort of a harshness, albeit the details do differ somewhat. The canonical Greek Jn 2:4, on the other hand, seems to represent a later theologically based elaboration. V merely follows the Greek text here.

#4 Jesus shows his power
MG = L = P = V <> GB

The word "power" is found in 4 of our Diatessaronic texts, but not in GB. In general, the ending of GB had been reworked quite heavily, so this word was probably omitted because of that.

#5 Extra details about ritual purifications
MG = L = GB = V

This case is somewhat more complicated than others. We can see that 4 out of our 5 Diatessaronic witnesses all add some extra details about ritual purifications (P is an exception here, but it's generally an abbreviating text). Although the similarities there are not really exact -- just like in the previous case study -- still, they seem to be in parallel overall. The canonical version lacks any such details.

Also, we may note a very special parallel here between the Magdalene Gospel and V; uniquely, both of these witnesses refer to washing.

#6 Smaller jugs
MG = L = P = GB = V

This one is a rather rare case when all 5 of our Diatessaronic witnesses agree among themselves against the canonical Greek. There are only two such cases out of 20.

The size of the jugs seems smaller in all 5 DT versions. Still, a potential counter-argument can be made here, since the difference between /metretas/ -- as the Greek and the Latin Vulgate texts have it -- and /mensurae/ -- which presumably stood originally in the Old Latin Diatessaron (the source of most western European vernacular Diatessarons) -- is not all that easily expressed in translation. But, on a closer consideration, various small details in the rest of the story make it all but certain that, in the original text of John, the jugs were indeed much smaller (see the next two points).

In GB, the size of the jugs seems to be a complete non-issue on the whole, and in MG they are very explicitly small jugs.

Also, there's now some additional evidence from Ephrem's COMMENTARY indicating that, in Ephrem's Diatessaron, as well, these jugs were smaller. This is what Ephrem says in this connection,

"The giving birth by the jars was from smallness to greatness, and from paucity to abundance." (C. McCarthy's translation, in SAINT EPHREM'S COMMENTARY ON TATIAN'S DIATESSARON, Oxford, 1993, p. 97, Paragraph 7)

So it certainly doesn't look like Ephrem's version of the Diatessaron featured any unusually large water jugs.

#7 "Draw some out" is omitted
MG = P = GB = V

The importance of this detail is in that it indicates quite strongly that, in the original John, the jugs were indeed much smaller. And so, rather than there being a need to scoop out some wine in order to deliver it for tasting, the jugs, themselves, are being carried over, since they are smaller and easier to handle.

#8 The verb "to carry" is found in five Diatessarons
MG = L = P = GB = V

This is the second of our two across-the-board parallels. In addition to the previous one, it provides some further support for the jugs being smaller in the original John. In the canonical Greek, on the other hand, we find the word "to take". This broad agreement of five Diatessaronic witnesses against the Greek text is quite impressive.

#9 Master of the house
MG = L = P = GB <> V

This is a very important parallel. A higher status for the gentleman who is tasting the wine is found in four Diatessarons, and it is expressed in a variety of ways. And yet, V merely follows the canonical text here.

We can see that, according to GB, it was "a certain rich man" who invited Jesus to the feast. So, according to GB's version of this story, he's clearly the same individual as "the master of the ceremonies". Basically the same can also be said about MG's version, since, in it, the owner of the house is likewise in charge of the feast.

#10 The use of past tense vs. the present tense
MG = L = P = V <> GB

Four Diatessaronic witnesses use the past tense here; the man in charge "called the butler", according to MG. And yet, both in the Greek and Latin canonical versions, the present tense is used.

GB is different here but, since GB lacks the bridegroom figure, there's nobody there to call! The ending of this story in GB is generally quite different from all other Diatessaronic witnesses, as well as being much longer.

#15 The use of the word "miracle" vs. "sign"
MG = L = P = V <> GB

The testimony of V can now be added to the previous line-up of 3 Diatessaronic witnesses that happen to attest the much simpler and more understandable word "miracle" in this passage. The canonical versions use the word "sign" and, in order to understand fully what this means, a much higher level of theological sophistication is required from the audience. In my view, the word "sign" represents a later theological elaboration upon Jesus' miracle.


Thus, we have 9 items in this section altogether; they are the case studies numbered 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 15. It's interesting how the middle of this story is being supported quite often by both GB and V, while the beginnings and the endings tend to go their own separate ways. But this is what we would expect from the later editors, who would have been trying to adapt this story in their own different ways -- and to integrate it within their own larger narratives, with their particular editorial purposes in mind.

I think the above Table of all 20 parallels speaks for itself. In each of these 20 cases, the Magdalene text is supported by one or more Diatessaronic witnesses. Also, a variety of other ancient texts support many of these readings. Even at a glance, it is obvious that no other Diatessaronic version comes close to attesting all of these readings. The Dutch Diatessaron comes the closest with 14 readings, followed by the Persian Diatessaron and the Gospel of Barnabas with 10 each.

One can write a pretty long analysis of this Table, and of all the evidence it contains in regard to each of these Diatessaronic versions; this could be a separate essay in its own right. I suggest that, in fact, this Johannine passage can be seen as a sort of a microcosm, allowing us a glimpse of how the editors of each of these gospel harmonies proceeded while compiling and editing their texts -- what they decided to omit or to include from their source text(s). Such an analysis would go a long way in clarifying the nature of each of our 5 Diatessaronic witnesses -- both from the textual, as well as from the theological perspectives.

For example, based on this passage (and on plenty of others, of course), the Dutch Diatessaron can clearly be seen as the closest relative of the Magdalene Gospel from the textual perspective. They both can be considered as very literal and quite meticulous renditions of the base text of the Old Latin Diatessaron, which served as their archetype. Both very often agree in a multitude of very small textual details. The Gospel of Barnabas, on the other hand, does tend to take a lot more liberties with its source -- which was probably an Old Syriac Diatessaron (a very close cousin, or quite possibly even the progenitor of the Old Latin Diatessaron).

But while GB often fails to transmit those very small, often trivial textual and grammatical features of its archetype -- which we find so well attested in the Dutch Diatessaron, for example -- what it does transmit can be very significant indeed. As we can see, the parallels between GB and MG, even if fewer in number, can also be very important, and they seem to go back to a very early stage in the textual development of this narrative.

And so, it seems like, at some very early point in time,  the Catholic-oriented editors of John had made their decision that this feast should be transformed into a wedding. After this was accepted by Church leadership -- as it appears to have been -- almost the entire textual tradition of the Christian gospels (including also most Diatessarons) lost this seemingly very early feature of the feast not being a wedding. Only two textual witnesses do preserve it still -- one from medieval Britain, and another one a Muslim-oriented text that somehow came to be preserved for us in an Italian and a Spanish manuscripts only, but previous history of which is not really known. From the historical perspective, this is certainly quite a peculiar case.

It should be quite obvious that, for very considerable periods of time -- perhaps during great many centuries -- all 5 of our Diatessaronic witnesses were preserved, transmitted, and finally translated into the medieval vernaculars by the Christian circles that were outside of direct Roman Catholic control. They may have had some loose association and/or contacts with the Catholic circles now and then, but the full stories that each of these 5 texts could have told us -- about how they managed to find their defenders, and escape destruction through all those centuries -- would have been extremely fascinating. Unfortunately, even their final editors and translators failed to tell us directly anything (or hardly anything) about themselves. But, for those very few scholars who are still studying these texts at this time, much information about their mysterious ancient and medieval preservers and transmitters can still be surmised through the sort of a patent comparative work that has been attempted in this study.

Yes, a lot more can be said about all these things, but this will have to remain a task for the future.


So these 20 significant parallels should really speak for themselves -- for those who have the time and the inclination to listen, to be sure... And the story that they are telling is that, of all existing versions of the Diatessaron, the Magdalene Gospel stands the closest to the original Aramaic Diatessaron that was probably first produced sometime in mid-second century.

Also, it can be naturally assumed that the creators of that early Aramaic synopsis/harmony of the 4 gospels simply copied into it a passage from an early, pre-canonical version of John. No harmonisation with any other gospels can be detected here at all. Thus, what we have here, apparently, as preserved by the Magdalene text, is a passage from a pre-canonical Gospel of John.

If anybody can suggest an alternative explanation -- a logical and consistent explanation of how the Magdalene Gospel could have acquired all these unusual textual features, I'd be very interested to see it. Of course, such an alternative explanation will need to take into account all of the evidence on the ground -- all these complex textual phenomena as described above. It seems to me that to come up with an explanation such as this might be a feat even more miraculous than turning water into wine...

All the best,

Yuri Kuchinsky.

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