The Baptism of Jesus by John in the Mandaean Book of John

I have posted a very rough draft of chapter 30 of the Mandaean Book of John, which depicts Jesus coming to John the Baptist in order to be baptized by him. You can read it by clicking through to the Mandaean Book of John blog.

This is one of several chapters that I will be referring to in my conference paper on “The Satirical Use of Christian Material in the Mandaean Book of John” in the Aramaic section at SBL in a few days’ time.

Some parts of it are still rough, and some require commentary – in particular the following two. First, the word for “Mandaean priest” is tarmid, and derives from an earlier use of the term to mean “disciple” (as the cognate talmid does in other dialects of Aramaic). And so the overtones of Jesus becoming John’s disciple have the potential to be missed in an English translation (although Jesus’ desire to become an adherent of Mandaeism remains clear).

Second, the term qudša and related words are clearly the same terms used by Jews and Christians for “holy.” But since the Mandaeans view figures and things which are holy in these other traditions as malevolent, the term in Mandaean literature has the opposite connotations of “infernal.” And so when Ruha (Spirit, often Ruha d-qudša) says that the Jordan has “made her infernal” or “defiled her,” is she thinking that it is a good thing or a bad thing?

The Mandaean versions of stories known from Jewish and Christian sources are fascinating and typically full of polemical satire.

I’m getting back to work on preparations on the actual conference paper, but do feel free to chime in about the translation and about the Mandaeans more generally!

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  • Coincidentally, I think. I just posted about Mandaean baptism. In that post I noted that Luke calls the followers of John that Paul met in Ephesus “disciples” (Acts 19:1). Also I suggested “a real continuity between those among these groups who never accepted the Christian gospel and the modern Mandaeans”. Could the use of the term “disciple” be further evidence for such a link?

  • Hi Peter. It is important to keep in mind that the Mandaeans do not think of themselves as disciples of John the Baptist. They view John the Baptist as having been a Mandaean, not the founder of the Mandaeans.

    The Mandaean texts (in the form in which we have them) are late enough to make attempts to draw such connections difficult. I’m trying to do the initial groundwork of seeing what happens if we assume that the Mandaean texts knew NT sources, rather than the NT texts reflecting baptist sect(s) that flowed into Mandaeism. The latter is not at all impossible, but too many have jumped straight to such views in the past, and so my current work involves trying to proceed much more slowly and cautiously. 

    We might still end up there, but there is a long way to go before that happens!

    • Thank you, James. I realise that, to continue a baptism analogy, I am like a neophyte jumping into a stream where others like you have been immersing themselves regularly for years. I didn’t mean to suggest that the people Luke wrote about considered themselves disciples of John (contrast Luke 7:18 etc), but his was the only baptism they knew. But the Mandaean claim that John was a Mandaean but not their founder sounds like an echo of the Islamic claim that the Patriarchs were good Muslims, which implies that Mohammed was a Muslim but not the founder of their faith.

  • The analogy with Islam is interesting, given that the Mandaeans have found themselves in a predominantly Islamic context for most of this history.

  • Stephan H Huller

    This sounds utterly fascinating. Very excited.  

  • Stephan H Huller

    One stupid question:

    In Jerusalem you lied to them with hornsand sounded tooting with a trumpet

    Is the terminology here related to Cerinthus? (= Aram. qeren)

  • It isn’t a stupid question at all, Stephen. The noun “horn” in Mandaic is qarna, plural qarnia.