The Life and Teaching of John the Baptist according to the Mandaean Book of John

The Life and Teaching of John the Baptist according to the Mandaean Book of John July 26, 2012

Now that I have finished at least a still provisional but nevertheless complete translation of the chapters in the “Drasha d-Yahia” (which itself might be better rendered The Teaching of John rather than The Book of John) about the life and teaching of John the Baptist, I wanted to share links to them here.

18. Portents of the Birth of John the Baptist

19. A Garment from the First Life

20. John Discusses Halos with the Sun

21. No One Compares to John

22. A Proclamation of War in the World

23. The Pitfall of Impure Women

24. More on the Pitfall of Impure Women

25. Sleeping in the Day of Judgment

26. Seeking a Garment of Eight

27. John’s Teaching Rocks the Temple

28. John Teaches about Punishments

29. John Teaches on the Importance of Charity

30. Jesus Comes to John to be Baptized

31. John Marries Anhar

32. John’s Parents Continued

Of related interest, I happened across the English translation of an Introduction to the New Testament by Johann David Michaelis on Google Books. As you will see if you click through, already in the late 18th century, there were those who were not only taking an interest in Mandaean sources, but who saw a relationship between them and the Gospel of John.

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  • Jim Harrison

    Point of information (not entirely on topic, but you seem to be the right guy to ask): J. Massyngberde Ford, the editor/translator of the Anchor Bible volume on Revelation, had the theory that Revelation was largely the work of followers of John the Baptist rather than early Christians. Does anybody take this theory seriously at present?

    • Allan

      I thought the current trend was to see Revelation as the work of a so-called “Judaizer” – one of whose whom Saint Paul had it in for.

      • Sorry for the long delay in replying. The possibility that the work originated with followers of John the Baptist has never been given that much attention by scholars. It would be interesting to consider that hypothesis in conjunction with George Beasley-Murray’s, which suggests that Revelation is a Christianized version of an earlier Jewish apocalypse.

        That the author was a “Judaizer” (I dislike the term, since the term in the New Testament refers to those who adopt Jewish customs, not those who promote their doing so) – or better, a conservative Jewish Christian of the sort that opposed Paul – is plausible. The author takes a hardline stance on food sacrificed to idols which is different from that adopted by Paul, regarding the matter as relatively unimportant as long as it does not lead others into idol worship.

  • Rullbert Boll

    Thank you! I’m reading them.

  • John MacDonald

    It is possible that Jesus knew John the Baptist, but there is no reason to think that it’s probable. Mark might have just been inventing a pericope that showed Jesus was greater than John the Baptist, the way Matthew invented material to show Jesus was greater than Moses. There is (possibly) some intertextuality in the gospel of Mark. Mark says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; as it is written in the prophets.” Mark immediately interprets John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (a la Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.) He then says John ate locusts and wild honey,the food of the wilderness in which Elijah lived (and so on and so on). Perhaps the baptism of Jesus by John is meant to reflect 2 Kings 2 near the Jordan where Elijah bequeathed a double portion of his power to Elisha, making Elisha his successor and superior. Maybe later writers misunderstood this as a historical event, and because it was already understood that way in their communities and so couldn’t deny it, they included it as an embarrassing event that had to be explained away. Just because later writers were embarrassed by it doesn’t mean Mark was, or even that Mark ever meant for the pericope to be taken literally.

    • John MacDonald

      I’m actually having a fun exchange with Dr. Ehrman about this. He said: ““The reason for connecting Jesus with John is not just that Mark says so; it’s because it is *independently* attested by stories in Mark, Q, M, John, and Acts. That kind of widespread independent attestation has to be taken very seriously.”

      I responded that a number of scholars deny the Q hypothesis, such as Austin Farrer, Michael Goulder, and Mark Goodacre. Also, there is no reason to think John was unfamiliar with previous writers, if only from traditions that were passed down to his community. Acts is not independent attestation, since Luke read Mark. The “M” source is purely hypothetical, and doesn’t reflect the fact that maybe it wasn’t really a source, just the gospel writer’s creativity. We can’t assume material unique to a writer reflects a separate source. They may just have been inventing things. Maybe Matthew simply adopted and elaborated on the Baptizer stuff from Mark, and Luke read Matthew.

      And I think that Beau, who posts here, rejects the Q hypothesis as well.

      • There are always going to be maybes and alternative possibilities. The pertinent question is whether, given the available evidence, it is likely that there was a historical connection between Jesus and John. Given that the evidence consistently indicates, on the one hand, a concern to address the apparent subordination of Jesus to John as one of his disciples, and on the other hand, engages with John’s doubt that Jesus was the “coming one,” it is extremely unlikely that such material was invented by the early Christians.

        • John MacDonald

          If we suppose, for sake of argument, that there was no Q source, then the earliest source for John baptizing Jesus is Mark. As I explained above, this clearly doesn’t pass the criterion of embarrassment because it is chock full of theological allusions to John the Baptist being cast in the role of Elijah. Mark may have simply intended this as an allegorical way of demonstrating that Jesus was greater than the well known John The Baptist, like the way Matthew invents material to present Jesus as the new and greater Moses, or how the author of the gospel of John invents material (as Dr. Dennis MacDonald has shown) to demonstrate Jesus was greater than Dionysus. Later writers may have just inherited the story from Mark, and since by that time it may have been established (due to a literal reading of Mark) that there was a well known connection between Jesus and John the Baptist baptizing Jesus, they had to include it in their accounts (if only to explain it away). The fact that later writers found the baptismal pericope embarrassing doesn’t mean Mark did, or even that Mark intended it literally. Later interpretations are irrelevant as to whether Mark intended the baptismal pericope to be taken literally, or figuratively. The whole thing, as I said, seems to reflect the episode near the Jordan where Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his power to Elisha, thereby demonstrating Elisha to be his successor and superior. On the other hand, I don’t think is “probable” that the baptism story is pure allegory with no historical core. It’s possible that it’s pure legend. It’s also possible that it literally happened. I think we just end up being agnostic on the issue. But we certainly can’t conclude that just because a well known figure appears in a Gospel that they ever had any relation to the life of the historical Jesus – such as the Census of Judaea taken by Publius Sulpicius Quirinius.

          • This illustrates nicely the problem of making judgments about individual pieces of data or narratives as though we did not have others. Are we really to regard it as likely that the early Christians invented a connection between Jesus and John the Baptist, and then proceeded while doing so to invent doubts about whether Jesus was the coming one and place those on the lips of John?

          • John MacDonald

            That makes sense. That’s why you’re the expert. I’m very grateful you’re here to bounce ideas off of, since my background is in Philosophy, not religious studies, so I am still a Padawan learner when it comes to Christian origins! I still think I have some interesting ideas sometimes!

          • John MacDonald

            On the other hand, we have seemingly analogous situations like the denials of Peter and the doubts of Thomas, and these words are not necessarily regarded as historical. Maybe John’s doubts about Jesus are just part of the dramatic literary structure of the narrative, like Wrede’s messianic secret in Mark. Or maybe the doubts by John the Baptist just reflect a non historical theological insertion by Matthew reflecting Psalm 118:26 –
            “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD; We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.”