Neglected Mentions of John the Baptist and Mandaeans in Syriac and Aramaic Sources?

Neglected Mentions of John the Baptist and Mandaeans in Syriac and Aramaic Sources? August 16, 2018

Several sources online have highlighted a new resource related to the study of Syriac literature: the Digital Syriac Corpus.

As illustration of what is available, here is the beginning of Narsai’s work “On John the Baptist” so that you can see what happens when you copy and paste from the site:

As you can see from the fairly clear text that has pasted, and from the hyperlinks in each word if you follow them, it is a very flexible resource with a great deal of additional lexical and other information just a click away.

In this context I can mention that I’ve begun work on one of my next big book projects, which relates to the historical John the Baptist and the question of whether we can usefully bring the Mandaeans and their texts into the picture. I think that the answer to that question is yes, but obviously will need to make that case in detail. Some of the groundwork, however, has already been laid in a work that is soon to appear, and I think that scholars of ancient religion (as well as Semitic linguistics) are going to be blown away by some of the things that I believe will become clear as a result of the publication of the two-volume Mandaean Book of John critical edition, translation, and commentary.

In connection with the online resource that started off this post, and linking nicely through the rest of it, I’m interested in hearing from those who work on Syriac and Aramaic literature from Mesopotamia in Late Antiquity (as well as earlier and later, potentially), who may have come across references to John the Baptist and/or a group of Gnostics practicing ritual immersion that they had encountered. I suspect that there are references to the Mandaeans (frequently under other names such as Sabians, Nasoreans, Dostheans, Baptists, etc.)  that either wait still to be found in unpublished manuscripts, or are already known but their significance for Mandaean studies has yet to be recognized. And so if you work on this literature, writings of Jews and Christians from the Late Antique East, please let me know if anything you’ve come across seems relevant to those who study the Mandaeans. I’ll be extremely grateful!

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