30 – Jesus Comes to John to be Baptized

John teaches in the nights, John in the evenings of the nights
John teaches in the nights
Splendor shines upon the worlds.
Who said to Jesus
To Jesus the son of Mariam?
Who said to Jesus
So that he came to the bank of the Jordan
And said to John:
“Baptize me with your baptism
By the name which you pronounce, pronounce over me
If I become your disciple
I will mention you in my written decree
If I do not become your disciple
Erase my name from your scroll”

John spoke to Jesus Christ in Jerusalem and said,
“You lied to the Jews
and you have deceived the men, the priests.
You cut the seed from men
and childbirth and pregnancy from women.
You loosed the Sabbath that Moses ordained.
In Jerusalem you lied to them with horns
and sounded tooting with a trumpet.”

Jesus Christ said to John in Jerusalem,
“If I lied to the Jews
Let flaming fire consume me.
If I deceived the men, the priests
May I die two deaths in one.
If I cut off the seed from men,
May I not pass to the great day of the end.
If I cut off childbirth and pregnancy from women,
May a judge be established in my presence.
If I loosed the Sabbath
Let flaming fire consume me.
If I lied to the Jews,
Let my path be through thistle and thorn.
If I sounded with a tooting trumpet,
Let my eyes not fall on Abatur.
You, baptize me with your baptism,
From the name that you pronounce, pronounce upon me.
If I become a disciple
I will mention myself in my written decree.
If I do not become a disciple,
Erase my name from your scroll.”

John spoke to Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, saying,
“A deaf man does not become a scribe
And a blind man does not write a letter
A desolate house is not fruitful
And a widow does not become a bride
Putrid waters are not pleasant
and a stone in oil does not get wet.”

Jesus Christ spoke to John in Jerusalem and said,
“A mute person becomes a scribe
And a deaf person writes a letter
A desolate house is fruitful
and a widow becomes a bride
Putrid waters are pleasant
and a stone in oil gets wet.”

John spoke to Jesus Christ in Jerusalem and said,
“If you can explain these things to me,
You are wise, Christ.”

Jesus Christ spoke to John in Jerusalem and said,
A mute person becomes a scribe:
the child that comes from a woman who gives birth
grows big and strong
he consecrates gifts and alms -
gifts and alms he consecrates -
and he ascends and comes to the place of light.

A deaf person writes a letter:
The son of the wicked became the son of the good
He forsook adultery and forsook theft
and believed in the Mighty Life.
A desolate house shined;
The son of might submitted,
he forsook treacheries and forsook beds
and the house was built in a day
- in a day, the house was built -
and two doors were opened,
so that if someone came down,
he came and opened the door and welcomed him,
and if someone came up,
he came and opened the door and welcomed him.
If he seeks to eat, a dish is set up in truth.
If he seeks to drink, bowls of mixed wine.
If he seeks to sleep, he spread a bed in truth.
If he wishes to go, roads of truth he treads.
- he treads roads of truth and faith -
and he rises up, he sees the place of light.

A widow who becomes a bride:
A woman who from her youth was a widow
grasped the shirt (of a man) and married the world,
which they nurtured, a son as he went yonder.
Her face will not be destroyed by her husband.

Putrid waters which are pleasant:
A prostitute who becomes a lady
goes up to town and goes down from town
and the crown is not removed from her face.

A stone gets wet in oil:
A Manichaean who was from the mountain
forsook sorceries and forsook witchcraft
and believed in the Mighty Life.
He found an orphan and an old man and an army full of widows.

You, John, baptize me with your baptism
In the name that you pronounce, pronounce upon me.
If I become a disciple,
I will mention myself in my written decree.
If I do not become a disciple,
Erase my name from your scroll.
You will be held responsible for your sin
And I will be held responsible for my sin.”

When Jesus Christ said these things,
A letter came to John from the House of Abatur:
“Baptize the deceiver in the Jordan.
Bring him down into the Jordan.
Baptize him, do not be grieved.”

He brought him back up to the shore.
Spirit took the form of a dove.
She made a cross in the Jordan
and she lifted up the waters in colors,
and said to the Jordan,
“You defile me and you defile my seven sons.”

The Jordan in which Christ the deceiver is praised
is turned into a gutter.
The communion bread which Christ the deceiver takes
is made infernal.
The communion wine which Christ the deceiver takes
is turned into a sacrifice.
The turban which Christ the deceiver takes
is made into Jewish priesthood.
The staff which Christ the deceiver takes
is made sickly.

Guard me, oh woe, guard my friend.
[The Romans are like unto a cross, which they affix to walls,
and they stand and worship a crucifix]
Guard me, my brother, from the god fashioned by a carpenter!

If a carpenter made a god,
then who made the carpenter ?

Life be praised!
Life is victorious!

About James F. McGrath

Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, Butler University.
This entry was posted in Jesus, John the Baptist. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to 30 – Jesus Comes to John to be Baptized

  1. Madeleine says:

    Thank you very much for this translation!
    But there are many differences with the translation made by G. R. S. Mead.
    How do you explain that ?

    Example:

    “You defile me and you defile my seven sons.”
    “thou sanctifiest me and thou sanctifiest my seven sons.”

    Otherwise:

    “G.R.S Mead informs us that “Paulus” as Lorsback has shewn, is the equivalent of a Persian word meaning “Deceiver.” It therefore may mean simply the Messiah Deceiver.”

    Your opinion about this ?

  2. Hi Madeleine! I literally have gone back and forth on this one. Yesterday I posted the translation, later yesterday I edited the post and changed it to “the false Christ” and later still I changed it back.

    I am looking forward to having some conversations about this, and hopeful that there will be linguists willing to chime in.

    I suspect that perhaps the meaning is “false Christ” but the pun with Paul’s name is intentional, since the Mandaeans love puns and word plays.

    I may find I change what I have posted here yet again before I present the paper in San Francisco…

  3. On the difference between defile/sanctify, that is a good example of Mandaean double entendre. The root QDSH (sorry, I can’t do diacritics on this device, or at least I don’t know how to) means “holy” to Jews and Christians, and the Mandaeans use the same root in some of the same phrases (such as Ruha d-Qudsha, “Holy Spirit”) but with exact opposite connotations. And so that makes translating the text challenging – it really needs commentary, and our hope is to be able to publish a commentary on the text, in the longer term.

  4. Here’s a thought – what if one translated the terms as “holy” and “sanctified” – complete with scare quotes? I wonder whether that would convey the somewhat subversive relationship to the terminology of holiness used by others.

  5. Madeleine says:

    Hi James,

    Excuse me, I don’t speak English (I translate by Google) so it’s hard for me to have a conversation on topics so subtle. I regret very sincerely because the subject fascinates me as much as you (and we are not many). But if you understand French, I answer you in French and you will answer me in English?

    What do you think of the idea of seeing this “man of lies” the same man who is mentioned by the Dead Sea Scrolls? Basically, John the Baptist did not live far away and he had the same lifestyle that the Essenes! The “Spouter of Lies” would be Paul, the “Wicked Priest” could be Elizar/Eleazar (the son of the sadducean high priest Annas ben Seth ?) who is despised by the Mandaeans, and the “Teacher of Righteousness” would be John the Baptist …

    I also find it curious that the Qumran community is called “Community of the New Covenant” and the blood of Jesus is the “Blood of the New Covenant.”

    I apologize for my English,
    Madeleine

  6. Vous parlez anglais bien – il n’y a aucune raison de vous excuser comme ça!

    Il existe des elements commune entre les esseniens, les mandéens et les chretiens, mais ils s’explique meilleur par un milieu commun. Le Livre de Jean était rédacté dans le age islamique, ainsi que on ne peut pas supposer un relation direct.

  7. Madeleine says:

    Merci James, et bravo pour votre français ;-)

    A propos de Jean-Baptiste, si vous lisez le français dans le texte, j’ai fait une trouvaille importante: une version slave de Flavius Josèphe de “Guerre II” où Jean-Baptiste comparaît devant Hérode Archélaüs et les grands-prêtres de Jérusalem. Cela se passe en l’an 6 après Jésus-Christ et il est dit que Jean-Baptiste est un “homme”! Or un “homme”, sous la plume de Flavius Josèphe, cela veut dire un homme âgé de minimum 20 ans. Comme on sait que Hérode Archélaüs a été exilé en Gaule (Vienne près de Lyon en “France”) en l’an 6 après Jésus-Christ (suite à cela Rome administrera la Judée), cela veut dire que Jean-Baptiste, celui qui nous occupe ici, est né au plus tard en l’an 14 “avant” Jésus-Christ et, plus raisonnablement, entre 20 et 14 avant Jésus-Christ!

    Je pense que cette information très importante (notamment parce que cela veut dire que Jésus aussi serait né entre 20 et 14 avant Jésus-Christ, 6 mois plus tard que Jean et pas en -7, -4 ou 0), trouve sa place sur ce topic. Voici le lien où j’ai trouvé cela:

    http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k759096.image.f285.langFR

    cordialement,
    Madeleine

  8. Stephan says:

    James

    What is the spelling of the name Jesus in Mandaean Aramaic?

  9. Simon Something says:

    The prophet Mani was 300 years after Jesus.. I hope this is a translation error (concerning the Manichaean) so these words can be taken as being actual rather than allegorical and fabricated

    • Sorry, but the Mandaean texts are late, and so if you are hoping to find authentic words of John the Baptist or Jesus in them, you are going to be disappointed. There is doubt about the authenticity of material in our earliest sources, and so how much more so from texts which in their present form date from the Islamic era?

    • Angle says:

      Hi James,Excuse me, I don’t speak English (I translate by Google) so it’s hard for me to have a csnoeroativn on topics so subtle. I regret very sincerely because the subject fascinates me as much as you (and we are not many). But if you understand French, I answer you in French and you will answer me in English?What do you think of the idea of seeing this man of lies the same man who is mentioned by the Dead Sea Scrolls? Basically, John the Baptist did not live far away and he had the same lifestyle that the Essenes! The Spouter of Lies would be Paul, the Wicked Priest could be Elizar/Eleazar (the son of the sadducean high priest Annas ben Seth ?) who is despised by the Mandaeans, and the Teacher of Righteousness would be John the Baptist I also find it curious that the Qumran community is called Community of the New Covenant and the blood of Jesus is the Blood of the New Covenant. I apologize for my English,Madeleine

  10. Beyond the reliability or not of the words of the Drabsha ed Yahia Yuhana about the Baptism of Jesus, one thing its a fact, the greek Mathew was translated “as they could”, this is testified by Papias of Heriapolis, a writer of the FIRST CENTURY, I mean, its a reliable testimony. He testify too, that Mathew write originally in hebrew. Many ancient hebrew scriptures were destroyed by catholic church, because they considered these “herethic”, but one transcription of the hebrew Mathew has survived, the hebrew Mathew of Issac Ben Shaprut (shem tov), there are many things that evidence that it descend of the original hebrew writed by Mathew, and its not a translation of greek Mathew. (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dgYn7eT-aQA&feature=relmfu) Luke based his gospel in the greek Mathew, Mark and some gnistics, this is evidenced if you compare verse by verse these ones.
    Hebrew Matthew 11:7-11: “As Yojanan’s disciples were leaving, Yahosua began to speak to the crowd about Yojanan: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and MORE THEN A PROPHET. This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of ME, who will prepare your way before ME.’
    Truly I tell you, among those born of women THERE HAS NOT RISEN ANYONE GREATER THAN YOJANAN THE INMERSER. (WITHOUT ADDITIONS) From the days of Yojanan the immerser until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the TORAH prophesied until Yojanan (Devarim (Deuteronomy)18: since 15). And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Eliyahu who WILL come. Whoever has ears, let them hear”.
    Christians changed ME by YOU, WILL by HAS, and they added: “yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he”, its like to say “he is black but he is white”, “he is big but he is small”, it has no sense.

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  13. Kevin Long says:

    I want to thank you for your hard work in translating this, and even more I want to thank you for putting it online. I’ve searched for YEARS for something like this. I’ve found bits and pieces of Mandean scriptures online, but this is the specific part I was looking for. Thank you!

    I’m afraid I don’t quite understand the Paul/False Christ pun. Could you explain it?

    Also, you said the text had been redacted in the Islamic period, as evidenced by the mention of Manicheans. Do you have any idea when, approximately, this redaction may have happened? I understand that’s generally a gradual process, a little bit here, a little bit there, and hard to nail down, but is there an approximate figure, or is there just too little data to even guess?

    • I’m delighted you found your way here! We are working on a commentary to go along with it and help clarify things.

      Dating the texts is a challenge, but Jorunn Buckley has done a study of the scribal colophons, lists of copyists at the end of manuscripts (and in some cases sections of manuscripts, indicating that they used to be separate works). Her view is that some of the core elements may be as old as the third century, pre-Islamic. That would fit the reference to Mandaeans/Sabians in the Qur’an as already recognizable as “people of the book” by the earliest Muslims. And the additional collation and editing of materials to reinforce that status may then be dated to a little but not very much later in the Islamic period. I know that’s vague, but I’m not sure that we can do better at the moment.

      The words used, Mšiha Paulis, might simply mean “false Messiah,” but the word that may or may not mean “false” sounds like the Greek name “Paulus.” And so there may be a pun – Mandaean literature takes great delight in puns on names in particular.

  14. Kevin Long says:

    Thank you! That’s actually exactly what I was hoping for. Thanks also for the speedy reply.

    How useful (if at all) is the lengthy list of copyists in the Ginza Rba in dating this material?

  15. Kevin Long says:

    That was a very engaging review. It was interesting to read, stuck to the task at hand, and did a nice job of singing the praises of Buckley’s book while still pointing out valid concerns. I wish I could write ‘em like that. I tend to go all gonzo-journalism when I review things. I particularly liked the section on just how hard even *finding* the manuscripts was.

    >>>Buckley tackles some of the most difficult questions towards the end of her book, including whether there might be a historical connection to John the Baptist, where Haran Gawaita might be<<<

    So as I am unlikely to read the book, I gotta' ask: does she feel there's a historical connection, or not? And where is Haran Gawaita. I'm not sure if 'spoilers' are a concern in this venue, so don't tell me if you feel it's inappropriate.

  16. Kevin Long says:

    Interesting. Thank you!

    IIRC, Robert Eisenman suggested the Mandeans might have been descended from Jewish-Christians who fled Judea during the First Jewish War of 66-70 AD. (I think. It’s been quite a while since I read his second book, which wasn’t as good as his first, honestly, and one can only take Religious Conspiracy Theories so far before I just start laughing) He ties it to the “Pella Flight” tradition in early Christianity. That seems more plausible than much of what he wrote, but there’s a lot of presupposition in that. I’ve also read that they were derived from Manicheanism or perhaps Valentinianism, which seems unlikely, particularly since the passage you translated above goes out of its way to deny any such connection. Both ideas seem to ignore the zillion-and-a-half other Gnostic groups floating around in the world at the start of the Common Era, most of which we’ve probably never even heard of.

    There’s an unfortunate tendency among people to assume that all we’ve heard of is all there is. It gets frustrating when you’re trying to learn about marginal, unique groups like this, and people keep trying to shoehorn them into their dippy pre-existing theories. Yours is, honestly, the best site I’ve ever found on the subject. Far and away.

    • Glad you’re finding the materials provided here useful!

      There have been some attempts to make a case for Mandaeism deriving from Christianity, but I’m not persuaded that one can have an offshoot of Christianity that takes such a negative view of Jesus!

  17. Kevin Long says:

    Agreed. A direct rejection of Christianity perhaps, but not an offshoot.

    I have two questions. I’m not sure if this is the best forum for them, so if not, let me know. And if I’m bugging you, tell me to knock it off. It’s just so rare that I get to talk about stuff like this with someone who knows what they’re actually talking about.

    1) Do you feel it’s possible there’s any real relationship between the Mandeans and John the Baptist? It’s nothing I’d hold you to, I’m just curious, but I’ll understand if you don’t want to say. My own hunch is “Probably not,” though I’m not entirely satisfied with the Biblical account of John. Something about it bugs me.

    2) In the book “In Search of the Birth of Jesus” by Paul William Roberts (1995), he makes reference to two groups of Mandeans, one in Iraq, the other in Iran. He claims that there are substantial theological differences between the two groups, and that the Iranian Mandeans were regarded as “Satan Worshipers,” in that they viewed Satan not as the source of all evil, but as a sort of intercessor between themselves and God. In the ten or twelve years since I read that book, I’ve never heard *ANY* reference to such a thing related to the Mandeans. Robert’s book purports to be a travelogue, but I honestly suspect he made much of it up.

    So is there any group even remotely similar to the one he describes? I’m pretty sure they’re not Mandean, if they exist at all.

    • On the last point, I wonder whether he was perhaps thinking of the Yezidi rather than Mandaeans?

      I think that it is entirely possible that there is some connection between the Mandaeans and John the Baptist, in the same way that there is a connection between Christians and Jesus. But since our oldest Mandaean literature may be from as late as the third century, we have to ask what the connection would be between Christianity and Jesus if nothing had been written down for that length of period. Even with written sources, such as those in the NT, Christianity still underwent substantial developments and changes. And so saying that there may well be a historical connection does not mean that the later Mandaeans are not as far removed from the historical John the Baptist as third century Gnostic Christians may have been from the historical Jesus.

  18. Kevin Long says:

    I’m unfamiliar with the Yezidis. I’ll look into it.

    W/R/T John, yes, that makes sense. In fact the Gospels probably weren’t written until 30 or more years after the Crucifixion, and there are annoying details left out. For instance only Luke mentions Jesus and John were related. The other gospels seem unaware of it, or consider it a matter of no importance whatsoever. Josephus mentions John rather definitively, but doesn’t mention John being related to Jesus either. So it’s a question of whether He really was, or if Jesus’ followers merely appropriated John. Impossible to know except by faith, I suppose.

    Annnnnnnnnnnnnd now we’ve hit the point where I no longer feel comfortable discussing this openly. I don’t want my baseless speculations to make any Christians stumble.

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