John the Baptizer
John the Baptist, by Titian
Bornc. 1st century BCE
Herodian Tetrarchy, Roman Empire
Diedc. CE 28–36
bank of the River Jordan
Venerated inMandaeism, Christianity, Islam, Druze Faith,[1] Baháʼí Faith

John the Baptizer (Classical Mandaic: ࡉࡅࡄࡀࡍࡀ ࡌࡀࡑࡁࡀࡍࡀ Iuhana Maṣbana)[2] was a Nasoraean Mandaean prophet and teacher active in the Jordan Valley during the early 1st Century CE. He is known as St. John the Baptist in Christianity, Prophet Yahya ibn Zakariya in Islam and Yohanān HaMatbil in Hebrew.

John is revered as the most important prophet in Mandaeism and is considered a renewer and reformer of the ancient Mandaean faith.[3]: 108 [4]: 24  He is also revered as a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, the Baháʼí Faith[5] and the Druze Faith. He is considered to be a prophet of God by all of these faiths, and is honoured as a saint in many Christian denominations.

John is mentioned by the Roman Jewish historian Josephus[6] and some scholars maintain that John belonged to the Essenes, a semi-ascetic Jewish sect who practiced ritual baptism.[7][8] Most scholars agree that John baptized Jesus,[9][10] and several New Testament accounts report that some of Jesus' early followers had previously been followers of John.[11]

In Mandaeism

John the Baptizer, or Yuhana Maṣbana (Classical Mandaic: ࡉࡅࡄࡀࡍࡀ ࡌࡀࡑࡁࡀࡍࡀ, lit.'John the Baptizer' Iuhana Maṣbana)[2] is considered the greatest prophet of the Mandaeans. Mandaeans also refer to him as Yuhana bar Zakria (John, son of Zechariah) and Yahia-Yuhana.[12] He plays a large part in their religious texts such as the Ginza Rabba and the Book of John.[13] Mandaeans believe they descend directly from John's original disciples[14] but they do not believe their religion began with John, tracing their beliefs back to their first prophet Adam.[15]: 3  According to Mandaeism, John was a great teacher, a Nasoraean and renewer of the faith.[4]: 24 [16]: 3 [17] John is a messenger of Light (nhura) and Truth (kushta) who possessed the power of healing and full Gnosis (manda).[18]: 48  Mandaean texts make it abundantly clear that early Mandaeans were extremely loyal to John and viewed him as a prophetic reformer of the ancient Mandaean tradition.[note 1][3]: 108  Scholars such as Mark Lidzbarski, Rudolf Macúch, Ethel S. Drower, Jorunn J. Buckley, and Şinasi Gündüz believe that the Mandaeans likely have a historical connection with John's original disciples.[19][20][21][22][23][4][24][25] Mandaeans believe that John was married, with his wife named Anhar, and had children.[26][27]

Enišbai (Elizabeth) is mentioned as the mother of John the Baptizer in chapters 18, 21, and 32 of the Book of John.[28][12]

In Book 5, Chapter 4 of the Right Ginza, Manda d-Hayyi appears to John the Baptizer as a "small boy aged three years and one day." John baptizes the small boy in the River Jordan, after which John's soul is taken up to the World of Light with Manda d-Hayyi, while John's body becomes one with the River Jordan.[16]: 279–280 [4]

In Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews

An account of John the Baptizer is found in all extant manuscripts of the Antiquities of the Jews (book 18, chapter 5, 2) by Flavius Josephus (37–100):[29]

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's [Antipas's] army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him.[30]

According to this passage, the execution of John was blamed for the defeat Herod suffered. Some have claimed that this passage indicates that John died near the time of the destruction of Herod's army in AD 36. However, in a different passage, Josephus states that the end of Herod's marriage with Aretas' daughter (after which John was killed) was only the beginning of hostilities between Herod and Aretas, which later escalated into the battle.[31]


John setting off into the desert, Giovanni di Paolo, 1454

Scholars studying John the Baptizer's relationship with Jesus have commented on the differences in their respective approaches.

James F. McGrath writes "In the first half of the 20th century, the Mandaeans received significant attention from New Testament scholars who thought that their high view of John the Baptist might mean they were the descendants of his disciples. Many historians think that Jesus of Nazareth was a disciple of John the Baptist before breaking away to form his own movement, and I am inclined to agree."[32]

"The Mandaeans, also known as Sabians (“baptizers”) in Arabic, are mentioned in the Qur’an. It is extremely unlikely that the Mandaeans responded to the appearance of Islam at such an early period by adding John the Baptist and other Biblical figures to their tradition and frantically creating texts that mention him. The use of John’s Aramaic name, Yuhana, in addition to his Arabic name Yahya, suggests that John’s importance to the Mandaeans predates the spread of Islam to the regions where the Mandaeans lived. And the fact that some Mandaean texts show extensive evidence of the influence of Arabic, while others show little or none, considered together with the evidence that at least some mentions of Islam in Mandaean texts are later additions, all point to the conclusion that the Mandaean tradition existed in something akin to its present form before the rise of Islam."[33]

Pastor Robert L. Deffinbaugh views John's sending two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he were the Messiah or whether another should be sought as the Baptist's issuing a public challenge since the message was presented to Jesus while he was with a gathered crowd. Deffinbaugh suggests that John might have been looking for inauguration of the kingdom of God in a more dramatic way than what Jesus was presenting, as John had previously warned that the "Messiah would come with fire." Jesus answered by indicating his miracle works and teachings which themselves gave evidence of his identity: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor".[34][35]

John Dominic Crossan sees John the Baptist as an apocalyptic eschatologist, whose message was that "God, very soon, imminently, any moment, is going to descend to eradicate the evil of this world in a sort of an apocalyptic consummation..."[36] When Jesus says John is the greatest person ever born on earth, but the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John, it means Jesus is changing his vision of God and the Kingdom of God from what he has taken from John. For Crossan, Jesus is an ethical eschatologist that sees "...the demand that God is making on us, not us on God so much as God on us, to do something about the evil in the world."[36]

Michael H. Crosby, O.F.M.Cap. states there was "no biblical evidence indicating that John the Baptist ever became a disciple of Jesus." He believes that John's concept of what a messiah should be was in contrast to how Jesus presented himself, and kept him from becoming a disciple of Jesus. Crosby states, "an unbiased reading leaves us with the figure of John the Baptist as a reformist Jew who also may have wanted desperately to become a believer but was unable to become convinced of Jesus' messiahship..."[37] Crosby considers John's effectiveness as a "precursor" in encouraging others to follow Jesus as very minimal, since the scriptures record only two of his own followers having become Jesus' disciples.

Harold W. Attridge agrees with Crossan that John was an apocalyptic preacher. Attridge says most contemporary scholars would see the idea of John as the "forerunner" of Jesus as a construct developed by the early church to help explain the relationship between the two. "For the early church it would have been something of an embarrassment to say that Jesus, who was in their minds superior to John the Baptist, had been baptized by him, and thereby proclaimed some sort of subordination to him, some sort of disciple relationship to him..."[36]

Barbara Thiering questions the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls and suggests that the Teacher of Righteousness (leader of the Essenes) preached coming fiery judgment, said "the axe is laid to the roots of the tree", called people "vipers", practiced baptism and lived in the wilderness of Judea. Due to these reasons, she believes there is a strong possibility that the Teacher of Righteousness was John the Baptizer.[38]

Charles G. Häberl states "...most people pushing in the first part of the 20th Century the Babylonian or Mesopotamian origins of the Mandaeans were actually sectarian Christians who wanted to kind of push Mandaeans as far away from anything to say about John the Baptist and delegitimize their claims upon the shared history between Jews, Christians, Mandaeans and Muslims as well. They are trying to delegitimize that and alienate them by making them Mesopotamian pagans...As with so many things, there's a kind of political impetus there."[39]

Further reading

  • Mandaean Book of John, A complete open-access translation, published in 2020, edited by Charles G. Häberl and James F. McGrath


  1. Buckley states that John the Baptizer was a prophetic reformer of the ancient Mandaean / Israelite tradition.[3]: 108 



  1. Swayd, Samy (2015). Historical Dictionary of the Druzes. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 77. ISBN 978-1442246171.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Gelbert, Carlos (2011). Ginza Rba. Sydney: Living Water Books. ISBN 9780958034630.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2010). Turning the Tables on Jesus: The Mandaean View. In Horsley, Richard (March 2010). Christian Origins. ISBN 9781451416640.(pp94-111). Minneapolis: Fortress Press
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Buckley, Jorunn Jacobsen (2002), The Mandaeans: ancient texts and modern people (PDF), Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195153859
  5. Compilations (1983). Hornby, Helen (ed.). Lights of Guidance: A Baháʼí Reference File. Baháʼí Publishing Trust, New Delhi, India. p. 475. ISBN 978-81-85091-46-4.
  6. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2
  7. Harris, Stephen L. (1985). Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. p. 382
  8. Marshall, I. H.; Millard, A. R.; Packer, J. I., eds. (1988). "John the Baptist". New Bible Dictionary (Third ed.). IVP reference collection. ISBN 978-0-85110-636-6.
  9. Charles M. Sennott, The body and the blood, Public Affairs Pub, 2003. p 234 Google Link
  10. Jesus as a figure in history: how modern historians view the man from Galilee. Mark Allan Powell, published by Westminster John Knox Press, p. 47 "Few would doubt the basic fact...Jesus was baptized by John"
  11. Harris, Stephen L. (1985) Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield John 1:36–40
  12. 12.0 12.1 Gelbert, Carlos (2017). The Teachings of the Mandaean John the Baptist. Fairfield, NSW, Australia: Living Water Books. ISBN 9780958034678. OCLC 1000148487.
  13. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Mandaeans
  14. Drower, Ethel Stefana (1953). The Haran Gawaita and the Baptism of Hibil-Ziwa. Biblioteca Apostolica Vatican.
  15. Drower, Ethel Stefana. 2002. The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran: Their Cults, Customs, Magic Legends, and Folklore (reprint). Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Drower, Ethel Stefana (1937). The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran. Oxford At The Clarendon Press.
  17. Willis Barnstone, Marvin Meyer The Gnostic Bible: Revised and Expanded Edition Shambhala Publications 2009 ISBN 978-0-834-82414-0 page 550
  18. Brikhah S. Nasoraia (2012). "Sacred Text and Esoteric Praxis in Sabian Mandaean Religion" (PDF).
  19. R. Macuch, "Anfänge der Mandäer. Versuch eines geschichtliches Bildes bis zur früh-islamischen Zeit," chap. 6 of F. Altheim and R. Stiehl, Die Araber in der alten Welt II: Bis zur Reichstrennung, Berlin, 1965.
  20. Zinner, Samuel. "Comparative Studies in Mandaean History and Theology" – via {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  21. Drower, Ethel Stephana (1960). The secret Adam, a study of Nasoraean gnosis (PDF). London UK: Clarendon Press. xvi. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 March 2014., p. xiv.
  22. Thomas, Richard. "The Israelite Origins of the Mandaean People." Studia Antiqua 5, no. 2 (2007).
  23. GÜNDÜZ, ŞINASI. The Knowledge of Life. The Origins and Early History of the Mandaeans and Their Relation to the Sabians of the Qurʾān and to the Harranians. Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press on behalf of the University of Manchester, 1994. Pp. vii + 256
  24. Lidzbarski, Mark 1915 Das Johannesbuch der Mandäer. Giessen: Alfred Töpelmann.
  25. Macuch, Rudolf A Mandaic Dictionary (with E. S. Drower). Oxford: Clarendon Press 1963.
  26. Smith, Andrew Phillip. John the Baptist and the Last Gnostics: the Secret History of the Mandaeans. Watkins, 2016.(p155)
  27. Nasoraia, Brikha H.S. (2021). The Mandaean gnostic religion: worship practice and deep thought. New Delhi: Sterling. ISBN 978-81-950824-1-4. OCLC 1272858968.
  28. Häberl, Charles G.; McGrath, James F. (2019). The Mandaean Book of John: Text and Translation (PDF). Open Access Version. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.
  29. "Josephus, Flavius." In: Cross, F. L. (ed.) (2005) The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. Oxford University Press
  30. Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiqities 18. 5. 2. (Translation by William Whiston). Original Greek.
  31. Hoehner, Harold W. (10 August 2010). Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ. p. 101. ISBN 9780310877103.
  32. "This tiny minority of Iraqis follows an ancient Gnostic religion – and there's a chance they could be your neighbors too".
  33. McGrath, James F. (August 2013). "Revisiting the Mandaeans and the New Testament". The Bible and Interpretation. Retrieved 27 July 2023.
  34. Luke 7:22
  35. 22 June 2004
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 "A Portrait Of Jesus' World - John The Baptist | From Jesus To Christ - The First Christians | FRONTLINE | PBS".
  37. Crosby, Michael H. "Why Didn't John the Baptist Commit Himself to Jesus as a Disciple?"; Biblical Theology Bulletin, Volume 38 Nov 2008; p158 -162 [1] Archived 20 November 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  38. "The Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls". YouTube - Discovery Channel documentary. 1990. Retrieved 11 March 2022.
  39. Zinner, Samuel (21 December 2022), "Just Nowhere Episode 3 Who Are the Mandaeans with Charles Häberl", YouTube-A wide-ranging discussion on the Mandaeans with Charles Häberl at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies., retrieved 28 December 2022
This article uses material from the Wikipedia article John the Baptist, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (view authors). Wikipedia logo