Gnostic John the Baptizer

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Gnostic John the Baptizer

By G. R. S. Mead

The Fourth Gospel Proem

 AFTER I had for some time been making a close study of Lidzbarski's translations of the Mandæan John-Book and Liturgies, I had occasion in another connection to refer to the Greek text (Westcott & Hort) of the prologue to the fourth gospel. As I read, I found that a number of Mandæan associations came welling up from the preconscious, especially with regard to Life and Light, the use of the term Man and the way the sentences about John the Baptist linked on to these concepts. I found I was almost automatically construing parts of this familiar text from a new angle or at any rate envisaging them in a new perspective. I had already for long been convinced that the historical references broke awkwardly into the doctrinal proem proper, and that this contained what may be called some characteristic general gnostic notions. Moreover I had long been of the opinion that the proem was based on a 'source'; but thought that this 'source' was most probably already in Greek when it was made such deft use of by the inspired writer of the 'pneumatic' gospel. I now asked myself, could it possibly have been originally in Aramaic, for there are indubitably some strained constructions in it, that might be explicable as literal renderings of Semitic idioms. Translation into Greek would doubtless make the original appear to be more hellenistically coloured than was actually the case and so 'philosophize' it somewhat. The main difficulty seemed to lie in determining p. 121 what could have been the Semitic original of the leading term rendered by Logos? Was it Word or Wisdom or some other Divine Power or Potency? On this I could form no conclusion. But further, whatever it was, could it have been translated by any other Greek term than Logos? For the student of comparative Hellenistic theology is not confined to seeking for parallels or associations with the idea behind this term in Stoicism and Philo simply; he has to take into consideration a far wider field of research. In the Trismegistic literature, for instance, in which the Heavenly Man doctrine is prominent, the parallel notion is rendered by Noûs, Mind, and in the Hellenistic poem so beloved by the Later Platonists and generally known as the 'Chaldæan Oracles,'1 the Mind of the Father stands at the summit; while in allied Gnostic tradition connected with the 'Chaldæan Mysteries' or even said to be based on the 'Chaldæan Books,' where again the Divine Man doctrine is prominent, the term preferred is Mind. Mind, moreover, in the Valentinian system stands at the head of the Pleroma. This is solely with regard to translation into Greek in the general Hellenistic theological language of the time, and says nothing about the Semitic or Chaldæan original terms, which may have been numerous, apart from the very general (notably Egyptian) Oriental magical notion of creation by the word. Certainly the Man-doctrine was wide-spread and where personifications were the order of the day, Man and Mind would go better together than Man and Word or Reason or even Wisdom. It is, however, with all hesitation that I have ventured to use the term Mind in my translation, p. 122 find more to call attention to the problem than anything else.

   With these ideas—namely the supposal of a probable Aramaic original of the proem-source and the consequent 'philosophizing' by translation into Hellenistic Greek of some terms that in the original were more concretely presented, I attempted the following version. This I did before I had read Prof. C. F. Burney's recent (1922) arresting study, entitled The Aramaic Origin of the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, The Clarendon Press). The contention of the Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford, who is so great an authority on the O.T., is that not only for the proem but for much, if not the whole, of the gospel there is an Aramaic background. Whatever may be ultimately decided on this novel and far-reaching hypothesis, it should inaugurate a fruitful line of N.T. research. My own venture is far more modest in every way; I deal with a single 'source' only, and have not the competence to treat even that technically from the Semitic side. The only remark I would venture to make on Prof. Burney's labours is in respect to the Johannine Greek quotations from the O.T. The problem whether the few of them which differ from the LXX. Greek Targum or Translation,—the Authorised Version of the time so to say,—were made freshly from the Hebrew, does not seem to me necessarily to help to prove the author's contention. They are far more likely to have been taken from what is said to have been probably the earliest Christian Greek document,—a collection of proof-texts to establish the claims of Christian Messianism from O.T. prophecy, at times not without accommodation. They sometimes agree with and sometimes diverge from the Septuagint rendering. p. 123 All this has been most thoroughly worked out by Proff. Rendel Harris and Vacher Burch in their indispensable work (Pt. I., 1916, Pt. II., 1920) on the now famous Testimony Book (Testimonia contra Judæos).

   I also conjectured, presumably owing to the rhythms of the Mandæan books running in my head, that the 'source' might have been in verse; and found that the Greek broke up easily into some sort of rhythmic lines. But of course this was pure guesswork on my part. Professor Burney, however, with his wide knowledge of Hebrew and Palestinian Aramaic, has come most definitely to this conclusion as to the proem. If the rest of the gospel cannot be so treated, this seems to me to be an additional indication that in the prologue we are dealing with a 'source.' Though my tentative translation from the Greek differs both in analysis and phrasing from Prof. Burney's, I so far see no compelling reason to alter the phrasing by his, and let the breaking up of the lines stand to indicate rhythm rather than the measured lines he has so ingeniously endeavoured to reconstruct into Aramaic.



1.    In Beginning1 was Mind;2

And Mind was with GOD.1
2.    So2 Mind was God.
This3 was in Beginning with GOD.
3.    All kept coming into existence4 through5 it6;
And apart from it came into existence not a single [thing].
4.    What has come into existence in it7 was Life;8
And LIFE9 was the Light of the [true] Men.10
5.    And the Light shineth in the Darkness;
And the Darkness did not emprison11 it.

   (1There was a Man sent by God,—his name Yoánes. This [Man] came for bearing witness, that he might bear witness about the Light, in order that all [men] might have faith through it. That [Man] was not the Light, but [came] in order that he might bear witness about the Light.)

6.    It was the True Light,
Which enlighteneth every Man2
Who cometh into the world.3
7.    It was in the world;
And the world kept coming into existence through it4;
And the world did not know it.5
8.    It came unto its own;6
And its own did not receive it.
9.    But as many as received it,
To them it gave power7
To become Children of God,8—
10.    To those who have faith in his name,9—

Who were brought to birth,
Not out of [the blending of] bloods,1
11.    Nor of urge2 of flesh,
Nor of urge of a male,—
But out of God.
12.    So3 Mind became flesh4
And tabernacled5 in us,6—
13.    And we beheld its glory,
Glory as of [? an] only-begotten7 from Father,—
Full8 of Delight9 and Truth.
   (10Yoánes beareth witness about him,11 and hath cried aloud, saying—he it was who said—: He who p. 127 cometh behind me hath been before me,1 for he was my First.2)

14.    For of its Fulness3 we all received,
And Delight over against Delight.4
   (5In that the Law (Torah) was given by Moses, Delight and Truth kept coming into the word through Yeshu' Messiah.6

   No man hath seen God at any time;7

   An only-begotten <god>, who is in8 the bosom9 of the Father,—he dictated.)10

Next: Afterword


1 See my 'Echoes from the Gnosis' series, vols. viii. and ix., The Chaldæan Oracles, London, 1908.

1 In the original this was probably the usual cosmological formula 'in the beginning.' The Greek may suggest a more metaphysical meaning and the Vulgate Latin seems to continue the process, for principium might carry the weaning of 'primality'; cp. Cicero, Tusc. i. 23, 54: "There is no origin of primality (principii); for it is out of primality that all things originate"; Tertullian, Adv. Hermog. 19: "In Greek the term primality, namely ?ρχ?, takes the primacy (principatum), not only in the category of order (ordinativum), but also in that of potency (potestivum)."

2 If there is any Mandæan term with which to seek a parallel it might perhaps be Mana, which seems generally to mean Mind. Prof. Rendel Harris in his illuminating study of the Proem, would make the original of Logos 'Wisdom' (?okhmah), and brings forward some striking quotations from the O.T. sapiential literature and Patristic commentaries in justification. This Hebrew (O.T.) and Greek (Apocryphal) Wisdom-literature is clearly influenced Hellenistically, and the equation Logos = Sophia in the Gk. version of the 4th gospel is of great interest. In addition to R. H.'s Origin of the Prologue to St. John.'s Gospel, see his interesting paper 'Athena, Sophia and the Logos,' pp. 56-72 of the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Manchester, July, 1922. It may be objected that 'Word' is to be preferred, seeing that in the Targums Memrah = the Creative Word, Logos; but my contention is that the Greek Noûs is nearer to the Deity than the Greek Logos.

1 The Gk. phrase πρ?ς τ?ν θε?ν is a grammatical puzzle; this is, however, probably solved by the hypothesis of a literal translation from a Semitic original. The Gnostic Heracleon (2nd cent.); the first known commentator on the fourth gospel, who was apparently ignorant of Semitics, conjectured that ?νωμ?νος ('at-one-with,' 'in-co-adunition-with') should be supplied; others think the phrase is Hellenistic (Koine) for παρ? τ?? θε???—i.e., 'along with,' 'by the side of,' or simply 'with' God. In the Greek text ? θε?ς is distinguished (and I think deliberately), by the prefixing of the definite article, from the following simple θε?ς. But 'The God' is clumsy in English, and so I resort to the type-trick of capitalization to mark the distinction.

2 The Gk. κα? renders probably a Semitic particle that serves several other purposes than that of a purely copulative function.

3 Sc. Mind or God, not as a second God, but as the Divine or Creative Intelligence of GOD.

4 Or 'continued to become' (impf.),—the idea of 'perpetual creation.'

5 The Old Syriac versions (e.g. C.) read 'in' and not 'through'; see F. C. Burkitt, Evangelion da-Mepharreshe: The Curetonian Version of the Four Gospels, with the Readings of the Sinai Palimpsest and the Early Syriac Patristic Evidence (Cambridge, 1904), i. 423. The Old (i.e. pre-Peshit?a) Syriac versions should be a great help in determining the Aram. original, as the two dialects are closely related.

6 Sc. Mind.

7 Sc. Mind.

8 That would be the Mandæan Second Life.

9 Or 'The Life'—the same distinction as with the terms for 'God.'

10 The article cannot be neglected; it signifies those who are really Men, i.e. conscious members of the celestial or angelic humanity or true Race. All this connects with the Anthropos-doctrine of the Gnosis. Man (the Aram. idiom 'Son of Man,' if translated literally, is misleading in Gk.) is the Celestial or Primal Man, Adam Qadmon. As Thrice-greatest Hermes says, the vast majority of mortals are not worthy to be called 'Men'; all men have Reason, but few as yet have Mind (i.e. are spiritual). The true Men who have the Light of Life are the Prophets and Perfect.

11 'Suppress,' 'hold back,' 'detain.' Burney has 'obscured it not.'

1 This paragraph seems clearly to be an interpolation into, or overworking of, his original 'source' by the writer, or perhaps part compiler, of the fourth gospel.

2 Prophet or Divine Messenger.

3 This world (Gk. κ?σμος, Heb. tebel, Mand. tibil); there were other worlds according to the Manda or Gnosis. 'This world' in the sense of the earth; the world in the wider meaning would be the Heb. 'olam.

4 Sc. the Light, i.e. the Life of Mind.

5 If the reader prefers to personify the Light and its synonyms, he can substitute 'him' for 'it'; and so also in the following phrases.

6 Sc. creations (, world and other creations up or down to man; cp. Jn. 19:27, where the 'disciple whom he loved' is said to have taken the Mother 'unto his own' (ε?ς τ? ?δια), which is generally supposed to mean 'his own home.' 'Its own' therefore signifies 'habitations.' The following 'its own' ( refers to the 'inhabitants.'

7 Sc. spiritual power—lit. 'allowance,' 'possibility,' generally translated 'authority'; it is not physical power (δ?ναμις, 'lordship,' 'domination'), but moral power—'grace.'

8 That is of Mind.

9 That is who have faith in the still higher Power (the mystic 'Name' or Soul, or Mind, or Primality) of Great Life—GOD.

1 That is, of earthly parents; for they were born from Above, i.e. were spiritual births.

2 It means 'wish' rather than 'will'—'desire,' 'urge.'

3 Lit. 'and' (κα?); but clearly meaning 'by such birth from above.'

4 This seems to mean simply 'was enfleshed.' The Old Syriac has 'body,' not 'flesh'; so also in 11.

5 Lit. 'pitched its tent'; this refers to the extended shekinah-doctrine. In the Mandæan tradition škina is the frequently-recurring technical term for the 'dwelling,' 'housing,' 'tenting,' or 'spiritual body' or 'glory,' of the celestials—the uthra's or 'treasures' or perhaps 'fulnesses' (lit. 'riches'). Burney has: "And set his shekinta among us," referring solely to Yeshu' Messiah. Shekinta is Palestinian Aramaic for Heb. shekinah.

6 Namely the Prophets or Perfect.

7 Mono-genes,—this in pre- and post-Christian Gnostic tradition is the general technical term for 'born,' 'emanated' or 'created' from a 'single source (μονο-), i.e. one-and-only parent, and is used of spiritual beings who are superior to the conditions of sex-generation. Cp. the perikope on Melchi Sedek (King of Peace, Prince of Righteousness) in Heb. 7:1-21. He is there said to be "father-less, mother-less, [earthly] genealogy-less, without beginning of days or end of life, but made-in-the-likeness of GOD'S Son." In common speech monogenes is usually found as meaning the only one of a kind; if only one daughter has been born to a man, she would be characterized as monogenes. But the vulgar tongue is not the language of mysticism. In the above-referred to article (p. 123) Prof. Rendel Harris thinks that the meaning of monogenes as 'child of one parent only,' as applied to Athena born from the head of Zeus, which he suggests, but rejects, is a 'quite new' idea; but I have been insisting on it for a score of years at least. He would render it as 'darling,' but this is really too bourgeois.

8 This picks up Mind in 121; it is m. sing.

9 The root-meaning of χ?ρις.

10 This is the second redactorial interpolation or overworking.

11 The Greek translator unquestionably understood this as referring to Yeshu' Messiah. But the puzzling phrasing of the quotation from the Baptist logoi-tradition—'my First'—seems to require 'it' instead of 'him,' viz., the Mind-Life-Light of the 'source,' as in the first interpolation.

1 Cp. L. and S. Lex. s.v. ?μπροσθεν: "The future is unseen and was therefore regarded as behind us, whereas the past is known and therefore before our eyes."

2 Inexplicable in the usual translation, but it might refer to First Life in Mandæan tradition.

3 Or pleroma picking up the 'full' of 133.

4 This seems to me to be a distinct reference to the Gnostic notion of pairs or syzygies in the Pleroma; cp. the "Hence pairing with each other (?ντιστοιχου?ντες)" of the Apophasis ascribed to Simon Magus (Hippolytus, Ref. vi. 18). The term is used by Xenophon (Ana. v. 4, 12) of two bands of dancers facing each other in rows or pairs (see my Simon Magus, 1892, p. 20).

5 The third interpolation or overworking of the 'source.'

6 Ιησου?ς Χριστ?ς—Yesus ?ristos. I have, however, kept what I hold to be the Heb.-Aram. original name-combination. It means the Anointed Saviour or Liberator—that is Saviour or Vindicator anointed by the Divine Spirit or Creative and Perfecting Life of God; cp, the O.T. Joshua. (LXX. Jesus).

7 Cp. the Jewish Gnostic commentator of the Naassene Document, quoting from a prior 'scripture,' or an oral 'logos' ('what was spoken'): "His voice we heard, but his form we have not seen." (See my analysis of this very important Gnostic Document in Thrice-greatest Hermes, London, 1906, in Prolegomena, § 'The Myth of Man in the Mysteries'; the quotation is to be found in i. 169.) Compare with this Jn. 5:37: "Ye have never at any time heard his voice, nor have ye seen his form," addressed to the Jews in general; whereas the Naassene quotation refers to the Perfect. This is very important, for if my analysis of the NN. document, which Hippolytus copied, is correct, the Jewish mystic, who commented on the Hellenistic source, was in all probability contemporary with Philo (c. 30 B.C. -45 A.D.), and therefore we have here an indication of another 'source' of the fourth gospel (of which there may have been a number).

8 The Gk. ? ?ν ε?ς τ?ν κ?λπον ('into the bosom') is grammatically impossible: it must rest on a Semitic idiom. The Old Syriac (C.) has Son from the bosom of the Father.

9 Cp. the Commentary of Ephraim Syrus, which runs: "The word of the Father came from His bosom, and clothed itself with a body in another bosom; from bosom to bosom it went forth, and pure bosoms have been filled from it: blessed is He who dwelleth in us!" (Burkitt, op. cit., ii. 1-10).

10 Namely the gospel which follows; the verb has no object. The Gk. ?ξηγ?σατο means also 'related in full,' 'set forth'; the Mandæan technical term is 'discoursed.'



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