A curious aspects of the Mandaeans, a small Mesopotamian religious sect which reveres John the Baptist, who it juxtaposes against Jesus the Nazarene, is that they call themselves Nasurai.
Found within their religious texts are pointers to Christian traditions. For example, the Mandaean Book of John re-tells the story of Jesus’s baptism by John. The Mandaean version remembers what is presumably the earliest version of the story, where the Dove descends on Jesus during the baptism ritual, implanting him with the Holy Spirit.
Although this adoptionistic formula is preserved in the modern canon, the Christology of it deviates from Orthodoxy. Jesus’s real claim to fame, according to modern dogma, is not that he was Joe Nobody before baptism, special enough to receive this mysterious Spirit. Rather, Jesus was predetermined to be the messiah, implanted in Mary by God.
We can track the evolution from Holy Spirit adoptionism to virgin birth via the various beliefs of scattered Valentinian sects, particularly in Italy, who believed Jesus was born from Mary as through a pipe, never physically touching her. This rings as a subsequent evolution from the Eastern Valentinian traditions, who believed that the Christ entered Jesus’ psychic body at the time of baptism.
For the Mandaeans, this Holy Spirit was the Earthly malevolent Spirit Ruha. Thus we have a rethinking, but significant relevance for what adoptionism means in the Mandaean system. The general idea, which given its popularity and dispersion must have been the original one, is that Spirits live in people, animals, buildings, and land. This idea originated in Judaism, particularly as Apocalyptic literature became more popular.
In the Gospels, Jesus suceeds John. We can infer that Jesus attracted John’s followers after he was delivered up to Herod. We see evidence of some contention between the John and Jesus sects in Mark 2:18-20. In particular, the contention seems to surround who is the bridegroom – John or Jesus.
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
The term delivered (παρεδόθη) caught my eye this morning. Paul uses a version of it in 1 Cor 11:23 (παρεδίδετο). The term Paul uses is usually mistranslated as betrayed (“on the night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread…”). The term is often translated to handed over or delivered, rather than betrayed.
Versions of the term are used throughout the New Testament, but one place I recently noticed its use was in Matthew 4:12. Interestingly enough, this term is not used in the earlier Gospel, Mark, with regard to John. Given Matthew’s closer proximity to Judaism than Mark, I wonder if Matthew remembers something Mark omits by making reference to this term with regards to John.
If that is the case, we might consider reasons why Matthew’s Gospel diverges from Mark, and the motivation behind it. Matthew, even the prototype versions we might presume existed before embellishments about the virgin birth, family lineage, ministry, and resurrection, has a very different idea about Jesus than Mark does. As I have stated in previous posts, and various scholars have detailed from time to time, Mark is a Gospel which canonized Paul.
When we factor in the Mandaean parallels, specifically that they are an extension of the Nasarenes, as well as espousing a similar adoptionism which mirrors the earlier Christian theology, it seems the Christian canon is a bastardization of earlier Nasarene traditions which placed emphasis on this delivery. In other words, the true prophet is handed over to the authorities.
In previous posts, I have argued that John and Jesus are fictional representations of real history described by Josephus. John is Theudas and Jesus is the Egyptian.
In Josephus’s history, the Egyptian causes a riot after claiming he could knock down the temple walls; he escapes, and was never heard from again. A Roman commander mistakes Paul for the Egyptian in Acts 21:38.
Theudas was not so lucky. The Judean procurator sent a band of soldiers to collect his head after he ministered around the Jordan River and performed water rituals of some sort. These events occurred 15 to 25 years after the Gospel timeline.
We are told by Clement of Alexandria that Paul and Theudas had a student/teacher relationship. This is of course problematic for the timeline we get from Josephus; however, if we invert the relationship, we find that Theudas being a teacher of Paul is much more plausible. Clement goes on to write that Theudas was a teacher of Valentinus, who held a high position in the 2nd century Christian “church.”
Given the contention between subsequent Mandaean and Christian traditions, I wonder if this relationship between Paul, Theudas, and Valentinus represents the rift within the Nasarene religion which gave rise to the subsequent divergences within Christianity. If we follow these speculations, we have one tradition where the prophet is handed over, and another where he escapes – tricking the rulers who are pursuing him. Both tropes spring up in subsequent flavors of Christianity, particularly in Gnosticism.