Christianity’s John The Baptist Origins

When Epiphanius described the so-called Dositheans, he described them as Essene or Ebionite-like.  They practiced circumcision, abstained from meat, and frequently fasted.

He also said they believed in the resurrection, which is in-line with the Essenes and Pharisees, but not to Samaritans, which is where Dositheus appears to have been from.

Epiphanius described 4 major Samaritan sects:  Essenes, Gorothenes, Sebuaeans, and Dositheans.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I wonder if two Samaritan sects, the Sebuaeans and Dositheans, are a reference to Sabbaeus and Theodosius, who argued on behalf of Mount Gerizim’s holiness in front of Ptolemy VI (Ant 12:10).  For their zeal, and because of their failed argument, they were put to death, which makes them candidates for martyrdom cult figureheads, which were attractive to residents of the day.

Epiphanius relayed that the Dositheans kept the Festivals of Unleavened Bread, Passover, Pentecost, and the Tabernacles.  Interestingly, Jesus ben Ananias, as described by Josephus in Wars, came to Jerusalem during the Festival of the Tabernacles; the building of Tabernacles is referenced in Mark 9:5.

Epiphanius wrote that Dositheus retired to a cave, and fasted so long that he died from “lack of bread and water – willingly if you please!”.  I generally do not put much stock into Epiphanius’ retelling of traditions, but there is an interesting parallel between Jesus going into a cave after his death in the Gospel of Mark 16.

According to the Ebionite Pseudo-Clementines, Dositheus was a follower of John the Baptist.  After John died, Dositheus and Simon Magus battled for supremacy of the sect.  According to the text, Dositheus beat Simon Magus with a rod, but the rod passed through him.  Dositheus then acknowledged Simon was “The Standing One”**, to which Simon responded “I am”, which perhaps relates to the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John.

In the story, Dositheus submitted to Simon’s authority and died soon after.

**Note:  The reference to the “standing one” seems a likely reference to the idea of a new prophet – a new Moses; my understanding is that the standing one is the Samaritan equivalent to the Jerusalem Christ [see The Samaritans By Alan David Crown p 388].  In Exodus 40, God commands Moses to setup a tabernacle and light a lamp – this became symbolic in Jewish culture, and was recognized during Sukkot, or the Festival of the Tabernacles, when Jesus ben Ananias came to Jerusalem.  In that sense, the old man dressed in white in Revelation 1 who had a lamp seems to be reference to a new Moses, revealing “unspeakable things”, or attributes of the mystery, (2 Corin 12) to the story’s narrator, who might very well have been understood to be Cerinthus by readers of the day.

Simon Magus and Peter

Simon Magus is a doppelganger for the Apostle Paul, which explains why the Ebionites advanced their polemical traditions of Simon Magus.  I have made the case Paul, Simon Magus, and Simon of Cyrene were all the same person.  The Basilidean tradition, which relied on the Gospel of Mark put forward that Simon of Cyrene inherited the Christ prior to Jesus’ crucifixion.  In other words, Simon of Cyrene was the Paraclete.  Later Paulinists, the Valentinians and Marcionites, agreed that Paul (Simon Magus) was the Paraclete.

My speculation is that Acts of the Apostles 8 and Acts of the Apostles 13 tell analogous stories of heretical magicians interrupting the proto-Orthodoxy.  In Acts 13, the sorceror was an assistant to the governor in Cyrene!

If Simon Magus and Paul are the same person, does that mean Christianity’s origins are Samaritan?  Was John the Baptist was the original figurehead?

If the answers to these questions are yes, they have much explanatory value.  This explains why John the Baptist was so prominently featured in the Gospels, and why the authors felt so inclined to point out that John led the way to Jesus’ authority.  It also helps to explain cooling tensions between Jews and Samaritans throughout the Gospels, particularly in the Gospel of John.

It also explains why there were ongoing references to Theudas (who resembles John the Baptist).  Theudas is referenced in Acts of the Apostles, and he was also said to have been Paul’s (AKA Simon Magus’) disciple, and revealed Paul’s “key to the mystery” to Valentinus – in other words, Theudas (John the Baptist) was a follower of Paul (Simon Magus), and later revealed Paul’s wisdom to the Gnostic Valentinus.  Interestingly, according to Irenaeus, the Valentinians were “copious” consumers of the Gospel of John (AH iii.11.7)

Last Updated:  20170913


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

3 thoughts on “Christianity’s John The Baptist Origins”

  1. Hi Tim,
    first off, thank you for your work. It’s a pleasure to read. I stumbled upon your site searching for this very subject. My own (very) amateurish research has also led me to the conclusion that early Christianity came out of Samaritan religious practices.
    I didn’t see an article on your site, so forgive me if this is somewhere in an archive but what are your thoughts on the Samaritan Prophet who was killed by Pilate?


    1. Thanks for the comment. I think there were a lot of Samaritans contributing to the mix – the people underlying Simon Magus and Dositheus seem to be interesting characters, as well. I’m not terribly familiar with the Samaritan Prophet, as I don’t really think that the influencers of the Gospel stories came out of the time of Pontius Pilate…my suspicion is that the chief influencers of the earliest Gospels were Theudas, the Egyptian, Jesus ben Ananias, James (who was killed by Ananus ben Ananus) and Old Testament figures such as Moses, Gabriel, and Michael.

      Feel free to check out my selected posts on the topic:


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