In the comment thread of my recent post titled “The water of John’s water baptism” I alluded briefly to the Mandaeans as another possible source of information on John the Baptist and the evolution of his movement (the part that doesn’t seem to have integrated with incipient Christianity). I have been quite curious about the narrative in Acts 19:1-7 where Paul meets disciples of John in Ephesus (as well as the mentioned of Priscilla and Aquila mentoring Apollos in 18:23-28, who apparently was identified with John’s movement prior to being integrated into the Jesus movement). If we assume that there is validity to this story—I have no reason to doubt it since it apparently concerned Luke that there may remain disciples of John who had not submitted to baptism unto Jesus—then we find John’s disciples far away from the Jordan River yet who must have been proclaiming something and practicing things that identified them with John. Why in Ephesus though?
Today James McGrath posted a bit on the Mandaeans, a group that exalts John even to this day. It is a worthwhile read: John the “Baptist”. If I were to propose an initial hypothetical scenario for the emergence of this sect it would be that there remained disciples of John who were like Apollos, but who either rejected the invitation of Jesus’ disciples, or who never heard about the movement. After the Great Jewish-Roman War when gnostic spirituality seemed to be popularizing a bit among Christian groups and Jewish groups it is quite possible that the same basic philosophies, cosmologies, and so forth found there way to this sect, which would explain why they developed a gnostic impulse. Any thoughts on this?