JOHN THE BAPTIZER AND CHRISTIAN ORIGINS.
A RECENT STUDY ON JOHN’S SYMBOLISM.
A DISTINCT ray of light has been cast on the obscure background of Christian origins by Dr. Robert Eisler in a series of detailed studies on the movement and doctrines of John the Baptizer. These studies, with other cognate essays, appeared originally in the pages of The Quest (1909-14), and are now available in book-form in an arresting volume, called Orpheus—the Fisher: Comparative Studies in Orphic and Christian Cult Symbolism.1
By way of introduction and as the most complete contrast to the Mandæan tradition of the Gnostic John, I will set forth in my own way the chief points of these detailed and fully-documented essays in summary fashion. Eisler’s main point of view is that John based his doctrines and practices largely, if not entirely, on the Hebrew scriptures—the Law and the Prophets—of which, he contends, he was a profound knower. The John-movement is thus regarded as a characteristic Jewish prophetical reform founded on absolute faith in the present fulfilment of prior prophecy. Hereby is brought out in the strongest possible manner the Jewish conditioning of John’s preaching and teaching, and this stands in the sharpest contradiction to the p. 2 Mandæan tradition which claims that John was a Gnostic and not a Torah-man, and declares that the Jews could by no means understand him, but on the contrary rejected his revelation and drove out his community.
In Eisler we have a ripe scholar in whom the heredity of Rabbinical lore is so to say innate. He has almost an uncanny flair for biblical texts; it is not too much to say that his knowledge of the religious literature of his people is profound, his acquaintance with oriental sources very extensive and his linguistic accomplishments are enviable. Few are thus better able to enter with sympathy and understanding into the idiosyncrasies and depths of the Jewish mind in the various periods of its development, and thus for the time to live in the prophetical, apocalyptic and rabbinical thought-world of the days of the Baptist and share in its old-time beliefs and hopes and fears. Our exponent is thus an excellent advocate of the theme he sets forth. If his wide-flung net has not caught all the fish of the literary and archæological ocean, he has fished most carefully the stream of John the Baptist tradition, apart from the Mandæan, landed a rich catch and shown others how most fruitfully to set about bringing to the surface things about John which have long been hidden in the depths of a buried past. cont’d at the link