The Gnostic Society Library

Gnostic John the Baptizer:

by G. R. S. Mead

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p. 71


UNDER the first two headings readers have been made acquainted with all those pieces from the Mandæan John-Book that can be held to have in any sense a historic intention. To these are now added a few extracts of such specimens of the rest of the contents as do not require a commentary.

   We will begin with 'The Fisher of Souls' tractate from the John-Book. It seems to me to throw great light on the symbolic phrase of the gospels, indeed to give it a background, and not to be explained in reverse order as the Mandæan expansion of an isolated Christian expression.



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   A FISHER am I, a Fisher who elect is among fishers. A Fisher am I who among the fishers is chosen, the Head of all catchers of fish. I know the shallows of the waters, the inner . . . and the . . . I fathom; I come to the net-grounds, to the shallows and all fishing-spots, and search the marsh in the dark all over. My boat is not cut off [from the others] and I shall not be stopped in the night.

   I see the fish2 in (? on) the dike. I pressed forward on the way with a . . . that was not of iron. I covered (?) the . . . which was for us an obstruction. Aside did I push the swimmers p. 72 who hinder Life's way. On my head I set up a . . . in whose shadow the fish sit. The fisher-trident which I have in my hand, is instead a margnā select, a staff of pure water, at whose sight tremble the fishers.

   I sit in a boat of glory and come into this world (Tibil) of the fleeting. I come to the water's surface; thither to the surface of the water I drew, and I drew to the crossing's surface. I come in a . . . , in slow, steady course. The water by my boat is not ruffled, and no sound of my boat is heard. Before me stands Hibil (Abel), at my side Shitil (Seth) of sweet name is to be seen, close by me, close in front of me, Anōsh (Enoch) sits and proclaims.

   They say: "O Father, Good Fisher, hallo! O Fisher of loveable name!"

   Close by me, close near my boat, I hear the uproar (?) of the fishers, the fishers who eat fish,1 and their stench rushes on me,—the uproar of the fishers and the uproar of their mongers who revile and curse one another. Everyone accuses the other. The buyer says to the fisher: "[Take back?] thy fish! They are stinking already, and no one wants to buy them off of me. Thou makest the catch far out at sea,2 so that loss falls on the buyer."

   Thereon speaks the fisher and makes the man, his customer, hear: "A curse on thee, a curse on thy buyers, a curse on thy bell,3 a curse on thy boat for not filling up. Thou hast brought no salt and sprinkled it over thy fish which thou boughtest, so that the fish of thy boat will not be stinking and thou then canst sell for hard cash. Next, hast thou no meal and no dates brought, no salt . . . hast thou brought. If then thou comest with empty hands, one who is of fair favour has no dealing with thee. Go, go, thou godless [fellow], buy not from us to do business with thy fraudulent scales. Thou holdest them down to buy at false weight, [then in selling] keepest them up with thy elbow and gettest ten for five. Now does thy buying flee away, and thy buyer, and is as though it never had been. Thou dost complain of the . . . of men and dost cherish no noble thought."

p. 73

   When the Chief Fisher, the Head of the race of the Living, the highest of all catchers of fish, heard this, he said to him (? Anōsh): "Bring me my . . . , hand me the squbrā,1 that I may make a call sound forth into the marsh, that I may warn the fish of the depths and scare away the foul-smelling birds that pursue after my fish. I will catch the great sidmā,2 and tear off his wings on the spot. I will take from him * * * and will blow into my squbrā. A true squbrā is it, so that the water may not mix with pitch."

   When the fishers heard the call, their heart fell down from its stay. One calls to the other and speaks to him: "Go into thy inner ground. For there is the call of the Fisher, the Fisher who eats no fish. His voice is not like that of a fisher, his squbrā not like our squbrā. His voice is not like our voice, his discourse not like to this world."

   But the fishers stand there; they seek not shelter in their inner ground. As the fishers stand there and are thinking it over, the Fisher came swiftly upon them; he opened the cast-net, divided ... . He cast them bound into the ... . He tied them up with knots. They speak to him: "Free us from our bonds, so that thy fish may not leap up to our boat. We catch not those who name thy Name."

   When the fishers thus spake to me, I smote them with a club made of iron. I bound their traders on the shore which lends not . . . (?). I roped them with ropes of bast and broke up their ships * * * * . I burnt up the whole of their netting and the . . . which holds the nets together. I threw chains round them and hung them up aft on my ship's stern. I made them take an oath, took from them their mystery, in order that they may not catch the good fish,—that they may not steal them from me, stick them on a cane, hang them up,3 I cut them in pieces and throw them into baskets (?) with laurel and aloe. They (the fishers) are laid low and cannot rise up. The nets ... ..., and they no longer stab the fisher-trident into the Jordan. They do not cut off * * * * * * and stand not in the river-lands p. 74 and make not their catch in the shallows. They cast not the cast-net therein and take not . . . and aloe.

   I spake to those who eat the . . . of the fish whose name is eel. They eat the eel and the . . . , which stands upright on its forefeet. They eat the ... ... ... ... . I bound them in the marshes of Deception, and they were caught and were tied up. Water from the Ulai they drink not and know not the way to the Kshash river.1 I bound them fast in their ships, and threw out my ropes to the good ones. To them I speak: "Draw your boat up here, so that it runs not into the dike."

   As the Chief of the fish-catchers thus spake, the fishers made answer unto him and said; "Blessed be thou, a Fisher, and blessed be thy boat and thy bark. How fair is thy cast-net, how fair the yarn that is in it. Fair is thy cord and thy lacing, thou who art not like the fishers of this world. On thy meshes are no shell-fish, and thy trident catches no fish. Whence art thou come hither? Tell us! We will be thy hired servants. We will bake and stir about broth and bring it before thee. Eat, and the crumbs which fall from thy hand,—these will we eat and therewith be filled."

   But I made answer unto them: "O ye fishers, who lap up your filth, no fisher am I who fishes for fish, and I was not formed for an eater of filth. A Fisher am I of souls who bear witness to Life. A Poor Fisher am I who calls to the souls, collects them together and gives them instruction. He calls to them and bids them come and gather together unto him. He says unto them: If ye . . . come, ye shall be saved from the foul-smelling birds I will save my friends, bring them on high and in my ship make them stand upright. I will clothe them with vestures of glory and with precious light will enwrap them. I will put a crown of æther upon them and what else for them the Greatness erects on their head. Then sit they on thrones and in precious light do they glisten. I bear them thither and raise them aloft; but ye Seven shall stay here behind. The portion of filth and of filthy p. 75 doings shall be your portion. On the day when the Light ascends, the Darkness will return to its region. I and my disciples will ascend and behold the Light's region."

Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   A FISHER am I of Great Life, a Fisher am I of the Mighty; a Fisher am I of Great Life, an Envoy whom Life has sent. It (Life) spake unto me: "Go, catch fish who do not eat filth, fish who do not eat water-fennel and reek not of foul-smelling fennel. They do not come nigh to devour bad dates and get caught in the nets of the marsh."

   Life knotted for me a noose and built for me a ship that fades not,—a ship whose wings are of glory, that sails along as in flight, and from it the wings will not be torn off. 'Tis a well-furnished ship and sails on in the heart of the heaven. Its ropes are ropes of glory and a rudder of Truth is there to it. Sunday takes hold of the pole, Life's Son seized the rudder. They draw thither to the shekīnahs and dispense Light among the treasures. Thrones in them (sc. the shekīnahs) they set up, and long drawn out come the Jordans upon them. On the bow are set lamps that in the wildest of tempests are not put out. All ships that sight me, make obeisance submissively to me. Submissively they make me obeisance and come to show their devotion unto me.

   In the bows stands the Fisher and delivers wondrous discourses. [There are] lamps [there], whose wicks shift not hither and thither, and a . . . is not by him. He wears no ring of Deception, and with white robes is he clad. He calls to the fish of the sea and speaks to them: "Give heed to yourselves in the world! Beware of the foul-smelling birds who are above you. If you give heed to yourselves my brothers, I will for you p. 76 be a succour,—a succour and a support out of the regions of Darkness unto Light's region."

Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   THE Fisher clad him with vestures of glory, and an axe hung from his shoulder ... ... and commotion of mischief, and a bell is not on the handle.1 When the fishers caught sight of the Fisher, they came and gathered around him. "Thou art," say they unto him, "a ... Fisher, thou who hast caught no fish of the marsh. Thou hast not seen the ... ... in which the fish gather ... ... ... ... . We will make thee familiar with the fishers; be our great partner and take a share as we [do]. Grant us a share in thy ship, and take thou a share in our ship. A bargain! Take from us as partner and grant us a share in thy ship. Grant us a share, and we will give thee a share in what we possess. Join thy ship with ours and clothe thee in black as we [do], so that, if thou holdest thy lantern on high, thou mayst find something, that the fish may not see thy glory and thy ship may take in fish. If thou dost give ear (to us), thou shalt catch fish, throw them into thy ship and do business. If thou givest no ear to our discourse, thou shalt eat salt; but if thou doest our works, thou shalt eat oil and honey. Thou stirrest a broth, thou fillest a bowl and sharest it with all of the fishers. We appoint thee as head over all of us. The fishers gather together beside thee, the first follow behind thee; they will be thy slaves, and thou takest three shares of what falls to our share. Our father shall be thy servant and we will call ourselves thy bondsmen. Our mother shall sit on thy couch (?) p. 77 and net nets, she shall be thy maid-servant and knit for thee yarns of all kinds. She shall space out the floats of cedar and put the lead-sinkers into the meshes,—meshes, meshes which are then more heavy than all of the world. She shall divide the water by means of the yarns, and when the fish run into them they shall be stopped. Then they know not the way that they seek, and have no wit to turn back to their way. Like walls that collapse, they (the nets) come and fall on the good. They do not let the fish rise, nor turn their face to the boulders.1 They make them sink deep under the mud and shut them into ... ... ... ... . They collect them into heaps and shake them (?) out of the ... ... . There is there a ... ..., into which the fish dash and are stopped. On the ... of the ... wattle-work is set up between two machines. Nets are laid down and ... ..., which are filled with bad dates as bait, which cause them to eat death. Woe to the fish who is blinded by them, whose eye sees not the Light. Wise are the fish who know them. They pass by all of the baits. [The others] repair thither and ..., and the nets will be for them there a lodging. One of a thousand sees it and of two thousand two see it. Its ... is closed, and a bell is hung on its side-door,—a bell that is forged in mischief and catches the whole of the world. There, is the water mingled with fennel ... ... ... ... the pegs (?) of death. Woe to the fish who fall into them."2

   When the Fisher heard this, he stamped on the bows of the ship. The Fisher stamped on the ships of the fishers; the fishers lie in the shallows close crowded together, tied up together like bundles of wheat, and cannot rise up. The reeds swish ...,3 and the fish of the sea lie over the fishers. They snarl in the marsh and the water rings them round in its circle (?).

   Then shrilling he spake with his voice. He discoursed with his voice sublime and spake to the catchers of fish: "Off from me, p. 78 ye foul-smelling fishers, ye fishers who mix poison. Begone, begone, catch fish, who [eat?] your own filth. Down with you to your ... and go to the end of the crossing. I am no Fisher who catches fish, and my fish are tested. They are not caught by the hook with bad dates, a mess which [my?] fish do not eat. They fall not into the nets that are coloured1 and turn not to the lamps of the Lie. They sink not down through the mud of the water, and go not after the ... of Deception. They (? the nets) divide not the water * * * * * *, that shall fall on the good. If the fishers cast o'er them the cast-net, they tear asunder the net and set themselves free. There will be no day in this world on which the fishers catch [my?] fish. There will be no day in this world on which the dove loves the ravens. Accursèd be ye, ye foul-smelling birds, and accursèd your nest, so that it may not be filled. Woe to your father Sirmā,2 whose bed is in the reeds. Woe to thee, hungry Safnā, whose wings do not dry in this world.3 Woe to thee, foul-smelling Sagiā, thou who seest the fish and sighest [for them]. He shrieks and cries bitterly, when he strikes for the fish and misses them. Woe to thee, Arbānā ..., thou who haulest the fish out of the deeps. Well for him who frees himself from the talons of those who catch fish. Well for him who frees himself from the men who are watchers of this world. Begone, begone with you, ye Planets, be of your own houses a portion. Water does not mix with pitch, and the Light is not reckoned as Darkness. The perfect ones' partner cannot be called your partner. The good (sing.) cannot belong to the wicked (pl.) nor the bad to the good. Your ship cannot be tied up with mine, nor your ring (?) be laid on my ring. There, is the head of all of you; count yourselves unto his realm! This your crass father stays stuck in the black water. Your mother, who nets nets and heavy double machines, have I beaten with the staff of (living) water and smashed a hole in her head. I lead on my friends, raise them on high in my ship and guide them past all the tax-gatherers.4 I guide them through the passage of outrage, p. 79 the region where the fishes are taken. I make them escape the filth-eaters. But ye will come to an end in your dwellings. I and my friends of the Truth will find a place in Life's shekīnah. Into the height will I bear them on thrones surrounded with standards of glory.

   The Seven are vanquished and the Stranger-Man stays victorious. The Man of piety put to the test was victorious and helped the whole of his race unto victory.

Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   'TIS the voice of the Pure Fisher who calls and instructs the fish of the sea in the shallows. He speaks to them: "Raise your ... up, on the surface of the water stand upright; then will your force be double as great. Guard yourselves from the fishers who catch the fish and beat on the Jordan.1 Shilmai and Nidbai2 curse them, and they depart and settle themselves down behind me a mile off. The fish curse their casting-net in their place."

   When the Fisher thus spake, warning all [of the fish, when] the fishers his voice heard, they came up and gathered around him. They put themselves forward to ask of him questions, and knew not whence he came. "Where wast thou, Fisher," they ask him, "that we heard not thy voice in the marsh? Thy ship is not like our ship, and thy ... is not * * * * * *. Thy ship is not tarred over with pitch, and thou art not like the fishers of this world."

   The fishers see him, become scarlet for shame and remain standing in their places. They say to him: "Whence comes it p. 80 that thou dost fish without finding? Thy ship is not like our ship; it shines by night like the sun. Thy ship is perfected in æther, and wondrous standards are unfurled above it. Our ship sails along in the water, but thy ship between the waters. Our reeds (? rods) grumble at one another and break into pieces. Among them is the fish-trident of wrath, on which ... and ... ... are not. Thy ... ... O Fisher, is such that when the fish see it, they take themselves off. We have not yet seen any fishers which are like unto thee. The wind wafts thy ship on, the mast ... ... for the fisher and a rudder that gleams in the water-shallows. On thy cast-net is no cord, and they have not laid ... ...1 round it. There are no ... in it, which are a cunning device against the fish of the ... ... ... . Thou keepest thy yarn and hast no clapper and no hatchet. Thy yarn ( = net) fishes not in the water and is not coloured for catching fish."

   When the fishers thus spake, the Fisher made answer unto them: "Have done, ye fishers and fishers' sons; off, get you gone from me! Off, go up to your village, the Ruins, Jerusalem. Ask about me of your father, who knows me, ask of your mother, who is my maid-servant. Say to him: There is a Fisher in the boat, in which are four ... . [There is] a rudder, and it stands there, and a mast ... ... ... ...2 and redemptions. They lay waste the land of Jerusalem."

   When they heard this from the Fisher who has come hither, and understood, they spake to him: "Have compassion, forbearance and mercy on us and forgive us our sins and transgressions. We are thy slaves, show thyself indulgent towards us. We will look after thy fish that none of them fails. We will be the servants of thy disciples, who name thy Name in Truth. We will continue to look after all who name thy Name."

Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious in the Man who has come hither.


   Other pieces set forth such figures as those of 'The p. 81 Heavenly Plough' and of 'The Sowers'; but perhaps the most interesting is the saga of 'The Good Shepherd.' Here again it is difficult to believe that it was derived from Christian sources; it seems to be as independent as the 'Fisher of Souls' figure. The 'discourse' runs as follows:



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   A SHEPHERD am I who loves his sheep; sheep and lambs I watch over. Round my neck [I carry] the sheep; and the sheep from the hamlet stray not. I carry them not to the sea-shore, that they see not the whirl of the water, may not be afraid of the water, and if they are thirsty may not drink of the water.1 I bear them away [from the sea], and water them with the cup of my hand, until they have drunken their fill. I bring them unto the good fold; and they feed by my side. From the mouth of Euphrates, from the mouth of Euphrates the Radiant,2 things of marvellous goodness I brought them. I brought them myrtle, white sesame brought them and brought them bright standards.3 I cleansed them and washed them and made them to smell the sweet odour of Life. I put round them a girdle, at sight of which the wolves tremble. No wolf leaps into our fold; and of no fierce lion need they be alarmed. Of the tempest they need not be frightened; and no thief can break in upon us. A thief breaks not into their fold; and of a knife4 they need not be anxious. When my sheep were quietly laid down and my head lay there on the threshold, a rift was rent in the height and thunder did thunder behind me. The clouds seized hold one of another, p. 82 and unchained were the raging tempests. Rain poured down in sheets and hail that smites elephants low, hail that shatters the mountains. And the tempests unchain themselves in an hour.1 Seas burst forth; they flooded the whole of the world. There, under the water, no one escaped, once he sank from the height as into a gulf. The water swept off everyone who had no wings or no feet.2 He speeds on, and knows not he speeds; he goes, and knows not he goes. Thereupon I sprang up and I entered the fold to bear my sheep forth from their place. I saw my eyes full.3 I saw the sea, I saw the fierce-raging tempest, I saw the storm-clouds that send forth no [friendly] greeting the one to the other. Ten-thousand times ten-thousand dragons are in each single cloud. I weep for my sheep, and my sheep weep for themselves. The little lambs are lamenting who cannot come out of the fold's door.

   When then * * * * * *, I entered the house,4 I mounted up to the highest place [in it], and I call to my sheep. To the sheep in my care do I call. I pipe to them; I get them to hear, so that they come unto me. To them I pipe on my pipe, and beat on my tabour (?), [leading them] to the water.5 I call to them: "My little sheep, little sheep, come! Rise up at my call! Come, rise at my call; then will you 'scape the cloud-dragons. Come, come unto me! I am a shepherd whose boat is soon coming. My boat of glory is coming; and I come with it, and bring my sheep and lambs in aboard it. Every one who gives ear to my call and heed gives unto my voice, and who turns his gaze unto me, of him take I hold with my hands and bring him unto me inboard my boat." But every lamb, male and female, that suffered himself to be caught, the water-whirl carried away, the greedy water did swallow. Whoever gave no ear to my call, sank under. To the highest part of the vessel I went. The bows stand up with the bow-post.6 I say: How woeful am I for my sheep who p. 83 because of the mud have sunk under. The water-whirl sank them away from my reach, the swirling whirl of the water. How grieved am I for the rams whose fleece on their sides has dragged them down into the deep. How grieved am I for the lambkins whose bellies have not [yet] been filled full of milk. Of a thousand, one I recovered; of a whole generation I found again two. Happy is he who [stood up?] in the water, and in whose ears no water has entered. Happy the great rams who have stamped with their feet. Happy is he who has escaped from the Seven and Twelve, the sheep-stealers. Happy is he who has not couched down, has not lain down, has not loved to sleep deeply. Happy is he who in this defective age of Bishlom1 has stayed whole. Happy are they who free themselves from the snares of Rūhā (the Mother World-Spirit), from the filth and the shame and the bondage that have no end. My chosen! whoever shall live at the end of this age of Nirig (Mars), for him let his own conscience be a support. He will come and mount up to the Radiant Dwelling, to the region whose sun never sets, and whose light-lamps2 never darken.

Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   A TREASURE calls from without hither and speaks:

   "Come, be for me a loving shepherd and watch me a thousand out of ten thousand."—

   "So then will I be a loving shepherd for thee and watch thee a thousand out of ten thousand. But how full is the world of vileness and sown full of thorns and of thistles!"—

   "Come, be for me a loving shepherd and watch me a thousand p. 84 out of ten thousand. I will bring thee then sandals of glory, with them canst thou tread down the thorns and the thistles. Earth and heaven decay, but the sandals of glory decay not. Sun and moon decay, but the sandals of glory decay not. The stars and heaven's zodiacal circle decay, but the sandals of glory decay not. The four winds of the [world-] house decay, but the sandals of glory decay not. Fruits and grapes and trees decay, but the sandals of glory decay not. All that is made and engendered decays, but the sandals of glory decay not. So then be for me a loving shepherd and watch me a thousand out of ten thousand."—

   "I will then be a loving shepherd for thee and watch thee a thousand out of ten thousand. But if a lion comes and carries off one, how am I to retrieve him? If a thief come and steals one away, how am I to retrieve him? If one falls into the fire and is burnt, how am I to retrieve him? If one falls into the water and drowns, how am I to retrieve him? If one stays behind in the pen, how am I to retrieve him?"—

   "Natheless, come therefore, be for me a loving shepherd and watch me a thousand out of ten thousand. If a lion comes and carries off one, let him go his way and fall a prey to the lion. Let him go his way and fall a prey to the lion, in that he bows himself down to the sun. If a wolf comes and carries off one let him go his way and fall a prey to the wolf, in that he bows himself down to the moon. If a thief comes and steals away one, then let him go his way and fall a prey to the thief. Let him go his way and fall a prey to the thief, in that he bows himself down before Nirig (Mars). If one falls into the fire and is burnt, let him go his way and fall a prey to the fire. Let him go his way and fall a prey to the fire, in that he bows himself down to the fire. If one falls into the mud and stays stuck there, then let him go his way and fall a prey to the mud. Let him go his way and fall a prey to the mud, in that he bows himself down to Messiah. If one falls into the water and drowns, then let him go his way and fall a prey to the sea. Let him go his way and fall a prey to the sea, in that he bows himself down to the seas. If one stays behind in the pen, let him go his way and fall a prey to the pen-demon.1 Let him go p. 85 his way and fall prey to the pen-demon, in that he bows himself down to the idols. ... ...1 Come, be for me a loving shepherd and watch me a thousand out of ten thousand."2

   "So will I then be for thee a loving shepherd and watch thee a thousand out of ten thousand. I will watch a thousand of thousands, yea of ten thousand those who adore him."3

   "But some of them wander from me. I went up into high mountains and went down into deep valleys. I went and found him where he can crop nothing. Of each single sheep I took hold with my right hand and on the scale did I lay him. A thousand among ten thousand have the [right] weight."

Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.


   The next piece I have selected, treats of the source of all glory and enlightenment, called the Treasury of Life, that in which all spiritual powers and blessings are stored. The origin of the motive is without doubt the Iranian concept of the ḥvareno, the divine and kingly glory. In the Mandæan tradition it has become highly developed and is frequently personified as a female greatness. Thus in the Oxford MS. F. it is spoken of as "the Mother of all the Kings [of the Light], from whom all worlds have come forth, who separated herself from the fervency of the Hidden Mysteries." Many rôles are assigned to this Light of Life in the complexities of the celestial and cosmic dramas; and in the human stage it shines forth as the glory with which the perfected are vestured and p. 86 crowned. I have chosen the simplest of the narratives or discourses on the topic. In the still more complex system of the phase of development represented by the Pistis Sophia collection there is no mention of the Treasury of Life, but the Treasury of Light is one of its most important conceptions. The Mandæan tradition conserves the echoes of an earlier phase, for it is indubitably less over-worked.



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   THE Treasury am I, Life's Treasury (Sīmath-Haiyē); the Treasury am I, the Mighty One's Treasury; the Treasury am I, Life's Treasury. A crown was I for the Mighty from everlasting. The Treasury am I, Life's Treasury. Ever did I give light to the treasures and to the shekīnahs, and was for adornment to Jordan. For adornment became I to Jordan, who was from everlasting, through whom the treasures give light. Great [Life] made me limpid and lucent and made me into a vesture. He made me into his vesture, which day in and day out sings measureless praise of the Æther.

   The Treasury am I, Life's Treasury. To the King of the Splendour became I a crown. The treasures shine through my glory and praise my form beyond measure.

   The Treasury am I, Life's Treasury—I who as adornment settled down on the King of the Splendour, so that he shone in his mind, that he became bright and shining, and his form glittered more than the [light-] worlds. As I (lit. it) gave light and enlightenment unto the treasures and to the shekīnahs [e'en] in the Æther, the King laid me as vesture round Neṣab the Radiant.1 Neṣab the Radiant then took me, brought me and laid me as vesture o'er Jordan. As vesture o'er Jordan he laid me, through whom the treasures shine beyond measure.

   The Treasury am I, Life's Treasury. The wicked are blind p. 87 and see not. I call them unto the Light, yet they busy themselves with the Darkness. "O ye wicked," I unto them cry, "ye who sink down in the Darkness, arise and fall not into the deep." I cry unto them; yet the wicked hear not and sink into the great Sea of the Ending. Therefore was Jordan made a bridge for the treasures; a bridge for the treasures became he, while he cut off the wicked and hurled them into the great Sea of the Ending.

   The Treasury am I, Life's Treasury. A crown I became for Life's Gnosis. He bestowed on me the rulership over the treasures and the shekīnahs which are there [yonder].

   The Treasury am I, Life's Treasury. Of the light-worlds was I the enlightener. Day in and day out they sing praise to Great [Life], and through me they mount upward and behold the Light's region.

   The Treasury am I, Life's Treasury. A vesture for the light-worlds became I.

   [The Treasury] am I, Life's Treasury. A King for the Nazōræans became I. I became a King for the Nazōræans, who through my Name find praise and assurance. Praise and assurance they find through my Name, and on my Name they mount up and behold the Light's region. For the Men of purity put to the test—[for them] their eye became full of Light. Full of Light was their eye, and in their heart Life's Gnosis took seat. Whoever of me, Life's Treasury, makes his investment, loves not gold and silver, loves not gold and possessions, [loves not] food of the body, and envy with him has no place. Envy found with him no place, and he did not forget his night-prayer. He forgot not the discourses and writings, and he forsook not his Lord's word. He forsook not the prayer of his Father, Life's Gnosis; wherefor into the great End-Sea he falls not. He forgot not Sunday, nor did he neglect the Day's evening. He forgot not the way of Great [Life, the way] of wages and alms. He will be rapt away in the night-prayer, he will be rapt away in shining vestures which have come from Great [Life]. Treasures for him fill up what falls short, and what is empty they load for him full. If he bears a pure load, he is counted with the Men of piety put to the test who separate themselves [from the world] in the Name of Yawar.1 Life's p. 88 Treasury rested upon them, to their form it gave light, and for them a way to Great [Life's] House has been established.

   I have called with clear voice and directed hereto the disciples: "The vine who bears fruit, doth ascend; who bears none will here be cut off. Whosoever lets himself be enlightened through me and instructed, ascends and beholds the Light's region; whoever does not let himself be enlightened through me and instructed, is cut off and falls into the great End-Sea."

Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.


   That the Mandæan religion preserves echoes of a wealth of ancient mythical elements found in Iranian, Babylonian and Semitic traditions is evident on all hands. A process of syncretism had presumably gone on for generations before an impulse from within caused the blending to assume a distinctively Mandæan form; and when this emerged, the preservation of the memory of the process had no interest for the faith and fell back into the depths of the subconscious. At any-rate the writers or recorders of the tractates throughout seem honestly persuaded of the complete independence of their tradition from every other form of religion. They are for ever proclaiming the blessings of loyalty to what they claim to be the original, the one and only, revelation of Truth vouchsafed to the world throughout the ages, and declaring that continued spiritual contact with instructors from on high who mediated this divine wisdom, was still possible. They certainly do not give one the idea of being intellectualists consciously at work on a syncretic synthesis of prior material; on the contrary they seem to live and move in a milieu of prophetical outpourings and to have been extremely sensitive to psychical impressions. Inspirational discourses and intuitive interpretations of prophetical p. 89 utterances seem to have been their delight. The following piece may enable the reader to sense somewhat of the peculiar atmosphere of mystical expectancy in which they sought instruction. The topic is one of the chief points of their questioning—the conflict that arose between the Light and the Darkness in the beginnings and how victory is to be achieved. They were not of course absolute Dualists, for always and everywhere victory lies with Life Everlasting, who transcends not only the Darkness but also the Light.



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

   To you I say and declare, ye chosen and perfect, ye who dwell in the world: Become not of the Darkness a portion, but lift up your eyes to Light's region. From the Evil unto the Good separate yourselves out; from the sinful evil of the region of Darkness separate yourselves out. Love and instruct one another, that your sin and [your] guilt be forgiven you. See and hear and get you instructed, that ye may ascend to Light's region victorious.

   The good sit there and are in search; and all who are understanding let themselves be instructed. The good speak, take counsel together and say: "Who will come, who tell me, who will set [it] forth for me, who give me instruction? Who will come, who will tell me whether there was one King or two [in the beginning]?" The good speak and let themselves be instructed.

   "Two Kings were there, two natures were fashioned—a King of this world and a King from outside of the worlds. The King of this age girt on a sword and [put on] a crown of Darkness. A crown of Darkness he put on his head, and took a sword in his right hand. A sword he took in his right hand; he stands there and slaughters his sons, and his sons slaughter each other. The King from outside of the worlds set a crown of Light on his head. A crown of Light he set on his head, and took Truth in his right hand. Truth in his right hand he took, and stands there and p. 90 instructs his sons. He stands there and instructs his sons, and his sons instruct one another."

   "Who will come, who tell me what was before this? When the heaven was not yet outspread and stars were not yet in it figured, when the earth was not yet condensed and into the water no condensation had fallen, when sun and moon came not as yet into this world, how was the soul then?"

   "When the soul still sat in the Bowl,1 she felt neither hunger nor thirst. When the soul still sat in the Bowl, she had no pains and no faults. When the soul still sat in the Bowl, she felt no cold and no heat. When she still sat in the Bowl, the locks on her forehead2 were incurled, and an æther-crown sat on her head. Her eyes were light-rays (?), and they gazed on the region of the House of Great [Life]. Her mouth was of pure[st] perfection, and sang the praise of the King of Light's region.

   "From the day when the Wicked began to think, evil pictured itself forth in him. He fell into great wrath and ventured a fight with the Light. The Envoy was sent to tread down the power of the rebels.

   "They3 brought living water and into the muddy water they poured it. They brought light-giving light and into the gloomful darkness they cast it. They brought the delightsome wind and into the frantic wind cast it. They brought the living fire and into the consuming fire cast it. They brought the soul, the pure mind, and into the vain body cast it.

   "Out of fire and of water was the one heaven spread out. Out of fire and of water have they made dense the earth on the anvil.4 Out of fire and of water fruits, grapes and trees did arise. Out of fire and of water was imaged the corporeal Adam.

   "They fashioned the Envoy and to be head of the generations p. 91 they sent him. With heavenly voice he called hence into the worlds' disquiet. At the call of the Envoy Adam, who lay there,1 awoke. Adam, who lay there, awoke and went forth to meet the Envoy: 'Come in peace, O Envoy, Life's Messenger, who hast come from the House of my Father. How firmly is planted withal dear, beautiful Life in his region! But how [meanly] for me has a stool been set up and my dark form sits on it lamenting."

   "Thereon the Envoy made answer and spake to the corporeal Adam: 'Thy throne has been set up in beauty, O Adam; and 't is thy form sits here lamenting. All2 were mindful of thee for thy good and fashioned and sent me to thee. I am come and will give thee instruction, O Adam, and free thee from this world. Give ear and hearken and get thee instructed, and mount to Light's region victorious."

   Adam gave ear and had faith.—Hail to him who gives ear after thee3 and has faith! Adam received the Truth.—Hail to him who receives the Truth after thee! Adam looked up full of hope and ascended.—Hail to him who ascends after thee!

   Give ear and hearken and let yourselves be instructed, ye perfect, and ascend to Light's region victorious.

And praisèd be Life.


   That the moral instruction given to the Mandæans is excellent may be seen in almost any piece; but there are distinctive collections of ethical exhortation of which the following is an example.



   FROM the Light-region have I (Life's Gnosis) come forth, from thee, thou glorious dwelling. With vestures of glory have I been clad and a crown of victory on my head has been set. I came and found the Nazōræans, how they stand on the shore of the Jordan. I set up my throne and sat down, as a father who sits 'midst his sons.

p. 92

   The Good sits there and teaches his sons all truth, in which is no error.

   My sons! See that you commit no adultery; see that you no theft commit. They who commit adultery and who steal, mount not up to Life's house. They mount not up to Life's house and do not behold Light's region.

   My sons! See that you practise no magic and afflict not the soul in the body. The magicians and falsificators are hurled into seething pots and fire is their judge.

   My sons! See that ye remove not the boundaries, that the boundary-stone you displace not. The eye of those who remove boundaries looks not on the Light.

   My sons! See that you do not abandon the slave to the hands of his master and the slave-girl to the hands of her mistress; abandon not the weak to the strong. [He who acts otherwise] will be fettered in a distant region, in the tax-gatherers' house;1 his eyes behold only the Darkness and his foot finds no firm ground.

   My sons! See that you take not [to wife] a slave-girl who has not been made free, and thereby bring your sons into the house of a master. For if the slave one day sins, then on the day when his master passes judgment upon him, will the sins which the slave commits, fall on the head of his father.

   My sons! See that you are not hinters and that your eyes make no suggestions [sc. to women]. For the hinters and wink-givers will be assigned to the guard-stations. To the guard-stations will they be assigned and be judged with stern justice.

   My sons! See that you eat not up interest and interest on interest, else in the dark mountain will you receive judgment.

   My sons! See that you pay no homage to the idols, the satans and demons, to the worship of idols and to the lusts of this world; for on the godlings and satans will a stern judgment fall, and they who pray to them will not ascend to Life's house and not look on Light's region.

   Give heed to what I have charged you, and let no evidence be given of crime and of lying; on evidence of crime and of lying you will be haled to account 'fore the judge. You will be haled to p. 93 account 'fore the judge who judges all worlds. He judges each one according to his works and his merit.

   My sons! All that is hateful to you, do not to your neighbours; for in the world into which you have come, is a heavy justice and judgment. Heavy justice and judgment is there therein, and every day will minds made secure in it be chosen. For everyone who is laden, mounts upward; but he who is empty is judged here. Woe to the empty, who stands empty there in the house of the collectors of taxes. When he had it in his hand, he gave nothing; there will he search in his pocket and he will find nothing. The wicked and liars will be hurled into the Darkness. They will into the blazing fire cast, into the blazing fire will they cast him into whose ears the call has been made, but he woald not give ear. I showed it him unto his eye, but he would not see; I showed it him, but he would not see with his eye.

Life is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.


   The Mandæans possess a rich collection of liturgical songs and hymns which Lidzbarski has translated for the first time in his excellent edition of them (Mandäische Liturgien, Berlin, 1920). From these 236 hymns we choose one of the most typical as a specimen, and as perhaps of more than ordinary interest to the general reader who may have puzzled over the unqualified beatitude "Blessed are the poor." It is taken from the Oxford Collection (Bk. I., No. lvi.) and may be entitled:



In the Name of Great Life may hallowed Light be glorified.

A POOR MAN am I,1 who comes out of the [celestial] Fruits,
   a Stranger to the world, who comes out of the Distance.
p. 94
A Poor man am I, to whom Great Life gave ear,
   a Stranger to this world, whom the Light-treasures made world-strange.
They brought me out of the abode of the good ones;
   ah me! in the wicked ones' dwelling they made me to dwell.
Ah me! they made me to dwell in the wicked ones' dwelling,
   which is filled full of nothing but evil.
It is filled full of nothing but evil,
   filled full of the fire which consumes.
I would not and will not
   dwell in the dwelling of naughtness.
With my power and with my enlightening
   I dwelt in the dwelling of naughtness.
With my enlightening and my praise-giving
   I kept myself stranger to this world.
I stood among them
   as a child who has not a father,
As a child who has not a father,
   as a fruit who has not a tender.
I hear the voice of the Seven,
   who whisper in secret and say:
"Whence is this Stranger man,
   whose discourse is not like to our discourse?
I listened not to their discourse;
   then were they full of wicked anger against me.
Life, who gave ear to my call,
   a Messenger sent forth to meet me.
He sent me a gentle Treasure,
   an armoured, well-armoured Man.
With his pure voice he makes proclamation,
   as the Treasures make in the House of Perfection.
He speaks:
   "Poor one, from anguish and fear be thou free!
   Say not: I stand here alone.
For thy sake, O Poor,
   this firmament was outspread,
Was this firmament spread out,
   and stars were pictured upon it.
For thy sake, O Poor,
   this firm land came into existence,
p. 95
Came into existence this firm land,
   the condensing took form, fell into the water.
For thy sake came the sun,
   for thy sake the moon was revealèd.
For thy sake, O Poor, came the Seven,
   and the Twelve are hither discended.
Thou Poor one! On thy right rests glory,
   on thy left rest [light-] lamps.
Hold steadfast in thy security,
   until thy measure has been completed.
When thy measure has been completed,
   I will myself come to thee.
I will bring thee vestures of glory,
   so that the worlds will long for them, desireful.
I will bring the a pure, excellent head-dress,
   abundant in infinite light.
I will set thee free from the wicked,
   from the sinners will I deliver thee.
I will make thee dwell in thy shekīnah
   free thee into the region unsullied."
I hear the voice of the Seven,
   who whisper in secret and speak:
"Blessed is he who is to the Poor one a father,
   who is unto the Fruit a tender.
Hail to him whom Great Life knows,
   woe to him whom Great Life knows not."
Hail to him whom Great Life knew,
   who has kept himself stranger to this world,
The world of the defect,
   in which the Planets are seated.
They sit on thrones of rebellion
   and drill their works with the scourge.
For gold and for silver are they disquiet,
   and strife they cast into the world.
Disquiet are they and therein cast strife;
   therefore will they go hence and seethe in the fire.
The wicked shall seethe, and their pomp
   shall vanish and come to an end.
But I with my offspring and kindred
   shall ascend and see the Light's region,
p. 96
The region whose sun never sets,
   and whose light-lamps never darken—
That region, the state [of the Blessed],
   whereto your souls are called and invited.
And so are our good brothers' souls,
   and the souls of our faithful sisters.
Life is exalted and is victorious, and victorious is the Man who has come hither.

Next: III. The Slavonic Josephus' Account of the Baptist and Jesus


p. 71

1 This section is the most difficult of all to translate owing to the abundance of technical fishing terms. In spite of marvellous philological industry and wide-flung enquiries L. has been unable to identify a number of words.

2 Sc. the faithful.

p. 72

1 Sc. the Seven.

2 Lit. 'on the high seas' L. glosses this as meaning that they are not river fish; but this seems to me unnecessary, as my rendering suggests.

3 Used apparently by the fish-seller for advertising his wares.

p. 73

1 Evidently a wind-instrument of some kind.

2 Presumably a water-bird.

3 Sc. to dry in the sun.

p. 74

1 K. is the infernal river which the souls have to cross after death; its waters are figured as dragons and its waves as scorpions (§ 51). Ulai is also a river. If it is in any way connected with the Eulæus from which the Kings of Persia are fabled to have drunk, the sense is hard to find. It is more probably an infernal stream, at any rate one from which the evil fishers drank.

p. 76

1 Uncertain. Père Anastase of Baghdad informs L. that now-a-days a bell is attached to the rudder-bar; but here it seems to have some connection with the axe.

p. 77

1 L. suggests so as to seek the spawning places or in order to hide themselves.

2 The numerous gaps which have to be left owing to uncertainty of translation make a number of the above sentences unintelligible. The concluding paragraphs are presumably an allegory of the attractions of false religions, and can hardly be thought to be part of the speech of the fishers.

3 Presumably as the waves made by the foundering ships reach the shore.

p. 78

1 The Mandæan colour is white.

2 In the M. text, 146, 12, this is given as Sidmā. L. thinks it is a water-fowl of some kind.

3 Presumably because it is always diving after its prey.

4 Sc. the Seven.

p. 79

1 Sc. to frighten the fish into the nets.

2 The Jordan-Watchers.

p. 80

1 Bait of some kind presumably.

2 Detailing probably the remaining two of the four objects referred to.

p. 81

1 The salt, bitter, water of the sea of death and destruction, as opposed to the fresh, sweet water, the living water or water of Life.

2 Equating with the Heavenly Jordan.

3 All symbolic objects in the cult.

4 Sc. the knife or sword of the Angel of Death.

p. 82

1 This may mean at a certain period or appointed time.

2 The faithful are figured as birds as well as sheep.

3 An untranslatable idiom.

4 Sc. of this world.

5 That is, the living water.

6 This is conjectural.

p. 83

1 Lidzbarski (p. 465) thinks this refers to the Moslim period. Elsewhere we find the parallel phrase 'age of Bizbat,' which L. also refers to Muhammad. But Bizbat is clearly a corrupt form of Baal-Zebul, and therefore the reference should be more general.

2 Presumably stars.

p. 84

1 Spirit or jinn (?)

p. 85

1 A still more degraded form of cult is mentioned, but the meaning baffles the translator; it is referred to those who bow down before Rūhā, here in mockery called 'Holy' Spirit.

2 The above is obscure, especially the 'pen-demon' reference. The general sense. however, seems to be that those who fall away from the Mandæan faith are not to be restrained by force, but let go their way.

3 Sc. Life. The concluding paragraph runs on without break in the German, being assigned to the same speaker; but the subject is clearly changed and the whole spirit is different. The Good Shepherd now seeks for the lost sheep and does not leave it to perish.

p. 86

1 In § 9 (p. 39) N. is called the Watcher who has his station in every region, i.e. the Great Watcher.

p. 87

1 Y. is the Helper or Saviour. The shekīnah or celestial abode of Yawar, the Chosen, is the Home of the Blessed (cp. J.B. 1894).

p. 90

1 Kannā. L. leaves this technical term untranslated; but in note 4 to p. 4 he shows that it frequently means a wine-cup or wine-bowl. I would therefore venture to connect it with the widespread notion of the kratēr or mixing-bowl of souls as handed on, for instance, by Plato in the Timæus, presumably from Hither Asian sources. One of the treatises of the Corpus Hermeticum is called 'The Cup' or 'The Bowl,' or alternatively 'The Monad.' It was not only the source of souls, but also the Mind into which they had to be dowsed for spiritual baptism or regeneration.

2 Presumably the rays of glory, signifying a state of contemplation.

3 The supernal powers.

4 I can find no explanation of this occasionally recurring figure; it indubitably goes back to some ancient myth.

p. 91

1 In a number of the Gnostic systems of the Early Christian period the body of the first man is said to lie like a log till the light-spark is breathed into him.

2 Sc. the heavenly powers.

3 Presumably Adam

p. 92

1 The region of the lower world-rulers.

p. 93

1 Or "One of the Poor am I," Compare the Ebionīm or Poor of early Christianity; the Poor (spiritually) are those who have voluntarily renounced this world's goods.