Among the eight quotations of the Gospel of the Ebionites in the writings of Epiphanius, none is more interesting that the one in which he describes John the Baptist. Its humorous side may not be evident at first glance. Here is what he says could be found in the Gospel:

And so John was baptizing, and Pharisees came out to him and were baptized, as was all of Jerusalem. John wore a garment of camel hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was wild honey that tasted like manna, like a cake cooked in olive oil. (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30, 13, 4-5)

What has long struck investigators is that John here is not said to be eating locusts and honey, but honey that tasted like manna , like a cake cooked in oil. That is, a pancake. That is interesting, and somewhat amusing, for two reasons. The first is that to *make* this alteration in the account found in the Gospels of the NT, the author (whoever he was) of the Gospel of the Ebionites had to make a very simple change. The word for locusts in Greek is AKRIDES. The word for pancake is EGKRIDES. They sound and look very much alike. All the author had to do was change the A of the first word to an EG and he moved John from eating locusts to eating pancakes. Which, I might add, go much better with honey.

There have been protracted arguments among scholars over why John would want to do that, and this relates to the second reason the change may be interesting. One might think, at first blush, that locusts would not

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be kosher food; but in fact, they are kosher, and evidently they were indeed eaten in antiquity (and probably today). This may sound gross, but in college I had a girlfriend who had grown up as a teenager (she was a missionary kid) in Zaire. She used to eat termites. She showed me. Our relationship didn’t last long….

Another reason for changing the diet of John the Baptist could be that the author of this Gospel wanted to move him from an omnivorous to a vegetarian diet. I personally find this argument persuasive, because there is another quotation from Epiphanius that also seems to condemn the consumption of meat. Here is the quotation, introduced by Epiphanius’s own disparaging comment:

They have changed the saying by abandoning its true sequence, as is clear to everyone who considers the combination of the words. For they had the disciples say, “Where do you want us make preparations for you to eat the Passover lamb?  And they made him respond, “I have no desire to eat the meat of this Passover lamb with you.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, 30, 22, 4).

This passage could be taken to mean that Jesus did not want to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover – and so it could be read as anti-Jewish. But the emphasis instead appears to be on the word “meat.” Jesus refuses to eat the meat of the lamb.

It may be that this Gospel is promoting a vegetarian diet for the followers of Jesus by rooting some such view in the teachings of Jesus himself; and if Jesus advocated for vegetarianism, then obviously his forerunner John could not have been eating meat (in the form of locusts!). And so that passage got changed.

But what would be the religious grounds for vegetarianism? And how could this actually be a Jewish Gospel if it appears to come out against a Jewish practice (eating the Passover lamb). I’ll get to those questions in the next post.