The description of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:4) as subsisting on
“locusts and honey” presents a problem for vegetarians who claim
Jesus and John as their inspiration. How could John, the Essene
vegetarian, ingest any living thing? The answer to that question may be
found in the Gospel of the Ebionites, as quoted by the church father
Epiphanius of Salamis (ca. 315-403).

Epiphanius’ quote is from ca. 375, but most scholars agree that the
original Ebionite texts were probably composed in the first half of the
second century(1). Epiphanius was critical of what the gospel of the
Ebionites reported:

“It so happened that John was baptizing, and Pharisees and all
Jerusalem went out to him and got baptized. And John wore clothes
made of camel hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food, it
says, consisted of raw honey that tasted like manna, like a pancake
cooked with oil. Thus they change the word of truth into a lie and
instead of ‘locusts’ they put ‘pancake cooked with honey.’”(2)

It’s clear Epiphanius was distressed at what he considered to be a
corruption of the “truth” taught by the early church: that John ate
locusts. But the Ebionite’s version of what John ate has support from an
unexpected source: the Old Testament story of Moses and the children
of Israel.

Numbers 11:7-8: “Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color
was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it,
ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made
cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil.”

Exodus 16:31-32: “The house of Israel called it manna; it was like
coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with
honey. Moses said, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer
of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the
food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of
the land of Egypt.”

The Greek word for locusts is
akris; the Greek word for pancakes is
egkris. There is a strong possibility that a scribe inadvertently used the
wrong word as he transcribed the texts that eventually became the
gospel of Matthew. If so, his error has led to a two thousand year old
misconception: that John ate locusts, when in fact he ate the same
“manna,” prepared in the same way as that which sustained Moses and
the children of Israel during their forty years in the wilderness.

It was a common practice for gospel writers to draw from stories in the
Old Testament, applying them to their own lives and explaining their
rituals. Moses “went into the wilderness of Shur” (Exodus 15:22), and
the word wilderness is repeated throughout the story of the forty-years
of wandering. “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the
wilderness of Judea.” Matthew 3:1 serves as a reminder that John is of
the lineage that leads back to Moses and the Israelites. Exodus 16:32
contains the instruction that “an omer of it (manna-cakes) be kept
throughout your generations . . .” Matthew attempted to show that John
the Baptist was a descendant or messenger of Moses; the proof was
that he was sustained by the same food during his similar existence “in
the wilderness.”

Combining this common tactic used by the gospel writers with the
similarity between the Greek words for locusts and pancakes presents a
very strong case for the Ebionite version of John’s diet, thus preserving
the Essene tradition and teachings that John and Jesus, the Nazareans,
were vegetarians.

1 Miller, Robert J, editor, The Complete Gospels, First HarperCollins
paperback edition, 1994, page 438.

2  ibid.

LOCUSTS OR PANCAKES?

By Gott