Did John Eat Pancakes, Tortillas Or Locusts? Studies in Mark, Pt. 36

While studying the opening verses of Mark again recently, I happened upon an interesting translation issue. In the majority of our ancient manuscripts, Mk. 1.6 retains the term "ακριδας", a term meaning "locusts". Mk. 1.6, of course, is the verse which notes that in addition to John's clothing habits, he also tended to eat "locusts (ακριδας) and honey". However, in a second-century manuscript known as The Gospel of the Ebionites, ακριδας is slightly manipulated and changed to εγκριδος (I found an online version of the text here). Though the new rendering seems minimal, the meaning of the end-product is quite different: pancakes or tortillas. Of course, both foods were common in the ancient Mediterranean (much as they are all over the world today). Yet, it is fascinating to read this verse as, John ate "tortillas (or pancakes) and honey". (See: Exo. 16.31 where the Hebrew "צףיחת" in the LXX becomes "εγκρις". See also: Num. 11.8 and then BDAG, p. 274 for more examples.)

From a text-critical point-of-view, this manuscript difference is quite unreliable. Further, it is a common belief that the Ebionites were a vegan-like community that abstained from eating animals or insects; this accounts for the minor change. In a world where both asceticism and strict literalism were on the rise, they wanted to sacrifice but they didn't want to eat locusts. Neither did they want their hero to be unlike them (and they certainly didn't want to be unlike him), so they doctored their reading of the text. Their reading also loses a bit of the mysticism that Weseterners seem to get from the original rendering (mysticism, which I must say, is heavily imported in/on to the text). Perhaps the gravest harm this does to John is that it kind of removes him from the Elijianic / Elijain tradition (though, not all that much); clearly, Mark wants his readers to know that John is coming in the tradtion and character of Elijah (as chapter 6 of Mark also makes clear). Elijah, believed to have lived on Mt. Carmel, was traditionally thought to have eaten the same types of foods (e.g. locusts, honey, etc.). Needless to say, we don't really know if this was a normal routine for Elijah or not; we do know some birds fed him meat & bread (1 Kgs. 17.1-6). Beyond that, we're clueless.

I just thought this was interesting, a bit more tame than the usual "Studies In Mark" and quite worth posting.


  1. Well that's just great. Now I have to change the name of my blog.

  2. John,

    I thought of you when I wrote this post. :)