Another candidate for the gnostic heresy at the heart of the
Templars is that they - or the inner circle - were Johannites.
Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln, discussing the Templars' alleged worship of the head-shaped Baphomet idol,
recent speculation had linked the head, at least tentatively, with the severed head of John the Baptist; and certain
writers have suggested that the Templars were 'infected' with the Johannite or Mandaean heresy - which
denounced Jesus as a 'false prophet' and acknowledged John as the true Messiah. In the course of their
activities in the Middle East the Templars undoubtedly established contact with Johannite sects, and the
possibility of Johannite tendencies in the Order is not altogether unlikely. But one cannot say that such
tendencies obtained for the Order as a whole nor that they were a matter of official policy.
One of the suggested origins of the name 'Baphomet' is that it derives from 'Baptist' or 'baptism'. Indeed, some
of the Templar knights told the Inquisition that the head-idol was the head of John the Baptist.
This idea was taken up by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, who argue in The Templar Revelation (1997) that Johannitism
was the great secret of the Templars.
Johannites - as the above quote shows - consider that John the Baptist was the 'true Christ' and the Jesus was a
usurper of his role and authority. They are still represented today by a people known as the Mandaeans - the
world's only surviving gnostic religion - who were, until the Gulf War, largely confined to the southern marshes of
Iraq and Iran, having migrated into that area many centuries ago. When they were first encountered by Christian
missionaries in the 18th century, they were named 'St John's Christians', although this is a radical
In fact, the Mandaeans regard Jesus as a false prophet who took over John's rightful position and, in their
words, perverted his religion.
The Mandaeans do not worship John the Baptist in the way that Christians worship Jesus, but venerate him as one
of the great teachers or prophets of their religion. One of their sacred books is the Book of John, and baptism
forms an important part of all their rituals, which are carried out in pools that they call 'Jordans'. They also
use a system of ritual handshakes and grips.
The consensus among historians and ethnographers who have studied the Mandaeans is that they did originate in
Palestine at around the time of Jesus and John the Baptist, and that they slowly migrated eastwards and southwards
over centuries, meeting persecution virtually everywhere they went, first by Christians, later by Moslems. However,
it is acknowledged that, in the past - even into the Middle Ages - the Mandaeans were much more widespread and that
Mandaean communities still existed in the Middle East at the time of the Crusades. It is therefore entirely
possible that Europeans - and more particularly the Templars - came into contact with them.
Picknett and Prince go further, making a link between the Mandaeans
and the 'church' founded by John the Baptist - the existence of which is, astonishingly, acknowledged in the
Acts of the Apostles. It is assumed that the religion founded by John was either suppressed by or absorbed
into the early Christian Church. However, Picknett and Prince argue that it did, in fact, survive, and that it
has come down to us in the form of the Mandaeans.
In relation to the Mandaeans' hostility towards Jesus, Picknett and Prince point out that many New Testament
scholars now believe that, despite the impression given in the Gospels, Jesus and
John the Baptist were actually rivals.
The Knights Templar - for reasons that are not readily apparent to historians - gave prominence to St John the
Baptist. Although not their 'official' patron saint (that was the Virgin Mary) the Templars dedicated a great many
of their churches and chapels to him. Once again, this seems to have been much more prevalent in southern France -
the Languedoc and Provence - than elsewhere. Indeed the seal of the Templars of the Languedoc was the Agnus Dei,
the Lamb of God, one of the Baptist's symbols.
In the words of Michel Lamy:
The Templars rendered a veritable cult to him [John the Baptist]. On the one hand, they dedicated a number
of their churches and chapels to him, but in addition they much used a symbol that linked him to Christ: the lamb.
It is not uncommon to find Templar crosses decorated with this lamb bearing a banner on which features, to the
point of excess, the croix pattée of the Order. The symbol also sometimes decorates the keystones of their
churches. The lamb associated with the croix pattée is also found at Jouers, near Accous, in the
Pyrénées-Atlantiques, with sculpted severed heads - bearded heads of which one is supposed to be that of Abraham.
The Agnus Dei features more than seventeen times on the stamps of the Templar seals and has been found eight times
on the moulds corresponding to a rather long period extending from 1160 to 1304.
The seal of the Templar Master of England bore an Agnus Dei, and to drive home the point his counter-seal had
the head of John the Baptist with the inscription 'I am the guarantor of the lamb'.
Lamy also links the use of the Abraxas seal with John the Baptist,
because of the associations with Abraxas's cockerel head:
Like the raising of the morning star, Lucifer, the cock precedes and seems to cause the rising of the sun.
In this sense, the Templars perhaps saw in him a symbol recalling St John the Baptist, precursor and announcer of
One of the traditions in European esoteric circles concerning the Templars is that the Order owed its heretical
doctrines to an encounter with what are termed the 'Johannites of the East'. Although it is not possible to trace this idea
back beyond the turn of the 19th century, it did receive surprising endorsement later that century from Pope
Pius IX, who stated that the Templars had been 'Johannite from the very beginning'.
In fact, there is specific evidence that the Templars did come into contact with Middle Eastern sects that had
existed in the region for a very long time.
The eminent New Testament scholar Hugh J. Schonfield applied a
coding system known as the Atbash Cipher to the mysterious name 'Baphomet'. The Atbash Cipher is a system of
letter substitution used by several sects in 1st-century Palestine specifically to conceal names. Schonfield
was surprised to find that the Atbash Cipher decodes 'Baphomet' perfectly - turning it into sophia, the Greek
As Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln comment in The Messianic Legacy:
This could hardly have been coincidence. On the contrary, it proved, beyond any doubt, that the Templars were
familiar with the Atbash Cipher and employed it in their own obscure, heterodox rites. But how could the Templars,
operating in the twelfth century, have acquired such familiarity with a cryptographic system dating from a
thousand years before, whose practitioners had apparently long vanished from the stage of history? There is
only one plausible explanation. It would seem obvious that at least some of those practitioners had not in
fact vanished at all, but still existed at the time of the Crusades. And it would seem obvious that the
Templars had established contact with them.
The Templars' use of the Atbash Cipher demonstrates that they had come into contact with groups or sects that
descended from the early days of the Christian era. While this does not establish which particular groups, it gives
some plausibility to the traditions that the Templars owed their doctrines to a meeting with the 'Johannites of the
East' - the Mandaeans.