These are the true words of John the Baptiser, which he wrote when he returned from the desert to Jerusalem.
 When John had guided his steps to the desert as God directed, he built a hermitage of stone and brush and lived in it. He ate the meat of the desert, that was locusts, and combs of honey which he found in the crevices of rocks, for God provided his meat and drink in the desert.  In the day he prayed in the hermitage and called upon God for revelation, and at night he lay upon the stone and did not sleep, but counted the stars.
 On the seventh day after he had come to the desert, a man came to his hermitage. He was like the angels, fair of face and very tall, and John could not at once see that he was a man, for he had no beard and his bones were the fine bones of a woman.  When he spoke his voice was like neither man nor woman, but without sex, as the angels are.
 The man said, "John," and John answered him and said, "I am here."
 He said to him, "Do you know that Jeshua bar Joseph has more followers than you?"
 And John laughed, and said to him, "You think I am jealous of Jeshua bar Joseph, my cousin? Do you not know that I leapt in my mother's womb when I knew he was near? Do you come to me in the desert to tempt me with small things?  But say why are you really here, for I know you, and I know that you do not lightly visit the place of God."
 Then he said, "If you know me, then say who I am."
 He said, "First sit and eat with me."
 "I cannot eat what God has provided for you, but I will eat."
 Then the man sat in the shadow of the hermitage and made a fire, and John sat on the other side of the fire.  When it was hot the man reached into it and took out a piece of wood that was burning and ate of it.
 John said, "Why have you come to me? For I have come to this place for revelation, and I did not expect you here."
 He said, "Every other place you have gone I have come to you. Did you think I would not follow you here?"
 He smiled and said, "That is true."
 "I only speak the truth to you, Yahya bar Zakaria."
 "That is very strange, for you only come to me when I have begun to doubt myself."
 "You only invite me when you are in doubt."
 "Did I invite you?"
 He said to him, "They have begun to call you Elijah in Jerusalem."
 John spat in the fire and shook his head. "They call me that, but you know as well as I do that I am not Elijah."
 "I know."
 Now because of the fire John had begun to sweat, and he took off the robe he was wearing, which was made of rough cloth. The man watched, and when John was naked except for his loincloth, he also took off his robe.  When he had undressed, John saw that his body was perfectly smooth, without blemish or sex.
 "Is this how you truly look?" he asked him.
 "Yes. I have come to you as myself."
 "Are you doing this to mock me?"
 He shook his head. "When you knew me before, I had made myself what you desired.  Now you see me as I am, as I was when God cast me down."
 John said, "I was proud then."
 "So was I."
 "And are you not still?"
 "I am. But your cousin resisted me far better than you yourself, and I saw in him what I used to be, and it saddened me."
 He leaned forward. "Tell me, is he the Messiah?"
 He smiled and said, "How should I know? That knowledge belongs to God."
 "But you saw that he was holy."
 "You yourself are holy, and you are not Elijah."
 John stood, and threw down his clothes upon the sand.  "You know! You know whether he is the Messiah -- you tempted him, and he resisted you."
 The man rose and put his hands on John's shoulders, halting him where he stood. "You have been waiting for God to give you a revelation."
 "I have no secrets from you," he said bitterly, and did not turn around.
 "You have no secrets from me because you have opened yourself to me. You could keep me out if you chose, for God has certainly given you the power to do so.  Yet you remain open, as you were the first night that I knew your heart."
 "Your speaking is like a serpent's. Do you think to seduce me?"
 "I know you would give yourself to me again for the gift I am about to give you. But I do not ask that."
 "Why not? Is that not your business?"
 "My business is doubt.  And you will always have doubt to give me for as long as you live, though your time is brief."
 "Am I to die, then?"
 "Not by my power."
 Then John turned and faced him and said, "What do you have to give me?"
 And he said to him, "Revelation."
 Then sweat rose on John's brow like a man with a fever, and he trembled and grew pale. He swooned upon the sand, and the man knelt beside him, and held him in his arms.  While John lay as in death, the man prepared a bed for him in the hermitage, spreading his robe upon the stone and lying John upon it. He sat by him in silence until night fell upon the desert.  Then when it was night and the air became cold John awoke, sitting straight up upon the stone.
 The man lay his hand upon John's knee and said, "What have you seen?"
 John said to him, "I saw the dragon."
 The man said, "The dragon is very beautiful. When I have become the dragon, every man will look on me and weep bitterly at my beauty, and they will weep in despair.  But when they have seen this, my brother will drive me away."
 "He will kill you."
 "Yes." The man lay back upon the stone and crossed his arms behind his head. "He will. At least, he will drive me into the lake of fire, and I will burn there until I am cleansed of all my pride,  and then perhaps God will suffer me to return to Heaven. But then I will no longer be myself, but another, and so I will have died.  What else did you see?"
 "I saw angels glorifying God."
 "They often do."
 "It was more beautiful than you."
 "I believe you."
 "And then I saw that the world came to an end."
 "Yes, that will come to pass."
 "My cousin was the scourge."
 "So I told you after all."
 John covered his eyes with his hands. "Jeshua bar Joseph is much gentler a man than any I have known.  He heals his followers. He gives bread to those that hear him. He saved the daughter of a Canaanite because of her faith.  But I saw him with a sword for a tongue, destroying the nations."
 "You are doubting again."
 "I doubt that God would call a man of peace to be a Messiah of vengeance."
 "He called you to be a prophet."
 "That is not the same! He often calls on sinners. Sinners can be redeemed."
 "Jeshua bar Joseph has never sinned, that is true," he said quietly, and did not stir from where he lay.
 Then John cursed bitterly and lamented for what he had seen, and the man who had come to him remained in the hermitage and did not say anything. He denounced him and swore that the vision had been false, but he was silent and did not answer.  When morning came John was tired from his laments. He wrapped himself in the man's robe and slept.
 When he awoke the man had not left, but had prepared a fire outside the hermitage, and was eating the coals.
 "You are still here."
 "So are you," he said, and bit one of the coals in half.
 "I am awaiting my revelation from God."
 "I gave you a revelation."
 "A false revelation."
 "There is no such thing. If the power of vision arose in you, then it arose. Foresight takes no sides; it has no loyalty to God or me.  And why does it pain you to know that Jeshua bar Joseph will become a warrior? You called for an uprising against the Romans yourself."
 He said to him, "There are few true men of peace in the world."  Then he sat beside the fire and said, "Why are you still here?"
 "Why should I go?"
 "Because I am one man. Go, start a war in some other country, go suck the souls from sleeping children. Why waste your time in the desert with one man?"
 "You are the only prophet with whom I have ever spoken face to face. No other man of God has sat with me as you have."
 "No other man of God has been foolish enough to lust after you."
 "Many of them have lusted after me. They were not the same as you, and I have many forms.  None of them ever saw me like this, in my true body."
 "How true is it?"
 "If you touch me you will find substance."
 So John reached out his hand and touched the man's face, which was smooth and cool, like stone at night. Then he put his fingers upon the man's lips and his eyelids, upon his arms and his unmarked chest:  and when he had touched him everywhere else he dropped his hands to the man's groin, but it was also smooth and bore no mark.
 "Is this the body angels have?"
 The man laughed. "Angels have less.  For angels are incorporeal, that they may touch the incorporeal God and survive. They are his throne, and they cover his feet,  but if they had substance like mine God's radiance would burn them, and destroy them."
 "Then God can destroy you."
 "If God chose to destroy me he could do it. But he did not.  He cast me away, but he did not destroy me. He is like you."
 "I have not cast you away."
 "You have tried. But you have not tried to destroy me, or prevented me from coming to you."
 "Is that possible?"
 "It would be possible, if you chose. But if you did I would have no man with whom to talk about God."
 "As soon as I have my revelation I will leave this place and return to Jerusalem to preach."
 "I will follow you."
 "You are not very busy."
 "I make time for you."
 "And when I die?"
 "Do you believe you will go to Heaven?"
 "What Jew believes in Heaven? I will go to Sheol."
 "And you think I cannot find Sheol?"
 "Are you not of this earth?"
 "Sheol is of the earth."
 "Then we will go on talking, will we not?"
 "Do you still lust after me?"
 "Not in that body."
 "You look like a vandalised statue."
 He smiled and said to him, "That was well-spoken, for I was made perfect, and now I am incomplete: the sculptor who made me is grievously disappointed whenever he looks at me,  for I am not what he made."
 Then John laughed and said, "But you are still proud."
 "As are you."
 But John did not answer,  for the man had changed his form, and he no longer appeared with the body of an angel. His face was the face of a young man, and his body also, and he was naked.
 And he said to him, "And this body? Do you still lust after it?"
 He said, "Yes. Sometimes I dream of that body."
 "Will you touch it?"
 "Why not?"
 "I am not Jeshua bar Joseph, but I am stronger than I was when I knew you."
 "Do you think it is sinful to touch this body? Is it sinful to act on the impulse which God gave you?"
 "It is sinful to lust after Satan.  How much of a fool do you think I am? That body is one thing, but what is beneath it is shameful."
 Then he laughed and changed again, and his body was a dragon with seven heads and seven crowns upon its head, and it was red, and its tail was full of stars.  And he said to him, "And this body?"
 "That is the dragon you showed me."
 "I did not show you anything. I gave you the power for revelation, but it was your vision."
 "I saw you about to eat a child that was the Messiah."
 "But I did not eat him. He is your cousin."  Then he changed again, and he sat before the fire again as he had first appeared, and said, "I have no other forms to show you."
 "You have others."
 "But not to show you."
 And John said, "I think you have been honest with me."
 He said, "I have."
 "Then the revelation was true."
 "As true as God's.  And truly, if I gave you a revelation of my own making, do you not believe I would show myself in a better light, to drive you to despair?  I do not await death gladly."
 "Yet you said you were incomplete."
 "I am."
 "And is it not hard to live that way?"
 "No harder than it is to live as a sinful prophet." Then he got to his feet and said, "Go back to Jerusalem and write of your revelation.  Your time in the desert is done."
 "So you are leaving me?"
 "Only for a short while. I will come to you again soon."
 "You always do."
 "You always doubt."
 Then John smiled. And when the man was gone he returned to the hermitage and made himself a new loincloth from the robe he had left, and put his rough clothes back on to cover it.  Then he put out the fire with sand, and while the sun was high in the sky he rested inside the hermitage: and while he rested he dreamed.
 When night had fallen and it was safe to travel, he arose and journeyed back to Jerusalem.