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John the Baptist. Jordan River. Mikveh in Jerusalem. Machaerus. Winnowing Fork. Sandal. Josephus' Portrayal of John the Baptist .

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josephus portrayal of john the baptist
Josephus' Portrayal of John the Baptist

“But to some Jews the destruction of Herod's army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by righteousness” (Antiquities 18.116-118).

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Josephus' Portrayal of John the Baptist

1. John exhorted Jews to begin to live righteous lives towards one another and towards God. In other words, John preached the necessity of what Jews referred to as repentance, the turning from sin to obedience to the Law.

2. John required that those who responded to his exhortation to undergo baptism (an immersion in water).

3. John insisted that the cleansing of the "soul" resulted from the repentance and not from baptism. As indicated, this manner of expression is Josephus' accommodation to his non-Jewish readership. What he means by the "cleansing of the soul" is the forgiveness of sins, which he insisted was conditional upon repentance and not baptism.

4. John's interpretation of the baptism that he required Jews to undergo was that it was a "consecration of the body," seeing that the "soul" was already cleansed by means of repentance. Probably, by the "consecration of the body," Josephus is referring to ritual lustration. If so, John offered the possibility of both forgiveness and ritual purity.

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Josephus' Portrayal of John the Baptist

Josephus omits an important element from John's message, resulting in historical distortion: an eschatological dimension to John’s message, i.e. coming judgment.

question
Question

What is Josephus' description of the message of John the Baptist?

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John the Baptist’s Message in the Synoptic Gospels

The four canonical gospels take no interest in John the Baptist for his own sake, but only because of his relation to Jesus. In them John the Baptist is portrayed, not only as a preacher of repentance in light of an impending eschatological judgment, but more importantly as the precursor of one greater than he, who is Jesus.

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John the Baptist’s Message in the Synoptic Gospels

John as Preacher of Repentance before Impending Eschatological Judgment

Mark 1:4

4 And so John came, baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.

How is John’s baptism understood in this passage?

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John the Baptist’s Message in the Synoptic Gospels

John as Preacher of Repentance before Impending Eschatological Judgment

Luke 3:7-9

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."

What is John’s warning to some who seek baptism? What are the metaphors that John uses?

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John the Baptist’s Message in the Synoptic Gospels

John as Preacher of Repentance before Impending Eschatological Judgment

Luke 3:10-14

10 And the crowds were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" 11 And he would answer and say to them, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." 12 And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" 13 And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." 14 Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, "And what about us, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages."

What are some examples of what constitutes “fruit in keeping with repentance,” according to John?

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John the Baptist’s Message in the Synoptic Gospels

John as Preacher of Repentance before Impending Eschatological Judgment

Luke 1:76-77

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.

What is John’s salvation-historical function according to Zechariah’s prophecy?

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John the Baptist’s Message in the Synoptic Gospels

The One Who Comes After

Mark 1:7

7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

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John the Baptist’s Message in the Synoptic Gospels

The One Who Comes After

Mark 1:8

1:8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the spirit of holiness

Luke 3:16b-17

16b He will baptize you with the spirit of holiness and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."

How does John understand the one who comes after him?

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Question

What is the message of John the Baptist according to the synoptic gospels and how does it differ from Josephus' description of it?

john the baptist as elijah
John the Baptist as Elijah

Elijah as Eschatological Figure

Mal 4:5-6

See I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.

Sirach 48:10

At the appointed time, it is written, you [Elijah] are destined to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury, to turn the hearts of parents to children and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

john the baptist as elijah1
John the Baptist as Elijah

Identification of John with Elijah

Mark 1:2-3

2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way" (Mal. 3:1)  3 "a voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him' (Isa 40:3)."

Matt 11:7-10, 14-15 = Luke 7:24-27

Matt 11:7As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see?  A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see?  A man dressed in fine clothes?  No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: "'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare  your way before you.' (Mal 3:1) 13 For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 He who has ears, let him hear.”

How is John interpreted in these passages?

john the baptist as elijah2
John the Baptist as Elijah

Identification of John with Elijah

Mark 9:11: And they asked him, "Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" 12 Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things….13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him."

In what sense does Jesus understand John as Elijah? How would you describe the “twist” in eschatological expectation / fulfillment that has occurred?

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John the Baptist as Elijah

Identification of John with Elijah

Luke 1:17: And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

In what sense can John the Baptist be described as coming “in the spirit and power of Elijah”?

questions
Questions

What is the eschatological role assigned to the prophet Elijah in Jewish expectation? According to the gospels in what sense is John the Baptist the Elijah who is to come?

john the baptist in the gospel of john
John the Baptist in the Gospel of John

1:15 John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.'" 

1:30 This is he on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a who has surpassed me because he was before me.' 31 I did not recognize him, but in order that he might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water." 32 John testified saying, "I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and he remained upon him. 33 I did not recognize him, but he who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the son of God."

How does the Gospel of John’s account of “the who comes after” differ from that in the synoptic gospels?

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John the Baptist in the Gospel of John

John 3:22 After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized….. 25 An argument developed between some of John's disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him." 27 To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.

In the Gospel of John, how does John the Baptist understand his salvation-historical role in relation to Jesus?

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John the Baptist in the Gospel of John

John 1:20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ. 21 They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." 22 Finally they said, "Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" 23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ (Isa 40:3)"

In John’s Gospel, why does John deny that he is Elijah?

questions1
Questions

How is John the Baptist portrayed in the Gospel of John and does the portrayal of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John differ from that in the synoptic gospels? If so, how?

death of john the baptist
Death of John the Baptist

Mark 6:17 For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19 Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. 21 A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you." 23 And he swore to her, "Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom." 24 And she went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." 25 Immediately she came in a hurry to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26 And although the king was very sorry, yet because of his oaths and because of his dinner guests, he was unwilling to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded him to bring back his head. And he went and had him beheaded in the prison, 28 and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about this, they came and took away his body and laid it in a tomb.

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Death of John the Baptist

Luke 3:19 But when Herod the tetrarch was reprimanded by him because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and because of all the wicked things that Herod had done, 20 Herod also added this to them all: he locked John up in prison.

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Death of John the Baptist

Josephus

Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise, thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the fortress I before mentioned, and was there put to death. (Ant. 18.119)

Is Josephus’ account of John’s death compatible with that found in Mark? Why or why not?

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Question

Why did Herod Antipas put John the Baptist to death?