3. THE EVENT IN CESAREA
John the Baptist might have been unheard of, if not for an important event which, in all likelihood, happened in the fall (or early winter) of 26C.E. It is described in Josephus' Wars of the Jews (published 78 or 79C.E.), Book II, Chapter IX, Section 2 & 3:
"Now Pilate, who was sent as procurator into Judea by Tiberius,
[fall of 26C.E. Pilate's true title was prefect]
` sent by night those images of Caesar that are called ensigns, into Jerusalem.
[did an ambitious (but still not versed in Jewish affairs) Pilate try to impress the authorities in Rome? Did Tiberius (or Sejanus, his right hand man) take advantage of a new, "green" and over zealous prefect in order to attempt some romanization of Jerusalem? Or did Pilate make a beginner's mistake? In any case, this kind of action was most likely to have happened in the early days of Pilate's rule over Judea]
` This excited a very great tumult among the Jews when it was day; for those who were near them were astonished at the sight of them, as indications that their laws were trodden under foot: for those laws do not permit any sort of images to be brought into the city. Nay, besides the indignation which the citizens themselves had at this procedure, a vast number of people came running out of the country.
These come zealously to Pilate to Cesarea.
[then the capital of Judea. Built as a new city by Herod the Great, with an excellent artificial harbor (and the only good one in Judea), it had become a Roman colony. Located a few miles south of the border with (Gentile) Roman Syria and about a two days' walk north of Jerusalem]
` and besought him to carry those ensigns out of Jerusalem, and to preserve them their ancient laws inviolable:
[from Josephus second version of the event in Ant., XVIII, III, 1:
"But now Pilate, the procurator of Judea, removed the army from Cesarea to Jerusalem, to take their winter quarters there, in order to abolish the Jewish laws. So he introduced Caesar's effigies, which were upon the ensigns, and brought them into the city; whereas our law forbids us the very making of images; on which account the former procurators were wont to make their entry into the city with such ensigns as had not those ornaments. Pilate was the first who brought those images to Jerusalem, and set them up there; ... they came in multitudes to Cesarea, and interceded with Pilate many days that he would remove the images; and when he would not grant their requests, because it would tend to the injury of Caesar ..."]
But upon Pilate's denial of their request, they fell down prostrate upon the ground,
and continued immovable in that posture for
five days and as many nights.
On the next day Pilate sat upon his tribunal, in the open market-place, and called to him the multitude, as desirous to give them an answer; and then gave a signal to the soldiers that they all in agreement at once encompass the Jews with their weapons; so the band of soldiers stood round about the Jews in three ranks. Pilate also said to them, that they should be cut to pieces, unless they would admit of Caesar images and gave intimation to the soldiers to draw their naked swords.
Hereupon the Jews, as it were at one signal, fell down in vast numbers together, and exposed their necks bare, and cried out that they sooner ready to be slain, than that their law should be transgressed.
Hereupon Pilate was greatly surprised at their prodigious superstition,
[that shows again how much inexperienced Pilate was]
` and gave orders that the ensigns should be carried out of Jerusalem."
That happened after the first twenty years
of Roman occupation of Judea, which had been
rather uneventful so far.
Prior to that, Judea had been ruled by local kings for about five generations.
The event in Cesarea was very extraordinary and unprecedented. Furthermore, it seems the Jews did not have any apparent leader.
It must have raised speculations that God himself inspired and protected his chosen people, avoided the desecration of his temple and turned back Gentile soldiers:
Had God finally awakened to the plight of his Jews?
Could it be the prelude of something of the greatest importance?
4. JOHN THE BAPTIST AND THE ESSENES
Soon after, early in 27C.E. (see
"In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near."" (Mt3:1,2)
Note: "Matthew" almost systematically replaced "kingdom of God" by "kingdom of Heaven", even in passages copied from Mark's gospel. That's very obvious when comparing Mk1:15 with Mt4:17. This Kingdom might already be in heaven, but what would be "near" is the Kingdom of God on earth:
Mt6:9-10 "Our Father in heaven ... your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
Probably, many Jews were already thinking about it; but it was John who did the proclamation.
"John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins." (Mk1:4-5)
"... John the Baptist came neither eating bread or drinking wine"
"wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and
and wild honey"
Living in the Judean desert as a hermit, he would have been considered as an (ascetic) Essene by his contemporaries. Certainly, the few things we know about John are very "essenish": full immersion in cold water, life style and prophecy.
Here are some extracts from Josephus' Wars, II, VIII, about Essenes
" ... in white veils, they then bath their bodies in cold water. And after this purification is over ..."
"These men are despisers of riches and so very communicative as raises our admiration."
"They are also among them who undertake to foretell things to come, by reading the holy books, and using several sort of purifications, and being perpetually conversant in the discourses of the prophets and it is but seldom that they miss in their predictions."
In Ant., XV, X, 5:
" ... many of these Essens have, by their excellent virtue, been thought worthy of this knowledge of Divine revelations."
Josephus in Ant., XVIII, V, 2, wrote:
" ... John, that was called the Baptist, ..., who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism: for that the washing would be acceptable to him, ..."
Note: Josephus never called John an Essene, even if he described him like one.
Let's go back to Josephus' Wars, II, VIII, about the Essenes. Here are other excerpts (notice the similarities with the preceding
" These Essenes rejects pleasures as an evil, but esteem continence, and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue."
" ... he will exercise piety towards God; and then, that he will observe justice towards all men: and that he will do no harm to any one, either of his own accord, or by the command of other;"
"And as for their piety towards God, it is very extraordinary;"
5. MORE ABOUT THE ESSENES
Philo of Alexandria also wrote about Essenes:
"Then too, Syrian Palestine is not unproductive in moral excellence. There the major portion of the Jewish people are distributed. It is said that among them there are more than 4000 persons with the name of Essenes. In my judgment---(though) it is not exact in the Greek dialect---they are so named from their holiness. For, indeed, they have become servants of God, not by sacrificing animals, but by praying to render their thoughts fit for the holy. Now in the first place, they dwell in villages, keeping away from the cities because of lawlessness practiced by city-dwellers. They know that the pestilence bred from this company, as from polluted air, would render their souls incurable. There are some who till the soil, while others pursue crafts which work for peace. And so they benefit themselves and their neighbors. They do not treasure silver and gold or acquire great sections of land because of a desire for the proceeds. Instead, they provide the necessities for the basic requirements of life. For they are unique among all the race of men, having become penniless and landless by choice rather than lack of good luck. But they count themselves very wealthy, judging ready satisfaction and contentment with little abundance, as it is."
('Every Good Man is Free' 12.75-77)
However some of these Essenes were living in cities, (as related by Josephus in Wars, II, VIII, 4), others in isolated communities, according to the same Philo:
"But our lawgiver trained an innumerable body of his pupils to partake in those things, who are called Essenes, being, as I imagine, honoured of this appellation because of their exceeding holiness. And they dwell in many cities of Judea, and in many villages, and in great and populous communities ...
[then Philo described rural Essenes:] And they all dwell in the same place, making clubs, and societies, and combinations, and unions with one another, and doing everything during their whole lives with reference to the general advantage ... some are cunning in what relates to swarms of bees [as John the Baptist had to!] ... And not only are their tables in common but also their dress; for in the winter they are thick cloak found [Judea had cold winter then], and in the summer light cheap mantles .... they repudiate marriage ... for no one of the Essenes ever marry a wife ..." ('Hypothetica')
Josephus himself, as an adolescent, experienced the life of an ascetic Essene. He wrote (in his Life 2):
"When I was sixteen years old, I had a mind to make a trial of the several sects that was among us. These sects are three: - The first is that of the Pharisees, the second that Sadducees, and the third that of the Essens, as we have frequently told you; for I thought that by this means I might choose the best, if I were once acquainted with them all; so I contented myself with hard fare, and underwent great difficulties, and went through them all. Nor did I content myself with these trials only; but when I was informed that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert, and used no other clothing that grew upon trees, and had no other food that grew on its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently, in order to preserve his chastity, I imitated him in those things, and continued with him three years."
This passage also proves that one can live with Essenes for some time but not become one: after this experience, Josephus became a priest. And he did not marry until he was forced to it in his thirties (by emperor Vespasian!).
Note: this and some passages in the New Testament (Paul in 1Cor7:1,7-8,26-27,32,34; Mt19:10-11) indicate that many highly religious Jews (like Jesus) or Christians were not compelled to marry. Certainly, in Rev14:1-5, they are many of those (144,000!). Also, in Josephus' Wars, II, VIII, about Essenes:
"They neglect wedlock ... They do not absolutely deny the fitness of marriage, ... but guard against the lascivious behavior of woman".
Most Essenes were unmarried males.
We have another document about the desert Essenes from renown Roman writer Pliny the Elder (23C.E?-79C.E.):
"On the west side of the Dead Sea, but out of range of the noxious exhalations of the coast, is [notice the present tense] the solitary tribe of the Essenes, which is remarkable beyond all the other tribes in the whole word, as it has no women and has renounced all sexual desire, has no money, and has only palm-trees for company.
Day by day the throng of refugees is recruited to an equal number by numerous accessions of persons tired of life and driven thither [to that place] by the waves of fortune to adopt their manners ... Lying below the Essenes was formerly the town of Engedi
[it is likely Pliny was referring to the situation after 70C.E., when Engedi was destroyed]
` ... next comes Masada."
The Dead Sea Deception by Michael Bagent and Richard Leigh, Corgi Books.
And what can we gather from the Dead Sea scrolls?
Note: since the sectarian origin and date of composition (generally thought to predate Jesus) are subject of debates, I will not attempt here to draw much from them. However, it is noticeable that regarding community regulations, there are many similarities between Josephus' Essene rules and the ones described in the scrolls.
The next quotes are from The Dead Sea Scriptures, third edition, Theodor H. Gaster, an Anchor Book published by Doubleday.
Manual of Discipline:
"Anyone who refuses to enter the [ideal] society of God
` ... there are stains on his repentance ... He cannot be cleared by a mere ceremony of atonement, not cleansed by any waters of ablution, nor sanctified by immersion in lakes or rivers,
[is it a reference to John's predecessors? Competition was not welcomed!]
` nor purified by any bath."
"No one is to go in water to attain the purity of holy men. For men cannot be purified except they repent their evil."
6. THE MESSAGE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Now, let's examine briefly the two components of John's message:
6.1 Repentance (and baptism):
Repentance is an important theme in the scriptures: one has to return to a pious and righteous life (METANOIA) in order to get back in the good grace of God.
Isa30:15 "... in repentance and rest is your salvation ..."
1ki8:33-34,46-50; Job36:10-12,42:6: Jer15:19; Eze18:30-32; Jon3:1-10; Dan9:4-19; Hos14:1-2, etc.
b) Forgiveness of sins from God is mentioned in many verses (Mic7:18; Nu14:18-19; Ex32:32; 1Ki8:36,50; 2Ch6:25,27,39; etc.).
Cleansing of sin by water during the "day of the Lord" is indicated in Zec13:1:
"On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity"
The healing (cleansing) power of the Jordan river water is mentioned in 2Ki5:10:
"And Elisha sent a messenger to him,
[Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, but a leper]
` saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.""
"So he [Naaman] went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean."
The religious concepts behind John's baptism for repentance in the Jordan river were certainly not new and could be "validated" by an assemblage of passages from the scriptures. Furthermore, as we saw already from the Dead Sea scrolls, ceremonial immersions for repentance of sins were widely practiced.
6.2 Kingdom of God:
Many prophetic books in the scriptures called repeatedly for a new world order to be brought down by God, on the "day of the Lord"; a Kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital city and Jews as its inhabitants. God and his chosen people would reign and rule over the Gentiles (and outcast Jews) chastened by God's wrath and living on the outside:
Isa13:1-22 "Behold, the day of the LORD comes, Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, To lay the land desolate; And He will destroy its sinners from it ... I will punish the world for its evil, And the wicked for their iniquity; ...Therefore I will shake the heavens, And the earth will move out of her place, In the wrath of the LORD of hosts And in the day of His fierce anger ..."
Isa24:23b "... the Lord Almighty will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before its elders, gloriously."
Isa26:20-21a "Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See, the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of the earth for their sins."
Never again will there be in it
[the "New Jerusalem"]
an infant who lives but a few days or an
old man who does not live out his years;
[in all prophetic passages about the Kingdom to come, there is only one clear mention about his beneficiaries becoming immortal: Da12:2]"
Jer10:10 "But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation."
"... Then you will know that
the Lord your God dwell in Zion, my holy hill. Jerusalem
will be holy;
never again will foreigners invade her
[which they did and many times!]"
Ob15-21 "... The day of the Lord is near for all nations ..."; "... and the kingdom will be the Lord's ..."
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord
The Lord will rule over them
[the Jewish exiles]
in Mount Zion from that day and forever
"The great day of the LORD is near; It is near and hastens quickly ... There the mighty men shall cry out.
That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation ..."
(this quote & the next one were written in the 6th century B.C.E.)
"Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy.
The King of Israel, the LORD,
is in your midst; You shall see disaster no more."
(Jerusalem was fully destroyed in 70C.E.!)
Zec14:1-21 "... The Lord will be king over the whole earth ..."; "... Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord Almighty ..."
a) In the Old Testament (O.T.), there is no prophetic passage suggesting that the Kingdom to come would be in heaven. All indications point to earth. Furthermore, a Lord's kingdom is mentioned to exist already in heaven:
Ps103:19 "The LORD [God according to Ps104] has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all."
Also in Ps145:12-13; Da4:3,34,6:26
b) In the aforementioned writings, the expression "kingdom of God" never occurs: John might have coined it.
c) "day of the Lord [God]" occurs twenty times in the Old Testament. It signifies always the great day of God's wrath ushering the new Divine order:
Joel1:15, 2:1,11,31, 3:14
with one exception:
Isaiah58:13, where "the holy day of the Lord" is the Sabbath.
In the Dead Sea scrolls, new world order beliefs were about:
a) The coming of a day of Final Judgment brought about by God's wrath
b) The pious, poor and righteous ones to be taken care on earth by God and his all powerful "anointed one":
"The Heavens and the earth will obey His Messiah ... His holy Messiah will not be slow in coming. And as for the wonders that are not the work of the Lord [God], when He [the Messiah] comes then He will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the poor announce glad tidings [as in Isa61:1]."
The Messiah of Heaven and Earth (4Q521, Fragment 1)
c) The "sons of light" and the militarized righteous Jews (based in Jerusalem & around and led by a human Messiah: "thine anointed") vanquishing the "sons of darkness" in a great final battle (the War Scroll).
All along the first century C.E., an earthly supreme Kingdom of the Chosen ones (and God's wrath) is mentioned in:
a) Mark's gospel:
""Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" ..." (11:10a)
"your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (6:10)
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (5:5)
"When the Son of Man [Jesus] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people on from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world ... But he will say to those on his left ' "Depart from me, ..., into the eternal fire ...'" (25:31-34,41)
"Therefore, when they [the disciples] had come together, they asked Him [Jesus], saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"" (1:6)
"... hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne [God] and from the wrath of the lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (6:16b)
Kingdom of one thousand years:
"... they will be priests of God and of Christ and they will reign with him for a thousand years. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them in battle. In number they are like the sand of the seashore. They surrounded the camp of God's people, the city [Jerusalem] he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them." (20:6b-9)
And the "New Jerusalem":
"The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
[the "New Jerusalem", a kingdom twice the size of Mexico!]" (21:24)
Eusebius' "the History of the Church", 3, 39, 'the writing of Papias':
"[Papias] says that after the resurrection of the dead there will be a period of a thousand years, when Christ's kingdom will be set up on this earth in a material form."
7. THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE "KINGDOM OF GOD"
At that time, the obvious political implications of the Kingdom were that Jerusalem would replace Rome (as in 'Revelation') and the Jews would rule over the Romans and other Gentiles (also as in 'Revelation', with Christians joining Jews).
Consequently, it is likely John the Baptist was careful not to get involved into any description. However, the associated God's wrath affecting the "bad" Jews could be stressed.
The authorities' first reaction would have been to arrest a populist announcer of the Kingdom. But the past event in Cesarea was likely to make them hesitate and think otherwise. References to an old and enshrined religious concept (the Kingdom) could be tolerated, but any perception of subversion (which could lead to rebellion) would not.
That seems to have been the position of the authorities and, for a time, they took no action. However, they had to be worried, on alert and keeping a close watch for any subversive activities or inducements.
Josephus in Ant., XVIII, V, 2, wrote:
"Now, when others came to crowd about him [John the Baptist], for they were greatly moved to hear his words, Herod,
[Antipas, king (tetrarch) of Galilee and Perea, ally/client to the Romans]
` who fear 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 anything he should advised) ..."
8. JESUS IN THE DESERT OF JUDEA
Probably during his annual trip to Jerusalem for Passover (or before),
"When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was being baptized too ..." (Lk3:21a)
and stayed around John the Baptist and other ascetic Essenes living in the area (Mk1:13a "and he [Jesus] was in the desert forty days ...").
When the desert was crowded and John was
its stupendous center of attraction, does
this (packed with mythology) brief narration
Mk1:12-13 "At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert [Jesus was already in it], and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan [but how, among sand and stones?]. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him."
Isn't it apparent that "Mark" wanted to extract Jesus from John's entourage?
And then, who witnessed that? Furthermore this passage seems to be inspired from
Heb2:18a "because he himself suffered when he was tempted ..."
Also, the following appears in "Q", testifying of Jesus' great interest for John:
Mt11:11a "[Jesus saying] ... among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; ..." also in Lk7:28a
Later on, such a statement must have been considered very embarrassing: Christ was also born from a woman! Consequently, and according to the added material, John was lowered below the angels or anyone else in the Kingdom (which is rather illogical and unfair!):
Mt11:11b "... yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John]." also in Lk7:28b
This treatment of John is very similar of the one in Mk1:7: "...the thongs of whose sandals [Christ's ones] I [John] am not worthy to stoop down and untie."
The following, also from "Q" and in the same vein as Mt11:11a, is probably also largely authentic:
Lk7:24b-26 "[Jesus saying] What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see [as Jesus did, and likely other Galileans]? A prophet [John]? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet." also in Mt11:7b-9
Note: the fact that John lived in poverty seems to have been very appealing for the lower class Jews.
Then, we also have:
Mk1:14a "After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, ..."
certainly inferring that Jesus' stay in the desert was related to John being here.
There, Jesus would have embraced some of John the Baptist and Essenes beliefs: the kingdom of God and its coming, of course, and poverty as a virtue (not a shame). These would be additions to Jesus' Judaism, likely traditional and basic in nature, the same as shared by the people of rural Galilee where he grew up and lived.
Note: Jesus could have known about the Essenes before that.
Also there, Jesus might have learned to consider his companions and hosts as his new family, as he did later for his followers in Galilee:
Mk3:33-34 ""Who are my mother and my brothers?" he [Jesus] asked [his true mother and brothers were outside, waiting]. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers"!"
And not to worry about food or clothes: they
could always be found (and shared):
Mt6:25a "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear ..." also in Lk12:22
It does not seem Jesus was advocating hard work to earn the basic necessities of life! And later, he and his followers had no qualms into helping themselves on crop and fruits:
Mk2:23 "... Jesus was walking through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick up some heads of grain [to eat raw]." also in Mt12:1 and Lk6:1
Mk11:12-13 "... Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit ..." also in Mt21:18-19
Note: Josephus in Wars, II, VIII, wrote about Essenes:
"and although there be no requital made, they are fully allowed [within their community] to take what they want of whomsoever they please."
Let's compare this with
Lk11:9 "So I [Jesus] say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." also in Mt7:7
And also later, the breaking of the bread (sharing of the available food among him and his followers) was practiced by Jesus:
Mk6:40a "Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves ..."; Ac2:46
About giving thanks over food:
Josephus in Wars, II, VIII, 2 "... and it is unlawful for any one [Essene] to taste of the food before grace be said"
9. JOHN THE BAPTIST AND THE ACTIVIST JEWS
For many weeks, John the Baptist drew large crowds and was believed by many. In these days, it is probable there was a feeling that God had granted immunity to his people and John was very outspoken on social issues & religious matters:
Lk3:7 (also in Mt3:7)
that came out to be baptized by him, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
Allusion to the arrival of the Kingdom: the negatives are emphasized. John preaching about the Kingdom is ascertained in Mt3:2 and also in:
Mt11:12-13 "From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing,
[NASB alternative translation: "is forcibly entered"]
` and forceful men lay hold of it."
Lk16:16 "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it."
A) The aforementioned quote would indicate that the message about the kingdom of God started to be propagated by Jewish preachers as soon as it was heard from John. And his baptism was practiced in Asia minor, as reported in 'Acts':
Ac19:1-3 "... [53C.E] Paul ... arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them "did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism" they replied."
In time, the Baptist (and his prophecies about the Kingdom and God's wrath to come soon) became known all over the eastern Mediterranean area, as confirmed by the many "sweet and sour" references of John in the gospels. Sometimes, they are very complimentary, but, at other times, degrading, as to reduce the Baptist's significance and diminish his latter appeal (relatively to Jesus Christ):
Jn1:20 "He [John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ.""
Jn1:25-26a "... "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" "I baptize with water," John replied,"
Jn1:30 "This is the one I [John] meant when I said, `A man [Jesus] who comes after me has surpassed me ...'"
Jn3:28a "You yourselves bear me witness, that I [John] said, 'I am not the Christ,' ..."
Jn3:30 "He [Jesus] must become greater; I [John] must become less."
Jn4:1 "... Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John,"
Jn5:35-36a "John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. I [Jesus] have testimony weightier than that of John."
B) In the eastern Mediterranean area, and from about that time, Gentiles were adopting the Jewish faith. These uncircumcised "Greeks" became known as God-fearers (or "God-fearing ..." Ac10:2,22, 13:26, 17:4,17). Many of these Gentiles were probably drawn to Judaism, trying to avoid God's wrath to come, as preached by Jews. Also, they (Gentiles and Jews alike) might have been influenced by what follows:
"The concept of a 'final conflagration',
[destruction by fire:
Paul in 1C03:13 "... the Day will declare it , because it will be revealed by fire ..."
Heb10:27 "... a fearful expectation ... of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."]
` ... occurs frequently in the Third Book of the Sibylline Oracles, as basically Jewish compilation dating about 140 B.C. The Jews appear to have adopted it from Gentiles sources (although there is a foregleam in Isa. 34.9-10), for it was held by Zeno and the Stoics and dominated the Roman-Oriental world from the first century B.C. until the third century C.E."
'The Dead Sea Scriptures', Third Revised and Enlarged Edition, Theodor H. Gaster (introduction p. 22)
C) In his works, Josephus never entertained beliefs about a Kingdom to come and eschatological expectations, but rather implied just the opposite:
a) In Ant., X, XI, Josephus wrote at length about the prophecies of Daniel, but never mentioned anything about a "time of the end" (Da12:1-10) and the eternal Kingdom to come (Da2:44,7:14,27). For Josephus, the main prophecy of Daniel is only about the two destructions of Jerusalem, by Antiochus IV (168B.C.E.) and by the Romans (70C.E.).
b) In Wars, VI, V, 4, an oracle is believed by many Jews to indicate that one of them will rule the earth. But Josephus quickly pointed out:
"Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea."
Therefore, it should not be surprising that Josephus did not write about "the Kingdom is near" as part of John's message.
Furthermore, Josephus, who depicted the Baptist as some saint, did not want him to appear as a false prophet and subversive. And Josephus probably knew these eschatological expectations were favoring the expansion of Christianity, a competing faith to his dear Judaism (see "The Testimonium Flavianum").
But how to explain the huge crowds which gathered around John?
Other Essenes (or Baptizers) had been baptizing and preaching repentance (as seen in Section 5) without causing any commotion. Just "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mk1:4b) would not attract crowds!
However "Mark" did not acknowledge John's main message. Why?
Let's analyze GMark on this matter:
"Mark" introduced John as follows:
Mk1:2 "It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way""
Comment: this passage is loosely drawn from Malachi (& not Isaiah!) and Christianized:
Mal3:1 "See, I [God] will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me [God, not a Messiah]."
For "Mark", the "me" becomes "you".
Then in Mk1:3 "a voice of one crying in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight path for him.'"
Comment: this is from Isa40:3 ""a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord [God, not a Messiah, as corroborated next:], make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.""
Therefore, the collage used by "Mark" is deceiving: according to the two quoted O.T. passages, the messenger (John) would be preparing God's arrival, not the one of a Messiah.
Note: within the first three verses of the first written gospel (according to most critical scholars and myself), falsities appear already: the quote is not all from 'Isaiah', and part of it has been modified for an obvious purpose. What a bad start for "the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ"! And how can anyone not be critical & inquisitive when examining the rest!
And in the gospel, even if:
Mk1:9 "At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan."
John is never reported to know about Jesus' alleged identity (probably because there was no "tradition" about it).
Remark: let's compare this with the later "corrected" version in John's gospel where the Baptist says:
Jn1:34 "I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."Note: most of the earliest Greek manuscripts, plus some old Syriac & Latin translations, do not have "Son of God" but "Elect of God".
And John, not knowing Jesus, prophecies about the coming of an unnamed Messianic figure:
Mk1:7 "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."
This is a very demeaning alleged statement by John, implying he is very little (as in Jn1:19-27), and certainly not the Messiah! In GMark, this is the only message (and prophecy) from John.
Note: let's compare the preceding verse with the "Q" statement in:
Lk7:28a "... among those born of women there is no one greater than John ..." (also in Mt11:11a)
That would put John above Jesus, also born of a woman!
Despite Mark's acknowledgement:
Mk1:5a "Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him."
the author belittled John and:
a) took away from John any pretense he was the Christ. Instead, "Mark" pointed out "everyone held that John really was a prophet." (Mk11:32b)
The reason might be that, according to Mk2:18-22 (see "Parables and gospels"), there was some competition between Christians and latter John's followers in Mark's community.
b) explained John's role in a Christian context as only Elijah's reincarnation (Mk9:11-13):
Mk9:11-12a,13a "And they asked him, "Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?" Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. ... But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished ...""
Here, John the Baptist, as the reincarnation of Elijah, is tentatively suggested (there is no positive identification of John with Elijah) and Jesus would be the only one to know about it! And then, that was not widely accepted among Christians then:
Mt11:13b-14 "... John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come."
Jn1:21a "They asked him [John], "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." ..."
In the O.T., the reference of any reincarnation
of Elijah is solely in the book of Malachi:
Mal4:5 "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 [God] will come and strike the land with a curse."
a) Elijah is to appear prior to the apocalyptic day of the Lord, but not necessarily right before it. There is NO mention of him preparing the way for a Messiah. Actually, his assignment, as specified, is very different. And if the new Elijah fails to reconcile fathers with their children, God himself will come to punish them!
b) Teachers of the Law were unlikely to mention it since the book of Malachi is not part of the Law of Moses (the five first books of the O.T.).
c) In Mark's own gospel, it is Jesus himself (and not John) who is seen as the new Elijah by some Jews (Mk6:15a,8:28).PS: according to the Damascus Document, a prophet comes back at the end-time with the Messiah. 4QarP states: "I shall send you ELIJAH before ..."
Certainly "Mark" made a very flawed argument about John, as Elijah, preparing the way for a Messiah, in the person of Jesus.
And with a very much "diminished" John, Jesus himself proclaims first (John's message):
"The kingdom of God is near. Repent
[but in the gospel, there is no preaching by Jesus about repentance!] ..." (Mk1:15)
But for obvious reasons, the nearness (relative to Jesus' times) is not emphasized in GMark, written more than forty years later:
"And he said to them [the crowd], "I [Jesus] tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."" (Mk9:1)
Note: here, it is significant that Jesus would say that (and not in parables!) to a crowd (with children!), and not only to his disciples. Maybe it was feared that, at the time of the gospel writing (70-71C.E.), Jesus' disciples were dead!
But "Matthew" went out of his way to add that John was the one who preached first "the Kingdom is near. Repent (and go back to a sinless life)" (Mt3:2): that explains why John attracted huge crowds who, after "the event of Cesarea", were ready to believe him.
And the statement of John's main message in Matthew's gospel is made despite:
a) the author was also prone to diminish the Baptist relative to Jesus:
Mt3:14 "But John tried to deter him [Jesus], saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and [why] do you come to me?""
Note: let's notice the embellishment above GMark: John knows now about Jesus!
b) following the lead of GMark, "Matthew" stated that Jesus preached "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near." (4:17b), repeating John's message (3:2b) word by word, and having Jesus look like a follower!
Lk3:8-9 (also in Mt3:8-10)
"Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father."
[in this context means: "we are Jews"]
say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones." "And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit
is cut down and thrown into the fire.
[as postulated earlier, God's wrath on "bad" Jews is emphasized. As also in (written 2nd cent. B.C.E.) 'Wisdom of Jesus, son of Sirach' (5:6-7)
"... for mercy and wrath come from him [God], and his indignation rests upon sinners. Make no tarrying to turn to the Lord [God], and put not off from day to day: for suddenly shall the wrath of the Lord come forth, and in thy security thou shalt be destroyed, and perish in the day of vengeance."]
Lk3:10-14 "So the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?"
He [John] answered and said to them, "He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."
Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?"
And he said to them, "Collect no more than what is appointed for you."
Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, "And what shall we do?"
So he said to them, "Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.""
The complete message of John seems to have
been as follows:
The kingdom of God is near, repent & beseech for remission of past sins, get baptized, then do not sin again and be pious & righteous, and finally hope to avoid God's wrath; but probably, no emphasis on salvation (entry in the Kingdom).
While John was baptizing and preaching in the Jordan valley (most likely, East of Jericho), less than a day walk away, in Jerusalem, there was an atmosphere of great expectations:
Mk15:43a "Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God ..."
Note: why would "Mark" "invent" that, when some forty years later (when the gospel was written), the Kingdom had not come yet, making a fool of the highly educated Joseph (who likely had died)?
Certainly "Mark" did not want his audience to doubt the prompt arrival of the Kingdom (Mk13:14-37). Therefore, in all likelihood, this Joseph was mentioned earlier by eyewitness(es), very happy to report on a member of the Jewish elite sharing their belief.
It is probable some Jews from the Diaspora (these Jews lived in cities outside of Palestine and spoke Greek but not Aramaic) had come to Judea and were staying here in anticipation. They, and other local Hellenistic activist Jews, would have thought the traditional view about God becoming the earth-bound King of a kingdom (as in Ps132:11-16, Isa24:23, Job19:25-27; Joel3:17-21; Mic4:7; Zec14:5,9,16) was not realistic:
Partly due to the fact that, during the Hellenist era, God as "the God of gods" (Da11:36) and "Lord of lords, God of gods, King of kings" (1Enoch 9) got "physical" (Da7:9), living in heavenly splendors and surrounded by a huge court of angels:
Da7:10 "... Thousands upon thousands attended him [God]; ... the court was seated ..."
1Enoch 14 "... a lofty throne: its appearance was as crystal, and the wheels thereof as the shining sun, and there was the vision of cherubim. ... And the Great Glory sat thereon ... ten thousand times ten thousand (stood) before Him ..."
Furthermore, in the book of Daniel, a vision tells of a "son of man" presented to God:
"He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and man of every language worshipped him ..." Da7:14a, written 167B.C.E.
These, and other sacred texts with Messianic connotations, made them believe the King had to be a man (of God). And they were likely thinking this man was here already:
John the Baptist, announcer of the kingdom of God, son of a priest (Lk1:5a), probably well educated, Judean (Lk1:39), large crowds gatherer, great orator and leader.
Ant., XVIII, V, 2 "...
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 anything he should
Note: such devotion would make any king or emperor jealous!
Mt11:11a "... among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist ..."
Note: that would put John above Moses and David!
Lk3:15 "Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not"
Note: Christ = "a king" (Lk23:2) and "the Chosen One" (Lk23:35)
10. JOHN THE BAPTIST IS ARRESTED
Unfortunately, the arrest of John the Baptist in the latter part of the spring in 27C.E. (see "Appendix A") put a damper to all that. It was triggered by John's criticism of the new marriage of Herod Antipas, the king (tetrarch) of Galilee and Perea (the territory East of the river Jordan where John preached):
Lk3:19a-20 "But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, ... Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison."
Mk6:17-18 "For Herod himself have given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put to prison. He did that because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, "it is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife [Herodias]""
Note: the author made an error. Herodias was the wife of another brother of Herod, called also Herod! But Herodias' daughter became the wife of Philip, another brother of Herod Antipas (as shown in next quote). Confusing? That also proves a gospel author is not infallible on historical matters.
In Ant., XVIII, V, 4, Josephus wrote:
"Herodias took upon her to confound the law of our country, and divorce herself from her husband, while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband's brother by the father's side; he was tetrarch of Galilee; but her daughter Salome was married to Philip, the son of Herod [the Great], the tetrarch of Trachonitis [Cesarea Philippi]"
Back to John now, from Josephus' Ant., XVIII, V, 2:
"... to prevent any mischief he [John] might cause, and not to bring himself [Herod] into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle [in Perea] ..."
John's followers must have hoped for his release and waited.
As it seems, Herod arrested John and sent him to prison because of the tetrarch's fear. He thought John might call the crowds in order to prevent the marriage. Also, with John as a hostage, anyone would be discouraged to forestall the royal ceremony: "If you interfere, I execute John."
A) Could John have stated his opposition to Herod's new marriage after the fact?
In my view, it is rather unlikely, considering:
a) Weeks or months after, the marriage could not have been a hot issue anymore. Then, the damage was already done, too late to prevent and resignation would have set in. By that time, too little motivation would have precluded the Baptist and his followers to contemplate drastic actions, as the ones feared by Antipas, causing him to arrest John.
b) John's message was about the Kingdom is at hand, repent, get baptized and follow instructions in order to avoid God's wrath. Criticizing important figures for past actions would be a pointless digression, and dangerous at that.
B) Josephus described Herod Antipas as a capable and decent tetrarch, not drawing popular opposition against him. The only flaw of his reign: ambitious Herodias, remarriage and later bad influence:
Ant., XVIII, VII, 2 "And thus did God punish Herodias for her envy at her brother [Agrippa I], and Herod [banished then by the emperor (40C.E.)] also for giving ear to the vain discourses of a woman."
One more question may be asked: why Josephus did not mention John's opposition to the marriage? It seems to have been opposed by many, including later by Josephus himself (Ant., XVIII, V, 4 quoted earlier).
Well, Josephus presented John as a Jewish saint (as he was later remembered) and was not willing to indicate John showed some rebellious tendency (as the Zealots whom Josephus abhorred). Please note that Josephus did not mention also any apocalyptic message from John for reasons I explained earlier.
King Herod Antipas, at this time, had a big problem:
this is how it started and what it led to:
Josephus' Ant., XVIII, V, 1 "About this time Aretas [the king of Arabia Petra] and Herod had a quarrel on the account following: Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas, and had lived with her a great while; but when he was once at Rome, he lodged with Herod, who was his brother indeed, but not by the same mother; for this Herod was the son of the high priest Sireoh's daughter. However, he fell in love with Herodias, this last Herod's wife, who was the daughter of Aristobulus their brother, and the sister of Agrippa the Great.
This man ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; which address, when she admitted, an agreement was made for her to change her habitation, and come to him as soon as he should return from Rome: one article of this marriage also was this, that he should divorce Aretas' daughter.
So Antipas, when he had made this agreement, sailed to Rome; but when he had done there the business he went about, and was returned again, his wife having discovered the agreement he had made with Herodias, and having learned it before he had notice of her knowledge of the whole design, she desired him to send her to Macherus, which is a place in the borders of the dominions of Aretas and Herod, without informing him of any of her intentions. Accordingly Herod sent her thither, as thinking his wife had not perceived any thing; now she had sent a good while before to Macherus, ... and she soon came to her father, and told him of Herod's intentions.
So Aretas made this the first [occasion] of his enmity between him and Herod
[it does not seem Aretas & Antipas prepared for war then, just that a feud between the two kings had started]
` who had also some quarrel with him about their limits at the country of Gamalitis. So they raised armies on both sides, and prepared for war ."
Later (36C.E.), Herod's army got thoroughly
defeated. Josephus in Ant., XVIII, V, 2,
"Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army [by Aretas' generals] came from God, and was very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John [the Baptist] ... For Herod slew him ... Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure against him."
Could Antipas-Herodias' wedding, John the baptist's arrest & execution and Jesus' crucifixion have happened in 35-36 AD? According to the available evidence, that would be most unlikely. Click here to know why.
POSTSCRIPT: THE MANDAEANS
Note: what follows are extracts from "Encyclopeadia of the Orient: Mandeans".
"The only surviving Gnostic religion, now with not more than 20,000 adherents, living in southern Iraq and south-western Iran. They are often called the Christians of Saint John, as he is held as a very sacred person, but not indispensable, in their theology. Their name is Aramaic for 'knowledge', i.e. a translation from the Greek 'gnosis'.
TEACHING and PRACTICE
John the Baptist is central in their teaching, as a representative for their faith. Jesus is also central, but he plays a totally different role than in religions like Christianity and Islam, and is a false prophet, almost depicted as evil.
[this appraisal of Jesus probably dates from the early years when communities of latter followers of John the Baptist were competing against the early (Jesus based) Christianity]
` ... Baptism is central to the cult of Mandeans, and the Mandean sanctuary, Mandi is a very simple, and small, house with slanting roof. In front of this a pool, connected to a nearby river, is placed. This one, called 'Jordan', is used for baptism. The whole area is surrounded by a high fence or a wall. Baptisms are performed on Sundays, and every believer pass through this several times every year. Mandean baptism can be compared to the Christian communion, and the Muslim prayer, salât. ...
The ethics of Mandeans are not all too different from Jewish ethics, and the same rules applied to all. Monogamy, dietary laws, ritual slaughtering, alms-giving are central acts. Death is the day of deliverance, the soul leaves the body, and starts on a dangerous journey to the realms of light. It is only Mandeans and non-sinners who manages to pass the whole journey everyone else ends in hell. This hell is not everlasting, at the end of the world, a judgement is made on who will be wiped out for ever, and who will rise to the realms of light.
ORIGINS and HISTORY
... The Mandean religion could be pre-Christian, or it could date to 1st or 2nd century AD. It could actually be John the Baptist who founded the sect, or they could be a continuation of the Jewish sect that John the Baptist belonged to (guessed to be the Esseneans). Elements of the languages indicate that the community is of Jewish origin. One of the texts of the Mandeans tell about a flight of a group called 'Nasoreans', from areas that probably were in today's Jordan, to the Mesopotamian region, in the times of the Jewish wars following the destruction of Jerusalem in year 70 AD. The Mandeans appears first to have gained a strong position in Babylon, ..."
Complete text on Encyclopaedia of the Orient: Mandeans
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