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John the Baptist
John the Baptist
|Born||Late 1st century BC
Herodian Judea, the Levant
|Died||c. AD 28–36[dubious ]
Machaerus, Perea, the Levant
|Venerated in||All Christian denominations which venerate saints, Islam, Druze faith, Baháʼí Faith, and Mandaeism|
|Attributes||Red Martyr, camel-skin robe, cross, lamb, scroll with words "Ecce Agnus Dei", platter with own head, pouring water from hands or scallop shell|
John the Baptist[note 1] (late 1st century BC – c. AD 30) was a Jewish itinerant preacher in the early 1st century AD. Other titles for John include John the Forerunner in Eastern Christianity, John the Immerser in some Baptist traditions, and the prophet John (Yaḥyā) in Islam. He is sometimes alternatively called John the Baptizer.
John the Baptist is mentioned by the Roman Jewish historian Josephus and revered as a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, the Baháʼí Faith, and Mandaeism. He is considered a prophet by all of these faiths, and is honoured as a saint in many Christian traditions. According to the New Testament, John anticipated a messianic figure greater than himself, and the Gospels portray John as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, since John announces Jesus' coming and prepares the people for Jesus' ministry. Jesus himself identifies John as "Elijah who is to come", which is a direct reference to the Book of Malachi (Malachi 4:5), that has been confirmed by the angel who announced John's birth to his father Zecharia. According to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were relatives.
Some scholars maintain that John belonged to the Essenes, a semi-ascetic Judaic sect who expected a messiah and who practiced ritual baptism.[dubious ] John used baptism as the central symbol or sacrament of his pre-messianic movement. Most scholars agree that John baptized Jesus, and several New Testament accounts report that some of Jesus' early followers had previously been followers of John.
According to the New Testament, John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded by Herod Antipas sometime around AD 30 after John rebuked him for divorcing his wife Phasaelis and then unlawfully wedding Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. Josephus also mentions John the Baptist in the Antiquities of the Jews and states that he was executed by order of Herod Antipas in the fortress of Machaerus.
Followers of John the Baptist existed into the second century AD, and some proclaimed him the messiah. Known as the Mandaeans, followers of John the Baptist exist to this day. They believe that John the Baptist is their greatest and final prophet or teacher.
John the Baptist is mentioned in all four canonical Gospels and the non-canonical Gospel of the Nazarenes. The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) describe John baptising Jesus; in the Gospel of John this is implied in John 1:32.
The Gospel of Mark introduces John as a fulfillment of a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah (in fact, a conflation of texts from Isaiah, Malachi and Exodus) about a messenger being sent ahead, and a voice crying out in the wilderness. John is described as wearing clothes of camel's hair, living on locusts and wild honey. John proclaims baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, and says another will come after him who will not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus comes to John, and is baptized by him in the river Jordan. The account describes how, as he emerges from the water, Jesus sees the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends on him 'like a dove' and he hears a voice from heaven that says, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased".
Later in the gospel there is an account of John's death. It is introduced by an incident where the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, hearing stories about Jesus, imagines that this is John the Baptist raised from the dead. It then explains that John had rebuked Herod for marrying Herodias, the ex-wife of his brother (named here as Philip). Herodias demands his execution, but Herod, who 'liked to listen' to John, is reluctant to do so because he fears him, knowing he is a 'righteous and holy man'.
The account then describes how Herodias's unnamed daughter dances before Herod, who is pleased and offers her anything she asks for in return. When the girl asks her mother what she should request, she is told to demand the head of John the Baptist. Reluctantly, Herod orders the beheading of John, and his head is delivered to her, at her request, on a plate. John's disciples take the body away and bury it in a tomb.
There are a number of difficulties with this passage. The Gospel refers to Antipas as 'King' and the ex-husband of Herodias is named as Philip, but he is known to have been called Herod. Although the wording clearly implies the girl was the daughter of Herodias, many texts describe her as "Herod's daughter, Herodias". Since these texts are early and significant and the reading is 'difficult', many scholars see this as the original version, altered in later versions and in Matthew and Luke. Josephus says that Herodias had a daughter by the name of Salome.
Scholars have speculated about the origins of the story. Since it shows signs of having been composed in Aramaic, which Mark apparently did not speak, he is likely to have got it from a Palestinian source. There are a variety of opinions about how much actual historical material it contains, especially given the alleged factual errors. Many scholars have seen the story of John arrested, executed, and buried in a tomb as a conscious foreshadowing of the fate of Jesus.
The Gospel of Matthew account begins with the same modified quotation from Isaiah, moving the Malachi and Exodus material to later in the text, where it is quoted by Jesus. The description of John is taken directly from Mark ("clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey"), along with the proclamation that one was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit "and fire". The book of Matthew next has Jesus coming to John to be baptized, but John objects because he is not worthy because Jesus is the one that brings the baptism in the Spirit.
Unlike Mark, Matthew describes John as critical of Pharisees and Sadducees and as preaching "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" and a "coming judgment".
Matthew shortens the account of the beheading of John, and adds two elements: that Herod Antipas wants John dead, and that the death is reported to Jesus by his disciples. Matthew's approach is to shift the focus away from Herod and onto John as a prototype of Jesus. Where Mark has Herod killing John reluctantly and at Herodias' insistence, Matthew describes him as wanting John dead.
In Luke and Acts
The Gospel of Luke adds an account of John's infancy, introducing him as the miraculous son of Zechariah, an old man, and his wife Elizabeth, who was past menopause and therefore unable to have children. According to this account, the birth of John was foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah while he was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem. Since he is described as a priest of the course of Abijah and Elizabeth as one of the daughters of Aaron, this would make John a descendant of Aaron on both his father's and mother's side. On the basis of this account, the Catholic as well as the Anglican and Lutheran liturgical calendars placed the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist on 24 June, six months before Christmas.
Elizabeth is described as a "relative" of Mary the mother of Jesus, in Luke 1:36. There is no mention of a family relationship between John and Jesus in the other Gospels, and Raymond E. Brown has described it as "of dubious historicity". Géza Vermes has called it "artificial and undoubtedly Luke's creation". The many similarities between the Gospel of Luke story of the birth of John and the Old Testament account of the birth of Samuel suggest that Luke's account of the annunciation and birth of Jesus are modeled on that of Samuel.
Unique to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist explicitly teaches charity, baptizes tax-collectors, and advises soldiers.
The text briefly mentions that John is imprisoned and later beheaded by Herod, but the Gospel of Luke lacks the story of a step-daughter dancing for Herod and requesting John's head.
In the Gospel of John
The fourth gospel describes John the Baptist as "a man sent from God" who "was not the light", but "came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that through him everyone might believe". John neither confirms nor denies being the Christ or Elijah or 'the prophet', instead describing himself as the "voice of one crying in the wilderness".
Jesus's baptism is implied but not depicted. Unlike the other gospels, it is John himself who testifies to seeing "the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove and rest on him". John explicitly announces that Jesus is the one "who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" and John even professes a "belief that he is the Son of God" and "the Lamb of God".
The Gospel of John reports that Jesus' disciples were baptizing and that a debate broke out between some of the disciples of John and another Jew about purification. In this debate John argued that Jesus "must become greater," while he (John) "must become less."
The Gospel of John then points out that Jesus' disciples were baptizing more people than John. Later, the Gospel relates that Jesus regarded John as "a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light".
All four Gospels start Jesus' ministry in association with the appearance of John the Baptist. Simon J. Joseph has argued that the Gospel demotes the historical John by painting him only as a prophetic forerunner to Jesus whereas his ministry actually complemented Jesus'.
- The prophecy of Isaiah
Although Mark's Gospel implies that the arrival of John the Baptist is the fulfilment of a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah, the words quoted ("I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'") are actually a composite of texts from Isaiah, Malachi and the Book of Exodus. (Matthew and Luke drop the first part of the reference.)
- Baptism of Jesus
The gospels differ on the details of the Baptism. In Mark and Luke, Jesus himself sees the heavens open and hears a voice address him personally, saying, "You are my dearly loved son; you bring me great joy". They do not clarify whether others saw and heard these things. Although other incidents where the "voice came out of heaven" are recorded in which, for the sake of the crowds, it was heard audibly, John did say in his witness that he did see the spirit coming down "out of heaven" (John 12:28–30, John 1:32).
In Matthew, the voice from heaven does not address Jesus personally, saying instead "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."
In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist himself sees the spirit descend as a dove, testifying about the experience as evidence of Jesus's status.
- John's knowledge of Jesus
John's knowledge of Jesus varies across gospels. In the Gospel of Mark, John preaches of a coming leader, but shows no signs of recognizing that Jesus is this leader. In Matthew, however, John immediately recognizes Jesus and John questions his own worthiness to baptize Jesus. In both Matthew and Luke, John later dispatches disciples to question Jesus about his status, asking "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" In Luke, John is a familial relative of Jesus whose birth was foretold by Gabriel. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist himself sees the spirit descend like a dove and he explicitly preaches that Jesus is the Son of God.
- John and Elijah
The Gospels vary in their depiction of John's relationship to Elijah. Matthew and Mark describe John's attire in a way reminiscent of the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8, who also wore a garment of hair and a leather belt. In Matthew, Jesus explicitly teaches that John is "Elijah who was to come" (Matt. 11:14 – see also Matt. 17:11–13); many Christian theologians have taken this to mean that John was Elijah's successor. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist explicitly denies being Elijah. In the annunciation narrative in Luke, an angel appears to Zechariah, John's father, and tells him that John "will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God," and that he will go forth "in the spirit and power of Elijah."
The following comparison table is primarily based on the New International Version (NIV) English translation of the New Testament. The account of Flavius Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews was translated by William Whiston.
|Prologue||Luke 1:5–80||John 1:6–18|
|Ministry||Matthew 3:1–17||Mark 1:4–11
||Luke 3:1–22; Acts 1:5, 1:21–22, 10:37–38, 11:16, 13:24–25, 18:25, 19:3–4
||John 1:19–42, 3:22–36, 4:1
||Jewish Antiquities 18. 5. 2.
|Prison||Matthew 11:2–7, 14:6–12
||Mark 1:14, 6:17–29
||Luke 3:19–20, 7:18–25, 9:9
||Jewish Antiquities 18. 5. 2.
|Jewish Antiquities 18. 5. 2.
In Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's [Antipas's] army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. 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 castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. 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 to him.
According to this passage, the execution of John was blamed for the defeat Herod suffered. Some have claimed that this passage indicates that John died near the time of the destruction of Herod's army in AD 36. However, in a different passage, Josephus states that the end of Herod's marriage with Aretas' daughter (after which John was killed) was only the beginning of hostilities between Herod and Aretas, which later escalated into the battle.
Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan differentiates between Josephus's account of John and Jesus, saying, "John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise." To get baptized, Crossan writes, you went only to John; to stop the movement one only needed to stop John (therefore his movement ended with his death). Jesus invited all to come and see how he and his companions had already accepted the government of God, entered it and were living it. Such a communal praxis was not just for himself, but could survive without him, unlike John's movement.
In the Quran
In the Quran, God frequently mentions Zechariah's continuous praying for the birth of a son. Zechariah's wife, mentioned in the New Testament as Elizabeth, was barren and therefore the birth of a child seemed impossible. As a gift from God, Zechariah (or Zakaria) was given a son by the name of "Yaḥya" or "John", a name specially chosen for this child alone. In accordance with Zechariah's prayer, God made John and Jesus, who according to exegesis was born six months later, renew the message of God, which had been corrupted and lost by the Israelites. As the Quran says:
(His prayer was answered): "O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name have We conferred distinction before."
He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?"
He said: "So (it will be) thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!'"
(Zakarya) said: "O my Lord! give me a Sign." "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights."
John was exhorted to hold fast to the Scripture and was given wisdom by God while still a child. He was pure and devout, and walked well in the presence of God. He was dutiful towards his parents and he was not arrogant or rebellious. John's reading and understanding of the scriptures, when only a child, surpassed even that of the greatest scholars of the time. Muslim exegesis narrates that Jesus sent John out with twelve disciples, who preached the message before Jesus called his own disciples. The Quran says:
"O Yaḥya! take hold of the Book with might": and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth,
John was a classical prophet, who was exalted high by God for his bold denouncing of all things sinful. Furthermore, the Quran speaks of John's gentle piety and love and his humble attitude towards life, for which he was granted the Purity of Life:
And piety as from Us, and purity: He was devout,
And kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious.
So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!
John is also honored highly in Sufism as well as Islamic mysticism, primarily because of the Quran's description of John's chastity and kindness. Sufis have frequently applied commentaries on the passages on John in the Quran, primarily concerning the God-given gift of "Wisdom" which he acquired in youth as well as his parallels with Jesus. Although several phrases used to describe John and Jesus are virtually identical in the Quran, the manner in which they are expressed is different.
Matthew 14:12 records that "his disciples came and took away [John's] body and buried it." Theologian Joseph Benson refers to a belief that "it seems that the body had been thrown over the prison walls, without burial, probably by order of Herodias."
Burial and translation
The burial place of John the Baptist was traditionally said to be at the site of a Byzantine church later converted into a mosque, the Nabi Yahya (Prophet John) Mosque in Sebastia, currently part of the Palestinian territories, and mention is made of his relics being honoured there around the middle of the 4th century. The historians Rufinus and Theodoretus record that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate around 362, the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics were carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria, where on 27 May 395, they were laid in the basilica newly dedicated to the Forerunner on the former site of the temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued, nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and Saint Jerome bears witness to miracles being worked there.
What became of the head of John the Baptist is difficult to determine. Nicephorus and Symeon Metaphrastes say that Herodias had it buried in the fortress of Machaerus (in accordance with Josephus). An Orthodox tradition holds that the head relic was taken to the Mount of Olives, where it was twice buried and discovered, the latter events giving rise to the Orthodox feast of the First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Baptist. Other writers say that it was interred in Herod's palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine I, and thence secretly taken to Emesa where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 452, an event celebrated in the Orthodox Church as the Third Finding. Church tradition indicates as the next stations in the odyssey of the head of St. John, in succession, Komana in Cappadocia (9th century) followed by Constantinople.
Several different locations claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. A Shrine of Saint John the Baptist (Nabi Yahya in Arabic) is found inside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. The place was visited by Pope John Paul II in 2001.
Different fragments of the skull are said to be kept in the San Silvestro in Capite in Rome; and at Amiens Cathedral in France (brought by Wallon de Sarton from the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople). Finally, the Residenz Museum in Munich, also keeps a reliquary containing what the Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria believed to be the head of Saint John.
Right hand relics
The saint's right hand, with which he baptised Jesus, is claimed to be in the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje monastery in Montenegro; Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; and also in the Romanian skete of Prodromos ('the Forerunner') on Mount Athos.
Left hand relics
The saint's left hand is allegedly preserved in the Armenian Apostolic Church of St. John at Chinsurah, West Bengal, where each year on "Chinsurah Day" in January it blesses the Armenian Christians of Calcutta.
The bone of one of John the Baptist's left fingers is said to be at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. It is held in a Gothic-style monstrance made of gilded silver that dates back to 14th century Lower Saxony.
Various relics and traditions
In 2010, bones were discovered in the ruins of a Bulgarian church in the St. John the Forerunner Monastery (4th–17th centuries) on the Black Sea island of Sveti Ivan (Saint John) and two years later, after DNA and radio carbon testing proved the bones belonged to a Middle Eastern man who lived in the 1st century AD, scientists said that the remains could conceivably have belonged to John the Baptist. The remains, found in a reliquarium, are presently kept in the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in Sozopol.
A crypt and relics said to be John's and mentioned in 11th- and 16th-century manuscripts, were discovered in 1969 during restoration of the Church of St. Macarius at the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt.
The Coptic Christian Orthodox Church also claim to hold the relics of Saint John the Baptist. These are to be found in a monastery in Lower Egypt between Cairo and Alexandria. It is possible, with permission from the monks, to see the original tomb where the remains were found.[clarification needed]
Another obscure claim relates to the town of Halifax in West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, where, as patron saint of the town, the Baptist's head appears on the official coat-of-arms. One legend (among others) bases the etymology of the town's place-name on "halig" (holy) and "fax" (hair), claiming that a relic of the head, or face, of John the Baptist once existed in the town.
The Gospels describe John the Baptist as having had a specific role ordained by God as forerunner or precursor of Jesus, who was the foretold Messiah. The New Testament Gospels speak of this role. In Luke 1:17 the role of John is referred to as being "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." In Luke 1:76 as "thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" and in Luke 1:77 as being "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins."
There are several passages within the Old Testament which are interpreted by Christians as being prophetic of John the Baptist in this role. These include a passage in the Book of Malachi that refers to a prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.— Malachi 3:1
Also at the end of the next chapter in Malachi 4:5–6 it says,
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
The Jews of Jesus' day expected Elijah to come before the Messiah; indeed, some present day Jews continue to await Elijah's coming as well, as in the Cup of Elijah the Prophet in the Passover Seder. This is why the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 17:10, "Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?" The disciples are then told by Jesus that Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist,
Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.— Matthew 17:11–13
(see also 11:14: "...if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who was to come.")
These passages are applied to John in the Synoptic Gospels. But where Matthew specifically identifies John the Baptist as Elijah's spiritual successor, the gospels of Mark and Luke are silent on the matter. The Gospel of John states that John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah.
Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not deny, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No."— John 1:19–21
Many scholars believe there was contact between the early church in the Apostolic Age and what is called the "Qumran-Essene community". The Dead Sea Scrolls were found at Qumran, which the majority of historians and archaeologists identify as an Essene settlement. John the Baptist is thought to have been either an Essene or "associated" with the community at Khirbet Qumran. According to the Book of Acts, Paul met some "disciples of John" in Ephesus.
The Catholic Church commemorates Saint John the Baptist on two feast days:
According to Frederick Holweck, at the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to his mother Elizabeth, as recounted in Luke 1:39–57, John, sensing the presence of his Jesus, upon the arrival of Mary, leaped in the womb of his mother; he was then cleansed from original sin and filled with the grace of God. In her Treatise of Prayer, Saint Catherine of Siena includes a brief altercation with the Devil regarding her fight due to the Devil attempting to lure her with vanity and flattery. Speaking in the first person, Catherine responds to the Devil with the following words:
... humiliation of yourself, and you answered the Devil with these words: "Wretch that I am! John the Baptist never sinned and was sanctified in his mother's womb. And I have committed so many sins ..."
The Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox faithful believe that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, thus serving as a bridge between that period of revelation and the New Covenant. They also teach that, following his death, John descended into Hades and there once more preached that Jesus the Messiah was coming, so he was the Forerunner of Christ in death as he had been in life. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches will often have an icon of Saint John the Baptist in a place of honor on the iconostasis, and he is frequently mentioned during the Divine Services. Every Tuesday throughout the year is dedicated to his memory.
- 23 September – Conception of Saint John the Forerunner
- 7 January – The Synaxis of Saint John the Forerunner. This is his main ml day, immediately after Theophany on 6 January (7 January also commemorates the transfer of the relic of the right hand of John the Baptist from Antioch to Constantinople in 956)
- 24 February – First and Second Finding of the Head of Saint John the Forerunner
- 25 May – Third Finding of the Head of Saint John the Forerunner
- 24 June – Nativity of Saint John the Forerunner
- 29 August – The Beheading of Saint John the Forerunner, a day of strict fast and abstinence from meat and dairy products and foods containing meat or dairy products
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that modern revelation confirms the biblical account of John and also makes known additional events in his ministry. According to this belief, John was "ordained by the angel of God" when he was eight days old "to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews" and to prepare a people for the Lord. Latter-day Saints also believe that "he was baptized while yet in his childhood."
Joseph Smith said: "Let us come into New Testament times – so many are ever praising the Lord and His apostles. We will commence with John the Baptist. When Herod's edict went forth to destroy the young children, John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zecharias caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey. When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, was slain by Herod's order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints teaches that John the Baptist appeared on the banks of the Susquehanna River near Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, as a resurrected being to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on 15 May 1829, and ordained them to the Aaronic priesthood. According to the Church's dispensational view of religious history, John's ministry has operated in three dispensations: he was the last of the prophets under the law of Moses; he was the first of the New Testament prophets; and he was sent to restore the Aaronic priesthood in our day (the dispensation of the fulness of times). Latter-day Saints believe John's ministry was foretold by two prophets whose teachings are included in the Book of Mormon: Lehi and his son Nephi.
The Unification Church teaches that God intended John to help Jesus during his public ministry in Judea. In particular, John should have done everything in his power to persuade the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. He was to become Jesus' main disciple and John's disciples were to become Jesus' disciples. Unfortunately John didn't follow Jesus and continued his own way of baptizing people. Moreover, John also denied that he was Elijah when queried by several Jewish leaders, contradicting Jesus who stated John is Elijah who was to come,. Many Jews therefore could not accept Jesus as the Messiah because John denied being Elijah, as the prophet's appearance was a prerequisite for the Messiah's arrival as stated in Malachi 4:5. According to the Unification Church, "John the Baptist was in the position of representing Elijah's physical body, making himself identical with Elijah from the standpoint of their mission."
According to Matthew 11:11, Jesus stated "there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist." However, in referring to John's blocking the way of the Jews' understanding of him as the Messiah, Jesus said "yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." John's failure to follow Jesus became the chief obstacle to the fulfillment of Jesus' mission.
Among the early Judeo-Christian Gnostics the Ebionites held that John, along with Jesus and James the Just – all of whom they revered – were vegetarians. Epiphanius of Salamis records that this group had amended their Gospel of Matthew – known today as the Gospel of the Ebionites – to change where John eats "locusts" to read "honey cakes" or "manna".
John the Baptist is considered the chief prophet of the Mandaeans, and plays a large part in their religious texts such as the Ginza Rba and the Mandaean Book of John. Mandaeans do not believe that their religion began with John, instead they trace their roots back to their first prophet Adam. They believe John was a great teacher and consider him to have been a Nasoraean.
John the Baptist is also honored as a Nabi (Arabic: نبي, Prophet), as Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā (Arabic: يحيى بن زكـريا Jehiah, son of Zechariah), or simply Yaḥyā (Arabic: يحيى). He is believed by Muslims to have been a witness to the word of God, and a prophet who would herald the coming of Jesus. His father Zechariah was also an Islamic prophet. Islamic tradition maintains that John was one of the prophets whom Muhammad met on the night of the Mi'raj, his ascension through the Seven Heavens. It is said that he met John and Jesus in the second heaven, where Muhammad greeted his two brothers before ascending with archangel Gabriel to the third heaven. John's story was also told to the Abyssinian king during the Muslim refugees' Migration to Abyssinia. According to the Quran, John was one on whom God sent peace on the day that he was born and the day that he died.
The Quran claims that John the Baptist was the first to receive this name (Quran 19:7–10) but since the name Yoḥanan occurs many times before John the Baptist, this verse is referring either to Islamic scholar consensus that "Yaḥyā" is not the same name as "Yoḥanan" or to the Biblical account of the miraculous naming of John, which accounted that he was almost named "Zacharias" (Greek: Ζαχαρίας) after his father's name, as no one in the lineage of his father Zacharias (also known as Zechariah) had been named "John" ("Yohanan"/"Yoannes") before him.
The Baháʼí Faith considers John to have been a prophet of God who like all other prophets was sent to instill the knowledge of God, promote unity among the people of the world, and to show people the correct way to live. There are numerous quotations in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Baháʼí Faith, mentioning John the Baptist. He is regarded by Baháʼís as a lesser Prophet. Bahá'u'lláh claimed that his forerunner, the Báb, was the spiritual return of John the Baptist. In his letter to Pope Pius IX, Bahá'u'lláh wrote:
O followers of the Son! We have once again sent John unto you, and He, verily, hath cried out in the wilderness of the Bayán: O peoples of the world! Cleanse your eyes! The Day whereon ye can behold the Promised One and attain unto Him hath drawn nigh! O followers of the Gospel! Prepare the way! The Day of the advent of the Glorious Lord is at hand! Make ready to enter the Kingdom. Thus hath it been ordained by God, He Who causeth the dawn to break.
John is believed to have had the specific role of foretelling and preparing the way for Jesus. In condemning those who had 'turned aside' from him, Bahá'u'lláh compared them to the followers of John the Baptist, who, he said, "protested against Him Who was the Spirit (Jesus) saying: 'The dispensation of John hath not yet ended; wherefore hast thou come?'" Bahá'u'lláh believed that the Báb played the same role as John in preparing the people for his own coming. As such, Bahá'u'lláh refers to the Báb as 'My Forerunner', the Forerunner being a title that Christians reserve for John the Baptist. However, Baháʼís consider the Báb to be a greater Prophet (Manifestation of God) and thus possessed of a far greater station than John the Baptist.
Scholars studying John the Baptist's relationship with Jesus of Nazareth have commented on the differences in their respective approach.
L. Michael White says John the Baptist should be thought of "...primarily as one who was calling for a return to an intensely Jewish piety... to follow the way of the Lord... to make oneself pure... to be right with God.... And it seems to be that he calls for baptism as a sign of rededication or repurification of life in a typically Jewish way before God."
John Dominic Crossan sees John the Baptist as an apocalyptic eschatologist, whose message was that ""God, very soon, imminently, any moment, is going to descend to eradicate the evil of this world in a sort of an apocalyptic consummation...." When Jesus says John is the greatest person ever born on earth, but the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than John, it means Jesus is changing his vision of God and the Kingdom of God from what he has taken from John. For Crossan, Jesus is an ethical eschatologist that sees "...the demand that God is making on us, not us on God so much as God on us, to do something about the evil in the world."
Michael H. Crosby, O.F.M.Cap. stated there was "no biblical evidence indicating that John the Baptist ever became a disciple of Jesus." He believes that John's concept of what a messiah should be was in contrast to how Jesus presented himself, and kept him from becoming a disciple of Jesus. Crosby stated "an unbiased reading about John the Baptist "leaves us with the figure of John the Baptist as a reformist Jew who also may have wanted desperately to become a believer but was unable to become convinced of Jesus’ messiahship." Crosby considers John's effectiveness as a "precursor" in encouraging others to follow Jesus as very minimal, since the scriptures record only two of his own followers having become Jesus’ disciples.
Professor Candida Moss, noted that John and Jesus become "de facto competitors in the ancient religious marketplace." Even after baptizing Jesus, John did not follow Jesus but maintained a separate ministry. After John's death, Jesus' followers had to differentiate him from the executed prophet, "countering the prevalent idea that Jesus was actually John raised from the dead." Moss also references the incident in Matthew 16 where disciples indicated some people believed Jesus was John the Baptist.
Pastor Robert L. Deffinbaugh views John sending two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he were the Messiah or whether another should be sought as the Baptist issuing a public challenge since the message was presented to Jesus while he was with a gathered crowd. Deffinbaugh suggests that John might have been looking for inauguration of the kingdom of God in a more dramatic way than what Jesus was presenting, as John had previously warned that the "Messiah would come with fire." Jesus answered by indicating his miracle works and teachings which themselves gave evidence of his identity, "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor".
Harold W. Attridge agrees with Crossan that John was an apocalyptic preacher. Attridge says most contemporary scholars would see the idea of John as the "forerunner" of Jesus as a construct developed by the early church to help explain the relationship between the two. "For the early church it would have been something of an embarrassment to say that Jesus, who was in their minds superior to John the Baptist, had been baptized by him, and thereby proclaimed some sort of subordination to him, some sort of disciple relationship to him...."
Early Christian art
The earliest depictions of St John are always in the Baptism of Christ, one of the earliest scenes from the Life of Christ to be frequently depicted in Early Christian art, and John's tall, thin, even gaunt, and bearded figure is already established by the 5th century. Only he and Jesus are consistently shown with long hair from Early Christian times, when the apostles generally have trim classical cuts; in fact John is more consistently depicted in this way than Jesus.
Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox art
In Byzantine and later Eastern Orthodox art, John the Baptist and the Holy Virgin Mary often flank Jesus on either side. The composition of the Deesis came to be included in every Eastern Orthodox church, as remains the case to this day. Here John and the Theotokos (Mary the "God-bearer") flank a Christ Pantocrator and intercede for humanity.
After the earliest images showing the Baptism of the Lord, follow such with St John shown as an ascetic wearing camel hair, with a staff and scroll inscribed (in Western art) "Ecce Agnus Dei", or bearing a book or dish with a lamb on it.
The Baptist is very often shown on altarpieces designed for churches dedicated to him, or where the donor patron was named for him or there was some other patronage connection. John the Baptist is the patron saint of Florence and has often been depicted in the art of that city, and also frequently appears in baptistries, which are very often dedicated to him. Major works depicting St. John the Baptist can be found in the Baptistry (the mosaics on the vault, the bronze doors by Andrea Pisano, and the great silver altar now in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) in the frescoes by Giotto for the Peruzzi Chapel in the church of Santa Croce, those by Filippo Lippi in the cathedral of Prato and, the frescoes by Ghirlandaio for the Chancel, or Tornabuoni Chapel in Santa Maria Novella.
A number of narrative scenes from his life were often shown on the predella of altarpieces dedicated to John, and other settings, notably the large series in grisaille fresco in the Chiostro dello Scalzo, which was Andrea del Sarto's largest work, and the frescoed Life by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, both in Florence. There is another important fresco cycle by Filippo Lippi in Prato Cathedral. These include the typical scenes: the Annunciation to Zechariah, John's birth, his naming by his father, the Visitation, John's departure for the desert, his preaching in the desert, the Baptism of Christ, John before Herod, the dance of Herod's stepdaughter, Salome, his beheading, Salome carrying his head on a platter.
His birth, which unlike the Nativity of Jesus allowed a relatively wealthy domestic interior to be shown, became increasingly popular as a subject in the late Middle Ages, with depictions by Jan van Eyck in the Turin-Milan Hours and Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel being among the best known. His execution, a church feast-day, was often shown, and by the 15th-century scenes such as the dance of Salome became popular, sometimes, as in an engraving by Israhel van Meckenem, the interest of the artist is clearly in showing the life of Herod's court, given contemporary dress, as much as the martyrdom of the saint. The execution was usually by a swordsman, with John kneeling in prayer, Salome often standing by with an empty platter, and Herod and Herodias at table in a cut-through view of a building in the background.
Salome bearing John's head on a platter equally became a subject for the Power of Women group: a Northern Renaissance fashion for images of glamorous but dangerous women (Delilah, Judith and others). It was often painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder and engraved by the Little Masters. When the head is brought to the table by Salome, Herod may be shown as startled, if not disgusted, but Herodias is usually not. These images remained popular into the Baroque, with Carlo Dolci painting at least three versions. John preaching, in a landscape setting, was a popular subject in Dutch art from Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his successors. The isolated motif of the severed head, often on its platter, was a frequent image, often in sculpture, from the late Middle Ages onwards, known as Ioannes in disco (Latin for "John on a plate").
As a child (of varying age), he is sometimes shown from the 15th century in family scenes from the life of Christ such as the Holy Family, Presentation of Christ, the Marriage of the Virgin and the Holy Kinship. In the Baptism of Christ his presence was obligatory. Leonardo da Vinci's versions of the Virgin of the Rocks were influential in establishing a Renaissance fashion for variations on the Madonna and Child that included John. Raphael in particular painted many compositions of the subject, such as the Alba Madonna, La belle jardinière, Aldobrandini Madonna, Madonna della seggiola, Madonna dell'Impannata, which were among his best-known works.
John was also often shown by himself as an adolescent or adult, usually already wearing his distinctive dress and carrying a long thin wooden cross – another theme influenced by Leonardo, whose equivocal composition, with the camel-skin dress, was developed by Raphael, Titian and Guido Reni among many others. Often he is accompanied by a lamb, especially in the many Early Netherlandish paintings which needed this attribute as he wore normal clothes, or a red robe over a not very clearly indicated camel skin. Caravaggio painted an especially large number of works including John, from at least five largely nude youths attributed to him, to three late works on his death – the great Execution in Malta, and two sombre Salomes with his head, one in Madrid, and one in London.
Amiens cathedral, which holds one of the alleged heads of the Baptist, has a biographical sequence in polychrome relief, dating from the 16th century. This includes the execution and the disposal of the saint's remains, which according to legend were burnt in the reign of Julian the Apostate (4th century) to prevent pilgrims.
A remarkable Pre-Raphaelite portrayal is Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais. Here the Baptist is shown as a child, wearing a loin covering of animal skins, hurrying into Joseph's carpenter shop with a bowl of water to join Mary, Joseph, and Mary's mother Anne in soothing the injured hand of Jesus. Artistic interest enjoyed a considerable revival at the end of the 19th century with Symbolist painters such as Gustave Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes (National Gallery, London). Oscar Wilde's play Salome was illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley, giving rise to some of his most memorable images.
- Guido D'Arezzo (991/992 – after 1033) an Italian Benedictine monk founded the standard music stave based on a hymn to Saint John the Baptist. The hymn that begins with Ut Queant Laxis uses the first syllable for each line – Ut (later changed to Do), Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si. The teaching is also known as the solmization syllable.
- This Is the Record of John, by English Tudor composer Orlando Gibbons is a well-known part-setting of the Gospel of John for solo voice, choir and organ or viol accompaniment.
- The reformer Martin Luther wrote a hymn based on biblical accounts about the Baptist, "Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam" (1541), based for a cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach for the feast day on 24 June, Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 7 (1724).
- S. Giovanni Battista (St. John the Baptist) is a 1676 oratorio by Alessandro Stradella.
- The well-known Advent hymn On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's cry was written by Charles Coffin.
- John the Baptist (Jokanaan), Baritone, is a character in the opera Salome by Richard Strauss, premiered 1905 in Dresden. The text is from Oscar Wilde's French poem, translated into German by Hedwig Lachmann.
- In popular music, Bob Dylan dedicates four lines to John the Baptist in "Tombstone Blues", the second track of his 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. He sings: "John the Baptist after torturing a thief/Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief/Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief/Is there a hole for me to get sick in?".
- The song "John the Baptist (Holy John)" by Al Kooper on his 1971 album New York City (You're a Woman) is about John the Baptist. In the same year the song was also recorded by Blood, Sweat & Tears for their album Blood, Sweat & Tears 4.
- In his song "Everyman Needs a Companion", the closing track to his album Fear Fun, Father John Misty sings about the friendship between John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth: "John the Baptist took Jesus Christ/Down to the river on a Friday night/They talked about Mary like a couple of boys/With nothing to lose/Too scared to try."
- John the Baptist is referenced in the music of American Heavy Metal band Om in their 2009 song 'Meditation is the Practice of Death'. As well as this, John the Baptist is depicted on the cover art of Om's 2012 album, Advaitic Songs.
In film and television
John the Baptist has appeared in a number of screen adaptations of the life of Jesus. Actors who have played John include James D. Ainsley in From the Manger to the Cross (1912), Nigel De Brulier in Salome (1923), Alan Badel in Salome (1953), Robert Ryan in King of Kings (1961), Mario Socrate in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), Charlton Heston in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), David Haskell in Godspell (1973), Michael York in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Eli Cohen in Jesus (1979), Andre Gregory in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Christopher Routh in Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999), David O'Hara in Jesus (1999), Scott Handy in The Gospel of John (2003), Aidan McArdle in Judas (2004), Daniel Percival in Son of God (2014) and Abhin Galeya in Killing Jesus (2015).
Christian festivals associated with Saint John the Baptist and Forerunner are celebrated at various days by different denominations and are dedicated to his conception, birth, and death, as well as in correlation to the baptism of Jesus. The Eastern Church has feast days for the finding of his head (first, second, and third finding), as well as for his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. In the Russian Orthodox Church there is a feast day of the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina. For more see in this article at "Religious views: Christianity", under "Catholic Church" and "Eastern Christianity".
Association with summer solstice
Patron saint and local festivals
In the United Kingdom, Saint John is the patron of Penzance, Cornwall. In Scotland, he is the patron saint of Perth, which used to be known as St. John's Toun of Perth. The main church in the city is still the medieval Kirk of St. John the Baptist and the city's professional football club is called St Johnstone F.C.
Also, on the night of 23 June on to the 24th, Saint John is celebrated as the patron saint of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. An article from June 2004 in The Guardian remarked that "Porto's Festa de São João is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside the country".
As patron saint of the original Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John, he is the patron of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Malta, Florence, Cesena, Turin and Genoa, Italy; as well as of Malta as a whole and of Xewkija and Gozo in Malta, which remember him with a great feast on the Sunday nearest to 24 June.
Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its capital city, San Juan. In 1521, the island was given its formal name, "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", following the custom of christening a town with its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island. The names "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto Rico" were eventually used in reference to both city and island, leading to a reversal in terminology by most inhabitants largely due to a cartographic error. By 1746, the city's name ("Puerto Rico") had become that of the entire island, while the name for the island ("San Juan Bautista") had become that of the city. The official motto of Puerto Rico also references the saint: Joannes Est Nomen Eius.
He is also a patron saint of French Canada and Newfoundland. The Canadian cities of St. John's, Newfoundland (1497), Saint John, New Brunswick (1604), and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (1665), were all named in his honor. His feast day of 24 June is celebrated officially in Quebec as the Fête Nationale du Québec and in Newfoundland as Discovery Day.
Calamba City, Laguna, Calumpit, Bulacan, Balayan and Lian in Batangas, Sipocot and San Fernando, Camarines Sur, Daet, Camarines Norte San Juan, Metro Manila, Tabuelan, Cebu, and Jimenez, Misamis Occidental are among several places in the Philippines that venerate John as the town or city patron. A common practise of many Filipino fiestas in his honour is bathing and the dousing of people in memory of John's iconic act. The custom is similar in form to Songkran and Holi, and serves as a playful respite from the intense tropical heat. While famed for the Black Nazarene it enshrines, Quiapo Church in Manila is actually dedicated to Saint John.
Orders and societies
- Basilica of St. John the Baptist, Berlin
- Biblical and Quranic narratives
- Chronology of Jesus
- Historical background of the New Testament
- Legends and the Quran
- List of biblical figures identified in extra-biblical sources
- Messengers from John the Baptist
- John the Baptist, patron saint archive
- St. John the Baptist Cathedral (disambiguation)
- Saint John the Baptist Church (disambiguation)
- St. John Baptist Church (disambiguation)
- Statue of John the Baptist, Charles Bridge
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