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Switch to Forum Live View John the Baptist and Christianity
6 years ago  ::  Aug 27, 2008 - 11:33AM #1
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
We actually know something about John the Baptist from a first century Jewish source. Josephus tells us that he was a “good man” who exhorted Jews to “exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another and piety towards God.” He was part of a baptizing phenomenon of the Ancient Near East. This baptism was for the “purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.” In other words, it seems to have been a Jewish purification ritual, as opposed to an initiation rite. We know from Josephus that he was very popular and had great influence on the people with whom he came in contact. According to Josephus, John was executed because of this popularity, which threatened Herod. Just after this happened, Aretas of Syria defeated Herod’s army and many thought that this was divine justice against Herod for having John killed. We hear nothing else about “followers” of this preacher from Josephus.

In the gospels, John is purposefully inserted in order to inflate the worth of Jesus. Here are the verses and, just for fun, the colors of the Jesus Seminar.

Mark 1:4 and Matt 3:2   gray
Mark 1:7, Luke 3:16b and Matt: 3:11  .51 pink
“Someone more powerful than I will succeed me, whose sandal straps I am not fit to bend down and tie.”  Here we have a saying that has John proclaiming, ala Elijah, that one greater was coming. So what did we get after Elijah? Elisha, who divides the Jordan, purifies water, increases the widow’s oil so she won’t become a slave, raises the dead, neutralizes poison, multiplies the loaves of bread, heals the leper, gives people leprosy, causes iron to float, gives the blind vision, makes the Syrian army blind, among other things… Some of this has to ring a bell! I would think that the author of Mark, in creating this statement, was making the point that Jesus was greater than John, which, if there were followers of John (a bit about that later), would have understood this, as well as any Jew conversant with Kings.

Mark 1:8 (and other parallels)   .41 gray
Baptizing with holy spirit.

Luke 3:17 and Matt 3:12 (Q’ish)
Pitchfork in hand  .60 pink
That doesn’t fly with the Josephus narrative and it serves the same purpose as the Mark 1:7 snippet, to make John lesser than Jesus.

Luke 3:7-9 and Matt 3:7-10  gray
Spawn of Satan

Luke 3:11, 13, 14  all gray
Share two shirts, charge nothing above the official rates, be satisfied with your pay.

All the Gospel of John  sayings are black.

So, we have scant information in the gospels about the historical John the Baptist. Only two of the sayings (with parallels) are considered other than gray. They are pink.

Was there a John the Baptist? I would tend to believe there was, since this figure was used, in part, to anchor Jesus to a setting and in part to contrast with Jesus. Josephus seemed to know quite a bit about him, too. This brings us to an interesting point. Were there followers of John the Baptist? I would tend to believe that, when Mark was written (late 70’s, early 80’s probably) and when Josephus wrote Antiquities (90’s), there were followers. Remember that Josephus would have only heard of the character, since he was born in the decade that John the Baptist was executed. Is there any hint that these followers were apocalyptic? (The JS says, in pink, yes.) I don’t see the evidence, in either Josephus or the gospels.

In Iraq and Iran there is a Gnostic sect called Mandaeism. They trace their source to John the Baptist and claim that Jesus was a perverter of the truth of John. Their two books are “Ginza” and “Book of John.” Their language is east Aramaic, with influences of west Syrian. This leads many to believe that they originated early in the common era. Whether or not they are actually tied in a succession to John the Baptist is not known. (The same could be said about Pauline and Johanine Christianity being tied to Jesus.)

I believe John the Baptist was historical. He was part of a baptizing purity movement, usurped by Christianity as the “forerunner of the Messiah,” thus neglected by the rabbis. That’s about all we can say with any relative certainty.

Information from John the Baptist and Jesus, Barnes Tatum and the Jesus Seminar and Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, book 18.

Dennis
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 27, 2008 - 4:45PM #2
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
[QUOTE=Walther;718891]But Josephus is riddled with later interpolations throughout, and his references to John the Dunker are merely fragmentary and isolated anyway.  Not even reflecting the account of an eyewitness and with a questionable textual history to boot, any Josephan passages on John the D. cannot possibly be construed as anything but unreliable gossip at best and downright forgeries at worst?  Show me one authenticated eyewitness account of John the D.  There isn't one.

Walther[/QUOTE]

While it could be interpolated it's certainly not isolated. It has a purpose. Chapter 5.1 has to do with Herod Antipas and Aretas' dispute over Antipas wanting to divorce the daughter of Aretas so he could marry Herodias, a cousin. When Aretas beat back Antipas, many thought it was because God was punishing Antipas for killing John the Dunker. Now, how could this fairly significant thing have been chronicled without giving a rather complete... almost as complete as his spiel about Pharisees, much more than he wrote about the Saducees, as much as he wrote about the Essenes, and more than he wrote about the fourth sect in the same book 18, when he was describing them in 18.1  12 -25.

But, I have no problem with your claim. Using your criteria, absolutely all of the gospels are "unreliable gossip at best and downright forgeries at worse." The time frame  they were written (after the purported life) is greater than that of Josephus, except for purhaps Mark. They were written by people who, as far as we know, never set foot in Palestine (where Josephus spent his first thirty years, born in the decade John the Baptist was around, if Josephus was historical), were writing as late or later than Josephus (if he existed), and who were actually more theologically biased than Josephus (if he was historical). (He was biased toward Pharisees, it seems, but he didn't spout hatred against sects as did the gospeleers.)

Sure, I can go with that. None of it is historical, in today's definition of history. Unless we have a video tape, the person didn't exist! Hear that, the rest of you Westar Associates! The whole HJ studies can't work, because we don't have the tapes!  :(

I guess that means you might as well sign off, go home, and find another hobby, Walther, while the rest of us play our HJ game.

Dennis
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 27, 2008 - 6:27PM #3
GeneStecher
Posts: 556
Walther,

You may be interested in Crossan's comments on Josephus and JBap found in - Who Killed Jesus- (Harper, 1995), 42-46.

For Josephus, Jewish oracles in reality "signified the sovereignty of Vespasian who was proclaimed emperor on Jewish soil," so his JBap description "deliberately obscures" the following: 

(a) John "was offering a free and populist alternative to the Temple purification process for sin."

(b) John's "sermons were dangerous apocalyptic promises announcing the imminent arrival of an avenging God."

He also compares the JBap narrative to "the Egyptian" and his following, making a distinction between the Egyptian's group defiance, and Rome's reaction, and JBap's planting "individual ticking time bombs" who "await the immanent advent of the avenging God," and Herod going after him as an individual.

Gene
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 27, 2008 - 6:28PM #4
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
[QUOTE=Walther;718891]But Josephus is riddled with later interpolations throughout, and his references to John the Dunker are merely fragmentary and isolated anyway.  Not even reflecting the account of an eyewitness and with a questionable textual history to boot, any Josephan passages on John the D. cannot possibly be construed as anything but unreliable gossip at best and downright forgeries at worst?  Show me one authenticated eyewitness account of John the D.  There isn't one.

Walther[/QUOTE]

And just when I was getting ready to dismiss everything before the twentieth century as being "unreliable gossip at best and downright forgeries at worst," I realized that you said, "Josephus is riddled with later interpolations throughout" and haven't backed that up with any evidence. We have a good case, Walther, almost as good as the fundamentalist who says the earth is only around 6000 years old and dinosaurs are plaster of paris frauds, but we really need this list of interpolations "throughout," which would include interpolations for
The Life of Flavius Josephus
The Antiquities of the Jews
The War of the Jews
Flavius Josephus Against Apion
Discource to the Greeks Concerning Hades (which only exists in fragmentary form).

My Westar Associate "brethren" know I've been working on the JS egroup for all of this decade to try to determine the historicity of all this garbage and have come up rather threadbare, but you have hit on a winner! You have, if there is a list of all of the interpolations and the evidence that they are interpolations. This is exciting! I would assume by "riddled," you would mean we would find quite a few in each chapter of each book. At least that can be inferred.

Dennis, patiently awaiting a list. Well, not so patiently...
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 27, 2008 - 7:29PM #5
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
Robert Price in "Was Jesus John the Baptist Raised from the Dead? " posits the definite possiblility that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected!!! Here is part of it, from a course he taught at Drew University. I don't know whether the article is available anymore:

Twin Resurrections

"Note, too, the strange similarity between Mark's report that some believed Jesus was John raised from the dead, accounting for the miraculous powers at work in him, and the resurrection formula of Romans 1:3-4, which has Jesus designated Son of God by miraculous power by virtue of the resurrection of the dead! Note the parallel:
Romans 1:4

declared Son of God
by power
by his resurrection from the dead     Mark 6:14

John the Baptist
powers are at work in him
has been raised from the dead

Perhaps this strange similarity denotes an even stranger identity, a dim recollection of the fact that Jesus was the same as John, that he had taken on the name/epithet "Jesus," savior, only after the resurrection. Compare two archaic hymn-fragments, the Johannine prologue (John 1:1-7ff) and the Kenosis hymn (Philippians 2:6-11). It is striking that the first text names no figure other than John the Baptist, and that in portentous theological terms: "There came into being a man sent from God, named John." As all recognize, the subsequent denigration of John as merely a witness to the light but most certainly not the light itself, is a theological correction akin to that found in Matthew 11:11b ("Of all those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist... yet, I tell you that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he"). Bultmann saw that the Johannine prologue hymn must originally have referred to the Baptist.

Now look at Philippians 2:6-11, where the redeemer figure is named only at the end, where we learn that he received the honorific name "Jesus" only upon his postmortem exaltation, something which Paul-Louis Couchoud pointed out long ago ("The Historicity of Jesus: A Reply to Alfred Loisy," The Hibbert Journal, XXXVI, 2, 205-206). Note that according to the synthetic parallelism, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" matches "and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord," implying that "bowing the knee to" equals "confessing the lordship of." The object of both is "Jesus." This may seem to belabor the obvious except that it requires that the great name God gave him at the exaltation was not "Kyrios" as harmonizing exegesis tells us, but rather "Jesus." The hymn means to say not that a man already named Jesus was then given the title Lord, but that a hitherto-unnamed hero was then given the honorific name Jesus. Couchoud remarks, "The God-man does not receive the name Jesus till after his crucifixion. That alone, in my judgment, is fatal to the historicity of Jesus." Unless he had borne some other name previously, as Peter had formerly been called Simon. What had "Jesus'" name been previously? "His name is John" (Luke 1:63). The identification of the pre-exaltation hero as John the Baptist would satisfy the problem Couchoud left open--had the hero been nameless before his exaltation?

Couchoud was implying that the earlier version of the bestowal of the name "Jesus" had the naming take place as part of the post-mortem exaltation of this figure. Only subsequently was the bestowal of the name associated with the earthly life of Jesus, namely at his conception (Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:31). We can easily fit Couchoud's hypothesis into the speculations of mainstream scholarship. "
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 28, 2008 - 5:20AM #6
sonoman
Posts: 162
"Of all those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist... yet, I tell you that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he". "Of all those born of women"..meaning Jesus was not born of a woman but of the Spirit--Jesus was and is a spiritual being, a Great Spirit as history records.
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 28, 2008 - 12:29PM #7
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
[QUOTE=sonoman;720553]"Of all those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist... yet, I tell you that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he". "Of all those born of women"..meaning Jesus was not born of a woman but of the Spirit--Jesus was and is a spiritual being, a Great Spirit as history records.[/QUOTE]

It's scary people still have such a pre-modern superstitious view of "birth," especially with sex education, knowledge of the ova, and general information about how the reproductive system works!!!

Since the Matt 11:11 (also attested later) verse has the effect of "excluding John from God's domain," the verse was not included in the historical sayings of Jesus. "This qualification reflects the subsequent rivalry between the followers of the two leaders (the Baptist movement did survive and is known today as the Mandean religion in the Mesopotamia valley." from The Five Gospels, p. 179.

Other than that, you are making theological claims by saying Jesus was "not born of a woman but of the Spirit." This is considered unhistorical by all actual scholars who believe that the earth circles the sun, that it isn't flat, with a heaven above and hades below. (That would be all scholars, I would think.) The Matthean and later Lukan birth narratives were added. A good book to read on the matter is "Born Divine" by Bob Miller, I think. It goes into the many pre-modern tales about virgin births, miraculous births, etc. Or, in "Putting Away Childish Things," Uta Ranke-Heineman calls them appropriately, "fairy tales.
Dennis
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 28, 2008 - 6:44PM #8
sonoman
Posts: 162
A lot of snide put-downs for what exactly, Dennis? If you think my suggestion that the Gospel writers were creating a Jesus Christ as a heavenly intercessor in the form of an earthly human being is wrong why not say so directly instead of posting a kind of blanket slur without giving any concrete reasons for disagreement.
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 29, 2008 - 12:00PM #9
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
[QUOTE=sonoman;722112]A lot of snide put-downs for what exactly, Dennis? If you think my suggestion that the Gospel writers were creating a Jesus Christ as a heavenly intercessor in the form of an earthly human being is wrong why not say so directly instead of posting a kind of blanket slur without giving any concrete reasons for disagreement.[/QUOTE]

Okay. It is ludicrous!

(I posted reasons and gave three references for you to check.)

Dennis
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6 years ago  ::  Aug 29, 2008 - 1:14PM #10
MisterC
Posts: 1,865
Certainly, Pat, Josephus is as reliable as the gospels. If the stories of Jesus actually originated in Galilee and Judah they began as Aramaic, eventually making their way to print in Greek and finally were tweaked to the liking of the Church. That would be a process that was at least "third hand." According to modern scholarship all of the names attached to the gospels were from the second century. (See Bob Fortna's intro to the Scholar's Version of Matthew and Ehrman's book about the tweaking of the Christian Testament).

Luke/Acts and John are second century works. (See Vermes on John and the Acts Seminar on Luke/Acts. Since Acts was placed around 125 ce, it is anachronistic to place Luke in the first century.) That's almost 100 years past the settings!!!

You said, "Argumentative, and calls for a conclusion. Also, the cursory mention by Josephus of JTB hardly seems to qualify as "know quite a bit about him," wouldn't you agree?" Taken out of context, as you did, that is possible. I believe I compared Josephus' knowledge about him to what he said about the other sects in chapter 18, though, so, yes it does qualify. (You can contrast it with the heavily interpolated Jesus Testimonium.)

I didn't use Tabor. Which of his books was I supposed to have used? I only read one, and laughed through about half of it. I used two books - Antiquities and "John the Baptist and Jesus." Your libelous accusation is from the fingers of ignorance, an autonomic response I'm sure that didn't reach the cerebral cortex.

Parson, I know you haven't read the book to which I referred, or you would have discussed it. It's sad.  You argue from ignorance. My suggestion would be that you read "John the Baptist and Jesus" by Barnes Tatum and the Jesus Seminar, since this is a Jesus Seminar group, in which it is highly recommended that you read the books in question and then come back and argue from a vantage point of knowledge, not ignorance. Another book that might be helpful is Joan Taylor's "John the Baptist." It is another excellent look at John the Baptist.

Of course, if you are thinking that John the Baptist was just a fiction of Josephus, that means that there was no heralding of the fictive Jesus in the gospels. It means the gospels are all completely errant in one of the claims - that John the Baptist signalled the coming of Jesus. I can go with that, too. Since there was no John the Baptist to "announce" the coming of Jesus, there is no reason to believe that there was a Jesus who came! If errant about one claim, why not throw the rest out! That's a great idea Parson, as good as Walther's!
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