Yes, Jesus was a disciple of the Baptist. The Baptist's preaching was a key moment in his life that led him to quit his job around the year 28, when he was about 34 years old, and to be baptized in the Jordan River by what he considered to be an eschatological super prophet sent by God, confessing that Israel had become a sinful people and showing solidarity with it, and then to join a group of disciples of the Baptist. It was within this group that he, in turn, began to baptize and to stand out, so much so that the followers of the Baptist would begin to become attached to him. While keeping the basis of John the Baptist's teaching, he will give his preaching a special emphasis, focused on the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and above all, will perform healings confirming the presence of this Kingdom. All this will surprise John, his mentor, who will wonder about this disciple not quite like the others and will wonder if Jesus might not be this stronger person of whom he spoke. But he does not seem to have been able to answer this question, because the Baptist movement he created will continue throughout the first century, sometimes to the point of being in conflict with the Christians. Jesus baptized throughout his ministry, so that the baptism of the church was only a continuation of his practice.
- Was Jesus a disciple of John the Baptist? To answer this question, we must first answer a preliminary question: Was Jesus really baptized by John the Baptist? Of course, in people's imaginations Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and there are several paintings depicting this event. Let's look instead at the results of rigorous historical research.
- Let us mention at the outset that the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who speaks of both Jesus and John the Baptist, never mentions this baptism. If we now turn to the four gospels, we may be surprised to learn that Mark (1:9-11) is the only one to describe it, as Matthew and Luke are dependant on Mark, and John, who is independant of Mark, does not mention it. Here is what each evangelist has to say about it.
|Mark 1: 9-11||Matthew 3: 13-17||Luke 3: 21-22||John 1: 29-30.33-34|
|And it happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee.||Then comes Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan River to John to be baptized by him.||Now it happened||The next day, John saw Jesus coming to him |
|He turned him away, saying, "I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, and you are coming to me! "But replying Jesus said, "Let it be for now; for it is fitting for us to do all righteousness. So he lets him. ||and said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Of him I said, 'Behind me is a man who passed before me, because before me he was. And I did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize in water said to me,|
|and he was baptized in the Jordan River by John.||Having been baptized, Jesus immediately rose from the water.||when all the people had been baptized, and Jesus had been baptized and praying,|
|And immediately, coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens being rent apart and the Spirit like a dove descending into him.||and behold the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.||that the sky opened and the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon him,||'The one on whom you will see the Spirit descending and dwelling on him, it is he who baptizes in the Holy Spirit'|
|And a voice from heavens: "You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased. ||And behold a voice from heaven saying, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.||And he heard a voice from heaven, "You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.||And I have seen and testify that this one is the Chosen One of God. |
- One could doubt that this baptism took place and think that it is a Christian creation. One need only look at the theophany that follows with the Spirit entering Jesus and God declaring Jesus to be his beloved Son to see that we are dealing with a theological interpretation, not historical facts. We can therefore think that the first Christians were able to read over the life of Jesus according to the experience of their own baptism. And who would be the ideal candidate to baptize Jesus? John the Baptist. However, a rigorous study forces us to conclude that the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist did indeed take place for the following reasons:
- The first criterion is that of embarrassment or discomfort: this baptism is embarrassing for the disciples of Jesus, because it places him in a position inferior to John the Baptist, and above all forces Jesus to live a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which he is considered sinless. It is so embarrassing that other evangelists will try to reduce the damage.
- Mark himself sums up baptism in a few words ("he was baptized in the Jordan River by John") and focuses instead on the theophany that asserts the superiority of Jesus (to silence the claims of the rival Baptist community).
- In Matthew, baptism is mentioned as a fact of the past ("having been baptized"), but above all it presents a John the Baptist, aware of Jesus' superiority, who asks Jesus' permission to baptize him ("I am the one who needs to be baptized by you, and you come to me!").
- Luke is even more radical: John the Baptist is already in prison at the time he refers to Jesus' baptism without mentioning who baptizes him ("Herod locked John in prison. Now it happened, when all the people had been baptized, and Jesus had been baptized...).
- John is the most radical of all: Jesus' baptism is totally suppressed and John never bears the title of baptist; it is unthinkable that the Word made flesh could receive John's baptism! He keeps only the theophany, but rewrites it to make it a word of God not addressed to Jesus as a personal experience, but addressed to John the Baptist to inform him of Jesus' identity.
Therefore, it is totally unthinkable that the first Christians would have invented an event that would have embarrassed them.
- The second criterion is that of multiple attestations, even if the approach can only be indirect: in addition to Mark, the Document Q and the Johannine tradition would confirm the baptism of Jesus.
A) Let's start with Document Q. It is clear that Matthew and Luke depend on Mark for their account. But there are minor agreements between Matthew and Luke, to the detriment of Mark, which could come from this Document Q.
- Matthew and Luke say "having been baptized" (passive past participle) and not "was baptized" (passive past simple), "the heavens (heaven) opened" and not "were rent", "the Spirit of God (Holy)", not just the Spirit.
- Moreover, we know that Document Q began with the preaching of John the Baptist and the announcement of the coming of one stronger than he. We also know that Document Q includes the temptations of Jesus reported by Matthew and Luke. Between these two pericopes was there really nothing else in Document Q? The account of the temptations mentions the role of the Spirit leading Jesus into the desert and the devil uses the title Son of God when he speaks to Jesus ("if you are Son of GodL). It is therefore likely that Document Q had a baptismal account with its theophany to introduce the Spirit and the title Son of God.
B) In addition to Document Q, the Johannine tradition could provide another indirect argument.
- As we have seen, it is probable that the evangelist John knew this story but suppressed it for theological reasons, in order to avoid subordinating the Son of God to John the Baptist. The trace of the story has remained in the form of the theophany addressed to John where he sees the Spirit coming down from heaven and resting on Jesus.
- Another clue that the Johannine tradition knew about the baptism of Jesus can be found in the first letter of John (1 Jn 5:6), probably written by a Christian of the Johannine community other than the evangelist himself: "It is he who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ, not with water only but with water and blood. "Let us recall the context of this epistle: the author is in a polemical discussion against a Gnostic group (on Gnosis) that denies the true humanity of Jesus. For him, water, i.e. the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and blood, i.e. his death on the cross, are two extreme examples of his humanity and his solidarity with sinful human beings.
Thus, in addition to Mark, Document Q and the Johannine tradition would attest to the fact that Jesus was truly baptized by John the Baptist.
- A third criterion in favor of the historicity of Jesus' baptism is that of discontinuity. In fact, among the first Christians no direct and explicit link was ever established between Christian baptism and that of Jesus. This idea of seeing in the baptism of Jesus the model of Christian baptism will only appear among the Fathers of the Church, and first of all among Ignatius of Antioch (35-107).
- In order to answer the question of whether Jesus was a disciple of John, we must first address the question: Why did Jesus go to be baptized by John when he was a carpenter in Nazareth? Was John the Baptist's preaching the cause of conversion? Or was baptism a way for Jesus to symbolically mark a decision he had made? Or is baptism another step in the direction of a future decision? We have no way to answer these questions. To understand this baptism, we have two options: the following theophany narrative that offers an interpretation of baptism, or the fact that Jesus himself accepted John's baptism. Let us look at these two options.
- When we read again the theophany that follows the baptism we quickly understand that we are in front of a Christian catechesis on the identity of Jesus, not the description of a historical fact.
- In receiving the Spirit, Jesus is the one promised by John who will baptize in the Spirit;
- The voice from heaven takes up Psalm 2:7 where God speaks of David as a son, but this time to say that Jesus is the Son, not John, and therefore the promised Davidic messiah;
- In speaking of the Beloved Son, the theophany perhaps alludes to Isaac, Abraham's beloved son. Thus it is Jesus, not John, who is the beloved Son of God;
- The expression "in whom I am well pleased" is an excerpt from Isa 42:1, one of the mysterious poems of the servant, and thus refers to Jesus, not John, as that servant of God charged with restoring the covenant community;
- The fact that the scene takes place on the banks of a river and the heavens open up reminds us of Ezekiel's inaugural vision (Ezekiel 1:1) in which an individual is called to a prophetic mission. There is no such scene to describe John's mission;
- The fact that heavens is being rent apart and God is coming in the form of the Spirit can also recall Isa 63:19 where God is present to the people by leading them out of Egypt through the waters of the sea by the hand of Moses, and thus indicates that we are before the new Moses, Jesus.
In short, this theophany is understood in the context of a certain rivalry between the disciples of Jesus and those who continue to claim to be of John the Baptist, and thus shows the intention of the first Christians to enlighten us about the identity of Jesus and his superiority over John. But all this does not help us historically to understand the meaning of Jesus' baptism.
- We still have to analyze the very fact that Jesus accepted John's baptism. And the first thing we can affirm is that this baptism made an immense caesura in his life and was the trigger for his mission. The break in his life when he left his work to begin his mission was so brutal that his family and neighbors were shocked. We can speak of a turning point or conversion. What can we deduce from this fact?
- In accepting John's baptism, Jesus accepts and embraces his message: 1) the end of Israel as it is now is near; 2) this people has gone astray in apostasy and is in danger of being consumed by God's judgment; 3) the only way to deal with this situation is to make a major change in their way of life which will be sealed by the baptism received from John the Baptist; 4) John is that eschatological prophet sent by God before the coming of the judgment.
- The very fact Jesus accepts this baptism from John leads us to two corollaries:
- Jesus accepted that an unofficial "charismatic" ritual, a baptism once and for all, administered only by John, was necessary for salvation. Let's not forget that Jesus is a first century Jew and not a 20th century Western man who is very critical of all rituals, and one has to accept this cultural divide to understand it.
- Jesus joined all those who recognized themselves as sinners to receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Does this mean that Jesus was aware of being a sinner, and therefore asked God's forgiveness for his personal sins? Let us note right away that sin is a theological notion that speaks of a damaged relationship with God, which is inaccessible to the historian. But above all, the question about Jesus' awareness of being a sinner is biased by the modern Western perception of sin in individual terms, where the conscience over-examines the slightest sin in order to produce a basket of dirty laundry for the confessional. In the Palestine of Jesus' time, the confession of sin was primarily the gesture of acknowledging all the wonderful deeds God had done throughout the history of Israel, but admitting that in return the people had not lived up to such gratitude and had been unfaithful to the covenant. Thus, every Jew, because he belongs to the sinful people that is Israel, is a sinner. This is what we find in the Old Testament (Ezra 9:7: "From the days of our fathers until this day, we are greatly guilty: for our iniquities we were delivered up, we, our kings, our priests...") and in Qumran where in the ritual of entry into the community the candidates had to acknowledge their sins because of the transgressions of the sons of Israel. Thus, by accepting John's baptism, Jesus is not confessing personal sins or asking for forgiveness, but is expressing an intergenerational solidarity with the people of Israel.
- Let's summarize. Around the beginning of the year 28, Jesus of Nazareth made the journey from Nazareth to the south of the Jordan River with other Jews in order to receive the baptism of John the Baptist. In doing so, he recognizes the charismatic authority of this eschatological prophet, and accepts his message of the impending judgment of the sinful people of Israel and his baptism as a sign of a reformed life and a promise of God's sending of his Spirit of salvation to the people through a mysterious agent. At this point, we have no data to show that John the Baptist had any knowledge of Jesus, other than a man in his thirties similar to all the other Jews who desired to be baptized.
- We are now in a position to address the question: Was Jesus a disciple of John the Baptist? Let's be clear. It is obvious that Jesus was a disciple in the general sense, i.e. John the Baptist was a spiritual teacher and guide for him. But the question is rather: after his baptism, did Jesus remain with John for some time, joining the close circle of the baptized who accompanied him on his baptismal crusades in the Jordan Valley, assisting him in his preaching and baptisms, receiving further training and sharing his ascetical life.
- To answer this question, there is a first difficulty: there is no trace of a structured community during the life of John the Baptist. All that is known is that the disciples of John the Baptist continued to exist in the first century after the death of their master, as Acts 19:1-7 testifies, but do not seem to be present in the second century, if at least one refuses to associate them with the Mandean group. Disciples such as Andrew and Philip seem to be able to enter and leave the group as they wish. Thus, one cannot speak of a stable group like that of Qumran.
- We have only one gospel where we can find clues to support the thesis that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, and that is the gospel according to John. It is important to note right away one of the elements of the context of this gospel: among the opponents of the evangelist John are sectarian Baptists who continued to revere the Baptist as an important religious figure (the Messiah?), and not Jesus, throughout the first century. The evangelist is thus engaged in a polemical relationship with those who unduly exalt the value of John the Baptist and refuse to become Christians. At the same time, however, we discover in this 4th gospel some unique elements of information that lead us to believe that some members of this Christian community came precisely from the circle of John the Baptist.
- Three groups of texts from the 4th gospel are of interest here.
- John 1: 35-45
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."
The scene takes place in Bethany, on the west bank of the Jordan River. It is Jesus' entry into the scene. What is he doing here, since the evangelist does not present him as coming to be baptized? One is naturally inclined to think that he is part of the Baptist's circle. We also note that Jesus' most important disciples like Andrew, Philip, Nathanael and Peter first gave their allegiance to the Baptist before becoming a disciple of Jesus. Thus these disciples came to know Jesus by being baptized like him by their common master, John the Baptist, and by sharing a common life for some time before getting to know him better and being impressed by his person.
- John 3: 22-30
After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he spent some time there with them and baptized. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim because water was abundant there; and people kept coming and were being baptized - John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison.
Now a discussion about purification arose between John's disciples and a Jew. They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing, and all are going to him." John answered, "No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, 'I am not the Messiah, but I have been sent ahead of him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease."
What will be remembered from this scene is that Jesus and John the Baptist baptize at the same time, and a certain rivalry seems to be established. The Baptist's reflection where he must fade away is clearly an addition to the 4th gospel.
- John 4: 1-3
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, "Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John" - although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized - he left Judea and started back to Galilee.
Note that it is Jesus alone who makes disciples. But there seems to be a contradiction here where, on the one hand, it is affirmed that Jesus baptized, and on the other hand, it is affirmed that it is not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. In fact, here we have the mark of a final editor correcting the original text, no doubt shocked by the fact that Jesus baptized. This is an example of our criterion of embarrassment or discomfort where we try to reduce the impact of certain historical facts.
In summary, it is likely that Jesus was one of the members of the intimate circle of John the Baptist's disciples, which allowed him to make himself known and to attract some of his disciples to him, and to use the baptismal rite as part of his ministry. For early Christians, this memory is somewhat embarrassing since Jesus is superior to John the Baptist. But at the same time we can use the criterion of coherence to find it normal for Jesus to spend time with John the Baptist and practice the baptismal ritual, since this encounter was a key moment in his life.
However, it must be recognized that, historically, the fact that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist is less likely than his baptism itself. Nevertheless, if we accept this hypothesis, we can draw a number of consequences.
- Jesus was therefore a disciple of John the Baptist and did not defect from him. But before leaving the study of this character, we must ask ourselves: who was the Baptist for Jesus? What is his assessment of him? How did he see his role? To answer these questions, we have four groups of texts to analyze.
- Mt 11: 2-19 || Lk 7: 18-35; 16: 16
This is a block of text that comes from Document Q. Let's not believe that Jesus said all these words at one time and in one circumstance. It is probably a collection of several interventions by Jesus in different circumstances. In fact, Luke places them in different contexts. But this content is given a certain historical value because it is devoid of Christological catechesis, which will only appear after Easter. We discern in this block four units that probably circulated independently before being grouped together in Document Q.
- Mt 11: 2-6 || Lk 7: 18-23
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is he who will not stumble for my sake!"
John's disciples ask Jesus the question: Are you the one who is to come? Let us note at the outset that we have no indication in first century Judaism that the title "he who is to come" referred to the Messiah or eschatological figure. The Baptist simply alluded rather vaguely to someone stronger than himself who would contribute to the gift of the Spirit. But at the same time, he seems to expect God's judgment to be imminent, while he is still alive, much as it will be for St. Paul (1 Cor 15:51-52). But here he is in prison facing death, the expected events are slow in coming, and above all a possible candidate, Jesus, who has a certain success and emphasizes good news, is quite different from what he had imagined. It is quite understandable that the Baptist is forced to rethink his perception of things and his preaching, especially the threats of a catastrophe.
Jesus' response is interesting. There is no proclamation of any title, such as Messiah. In fact, Jesus refers John's disciples to what everyone says about him, what makes him different from his mentor and what people can see for themselves, the healings he performs. These healings are the good news that God's love is already at work in history. Note that the focus of the answer is not on Jesus, but on God's action. Yet what is even more interesting is the final: "Blessed is he who will not stumble for my sake!" Who is in danger of stumbling or being scandalized? The word "stumble" or "scandalize" always refers to faith in the New Testament. In fact, this word is addressed to the Baptist who is shaken in his convictions: Jesus makes a delicate appeal to his mentor to recognize through his former student the realization of God's plan for Israel.
What is John the Baptist's response? Did he come to believe that Jesus was stronger than he was and that God's plan was different from what he had envisioned? The texts do not speak of this, it is silence. And there is something embarrassing about this silence, and it meets the criterion of embarrassment, confirming that we are dealing with texts that are authentically historical: they have not masked reality by inventing a happy ending.
- Mt 11: 7-11 || Lk 7: 24-28
(1) (Jesus) began to speak to the crowds abut John; What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
(2) But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in luxurious (garments)? Behold those who wear luxurious (garments) are in the house of kings!
(3) But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet!
(4) This is he concerning whom it is written: Behold I am sending my messenger before your face who shall prepare your way before you.
(5) (Amen,) I say to you: There has not arisen among those born of women one greater than John (the Baptist), but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
We have here a piece of rhetoric with a mocking tone, and there are several reasons to believe that it represents a teaching of the historical Jesus:
- absence of Christological catechesis;
- emphasis on John the Baptist and his value;
- presentation of John the Baptist as a prophet and super-prophet, not to mention his role as a precursor or witness to Jesus;
- a living rhetoric of someone speaking to a crowd.
The context of the first question (1) is clear. On the banks of the Jordan River reeds are found. To speak of a reed agitated by the wind, like a weather vane, to describe the Baptist has something ironic about it, when one knows his outspokenness and intransigence in the imminent proclamation of God's judgment. If there is a reed stirred by the wind, it was Herod Antipas who threw him into prison, the specialist in accommodation and Realpolitik, who had the reed printed on one of his coins. This leads us to the question asked a second time (2) and the possible answer about the man with the beautiful clothes, an ironic answer. We would have an even clearer allusion to Herod Antipas, the one who imprisoned him. When the question is asked a third time (3), we have Jesus' answer: a prophet, following the example of the persecuted prophets of the Old Testament. But by saying: "more than a prophet," Jesus affirms that the Baptist, his mentor, is more than a prophet, but at the same time leaves his audience with a question that he does not answer, but leaves everyone free to answer it. Indeed, the following quotation (4) seems to be an answer given not by Jesus himself, but by the Church through a Christian scribe who added to Document Q a modified mixture of two Old Testament citations, Ex 23:20 (Behold, I will send my angel before thee, that he may watch over thee on the way) and Mal 3:1 (Behold, I will send my messenger, that he may make a way before me). This quote is a Christian reflection after the fact.
In the last part of the text (5) the tone changes again with a well-balanced two-part statement comparing the greatness of the Baptist with a member of the Kingdom of God. This sentence seems to come from Jesus himself for certain reasons:
- To say that John is the greatest of men was embarrassing to the Church and could not be invented by it;
- the use of extreme situations (the greatest, the smallest) is quite Semitic in order to make a comparison;
- the language of the Kingdom of God is typical of Jesus;
- Jesus and John the Baptist are not compared, but the Baptist in relation to the Kingdom of God, and therefore there is no Christological catechesis here.
Thus, Jesus acknowledges the immeasurable role of John the Baptist, but at the same time recognizes that times have changed and the presence of the Kingdom of God has introduced something radically new and superior.
- Mt 11: 16-19 || Lk7: 31-35
"But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds."
Here we have a parable and its immediate application to John the Baptist and Jesus. Let us note right away that the term "generation" has a negative connotation and this is typical of what we read in the Old Testament. The reproach refers to a certain behavior in two situations, that of a wedding where one dances, and that of a funeral where one hits one's chest. The narrative as such is constructed in the form of a Semitic chiasm where the different parts respond to each other: A (joy of the children), B (sorrow of the children), B1 (sorrow of John the Baptist), A1 (joy of Jesus). Thus the children in the public square represent both John the Baptist and Jesus. The ascetic John the Baptist announced God's judgment and invited people to repentance, but people refused to join in his funeral song. For his part, Jesus announced the joyful message of the Kingdom of God and unconditional forgiveness to all, celebrated this feast of God with all strata of society, including those who did not keep God's commandments, but met with opposition from people who considered it impossible for him to speak in the name of God. Fortunately, true Children of God recognized the wisdom of God's plan by welcoming the emissaries John the Baptist and Jesus.
This text seems to have its source in Jesus himself:
- First of all, there is a consensus that the parables go back to Jesus, whose master he was;
- there is no Christological catechesis here, since Jesus and John are put on the same footing, both encountering the same opposition;
- there is something embarrassing for the first Christians to keep the epithets of glutton and drunkard about Jesus;
- the epithet "he has a demon" to describe the Baptist was probably used during his lifetime, since after his death at the hands of Herod Antipas he was considered a martyr;
- the expression Son of Man probably goes back to Jesus himself, a somewhat vague and enigmatic expression that the parable teller may have used to challenge people's intelligence while referring to himself.
- Mt 11: 12-15 || Lk 16: 16
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. Let anyone with ears listen!
It may have been noted that this group of texts was skipped in the previous analysis because it does not really belong to a Baptist unit, even though it mentions John the Baptist; it does not give us any information about his person and was probably not originally part of the Document Q Baptist unit. In fact, Luke has placed part of it in another context, since he is used to following his source quite faithfully. And after a rigorous analysis, he seems to have better preserved the original texture that we show above. Matthew has made editorial additions, for example by inverting the normal order "Law and the Prophets" by "the Prophets and the Law" to refer to the books of the Old Testament, in order to convey the idea that the whole Old Testament was prophetic, or identifying John the Baptist with Elijah, a work of Christian reflection. Luke, on the other hand, seems to have attenuated the negative and violent aspect of the source by reducing it to a simple proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
The meaning of this text is clear. It refers to the phases of Israel's history so far summarized by the Law and the Prophets. The presence of the Kingdom of God has introduced a radically new phase, but a phase different from what John the Baptist preached: God is already present and palpable in the lives of all. John is in a way the pivot or bridge between these two phases. But this newness comes at a price: it meets with violent and ferocious opposition. The Kingdom of God is like a domain that one tries to plunder and destroy. Thus this text confirms the earlier results of our analysis, i.e. Jesus' appreciation of the work of the Baptist, but at the same time the novelty and primacy of the Kingdom of God which introduces a new reality, and the growing opposition to this novelty.
- Mk 11: 27-33
Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, "By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?" Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me." They argued with one another, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But shall we say, 'Of human origin'?" - they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."
This text is part of a block containing a series of controversies. Here we have the first gun salvo of the day. Unfortunately this story is not very contextual and it is difficult to understand what introduces the question. One has to imagine an action of Jesus (perhaps the expulsion of the vendors from the temple) that offended the authorities. Nevertheless, the story clearly has a rabbinic approach where a challenge is launched in the form of a question (By what authority are you doing this?), eluded by a counter-question (Answer me and I will tell you...). Jesus draws attention to the very concrete case of John the Baptist's baptism: was it of human or divine origin? This emphasis on the baptism of John the Baptist implies three things.
- Who are those who question Jesus and who would be embarrassed to answer that the baptism of the Baptist is either of divine or human origin? Certainly not the Jews in general, some of whom were baptized. We must see here some priests of Jerusalem guided by their scribes.
- This account shows that the action of Jesus was always associated with the baptism of John the Baptist, all the more so if this account is towards the end of Jesus' ministry. It belongs to a tradition that goes back to Jesus, for Jesus' action is simply presented as a continuation of that of John the Baptist; the church cannot have created such a scene when it seeks to show the superiority of Jesus. We can therefore use the criterion of embarrassment as a basis for its historical character: by putting himself on the same footing as John the Baptist, he falls into the category of eschatological prophets who do not draw their authority from any institution.
- Why does Jesus associate his authority with that of John the Baptist, if not to affirm that his action is in the same vein: to recognize that the baptism of the Baptist is of divine origin is to recognize that his is also of divine origin. And such an association is only possible if Jesus baptized throughout his ministry, to the very end.
In addition to the character of embarrassment, one could add the criterion of multiple attestations if the account of Jn 2:13-22, recounting the action of Jesus chasing the vendors out of the time followed by the question of Jesus' authority, is truly independent of Mark as R.E. Brown claims.
- An isolated tradition in Mt 21: 31-32 || Lk 7: 29-30
|Matthew 21: 31-32||Luke 7: 29-30|
|Jesus says to them: Amen I say to you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him. But the tax collectors and the prostitutes did believe him..||And all the people, hearing (this), - and the tax collectors - delcared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John.|
|But when you saw this, not even later on did you change your mind so as to believe him.||But the Pharisees and the lawyers spurned God's plan for them, nor having been baptized by him (John).|
- An isolated tradition in the Gospel of John: Jn 5: 33-36
You sent messengers to John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept such human testimony, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But I have a testimony greater than John's. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.
This text represents a mixture of editorial work by the author of the 4th Gospel and nuggets of historical elements. On the one hand, we find the apologetic and polemical tone of John's gospel addressed to the sectarian group that claimed to be of the Baptist to tell them that Jesus does not need his testimony, that he is the light of the world compared to the simple lamp that is the Baptist, that Jesus did healings (the works), while the Baptist did not. On the other hand, the four gospels and the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus confirm that Jesus was noticed by his healings, whereas there is no trace of this in John the Baptist.
- Let us end this presentation of John the Baptist by looking at his death: do we know why and how he died? To answer this question, we have two sources, that of the evangelist Mark (Matthew's text is based on Mark's) and that of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. Let us briefly recall Mark's account. Herod Antipas had married Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, and John the Baptist had told him that this was not permitted. Herod wanted to have John the Baptist killed, but was content to have him put in prison for fear of a reaction from the people. But on his own birthday and at the party he had organized, he was seduced by the dance of Herodias' daughter and promised to give her what she would ask for. Under the advice of her mother, the girl asked for the beheading of John the Baptist. Herod Antipas reluctantly did so. On the other hand, Flavius Josephus tells us that Herod got rid of John the Baptist because he feared that his ability to persuade the crowd would provoke a revolt. So we have two completely different versions of the death of John the Baptist. Who is right?
- Evangelist Mark's version has little historical value. Note that Jesus is never mentioned in his account. It is more like a story about Herod Antipas and his family than about John the Baptist, without mentioning Jesus. It is intended to offer an interlude while Jesus' disciples go on a mission and to introduce the theme of the rejection of the prophet-martyr that John the Baptist is going through and that Jesus will experience. All this does not add much to our knowledge of the historical Jesus. However, we must recognize that the story of Mark and that of Flavius Josephus have two elements in common: John the Baptist was arrested and executed by Herod Antipas, and Antipas' rejection of his first wife and his marriage to Herodias, already married to one of his half-brothers, serves as a backdrop to this execution. But all this is very little. Above all, Mark's account contains many historical inaccuracies that must be mentioned.
- Firstly, it is inaccurate to say as Mark does that Herodias was previously married to Philip, half-brother of Antipas. In fact, Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the Great, and she first married a half-brother of Antipas (son of Herod the Great and the Samaritan woman Malthace) known only as Herod (a son of Herod the Great and his wife, Mariamme II). So Herodias was not previously married to Philip, as Mark asserts. The confusion may have come from the fact that this Herod and Herodias in this first marriage had a daughter called Salome, and it was this Salome who married another Antipas' half-brother called Philip (a son of Herod the Great by his wife Cleopatra of Jerusalem).
- Second, Mark places the scene in Galilee, perhaps in his new palace at Tiberias. Flavius Josephus, usually a very well-informed man, is right here. He places the execution of John the Baptist at the fortress and palace of Machaerus in Perea, on the west bank of the Dead Sea in present-day Jordan.
- Third, Mark gives purely moral reasons for the arrest and death of the Baptist, i.e., his reproach for Antipas' marriage to Herodias. Rather, Flavius Josephus must be proved right, who attributes this event to Antipas' fears for purely social and political reasons.
- Mark's story is close to a court legend with folklore notes. Echoes of the Old Testament can be seen in it, such as references to the conflict of the prophet Elijah with King Ahab and his wife Jezabel, or to martyred prophets in general, or to the folk motifs of the book of Esther. There are strong anti-Herodic sentiments and morals. The sectarian group of the Baptists may have been at the source of this story and their account may have been marked by the judgment of many Jews that if Herod lost the battle against Aretas IV, the father of the woman whom Antipas divorced to marry Herodias, it was because God punished him for moral reasons. Nevertheless, by inserting this story into the present sequence, Mark intends to announce the fate that awaits Jesus.
- Let us try to summarize our question about Jesus, disciple of John the Baptist. Yes, Jesus was a disciple of the Baptist. The Baptist's preaching was a key moment in his life that led him to quit his job around the year 28, when he was about 34 years old, and to be baptized in the Jordan River by the one he considered an eschatological super-prophet, confessing that Israel had become a sinful people and showing solidarity with this people, and then to join a group of disciples of the Baptist. It was within this group that he, in turn, began to baptize and to signal himself, so much so that the followers of the Baptist would begin to become attached to him. While keeping the basis of John the Baptist's teaching, he will give his preaching a special emphasis, focused on the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of God, and above all, will healings confirming the presence of this Kingdom. All this will surprise John, his mentor, who will wonder about this disciple not quite like the others and will wonder if Jesus might not be this stronger person than him of whom he spoke. But he does not seem to have been able to answer this question, because the Baptist movement he created will continue throughout the first century, sometimes to the point of being in conflict with the Christians. Jesus baptized throughout his ministry, so that the baptism of the church was merely a continuation of his practice.
|Next chapter: Does this Q document that biblical scholars talk about really exist?
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