John the Baptist

John the Baptist
(‘Baptizer’, NRSV, Mark 1:4); his preaching preceded that of Jesus, who aligned himself with John's ministry. The gospels betray an increasing reluctance to say without qualification that John baptized Jesus (the fourth gospel does not mention such an act at all). They do not wish their readers to be in doubt that John was merely a forerunner, probably because for some time there existed disciples of John (Acts 18:24–8; 19:1–7) and it was important to establish a distance between the Messiah of Christian belief and the prophet who preceded him, as scripture had anticipated (Mal. 4:5). But it is clear that John's effect on the population was electric (Mark 1:15). He castigated the evils of his time: baptisms in the river, unprecedented in Judaism, offered the hope of salvation. John's rite was once for all, unlike the daily ritual washings at Qumran. Other differences existed between John and the Qumran community: he was essentially a public figure addressing all who came; they were a closed and austere sect. Nevertheless it is possible that John had been for a time a member of the community—he emerged out of the desert (Luke 1:80) to preach the coming of the kingdom. John's clothing, however, made of camel's hair (Matt. 3:4) and his leather belt were more in the prophetic style than that of the white garments of Qumran. His audacity in rebuking Herod Antipas (Mark 6:18) for a marriage illegal according to Jewish Law led to his imprisonment and execution in the fortress of Machaerus by the Dead Sea. Josephus [[➝ Josephus, Flavius]], however, gives a different reason for John's execution: Herod feared his popularity and regarded him as a threat to established law and order. John's activity by the River Jordan could have been regarded as a rallying point for apocalyptic plans of rebellion. The Iraqi Sabaean Mandaean sect regards John as the Saviour; baptisms are conducted in the river Tigris. A characteristic of this modern sect is their vigorous disapproval of deserters.

Dictionary of the Bible.

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