John the Baptist

About 50 years after the death of Jesus, the core of what we now consider the New Testament started to be written.  Written, most likely, by second and third generation Christians.  People who knew people who knew Jesus in his ministry.

The epistles and histories of the New Testament reflect the thoughts and concerns of a variety of authors, addressing a variety of audiences, to deal with a variety of questions and problems.  And that reflects through to today.

The range of opinions we can find, just on this board, as to what the New Testament is quite a range.  We have people who believe that it is all entirely factual, literal, and reliable… through to people who believe it is all entirely made up, and comparable to the work of Homer or Ovid.  And, most people who comment on it here are reasonably well read.  There’s just a lot of room for understanding when we ask “what is this collection?”

With that in mind, let’s focus on one of the not-Jesus characters who shows up–with a speaking part–in all four gospels… but, curiously, is not mentioned in any of the epistles: John the Baptist.

There are actually other records of John existing: Josephus records him in the Antiquities of the Jews.

Book 18, Chapter 5:

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.

He is mentioned in the Sura 19 of the Koran as a major prophet of Islam.

And he has his own Middle-Eastern faith dedicated to him as a major prophet: The Mandaeans.

(And, if you read through the article, you’ll see that historically the Mandaeans were recognized as legitimate Dhimmi by the Muslims, and as a variant of Christian… and have their own extensive scriptures with deep historical roots)

So… with all that in mind:

Who do you think John the Baptist was historically?

How important was he?

What details about him are we missing that you’d want to know more of?