Saturday, May 22, 2010

John the Baptist, The Secret Messiah: Part 2

Is there a secret tradition that believes that John and not Jesus was the Messiah? Are the secret wars that lurk between the lines in the historical record the result of an age-old power struggle? Who was John the Baptist and who were his followers? More importantly, does his following exist to this day? Read part one of this series here.

There is also a curious juxtaposition of events in Luke concerning Jesus’ baptism: John is imprisoned before Jesus is baptized:
But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip's wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.

Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. Luke 3: 19-22 ASV
Luke never says who Jesus is baptized by, nor does he make reference to John’s response to such a momentous divine event. Jesus is simply another adherent among many others. Was it known then that Jesus was actually baptized by one of John’s disciples?

The chronology of John’s arrest and his conspicuous absence at Jesus’ Baptism is directly contradicted in Mark’s account, who has John imprisoned immediately following Jesus’ baptism:
And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And immediately the spirit driveth him into the wilderness. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. - Mark 1:9-14 KJV
Yet, notice here that Jesus himself- and not John- witnessed Jesus’ epiphany. If John had witnessed it, it might have been mentioned in the extant Johannine literature. Mark makes no mention of John’s obeisance to Jesus during Jesus’ baptism, nor does Mark name Jesus as John's coming messiah.

This omission is evidence that Mark and Luke were written earlier than Matthew and John, respectively, and were possibly circulated at a time when John’s teachings and reputation were still well known. It is believed early versions of Mark date from before the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

Many Biblical scholars date Matthew during the late first century and John in the early second century 3 , that is after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the dispersal of the great bulk of the Jews. It is not until the non-synoptical Gospel of John that the potentially compromising baptism narrative is rewritten to have John bear witness to the epiphany:
These things were done in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water.

And John bare witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit. And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. - John 1:29-34 ASV
Why was none of this mentioned in Luke, who seems to be very familiar with the actual teachings of John? Might this be unwitting testimony that there was still lingering doubts as to John’s prophecy of this Jesus as the coming Christ?

It also directly contradicts a passage in Luke, where even after Jesus’ baptism, John seems of unsure of Jesus’ divinity and from his prison cell sends a messenger to inquire whether or not he is the Christ:
And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to the Lord, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? And when the men were come unto him, they said, John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another? - Luke 7: 18-20 ASV
Again, in the Gospel of John there is no such uncertainty. But if Luke was writing for an audience familiar with the teachings of the Baptist, this issue would need to be addressed. There may well have been an opinion amongst the Baptist’s still-extant following that the Nazarene was a false prophet in John’s eyes.

It is highly likely that much of the Johannine literature was destroyed-perhaps during the seige of Jerusalem. Matthew essentially rewrites Mark’s account, adding a few editorial flourishes, most notably John’s protest that Jesus ought to be baptizing him.

And the question remains, why would Jesus need to be baptized at all? He was, according to his disciples, without sin. John Dominic Crossan notes that Jesus’ propagandists were “clearly uneasy wth the idea of John baptizing Jesus’ because that seems to make John superior and Jesus sinful.” Hence Matthew and John would revert to what Crossan calls “theological damage control.”

The legendary Jewish historian Josephus makes clear that John’s reputation among the Jews was such that the Roman onslaught and the destruction of the Temple was retribution from God, not for the execution of Jesus, but, for the execution of John. Speaking here of John, Josephus writes:
And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt -- for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise -- believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.

And so John, out of Herod's suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.
Josephus obviously finds John to be much more noteworthy than Jesus. Josephus’ only reference to Jesus is a single paragraph (Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 line 63), which most experts agree was embellished by an embarrassed Christian copyist.

Was John thought to be the Christ by the pre-Diaspora Jews?