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JOHN THE BAPTIST

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Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 434 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN THE BAPTIST, in the Bible, the " forerunner " of Jesus Christ in the Gospel story. By his preaching and teaching he evidently made' a great impression upon his contemporaries (cf. Josephus, Ant. xviii., § 5). According to the birth-narrative embodied in Luke i. and ii., he was born in" a city of Judah " in " the hill country (possibly Hebron 1) of priestly parentage. His father Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abijah," and his mother Elizabeth, who was also of priestly descent, was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose senior John was by six months. This narrative of the Baptist's birth seems to embody some very primitive features, Hebraic; and Palestinian in character,' and possibly at one time independent of the Christian tradition. In the apocryphal gospels John is some-times made the subject of special miraculous experiences (e.g. in the Protevangelium Jacobi, ch. xxii., where Elizabeth fleeing from Herod's assassins cried: " Mount 'of . God, receive a mother with her child," and suddenly the mountain was divided and received her). In his 3oth year (15th year of the emperor Tiberius, ? A.A. 25—26) John began his• public life in the " wilderness of Judaea," the wild district that lies between the Kedron and the Dead Sea, and' particularly in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, where multitudes were attracted by his eloquence. The central theme of his preaching was,. according to the Synoptic Gospels; the nearness of the coming of the Messianic kingdom, and the consequent urgency for preparation by repentance. John was evidently convinced that he himself had received the divine commission to bring to a close and complete the prophetic period, by inaugurating the Messianic age. He identified him-self with the " voice " of Isae xl. 3. Noteworthy features of his preaching were its original and prophetic character, and its high ethical tone, as shown e.g. in its anti Pharisaic denunciation of trust in mere racial privilege (Matt. iii. 9). Herein also lay, probably, the true import of the baptism which he administered to those who accepted his message and confessed their sins. It was an act symbolizing' moral purification (cf. Ezek. xxxvi. 25; Zech. xiii. i) by way of preparation for the coming "kingdom of heaven," And implied that the Jew so baptized no longer rested in his privileged position as a child of Abraham. John's appearance, costume and habits of life, together with the tone of his preaching, all suggest the prophetic character. He was popularly regarded as a prophet, more especially as a . second Elijah. His preaching awoke a great popular response, particularly among the masses of the people, " the people of the land." He had disciples who fasted (Mark ii. 18, &c.), who visited him 1.There is no reason to suppose that Jutta is intended by the eats 'Io(a of Luke i. 39: the tradition which makes 'Ain Karim, near Jerusalem, the birthplace of the Baptist only dates from the crusading period. formerly in the chapel of the Virgin, built by him in the basilica of St Peter. He was succeeded by Sisinnius.
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