Online Encyclopedia

JOHN THE BAPTIST

Online Encyclopedia
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
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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
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Judah " in " the hill country (possibly Hebron 1) of priestly parentage . His
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father
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Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abijah," and his
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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
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primitive features, Hebraic; and Palestinian in character,' and possibly at one time
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independent of the Christian tradition . In the apocryphal gospels John is some-times made the subject of
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special miraculous experiences (e.g. in the Protevangelium Jacobi, ch. xxii., where Elizabeth fleeing from Herod's assassins cried: " Mount 'of .
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God, receive a mother with her child," and suddenly the mountain was divided and received her) . In his 3oth
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year (15th year of the emperor Tiberius, ? A.A . 25—26) John began his• public
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life in the "
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wilderness of
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Judaea," the wild
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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
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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
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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
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original and prophetic character, and its high ethical tone, as shown e.g. in its anti Pharisaic denunciation of
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trust in mere racial
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privilege (Matt. iii . 9) . Herein also
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lay, probably, the true import of the
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baptism which he administered to those who accepted his message and confessed their sins . It was an act symbolizing' moral
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purification (cf . Ezek.
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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
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people, " the people of the
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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 '
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Ain Karim, near Jerusalem, the birthplace of the Baptist only
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dates from the crusading period . formerly in the
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chapel of the Virgin, built by him in the
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basilica of St Peter . He was succeeded by Sisinnius .

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