Wednesday, 16 August 2017

It all starts with **B A P T I S M** (2): Josephus on John

Let's get back to the size of John's ministry. Let's start with the major first-century Jewish historian:


·         The text (with my emphases): Baptism of Purification, Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the Baptist [the dipper]. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. 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. 

·         Summary

According to this Josephus account, popular Jewish understanding was that John was God's agent, with not just human, but divine significance, so much so that God could take revenge on Herod's army. Mess with John? You mess with God. Bad move. Josephus seemed to have gained insight into John's kind of a movement during his teenage years, where he tells of a kind of 3-year internship he did with a certain Banus, whose activities match closely to Mark's description of John. Might he have been John's predecessor? We don't know. 

·         How does John measure up to Jesus for Josephus?

Very difficult to tell. In terms of space, they seem to be of similar length. Unfortunately, extensive scholarly research has shown that Josephus' Testimonium Flavianum has almost certainly been corrupted by Christian copyists, maybe in the fourth century and there are multiple lines of evidence to back this up. The fact that the doctored text is still no longer than John makes me wonder if the original report may have been shorter the coverage given to John.

·         Awkward dating of John's death from Josephus

Awkwardly for Christianity, the dating of connected events within Josephus (the whole debacle of the daughter of Aretas, the first wife of Herard the Tetrarch, escaping following news of the new gal on the block, Herodias, and the ensuing battle between Aretas and Herod the Tetrarch) means that John the Baptist was probably killed in 36 AD, which is a tad late for many of us. I wonder if this really contradicts the New Testament so greatly? In tomorrow's post, let's start to look at how important John the Baptist seems to have been in Jesus' stomping ground from the angle of the timing of his death in Christian eyes.

(Sorry no pics today, my connection is too bad)

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