Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Lesson #2 John The Baptist

John the Baptist (also called the Baptizer) was a 1st century Jewish preacher and ascetic regarded as a prophet by four religions: Christianity, Islam, Mandaeanism, and the Bahá'í Faith. The title of prophet is asserted in the Synoptic Gospels, the Qur'an, and the Bahá'í Writings.
According to Luke 1:36, he was a relative of Jesus. He is also commonly referred to as John the Forerunner or Precursor because Christians consider him as the forerunner of Christ.
Unlike the other Synoptic Gospels, which introduce John the Baptist into the narrative as an adult, the Gospel of Luke provides an account of his infancy. According to Luke, John the Baptist was the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, who previously "had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years" Luke 1:7 (reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah Gen 17:17). His birth, name, and office were foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zacharias, while Zacharias was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem. According to Luke, Zacharias was a priest of the course of Abijah, and his wife, Elisabeth, was of the Daughters of Aaron Luke 1:5; consequently John automatically held the priesthood of Aaron, which, to the Jews' eyes, gave him authority to baptize in the name of God.
Luke states that John was born about six months before Jesus, and that Zacharias' unbelief over the birth of his son led to him losing his power of speech, which was only restored on the occasion of John's circumcision (Luke 1:64). On the basis of Luke's account, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas.
According to Luke, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist were related; their mothers, Mary and Elisabeth, were cousins. (Luke 1:36).
John (in Hebrew: Yochanan), whose name means "Yahweh has shown favor," an indication of John's role in salvation history, is known as "the Baptist" from his practice of preaching and baptizing Jews in the River Jordan. Most notably he is the one who recognized Jesus as the Messiah, (both while they were still in their mothers' wombs (Luke 1:41), and later, at the River Jordan) and, on Jesus' request, baptised him. The baptism marked the beginning of Jesus' life as a teacher.
John's imprisonment and beheading

According to the Canonical Gospels, John the Baptist's public ministry was suddenly brought to a close, probably about six months after he had baptized Jesus. According to these Gospel narratives, Herod Antipas jailed him, with the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Mark arguing that Herod was punishing John for condemning Herod's marriage to Herodias, the former wife of Herod Philip I, Herod's own brother (Luke 3:19). Wycliffe's Bible: "But Herod the tetrarch, when he was blamed of John for Herodias, the wife of his brother, and for all the evils that Herod did, he increased this over all, and shut John in prison." Some academics have argued that John was imprisoned in the Machaerus fortress on the southern extremity of Peraea, nine miles east of the Dead Sea. {Josephus Jewish Antiquities XVIII:5:1–2}
Josephus states that Herod deliberately killed John to quell a possible uprising in around 36. According to some, Herod Antipas did not marry his brother's wife until his brother Herod Philip I died in 34, so as to make Josephus' dating plausible for the biblical account of John's death. His disciples, after consigning his headless body to the grave, told Jesus all that had occurred (Matthew 14:3-12). But John's death came just before the third and last Passover of Jesus' ministry, placed no later than 33.[citation needed]
According to (Matthew 14:6-8) Salome, the daughter of Herodias danced for King Herod and delighted him so much that he vowed to give her anything she wanted: after consulting with her mother she requested the head of John the Baptist.
Neither Josephus nor the Gospels state where John was buried, though the Gospels state that John's disciples took his body and placed it in a tomb. In the time of Julian the Apostate, however, his tomb was shown at Samaria, where the inhabitants opened it and burned part of his bones. The rest of the alleged remains were saved by some Christians, who carried them to an abbot of Jerusalem named Philip.[1]
In the Gospel of John
The Gospel of John portrays John the Baptist as being clearly superseded by Jesus. The Gospel states that when John was baptizing at Aenon, a debate broke out between some of the disciples of John (John 4:1) over the issue of ceremonial cleansing. The Jews pointed out that Jesus was also baptizing, but baptizing more people than John (John 4:2).
John explained to them that Jesus “must become greater” while he, John, must become less (John 3:30). Although the Gospel later goes on to state that Jesus regarded John as a burning and a shining lamp, it also says that Jesus referred to John as something that people were glad to enjoy ... for a while (John 5:35). The Gospel of John also portrays the disciples of John as eventually merging into the followers of Jesus, in contrast to the Synoptics where they remain two distinct groups as long as they are mentioned.
Flavius Josephus in Jewish Antiquities book 18, chapter 5, paragraph 2 wrote the following:
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod'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. (Whiston Translation) [1]
From the context, it would seem that in Josephus's account John was executed around 36. Divergences between Josephus's presentation and the Biblical account of John include the following:
· Baptism for those whose souls have already been "purified beforehand by righteousness" is for purification of the body, not general repentance of sin (Mark 1:4).
· John's imprisonment and subsequent execution is described as being to prevent "mischief", rather than owing to Herod's wife's daughter's persuasion of a reluctant Herod. (Although it could be argued that Josephus is only offering a reason for John's imprisonment, then stating that he was executed there as well (and leaving the reason for execution unstated).)
Josephus's passage is quoted by Origen in Contra Celsum in the early third century, and again by Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century.
Josephus makes much greater mention of John than he does of Jesus.
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Eastern Orthodox believe that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, thus serving as a bridge between that period of revelation and the New Covenant. They also teach that, following his death, John descended into Hades and there once more preached that Jesus the Messiah was coming, so he was the Forerunner of Christ in death as he had been in life. According to Sacred Tradition, John the Baptist appears at the time of death to those who have not heard the Gospel of Christ, and preaches the Good News to them, that all may have the opportunity to be saved.
Orthodox churches will often have an icon of St. John the Baptist in a place of honor on the iconostasis, and he is frequently mentioned during the Divine Services. Every Tuesday throughout the year is dedicated to his memory.
The Eastern Orthodox Church remembers Saint John the Forerunner on six separate feast days, listed here in order in which they occur during the church year (which begins on September 1):
· September 23 - Conception of St. John the Forerunner
· January 7 - The Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner. This is his main feast day, immediately after Theophany on January 6 (January 7 also commemorates the transfer of the relic of the right hand of John the Baptist from Antioch to Constantinople in 956)
· February 24 - First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
· May 25 - Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
· June 24 - Nativity of St. John the Forerunner
· August 29 - The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner
In addition to the above, September 5 is the commemoration of Zechariah and Elisabeth, St. John's parents.
The Russian Orthodox Church observes October 12 as the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina (1799).
Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. John the Baptist on three separate feast days:
· June 24 The Nativity of St. John the Forerunner
· August 29 The Decollation (Beheading) of St. John the Forerunner
· September 23 Conception of St John the Foreruner
John the Baptist as a patron saint
Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Puerto Rico, and its capital city San Juan bears his name. In 1521, the island was given its formal name "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", following the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island, honoring John the Baptist. The indistinct use of "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto Rico" for calling both the city and the island led to a reversal in practical use by most inhabitants due largely to a map-making error. Therefore by 1746 the name for the city (Puerto Rico) had become that of the entire island, while the name for the island (San Juan Bautista) had become the name for the city. The official motto for the island of Puerto Rico also references the saint, Joannes Est Nomen Eius (translated, "John is his name").
He is also a patron saint of French Canada, and Newfoundland. The Canadian cities of St. John's, Newfoundland (1497) and Saint John, New Brunswick (1604) were both named in his honour. In the UK Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Penzance, Cornwall. His feast day is June 24, celebrated in Quebec as the Fête nationale du Québec (la Fête St-Jean-Baptiste).
Also on the night from 23rd to 24th June, Saint John is celebrated as the patron saint of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. An article from June 2004 in The Guardian, remarked that "Porto's Festa de São João is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside the country"[2].
He is also patron of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Florence, and Genoa, Italy.
The Baptistines are the name given to a number of religious orders dedicated to the memory of John the Baptist.
Saint John is also the patron saint of Lian, Batangas (see for details), and the entire state of South Carolina.
St. John the Baptist is (along with St. John the Evangelist) claimed as a Patron Saint by the fraternal society of Free and Accepted Masons (better known as the Freemasons).[3]
In medieval times it was rumored that the Knights Templar had possession of the saint's severed head, and multiple records from their Inquisition in the early 1300s make reference to some form of head worship by the Knights.[4] Today it is on display in San Silvestro in Capite in Rome and in Amiens Cathedral, the latter a relic brought home by Wallon de Sarton from the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople; it is also buried in the town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, England,[5] in Turkish Antioch, in the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, and in southern France.[6]; Istanbul possesses the saint's arm and a piece of his skull in the Topkapi Palace, as does the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt,[7] while John's right hand, with which he baptised Jesus, is in the possession of the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Cetinje.
Mandaean view
Mandaeans believe John the Baptist, called Yahya in the Sidra d-Yahia (Book of John), was the last and greatest of the prophets. While Mandaeans agree that he baptized Jesus (Yeshu), they reject the latter as either a saviour or prophet. And they viewed John as the only true Messiah.
According to the text of the Ginza Rba, John died at the hand of an angel. The angel appeared as a three-year-old child, coming to John for baptism. John knew the angel for what it was, and that once he touched its hand, he would die immediately. John performed the baptism, anyway, and died in the process. Afterwards, the angel covered John's body with mud.
John the Baptist is known as Yahya in Arabic and in the Qur'an. The Qur'an identifies John is the son of Zachariah and cousin of Jesus. John is described as "pure", "devout", "dutiful towards his parents" and as "not arrogant or rebellious" (Surah 19:7-15).
John, whose tidings are foretold by the angel Gabriel, is exhorted to hold fast to the Scripture and was given wisdom by God while still child (Surah 19:7-12) and called "a Prophet of the Righteous" coming "to confirm a word from Allah" (Surah 3:39)
Bahá'í view
There are numerous quotations in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith mentioning John the Baptist. He is regarded by Bahá'ís as a lesser Prophet. [8] Bahá'u'lláh claimed that His Forerunner, the Báb, was the spiritual return of John the Baptist. In His letter to Pope Pius IX, Bahá'u'lláh wrote:
"O followers of the Son! We have once again sent John unto you, and He, verily, hath cried out in the wilderness of the Bayán: O peoples of the world! Cleanse your eyes! The Day whereon ye can behold the Promised One and attain unto Him hath drawn nigh! O followers of the Gospel! Prepare the way! The Day of the advent of the Glorious Lord is at hand! Make ready to enter the Kingdom. Thus hath it been ordained by God, He Who causeth the dawn to break."[9]
However, Bahá'ís consider the Báb to be a greater Prophet (Manifestation of God) and thus possessed of a far greater station than John the Baptist.
Gnostic and anthroposophic views
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In Gnosticism, John the Baptist was a "personification" of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. As an Old Testament prophet, Elijah did not know the True God (the God of the New Testament), and thus had to be reincarnated in Gnostic theology. As predicted by the Old Testament prophet Malachi, Elijah must "come first" to herald the coming of Jesus Christ. Modern anthroposophy, initiated by Rudolph Steiner, concurs with the idea that the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah, in line with the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark 9:11-13,Matthew 11:13-14,Luke 7:27), although he himself explicitly denies this (John 1:21). Furthermore, after his beheading at Machaerus his soul is said to have become the inspiring group genius of Christ's disciples. According to Steiner the painter Raphael and the poet Novalis were more recent incarnations of John the Baptist.
Unification church
The Unification Church teaches that God intended that John help Jesus during his public ministry in Israel. In particular, John should have done everything in his power to persuade the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. He was to become Jesus' greatest disciple. John's failure to do so was the chief obstacle to the fulfillment of Jesus' mission.Divine Principle Chapter 4, Section 2
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Latter-day Saints believe John appeared in Pennsylvania, as a resurrected being, to Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery on 15 May 1829, and gave them the Aaronic Priesthood. They also believe John's ministry was foretold by two prophets in the Book of Mormon: Lehi (1 Nephi 10:7-10) and his son, Nephi (1 Nephi 11:27; 2 Nephi 31:4-18).
Places and things named for John the Baptist
· Maronite Catholic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, Beit Mery, Lebanon
· Romanian Skete Prodromos (the name is the Greek for "The Forerunner") on Mount Athos, holding relics believed to be of John the Baptist
· St John's College of The University of Oxford, Oxford, England
· Puerto Rico was originally named San Juan Bautista; San Juan (then called Puerto Rico) is now its capital city.
· St. John's, Newfoundland, was founded on his feast day June 24, 1497.
· Saint John, New Brunswick was named after the Saint John River which was named by Samuel de Champlain
· St. John's University located in Queens, NY; St. John's is the largest Catholic university in the United States
· Fête nationale du Québec - also known as la St- Jean-Baptiste - is the provincial holiday of Quebec, celebrated on June 24 of every year.
· Prince Edward Island, a Canadian province, was originally called Île de St-Jean or St. John's Island.
· St. John's wort is named after St. John because it is traditionally harvested on his feast day, June 24.
· 12th century cathedral in Kamien Pomorski (Poland) with a famous 17th century organ
· St. Johns Road, in Bletchley of Milton Keynes, is the longest of the Roads in the Saints Estate
· St. John's Regional College in Dandenong Melbourne (Australia)
· St. John the Baptist Parish in southern Louisiana, USA. In Louisiana, a civil parish is equivalent to a county elsewhere in North America.
· St. John's Avenue in Staten Island, New York, overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, Brooklyn, the Verrazano Bridge, New York Harbour, and Manhattan
· St. John Ambulance and the Order of St. John.
· Mission San Juan Bautista, one of the original 18th century missions, in northern California.
Famous churches
· Two different Churches of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem, traditional place of his birth
· Basilica of St. John Lateran
· St. John the Baptist of Coventry
· St. John the Baptist of St. John's (Basilica-cathedral)
· San Giovanni Battista di Rimini (cathedral)
· San Giovanni Battista di Torino (cathedral)
· Saint-Jean-Baptiste d'Audresselles
· St. John's Cathedral of Valletta
· Saint-John-Baptiste Located on Christian Quarter Road, Old City , Jerusalem
· Church of St. John the Baptist, Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia

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