Now we have the final installment of James McGrath’s thread of posts on the importance of John the Baptist, which, as he argues, most people have overlooked.  What do you think?  Comment and ask away!


John the Baptist was probably the most significant religious innovator in the history of religion. We’ve failed to see this because of the extent that he has been overshadowed by his followers. This is perhaps the most important point made in my new books Christmaker: A Life of John the Baptist (Eerdmans, June 2024) and John of History, Baptist of Faith: The Quest for the Historical Baptizer (the latter due out in October). In this three-part series I offer an overview of John’s influence based on and incorporating some material from Christmaker so that readers of this blog can get a sense of what awaits them in these books, especially the biography which will be out very soon and which is aimed at a general audience.

Part 3: John as Innovator and Leader

"This study expands the horizons of current scholarship and will likely be referenced for years to com." - Jordan J. Ryan, Wheaton College

In recent centuries, we find new and creative movements gathering around natural leaders and sources of inspiration in places like coffeehouses. Such places did not exist in John the Baptist’s time, and it is pointless to speculate whether John’s followers might have met in a venue if the possibility had existed (and what impact they might have had on the world with the addition of caffeine into the mix). The analogy is worth making even so, if only to once again force us away from the notion of John as a lone hermit to whom individuals like Jesus each related separately from one another. Instead, we should imagine meetings by a campfire, vigorous debates and exchanges of ideas, as a gathering of people we would recognize as storytellers, poets, and visionaries all found inspiration in John’s teaching, the experience of God he promoted and fostered, and the community he was bringing into existence. John was the leader and visionary behind a vibrant movement, even if others came along and turned it into competing organizations.

While the imagery of John as a lone voice crying in the wilderness speaks in a powerful way to modern individualists, that clearly is not what John was like. Nor, for that matter, is anyone really like that even in our time. While John did not build an organization even in an extended ancient sense of that word, he attracted an entourage of thinkers and activists, and it is implausible to imagine him simply telling them what to do and what he would do. When John criticized Antipas, when he turned his attention to a new geographic region and sent representatives there, lively discussions about the best course of action would have taken place first among John and his closest confidants. This point is not unique to John. Some in our time tend to mistakenly think of key figures from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King Jr. and from Muhammad to Mohandas Gandhi as unilaterally influencing other people and changing the course of history. We know from the sources that we have about each of them that they had trusted advisors, people who influenced them as well as people whom they influenced.


Where can we see the influence of John the Baptist in history? Hopefully this three-part series provides a taste of the answer that I think should be given, which I explore in more detail in Christmaker: A Life of John the Baptist. We see John’s influence most directly in the following:

  • In Jesus of Nazareth and everything he in turn impacted.
  • In Gnosticism and its permutations.
  • In the Jewish war against Rome that led to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

"Thanks to a fresh approach and may hypotheses for ancient questions, this book, which is readable like a novel, will create large--and lasting--ripples in scholarship as well as in the thinking and lives of its readers." Edmondo Lupieri, Loyola UniversityEach of those in turn influenced still other movements and currents both religious and political. When we trace all the lines that connect and intersect with John the Baptist, can there be any question that he ought to spring to mind as a possible candidate for the most influential individual in religious history, and perhaps in history more generally? It may be that it was precisely because John said that one who came after him—that is, one of his disciples—would be stronger than he was, because he was willing to see greatness in his followers and brought it out in them, that they succeeded in so overshadowing him that he now seems a footnote or prelude to them, when in fact he was the decisive influence on them all. It is long overdue for John to be brought out of their shadow and given the attention he deserves in his own right.






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2024-05-27T15:09:35-04:00June 1st, 2024|Public Forum|

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  1. Brien June 1, 2024 at 8:35 am

    A few months ago, I read Walter Wink’s, John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition, I wonder how different this is?

    • ReligionProf June 1, 2024 at 9:06 am

      Hope you found Wink’s book useful! That book was based on his doctoral dissertation and focuses on offering a close reading of each Gospel’s depiction of John the Baptist in all its distinctiveness. My own books, both the one that is just about to be released and the larger and more detailed academic monograph, build on the foundation of what Wink and others have done. The first book, Christmaker: A Life of John the Baptist, is a biography, and so is built on an effort to evaluate the various sources and do the work a historian or biographer must of choosing between them, judging all unlikely to be historical, synthesizing them, and/or connecting dots between them. John of History, Baptist of Faith will be detailed studies on specific topics but none of the chapters does precisely what Wink does in any of his.

      Hope this is helpful. When you read one or both of my books, I hope you’ll share what you think of it/them!

  2. TomTerrific June 1, 2024 at 8:58 am


  3. fishician June 1, 2024 at 10:05 am

    Is there any way to know if some of Jesus’s teachings recorded in the Gospels actually originated with John?

    • ReligionProf June 1, 2024 at 11:35 am

      Yes. The Gospels indicate as much. Matthew takes some things Mark put on the lips of one and attributes them also to the other. Luke indicates that John the Baptist was an influence on the Lord’s Prayer. I explore a lot more in the books.

  4. mannix June 1, 2024 at 12:55 pm

    How is Jn 1.31 “I myself did not know him…” explained in light of the two being 2nd cousins, the in-utero recognition (Lk 1.41) [likely quickening] and John’s baptismal proclamations and testimonies in all 4 gospels? Also curious are the “messenger” verses in Mt 11 and Lk 7 asking if Jesus was “the real deal”.

    • ReligionProf June 1, 2024 at 12:59 pm

      There are inconsistencies among the sources on these and other points. There are ways people have found to harmonize them, none entirely compelling. On the message from John, it is only because Matthew added additional words of John at Jesus’ baptism that that seems to convey doubt. Without that, there would be no reason for John to think Jesus was the coming one until Jesus began to show signs of stepping into the role. It is best viewed as a genuine question or an invitation rather than as reflecting a loss of prior faith.

  5. Serene June 2, 2024 at 12:03 am

    John the Baptist’s creating a community that captures a bit of the First Century Transjordan gives me awe, and they are peaceful too.

    So, Mandaeans seem to align with Gnostic traditions portraying Yahweh as a not-nice, material-level deity.

    Just like your really appreciated hypothesis of Ptahil being a syncretism of Ptah-El, (Egypt-Canaan), my hypothesis is that the Tetragrammation introduces the syncretism of the Desert Protector God Ha with Aramean lunar god Yah that pastoralists represented with bulls and their crescent (lunar) horns.

    His prop is the sword, his miracle is food in the desert.

    I was looking for hoooow an H with the dot under it could drop the dot, which Ha had — but in Mandaic they do exactly that! (Moses could be Thutmose, Overseer of Foreign Lands and Frontier Lands (and Masons) during Akenaten’s failo at nationalizing syncretism – the Aten was officially Re-Horus.

    Alexander the Great’s Zeus-Ammon (Greek-Egypt) has a better reception because it’s not a sole god mandate.

    Since these syncretizations happened during the time of cuneiform, Mesopotamia may have the answers.

    What do you think of Carlos Gelbert’s assertion that early Mandaeans were thriving post Nabataean Abgarid Edessa?

  6. Stephen June 2, 2024 at 1:17 am

    I get the impression from Josephus that John’s ministry was more publicly popular than Jesus’s. And there are at least hints in the gospels of possible controversies between John’s loyal disciples and the Jesus movement. Obviously John was too important to ignore.

    John is depicted as a precursor and Jesus’ public influence is wildly exagerrated but I’m wondering how much else of the portrayal of Jesus in the gospels might have been influenced by such competition? My guy was better than your guy!

    • ReligionProf June 2, 2024 at 6:34 am

      Quite a bit, I think. Because Jesus clearly esteemed John so highly there was no real way to denigrate John in the course of elevating Jesus, which affected how Jesus’ preeminence could be articulated. I have a lot about this in the books!

    • Serene June 3, 2024 at 2:39 pm

      “It is best viewed as a genuine question or an invitation rather than as reflecting a loss of prior faith.” Exactly!

      Wouldn’t Messiach be the equivalent of the Soter/Savior king epithet, just in Hebrew?

      “But from early times the word was used by analogy for humans who performed extraordinary deeds worthy of divine cult”

      Soter, Oxford Classical Dictionary

      Faith in Jesus’ divinity seems to require the theophoric authority, like John the Baptist, hearing from people Jesus helped since mission start.

      The first savior divinized for it is Narram-Sin. Around 550 BCE, Nabonidus excavates his 23 C BCE foundation deposit, and other buried text treasure going all the way back to Sumerian religion. They are finally able to translate it all.

      He then tries a religious reformation to correct to the origin, just as Akhenaten did with Re-Horarkhty (Horus is the first known national god).

      Nabonidus then revives the Living God (as opposed to posthumously deified) tradition. Maybe because he saves people from Edomites?. The Ptolemaic Soter/Saviors continue it.

      Nabataea’s King Rabbel Soter may be given that epithet because he is historically acknowledged as taking in large amounts of Jewish refugees in the First Jewish-Roman war. The local graffitti changes to include many more Jewish names.

      • ReligionProf June 3, 2024 at 4:43 pm

        No, anointed one (messiah) denoted the king and the high priest, the two roles for which anointing with oil was part of their installation ceremony. It was occasionally used by extension but only rarely.

        • Serene June 4, 2024 at 5:33 am

          Thanks Professor McGrath!! I did not know that so much that I thought you were responding to someone’s question on what Christ meant. So ok, Christ is Anglicized Greekish for Messiah.

          Anointing with oil appoints a person to a high position, like Elijah anointing both Jewish and non-Jewish kings. This differentiates it from gaining high positions in other ways: by right of being the first son, by popular support as military leaders (Hasmoneans), by conquering a territory, by buying it for a bowl of porridge, by being born at an auspicious time.

          It is interesting that David (Jesus’ line) is anointed by the prophet Samuel secretly. 1 Samuel 16:1-13. What prophet or priest put sticky oil on Jesus?

          However, the *expectations* for a particular anointed king in Isaiah fulfills the Soter/Savior epithet:,

          “Messianism is the belief in the advent of a messiah who acts as the Saviour of a group of people”

          Just that the signs John the Baptist would need to see would be some Edomite removal included with the healing. Healing is the miracle of Obodas the God, whose inscriptions in what’s now Israel peak in the First Century.

          • ReligionProf June 4, 2024 at 5:42 am

            There was no formal coronation of Jesus as king. Whether John might have done this is an interesting question. Note the way that he is depicted as a “new Samuel” in Luke in particular.

            The two events narrated in our sources that were and are open to interpretation by Christians as Jesus’ messianic anointing, even if done in an unconventional way, are Jesus’ baptism by John and the pouring of perfume on him by Mary of Bethany.

  7. Stephen June 2, 2024 at 1:24 am

    How seriously do you take Mandaean claims of a direct link to the historical John?

    • ReligionProf June 2, 2024 at 6:33 am

      It depends what you mean by a direct link. The evidence points to a connection with John in the same way that material from the Christian tradition points to a connection with Jesus. That does not mean in either case that what was later written in that tradition accurately depicts the historical figure they focus significant attention on.

  8. OmarRobb June 3, 2024 at 12:20 pm

    If we say: “A influenced B Therefore A was greater than B”, then we need a good proof for it. However, if we want to refute it, then we only need some good examples.

    Let us discuss this example:

    I truly think that Philip was much greater than his son; Alexander. Because Philip created something from nothing and managed to establish a very sophisticated killing-machine (the Macedonian army). Philip died at the completion of this machine, and Alexander just took it for a ride through the countryside of Asia.

    However, Philip wasn’t born with a strategic-manual in his head, but he was influenced by Epaminondas; as Philip was in Thebes as a hostage at that time.

    So, can we say that Epaminondas was greater than Philip as Philip was greater than Alexander; because Philip was influenced by Epaminondas?

    But also, Epaminondas wasn’t born with a strategic-manual in his head, but he was influenced by the strategists of Athens, including Themistocles.

    So, can we say that Themistocles was the greatest strategist in the world as he was the one who influenced Epaminondas, who influenced Philip, who created this sophisticated machine for Alexander?

    The point here is that influence cannot be a proof for greatness.


    • OmarRobb June 3, 2024 at 12:24 pm


      The same for John and Jesus: it doesn’t make sense to conclude that John was greater than Jesus because John influenced Jesus. Otherwise, we could also say that John’s father was greater than John because without him, John would have never existed.

      Having said all the above, I wrote an article here in the blog (in the Platinum section) about a fictional story that might be of interest to you. In this “fictional story”, I said that John’s father created a secret political party aiming to expel the Romans from Palestine. When he died, John took over, and Jesus was his right hand. John (in this story) designed the main plan for the revolution, but he died before starting it, and Jesus took over this party.

      This was a fictional story, and some points in it contradict my metaphysical beliefs. But the purpose of this story was to magnify some specific activities that Jesus have done to clarify that these activities couldn’t have been conducted without a specific plan with clear end in mind.

      You can see this article here in the blog dated June 23, 2023, or you can see it in article-4 in this pdf file:

      • ReligionProf June 3, 2024 at 2:02 pm

        In this case, though, Jesus said that John was the greatest human being who ever lived. 🙂

        • OmarRobb June 4, 2024 at 6:31 am

          Thank you, James.

          Does this mean that you are taking the Gospel of Matthew for granted, or are you just taking Matthew 11:11 for granted?

          How about Matthew 3:11? How does it fit with 11:11?

          We could argue if Jesus and John did say these verses, but we can surely agree that Jesus didn’t say that John was “probably the most significant religious innovator in the history of religion”. I assume this statement might need some different verses than Matthew 11:11.

          Now … I value your work in this subject, but I am troubled with the generic polar statements such as: he is the greatest, smartest, strongest, weakest (etc.) without solid proofs.

          I enjoyed your discussion about the Mandaeans. They are a mystery: they respect and follow John The Baptist, but they don’t follow or recognize the Torah. A bit ironic, I think.

          If my memory is accurate, they don’t regard John to be a Jew from Palestine, but he is from Iraq, lived in Iraq, and died in Iraq. If this was the case, then we might be speaking about two different individuals: John of the Jews and John of the Mandaeans, who both had some religious practices with rivers and streams.

          • ReligionProf June 4, 2024 at 10:06 am

            I am not taking anything for granted other than current methods of historical study and the need to make the case for the probable historicity of any specific piece of information.

            I never claimed that Jesus said what I said!

            Christmaker discusses the relationship between Matthew 3:11 and 11:11.

            The Mandaeans have John born in Jerusalem. There is no question that the individual they are talking about, Yuhana the son of the priest Zakria and his wife Enishbai, born to them in their old age, who baptizes Jesus despite misgivings, is the same individual, albeit a different portrait of him than one finds in Christian or Jewish sources.

            The fact that they do not follow Torah is part and parcel of their Gnostic outlook. You could say the same thing about the forms of Christianity evidenced in the literature found at Nag Hammadi.

      • GeoffClifton June 4, 2024 at 4:16 am

        Thank you, Dr McGrath. A fascinating series of posts. As I’m sure you’re aware, some (popular) authors have suggested that John the Baptist was the real deal and Jesus exploited John’s untimely death to usurp his role and commandeer his disciples. They usually cite his greater prominence (than Jesus) in Josephus and the Mandaean dimension as evidence of this. This has led some, like Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, to suggest that an underground religion, with John as its focus, persists to the present day. Do you have any thoughts on this hypothesis (or is it addressed in your book)?

        • ReligionProf June 4, 2024 at 4:49 am

          I don’t get into the attempts to find devotion to John in the Knights Templar and things like that. I think that the Mandaeans were most likely an “underground” tradition within the context of developing Jewish orthodoxy and that at some point conflict arose and they emerged as a separate and more visible religious group. I explored that a bit in my first foray into the study of Mandaean literature, which you may find interesting if you haven’t read it.

  9. Tom48 June 3, 2024 at 1:00 pm

    I have a question about the first century concept of baptism. Modern Israel seems to be a fairly arid country, and presumably first century Palestine was likewise. Since fresh water seems to be required for baptism, was the Jordan River the only available location for this ceremony? And is there any possibility that such baptism was an oblique reference to the Nile River, and a possible indication of Egyptian influence, however indirect?

    • ReligionProf June 3, 2024 at 2:03 pm

      I don’t see any reason for a connection with the Nile. The Jordan was the obvious place to carry it out if it required running water, as the Mandaeans certainly emphasize. It was not the only place it was possible, however.

  10. bruceseaman June 4, 2024 at 4:01 pm

    Great stuff! Many questions which I expect your books will address.

    Since Jesus didn’t simply hatch his ministry ex nihilo, it makes sense that John the Baptist was his teacher/mentor providing the bases for what would become Jesus’ ministry. Despite their odd placement (or editorial dis-placement), the references to Jesus as a Baptizer (or seeming to lead a satellite baptizing community) in Gospel of John (end ch 3/beg ch 4) make perfect sense.

    But how odd is it that Jesus is never recorded in any gospels as having performed baptisms during his own ministry and never instructed his disciples to do so either? Yet the command (finally) appears in the Great Commission and is clearly referenced in Acts as normative in conversion from the church’s beginning. By the time the gospels were written, baptism was standard. I would have expected some editor somewhere to have included baptism in Jesus’ own ministry. Your thoughts. Or too much. Like I said, it may be in the books.

    And thanks for taking time to answer everyone.

    • ReligionProf June 5, 2024 at 6:14 am

      This is a fantastic comment. It is is so easy to miss what isn’t said and yet an ancient reader would have expected. And thus the question, why doesn’t any Gospel tell us about Jesus performing a baptism? Of course, we aren’t told about any other baptism John performed besides that of Jesus, which is included for a specific reason. And so in the book I do discuss whether this absence is because it was possible to assume he did so without even narrating it, or indicates a departure from John’s practice.

      John 4:1 is particularly significant. It says that Jesus did baptize, and then immediately tries to deny it. Clearly there was an issue here for the emerging Christian movement!

  11. Serene June 4, 2024 at 4:50 pm

    It looks like you might be winning for post with most engagement!

    “Whether John may have done this id an interesting question.”

    Thank you!

    It seems fair to think Jesus may have gotten kingly anointing the Davidic way (the secret way) by John or John’s successor. Jesus doesn’t have Aaronic lineage, so imo he can’t take over John’s sect.

    Followers of the Way are obsessed with lineage because Hasmonean and Edomite Herods are a master class in Caananitization.

    The woman at Bethany is anointing Jesus with Nabataea’s unguentarium.

    Jesus seems to make tradition of “famous moments” of rulers that he has lineage to. (Obv, I think Jesus is pan-Semetic):

    Solomon — Jesus rides a mule like anointed Solomon in 1 King 1:38

    David — Son of God. historically that’s vassal to a God-King.

    Melchizedek — bread and wine

    Ishmael — 12 princes, one
    princess and one king. (Strabo says Nabataeans eat common meals in groups of 13)

    Obodas — Healing God ancestor cult popular in 1 C, centered around Obodat (modern Ein Avdat).

    Vassal rules:
    You can say the proper name *within-group* (David, Solomon) and must use polite placeholders with out-group descriptors of higher status (Queen of the South, My God, Our Father in Heaven.)

  12. Serene June 5, 2024 at 2:59 pm

    I found it!

    Mandaeans use a Sumerian cosmology with Zoroastrian syncretism — so this is the Sumerian god of Running Water, Creation, Knowledge, and Magic:


    •Bosra Cultic Center. Bosra is the Mandaean homeland.

    •His Temples have the world’s first immersion rites to forgive sin

    •Followers live in the marshes of Mesopotamia, so did ancient Mandaeans.

    •Ptah is his equivalent (lower creator in Mandaen worldview). (of course sncient Mandaeans thought the Global North was at a higher level of development than the Global South (Prah-El).

    •Nabu is Ea’s Semetic (Babylonian) equivalent, so like Nabonidus who finally cracks the 3rd Millenium BCE cuneiform Sumerian isolate in 6th C BCE. “Buried Treasure Text” like the Ginza.

    I actually think Jesus may be making a ‘dog-whistle’ syncretism statement about the Creator of Heaven and Earth that the Baptising sect isn’t buying, but who knows.

    • ReligionProf June 5, 2024 at 3:22 pm

      Lots of fascinating connections here. While you seem to have a propensity for making too many connections based on too slim a thread between things, that approach often brings more substantive connections to light that others miss. In this case, it is a real possibility that there was an influx into the region of adherents to John’s teachings who preserved a more ancient Israelite viewpoint as well as part of the tradition, and that there were local traditions related to the traditional deity of running water they found they could embrace, and devotees of which their religion might attract.

  13. Serene June 5, 2024 at 4:20 pm

    What do you think of the hypothesis of Ea (the Semetic name) being formed from the West-Semitic root “hyy meaning “life”[13] in this case used for “spring”, “running water”?

    Weninger, Stefan (1 January 2012). The Semitic Languages. Berlin [u.a..]: Walter de Gruyter. p. 237. ISBN 978-3-11-025158-6.

    Because Hayyi is “Life” in Mandaean, and
    the Mandaean Supreme God is Hayyi Rabbi, literally “The Great Life”. To me, this Great Living God over a heirarchy of gods really resembles the formal title of ʻGreat King’ which are the kings of kings like Alexander the Great.

    I have no access to academic papers and books outside of free Jstor, academia and free Harvard so I can’t get to this book!

    My background if it helps: I found my (imo) rare name and rare identifying characteristics in a Christian book of past lives, matching the “female assistant to the author of Luke Acts” Didn’t care.

    Finally joined Bart Blog just because I wanted to know why folks didn’t try to emulate “gentle” Jesus. In the Great (haha) Reset my favorite band wrote a song that seems line for line about Passion Week after the table is flipped:

    and that pointed me in the right direction.

  14. Serene June 6, 2024 at 6:36 pm

    Hoping this brings more to light and boosts your books:

    “The god HayYa (Ea/Enki) at Ebla”

    “The Mandaeans may have originated in the area of the Middle Euphrates, not far from Ebla.” – Kurt Rudolph, scholar of Gnosticism and Mandaeism.

    “The god Hayya…was evidently the main deity of Ebla, and his cult involved sacred water rituals.” – Gary Rendsburg, scholar of ancient Semitic languages

    “Mandaeans share with the ancients of Ebla a profound reverence for water and its life-giving properties.” -Jorunn Buckley, scholar of Gnosticism.

    Ebla’s Bowl of Holy Water (kings had a bath)

    “A monumental stone basin was uncovered in the temple area of Ebla’s acropolis. Its sides are carved with processions of figures bringing offerings, along with symbols representing water and plant life. This suggests the basin played a role in rituals relating to the water cult of the god Hayya”– archaeologist Giovanni Pettinato.

    Brittanica on Ebla’s cuneiform: “…closest similarity to tablets from Adab [modern Bosra, Mandaean primary community] Abū Salābīkh [modern Hamman Marshes, Mandaean satellite community]…Texts reveal that Sumerian teachers came to Ebla, and the presence of a “Canal of Ebla” near Adab attests that Eblaites went to Sumer as well.”

    “The orientation of Ebla’s main temple was aligned with the Polar Star.” archaeologist Paolo Matthiae.

  15. RizwanAhmed June 7, 2024 at 9:37 pm

    It’s pretty impressive that you’ve been able to write not one but two entire books on this figure. From what I understand, we basically only have a short description of him from Josephus and a small amount of sayings of his in the gospels which were of course written decades after him by people who were clearly downplaying his role and significance.

    I look forward to reading these books.

  16. jaecat June 8, 2024 at 2:10 am

    Fascinating series of posts. Your portrait of John and his influence puts me in mind of that famous quote about the Velvet Underground’s first album: “very few people bought it, but everyone who did started a band”…

    • ReligionProf June 8, 2024 at 6:44 am

      I love that analogy and that quote applied to this!!!

    • Serene June 8, 2024 at 5:57 pm

      Yep, it’s Professor McGrath’s God-Tier engagement that got me to look up Ebla a couple days ago. Now I can teach!

      With this puzzle piece, I can now create a chronology of how the loss of Akkad and their Living God tradition to Babylon resulted in Akkadian protectorates fleeing to colonial Canaan circa 1650 BCE:

      •CE name: Nasaraeans
      •Location: Ur of the Chaldees
      •Temple: Akkadian Supreme God Sin representing henotheistic Semetic nomads (no idols, crescent symbol: bull horns and moon)
      •Nasiriyah Stele

      •Temple: Akkadian Supreme God Sin representing henotheistic Semetic nomads.

      •Temple: Creator God Hayya, Akkadian Ea (water purification, symbols: carp and circumpolar star).

      Late-stage Ebla
      •New, foreign pastoralist dynasty rebranded by Dagon, possibly an endonym for Amurru.

      Colonial Canaan
      •King of the Habirus statue explains fleeing
      •Rainshadow gives Egypt grazing:

      •Equals wouldn’t address Pharoah as Living God,

      •They’d make marital alliances — Abraham and Hagar (Keturah), Joseph the Salit/Salitus (Governor) and the High Priest’s daughter.

      •Around 1600 BCE Yaqub takes King of Lower Egypt, with colonies from Canaan to Nubia. Ascending to Living God from:

      •Land of HaBiRu, IBiRum through ABRam (Sargon is a title.)

      •Avaris is restored once — that’s circa 1350s BCE with Moses/Thutmose the Overseer (Governor) for Akhenaten who Horemheb competed with for Living God.

  17. TimOBrien June 10, 2024 at 2:56 pm

    I’ve long been curious about (and have also raised with Prof. Ehrrman) the Jesus-John connection. That’s why I asked (in your Part 2) what is known of John’s life *before* he performed his most history-making baptism.

    All four gospels acknowledge that John and Jesus began a public ministry at the same time and place — “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (according to one), near the mouth of the Jordan river in Judea. Both were radically ascetic vagabonds, clearly driven by the same apocalyptic eschatology, and preached the same, urgent, TEOTWAWKI message about the imminent arrival of Daniel’s “Son of Man.”

    Such striking parallels suggest to this amateur (and admittedly, uncredentialed) observer that Jesus was originally a disciple of the famous Baptizer (which accounts for both his effusive praise of, AND submission to the ritual performed by, his mentor) who then sent him on missionary trek to the other end of the Jordan — probably not uncoincidentally his home turf — specifically, the fishing village of Capernaum on north shore of the Sea of Galilee.

    Why would this constitute any more of “a separate ministry” than the missionary sojourns on which Jesus later sent his own disciples?

    • ReligionProf June 10, 2024 at 7:01 pm

      Indeed, viewing Jesus as initially a missionary sent out by John makes good sense of a lot of the evidence! I think you’re going to like the book a lot!

      • TimOBrien June 12, 2024 at 1:07 pm

        I’m looking forward to it.

        The accounts of John by early (and manifestly discomfited) Christians, those of independent historians (e.g., Josephus), and just circumstantial inference, lead me to suspect that the renowned “Baptist” played a far more crucial role in the life of Jesus than is now apparent — or admitted.

        The radically apocalyptic beliefs and absurdly ascetic lifestyles of John and Jesus are far more akin to the Essenes than any of the other three, contemporary factions of devout Judaism.

        Yet both you and Prof. Ehrman are dismissive of the most obvious John-Jesus backstory — that they were brother monks at Qumran (a mere day’s walk from where their public ministry began) when John came to the same insight about doomsday predictions as Dr. Strangelove: “The whole point is lost if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world?” 😠

        Suppose John felt impelled to abandon the contemplative, cloistered, monastical life to bring this urgent warning to his fellow Jews.

        So passionate a visionary would undoubtedly have drawn a small retinue of younger monks to follow him on his proclamation/baptism mission. Perhaps, among them the peasant son of a tekton from the Galilean outback — a brother monk named Jesus?

        • ReligionProf June 12, 2024 at 4:03 pm

          I cannot disprove that any more than you can prove it. I am certainly not dismissive of the possibility. I went into the project expecting there to be an Essene connection. The evidence led me to conclude that the divergences from and disagreements with the Essenes are more substantial than the intersections.

          • TimOBrien June 13, 2024 at 11:20 am

            As our forum host and your estimable colleague so tirelessly repeats in debates with apologists: “Historians can only deduce what *probably* happened.” No one can prove or disprove any historical hypothesis.

            What is undeniable, however, is that IF John and Jesus were erstwhile, monks at Qumran, they necessarily abandoned the monastery — which could *only* have been prompted by their “divergences from and disagreements with the Essenes.” QED

            Given John’s hyperbolic “You brood of vipers!” rhetoric, the obvious answer to his “Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” question is that it was he, himself, who was doing so — and with near apoplectic urgency! “Even now,” he warned, “the ax is lying at the root of the trees.” Thus, his fellow Jews stood in immediate and mortal danger because “every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!” (Lk 3:7-9)

            Likewise, John’s disciple and collaborator/successor on this mission said: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near,” similarly urging all to “Repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:15)

            The looming arrival of the Son of Man had made monastic retreat pointlessly — and literally — academic.

          • ReligionProf June 13, 2024 at 6:29 pm

            I don’t see anything in what you wrote that makes a time spent at Qumran probable.

          • TimOBrien June 14, 2024 at 4:07 pm

            Hoping that my quest of the historical Jesus could, perhaps, be facilitated by considering that of his mentor, I began this thread with:

            “I’ve long been curious about (and have also raised with Prof. Ehrrman) the Jesus-John connection. That’s why I asked (in your Part 2) what is known of John’s life *before* he performed his most history-making baptism.”

            But allow me to table the issue of the Baptist’s backstory long enough to directly ask about that of his disciple — who continued to pursue their apocalyptic mission of sounding the alarm that “the Son of Man is coming!” (The 1st-century “Samuel Prescott” to John’s “Paul Revere.” 😏)

            So how the did the peasant son of a day-laborer from the Galilean hinterlands come to acquire so daunting a knowledge of Jewish history and scripture as to repeatedly flummox both Pharisee and Sadducee leaders who had dedicated their entire lives to such study?

            Aside from his name and hometown (in North Nowhere… “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”), do we have any (credible) information about Jesus or *his* life before he showed up on the banks of the Jordan “in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar”?

          • ReligionProf June 14, 2024 at 7:22 pm

            We do not, but when he showed up on the banks of the Jordan, he became a disciple of John the Baptist and presumably learned much from then on, whatever he may or may not have known before.

            My books offer a solution to the Gospel “son of man” problem that I hope you’ll find interesting.

          • TimOBrien June 16, 2024 at 1:21 pm

            If we do not (“have any credible information about Jesus or his life before he showed up on the banks of the Jordan”), how can we know it was only THEN that “he became a disciple of John the Baptist”?

            It appears you share Prof. Ehrman’s view that Jesus had spent his entire, previous life in Nazareth as a tekton apprentice to his (earthly) father — until the fateful day he put down his hammer and made a 100-mile sojourn to hear “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”

            Jesus was then so transfixed by John’s end-of-days preaching that he was immediately baptized and became such a devoted follower that he abandoned home and family, life and livelihood, to join John’s mission — and never looked back?

            This illiterate, peasant day-laborer was, however, so righteous and spiritually-advanced that the renowned Baptizer instantly recognized him as one “whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” (or “untie”), and initiated his Pharisee/Sadducee-daunting education — in a very sophisticated, imminently apocalyptic understanding of Jewish scripture and history?

            If so, that he “presumably learned much from then on” is an understatement for the Rock of Ages! 😉

            I could posit a more plausible prologue to the John-Jesus ministry.

          • ReligionProf June 22, 2024 at 12:35 pm

            I’m not sure I understand. You’re suggesting that Jesus became a disciple of John’s before he was baptized? I think you’re treating Mark’s compressed narrative, which skips over Jesus’ time in the Baptist’s movement, as though it were the full story.

          • TimOBrien June 17, 2024 at 10:37 am

            It’s unlikely the Nazareth public library was a major repository of sacred scrolls. Nor would Nazareth U. have been in Israel’s Ivy League. So even if Jesus, the illiterate tekton eking out a hand-to-mouth subsistence, managed to find the time, where could he have acquired the knowledge of Jewish history and scripture to so frequently nonplus Pharisee and Sadducee experts?

            Learning opportunities aside, what opportunity would he have had to develop the rigorous, spiritual habits of private prayer, meditation and lengthy wilderness retreats that remained a dominant and continuing aspect of his life throughout his public ministry?

            OTOH both of these are completely unsurprising (even expected) of someone who had spent a decade or more in the monastic life of worldly renunciation and self-discipline, entirely devoted to nothing BUT asceticism, religious ritual, study and prayer!

            Contemporary scholarship seems fixated on finding differences between Essene beliefs and practices and those of John and Jesus — while blithely disregarding Mr. Ockham’s admonition.

            Couldn’t Übermensch, John, have grown impatient with monastic disconnection and abandoned Qumran on a mission to warn his fellow Jews that the end was nigh — with a handful of admiring, brother monks in tow — among them, Jesus of Nazareth?

  18. sLiu June 11, 2024 at 11:23 pm

    “most significant religious innovator in the history of religion”
    I totally agree. I don’t understand Jesus, how can I love that.
    that is the divine realm. how can I understand that. just as many billionaire preachers spout …

    2) why was John acting like a prude and condemning royalty affairs [out of his spectrum]

    • ReligionProf June 12, 2024 at 8:17 am

      I suspect that his condemnation of Antipas’ divorce of his first wife Phasaelis may have had as much if not more to do with the fact that it led Antipas (and thus those over whom he ruled) into war with Phasaelis’ father Aretas, the ruler of Nabataea.

  19. sLiu June 12, 2024 at 4:42 pm

    SINCE Pregnant St Mary hung out at Cousin Elizabeth’s house during her a significant time before Jesus & John the Baptist were born. Why isn’t it recorded that they hung out together [from birth-29years old]. And when Jesus came for his baptism, they act distant; and when John is in prison, his relations seem distant.

  20. sLiu June 12, 2024 at 4:42 pm

    SINCE Pregnant St Mary hung out at Cousin Elizabeth’s house during her a significant time before Jesus & John the Baptist were born. Why isn’t it recorded that they hung out together [from birth-29years old]. And when Jesus came for his baptism, they act distant; and when John is in prison, his relations seem distant.

    • ReligionProf June 12, 2024 at 5:07 pm

      Why do you assume that they were cousins never mind that the information in Luke about this is historically factual? It may be but that is far from certain. You also write as though we know more than we do about the circumstances of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus clearly was affected by John’s arrest and execution but that’s explicable in terms of the mentor-disciple relationship as well as their having been related.

  21. Serene June 12, 2024 at 7:15 pm

    The NRSV and most other versions translate Mary’s “sungenees” Elizabeth as her kinsman and not her cousin, like the KJV does. There’s a word elsewhere in the OT that’s translated as cousin.

    Also, weren’t they in hiding from Herod Archelaus?? That would explain no contact

    • ReligionProf June 13, 2024 at 5:37 am

      Relatives could of course mean cousins, it doesn’t exclude that, it just isn’t that specific. Of course once you get beyond immediate family cousins is all that is left!

      I don’t see any reason to think that they were hiding from a ruler, although the Infancy Gospel of James depicts Herod the Great (Antipas’ father) seeking to kill the as yet unidentified king and then, intriguingly, seeking John specifically. Antipas didn’t rule over Judaea and so if that’s where Elizabeth lived then she’d be safe from Antipas there, unlike Mary in Galilee.

  22. Serene June 14, 2024 at 4:03 am

    You made 50 comments 🎉

    True, it doesn’t exclude immediate cousins but Mary is young.

    “I don’t see any reason to think that they were hiding from a ruler”

    Mathew 2:22
    “But when he heard that Archelaus [a ruler] was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee…”

    Jesus is the heir to Jerusalem and Judah which becomes Judea; this is why it is specifically Herod the Great and then Herod Archelaus they are concerned about.

    Luke 1:52
    “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David…”

    David’s throne is in the city of Jerusalem in Judah

    Jeremiah 17:25
    “Then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the *throne of David*, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of *Judah*, and the inhabitants of *Jerusalem*: and this city shall remain for ever”

    The reason that Lords sought engaged Jewish virgins, as covered in Ketubot 3B, could be because a head of household like Joseph provides protection.

    So prefects succeed Archelaus, but it still was not chill in Judaea.

  23. Serene June 14, 2024 at 3:13 pm

    So because John the Baptist likely grew up in Judea (Luke 1:39)

    and Archelaus is tetrarch of Judea until 9 CE —

    assuming Jesus is born circa 4 BCE, this makes Jesus around 13 when Archelaus is replaced by the Roman prefect system.

    There wouldn’t have been a safe time for child Jesus to hang with child John.

    Jesus is missing from the narrative from 12 until mission start, so Occam’s razor means he was apprenticed to his father:

    John 5:19
    Jesus says, “I only do the works that I see the Father doing, for the Son does the same works as his Father”.

    Mandaeans believe the Earth is a copy of Heaven. An Earthly Lord of a Kingdom would not be in Judaea or Galilee.

    Think og Star Wars with the secret male heir. Jesus is the Secret Seed .

    There are several adversaries — Grand Moff Tarkin, Vader, Jabba, the Emperor – Herod Archelaus, Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, the Deceiver.

    Herod Antipas’ intelligence gathering does not connect Jesus with John the Baptist, the pre-empted potential rebel leader:

    Luke 23:8
    “When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him…”

    • ReligionProf June 14, 2024 at 7:26 pm

      I’m not sure I followed your reasoning, but at any rate, most if not all historians give 6 CE as the year when Archelaus was deposed.

  24. Serene June 15, 2024 at 12:04 am

    6 CE, thanks for improving me!

    Line of Reasoning (in steps for greater clarity)

    1. Jesus claims to be the lineage Jewish heir to the Kingdom of Judah, making him heir to First Century Judea/Judaea.

    2. Jewish people wanted a lineage-Jewish ruler so much that they engaged in civil unrest.

    3. Herod the Great, Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas were not lineage Jewish rulers – they were lineage Edomite.

    4. Herod the Great eliminated his own Jewish wife and sons, in order to eliminate all direct Jewish heirs by 7 BCE.

    4. Surprise — a Mystery Heir is born around 4 BCE!

    5. Herod the Great is tipped off. Time to play Hide The Heir: Egypt Edition.

    6. Herod the Great dirt naps. Herod Archelaus succeeds him in Judea.

    7. Joseph decides it is now safe to return from Egypt with HTG pushing daisies, but not safe to live in Judea because of HA. (Matthew 2:22)

    8. Joseph plays Hide the Heir 2: Galilee Edition.

    Tips for playing Hide the Heir taken from the classic game, Witness Protection Program:

    • Choose a non-descript, rural, remote location

    • Don’t contact family
    (like Elizabeth, Zechariah, John the Baptist)

    • Be protected by a favorable administration
    (Imo that’s the Queen of Galilee, Phaesal)

  25. petrejo June 20, 2024 at 8:51 am

    I’m quite interested in your perception that JBap was a key figure in the Fall of Jerusalem. There seems to be a connection between the Qumran hatred of the Temple leadership and JBap’s innovation of “baptism for the repentance of sins” — both near the Jordan River. No other prophet in Jewish history challenged the Temple rites of repentance so directly.

    From this perspective, JBap’s disciple Jesus was justified in “cleansing” the Temple and predicting its Fall. This protest of the Temple makes Christianity into more than a symptom of the fracture of Jewish culture in the first century — and closer to the cause itself.

    Who was Mark, then, except the centurion at the end of the story who called Jesus the Son of God? How many Roman centurions supported JBap and Jesus in their protest against the Temple? How many Roman centurions were God-fearers and avid readers of the Septuagint?

    How many Roman centurions preferred a spiritual interpretation of the Messiah expectation? How many Roman centurions were also avid readers of Seneca’s Epistles and his doctrine of a heaven and a hell?

    I must read your book, Dr. McGrath.

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