Description: While the Christian tradition has subordinated John the Baptist to Jesus of Nazareth, John himself would likely have disagreed with that ranking. In this eye-opening new book, John the Baptist in History and Theology, Joel Marcus makes a powerful case that John saw himself, not Jesus, as the proclaimer and initiator of the kingdom of God and his own ministry as the center of God's saving action in history.
Although the Fourth Gospel has the Baptist saying, "He must increase, but I must decrease," Marcus contends that this and other biblical and extrabiblical evidence reveal a continuing competition between the two men that early Christians sought to muffle. Like Jesus, John was an apocalyptic prophet who looked forward to the imminent end of the world and the establishment of God's rule on earth. Originally a member of the Dead Sea Sect, an apocalyptic community within Judaism, John broke with the group over his growing conviction that he himself was Elijah, the end-time prophet who would inaugurate God's kingdom on earth. Through his ministry of baptism, he ushered all who came to him―Jews and non-Jews alike―into this dawning new age. Jesus began his career as a follower of the Baptist, but, like other successor figures in religious history, he parted ways from his predecessor as he became convinced of his own centrality in God's purposes. Meanwhile John's mass following and apocalyptic message became political threats to Herod Antipas, who had John executed to abort any revolutionary movement.
Based on close critical-historical readings of early texts―including the accounts of John in the Gospels and in Josephus's Antiquities―as well as parallels from later religious movements, John the Baptist in History and Theology situates the Baptist within Second Temple Judaism and compares him to other apocalyptic thinkers from ancient and modern times. It concludes with thoughtful reflections on how its revisionist interpretations might be incorporated into the Christian faith.
Subjects: Bible, New Testament, Synoptic Gospels, Johannine Literature, John, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, History, History of Judaism, Early Church Origins, Theological Approaches, Dead Sea Scrolls, Reception History, Theological Interpretation
Review by Rivka Nir
Citation: Rivka Nir, review of Joel Marcus, John the Baptist in History and Theology, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2020).
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