Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 7

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing and concluding….. 

Peter Kirby cites an argument for interpolation not from a source agreeing with the argument but rather from a source disposing of it. He quotes Robert Webb:

A second argument is that the nouns used for ‘baptism’ in this text (βαπτισμός and βάπτισις, Ant. 18.117) are not found elsewhere in the Josephan corpus, which may suggest that this vocabulary is foreign to Josephus and is evidence of interpolation. However, we may object that using a word only once does not mean it is foreign to an author. Josephus uses many words only once . . . .

(Webb, p. 39)

I try to make a habit of always checking footnotes and other citations to try to get my own perspective on the sources a book is referencing. If one turns to a scholar who is agreeing with the argument that Webb is addressing, one sees that Webb has presented the argument in a somewhat eviscerated form. Here is how it is presented by a scholar who is trying to persuade readers to accept it as distinct from Webb’s format that is aiming to persuade you to disagree with it.

Against this, it seems that scholars try to blur the fact that this brief pas­sage also contains unique words unparalleled in any of Josephus’s writ­ings, notably words that, as I shall attempt to prove, are semantically and conceptually suspect of a Christian hand — βαπτιστής, βαπτισμός, βάπτισιν, έπασκουσιν, αποδεκτός.

(Nir, p. 36)

I covered the bapt- words in the previous post so this time I look at the other two, έπασκουσιν (as in “lead righteous lives”) and αποδεκτός (as in “if the baptism was to be acceptable“) along with some others. Keep in mind that what follows is sourced from Rivka Nir’s more detailed discussion in her book The First Christian Believer, and all the additional authors I quote I do so because Nir has cited at least some part of them. (To place Rivka Nir in context see my previous post.)

έπασκουσιν (ep-askousin = labour/toil at, cultivate/practise): άρετήν ἐπασκουσιν = lead/practise righteousness/virtue

The word appears in this section of the John the Baptist passage:

For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews who lead [επασκουσιν] righteous lives and prac­tise

justice towards their fellows and piety toward God to join in baptism . . .

There are two possible interpretations here. Should we translate the passage to indicate

  • John was exhorting Jews to practice, labour at, lead virtuous and righteous lives and so undergo baptism?


  • should the scene be translated to indicate that John is commanding those Jews who were known for their righteousness and special virtue to be baptized (for the consecration of their bodies, since they had already become righteous through their living prior to baptism)?

Scholarly opinions are divided. Rivka Nir takes the side of those who interpret it in the latter manner: John is addressing a sectarian group who “practise” a righteous way of living and telling them to be baptized. What is in Nir’s mind, of course, is that the author of this passage was from such a sectarian community.

That we are dealing with an elect group is equally evident in how the passage depicts John’s addressees, whom the author designates as ‘Jews who lead righteous lives and practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God’. This description lends itself to two readings. Most read the two participles forms έπασκουσιν [lead, practise, labour at] and χρωμένοις as circumstantial attribu­tives modifying the exhortation itself.

Nir, p. 49

It can be interpreted to mean EITHER that John is exhorting Jews to lead righteous lives OR that John is exhorting Jews who lead righteous lives to undergo baptism. In this case the Jews spoken of are initiated into a community…. (See below for the grammatical details of these two possible interpretations.)

A cult defined by righteousness

If we follow the second reading, that the passage is depicting a call for a sectarian group that is identified as “labouring at, practising” righteousness to undergo and “join in” baptism. But if that is the case, what is so distinctive about “righteousness” in this context? Here again scholarly analysis has opened up insights the lay readers like me might easily miss. Righteousness in this context is not a common morality or keeping the rules of the Pharisees or Temple authorities. It is even used in the New Testament to distinguish between the Christian “righteous” sect and the “superficially/hypocritically righteous” Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees. The same is found in the Qumran scrolls. “Righteousness” can denote a sectarian identity. Nir, pp. 50f:

John Kampen examined the term ‘righteousness’ in the Qumran scrolls. He reached the conclusion that unlike its usage in tannaitic sources to denote charity and mercy, at Qumran it denoted sectarian identity and belonging to an elect group having exclusive claim to a righteous way of life. Matthew applies this term in the same sense, in connection to John’s baptism (3.15; 21.32). as well as in the Sermon on the Mount (5.10-11), where the author urges a sectarian way of life distinguished by righteousness. In other words, righteousness marked the sectarian identity of the group and served to pre­serve its boundaries.56 In this passage, as with Matthew and the Qumranites, ‘righteousness’ defines the lifestyle of this elect sectarian group as well as the boundaries separating it from society at large.

56. J. Kampen. “‘Righteousness’ in Matthew and the Legal Texts from Qumran’, in Legal Texts and Legal Issues: Proceedings of the Second Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies. Cambridge 1995. Published in Honour of Joseph Μ. Baumgarten (ed. Μ. Bernstein, F. Garcia Martinez and J. Kampen; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997). pp. 461-87 (479, 481, 484, 486); Wink, John the Baptist in the Gospel Tradition, p. 36: ‘The word δικαιοσύνη does not spill out by accident; it is Matthew’s peculiar way of designating the faith and life of Christians and of Christianity in general (cf. Mt. 5.6. 10; 6.1-4). Meier (A Marginal Jew, II. p. 61) points out the resemblance between John’s description in Josephus and in Lk. 3.10-14. which portrays him as exhorting to acts of social justice. This may be accountable to two Greek-Roman writers, Josephus and Luke, who independently of each other sought to describe an odd Jewish prophet according to the cultural models known in the Greek-Roman world. Similarly, Ernst, Johannes der Täufer, p. 257.

Those footnoted references are not the easiest for lay readers to locate but I have copied extracts from a couple of them. See below for the full passages being cited in footnote 56.

The passage does not simply say that John’s followers were obeying the Jewish traditions, but that they were “practising” a righteousness that set them apart from others and that qualified them to enter the cultic community through baptism, a baptism that would, because they were practicing this righteousness, also ritually sanctify their bodies.

A further pointer to the passage being written from the perspective of a distinctive cult practice, a cult that Nir finds signs of in Qumran, the Fourth Sibylline Oracle and various (anti-Pauline) Jewish-Christian sects, is the language used to express the disciples “coming together”, “joining” in baptism.

βαπτισμω συνιεναι : join in baptism

For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews who lead [επασκουσιν] righteous lives and prac­tice [χρωμένοις] justice towards their fellows and piety toward God to join in baptism [βαπτισμω συνιεναι]. . . . When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused [ήρθησαν] to the highest degree by his sermons, Herod became alarmed.

What commentators have discerned here is that the “joining” in baptism means entering into membership of a sectarian group, indicated by the inference that the call is for all of those who practise righteousness to gather together in a (collective) baptism. See details below.

Others, too, joined : Who were the others?

According to Meier in A Marginal Jew, II, pp. 58f

At first glance, the previous concentration of the passage on “the Jews” as the audience of John’s preaching might conjure up the idea that the unspecified “others” are Gentiles. There is no support for such an idea in the Four Gospels, but such a double audience would parallel what Josephus (quite mistakenly) says about Jesus’ audience in Ant. 18.3.3 §63 (kai pollous men Ioudaious, pollous de kai tou Hellenikou epegageto). However, if we are correct that epaskousin [ἐπασκουσιν] and chromenois [χρωμένοις] in §117 express conditions qualifying tois Ioudaiois, there is no need to go outside the immediate context to understand who “the others” at the beginning of §118 are.

So Meier concludes that the “others” were from the general Jewish population coming to see the righteous community respond to John’s call for baptism, but there is also a possibility that “others” might also refer to Gentiles, as in the Testimonium Flavianum (Ant. 18.63): ‘He [sc. Jesus] won over many Jews and many Greeks’, as well as Christians: Mt. 27.42: Lk. 7.19: Jn 4.37: 10.16: 1 Cor. 3.10: 9.27.

For O. Cullmann (‘The Significance of the Qumran Texts for Research into the Beginnings of Christianity‘. JBL 74 (1955). pp. 213-26 (220-21), such Hellenistic Christians formed the earliest nucleus of Christian missionaries who carried the gospel to Samaria and other non-Jewish areas in the Land of Israel.

Nir, p. 50

For baptism to be αποδεκτός (acceptable) . . .

In this passage, John says that ‘if baptism was to be acceptable [αποδεκτήν αύτώ]’ to God.60 ‘they must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body’.

What kind of baptism might ‘be acceptable’ to God?

In biblical usage, this expression relates to the sacrificial system at the temple to designate an offering accepted by God.61 In the New Testament, the compound adjective αποδεκτός, meaning ‘acceptable’, occurs in con­nection with sacrifices only in 1 Peter: ‘spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God’ (2.3-5). . . .

The author of this passage speaks of John’s baptism in terms parallel­ing the atonement sacrifices in the temple, by means of which individu­als ask God’s acceptance of their offering that their sins may be forgiven. Joseph Thomas64 focused on one of the features of Baptist sects (Ebionites, Nazarenes, Elcasaites) that withdrew from the traditional temple and sacri­ficial worship and conceived of baptism as a substitute for sacrifices. To his mind, cessation of sacrifices and the baptismal rite are interrelated: instead of sacrifices in atonement for sins, it is holy baptism that atones for sins.65 The notion of baptism as replacement for the Jewish sacrificial system is distinctly Christian: Jesus is the expiatory sacrifice in place of the temple sacrifices and his death atones for all the sins of the world.66 By baptism, the baptized identify with Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, becoming a sacrifice them­selves, and their sins are forgiven, as expounded in Rom. 6.2-6.

61. Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet, pp. 166, 203.

64. Thomas. Le mouvement Baptiste, pp. 280-81: J.A.T. Robinson, ‘The Baptism of John and the Qumran Community’, HTR 50 (1957). pp. 175-91 (180).

65. Thomas. Le mouvement Baptiste, pp. 55-56: Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet, p. 120. On baptism in place of sacrificing al Qumran, see subsequently.

66. Eph. 5.2: Rom. 12.1.

Nir, pp. 51f

In the account in Josephus we read that for John’s baptism to be “acceptable” (αποδεκτος) it must not be used to grant forgiveness of sins but for the consecration or sanctification of the body, a function of erstwhile temple sacrifices.

Baptism, a central rite

John’s baptism was being preached and proclaimed, a point in common between Josephus and the Gospels. The Gospel of Matthew underscores the central importance of baptism when he has Jesus command his disciples to go into the world and baptize new disciples.

Moreover, other scholars have wondered why Josephus did not explain the term “baptism” here.

What would Greek and Roman readers unfamiliar with Christian sources understand by this term? They were familiar with the verb βάπτω, which means ‘to dip/be dipped’ or ‘to immerse/be submerged’, and with the verb βαπτίζω, which in classical sources denotes ‘to immerse/be submerged under water’.49 How would they understand a designation refer­ring to someone who immerses others with this particular immersion? How could Josephus use this designation without defining it?50

Moreover, this passage uses two terms for John’s immersion: βαππσμός and βάπτισις. which Christian tradition applied as distinctive of Christian baptism. And it is only here that they occur in Josephus, diverging markedly from the terminology he applies to the Jewish ritual immersion for purifica­tion from external physical defilement.51

49. Metaphorically: soaked in wine. See Oepke. ‘βάπτω’, TDNT, I. p. 535.

50. This bewilderment was already raised by Graelz (Geschichte der Juden. III. p. 276 n. 3): and Abrahams (Studies in Pharisaism, p. 33) noted that this designation might be an interpolation. Mason (Josephus and the New Testament, p. 228) attempts to distinguish between ‘Christ’ and ‘called the Christ’, as in the latter case Josephus would not need to explain the title, and this applies to John, ‘called the Baptist’. Some argue (e.g. Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet, pp. 34, 168) that John’s being called by this name in the Gospels and in Josephus proves it became distinctive of John and the permanent Greek designation, hence its usage by the evangelists as well as Josephus. Indeed, John is called ‘the Baptist’ in the Synoptics, but this epithet is not attached to his name in Acts and in the Fourth Gospel.

51 To describe Jewish immersions, Josephus usually uses the verb λούεσθαι or άπολούεσθαι, as he does for the Essenes and Bannus; see K.H. Rengstorf, A Complete Concordance to Flavius Josephus (Leiden: EJ. Brill. 2002). I. p. 290. But βάπτισις is a term Christian sources apply to the baptism of Christ or Christian baptism; see Athanasius Alexandrinus, Quaestiones in scripturas 41 (M.28.725A); LPGL, p. 284. Origen uses βαπτισμός for John’s baptism, but in many sources this term applies to Christian baptism in general: see Heb 6.2: βαπτισμών διδαχής; Col 2.12: ‘you were buried with him in baptism (έν τω βαπτισμώ), you were also raised with him’; Chrysostom, Hom. in Heb. 9.2 ( 12.95B). This term also applies to the repeated baptismal rites of heretical sects, e.g., Ebionites, Marcionites, etc. See LPGL, p. 288. On the possibility that John’s baptism in Josephus was also a repeated ritual, see subsequently.

Nir, p. 48

It is through discussions of such technical points that Nir argues for a Jewish-Christian provenance of the John the Baptist passage in Antiquities of the Jews. When criticisms against the interpolation view point to comparisons with specific New Testament terminology they are missing a key facet of the argument: the interpolation is said to be consistent with certain Jewish Christian practices and thus contrary to the Christian ideas represented by the New Testament.

I still have some questions about Rivka Nir’s presentation but I have tried to set it out in these posts as fully (yet succinctly) as I reasonably can. The less background knowledge we have the easier it is to be persuaded by new readings. The more we learn about the Jewish and Christian worlds in their first and second century contexts the more aware we become of just how little we really know and how vast are the gaps in our knowledge. There is little room for dogmatism, for certainty, for “belief”, in a field of inquiry where even the sources themselves are not always what they seem. That’s true of much ancient history and it is especially true of the history of Christian origins.

So where does John the Baptist fit in history?

Our most abundant historical sources are Christian. In the canonical gospels John the Baptist is the prophetic voice announcing the advent of Jesus. He is depicted variously as a second Elijah, an Isaianic voice in the wilderness, and as the son of a temple priest. Always he represents the Jewish Scriptures prophesying their fulfilment in Jesus Christ. As such, he functions as a theological personification.

If John’s literary function is to personify a theological message we might think that he could still be more than a literary figure. Could he not also have had a historical reality? Yes, of course he could. But a general rule of thumb is to opt for the simplest explanation. If we have a literary explanation for the presence of John the Baptist that explains all that we read about him in the gospels, then there is no need to seek additional explanations. If there is independent evidence for John in history then we are in quite different territory.

The earliest non-Christian source we have is found in Antiquities 18.116/18.5.2 (by Josephus). If this passage was indeed penned by Josephus or one of his scribal assistants then it would be strong evidence — strong because it is independent of the gospels and in a work of “generally reliable” historical narration — that there was a John the Baptist figure in history, however that figure might be interpreted.

The passage would not confirm the gospels’ theological role of John. After all, in Josephus the JtB passage is set some years after the time of Jesus and Jesus is never mentioned in relation to John.

In the eyes of some scholars, those stark differences from the gospels stamp the passage with authenticity. This would mean that Christian authors took John from history and reset him in time to make him a precursor of Jesus. If this is how John entered the gospels then the common notion among scholars of Christian origins and the historical Jesus have no grounds on which to reconstruct a historical scenario in which Jesus joined the Baptist sect only to break away from it. John would then remain as nothing more than a theological personification of the OT pointing to fulfilment in Christ.

But if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the passage in Josephus is from a Jewish-Christian hand, then we are left without any secure foundation for any place of such a figure in history. Another proposal is that the passage is genuinely Josephan but removed from its original context where it spoke of another “John” from the one we associate with Christian tradition. What is certain is that the passage raises questions. It is susceptible to debate. It can never be a bed-rock datum that establishes with certainty any semblance of a John the Baptist figure comparable to the one we read about in the gospels.


Detailed explanations of linked points above……

Continue reading “Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 7”


Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 6

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing, with an interlude ….

Study the historian before you begin to study the facts. . . . It is what is already done by the intelligent undergraduate who, when recommended to read a work by that great scholar Jones of St Jude’s, goes round to a friend at St Jude’s to ask what sort of chap Jones is, and what bees he has in his bonnet. — E. H. Carr, p. 23 of What is History?

I have been referring mostly to Rivka Nir’s arguments and attempting to demonstrate that they have not been accurately represented by various critics, both scholars and lay. It’s time to take a step back before I set out my final detailed post in which I will look at some specific details of Nir’s attempts to persuade readers that the John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities is a Christian interpolation. First, though, let’s backtrack a little and try to explain where I have been coming from.

Who is Rivka Nir?

To get some idea of the sorts of themes she explores in her various publications have a look at her Open University of Israel page. What will probably strike you is the number of major research efforts into exploring the Christian provenance of various “Jewish” texts. (Are they really Jewish or are they Christian in origin? Or are they Jewish with Christian interpolations? Or do they represent a Jewish set of concepts we had mistakenly assumed were unique to Christianity? )

Some of those titles:

  • Joseph and Aseneth. A Christian Book
  • The Hiding of the Vessels of the Temple in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch – A Jewish or a Christian Tradition?,
  • Paraleipomena of Jeremiah-A Jewish or a Christian Composition
  • Aseneth as the ‘Prototype of the Church of the Gentiles
  • Aseneth – Jewish Proselyte or Christian Convert?
  • “Good Tidings” of Baruch to the Christian Faithful
  • The aromatic fragrances of Paradise in the Greek life of Adam and Eve and the Christian origin of the composition
  • The Appearance of Elijah and Enoch ‘before the judgment was held’ (1 Enoch, 90: 31) – A Christian tradition?,
  • “It is not right for a man who worships God to repay his neighbor evil for evil” Christian Ethics in Joseph and Aseneth (chapters 22-29)

In that context, a book arguing that John the Baptist had no historical Jewish antecedent, that he was entirely a Christian creation, should not come as a surprise.

It is Efron who appears to have persuaded Nir that the John the Baptist passage in Josephus is a forgery. At one place, for instance, Nir writes:

As to the Josephus-like vocabulary and style used by the writer of this passage, a Christian forger would necessarily be conversant with Jose­ phus’s language and style of writing if he wanted to insert this passage without making the forgery conspicuous. Such usage merely proves ‘the imitative linguistic skill ofthe Christian editor, who strove after appearance and attired the imagined testimony with an authentic “Flavian” facade’.17

17. Efron, Formation of the Primary Christian Church, p. 184.

Another point of interest one will notice in that university page is Rivka Nir’s debt to Joshua Efron, another scholar whose views on the authenticity of certain Josephan passages have been discussed on this blog. Nir has acknowledged Efron’s influence:

This research and its methodological principles are based on what I learned from my teacher, Prof. Joshua Efron, who has been my guide and source of inspiration since I began my academic studies. It was at his lectures at Tel-Aviv University during the 1970s that I first heard about the Christianity of the Apocalyptical Literature that constitutes the core of the so-called the “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.” He was then a rather isolated voice who used to refer to Marinus de Jonge’s work The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs as an example of another modern researcher who had arrived to similar conclusions. . . . 

— p. 14 of her doctoral thesis, The Destruction of Jerusalem and the Idea of Redemption in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch

And in the Preface to The First Christian Believer:

In my research, I subscribe to Efron’s view that even if the apocalyptic vision had its roots in the Hebrew Bible, the apocalyptic composition, focused on the drama of the End, was born within Christian theology. . . . .

Over the years I have forged my own independent position on differ­ent aspects of New Testament research and somewhat moderated Efron’s resolute conclusions, particularly as concerns the identity of the Qumran sect and its place in Jewish society of the Second Temple period. Nonethe­less, I essentially follow his research method and apply it in my approach to historical sources.

So yes, we might be justified in concluding that Rivka Nir is “predisposed” to making a case for the Josephan John the Baptist passage being a forgery, an interpolation from a Christian scribe. Biased!

Meeting Intellectual Bias with Honesty and Humility

Does that mean her arguments are therefore invalid? Of course not. Other scholars, we might equally conclude, are predisposed for any number of reasons to work with the conventional wisdom, within the Christian tradition. Bias of some kind is probably inevitable for any scholar. That’s why we see so often reminders of the importance for a scholar to recognize and to acknowledge their biases. An educated reading of any scholarly work will also mean looking for and identifying the assumptions and biases, even if they are not explicitly stated by the authors, in their books and essays.

When we see different scholars approaching historical sources from different perspectives and coming to different conclusions about the authenticity or provenance of certain pieces of data or passage, then we are obliged to acknowledge that there are sometimes more than one reasonable interpretation of a particular passage in a source.

We can follow debates between the interpretations of opposing perspectives and declare a strong preference for, or even a “belief”, in one view over another. But that preference can never remove the fact that “our view” is not the universally accepted one.

Does that mean there is nothing we can know for certain about history? No. Historians can still use the works of Josephus as an authentic source for how one educated Jew sought to present Jewish history to a Roman audience. The authenticity of most of the information is not suspect. The debates and opinions will be over selected details in the sources. That the authenticity of a few passages are problematic in the eyes of some scholars only means that we cannot have the same level of certainty about them as we do for other passages.

The same questions appear in other areas of historical study. Our surviving manuscripts of the Greek historian Herodotus likewise contain debated passages, one of which has been suspected of being an interpolation subsequent update to the original work to rebut the later historian Thucydides! (Though in this case the “interpolation” or “redaction” is thought to have been made by the original author.)

So what’s the problem? My problem is with scholarship that constructs historical reconstructions on the basis of specific data in the sources that they present as if they were uncontroversial raw facts — as if the debates over those passages among their peers do not exist or are irrelevant. That is, my problem is with what I see as intellectual dishonesty (or is it intellectual arrogance?) from those who know better.

Surely the appropriate way of handling debated data is to explain that it is open for debate and to argue from it accordingly, provisionally, hypothetically. One may disagree with one side of the debate but one can hardly proceed as if there is unquestioned certainty and the debated status can be ignored because one disagrees with the other side.

Most scholars agree…

Another cop-out I have to confess to hating is the line “Most scholars agree that Josephus wrote something about X” when that majority opinion is offered as an excuse to accept that agreement as bed-rock fact. Most of those scholars, surely, must know that what “most scholars agree” on has varied with time even though the data on which the agreement or disagreement is based has not changed at all. So we enter the field of the sociology of knowledge and why it is that certain interpretations win out at certain times over others. Historical factors, societal changes and geo-political movements, and more locally, the specifics of the backgrounds of persons who hold the entry-keys to major publishing outlets.

Enough of these motherhood doodlings. Next post I hope to finish addressing what I have considered to be one-sided discussions (despite the evidence demonstrating the disingenuous nature of protestations to the contrary) of the interpolation thesis for the John the Baptist passage in the writings of Josephus.


Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 5

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing ……

Peter Kirby focussed on the following point in his article arguing for the authenticity of the John the Baptist passage in Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus:

(14) The Word for “Baptism” in the Passage Uncharacteristic of Christian Usage

Kirby cited the scholar Robert Webb who pointed out that the words for “baptism” in the John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities (βάπτισις, βαπτισμός), are not the typical “Christian” words and concluded therefore that it is unlikely that this passage came from the pen of a Christian interpolator. I put “Christian” in inverted commas because Webb conflates “Christian” with New Testament literature. But of course Christians produced much literature beyond what is found in the NT that sheds light on this question.

Peter Kirby quoted and elaborated on Webb’s point but overlooked Rivka Nir’s rebuttal of Webb — even though he selectively critiqued the same article by Nir later in his post. Nir wrote:

It is true that the passage does not use βάπτισμα, the most common term for Christian baptism. But the two terms — βάπτισις and βαπτισμός — likewise denote Christian baptism. On βάπτισις see Athanasius Alexandrinus, Quaestiones in Scripturas 41 (PG 28, col. 725); Sozomenus Salaminus, Historia ecclesiastica 2.34, I (PG 67, col. 1029); Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, p. 284; on βαπτισμός see Heb. 6.2; Chrys. Hom. Ad Heraeos 9.2 (PG 63, col. 78). And especially important for my thesis is its use of heretical ablutions. On frequent ritual washing of Ebionites: Epiph. Haer. 30.2 (PG 41, col. 408); on Marcionite repetition of baptism for remission of post-baptismal sins, see Epiph. Haer. 42.3 (PG 41, col. 700); on Sampsean baptism, see Epiph. Haer. 53.1 (PG 41, col. 960). See Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, p. 288.

(Nir, p. 35)

So let’s see those references. Yes, they are later than Josephus (as is most of the NT, I think most would agree) . . .

Athanasius Alexandrinus, Quaestiones in Scripturas 41 (PG 28, col. 725 [scroll to page 5, see there τὴν βάπτι σιν] — a fourth century source. Too late, you say? Sozomenus Salaminus is even later — early fifth century. Lampe’s  Lexicon?

p. 284:

p. 288

Hebrews 6:2

βαπτισμων διδαχης επιθεσεως τε χειρων αναστασεως τε νεκρων και κριματος αιωνιου
Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

I have not been able to find very quickly Greek texts of the other sources so if anyone would like to help out there feel free to contact me with the links. (English language texts are easy to find.)

Webb writes:

Josephus is knowledgeable concerning the βαπτ- word group, for he uses the verbs βαπτιζω 13 times and βαπτω three times.20 He uses no other nouns for ‘baptism’ than those used here, which is quite strange if this text is a Christian interpolation. He never uses the noun βαπτισμα, which is the usual Christian noun for baptism (both John’s baptism and Christian baptism), and we would expect that term here if this text was a Christian interpolation.21 Therefore, the use of this vocabulary is hardly evidence for Christian interpolation.

20 βαπτιζω: War 1.437; 2.476; 2.556; 3.368; 3.423; 3.525; 3.527; 4.137; Ant. 4.81; 9.212; 10.169; 15.55; Life 15; βαπτω: War 1.490; 4.563; Ant 3.102

21 Furthermore, Josephus’ word βαπτισις is never used in the NT or early Christian literature. The other noun he uses, βαπτισμος, is only used for washing dishes (Mk 7.4), or ritual washings (Heb. 6.2; 9.10). The only place it is used for Christian baptism is Col. 2.12, where it is textually uncertain. BAGD, 132; Oepke, ‘βαπτω’, 1.545.

The sentence I have highlighted with bolded type can be misleading to lay readers. As written, it sounds like Josephus speaks of “baptism” with some frequency by using a term alien to Christian usage. But no, that’s not correct at all. Look at all the instances where Josephus uses  βαπτιζω (13 times) and βαπτω (3 times). In no instance would I expect any translator to render the English word “baptism”. They are mostly about drowning or plunging deep….



1:437 …. [Herod] sent [Jonathan], by night, to Jericho and there, by his orders, he was plunged into the bathing-pool by the Gauls and drowned.

2.476 …. Then Simon, after slaying every member of his family, stood conspicuously over the bodies, and raising his right hand aloft for all to see, he plunged the sword up to the hilt into his own throat….

2.556 …. After the disastrous defeat of Cestius, many prominent Jews abandoned the City like swimmers, a sinking ship….

3.368 …. There is no greater coward than the captain who, fearing the stormy sea, deliberately sinks his ship before the tempest.

3.423 …. It dashed some of the ships to pieces against each other on the spot, others it drove onto the rocks. As the waves surged forward, many pushed their way out into deeper waters — so frightened were they of the rock-strewn coast, but even in the open sea the mountainous waves overwhelmed them.

3.525 …. when they ventured to approach, they had no time to do anything before disaster overtook them and they were sent to the bottom, boats and all.

3.537 …. If any of those who had been plunged into the water came to the surface, they were quickly dispatched with an arrow or a raft overtook them.

4.137 …. for supplies which might have been adequate for the combatants were squandered upon a useless and idle mob, who in addition to war brought upon themselves faction and starvation.


4.81 …. When therefore any persons were defiled by a dead body, they put a little of these ashes into spring water, with hyssop, and, dipping part of these ashes in it, they sprinkled them with it, both on the third day, and on the seventh, and after that they were clean.

9.212 …. and the ship was just going to be drowned, and when they were animated to do it by the prophet himself, and by the fear concerning their own safety, they cast him into the sea; upon which the sea became calm. It is also reported that Jonah was swallowed down by a whale, and that when he had been there three days, and as many nights, he was vomited out upon the Euxine Sea . . . .

10.169 …. and when Ishmael saw him in that case, and that he was drowned in his cups to the degree of insensibility, and fallen asleep, he rose up on a sudden, with his ten friends, and slew Gedaliah, and those that were with him at the feast . . . .

15.55 …. Now the nature of that place was hotter than ordinary; so they went out in a body, and of a sudden, and in a vein of madness; and as they stood by the fish-ponds, of which there were large ones about the house, they went to cool themselves [by bathing], because it was in the midst of a hot day. At first they were only spectators of Herod’s servants and acquaintance as they were swimming; but after a while, the young man, at the instigation of Herod, went into the water among them, while such of Herod’s acquaintance, as he had appointed to do it, dipped him as he was swimming, and plunged him under water, in the dark of the evening, as if it had been done in sport only; nor did they desist till he was entirely suffocated. And thus was Aristobulus murdered . . .


15 …. Accordingly I came to Rome, though it were through a great number of hazards by sea; for as our ship was drowned in the Adriatic Sea, we that were in it, being about six hundred in number, 2 swam for our lives all the night; when, upon the first appearance of the day, and upon our sight of a ship of Cyrene, I and some others, eighty in all, by God’s providence, prevented the rest, and were taken up into the other ship.



1.490 …. Now that the war had engulfed the whole region . . .

4.563 ….  Yet though they wore women’s faces, their hands were murderous. They would approach with mincing steps, then suddenly became fighting men, and, whipping out their swords from under their dyed cloaks, they would run through every passer-by.

I am unable to find his “βαπτω” reference in Book 3.

One rarely encounters such a lopsided argument in scholarship, (I hope).

Josephus doesn’t use any βαπτ- words for “baptism” at all. Rather, for that ritual he uses words more usually translated as washing or bathing: λούεσθαι, ἀπολούεσθαι. I quote Rivka Nir again (note that Nir explicitly addresses Webb — another detail Kirby overlooked):

Yet, as of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a number of scholars raised the possibility that this passage is a Christian interpolation, notably Heinrich Graetz, who called it ‘a brazen forgery’ (unverschämte Interpolation).5 Arguing against its authenticity, scholars questioned its integration into the text: it interrupts the sequence of events and flow of syntax, and could therefore be easily removed.6 They puzzled over its positive and supportive tone towards John which is inconsistent with Josephus, the fierce opponent of anyone seeking to challenge the legitimate government or promote change or rebellion of any sort.7 They were equally puzzled by the presence of βαπτιστής, which became the distinctive epithet for John the Baptist in Christian sources.8 That Josephus would use this most explicitly Christian term and leave it unexplained, especially in a work addressed to Greek and Roman readers, they found hard to believe.9 On this point, further incredulity is raised by the presence of βαπτισμός and βάπτισις, the two terms used in the passage for the immersion associated with John. Being quintessentially Christian terms that Christian tradition applied to Christian baptism,10 they occur in Josephus only within this passage, marking divergence from his usual usage of terms associated with the Jewish ritual of immersion—λούεσθαι, ἀπολούεσθαι, meaning to purify a person from external physical defilement.11

5 ) H. Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, III (Leipzig: O. Leiner, 1893), p. 276 n. 3. See further S. Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach jüdischen Quellen (Berlin: S. Calvary & Co, 1902), p. 257; E. Schürer, Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 1964; 4th edn 1886), I, p. 438, n. 24; G. Dalman, Sacred Sites and Ways: Studies in the Topography of the Gospels (London: SPCK, 1935; first published 1919), p. 98. See also J. Efron, Studies on the Hasmonean Period (Leiden: Brill, 1987), p. 334 n. 218, who claims the paragraph on James, the brother of Jesus, is likewise a Christian interpolation, pp. 334-36.

6 ) L. Herrmann, Chrestos. Témoignages paients et juifs sur le christianisme du premier siècle (Brussels: Latomus, Revue d’Etudes Latines, 1970), p. 99; idem, ‘Herodiade’, REJ 132 (1973), pp. 49-63 (51).

7 ) Schürer, Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes, I, p. 438 n. 24; E. Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (175 bc–ad 135), New English Version, revised and edited by G. Vermes and F. Millar (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1973), I, p. 346; M. Goguel, Au seuil l’évangile Jean Baptiste (Paris: Payot, 1928), p. 19; Meier, A Marginal Jew, II, p. 99.

8 ) This name appears in first-century ce Greek only in the synoptic Gospels: Mk 1.4 ὁ βαπτίζων; Mt. 3.1; 11.11-12; 14.2-8; 16.14; 17.13; Lk. 7.20-33; 9.19—ὁ βαπτιστὴς. F. W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 165. See also Just. Dial. 50.2; G.W.H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), p. 288; A. Oepke, s.v. βάπτω, βαπτισμός, βαπτιστής, TDNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), I, pp. 545-46. The common reply to this argument is that use of the same name in the Gospels and Josephus is evidence that this was his known and unique nickname: e.g. Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet, pp. 34, 168. But, neither in Acts of the Apostles nor in the fourth Gospel is this nickname attached to John.

9 ) Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, p. 276, n. 3; Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels, p. 33.

10) It is true that the passage does not use βάπτισμα, the most common term for Christian baptism. But the two terms— βάπτισις and βαπτισμός —likewise denote Christian baptism. On βάπτισις see Athanasius Alexandrinus, Quaestiones in Scripturas 41 (PG 28, col. 725); Sozomenus Salaminus, Historia ecclesiastica 2.34, I (PG 67, col. 1029); Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, p. 284; on βαπτισμός see Heb. 6.2; Chrys. Hom. Ad Heraeos 9.2 (PG 63, col. 78). And especially important for my thesis is its use of heretical ablutions. On frequent ritual washing of Ebionites: Epiph. Haer. 30.2 (PG 41, col. 408); on Marcionite repetition of baptism for remission of post-baptismal sins, see Epiph. Haer. 42.3 (PG 41, col. 700); on Sampsean baptism, see Epiph. Haer. 53.1 (PG 41, col. 960). See Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon, p. 288.

11) See K.H. Rengstorf, A Complete Concordance to Flavius Josephus (Leiden: Brill, 2002), I, p. 290. Typically, this verb is used in reference to Bannus and to the Essenes, as I will show below.

So the words for “baptism” in the Josephan passage are indeed found in Christian usage, in particular in relation to “non-orthodox” Christian baptisms. They may appear late but they do refer to early “heretics” like the Marcionites and Ebionites. Moreover, the same words are never found in Josephus to mean the ritual “baptism” in any other place except in the suspect John the Baptist passage.

A good rule of thumb in academia when trying to overturn an argument is first to set out the targeted argument as strongly as you possibly can — so strongly that its exponents will wish they had put it like that. THEN proceed to dismantle it. That is not what Peter Kirby’s article has done. Rather, Kirby appears not to have even read the entirety of the Rivka Nir article of which he selects decontextualized paragraphs to criticize.

Note: None of the above proves that the John the Baptist passage in Antiquities by Josephus is an interpolation. I hope I have made it clear in this series of posts that I cannot prove that the passage is either inauthentic or even authentic. My sole interest is in trying to raise some awareness among anyone interested that the status of the passage is questionable. It may be authentic. At the same time, however, it is not unreasonable, certainly not “hyper-sceptical”, to entertain serious doubts about its authenticity. Does not the above at least open the door to a reasonable suspicion that the passage is of Christian origin?

Therefore, I suggest that attempts to settle the question by weighing pros and cons miss the point. If one wishes to argue that an argument either way (pro or against authenticity) is unreasonable, is illogical, is invalid for some other reason, then fine — make the case. But trying to win a debate by arguing that one person is more persuaded by one set of arguments than another seems to me to be a waste of time as far as making any relevant contribution to source criticism is concerned. But I will be addressing more generally the potential evidence of Josephus for the historian in the final post of this series.

Kirby, Peter. “The Authenticity of John the Baptist in Josephus.” Peter Kirby: Just Another WordPress Site (blog), May 21, 2015. https://peterkirby.com/john-the-baptist-authentic.html.

Nir, Rivka. “Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist: A Christian.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 10, no. 1 (2012): 32–62.

Webb, Robert L. John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Sociohistorical Study. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2006.


Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 4

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by Neil Godfrey


(3) The Passage’s Reference to God’s Punishment of Herod

Peter Kirby asserts that contradictory viewpoints in Josephus are no reason to suspect the involvement of an alien hand somewhere in the transmission of our manuscripts. He quotes my (somewhat facile) paraphrase of Zindler’s point:

Neil Godfrey notes another one of the reasons that Zindler gives for suspecting an interpolation here:

In the John the Baptist paragraph the author writes that the reason Herod’s army was
defeated by Aretas was because God was punishing him for his unjust treatment of John.

But nope, that’s not the view of Josephus elsewhere. A few paragraphs later (18.7.2) Josephus writes:

And thus did God punish Herodias for her envy at her brother, and Herod also for giving ear to the vain discourses of a woman.

Kirby’s response is to suggest that Josephus could have thought both things at different times:

These are entirely different episodes, at different times, with different putative causes, and with different results. It is no difficulty to suppose that Josephus could have said both things. It is not as though Herod Antipas could be visited with God’s punishment only one time and for only one reason in the mind of Josephus. That is, the argument has no value even if we do conflate the opinion of “the Jews” with the personal opinion of Josephus in the Baptist passage. This argument might have some force, if the other passage were speaking of the cause being found for the destruction of Herod Antipas’ army as a punishment from God (instead of the cause being found for the banishment of Herod Antipas and his wife as a punishment from God).

That’s all very reasonable but it is also entirely ad hoc rationalisation. It may even be that Josephus, like most of us at some times, did hold contradictory or somewhat inconsistent views. Two things are worth keeping in mind, though.

The first one I should address is my “somewhat facile paraphrase” of Zindler’s argument. Kirby is not tackling Zindler but my summary as if it is the full account of Zindler’s view. Here is what Zindler wrote (and I hope I would today be more careful in how I express the ideas of others than I did in this instance in 2011):

A second … reason for concluding paragraph 2 is an interpolation is that in it Josephus cites – without indicating he believes otherwise – the supposed Jewish view that Herod came to a bad end because of his execution of the Baptist. Elsewhere [18:7:1; 18:255], however, Josephus gives his own – differing – view of why his god punished Herodias and Herod: “And so God visited this punishment on Herodias for her envy of her brother and on Herod for listening to a woman’s frivolous chatter” [Feldman translation]. 

(Zindler, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew, 98)

Making sense of the scenario as described

Scholarly views that the account of John the Baptist only makes sense if JtB were more than a preacher of ethics and was rather (or as a rationale for his ethics) preaching the coming of a messiah, a feature otherwise deplored by Josephus:

Meier, Marginal Jew Vol 2, p 61 “… in Josephus John is reduced to a popular moral philosopher in the Greco-Roman mode, with a slight hint of a neo-Pythagorean performing ritual lustrations. His message is summed up in those twin virtues seen in Philo and other Jewish Diaspora authors: justice toward one another and piety toward God. The whole point of a special, once-and-for-all baptism, to be administered to Jews only by John (hence his surname), becomes unintelligible. If the Synoptic portrait of the Baptist did not exist, something like it would have to be invented to supply the material that Josephus either suppresses or simply does not know. In a sense, Josephus’ portrait of the Baptist is self transcending; it points beyond itself to some further explanation Josephus does not offer.”

Thomas, Mouvement Baptiste, pp 78-83The call to the practice of virtue must be placed within the context of Jewish beliefs; it can only be understood in the line of the prophets: justice and piety must prepare for the coming kingdom. What the crowds must have sought and found in John’s speeches is above all the “good news” of the messianic times, what Saint Matthew calls the proximity of the kingdom of God. . . . However, John’s success, the enthusiasm of the crowd, and Herod’s fears speak volumes and prove that this messianic aspect was not absent from John’s speeches. Moreover, only messianic hope could enthuse the people at that time. . . . So, therefore, the preaching and baptism of John, even for Josephus, despite his denial, have a messianic significance; for him, as for the evangelists, John preaches and baptizes in view of repentance, which in turn is meant to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. This is what emerges from the text when properly understood; it also explains both the great success of John and Herod’s apprehensions, ultimately leading to the imprisonment and death of John. Only the announcement of the imminent messianic times could attract the masses and persuade them to embark on a widespread movement of “conversion” and repentance; only the fear of a messianic uprising could touch Herod and prompt him to take drastic measures against John.” (translation from the French)

Schürer, History of the Jewish People Vol 1, p. 346 “The powerful preacher undoubtedly caused a great stir which was indeed primarily religious but was certainly not without a political impact. For at that tune the mass of the people were unable to differentiate between their religious and political hopes.”

Whose opinion?

So what we read in Josephus is that “the Jews” or “some of the Jews” held a belief that God punished Herod because of his treatment of John the Baptist. It is later that Josephus writes point blank that God punished Herod listening to the bad advice of a woman.

The question then becomes a far more interesting one. Try to imagine how Josephus came to know that back around the time he (Josephus) was born, “the Jews” and/or “some of the Jews” were in some way declaring (speaking? writing? across generations?) that Herod had met his demise because of his treatment of John the Baptist. Surely the only Jews who would have held such a view were those who were followers of, or at least very sympathetic towards, John the Baptist. But have we not seen that Josephus has provided no credible reason that a large number of ordinary Jewish people would have gathered in large mobs that looked frightening enough to make Herod alarmed for his safety. The scenario we read lacks a plausible explanation.

No, all that we learn from Josephus is that John the Baptist gathered large crowds, so large that the king feared they might turn violently against him, because he was teaching high moral principles, righteousness.

I find that scenario difficult to imagine in reality. (For more background to the argument I am setting out here see below.) I find it far easier to side with those scholars [see side box for some examples] who suggest that the only plausible explanation for the popularity of John the Baptist is that he had been stirring up hopes for a soon-coming messiah. With all that we think we know about Josephus, how could he ever have brought himself to speak any praises at all about such a figure.

And what kind of tradition was supposedly being circulated in Judea a generation or two later so that Josephus learned about these Jews who had enough critical mass for their ideas — that a preacher who won mass followers for preaching ethics and baptizing followers Qumran-style — to be recorded? Recall what we read in Antiquities:

But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, called the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews who lead righteous lives and practice justice towards their fellows and piety toward God to join in baptism. . . .

. . . . When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons. Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything that they did.

What sorts of things were they doing under the sway of John’s eloquent persuasion that so alarmed Herod of John’s power? This account is all very vague but what it lacks in realistic historical detail it makes up for with richness of ideological traits that match what we read in the New Testament.

Is it likely that Jews or “some Jews” in the time of Josephus were reminding everyone that God punished Herod because he killed a man who attracted a popular following for preaching righteousness. I find the scenario hard to grasp for two reasons: that preaching high ethics attracts such a large following from the hoi polloi so that a king feels threatened; that more than a generation later such an unrealistic episode was still being talked about, such was its impact, that the only record of such a “unrealistically(?)” remarkable person and event found went otherwise unrecorded – not even noticed in later rabbinic writings who loved to speak of notables from the Second Temple era.

Am I being unrealistic? Hyper-sceptical? Misreading Josephus? (Serious questions)

Cui Bono?

In my defence against anyone who thinks so, I would like to point to another discussion of different viewpoints found in an ancient historical source. In Herodotus’s Histories one finds two different reasons given to explain the escape of Croesus from a fiery death, although in this case the two different reasons are artfully combined in a single episode. One of the reasons is attributed to “the Lydians”, reminding us that one of the reasons in Josephus for Herod’s demise is attributed to “the Jews”. (The other reason, in both Herodotus and Josephus, is stated as if it were the author’s own opinion.) One scholar attempts to trace the origin of the Lydian view and does so through the following manner:

An important heuristic device seems to me to be a question that is often used fruitfully in criminology in the absence of clear evidence: Cui bono? Who benefited from using a specific source to support a specific statement in a specific context? (Heinz-Günther Nesselrath p. 87, translation)

Continue reading “Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 4”


Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 3

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Above all else, it is the early Jewish-Christian volume of the Pseudo-Clementine writings that provides the most striking parallel to Johannine baptism [in Antiquities of the Jews]

In this post I begin by addressing Peter Kirby’s final argument against Rivka Nir’s case for the John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities being an interpolation. (I will return to his intermediate arguments in the next instalment.)

Kirby zeroes in on the logical fallacy of Nir’s argument as he (Kirby) has read it. Unfortunately, Kirby’s rewriting of Nir’s case relies on an interpretation of Nir’s concluding paragraphs that overlooks her preparatory argument and introductory statements through which that conclusion should be read. As a result, he omits two core elements that Nir has stressed in her article. Kirby summarizes Nir’s case this way:

Rivka Nir’s argument, then, if it is boiled down to the basics, runs something like this:

(a) Groups at the margin of Second Temple Judaism, such as the Qumran sect, had beliefs regarding “inner purification,” a “prior commitment to a righteous way of life,” as a “prerequisite for the efficacy of bodily immersion.”

(b) Jewish-Christian sects had similar beliefs regarding “inner purification,” a “prior commitment to a righteous way of life,” as a “prerequisite for the efficacy of bodily immersion.” (The point is also made that it can be considered an alternative to the function of the Temple cult.)

(c) Other Christian sects held that “Christian baptism itself bring[s] about forgiveness of sins.”

(d) Accordingly, the “Josephus account of John the Baptist may reflect an intra-Christian dispute concurrent with the formation of the Christian rite of baptism during the first centuries CE.” (emphasis added)

(e) “Josephus, as is well known, remained a faithful Jew. He was neither initiated into one of the JewishChristian sects, nor did he convert to Christianity.”

(f) “Thus, the inevitable conclusion is that the description of John’s baptism, as provided in the passage under review, was not written by Josephus, but was rather interpolated or adapted by a Christian or Jewish-Christian hand.”

By presenting the above points as the essence of Nir’s argument Kirby is able to make the following “valid” logical criticism:

When we widen the lens just a little, to include a view of the actual audience of Josephus, which was Hellenistic, instead of keeping a strict focus on Judaism and Christianity, as Rivka Nir does, we can clearly see the fallacy of the idea: not Jewish, therefore Christian. Yes, it may be that the distinction Josephus was making was in opposition to an idea that was not Jewish. It is a fallacy of the excluded middle, however, to conclude on this basis that the distinction is being made in contrast to Christian ideas. There are many different beliefs that are not Jewish but also not Christian.

That Josephus had mystery religions and their beliefs regarding forgiveness of sins, just by being washed in certain rites, in view here, seems probable.

But if we go back and read Nir’s essay as it led to her conclusion, we see that Nir is not so logically naive after all and that Kirby’s “boiled down basics” have glossed over key points in her presentation.

. . . But, more than anything else, what clinches the Christian sectarian identity of Johannine baptism in this passage is its characterization as ‘a consecration of the body’ on condition that ‘the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by righteousness’.44 It is an immersion combining external physical purification with inner, moral, spiritual purification, where the latter is a prerequisite for the former.45 Baptism will bring about ritual purification of the body only if the soul has already been purified by righteousness; that is, only if baptism has been preceded by repentance on the part of the candidate. . . 

44) Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 117.
45) As noted, n. 17 above, the explanatory clause uses wording implying a condition. See Meier, ‘John the Baptist in Josephus’, p. 231; idem, A Marginal Jew, II, pp. 57-58.

(Nir, p. 45)

The debated point Kirby misses is the place of ritual purification of the body. Does baptism, in addition to cleansing one of moral sin, also cleanse the physical body of ritual impurity? (See the side box.) John’s baptism, as explained in the Josephus passage, answers that it does also make one’s body ritually pure IF one has previously turned from sin to righteous living.

That is the point under debate in Josephus’s description of John’s baptism — is the body also ritually pure and under what conditions?

Kirby has overlooked that central point and reduced Nir’s argument to one of merely asking if baptism itself has the power to forgive sin or does baptism “work” only if one repents before baptism. He has missed the importance of the question of bodily purification.

Nir’s argument holds up because the debate over the relation of baptism to ritual purification of the body is only evidenced (as far as I am aware) in sectarian Jewish and Jewish-Christian works. It is not part of mystery religion teachings – at least I know of no evidence that it is. Nor do I know if Josephus anywhere else indicated any interest in polemicizing against rituals of mystery religions.

So a correct boiling down of Nir’s argument to its basics should run something like this:

(a) Groups at the margin of Second Temple Judaism, such as the Qumran sect, had beliefs regarding “inner purification,” a “prior commitment to a righteous way of life,” as a “prerequisite for the efficacy of bodily immersion” — and that efficacy includes ritual bodily purification as well as inner righteousness.

(b) Jewish-Christian sects had similar beliefs regarding “inner purification,” a “prior commitment to a righteous way of life,” as a “prerequisite for the efficacy of bodily immersion.” (The point is also made that it can be considered an alternative to the function of the Temple cult by making the body ritually pure.)

(c) Other Christian sects held that “Christian baptism itself bring[s] about forgiveness of sins” — and disputed the value of baptism making the body ritually pure.

(d) Accordingly, the “Josephus account of John the Baptist may reflect an intra-Christian dispute concurrent with the formation of the Christian rite of baptism during the first centuries CE.” (emphasis added) — given that the question of baptism relating to both inner and physical purification was a uniquely Jewish sectarian and Jewish-Christian one, and one debated by other Christians who disputed baptism’s efficacy in purifying the body. It has no known counterpart in other baptisms such as those of the Mithraists or other mystery religions.

(e) “Josephus, as is well known, remained a faithful Jew. He was neither initiated into one of the Jewish-Christian sects, nor did he convert to Christianity.”

(f) “Thus, the inevitable conclusion is that the description of John’s baptism, as provided in the passage under review, was not written by Josephus, but was rather interpolated or adapted by a Christian or Jewish-Christian hand.” — QED.

I said that two core elements of Nir’s argument should not be overlooked. Here is the second one, coupled with the one above, in the introduction to her concluding paragraphs:

Shedding further light on the early Christian or Jewish-Christian aspects of John’s baptism is the peculiar wording of the Josephus passage. John’s call for baptism is remarkably odd in its formulation. Rather than issuing a straightforward call for a baptism acceptable to God, defined as ‘a consecration of the body’ and qualified by the precondition of a soul already cleansed by righteousness, John (or the author) opts to introduce his appeal by refuting baptism conceived in terms of obtaining pardon for sins. ‘…if baptism [βάπτισιν] was to be acceptable to God’, they must not employ it ‘to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed’.

Such phrasing suggests the possibility of an author engaged in polemic with a competing interpretation of baptism and raises the question: against whom was such polemic directed?92

92) That the description of baptism is formulated in a polemical way has already been noted by Foakes and Lake, The Beginning of Christianity, I, p. 105. In their view, the distinction being drawn is between Johannine baptism and Jewish ritual immersion. A. von Schlatter (Johannes der Täufer [Basel: F. Reinhardt, 1956], pp. 62-63) raises the possibility that Josephus is here attacking the Christian understanding of Johannine baptism or baptism in general or that the passage echoes a preexisting dispute between Christians and Jews over immersion, a dispute that Josephus found in the source material for his information about John the Baptist. Flusser (‘Johannine baptism and the Qumran sect’) has raised the possibility that this is a polemic against Christianity. Likewise, Grant R. Shafer, ‘John the Baptist, Jesus, and Forgiveness of Sins’, Proceedings – Eastern Great Lakes and Midwest Biblical Societies, 26 (2006), pp. 51-67 (59), asks: ‘Does Josephus just refute a Christian tradition that John forgave sins?’

Compare 1 Peter 3:21 where we read what may be best understood as an “orthodox” Christian’s denial that baptism makes the body pure.

This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you—not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (World English Bible trans)

Now look at a Jewish-Christian’s opposing view and see how close it is to what we read in the Josephan passage:

I have linked to online sources the references in footnote 88 with one exception, the first Rehm reference, which is not available on archive.org. The first reference, not available online afaik, follows :

πλήν τούτοις συνεισφέρειν δεϊ τί ποτέ, δ κοινότητα προς ανθρώπους μεν ουκ έχει, ίδιον δέ θρησκείας θεόυ τυγχάνει. λέγω δη τό καθαρευειν, τό έν άφέδρω οϋση τη ἰδία γαμέτη μή κοινωνείν, δτι τοϋτο ό θεοϋ κελεύει νόμος. τί δέ; εΐ μή καί τή τον θεοϋ θρησκεία τό καθαρεύειν άνέκειτο, υμείς ώς οι κάνθαροι ήδέως άν έκυλίεσθε; διό ώς άνθρωποι έχοντές τι πλείον των άλόγων ζώων (τό λογικοί είναι) τήν μέν καρδίαν των κακών ούρανίω καθάρατε λογισμώ, λουτρω δέ πλύνατε τό σώμα. καλόν γάρ τά άληθή τό καθαρεύειν, ούχ ώς δτι προηγείται τής κατά τήν καρδίαν χαθάρσεως ή τοϋ σώματος αγνεία, άλλ’ ώς δτι ἔπεται τώ άγαθω τό καθάριον. καί γάρ ό διδάσκαλος ήμών ένίους τών έν ήμίν Φαρισαίων και γραμματέων, οι είσιν άφωρισμένοι και τά νόμιμα ώς γραμματείς τών άλλων πλείον είδότες, δμως διήλεγχεν αυτούς ώς ύποκριτάς, δτι μόνα τά άνθρώποις φαινόμενα άγνενοντες τά τής καρδίας καθαρά καί θεω μόνφ δρώμενα παρελίμπανον.

ChatGPT translation:

Nevertheless, one must contribute something at some point, even though he has no commonality with people. He worships his own god. I mean, the act of purification. I say, to purify, that which, being in the chamber of one’s own wife, one should not share, for this is the law of one’s god. But what if, even in the worship of one’s god, he had to purify? Would you, like beetles, be unwilling? Therefore, as humans, having something more than irrational animals (that is, reason), purify your heart from evil thoughts, and wash your body. For it is good for true things to be purified, not because the purity of the heart precedes the purity of the body, but because what is pure follows the good. For indeed, our teacher, one of the Pharisees among us, and scribes, who are separated and know the laws better than others, nevertheless, he rebuked them as hypocrites because they neglected the purity of the heart and only focused on the things that appear to people and the things they do before God.

[A]bove all else, it is the early Jewish-Christian volume of the Pseudo-Clementine writings that provides the most striking parallel to Johannine baptism and inspired my present research. Describing a form of immersion meant to purify the body, the work is most emphatic on its efficacy being conditioned on prior inner purification. The notion is formulated in a manner exactly reminiscent of John’s immersion: ‘…purify your hearts from evil by heavenly reasoning, and wash your bodies in the bath. For purification according to the truth, is not that the purity of the body precedes purification after the heart, but that purity [of the body] follows goodness [of the heart]’.88

88) Clem. Hom. 11.28 (trans. ANF, vol. 8, p. 290) [= this archive.org edition]  bracketed inserts by the present author. See also B. Rehm, Die Pseudoklementinen. I. Homilien, 11.28 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1969), p. 168; Rec. 6, 11, 12 (ANF, vol. 8, p. 155 [= this archive.org edition). Thomas (Le mouvement Baptiste en Palestine et Syrie, p. 178, n. 4) already commented on the resemblance between this passage and Johannine baptism as described in Josephus. An identical formulation of baptism also appears in Kerygmata Petrou, H 11.28.2-4 (E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, ed. W. Schneemelcher; London: SCM Press, 1975), II, p. 125 [= this archive.org edition]. This work, dated to the first half of the second century ce, survives only in fragmentary form and is considered by some to be one of the sources for the Pseudo-Clementines; G. Strecker, ‘On the Problem of Jewish Christianity’, in W. Bauer and R.A. Kraft (eds.), Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), pp. 241-85 (258); Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament, p. 431.

As I said, I jumped ahead to the concluding portion of Kirby’s article in this post. The reason is that I believe this particular argument to be one of the stronger ones for interpolation and was impatient to get it “out there” asap. I will return to some of his earlier points in the next post.



Kirby, Peter. “The Authenticity of John the Baptist in Josephus.” Peter Kirby: Just Another WordPress Site, 21 May 2015, https://peterkirby.com/john-the-baptist-authentic.html.

Nir, Rivka. “Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist: A Christian.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 10, no. 1 (2012): 32–62. https://www.academia.edu/9556504/Josephus_Account_of_John_the_Baptist_A_Christian


Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 2

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing to respond to The Authenticity of John the Baptist in Josephus. The previous two posts —

1. Where does John the Baptist fit in History? (Or, the Place of Fact and Opinion in History)

2. Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 1

I would like to reiterate an approach I attempted to emphasize in my opening salvo. I am not arguing a black and white, slam-dunk case. If such existed there would be no discussion about this passage. One does not have to be persuaded one way or the other. I myself do not know if the John the Baptist passage in Josephus is an interpolation. It might be authentic. The best we can do is examine it critically. I think humility requires us to accept that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting it is an interpolation. Given those reasonable arguments there is necessarily some room for doubt. That means that the honest historian cannot dogmatically declare that Josephus wrote that passage. A historical reconstruction cannot validly be built on the conviction that Josephus wrote it — unless one makes clear the questionable nature of one of the foundations of that hypothetical reconstruction. I do not believe I am being hyper-sceptical or extreme. Rather than label arguments as “weak” or “not persuasive” — which sound like subjective impressions to me —  I prefer to address whether arguments are logically valid or invalid and if they can marshal support with relevant evidence. To repeat, it doesn’t matter if one is persuaded or not. What matters is that one recognises that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting the authenticity of the passage. I understand why there will be some dogmatic and emotional resistance to that idea, but dogmatism and emotional attachment are not always the most faithful of friends — especially when working with ancient texts that come from a “culture of interpolations“.

By the way, I have never encountered historians in other (non-biblical) fields build historical reconstructions that rely on disputed evidence on which to stake their “facts” — at least not without acknowledging that the evidence for their claims is disputed. That’s not how history is done elsewhere, as far as I am aware. And the reason I believe I so often find myself at variance with certain conventional wisdoms in biblical studies is because I am always trying to examine the evidence with the same critical methods as are taken for granted in other historical fields. That means I have little time for “criteria of authenticity” and “memory theory” which seem to me to have a unique place in biblical scholarship.

Here is the John the Baptist passage in Jewish Antiquities 18.116-119

But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, called the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews who lead righteous lives and practice justice towards their fellows and piety toward God to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying [on the condition] that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by righteousness. When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons. Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything that they did. Herod decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising, than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation, and see his mistake. Though John, because of Herod’s suspicions, was brought in chains to Machaerus, the stronghold that we have previously mentioned, and there put to death, yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw fit to inflict such a blow on Herod. (Nir, pp. 32f)

. . .

The next point Peter Kirby presents is more technical. He copies at length from another forum one side of a discussion about the place and use of δὲ, a word often but not always translated as “but”.

(15) Ant. 18.120 Incongruous without Ant. 18.116-119 (and Appropriate As-Is)

Here is Kirby’s point:

If Ant. 18.116-119 is removed from the text, it would read:

[Greek text omitted]

So Herod wrote about these affairs to Tiberius, who being very angry at the attempt made by Aretas, wrote to Vitellius to make war upon him, and either to take him alive, and bring him to him in bonds, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the charge that Tiberius gave to the president of Syria. […]

“But” [δὲ] Vitellius prepared to make war with Aretas, …

This conjunction δὲ is not translated in the readily-available Whiston and Feldman in a way that makes the full force of the difficulty above in the Greek apparent to the English reader. Feldman leaves it untranslated, while Whiston translates it as “so” (which is actually not inappropriate, if it is understood in the very specific English sense of resuming the narrative after an interruption or parenthesis, as it functions after the passage on John the Baptist, not in some different sense of the English). Yet it is very strange if the passage reads as it is shown above.

Oh so close….. Yes, Whiston translates δὲ as “so” and we will soon see that that is indeed a most appropriate translation but not for the reason Kirby proposes.

Kirby follows with a lengthy selection from another forum by citing snippets from one side of a discussion on the use of this δὲ.

Focusing on the one word δὲ alone, though, draws attention away from the fact that what we have here are two words, a correlation, μὲν … δὲ, that are normally a linked pair to express meanings such as the following:

  • both…and,
  • on the one hand…on the other,
  • one person [did such and such]….another person [did this and that],
  • some [said]….others [said],

The Perseus online Liddell & Scott dictionary explains that δὲ can be an adversative (=”but”) and also a copulative (=”and”, “so” etc)

As for translations of the μένδέ pair, the same dictionary explains:

Generally, μέν and δέ may be rendered on the one hand, on the other hand, or as well . . , as, while or whereas, but it is often necessary to leave μέν untranslated.

Here’s an instance in Acts 14:4

εσχισθη δε το πληθος της πολεως και οι μεν ησαν συν τοις ιουδαιοις οι δε συν τοις αποστολοις

But the people of the city were divided some sided with the Jews and some with the apostles

From Dobson’s Learn New Testament Greek:

μὲν…δὲ . . .

When two ideas or words are compared or contrasted they are often liked by μὲν… and δὲ …. In English we often use “but” for δὲ. We do not have a word which quite corresponds to μὲν. “On the one hand” and “on the other hand” are rather too weighty for μὲν and δὲ.

(p. 263)

Ken Olson has written in a forum discussion:

The μὲν … δὲ construction distinguishes one party’s activities from those of another. There’s no requirement of a cause and effect relationship between the two, nor that they be in opposition. To use an example that springs readily to my mind, Jesus in the Testimonium Flavianum won over many of the Jews, but also many of Hellenes. What would be irregular is for the μὲν not to be related to the δὲ which follows it.

(the bolding is mine in all quotations)

Other works explain that this correlative was far more common in classical Greek than it was in New Testament and later times. But a search for μέν and δέ in the Loeb editions of Antiquities will quickly show anyone interested that Josephus made frequent use of it. 

With all of that in mind, we are now in a position to grasp Rivka Nir’s discussion of how the John the Baptist passage can be understood to intrude into otherwise naturally sequential sentences or passages. It can be read as breaking apart the μένδέ structure beyond recognition.

How this passage is integrated into the text is suspect. Inserted midway into the description of events following the defeat of Herod Antipas, betweenTiberius’s order to Vitellius to prepare for war against Aretas and Vitellius’s preparations, it constitutes a self-contained literary unit that disrupts the descriptive sequence.38 In terms of syntax, as Léon Herrmann has pointed out,39 it is inserted halfway through a sentence structured on καί μέν and δε, which suggest the narrative sequence. Namely, between paragraph 115, which concludes with the sentence: ‘These were the orders that Tiberius gave to the proconsul of Syria [και Τιβέριος μέν ταυ τα πράσσειν έπέστελλεντω κατά Συρίαν στρατηγώ]’, and paragraph 120, which opens with the sentence: ‘So Vitellius prepared to make war with Aretas . . . and made haste for Petra, and came to Ptolemais [Ούιτέλλιος δέ παρασκευασάμενοςώς εις πόλεμον τόν προς Αρέταν. . . έπι της Πέτρας ήπείγετο καί έσχε Πτολεμαίδα]’. On removal of the passage, paragraph 120, flows smoothly and uninterruptedly from paragraph 115, and the order of events and correct syntactical structure are retained: Tiberius commands and Vitellius acts.

38. For Meier (A Marginal Jew, 11. pp. 56. 59-60). this literary unit is. by way of an inclusio. framed by certain key words and themes clustered at the beginning and the end. Il opens with ‘But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, called the Baptist’, and ends with ‘and there put to death, yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw lit to inflict such a blow on Herod’.

39. Herrmann. Chrestos, p. 99; L. Herrmann. ’Herodiade’, REJ 132 (1973), pp. 49-63 (51).

(Nir, 43f)

In addition…

Furthermore, Josephus had already explained how ‘all Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives, who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip, joined with Aretas’s army’ (Ant. 114), his seemingly historical explanation for Herod’s defeat which is placed in the appropriate context. Why, then, would Josephus need to provide an additional explanation? And why place it at a distance from his first explanation, and moreover in a way that interrupts the factual sequence?

(Nir, 44)

It is at this point that Nir addressed the chronological and political incongruities vis a vis the New Testament — as quoted in the previous post.

Kirby then introduces the arguments for inauthenticity:

(1) The Text Reads Intelligibly if the Passage Is Removed

We have just seen how syntactic irregularity can be restored if the passage is removed. So a more general “intelligibility” is not the only factor open for consideration.

We also know that Josephus elsewhere broke a narrative with digressions. What is of interest, though, is a comparison of other places where Josephus makes those (removable) digressions. I have selected the “removable” insert passages from Kirby’s list but want to draw attention to how the narrative on either side of those inserts flows. Above we saw how the John the Baptist passage seems to break into what we would expect to be a tight syntactical structure. It interrupts two sentences that belong naturally together: the emperor gives the order and the proconsul obeys. Compare the surrounding passages in each of the following digressions and see if you can find anything similar. Or are the breaks more natural, more logical, such that the digression does not rip apart something like an ordered action and its correlative partner-statement that it was obeyed?

Honi the Circle-Drawer (c. 65 BCE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 14.21-28. 

Because of these promises which were made to him, Aretas marched against Aristobulus with an army of fifty thousand horsemen and foot soldiers as well, and defeated him in battle. After his victory many deserted to Hyrcanus, and Aristobulus, being left alone, fled to Jerusalem. Thereupon the Arab king took his whole army and attacked the temple, where he besieged Aristobulus ; and the citizens, joining Hyrcanus’ side, assisted him in the siege, while only the priests remained loyal to Aristobulus. . . .

And so Aretas placed the camps of the Arabs and Jews next to one another, and pressed the siege vigorously. But as this action took place at the time of observing the festival of Unleavened Bread, which we call Phaska, the Jews of best repute left the country and fled to Egypt. Now there was a certain The saintly Oni Onias, who, being a righteous man and dear to God, had once in a rainless period prayed to God to end the drought, and God had heard his prayer and sent rain; this man hid himself when he saw that the civil war continued to rage, but he was taken to the camp of the Jews and was asked to place a curse on Aristobulus and his fellow-rebels, just as he had, by his prayers, put an end to the rainless period. But when in spite of his refusals and excuses he was forced to speak by the mob, he stood up in their midst and said, “ O God, king of the universe, since these men standing beside me are Thy people, and those who are besieged are Thy priests, I beseech Thee not to hearken to them against these men nor to bring to pass what these men ask Thee to do to those others.” And when he had prayed in this manner the villains among the Jews who stood round him stoned him to death. (2) But God straightway punished them for this savagery, and exacted satisfaction for the murder of Onias in the following manner. While the priests and Aristobulus were being besieged, there happened to come round the festival called Phaska, at which it is our custom to offer numerous sacrifices to God. But as Aristobulus and those with him lacked victims, they asked their countrymen to furnish them with these, and take as much money for the victims as they wished. And when these others demanded that they pay a thousand drachmas for each animal they wished to get, Aristobulus and the priests willingly accepted this price and gave them the money, which they let down from the walls by a rope. Their countrymen, however, after receiving the money did not deliver the victims, but went to such lengths of villainy that they violated their pledges and acted impiously toward God by not furnishing the sacrificial victims to those who were in need of them.* But the priests, on suffering this breach of faith, prayed to God to exact satisfaction on their behalf from their countrymen ; and He did not delay their punishment, but sent a mighty and violent wind to destroy the crops of the entire country, so that people at that time had to pay eleven drachmas for a modius of wheat.

. . . Meanwhile Pompey sent Scaurus also to Syria, as he himself was in Armenia, still making war on Tigranes. And when Scaurus came to Damascus, he found that Lollius and Metellus had just taken the city, and so he hurried on to Judaea. On his arrival envoys came to him from both Aristobulus and Hyrcanus, each of whom asked him to come to his aid.

(All translations are from the Loeb edition of Antiquities.)

Galilean Cave Brigands (c. 38 BCE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 14.415-430. 

Herod, however, did not choose to remain inactive, but sent off his brother Joseph to Idumaea with two thousand foot-soldiers and four hundred mounted men, while he himself went to Samaria, where he left his mother and his other relatives, who had by now made their way out of Masada, and proceeded to Galilee to capture some of the strongholds which had been occupied by the garrisons of Antigonus. He reached Sepphoris in a snow-storm, and as Antigonus’ garrison had quietly withdrawn, he came into possession of an abundance of provisions. . . .

From here he then sent out a troop of cavalry and three companies of foot-soldiers against some brigands living in caves, for he had made up his mind to put an end to their depredations’; these caves were very near a village called Arbela. Forty days later he himself came with his entire army, and under the enemy’s bold attack the left wing of his line gave way, but when he appeared in person with a compact body of men, he put to flight those who had before been victorious, and rallied those of his men who were fleeing. And he pressed on in pursuit of the enemy as far as the river Jordan, to which they fled along different roads ; and so he got into his hands all the people of Galilee except those who lived in the caves? he then distributed money, giving each of his men a hundred and fifty drachmas, and considerably more to the officers, and dismissed them to their winter quarters. Meanwhile Silo and the officers of the men who were in winter quarters came to him because Antigonus was unwilling to furnish them with food; that worthy had fed them for a month and no longer he had, moreover, sent out orders to the inhabitants round about that they were to gather up all the provisions throughout the country and flee to the hills in order that the Romans might be entirely without necessary food and so perish of hunger. Accordingly Herod entrusted the care of these men to Pheroras, his youngest brother, and ordered him to fortify Alexandreion also. And he quickly made it possible for the soldiers to have an abundance of the necessary provisions, and also restored Alexandreion, which had been left in ruins. About the same time, while Antony was staying at Athens, Ventidius in Syria sent for Silo to join him against the Parthians, but instructed him first to assist Herod in the present war and then summon their allies to the Romans’ own war. But Herod, who was hastening against the brigands in the caves, sent Silo off to Ventidius, and set out against them by himself. Now their caves were in hills that were altogether rugged, having their entrances half-way up the sheer cliffs and being surrounded by sharp rocks; in such dens did they lurk with all their people. Thereupon the king, whose men were unable either to climb up from below or creep upon them from above because of the steepness of the hill, had cribs built and lowered these upon them with iron chains as they were suspended by a machine from the summit of the hill. The cribs were filled with armed men holding great grappling hooks, with which they were supposed to draw towards them any of the brigands who opposed them, and kill them by hurling them to the ground. The lowering of the cribs was proving to be a risky business because of the immense depth that lay below them, although the men within them had everything they needed. But when the cribs were let down, none of the men standing near the entrances of the caves dared come forward? instead, they remained quiet out of fear, whereupon one of the soldiers in irritation at the delay caused by the brigands who dared not come out, girded on his sword, and heading on with both hands to the chain from which the crib was suspended, lowered himself to the entrance of a cave. And when he came opposite an entrance, he first drove back with javelins most of those who were standing there, and then with his grappling hook drew his opponents towards him and pushed them over the precipice; after this he attacked those within and slaughtered many of them, whereupon he re-entered the crib and rested. Then fear seized the others as they heard the shrieking, and they despaired of their lives; all action, however, was halted by the coming on of night; and many, after sending spokesmen with the king’s consent, surrendered and made their submission. The same method of attack was used the following day, when the men in the baskets d fell upon them still more fiercely and fought at their doors and threw flaming fire inside, and so the caves, which had much wood in them, were set on fire. Now there was an old man shut up within one of the caves with his seven children and his wife : and when they begged him to let them slip through to the enemy, he stood at the entrance and cut down each of his sons as he came out, and afterwards his wife, and after hurling their dead bodies over the precipice, threw himself down upon them, thus submitting to death rather than to slavery. But before doing so, he bitterly reviled Herod for his meanness of spirit, although the king—for he was a witness of what was happening—stretched out his right hand and promised him full immunity. By such methods, then, all the caves were finally taken.

. . . The king thereupon appointed Ptolemy general in that region, and departed for Samaria with six hundred mounted men and three thousand foot-soldiers to try the issue of battle with Antigonus. 

The next “insert” passages by Josephus are actually a series of incidents all grouped together. So I will quote the edges of the bracketing narrative before and after them.

Meanwhile continuous and countless new tumults filled Judaea, and in many quarters many men rose in arms either in hope of personal gain or out of hatred for the Jews. For example, two thousand of the soldiers who had once campaigned with Herod and had been disbanded, now assembled in Judaea itself and fought against the king’s troops. These were led against them by Achiab, a cousin of Herod, but he was forced out of the plains into higher country by the enemy, who were very experienced in warfare, and by retreating to an inaccessible position, he saved what he could. . . .

Judas son of Hezekiah (c. 4 BCE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 17.271-272.

Then there was Judas, the son of the brigand chief Ezekias, who had been a man of great power and had been captured by Herod only with great difficulty. This Judas got together a large number of desperate.men at Sepphoris in Galilee and there made an assault on the royal palace, and having seized all the arms that were stored there, he armed every single one of his men and made off with all the property that had been seized there. He became an object of terror to all men by plundering those he came across in his desire for great possessions and his ambition for royal rank, a prize that he expected to obtain not through the practice of virtue but through excessive ill-treatment of others.

Simon of Peraea (c. 4 BCE) ~ Jewish War 2.57-59 and Jewish Antiquities 17.273-277. (Removable.)

There was also Simon, a slave of King Herod but a handsome man, who took pre-eminence by size and bodily strength, and was expected to go farther. Elated by the unsettled conditions of affairs, he was bold enough to place the diadem on his head, and having got together a body of men, he was himself also proclaimed king by them in their madness, and he rated himself worthy of this beyond anyone else. After burning the royal palace in Jericho, he plundered and carried off the things that had been seized there. He also set fire to many other royal residences in many parts of the country and utterly destroyed them after permitting his fellow-rebels to take as booty whatever had been left in them. And he would have done something still more serious if attention had not quickly been turned to him. For Gratus, the officer of the royal troops, joined the Romans and with what forces he had went to meet Simon. A long and heavy battle was fought between them, and most of the Peraeans, who were disorganized and fighting with more recklessness than science, were destroyed. As for Simon, he tried to save himself by fleeing through a ravine, but Gratus intercepted him and cut off his head. The royal palace at Ammatha on the river Jordan was also burnt down by some rebels, who resembled those under Simon. Such was the great madness that settled upon the nation because they had no king of their own to restrain the populace by his pre-eminence, and because the foreigners who came among them to suppress the rebellion were themselves a cause of provocation through their arrogance and their greed.

Athronges (c. 4-2? BCE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 17.278-284. (Removable.)

Then there was a certain Athronges, a man distinguished neither for the position of his ancestors nor by the excellence of his character, nor for any abundance of means but merely a shepherd completely unknown to everybody although he was remarkable for his great stature and feats of strength. This man had the temerity to aspire to the kingship, thinking that if he obtained it he would enjoy freedom to act more outrageously; as for meeting death, he did not attach much importance to the loss of his life under such circumstances. He also had four brothers, and they too were tall men and confident of being very successful through their feats of strength, and he believed them to be a strong point in his bid for the kingdom. Each of them commanded an armed band, for a large number of people had gathered round them. Though they were commanders, they acted under his orders whenever they went on raids and fought by themselves. Athronges himself put on the diadem and held a council to discuss what things were to be done, but everything depended upon his own decision. This man kept his power for a long while, for he had the title of king and nothing to prevent him from doing as he wished. He and his brothers also applied themselves vigorously to slaughtering the Romans and the king’s men, toward both of whom they acted with a similar hatred, toward the latter because of the arrogance that they had shown during the reign of Herod, and toward the Romans because of the injuries that they were held to have inflicted at the present time. But as time went on they became more and more savage (toward all) alike. And there was no escape for any in any way, for sometimes the rebels killed in hope of gain and at other times from the habit of killing. On one occasion near Emmaus they even attacked a company of Romans, who were bringing grain and weapons to their army. Surrounding the centurion Arms, who commanded the detachment, and forty of the bravest of his foot-soldiers, they shot them down. The rest were terrified at their fate but with the protection given them by Gratus and the royal troops that were with him they made their escape, leaving their dead behind. This kind of warfare they kept up for a long time and caused the Romans no little trouble while also inflicting much damage on their own nation. But the brothers were eventually subdued, one of them in an engagement with Gratus, the other in one with Ptolemy. And when Archelaus captured the eldest, the last brother, grieving at the other’s fate and seeing that he could no longer find a way to save himself now that he was all alone and utterly exhausted, stripped of his force, surrendered to Archelaus on receiving a pledge sworn by his faith in God (that he would not be harmed). But this happened later.

The main narrative resumes at Ant 17.285

. . . . And so Judaea was filled with brigandage. Anyone might make himself king as the head of a band of rebels whom he fell in with, and then would press on to the destruction of the community, causing trouble to few Romans and then only to a small degree but bringing the greatest slaughter upon their own people.

That’s the group of three “digressions” (or rather illustrations of the theme in the main narrative, if one wanted to be exact about the evidence we are discussing.)

Tholomaus (early 40s CE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 20.5.

Fadus, on being informed of this, was greatly incensed that the Peraeans, granted that they thought themselves wronged by the Philadelphians, had not waited for him to give judgement but had instead resorted to arms. He therefore seized three of their leaders, who were in fact responsible for the revolt and ordered them to be held prisoner. Next he put one of them, named Annibas, to death, and imposed exile on the other two, Amaramus and Eleazar. . . .

20.5 Not long afterwards Tholomaeus the arch-brigand, who had inflicted very severe mischief upon Idumaea and upon the Arabs, was brought before him in chains and put to death.

. . . . From then on the whole of Judaea was purged of robber-bands, thanks to the prudent concern displayed by Fadus.

Theudas (c. 45 CE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98.

Monobazus sent her bones and those of his brother to Jerusalem with instructions that they should be buried in the three pyramids that his mother had erected at a distance of three furlongs from the city of Jerusalem. As for the acts of King Monobazus during his lifetime, I shall narrate them later. . . .

During the period when Fadus was procurator of Judaea, a certain impostor named Theudas persuaded the majority of the masses to take up their possessions and to follow him to the Jordan River. He stated that he was a prophet and that at his command the river would be parted and would provide them an easy passage. With this talk he deceived many. Fadus, however, did not permit them to reap the fruit of their folly, but sent against them a squadron of cavalry. These fell upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them and took many prisoners. Theudas himself was captured, whereupon they cut off his head and brought it to Jerusalem. These, then, are the events that befell the Jews during the time that Cuspius Fadus was procurator.

. . . . The successor of Fadus was Tiberius Alexander, the son of that Alexander who had been alabarch in Alexandria and who surpassed all his fellow citizens both in ancestry and in wealth.

Eleazar ben Dinai (30s-50s CE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 20.161.

In Judaea matters were constantly going from bad to worse. For the country was again infested with bands of brigands and impostors who deceived the mob. Not a day passed, however, but that Felix captured and put to death many of these impostors and brigands.. . . .

He also, by a ruse, took alive Eleazar the son of Dinaeus, who had organized the company of brigands ; for by offering a pledge that he would suffer no harm, Felix induced him to appear before him. Felix then imprisoned him and dispatched him to Rome.

. . . . Felix also bore a grudge against Jonathan the high priest because of his frequent admonition to improve the administration of the affairs of Judaea.

The Egyptian prophet (c. 56 CE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 20.169-172 [corr. from 171].

With such pollution did the deeds of the brigands infect the city. Moreover, impostors and deceivers called upon the mob to follow them into the desert. For they said that they would show them unmistakable marvels and signs that would be wrought in harmony with God’s design. Many were, in fact, persuaded and paid the penalty of their folly; for they were brought before Felix and he punished them. . . .

At this time there came to Jerusalem from Egypt a man who declared that he was a prophet and advised the masses of the common people to go out with him to the mountain called the Mount of Olives, which lies opposite the city at a distance of five furlongs. For he asserted that he wished to demonstrate from there that at his command Jerusalem’s walls would fall down, through which he promised to provide them an entrance into the city. When Felix heard of this he ordered his soldiers to take up their arms. Setting out from Jerusalem with a large force of cavalry and infantry, he fell upon the Egyptian and his followers, slaying four hundred of them and taking two hundred prisoners. The Egyptian himself escaped from the battle and disappeared. And now the brigands once more incited the populace to war with Rome, telling them not to obey them. They also fired and pillaged the villages of those who refused to comply.

. . . There arose also a quarrel between the Jewish and Syrian inhabitants of Caesarea on the subject of equal civic rights.

An anonymous prophet (59 CE) ~ Jewish Antiquities 20.188.

For, as we said previously,” they would mingle at the festivals with the crowd of those who streamed into the city from all directions to worship, and thus easily assassinated any that they pleased. They would also frequently appear with arms in the villages of their foes and would plunder and set them on fire. . . .

Festus also sent a force of cavalry and infantry against the dupes of a certain impostor who had promised them salvation and rest from troubles, if they chose to follow him into the wilderness. The force which Festus dispatched destroyed both the deceiver himself and those who had followed him.

. . . About this time King Agrippa built a chamber of unusual size in his palace at Jerusalem adjoining the colonnade.

Eleazar, an exorcist ~ Jewish Antiquities 8.46-49.

And God granted him [Solomon] knowledge of the art used against demons for the benefit and healing of men. He also composed incantations by which illnesses are relieved, and left behind forms of exorcisms with which those possessed by demons drive them out, never to return. . . .

And this kind of cure is of very great power among us to this day, for I have seen a certain Eleazar, a countryman of mine, in the presence of Vespasian, his sons, tribunes and a number of other soldiers, free men possessed by demons, and this was the manner of the cure : he put to the nose of the possessed man a ring which had under its seal one of the roots prescribed by Solomon, and then, as the man smelled it, drew out the demon through his nostrils, and, when the man at once fell down, adjured the demon never to come back into him, speaking Solomon’s name and reciting the incantations which he had composed. Then, wishing to convince the bystanders and prove to them that he had this power, Eleazar placed a cup or foot- basin full of water a little way off and commanded the demon, as it went out of the man, to overturn it and make known to the spectators that he had left the man. And when this was done, the understanding and wisdom of Solomon were clearly revealed, on account of which we have been induced to speak of these things, in order that all men may know the greatness of his nature and how God favoured him, and that no one under the sun may be ignorant of the king’s surpassing virtue of every kind.

. . . Now when Eiromos, the king of the Tyrians, heard that Solomon had succeeded to his father’s kingdom, he was overjoyed, for he was a friend of David, and sent him greetings and congratulations on his present good fortune.

These are but a smattering of the digressions in Josephus but I would be interested to know if any of them break up a narrative sentence by sentence tight logical sequence as does the John the Baptist passage. To my mind none of the above instances break a “this…that” or an “A so B” type of naturally proximate passage.

That’s enough for one post. More to come.

Kirby, Peter. “The Authenticity of John the Baptist in Josephus.” Peter Kirby: Just Another WordPress Site, 21 May 2015, https://peterkirby.com/john-the-baptist-authentic.html.

Nir, Rivka. The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist. Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2019.


Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 1

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from Where does John the Baptist fit in History? . . . . 

Peter Kirby’s first argument for the authenticity of the John the Baptist passage in Antiquities of Josephus is

(1) The Textual Witness Itself

All manuscripts contain the passage and Kirby goes one step further and states as a fact:

It is referenced already by Origen in the middle of the third century (Against Celsus, 1.47), . . .

However, anyone who has studied the problem of interpolations and textual corruptions in ancient texts (not only the biblical ones) knows that manuscript uniformity tells us nothing about whether any particular passage is an interpolation. At the most all the manuscript record can do is affirm that an interpolation took place before all surviving manuscripts. Rather than repeat the arguments here I refer anyone interested to previous explanations for why we should expect interpolations. To bias ourselves against their likelihood is to defy what scholarship knows about ancient practices:

The serious scholar of ancient texts should never adopt a defensive position against the possibility that any particular passage might be an interpolation.

Kirby’s second argument for authenticity of the John the Baptist passage in a work by Josephus:

(2) The Unlikelihood of an Interpolation on John Being Inserted First

The argument here is that Origen, writing in the mid third century, clearly declared that he found the John the Baptist passage in a work by Josephus, and if sceptics who like to think that the Jesus passage in Josephus was an invention of the fourth century Eusebius are correct, then it is very strange that a Christian interpolator would introduce John the Baptist into Josephus in the absence of any reference in Josephus to Jesus. Surely an interpolator would insist on adding something about Jesus at the same time, if not before, adding a note about John the Baptist — so the argument goes.

Kirby repeats the mainstream view as if it is a fact:

Origen already attests to the passage on John as being present in Antiquities book 18 . . .

Yet scholars have good reasons to suspect that Origen sometimes confused in his memory Josephus for Hegesippus. What Origen says he found in Josephus is not always in Josephus, but was instead very likely in Hegesippus.

At this point I’ll hand over the discussion to Rivka Nir (with my own bolded highlighting) (pp 37-42):

Turning to Origen, he appears to have been unacquainted with the Baptist testimony in Josephus, at least in its present form. Attempting to prove John’s existence, Origen (185-254 ce) writes:

I would like to have told Celsus, when he represented the Jew as in some way accepting John as a baptist in baptizing Jesus, that a man who lived not long after John and Jesus recorded that John was a Baptist who baptized for the remission of sins. For Josephus in the eighteenth book of the Jewish antiquities bears witness that John was a Baptist and promised purification to people who were baptized.19

Contrary to the usual standpoint in research,20 Origen is not citing the passage from Jewish Antiquities, either wholly or partly. In contrast to his habitually accurate citations of Jewish War, Antiquities and Against Apion, here he uses indirect speech (oratio obliqua). Moreover, he provides no details from this particular passage, and what he says implies he knows nothing about its contents. Quite the contrary, he ascribes to John a baptism ‘for the remission of sins’, which explicitly contradicts Josephus (‘if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed’), and can merely tell us that John baptized Jesus, was called ‘Baptist’ and ‘promised purification to the people who were baptized’. It is only from Christian tradition that he could acquire these details, as noted by Grant: Origen made John’s baptism thoroughly Christian, claiming that he was simply relying on Josephus … The expression “for the remission of sins” is thoroughly Christian and Josephus did not use it.’21

How are we to account for this? Undeniably, Origen was well acquainted with Josephus’s texts: he had been to Rome, where they were preserved in libraries, and as a resident of Caesarea, in Josephus’s native land, he was sure to find them at the local library.22 If so, why does his testimony about John the Baptist differ from that in the extant text of Josephus? To answer this query, it would perhaps be helpful to compare what Origen says about John to what he goes on to say about James, the brother of Jesus:

The same author [Josephus], although he did not believe in Jesus as Christ, sought for the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. He ought to have said that the plot against Jesus was the reason why these catastrophes came upon the people, because they had killed the prophesied Christ: however, although unconscious of it, he is not far from the truth, when he says that these disasters befell the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of ‘Jesus the so-called Christ’, since they had killed him who was a very righteous man. This is the James whom Paul, the true disciple of Jesus, says that he saw, describing him as the Lord’s brother, not referring so much to their blood relationship or common upbringing as to his moral life and understanding. If therefore he says that the destruction of Jerusalem happened because of James, would it not be more reasonable to say that this happened on account of Jesus the Christ?23

About the killing of James, Jewish Antiquities recounts that following the death of the procurator Festus and while his successor Albinus was on his way to the Land of Israel (62 ce), the high priest Ananus son of Ananus, without obtaining the procurator’s approval, persuaded the Sanhedrin to execute certain opponents, among them ‘the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James … and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned’ (Ant. 20.200).

As with his testimony about John the Baptist, Origen claims that his account of James, the brother of Jesus, also derives from Josephus, but it is untraceable in any manuscript of Josephus’s works. Nowhere does Josephus ever attribute the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple to the killing of James by the high priest Ananus. Nor, by contrast, does Origen refer to any of Josephus’s specific details concerning James, for example, the political background for his execution.24 We have two testimonies by Origen, on John the Baptist and on James the brother of Jesus, both allegedly draw from Josephus, but are, as provided by Origen, nowhere to be found in any of his manuscripts. How do we account for this?

What Origen tells us about John the Baptist is too short for detecting its source: what he says about James and the circumstances of his death apparently draws on Christian tradition, which similarly calls James ‘the Just’ and regards his death as the reason for the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. These two details about James are found in Eusebius and ascribed to Hegesippus,25 who was Eusebius’s principal source for the second-century history of the church in general and of the Jerusalem church in particular. Hegesippus emphasizes the righteousness of James, who ‘was called the “Just” by all men from the Lord’s time to ours … So from his excessive righteousness he was called the Just.’26 And he is the first to connect the death of James with the destruction of Jerusalem by concluding his account with ‘and at once Vespasian began to besiege them’.27

In view of the affinity between Origen’s testimony and what is recounted about James in Christian sources, scholars have suggested that the Josephus text used by Origen already contained a Christian interpolation28 or that he confused Josephus with Hegesippus.29 If so, then the same may apply to Origen’s testimony about John the Baptist. The possibility that for the death of James Origen relied on some Christian interpolation into Josephus, or drew the James’s testimony from Hegesippus, namely, from an anterior Christian source that he confused with Josephus, may suggest that his testimony about John the Baptist likewise relied on some Christian interpolation into Josephus or an anterior Christian source. That Eusebius does not make it explicit that the Baptist testimony is based on Hegesippus, as he does in the case of James, is no ground for dismissing this possibility outright, as all agree that Eusebius relied on Hegesippus much more than he was willing to concede.30 The fact that Origen’s two testimonies are continuous, coming one after the other, may serve as indirect proof that both were borrowed from the same source and may conceivably have appeared in this order in Hegesippus.

Whatever the explanation for Origen’s source of information, he was obviously unacquainted with the Baptist testimony in Josephus, and what he says contributes nothing to its authenticity.

Nir, Rivka. The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist. Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2019. pp. 37-41

Kirby’s third argument for authenticity: Continue reading “Where does John the Baptist fit in History? — The Evidence of Josephus, Pt 1”


Where does John the Baptist fit in History? (Or, the Place of Fact and Opinion in History)

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by Neil Godfrey

Until a few days ago it seems that I had either missed or forgotten about a 23,256 word essay from 2015 that rebuts the arguments of some works that I had posted about setting out a case for the inauthenticity of the John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities. Not to worry, since it has now engaged my attention and I must leave a response “somewhere on the internet”, however belated.

First things first: What is the point of this discussion?

One can argue at length that Josephus did indeed write the John the Baptist passage but that won’t change the fact that the passage remains disputable. And as long as the passage remains disputable, then the only honest way to handle it in any discussion is to be upfront and admit its debatable status. The question of authenticity will remain a matter of (hopefully informed) opinion. And we know how the saying goes: you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts.

This means that when it comes to engaging in historical discussion, we can’t say “Josephus wrote about John the Baptist” in a way that creates the impression to less informed readers that that is a certain fact. It is always obligatory to say something like, “While some scholars disagree. . . .” It’s even more honourable to say it with good grace and respect. No sneering words like “fringe” or “hyper-sceptical” allowed. Even better, it is appropriate to simply ignore disputed evidence entirely insofar as a hypothesis relies upon “certain facts”.

Indeed, the mere “fact” that the question of authenticity of the passage elicits so many lengthy discussions, setting out hypotheses for and against, is evidence enough that the question is not and perhaps never can be settled.

What is the point of this discussion, then? The discussion cannot transform debatable data into certain facts. The more often the question of authenticity is discussed, the more reminders we have that caution is required.

So in the next post I’ll begin to respond in some depth to Peter Kirby’s 2015 post.

In the meantime, what follows is a mini-essay that I found myself composing in an attempt to highlight the differences between opinions and facts in historical research. . . .

Facts and Opinions in History

Historical reconstructions are built on historical facts but the mortar that holds those edifices in one piece is opinion, or hypothesis. If one is convinced that it is a sure fact that Josephus wrote about John the Baptist then one is entitled to reconstruct a historical scenario from that point — but only if one makes it clear that its foundation is hypothetical. One’s own convictions should never be presented as facts in any serious or honest discussion. (It seems silly to have to write that sentence, but I have seen so many biblical scholars engage with their audiences and present their personal interpretations and views as if they are undisputed truth even while knowing full well that those same points are debated among their peers.)

Positivism – too often misunderstood: A dominant approach to history in the nineteenth century was what we know as “positivism”. Some professors of biblical studies or religion have repeatedly declared that an “unrealistic” demand for “certainty” and “facts” belongs to the “bad old positivist” past. (The implication is that one should not protest over the lack of evidence for some of their theoretical reconstructions of Christian origins/the historical Jesus.) Those statements betray an embarrassing ignorance of what positivism means. Historians always rely on “certain facts” such as “Julius Caesar was assassinated”, “the Jerusalem temple was destroyed in 70 CE”, etc. Positivism, however, goes one step further and declares either that those facts are all the history we can know about (that is, we cannot discover causes, results, motivations, behind those “facts”) — or else we can objectively discern causes, results etc in a way that produce scientific laws of history. That’s positivism in a nutshell. Historians always seek out “certain facts”. Positivism is more than that. (See Collingwood, The Idea of History, pp 126ff)

Don’t misunderstand me, though. Historical works are rich in hypotheses, opinions, debatable interpretations — but all of those “iffy bits” are ideally attempts to understand the agreed upon facts and their significance for this or that historical question.

Take one topic from the history of Australia. White settlement here began as a “dumping ground” for convicts after Britain lost the American colonies. That is a fact. (Let’s not get into some of the post-modernist notions that would dispute that point.) But was it the primary reason for Britain’s claiming of Australia and establishing a colony here as most of us have been taught in years past? Now that is debatable. If historians factor in the impact of another datum, the first global war, the Seven Years War of 1757-63, which highlighted Britain’s need for a secure base for sea power that could project into southern and eastern Asia, another perspective on the reason for Britain’s colonisation of Australia emerges. Convicts, the contingencies of global naval power, trade routes, wars — all of these are the “facts” of history. But what makes history interesting is researching those facts and attempting to interpret them, to understand their significance, if any, in how subsequent events turned out. Facts plus (informed) opinions make history.

Admittedly, sometimes facts and opinions do get blurred. Again, the most notable instance of the blurring of what is fact and non-fact involved “the history wars” in which historians fought over whether it was a “fact” that Australian pioneering settlers were truly guilty of mass murders of Aborigines. Or were those claims ideologically driven gross exaggerations, even falsehoods? Major battlegrounds for that “history war” were the multiple archives where researchers flocked in order to dig further into the evidence and to produce more (and more detailed) documented facts. The battle was fought over facts and how to interpret diaries and letters, newspaper reports, court transcripts, government correspondence, police records, etc. Opinions clashed over how to interpret the information uncovered, but the information itself was first established as the authentic records of settlers, government officials, etc. The facts of the records were front and centre of the debate.

Time to return to that John the Baptist passage in Josephus’s Antiquities.

It is one thing to debate the significance of any particular passage written by an ancient author, but it is quite another to enquire into whether a particular passage has been interpolated by some other hand. Opinions will differ. One generation of scholars might generally ignore the passage in Antiquities about Jesus because it was deemed corrupt while another generation might consider it partially authentic and therefore of some use in historical reconstruction.

In the next post I’ll address some of the details in Peter Kirby’s 2015 essay.


§ 6. The collision of the baptism of Jesus with that of John

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by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§6. The collision of the baptism of Jesus with that of John.



1) The jealousy of John’s disciples


As if he were only in his place in Judea, Jesus, when he leaves Jerusalem, goes into the open country and travels around with his disciples, baptizing. John the Baptist was also there and baptized. The scene is located near Aenon, by Salim; localities about which we hear nothing else. It is noteworthy that the author does not give a reason why the Lord left Jerusalem, because he usually does not forget to mention it. Instead, he follows his inclination to be pragmatic by telling us why the Baptist was staying in that area. Namely, there was a lot of water there. But couldn’t the Jordan, on whose banks we should surely imagine the scene taking place, have had enough water elsewhere, and couldn’t the baptismal candidates be immersed anywhere? It seems that the author did not pragmatize successfully, and one only needs to take that reason seriously, as Olshausen really does *), and say that the water was “convenient” for immersion there, to see how inappropriate it is. For as far as we know, only a bathing resort demands “convenience,” and the Baptist did not choose his place of residence based on it, but on whether he could hope to find acceptance with his preaching and baptism.

*) Comm. II, 101.


But it must be very strange to us to suddenly see the Baptist still in full activity, and the evangelist certainly also intends to respond to this surprise when he remarks that the Baptist had not yet been thrown into prison. The author therefore presupposes [the two men were baptizing side by side] – otherwise one would imagine the matter differently, namely that the appearance of the Lord only took place when the Baptist was ousted from the public arena, and it is precisely this view, even if not exactly the written report of the Synoptics, that he wants to counteract. If we remember how much the fourth evangelist had let his reflection penetrate into the portrayal of the personality of the Baptist, we cannot accept his chronological hint as a correction of the synoptic tradition. The synoptic conception of the matter, namely, that Jesus only went out after the Baptist’s imprisonment, could certainly seem suspicious to us, because according to it the empirical historical circumstances correspond too exactly to the spiritual ones. The task of the forerunner, who was supposed to point to the Lord, seems to have been completed when he had announced or even shown the coming one to the people, so that he could immediately step down when the promised one had appeared before the people. It seems uncomfortable with the forerunner still working on the side and pointing to the coming one long after he had proved himself to be the Lord. So it could be that in the tradition the view was formed that the star which shone before the morning must naturally have set as soon as the sun of salvation rose, even if in reality the Baptist had continued his activity beside Jesus for a long time *). But we must not regard this possibility as reality until we have a firm indication left in the opposite report of the fourth evangelist.

**) de Wette Erkl. des Ev. Ioh. p. 51.

*) Even in our day Olshausen (Comm. II, 102) has this view when he says (of course with due regard to the fourth evangelist): “it is in the relation of the forerunner to Jesus that he was only with him a short time. Olshausen, by the way, admits no contradiction between the synoptic account and the fourth evangelist (ibid.), for the departure of Jesus to Galilee Matth. 4:12, Mark 1:14, after the imprisonment of the Baptist is that reported in John 4:3. Tholuck (p 103) absolutely agrees with this explanation and Lücke (I, 490) considers this relation of the reports “not improbable”. But the Synoptics want to report the first public appearance of Jesus.


He says in v. 25 that a dispute arose between the disciples of the Baptist and a Jew about purification. Ζητησις is the expression for a controversy, such as arises between parties who are opposed by their principles. “Purification,” since it is even set without the definiteness of the article, is indeed kept in indefinite generality, but according to the context it is certainly intended to refer preferably to baptism. But the report does not give us the slightest hint as to how baptism was the subject of the dispute. Afterwards, when the disciples came to the Baptist, they should have said, “Behold, there is a Jew with whom we have quarreled, and he asserts such and such things concerning water baptism.” *) Instead, they say v. 26, something they could say, even though no dispute with a Jew had preceded it. Yea, such a controversy should not have preceded and given them cause to complain, if they speak but thus to the Baptist, as they do. He, they say, of whom thou hast testified beyond Jordan, baptiseth, and all flock unto him. But they could only have said this if, without first having argued with a Jew, they noticed that Jesus was threatening to oust their Master by his baptism. The complaint of the disciples of John and the occasion sent beforehand thus fall apart.

*) Tholuck, Lücke and others know more about this speech.


But also their complaint itself tears itself apart – not we tear it apart – into pieces that cannot be reunited for all eternity. The displeased complainers call Jesus the one of whom the Baptist had testified beyond the Jordan, namely, at that time when he made the Lord known to his own as the promised Lamb of God. We do not want to ask sentimentally whether the Baptist had to do with such obdurate disciples who accused the man whom he had shown them with his fingers as the suffering Messiah as a harmful rival of their Master. We would rather look more sharply at their words: “of whom thou hast testified”. Whoever speaks as these words read, acknowledges the testimony, admits that it is a testimony of a fact; the disciples must therefore acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah testified to by the Baptist. And now, at the same moment, they should be envious of the success of the man thus testified to, they should regard this man as a stranger, as a mere someone, as someone else? If they are really human, if they have heard the testimony of the Baptist and seen the fingers that showed them the long-awaited Lamb of God, if they have really acknowledged this testimony – they should have rejoiced that this man really proves to be the one whom their Master called him, and like the other people they should have fallen for him *). For now we are only allowed to determine that the disciples of John, when they complained about the growing following of the Lord, could not call him the one witnessed by the Baptist. But they could not do so either, because they could not have heard a testimony such as the Evangelist presupposes. Their complaint therefore still remains possible: let us see whether it becomes more than possible through the rebuke which the Baptist gives them.

*) Tholuck, with whom Olshausen agrees, explains the complaint of the disciples of John in such a way that he only restates the congruence of the two parts in other words, but does not explain it (Comm. p. 104.): “He,” say the disciples after him, “who has had to be baptized by you and has had a testimony given to him, takes the liberty of baptizing himself. So, when the runner (1:34) says, μεμαρτυπηκα , it means, Jesus.- and when the Lord (5:33) says: (‘Ιωαννης) μεμαρτυρτυρηκε τη αληθεια, it means: the truth – have had to have a favourable certificate issued to them by John the Baptist, in order, after all, to be able somehow to find accommodation in the world! Heaven and earth pervert this apologetic in order to assert a scriptural word as absolute, which yet at the same moment makes a mockery of it. Only criticism restores the Scriptural word to its proper sense. Even de Wette (p. 52.) follows the apologetic track when he translates the words of John’s disciples: “in whose favour” you have testified. But the testimony of the Baptist was always one by which he placed the witnessed infinitely above himself.


2) The last testimony of the Baptist.


This alone must cause us concern that the Baptist here again acknowledges Jesus, not only in a way as he does in the speeches reported above (C. 1.), but in such a way that he at the same time refers to the testimony which he had given of Christ in those earlier sayings – he thus refers to views which we have already recognized as the expression of a far later point of view. Reflections that could only develop after the completion of the work of salvation are also to be found when the Baptist calls Jesus the one who “came from above”, the one who “came from heaven”, who pre-existed in heaven and testified of what he saw there. Because this reflective attitude is especially prevalent from v. 31 on, Paulus, Olshausen, and Tholuck *) claim that the speech of the evangelist begins from there. But how then is the full stream of the discourse torn apart, namely at the very point where everything is connected in the most precise way and one link overlaps into the other! Olshausen says: “the following verses are not at all in favour of the Baptist’s point of view, in that they testify to the blessing of the acceptance of the words of Jesus, which did not take place with the Baptist **).” And yet it is already presupposed beforehand (v. 29.) that the Baptist sees his joy fulfilled in the union of the Messiah and the church and thus knows the delight of this union, otherwise he could not describe it at all as the object of his joy. Lücke is again “inclined to take a middle course and to assume that from v. 31 the reflection of the evangelist *) is mixed with the speech of the Baptist. But as soon as we see the same reflection active beforehand, no one will be able to prevent us from regarding the conclusion as what the beginning should be – as the speech of the Baptist. For every reason to separate them then falls away.

*) Tholuck, for example (Comm. p. 105.), says: “from v. 31 on, the evangelist begins to continue with the words of the Baptist. Then the content would be the same, so there would be no reason for separation.

**) Comm, II, 105.

*) Comm. I, 501.


Let us first note some minor inconsistencies in the speech. The Baptist is said to say in v. 32 that the Lord testifies of what he has seen in the heavenly world, but that no one accepts his testimony. And the Baptist is said to have said this now, at the very moment when his disciples enviously told him that all were flocking to the Lord? Never! So he should have said: “and you see for yourselves how his testimony is so winning that they all acknowledge him, everyone comes to him. It is of no use to claim that the evangelist is speaking here! For even if he wanted to connect his reflections to the speech of the Baptist, they must at least be appropriate to the presupposed situation that everything accrued to the Lord, they must not contradict it outright **). To be sure, the evangelist speaks here, but in such a way that he wants the Baptist to speak, only he lets him express feelings that are always present only to him, the evangelist, but often at an inopportune moment. Since he lets the Lord express the same complaint against Nicodemus (v. 11), this is the place to say something more specific about it. It is true that the Gospel had to struggle a lot with the resistance of the world, even in the apostolic times – and the Lord and the Baptist are told about their experiences here: but it is just as true that it also won great victories and – metaphorically speaking – spread wonderfully fast over the whole world. The fourth evangelist always emphasises only the one side, and the way in which he does it, and that he does it so often with that standing formula, falls into the sentimental. His soft soul likes to pour itself out in lamentations and prefers to move in the opposition of the Gospel and the insensitive world. In this way, however, the image of truth loses its fresh colour and the powerful attraction that it exerted on the world, and it acquires a weak, legendary quality. Yes, even the true struggle which the Lord had to endure with the world – and which is included in that formula – loses its magnificent character from this point of view, when it is said continually and at every opportunity: “No one accepts His testimony. *) In the fourth Gospel, the struggle that the Lord in the Synoptics’ account undertakes with calm and infinite certainty is a series of attempts that are always renewed and repeated in vain and without success.

**) Bengel says to v. 31: haec usque ad finem capitis videtur attexuisse erangelista, baptistae sensui congrentia. The congruence is missing!

*) On the tautologies ! Tholuck (Comm. p. 105.) says, ουδεις sey “hyperbolic.” But the hyperbola is in this very case the inappropriate thing.


Another inconvenience! He whom God has sent, says the Baptist v. 34, speaks the words of God. The fact that this revelation of the divine can come from the Lord has already been explained by the Baptist in such a way that he draws the reason from the past: the Lord has seen, has heard, has come from heaven (v. 32). Also in v. 34 it is to be justified that the Lord can speak the words of God, but suddenly the justification is given in a completely different way, a general principle is established: “God does not give the Spirit according to measure”, a principle which reaches far beyond the present case *). This is the reason why the evangelist, in letting the Baptist speak of Jesus being endowed with the Spirit, has in mind at the same time the congregation and the fullness of the Spirit, which is continually and freely imparted to it.

*) Tholuck explains the present tense διδωσιν (Comm. p. 105) thus: “it is in this that God can and will do it, and from the context it is to be concluded that he has done it here.” But the generality of the proposition always reaches beyond the context. Olshausen: II, 106: “the present tense διδωσιν very appropriately denotes the permanent communication of the Spirit from the Father to the Son.” Olshausen thus goes so far as to limit the relation of the phrase only to Jesus. Then the definiteness αυτω might be much less lacking.


If in the second part of his discourse the Baptist lets himself go in the general consideration of the dignity of the Lord, the first part contains the nucleus which takes account of the presupposed occasion. There he says to his envious disciples, who want to provoke him to jealousy against Jesus, that man cannot take anything that has not been given to him from heaven. Thus he should not presume to be more than what he said about himself at that time, since he only called himself the forerunner of the Anointed One. But he rejoiced that the expected one was given to the church, even if he himself had to decrease while the anointed one increased. (V. 27 – 30.)

It may happen that joy and sorrow touch each other in the same subject at the same moment; but usually it will only be the case when both feelings are excited from different sides, and then, because they contradict each other, they must struggle with each other, which will last until they either balance each other out, or one triumphs over the other. In the speech of the Baptist, however, joy and pain stand calmly, as it were neutrally, next to each other, as if they had nothing to do with each other, and both are brought about by the same occasion, by the coming and successful ministry of the Anointed One. The Baptist rejoices that the Messiah has united with the congregation, and without bringing both feelings together, he expresses the painful necessity that he must now decrease, while the Anointed One grows far beyond him.


It is possible, of course, for the same subject to produce opposite sensations at the same moment through the same matter, but then the matter must act from different sides, which it has in itself, and also grasp and seize the subject from different sides, which it presents to it. That is not the case here either. As a forerunner, the Baptist rejoices in one and the same thing which, as a forerunner, at the same time arouses in him the painful sensation of diminishing, namely, that the promised one is given to the church.

But if the Baptist had really carried opposite feelings in this way, he would have been tortured by an unbearable contradiction, which he, as a spiritual person, would have had to resolve absolutely. If he rejoiced at the coming of the Messiah, why did he not make joy complete and the ruling, pervading, sole sentiment by unconditionally surrendering himself to the Messiah? In the picture that describes his personal position, v. 19, he stands outside, like the friend of the bridegroom who embraces the bride inside the wedding chamber and expresses his love in friendly caresses. Why, then, does he not join the congregation, so that he may also be embraced by the bridegroom? If he was indeed happy about the arrival of the Anointed One, he should really have joined him if he did not want to weaken his verbal recognition of the Greater One – we do not want to call it a lie, but he did want to weaken it and give a bad example to the others whom he pointed out to the Coming One.


On the other hand, the Baptist says he has to decrease. The reason here is also incomprehensible. He did not actually have to decrease, for that would presuppose that he would still have to exist as a forerunner next to the Lord, even if overshadowed by the infinitely stronger light of the Lord, but he would have to step completely out of his position, i.e. cease to be what he had been for so long when he paved the way for the Lord. And his joy in this seclusion could not even be as complete as he boasts, since with vain effort he still wanted to be something, even if something diminishing, for himself. Then he was not allowed to say, v. 35, that everything was given into the Lord’s hand, or he acted wrongly if he did not first of all give himself into the hand of the Mighty One.

The resolution of the core of this speech is completed when we see how the Baptist, in contrast to the heavenly origin and the heavenly wisdom of the Lord, says of himself that he is of the earth and also speaks only earthly things. (V. 31. 32.) This is again the contrast of the heavenly and the earthly, which here comes to just as unhappy an end as it did above, when it was put into the Lord’s mouth in the conversation with Nicodemus. Lücke certainly cannot hold back this ending when he asserts *): “only comparatively shall it be said that the Baptist, like all the earth-born – de Wette says, like all the sons of earth – is inferior to the Messiah as the heaven-born.” Rather, the Baptist wants to confront the Lord as the earthly one with his whole historical task and with the whole scope of it. Therefore he also says: he speaks εκ της, all that he speaks comes from below, from the earth. On this centre of difficulty Olshausen really goes off and now says *): “also the divine which John speaks, he speaks from the earth, i.e. in earthly, veiled form, while Christ also presented the heavenly in heavenly clarity.” But it is not the contrast of the form of one and the same content that is to be expressed in these words, but the contrast of the content; for the fact that Jesus speaks the heavenly is only due to the fact that he alone has seen it. By leaving the contrast purely as it stands, it now appears that the evangelist, in his antithetical zeal, forgets how he himself had said in 1:6 that the Baptist was sent by God, and how he had said of him the same thing that is now to be said of the Lord alone in 3:34. If it were to be understood even relatively, that the Baptist came from a lower sphere, figuratively to be called earthly, then it is not only inappropriately expressed, but it is also impossible to say, since his mission is founded in the divine nature and in this alone. And then the Baptist, according to his origin, should also speak only earthly things! But everything that the evangelist reports to us of the Baptist’s speeches is not in the least something earthly, but that which the Lord just described to Nicodemus as the mystery of the heavenly. Thus the Baptist has the perfect insight into the mediation of the work of salvation through the sacrificial death of the Anointed One when he calls Jesus the Lamb of God, and even in this case he does not speak more “veiled” than the Lord when the latter, under the type of the brazen serpent, presents the divine counsel and his destiny to die for the world. Indeed, in the speech in which the forerunner describes the glory of the Anointed One to his envious disciples, he does so with the very words that the Lord Himself uses when He speaks of Himself and His task. The Lord also says (3:11) that He testifies of what He has seen. He complains in the same context with the same words that His testimony is not accepted, and He speaks of the purpose of His divine mission and of judgment (3:16) just as the Baptist does here (3:34-36). And that would be earthly speaking? No. The Baptist could not have uttered a contrast which, as soon as it is taken somewhat seriously, evaporates. But we have already learned above where this contrast comes from: it comes from the evangelist who wants to use it here again to contrast the Lord and the forerunner, but can only bring it to a vague semblance and echo of the difference.

*) Comm I, 502.

*) Comm. Il, 105.


Just as nothing individual in this speech has proven itself to us as the real word of the Baptist, neither can the general meaning of it. For if the Baptist acknowledges the Lord as the Messiah in the most definite way and at the same time wants to form an independent entity which, although it decreases, nevertheless insists on its isolated standpoint, this is a contradiction which he could never have carried within himself. One would have to deny completely that the Christian idea permeates and surrounds the whole man, consciousness and will, before one could make it credible that a man who has grasped the core of this idea and lives in it should not have given himself completely over to it. It is historically certain that the Baptist did not join the Lord, and with this it is equally certain that he never had that perfect insight into the work of salvation which the fourth evangelist ascribes to him. That the Baptist sees the mystery of heaven present in Jesus and yet still wants to stand for himself, even if to his pain, is the same contradiction that lies in the fact that his disciples regard as a harmful rival the one whom their Master had testified to them as the Higher, even the Most High. We have already seen that they could not have heard this testimony, but do they perhaps have reason to know in Jesus a dangerous rival of their Master?


3) The baptism of Jesus.

Jesus and John baptised at the same time, in the same area, close to each other and this circumstance as well as the success of the former aroused the envy of the disciples of the latter. The Evangelist corrects the expression that the Lord baptised as quickly as he can and now says in 4:2 that it was not he himself who baptised, but his disciples, so the author himself seems to have felt the offence that would lie in it, if the Lord had wanted to gain a following through baptism. But the matter is not made any better by this correction, and the extremely objectionable idea that the Lord, even through his disciples, should have had an effect on the people in a positive, statutory form, retains its force. One will no longer be able to resist the admission that this kind of influence was impossible for the Lord. As the content with which Jesus appeared lay in the infinity of his self-consciousness and in the certainty of his unity with God and of real reconciliation, so his effectiveness could only consist in opening up this infinity of his inner being to the general consciousness and in bringing it to the imagination through his teaching, as well as to view it in general through his appearance. His task was only this ideal, spiritual work. Every positive statute, even baptism, would have limited the infinity of a new creation at its beginning, or would have presupposed that the new world was already there in its completion, and that it only required the acceptance of baptism if one wished to enter into it. *) Finally, it would contradict the Lord’s free position if he had created the impression that he wanted to gather a certain circle of followers around him who were formally separated from the world. Jesus, however, was much freer: completely sure of himself and his work, he threw the seed of life of a new world into the old and knew that in its time it would also produce the certain fruit. Baptism by the disciples would have been a premature intervention in the free development of the new principle, would have been mistrust in its creative power. Later, when the world was secured, the Church had to create certain forms for its existence, and the baptism was necessary, but as a form of Jesus’ personal activity it would have been a disturbing, externally limiting form. In order to be fully convinced of this, we only need to imagine the picture that would emerge if Jesus and John had each drawn a special circle of followers around them through baptism: we then only need to consider what our report presupposes and in this case would also have to presuppose that friction had arisen between the two circles: – two quarrelsome schools, envious of each other, would be before us, but not the place in which a world-conquering principle is born and develops in free certainty of itself.

*) Bretschneider, Probab. 70: Neque necessarius videbatur baptismus, cum Jesus, dum viveret, ecclesiam non haberet. Cf. Weisse, evang. Gesch. I, 411-412.


The apologist still has to answer the difficult question: “Why do we not hear more about the course of Christ in the Gospels?” “The definite faith in Jesus the Christ, as it was included in baptism,” answers Lücke *), “was much less frequent during the lifetime of Jesus.” True! but properly understood it proves the very impossibility that Jesus could have baptized. For the confession of his name, which he would have required for baptism, would have been a positive, dogmatic, or rather symbolic one, which could not have existed if he first wanted to bring forth this faith. In the way the Synoptics report, he could only call Peter blessed for the sake of his divinely worked confession, if his faith during his lifetime was a nascent one, bursting forth in momentary desire, but not the positive and definite one that baptism presupposes.

*) Comm. I, 493.

And if we were to indicate how the baptism of water, which Jesus had performed by his disciples, and that of John differed, we would have to labour in vain like the apologists. However, according to the presuppositions of the Fourth Gospel, it is inevitable to assert “the essential unity” of both baptisms, and the difference in this case could only be placed in the fact that John’s baptism “included only the believing hope in the coming, whereas Jesus’ baptism included the definite faith in the Messiah who had appeared.” But before we stoop to this conclusion with Lücke **) and belittle the essence of Christian baptism by this merely formal, quantitative difference, given by the indifferent determination of time, we admit that this conclusion, which impairs the sacrament, is only the consequence of the false assumptions of our report. But the baptism of John cannot be thought of apart from Christian baptism if the Baptist, as the fourth evangelist reports, had acknowledged the Lord. He could no longer point to the One who was to come if he did not want to fall into a screaming contradiction or turn the people away from Jesus in a soul-robbing way. For if he had that deep insight into the centre of the Christian idea, if he had acknowledged the definite presence and fullness of this idea in Jesus, then he would not only have had to baptise the people into the One who had appeared, but also to instruct them about the great significance of Him; but then his baptism was no longer his own; or he would not have been allowed to baptise at all, as soon as the people associated with his baptism the idea that it was to prepare them for the reception of the One who was to come *). But if he baptised with a different position from the Messiah who had appeared, then his baptism no longer had anything peculiar in front of the baptism that the disciples of Jesus performed under his eyes; then he had left his historical limited position and on the other side so that envy against Jesus and his successes could not arise. All these conflicts, however, are cancelled from the beginning, since the profound Christian insight which the fourth evangelist ascribes to the Baptist has not proved itself to us, and that envy of John’s disciples could not arise, since the occasion for it was lacking, i.e. since Jesus never baptised, not even through his disciples.

**) Ibid. p. 491.

*) This necessity must be proved even by Lücke (loc. cit. p. 493), when, in order to maintain the “preparatory character of the baptism of John,” he must actually hide it. It was “in its place” where “Jesus did not appear himself. The baptism of John cannot be brought down further than by making it dependent on the accidental locality. And in the fourth Gospel we even hear that both Jesus and John baptised side by side in the same place.


4) The origin of this report.

Now that all the pages of this account have been collapsed and the task is set of finding its origin, several decisive key words reveal to us the material from which the author’s pragmatic reflection was built. In his answer to the envious accusation of his disciples, the forerunner calls Jesus the bridegroom, v. 29. Jesus describes himself as such, Matt. 9:15, and it is right, he says here, that those rejoice with whom the bridegroom dwells. According to Matthew’s account, the Lord makes this statement on the occasion that the disciples of the forerunner ask Him why His disciples do not fast like them and the Pharisees. Even if it is not certain whether the disciples of John themselves asked Jesus, it remains that questions were raised about the relationship between the way of life of the Lord’s disciples and that of the Baptist. Fasting, however, was regarded as purification of the soul: thus, in addition to the figurative designation of Jesus as the bridegroom, we have a second allusion, which consists in the fact that a dispute arises about purification *). In the account of the fourth Gospel, however, we still notice how a Jew is introduced as disputing, which is not necessary for the motive of what follows, and is even disturbing for it: we can also indicate from where this dispute with a Jew originates! Matthew also knows of a dispute about cleansing, in which the Jewish party appears, when he tells us that the scribes asked Jesus why His disciples did not wash before eating (15:2). For the proliferating and only slightly stimulating fantastic reflection of our author, the Gospel tradition offered enough material from which he could form his report.

*) Gfrörer (das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 141) also draws attention to this correspondence.


Admittedly, we must admit that these data could only provide the framework; the complete structure of this report could not yet be built from them. That main beam had to be added which held the structure and the framework together, namely the fact that Jesus baptised. The evangelist found this main beam on the trajectory in which his anachronism 3:5 had put him. Here the Lord had to speak of the necessity of baptism in order to state all the conditions for entrance into the kingdom of heaven; if the Lord spoke in this way, then baptism as Christian baptism (for this is the only thing meant there) must be something present to him, then he himself baptized or, when the author himself took offence at it, he had it performed by his disciples. Then, however, the jealousy of John’s disciples could arise and the Baptist had a suitable opportunity to speak again about the mighty one, an opportunity that the evangelist was actually only looking for when he built this account.

This testimony of the Baptist is, in fact, the soul that animates and inhabits that construction, the power that brought together that material, the purpose it serves. The author wanted to give the words with which the Baptist, in a dignified way, departs from the story as it appears in this Gospel and, before he leaves the scene, once more bears witness to the sublime.

But why did the Baptist have to testify again, why was it not enough with the noble testimony which he had already given so powerfully at the beginning of the Gospel? From the synoptic account we see that the last thing that was known of the Baptist was a word about the Messianic expectation. Of course, it is only a question, and a doubtful one at that, when the Baptist asks Jesus through some of his disciples whether he is the Messiah or whether we should wait for another. A question of this kind, however, does not agree with the overall view of the fourth evangelist, since according to it the Baptist is initiated into the deepest mysteries of the work of salvation; under this presupposition, he must therefore in the end testify as clearly and firmly as before to the glory of Jesus. Nevertheless, the evangelist cannot keep the power of the historical entirely at bay, and even in his account he must betray the undeniable, the unconvincing, that the Baptist stood far from the Lord. Without noticing the crying contradiction, he must at the same time present the Baptist, who is supposed to be at the centre of the Christian idea, as one who still wants to form an independent, even if diminishing, entity alongside the Lord.


Incidentally, we would be doing just as much honour as injustice to a report that has emerged from this material, this purpose and from this impression of historical fact if we wanted to call it a myth. Too much honour – because it is not determined by an idea and purely by it; injustice – because the whole is pragmatic reflection that has processed an abundance of given material.




§ 2. The circle of expectation (John 1:19-52)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§. 2. The circle of expectation



1) The mission of the priests to “the” Baptist.


If it is detrimental to a report and must make us cautious about it from the outset if it betrays an agenda, we have every reason to be cautious at the beginning of this Gospel, for with tireless verbosity the author emphasises how important it was to him that the Baptist should bear witness and give the honour to whom it was due. That the author had an agenda when he began his writing in this way and emphasised the beginning so sharply that he says four times in succession (v. 19. 20) that the Baptist had borne witness cannot be denied, and the only question is what his purpose was.

The delegation before which the Baptist testifies is an official one, consisting of Levites and priests, and is sent by “the Jews,” i.e., by the authority, which the author always imagines to be in hostile opposition to the work of salvation. The evangelist already has this opposition in mind here, and the dissonance that emerges from time to time in the entire drama that follows is immediately woven into the first beginning, just as the overture’s composer already hints at the horrors that shake the spirit in the main work itself. But when later the resistance of the Jews is overcome by the Lord and the dissonance is resolved into harmony, the author also wants to show here how the hostility of the superiors cannot harm the Baptist and even less stop the entrance of salvation.


First, the Baptist answered the deputation that he was not the Messiah. He could only answer in this way if the messengers assumed that he could be the Messiah *), or if they thought that he appeared to be the Messiah. They are only to ask (v. 19): who are you? but the author has given the question this wavering attitude only because he confuses two things, namely, he wants to state the purpose of their mission in general and at the same time to pose a specific individual question. The first question he imagines is whether the Baptist is the Messiah, otherwise he could not put such a definite negative answer into his mouth. But both question and answer are not only improbable, but absolutely impossible. The Baptist could never have given even the slightest reason to believe that he was the Messiah, since he only ever attributed to himself the significance of being the forerunner before the Lord. If we do not even find a trace that the people took him for the Messiah **), much less could the authorities ask him whether it was really in him, as it seemed, or as he seemed to pretend that he was the Messiah. For if they sent a message to him, he must already have attracted their attention through a longer period of activity and through a greater stir which he had caused among the people. It was impossible for them to send a message to him without having made enquiries about him from afar, and then they could and must have learned from the most superficial enquiry that it had never occurred to him to pretend to be the Messiah.

*) Bengel , Guomon N. T. : Johannem esse Christum suspicatierant.

**) The fact that, according to the account of the third Gospel, the people assume that John might be the Messiah (c. 3, 15) is not historical testimony. Luke likes to pragmatize and freely creates historical transitions for the speeches of his characters. The question of the people is nothing but such a transition to the Baptist’s explanation of his historical position.


Nothing else propelled that question and answer to the beginning of the fourth Gospel than the desire for a backdrop on which the main image would stand out as vividly as possible. If the Baptist, this high personality, admitted it himself, if he admitted before the message of the highest authority that he was not the Messiah, then one is all the more eager for the appearance of the one who really is. In itself, the confession that he was not the Messiah lay in the preaching and effectiveness of the Baptist. But for the sake of that purpose, the author has the Baptist really and officially express it, although he has overlooked that he leads the forerunner into a collision and an investigation that was not possible given the nature of his appearance and his effectiveness.

We don’t need to be upset by the unsuccessful beginning to find it highly remarkable how the Baptist answers the following two questions from the messengers with a ruthless no. They ask him if he is Elijah. If the Baptist had already announced himself as the precursor of the coming one, he came very close to identifying himself as the promised Elijah, since that relationship between the Messiah and his herald is nowhere more clearly portrayed in the Old Testament than in Malachi, the same prophet in whose prophecy the forerunner is introduced as Elijah. However, a plausible view is not always easy to obtain, and the lower perspective always tries in vain to combine all the elements of its personality, including the elements hinted at in the past, into the unity of self-awareness. Only the higher perspective is fortunate enough to pull these elements of the lower personality together in one fell swoop into the point of unity of perception. So it was only the Lord who said (Matthew 11:14) that the Baptist was the Elijah who was to come. By adding “if you are willing to accept it,” the Lord indicates that his view of the connection between the Baptist and the promise of the coming Elijah is a new one that has not yet been expressed anywhere *). He should have said, “The Baptist is truly that Elijah of the promise, as he himself said, and you must believe his statement if the Baptist had actually identified himself as that Elijah.” If the Baptist had not given any indication in his response to the messengers’ question, the only remaining motive would be that perhaps the expectation of the promised Elijah was widespread among the people. But even this expectation could not have been widespread at that time **), otherwise the Baptist would have necessarily had to say that he was that Elijah so that the expectation would not be proven futile, or someone else would wrongly say that it had been fulfilled in him and not in the Baptist. And for the same reason, he would have also had to tell the official delegation of his highest authority, “Yes, I am, I am that Elijah.” He cannot deny the messengers’ question simply because the priests may have understood Malachi’s promise of the return of the empirical person of Elijah, as their question does not give us any reason to attribute such an adventurous idea to them. But if the Baptist had meant, in an ideal sense, that he was indeed that Elijah in contrast to such a question, it was his duty to express it in order to correct a false idea. And in general, he would have been obligated to give a motivated response to his authority’s reputation.

*) See Weisse, Die evang. Geschichte, I. 237.

**) The Jewish testimonies usually cited (e.g. Gfrörer, Das Jahrh. d. Heils II, 227 – 229) for the spread of such an expectation at the time of Jesus are all from later centuries and only came into being through contact with the Christian conception. In the Targum Jonath, Elijah did not become the standing personality of the forerunner, nor was the view of Malcachi in any way related to Is. 40, 3. Only in the Mishna Edajoth is there a reflection on Elijah and his appearance among the people in order to restore the old order, and only on this task without reference to the relationship to the Messiah, and only after centuries in the Targum Yerushalmi does Elijah become a standing personage who is often mentioned as one who is to be sent to the captives of Israel at the end of the situation. Who does not see here that it was only through acquaintance with the Christian world that the view of Elijah also became solidified for the Jewish circle of vision?

*) As is the usual assumption of the commentators. Cf. e.g. B. Bengel, de Wette, Lücke, Tholuck and others.


The following question, whether he is the Prophet, is evidently intended to descend to a lower level of dignity, and its meaning is no other than: well, if you are neither the Messiah nor Elijah, perhaps you are at least the Prophet? On the other hand, the expression “the prophet” has something so exclusive about it, it awakens the idea of such a high dignity that it is otherwise rightly reserved only for the Messiah (e.g. C. 6:14), especially as it is taken from the Messianic prophecy of the Pentateuch (Deut. 18). We shall only later find a suitable opportunity to discuss how the evangelist came to ascribe the title of prophet in such a contradictory way to the highest object of religious belief and at the same time to a lower level of the theocratic hierarchy. According to one essential aspect of his destiny, the Baptist was indeed a prophet, as the Lord himself acknowledges (Matth. 11, 9.), even though he adds that he was more than a prophet. On that side, therefore, the Baptist would have had to acknowledge that his task was prophetic, and if he had perhaps wanted to deny the question on the grounds that only the Messiah was the true prophet, the necessary respect for the authority would have demanded that he limit his “no” in this sense. Tholuck wants to console us in all these difficulties with the “compendious character of the narrative,” but that would only be a makeshift solution that does not help us and is highly dangerous to the reputation of the evangelist; because nobody can tell a story so compendiously that it portrays its subject in an awkward light. We cannot consider “the rough manners of the rough preacher,” to which Tholuck still refers, as an explanation; because if, as it would seem from the current context, they could become a repulsive personality trait, the Baptist would have had to restrain and moderate them all the more before the message of his authority.

*) Tholuck, Comm. on the Evang. John 1837. p. 67.


It cannot occur to us to accuse the evangelist of clumsy exposition and the Baptist of reckless barbarism in the same way as the believing apologist does, since the questions which the forerunner of the Lord answers in the negative have proved to us to be impossible and unhistorical. We are expelled from the real world, and we must now go back to the consciousness of the evangelist in order to seek out the origin of those questions and answers. The interest of the story is clear enough. For now, after the priests have exhausted themselves in questions, since they can no longer ask anything definite, are at the end of their wisdom and can only ask, who are you? now the Baptist comes forward with a round answer and says what his position in the divine household is. He is the voice of the one who calls in the wilderness to prepare the ways of the Lord. The evangelist wanted to put this testimony of the Baptist about himself on its right height by first letting the priests exhaust their wisdom and opposing the wisdom of the divine counsel to the finite understanding. The dead nature of the old priesthood had to reveal itself in the vain questions, so that it came to light that the old had lost its original spirit and meaning and could no longer find its way into the new, which announced itself through its own inner strength.


When the evangelist lets the Baptist say that he is not the Elijah of the promise, he enters into a decisive collision with the Synoptics, according to whose account the Lord says the opposite. The author must have had a dark awareness that the position of the Baptist was related to the promise of Elijah, otherwise he would not have come to such a question of the priests. But this consciousness could only be dark in him, and he had to let the Baptist answer in the negative if he wanted to produce the contrast indicated.

Incidentally, we would be acting inconsistently and unfairly against those features of the report which we had to describe as unhistorical if we did not also want to take a closer look at the Baptist’s statement about his historical position. The matter is not to be regarded as so impartial and innocent that the Baptist applies the saying Isa. 40:3 to himself only for the purpose of indicating approximately and occasionally in this case the essentials of his destiny. On the one hand, this saying appears as a standing formula; on the other hand, it is meant to explain the historical appearance of the Baptist in its complete totality and to summarise the individual sides of the personality of the preacher of repentance into one point where they find their final explanation. This effort, however, could only become a necessity and succeed when the appearance of the Baptist was completed for historical viewing.


The emissaries of the priesthood, who are said to belong to the school of the Pharisees, fully agree that John should be allowed to baptise if he were the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet *), and therefore demand that he should state his credentials, since he has not professed any of those titles. And what does the Baptist answer? Nothing but that he baptises in water, but that the infinitely greater one comes after him. It was impossible for the messengers to be satisfied with this answer, as the report presupposes. The Baptist did not say a word about his authority, at least nothing more than what he had just said, since he called himself the voice of the one who calls for the preparation of the ways of the Lord. But if the delegates could not have been reassured by the Baptist’s answer, it was all the easier for the evangelist. He was only concerned with a question, to have the Baptist speak of his water baptism and again more specifically of his position as a forerunner, and that question is only a lever for him, only a means which he throws away or forgets as soon as the Baptist has had his say *). But such a means, as has now been proven to us from the resolution of all questions and answers, is the whole message of the priestly party and it only served the evangelist to make the Baptist speak about the Messiah and about his own position in relation to the same.

*) That there was agreement among the Jews at that time about the eligibility of Elijah as the Messianic herald for baptism, we must not assume with the exegetes. The existence of such a view would have to be inferred from our passage, which is the link in a later pragmatic chain. In Dialog. c. Tryph. (Just. opp. edit. Paris.1636 p. 226) the purpose is indeed attached to the mission of Elias, that he should bring the Messiah χριση πασιν ποιηση. But when the Baptist, in the account of our Gospel (C. 1, 31), says, therefore he came with the baptism of water, that the Messiah might be manifested to Israel (ιναα Ψανερωθη), and if, as we shall see, this revelation of the Messiah is made dependent on his being baptized by the Baptist, the literal coincidence in the statement of the purpose already betrays to us the source from which the author’s view of that dialogue flowed.

*) It is an ingrained superstition of exegesis that it thinks it has explained the biblical writers by tautologies. One believes to have done everything when one has brought together the individual similar cases into a general formula. Thus de Wette (Brief Explanation of the Gospel and Letters of John 1837. p. 26) thinks to explain the above difficulty by the remark that John “does not always make the questions and answers correspond directly to each other. But this is the difficulty, that the evangelist does not allow both to correspond to each other, and it is only explained if the question “Why? But this is where the lack comes from, because the evangelist only goes for the answer, only wants it, and every means of eliciting it is the same to him or does not give him much trouble.


If we now say that the message of the priests was for the evangelist only a means by which he wanted to carry out the stated intentions and interests, then, because of the ambiguity that is inherent in language in these circumstances, the following should be noted. It is by no means to be said that the author invented these means purely from his head and consciously regarded them as invented. Rather, these intentions guided him involuntarily and with that immediate instinct of art that determines our pragmatic view of history. This instinct has given rise to countless hypotheses by historians, hypotheses that often hit the mark with ingenious certainty, but which often have to disappear again before criticism. Even in the reports of eyewitnesses, such hypotheses inevitably form, if the substance of the self-experienced, which in reality must work its way through many individual scattering moments and does not always rise to moments that allow the totality to emerge in perfect purity, is to be drawn together into such transparent moments. The eyewitness considers such self-formed moments to be historical, because they reflect to him the idea he has experienced in the dispersion of their individual appearances, and he regards them with the same faith as the later historian regards his hypotheses, of whose correctness the latter is so convinced that he no longer considers any doubt possible. So our evangelist also considered his report to be completely historical. It was enough for him that the Baptist had often spoken of his task, that even priests had questioned him about it, and his account, under the silent and secret cooperation of the interests indicated, made itself under his hands and as a certain, reliable history.


The circumstance that Luke also knows of a declaration by the Baptist concerning his historical position and his relationship to the Messiah must naturally give rise to comparisons. Explanators who, like Lücke *), treat the Synoptics with the greatest possible respect, agree to the assumption of two different incidents. For in Luke, the Baptist testified before the people before he had baptised Jesus, whereas in John’s account (C. 1, 26) the baptism of Jesus is already assumed. This timing, however, is not decisive, for Luke could not have presented the testimony in any other way, since, in the manner of the Synoptics, he concludes everything concerning the Baptist’s ministry before the Lord’s public appearance. Others, on the other hand, hold to the similarity of the content, declare the accounts in Luke and John to be accounts of one and the same incident, and since they are predominantly distrustful of the Synoptics, they, like de Wette **), declare themselves in favour of John and accuse the third Synoptist of inaccuracy. With what right the fourth evangelist receives the palm in this case does not require any further investigation for us, since his report has proved to us to be unhistorical. Strauss wants to leave it undecided on whose side the truth stands, whether Luke’s account is only an echo of what John knows to report more precisely, or whether the account of the latter only arose from the endeavour to give more weight to the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus by presenting it before an official delegation of the authorities ***). We are also relieved of this uncertainty, since the assumption of the crowd that the Baptist might be the Messiah himself, from which Luke proceeds, just as much as the more specific question of the state authority in John only arose from the pragmatic endeavour to give the Baptist’s declaration about himself and his great successor a specific historical occasion.

*) Comm. on the Gospel of John, 1, 342.

**) ibid. p. 27.

***) The Life of Jesus, 3rd ed. I, 420.


Tholuck *) argues in particular that the Baptist was able to speak the words twice about himself and his office as a forerunner, so that the same statement was heard once by the people and then by the state authorities. But we must surprise this interpreter, who thinks he has already gained the most by a simple repetition, by a much greater concession. Not twice or three times only, but very often the Baptist had to refer to the meaning of his water baptism and his relationship to the one to come. It is only the later historical view that draws together an extended efficacy of its heroes and confines the painting of them in one frame. What it usually does, however, it had to feel called upon to do in the highest degree when portraying the forerunner of the Lord. In portraying him, it was enough to describe his appearance, his pointing to the successor in brief features, for as these features were given, the interest of the view was so vividly directed towards the coming one that the herald, as he had performed his office, could immediately step from the scene. But once the effectiveness and significance of the herald had been condensed into one keyword, a specific occasion had to be sought for it, which in different circles could also become a different occasion, as we find in the account of the third and fourth Gospels.

*ibid. p. 69.

Nevertheless, it seems absolutely impossible that the message of the authorities was only a lever of pragmatism to bring the Baptist to that cue, since the exact indication of the place and time rather speaks for a historical incident. The priestly delegation is said to have spoken to the Baptist at Bethany on the Jordan, and the evangelist connects a subsequent incident with this meeting by the time: on the morrow. Before all this can force us to give up even one point of the result of the previous criticism, we must first examine what is supposed to have happened on the following day, whether it can prove itself to us more than historically and serve as a witness to the incident of the previous day.


2) The testimony of the Baptist about the Lamb of God.


On the following day, the Baptist sees Jesus approaching him and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The demeanor of the people who appear in this scene has that mysterious character that is initially inexplicably indefinite. Jesus approaches the Baptist, but we are not told why. Nor are we informed whether the Lord really approached the Baptist and engaged in conversation with him. Rather, the fact that Jesus is approaching him only has significance in the context of the Baptist being able to point him out and give him the highest testimony. However, since the Baptist does not give this testimony in a few words but in several sentences (vv. 29-34), and since these sentences are each so full of meaning that they cannot be spoken hastily and superficially, the Lord must have been far away from him when the Baptist saw him and spoke to those around him. If, however, the Lord had really been so far away when he appeared in the Baptist’s sight, then the Baptist’s speaking and pointing would be baseless and appear forced and awkward. Should we think that the Lord has come so close that the Baptist can easily point to him, he still cannot speak so extensively about the one who must be coming to him every moment unless he whispers the words, which are supposed to be a free, clear, and emphatic testimony, into the ears of those around him as quickly and hastily as possible. As there is no distance in which we could place the Lord so that the Baptist could point to him and at the same time give such an important and extensive testimony of him, we have no choice but to follow the explanation of Strauss *) that the coming of the Lord to the Baptist is only a pragmatic lever to introduce the latter’s speech. When it was established that the Baptist had pointed to Jesus, the historical view of this pointing was portrayed in a physically palpable way, and the Lord himself had to come to the Baptist personally so that he could point to him with his finger and say with even greater emphasis: ουτος εστ [=This is the one]. Finally, there is the natural escalation that the day before, the Baptist had said to the delegation of the authorities that the Messiah was already among them and had spoken of him as an absent one, so it was fitting that the Lord emerged from his hiding place so that the Baptist could immediately point to him. For this purpose only does the Evangelist bring the Lord into the Baptist’s field of vision, and he does so in that indefinite way because he is satisfied as soon as he has placed the Lord where he wanted him. De Wette **) says, “the Evangelist’s attention is solely focused on the Baptist’s testimony” – that is correct, and the simple statement of the fact, but when he says, “hence, we do not learn why Jesus came to the Baptist,” and when he thus thinks that the Evangelist knew this intention, also knew what had happened between Jesus and the Baptist afterward, but had omitted it only because of that limitation of his attention, this is a presupposition that the report simply cannot justify. Finally, the apologist could determine the distance at which Jesus is during the Baptist’s speech so wisely and according to that middle ratio that the Baptist’s detailed testimony can be comfortably spoken: if only his mediating wisdom would help him somewhat. Because necessarily he would have to command the Lord to stop for that middle distance until the Baptist has finished his speech with due decorum.

*) Life of Jesus, 1st ed. I, 349. 

**) ibid. p. 27.


By pointing to the Lord with his finger, the Baptist says: this is the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world, and thus, with this definiteness of expression, he refers to a view that was common to his time and his people, which had hitherto lived in expectation and had now found its real substrate. The most natural thing for the interpreters, if it is a question of the starting point of this view, seemed to go back to Is. 53 *), for the individual who, according to this prophecy, suffers for the world and bears its sin, is compared, because of the willingness with which he suffers, to the lamb that does not open its mouth when it is led to the slaughter. On this assumption, we would have to assume that the general expectation was that the Messiah, as a sufferer, would take upon himself the guilt of others, and that he was figuratively called the Lamb of God. But if we hear from the Synoptics that Jesus did not reveal to his own the necessity of his suffering until very late, without them being able to accept this idea, how can the Baptist have been so happy even before the lowly appearance of the Lord removed one of the greatest difficulties, as to be able to rely on a corresponding view of his hearers, when he showed them in the Lord the expected suffering Messiah? It is impossible that the Baptist could have been so fortunate, since according to the account of our Gospel, several of the Lord’s disciples first followed him, were sent by him to Jesus in order to follow him, and, what is more, were supposed to have been moved to follow the Lord solely by the fact that the Baptist showed them in Jesus that sufferer, the Lamb of God, but later did not demonstrate that they had gone through such an excellent school [that is, where the Baptist taught them that Jesus must suffer]. Impossible! we must say again and again, for in this case the disciples should have found it much easier to find their way into the Lord’s discourses of His sufferings and into these themselves when their time had come. How the apologist must torture and distort the report if he nevertheless wants to unite this fact with the testimony of the Baptist! The disciples of the Baptist, says Lücke *), “at first understood in this saying only the messianic relation, the inner understanding remained closed to them. But with a saying whose point, which alone contained the messianic meaning, they did not understand, they could not have thought anything, least of all that it aimed at the Messiah. But we need not even trouble the apologist with the question how the disciples could understand the Messianic meaning in a saying which they did not understand: we can confront him more briefly about the fact that he robs the Baptist’s saying of its historical foundation if he does not assume in the listeners the firm and certain conception of the suffering Messiah, to which the Baptist attaches himself when he says: Behold, the Lamb of God. For in saying this, he means nothing other than: Behold the promised and eagerly awaited Lamb of God.

*) Bengel: Ο, articulus respicit prophetiam de eo sub hoc schemate factam Is. 53, 7.

*) ibid. I., 360.


But we do not want to accuse the apologist of depriving the Baptist’s statement of its historical basis: he must do so because the disciples do not later demonstrate that such a certain view of the suffering Messiah had already been embraced by them. His error is only that he thinks he can still leave that certainty in the Baptist’s statement, even though he has removed that on which it is based. The conscientious apologist, however, seeks to make up for his mistake, or rather, he does not acknowledge his error, and by no means thinks that he has removed the foundation of the saying presupposed in the text; he only knows that such a foundation must exist and now seeks it somewhere else, even if not in the text. Thus it is said that the Baptist spoke in a “prophetic” spirit *) of the sufferings that would befall the Messiah, or that an instantaneous enthusiasm drove him to that utterance **) and that it was thus a work of “momentary enlightenment. ***). But does the evangelist want us to regard the statement of the forerunner only as a ray of hope, which is soon pushed back again by opposing views? Should the Baptist have come to an insight only through momentary enthusiasm, which was darkened again when the enthusiasm waned? Nothing less! Rather, according to the Evangelist, the Baptist is said to have had a firm, certain view of the work of salvation, as it is accomplished at its highest peak in the sufferings of the Redeemer, so that it formed the centre of his Messianic theory. So the evangelist wants us to see in the Baptist’s utterance nothing of foreboding, nothing of glimpses of light, nothing of momentarily gripping enthusiasm, but a dogma, a theory completely certain of its object.

*) So Lücke ibid.

**) Bengel: divinitus instructus Johannes appellat Agnum dei.

***) Hoffmann: The Life of Jesus, p 292.


How does the doubt of the Baptist, of which the Synoptics tell us, fit with a theory so certain of itself? Lücke will not make it comprehensible to us when he says *) that the Baptist “did not understand the full context of the Christian idea”. Who may speak thus of a man who, as that statement proves, has already summed up the totality of the idea into a reflected unity! Of course, it is now all the more certain that if, according to the report of the Synoptics, the runner later doubted and could not believe in the lowly appearance of the Lord, he could not have arrived at such a definite theory earlier. However, even without the comparison with the synoptic accounts, we can bring the matter to a decision as soon as we take a closer look at the Baptist’s statement.

*) ibid. I., 330.

The words, “which beareth the sin of the world,” are, however, directly derived from the prophecy of Isa. 53, but the same cannot be said of the formula, “the Lamb of God.” For in that prophecy the lamb is mentioned only as an image, and only as an image of the meekness and patience with which the described sufferer endures his sufferings; it thus appears in this comparison only occasionally, incidentally, and as the ordinary sheep as it is led to the slaughter and shearing. On the other hand, in the saying of the Baptist, the analogy of the lamb and the Messiah is not this external one, which only designates the behaviour of the sufferer, but it is to refer to the essence of the personality of the Messiah; thus it is not only to designate the nature of his suffering, but his suffering itself and the divine destiny of it. In short, here the lamb is a religious symbol par excellence, namely the symbol of the sacrifice ordered by God and to be performed by the Messiah on himself. Therefore, the merely coincidental image in the prophecy of Isaiah is not sufficient to explain this symbol and we must look elsewhere for its origin.


Apologetics is well aware that insurmountable difficulties arise as soon as the matter is taken seriously, and it makes yet another attempt to cover up the difficulties. Accordingly, Lücke wants to “limit the typical relationship of our passage to Is. 53 and not allow any other” *). Jesus is only described as the “quiet and innocent” suffering lamb **). “The addition: which bears the sin of the world, does not refer both to the figurative concept of the lamb and to the messianic subject depicted therein” ***). But this is of no avail and all resistance is in vain. If through the image of the Lamb (ό αμνος ό αιρων) the subject of the Messiah is to be united with the bearing of sin, then this bearing of sin must be inwardly connected with the nature and destiny of the Lamb. Or – to put this evasion in its proper words – if the destiny of bearing the sin of the world is to be related to the messianic subject “pictured” in the Lamb, then this is only possible if this destiny as such is inseparably bound up with this very image of the Messiah. The lamb, therefore, which is the image of the Messiah in this essential sense, representing the innermost essence of the Messianic personality, is not the lamb of Isaiah, but must be another.

*) ibid. I., 350.

**) Ibid. p. 351.

***) Ibid. p. 352.


The apostle Paul tells us what kind of lamb it is when he writes to the Corinthians (1:5, 7): “our passover sacrifice was also slain for us, that is, Christ”, i.e. not the Jews alone, but we also have a passover lamb. The fact that the Lord had suffered in the time of the Jewish Passover brought about the comparison between His death and the slaughter of the Passover lamb, and once this comparison had arisen, the Jewish Passover sacrifice was regarded as a type of the sacrifice of Christ. The indefatigable apologist still resists until he has held up his last reason to the necessity and simplicity of truth, and so Lücke cannot refrain from remarking that “the symbolism of the Passover has no inner, direct relationship at all to the bearing of the sin of the world” *). Well, a direct relationship may not have existed originally, but could such a relationship not have been conveyed to Christian consciousness when the Passover lamb as a type was related to the death of Christ through that temporal encounter? And did Paul and the congregation necessarily have to fall into an arbitrary game when such a typical relationship seemed to exist for their view? Did not the purpose of deliverance from death and misery also lie in the Jewish sacrifice of the Passover, did it not lie originally and directly in this sacrifice, the offering and observance of which earned the Jews exemption from death and deliverance from the house of service? Certainly it was not an arbitrary gimmick, but the finger-pointing of history and the perception of the inner connection, which made the type of the higher deliverance from spiritual death and from the bondage of sin recognisable in the Passover sacrifice.

*) Ibid. p. 348.


In fact, several commentators have believed that they could only fully explain the Baptist’s saying if they gave it a relationship to the symbolism of the Passover as a basis. But because they still regarded the saying as one of the Baptist’s, that is, because they could not accept the historical circumstance that the death of Jesus fell in the time of the Passover as the middle link for the emergence of the typical conception of the Passover Lamb, they had to give the Baptist the most external occasions for his typical language and for that very reason at the same time assume that no one at that time could have understood it. That Bengel knows no other counsel than to assume a sudden supernatural illumination of the Baptist to explain the saying, has already been mentioned; but the believing interpreter trusts so little in his means of violence that he cannot avoid putting another natural means into action, namely, the nearness of the Passover feast *). It is inexplicable how the mere proximity of the feast, or rather the vague atmosphere of the feast, could help the Baptist to create this image. Lampe is much more crude when he says that the Baptist came to his words because a herd of Passover lambs was driven over the Jordan before his eyes for the coming feast. *) This would really be a tangible occasion if the figurative speech, and especially the typical speech, depended on the tangible and not rather on the fact that the common view of a larger circle was the starting point. Thousands of Passover lambs could be driven past before the eyes of the Baptist and those around him, but neither the latter could call Jesus the Lamb of God in this typical sense, nor could others understand him, if it was not the popular belief that the Messiah would suffer the sacrificial death for the sins of the world. Since this popular belief did not exist, so that the Baptist could neither speak according to it nor, when he spoke in this way, be understood by those around him **), the only ground on which this saying could arise was the view of the Christian community. It was only through the coincidence of Christ’s death with the Passover that the Christian community was led to that typical designation of the Messiah; it was also able to associate with the typical expression the prophecy fulfilled in the Lord of the Passover-bearer who bears the sin of the world – in short, only after those historical conditions could a formula be formed and immediately, as soon as it was there, understood, which in the image of the Passover lamb summed up the self-sacrificing love of the Saviour and its expressions to their highest point. The Baptist testifies of Christ as the Christian redeemed [i.e. as if John himself was the Christian redeemed] by the sacrificial death of the Saviour, in that the evangelist knows how to make no distinction between unbelief and the completed faith and cannot let the forerunner testify otherwise than in such a way that he ascribes to him the developed view of the later congregation.

*) Bengel, I. c.: atque ipsum pascha tum prope erat.

* ) Lampe , com. I., p. 430.

**) Thus, for example, even Bengel must add to his explanation: quamquam primo illo tempore appellationis hujus exacta intelligentia si non ipsum Johannem eerte auditores ejus fugeret.


3) The testimony of the Baptist about the pre-existence of the Messiah.


While the Lord is still approaching, the Baptist, having just spoken of the suffering Messiah, speaks in one breath of the pre-existence of Christ. This is he, he says, of whom I said before: after me comes he who was before me, because he was before me. This saying can only have meaning and coherence if it deals with time in all three parts: after me comes he who was before me, because he was before me in the first place. Later on, speculation arises when a great historical epoch and its creator have entered the empirical world, but not before, because all speculation always presupposes sensible reflection on actual and empirically given circumstances, and this presupposition becomes possible again only if those circumstances have collided with other seemingly opposing ones. And the collision in this statement is not even the one that would be considered if it belonged to the baptizer alone, that the Lord has emerged after the forerunner, because this circumstance could not have caused any difficulty or appearance in the world as if the baptizer were greater. Nobody can think of holding one personality lower than the other just because they appeared later than the other. Least of all could it occur to the baptizer to see a difficulty in the fact that the Messiah only appeared after him, and because this difficulty was not there for him, he did not need to look for solutions. As soon as he considered himself as the mere forerunner, it was clear to him from the outset that he was the lesser one. *).

*) How deeply apologetics knows how to fetch its arguments from the bottom of the matter! Lücke (I., 313.) thinks that the saying belongs to the Baptist and that it has been faithfully handed down. The very fact that John repeats it in v. 30 (after it had already been quoted in v. 15) with the same words vouches for its faithfulness. As if in every other case the evangelist could not have the saying repeated with the same words, if the saying was once considered to be that of the Baptist!


But later, after the Lord had completed the work of salvation and this had been completed in the world, a difficulty arose which led to the thought contained in that saying. For now the world of Christian consciousness stood as an independent, but at the same time as a new one, opposite the other worlds of religious consciousness, especially the Jewish world. It seemed to be a contradiction that Christian consciousness should regard itself as new and yet also as absolute, and its principle did not seem to be the absolute truth, if it had only revealed itself at such a late date. This embarrassment was helped by the reflection on the revelations of O. T., in which a being appeared, proceeding from Jehovah, differentiated from the One Jehovah and yet identical with him. That in these appearances was seen the principle of absolute truth working in the past, is proved by our evangelist himself, when he says (12:41) that Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord in that appearance which came to him at his calling. Since there are several of these appearances in the OT and they are repeated at different times, the being that emerged in them had to be sublime above the changes of history and infinitely identical with Himself, i.e. eternal. From this peace and equanimity with itself it momentarily emerged until it appeared in history in a permanent way. As soon as this theory of the pre-existence and early historical activity of the Messiah had been concluded in the manner indicated, there was no more suitable point to which it could be transferred, no more suitable personality to which it could be put, for that standpoint which was not yet aware of the difference between revelation and later reflection, than the personality of the Baptist. For he stood at the turning point of the old and the new, and for him it must have seemed appropriate that he should reflect on the relationship of the revelations of the Eternal, who had already appeared momentarily in the past and was now to appear in living form, and describe it strikingly. But as fitting and appropriate as all this may seem, it remains the case that the collision out of which that saying arose did not exist for the Baptist and could only form for the actual congregation. But once this view of the preexistence of the Messiah had been established, it was enough that the forerunner had spoken of the glory of the one who was to come after him to assume that he had also already had and expressed a more definite and deeper insight into the entire historical appearance of the eternal Mediator.


4) The Baptist’s testimony of the baptism of Jesus.


Although the Lord approaches the Baptist and must already have come close to him, the latter still finds time to explain his relationship to the Saviour even more fully to the bystanders. First the Baptist says that he had not known the Messiah before, i.e. he had not known in which personality the expected Redeemer was to be found, but in order that he might be revealed, he, the Baptist, came with the baptism of water. John – as the evangelist now intervenes – really bore witness by telling what kind of vision of the Messiah had come to him. So the Baptist reports that he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon the Lord, and after a divine promise that he would recognise the Messiah from it, he became certain that this Jesus was the Messiah. Therefore, he now testifies that Jesus is the Son of God.


It is remarkable that the Baptist does not explicitly say that this manifestation of the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus came to him at the moment when he baptised the Lord. But if we only look at the context more closely, our evangelist also wants the Baptist to say that this appearance occurred at the baptism of Jesus. The purpose of the Baptist’s baptism was the revelation and recognition of Jesus in Israel. But the evangelist thinks that this revelation happened because the Baptist testified of the Lord. That is why he emphasizes it in v. 32 when he says: “John bore witness” and derives this witness from the fact that the Baptist had this manifestation. But now the Baptist says (v. 31) that he did not know the Lord, but that in order that he might be revealed, he came with the baptism of water. The only purpose of his baptism was to make him acquainted with the Messiah, so that he could testify to all Israel about what he had found and confirmed by the occurrence of the divinely promised appearance. In short, he had to baptise the Lord so that he would be revealed to him and through him to Israel.


The evangelist therefore actually thinks that the Baptist spoke vv. 29-34 in one go; but he himself intervenes for a moment and with the words: “John testified” he wants to emphasise that this is the testimony through which the Lord was revealed to Israel after it had been made possible through baptism.

If this appears to be the view of the evangelist, several difficulties arise when we consider the matter itself and the account of the Synoptics. Matthew and Mark at least clearly express the view *) that the appearance at the time of the Baptist was not meant for the Baptist, but for Jesus Himself. In our Gospel it is even intended for the Baptist alone, according to a divine promise. Furthermore, in the Synoptics, John’s water-baptism has the more general and grandiose purpose of preparing the people for repentance and for the near kingdom of heaven, and it is only for this reason that the Jews stream out into the wilderness to John and undergo baptism, in order to confess their sins and cleanse themselves of them. However, the purpose of baptism is far more limited when, in the account of the fourth evangelist, it only became an opportunity for the Baptist to get to know the Lord.

*) It is with reluctance that we anticipate the criticism of the Synoptic accounts to be given in the following volume, but we must do so in order to immediately secure the above sentence against apologetic artifice. Mark 1:18 was safe from this, but Matthew, as always, suffered much in his account of the Lord’s course at the expense of the fourth Gospel, and had to say only what his interpreters wanted. In this case, of course, they wanted to do him a special honour at the same time, when they put him in line with their favourite, the fourth. But he protests against this honour as soon as he is allowed to speak freely from the heart. All that was to be said of the work of the forerunner has been reported by Matthew 3:1-12, he now tells how Jesus v. 13 came to John to the course and is thus about to pass on to the exposition of the Lord’s efficacy. So Jesus comes to the baptism v. 13, unsuccessfully John tries to stop him (v. 14. here the Baptist is the subject), Jesus answers him with words that remove all resistance, so that the Baptist lets him go. (V 15. Since Jesus was the subject here, ειπε, the Baptist is indeed again made subject in the words: “so he let him”, but these words are so much only a consequence of Jesus speaking about the necessity of his course, that they can only be spoken in an appositive way, when read, and cannot avert the gaze from Jesus as the centre of the whole and the ruling subject.) Now it is said, when he was baptized, Jesus came forth out of the water – that is, he has here become the only subject – and heaven was opened to him ( ανεωχθησαν αυτω), and he saw (ειδε) the Spirit of God descending. And in so strict a connection does de Wette (Erkl. d. Ev. Matth. p. 35) say, only apparently does αυτω refer to Jesus as the next preceding subject? No! he says more, he says that one “must” refer the αυτω to the Baptist. And the necessity of this relation? “John is the acting subject of the whole narrative, while Jesus is only passive.” But is Jesus still passive at the moment when, after baptism, he “immediately comes up out of the water, and the heavens are opened to him, and he sees the Holy Ghost descending” (V. 16.) The fact that Jesus is passive at the moment of baptism does not matter, for this moment lies behind him when he “comes up out of the water baptized.” And even his passivity in that single moment cannot prevent him from standing as the dominant subject of the narrative, the view of the report remains mainly directed towards him, the main interest lies on him, he goes to the course, he reaches it despite the reluctance of the Baptist, he rises from the water, heaven opens to him, he sees the descending Spirit. The main interest in the Baptist is V. 11 and is thus satisfied, now Jesus comes to the fore, he is the continuous subject of the narrative, he is therefore the purpose of the apparition, he saw it.


It is not the place here to explain how the Synoptics present the matter more correctly when they understand the apparition at the baptism as one that happened for Jesus; the consideration of the first Gospels will only lead us into the area of history. Here it is only to be explained how the fourth evangelist’s theory, which completely dominated him, involuntarily had to lead him to such a significant change of history. Neither in its content nor for the self-awareness of Jesus and for the development of the same could the baptism be of any importance if in it the eternal and from eternity self-aware Logos had appeared. For as the Logos Himself, He is personally all the fullness of truth and as the eternal divine thinking, His self-awareness has always been infinitely clear, completely open and did not need to be brought to the final clarification by an external impulse – which under these circumstances would be baptism. Therefore, the course of the Lord had to be important only for the forerunner. The high, infinite dignity of the Lord was to be placed in its true light by this turn of history: but this is so little achieved that all sides which come into contact here are now rather placed in a mechanical relationship. The baptism of Jesus loses all inner meaning, since it is no longer an infinite end in itself, but only an external means by which the Baptist learns who the Messiah is. On the other hand, John’s water baptism loses the relationship with which it was directed towards the people, in order to work them from within and turn them towards the future. It is no longer a means of cultivating the spirit of the people, but a mechanical means which was only the occasion for the Baptist to get to know the Lord. It was only through this diversions that it was to have a relationship to the people, namely in such a way that the Baptist, when he had come to know the Lord through water baptism, also bore witness to Him before the people. This reversal of all relationships and the transformation of living purposes into dead, mechanical means proves that we do not hear the voice of history in the testimony of the Baptist.


Speculation has often been accused of changing, distorting and reshaping history according to its own self-made laws as soon as it sets out to do so. This error is not always to be denied, but it is especially committed when a speculative principle has only just taken possession of the imagination; then it has such an overpowering effect in the first enthusiasm that the rational power of the empirical and historical cannot always emerge purely and completely. This guilt, into which the first followers of such a principle fall without knowledge and will, even the first representation of sacred history, which is carried out on a speculative ground, has not been able to escape. The complete interpenetration of speculation and sacred history is a work on which not only centuries, but millennia have to work, and, in addition, has as its prerequisite continuous criticism. It would therefore be asking the impossible and the destruction of all reasonable laws of development if one wanted to demand that he who undertook this work for the first time should have completed it at once.


5) The first disciples in the dwelling place of the Lord.


On the following day John the Baptist stood again with two of his disciples and, seeing Jesus walking near, said to them: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” At these words of their former master, the two immediately join the Lord and follow him. What the Lord did in the circle of vision of the Baptist, why he was always there at the appropriate time, so that the Baptist only had to look up to see him and to be able to point him out to the others with his fingers, we learn nothing about. Bengel thinks he can at least explain why the Lord remained in this mysterious distance and did not approach the Baptist: for it would have been condescension enough if he had really done so once *). But this deliberate frugality and distinguished distance may be the concern of insecure spirits who believe their reputations endangered when they step out of their caution: it was foreign to the Lord. Gfrörer tries the opposite means, or rather he is sure of it, he knows that in these “approaches between the Baptist and Jesus mutual explanations would have taken place. These conversations only took place behind the curtain, that is why the evangelist does not report anything about them”. **). But then he should at least report that Jesus had approached the Baptist. But one comes to such unworthy games of hiding behind the curtain when one not only accepts a pragmatic emergency work of the report as an absolute truth, but also elaborates it even further than the report itself allows. Only for this reason is the Lord back, so that the Baptist too can again point his finger at him and the pair of disciples can join him on the spot. But since this comfort does not always happen in the ordinary world, it seems that we find ourselves in a made-up world, in which everything happens according to the momentary wishes of its creator.

*) Gnomon N. T. : jam non ad Johannem veniebat, neque enini saepius decebat. Semel id fesisse, sat demissum erat.

**) Das Heiligth. und die Wahrh. p. 144.


The situation, the proximity of Jesus, the finger pointing of the Baptist, his testimony: everything is the same today as it was yesterday. Why did the disciples of John only now, and not yesterday, come to the decision to follow the Lord? Something new, which would have had to bring this decision to maturity, has not been added. The difficulty is so great that de Wette must assume that the disciples were not present on the previous day when the Baptist pointed to Jesus. If only the evangelist did not leave the testimony of the Baptist in two words, thus assuming that the disciples had heard the detailed testimony yesterday. *) But the offence disappears immediately when we look at the inner structure of the report. The interest of the view is beneficially stimulated when we see the climax of an event gradually growing. The point in the present narrative is that the Baptist not only pointed to the Lord, but through his testimony also really led the first believers to the Messiah. To this climax, where everything unites and joins together in faith, the evangelist has contrasted the lowest level with artistic gesture, namely that region where everything is still separated by unbelief. In this lower region stand the priests of the old law who, through their hostile exploration, bring the Baptist to witness. In order to mediate the contrast between faith and unbelief, the evangelist places between the two extreme points what is still purely indifferent and unsuccessful. If, therefore, the priests had heard the testimony of the Baptist without faith, if through the testimony of their Master two disciples were persuaded to follow the Lord, the same testimony now stands freely between the two sides alone, apart from all hostile contact, as without all success.

*) Lücke (I, 346) admires “the faithfulness of the evangelist,” in that he states exactly when the Baptist gave the testimony of the Lamb of God in detail, and when he gave it in abbreviated form to his disciples. If we have used the context of the account to reject de Wette’s conjecture, we must, of course, also somewhat disturb his admiration of the faithfulness of the account. The same interpreter who above deprived the Baptist’s testimony of the Lamb of God of its historical foundation, makes up for his robbery by an opus supererogationis. What an immeasurable memory or inspiration this would have to be if the evangelist knew on which day the Baptist had said the same thing with so many words and on which other day he had said it with so many words. It is nothing but the irresistible instinct of the historian, who is beyond Homeric repetition, that he gives a speech for the second time only briefly and summarily, as soon as it still lies in his ear in its first comprehensiveness and he has written it down the moment before.


It looks very simple and natural when the evangelist says that the two disciples followed Jesus, but in fact it is completely without motive. ‘Αξικουθειω is otherwise in the Gospels, e.g. immediately in this Cap. V. 44, the expression for the free, open and constant discipleship of the disciples. Here it is only meant to denote the first attempt of approach, but it really only means: they were sneaking after him, because the attitude of the disciples who secretly follow the Lord has something oppressive and fearful about it. And what do they say when Jesus turns around and asks them what they want? They ask him where he lives. What an insignificant and trivial question for those who had just heard the highest testimony and were now to turn with all their heart to the one in whom they saw the fulfilment of their most precious expectations. De Wette wants to blur the impropriety of the question somewhat and says that the disciples asked the Lord this question with the intention of visiting Him later *). But the question remains unpalatable. They, who are so moved by the testimony of the Baptist that they immediately turn to the Lord, are now only supposed to ask him where he lives, in order to pay him their visit later – note! later? How chilling! Their hearts, filled with the testimony of the Baptist, should have been opened to the Lord immediately, but they should not have merely asked him about a fine dwelling, which they must have known anyway, if the Lord, as the report presupposes, was staying in a small place and had already been walking there for some time.

*) Just so Lücke according to Euthymius: they demanded a meeting μεθ ησυχιας. Was Jesus always surrounded by a crowd of people?


Jesus answered their question: come and see! and what did they see when they really came? Nothing but where he dwelt. But the words with which Jesus invites them have something categorical and so high-sounding that they seem to invite to the highest and most substantial spectacle. They are pompous and invite the unveiling of a great and deep mystery as well as the satisfaction of the most eager expectation. The Apocalypse proves that this judgement is not only based on arbitrary feelings. When the Lamb of God (C. 6.) loosens the seals of the sevenfold closed book, it is called out to the watching visionary: ερχοθ και ‘ιδε. And indeed this can only be called out to someone when a riddle is to be solved which, as the apocalyptist says, no one has yet been able to solve either in heaven or on earth (5:3). What then was the deep mystery that was revealed to the two disciples when they saw where the Lord dwelt? According to this invitation we would expect that the dwelling place of the Lord would have been a holy of holies and even in its outward appearance a worthy tabernacle of the Most Holy *). But to him who says that the Son of Man does not have where to lay his head, it is not fitting that his dwelling place should now all of a sudden be advertised as a holy of holies appropriate to his person. In general, we can consider it certain that the Lord never used such pompous words, even when he referred to the inner richness of his personality. For we call pompous that which is indefinite and exuberant. When the Lord speaks of himself in the Synoptics, he does so with a greatness and infinity that is in the highest degree sharp, definite and simple. His word about Himself: here is more than Jonah, more than Solomon! is great, simple and strikingly comprehensible. On the other hand, the invitation: “Come and see!”, even if it should refer beyond the inspection of the dwelling to the insight into the richness of his being – but the connection with the question of his dwelling does not even permit this extension – is nebulous, and with all its pomp so dull that we cannot ascribe it to the Lord. But neither must we. For if we consider how those words of exhortation in the Gospel and in the Apocalypse cannot coincidentally agree so much as they are in harmony with the context only here but not there, it is clear that in the Gospel they are only a reminiscence from the Apocalypse.

*) It is delicious to see how Bengel really knows how to substantiate the mysterious things to which the Lord’s words seem to lead: Messiae documenta videre illi potuere in ejus habitatione, quae erat simplex, tranquilla, munda, , silens, frugalis, sine egeno denique ipso, eoque solo, digna. This is still an intrepid declaration, which knows how to take its writer at his word – but also shows that these words, when given their proper content, are playful and unworthy of the Lord.


Even the end of the report does not stand out from the character of the whole by a firmer attitude. When the author says that they stayed with him “that day” and even adds that from ten o’clock *) they had stayed with the Lord, it is obvious that he means that they were with the Lord only that day. But it is just as clear that the author wants to tell how the remaining circle of disciples gathered around the Lord. For soon afterwards Jesus not only called Philip to follow him, but on his return to Galilee all those with whom he had come into contact in the days before appeared as his disciples, without whom he could no longer be thought of. So the evangelist wants to tell this story of a permanent circle of disciples, but at this moment (b. 40) he not only does not emphasise it, but he himself destroys his unmistakable intention when he says that those two stayed with the Lord that day.

*) Of course he means 10 o’clock before noon according to the Roman reckoning, not 4 o’clock after noon according to the Hebrew reckoning. Only if the greater part of the day is still left can it be said that they stayed with him that day, but not if only 2 hours are left. In the latter case it would have to be said that they stayed with him that evening.


6) The finding of the Messiah.


As in the foregoing many petty details, e.g. the time indications, seem to lead to an eye-witness, but the actions themselves and the speeches always threaten to dissolve this appearance: so it happens also in the following. One of the traits is so minutely precise and immediately vivid that it could only have come from an eyewitness, but everything else, and even more so the core, is indelibly stamped with the unhistorical. Andrew, one of those two who had visited the Lord in His dwelling, found (v. 42) his brother first. If we read πρωτον with some manuscripts, the report would not only have to continue with the number, if afterwards others were led to the Lord – but what is the use of numbering here? but it would also have to follow that Andrew found Philip afterwards. Since none of this follows, we must assume with other manuscripts that Andrew found his brother πρωτος, i.e. sooner than another. So he searched for him with someone else in different ways, and this someone else can be no one other than the comrade with whom he had been with the Lord. How vivid is this arabesque in the frame of the picture and how little is this itself the faithful imprint of reality!


Andrew calls out to his brother Peter: “We have found the Messiah. But could someone speak like this who had not personally experienced by chance or by the coincidence of several previously calculated circumstances that in this individual Jesus the Messiah had appeared? Only those who, certain that the Messiah must now appear, were only looking for the specific person who was the expected one, were allowed to speak in this way. But Andrew had not found the Messiah in this way, but was pointed to him by the Baptist, who, through the occurrence of the promised sign at Jesus’ baptism, had become certain that the Messiah had appeared in him. The Baptist would have been the only one among all the children of men who could say: I have found the Messiah; but Andrew could only say: the Baptist has shown us the Messiah and we have spoken to him in his dwelling place. Just listen to the perfectly correct paraphrase that Paulus *) gives to Andrew’s words: “We have made the great discovery! We have found the Messiah!” to immediately hear the false glory in these words. But the most criminal presumption is when an interpreter like Olshausen **) immediately makes the false trait that lies in the words of Andrew a general trait of his brother and speaks of a “searching nature” of Peter! Seeking, which turned to a particular individual and was more than the simple expectation of the Messiah, is peculiar only to the Baptist. The disciples, like the people in general, had not sought the Messiah as that person, but expected his arrival and their expectation was fulfilled when the Messiah came to them, announced himself to them or was proclaimed to them, but they did not find him.

*) Commentary on the Gospel of John p 117.

**) Bibl. Comm. 1831. II, 69.


When Simon appears before the Lord, the Lord says to him, you are Simon the son of Jonah, but you are to be called Peter, i.e..: You have received your name, as it is customary to do, by chance and without regard to your inner nature, but from now on you shall have a name that corresponds to your character: Rock. If we must also ascribe to the Lord a penetrating gaze with which he was able to explore the core of a personality, the first Gospel says that at least not on this early occasion Simon received his higher name, indeed it lets this naming be conditioned not even by that penetrating gaze of the Lord but by Simon’s bold and sure confession of faith (Matt. 16:16-18). Commentators such as Lücke and de Wette naturally do not fail to say that the giving of the name is already presupposed here in Matthew’s account. But here too both names, the old and the new, are so decisively separated and contrasted that Matthew can only be of the opinion that Simon the son of Jonah, in contrast to the old meaningless name, has now received the new more significant and appropriate one. If Simon had already had this name, the Lord would not be telling him anything new or special. But the position which Matthew gives to the giving of names can least of all be shaken by our evangelist; his powers are not sufficient for this. Only in the first Gospel does it make sense, for there Simon emerges from the circle of the other disciples through that decisive act of faith, and his new rock name also has a sound, healthy reason. In the account of the fourth Gospel, on the other hand, the relationship of the new name remains abstract, since it can only be directed to the character in general.


It is time to take a look at the general matter that occupies the report here, or rather to briefly translate the difficulties that have long been noticed by critics and have not yet been eliminated, which beset the report. The report wants to tell the calling of the first disciples. Matt. (4:18-22.) also reports how the first disciples were called, and among them the same who are mentioned here, but he tells it differently. According to him it happened in Galilee, not in the south of the country at the Jordan. It is not through the Baptist that the first disciples are directed to the Lord, but the Lord himself draws them to himself personally and solely through his word, without any preparation of them through contact with the Baptist being presupposed. Andrew and Peter are called at the same moment, while in the fourth Gospel Andrew is first called with another and Peter comes to the Lord through the mediation of his brother. The excuse of the apologists, that here at the Jordan the relationship between the Lord and His disciples had only been established for the time being, and that there in Galilee they were called to follow Him permanently, has long since been cut off by criticism. The people in Cana know better than those commentators what the evangelist has already allowed to happen at the Jordan, and they certainly presuppose that the disciples, who here have come into contact with the Lord, from now on essentially belong to him, for when they invite the Lord to the wedding, they do not fail to ask his companions, who are inseparable from him, to come too – a courtesy which those apologists would not have observed. From the wedding at Cana onwards, these disciples are uninterruptedly in the Lord’s company, and there is not the slightest period of time to be found where they would have lived apart from the Lord, so that a new connection would have been necessary. But Lücke thinks that there is still a way out, namely when the Lord says to Philip: follow me! this can first be understood by the external (!) company *). But what can be meant by external accompaniment when the Lord ties someone to his person forever? With this he also draws him into the spiritual realm of his personality and the outer accompaniment is then immediately the form of the inner substantial connection. And the naming with which the Lord introduces his relationship with Peter, what else should it mean than that Simon is now entering a new world and is the creature of his Master? It may be that the Lord first came into contact with some of the disciples at the Jordan, and that he later chained them to himself forever in Galilee. But we can only assert the possibility, if we understand ourselves to make this extreme concession, and we must not for a moment forget that neither Matthew nor the fourth Evangelist present the matter in this way, but that each of them had the Lord call his first disciples in an opposite locality and under different circumstances.

*) Comm. I, 388.


7) The finding of Philip.


It is very characteristic of the literary structure of this Gospel that it is extremely indefinite in detail, despite the most glaring appearance of definiteness. Hitherto the writer has always counted from one day to the next, and so he still does when he says that on the following day Jesus finds Philip, and yet he does not say which day he means. We can at best calculate the day: the preceding day is the day when Peter came to the Lord, and it is the middle day between the day when the first two disciples were in the Lord’s house and the day when Jesus finds Philip. For Andrew stayed with the unnamed comrade that whole day with the Lord, and so could only seek out his brother the next day and lead him to Jesus. But if the evangelist counts the days before and after, he should have made it clear that it was a new day when Simon received his brother’s message about the finding of the Messiah.

As far as the determination of the place is concerned, we can at least give the author credit for not being as vague as some of his commentators think.


When he says that Jesus wanted to go away to Galilee when he found Philip, he does not mean to say that it happened on the way to Galilee, so that a new but unknown locality is assumed *), in short, he does not want to change the scene, but only to say that it was about to be changed when Jesus found Philip.

*) Thus Lücke I. 387.

The author wants to emphasize the connection of this finding with the preceding events when he says that Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of the brothers Andrew and Simon. With such a motive, however, we would have to expect something completely different, namely that one of these brothers found Philip and led him to the Lord. Since one cannot find a complete stranger of whom one has never heard anything, how did Jesus know Philip before? Because he was a compatriot of that pair of brothers? Well, then his compatriots must have already told the Lord about him and described him as someone who was “well disposed” **). But that was also worth mentioning and then it could not be said: the Lord found him, but those brothers had already introduced him to Jesus and recommended him. If the report does not point to such a closer introduction, one would have to assume that Jesus had already known Philip before. But not even this is presupposed in the previous account, that the Lord had known the already called disciples before, so it cannot be assumed that Philip had such an acquaintance either, since he only came into contact with the Lord as a compatriot of the brotherly couple of Bethsaida. Nothing wants to come together and the more we look at the individual details, the more they flee apart. But everything comes together again in a moment when we give our aesthetic attention, if not our faith, to the artistic urge for variety that formed the arrangement of the report. If it was the Baptist who first pointed disciples to the Lord, if one disciple led another to the Lord, then there is a pleasant change when the Lord himself now moves a disciple to follow him through his word.

**) We assume the same as Lücke [did].


8) Nathanael.


The Lord was about to leave for Galilee when he found Philip, so it must have been on the journey itself where Philip found Nathanael; but at which point it happened is not indicated. Not even from the fact that Nathanael was from Cana (C. 21, 2), may we conclude that the travelling party was already close to this city.

As soon as Philip sees Nathaniel, he calls out to him: “We have found him of whom Moses and the prophets wrote. It goes without saying that if the Messiah was expected at that time, then this expectation was based on the promises of the OT: but as the words are pronounced here in the usual course: “the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote,” they already presuppose a system of Messianic promises and can only have come from a detailed comparison of the promises of the OT with the person of Jesus. This comparative consciousness, however, only came to the disciples after the death and resurrection of the Lord, and it cannot be denied that the formula of a later point of view was put into Philip’s mouth.


Philip describes the found Messiah in great detail as the son of Joseph from Nazareth. But it was hardly the time or the place to tell Nathanael the father and birthplace of the Messiah, nor was it of any conceivable interest. At this moment, when Philip wanted to shout to Nathanael in a short, enthusiastic exclamation the miraculous fact that the Messiah had been found, in order to lead him quickly to the one who had been found, he could only tell him something that was important for his messianic expectations and could move him to go immediately to the one who had been found. In none of these relations was the dry notice of the father and birthplace of the Messiah of any importance.

But if we look at what follows, we discover the importance that this note had for the grouping of the whole, and thus the hand that placed it there. Nathanael takes offence at the fact that the Messiah should come from such an insignificant place as Nazareth, but as soon as he comes into contact with the personality of the Lord, his doubts are immediately removed. It is precisely this contrast, however, which must so beneficially excite us through the contrast of doubt and the victory which the Lord bears over the doubter, that the author wanted to achieve through the note about the Lord’s home. It would have been tedious if all the individual disciples who now gather around the Lord had declared themselves ready to do so at a single word: but the whole becomes more lively if one first approaches the Lord in doubt, in order to gain a more lively conviction from the impression of his personality and thus at the same time to testify all the more meaningfully to the power of this impression.

Critics usually conclude from this note on the home of Jesus that the fourth evangelist does not know the legends of the miraculous birth of the Lord.


For if it were otherwise, one concludes, he would remove the doubt of Nathanael by having Philip say: No! Jesus, to whom I want to refer you, is not actually from Nazareth either; rather, he was born in the city of David, Bethlehem, and is not actually the son of Joseph. But if we only look at the structure of the speeches which the Evangelist puts into the mouth of the Baptist, it is undeniable that he must have written very late, when the Synoptics had long since written their accounts. In this case, the legend which the first Gospel presupposes must already have become more widespread in the congregation; it could not have remained unknown to the fourth evangelist, and according to his view of the Logos, we must not trust him to have cast doubt on it. It is more probable to explain the matter in this way: it is deliberate irony on the part of the evangelist when he shows how doubt was aroused by the apparent home of Jesus; it is the joy of a contrast which he himself knows to be well resolved in his consciousness and in that of the congregation, but with which he can now all the more surely have the unbelief of the Jews punished, as we shall see later, or which in other cases, as here, he allows to be resolved in an immanent way by the impression of the Lord’s personality.

The point of the following story is that Jesus greets Nathanael, as he sees him, like an acquaintance, calls him an Israelite, as he must be, and Nathanael is surprised at this kind of greeting. Then Jesus tells him that he had seen him under the fig tree, under which he had been sitting just before he spoke to Philip. Of course, the Lord also wants to say that he had seen through the thoughts that were occupying him at that time, and they could not have been meaningless, for it is precisely because he had seen through them that the Lord justifies the fact that he greets Nathanael as a true Israelite. This feature, as well as the following symbolic word of the opened heaven, stand out so prominently against the manner of the evangelist that we may regard them without hesitation as historical, even if that symbolic word may not stand in its proper place here, for the homage of Nathaniel, by which it is supposed to have been brought about, retreats again entirely into the realm of the imaginary. Thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel! exclaims Nathaniel; but how could he combine two such opposite determinations in one view? The expression “King of Israel” has the colouring of the particular theocratic ground, but “Son of God”, according to the context of the Gospel, is to be grasped only in the metaphysical sense *). The evangelist could only juxtapose such heterogeneous things if, on the one hand, he wanted such a person to speak who had just come to the Lord from the circle of pure Jewish life, and on the other hand, since he wanted to portray him as a believer, he could not avoid attaching to him the believing view of the community. Since we have thus sufficiently revealed the manner in which this homage was made, it is not necessary to remind us how improbable it is that the disciples should have attributed such effusive attributes to the Lord at their very first meeting with him. —-

*) Olshausen II, 71 sees himself compelled to acknowledge the contradiction, although he knows how to silence it immediately in an apologetic way. “Nathanael, he supposes, had already learned through Philip that the forerunner had called Jesus the Son of God.” We would know how to be modest and not think that in this case the evangelist wants to bring about everything, the entire homage of the new disciple, solely through the impression of the personality of Jesus and excludes all other mediation and preparation: if the previous speeches of the Baptist himself were not made only at the later point of view of the congregation.


9) The pragmatism of this section.

According to its inner context, this passage proves to be a significant group of individual features for the Gospel, which at the same time unite in an artistic way to form a whole. It is the circle of expectation that opens up for us here in the entry and which is at the same time closed by the Lord’s final declaration of the opened heaven and chained to the larger circle of fulfilment. The expectation itself develops as a threefold expectation: first, the priesthood’s unreconciled expectation, which does not reconcile itself with the new and remains in the rigid, old forms; then the Baptist’s expectation, which stands between the old and the new, but who remains in the middle and only points to the new; finally, the expectation of the first disciples, which unconditionally points towards fulfilment. The Lord also passes through this circle of expectation in different ways. He is already there in the circle, but still hidden from unbelief, when the Baptist says to the delegates of the priesthood: “He stands in the midst of you, but you do not know Him. While the Baptist is testifying about him before the disciples, the Lord is already visibly passing by, but secretly like a floating figure in uncertain light. Finally, however, he stands before the believing disciples in full life and now heaven is opened above him and the angels of God ascend and descend above him.

We do not declare the whole to be unhistorical because it all looks so beautiful and because one link overlaps into the other with such artistic harmony, but because everything individual – and this is the only thing that matters here, since the grouping roughly corresponds to the idea and to the story as a whole and on a large scale – has dissolved for us. But before we pass final judgement, we must also consider the chronological side of the arrangement. In former times, the commentators were tormented by the synoptic accounts, which show the temptation following the baptism of Jesus, and since they, not without a right instinct, did not look for the baptism too far before the beginning of our account, or even saw it in the beginning of the same, they had to force a rift in the account, in which they could insert the temptation and even the forty preceding days. Of course, in their blind desire to mediate, they did not notice that our account from the message of the priests to the departure of Jesus to Cana counts only a few days, and day by day at that, and that after the moment when the Lord revealed His glory at Cana, there is as little room for the inner struggle of the spirit, which a temptation presupposes, as there was before, since the Lord was already acknowledged before the people as the Messiah. Now the commentators think they can attack the matter in a more discerning way; from the words of the Baptist to the message of the priests: he stands in the midst of you, they rightly conclude that the baptism which taught the Baptist to know the Lord lies before the beginning of our report, and they now believe they can enjoy a free anteroom into which they may move as much as they like. However, this free space is not so spacious that the temptation with the forty days has a comfortable place here. For if we see how it is in the nature of this report to let everything follow one after the other, how it always inserts only one day between each new event, we are not inferring too much when we say that between the baptism of Jesus and the message of the priests he does not want to count, if not only one day, then in all the world almost one and a half months. And it should be at least a month and a half if the Lord goes into the wilderness after the baptism and immediately after overcoming the temptation is to join in at the right time, so that the forerunner may point to him with his fingers, making him known to his disciples as the Lamb of God.


The temptation has no place either before or in the account of the fourth Gospel. The collision with the Synoptics, however, becomes even greater when they report that Jesus went to Galilee immediately after the baptism and temptation, and now, according to our account, the Lord remains in Judea at the Jordan for a longer time after the baptism and even gathers his first disciples here. The accuracy of the details, especially the dates, cannot bring about the decision in this collision in favour of the fourth evangelist, for up to now this definiteness has often dissolved into indefiniteness, and now the point is to be touched where this dissolution will be completed.

On the third day, it is said (2:1, 2), there was a wedding at Cana, to which also the Lord is invited with His disciples. What is this third day? The last determination of time was given (1:44), when the day was mentioned on which Jesus finds Philip. Now we are uncertain on what day Nathanael came to the Lord, whether this was a new day, and whether perhaps the third day was reckoned from here on. When Jesus finds Philip, he is about to leave for Galilee, so he has carried out his intention after calling Philip to follow him. Now Nathanael may have come to the Lord on the same day, even if on the journey, or on the following day. But here the author may be indefinite, the day from which every third one is to be counted is and remains that on which Philip was found. For only here in Bethany could the Lord have received the invitation to the wedding in Cana, which is the reason for his departure for Galilee *). This is also consistent with the fact that it is about three days’ journey from that point in Judea to Cana. But now comes the circumstance which, if it has to fall, also tears the whole chronological order out of joint. Not only the Lord is to be invited to the wedding, but also his disciples **). But how could it be known or even assumed in Cana that the Lord had disciples, since he only gathered the first ones at the moment when the invitation left Cana, since he did not even gather them, but only chance led them to him? Let us come to the conclusion! Chronological data, which on closer examination dissolve into nothing, can in no way establish an authority against the account of the Synoptics. –

*) It is not too harsh to call the brittleness with which Olshausen refuses to acknowledge the invitation to the wedding as the motive for Jesus’ departure for Galilee, and assumes “inner motives”, ugly ornamentation. The time of the “return journey” would have to be determined by the invitation. By the way, the evangelist does not want the journey to Galilee to be regarded as a “return journey” at all; rather, he looks at the matter as if Jesus were in Judea on the stage where he belonged, and already here he follows the maxim that he always lets Jesus’ journeys to Galilee be conditioned by external and accidental causes. Without the invitation to the wedding, it seems, Jesus would have remained where he was, as if at home.

**) Who will not admire the courage with which Paulus (p. 150) knows how to silence the report and has Jesus introduce the disciples “as new, unexpected guests” at the wedding feast?


The question of whether John, the eyewitness, is the author of the report cannot yet be answered with certainty, since the individual pages of the narrative do not yet allow us to come to our conclusion, since they lead us to completely opposite judgments. If accuracy in minor details leads us to an eyewitness, the arrangement of the scenes and the attitude given to the speeches of the characters leads us to the conclusion that we are at least not hearing the report of a faithful eyewitness. If the unhistorical nature of the account, which we acknowledge, for example, in the position of the forerunner alone, leads us to the conclusion that the account is purely the product of the later view of the community, then those chronological details nevertheless draw us back again. Even they could not stand the test of criticism, but we must always consider whether a later author, who worked purely according to the ideal view, could attempt to give his report that meticulous precision. Only in one case was it possible for him to do so, if he deliberately wished to give his report a definiteness in these things of which he knew at the same time that it was his own making. Before we indulge in such a result, we must keep one more possibility open, namely that: Could not an eyewitness involuntarily be led to rewrite what he had experienced from a later point of view of his consciousness, could not, especially if he wrote late, many things in his view change considerably, and could not then also the chronological definiteness, if he attempted it, turn into the opposite?




§ 61. The Beheading of the Baptist

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 61.

The Beheading of the Baptist.

Mark 6, 14 -29.

First we remove the note which introduces the report and – pulls it by the hair. Herod is said to have been moved by the news of Jesus’ miracles to assume that he might be the risen Baptist *). As if the Baptist had performed miracles and a person who attracted attention by his miraculous activity had to be thought of as the resurrected Baptist. And how should Herod have imagined the resurrection and return of John in Jesus? He could not even grasp this idea,
since there was no concept among the Jews of his time that could have made it possible for him to see an individual who had already lived at the same time as the Baptist as a revenant. How ridiculous the theologian makes himself when he seriously considers this note and accepts it as historical is shown by screwed explanations such as that of de Wette: “It is an outrageous idea, not lying in the ordinary belief in immortality, that John the Baptist rose from the dead in Christ; it touched, moreover, on the greatest thoughtlessness, since one could easily have learned that Jesus was John’s contemporary **)”. But it is merely absurd and based on the greatest thoughtlessness when the theologian babbles in the magic circle of the letter and does not have the courage to see beyond this circle. So one could easily have learned that Jesus and John were peers? Yes, if one could have shown Herod the Gospel of Luke! But it was possible to find out, and anyone who wanted to know would have known, that Jesus did not fall out of the air as an adult.

*) About the assumption of the people that Jesus was Elijah, later!

**) l, 1, 130.


The assumption of Herod is only made and made very unhappy in order to introduce the king into the story of Jesus, to introduce the following passage and to motivate the report of the beheading of the Baptist at this very point. It may do as it pleases: Mark is not very worried about it, and if the theologian feels more worried, that is purely and solely his fault.

The report of the beheading of the Baptist also caused the theologians much concern; but no! – we must always add this retraction – they made the matter miserably easy for themselves and sacrificed reason, history and the most definite news of Josephus to the biblical letter, as they always do, so also here with true theological recklessness. Their raging fear for the letter of the Bible has blinded them to the account of Josephus, once they have looked at it.

We shall resolve the matter rather cheerfully – but to the greatest horror of the theologian.

According to the account of Mark, Herod imprisoned the Baptist because the latter had rebuked his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s former wife, as an unlawful one. Josephus tells us that Herod rather imprisoned him because he feared that he would stir up the people, who were enthusiastically following him, to revolt. Mark tells us in detail how Herod, in his weakness, gave Herodias the opportunity to satisfy her hatred of the moral judge; according to Josephus, Herod put the Baptist out of the way in order to be safe and to be rid of all fear of the powerful man of the people *). When Mark tells how the daughter of Herodias, on the advice of her mother, asks Herod for the head of the Baptist and demands that it be brought to her on the spot (C. 6, 25 εξαυτης. Matthew says C. 14, 8 here: ωδε), if Herod immediately sends a messenger and after the bloody deed is done the messenger brings John’s head to Herodias’ daughter and she brings it to her mother, then the assumption that Herod, who just celebrated his birthday feast, was present with his court at the very place where John was imprisoned, is not to be misjudged. Josephus, on the other hand, tells us that the Baptist was actually only put to death in the fortress of Machaerus on the border where he was imprisoned. He knows nothing of the fact that Herod, at the same time when the deed was done, was away from the residence of Tiberias and was staying in Machaerus, nor does he know anything of the fact that the tyrant was celebrating his birthday with his court when the Baptist was killed.


O! the theologian calls out to us, everything can be united, everything, everything can exist together, Mark and Josephus can be united quite well, everything could be like this and like that, Herod could be ….. no! he says, everything agrees perfectly!

So then we must give the lie to the fearful, miserable and yet so threefold talk of “so and so,” of “could and it could also,” in all its nullity, by noticing and proving from Josephus, that the Baptist had already been judged when Herod fell in love with his brother’s wife, later married her, betrayed his first wife, the daughter of the Arabian king Aretas, for her sake, and was subjected to war by him. Josephus, in reporting that Herod, when both had sent their armies against each other, drew the short straw, says that the people saw in the defeat of his army a divine punishment for his crime, namely for the murder of the Baptist, that he is looking back to a past fact, and at first – for if we do not even ask where Josephus got this notice of the popular opinion, and leave it undecided whether he is not freely pragmatising in order to tell the story of the Baptist here – at first, then, it could only be uncertain whether the execution of the Baptist had happened only recently, or long before. But Josephus also solves this doubt. In Machaerus – we must keep this in mind for now – John was imprisoned and was put to death. Now hear this! When Philip had died in the twentieth year of Tiberius and the emperor had made the province of Tiberius into Syria and had settled the new relations, the war between Herod and Areta *) took place. Herod, on a journey to Rome, stayed at his brother’s house, fell in love with Herodias, his wife, spoke to her of marriage and both, since she accepted his proposals and Herod undertook to dismiss his former wife, agreed to marry each other after his return from Rome. In the meantime, the daughter of Areta had heard of the plot and when Herod returned from Rome, before her husband found out that she knew everything, she was dismissed to Machärus. But this frontier fortress – listen! Machaerus! – was then subject to her father Aretas (!!), and she had secretly already taken all measures to ensure that her journey could be fast and safe. She could therefore inform her father as quickly as possible about Herod’s intentions. Aretas, who had long been tense with Herod over the border area, immediately used the opportunity**) given to him by Herod as a reason for a declaration of war, sent out his army, and when the troops of both princes met, those of Herod were defeated. Then the people are said to have recognised the finger of God, who wanted to avenge the Baptist, i.e. then Josephus finds it appropriate to look back into the past, to speak of the Baptist, thus to report of an event long past, for Machaerus, where John was murdered, belonged at that time to Aretas(!), it belonged to Aretas (! ) and the Baptist had long since been killed, when the former wife of Herod only heard of her husband’s plan through secret channels and could not even report to her father, to whom she had fled, the actual marriage of Herod, but only his intention to disown her, an intention which had not yet become public knowledge.

*) Mark 6, 27: ευθεως; so here again as everywhere in Mark context and the original. Matthew, who did not abbreviate this report very nicely, overlooked this meaning of ευθέως.

*) Joseph. Ant. 18, 5, 1.

**) Joseph. Ibid.  ο δε αρχην εχθρας ταυτην ποιησαμενος. The theological and biblical explanation of these words can be found in Winer, bibl. Realwörterbuch I, 570. Follow it if you’re interested!


Who still has the courage to stand up for Mark? 

The theologian will hopefully refrain from all “so and so,” all “it could and it could at the same time,” in short, he will refrain from all lying tortures for the future, if we give him the following to consider. Herod reports his defeat to the Emperor in a letter, and the latter, in his first fury, writes to Vitellius, the governor of Syria, that he should fight Aretas to the death. Vitellius obeys, leaves with his power, but is still on the march when the news arrives of the death of Tiberius, of an event before whose arrival Pilate had been recalled from Judea *).

*) lbid. 18, 5, 1. 3.

The report of Mark is dissolved in all its parts.

Mark did not even know exactly who the first man of Herodias had been. He calls him Philippus, he thus reaches for the better known name – the two others naively attribute this blunder to him, because they did not understand it any better – namely, that Herod, who had been the first husband of Herodias, had remained unknown to him, since he lived only as a private citizen.

That marriage scandal, of which he no longer knew that it had happened much later, was used by Mark to explain and bring about the imprisonment and finally the last end of the Baptist, and he used it all the more gladly for this purpose because it gave him the opportunity to create the image of a fury and an image of Jezebel. The fact that the Baptist was executed while in the immediate vicinity, within the same walls, Ahab-Herod with his court revelled and moaned with pleasure, that a dance in which the worldly prince took pleasure brought about the catastrophe – this contrast of worldly pleasure and the suffering of a saint has now also proved to be a free creation of Mark.

Now the Elijah deeds of Jesus!



§ 46. Jesus’ discourse on the Baptist

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



§ 46.

Jesus’ discourse on the Baptist.

Matth. 11, 7 -19.

In the form in which Luke communicates it (C. 7, 24-28.), the speech of Jesus has a very lively course, a quickened rhythm, and the movement of the whole is very definitely calculated to surprise suddenly and vividly by the point that the Baptist is more than a prophet, that he is the greatest prophet and less than the least in the kingdom of heaven. With the punch line that he is above all prophets and below the smallest citizen of the kingdom of heaven, the speech closes.

Now consider the structure of the speech: “What have you gone to see in the wilderness? A reed moved by the wind *)? If not that, what have you gone out to see? A man in soft garments **)? Behold, they that live in glorious apparel and lusts are in the royal courts. Or what then have ye gone out to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than one prophet! This is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thee, which shall prepare the way before thee. For I say unto you, Among them that are born of woman there is no greater prophet than John the Baptist: but the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Consider, then, this structure and ask yourself whether a saying of this kind came to Luke from tradition and was not rather a free literary product. It is nothing but a free elaboration of the remark about the Baptist which Jesus is said to have made after the transfiguration.

*) That is, just to look at the reeds and canes in the desert, which is why you did not go out?

**) Luke brings in this contrast the note of Mark about the clothing of the Baptist, which he had omitted.

Matthew copies the speech verbatim (C. 11, 7-11.). The only change worthy of mention which he has allowed himself is that he writes (v. 11.): among those born of woman there arose none greater than John the Baptist. So he omits the word “prophet”, probably because he did not know how to find his way into the context, how it could be said of the Baptist at one time that he was more than a prophet, and at another time that there was no greater prophet than he was. But when he lets the speech continue, when he says in vv. 12-15: “But from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and those who do violence seize it. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And (if you want to accept it) he himself is the Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear” – if the speech continues beyond the point by only one element, let alone by several elements, even with sayings that are not even related to each other, it is clear from the beginning that this continuation is a later addition which the original type does not know and must not recognise. But the matter also proves itself thus: before, the Baptist and his relation to the kingdom of heaven was the object on which the reflection was directed; now, the kingdom of heaven itself and its position in the world is the central point of the thought, and the Baptist is mentioned only in an incidental way, because from his time on, the kingdom of heaven has been the goal of violent striving. So what does this saying have to do with the previous speech? Nothing, at least in substance nothing, and the only connection is that the Baptist is mentioned before and after – and both times in an essentially different way. Only this name is to blame for Matthew’s inclusion of a saying that he finds in another place in Luke’s writing (C. 16,16.). But he did not borrow the whole supplement from Luke. If the Baptist’s name (v.12.13.) was meant only by chance and as a chronological marker, what is the purpose of v. 14’s remark about him being the promised Elijah? Why the printer: he who has ears to hear, let him hear! Why does the Baptist suddenly become the only object of consideration? Because Matthew wants it that way, because after the insertion of the foreign saying here, he feels the need to return the discourse to its actual theme. But even apart from the strangeness of the intermediary, the speech, even when the conclusion (v. 14, 15) returns to the beginning, is deprived of its original beautiful construction, since now the same idea occurs twice, and the second time even in such a way as if it had not even been hinted at before. If it is said in v. 14, “if you will accept it, he himself is the Elijah who is to come,” and if even in v. 15, with the printer, “He who has ears, let him hear!” this opening is described as a new and in itself mysterious one, it is impossible that the same thing had already been said before in clear, unambiguous words. Nevertheless, this had happened and the Baptist had been identified (v. 10) as the one of whom Malachi (C. 3, 1.) had prophesied – without further ado: the explanation of Jesus about the Baptist (Marc. 9, 13.), which Luke later omits because he had already given it earlier, which Matthew, when he reported the transfiguration of Jesus, copied from Mark, he also gives here, although he had immediately before written down the same explanation in the form that Luke had given it. First he writes it down as a clear, unambiguous one (v.10 He, John, is the one Malachi prophesied about*) – but now he sees the same explanation kept in mysterious darkness in the writing of Mark (Jesus only says that the expected Elijah has already come), and so now (V. 14.) he lets the Lord speak as if he were giving an explanation that had never been uttered until this moment and that the hearers could only put together if they took pains. As if any effort were needed when the Baptist himself is already named (αυτος) as the Elijah and is not to be guessed as such by the readers.


Thus, after the separation of this superfluous part, we would have received the saying of the violence which the kingdom of heaven suffers in its first independence; but not yet in its first form and inner construction, for in the way Matthew has placed the two limbs v. 12. 13 to each other, the second member has been dislocated too much despite all the pathos of the beginning: “for all the prophets and the ” law ” has been reduced to a highly superfluous, almost only chronological” note, which is supposed to explain the determination of the first member, that since the days of John this new thing, this pressing for the kingdom of heaven has occurred. In his writing it is said (C. 16,16.): “the Law and the prophets until John! From then on the kingdom of God is preached and everyone enters it by force!” That’s right! Thus the saying about that which was valid before John is really a saying about the thing which, in the position which Matthew has given him, he is not – he is not the incidental remark explaining a single chronological determination, but the necessary, integrating member of a remark about the historical course of the revelation of the Kingdom of God. Matthew has rearranged the links and made the first one a mere appendage in order to have John’s name at the end of this remark and to conveniently attach the saying that he is the promised Elijah.


Now the saying itself! It came into being very late – only when Luke was writing. John could only receive the epithet of the Baptist later, when his person lived on in historical memory only for the sake of this one act, that he had marked a period in history through his baptism *) and was absorbed into the ideal pathos of this one activity **). Moreover, Gfrörer has already remarked ***), the days of the Baptist must have long since passed when they were reckoned, as they are in this saying, to a later time. Many, many years must have passed, and ages may have passed, since the time of the deed, before one could say: “from the days of John the kingdom of heaven suffers violence.” As far as the meaning of the sentence is concerned, Gfrörer *), for example, explained that “it refers to the Messianic uprisings among the Jews,” i.e. to those “upheavals where robbers and armed men seized the kingdom of God. Gfrörer has in mind the form to which Matthew has developed the saying, but it is precisely in this form that the saying must most decisively resist that explanation, although it does not submit more willingly in the form in which Luke originally formed it. Gfrörer says that “the sentence Matth. 11,12 contains an overall judgment about the seventy-year period from John the Baptist to the fall of the holy city;” but according to his explanation he should not say “overall judgment,” but “a historical note,” a note in which those troublemakers are characterized as robbers. But the sentence is really a judgement! “Robbers usurp the kingdom of heaven,” this sentence is intended to explain that which has happened since the kingdom of heaven came, namely, that it suffers violence, or, as Luke says, that everyone enters it by force, and to designate it as the right, natural thing. Only with bold daring, but not if one hesitates and procrastinates, squeamish and embarrassed, does one win the kingdom of heaven **). Matthew has correctly explained Luke’s simpler saying, whether by chance or not is not to be decided.

*) Josephus, ArchLol. 18, 5, 2.

**) Theologians have always had a fine sense for danger. So says Bengel to Matth. 11, 11: hoc cognomen jam tum additum ob rei novitatem et magnitudinem; non postea ad discernendum duntaxat ab Johanne apostolo.

***) d. heil. Sage 2, S2.

*) Ibid. x. 94. 95.

**) Weisse II, 70.


But to whom shall I liken this generation,” Jesus continues (Matt. 11:16-19), “it is like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling unto their playmates, saying, We have played unto you, and ye have not danced; we have sung unto you mourning, and ye have not lamented. For John came, and did neither eat nor drink, and they say, He is mad. The Son of Man came, and did eat and drink, and they say, Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners! And wisdom has received her right from her children”, i.e. ironically: her children have understood how to do her right.


But if Jesus is to say, “But to whom have I to compare this generation,” then not only should the people’s attitude to himself and to the Baptist have been spoken of immediately beforehand, but there should also have been the complaint that this generation had not respected the divine counsel and had not done him justice. None of this was said immediately beforehand: on the contrary! The speech was concluded when the mystery which is the subject of this speech was solved (v. 14.15.). In the interpolated sentence about the violence which the kingdom of heaven suffers, it was even praised that it went valiantly and courageously in the storm of the heavenly fortress, and if we now go back to the beginning of the speech, it was assumed here that the people had gone diligently into the wilderness to see “a prophet”.

Matthew took the saying from the Gospel of Luke, but left the motive and the explanatory introduction. Luke knows very well that the speech, which is based on that passage borrowed from Mark, is perfectly concluded with the explanation that the Baptist is the greatest prophet but smaller than the smallest in the kingdom of heaven. He knows, therefore, that he must make a strong separation if he still feels the need to make a remark about the reception that the Baptist and, following the connection of the thoughts through the contrast, the Lord encountered with their opposed way of life among the rulers and representatives of the people. Thus, he introduces the following parable – narratively – with the remark (C. 7, 29-30), “And when all the people heard him, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.” By writing this historical note, he turns it into words with which the Lord introduced the following parable, or at least it is too tedious for him to put words in the Lord’s mouth that would take up that note again. Anyway, he has the Lord immediately follow with the words, “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation?” after which the parable follows, which Matthew inserted into his speech without any preparation.


If it is certain that the saying could not have come into being until late, when the history of Jesus had become the subject of reflerion, this certainty is still increased, and its definite origin placed beyond doubt, when we remember that only Luke knows to tell us more exactly that the Baptist was forbidden to drink wine, and that to the same writer (compare C. 11, 49.) belongs the idea of the wisdom which guides the course of the history of the kingdom of God. The accusation that the Son of Man was a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners could not have been unknown to a man who was so well versed in the writings of Mareus (C.2, 15-22.).


§ 45. The Doubt of the Baptist

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics
by Bruno Bauer

Volume 2



Seventh Section.

The Message of the Baptist.

Matthew 11:2-30.


§ 45

The Doubt of the Baptist.

Matthew 11:6.

The account of the message which the Baptist sent to Jesus has neither its home nor the position it deserves in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew did not create the account, nor did he know where to place it. A man who himself brings forth and shapes a new view will, in any case and as far as he is able, provide it with a point of support and a solid, well-founded foundation on which everyone can understand it and which can develop naturally. But he will not put it up in the air. This time, Matthew did just that. As we have already learned, his historical concluding remark at the end of the instruction sermon (Matthew 11:1) leads into the blue; and one may theologically craft, as one wishes *), and give the “works” of Christ, from which John heard in prison and which gave him the occasion for his message, such an abstract meaning that they “do not or at least not exclusively” mean the miracles, but what does the theologian’s anxiety matter to us? – it remains that the works John heard of were primarily the miracles. But if Matthew does not mention anything about miracles in the general introduction to the account of the Baptist’s message, if even the long speech to the apostles has long diverted attention from the preceding accounts of miracles, in short, if Matthew does not tell us anything about the Lord’s extraordinary deeds, then he also does not make it clear to us how the news of “the works” of Jesus happened to reach the Baptist’s prison. Nor will he make us forget the difficulties that a free communication of the prisoner with the rest of the world had to face. Matthew did not know how to break open the doors of the prison with the news of extraordinary miracles.

*) Such as de Wette 1, 1, 106.


In a writing where John has already greeted Jesus as the Messiah before his baptism, a report that presents the Baptist – initially, we must say: at all – as doubting could not arise, could not find a place for the first time. That John, as he appears at the baptism of Jesus, could not doubt.

Why not? – says the theologian, who immediately bends aesthetic criticism in his anxious interest in the material – why shouldn’t the Baptist also be able to doubt? Calvin had indeed said that it would be senseless *) to assume that the Baptist had doubted himself, but since modern times no longer dare to assume that the Baptist had brought up the concerns of his disciples in his question and sent the disciples to convince themselves of the messianic nature of Jesus, the modern theologian must already strive to pile up that senselessness with his arguments until it appears to him and his kind as reason. The unfortunate ones!

*) valde absurdum.


The fourth evangelist must especially trouble the theologian when it comes to explaining the doubt of the Baptist; but shall we ignite the senseless struggle that we have long since pacified? Should we, when the theologian asserts that the views of the spiritual destiny of the Messiah attributed to the Baptist by the fourth evangelist could have become shaky, or that the “earlier explanations of the Baptist regarding the pre-existence of Jesus” were based entirely on the miracle of the baptism and so “in moments of depression in prison, doubts could arise in the Baptist whether he had not then (at the sight of the baptismal miracle) given himself too easily to self-deception *)” — should we still point out the foolishness of the theologian’s views on the character of the Baptist and the letter of the Holy Scripture, committing blasphemy and sacrilege if he refuses to admit a contradiction? We have, however, proven that the messianic views of the Baptist were already a firm theory before he met Jesus according to the fourth evangelist — why should we say again that all doubts were impossible if the promise of the baptismal miracle had been added to this theory and this miracle occurred so punctually? Why say this when the theologian, in his filthy fear, does not listen, does not believe, does not understand? Hoffmann says indeed **): “thus (!) the narratives remain real history, as long as they are not challenged with better reasons.” But what’s the point? Even if “better reasons” come and the dialectic of criticism is complete, the apologist will still resist. He may do it for himself, but time, humanity, and reason will not: they are teachable, not stubborn — they are not theologians and want to have nothing more to do with the arts of theology.

*) Hoffmann, p. 290.

**) p. 297.


But let us remember that the early recognition of Jesus as the Messiah, the messianic theory, and the testimony about Jesus, all of these beautiful things that the first and fourth evangelist praise about the Baptist, belong to later pragmatism. Thus, it is clear – is it not? – that the message of the Baptist really belongs to history? No! First of all – it does not fit into the plan of the first evangelist, and it has come to the author of the same from a work where it stands in a better environment.

That work was written by Luke.

Luke has just told the story of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain and noted at the end that the news of it spread throughout Judea and the surrounding area. Now he can continue in chapter 7, verse 18: “And the disciples of John told him of all these things.” Now, the Baptist, moved by this remarkable news, can send two of his disciples to Jesus with the question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Luke does not fail to motivate Jesus’ response: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22) – he says in verse 21, “And in that hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.” Here is the context, here the report is first marked – we do not yet want to say: originated.

“And blessed is he who is not offended because of me?” (v. 23) – Jesus gives these words to the disciples of the Baptist as they depart.

Whether Jesus meant this word and in what sense the Baptist posed his question, we will reject momentarily, or we will not allow the recognition that wants to assert itself in doubt to come to the fore.


The riddle is solved. Luke, the first successor of Mark, is also the first to have dared to assume, besides the mere fact of baptism, a personal connection of the Baptist with Jesus as the Messiah and to include it in the type of the Gospel history. But he still has him doubtingly ask whether he is the Messiah. Matthew is bolder, already drawn much more into the train that led the religious category of their completion, and ascribes to the Baptist the knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah even before the baptism; he should therefore actually leave out the story of his message, but he writes it, without noticing the contradiction, following Luke, because he is interested in the statements that Jesus is said to have made on the occasion of the Baptist’s doubting question. Their ultimate peak, at the height of which all historical differences disappear from view and present themselves as a single coherent plane, has been reached by religious reflection in the fourth Gospel: for there, the Baptist is not only the absolute Christologist, but he not only learns through the divine promise through the baptism miracle that this is the Messiah, but he also testifies long afterwards, when Jesus had already worked publicly for a long time, to the glory of him who came from heaven and was given as the bridegroom to the bride. Here, the open, straightforward testimony to this is the last act with which the Baptist exits from history; here, the life of history is killed, here, all differences have disappeared: here, everything is one.

Yes, but the apostle Paul himself says it, Weisse points out *), that the Baptist “at the end of his course” testified about the coming one (Acts 13:25). In prison – this is what Paul means, I mean, when he says: “when he had fulfilled his course” *) – there, John testified about Jesus. “This later recognition” is based on the report of the embassy that John sent from prison to the Lord. “The favorable sounding voice about him from the side of the Baptist followed the answer received from Jesus or testimonies heard elsewhere about him. As we can see, the confidence with which the fourth evangelist cites the testimony of the Baptist about Jesus still impresses Weisse to such an extent that he no longer knows how to help himself and… fabricates. Luke knows nothing in his Gospel that the Baptist gave such a voice about the Lord to the messengers who returned with Jesus’ answer to him or at any other time, and even if he knew more about it in the Acts of the Apostles, we would have every reason to view and examine suspiciously what he suddenly knows more about here. However, it is not even the case that he tells us something new in the Acts of the Apostles, because everything he allows Paul to say at this point is literally copied from the Gospel and an excerpt from the conversation between the Baptist and the people. “Who do you think I am? I am not he **)! But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”: thus, Paul says, John spoke at the end of his career. Nothing but that testimony about the coming one, which the Baptist is said to have pronounced in Luke 3:15, when the people began to think he might be the Messiah. The beginning of the testimony refers only to this occasion reported in the Gospel: I am not the one you think I am.

*) I, 270-272.

*) Acts 13:25: ως δε έπλήρου ο Ιω. τον δρόμον.

**) Luther’s version is correct: I am not the one you take me for.


So the matter would be settled, and the relationship of the four gospels in this regard determined – the theologian may now see what his excellent and ingenious science has to offer him as a replacement for his worn-out ideas! – so far, the matter has been clarified, that Luke is the second in the order of the evangelists, that in his writing the new emerges first, that the Baptist senses the Messiah in the Lord, and that this sensing here, where it first emerges, announces itself in the form of a doubting question. If now all that Matthew and the Fourth know about the relationship of the Baptist to Jesus, if even the baptism of Jesus by John, which Mark reports first, if all this has fallen into the realm of religious historical perception, then the only remaining question is whether that one point that still remains belongs to real history.


First, Luke answers for himself! If he thought the matter through carefully – and we have no reason to doubt that he did, since this story must have given him a great deal of trouble – he would have remembered well that the Baptist was in prison at the moment he heard about the miracles of Jesus – but why does he say nothing to us about it? Because he himself became uncertain and found it questionable that a man who was imprisoned and guarded *) should have been allowed to associate with his disciples as freely as was necessary for this story. Therefore, he wisely leaves the matter hanging. Matthew, on the other hand – whose representation, according to Strauss **) is regarded by Schleiermacher as original based on the meaningless arguments we have already rejected above – had it much easier, as usual. He no longer had to struggle with the birth pangs of this new child of religious reflection. He could proceed more boldly and, without realizing it, work out the contradictions as such. So Matthew says from the beginning: when John “heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples.” Therefore, considering the dangerous note about the Baptist’s condition and the fact that he leaves out Luke’s introduction that his disciples brought him news of the works of Christ, it finally emerges as if the gates of the prison were open for every piece of news and the prisoner had his disciples by his side at all times.

*) a man whom Herod locked up, as Luke 3:20 κατεκλείσεν τὸν Ἰωάννην ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ states.

**) I, 396, 397.


One will have noticed that once we have torn apart the rags of the theologian’s science, we throw them to him as a gift and occupation so that he does not get bored in the new, approaching world. So we also leave him with his immortal and uplifting question as to how a man whom Herod, according to Josephus’ account, held captive out of fear of popular unrest, could interact with his disciples as freely as Luke or even Matthew portrays. The theologian may occupy himself with this question in the meantime, while we proceed to explain the origin of this account.

In the gospel of Luke, as we have maintained, the account has its origin, for it is only here that miracles occur, from which his disciples could have brought news to John. But the miracles! The miracles! The earlier ones, as far as we know them now, have dissolved: the captain of Capernaum, whose servant Jesus had healed only recently (Luke 7:1-10), has become the Canaanite woman; the raising of the youth of Nain, which gives the Lord the right to refer in his reply to the Baptist to his raising of the dead (Luke 7:11-17, 22), will also not have a solid historical basis – at least for now, we can say that much. So where are the miracles that were reported to John and on which Jesus relies? They are no more! Therefore, John’s message is also impossible without them!

After the transfiguration, Jesus told the disciples that Elijah, who was to come, had already come (Mark 9:11-13), and they understood, as Matthew adds (17:13), that Jesus meant John the Baptist. Luke omitted this statement that Jesus made after the transfiguration.


Why? He just worked them into a longer speech by Jesus and created the message of the Baptist as the occasion for this detailed explanation. He could not put a full and explicit testimony into the Baptist’s mouth on this occasion, for he wanted to characterize him in Jesus’ speech as the forerunner, as the greatest prophet and at the same time as the one who is smaller than the smallest in the kingdom of heaven, i.e. as the one who, although very close to the kingdom of heaven, still stands far below the one who is the smallest in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, John could only express doubt about the Lord, but even so, the occasion is still unfortunate and proves to be a late literary product; for if the Baptist, when he heard of the real Messiah, was still so wavering that the Lord had to give him the categorical answer, “blessed is he who is not offended by me,” then the prophet would actually have forfeited the glory and praise that would later be lavishly bestowed upon him. This glory could only have remained unimpaired in the one case if the Baptist had remained the Elijah, the forerunner and greatest prophet that he is in the Gospel of Mark, and had not come into a situation in which he could only be understood ambiguously because of the limitations of the older evangelical type.

Now, if the message of the Baptist belongs to the pragmatism of Luke and the speech that Jesus gives to the people (Luke 7:24 προς τους οχλους) on the occasion of the message is only an explanation of that saying that Mark has preserved for us, then – what? – everything is settled and all is well, right? No! We will now – while the theologian is surely still pondering the difficult question of access to the prison – take a closer look at the speech itself.



§ 12. The effectiveness of the Baptist

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1



Second section.

The preparations for Jesus’ public appearance.

§ 12.

The effectiveness of the Baptist.

1. The locality.

In those days, as Matthew has already told us, when Jesus lived in Nazareth, John the Baptist appeared and called his people to repentance, for the kingdom of heaven had come. The evangelist also tells us where the Baptist preached repentance. In the wilderness of Judea (Matthew 3:2)*).

*) κηρύσσων ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τῆς Ἰουδαίας [=3:1]

But how could the following statement, that the crowd of repentant people “went out” to the Baptist and were baptized by him in the Jordan (Mark 3:5-6), be reconciled with this location? The wilderness of Judea is located on the western side of the Dead Sea, but it does not extend far enough above Jerusalem to reach the banks of the Jordan. These two statements are therefore in direct contradiction. And the contradiction remains. Matthew does not conceive of the situation at all as if the Baptist had left the wilderness and gone to the banks of the Jordan; he does not even hint at a change of location. Rather, where the Baptist called for repentance, there the crowd went out to him to confess their sins and be baptized. So, at the very moment when he imagined the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea — and it can only be in the wilderness that the Baptist’s food consisted of locusts and wild honey (Mark 3:4) — at that very moment, he imagines him on the banks of the Jordan. In short, he quickly forgets his first statement.


He does not even remember it later when he says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness after his baptism (Mark 4:1*). In fact, Jesus is already in the wilderness when he goes out to the Baptist with the others, for the Baptist preaches in the wilderness. But he has long forgotten this location, or even the specific location of the wilderness of Judea, when he relocates the scene to the Jordan. And now it was possible for him to send Jesus from the baptismal site to the wilderness*).

*) Bengel’s explanation, that the evangelist means to “partly transfer” the scene in Mark 4:1 to the location of Mark 3:1, is unnecessary and gives the evangelist a specificity that is foreign to his conception.

The crux of the contradiction lies in the point where the incompatible elements, the wilderness of Judea and the banks of the Jordan, are brought together. The Gospel of Mark, from which Matthew took the basis of the contradiction, teaches us how Matthew arrived at this combination. Mark also reports that John baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance; Jesus came with the crowd of others who were baptized in the Jordan, and after he was baptized, he was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness (Mark 1:4-12). So here too is the contradiction that Jesus is led from the wilderness into the wilderness, but the harshness of naming a specific wilderness that does not touch the Jordan as the first location is not present. Mark only says that all of Judea and the people of Jerusalem went out to the Baptist; but that was enough for the reflective Matthew to bring about a total confusion in his account by concluding that it was the wilderness of Judea where the Baptist was located.


Luke also reflected when he used Mark’s account, but his reflection was not directed at a single detail, but rather at the heart of the contradiction, and he attempted to resolve it, or rather to avoid it. He wants to explain how the threefold occurrence – the Baptist’s stay in the wilderness, his activity on the banks of the Jordan, and the fact that Jesus withdrew to the wilderness after his baptism – can be reconciled. So he says (Luke 3:1), that in the wilderness, where the Baptist had stayed until “then” (Luke 1:80), the call of the Lord came to him; as a result, he went “into all the country around the Jordan” (Luke 3:3) and preached *) the baptism of repentance. The crowds flocked to him here, seeking baptism, and Jesus also came here. Now it is clear how Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness only after he had returned from the Jordan (Luke 4:1).

*) much like Mark κηρυσσων βαπτισμα μετανοιας εις αφεσιν αμαρτιων

How beautiful it all fits together! The apologist goes even further and claims that Luke also harmonizes perfectly with Matthew; he is so incredibly audacious that he asserts **) that Luke rightly names the “wilderness of Judea” that Matthew speaks of, that terrain around the Jordan (η περιχωρος του Ιορδανου), from which it is well known to anyone who picks up a biblical commentary that it can never be, especially if it is called (πασα η περιχωρος του ιορδανου), the wilderness of Judea.

**) Olshausen, bibl. Comm. I, 160

Moving on! Luke has overlooked a contradiction: according to his account, Jesus no longer goes out into the wilderness, but rather meets the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan after he had left the wilderness. However, he has fallen into an even more dangerous contradiction, one that concerns the entire evangelical pragmatism and shows that he was not originally free in his presentation, but rather dependent on a foreign type that he could only partially modify, but for which he had to create complete confusion. What drives him so forcefully to place the Baptist in the wilderness, to the extent that he says he lived in the wilderness until the day of his appearance? It must have been more than just the note from Mark that the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance in the wilderness; it must have been a widespread view that he could not easily free himself from, as opposed to the impression of that note. We still find this view in his Gospel, but in such a contradictory context that it is clear he must have taken it from another scripture, from which he significantly deviated in the same moment. After reporting that John was moved by the divine call to leave the wilderness and go to the banks of the Jordan, Luke adds (Luke 3:4), “as it is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord!'” The prophecy is supposed to be fulfilled in the Baptist, in his preaching – but is it not also supposed to be fulfilled in the location of his activity? Should not the harmony of the prophecy and its fulfillment be recognized precisely in the fact that the herald raises his voice in the wilderness? That’s right! Even Luke cannot deny this original form of the view when he has Jesus ask about the Baptist in conversation (Luke 7:24), “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Thus, that prophetic saying is in the wrong place in his account, according to which the Baptist does not preach in the wilderness. He has rather taken it out of a context where the Baptist really preaches in the wilderness, as the prophet has written, i.e., from Mark’s Gospel*).

*) Neander (p. 52) praises Luke’s account because he “distinguishes the various moments in the appearance of John.” This praise did not last long. The other two synoptics do not leave unpunished the demotion they receive.


The contradiction in the last scripture is now explained. Mark lets the Baptist preach in the desert and also in the Jordan, he lets Jesus go into the desert after his baptism, although he is already there when he comes to the Baptist, because he follows an ideal view and is completely absorbed by it, not noticing the contradiction of the individual details in his account. He sees in that verse of Isaiah a prophecy about the Baptist, so he must appear and preach in the desert, even if it contradicts the note that he baptized in the Jordan and Jesus had to be led away from here to get to the desert. Here, the contradiction and confusion are unabashedly sought from the ideal view, while both Luke and Matthew have increased it through improvement attempts and closer determinations, ripped out of their initial innocence and become a mistake of petty pragmatism.

In the prophetic book and in the context from which the saying of the preacher in the wilderness is taken (Is. 40, 3.), the deliverance from Babylon and with it the completion of the theocracy is proclaimed to the people. Under the leadership of Jehovah, the people return through the desert to their homeland. The prophet presents this idea in the form of hearing a voice that rings into the people’s misfortune and orders that the way through the desert be leveled. Before the thought of the completion of the community and the arrival of the Lord, the evangelist loses the connection of the verse to the liberation from the Babylonian captivity, which according to the original meaning of the verse is one and the same with that completion. He sees in the verse the prophecy of Jesus’ arrival, and who can the voice that levels the ways of the Lord be other than the Baptist? According to the original text, “in the wilderness the way of the Lord” is to be prepared; according to the deviating division and translation of the Seventy, the voice of a preacher in the wilderness calls out that one should prepare the way of the Lord: how easy was it to seek in this version of the saying an even more specific relationship to the Baptist and his historical appearance?


It was not a historical note, which would have provided information about the location of John’s activity – otherwise, how would the contradiction, which we already find in Mark’s writing, have arisen – that led people to see a prophecy of John in that prophetic passage. Rather, it was this passage, not because of a meager and otherwise insignificant note, but in conjunction with the idea that linked it to John. In the preacher of the desert, people saw John because he appeared before the Lord in a barren and infertile time, and had to work on wild, uncultivated land without being able to tap into the source of life. He appeared in a spiritual desert and was not yet in possession of creative life force: this view of John was already present in the community when the evangelist discovered the resonance between it and the prophetic passage. This resonance immediately became such an external congruence that the desert of John’s spiritual environment, in which he worked, was transformed into the external location of his activity.

Mark was the first to apply that prophetic verse to the Baptist and place him in the wilderness *). The evidence lies, on the one hand, in the confusions that the other two Evangelists introduced into their accounts, and on the other hand, in the beautiful harmony in which Mark placed prophecy and fulfillment: with him, history was first derived from its prophetic type. However, to return this harmony to its original source, it is necessary to remove an interfering excess that was introduced later into Mark’s text. Specifically, the ordinary text begins the transition to the Baptist with two Old Testament quotations, one from the book of Isaiah and another from the prophecy of Malachi (Malachi 3:1). However, several manuscripts, including a very reputable one, introduce the prophecy about the Baptist not with the words “as it is written in the Prophets,” but with “in the Prophet Isaiah,” making it likely that originally only one quotation was read. Moreover, it is not the custom of Mark to cite the Old Testament, so why should he have included several citations at the beginning of his work? Rather, his usual practice suggests that he only incorporated the one quotation that he could weave tightly into his narrative to form a coherent whole. His two successors begin the story of the Baptist only with the one quotation from the book of Isaiah, and the fact that they do not add the quotation from Malachi is evidence enough that they did not read it in Mark’s text. Now if we read “as it is written in the Prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him,”‘” then “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, baptizing and preaching,” we can restore the connection and see that it is the original, the only possible, and the Evangelist’s intended context. It is therefore certain that the prophetic verse and the ideal conception of the Baptist’s work made the wilderness the scene of preparation for the salvation work. The citation from Malachi’s prophecy appears only in Jesus’ speech about the Baptist, as reported by Luke (7:27), and Matthew has excluded it from his text (11:10). Since Mark knows nothing about this speech, it was at least desired that the Old Testament prophecies about the Baptist would also be quoted in his account, so the prophecy from Malachi was inserted at the most appropriate point.

*) The idea that the Baptist himself applied the prophecy to himself, as de Wette still assumes (Kurz. ereg. Handb. zum R. T. 1, 1, 32.), is not credible. Only a later reflection, which overlooked and sought to understand the work and character of the Baptist, could have found a prophecy from the Old Testament that characterizes him for the Christian view. But according to the views that the community had of him at the time, he could not have regarded himself in that light. De Wette (a. a. O.) sees it as “proof of his historical fidelity” that Matthew (ch. 3) does not expressly designate the Baptist as the expected Elijah. He could have done so, after all. Fidelity could only be seen in the fact that another writer would have allowed the Baptist to call himself Elijah, but he avoided this error. The synoptics, for example, have shown greater – but always relative – fidelity by not attributing to the Baptist himself the prophecy of the preacher in the wilderness, as the fourth evangelist does (John 1:23).


We cannot determine whether the banks of the Jordan River were the constant location of the Baptist’s ministry if we consider the desert to belong to the world of ideal perception. It would have been easy for the historian who wanted to describe the Baptist’s activity to assume that the only appropriate location for it was the banks of the river “of Palestine”. But isn’t it well-known, the apologist might say, that the land on the banks of the Jordan was barren and unfruitful, and therefore itself the very desert where the Baptist preached and baptized? Quite so! But it would not have to be written that Jesus had to leave this desert in order to enter the wilderness.

We know nothing about the specific locality where the Baptist appeared and worked.

The perception of ideal topography is also demonstrated in the Gospel of Luke. Although he sends the Baptist to the Jordan River after his calling, he allows him to linger in the desert until his public appearance, so he cannot completely dissolve the combination that Mark made. But Luke does even more than his predecessor: the perception of the harsh and uncultivated environment in which the Baptist appeared, as well as his personal character, which corresponded to such an environment and made him capable of rough and unsparing interference in it, has been so firmly impressed into the holy topography that even the birthplace and home of the Baptist have been relocated to the mountainous region to correspond to the man’s character and historical environment in which he appeared (Luke 1:39).


2. The clothing and food of the Baptist.

The clothing and food of the Baptist are worth considering in a separate section, as the Scripture deemed it worthy to mention them, and the absolute value of this note must be illuminated even more by the desperate resistance with which apologetics will defend it against doubt.

John, says Matthew (Ch. 3, 4), had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Mark reports the same (Mark 1, 6). But why not Luke, who could have copied it from the script of his predecessor as well as Matthew did? It’s good that he didn’t copy the note and share it with his Theophilus, for he has taught the apologist a lesson on how to view notes of this kind in the future. Furthermore, he has shown him the original purpose for which this note was intended. Luke has seen quite well that the clothing attributed to the Baptist was intended to identify him as the Elijah who was to come. He now lets the angel Gabriel say to Zacharias that his son would appear in the spirit and power of Elijah. So why the note on the costume if what it is intended to signify is expressed without symbolic detours? Therefore, Luke omits this note.


In the Gospel of Mark, however, it is of the highest importance and cannot be missed. Here it serves to fill out the picture of the personality of the Baptist and to present him in his entire historical pathos, as it appeared to the Christian view. Luke and Matthew show the Baptist proving his zeal in a special sermon, stirring the people from their sin-induced slumber and showing that he had come in the power and spirit of Elijah. Mark has not yet mentioned these speeches, but he has instead assigned to the Baptist the symbol of the Elijah-like and even the clothing of Elijah himself: his description of John’s clothing is taken verbatim from the Old Testament description of Elijah’s clothing *). How could Mark have stumbled upon this passage from the Old Testament to write about the person and work of the Baptist, if it had not already been established that he was the Elijah who was to come? But this had indeed been firmly established for him, as Jesus himself had said (Mark 9:13).

*) 2 Kings 1:8. See Wilke, Der Urevangelist, p. 147.

Now it is certain that the Baptist did not recognize himself as the Elijah who had been prophesied, so it could not have occurred to him to dress himself symbolically as the promised Elijah based on the information from that Old Testament passage. Only Mark has clothed him in that symbolic garment, and we know nothing about his historical costume.

We also do not know what he ate. Mark and, after him, Matthew want to tell us, but unfortunately their testimony on such an important matter is paralyzed by Luke. Not because Luke did not copy the note that John ate locusts and wild honey from the scripture of his predecessor just as Matthew did, but because he betrayed to us the thought from which the note originated. He also speaks of the Baptist’s way of life, namely that he prescribes it in advance through the angel Gabriel: John shall drink neither wine nor strong drink (Luke 1:15); he makes him a Nazirite. But how? A Nazirite? Shouldn’t Mark have given us such an important note if it already existed and was known in the community? But Mark did not yet think that the Baptist had taken the Nazirite vow. He only let him live on locusts and wild honey because he had assigned him the desert as the scene of his activity, and because the same thought that sent the Baptist into the wilderness also determined his way of life. The man who appeared in the meager time, when the “word of God was precious” and revelation was lacking, the man who could not yet impart the power of life and spirit to the barren soil on which he worked, had to renounce wine and stronger food if the evangelical view, in its plastic way, was to simultaneously express the inner determination of his historical character through his external way of life. Mark contented himself with limiting him to the food that the desert offered, but Luke finally makes him a Nazirite.


Therefore, if the Baptist only eats locusts and wild honey or lives as a Nazirite, he only leads this lifestyle in the ideal world in which the evangelical view has placed him. Josephus *) gives no hint from which we could conclude that John led an ascetic or even the life of a Nazirite. But, as Neander **), for example, says, “the example of the Banus shows ***), that some serious-minded men among the Jews withdrew into a wilderness, appeared as teachers of divine wisdom, and that students joined them.” But what does this example help us or how can it even be called an example if Josephus does not give us any hint from which we could conclude that the lifestyle of the Banus and that of John had any similarity? But if it is true that the Baptist made a powerful impact on his time, that his name and his work were equally well known and celebrated in Galilee and Jerusalem (Mark 9:13, 11:32), then he was not a hermit who only incidentally moved individuals to “join” him through his reputation, he was a man of the people who did not shy away from the public and sought to influence his contemporaries through open communication with them. The desert and the ascetic lifestyle only became his attributes when he was contrasted with his greater follower, the giver of life, in the ideal view.

*) in the well-known passage (Antiquities 18, 5.2.), which informs us more precisely about the Baptist than all the evangelical accounts together.

**) ibid. p. 49. 50.

***) Josephus, Life, § 2.


Except for that symbolic image borrowed from the Old Testament and its further elaboration into the realm of food, the Gospel of Mark gives us no indication that would point to a withdrawn and ascetic lifestyle of the Baptist. His note (Mark 2:18) that the disciples of John, like those of the Pharisees, fasted while the disciples of Jesus lived more freely, already proves by the grouping of the parties that he did not want to speak of special ascetic practices of the followers of John. It even proves that nothing was known about a peculiar way of life of the Johannine circle: otherwise, if one wanted to contrast the disciples of the Baptist and Jesus and in them the teachers at the same time, would they have grasped for a peculiarity which only appeared as such in contrast to the free way of life of the followers of Jesus, but was otherwise common to the disciples of John with the followers of tradition, with the Pharisees?

Luke, however (7:33-34), and after him Matthew (11:18-19), let Jesus contrast himself with John in this way, saying: “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'” But it is suspicious enough that only the evangelist who already prescribes the life of a Nazirite to the Baptist before his birth knows this form of contrast, making it only probable that he formed it according to his underlying assumption.


3. The Activity of the Baptist according to Matthew’s Account.

Matthew 3, 2. 5-12

In the wilderness of Judea, says Matthew, the Baptist preached and said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan went out to him, confessed their sins, and were baptized by him. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruit worthy of repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I am. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

It must give us considerable concern when we notice *) that all the words attributed to the Baptist here later appear in the speeches of Jesus. Jesus also began preaching with the words, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). He also scolds the Pharisees as a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34, 23:33) **); he uses the same words to tell the parable of the tree that is cut down and thrown into the fire if it does not bear fruit (Matthew 7:19). Jesus also speaks of the Son of Man who will judge and send his messengers to gather the wheat into his barn and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. Finally, Jesus says of the Baptist that he is the forerunner who was to come before him.

*) which Weisse draws our attention to, Geschichte des Urchristenthums, vol. 2, p. 6.

**) in Matthew 23:33, they are also addressed as such: πως φυγητε απο της κρισεως της γεεννης


Even before we critically examine these sayings and their relationship to the Baptist’s position, we must state that Jesus could not possibly have been so dependent on the Baptist that he adopted his style of speaking word for word, down to the construction of the sentences. Or does the apologist want to claim the impossible *), that Jesus characterized his world-historical position and task with the same words that the Baptist used to describe his own? First, he would have to claim that both men had such a similar understanding of their task that they could use exactly the same words to describe it. Secondly, he would have to say that the person of Jesus did not represent any progress in history.

*) such as Olshausen, bibl. Comm. I, 196.

However, even before we examine these sayings in themselves, they have already lost their significance as being the Baptist’s words because they are part of a context that identifies them as a later product. They are the only thing the Baptist says about his historical task, indeed about everything that concerns him, including his relationship to the greater successor: that is, his entire substance, everything he is, is contained in this speech. But is it really possible, as a necessary consequence, that he said and delivered everything in order every time people came to him to hear about his world-historical position? Would this speech have become a fixed formula that he used on every occasion? It is impossible; speeches that express the entire essence of a person and are the only thing attributed to them are created on a completely different level; they are the work of a later time that not only summarizes what the person in question gradually developed in their consciousness and expressed in isolated statements on various occasions. Rather, the later time expresses in them its understanding, its thoughts about a historical phenomenon – in short, they are the result of an insight that is only possible when a historical work is completed as such and through its consequences, through its relationship to the later development of history, reveals its entire significance. Moreover, religious consciousness is particularly prone to such anachronisms, and it invests them with its full faith at the same time it creates them, or it creates them because it considers them necessary and natural. The development of history, as it goes through a series of independent and very serious differences, cannot be recognized by religious consciousness because it sees every standpoint of history as related to this determinacy of divine providence and can only think of this relationship as the full consciousness of it in historical persons. Even earlier heroes know the end of the story that they are preparing, they have the full consciousness of the divine purpose that will be carried out in the future, and it is fitting that their historical appearance be illuminated by the light of divine thought, so they express this consciousness in a speech.


The occasion for this speech is always easily found; sometimes, however, it is very unfortunate, as was the case with Matthew this time. He has the Baptist give his speech as a group of Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism. How? Pharisees and Sadducees traveling together so harmoniously? Only a hasty writer could assemble them in this way, who also likes to combine the factions he brings onto the stage into one chorus. We can dismiss the Sadducees immediately, as it contradicted the standpoint of their enlightenment too much to approach the prophet of the people. So the Pharisees remain! They even remain as those who had found the way to escape the impending judgment, for the Baptist addresses them as such *). But Matthew himself lets Jesus accuse them (Matt. 21:31) of not having believed in the Baptist and of remaining stubborn in their unbelief, while the harlots and tax collectors had entered the way of the kingdom of heaven. They did not even want to enter it. If Matthew himself testifies so decisively against them, we do not even need to call on Luke as a witness **), so that we can also hear from him that while the “people” and the tax collectors, but not the Pharisees, accepted John’s baptism (Luke 7:29-30.).

*) So Fritzsche misunderstands the meaning of the speech when he renders it thus (in his commentary on Matthew, p. 125.): quis persuasit vobis, posse vos effugere iram dei venturam? 

**) As we shall see later, we do not need to do so for another reason, namely because Matthew has formed his speech of the Lord (Matt. 21:28-32) from this passage in Luke.


Enough, Matthew himself says that the Pharisees did not go to John’s baptism. And yet he lets them pilgrimage to the Baptist in great numbers (πολλους), with the intention of being baptized? Where does the contradiction come from? Schneckenburger ***) believes that this historical error arose because Matthew was influenced by the account of the Sanhedrin’s mission to the Baptist, which the fourth Gospel reports. Now, this mission is innocent of any guilt in this confusion, as they never saw the Baptist, and Matthew is not familiar with the fourth Gospel, which reported it first.

***) Urspr. d. ersten kan. Ev. p. 45.

Therefore, the contradiction arises because the entire tendency of Matthew’s scripture is focused on portraying the work of salvation in its opposition and struggles with the Jewish parties, especially with the legal pride of the Pharisees. The Lord had to fight with these parties, and he fought with them – as we will see – even in such narratives that were not originally intended for such a battle. So can it surprise us that Matthew also drew John the Baptist into this battle? Even the Baptist had to make them hear the thunder of judgment – thus he is the true precursor of the Lord – and the consciousness of his worth is raised even higher, the more decisive enemies of salvation to whom he confronts it.


Indeed, de Wette admits that the situation is unlikely, but “the unlikelihood is apologetically eliminated – the word ‘offspring of vipers’ is otherwise only used by the Pharisees and scribes *).” This argument, along with the claim that “Luke is less original in this passage” and has made the mistake of directing such a strong term of punishment against the people – all of this would at least be sufficient for a moment if it were true that the term ‘offspring of vipers’ is only directed against the Pharisees in the Gospels. But where else does it occur in the Gospels except in Matthew, who only puts it in the mouth of the Lord twice against the Pharisees?

*) 1, 1, 30

Matthew borrowed the term from Luke and after using it once (in the mouth of the Baptist) against the Pharisees, he sticks to it and allows the Lord to use it against the same people. Matthew proceeds in the same way in this point – but we first hear Weisse before we write out the sentence. 

Weisse is not inclined to assume that one of the two evangelists used the work of the other – we must say: copied, since the speech of the Baptist that Matthew gives, apart from a few interchanged expressions, can be found word for word in the writing of Luke. They would have used a common source – copied – and this would be the collection of sayings of Matthew.


This apostle “opened his work with the compilation of some sayings that, although spoken by Jesus, were spoken with explicit reference to John the Baptist, in order to express the sense and purpose of the activity of this prophetic man, or were understood by the apostle as spoken in this sense *).” Weisse could only take courage in this hypothesis because he assumed **), at the point where the first evangelist attributes to the Lord the sayings that he first attributed to the Baptist, they were actual words of Jesus. However, only Matthew attributes them to both the Baptist and the Lord; wherever they might be expected in the other synoptic accounts of the words of Jesus, they are missing.

Matthew proceeds with the transference of the term “offspring of vipers” in the same way he has treated the other elements of the Baptist’s speech. He either quotes them verbatim from the Lord’s mouth or processes them, as he does beautifully in the parable of the weeds in chapter 13, verse 30, into new speeches of the Lord. In short, he used this speech of the Baptist to bring into the type of the gospel elements which it did not originally contain ***).

*) ev. Gesch. II, 8.

**) Ibid. p. 5.

***) Even the threat that God could raise up children of Abraham from stones, Matthew has excluded twice in his scripture, although there is no lack of similar threats that the Jews would be rejected and the Gentiles accepted. He did not exclude it literally the second time, but he used it to work out a similar threat, which he finds in Luke, more specifically, that Abraham becomes the focal point of the image. In Luke’s scripture, Jesus says (chapter 13, verse 28) that the evildoers will be cast out and will weep and gnash their teeth outside if they saw Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God. “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Matthew brings the parts of the image closer together, indeed, he processes them into a whole, when he lets Jesus say (chapter 8, verses 11-12): “Many will come from east and west and will recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness.”


The speech of the Baptist is not composed of sayings of the Lord. Although Weisse still refers to the fact that Jesus formed and expressed the contrast between the baptism of John and the baptism of the Spirit. But after the silence of Mark, the Acts of the Apostles (1, 5; 11, 16) is too suspicious a witness because it is too probable, indeed certain, that the author transferred a view already firmly established about the Lord to John or rather presupposed such a simple view of John that it was also shared by the Lord. He proceeded like his successor Matthew, only he did not content himself with one transfer, but transformed the entire speech of the Baptist into sayings of the Lord.

Matthew also did the same with other things: he gave the Baptist a formula that the Gospel type otherwise only attributes to the Lord. He has both Jesus and the Baptist announce their appearance with the exclamation: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. But we can free ourselves from the contradiction that both should have formulated their task in the same formula. Matthew, the latest, has only introduced it. According to Mark’s account (1, 14-15), only Jesus announces his arrival with these words, and Luke remains faithful to this type. He does not keep the words of the formula, but he keeps the meaning and their place that they have in the original type. In his predecessor’s account, he reads that Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled,” and the kingdom of God has come. So according to his presentation, the Lord’s first word that he announces is that the fulfillment has come, but he lets him read from the scripture in the synagogue of Nazareth what has come and then adds, “Today this scripture is fulfilled” (Luke 4:21).


Matthew stands alone with his contradiction; he represents the most extreme reflection in the circle of the synoptics. This time, the thought guided him that the revelation always remains the same in its various stages and that the one unchanging kingdom of God has come with both the Baptist and Jesus. Hence the agreement of the proclamation.

We can now state that the only source that Matthew used for the longer speech of the Baptist was the Gospel of Luke. He did not create the speech himself; that is certain, otherwise he would not have come to let people give a speech who he himself says could not have come into this situation. He would not have addressed Pharisees if he had formed the whole thing purely from his view as if they had actually found the way to salvation. He must have found the speech in a context where it was already linked to a specific occasion and held to a crowd of those who were streaming to John’s baptism. He took it from Luke’s Gospel.

And Luke? Where did it come from for him?

4. The activity of the Baptist according to Luke’s account.

The Baptist did not deliver this speech. The person whom Luke has speaking only existed in Christian thought in later times. Not yet in the time of Mark!

In the account of the third gospel, the speech is in perfect context. The crowds flock to the Baptist to be baptized. John receives them roughly at first, and his address is even harsh. “Brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” As noted, the current interpretation *), according to which the Baptist is supposed to say that they would not escape, takes all the meaning out of the address. Rather, the Baptist acknowledges that they have found the way to salvation if they come to him and seek his baptism. But he does not want to be a preacher of forgiveness in vain, even on an occasion that should fill him with delight, for he sees the crowds before him coming for his baptism, and nothing suggests beforehand that they would not come to him with serious willingness, why else would they have undertaken the long journey without inner drive? – on such an occasion, he still lets his thunder rumble and keeps his opposition to the crowd to such an extent that he rebukes them, as if he were angry that they had found the way to salvation.

*) which also follows De Wette. 1, 1/ 30.


Stop! We don’t need to hear any more to be sure that the Baptist did not speak in this way. He would have been a misanthrope to such an extent. However, the description of Josephus does not show us a character of this terrible kind, on the contrary, a man who spoke to the people’s hearts, far from all preaching of punishment, and who presented them with the task of the Most High when he insisted on the purity of the soul. This idea, that baptism must not be demanded only for individual sins, but that it only has meaning if the soul is cleansed as well as the body, cannot be forced upon the masses, especially if thunder is used to push them back.

Even Jesus – we come to Weisse’s hypothesis – cannot have made any statement about the Baptist that would have had even the slightest resemblance to this untimely thunder. That supposed collection of sayings by the Apostle Matthew will already be exposed as a phantom here, where it is presented to us for the first time. In its original form, the evangelical view did not yet see the Baptist as this personality who had nothing in mind but thunder, punishment, and judgment, but rather as the preacher of repentance who carried out his mission in lowliness and suffering (Mark 9:13). Admittedly, he was considered the promised Elijah, but the parallel was not yet immediately extended to all aspects of his character. Mark still contented himself with the one feature that John wore the prophet’s garment of mourning.


Mark, however, omits – we mention this immediately to lead the investigation to the decisive point – the assumption that the Baptist always had the thunder of judgment in mind, at hand, and in view. Only Luke allows him to receive the people with the threat of “coming wrath” and to speak in a manner that is rooted in the essence of things. Even in the saying that compares the Baptist and the greater follower, the idea of judgment has become the punchline (Luke 3:16-17). The preacher of repentance says, “He who comes after me, and is so much more powerful that I am not worthy to loosen his sandals, will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” With fire! That is to say, his effectiveness will be consuming and in its annihilating power will resemble the fire that consumes the chaff. “So here,” Wilke says aptly, “we have a transformation of the Baptist’s speech into a threat. However, this comparison is not suitable if the comparison between himself and the coming one is to be the expression of humility according to the original meaning of the phrase. The Baptist may well use the expression that he is hardly worthy to untie his sandals when he compares himself to someone who will cleanse people with the Holy Spirit instead of water, and who will be greater and more perfect (in the joyful sense) than he is. But how could it be an expression of humility if he is supposed to compare himself, as the milder one, with the stricter and more terrible one? How does John’s assertion that the Messiah will execute judgment fit with the announcement that the Messiah will execute judgment? The Baptist would have had to make his serious reprimands and sermons of punishment analogous to the execution that the Messiah would bring about, in order to make the conclusion a minor majus, but the expression that He is the serious one (with all his severity) and that he can hardly untie the sandals of the coming one and place himself in the lowest possible relationship with him does not fit with this again.”

*) a. a. O. p. 454. 455.


Or, we might add, the Baptist would have to compare his thunder, his lightning, with which he armed himself against the “brood of vipers,” to the even more powerful fire that the Coming One will have at his disposal. But then, would the fearsome thunderer be so infinitely small that he could not be compared to the even more powerful one? However, in Mark’s Gospel, in which the modest explanation of the Baptist about his relationship to the Messiah is first found, there is no mention of the Baptist’s thunder, nor does it say that the Messiah will baptize with fire. Here, the saying only makes sense if the Baptist compares his water baptism to the Messiah’s life-giving and infinitely more effective baptism of the Spirit, or rather, he says he cannot be compared to him at all.

Once it was established that John was the promised Elijah, and both personalities gradually merged in the view that they finally became one, the activity and character of the Baptist could only be thought of as Elijah-like. Just as the Elijah of the Old Testament lived in the zeal of destruction and even commanded the fire from heaven and brought it down on his enemies, so John became the zealot who had to put thunder and lightning at the beginning of his speech when he spoke. Judgment and only judgment, the annihilation of the opposition, now formed his only thought, and even in the work of his successor, he saw eternal fire, the destructive power, as the highest point. This new character of the Baptist, as it formed, was considered historical, and no one could think to ask whether he had been the same in reality. For who in the community knew of any other reality of past history than that which formed in the ideal view? And didn’t the prophecy that speaks of the coming prophet also mention the great day that he precedes, calling it the terrible day and comparing it to the fire that consumes the chaff? (Malachi 3:19) The precursor must always have this day in mind, that is to say, John, the Elijah of the New Testament, must threaten with the fire of the “coming wrath” and frighten a world that is so corrupt that he stands alone in it, just as Elijah did, with the threat of a fearsome future.


The writer who gave shape and form to such a late view is Luke. He knew it because he created the entire scene in which the Baptist delivered such a thundering speech, not to the Pharisees, who had not come for baptism, but to the entire crowd of people. There is certainly a contradiction that the crowd, who came for baptism and thus recognized the divine mission of the Baptist and approached with a repentant attitude, is received in such a way that the Baptist’s address resembled a storm that could have driven them all the way to the end of the world. However, the Evangelist did not notice this contradiction because he wanted to let the voice of Elijah be heard, and he could not find any other occasion for it than the arrival of the crowd.

The Evangelist wanted to put all kinds of threats in the mouth of the Baptist and foreshadow all the revolutions that would be fulfilled in the drama: the Baptist had to not only threaten with eternal judgment but also with the historical judgment that transferred the blessing of Abraham to the nations. “Do not rely on your descent from Abraham,” he said, “because God can raise children of Abraham from these stones.” The Baptist had to speak like this to threaten everything terrible. He could also threaten at the wrong time because the Evangelist forgot that the crowd, when they rushed to baptism, did not think about relying on their descent from Abraham. The Evangelist himself could forget this circumstance because he thought it was natural that a crowd who came with the best intentions and yet was so harshly addressed might silently remember their father Abraham *).

*) Above, where the location was mentioned, we saw how Neander praised Luke. On the following page of his work (p. 53), he had an interest in praising Matthew as well because the harsh words with which the Baptist addressed the people seemed too harsh to him and rather seemed to be directed against the Pharisees. “The comparison of Luke with Matthew,” he said, “makes it possible for us to distinguish what John said to the Pharisees and what he said to others, and we also see how these historical accounts complement each other.” We see only that an insight into the origin of the accounts frees us from this anxious admiration of their conformity, from an admiration that always fears that their subject may be more closely scrutinized than a self-made haze could prove. Can this feeling of self-admiration be certain when the reports are trampled on at the same time they are admired? How can this be called a complement when Luke makes the same speech to the people that Matthew says was directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees? The accounts do not complement each other but exclude each other. Each of the two evangelists only knows about one audience to which the Baptist speaks, but each knows about a different one; a distribution of the speech in different directions is not possible because each of them lets it be directed entirely to the only audience that he knows. Then Neander had to depict the Pharisees in their entire wickedness to make them somewhat ripe for the thunder, and he had to attribute to them the worst intentions with which they came to the baptism – intentions of which Matthew knows nothing since he simply says that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to the baptism. And how anxious Neander must be to explain that the Sadducees came at all and that they went to the baptism in friendly community with the Pharisees!


Luke was the first to shape this section: his authorship is still evident in the anxious precision with which he tries to separate and motivate each section of the speech. “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance,” the Baptist cried out to the people, and now, after the storm of his speech has subsided, they ask, “what shall we do then?” (Luke 3:10), followed by general advice, as well as specific advice for individual groups of people (verses 11-14). In general, those who have two coats should share with those who have none, and those who have food should do likewise. Tax collectors should collect no more than the amount prescribed, and soldiers should not extort money or accuse anyone falsely, but should be content with their wages.


That we do not have the words of the Baptist in these pieces of advice that led the tax collectors to accept the baptism (Luke 7:29) hardly needs to be mentioned. It did not require a Baptist to make the people hear such things. We may not forbid the preacher of repentance from extending his demand for repentance and self-denial to the specific circumstances of life, but this transition to specifics should not be made in such a way that the general, deeper demand for repentance is completely forgotten and the exhortation is limited to the field of ordinary practical life rules. Neander *) indeed sees in those words the demand for a “purification of morals;” but this is something much more general than everything that the Baptist here demands from the people.

*) a. a. O. p. 55.

If the Baptist did not speak these words and could not speak them, it was natural enough how Luke came to form them. He was the first to give the Baptist the thunderbolt in hand and therefore had to feel the distance between this new threatening figure and John, as one used to think of him, and now try to put the fearful figure in a calmer relationship to the people. But if he had once tightened the strings too tightly, it was natural that he now slackened them too much and let them become loose. He also designed the whole thing in such a way that he wanted to depict the relationship of the Baptist to the people on all sides, and therefore he could not let the preacher of repentance appear only as the harsh and repulsive zealot. Finally, if he let the Baptist demand the righteous fruits of repentance, it was appropriate for him to also give him the opportunity to express what they consisted of.


All of these motives were not present for Matthew. He no longer needed to artificially bring forth the sayings in which the historical character of John was revealed and link them to specific occasions because he already had them before him in Luke’s scripture. He only needed one occasion, and once that was formed, he could follow the speech that was meant to interpret the historical substance of the Baptist as a whole. For Matthew’s view, the Elijah-like zeal and threatening wrath had already become the essential characteristics of the Baptist. He had to make this character trait the dominant, the only one, and leave out the section (Luke 3:10-14) where the Baptist gives specific advice to different groups of people. He probably omitted it also because he found these recommendations insignificant and not appropriate to the overall situation, in comparison to what one would expect from the preaching of a thunderer.

Consistent with his habit, as seen in the Sermon on the Mount, where his interest is mainly on the speeches and the characterization of the actors, not on the individual occasions that led to them, he also omits the occasion that would prompt the Baptist to speak about his relationship to the greater successor. He reads the speeches in his sources, what more does he need? Why bother with the occasions that his predecessors had laboriously and often unsuccessfully created just to introduce the speeches? It was right for him to follow his habit in this case too. Luke says (Luke 3:15) that when the Baptist had given his advice, “the people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah.” So significant and great did those recommendations for tax collectors and soldiers appear to the people that they believed that the man who spoke in such a way must immediately, since he was in the procession, make the revelation that he was the Messiah. But since the speech did not end that way, and the expected disclosure did not occur, the people showed by their strained expressions that they still missed the right conclusion of the speech. But how could it have been possible for the Baptist to see from the people’s expressions what revelation they were expecting? Could he have thought that, after his recommendations to tax collectors and soldiers, the necessary explanation would follow whether he was the Messiah or not? Where would he get that idea? Those recommendations, although commendable and useful in themselves, were insignificant for the situation and compared to what one would expect from the preaching of a forerunner, and they could not even prompt the people to suspect that the man who taught them might ultimately be the Messiah. Without further ado, Luke only created this occasion to introduce the Baptist’s explanation of his relationship to the Messiah.


The apologetic discovery, “Luke lets us glimpse the gradual transition of the Baptist from preaching repentance to announcing the Messiah” *), is therefore not a discovery in the world of history. But if the apologist even means that Luke shows us how the Baptist first preached only repentance, but later, after a longer activity, progressed to announcing the Messiah, then we simply refer him back to the text. Luke links all the Baptist’s speeches to the one occasion when the crowd rushed out to be baptized, and immediately he sends them to the preacher of repentance as soon as he says that he had appeared. If the apologist still wants to have an additional note, we remind him of the example of Matthew, who can teach him how much value such a note has.

*) Hoffmann, L. I. x. 286.


5. The activity of the Baptist according to the account of Mark.

Now that we have separated everything that is disturbing or damaging to the basic type and found it in the scripture of Mark, we must find it beautiful, purposeful, and almost artistic if we let it act on us in its purity. The preacher of repentance appears and the people flock to him to confess their sins and be baptized. But he is also the precursor of the Messiah: what he is, he must therefore express himself, as he knows it through divine revelation and cannot hide it from the people. He simply says that the infinitely greater one will come after him, who will no longer baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Mark does not think to link this statement to a specific occasion: he, as the first to give these words their current position, indeed to form them, knows all too well that they have too general a meaning to be only a casually brought forth expression. He still knows that these words indicate the entire historical position of the Baptist and are the core of his preaching, and he expresses his awareness sufficiently when he introduces this speech by saying: “So John the Baptist preached (και εκηρυσσεν λεγων)” In his work, it is finally expressed very beautifully for what purpose this speech should serve: it leads the reader involuntarily but surely to the greater one to whom it points, and really brings him there, just as the overall attitude of the Baptist in this simple purity is maintained, that nothing more than the direction towards the coming one is expressed in it. “I have baptized you with water,” (ἐβάπτισα) says the Baptist, and as the reader hears him speak like this, he is immediately carried away in the same moment where he still sees him in the midst of his activity, yes where he himself hears his preaching, so that he immediately stands at the border where the precursor has completed his task and Jesus appears. While the other two hold back the presentation with their disturbing pragmatism and then – admittedly consistently – let the Baptist say, “I baptize you with water” (βαπτισω), the power of the view, which so much contracts the presentation of the activity of the Baptist, that it lets him appear and retreat in the same moment, in the scripture of Mark still in its first originality.


After these proofs, it is hardly necessary to reflect on the earlier view that Mark also made an excerpt from the writings of Matthew and Luke in the discussed case. Nevertheless, we do so to show how much the earlier critical views were also wrong in assuming false ideas about historiography in general. For example, Saunier says *): “Ordinary experience shows that speech does not increase through continued transmission, but rather shortens itself, because only the train of thought as introduced by the speaker and the spirit with which he treated his subject can make a further development possible; but both disappear the further the communicated speech is from its origin.” So many words, so much vagueness, confusion, and errors! All reasoning that starts from the assumption that the biblical historians mechanically made a copy of a given reality is of this kind. However, we can safely ignore this supposed experience as utopian since we have proven that the longer speech of the Baptist was formed later from the shorter one that we find in Mark. This critique assumes that Luke and Matthew were not very far from the origin of the speech they report, so their report is therefore more original. But we have recognized it as the more reflective one. Luke’s speech is supposed to reproduce the original train of thought and spirit with which the Baptist formed it, but it has become certain to us that Luke and Matthew brought elements into a speech that had a completely different train of thought as its basis, which transform its original harmony into an unresolved dissonance. A speech can certainly be expanded later, but this does not necessarily disturb its original structure, as it can be taken up more or less skillfully in the center of its initial train of thought and carried on from there to larger peripheries, depending on the skill of the editor. But Luke did not form the speech of the Baptist in this artistic way; rather, a new interest and a view that did not arise from the original tendency of the speech drove him to his work, and his interest in the new material that he wanted to bring into the original structure of the speech completely obscured the contradiction that now tears the speech apart.

*) a. a, O. p. 44.


The category of the “original” has been understood by the criticism of the evangelical historiography, and also in Saunier’s reasoning, in a way that it was not always grasped in its purity and restricted to the field of historiography, but also used as a criterion of historical credibility with a salto mortale – with a μεταβασις εις αλλο γενος. The term “original” did not only refer to the representation of the historian, which formed the basis of the later ones, but it was called so because it reflected the reality of the events as they were. Nothing has harmed criticism more than this transfer of an aesthetic category into a completely different field, where it must serve the juridical inquisitorium of the apologist and is ousted from its ideal disinterestedness and sacrificed to the necessity of the anxious theologian. As long as this confusion of concepts persists, criticism will not achieve the purity of its completion and will be drawn into the material interests of the apologist.

However, if the investigation and struggle with apologetics is to be brought to an end, we must always ask whether the aesthetically original is also so in the sense that it has arisen directly from the empirical reality it is supposed to represent as an imprint of it. But, with all that is true and all that is love for truth! – we must never allow ourselves to commit the syllogism of laziness, that the aesthetically original is also naked history. In any case, if only the original is complete and carries its own necessity within itself, it will certainly be the imprint of a real history, but this history may sometimes have only played out in the inner life and work of the community – a significance that will remain with the later development of the original if it is not merely a game of caprice.


In the sense that it informs us about the actual views and activities of John the Baptist, the speech attributed to him by Mark is not original. Therefore, what we have not yet examined in our critique of the fourth gospel, namely that John the Baptist pointed to the coming Messiah *), must be denied here, where the question reaches the final stage of seriousness. What should we expect above all if preaching about the coming one was a major concern of John the Baptist? That the Gospels would report to us that he did not separate baptism and the reference to the Messiah, but rather connected them internally. Baptism must have been elevated by him to a baptism for the future one. The Synoptics have not yet dared to enforce this combination: Mark simply puts baptism and testimony about the coming one side by side, while Luke even lets this testimony be brought about only by chance through a false assumption of the people. One can see that there was nothing in the tradition that would have allowed them to combine both elements. They would have done it anyway if it had been possible for them; but they could not. The older type of historical tradition, that the baptism of John was a baptism of repentance, was still too firmly established for them, and the idea that John bore witness to the coming one had only just formed-how could both already penetrate and merge into unity? In the Acts of the Apostles, the third evangelist did attempt to unite what was separated in the Gospel, but only attempted: he had not yet succeeded. Paul says here (Acts 19:4) that John administered a baptism of repentance, “telling the people” to believe in the one who would come after him; but is this really a baptism for the coming one? Is it not still separated if the author allows the Apostle Paul to speak in such a way that both aspects of John’s work are only juxtaposed *) ?

*) ibid. p. 21.

*) Only the perspective of the author of the Acts of the Apostles can be learned from this section, not that of the apostle Paul. We do not even learn from this account what the significance of the disciples of John was; we learn as little about their standpoint and preaching as we do about Thomas when we hear about the principles of the Thomas Christians. Indeed, even less! For they existed as a distinct community, and we have precise and reliable information about them. But what do we know about the supposed disciples of John in the apostolic era? Nothing except what a narrative reports to us, which (Acts 19:12) allows the divine power of the Gentile apostle to transfer to his sweat cloths. Yes, it would be different if Paul himself spoke of the Baptist, of the disciples of John, and their beliefs in his letters. But he is silent. Only the author of the Acts of the Apostles knows how to speak of disciples of the Baptist who were so well-instructed in the doctrine of salvation that all Paul needed to say to them was that Jesus was the one whom John had pointed to, so that they could immediately be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus and, as Paul laid his hands on them, receive the Holy Spirit. And how indefinite is the part of the narrative that introduces them and acquaints us with them for the first time? Paul, it says (Acts 19:1), came to Ephesus and found “some disciples” (………). What kind of disciples? Only those who already belong to the Christian community! For Paul recognizes that they have progressed so far in their knowledge of salvation that the only question can be whether they have received the Holy Spirit. And yet they are so unfamiliar with the economy of salvation that they have not even heard of “the Holy Spirit.” This contradiction dissolves the whole account. We do not even know if there were disciples of John who formed a special society or were identifiable by special beliefs at that time. However, the account completely falls apart when we see how it is just a replica of a similar account about the activities of Peter. According to the pragmatism of the Acts of the Apostles, which demonstrates a similar miraculous or significant action performed by the Apostle Peter for every such action performed by the Gentile Apostle, Paul cannot be left out if his rival is so full of healing power that the sick are healed just by his shadow falling on them (Acts 5:15). Paul’s healing power must now at least pass into his sweatcloths. If Peter once gives the Samaritans completion and imparts the Holy Spirit through laying on of hands, which they had not yet received after baptism (Acts 8:16-17), then Paul must perform a similar action and also give those the final completion who had lacked it until then. Schneckenburger (on the purpose of the Acts of the Apostles p. 58) now thinks that even if it is so clear that the parallelization is intended, one should not suspect “that the reporter has interwoven unhistorical features into the image of Paul in order to make the image of both apostles similar.” But not even the model, the actions and attributes of Peter are historically established. The healing power of Peter’s shadow is just as unhistorical as the miracle-working power of the sweatcloths of the Gentile Apostle. The effectiveness of Peter among the Samaritans, the assumption that his laying on of hands first invokes the Holy Spirit on believers, while poor deacon Philip could only baptize and preach – all of these are only the concepts of a later time that had made the apostles, especially Peter, into hierarchs and thaumaturges. If Paul is now to impart the power of completion, then there could be no better counterpart to the Samaritans than the disciples of John; for just as the Samaritans were the closest Jewish-related circle to the apostle who had converted the latter in the power of the Holy Spirit and had to receive completion from him, so those who had received John’s baptism were no less close to Christian completion, and Paul now had to acquaint them with the goal and lead them to completion. The Samaritans had already accepted the word of God when Peter came to them to impart the Holy Spirit, so those whom Paul gives the completion must already belong to the community: they are already disciples, and one can only wonder how they could be already, if they have not heard anything about the Holy Spirit. The parallel goes even further. Before Peter comes to the Samaritans, Philip has already preached among them, so also Paul, before he comes into contact with the disciples of John, has a precursor: Aquila and his wife Priscilla had at least one person, Apollos, who only knew the baptism of John, taught about the fulfillment of divine promises in Jesus. A report that reveals itself so clearly as a peioei made cannot, of course, enlighten us about the ideas of the disciples of John and about the standpoint of their master. Indeed, it does not even speak of disciples of John in the sense that it holds them to be a particular, cohesive school or community; it does not even tell us how they came to receive the baptism of John, whether they received it from the Runner himself. It tells us nothing about that — for the simple reason that it knows nothing about it, that it was only concerned with people who had received the baptism of John, that it wanted to introduce people who were so close to salvation that it only took one word and the laying on of Paul’s hands to bring them to completion. Schneckenburger (a. a. O. p. 98) praises the accuracy of the report, Luke “knows” the number of “disciples of John,” he knows that there were a total of twelve (Acts 19:7); but if such numbers are supposed to prove the credibility of a report: poor history, how rich you will be in pennies and how poor in gold!


The account of Josephus still clearly shows us how the water baptism of John came about. According to Josephus, John said that baptism would only be pleasing to God if it were not used to expiate certain sins, but to sanctify the body, provided that the soul had already been purified by righteousness in general. It is clear that the baptism of John had only the Jewish washings and the legal conception of purity as its precondition. By precondition, however, we do not only understand the material to the extent that it gave rise to the development of the new form, but also in the result that is negatively posited: while the legal view sees the purity of the body and the soul as immediately the same and external washing as such purifies body and soul, John took the great step of raising the symbol to consciousness, dissolving the idea of that immediate unity and bringing self-denial and change of mind in general to recognition as the only significance of the symbolic action *). This act is in itself so great and of such infinite scope that it alone sufficed to form and fill a standpoint in the development of religious consciousness. The apologist, however, cannot do without attributing to the consciousness of the Baptist the further definite content that the evangelists have already given him – he must now say *) “the brief account of Josephus itself points to a necessary supplement,” which he finds in the gospel narratives; the appearance of John and his baptism had an internal relationship to the Messiah and his kingdom. However, this relationship and reference of the earlier standpoint to the following one has never taken the form in history as it appears to the religious spirit when, with hasty impatience, it attributes to the preparatory standpoint the consciousness of the purpose it serves. The unity of history remains even when it is no longer thought that the earlier figure pointed with a finger to the following one, but rather through the wonderful power that brings the individual, independent figures into connection. The subordinate standpoint certainly serves the higher one as a basis, but it does not know what the true determination of the future is, when, in what way and form it will come about. The more significant the earlier one is, the more it must strive within itself just to shape itself, to work itself out and to gain recognition – how could it carry out this strenuous struggle with the hard crust of history, which it must break through only for its own sake, how could it even undertake the even more difficult task of developing itself, if it appeared with only the full consciousness of its provisional character, but also knew that it would be made unnecessary in a short time and through this particular person? It would be the most superficial and hollow product in the world. But it is much more connected with the depth, independence and power of a principle that its historical presupposition had developed itself independently with the consciousness of its own justification and with the devoted faith in its particular work. The greatness of the following figure consists precisely in the fact that it recognized itself as the goal of previous history, but this recognition did not come as a tradition, but had to be fought for, by stripping its presuppositions of their independent appearance and relating them to itself as harbingers of itself. The closer the end, the greater and more independent the following, the more independent also the forerunner, because it was precisely the proximity of the completion that gave it a deeper content, which could not be developed without the most intensive limitation. Finally, if the following figure were to find a prepared ground, it would certainly not have found it if its predecessor had only pointed to it: the curiosity of the people could have been aroused for some time at most, but not even for the duration. The thorough processing of a people only takes place when a preparatory principle is exempted for its own sake and, by this detour, which introduces it into the general circulation of life forces, provides the following figure with a thoroughly worked-out foundation.

*) In the same way that we become certain that the evangelical views did not arise as mere imitations of prophetic images, it also becomes evident here that John did not derive the idea of water baptism from prophetic utterances. Just as the evangelical views arose from the inner experiences or postulates of the community and could only come into contact with and actually coincide with the prophetic images because they contained the same idea or category that was already active in the Old Testament self-awareness, but only manifested in a higher manner, John did not spin the idea of his water baptism from prophetic “passages”, but rather his spirit, the historical circumstances, and the living presuppositions inherent in the usual washings completed an idea that the prophets had indeed worked on but not brought to completion. The completion of an idea need not even happen by the author reflecting on all previous attempts and creating the completion through this reflection. It is enough for him to have the same presuppositions before him that prompted his predecessors to their attempts, and to give the idea completion directly through the greater power of his spirit and the more urgent nature of the circumstances. The prophets had indeed already raised the symbolism of the legal purifications to a conscious level and attempted to grasp it in a general way, as when, for example, Ezekiel (chapter 36, verse 25) expresses the expectation that in the time of the end, Jehovah will sprinkle water over his people, or a spring (Zechariah 13, 1) will be opened for all sins and impurities of the people. But if the baptism of John was to be generated only from the vagueness of this figurative view, it would never have arisen. The result that concludes the development of an idea is formed from the inner power of the person who was destined by history to complete the development. The least acceptable assumption is that there was then among the Jews the expectation of a forerunner who was to prepare the old community for the coming of the Messiah through a general cleansing. This view, according to which the Baptist had done nothing more than put on a character mask that had long been made before him, cannot provide a trace of evidence for itself and cannot be thoroughly removed from our heads if we want to finally arrive at a living view of the history of the Christian principle. Characters, along with their historical masks, are always born with the individuals.

*) For example, Neander, in the same work, pages 50-51.


If John had made the preaching about the coming Messiah the center of his work, would the disciples of Jesus have asked, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first? *)” Would Jesus have had to say that Elijah had already come? Only the greater one knows that the historical figures, who appeared with the stamp of their own validity and independence, served his work. And later comes the reflection of the religious spirit, which only believes in the unity of history if it already sees the consciousness of the following on the earlier stage.

*) i.e., would Mark have let them ask this question?


As long as we are dealing only with religious consciousness, our only task is to recognize the dialectic that conceals differences in history and replaces them with one content and one consciousness. But when the apologist comes to prevent us from this realization and pronounce a ban on us if we restore reality, we appeal against his condemnation to the seriousness and sublime power of history, which reveals its true unity precisely in allowing preparations to spread so liberally into independent forms and creating great minds that can break even the hardest shell of the works of their predecessors and see the seed of their own work in the core.*)

The baptism of repentance, the transformation of the legal concept of purity, which still inwardly touches on the concept of nature religion, the simplification of the legal commandment, which relates only to individual impurities, into the demand for a conversion of the spirit that should give the soul a new direction once and for all – that alone was the work of the Baptist, a work so great that it certainly made him the immediate forerunner of the Christian principle. But if he neither baptized the Messiah, nor pointed with the self-consciousness of a forerunner, nor even gave the baptized the admonition **) “to believe in the one who is coming,” was his work completely unrelated to messianic expectation? On the contrary, it was related to it in the most living and grandest way possible. The previous erroneous and mechanical view is based on the equally false assumption that the idea of the Messiah as a fixed reflection concept already lived in the Jewish consciousness during the times of the prophets, and therefore also in the centuries before Christ – no! That cannot be called life! – it was petrified. The expectations of the Messiah did not reflect themselves in the Old Testament views until the time immediately preceding the Christian era. Therefore, the historical significance of the Baptist is not only not exhausted, but completely misunderstood in that mindless notion that his work consisted solely of pointing with his finger to an expectation that had been preserved like a mummy for centuries or even millennia. Rather, his emergence falls into the period in which the dissolving and unclarified views of the prophets coalesced into a unity and reflected themselves in the expectation of this particular person, “the” Messiah, an expectation unalterably established in the spirit. The same power of historical movement that created this determination of expectation also brought about the baptism of repentance at the point where it was to serve as a preparation for its fulfillment. Both are the product of the same power, only a soil that had just created the determination of a principle and was still trembling in the aftermath of this wondrous birth was prepared for the preaching of repentance. But both could not yet be brought into a reflected relationship at the same time when they emerged. They could support each other: the crowd seized by a new life force could all the more eagerly flock to a bath in which the spirit shed the dirt of the old and gained the gathering of itself in its innermost being; the preaching of the baptism of repentance could consolidate the specific expectation that it had created in the people. However, the distance between the emergence of two related and interconnected phenomena in history and their explicit unification is infinitely great: this requires a new, higher principle, which finds those phenomena already given, thus enabling it to view them more freely and bring them into a relationship. In the Christian community, baptism was associated with the name of the Anointed One.

*) Compare the insightful discussion of Weisse (1, 263-266.).

**) The latter of which Weisse still assumes based on Acts 19:4.