197 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 197 Herod beheads John in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

Crossan Inventory | 197 Literature | 197 Parallels | 197 Commentary | 197 Poetry | 197 Images


John Dominic Crossan

Crossan [Historical Jesus], (231) cites with approval Morton Smith's assessment of the cultic significance of John's challenge to the Temple:

By John's time the only place in the country where Jews could legally offer sacrifices was Jerusalem, and its services were expensive. To introduce into this situation a new, inexpensive, generally available, divinely authorized rite, effective for the remission of all sins, was John's great invention. His warning of the coming judgment was nothing new; prophets had been predicting that for the past eight centuries. The new thing was the assurance that there was something the average man could easily do to prepare himself for the catastrophic coming of the kingdom. [Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark. Harvard: 1973,208]

Crossan also notes that Josephus has no mention of the most politically explosive aspect of John's new rite:

people cross over into the desert and are baptized in the Jordan as they return to the Promised Land. And that is dangerously close to certain millennial prophets, well known to Josephus ... who, in the period between 44 and 62 C.E., invoked the desert and the Jordan to imagine a new and transcendental conquest of the Promised Land. Whatever John's intentions may have been, Antipas was not paranoid to consider a conjunction of prophet and crowds, desert and Jordan, dangerously volatile. [Historical Jesus, 231f]

Jesus Seminar

The decisions of the Seminar on various quesations relating to John thr Baptist can be represented as follows:

  • Herod Antipas had JBap imprisoned
  • Herod Antipas had JBap executed
  • JBap denounced Herod Antipas
  • JBap criticized Herod Antipas' marriage to Herodias
  • JBap's activities posed a threat to Herod Antipas' ability to maintain peace and stability
  • Herod Antipas had JBap executed for political expediency
  • Machaerus was the site of JBap's execution
  • Herodias requested the execution of JBap
  • Herodias used her daughter to get JBap executed
  • Herodias' daughter danced for Herod and his court
  • Herodias' daughter asked for the head of JBap on a platter
  • Disciples of JBap continued to honor him after his death
  • The movements of JBap and Jesus were rivals during Jesus' lifetime
  • The movements of JBap and Jesus were rivals after Jesus' death
  • JBap's movement included hellenistic Jews (like Apollos)

In commenting on the Seminar's voting, Barnes Tatum John the Baptist and Jesus', (159) notes the patterns that emerge from the voting data. Those elements that are attested by both Mark and Josephus have no votes lower than Pink, while the narrative elements found only in Mark are mostly Gray.

John P. Meier

Meier [Marginal Jew] (II,171-76) reviews the material relating to John's execution, before concluding:

When it comes to the imprisonment and death of John, Josephus, not Mark, must serve as our main source. Receiving a folkloric legend already remodeled as a pious account of a martyr's unjust execution, Mark used the story for his own purposes. The tradition he inherited preserved the most basic facts: sometime after Jesus' baptism, John was imprisoned and executed by Antipas. Mark's story also had a vague recollection that Antipas' irregular marriage to Herodias was somehow connected with the Baptist's death, but lively imagination and OT allusions had long since developed the nexus in a different direction from what we read in the Antiquities. Coming as it does from a diverse matrix and being developed in a very disparate fashion, Mark's account supplies valuable independent confirmation of the most basic points of Josephus' report. Beyond those, Josephus is to be preferred for history; Mark is to be mined for tradition history and theological intent. (p. 175)