John the Baptist : biography

c. 6 BC - c. 30 AD

Life in the New Testament

Gospel narrative

All four canonical Gospels record John the Baptist's ministry, as does the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews. They depict him as proclaiming Christ's arrival. In the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), Jesus is baptized by John.

The Gospel of Luke includes an account of John's infancy, introducing him as the son of Zechariah, an old man, and his wife Elizabeth, who was barren.Just, Arthur A.; Oden, Thomas C. (2003), Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture - Luke: New Testament III, InterVarsity Press; p. 10. According to this account, the birth of John was foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, while Zachariah was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem. Since Zachariah is described as a priest of the course of Abijah and his wife, Elizabeth, as one of the daughters of Aaron, this would make John a descendant of Aaron on both his father's and mother's side.'Aaron', In: Mills, Watson E. (ed.) (1998) Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 5, Macon GA: Mercer University Press, ISBN 0-86554-299-6; page 1

There is no mention of a family relationship between John and Jesus in the other Gospels, and the scholar Raymond E. Brown has described it as "of dubious historicity".Brown, Raymond Edward (1973), The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Paulist Press, p. 54 Géza Vermes has called it "artificial and undoubtedly Luke's creation".Vermes, Geza. The Nativity, p. 143. On the basis of the account in Luke, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas.

The many similarities between the Gospel of Luke story of the birth of John and the Old Testament account of the birth of Samuel have led scholars to suggest that Luke's account of the annunciation and birth of Jesus are modeled on that of Samuel.Freed, Edwin D. (2001), The Stories of Jesus' Birth: a Critical Introduction Continuum International, pp. 87-90.

Preaching

All four canonical gospels relate John's preaching and baptism in the River Jordan. Most notably he is the one who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and baptizes him. The baptism marks the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and (most clearly) Luke relate that Jesus came from Galilee to John in Judea and was baptized by him, whereupon the Spirit descended upon Jesus and a voice from Heaven told him he was God's Son. The Gospel of John does not record the baptism directly, but only by John's description afterward (John 1:32-33). John also introduces Jesus to his disciples as the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29-36).

Considered by Christians to be without sin, Jesus nevertheless received John's baptism, which was for the repentance of sins (Mark 1:4). This is addressed in the Gospel of Matthew's account, which portrays John's refusal to baptize Jesus, saying, "I need to be baptized by you." Jesus persuades John to baptize him nonetheless (Matthew 3:13-15).

The Gospel of John reports that Jesus' disciples were baptizing and that a debate broke out between some of the disciples of John and another Jew about purification. In this debate John argued that Jesus "must become greater," while he (John) "must become less" (Vulgate: illum oportet crescere me autem minui).

The Gospel of John then points out that Jesus' disciples were baptizing more people than John (John 4:2). Later, the Gospel relates that Jesus regarded John as "a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (John 5:35). The Book of Acts portrays the disciples of John as eventually merging into the followers of Jesus (Acts 18:24-19:6), a development not reported by the gospels except for the early case of Andrew, Simon Peter's brother (John 1:35-42).

Death

In the gospel accounts of John's death, Herod has John imprisoned for denouncing his incestuous marriage, and later executes John by beheading. John condemned Herod for marrying Herodias (who was not only his brother Philip's former wife but also Herod's niece) in violation of Old Testament law. Later Herodias's daughter Salome (who was both Herod's grand-niece and stepdaughter) dances before Herod, who offers her a favour in return. Herodias tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, which is delivered to her on a plate (Mark 6:14-29).

Living octopus

Living octopus

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