John the Baptist
John the Baptist[note 1] (late 1st century BC – AD 28–36) was a Jewish itinerant preacher in the early 1st century AD. Other titles for John include John the Forerunner in Eastern Christianity, John the Immerser in some Baptist traditions, and the prophet John (Yaḥyā) in Islam. He is sometimes alternatively called John the Baptizer.
John the Baptist is mentioned by the Hebrew historian Josephus and revered as a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Mandaeism. He is called a prophet by all of these faiths, and is honoured as a saint in many Christian traditions. According to the New Testament, John anticipated a messianic figure greater than himself, and the Gospels portray John as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, since John announces Jesus' coming and prepares the people for Jesus' ministry. Jesus himself identifies John as "Elijah who is to come", which is a direct reference to the prophecy of , that has been confirmed by the angel who announced John's birth to his father Zecharia. According to the New Testament, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were relatives.
Some scholars maintain that John belonged to the Essenes, a semi-ascetic Judaic sect who expected a Hebrew messiah and who practiced ritual baptism. John used baptism as the central symbol or sacrament of his pre-messianic movement. Most scholars agree that John baptized Jesus, and several New Testament accounts report that some of Jesus' early followers had previously been followers of John.
According to the New Testament John was sentenced to death and subsequently beheaded by Herod Antipas sometime between AD 28 and 36 after John rebuked him for divorcing his wife, Phasaelis, and then unlawfully wedding Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I.
John the Baptist is mentioned in all four canonical Gospels and the non-canonical Gospel of the Nazarenes. The Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) describe John baptising Jesus; in the Gospel of John this is implied in .
The Gospel of Mark introduces John as a fulfilment of a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah (in fact, a conflation of texts from Isaiah, Malachi and Exodus) about a messenger being sent ahead, and a voice crying out in the wilderness. John is described as wearing clothes of camel's hair, living on locusts and wild honey. John proclaims baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin, and says another will come after him who will not baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus comes to John, and is baptized by him in the river Jordan. The account describes how, as he emerges from the water, the heavens open and the Holy Spirit descends on him 'like a dove'. A voice from heaven then says, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." ()
Later in the gospel there is an account of John's death. It is introduced by an incident where the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, hearing stories about Jesus, imagines that this is John the Baptist raised from the dead. It then explains that John had rebuked Herod for marrying Herodias, the ex-wife of his brother (named here as Philip). Herodias demands his execution, but Herod, who 'liked to listen' to John, is reluctant to do so because he fears him, knowing he is a 'righteous and holy man'.
The account then describes how Herod's daughter Herodias (NRSV; other translations refer to the girl as the daughter of Herodias) dances before Herod, who is pleased and offers her anything she asks for in return. When the girl asks her mother what she should request, she is told to demand the head of John the Baptist. Reluctantly, Herod orders the beheading of John, and his head is delivered to her, at her request, on a plate. John's disciples take the body away and bury it in a tomb.()
There are a number of difficulties with this passage. The Gospel refers to Antipas as 'King' and the ex-husband of Herodias is named as Philip, but he is known to have been called Herod. Although the wording clearly implies the girl was the daughter of Herodias, many texts describe her as "Herod's daughter, Herodias". Since these texts are early and significant and the reading is 'difficult', many scholars see this as the original version, corrected in later versions and in Matthew and Luke. Josephus says that Herodias had a daughter by the name of Salome.
Scholars have speculated about the origins of the story. Since it shows signs of having been composed in Aramaic, which Mark apparently did not speak, he is likely to have got it from a Palestinian source. There are a variety of opinions about how much actual historical material it contains, especially given the alleged factual errors. Many scholars have seen the story of John arrested, executed, and buried in a tomb as a conscious foreshadowing of the fate of Jesus.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'"
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased."
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him." But others said, "He is Elijah." And others said, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you." And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom." And she went out and said to her mother, "For what should I ask?" And she said, "The head of John the Baptist." And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
The Gospel of Matthew account begins with the same modified quotation from Isaiah, moving the Malachi and Exodus material to later in the text, where it is quoted by Jesus. The description of John is taken directly from Mark ("clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey"), along with the proclamation that one was coming who would baptise with the Holy Spirit "and fire" ().
Unlike Mark, Matthew describes John as critical of Pharisees and Sadducees and as preaching "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" and a "coming judgment".
Matthew shortens the account of the beheading of John, and adds two elements: that Herod Antipas wants John dead, and that the death is reported to Jesus by his disciples. Matthew's approach is to shift the focus away from Herod and onto John as a prototype of Jesus. Where Mark has Herod killing John reluctantly and at Herodias' insistence, Matthew describes him as wanting John dead.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
"The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'"
Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
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 wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with 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. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
"I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. 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."
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,
"'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.'
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
"But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
"'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.'
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds."
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, "This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him." For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter." And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus.
The Gospel of Luke adds an account of John's infancy, introducing him as the miraculous son of Zechariah, an old man, and his wife Elizabeth, who was past menopause and therefore unable to have children. According to this account, the birth of John was foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zechariah, while he was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem. Since he is described as a priest of the course of Abijah and 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. On the basis of this account, the Catholic as well as the Anglican and Lutheran liturgical calendars placed the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas.
Elizabeth is described as a "relative" of Mary, the mother of Jesus in . There is no mention of a family relationship between John and Jesus in the other Gospels, and Raymond E. Brown has described it as "of dubious historicity". Géza Vermes has called it "artificial and undoubtedly Luke's creation". The many similarities between the Gospel of Luke story of the birth of John and the Old Testament account of the birth of Samuel suggest that Luke's account of the annunciation and birth of Jesus are modeled on that of Samuel.
Unique to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptist explicitly teaches charity, baptizes tax-collectors, and advises soldiers.
The text briefly mentions that John is imprisoned and later beheaded by Herod, but the Gospel of Luke lacks the story of a step-daughter dancing for Herod and requesting John's head.
In the reign of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the division called after Abijah. His wife, whose name was Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous people, who lived blameless lives, guiding their steps by all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. But they had no child, Elizabeth being barren; and both of them were advanced in years.
One day, when Zechariah was officiating as priest before God, during the turn of his division, it fell to him by lot, in accordance with the practice among the priests, to go into the Temple of the Lord and burn incense; and, as it was the Hour of Incense, the people were all praying outside. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right of the Altar of Incense. Zechariah was startled at the sight and was awe-struck. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, whom you will call by the name John. He will be to you a joy and a delight; and many will rejoice over his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he will not drink any wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from the very hour of his birth, and will reconcile many of the Israelites to the Lord their God. He will go before him in the spirit and with the power of Elijah, 'to reconcile fathers to their children' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, and so make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him."
"How can I be sure of this?" Zechariah asked the angel. "For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years."
"I am Gabriel," the angel answered, "who stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And now you will be silent and unable to speak until the day when this takes place, because you did not believe what I said, though my words will be fulfilled in due course."
Meanwhile, the people were watching for Zechariah, wondering at his remaining so long in the Temple. When he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision there. But Zechariah kept making signs to them, and remained dumb. And, as soon as his term of service was finished, he returned home. After this his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and lived in seclusion for five months. "The Lord has done this for me," she said, "he has shown me kindness and taken away the public disgrace of childlessness under which I have been living."
Six months later the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a maiden there who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. Her name was Mary. Gabriel came into her presence and greeted her, saying: "You have been shown great favor – the Lord is with you."
Mary was much disturbed at his words, and was wondering to herself what such a greeting could mean, when the angel spoke again: "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will give him the name Jesus. The child will be great and will be called 'Son of the Most High,' and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David, and he will reign over the descendants of Jacob for ever; And to his kingdom there will be no end."
"The Holy Spirit will descend on you," answered the angel, "and the Power of the Most High will overshadow you; and therefore the child will be called 'holy,' and 'Son of God.' And Elizabeth, your cousin, is herself also expecting a son in her old age; and it is now the sixth month with her, though she is called barren; for no promise from God will fail to be fulfilled."
"I am the servant of the Lord," exclaimed Mary; "let it be with me as you have said." Then the angel left her.
Soon after this Mary set out, and made her way quickly into the hill-country, to a town in Judah; and there she went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child moved within her, and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit, and cried aloud: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your unborn child! But how have I this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, as soon as your greeting reached my ears, the child moved within me with delight! Happy indeed is she who believed that the promise which she received from the Lord would be fulfilled."
"My soul exalts the Lord, my spirit delights in God my Savior; for he has remembered his humble servant girl; And from this hour all ages will count me happy!
Great things has the Almighty done for me; And holy is his name. From age to age his mercy rests On those who honor him.
Mighty are the deeds of his arm; He scatters the proud with their own devices, he casts down princes from their thrones, and the humble he uplifts, the hungry he loads with gifts, and the rich he sends empty away.
He has stretched out his hand to his servant Israel, Ever mindful of his mercy (As he promised to our forefathers) For Abraham and his race for ever."
Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home. When Elizabeth's time came, she gave birth to a son; and her neighbors and relations, hearing of the great goodness of the Lord to her, came to share her joy. A week later they met to circumcise the child, and were about to call him 'Zechariah' after his father, when his mother spoke up: "No, he is to be called John."
"You have no relation of that name!" they exclaimed; and they made signs to the child's father, to find out what he wished the child to be called. Asking for a writing-tablet, he wrote the words – 'His name is John.' Everyone was surprised; and immediately Zechariah recovered his voice and the use of his tongue, and began to bless God. All their neighbors were awe-struck at this; and throughout the hill-country of Judea the whole story was much talked about; and all who heard it kept it in mind, asking one another – "What can this child be destined to become?" For the Power of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and, speaking under inspiration, said:
"Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, Who has visited his people and wrought their deliverance, and has raised up for us the Strength of our salvation In the house of his servant David –
As he promised by the lips of his holy prophets of old – salvation from our enemies and from the hands of all who hate us, showing mercy to our forefathers, And mindful of his sacred covenant.
This was the oath which he swore to our forefather Abraham – That we should be rescued from the hands of our enemies, and should serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness, In his presence all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, For you will go before the Lord to make ready his way, to give his people the knowledge of salvation In the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God, Whereby the Dawn will break on us from heaven, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, And guide our feet into the way of peace."
The child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the Wilds until the time came for his appearance before Israel.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was Governor of Judea, Herod Ruler of Galilee, his brother Philip Ruler of the territory comprising Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias Ruler of Abilene, and when Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, a command from God came to John, the son of Zechariah, while he was in the wilderness. And John went through the whole district of the Jordan, proclaiming baptism on repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. This was in fulfillment of what is said in the writings of the prophet Isaiah –
'The voice of one crying aloud in the wilderness: "Make ready the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight. Every chasm will be filled, Every mountain and hill will be leveled, The winding ways will be straightened, The rough roads made smooth, and everyone will see the salvation of God."'
And John said to the crowds that went to be baptized by him: "You children of snakes! Who has prompted you to seek refuge from the coming judgment? Let your lives, then, prove your repentance; and do not begin to say among yourselves 'Abraham is our ancestor,' for I tell you that out of these stones God is able to raise descendants for Abraham! Already, indeed, the axe is lying at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that fails to bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
"What are we to do then?" the people asked. "Let anyone who has two coats," answered John, "share with the person who has none; and anyone who has food do the same."
Even tax-gatherers came to be baptized, and said to John: "Teacher, what are we to do?"
"Do not collect more than you have authority to demand," John answered. And when some soldiers on active service asked "And we – what are we to do?" he said: "Never use violence, or exact anything by false accusation; and be content with your pay."
Then, while the people were in suspense, and were all debating with themselves whether John could be the Christ, John, addressing them all, said: "I, indeed, baptize you with water; but there is coming one more powerful than I, and I am not fit even to unfasten his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing-fan is in his hand so that he may clear his threshing-floor, and store the grain in his barn, but the chaff he will burn with a fire that cannot be put out."
And so with many different appeals John told his good news to the people. But Prince Herod, being rebuked by John respecting Herodias, the wife of Herod's brother, and for all the evil things that he had done, crowned them all by shutting John up in prison. Now after the baptism of all the people, and when Jesus had been baptized and was still praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit came down on him in the form of a dove, and from the heavens came a voice – "You are my dearly loved son; you bring me great joy."
"John's disciples," they said to Jesus, "Often fast and say prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, while yours are eating and drinking!"
All these events were reported to John by his disciples. So he summoned two of them, and sent them to the Master to ask – "Are you 'the coming one,' or are we to look for some one else?"
When these men found Jesus, they said: "John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask – 'Are you 'the coming one,' or are we to look for somebody else?'" At that very time Jesus had cured many people of diseases, afflictions, and wicked spirits, and had given many blind people their sight. So his answer to the question was: "Go and report to John what you have witnessed and heard – the blind recover their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are made clean, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, the good news is told to the poor. And blessed is the person who finds no hindrance in me."
When John's messengers had left, Jesus, speaking to the crowds, began to say with reference to John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed waving in the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in rich clothing? Why, those who are accustomed to fine clothes and luxury live in royal palaces. What then did you go to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and far more than a prophet. This is the man of whom scripture says –
'I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.'
There is, I tell you, no one born of a woman who is greater than John; and yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he."
(All the people, when they heard this, and even the tax-gatherers, having accepted John's baptism, acknowledged the justice of God. But the Pharisees and the students of the law, having rejected John's baptism, frustrated God's purpose in regard to them.)
The fourth gospel describes John the Baptist as "a man sent from God" who "was not the light", but "came as a witness, to bear witness to the light, so that through him everyone might believe". John clearly denies being the Christ or Elijah or 'the prophet', instead describing himself as the "voice of one crying in the wilderness".
Jesus's baptism is implied but not depicted. Unlike the other gospels, it is John himself who testifies to seeing "the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove and rest on him". John explicitly announces that Jesus is the one "who baptizes with the Holy Spirit" and John even professes a "belief that he is the Son of God" and "the Lamb of God".
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" (Latin Vulgate: ).
The Gospel of John then points out that Jesus' disciples were baptizing more people than John. 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".
There appeared a man sent from God, whose name was John; he came as a witness – to bear witness to the light so that through him everyone might believe. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light.
When the religious authorities in Jerusalem sent some Priests and Levites to ask John – "Who are you?", he told them clearly and simply: "I am not the Christ."
"What then?" they asked. "Are you Elijah?" "No," he said, "I am not." "Are you 'the prophet'?" He answered, "No." "Who then are you?" they continued; "tell us so that we have an answer to give to those who have sent us. What do you say about yourself?" "I," he answered, "am – 'The voice of one crying aloud in the wilderness – "make a straight road for the Lord"', as the prophet Isaiah said." These men had been sent from the Pharisees; and their next question was: "Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ or Elijah or 'the prophet'?" John's answer was – "I baptize with water, but among you stands one whom you do not know; he is coming after me, yet I am not worthy even to unfasten his sandal." This happened at Bethany, across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him, and exclaimed: "Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! I was taking about him when I said 'After me there is coming a man who ranks ahead of me, because before I was born he already was.' I did not know who he was, but I have come baptizing with water to make him known to Israel."
John also said: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven like a dove and rest on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water, he said to me 'He on whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him – he it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' This I have seen myself, and I have declared my belief that he is the Son of God." The next day, when John was standing with two of his disciples, he looked at Jesus as he passed and exclaimed: "There is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and followed Jesus.
John, also, was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there were many streams there; and people were constantly coming and being baptized. (For John had not yet been imprisoned). Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a fellow Jew on the subject of 'purification;' and the disciples came to John and said: "Rabbi, the man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, and to whom you have yourself borne testimony – he, also, is baptizing, and everybody is going to him." John's answer was – "A person can gain nothing but what is given them from heaven. You are yourselves witnesses that I said 'I am not the Christ,' but 'I have been sent before him as a messenger.' It is the groom who has the bride; but the groom's friend, who stands by and listens to him, is filled with joy when he hears the groom's voice. This joy I have felt to the full. He must become greater, and I less."
He who comes from above is above all others; but a child of earth is earthly, and his teaching is earthly, too. He who comes from heaven is above all others. He states what he has seen and what he heard, and yet no one accepts his statement. They who did accept his statement confirm the fact that God is true. For he whom God sent as his messenger gives us God's own teaching, for God does not limit the gift of the Spirit. The Father loves his Son, and has put everything in his hands. The person who believes in the Son has eternal life, while a person who rejects the Son will not even see that life, but remains under 'God's displeasure.'
Simon J. Joseph has argued that the Gospel demotes the historical John by painting him only as a prophetic forerunner to Jesus whereas his ministry actually complemented Jesus'.
Although Mark's Gospel implies that the arrival of John the Baptist is the fulfilment of a prophecy from the Book of Isaiah, the words quoted ("I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'") are actually a composite of texts from Isaiah, Malachi and the Book of Exodus. (Matthew and Luke drop the first part of the reference.)
The gospels differ on the details of the Baptism. In Mark and Luke, Jesus himself sees the heavens open and hears a voice address him personally, saying, "You are my dearly loved son; you bring me great joy". They do not clarify whether others saw and heard these things. Although other incidents where the "voice came out of heaven" are recorded in which, for the sake of the crowds, it was heard audibly, John did say in his witness that he did see the spirit coming down "out of heaven" (John 12:28–30, John 1:32).
In Matthew, the voice from heaven does not address Jesus personally, saying instead "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."
In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist himself sees the spirit descend as a dove, testifying about the experience as evidence of Jesus's status.
John's knowledge of Jesus varies across gospels. In the Gospel of Mark, John preaches of a coming leader, but shows no signs of recognizing that Jesus is this leader. In Matthew, however, John immediately recognizes Jesus and John questions his own worthiness to baptize Jesus. In both Matthew and Luke, John later dispatches disciples to question Jesus about his status, asking "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" In Luke, John is a familial relative of Jesus whose birth was foretold by Gabriel. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist himself sees the spirit descend like a dove and he explicitly preaches that Jesus is the Son of God.
The Gospels vary in their depiction of John's relationship to Elijah. Matthew and Mark describe John's attire in a way reminiscent of the description of Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8, who also wore a garment of hair and a leather belt. In Matthew, Jesus explicitly teaches that John is "Elijah who was to come" (Matt. 11:14 – see also Matt. 17:11–13); many Christian theologians have taken this to mean that John was Elijah's successor. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist explicitly denies being Elijah. In the annunciation narrative in Luke, an angel appears to Zechariah, John's father, and tells him that John "will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God," and that he will go forth "in the spirit and power of Elijah ()."
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's [Antipas's] army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him.
According to this passage, the execution of John was blamed for the defeat Herod suffered. Some have claimed that this passage indicates that John died near the time of the destruction of Herod's army in 36 AD. However, in a different passage, Josephus states that the end of Herod's marriage with Aretas' daughter (after which John was killed) was only the beginning of hostilities between Herod and Aretas, which later escalated into the battle.
Divergences between the passage's presentation and the biblical accounts of John include baptism for those whose souls have already been "purified beforehand by righteousness" is for purification of the body, not general repentance of sin (Mark 1:4). Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan differentiates between Josephus's account of John and Jesus, saying, "John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise." To get baptized, Crossan writes, you went only to John; to stop the movement one only needed to stop John (therefore his movement ended with his death). Jesus invited all to come and see how he and his companions had already accepted the government of God, entered it and were living it. Such a communal praxis was not just for himself, but could survive without him, unlike John's movement.
records that "his disciples came and took away [John's] body and buried it". Theologian Joseph Benson refers to a belief that "it seems that the body had been thrown over the prison walls, without burial, probably by order of Herodias.
The burial-place of John the Baptist was traditionally said to be at the Nabi Yahya Mosque (Saint John the Baptist Mosque) in Sebastia in current Palestinian territories, and mention is made of his relics being honored there around the middle of the 4th century. The historians Rufinus and Theodoretus record that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate around 362, the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics were carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria, where on 27 May 395, they were laid in the basilica newly dedicated to the Forerunner on the former site of the temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued, nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and Saint Jerome bears witness to miracles being worked there.
What became of the head of John the Baptist is difficult to determine. Nicephorus and Symeon Metaphrastes say that Herodias had it buried in the fortress of Machaerus (in accordance with Josephus). Other writers say that it was interred in Herod's palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine I, and thence secretly taken to Emesa where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453. However, the decapitation cloth of Saint John is kept at the Aachen Cathedral. The Coptic Christian Orthodox Church also claim to hold the relics of Saint John the Baptist. These are to be found in a monastery in Lower Egypt between Cairo and Alexandria. It is possible, with permission from the monks, to see the original tomb where the remains were found.
Another obscure claim relates to the town of Halifax in West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, where, as patron saint of the town, the Baptist's head appears on the official coat-of-arms. One legend (among others) bases the etymology of the town's place-name on "halig" (holy) and "fax" (face), claiming that a relic of the head, or face, of John the Baptist once existed in the town.
Also, in 2010, bones were discovered in the ruins of a Bulgarian church in the St. John the Forerunner Monastery (4th–17th centuries) on the Black Sea island of St. Ivan and two years later, after DNA and radio carbon testing proved the bones belonged to a Middle Eastern man who lived in the 1st century AD, scientists said that the remains could conceivably have belonged to John the Baptist. The remains, found in a reliquarium are presently kept in the Sts. Cyril and Methodius Cathedral in Sozopol.
The Gospels describe John the Baptist as having had a specific role ordained by God as forerunner or precursor of Jesus, who was the foretold Messiah. The New Testament Gospels speak of this role. In the role of John is referred to as being "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." In as "thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" and in as being "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins."
There are several passages within the Old Testament which are interpreted by Christians as being prophetic of John the Baptist in this role. These include a passage in the Book of Malachi () that refers to a prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord:
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.
and also at the end of the next chapter in Malachi 4:5–6 where it says,
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
The Jews of Jesus' day expected Elijah to come before the Messiah; indeed, some present day Jews continue to await Elijah's coming as well, as in the Cup of Elijah the Prophet in the Passover Seder. This is why the disciples ask Jesus in , "Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?" The disciples are then told by Jesus that Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist,
Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.
(see also 11:14: "...if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who was to come.")
These passages are applied to John in the Synoptic Gospels. But where Matthew specifically identifies John the Baptist as Elijah's spiritual successor (), the gospels of Mark and Luke are silent on the matter. The Gospel of John states that John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah.
Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not deny, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No."
Many scholars believe there was contact between the early church in the Apostolic Age and what is called the "Qumran-Essene community". The Dead Sea Scrolls were found at Qumran, which the majority of historians and archaeologists identify as an Essene settlement. John the Baptist is thought to have been either an Essene or "associated" with the community at Khirbet Qumran. According to the Book of Acts, Paul met some "disciples of John" in Ephesus.
The Catholic Church commemorates Saint John the Baptist on two feast days:
According to Frederick Holweck, at the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to his mother Elizabeth, as recounted in Luke 1:39–57, John, sensing the presence of his Jesus, upon the arrival of Mary, leaped in the womb of his mother; he was then cleansed from original sin and filled with the grace of God. In her Treatise of Prayer, Saint Catherine of Siena includes a brief altercation with the Devil regarding her fight due to the Devil attempting to lure her with vanity and flattery. Speaking in the first person, Catherine responds to the Devil with the following words:
... humiliation of yourself, and you answered the Devil with these words: 'Wretch that I am! John the Baptist never sinned and was sanctified in his mother's womb. And I have committed so many sins ...
The Eastern Catholic Churches and Eastern Orthodox faithful believe that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, thus serving as a bridge between that period of revelation and the New Covenant. They also teach that, following his death, John descended into Hades and there once more preached that Jesus the Messiah was coming, so he was the Forerunner of Christ in death as he had been in life. Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches will often have an icon of Saint John the Baptist in a place of honor on the iconostasis, and he is frequently mentioned during the Divine Services. Every Tuesday throughout the year is dedicated to his memory.
In addition to the above, 5 September is the commemoration of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Saint John's parents. The Russian Orthodox Church observes 12 October as the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina (1799).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that modern revelation confirms the biblical account of John and also makes known additional events in his ministry. According to this belief, John was "ordained by the angel of God" when he was eight days old "to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews" and to prepare a people for the Lord. Latter-day Saints also believe that "he was baptized while yet in his childhood."
Joseph Smith said: "Let us come into New Testament times – so many are ever praising the Lord and His apostles. We will commence with John the Baptist. When Herod's edict went forth to destroy the young children, John was about six months older than Jesus, and came under this hellish edict, and Zecharias caused his mother to take him into the mountains, where he was raised on locusts and wild honey. When his father refused to disclose his hiding place, and being the officiating high priest at the Temple that year, was slain by Herod's order, between the porch and the altar, as Jesus said."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints teaches that John the Baptist appeared on the banks of the Susquehanna River near Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania as a resurrected being to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829, and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. According to the Church's dispensational view of religious history, John's ministry has operated in three dispensations: he was the last of the prophets under the law of Moses; he was the first of the New Testament prophets; and he was sent to confirm the Aaronic Priesthood in our day (the dispensation of the fulness of times). Latter-day Saints believe John's ministry was foretold by two prophets whose teachings are included in the Book of Mormon: Lehi and his son Nephi.
Among the early Judeo-Christian Gnostics the Ebionites held that John, along with Jesus and James the Just—all of whom they revered—were vegetarians. Epiphanius of Salamis records that this group had amended their Gospel of Matthew—known today as the Gospel of the Ebionites—to change where John eats "locusts" to read "honey cakes" or "manna".
John the Baptist is considered the chief prophet of the Mandaeans, and plays a large part in some of their writings, including the Ginza Rba and the Draša D-Iahia (The Mandaean Book of John). They view John as the only true Messiah, and are opposed to Jesus.
John is also honored as a Nabi (Arabic: نَـبِي, Prophet) as Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā (Arabic: يَـحـيٰى بن زَكَـرِيّا, romanized: Jehiah, son of Zechariah), or simply Yaḥyā (Arabic: يحيىٰ). He is believed by Muslims to have been a witness to the word of God, and a prophet who would herald the coming of Jesus. His father Zechariah was also an Islamic prophet. Islamic tradition maintains that John was one of the prophets whom Muhammad met on the night of the Mi'raj, his ascension through the Seven Heavens. It is said that he met John and Jesus in the second heaven, where Muhammad greeted his two brothers before ascending with archangel Gabriel to the third heaven. John's story was also told to the Abyssinian king during the Muslim refugees' Migration to Abyssinia. According to the Qur'an, John was one on whom God sent peace on the day that he was born and the day that he died.
In the Quran, God frequently mentions Zechariah's continuous praying for the birth of a son. Zechariah's wife, mentioned in the New Testament as Elizabeth, was barren and therefore the birth of a child seemed impossible. As a gift from God, Zechariah (or Zakaria) was given a son by the name of "Yaḥya", a name specially chosen for this child alone. In accordance with Zechariah's prayer, God made John and Jesus, who according to exegesis was born six months later, renew the message of God, which had been corrupted and lost by the Israelites. As the Quran says:
(His prayer was answered): "O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name have We conferred distinction before."
He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?"
He said: "So (it will be) thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!'"
(Zakarya) said: "O my Lord! give me a Sign." "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights."
John was exhorted to hold fast to the Scripture and was given wisdom by God while still a child. He was pure and devout, and walked well in the presence of God. He was dutiful towards his parents and he was not arrogant or rebellious. John's reading and understanding of the scriptures, when only a child, surpassed even that of the greatest scholars of the time. Muslim exegesis narrates that Jesus sent John out with twelve disciples, who preached the message before Jesus called his own disciples. The Quran says:
"O Yaḥya! take hold of the Book with might": and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth,
John was a classical prophet, who was exalted high by God, for his bold denouncing of all things sinful. Furthermore, the Qur'an speaks of John's gentle piety and love and his humble attitude towards life, for which he was granted the Purity of Life:
And piety as from Us, and purity: He was devout,
And kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious.
So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!
John is also honored highly in Sufism as well as Islamic mysticism, primarily because of the Quran's description of John's chastity and kindness. Sufis have frequently applied commentaries on the passages on John in the Quran, primarily concerning the God-given gift of "Wisdom" which he acquired in youth as well as his parallels with Jesus. Although several phrases used to describe John and Jesus are virtually identical in the Quran, the manner in which they are expressed is different.
It has been claimed that the Quran is mistaken in saying that John the Baptist was the first to receive this name (Quran ), since the name Yoḥanan occurs many times before John the Baptist. However, according to Islamic scholars, "Yaḥyā" is not the same name as "Yoḥanan". Despite this, "Yaḥyā" is etymologically the same name as the Biblical figure Yᵉchîyâh (English rendering: "Jehiah") of the Books of the Chronicles. Therefore, the Qur'an in Surah 19:7 is likely not claiming that "no one was ever given the name Yahya before this child". Rather, this Qur'an verse is a clear reference to the Biblical account of the miraculous naming of John, which accounted that he was almost named "Zacharias" (Greek: Ζαχαρίας) after his father's name, as no one in the lineage of his father Zacharias (also known as Zechariah) had been named "John" ("Yohanan"/"Yoannes") before him.
The exegetes frequently connected the name with the meaning of "to quicken" or "to make alive" in reference to John's mother's barrenness, which was cured by God, as well as John's preaching, which, as Muslims believe, "made alive" the faith of Israel. This is the same meaning as the Hebrew name Yᵉchîyâh (יְחִיָּה; "Jehiah") (lit.: "YHWH lives"). Yᵉchîyâh was also the name of one of the doorkeepers for the Ark of the Covenant during the reign of King David in the Bible. Because of this, it is supposed that this name "Yaḥyā" was commonly used in the 6th–7th centuries CE by Arab Christians as an allegorical honorific of John the Baptist (Arabic: يُوحَنَّا الْمَعْمَدَانُ, Yūḥanna al-Mamadan), who considered him to be a "doorkeeper" for the "Ark of the New Covenant", Jesus Christ (Arabic: يَسُوعَ الْمَسِيحِ, Yasū'u l-Masīḥ).
The Quran also mentions a root used in the Hebrew name, 'Yohanan' יוֹחָנָן (Yahweh is gracious). Sura Maryam: 12–13 describes the virtues of Yahya: وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْحُكْمَ صَبِيًّا – وَحَنَانًا مِّن لَّدُنَّا وَزَكَاةً (And We gave him judgement, while yet a boy – And affection from Us, and purity.)
Bahá'ís consider John to have been a prophet of God who like all other prophets was sent to instill the knowledge of God, promote unity among the people of the world, and to show people the correct way to live. There are numerous quotations in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith mentioning John the Baptist. He is regarded by Bahá'ís as a lesser Prophet. Bahá'u'lláh claimed that his Forerunner, the Báb, was the spiritual return of John the Baptist. In his letter to Pope Pius IX, Bahá'u'lláh wrote:
O followers of the Son! We have once again sent John unto you, and He, verily, hath cried out in the wilderness of the Bayán: O peoples of the world! Cleanse your eyes! The Day whereon ye can behold the Promised One and attain unto Him hath drawn nigh! O followers of the Gospel! Prepare the way! The Day of the advent of the Glorious Lord is at hand! Make ready to enter the Kingdom. Thus hath it been ordained by God, He Who causeth the dawn to break.
John is believed to have had the specific role of foretelling and preparing the way for Jesus. In condemning those who had 'turned aside' from him, Bahá'u'lláh, compared them to the followers of John the Baptist, who, he said, 'protested against Him Who was the Spirit (Jesus) saying: "The dispensation of John hath not yet ended; wherefore hast thou come?" Bahá'u'lláh believed that the Báb played the same role as John in preparing the people for his own coming. As such Bahá'u'lláh refers to the Báb as 'My Forerunner', the Forerunner being a title that Christians reserve for John the Baptist. However, Bahá'ís consider the Báb to be a greater Prophet (Manifestation of God) and thus possessed of a far greater station than John the Baptist.
The Unification Church teaches that God intended John to help Jesus during his public ministry in Judea. In particular, John should have done everything in his power to persuade the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. He was to become Jesus' main disciple and John's disciples were to become Jesus' disciples. Unfortunately John didn't follow Jesus and continued his own way of baptizing people. Moreover, John also denied that he was Elijah when queried by several Jewish leaders contradicting Jesus who stated John is Elijah who was to come, . Many Jews therefore, could not accept Jesus as the Messiah because John denied being Elijah, as the prophet's appearance was a prerequisite for the Messiah's arrival as stated in . According to the Unification Church, "John the Baptist was in the position of representing Elijah's physical body, making himself identical with Elijah from the standpoint of their mission."
Jesus stated in , "there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist," however, in referring to John's blocking the way of the Jews' understanding of himself as the Messiah, said "yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." John's failure to follow Jesus became the chief obstacle to the fulfillment of Jesus' mission.
Scholars studying John the Baptist—particularly his relationship with Jesus of Nazareth—have commented on the difficulties they found between the two men.
For example, as reported in The Christian Post, professor Candida Moss, of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, who appeared in a documentary series Finding Jesus, Faith Fact Forgery, noted John and Jesus become "de facto competitors in the ancient religious marketplace." Even after baptizing Jesus, John did not follow Jesus but maintained a separate ministry. After John's death, Jesus' followers had to differentiate him from the executed prophet, "countering the prevalent idea that Jesus was actually John raised from the dead." Moss also references the incident in Matthew 16 where disciples present before Jesus indicated some people believed he was John the Baptist.
Michael H. Crosby, PhD, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA; Capuchin friar and priest; in his paper "Why Didn't John the Baptist Commit Himself to Jesus as a Disciple?," stated there was "no biblical evidence indicating that John the Baptist ever became a disciple of Jesus." He conveys that John's concept of what a messiah should be, was in contrast to how Jesus presented himself, and kept him from becoming a disciple of Jesus. Crosby identifies twenty-five points in the Gospel accounts that lead to the conclusion that John's effectiveness as a "precursor" in encouraging others to follow Jesus was very minimal, since the scriptures record only two of his own followers having become Jesus’ disciples. Crosby noted that while many others believed Jesus' miracles, there is no record of these "signs" convincing John, who continued a separate baptismal ministry, creating disciples resulting in a community that still exists in parts of the Middle East.
Crosby stated "an unbiased reading about John the Baptist "leaves us with the figure of John the Baptist as a reformist Jew who also may have wanted desperately to become a believer but was unable to become convinced of Jesus’ messiahship."
Robert L. Deffinbaugh, graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary pastor/teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel in Richardson, Texas, wrote a paper "John's Problem with Jesus ()." Deffinbaugh comments of the difficulty of a more through examination of John because of the inclination to think of him in only positive terms. He notes his past piety, humility and encouraging some of his disciples to follow Jesus instead. While he was "a great man," Deffinbaugh also writes John "is not a perfect man," and discusses what he calls "the worst moment of John’s life, so far as the biblical record is concerned." He examines the incident where an imprisoned John the Baptist, after receiving news about Jesus, sends two of his disciples asking Jesus if he were the Messiah or another should be sought.
John is not asking an incidental question, writes Deffinbaugh, but instead is issuing a public challenge precipitating a crises since the message was presented to Jesus while he was with a gathered crowd. The implication was, if Jesus failed to answer the question satisfactorily "we will look for someone else to be the Messiah." Deffinbaugh conveys John might have been looking for inauguration of the kingdom of God in a more dramatic way than what Jesus was implementing, as John had previously warned that "Messiah would come with fire." Jesus answered the question by evidence of his miracle works and teachings which themselves gave evidence of his identity, "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." ().
The beheading of Saint John the Baptist is a standard theme in Christian art, in which John's head is often depicted on a platter, which represents the request of Herod's stepdaughter, Salome. He is also depicted as an ascetic wearing camel hair, with a staff and scroll inscribed Ecce Agnus Dei, or bearing a book or dish with a lamb on it. In Orthodox icons, he often has angel's wings, since Mark 1:2 describes him as a messenger.
The Baptism of Christ was one of the earliest scenes from the Life of Christ to be frequently depicted in Early Christian art, and John's tall, thin, even gaunt, and bearded figure is already established by the 5th century. Only he and Jesus are consistently shown with long hair from Early Christian times, when the apostles generally have trim classical cuts; in fact John is more consistently depicted in this way than Jesus. In Byzantine art the composition of the Deesis came to be included in every Eastern Orthodox church, as remains the case to this day. Here John and the Theotokos (Mary) flank a Christ Pantocrator and intercede for humanity; in many ways this is the equivalent of Western Crucifixions on roods and elsewhere, where John the Evangelist takes the place of John the Baptist (except in the idiosyncratic Isenheim Altarpiece). John the Baptist is very often shown on altarpieces designed for churches dedicated to him, or where the donor patron was named for him or there was some other connection of patronage – John was the patron saint of Florence, among many other cities, which means he features among the supporting saints in many important works.
A number of narrative scenes from his life were often shown on the predella of altarpieces dedicated to John, and other settings, notably the large series in grisaille fresco in the Chiostro dello Scalzo, which was Andrea del Sarto's largest work, and the frescoed Life by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, both in Florence. There is another important fresco cycle by Filippo Lippi in Prato Cathedral. These include the typical scenes: the Annunciation to Zechariah, John's birth, his naming by his father, the Visitation, John's departure for the desert, his preaching in the desert, the Baptism of Christ, John before Herod, the dance of Salome, and his beheading.
His birth, which unlike the Nativity of Jesus allowed a relatively wealthy domestic interior to be shown, became increasingly popular as a subject in the late Middle Ages, with depictions by Jan van Eyck in the Turin-Milan Hours and Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel being among the best known. His execution, a church feast-day, was often shown, and by the 15th-century scenes such as the dance of Salome became popular, sometimes, as in an engraving by Israhel van Meckenem, the interest of the artist is clearly in showing the life of Herod's court, given contemporary dress, as much as the martyrdom of the saint. Salome bearing John's head on a platter equally became a subject for the Northern Renaissance taste for images of glamorous but dangerous women (Delilah, Judith and others), and was often painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder and engraved by the Little Masters. These images remained popular into the Baroque, with Carlo Dolci painting at least three versions. John preaching, in a landscape setting, was a popular subject in Dutch art from Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his successors.
As a child (of varying age), he is sometimes shown from the 15th century in family scenes from the life of Christ such as the Presentation of Christ, the Marriage of the Virgin and the Holy Kinship. Leonardo da Vinci's versions of the Virgin of the Rocks were influential in establishing a Renaissance fashion for variations on the Madonna and Child that included John. Raphael in particular painted many compositions of the subject, such as the Alba Madonna, La belle jardinière, Aldobrandini Madonna, Madonna della seggiola, Madonna dell'Impannata, which were among his best-known works. John was also often shown by himself as an older child or adolescent, usually already wearing his distinctive dress and carrying a long thin wooden cross – another theme influenced by Leonardo, whose equivocal composition, reintroducing the camel-skin dress, was developed by Raphael Titian and Guido Reni among many others. Often he is accompanied by a lamb, especially in the many Early Netherlandish paintings which needed this attribute as he wore normal clothes. Caravaggio painted an especially large number of works including John, from at least five largely nude youths attributed to him, to three late works on his death – the great Execution in Malta, and two sombre Salomes with his head, one in Madrid, and one in London.
Amiens cathedral, which holds one of the alleged heads of the Baptist, has a biographical sequence in polychrome relief, dating from the 16th century. This stresses the execution and the disposal of the saint's remains.
A remarkable Pre-Raphaelite portrayal is Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais. Here the Baptist is shown as a child, wearing a loin covering of animal skins, hurrying into Joseph's carpenter shop with a bowl of water to join Mary, Joseph, and Mary's mother Anne in soothing the injured hand of Jesus. Artistic interest enjoyed a considerable revival at the end of the 19th century with Symbolist painters such as Gustave Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes (National Gallery, London). Oscar Wilde's play Salome was illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley, giving rise to some of his most memorable images.
John the Baptist has appeared in a number of screen adaptations of the life of Jesus. Actors who have played John include James D. Ainsley in From the Manger to the Cross (1912), Nigel De Brulier in Salome (1923), Alan Badel in Salome (1953), Robert Ryan in King of Kings (1961), Mario Socrate in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), Charlton Heston in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), David Haskell in Godspell (1973), Michael York in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), Eli Cohen in Jesus (1979),, Andre Gregory in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Christopher Routh in Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999), David O'Hara in Jesus (1999), Scott Handy in The Gospel of John (2003), Aidan McArdle in Judas (2004), Daniel Percival in Son of God (2014) and Abhin Galeya in Killing Jesus (2015).
Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and its capital city, San Juan. In 1521, the island was given its formal name, "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", following the custom of christening a town with its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island. The names "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto Rico" were eventually used in reference to both city and island, leading to a reversal in terminology by most inhabitants largely due to a cartographic error. By 1746, the city's name ("Puerto Rico") had become that of the entire island, while the name for the island ("San Juan Bautista") had become that of the city. The official motto of Puerto Rico also references the saint: Joannes Est Nomen Eius (Latin for "his name is John", from Luke 1:63).
He is also a patron saint of French Canada and Newfoundland. The Canadian cities of St. John's, Newfoundland (1497), Saint John, New Brunswick (1604), and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (1665) were all named in his honor. His feast day of June 24, celebrated officially in Quebec as the Fête Nationale du Québec, and in Newfoundland as Discovery Day.
In the United Kingdom, Saint John is the patron of Penzance, Cornwall. In Scotland, he is the patron saint of Perth, which used to be known as St. John's Toun of Perth. The main church in the city is still the medieval Kirk of St. John the Baptist and the city's professional football club is called St Johnstone F.C.
Also, on the night of June 23 on to the 24th, Saint John is celebrated as the patron saint of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. An article from June 2004 in The Guardian remarked that "Porto's Festa de São João is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside the country".
He is also patron of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Malta, Florence, and Genoa, Italy. John is patron saint of Xewkija, Gozo, Malta, which remember him with a great feast on the Sunday nearest to June 24.
Calamba City, Laguna, Calumpit, Bulacan, Balayan and Lian in Batangas, Sipocot and San Fernando, Camarines Sur, Daet, Camarines Norte and San Juan, Metro Manila are among several places in the Philippines that venerate John as the town or city patron. A common practise of many Filipino fiestas in his honour is bathing and the dousing of people in memory of John's iconic act. The custom is similar in form to Songkran and Holi, and serves as a playful respite from the intense tropical heat. While famed for the Black Nazarene it enshrines, Quiapo Church in Manila is actually dedicated to Saint John.