Thursday, 30 August 2012

John the Baptist, Who he was--Known in World Religions

St. John the Baptist

John preaches REPENT!

"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."  Malachi 3:1

John the Baptist is regarded as the precursor of Jesus Christ. A very well-known preacher, he gave sermons about the proximity of God's Final Judgment. He asked people to repent for their sins and baptized those who apologized in self-preparation for the Lord to come. According to the Scriptures, it was John only who recognized Jesus and decreed Him as the Messiah of the people. The four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Acts of the Apostles, and the Jewish historian Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews comprise of the only sources of information about the life of John the Baptist.


John and Jesus as children by Bartoleme Murillo
According to the Gospel of Luke, the birth of John was prophesied to his father Zachariah, by the angel Gabriel, while the former was performing his functions as a priest, in the temple of Jerusalem. Since Zachariah was a priest of the course of Abijah and his wife Elizabeth was one of the daughters of Aaron, John became a descendant of Aaron from both his paternal and maternal side. The Gospel recounts that Mother Mary came to inform Elizabeth about her pregnancy. At that time, Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy and her unborn baby 'jumped for joy' in the womb only.


Baptism of Christ by Guido Reni
It is said that, at the age of thirty, John started to preach on the banks of the river Jordan. He preached against the evils of the time and attracted men to penance and baptism. His only message to people was to repent, as the Lord was coming. He baptized many people and, thus, was named John the Baptist. According to the Holy Scriptures, Christ also turned to John to attain baptism.  The incident took place when John the Baptist's ministry was at its close. John instantly recognized the Lord and proclaimed Him to be the Messiah. John baptized Jesus, marking the beginning of Jesus' ministry. In turn, John inspired his followers to follow Christ.


After the baptism, Jesus is believed to have left to preach in Galilee, while John continued preaching in the Jordan valley. John's growing popularity and immense power created fright and fear in the minds of Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Perea and Galilee. Following John's denunciation of his adulterous and incestuous wife Herodias, who was also the wife of his half brother Philip (Herod II), Antipas had him arrested and imprisoned at Machaerus Fortress, on the Dead Sea. On the other hand, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, impressed Antipas with a dance performance. Delighted by the girl's act, he vowed to grant her any wish. Salome, at the instigation of her mother, demanded the head of John the Baptist. 

Beheading of John the Baptist
Head of St. John the Baptist given as a gift to a dancing girl
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). The first-century Jewish historian Josephus gives a slightly different account in his Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus writes that Herod had John arrested because John had so many followers that Herod feared they might begin a rebellion. Herod later had him executed (Ant. 18.116-118). It is possible that both accounts are true. Josephus writes about John's death in a section detailing some of Herod's political dealings. Herod regarded John as a threat, he spoke against Herod and had many followers, so Herod wanted to get rid of him. The Gospels recall the teaching of John, that he called for Israel to purify herself through baptism (Matthew 3:1-12). So the Gospels' description of John's death focuses on the final reason Herod had for arresting John, which was religious. So it may have been that Herod wanted John arrested because he was a political threat, and John's condemnations of Herod's marriage was "the final straw".  James D.G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered pp377–379.

 Prophecies of John's Role
Exceptional portrayal of John the Baptist by Michael York in Jesus of Nazareth
According to the Old Testament, John the Baptist was ordained by God to be a forerunner or precursor to the Messiah, Jesus Christ. All the four canonical Gospels also address his role. The need for a forerunner to the Messiah was not exceptional. However, Christians were expecting Elijah, a well-known prophet at the time, to come rather than John the Baptist. As a result, the disciples refused to accept John, only to understand later that Elijah had come through John only, but in a spiritual or allegorical sense.
 Bible passage: Isaiah 40:1-5,9
Prophet: Isaiah
Written: Between 701-681 BC
In Isaiah 40:3, the prophet writes about a person in the desert who prepares the way for the Lord. This prophecy foreshadowed the life of John the Baptist, who played an important role in preparing the groundwork for the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born shortly after John the Baptist about 2000 years ago. The book of Matthew records many events of the life of Jesus and of John the Baptist. In Matthew 3:1-2, it says: "In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea, and saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."
St. John the Baptist by Titian

John & Christian Traditions
According to the Eastern Orthodox, John was the last prophet who was acting as a bridge between the period of revelation and the New Covenant. It is also said that after death, he descended into Hades but kept on preaching about the coming of Jesus the Messiah. As per the Sacred Tradition, John the Baptist emerged at the time of death of people, who have not heard the Gospel of Christ to give them the good news about Christ's arrival.


Most of the Orthodox churches have an icon of St. John the Baptist on the iconostasis. His name is also mentioned during the Divine Services. All the Tuesdays of the year are dedicated to the memory of St. John the Baptist. Some Mediterranean countries also dedicate the summer solstice to St. John. The ritual performed in the solstice is analogous to midsummer celebrations on the Anglo-Saxon world, inspired in the Celtic festivity of Samhain. John the Baptist is also one of the saints, most frequently seen in the Christian art.

Feast Days

According to Luke, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas. However, there are six separate feast days that are dedicated to him. In chronological order, i.e. as per the church year, the feasts days fall on:
September 23 - Conception of St. John the Forerunner
Icon of St. John the Baptist by Rublev-Andrei
January 7 - The Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner (It is the main feast day, immediately after Theophany, on January 6. The day also stands for the transfer of the relic of the right hand of John the Baptist, from Antioch to Constantinople, in 956)
February 24 - First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
 May 25 - Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
 June 24 - Nativity of St. John the Forerunner
 August 29 - Beheading of St. John the Forerunner
(Note: June 24th and August 29th are celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as the feast days of John the Baptist)



 Other Important Feast Days
 September 5 - Commemoration of Zechariah and Elisabeth, St. John's parents
October 12 - According to the Russian Orthodox Church, the day is observed as the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina.

The Head of John the Baptist in Rome


Around the middle of the fourth century, the relics of John the Baptist were honored. As per the ancient tradition, the burial place of John was at Sebaste, in Samaria. History reveals the fact that under Julian the Apostate, around 362, the shrine of John was dishonored, but things changed eventually.   Some portions of his relics were rescued and were first taken to Jerusalem.  However, later, they were carried to Alexandria, where they were laid in the basilica, newly-dedicated to the Forerunner, on 27 May 395. Nevertheless, the tomb at Sebaste is visited by devotees even now.
 As for the head of John, there is no proper information. While some consider that it was buried in the fortress of Machaerus by Herodias, the others are of the opinion that it was interred at Herod's palace at Jerusalem.   A theory states that during the reign of Constantine I, the head of John the Baptist was found and deported to Emesa, in Phoenicia.   It was concealed for several years, until it manifested by revelation in 453. However, the Aachen Cathedral holds the decapitation cloth of St. John.   According to the claims made by Coptic Christian Orthodox Church, some relics of John the Baptist are also kept there.  There is no specific record about the remains of John the Baptist, as there have been inconsistencies in the various legends. To add to the confusion, there are various claimants for his relics throughout the Christian world.

St. John the Baptist's tomb in coptic monastery Lower Egypt Bones found there

  St. John Recognized in World Religions


Early Jewish Christian sects

Among the early Judaistic Christian groups 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".

  Eastern Orthodox Church

Icon of the Baptist "The Angel of the Desert"
The 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. According to Sacred Tradition, John the Baptist appears at the time of death to those who have not heard the Gospel of Christ, and preaches the Good News to them, that all may have the opportunity to be saved. Orthodox churches will often have an icon of St. 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.
The Eastern Orthodox Church remembers Saint John the Forerunner on six separate feast days, listed here in order in which they occur during the church year (which begins on September 1):
  • September 23 — Conception of St. John the Forerunner
  • January 7 — The Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner. This is his main feast day, immediately after Theophany on January 6 (January 7 also commemorates the transfer of the relic of the right hand of John the Baptist from Antioch to Constantinople in 956)
  • February 24 — First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
  • May 25 — Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner
  • June 24 — Nativity of St. John the Forerunner
  • August 29 — The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner
In addition to the above, September 5 is the commemoration of Zechariah and Elisabeth, St. John's parents. The Russian Orthodox Church observes October 12 as the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina (1799).

Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. John the Baptist on two feast days:
  • June 24 – Nativity of St. John the Baptist
  • August 29 – Beheading of St. John the Baptist
St. Catherine of Siena
Some Catholics have held to a belief that John the Baptist never sinned. In her Treatise of Prayer, Saint Catherine of Siena includes a brief altercation with the Devil regarding her fight due to Satan attempting to lure her with vanity and flattery. Speaking in the first person, Saint Catherine of Siena 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...
—Catherine of Siena, , A Treatise of Prayer, 1370.
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich mentioned in her mystical visions that Saint John the Baptist was pure, innocent and spotless from the womb of Saint Elizabeth and has never uttered a single lie in his earthy life.[71][72] According to Emmerich's alleged visions received from Jesus Christ, Saint John the Baptist was the following:
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

... He sees, he knows, he speaks only Jesus…. In the desert, blameless and pure as a babe in the mother's womb, he comes forth from his solitude innocent and spotless as a child at the mother's breast. 'He is pure as an angel,' I heard the Lord (Jesus Christ) say to the Apostles. 'Never has impurity entered into his mouth, still less has an untruth or any other sin issued from it...



The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)

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 8 days old "to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews" and to prepare a people for the Lord. Mormons also believe that "he was baptized while yet in his childhood."

The LDS Church 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, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829, and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood.
According to LDS doctrine, 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 confer the Aaronic Priesthood in our day, the dispensation of the fulness of times. Mormons believe John's ministry was foretold by two prophets whose teachings are included in the Book of Mormon: Lehiand his son Nephi.

Unification church

The Unification Church teaches that God intended that John 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' greatest disciple. John's failure to do so was the chief obstacle to the fulfillment of Jesus' mission.



Grave of Yahya Nabi, Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
John is also honored as a prophet in Islam as Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā (Arabic: يحيى بن زكريا‎), translated literally as "John, son of Zechariah". 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 that 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.


John's Name

Joan de Joanes c. 1560
An early twentieth century European source says that John's name in Arabic, Yahya, was supposedly present in Arabia before the Qur'an was revealed.. This claim, from an early 1900s European Orientalist source, is challenged by Islamic writers who cite and discuss with academics and modern day linguists like Professor Robert Hoberman and Dr. Geoffery Khan of the University of Cambridge "This study has shown conclusively that the names Yahya and John (Yuhanan or Yuhanna) are two entirely different names derived from two different roots." and from an exegetical standpoint "The verse at 19:7 which reads lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya may be interpreted in two ways: 
1. Samiyy, means shabihan or mithlan, i.e., someone like him. The verse is interpreted to mean that the birth of Yahya was unlike the birth of others, as he was born to an aged father and a barren mother. 2. The name Yahya is unique, and no one prior to the birth of Yahya was ever given such a name by God, a point conveniently overlooked by the missionaries."  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. The Qur'an accords the significance of John's name to the fact that it was a new name for mankind, in that no one previously had been named "John". Other scholars hold that John's name, which they state connects with the meaning of "He shall live", referred to his legacy, in that his memory will remain in the mind of the faithful for the generations to come.

John in the Qur'an

In the Qur'an, 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 was given a son by the name of "John", 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 Qur'an says:
Matthias Grunewald 1480-1528
(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!'"
(Zakariya) 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."
—Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), verse 7
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 Qur'an says of John:
(To Zachariah's son came the command): "O John! take hold of the Book with might": and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth,
—Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayah 12
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 pity and love for all creatures and his humble attitude towards life, for which he was granted the Purity of Life:
And piety (for all creatures) 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)!
—Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayah 13-15
John is also honored highly in Sufism as well as Islamic mysticism, primarily because of the Qur'an's description of John's chastity and kindness. Sufis have frequently applied commentaries on John's passages on the Qur'an, primarily concerning 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 Qur'an, the manner in which they are expressed is different.

Bahá'í view

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."
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.

Gnostic and anthroposophic views

16th century Bartolomeo
There was one John the Baptist who had thirty leading men, making up the monthly tale of the moon. One of these thirty leading men was a woman called Helen, and the first and most esteemed by John was Simon. But on the death of John he was away in Egypt for the practice of magic, and one Dositheus, by spreading a false report of Simon's death, succeeded in installing himself as head of the sect. Simon on coming back thought it better to dissemble, and, pretending friendship for Dositheus, accepted the second place. Soon, however, he began to hint to the thirty that Dositheus was not as well acquainted as he might be with the doctrines of the school. Dositheus, when he perceived that Simon was depreciating him, fearing lest his reputation among men might be obscured (for he himself was supposed to be the Standing One), moved with rage, when they met as usual at the school, seized a rod, and began to beat Simon; but suddenly the rod seemed to pass through his body, as if it had been smoke. On which Dositheus, being astonished, says to him, ‘Tell me if thou art the Standing One, that I may adore thee.’ And when Simon answered that he was, then Dositheus, perceiving that he himself was not the Standing One, fell down and worshipped him, and gave up his own place as chief to Simon, ordering all the rank of thirty men to obey him; himself taking the inferior place which Simon formerly occupied. Not long after this he died.
Simon was a Samaritan, and a native of Gitta. The name of his father was Antonius, that of his mother Rachel. He studied Greek literature in Alexandria, and, having in addition to this great power in magic, he wished to be considered a highest power, higher even than the God who created the world. And sometimes he considered himself Chrestos, calling himself the Standing One. Which name he used to indicate that he would stand for ever, and had no cause in him for bodily decay. He did not believe that the Jewish God who created the world was the highest, nor that the dead would rise. He denied Jerusalem, and introduced Mount Gerizim in its stead. He proclaimed himself; and the Law he allegorized in accordance with his own preconceptions. He did indeed preach righteousness and judgment to come. The encounter between both Dositheus and Simon Magus was the beginnings of the sect of Simonians. The narrative goes on to say that Simon, having fallen in love with Helen, took her about with him, saying that she had come down into the world from the highest heavens, and was his mistress, inasmuch as she was Sophia, the Mother of All. It was for her sake, he said, that the Greeks and Barbarians fought the Trojan War, deluding themselves with an image of truth, for the real being was then present with the First God. By such specious allegories and Greek myths Simon deceived many, while at the same time he astounded them by his magic. A description is given of how he made a familiar spirit for himself by conjuring the soul out of a boy and keeping his image in his bedroom, and many instances of his feats of magic are given.
In Gnosticism, John the Baptist was a "personification" of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Elijah did not know the True God (as opposed to the Abrahamic God), and thus had to be reincarnated in Gnostic theology. As predicted by the Old Testament prophet Malachi, Elijah must "come first" to herald the coming of Jesus Christ. Modern anthroposophy concurs with the idea that the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah, (cf. Mark 9:11-13,Matthew 11:13-14 Luke 7:27), although the Gospel of John explicitly denies this (John 1:21

 John the Baptist plays a large part in some Mandaean writings, especially those dating from the Islamic period. They view John as the only true Messiah. They consider Jesus to have been possessed by an evil spirit following his baptism by John the Baptist, and to have created a false religion. The Mandaean scriptures state: "If the carpenter [Jesus] has joined together the god, who then has joined together the carpenteJohn the Baptist plays a large part in some Mandaean writings, especially those dating from the Islamic period. They view John as the only true Messiah. They consider Jesus to have been possessed by an evil spirit following his baptism by John the Baptist, and to have created a false religion.

 Excerpts and images from the following websites... 

Also check out regarding the possible find of St. John the Baptist's bones in Bulgaria
To see the movie Jesus of Nazareth starring Michael York go Youtube 
The Baptist preaching by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo 1732