What Sort of Baptist was John?

What Sort of Baptist was John? February 24, 2013

This post will hopefully illustrate that serious thoughts can be generated by frivolous content on blogs. Allan Bevere shared this amusing image of “John the Southern Baptist”:

That got me thinking of the question “What sort of Baptist was John?” – imagining various “baptists” fighting over a claim to him.

And that led me to wonder whether we might not have gotten the logic of John's moniker backwards.

It is often thought that, since there were so many ritual washings practices in this period, for John to have been meaningfully called “the baptist” he must have had a distinctive sort of practice of, or interpretation of, the rite of immersion, something unique to him.

But what if there was already prior to John's time (as Epiphanius later claims) a group that were known for a practice of ritual immersion, which they repeated and performed in a very different manner than the immersions more widely practiced by Jews in the interest of ritual purity. A group which may have been referred to by any number of names – “baptists,” “daily baptists,” and/or perhaps also “Nasoreans.”

And what if John was known as “John the Baptist” because he was associated with that group, perhaps being the best known member?

If that was the connotation of his being called “the baptist,” then that meshes precisely with what the Mandaean sources have to say.

It has sometimes been proposed that John might have been connected with the Essenes before striking out on his own public activity. What if the gist of that suggestion was correct, but what it got wrong was which group John had been a part of?



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