The Influence of John the Baptist on Jesus’ Teaching

The Influence of John the Baptist on Jesus’ Teaching October 14, 2020

This evening I’ll be presenting to the New Testament Seminar at Columbia University. Here’s the title and abstract of my talk:

“The Influence of John the Baptist on Jesus’ Teaching”

Disciples and students inevitably reflect the impact and influence of their teachers, even when they resist or reject that influence. Whatever Jesus’ precise stance towards his mentor over the course of his public activity, it is reasonable to expect to find evidence that can aid us in reconstructing the teaching and emphases of John himself. By working deductively (in a manner that reflects our understanding of the influence ancient teachers had on their students), we can say more about the teaching of John the Baptist than is usually acknowledged. Triangulating between the New Testament sources, Josephus, Mandaean texts, and other relevant works helps bring the portrait into sharper focus.

I’m going to share here some things that I think may be of interest and useful to those who attend, some of which I plan to mention and others of which may come up in the Q&A.

First, I make the case for looking for influences of and even quotations from the words of John the Baptist in Jesus’ teaching by pointing out how Paul’s ethical teaching echoes that of Jesus, and not just when he directly attributes things to Jesus.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 –> Last Supper
  • 1 Corinthians 13:2 –> Matt 17:20 (faith to move mountains)
  • Rom 8:15-17; Gal 4:6-7 –>  Mk 14:36 (+ Lord’s Prayer)
  • Rom 12:14 –> Luke 6:27-28 =Matthew 5:44 (bless who persecute you)
  • Rom 12:17, 21 –> Luke 6:27-36; Matt 5:38-48 (not repay evil for evil)
  • Rom 13:7 –> Mark 12:13-17 (give to everyone what you owe)
  • Rom 13:8-10 –> Mk 12:18-34; Matt 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28 (love & Law)
  • Rom 14:14 –> Mark 7:15; Matt 15;11 (no food unclean)
  • 1 Thess 5:3 –> Matt 24:43 = Luke 12:39ff.; 21:34 (like a thief)
  • 1 Thess 5:6 –> Mark 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:34, 36 (watch!)
  • 1 Thess 5:13 –> Mark 9:50 (be at peace)

I’ll then move on to the few places where the New Testament actually attributes the same words and phrases to both John and Jesus. They tell us something about the impression early Christians had about the continuity between the two. From there I’ll move on to places where the connection is not explicit but I think the case can be made. (I won’t share those things here. No spoilers for anyone who might be there tonight who reads my blog, just a trailer and teasers!)

I will make reference to the Mandaean Book of John and so here is a link to the open access edition of the translation that Charles Häberl and I published. There are, in the Book of John, things that we might call parables, including one about a soul fisher (is that essentially the same thing as “fishing for people”?) and even one about a good shepherd!

Of related interest to baptism and the activity of John the Baptist, there are two really useful articles about the washing requirement in Torah and how it came to be understood in terms of full immersion. There have been several excavations of mikva’ot (immersion pools) recently including this one:

2,000-Year-Old Mikvah in Jezreel Valley Hoisted to Safe Location

Via AWOL I was made aware that Richard Reitzenstein’s Das Mandäische Buch des Herrn der Größe und die Evangelienüberlieferung is available to download, since the Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften series is now digitized and open access.

Allan Bevere imagined John standing in today’s pulpit.

See also Helen Bond’s article on the Bible Odyssey website about the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.


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