Luke’s Gospel is distinctive in many ways, but particularly noteworthy is its account of the infancy of John the Baptist. Indeed, the Gospel of Luke tells us a great deal more than the other Synoptics about John and his followers, and all that material stands out in some way. Luke drops the depiction of John as an oddly-dressed hermit and makes him more clearly an itinerant activist throughout the region of the Jordan River. Luke elaborates on John’s ethical teaching concerning matters of social and economic justice. Then in Acts we get a depiction of ongoing groups of John’s followers far from the location in which his activity is set.
Surely it is not a coincidence that all of this has parallels in Mandaean literature. Martin Dibelius (and a handful of others since) raised the possibility that the Gospel of Luke might have drawn on a “Baptist” source. That possibility deserves to be revisited, and I’m looking forward to doing that soon. Whether you think it likely that the author of the Gospel of Luke used a written source stemming from the circle around John, oral information from that same source, or his own imagination, the question needs to be answered as to why this author would focus so much attention on John. What’s your answer to that question? Have you heard any suggestion that seems more plausible or otherwise preferable than that there was an ongoing movement focused on John and Luke was connected with it in some way?
When I dive into writing my book(s) on John the Baptist, one possibility that I’ll explore is that John was from Galilee. Neither the fact that Luke has Mary visit Elizabeth in “the hill country of Judaea” nor the fact that Mandaean sources say that John was born in Jerusalem is decisive any more than Matthew and Luke’s efforts to have Jesus of Nazareth somehow be born in Bethlehem. John Squires discusses that last point (among other things) in this recent blog post:
Also of related interest: