John Tile Baptist
JOHN TILE BAPTIST, the last of the prophets and -the " forerunner " of Christ, was born in a on-cats 'To1;8a (according to rabbinical tradition, at Hebron, but according to an ingenious modern interpretation of the phrase, at Jntta), in the beginning of the second half of the year 749 A.u.c. His father Zechariah was a priest "of the course of Abia "; his mother Elizabeth was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose senior he was by six months. The circumstances of his birth are related with much detail in Luke i., but those of his early years are summed up in the single expression at ver. 80 that he "grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel." In his thirtieth year (Autumn, 779 A.u.c.) he began his public life in the " wilderness of Judaea," the wild district that lies between the Kidron and the Dead Sea, and particularly in the neighbourhood of the Jordan, where multitudes were attracted by his eloquence. His appearance, costume, and habits of life were such as to recall to the minds of his hearers what they had read about the ancient prophets, and particularly about Elijah, who came to be regarded as his prototype. Nor was his preaching in substance different from theirs : his central doctrine was that "the kingdom of heaven" had come near, and preparation for its speedy arrival by an appropriate change of heart and life was the practical duty he urged. With regard to the nature of the baptism he administered, much uncertainty exists ; for some discussion of its origin and meaning, the reader is referred to the article BAPTISM (vol.
p. 348-9). Amongst those who resorted to this rite was John's kinsman, Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had foretold, and now acknowledged, as one mightier than himself, the latchet of whose shoes he was not worthy to unloose. The duration of John's ministry cannot be determined with certainty ; it terminated in his imprisonment in the fortress of Machmrus, to which he had been committed by Herod Antipas, whose incestuous marriage with Herodias the Baptist had sternly rebuked, and where he was beheaded under circumstances which are familiar to every reader of the Bible. The date of this event cannot with safety be placed later than the end of 782 A.U.C. For our knowledge of John the Baptist we are almost entirely dependent on the notices contained in the Gospel narratives, but a brief account of his career is also given by Josephus (Ant., xviii. 5); some legends of an obviously fictitious character are contained in the apocryphal Gospels.