Catching John in Four Nets? Competition, Qumran, Sacramentalism and Messianism

A Reply to Joel Marcus

In: Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus
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In his recent study on John the Baptist Joel Marcus suggests that John founded a sect that was in competition with the early Jesus movement. Marcus also suggests that John himself was a former member of the 'Qumran community'. His baptism is considered as a kind of sacrament in which the Holy Spirit was imparted. How secure are these proposals? In this discussion, we conclude that in the oldest literary witnesses – Q, Mark and Matthew – the relationship between John and Jesus is seen in terms of mutual agreement (despite Jesus’s obvious superiority) and there are no recognizable traces of serious competition with John’s disciples, even less a ‘Baptist sect’. The evidence used by Marcus to suggest that John was once a member of the ‘Qumran community’ connects John with broader patterns of thought in Second Temple Judaism, not simply sectarians at one location. That John imparted the Holy Spirit in a sacramental rite can only be supported by radically altering biblical readings. However, Marcus has suggested that in light of all this that John thought of himself not only as Elijah but as a kind of Messiah, with the role of his successor, the Coming One, being to destroy the chaff. In doing this, Marcus redesigns John as a kind of alternative Christ of Faith. However, the underlying ‘competition model’ needs to be rejected and replaced with one that sees Jesus as claiming to be a successor to John, his highly esteemed teacher.

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