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.
Narrative criticism is not usually employed as a means of exploring historical knowledge. However, in this article it is argued that narrative patterns can be indicative of history masked by overt rhetoric. In the narrative of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee the Gospel of Mark includes the persistent presence of water, often in combination with wilderness places and crowds. This pattern replicates the same features associated with John the Baptist, creating a narrative template for Jesus continuing John’s baptism, which Mark knew to be concerned with ritual purity, and yet explicit mention of Jesus’ baptizing is avoided. Mark focuses instead on Jesus as the promised immerser in Holy Spirit, proven by his healings and exorcisms, in which purification flows outwards from him. Mark points to a historical scenario in which Jesus’ healings and exorcisms are understandable within the same purity framework that governed water immersions: they were remedies for the most stubborn cases of people who, because of their chronic ailments and disabilities, were unable to obtain the inner purity that was normally established by repentance and forgiveness of sins. Jesus then fulfils John’s prediction and continues John’s work.