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JOHN THE BAPTIST.
Though the Galileans slain by Pilate may not have been of this sect, yet probably the Roman authorities would look with more than usual jealousy on any appearance of tumult arising in the province which was the reputed birthplace of Judas; and the constant attempts to implicate Jesus with this party appear in their insidious questions about the lawfulness of paying tribute to Cæsar. The subsequent excesses of the Zealots, who were the doctrinal descendants of Judas, and among whom his own sons assumed a dangerous and fatal preeminence, may show that the jealousy of the rulers was not groundless; and indicate, as will hereafter appear, under what unfavourable impressions with the existing authorities, on account of his coming from Galilee, Jesus was about to enter on his public career.
Towards the close of this period of thirty years, though we have no evidence to fix a precise date, while John the Jesus was growing up in the ordinary course of Baptist. nature, in the obscurity of the Galilean town of Nazareth, which lay to the north of Jerusalem, at much the same distance to the south John had arrived at maturity, and suddenly appeared as a public teacher, at first in the desert country in the neighbourhood of Hebron; but speedily removed, no doubt for the facility of administering the characteristic rite, from which he was called the Baptist, at all seasons, and with the utmost publicity and effect. In the southern desert of Judæa the streams are few and scanty, probably in the summer entirely dried up. The nearest large body of water was the Dead Sea. Besides that the western banks of this great lake are mostly rugged and precipitous, natural feeling, and still more the religious awe of the people, would have
Matt. iii. 1-12; Mark i. 2-8; Luke iii. 1-18.
MINISTRY OF THE BAPTIST.
shrunk from performing sacred ablutions in those fetid, unwholesome, and accursed waters. But the banks of the great national stream, the scene of so many miracles, offered many situations, in every respect admirably calculated for this purpose. The Baptist's usual station was near the place, Bethabara, the ford of the Jordan, which tradition pointed out as that where the waters divided before the ark, that the chosen people might enter into the promised land. Here, though the adjacent region towards Jerusalem is wild and desert, the immediate shores of the river offer spots of great picturesque beauty." The Jordan has a kind of double channel. its summer course the shelving banks, to the top of which the waters reach at its period of flood, are covered with acacias and other trees of great luxuriance; and amid the rich vegetation and grateful shade afforded by these scenes, the Italian painters, with no less truth than effect, have delighted to represent the Baptist surrounded by listening multitudes, or performing the solemn rite of initiation. The teacher himself partook of the ascetic character of the more solitary of the Essenes, all of whom retired from the tumult and licence of the city; some dwelt alone in remote hermitages, and not rarely pretended to a prophetic character. His raiment was of the coarsest texture, of camel's hair; his girdle (an ornament often of the greatest richness in Oriental costume, of the finest linen or cotton, and embroidered with silver or gold) was of untanned leather; his food
m The Aulon, or Valley of the J. iii. 10, 7. Jordan, is mostly desert. Alaréuvel τὴν Γεννήσαρ μέσην, ἔπειτα πολλὴν | ἀναμετρούμενος ἐρημίαν εἰς τὴν ̓Ασpaλtîtiv ěžeiσi Xíμvnv. Joseph. B.
Compare on the scene of John's Teaching and Baptism the eloquent passage in Stanley, p. 304, &c., 1st edition.
ORIGIN OF BAPTISM.
the locusts and wild honey, of which there is a copious supply both in the open and the wooded regions, in which he had taken up his abode.
No question has been more strenuously debated than the origin of the rite of baptism. The practice of the external washing of the body, as emblematic of the inward purification of the soul, is almost universal. The sacred Ganges cleanses all moral pollution from the Indian; among the Greeks and Romans even the murderer might, it was supposed, wash the blood "clean from his hands;"P and in many of their religious rites, lustrations or ablutions, either in the running stream or in the sea, purified the candidate for divine favour, and made him fit to approach the shrines of the gods. The perpetual similitude and connexion between the uncleanness of the body and of the soul, which ran through the Mosaic Law and had become interwoven with the common language and sentiment, the formal enactment of washing in many cases, which either required the cleansing of some unhealthy taint, or more than usual purity, must have familiarised the mind with the mysterious effects attributed to such a rite; and of all the Jewish sects, that of the Essenes, to which no doubt popular opinion associated the Baptist, were most frequent and scrupulous in their ceremonial ablutions. It is strongly asserted on the one hand, and denied with equal confidence on the other, that baptism was in general use among the Jews as a distinct and
That locusts are no uncommon food is so well known from all travellers in the East, that it is unnecessary to quote any single authority. There is a kind of bean, called in that country the locust-bean, which some
have endeavoured to make out to have been the food of John.
P Ah nimium faciles, qui tristia crimina
Tolli flumineâ posse putatis aquâ.
PREACHING OF JOHN.
formal rite; and that it was by this ceremony that the Gentile proselytes, who were not yet thought worthy of circumcision, or perhaps refused to submit to it, were imperfectly initiated into the family of Israel. Though there does not seem very conclusive evidence in the earlier Rabbinical writings to the antiquity, yet there are perpetual allusions to the existence of this rite, at least at a later period; and the argument, that after irreconcileable hostility had been declared between the two religions, the Jews would be little likely to borrow their distinctive ceremony from the Christians, applies with more than ordinary force. Nor, if we may fairly judge from the very rapid and concise narrative of the Evangelists, does the public administration of baptism by John appear to have excited astonishment as a new and unprecedented rite.
For, from every quarter, all ranks and sects crowded to the teaching and to partake in the mystic his preaching. ablutions performed by the Baptist. The stream of the Jordan reflected the wondering multitudes of every class and character, which thronged around him with that deep interest and high-wrought curiosity, which could not fail to be excited, especially at such a crisis, by one who assumed the tone and authority of a divine commission, and seemed, even if he were not hereafter to break forth in a higher character, to renew in his person the long silent and interrupted race of the ancient prophets. Of all those prophets Elijah was held in the most profound reverence by the descendants of Israel. He was the representative of their great race
Lightfoot, Harmony of Evang. iii. 38, iv. 407, &c. Danzius, in Meuschen, Talmudica, &c. Schoetgen and Wetstein, in loc.
Some of the strange notions about Elias may be found in Lightfoot, Harm. of Evang. iv. 399. Compare Ecclesiast. xlviii. 10, 11. “Elias,
CHAP. III. HIS TEACHING, AND DENUNCIATIONS.
of moral instructors and interpreters of the Divine Will, whose writings (though of Elijah nothing remained) had been admitted to almost equal authority with the Law itself, were read in the public synagogues, and with the other sacred books formed the canon of their Scripture. A mysterious intimation had closed this hallowed volume of the prophetic writings, announcing, as from the lips of Malachi, on which the fire of prophecy expired, a second coming of Elijah, which it would seem popular belief had construed into the personal reappearance of him who had ascended into heaven in a car of fire. And where, and at what time, and in what form was he so likely to appear as in the desert, by the. shore of the Jordan, at so fearful a crisis in the national destinies, and in the wild garb and with the mortified demeanour so frequent among the ancient seers? The language of the Baptist took the bold, severe, and uncompromising tone of those delegates of the Most High. On both the great religious factions he denounced the same maledictions, from both demanded the same complete and immediate reformation. On the people he inculcated mutual charity; on the publicans, whom he did not
who is written of for reproofs in, concerning them, and saying, How these times, to appease the anger of him that is ready for wrath (or before wrath, προθύμου, οι πρὸ θύμου), to turn the heart of the father to the
long will ye stay in the dry and wasted land? And his voice shall be heard from one end of the world to the other; and after that he shall say unto them, Peace cometh to the world, as it is written (Isaiah lii. 7), How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace!" Jalkut Schamuni, fol. 53, c. 6. Quoted in Bertholdt. See other quotations. Schoetgen, Hor. Heb. ii. 533, 534. Justin. Dial. cum Tryph.