Courses

The Historical Jesus: Lecture Two


        In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.' "

        The story of the historical Jesus begins with his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptizer. John's mission was, according to Crossan, to revitalize Judaism by calling its children to renew their covenant with God by essentially re-enacting the entrance of Israel into Canaan through the Jordan! The "baptism" practiced by John was in fact a re-enactment which was intended to involve the common Israelite in his or her traditional religion- Judaism. The reason for this re-enactment was the fact that many if not most of the Jews in Palestine at the first quarter of the first century were not practicing their religion. John was thus "calling them on again" to faithful participation in the faith of Abraham.
        As a Jew who was interested in the religion of the fathers, Jesus was naturally interested in the work of John. Quite naturally, also, he would have gone into the wilderness to join hands with those involved in the revival of Judaism which John enjoined. He too would have sensed the need to identify with the people of the covenant by being baptized as a sign of solidarity with his fellow revivalists. In short, there is nothing problematical in regards to either the partici pation of Jesus in Johdentification with other Jews by baptism. For, in short, that baptism was a re-dedicatory act and not a salvific act. That later gospel writers described it as a "baptism for the remission of sins" fits well with the evangelists theology, but not with the historical circumstances nor the goals of John's baptism itself.
        Q (the source of the materials used in this reconstruction of the Historical Jesus) indicates that this revival (for that is really what John's work is) took place during the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius. Tiberius riled from 14 to 37 C.E. The fifteenth year of his reign would then be 30 C.E. This means that John's revival would have begun at that time and that Jesus must have been baptized during that first year of the revival.
        The scriptural "cue" utilized by Q from Isaiah intends to describe John's ministry as one of preparation. Again, this fits well with the theology of the evangelists, but probably has very little to do with the way in which John viewed his own work or indeed how his revival was viewed by his contemporaries.