I’m not sure how a documentary released in June of last year on John the Baptist escaped my attention until now, but it did. National Geographic’s “The Head of John the Baptist” explores claims regarding some recently discovered bones that some believe may be the remains/relics of John. It seems to be available in its entirety online. I have embedded a version I found here.
Also, another bit on John that slipped past me last year was an article from the Biblical Archaeology Society Staff on the Herodian Palace at Machaerus where it is said that John was beheaded. It is titled, “Machaerus: Beyond the Beheading of John the Baptist”. Unfortunately, the full article is for members only, so it may be a while before I can access it!
James McGrath has posted some thoughts on “John the Baptist and the Gnostics” examining the Mandean traditions related to John, which personally, I find quite fascinating. For one the Mandeans are a semitic people who have lived in Iran for centuries speaking a rare dialect of Aramaic. Also, the Mandeans exalt John over Jesus. My studies suggest that throughout the first century there remained a strong contingent of disciples following the ways of John. When we consider that the Book of Acts and the Gospel of John are two of the latest first century documents to be included in the New Testament we realize from passages like Acts 19:1-7 and John 1 that there remained needed apology for Jesus’ superiority to John as late as the 70s through the 90s (though the function of John’s identity in the Prologue is complex, especially when we consider there may have been an earlier, original opening to the Gospel that discussed John’s identity that was mixed with commentary of Jesus as Logos to form a new beginning to the Gospel).
Other than the Mandean tradition (which needs much further study) I have been trying to find mention of John in the writings of the early church. Most writings seem to be commenting on the Synoptic tradition. For example, Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho discusses John’s relationship to Elijah redivivus, his role as the forerunner of Jesus, and this tends to be the primary focus of early Christians. Yet there is one off-handed comment (in 80.29) that interest me. Justin lists several Jewish sects: Sadducees, Genistae, Meristae, Galileans, Hellenist, Pharisees, and then the one that strikes me, “Baptists”. In the Greek it is Baptiston (βαπτιστων). The version of Justin’s text that I am reading (see here) postulates that these Baptists are of Hegeaippus and Epiphanus. I am no expert on Justin, but I wonder if there remains a possible connection to a cult of John the Baptist? Any thoughts?
If John’s following was large enough to concern early Christians from the 30s to the 90s (at least) what happens in the second century? Do the Mandeans link back that far? Does Justin mention a surviving sect (if so, he gives little effort to denounce them like the Evangelists).