The Pokey Finger of God

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Wet Behind the Ears

July 14th, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, history

Almost immediately after the last post, I realized that a “part two” would be in order.

First off, there’s the whole issue of how the Gospel of John has a totally different take on the whole baptism thing than the synoptics. Obviously, the Gospel of John has a special place for the Baptist, and his role as the witness to Christ is emphasized here. The other reason is that one reader pointed out that I did overstretch myself on a few points, so I should address these.

John the Baptist is a remarkable persona for the simple reason that his cult is traceable. One of the few extra-biblical histories we have of the time spends a half-dozen paragraphs on the Baptist and his cult. Saying that this is more than Josephus wrote about the Christ is a significant understatement. There even remains today a fragment of a peoples who claim a fairly pure Zoroastrian theology and a strong connection to John the Baptist as a prominent leader of their cult. The Jews liked to be clean, but this ritual of baptism for the remission of sins was a whole ‘nother kind of animal that the Gospels totally gloss over.

The synoptics all have Jesus being baptized in the Jordan. Two out of three think it was done by John (and that ain’t bad). However, Luke is quite vague regarding John’s participation, implying that he was already in prison at the time. Each has John saying some pithy thing about the one to come after him who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. The heavens open up for each and afflict the Christ with divine afflatus. And then you just don’t hear about baptism again, except in some random quotes: Mark has three, Matthew one.

Luke has one of the most passionate and Christ-like speeches fall from the lips of John the Baptist. The one time Luke mentions baptism again, it’s in the context of whether certain peoples were in the right crowd based on whether they had received baptism from John. None of the synoptics suggest that Jesus or any of the Apostles ever baptized anyone with water.

The Gospel of John, on the other hand, is quite explicit that the Apostles were not only baptizing huge crowds of penitents, but were drawing worshipers away from the oldest established, permanent floating swimming club on the Jordan. The voice of the Baptist in this book is quite Gnostic — almost to the point of incomprehensibility. Comparitively, the Baptist in Luke is oasis of sanity. The Gospel of John is also quite clear that Jesus, Himself, does not actually baptize anyone.

In fact, Jesus is never actually baptized in the Gospel of John. The soggy one testifies that he has seen the spirit of God fall upon the Christ, not that the Christ ever took a bath. Remember, walking on water? You think that was something He did by choice? He wasn’t just holy, He was ultrabuoyant. Since they were into immersion baptism at the time, he was straight out of luck. The next time the word “baptism” is used in the Gospel of John, it was to describe the apparently famous place where John the Baptist would baptize the crowds.

To be fair, Acts of the Apostles goes on about baptism quite a bit. Folks are baptized right and left. Peter baptized 3000 in one day. Paul would baptize whole households, even the servants! In each case, baptism was seen as an ornate ritual of personal repentance. Even here it’s clear the connection to the Baptist’s ministry: his words were echoed, and even his baptism was watered down as something distinct: a premature precursor to Christian baptism.

As far as the Gospels go, baptism served one purpose — to anoint the Christ. It becomes a rarely tapped metaphor in the Gospel canon. John doesn’t need Christ to be anointed, because (as reader, J.M., points out), He was already God and didn’t personally need the verification. Another point J.M. makes is that baptism was likely part of the initiation for the “outer school”, while the Lazarus myth was correspondingly the foundation for the initiation into the “inner school”. Mark up another reasonable connection for the Mystery School explanation.

I was also taken to task for incorrectly connecting the response made by Moses to the one by Samuel upon being “Called”. Apparently, the connection is a side-effect of the translations I read and not connected to the original Hebrew. I’ll have to review the related “Calling” experiences in the and try to make some meaningful remediation at some point. Mea culpa.

Finally, among other really interesting points J.M. also makes, I wanted to share the suggestion that the Baptist took the role of Samuel, both in his connection to God, but also in Samuel’s anointing of David in the Wilderness to John’s baptism of Christ in the Wilderness. The point here is especially well taken, in that in Luke, we are told that the word of God came to John in the wilderness before he began preaching a baptism for the repentance of sins. So perhaps the “Calling” experience I was looking for came not to Jesus, but to John.

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