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John the priest and baptizer

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  • Linda & Ernest Pennells
    The literature on JBap is vast. I can only claim to have consulted a fraction, but am struck by the lack of attention to implications of Luke s portrayal of
    Message 1 of 7 , Apr 22 5:30 PM
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      The literature on JBap is vast. I can only claim to have consulted a
      fraction, but am struck by the lack of attention to implications of Luke's
      portrayal of priestly parentage. Priestly associations lend particular
      significance to his name, age, dress, diet, locale, immersion, and message.
      This list embraces much of the JBap tradition and thereby offers prima face
      evidence that his status as a priest is crucial to understanding his role in
      gospel tradition.
      In common with several among the twelve, John's name has Maccabean
      associations. The emphatic reiteration of this unexpected choice (by
      Gabriel, Elizabeth and Zechariah) acts rather like a three line whip
      challenging the regime of chief priests who deposed the Hasmoneans, by
      appointment of Herod and Rome.
      Thirty was a milestone age for priests, according to Torah and DSS. Luke
      presents John as six months older than Jesus, and says Jesus was about
      thirty at the commencement of his Galilean ministry.
      The priestly code designated the camel an unclean animal. To set aside the
      linen tunic prescribed for priests and don the hide of an unclean animal
      suggests a provocative display of separation from the sanctuary.
      As a non-cultivated source of food, locusts and wild honey (clean food in
      the priestly code) show that John renounced his birthright to be sustained
      by the tithe. Likewise, as an unclean animal, the camel was also outside
      the tithing system.
      Instead of taking his place in the sanctuary, John chose the wilderness,
      paralleling the Essenes' rejection of the defiling presence of the Wicked
      Priest in Jerusalem.
      A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is Christian
      reinterpretation. Josephus (a priest?) rejects that interpretation. Jewish
      immersion was to remove physical contagion in preparation for approaching
      the sanctuary.
      John's immersion thereby complements his message "prepare ye ..." In citing
      Isaiah, only Luke adds the imagery of constructing a highway for YHWH to
      return to Zion. Thus, according to Luke, John abandoned his birthright as
      a priest because he regarded YHWH as again in exile. His message was to
      prepare for YHWH's return. That this immersion was in Jordan overlays the
      symbolism of occupying the land of promise.
      The priestly associations suggested above derive from JBap tradition adopted
      by Luke and by others.
      Luke's narrative therefore commences with an account of the birth of JBap
      that sets the tone of a challenge to the new regime of chief priests in
      Jerusalem. This is to reach its climax in Jesus' public denunciation of
      these wicked vintners, and Stephen's diatribe against temple and leaders of
      the nation. This wider thesis is outlined at http://www.lukeacts.com
      <http://www.lukeacts.com>
      I would appreciate a critique of the thoughts sketched above, and
      information on sources that have addressed the implications of a priestly
      lineage for John that which I have missed.


      Regards,

      Ernie Pennells
      220 - 50 Songhees Road, Victoria BC, Canada V9A 7J4
      http://www.lukeacts.com
      Tel: (250) 381 5674



      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Bob Webb
      Dear Ernie, My own work explored some (not all) of the themes you ve outlined. Check out: Webb, Robert L. _John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Socio-Historical
      Message 2 of 7 , Apr 23 7:41 AM
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        Dear Ernie,

        My own work explored some (not all) of the themes you've outlined. Check
        out: Webb, Robert L. _John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Socio-Historical
        Study_. JSNTS 62. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991. Particularly ch
        6, 8, 10.

        One other area for you to consider is that John's priestly background may be
        seen is in his baptism of repentance. You've rejected this as a Christian
        reinterpretation. Granted, the Christian tradition has reinterpreted it, but
        it can also be understood in a Jewish context, and I think is probably
        authentic. If repentance/forgiveness is traditionally associated with the
        temple cultus, then John's baptism could be also be viewed as a
        critique/repudiation of the temple/temple leadership. In a sense, then, his
        baptism was providing an alternative to the temple, which would of course be
        viewed as "cheap grace" by the temple authorities.

        I'm busy with other things right now, but I'd be happy to interact further
        if you get a chance to peruse the chapters above.

        Bob Webb.


        > -----Original Message-----
        > From: Linda & Ernest Pennells [mailto:pennells@...]
        > Sent: Thursday, April 22, 2004 8:30 PM
        > To: crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com
        > Subject: [XTalk] John the priest and baptizer
        >
        >
        >
        > The literature on JBap is vast. I can only claim to have
        > consulted a fraction, but am struck by the lack of attention
        > to implications of Luke's portrayal of priestly parentage.
        > Priestly associations lend particular significance to his
        > name, age, dress, diet, locale, immersion, and message. This
        > list embraces much of the JBap tradition and thereby offers
        > prima face evidence that his status as a priest is crucial to
        > understanding his role in gospel tradition. In common with
        > several among the twelve, John's name has Maccabean
        > associations. The emphatic reiteration of this unexpected
        > choice (by Gabriel, Elizabeth and Zechariah) acts rather
        > like a three line whip challenging the regime of chief
        > priests who deposed the Hasmoneans, by appointment of Herod
        > and Rome. Thirty was a milestone age for priests, according
        > to Torah and DSS. Luke presents John as six months older
        > than Jesus, and says Jesus was about thirty at the
        > commencement of his Galilean ministry. The priestly code
        > designated the camel an unclean animal. To set aside the
        > linen tunic prescribed for priests and don the hide of an
        > unclean animal suggests a provocative display of separation
        > from the sanctuary. As a non-cultivated source of food,
        > locusts and wild honey (clean food in the priestly code) show
        > that John renounced his birthright to be sustained by the
        > tithe. Likewise, as an unclean animal, the camel was also
        > outside the tithing system. Instead of taking his place in
        > the sanctuary, John chose the wilderness, paralleling the
        > Essenes' rejection of the defiling presence of the Wicked
        > Priest in Jerusalem. A baptism of repentance for the
        > forgiveness of sins is Christian reinterpretation. Josephus
        > (a priest?) rejects that interpretation. Jewish immersion
        > was to remove physical contagion in preparation for
        > approaching the sanctuary. John's immersion thereby
        > complements his message "prepare ye ..." In citing Isaiah,
        > only Luke adds the imagery of constructing a highway for YHWH
        > to return to Zion. Thus, according to Luke, John abandoned
        > his birthright as a priest because he regarded YHWH as again
        > in exile. His message was to
        > prepare for YHWH's return. That this immersion was in
        > Jordan overlays the
        > symbolism of occupying the land of promise.
        > The priestly associations suggested above derive from JBap
        > tradition adopted by Luke and by others. Luke's narrative
        > therefore commences with an account of the birth of JBap that
        > sets the tone of a challenge to the new regime of chief
        > priests in Jerusalem. This is to reach its climax in Jesus'
        > public denunciation of these wicked vintners, and Stephen's
        > diatribe against temple and leaders of the nation. This
        > wider thesis is outlined at http://www.lukeacts.com
        > <http://www.lukeacts.com>
        > I would appreciate a critique of the thoughts sketched above,
        > and information on sources that have addressed the
        > implications of a priestly lineage for John that which I have missed.
        >
        >
        > Regards,
        >
        > Ernie Pennells
        > 220 - 50 Songhees Road, Victoria BC, Canada V9A 7J4
        > http://www.lukeacts.com
        > Tel: (250) 381 5674
        >
        >
        >
        > [Non-text
        > portions of this message have been removed]
        >
        >
        >
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      • Linda & Ernest Pennells
        [Robert L. Webb] ... 8, 10.
        Message 3 of 7 , Apr 23 4:24 PM
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          [Robert L. Webb]
          >John the Baptizer and Prophet: A Socio-Historical Study Particularly ch 6,
          8, 10.<

          Thank you Bob. I shall review those chapters again before I respond.


          Regards,

          Ernie Pennells
          220 - 50 Songhees Road, Victoria BC, Canada V9A 7J4
          http://www.lukeacts.com
          Tel: (250) 381 5674
        • Linda & Ernest Pennells
          [Robert L Webb] ... which would of course be viewed as cheap grace by the temple authorities.
          Message 4 of 7 , Apr 25 7:50 PM
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            [Robert L Webb]
            >In a sense, then, his baptism was providing an alternative to the temple,
            which would of course be viewed as "cheap grace" by the temple authorities.<

            Alternative, or a call for reform? I latched rather firmly (maybe too
            firmly) onto your analysis of OT texts and the distinction you draw there
            between immersion as addressing physical contagion, and absolution dealing
            with moral contagion (p 107). DSS, and the little we know about Pharisees
            and Sadducees, make it clear that there was diversity of praxis within first
            century Judaism. If John was educated as a priest he will have been
            schooled in his father's temple milieu, where sin is dealt with at the
            altar. Josephus claims priestly parentage (among umpteen credentials), so
            his dismissal of the notion that John's baptism was for forgiveness of sins
            also fits that mold. Up in Galilee - several days journey from the temple -
            Jesus is portrayed as declaring sins forgiven without ceremony. Much of our
            information about John comes through the Christological filters of the NT.
            Isolating his own praxis is problematic.

            However, before engaging in a debate about baptism, the thinking I am
            anxious to test is my conclusion that John being a priest is a REALLY BIG
            DEAL, although there is nothing novel about prophets being priests:
            Jeremiah, Isaiah(?), Ezekiel, Ezra. Add Moses, Samuel and Elijah due to
            the sacrificial functions they performed.

            But, Luke throws down the gauntlet to Herod's regime of chief priests with
            his opening story about the birth of a priest who will lead many within
            Israel back to God - so where are they being led now? He reveals partisan
            allegiance with a Maccabean name for the child, insisted upon through
            threefold reiteration. The emphasis upon how devout his parents were, adds
            a slap in the face to Herod's political appointees.

            Matthew and Mark describe John's camel hair garment. I want to set that
            alongside Jeremiah's disgusting loin cloth, Isaiah going naked in public,
            and Ezekiel declaring he had been instructed to cook using human excrement
            as fuel - all prophetic shock/horror tactics to grab peoples attention.
            11QT includes scrupulous restrictions on animal skins: even wine skins and
            purses brought into the Holy City must be exclusively from the hide of
            animals slain at the altar. "Clean" was not good enough! For a priest to
            wear an UNCLEAN camel skin was therefore highly provocative.

            The fourth Gospel has John introduce Jesus as, "The lamb of God who takes
            away the sin of the world;" priestly language taken from the altar.

            Priestly associations are therefore present in several layers of tradition.
            This argues against this being Lukan fiction. Luke-Acts is my happy hunting
            ground, and this priestly polemic sets the tone for that whole story: John,
            Jesus, the apostolic church, Stephen and Paul. Those damned chief priests
            get in the way again and again! I am therefore somewhat dismayed when I
            read: "Luke makes nothing whatsoever of JBap himself as a priest" (Raymond
            E. Brown, 'Birth', 267).

            In a society of limited literacy, symbolism is a potent vehicle for
            communication. I find a rich vein of priestly allusions in JBap tradition,
            to such an extent that I am inclined to say that unless we understand John
            as a radical priest, we simply don't understand John.

            Am I getting carried away again?

            Regards,

            Ernie Pennells
            220 - 50 Songhees Road, Victoria BC, Canada V9A 7J4
            http://www.lukeacts.com
            Tel: (250) 381 5674
          • Davis, Robert C.
            Ernie: I have no intrinsic problem with your statement that John s priestly associations are important for his story. What I have noticed, however, is that
            Message 5 of 7 , Apr 26 6:43 AM
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              Ernie:

              I have no intrinsic problem with your statement that John's priestly associations are important for his story. What I have noticed, however, is that you have not as yet addressed the theory that John may have at one time been associated with the Essenes, whose priestly associations were also well known? The similarities between Essene writings and John's reported statements have been amply commented on, even though, admittedly, the evidence for this theory is not universally accepted.

              Does your silence on the topic mean that you simply do not accept this theory, or have you just not gotten around to mentioning it as yet?

              Cordially,

              Robert Davis
              Pikeville College

              -----Original Message-----
              From: Linda & Ernest Pennells [mailto:pennells@...]
              Sent: Sun 4/25/2004 10:50 PM
              To: crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com
              Cc:
              Subject: RE: [XTalk] John the priest and baptizer



              [Robert L Webb]
              >In a sense, then, his baptism was providing an alternative to the temple,
              which would of course be viewed as "cheap grace" by the temple authorities.<

              Alternative, or a call for reform? I latched rather firmly (maybe too
              firmly) onto your analysis of OT texts and the distinction you draw there
              between immersion as addressing physical contagion, and absolution dealing
              with moral contagion (p 107). DSS, and the little we know about Pharisees
              and Sadducees, make it clear that there was diversity of praxis within first
              century Judaism. If John was educated as a priest he will have been
              schooled in his father's temple milieu, where sin is dealt with at the
              altar. Josephus claims priestly parentage (among umpteen credentials), so
              his dismissal of the notion that John's baptism was for forgiveness of sins
              also fits that mold. Up in Galilee - several days journey from the temple -
              Jesus is portrayed as declaring sins forgiven without ceremony. Much of our
              information about John comes through the Christological filters of the NT.
              Isolating his own praxis is problematic.

              However, before engaging in a debate about baptism, the thinking I am
              anxious to test is my conclusion that John being a priest is a REALLY BIG
              DEAL, although there is nothing novel about prophets being priests:
              Jeremiah, Isaiah(?), Ezekiel, Ezra. Add Moses, Samuel and Elijah due to
              the sacrificial functions they performed.

              But, Luke throws down the gauntlet to Herod's regime of chief priests with
              his opening story about the birth of a priest who will lead many within
              Israel back to God - so where are they being led now? He reveals partisan
              allegiance with a Maccabean name for the child, insisted upon through
              threefold reiteration. The emphasis upon how devout his parents were, adds
              a slap in the face to Herod's political appointees.

              Matthew and Mark describe John's camel hair garment. I want to set that
              alongside Jeremiah's disgusting loin cloth, Isaiah going naked in public,
              and Ezekiel declaring he had been instructed to cook using human excrement
              as fuel - all prophetic shock/horror tactics to grab peoples attention.
              11QT includes scrupulous restrictions on animal skins: even wine skins and
              purses brought into the Holy City must be exclusively from the hide of
              animals slain at the altar. "Clean" was not good enough! For a priest to
              wear an UNCLEAN camel skin was therefore highly provocative.

              The fourth Gospel has John introduce Jesus as, "The lamb of God who takes
              away the sin of the world;" priestly language taken from the altar.

              Priestly associations are therefore present in several layers of tradition.
              This argues against this being Lukan fiction. Luke-Acts is my happy hunting
              ground, and this priestly polemic sets the tone for that whole story: John,
              Jesus, the apostolic church, Stephen and Paul. Those damned chief priests
              get in the way again and again! I am therefore somewhat dismayed when I
              read: "Luke makes nothing whatsoever of JBap himself as a priest" (Raymond
              E. Brown, 'Birth', 267).

              In a society of limited literacy, symbolism is a potent vehicle for
              communication. I find a rich vein of priestly allusions in JBap tradition,
              to such an extent that I am inclined to say that unless we understand John
              as a radical priest, we simply don't understand John.

              Am I getting carried away again?

              Regards,

              Ernie Pennells
              220 - 50 Songhees Road, Victoria BC, Canada V9A 7J4
              http://www.lukeacts.com
              Tel: (250) 381 5674





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            • Bob Webb
              ... Bob Webb: I think how John s baptism was viewed would be a matter of perspective. From John s perspective it was a call for reform... Or even more radical:
              Message 6 of 7 , Apr 26 7:02 AM
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                Bob Webb:
                > >In a sense, then, his baptism was providing an alternative to the
                > >temple,
                > which would of course be viewed as "cheap grace" by the
                > temple authorities.<

                Ernie Pennells:
                > Alternative, or a call for reform?

                Bob Webb:
                I think how John's baptism was viewed would be a matter of perspective. From
                John's perspective it was a call for reform... Or even more radical: a call
                to reconstitute the true, remnant people of God ("God is able from these
                stones to raise up children to Abraham"). But his opponents (here I put the
                temple hierarchy) would view it quite negatively. Thus my suggestion that in
                bypassing the temple cult John was viewed by the temple hierarchy as
                offering "cheap grace." Certainly not John's view!

                Ernie Pennells:
                <snip>
                > However, before engaging in a debate about baptism, the
                > thinking I am anxious to test is my conclusion that John
                > being a priest is a REALLY BIG DEAL, although there is
                > nothing novel about prophets being priests: Jeremiah,
                > Isaiah(?), Ezekiel, Ezra. Add Moses, Samuel and Elijah due
                > to the sacrificial functions they performed.
                >
                > But, Luke throws down the gauntlet to Herod's regime of
                > chief priests with his opening story about the birth of a
                > priest who will lead many within Israel back to God - so
                > where are they being led now? He reveals partisan allegiance
                > with a Maccabean name for the child, insisted upon through
                > threefold reiteration. The emphasis upon how devout his
                > parents were, adds a slap in the face to Herod's political
                > appointees.
                >
                > Matthew and Mark describe John's camel hair garment. I want
                > to set that alongside Jeremiah's disgusting loin cloth,
                > Isaiah going naked in public, and Ezekiel declaring he had
                > been instructed to cook using human excrement as fuel - all
                > prophetic shock/horror tactics to grab peoples attention.
                > 11QT includes scrupulous restrictions on animal skins: even
                > wine skins and purses brought into the Holy City must be
                > exclusively from the hide of animals slain at the altar.
                > "Clean" was not good enough! For a priest to wear an UNCLEAN
                > camel skin was therefore highly provocative.

                Bob Webb:
                Mark 1:6 uses the term "camel's hair (thrix)", not camel skin. Rabbinic
                discussion seems to have included camel's hair as a legitimate form of wool.
                As far as I can make out, the issue is the mixing of materials, not the
                material itself in t.Shab. 27a and t.Men.39b. Lev 11:4 and Deut 14:7 declare
                the camel unclean for food, but the camel was still an integral part of the
                transportation system and economy (or am I mistaken?).

                Ernie Pennells:
                > The fourth Gospel has John introduce Jesus as, "The lamb of
                > God who takes away the sin of the world;" priestly language
                > taken from the altar.

                Bob Webb:
                But this seems to me to be Johannine language put back in JB's mouth. To my
                mind JB *might* have talked about a lamb, but I think this may have been
                more in a sense in continuity with apocalpytic imagery. The entire phrase
                here I would see as Johannine. So I'm not sure it is relevant evidence.

                Ernie Pennells:
                > Priestly associations are therefore present in several layers
                > of tradition. This argues against this being Lukan fiction.
                > Luke-Acts is my happy hunting ground, and this priestly
                > polemic sets the tone for that whole story: John, Jesus, the
                > apostolic church, Stephen and Paul. Those damned chief priests
                > get in the way again and again! I am therefore somewhat
                > dismayed when I
                > read: "Luke makes nothing whatsoever of JBap himself as a
                > priest" (Raymond E. Brown, 'Birth', 267).
                >
                > In a society of limited literacy, symbolism is a potent
                > vehicle for communication. I find a rich vein of priestly
                > allusions in JBap tradition, to such an extent that I am
                > inclined to say that unless we understand John as a radical
                > priest, we simply don't understand John.
                >
                > Am I getting carried away again?

                Bob Webb:
                I concur with you that *if* JB was a priest, then it is significant. But I
                would want to offer a couple of caveats:
                (1) As I wrestled with the priestly tradition w.r.t. JB, I could only rate
                it as a "possible", not a "probable." Therefore in my work I was willing to
                make observations of possible implications if it were the case, but I wasn't
                willing to make it a foundation stone upon which I built a lot of other
                things. I'd encourage you to really test out how much weight you can put on
                JB being a priest (I'd be happy to crank it up from "possible" to
                "probable"; I just need the evidence to do so).
                (2) I concur with you about the importance of symbolism (for JB... Baptism,
                desert, Jordan were all powerful symbols). But these symbols function in a
                prophetic sphere so well, that I think it would be one-sided to focus only
                on the priestly (="possible") to the neglect of the prophetic
                (="probable/virtually certain").

                Some thoughts.

                Bob Webb.
              • Linda & Ernest Pennells
                [Robert C. Davis] ... been associated with the Essenes,
                Message 7 of 7 , Apr 26 8:51 PM
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                  [Robert C. Davis]
                  >you have not as yet addressed the theory that John may have at one time
                  been associated with the Essenes,<

                  Mention of the wilderness in combination with a priestly community certainly
                  has parallels with the idea that JB was a priest who quit the temple, but I
                  am not tempted to press that connection too hard.

                  On the other hand 11QT does include reference to an annual ceremony of
                  ordination for priests, and that enigmatic phrase regarding JB's public
                  appearance [anadeixis ] before Israel (Lk. 1.80) just MIGHT be a reference
                  to his ordination, given a comparison with the account of the inaugural
                  ordination ceremony by Moses (Lev 8.33ff), which lays heavy stress on
                  starting and finishing that prolonged ceremonial before the whole
                  congregation of Israel. C.F. Evans explains anadeixis as denoting a solemn
                  and formal public appointment and presentation to an office (Evans, St Luke,
                  188). Could that mean JB was ordained at Qumran, if you allow room for a
                  flourish of creative theological fiction? (Hi, Gordon).

                  [Robert L. Webb]
                  >Mark 1:6 uses the term "camel's hair (thrix)", not camel skin. Rabbinic
                  discussion seems to have included camel's hair as a legitimate form of
                  wool.<

                  Philo explains priestly linen garments: "because linen is not made of any
                  animal that dies, as woollen garments are" (SL XVI). Wearing wool from any
                  animal would exclude JB from the sanctuary - an unclean animal underlines
                  the issue.
                  Also, 11QT 47, discussing skins for carrying wine, oil and food: "The
                  purity of the skin corresponds to that of the flesh ... they shall not
                  pollute my sanctuary with the skins of [clean] animals slaughtered in their
                  country which are tainted." Would not such scrupulous sensitivity also
                  extend to the unclean camel's hair?

                  JB also wore a leather girdle (camel skin?). The camel hair would be
                  recognisable as such - what about the girdle? OK, I'm pushing my luck!

                  [Robert L. Webb]
                  >Lev 11:4 and Deut 14:7 declare the camel unclean for food, but the camel
                  was still an integral part of the transportation system and economy (or am I
                  mistaken?).<

                  Granted - but not acceptable at the sanctuary. The idea is that his dress
                  was demonstrating his separation from the temple.

                  The diversity of praxis within first century Judaism leaves us free to
                  choose points of reference in support of different ideas. However, if JB
                  was a priest, his training was likely to be conservative, temple based,
                  and focused upon a narrow definition of Torah. Rabbinic teaching may be
                  another cup of tea.

                  [Robert L. Webb]
                  >As far as I can make out, the issue is the mixing of materials, not the
                  material itself in t.Shab. 27a and t.Men.39b<

                  I don't have prompt access to these, so have not yet grasped your point.

                  [Robert L. Webb]
                  >But these symbols function in a prophetic sphere so well, that I think it
                  would be one-sided to focus only on the priestly (="possible") to the
                  neglect of the prophetic (="probable/virtually certain").<

                  I don't see a conflict here. The OT is replete with examples of
                  prophet-priests. In an agrarian society, priests were an educated class.
                  It seems natural enough for disproportionate numbers of priests to emerge as
                  national figures in a Theocracy. To say that JB was a priest does not
                  detract from his prophetic message. Rather, it sharpens the polemic
                  against the current temple hierarchy by making it clear that he disowned it,
                  despite the fact that the temple was his proper venue.

                  Also, Elijah and Malachi, who both figure in JB tradition, were both
                  confronting the situation I want to put centre stage against John, Jesus
                  ... Paul - wayward priests!

                  The NT headline for JB's message is "Prepare the way of the Lord." Your
                  analysis presents YHWH as prime candidate for JB's expected figure (p. 282).
                  I view John's baptism as an act of preparation for joining YHWH as he
                  returns to Zion to reposes the temple from corrupt guardians; just as a
                  cleansing immersion was prerequisite to entering the sanctuary.

                  The fact that Jesus joined in John's baptism made it necessary for the
                  church to adopt this rite, despite the fact that there is no record of
                  Jesus baptizing anybody - not even the twelve! Jn 4.1f corrects itself: "it
                  was his disciples who were baptizing, not Jesus himself."

                  Regards,

                  Ernie Pennells
                  220 - 50 Songhees Road, Victoria BC, Canada V9A 7J4
                  http://www.lukeacts.com
                  Tel: (250) 381 5674
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