Monday, January 10, 2005

Jesus Before Christianity - John the Baptist

I have been reading and rereading Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan, a Dominican from South Africa. He has some very interesting ideas about Jesus and his life within a historical context.

Nolan states that the purpose of the gospels was not to give a biography of Jesus, but instead to show how Jesus could be relevant to people outside Palestine after Jesus' death.

The book is an attempt to tease out Jesus' intentions through examining his choices and decisions as outlined in scripture and other historical documents.

The first such choice highlighted is Jesus' decision to be baptized by John the Baptist. This instantly set him apart from the other religious movements in Palestine at the time:

Zealots: fought Rome with violence for 60 years in an underground movement. Overthrew Roman government in 66 CE; 4 years later Romasns sent an army to destroy them. The last held out in Masada until 73 CE when 1000 committed suicide rather than submit to Rome.

Pharisees: concerned with reforming Israel. Believed that the Roman yoke was punnishment for the unfaithfulness to law and tradition. Name means "the separate ones" and they set themselves apart from everyone not faithful to the law to form closed communities. They believed in an afterlife, ressurection of the dead and a future Messiah who would liberate them from the Romans.

Essenes: spearatists. Outsiders were hated as "sons of darkness" Considered themselves the faithful remnant of Israel. Allied themseleves with Zealots in 66 CE and were destroyed.

Sadducees: religious conservatives out to preserve status quo. They were the priesthood, upholding ancient Hebrew tradition. Rejected afterlife and resurrection of the dead as novelties. Reward and punishment in this lifetime

Apocalyptic writers: believed god's plan for the end of the world had been revealed to them.

John differed from these groups because
• he was a prohpet of doom and destruction
• he appealed to ALL of Israel - including sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and Herod himself
• he expected each individual in Israel to repent and experience a change of heart.
• he appealed for social morality

"the fact of his baptism by John is conclusive proof of his acceptance of John's basic prophecy: Israel is heading for an unprecedented catastrophe."