Essays on the Function of Scripture in Early Judaism and Christianity
Edited By Jan Dochhorn
Who was John the Baptist? From John 1:19–28 to Heracleon Markus Öhler
In this paper I will address the question the ambassadors from Jerusalem posed when they met John the Baptist at the river Jordan: “Who are you?” (John 1:19). We will go through not only the text of John 1:19–28 but other topics as well, viz. the traditional identification of John the Baptist with the returned Elijah and the early patristic exegesis on this topic. Finally we will reach Heracleon’s interesting interpretation of this pericope, a part of ear- ly Christian theology, which is traditionally placed outside of the orthodox teachings. But first of all we have to note that this involves different forms of exegesis. From the beginning there was an “exegesis” of John the Baptist him- self: People tried to understand his significance as a prophet or as Elijah, as a forerunner of God or as a forerunner of the Messiah Jesus. In the Synoptics we have forms of these identifications: They share the conviction that John the Baptist had come to prepare the way for Jesus and was the fulfilment of the promise of Elijah’s return. We will see later that the Gospel of John had a different perception of the Baptist, thus interpreting the Jesus-Tradition. And, like Heracleon, the early Church Fathers reacted to these different interpreta- tions of John in their authoritative sources and created their own understand- ing of the Baptist. The answers to the question “Who was John the Baptist?” are given as exegesis, either of the person himself or the...
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