|John the Baptist|
|Forerunner, Precursor, Baptist, Martyr|
|Born||c. 6–2 BCE|
|Died||c. 36 CE|
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Eastern Catholic Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Islam, Mandeanism|
|Major shrine||Church of St. John the Baptist, Jerusalem|
|Feast||June 24 (Nativity), August 29 (Beheading), January 7 (Synaxis, Eastern Orthodox), Thout 2 ( Coptic Orthodox Church)|
|Attributes||Cross, sheep, camel-skin robe|
|Patronage||patron saint of French Canada, Newfoundland, Puerto Rico, Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Florence, Turin, Porto, Genoa, Jordan, Xewkija and many other places|
John the Baptist (Hebrew: יוחנן המטביל, Yo-hanan ha-matbil, Arabic: يحيى Yahyá or يوحنا المعمدان Yūhannā al-mamadan, Aramaic: ܝܘܚܢܢ Yokhanan)  was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure who led a movement of Baptism at the Jordan River. John was an historical figure who lived until the year 36 CE  and followed the example of previous Hebrew prophets, living austerely, challenging sinful rulers, calling for repentance, and promising God's justice. John is regarded as a prophet in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Mandaeism.
Some scholars maintain that he was influenced by the Essenes, who were semi-ascetic, expected an apocalypse, and practiced rituals conferring strongly with baptism, although there is no direct evidence to substantiate this. John's baptism was a purification rite for repentant sinners, performed in "living water" (in this case a running river) in accord with Jewish custom. John anticipated a messianic figure who would be greater than himself. Jesus was among those whom John baptized. Jesus may have been a follower of John. Herod Antipas saw John as a threat and had him executed. Many Christian theologians believe that the ministry of Jesus followed John's, and some of Jesus' early followers had previously been followers of John. Both John and Jesus reportedly preached at times of great political, social, and religious conflict.
Accounts of John in the New Testament are not incompatible with the account in Josephus, whose authority is respected. In the New Testament Jesus is the one whose coming John foretold. Herod has John imprisoned for denouncing his marriage, and he is later executed. Christians commonly refer to John as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, since in the Gospels, John announces Jesus' coming. He is also identified with the prophet Elijah, and is described by the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus (Jesus' mother, the Virgin Mary, was a cousin to John's mother, Elizabeth).
Because Scripture described John as endowed with prenatal grace, the feast day of his birth (June 24) became celebrated more solemnly than that marking his martyrdom (August 29). In art, John's head often appears on a platter because that is what Herod's stepdaughter, Salome, is said to have asked for. A theme of Christian art is the Beheading of St. John the Baptist. He is also depicted as an ascetic wearing camel hair and with a staff and scroll inscribed "Ecce Agnus Dei", or bearing a book or dish with a lamb on it. In Orthodox icons, he often has angel's wings, since Mark 1:2 describes him as ἄγγελος (angelos) (messenger).
All four Gospels record John the Baptist's ministry. They depict him as proclaiming Christ's arrival. In the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), Jesus is baptized. In Matthew and John, John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the one he had foretold.
The Gospel of Luke includes an account of John's infancy, introducing him as the son of Zachariah, an old man, and his wife Elizabeth, who was sterile. According to this account the birth of John was foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, while Zachariah was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem; since Zachariah is described as a priest of the course of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, as one of the daughters of Aaron this would make John a descendant of Aaron on both his father's and mother's side.
The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was conceived when Elizabeth was about six months pregnant; when her cousin, the Virgin Mary, came to tell her about her news, Elizabeth's unborn child 'jumped for joy' in her womb. Zachariah had lost his speech at the behest and prophecy of the angel Gabriel, and it was restored on the occasion of Zachariah naming John. On the basis of Luke's account, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas. According to Luke, Jesus and John the Baptist were related, their mothers being cousins; there is no mention of this in the other Gospels, and the scholar Raymond E. Brown has described the relationship as 'of dubious historicity'; Géza Vermes has called it 'artificial and undoubtedly Luke's creation'.
The many similarities between the accounts of the birth of Samuel in the Old Testament have led scholars to suggest that this is the model for the Gospel of Luke story of the birth of John and of the annunciation and birth of Jesus.
All four canonical gospels relate to John's ministry, his preaching and baptism in the River Jordan. Most notably he is the one who recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and on Jesus' request, baptized him. The baptism marked the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and (most clearly) Luke relate that Jesus came from Galilee to John and was baptized by him, whereupon the Spirit descended upon him and a voice from Heaven told him he was God's Son. Their lives (e.g., births) are believed to have been similar, although in Christianity, John is thought of as the last prophet and Jesus as the Messiah.
The problem that Jesus, considered by Christians to be without sin, received John's baptism, which was for the repentance of sins (Mark 1:4), is addressed in the Gospel of Matthew's account, which has John refusing to baptize Jesus, saying, "I need to be baptized by you," until Jesus convinces him to baptize him nonetheless (Matthew 3:13-15). In the Gospel of John John does not baptize Jesus but introduces Jesus to his disciples as the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29-36).
The Gospel of John reports that Jesus' disciples were baptizing and that a debate broke out between some of the disciples of John and another Jew about purification with John explaining that Jesus "must become greater" while he, John, "must become less" (John 3:22-36). The Gospel of John then points out that Jesus' disciples were baptizing more people than John (John 4:2). Later, the Gospel relates Jesus regarding John as "a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light". (John 5:35).
The book of Acts portrays the disciples of John as eventually merging into the followers of Jesus (Acts 18:24-19:6), a development not reported by the Gospels except for the early case of Andrew, Simon Peter's brother (John 1:35-42). On various occasions the Gospels relate John denying any claim to be the Messiah and clearly acknowledging his inferiority to Jesus. However, scholars such as Harold W. Attridge contend that John's status as a "self-conscious and deliberate forerunner of Jesus" is likely to be an invention by early Christians, arguing that "for the early church it would have been something of an embarrassment to say that Jesus, who was in their minds superior to John the Baptist, had been baptized by him."
According to the canonical Gospels, John the Baptist's public ministry was brought to a close when he was imprisoned on orders of Herod Antipas. The synoptic Gospels state that Herod Antipas reacted to John's condemnation of his marriage to Herodias, the former wife of his half-brother Herod II. Josephus locates John's imprisonment in the fortress of Machaerus on the southern extremity of Peraea, nine miles (14 km) east of the Dead Sea (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XVIII:5:1–2). Matthew relates that the imprisoned John sent messengers to Jesus to ask him whether he was the Messiah. Jesus indirectly answered in the affirmative and described John in terms of a return of the prophet Elijah (Matthew 11:2-15).
Regarding John's death, Josephus states that Herod had John killed to preempt a possible uprising. Matthew links John's death as well with Herodias, as he related that her daughter Salome so much delighted Antipas with a dance that he vowed to grant her any wish to which, after asking her mother (Herodias), she demanded the head of John the Baptist. (Matthew 14:6-8) The Gospels date John's death before the crucifixion of Jesus. Josephus places John's death no later than 36 AD. Neither Josephus nor the Gospels state where John was buried, though the Gospels state that John's disciples took his body and placed it in a tomb and then told Jesus all that had occurred, to which Jesus replied that there had been no greater son of woman than John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12). In the time of Julian the Apostate, however, his tomb was shown at Samaria, where the inhabitants opened it and burned part of his bones. The rest of the alleged remains were saved by some Christians, who carried them to an abbot of Jerusalem named Philip.
Christians believe that John the Baptist had a specific role ordained by God as forerunner or precursor of Jesus, who they understand to be the foretold Messiah. The New Testament Gospels speak of this role. In Luke 1:17 the role of John is referred to as being "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." In Luke 1:76 as "...thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways and in Luke 1:77 as being "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins."
There are several passages within the Old Testament which are interpreted by Christians as being prophetic of John the Baptist in this role. These include a passage in the Book of Malachi 3:1 that refers to a prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord:
and also at the end of the next chapter in Malachi 4:5-6 where it says,
The Jews of Jesus' day expected Elijah to come before the Messiah; indeed, some modern Jews continue to await Elijah's coming as well, as in the Cup of Elijah the Prophet in the Passover Seder. This is why the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 17:10, 'Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?.' The disciples are then told by Jesus that Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist,
As with other passages in Josephus relating to Christian themes concern remains over whether the passage was part of Josephus's original text or instead a later interpolation. Skeptical writer Frank Zindler argues that the passage is an interpolation by a Sabian. The passage dates back to at least the early third century as it is quoted by Origen in Contra Celsum. It was also quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in the fourth century.
According to this passage, the execution of John was blamed for a defeat Herod suffered ca. 36 CE. Divergences between the passage's presentation and the Biblical accounts of John include baptism for those whose souls have already been "purified beforehand by righteousness" is for purification of the body, not general repentance of sin (Mark 1:4). Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan differentiates between Josephus's account of John and Jesus like this: "John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise." To get baptized, Crossan writes, you went only to John; to stop the movement one only needed to stop John (therefore his movement ended with his death). Jesus invited all to come and see how he and his companions had already accepted the Government of God, entered it and were living it. Such a communal praxis was not just for himself, but could survive without him, unlike John's movement.
The Eastern Orthodox believe that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, thus serving as a bridge between that period of revelation and the New Covenant. They also teach that, following his death, John descended into Hades and there once more preached that Jesus the Messiah was coming, so he was the Forerunner of Christ in death as he had been in life. According to Sacred Tradition, John the Baptist appears at the time of death to those who have not heard the Gospel of Christ, and preaches the Good News to them, that all may have the opportunity to be saved. Orthodox churches will often have an icon of St. John the Baptist in a place of honor on the iconostasis, and he is frequently mentioned during the Divine Services. Every Tuesday throughout the year is dedicated to his memory.
In addition to the above, September 5 is the commemoration of Zechariah and Elisabeth, St. John's parents. The Russian Orthodox Church observes October 12 as the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina (1799).
The Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. John the Baptist on two feast days:
According to ancient tradition, the burial-place of John the Baptist was at Sebaste in Samaria, and mention is made of his relics being honored there around the middle of the fourth century. The historians Rufinus and Theodoretus record that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate around 362, the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics were carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria, where on May 27, 395, they were laid in the basilica that was newly dedicated to the Forerunner on the former site of the temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued, nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and St. Jerome bears witness to miracles being worked there.
What became of the head of John the Baptist is difficult to determine. Nicephorus and Symeon Metaphrastes say that Herodias had it buried in the fortress of Machaerus (in accordance with Josephus). Other writers say that it was interred in Herod's palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine I, and thence secretly taken to Emesa, in Phoenicia, where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453. However, the decapitation cloth of St. John is kept at the Aachen Cathedral. The Coptic Christian Orthodox Church also claim to hold the relics of St. John the Baptist. These are to be found in a monastery in Lower Egypt between Cairo and Alexandria. It is possible, with permission from the monks, to see the original tomb where the remains were found. An obscure and surprising claim relates to the town of Halifax in West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, where the Baptist's head appears on the official coat-of-arms. A legend first recorded in the late 16th century and reported in Camden's 'Britannia' stated that the first religious settlers of the district brought the 'face' of John the Baptist with them and this accounts for the town's place-name – 'halig' (holy) and 'fax' (face). 
Over the centuries, there have been many discrepancies in the various legends and claimed relics throughout the Christian world. Several different locations claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. Among the various claimants are:
Istanbul claims to possess the saint's arm and a piece of his skull in the Topkapi Palace, as does the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt, while John's right hand, with which he baptised Jesus, is said to be in the possession of the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje monastery in Montenegro, and also at the Romanian skete of the Forerunner on Mount Athos. Armenians believe that Gandzasar Monastery's Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in Nagorno Karabakh, too contains or contained in the past St. John's head. A discussion about how St. John's head ended up in medieval Armenia's province of Artsakh, and in Gandzasar, can be found in the History of the Land of Aghvank, a collection of texts attributed to the medieval Armenian historian Movses Kaghankatvatsi. The fourth-century Armenian Monasery of Surb Karapet (Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, now in southeastern Turkey) established by Saint Gregory the Illuminator contained the relics of Saint John the Baptist; its fate is unclear after the complete destruction of the church by the Turkish army.
An Armenian Apostolic Church, "St. John's" at Chinsurah, West Bengal, India, also claims to possess a portion of the hand of St. John. Each year on "Chinsurah Day" in the month of January, the Armenians of Calcutta make a pilgrimage to this Church and during the mass the pilgrims are blessed with this hand. During the year, the relic is kept at the Armenian Church, Calcutta.
John the Baptist is known as Yahya in Arabic and in the Qur'an. The Qur'an, in the sura Maryam, identifies John as the son of Zachariah and maternal cousin of Jesus. It relates an account similar to that of the Gospel of Luke, including the barrenness of Zachariah's unnamed wife and his doubts, though Zachariah is not described as actually mute but only that the sign of the coming of John was that he would not speak for three nights. John, whose tidings are foretold by the angels, is exhorted to hold fast to the Scripture and was given wisdom by God while still a child. (Surah 19:7-12). He is described as "pure", "devout", "dutiful towards his parents" and as "not arrogant or rebellious" (Surah 19:7-15) and is called "a Prophet of the Righteous" coming "to confirm the Word from Allah". (Surah 3:39)
John the Baptist plays a large part in some Mandaean writings, especially those dating from the Islamic period. Mandaeans highly revere him and may possibly have some remote connection with his original disciples. They believe John the Baptist, called Yahya in the Sidra d-Yahia ("Book of John"), was the last and greatest of the prophets. While Mandaeans agree that he baptized Jesus (Issa), they reject the latter as either a saviour or prophet. They view John as the only true Messiah. According to the text of the Ginza Rba, John died at the hand of an angel. The angel appeared as a three-year-old child, coming to John for baptism. John knew the angel for what it was, and that once he touched its hand, he would die immediately. John performed the baptism anyway, and died in the process. Afterward, the angel covered John's body with mud.
According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, latter-day revelation confirms the biblical account and also makes known additional events in the ministry of John the Baptist. According to this belief, revelation reveals that John was "ordained by an angel," when he was 8 days of age, to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews and to prepare a people for the Lord. They also claim that he was baptized while yet in his childhood.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that John the Baptist appeared on the banks of the Susquehanna River near Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (present-day Oakton), as a resurrected being, to Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829, and ordained them to the Aaronic priesthood. According to LDS doctrine, John the Baptist's ministry has operated in three dispensations: he was the last of the prophets under the law of Moses; he was the first of the New Testament prophets; and he was sent to confer the Aaronic priesthood in our day, the dispensation of the fulness of times. They also believe John's ministry was foretold by two prophets whose teachings are included in the Book of Mormon: Lehi and his son, Nephi (Book of Mormon 1 Nephi 11:27; Nephi 31:4-18;).
There are numerous quotations in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith mentioning John the Baptist. He is regarded by Bahá'ís as a lesser Prophet. Bahá'u'lláh claimed that His Forerunner, the Báb, was the spiritual return of John the Baptist. In His letter to Pope Pius IX, Bahá'u'lláh wrote:
"O followers of the Son! We have once again sent John unto you, and He, verily, hath cried out in the wilderness of the Bayán: O peoples of the world! Cleanse your eyes! The Day whereon ye can behold the Promised One and attain unto Him hath drawn nigh! O followers of the Gospel! Prepare the way! The Day of the advent of the Glorious Lord is at hand! Make ready to enter the Kingdom. Thus hath it been ordained by God, He Who causeth the dawn to break."
In Gnosticism, John the Baptist was a "personification" of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. As an Old Testament prophet, Elijah did not know the True God (the God of the New Testament), and thus had to be reincarnated in Gnostic theology. As predicted by the Old Testament prophet Malachi, Elijah must "come first" to herald the coming of Jesus Christ. Modern anthroposophy, initiated by Rudolf Steiner, concurs with the idea that the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah, in line with the Synoptic Gospels (e.g. Mark 9:11-13, Matthew 11:13-14, Luke 7:27), although the Gospel of John explicitly denies this (John 1:21). Furthermore, after his beheading at Machaerus his soul is said to have become the inspiring group genius of Christ's disciples. According to Steiner, the painter Raphael and the poet Novalis were more recent incarnations of John the Baptist.
The Unification Church teaches that God intended that John help Jesus during his public ministry in Judea. In particular, John should have done everything in his power to persuade the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. He was to become Jesus' greatest disciple. John's failure to do so was the chief obstacle to the fulfillment of Jesus' mission.
John has been one of the saints most frequently appearing in Christian art. The Baptism of Christ was one of the earliest scenes from the Life of Christ to be frequently depicted in Early Christian art, and John's tall thin, even gaunt, and bearded figure is already established by the 5th century. Only he and Jesus are consistently shown with long hair from Early Christian times, when the apostles generally have trim classical cuts; in fact John is more consistently depicted in this way than Jesus. In Byzantine art the composition of the Deesis came to be included in every Eastern Orthodox church, as remains the case to this day. Here John and the Theotokos (Mary) flank a Christ Pantocrator and intercede for humanity; in many ways this is the equivalent of Western Crucifixions on roods and elsewhere, where John the Evangelist takes the place of John the Baptist (except in the idiosyncratic Isenheim Altarpiece). John the Baptist is very often shown on altarpieces designed for churches dedicated to him, or where the donor patron was named for him or there was some other connection of patronage - John was the patron saint of Florence, among many other cities, which means he features among the supporting saints in many important works.
12th century Byzantine Deesis
11th century Baptism of Christ with a typical medieval solution to the problem of depicting the river.
A number of narrative scenes from his life were often shown on the predella of altarpieces dedicated to John, and other settings, notably the large series in grisaille fresco in the Chiostro del Scalzo, which was Andrea del Sarto's largest work, and the frescoed Life by Ghirlandajo in the Tornabuoni Chapel, both in Florence. There is another important fresco cycle by Filippo Lippi in Prato Cathedral. These include the typical scenes: the Annunciation to Zechariah, John's birth, his naming by his father, the Visitation, John's departure for the desert, his preaching in the desert, the Baptism of Christ, John before Herod, the dance of Samome, and his beheading.
His birth, which unlike the Nativity of Jesus allowed a relatively wealthy domestic interior to be shown, became increasingly popular as a subject in the late Middle Ages, with depictions by Jan van Eyck (?) in the Turin-Milan Hours and Ghirlandajo in the Tornabuoni Chapel being among the best known. His execution, a Church feast-day, was often shown, and by the 15th century scenes such as the dance of Salome became popular, sometimes, as in an engraving by Israhel van Meckenem, the interest of the artist is clearly in showing the life of Herod's court, given contemporary dress, as much as the martyrdom of the saint. Salome bearing John's head on a platter equally became a subject for the Northern Renaissance taste for images of glamourous but dangerous women (Delilah, Judith and others), and was often painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder and engraved by the Little Masters. These images remained popular into the Baroque, with Carlo Dolci painting at least three versions. John preaching, in a landscape setting, was a popular subject in Dutch art from Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his successors.
The Annunciation to Zachary, as usual shown officiating at the Temple in Jerusalem. Tornabuoni Chapel
John preaching in the wilderness, a 19th century depiction
As a child (of varying age), he is sometimes shown from the 15th century in family scenes from the life of Christ such as the Presentation of Christ, the Marriage of the Virgin and the Holy Kinship. Leonardo da Vinci's versions of the Virgin of the Rocks were influential in establishing a Renaissance fashion for variations on the Madonna and Child that included John, probably intended to depict the cousin's reunion in Egypt, when after Jesus's Flight to Egypt John was believed to have been carried to join him by an angel. Raphael in particular painted many compositions of the subject, such as the Alba Madonna, La belle jardinière, Aldobrandini Madonna, Madonna della seggiola, Madonna dell'Impannata, which were among his best known works. John was also often shown by himself as an older child or adolescent, usually already wearing his distinctive dress and carrying a long thin wooden cross - another theme influenced by Leonardo, whose equivocal composition, reintroducing the camel-skin dress, was developed by Raphael Titian and Guido Reni among many others. Often he is accompanied by a lamb, especially in the many Early Netherlandish paintings which needed this attribute as he wore normal clothes. Caravaggio painted an especially large number of works including John, from at least five largely nude youths attributed to him, to three late works on his death - the great Execution in Malta, and two sombre Salomes with his head, one in Madrid, and one in London.
The death of John remained a popular subject throughout the Baroque period, and then enjoyed a considerable revival at the end of the 19th century with Symbolist painters such as Gustave Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes (National Gallery, London). Oscar Wilde's play Salome was illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley, giving rise to some of his most memorable images.
John is patron saint of Xewkija-Gozo, Malta, which remember him with a great feast on the Sunday nearest to June 24. A band march takes place on Thursday of that that week and is the best one in Gozo. Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Puerto Rico, and its capital city San Juan bears his name. In 1521, the island was given its formal name "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", following the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island, honouring John the Baptist. The indistinct use of "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto Rico" for calling both the city and the island led to a reversal in practical use by most inhabitants due largely to a map-making error. Therefore by 1746 the name for the city (Puerto Rico) had become that of the entire island, while the name for the island (San Juan Bautista) had become the name for the city. The official motto for the island of Puerto Rico also references the saint, Joannes Est Nomen Eius (translated, "John is his name").
He is also a patron saint of Jordan, French Canada, and Newfoundland. The Canadian cities of St. John's, Newfoundland (1497) and Saint John, New Brunswick (1604) were both named in his honor. In the UK Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Penzance, Cornwall. His feast day is June 24, celebrated in Quebec as the Fête Nationale du Québec, and in Newfoundland as Discovery Day. Also on the night from June 23 to 24, Saint John is celebrated as the patron saint of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. An article from June 2004 in The Guardian, remarked that "Porto's Festa de São João is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside the country". He is also patron of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Malta, Florence, and Genoa, Italy. Saint John the Baptist is also the patron saint of Jordan, his beheading is believed to have taken place in Machaerus in central Jordan.
The Baptistines are the name given to a number of religious orders dedicated to the memory of John the Baptist. Saint John is also the patron saint of Lian, Batangas, San Juan, Metro Manila (Philippines) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston which comprises the entire state of South Carolina. St. John the Baptist is (along with St. John the Evangelist) claimed as a Patron Saint by the fraternal society of Free and Accepted Masons (better known as the Freemasons).
In many Mediterranean countries the summer solstice is dedicated to St. John. The associated ritual is very similar to midsummer celebrations on the Anglo-Saxon world inspired in the Celtic festivity of Samhain.
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John the Baptist
the "forerunner of our Lord." We have but fragmentary and imperfect accounts of him in the Gospels. He was of priestly descent. His father, Zacharias, was a priest of the course of Abia (1Chr 24:10), and his mother, Elisabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron (Lk 1:5). The mission of John was the subject of prophecy (Mt 3:3; Isa 40:3; Mal 3:1). His birth, which took place six months before that of Jesus, was foretold by an angel. Zacharias, deprived of the power of speech as a token of God's truth and a reproof of his own incredulity with reference to the birth of his son, had the power of speech restored to him on the occasion of his circumcision (Lk 1:64). After this no more is recorded of him for thirty years than what is mentioned in Lk 1:80. John was a Nazarite from his birth (Lk 1:15; Num 6:1ff). He spent his early years in the mountainous tract of Judah lying between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea (Mt 3:1ff).
At length he came forth into public life, and great multitudes from "every quarter" were attracted to him. The sum of his preaching was the necessity of repentance. He denounced the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "generation of vipers," and warned them of the folly of trusting to external privileges (Lk 3:8). "As a preacher, John was eminently practical and discriminating. Self-love and covetousness were the prevalent sins of the people at large. On them, therefore, he enjoined charity and consideration for others. The publicans he cautioned against extortion, the soldiers against crime and plunder." His doctrine and manner of life roused the entire south of Palestine, and the people from all parts flocked to the place where he was, on the banks of the Jordan. There he baptized thousands unto repentance.
The fame of John reached the ears of Jesus in Nazareth (Mt 3:5), and he came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of John, on the special ground that it became him to "fulfil all righteousness" (Mt 3:15). John's special office ceased with the baptism of Jesus, who must now "increase" as the King come to his kingdom. He continued, however, for a while to bear testimony to the Messiahship of Jesus. He pointed him out to his disciples, saying, "Behold the Lamb of God." His public ministry was suddenly (after about six months probably) brought to a close by his being cast into prison by Herod, whom he had reproved for the sin of having taken to himself the wife of his brother Philip (Lk 3:19). He was shut up in the castle of Machaerus, a fortress on the southern extremity of Peraea, 9 miles east of the Dead Sea, and here he was beheaded. His disciples, having consigned the headless body to the grave, went and told Jesus all that had occurred (Mt 14:3ff). John's death occurred apparently just before the third Passover of Jesus' ministry. Jesus himself testified regarding him that he was a "burning and a shining light" (Jn 5:35).
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