The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist
In this study, Nir radically changes the focus for John the Baptist research. All our sources about John, she argues, tell us not about a historical person but lead us invariably to a character who exists essentially in early Christian literature.
Current research on John the Baptist is fixated on reconstructing the historical John against the religious, social and ideological environment of first-century CE Judaism. The consensus is that this John originally lived and operated within Jewish society without any connection with the fledgling Christian community and was made the Messiah’s forerunner only in later Christian tradition.
In this study, Nir radically changes the focus for John the Baptist research. All our sources about John, she argues, tell us not about a historical person but lead us invariably to a character who exists essentially in early Christian literature. The Gospels are sources for Christian theology’s world of beliefs, ideas and messianic perception in the first century, and its materials about John the Baptist are inevitably the handiwork of Christian tradition and its theological tendencies.
Whatever we are told about John, how he looked, the baptism he instituted, the geographical arena of his activity, the speeches he made, his birth and death, is understandable — whether as isolated details or in their integration into a whole picture — only against the background of Christian theology and its Christology.
As against prevailing research on John the Baptist, which aims to break through the Gospel tradition and expose his original Jewishness, Nir challenges us to draw lines of separation between John and Judaism, affirming his difference from Judaism.
This Christian John, whom we can rightfully call the first Christian believer, is the only John the Baptist we can access.