In other news today, a popular prophet who had a longstanding ministry by the Jordan River where he baptized the repentant was executed by beheading, under the orders of King Herod.
John, whose nickname was “the Baptizer,” was known for his unusual clothing and eating habits, along with a fiery style of preaching reminiscent of Israel’s prophetic tradition.
In recent months, John’s ministry had taken an unusual turn. His message focused more and more upon the arrival of a Messiah-King who he believed would usher in the kingdom of God. He spent the last months of his life in prison due to his vocal criticism of King Herod’s marriage arrangements.
Here is how people in Galilee and Jerusalem responded to the death of this controversial prophet.
Elam the Essene: We are deeply disturbed to hear of the demise of this beloved prophet in Israel. The death of John the Baptist is a reminder that the “sons of darkness” are at war with the “sons of life.” We recommend that our fellow Israelites take measures to separate themselves from the darkness of our world, to cultivate personal spirituality, and wait for God’s intervention. However much we agree with John’s assessment of King Herod’s sin, we disagree with his decision to go public with his criticism. The piety of John the Baptist would have been preserved had he chosen to cultivate his own personal holiness rather than meddle in temporal affairs.
Philip the Pharisee: John was a prophet who exerted an enormous amount of influence among our people. We commend him for his stance toward King Herod’s sin, but because he also spoke harshly toward those of us who admirably seek to apply the Torah to everyday life, his legacy is mixed. John had a high view of God’s written Word, but he often dismissed our oral traditions. He implied that the holiest of Israel are just as guilty before God as the people who oppress us. He implied that we are all sinners. Had he been wiser, he could have avoided this terrible fate by being more sensitive to the needs and feelings of his listeners. He was unnecessarily combative toward the righteous people who likely would have supported him, and we believe this contributed to his execution.
Samuel the Sadducee: The beheading of John the Baptist should serve as a cautionary tale to our Jewish people of what happens when we bring our personal religious beliefs into political affairs. To speak boldly about King Herod’s marriage arrangement was a terrible mistake, perhaps due to John’s reliance on the prophetic tradition of Israel instead of the Books of Moses. We are called to practice our religion, not call into question the ruling authorities or the sexual practices of other people. We recommend that our people focus on meeting the needs of the disadvantaged and not be distracted by such unimportant matters.
Jesus of Nazareth: Among those born of women no one greater than John the Baptist has appeared.