John the Baptist | Biography
Here are John's greatest moments, told in the Bible's own words...
A wild prophet
"You bunch of snakes!"
John baptizes Jesus
John is beheaded
John was a cousin of Jesus, the son of rather aged parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. While Elizabeth was pregnant with John, she met Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, and John leapt within her womb.
John started preaching before Jesus. He was a wild figure, dressed in camel's hair and leather and eating locusts and wild honey. Large crowds came out to hear him where he was preaching in the Palestinian deserts.
He baptized his followers in water, which was rather controversial. Jews baptized Gentile converts to their faith as a sign of washing away their sins, but John was claiming that even Jews needed to repent of their sins before God.
When Jesus turned up to be baptized by John, John at first refused to do it, saying, "I ought to be baptized by you." John believed himself to be the warm-up act, preparing the way for the arrival of Jesus. "I am not good enough even to carry his sandals," he said.
What really got John in trouble was preaching against the king, Herod Antipas. He publicly attacked Herod for marrying his brother's wife (and his neice) Herodias. So Herod arrested him, and then Herodias got her daughter (whom Herod evidently also had a bit of a thing for) to dance so seductively before him that he agreed to have the Baptist's head cut off and presented to her on a plate.
John has two feast days in the Christian calendar: 24 June commemorates his birth, and 29 August his death. The latter is a strict fast in the Orthodox calendar, and since 1769 it has also been Remembrance Day in Russia.
When Jesus became a famous preacher, many people believed he was John the Baptist come back from the dead.
Many experts think John may have been an Essene, from the Qumran community which produced the Dead Sea scrolls.
Many of Jesus' disciples were former followers of John, but the Baptist's movement continued for years alongside the Christian one.
According to medieval legend, John escaped the massacre of the children in Bethlehem (when King Herod killed all boys under the age of two) because a mountain opened up to hide him and his mother.
In Western art, John is often shown pointing to a lamb, because of the incident where John called Jesus "the lamb of God". This image does not occur in the Eastern church, as it forbids the depiction of Christ as an animal.
John the Baptist is a common name in Catholic countries (e.g. Jean-Baptiste in France).
John is the patron saint of (among other things) bird dealers, convulsions, hail, motorways, Savannah Georgia, spasms, tailors, and of course baptism.
About 10 medieval churches claimed to have the head of John the Baptist, although 1st-century records only mention the one.
"No one ever born on this earth is greater than John. But whoever is least important in God's kingdom is greater than John."
Jesus (in Luke 7:28)
"Remember John the Baptist. It's all very well being a freelance evangelist, but it's no way to earn a living."
C.F.D. Moule (Baptist evangelist)
"If John the Baptist returned to denounce the sins of the world, they would cut off his head again."
Jacoponi da Todi (13th-century friar)
"He was a good man who commanded the Jews to live virtuous lives, to treat one another rightly and honour God, and therefore to be baptized."
Josephus (1st-century Jewish historian)
"John appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new... Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come."
St Augustine, 4th/5th century
"You are that John who baptized God."
St Anselm, 11th century