John Begins to Baptize

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Csesar, Luke iii. 1-18. John enters upon his work of preaching and baptiz- Matt. iii. 1-17. ing. The people throng to him from all parts of the Mark i. 4-11. land, whom he baptizes, and to whom he bears witness of the coming Messiah. After his ministry had continued John i. 32-34. several months, Jesus comes from Nazareth to the Jordan, Luke. iii. 21-22. and is baptized, and immediately the Holy Spirit descends upon Him.

The chronological questions connected with this date have been already discussed in the essay upon the time of the Lord's baptism. The mention by Luke (iii. 1, 2) of Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea, of Herod as tetrarch of Galilee, of his brother Philip as tetrarch of Iturea and of Trachonitis, of Lysanias as tetrarch of Abilene, and of Annas and Caiaphas as high priests, brings before us some historical points which demand our attention.

The will of Herod, dividing his territories amongst his sons, was, after a time, confirmed by Augustus. Archelaus became ruler of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria, with title of ethnarch, and with the promise of the title of king if he should rule to the satisfaction of the emperor.1 Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; and Herod Philip tetrarch of Gaulonitis, Trachonitis, and Paneas. The cities of Gadara, Gaza, and Hippo, Grecian cities, were joined to the province of Syria.

* Josephus, Antiq., 17. chaps. 8, 9, and 11.

The rule of Archelaus was short. In the tenth year of his government, (759,) upon the accusation of his brethren, and of the chief men of Samaria and Judea, he was summoned by the emperor to Rome, and, unable to defend himself against his accusers, he was deposed from his dignity and banished to Vienna in Gaul.1

After the deposition of Archelaus, Judea and Samaria were united to the province of Syria, of which P. S. Quirinius (Cyrenius) was made president. The immediate direction of affairs in Judea and Samaria was, however, given to an officer called a procurator. The powers of this officer were not exactly defined,2 and although subject in general to the president, yet in districts lying removed from the main province, large discretionary authority was necessarily put into his hands. A considerable number of troops were placed at his command, and in certain cases he had the power of life and death. The sixth in order of these procurators, or governors, was Pontius Pilate. He entered upon his office at the end of 778, or beginning of 779, and was removed 789.3

Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea for more than 40 years, (750-791,) and seems to have kept these districts in comparative peace. After his nephew, Herod Agrippa, had received from the Emperor Caligula the title of king, (790,) he was incited by his wife to go to Pome and seek the same dignity, but instead of obtaining it, he was banished to Lyons, in Gaul. His territories were subsequently given to Herod Agrippa. Nothing is recorded of Herod Antipas by Josephus that sets him before us in any very favorable light.

i Antiq., 17. 13. 2. 2 Winer, ii. 276.

3 Winer, ii. 261. Greswell, i. 345, makes him to have become governor in the middle of the summer of 779, and to have continued in office ten years and two or three months.

After lie had been tetrarch a considerable period, and when well advanced in years, he fell in love with the wife of his brother, Herod Philip, who was living as a private citizen at Jerusalem, (Matt. xiv. 3,) and married her, his former wife fleeing to her father, King Aretas. Not only for this act was he reproved by John the Baptist, "but for all the evil which he had done," (Luke hi. 19.) By our Lord he was called " a fox." He seems to have been of an easy, selfish temperament, fond of pleasure, unscrupulous, cunning, and superstitious. That he should have ruled so long in such stormy times shows at least that he had some political tact, and artfully managed to keep on friendly terms with his subjects on the one hand, and with the Romans on the other: He had a taste for building, and erected Tiberias upon the site of an older city, and named it in honor of the Emperor Tiberius. He rebuilt Sepphoris, a few miles north of Nazareth, and made it one of the most beautiful cities of Galilee.1

Herod Philip, to whom was assigned Batanea, Gaulonitis, Trachonitis, and the region around Paneas, was a prince of mild character, who devoted himself to the good of his subjects.3 He reigned thirty-seven years, (750-787,) and leaving no child at his death, his territories were annexed to the province of Syria. He also was fond of building, and rebuilt Paneas, and gave it the name of Caesarea, in honor of the emperor. He enlarged the city of Bethsaida, upon the sea of Galilee, and named it Julias, from Caesar's daughter.8

In connection with Lysanias and the tetrarchy of Abilene, we meet with some historical difficulties. It was formerly said by some critics that Luke had fallen into error, and referred to a Lysanias who, according to Josephus, had long before died, as contemporary with Pilate and Antipas and Philip. The accuracy of the Evangelist is now generally admitted ;l but a careful comparison of his statements with those of Josephus will show us why the name of a ruler is mentioned who did not rule in Palestine, nor stand in any apparent connection with the Gospel history.

i Josephus, Antiq., 18. 2. 1. 2 Antiq., 18. 4. 6.

a Antiq., 18. 2.1 j War, 2. 9. 1.

Herod the Great came into possession of his territories by degrees. He became king in 717 by the conquest of Jerusalem, but subsequent additions were made to his kingdom through the good will of Augustus, comprising Trachonitis and the region between it and Galilee. It is in connection with these additions that mention is made of one Zenodorus, who had farmed the domain of Lysanias,2 and who ruled over Trachonitis. This Lysanias was son of Ptolemy, king of Calchis, under Lebanon, and became hin> self king about 714. This prince was put to death by Antony, at the instigation of Cleopatra, about 720, and a part of his dominions given to her, and subsequently farmed by her to Herod.3 Other parts were farmed by Zenodorus. This man, plundering the Damascenes from the district of Trachonitis, Augustus deprived him of it, and gave command of it to Herod in 724. After the death of Zenodorus, he also gave to him the region between Trachonitis and Galilee, and some other of his possessions.4

Of the extent of this kingdom of Lysanias, or the names of its provinces, we have little knowledge. Calchis seems to have been its chief city. Robinson identifies this city with the present Anjar in the Bakaa, south of Baalbek, where considerable ruins still exist. Lichtenstein infers from a comparison of the several statements of Josephus, that beside Calchis, the kingdom embraced Trachonitis Iturea, and Batanea. Whether Abila was also embraced in it is doubtful, as it is not mentioned by Josephus. This

1 See Meyer in loco. 3 Josephus, War, 1. 20. 4.

a Antiq., 15. 4. 1. * Antiq., 15.10. 3.

city lay upon the Barada, some 20 miles from Damascus, and between the latter city and Calchis, and in part upon the site of the present Tillage Es Suk. Robinson (iii. 484) says : " The site is very definitely assigned by the ancient itineraries ; it lay upon one of the great roads from Damascus to the sea coast; and the place was marked by ruins, attesting its ancient splendor, and by a necropolis, perhaps more extensive and remarkable than any other in Syria." This position of Abila between Calchis and Damascus makes it probable that it was subject to Lysanias, as he is spoken of as a neighbor to the latter city,1 which would be inconsistent with the existence of a distinct principality between it and his own capital.

That part of the territories of Lysanias came into the possession of Herod, has been already stated. It is certain, however, that Calchis did not, nor, so far as we can judge, did Abila. Perhaps the latter and its territory remained under the rule of the family of Lysanias till it was made the seat of an independent tetrarchy. Of the formation of this tetrarchy Josephus gives us no notice. Whether it took place soon after the death of Herod, when his dominions were divided among his sons, oi\at a later period, is matter of conjecture. Its existence, however, a little later than the time spoken of by Luke, is distinctly recognized by Josephus in connection with Herod Agrippa. This prince, grandson of Herod the Great, and the Herod of the Acts of the Apostles, received from Caligula, 790, the tetrarchy of Philip, now dead, and also the tetrarchy of Lysanias.2 Thus these two tetrarchies, only some ten years after the period of which Luke speaks, had a contemporaneous existence, and were now brought together under the rule of Agrippa. Whether the tetrarch Lysanias was now dead without heirs, or had been deposed, we know not; but it appears that his territory was at the disposal of the emperor. Thus Abilene became for the first time a part of the Jewish kingdom, and continued such for several years. To the two tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias, Caligula added that of Herod Antipas, and subsequently Agrippa received from Claudius, Judea and Samaria, so that he reigned not only over all Palestine, but also over Abilene. As he died early, leaving a son, Herod Agrippa II., only 17 years old, his kingdom was again reduced to a Roman province.1 To this Agrippa II. was first given Calchis, and afterward he was transferred to the tetrarchy of Philip, comprising Batanea, Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis. " To these he added the dominions of Lysanias, and the province of which Varus had been president."2 Thus, for the second time, the tetrarchy of Lysanias became part of Jewish territory. Of its subsequent history nothing certain is known.

i Josephus, Antiq., 13. 16. 3. 2 Antiq., 18. 6. 10.

We can now see clearly the reason why Luke, writing after Abilene had been made a part of the Jewish kingdom, should have mentioned the fact, having apparently so little connection with Gospel history, that at the time when the Baptist appeared this tetrarchy was under the rule of Lysanias. It was an allusion to a former well known political division that had now ceased to exist, and was to his readers as distinct a mark of time as his mention of the tetrarchy of Antipas, or of Philip. This statement respecting Lysanias shows thus, when carefully examined, the accuracy of the Evangelist's information of the political history of his times, and should teach us to rely upon it even when unconfirmed by contemporaneous writers.3

Having mentioned the civil rulers, Luke proceeds to mention the ecclesiastical. "Annas and Caiaphaswere the high-priests."

1 Josephus, War, 2. 11. 6. 2 Josephus, War, 2. 12. 8.

3 See, in reference to this point, Wieseler, 174 j Lichtenstein, 130; Winer, i. 7 j Robinson, iii. 482.

Let us, therefore, consider the personal and official relations of these two men to each other.

Annas was made high-priest by Cyrenius, the Roman governor of Syria, in 760, but was deposed by Gratus 767. He was succeeded in office by Ismael, by his own son Eleazar, by Simon, and then by his son-in-law, Joseph Caiaphas.9 The latter was appointed 778, and held the office till 790. Afterward, several other sons of Annas became high-priests, and one of them, named Ananus, was in power when James, brother of the Lord, was slain.3

It thus appears that although Annas had been highpriest, yet that Caiaphas wTas actually such when the Baptist appeared, and that he continued in office during all the public life of Christ. According to the Mosaic institutions there could be but one high-priest at a time. The office was hereditary, and was held for life. As was to be expected after the Jews had fallen under bondage to the heathen nations, the high-priests, though nominally independent, became tools in the hands of their masters, and this high dignity was transferred from one to another, both by Herod and by the Roman governors, as their political interests demanded. Hence there were often living at the same time a number who had filled this office, and been deposed. Probably other ex-high-priests besides Annas were now living, and upon that ground equally well entitled as himself to the name. That he should be distinctively so called in the passage before us, does not then seem sufficiently explained by the fact that he had been high-priest some years before, and that he still retained the title among the people at large. Some ascribe the prominence given him to the fact that he stood high in popular estimation, and still exerted great influence; or that, as father-in-law of Caiaphas, he continued to direct public matters. Against this it may he said that Luke would scarcely have mentioned him in connection with the emperor, the governor, the tetrarchs, and the high-priest, unless he also was filling some high official position.

1 Tischendorf reads eiri apxiepetas Awa Kcl\ Kata^a, " Annas, high-priest, and Caiaphas." So Alford. Compare Acts iv. 6, where a like form of expression is used.

2 Josephus, Antiq., 18. 2. 2. 3 Euseb., ii. 23.

If, then, we conclude that Annas is not mentioned merely as an influential private person who had once been highpriest, what office did he fill ? The word ap^tepev?, highpriest, does not decide it, as it is itself of indefinite signification. Hug (followed by Friedlieb)1 supposes both Annas and Caiaphas to have held office at the same time, and to have officiated as high-priests in turn, one at one feast and the other at the next; or, more probably, one during one year and the other during the next. For this supposition there is no gobd ground, and it implies a tenure of office inconsistent with facts.8 Others therefore make Annas to have been the Nasi, or president of the Sanhedrim. Others, the vice-president, the office of president belonging to the high-priest. Others still suppose that he was the sagan, or vicarius of the high-priest, " in his absence to oversee, or in his presence to assist in the oversight of the affairs of the temple, and the service of the priests." 3 " The vicar of the high-priest, the next in dignity to him, and the vice-president of the Sanhedrim." 4 But the existence of such a deputy is doubtful.6 Some, finally, as Alford> referring to the fact that the Law directed the office to be held during life, suppose that Luke speaks of Annas as the lawful highpriest, one who, having held it, could not be legally deposed. Meyer thinks the Evangelist to have been ignorant who was the real high-priest, and therefore erroneously ascribes this title to Annas.

It seems, from the manner in which Annas is mentioned, not only by Luke but by John, that he did in fact hold some high official position, and this probably in connection with the Sanhedrim.

1 Archaologie, 73. 8 Josephus, Antiq., 18. 2. 2.

s Lightfoot, ix. 38. * Greswell, iii. 200. « Winer, i. 507.

This point will be further examined when we consider the part he took in the trial of the Lord. That, in times of such general confusion, when the laws of Moses respecting the high-priesthood were very little regarded, and offices became important according to the political capacity of those that filled them, the exact relations of Annas and Caiaphas to each other can be determined, is not to be expected. A like difficulty seems to exist in explaining the relations of Ananus and Joshua, mentioned by Josephus.1

The year during which John began his ministry was probably a Sabbatic year, (Ex. xxiii. 11.) According to Wieseler, such a year was that from Tisri 779 to Tisri 780. Greswell makes from 780-781 a Sabbatic year. (He admits, however, that the received principles of the modern Jewish reckoning would require him to place it a year earlier.) If this year was now observed by the Jews according to its original intent, it was a most appropriate time for the Baptist to begin his labors, the people having no burdensome agricultural tasks to occupy them, and being thus at liberty to attend upon his instructions.2

It is not improbable that John may have begun his labors as a preacher of the kingdom some time before he began to baptize. Some instruction as to the nature of the rite, and some exhortation to convince of its necessity, would naturally precede its administration. His preaching then need not have been confined to the banks of the Jordan, but may have begun in the wilderness, and only after he began to baptize did he remain in one place, (Luke iii. 3.) From the expression in Mark i. 4, " John did baptize in the wilderness," some have inferred that he baptized before he came to the Jordan.1 But the Jordan was included in the well-known designation " the desert." This desert, called in Matt. iii. 1 " the desert of Judea," and which is mentioned in Judges i. 16, seems to have comprised all the region between the mountains of Judea on the one side, and the Dead Sea and the lower parts of the Jordan on the other. According to some, this wilderness of Judah stretched along on the west side of the Jordan, from the end of the Dead Sea to Scythopolis.

i Life, 38. 2; War, 4. S. 9. * Ewald, Alterthiimer, 414.

The place where John baptized was Bethany, on the east side of Jordan, (John i. 28,) The textus receptus says Bethabara, but Bethany is generally admitted to be the right reading.2

The site of the place having been early forgotten, Origen conjectured that Bethabara must be meant, and thus this reading found its way into the text.3 Some suppose that at different times the same place may have had both names. Bethany means, according to some, domus navis, " a house of ships," or " ferry-house." 4 Its position is uncertain. According to Stanley, it was the northern ford near Succoth, which is some thirty miles north of Jericho, (Gen. xxxiii. 17, Judges vii. 24.) It is strangely placed by Lightfoot between Lake Merom and the Sea of Galilee. It was doubtless at one of the fords of the Jordan, not far from Jericho, and thus in the great eastern line of travel, as the people came to the feasts. It could not have been at the ford nearest the mouth of the river, as the depth is too great to allow a passage, except by swimming ;5 but was probably that nearly east of Jericho at the mouth of Wady Shaib, and which is now the ordinary ford. Below this is the ruined convent of St. John the Baptist, near which the Latin pilgrims bathe ; and two or three miles lower still is the bathing place of the Greek pilgrims.

i So Lightfoot. 2 So Teschendorf, Alford.

3 See Alford's note in loco j contra, Stanley, 304, note 3. * Winer, i, 167. 5 Robinson, i. 156.

Both affirm that their respective bathing places were hallowed by the baptism of the Lord, and by the passage of the ark of the covenant.1 Arculf (a. D. 700) says : " A wooden cross stands in the Jordan on the spot where our Lord was baptized. The river here is about as broad as a man can throw a stone with a sling. A stone bridge, raised on arches, reaches from the bank of the river to the cross where people bathe. A little church stands at the brink of the water, on the spot wThere our Lord is said to have laid His clothes when He entered the river % On the higher ground is a large monastery of monks, and a church dedicated to St. John."2 Willibald also speaks of the cross as " standing in the middle of the river, where there is small depth of water, and a rope is extended to it over the Jordan. At the feast of the Epiphany the infirm and sick come hither, and holding by the rope, dip in the water."

Many in modern times have desired to place the Lord's baptism at the spot where the Israelites under Joshua crossed the Jordan, (Josh. iii. 16.) Thus Lightfoot says: " There is reason to believe that John was baptizing in the very place where the Israelites passed over ; and that our Lord was baptized in that spot where the ark rested in the bed of the river." But it is generally agreed that it is impossible to determine the precise spot where they crossed. Such exact local coincidences are unimportant. It is enough that the places were not far removed from each other. Ffoulkes3 supposes John to have baptized at three distinct fords of the Jordan: first, at the lower ford near Jericho, to which the people of Judea and Jerusalem would naturally come ; second, higher up the river at Bethabara, to which the people of Galilee and the northern parts of the land came, and where Jesus was baptized; third, still higher up, at iEnon, a ford less frequented, but where was abundance of water. It is more likely, however, that an abundance of water should have been found at the lower than the upper ford.

i Lynch, 255; Bitter, Theil xv., 536. * Early Travels, 8.

s Smith's Bib. Diet., i. 1127.

The recognition of Jesus by John, when the former came to be baptized, is to be explained, not by the fact of prior acquaintance,1 for such acquaintance is by ho means certain,3 but by the immediate revelation of God. John knew the nature of his own mission, as the herald of the Messiah, but he did not know who the Messiah was, nor when He should appear. The mark by which he should recognize Him was one to be given at a fitting time, the supernatural descent of the Spirit upon Him, (John i. 33.) How far John may have had knowledge of the events connected with Jesus' birth, or been brought into personal intercourse with Him, does not appear.8 It is, however, very much to be questioned, even if he knew Him personally, whether, either through his own parents, or Joseph and Mary, he had learned any thing of His miraculous conception, or Divine character. Such mysteries were too sacred to be prematurely revealed. It does not follow, as Alford supposes, (Matt. iii. 14,) "from the nature of his relationship to the Lord, that he could not but know those events which had accompanied His birth," nor is there any proof that, prior to the time when they met at the Jordan, John looked upon Him as the Messiak. At this interview, the whole appearance of Jesus, His demeanor and language, so manifested His exalted character to the discerning eye of the Baptist, illumined by the Spirit, that he had an immediate presentiment who He was, and could say to Him, " I have need to be baptized of thee." Such supernatural discernment of character was sometimes given to the old prophets. So Samuel discerned the future king in Saul, and afterward in David.4 Still it

was not till John had seen the appointed sign, the descent of the Spirit, that he could bear witness to Jesus as the Messiah.1

The placing of the Lord's baptism, not at the beginning, but during or at the end of His Judean ministry,2 is whollyarbitrary.

Some have inferred from Luke hi. 21, that the descent of the Spirit was in the presence of the multitude, and visible to all.3 But it was a sign peculiar to John, for he was to bear witness to others, who should receive his witness. And thus he says, (John i. 32-34,) "I saw the Spirit"— " And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God." Others were to believe, not because they saw, but because he bare record.

1 So Hales, Townsend.

* Ewald, Christus, 162; Krafffc, 68; Ellicott, 107. s Ebrard, 258.

* 1 Sam. ix. 17; xvi. 12. Compare also Luke i. 41, when John, yet a babe in his mother's womb, leaps for joy at the salutation of the Virgin Mary.