Dialoguing about John the Baptist: Josephus' description continued (Pt. 3a)

Icon of John the Baptist; artist unknown.

Icon of John the Baptist; artist unknown.

I apologize for the long delay in responding to Howard Pepper's last post in our dialogue (see Part 2b). He makes quite a few remarks worth addressing here in this posts and asks several questions that at this point should serve as teasers for future entries. First, as regards the size of the Baptist's following, I'm hesitant to provide a number, but it is likely that many people must have followed the man and if the Gospels are any indication there were large disillusioned crowds seeking a new leader once the Baptist was executed (see Jesus' response to the Baptist's arrest and execution). Elsewhere, I've compared the Baptist's following with others mentioned by Josephus, namely, "the Egyptian" and Theudas (see The Proclamation of John the Baptist). This may be a useful parallel. Howard mentions the numbers of those associated with the Pharisees and Essenes. I don't know that we can compare the Baptist's following to those movements, but in Antiquities 20.8.169-172 "the Egyptian" has a very large following, enough for there to be four hundred killed and two hundred captured. If we assume there were those who escaped, and if we assume Josephus' numbers have ball park accuracy, then we'd have several hundred people willing to follow this man up the Mount of Olives. He may have had other followers for a time who were unwilling to go this far at the end, so maybe he gained a thousand or so followers? (Note: in Wars 2.13.261 he says the Egyptian convinced thirty thousand men to follow him. This seems quite excessive. I'd trust the numbering of Antiquities far easier.) This was enough to concern the authorities. Theudas' following at the Jordan River goes with numbering, but it was enough to gain a response of some sort, but who knows if this was a few hundred, less, more? 

Now to Howard's other questions: Can we infer anything else John was trying to accomplish? My answer: I don't know that we can gain much more from Josephus. We know he had a large following. He was a baptizer who called the people to a higher standard of morality. His preaching and activity unnerved Antipas. He was popular enough for people to say God caused Antipas' defeat at the hands of Aretas several years after his execution of John because of his execution of John.

Also, Howard asked about the modern relevancy of the Baptist for today (as it relates to how Josephus depicts him; we haven't gotten to the Gospels yet). I think that may be worth exploring more in-depth. Maybe in part 4a of this dialogue I'll take up that question. Ok, Howard, any more thoughts on Josephus' depiction of the Baptist?


See also:

Pt. 1a (Brian)

Pt. 1b (Howard)

Pt. 2a (Brian)

Pt. 2b (Howard)