CNN and John the Baptist

Last night I watched the second of the CNN series entitled Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery, on Sunday evenings during lent. This segment concentrated on John the Baptist. It was partially a dramatization of John’s life, his baptism of Jesus and his own death at the hands of Herod, Salome and her daughter. Periodically scriptural scholars were introduced to comment on John and Jesus. Also interspersed through the segment were reports on the search for the relics of John.

I’m afraid I didn’t like John too much as he was portrayed, fiercely striding through the desert shouting out warnings of a coming judgment. A scary, unstable figure, he seemed to me. Why would anyone want to follow him and let him dunk you in water? The scholarly experts on the program in their comments seemed to be talking about someone else, not the figure portrayed in the series. Were they ever introduced to the dramatic side of the production they were part of, I wonder?

John was the mentor of Jesus according to the dramatization, which makes me wonder how Jesus will be portrayed in the series’ later segments. Will Jesus be another John? I hope not.

John taught Jesus the Lord’s Prayer, the series’ narrator claimed, and Jesus taught it to his disciples in turn. One of the scholarly experts, a young woman who teaches at Notre Dame University, when asked later on her Facebook page what she thought about that, said she didn’t agree with the interpretation. Too bad she didn’t say that on the program itself. What are scholars for if not to keep things in perspective?

Speaking of scholarly perspective, here’s a quote about John the Baptist from Rudolf Schnackenberg, a good New Testament scholar. Obviously he doesn’t see John as the mentor of Jesus.

“When John speaks of the One who is to come, he is thinking of an executor of divine judgment, not so much of him through whom God’s mercy and love are made visible. He expects the kingdom of God to arrive in a storm of violence, in the immediate future, with the Messiah’s first appearance. This vision gives to his summons to conversion its urgent, compelling tone, increased further by the appearance of renunciation and flight from the world which he presents in his own person. From what we know of his preaching, he seems transfixed by the vision of the judgment and finds nothing to say about the salvation the Messiah will bring.” ( Rudolf Schnackenberg Christian Existence in the New Testament, Volume 1, University of Notre Dame 1968, p 39)

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