The term “synoptic,” from the Greek for “seeing together,” refers to the fact that the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke share much material and can be printed in three parallel columns so that their correspondence can be “seen together” at a glance, as in the first sidebar to this article.


Acts is universally recognized as a continuation of Luke, by the same author.


According to John 1:28, this took place at “Bethany beyond the Jordan.” I suspect that the name “Bethany beyond the Jordan” is an invention of one of the editors of the Fourth Gospel, who assumed that since the Baptist had an audience, there must have been a town. The complete disappearance of a town with this name in little more than a century—Origen could find no trace of it not long after 231 A.D. (Commentary on John 6.204)—is highly suspicious to anyone aware of the tenacity of place-names in the Middle East.


It is probable that in John’s source the first disciples of Jesus were directed to him by John. A later editor transformed this into the Baptist’s proclamation of Jesus as the Lamb of God. The inherent probability of the scenario in John’s source is underlined by its similarity to the traditional approach of Old Testament prophets. Elijah selected Elisha as his assistant (1 Kings 19:16–21). Jeremiah chose Baruch to help him (Jeremiah 36). To extend his ministry, John picked out Jesus. With a view to multiplying the latter’s effectiveness, it would have been prudent of the Baptist to encourage some of those who came to him to group themselves around Jesus.


We are told that after “following” Jesus (John 1:40) Andrew “first found his brother Simon” (John 1:41), presumably to convert him. The word “first” suggests that Simon is the first in a series, but the expected “He next found X” does not appear in the present form of the gospel. In the original story Andrew must have called someone in addition to his brother, presumably Philip, who was also from Bethsaida (John 1:43–44). The story was edited into its present form to give the initiative to Jesus, who challenges the disciples (John 1:38). It is Jesus who tells Philip to “follow me” (John 1:43).



I published an earlier version of this hypothesis as “John the Baptist and Jesus: History and Hypotheses,” New Testament Studies 37(1990), pp. 359–374.


The theoretical possibility that the testing of Jesus ended the very day that John was taken into custody is excluded by John 3:22–24, which implies that Jesus had been recruited by the Baptist as his collaborator and exercised a baptizing mission in Judea. I shall return to this text after we have looked at the account of the baptism of Jesus by John because it is indispensable for a correct understanding of the relationship between the two figures.


See Robert L. Webb, “John the Baptist and His Relationship with Jesus,” in Studying the Historical Jesus. Evaluations of the State of Current Research, ed. Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans, New Testament Tools and Studies 19 (Brill: Leiden, 1994), pp. 179–229, particularly p. 216.


For example, Raymond A. Martin, Studies in the Life and Ministry of the Historical Jesus (Lanham: University Press of America, 1995), p. 25.


Paul Hollenbach, “The Conversion of Jesus: From Jesus the Baptizer to Jesus the Healer,” in Aufsreig und Niedergand der romischen Welt II, 25/1, ed. W. Hasse (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1982), p. 199.


James M. Robinson, A New Quest of the Historical Jesus, Studies in Biblical Theology 25 (London: SCM, 1959), p. 118.


A Student Map Manual. Historical Geography of the Bible Lands (Jerusalem: Pictorial Archive, 1979), section 12–5.


Josephus Jewish War 3:44.


Ben Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979) p. 118.


John did not intend to present himself as Elijah; see especially J.A.T. Robinson, “Elijah, John and Jesus: An Essay in Detection,” New Testament Studies 4 (1957–1958), pp. 264–265.


The name and location of Salim are attested as early as the Septuagint translation of Genesis 33:18, which is confirmed by Jubilees 30:1 and Judith 4:4. The continuity of name and location is clear in a medieval Samaritan chronicle. See Elkan N. Adler, “Une nouvelle chronique samaritaine,” Revue des Etudes Juives 44 (1902), pp. 207, 212. The references are discussed by M.E. Boismard, “Aenon près de Salem (Jean, iii, 23),” Revue Biblique 80 (1973), pp. 219–221.


The name is preserved in Khirbat Ainun, “the ruin of the springs” (Israeli grid map reference 1897/1875), which is located just over seven miles northeast of Salim. The site, however, has no springs! William Foxwell Albright suggested that the village had moved from its original site between the powerful perennial springs of En Farah and En Duleib (Israeli grid map reference 1883/1825), which had given its name. (“Some Observations Favoring the Palestinian Origin of the Gospel of John,” Harvard Theological Review 17 [1924], p. 194.) These springs are beside Tel el-Farah and three miles from Khirbet Ainun, and Albright could suggest no reason for the transfer of the village. Roland de Vaux remedied this defect in Albright’s hypothesis by pointing out that the springs had been the home of the malarial mosquito and that the villagers must have migrated to higher ground for health reasons, while retaining the old name. (Oral communication to Boismard, “Aenon,” p. 222). This explanation, however, defeats its purpose. If the springs and pools at the original Ainun were malaria-infested, it is extremely improbable that John would have chosen it as his base of operations. Why would anyone have taken the risk of immersion there?

The decisive objection to the identification of the original Ainun with Aenon is its relationship to Salim. They are only seven miles apart, but those seven miles include two mountain ranges, Jebel Tammun and Jebel el-Kabir, and the impassable upper section of the Wadi Faria/Nahal Tirza. Not surprisingly, there is no direct path between Ainun and Salim. Finally, in the first century the nearest villages to Ainun were Baddan (today Khirbet Farwa) to the southwest and Thebez (today Tubas) to the northeast.

Since the site of Salim is certain, it would seem more profitable to look for springs in its immediate vicinity.


George Ernest Wright, Shechem. The Biography of a Biblical City (New York/Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1965), appendix 4 by Robert Bull, pp. 217–218.


“The final end of Shechem as a city could not have been much later than about 100 B.C.” (Wright, Shechem, 171).


See the Mishnah tractates Shebiith 9:2; Ketuboth 13:10; Baba Bathra 3:2.


C. Saulnier, “Herode Antipas et Jean le Baptiste. Quelques remarques sur les confusions chronologiques de Flavius Josephe,” Revue Biblique 91 (1984), pp. 362–376.


See the genealogical chart in Ben Witherington III, “Herodias,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, David Noel Freedman, ed., vol. 3, p. 175.


The marriage of a woman with her nephew was also excluded (Leviticus 18:13); the Essenes logically inferred that a marriage between a man and his niece was thereby also condemned (Damascus Document 5:8–11).


That is how Josephus reported them (Antiquities 18:117–19). The explanations of the Gospels and Josephus are not contradictory but complimentary; see in particular Harold Hoehner, Herod Antipas (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 140–145.


Josephus Antiquities 17:341


Josephus Antiquities 18:109–119


Luke, for example, attributes Paul’s undignified departure from Damascus to Jewish hostility (Acts 9:23–25), whereas Paul himself tells us that the threat came from the Nabateans (2 Corinthians 11:32–33).


The evangelist decided to use this information as the introduction to his narrative of the execution of the Baptist (Mark 6:17–29//Matthew 14:3–12//Luke 3:19–20), and into the middle of the phrase he inserted, “Some said, ‘John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets.’” It was important to the editor to identify John explicitly, and to make it clear that the “has been raised” of the source referred to resurrection. To this end, Mark drew on the list of preserved in his gospel at 8:28: “Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say Elijah; and others say one of the prophets.’” Mark also attempted, rather ineptly, to link the material of the source with the preceding episode (Mark 6:6–13) by adding “these powers are at work in him.” It was Jesus who had commissioned the wonder-working apostles and so must have enjoyed the same powers. Neither Josephus nor the Synoptic Gospels, however, depict John as a miracle-worker. The Fourth Gospel explicitly denies that John performed miracles—“John did no sign” (John 10:41).