Dominique Genet, L’Art de Byzance/Editiones Citadelles et Mazenod, Paris

“Saint John The Baptist” reads the Greek text in the upper left of this early 13th-century wood icon, from the Monastery of St. Catherine, at Jebel Musa (traditionally believed to be the biblical Mt. Sinai). The scroll John holds in his left hand reads “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). The barely visible text in the upper right reads “the Precursor,” suggesting John’s role as a forerunner to Jesus.

John clearly preaches an eschatological message. John tells a crowd assembled to be baptized by him, “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9). “One who is more powerful” than John (that is, Jesus) will baptize the repentant with “Holy Spirit and fire,” John warns, while the unrepentant will burn “with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:16–17). If Jesus’ precursor and baptizer was apocalyptic in his beliefs, author Dale Allison argues, it is likely that Jesus was as well. At the very least, the evidence of John suggests the existence of a strong eschatological tradition in the early first century C.E., a tradition Jesus would have known intimately.