Scala/Art Resource, NY

Divine sons and kings. The birds that hover over the heads of Ramesses II in the 19th Dynasty Elephantine stela (compare with Elephantine stela), and Jesus in the baptism scene by Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni, shown here, signify that each is a god’s son. The dove in the baptism scene descends on Jesus as John the Baptist, shown to the right of Jesus, anoints him in the presence of the disciples. According to the Gospels, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit came down in the form of a dove as a voice from heaven declared, “This is my son, whom I love; with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16–17; Mark 1:10–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:32–34).

The baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and recalled the anointing ceremony of the ancient Israelite kings. At his anointing, the king not only became the son of God, as declared in Psalm 2:7 (“You are my son, today I have begotten you.”), but was also filled with the spirit of God, according to 1 Samuel 10:1, 10; 16:13.

The Gospels’ use of the language of Psalm 2:7 in describing Jesus’ baptism and the identification of the dove with the spirit of God support the suggestion that Jesus’ anointing was meant to be seen as part of this royal Hebrew tradition.