Erich Lessing

Mary and Joseph gaze lovingly as the babies Jesus and John the Baptist play beneath an oak tree, in this oil painting by Raphael (1483–1520). John, dressed in a loose camel hide (a hint of his future days in the wilderness), bears a scroll inscribed in Latin Ecce Agnus Dei, or “Behold the Lamb of God.” The Baptist will utter these words in the Gospel of John, when he introduces his own followers to their true leader. As D. Moody Smith writes in “John—Historian or Theologian?”, modern scholars have dismissed the Gospel of John as a source for information on the historical Jesus. But this gospel’s detailed description of how Jesus learned from, baptized beside and eventually came to surpass John the Baptist may be our most accurate account of how Jesus’ ministry began.