The voice in the wilderness, predicted by Isaiah as a forerunner to the Messiah, was seen to have been fulfilled by John the Baptist in Mark’s Gospel (1:2–3). In “St. John in the Wilderness” (1827), Thomas Cole (1801–1848), the great American landscape artist, powerfully conveys John’s pioneering effort to “prepare the way” for Jesus. Typical of Cole’s style, an immense and ominous nature dominates the scene, while John and a handful of followers appear tiny.

Luke 1:80 tells us that John the Baptist grew up in the wilderness, but neglects to say how. Perhaps the answer can be found in Josephus, who notes that the Essenes adopted children to raise and instruct in their monastic way of life. John’s ascetic life in the wilderness paralleled that of the Qumran community; both sought to achieve purity of the soul away from the human world.