Moses/Joshua, John/Jesus

Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phillipians 2:9-11)

The force of this passage, and all those like it, have all but erased the simple fact that the name which the angel prompted Mary to name her infant child was not only a very common one among Jewish children, but pointed to a figure in the history of Israel of great significance. The meaning: "...for he shall save his people..." is the linkage with the person of Joshua, after whom Jesus is named (in its then-current form).

Why not then Moses?

If we are examining a scenario sensitive to Baptist influence, this is another example of a symbolism that emerges as significant. Jesus is the savior, the one who inaugurates the spiritual kingdom of God just as Joshua inaugurated the conquest of the promised land...but Jesus is also the successor of one who brought the people to the borders, and who has died just short of the goal: Moses/John the Baptist.

The Moses connection is discussed as follows by Scobie:

In the New Testament, we find the deputation to John asking him, when he denied being either the Christ or Elijah, 'Are you the prophet we await?' (Jn 1:21). The fact that he has already denied being Elijah makes it clear that the deputation were asking him if he was the prophet like unto Moses. Likewise, in John 7:40, the people say of Jesus, 'this must certainly be the expected prophet'. In John 6:14, following the feeding of the five thousand, the people say, 'Surely this must be the prophet that was to come into the world"; Jesus, having repeated the miracle of the manna, is the prophet like the first Moses. (Scobie p.122)

The whole discussion of the question of identity belongs to a strain of tradition separated from the "Jesus as the Son of God" (divine man) growing out of Mark and the fourth evangelist's, also Paul's, points of view. That eventually dominant strain makes this discussion a moot point. But it remains in the gospels, and is a pointer to other options which once existed. We are careful not to say, "earlier", since the issue must have remained alive and co-existed with the Son of God Christology or the evangelists would not have taken such pains to include it. They do not report "casual misconstruals". These models, the Moses/Joshua or the Elijah/Elisha examples, only have currency in a context where there is parity between the characters. Once the successor becomes more important than the predecessor and eclipses him, the model no longer works. But in our Baptist/Dominical context, they do. As Jesus is coming to be seen as the successor of the Baptist, particularly since he has now died, the example of Joshua succeeding Moses has some remarkable features which could have influenced what was said about Jesus. (Remember, their names are the same)

Joshua 3:7 At the Jordan, the event of the entry of the bearers of the ark into the waters of the Jordan effect the promise that "...among you is the living God..." and the land is about to be occupied. At this time the monument of Gilgal is erected, and Joshua selects "twelve" to reconnoiter the country.

Numbers 14:10 When Joshua makes a faithful confession, "...the glory of the Lord appeared." in the same fashion as at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration.

Joshua 5:1ff Upon entering the promised land, Joshua re-establishes the Passover, "...on the 14th day of the month..."

Numbers 8:8 In the plain near Ai, Joshua marshals 5,000 faithful, and wins a great victory over that city. Palestinian followers of the wilderness preachers repeated the story of how 5,000 were ranked in military formation outside Jerusalem...and miraculously provisioned!

What is suggested is that, before becoming the full-fledged "new Moses," there was great symbolism in representing Jesus as his namesake, a "new Joshua." This would be especially true among those who also venerated the Baptist.

Since the subject of the feeding of the five thousand has come up, there are some fascinating possiblities concerning it. John 4:1 reports "Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John", and 3:26 has John's disciples complaining, "Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the he is, baptizing, and all are going to him." There is a perennial "numbers game" evident here. Now the Gospel of Mark (with Matthew following, but not Luke or John) has two instances of a multitude being fed. One is five thousand, the other four thousand. A remarkable feature of the story, but easily overlooked, is the seating arrangement. The ranks (fifties, etc.) are described in military terms. The story would have been very popular with those who envisioned an eschatological army of Yahweh being assembled to launch the reestablishment of Israel's kingdom in Jerusalem with their Messianic leader. The sign of Yahweh's favor is clear in the miraculous way in which this army is provisioned...a few loaves and fishes grow into the mess for an entire army! But just as the story would have delighted some, it must have been most alarming to the authorities in Jerusalem. Consider this as a background to what happened to John the Baptist and to Jesus. But to return to the "numbers game", how did there come to be two duplicate stories. I am going to suggest that this duplication goes back to two versions of the story; one Baptist and one for the Jesus followers. In the form in which they appear in Mark, the four thousand is the Baptist version and the five thousand is the Jesus version. The conclusion to be drawn is obvious, as is the reason for including both. But since in Mark the Baptist story has been segregated into the role of precursor and sequenced into the place of predecessor...what to do? So Jesus does both feedings: it was striking to note that name Jesus does not occur in the body of the Mark/four thousand account, the pronoun "he" suffices. No doubt Mark intended Jesus; the mention of "disciples" would not be determinative since both John and Jesus had disciples. Finally, this miracle is of the detached kind similar to the healing "at a distance" of the official's daughter...the only miracle from the Q circle. It is Yahweh who is the actor.

John/Jesus, Elijah/Elisha
Several New Testament passages bear witness to contemporary Jewish belief in the returning Elijah. When the deeds of Jesus became known, there were some who thought that he was Elijah come again; 'some were saying that Elijah had appeared' (Luke 9:8; Mark 6:15). Again, at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked what the popular opinion about him was, and the disciples reportedd that some thought that he was Elijah (Mark 8:28; Matt. 16:14; Luke 9:19). In Mark 9:11 and Matt. 17:11 it is said that the scribes taught that 'Elijah must be the first to come'. Jesus confirmed this, adding that 'Elijah does come first to set everything right'. In John 1:21, one of the questions John is asked is, 'Are you Elijah?' To these should perhaps be added the incident at the Cross when Jesus cried out in the words of Ps.22:1, 'Eli, Eli...' and the bystanders thought he was calling for Elijah (Mark 15:34-36; Matt. 27:46-49). They misunderstood Jesus' words, but evidently they thought it at least conceivable that Elijah would come to earth and make a dramatic last minute rescue. (Scobie p.121)

Concerning the last point, what of the identification of the Baptist with Elijah? Again, it cannot be a "casual misconstrual", but just what is its significance for the Baptist/Domincal point of view?

A nineteenth century Pietistic hymnal was entitled "Songs of Moses and the Lamb." These two subjects serve to remind one of the linkages which have often surfaced in relating Israel's history to the Christian development...that the Covenant and the sacrificial system was recapitulated in the death of Christ. A related theme was that of deliverance from oppression. The passover story and exodus resonated at the time of Roman occupation in Palestine with a people again oppressed, their hopes excited by the wilderness preaching and messianic preparations. To look ahead to what was to befall the leaders of this movement and how it would be understood by their followers, some dilemmas must be noted.

The plague of passover had been a blood purge of firstborn Egyptians, sparing the sons of Israel. Every consciousness of human sacrifice in Israel was conditioned by the account of the binding of Isaac, a story suggesting human sacrifice with a dramatic divine provender effectively banning it. Neither tendency would foster an understanding of the death of its leaders as divinely ordained, but this became the Christian position. Prophets, however, were another story. Frequently maligned and persecuted by their own nation, these people were associated with victimization. Their miseries, while full of irony, were not seen as providing any deliverance apart from preserving truth. Their proclamations primarily explained Israel's misfortunes. An instructive variation on prophets fate comes from the Elijah accounts.

Two features of this body of material stand behind gospel writings. There are two figures, one inheriting the mantle of the other and continuing his work. Again, the identification of the Baptist with Elijah points to one who will "inherit the mantle" and succeed him...Jesus. But when Jesus eclipses John, Elisha is forgotten. The other is miraculous deliverance from death as in Elijah's ascent by chariot. It would be this miraculous deliverance that might provide a key for the followers of John and Jesus after their executions.

Because of the present forms of the gospels we possess, we have much interpretive material from Jesus' followers. The passion narratives in surviving texts show extensive editorial activity and variation in small detail, reflecting their significance to this interpretive task. To address the possibilities of how John's disciples viewed the execution of their leader must be largely speculative. That they did have some interpretive and cultic response to this catastrophe would surely be inevitable. That it is somehow intermeshed with the Christian succession is also presumable.

We have observed that the "silver platter" upon which the Baptist's head was presented to Herodias suggests a cultic practice. Consider the discussion of this vessel as found in the Easton Bible Dictionary: "Basin (1) A trough or laver (Heb. aggan') for washing (Ex. 24:6) rendered also "goblet" (So 7:2) and "cups" (Isa. 22:24) (2) A covered dish or urn (Heb k'for) among the vessels of the temple (1Ch 28:17 Ezr 1:10, 8:27) (3) A vase (Heb. mizrak) from which to sprinkle anything. A metallic vessel; sometimes rendered "bowl" (Am 6:6, Zec 9:15). The vessels of the tabernacle were of brass (Ex 27:3) while those of the temple were of gold (2Ch 4:8) (4) A utensil (Heb. Saph) for holding the blood of victims (Ex 12:22) also a basin for domestic purposes (2Sa 17:28). The various vessels spoken of by the names "basin, bowl, charger, cup and dish" cannot now be accurately distinguished."

One can scarcely find a hint of such a cultic practice unless it were to be identified with the puzzling "second cup" of the Lukan words of institution to the Lord's supper. Commentators have labored long and hard to determine why the cup seems to appear twice in this version of the first eucharist. Perhaps we could assign it to a Baptist remembrance although Luke certainly does not make this explicit. The extensive redactive polishing of this account may be again noted here with its harmonizing tendency.

The wealth of words from Hebrew to describe cultic containers along with their potential Greek translations leaves a fertile range of possibilities. Points to consider are these: the vessel upon which the Baptist's head is presented could scarcely be rendered a "goblet;" yet merely the presentation of his blood would not sufficiently identify him to his tormenters. Also, the blood of passover sign or of sacrifice is not to be consumed but sprinkled...another use for these vessels and one more consistent with Jewish practice. Consider the practice of leaving a chair vacant for Elijah and a cup filled with wine for him at the passover meal. Would a "cup of remembrance" for the Baptist's martyrdom (sacrifice?) be out-of-place, especially in the formative period of the eucharistic observance?

A Question of Authority
In Mark 11:27-33 (Matt. 21:23-27, Lk. 20:1-8) Jesus is "walking" (Mark) or "teaching" (Matthew and Luke) in the temple. He is accosted by the chief priests and elders (Luke adds scribes as well) with the question, "by what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority"? The term "authority" will reward closer examination, for in the Greek it is "exousia", which also means "power". It is not merely a kind of license to preach they have in mind, but no doubt they have in mind their own perceived right to pass on the legitimacy of any religious teacher, especially in the temple precincts. These characters are clearly the villians in the story, as they would have been to the community of Qumran...the venal and co-opted pretenders to the true priesthood and faith of Israel. We are waiting to see how Jesus will put them in their place.

"The baptism of John: was it from heaven, or from men?" was his response. At this they are stumped: "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say to us, 'why then did you not believe him?' But if we say 'From men,' we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet." (Luke adds "all the people will stone us") So they give a lawyer's answer: "we do not know." Jesus responds: "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things." Matthew goes on to say, "For when John came to show you the right way to live, your did not believe him, but the tax-gatherers and prostitutes did; and even when you had seen that, you did not change yur minds and believe him" (Matt. 21:32)

This story fits in the context of Moses/Joshua and Elijah/Elisha because in it Jesus invokes his predecessor John as the source of his authority. Its greatest credibility and currency is in the roots of their association in the minds of the people and of the religious leaders. Those leaders are in holy terror of the high regard in which John is held by the people, at least for the purpose of this story. The reader knows they have not listened to him and are not about to listen to Jesus either. This is a very strong piece of evidence for a Baptist/Domincal perspective. The Christian reader would later come to view the question about John perhaps as only a convenient example which Jesus could use to trick the questioners. He might as easily have asked, "The law of Moses: was it from heaven, or from men?" with a similar outcome. But this is not the case, rather the religious leaders are specifically threatened with the fact that they did NOT listen to John the Baptist.

From the later perspective, it is their ultimate rejection of Jesus which is the real offense. This story with its earlier perspective might not have survived were it not for its innate appeal in "turning the tables" on these pompous officials. But we are indebted to that appeal for the survival of a perspective which very much sees John/Jesus as a case of "inheriting the mantle."

A Prophet and More