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§ 34. The Baptist’s Mode of Life and Teaching in the Desert.

We learn from Josephus8787   An example is afforded in the case of Banus, of whom Josephus, who was his disciple, gives an account in his autobiography, § 2: “ἐσθῆτι μὲν ἀπὸ δένδρων χρώμενον, τροφὴν δὲ τὴν αὐτομάτως φυομένην προσφερόμενον, ψυχρῷ δὲ ὕδατι τὴν ἡμέραν καὶ τὴν νύκτα πολλάκις λουόμενος πρὸς ἀγνείαν.” that many pious and earnest men among the Jews, disgusted with the corruptions of the times, retired, like the monks and hermits of Christianity at a later day, into wilderness spots, 49and there, becoming teachers of Divine wisdom, collected disciples around them. Such a one was John. Consecrated from his birth, by a sign from heaven, to his Divine calling, he led a rigid and ascetic life from his very childhood. Had we nothing but Josephus’s8888   Archaeol., xviii., v. 2. account to guide us, we might suppose that John only differed from the other teachers of the desert in the fact that the spirit of his teaching was more practical, and tended to carry him out into a wider field of action. While they only revealed the truths of a higher life to such as sought them in their solitude, he felt constrained to go forth and raise his reproving voice aloud among the multitude, to condemn the Jews for their vices and their hypocrisy, and to call them, abandoning their false security and their debasing trust in outward works, to seek the genuine piety which comes from the heart. This part of John’s ministry, viz., his work as a reformer, Josephus has brought out prominently; while he has entirely failed to notice the indelible stamp of the Baptist’s labours left upon the history of the Theocracy.

John had retired to the desert region west of the Dead Sea, and there lived a life of abstinence and austerity, harmonizing well with his inward grief, for the corruptions of his people. Like his type, Elias, he wore coarse garments, and satisfied his wants with a nourishment which nature offered in a species of locusts, sometimes used as food, and wild honey.8989   In the Ebionitish recension of Matthew, we find the food of John described as μέλι ἄγριον, οὗ ἡ γεῦσις ἦν τοῦ μάννα, ὡς ἐγκρὶς ἐν ἐλαίω (“it had the taste of manna, as a cake baked in oil.”—Num., xi., 8). The simple statement of Matthew is here misrepresented, and even falsified. The ἀκρίδες (locusts) seemed to this writer food unworthy for John, and he makes ἐγκρίδες (cakes) out of them, and thus gets a chance of comparing John’s food with manna.

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