John the Baptist

From AnthroWiki
El Greco, St. John the Baptist, c. 1600
St. John the Baptist Preaching, Mattia Preti (c. 1665)
Salome is given the severed head of John the Baptist, Onorio Marinari, 1670s
Transfiguration of Christ and the healing of the moonstruck boy, Raphael, 1520, unfinished at his death. (Pinacoteca Vaticana)

John the Baptist (GreekἸωάννης ὁ βαπτιστὴς Io[h]annes Baptista; Hebrewיוֹחָנָן הַמַּטְבִּיל or יוחנן בן-זכריה Jochanan ben Zechariah) is one of the central figures of Christianity, but also has great significance for Islam and Mandaeism. The Hebrew name Jochanan (יוחנן) means "the LORD (YHWH) is gracious" and is understood in Judaism as an expression of a birth given as a divine gift. According to the account of Luke's Gospel, John was born as the son of the priest Zechariah and Elizabeth from the family of Aaron (Luke 1:5). To commemorate the birth of the Baptist, the Roman Catholic Church established 24 June as St John's Day.

Earlier and later incarnations

According to the New Testament account, John the Baptist is regarded as the reborn prophet Elijah, according to Christ's own words. Thus it is said in the Gospel of Matthew:

„10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.“

Elijah, considered the second most important prophet after Moses, was to come again according to the Old Testament prophecy in the Book of Malachi to be the last prophet before the end to call for repentance.

„23 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. 24 He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the sons, and the heart of the sons to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.“

These statements are confirmed by Rudolf Steiner and he gives further incarnations of the Baptist. Elijah had previously been incarnated as Pinchas ben Eleazar (Hebrewפִּֽינְחָס֙ בֶּן- אֶלְעָזָ֔ר, also Pinhas, Phineas or Phinehas) from the tribe of Levi. Phinehas is mentioned in the 4th Book of Moses and was the son of Eleazar and the grandson of the high priest Aaron, Moses' eldest brother. After his incarnation as Elijah, he was reborn as John the Baptist.

„And this secret doctrine and the more recent occult research say that the same soul lived in Phinehas' body that was later present in Elijah. Thus we have a continuous line, which we have already described for certain points. In the grandson of Aaron we have the soul that is important to us; it works there, in Phinehas. We then have it again in Elias-Naboth, then in John the Baptist, and we know how it then makes its further way through the evolution of humanity.“ (Lit.:GA 139, p. 155f)

According to Rudolf Steiner, later incarnations in post-Christian times are the Renaissance painter Raphael and the poet Novalis. This is probably the line of reincarnation most thoroughly investigated by Rudolf Steiner, about which he has also repeatedly spoken at length (Lit.: GA 114, p. 122ff; GA 120, p. 162ff; GA 126, p. 110ff; GA 139, p. 49ff).

John the Baptist and the Nathanian Jesus

See also: Nathanian Jesus

„First of all, the forerunner of Jesus of Nazareth is to come to humanity in the Baptist John. We can only get more closely involved with the individuality of the Baptist in the course of time. Let us first accept him as he appears to us in the image, as he has to proclaim beforehand what is to come in Jesus. He proclaims it by summing up with infinitely strong power all that lay in the outer law, in the old proclamation. The Baptist wants to bring to people what is written in the law, what has become old in culture, but what people have forgotten, what is mature, but what people no longer pay attention to. He must therefore above all have in him the power that a soul has that is born ripe, overripe into the world. He is born of an old pair of parents, is born in such a way that his astral body is pure and purified from the beginning in relation to all the forces that drag the human being down, because passion and desire are not involved in the old pair of parents. This is again a profound wisdom that is indicated to us in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:18). Such individuality is also provided for from the great Mother Lodge of humanity. There, where the great Manu directs and guides the processes in the spiritual, there the streams are sent where they are needed. Such an I as the I of John the Baptist is born into a body directly under the guidance and direction of the great Mother Lodge of Humanity, the central place of earthly spiritual life. From the same place came the I of John, from which also came the soul being for the child Jesus of the Gospel of Luke, only that those qualities were given to Jesus which were not yet permeated by the egoistic I, that is, a young soul is directed to where the reborn Adam is to be incarnated.

It will seem strange to you that a soul could once be directed from the great Mother Lodge to a place without an actual formed I. For the same I, which basically has not yet become imbued with the egoistic ego, is also directed to the place where the reborn Adam is to be incarnated. For the same I that is basically withheld from the Jesus of Luke's Gospel is given to the body of John the Baptist, and these two things, what lives as a soul being in the Jesus of Luke's Gospel and what lives as an I in John the Baptist, stand in an inner relationship from the beginning. When the human germ develops in the maternal body, the I does unite with the other members of the human organisation in the third week, but it only gradually comes into effect in the last months before birth. Only then does the I become an inner, moving force. For in a normal case, where the I works in the usual way to make the human germ move, we have to do with an I that comes from earlier incarnations and makes the human germ move. But here, in John, we are dealing with an I that is connected with the soul essence of the Nathanian Jesus. Therefore, in the Gospel of Luke, the mother of Jesus must go to the mother of John the Baptist when she is in the sixth month of pregnancy, and what is otherwise stimulated in one's own personality by one's own I, is stimulated here by the other foetus. The child of Elizabeth begins to move when the woman who carries the child Jesus approaches him; for it is the I through which the child in the other mother is stimulated (Luke 1:39–44). So profound is the connection between the one who was to work for the confluence of the two spiritual currents and the one who was to proclaim it beforehand.“ (Lit.:GA 114, p. 106f)

„Elijah was to be one of the representatives of the Hebrew people of that which was initiated by Moses. But out of the people's own substance no men could be born who could be wholly interwoven with what the Law of Moses contained, which, after all, could only be received as a revelation from above. What we have characterised as necessary for the Indian time, also as the peculiar nature of the Bodhisattva, must therefore also occur in the Hebrew people and again and again. There had to be individualities who were not entirely absorbed in the human personality, who were with one part of their being in the earthly personality and with the other part in the spiritual world. Such a being was Elijah. In what we find on the physical plane as the personality of Elijah, the beingness of Elijah is only partially contained. The egoity of Elijah cannot penetrate completely into the physical body of Elijah. He must be called a personality "filled with the Spirit". And it would be impossible to produce such an appearance as Elijah's by the merely normal forces in the world, by which otherwise a human being is placed in the world [...]

When this entity was reborn, it was to join itself to the body of the child born to Zechariah and Elizabeth. We know from the Gospel itself that we have to understand John the Baptist as the reborn Elijah (Matthew 17:10–13). But we are dealing here with an individuality which, from its earlier incarnations, was not accustomed to develop all that should come forth through the forces inherent in the normal course of life itself. In the normal course of life, while the human physical body is developing in the maternal body, the inner power of the I is stirring. What is inwardly connected with this, Elijah's individuality had not yet gone through in earlier times, it had not yet descended so far. The ego had not been set in motion by its own forces, as in normal circumstances, but from outside. That had to happen again now. More out of the spiritual world, closer already to the earth, is the I of this entity, which is now much more connected with the earth than the entities which formerly guided Elijah. The transition should now be made to the connection between the Buddha and Zarathustra currents. Everything was to be rejuvenated. Now that very entity had to act from outside which had so connected itself with the earth and its affairs as the Buddha, who was now connected in his Nirmanakaya with the Nathanian Jesus. This entity, which on the one hand was connected with the earth, but on the other hand was raptured again, because it only worked in the Nirmanakaya, which lived "beyond" the earth, because it ascended again, and now hovered over the head of the Nathanian Jesus, it now had to work in from outside and unfold the I-power of John the Baptist.

Thus it was the Nirmanakaya of the Buddha that acted upon the unfolding of John's I-power in the same way as the spiritual forces had formerly acted upon Elijah. At that time, the Elijah-being was rapt in ecstatic states at certain times; then the god spoke, filled his I with a real power, which it could then communicate to the outer world. Now there was again a spiritual entity that hovered over the Nathanian Jesus as the Nirmanakaya of the Buddha; it had an effect on Elizabeth when John was to be born, stimulated the germ of John in Elizabeth's body in the sixth month of pregnancy and awakened the I there. But this power, because it was now closer to the earth, did not merely cause an inspiration, but really brought about the formation of the I of John. Under the influence of the visit of the one who is called Mary, the I of John the Baptist stirred. Thus the Nirmanakaya of the Buddha has an awakening and redeeming effect on the I of the former Elijah, on the present I of John the Baptist, even into the physical substance.“ (Lit.:GA 114, p. 122ff)

John the Baptist and Lazarus-John

In his last public address, held on 28 September 1924 in Dornach, Steiner gave a different account, to the great surprise of the audience. He spoke again about the later incarnations of Elijah, but now John the Evangelist took the place of the Baptist. Steiner shows "how the entity of Elijah appeared again in Lazarus-John, which is one and the same figure, as you can already see from my «Christianity as a Mystical Fact»." (Lit.:GA 238, p. 168) Some listeners may have taken this statement at first as an error or simply a slip of the tongue on Steiner's part, but in fact it is an image of the greatest importance, which is very well prepared in Steiner's earlier lectures and writings.

Rudolf Steiner has shown very clearly time and again that the supreme spiritual figure of John/Elijah could not incarnate completely in a single body. When he worked as the prophet Elijah, he was at the same time, in communion with higher spiritual entities, something like the group soul of the Jewish people. Also in his incarnation as John the Baptist, his spiritual form protruded far beyond the body vessel. In his lectures on the Gospel of Mark (Lit.:GA 139)) Rudolf Steiner then presented the further fate of the Baptist in the spiritual world after his beheading. After his death, Elijah/John becomes the group soul of the twelve apostles, thereby opening the way for them to a new kind of clairvoyance, and they themselves now heal the sick and cast out demons. Herod Antipas himself attributes this to the fact that the Baptist had risen from the dead.

„12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. 14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”“

Now the apostles are ready to experience the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand as supernatural events. Then the effectiveness of the spiritual individuality of the Baptist was limited to the narrower circle of the three apostles Peter, James and John. They were thus able to experience the transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor with clairvoyance (Mk 9,2 LUT). The other nine disciples, however, now lack a power, which is why they are not able to effect the healing of the moonstruck boy, which is described immediately after the transfiguration. Raphael depicts this very clearly in his last painting.

The sphere of action of Elijah/John becomes even narrower when the Christ performs the initiation of Lazarus. Now the essence of the Baptist connects from above with the individuality of Lazarus awakened on Earth from the sleep of death, who thereby actually becomes Lazarus-John. How this crossing of the two individualities is to be imagined in more detail, Rudolf Steiner could only hint at in individual orally transmitted statements. Dr. Ludwig Noll, who along with Ita Wegman was Steiner's attending physician, recorded the following:

„At the raising of Lazarus the spiritual entity of John the Baptist, who since his death had been the spirit overshadowing the group of disciples, penetrated the previous Lazarus from above to the soul of consciousness, and from below the entity of Lazarus, so that the two interpenetrated. This then, after the raising of Lazarus, is John, the 'disciple whom the Lord beloved'.“ (Lit.:GA 238, p. 175)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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