John the Baptist
A statue of Jesus being baptised by John the Baptist.Licensed from iStockPhoto
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
, Saint fl. first century B.C.
John the Baptist - Cultural Definition
A hermit and preacher among the Jews (see also Jews) of the time of Jesus and a relative of Jesus. According to the Gospels, John declared, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Christians (see also Christian) interpret this to mean that John was sent to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. John was known as “the Baptist” because he called on his followers to go through a ceremony of baptism to demonstrate their repentance for their sins; Jesus began his public life by submitting himself to John's baptism.
John was eventually imprisoned by Herod Antipas, the ruler of the province of Galilee, for objecting to Herod's illicit marriage. At a banquet, Herod rashly promised his stepdaughter, Salome, anything she asked; she asked for the head of John on a platter. Herod, not wanting to go back on his promise, had John beheaded.