So how do we explain these things? For almost all scholars, the best explanation is plain: Jesus was a follower of JtB. The cult of JtB is actually attested by Josephus (Jewish Antiqities 18.5.2), having a doctrine of baptism at odds with Christianity ("...not in order to the putting away of some sins, but for the purification of the body..."). The full explanation is that Jesus really was baptized by JtB, it was a well-known fact that Christians found embarrassing because they competed with the cult of JtB, so each gospel spun it in their own favor, each in their own unique way, always making sure that JtB was a great but secondary figure. This hypothesis is reinforced by a quote of Jesus in Matthew, saying, "...among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist...", something a cult follower would say of the cult leader.
How do mythicists explain this? The spin and embarrassment of the gospels (especially the later gospels) is much too plain to ignore, so they may grant at least the point that Christians were embarrassed by the belief in the baptism. It is still possible that it is a mere myth that somehow came about and it became embarrassing only later. It is not so often that mere myths become embarrassing to the cult, however. Rather, it is the rule for historical realities. No matter. Robert Price floats the idea that the character of JtB could have been inspired by the Semitic fish god Dagon (as does Arthur Drews), and possibly the baptism was inspired by Zoroaster immersing himself in water and being met by an archangel. The possibilities are endless, and Robert Price is indiscriminate with them.
Abe, this is a typical case of scholars (1) imputing to the text information it does not contain (2) and basing their analysis on the assumption of a Historical Kernel.
The usefulness of the Historical Kernel approach is twofold: first, it can never be refuted, because it is an axiom brought to the text rather than a conclusion from the text. It grows or shrinks based on our creativity with the "evidence" of the text. If we can demonstrate that a pericope is created out of the OT, well, perhaps we can say the saying goes back to Jesus. If we can show both saying and structure are derived, we can maintain, faithlike, that something
happened. The way the Historical Kernel is used in NT research, 2000 years from now Historical Frodo researchers will use the idea that the Merry was called a Prince of the Halflings while in Minas Tirith to show that Merry was actually a human from a noble house.....
Which brings us to the second point: the Historical Kernel with its built-in assumption that Jesus was a real human person enables us to avoid demonstrating historicity on a pericope by pericope, event by event basis.
Abe's usage here is dead on. Abe, you need to show us that there is some historical basis to this passage, not assume it and then troll through the texts selectively for evidence.
In point of fact nowhere is it stated that Jesus was a disciple of JtB. Indeed, in GMark we have a nearly Dohertian silence, for JtB is mentioned several times, including in a long passage in Mk 6, but Jesus is never presented as having any relationship with him. JtB's disciples are mentioned in Mk 6, but Jesus is not classed with them. Again in Mk 6 the people say Jesus is JtB returned, but any connection between the two is not mentioned. The writer of Mark clearly reveres JtB and is not embarrassed by the Jesus-JtB connection, so there is no reason for him not to have mentioned that Jesus was JtB's follower....
The other reasons to think the Baptism passage contains no history are abundant. On its face it is insane (all the people of Judea and Jerusalem come out to be baptized??). JtB is presented as Elijah. Etc.
It could be that Jesus was JtB's disciple, but there is no evidence for it. It is more likely, as the NT affords evidence (acts 19, for example), that there were followers of JtB who were unaware of JC. It seems more likely that the passage is written to subordinate JtB (and his followers) to JC (and his followers). Especially since one of the oddities of Acts 19 is that it gives the impression that Paul thinks the followers of JtB were Xtians....
Vorkosigan, I think you can be a part of the conversation I am having with JoeWallack. It didn't cross my mind that there was such a plurality of opinion that the gospels are a fictional genre. I kinda took it for granted that most of us take the gospels as something intended to be believed. What work of literature do you take to be most analogous to the first gospel? The Odyssey? Callirhoe? The Hobbit?