Jump to content

Is John The Baptist Elijah Reincarnated?


Neon Genesis
 Share

Recommended Posts

This is something that rarely gets discussed in Sunday school at church but there are some passages in the gospels where Jesus talks about John being Elijah. Like in Matthew 11:7-14 Jesus calls John Elijah who is to come:

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone* dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go out to see? A prophet?* Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way before you.”

11Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,* and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.

Later on during the Transfiguration, Elijah appears with Jesus on the mountain and in Matthew 17:9-13, Jesus says Elijah has already come and verse 13 says Jesus is talking about John the baptist.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’ 10And the disciples asked him, ‘Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’ 11He replied, ‘Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 13Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
Christian apologists point to John 1:19-23 as proof that John isn't Elijah reincarnated.
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, ‘I am not the Messiah.’* 21And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’ 22Then they said to him, ‘Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ 23He said,

‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,

as the prophet Isaiah said.

But being the latest of the four gospels, John isn't exactly the most historically reliable and this passage comes across as John's gospel protesting too loudly. It's like how the later accounts of Jesus' baptism go out of their way to cover up any sort of hint that Jesus may have been a sinner because the baptism of Jesus was something embarrassing to these Christian communities. So is this a possible pro-reincarnation reference in the gospel that John's gospel is trying to cover up or is it referring to something else?
  • Upvote 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is something that rarely gets discussed in Sunday school at church but there are some passages in the gospels where Jesus talks about John being Elijah.

 

Elijah, along with Enoch, had a special place in Judaism and particularly with apocalyptic Judaism as these were two Biblical characters who escaped ordinary death and ascended to heaven. I am sure you are aware that until late in 2nd-Temple Judaism, there was no concept of a life after death for ordinary humans. Moses and the prophets would have been shocked at such a suggestion. So, Elijah had a very special status.

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's interesting, is it not, how the Bible does seem to present things that, if taken at face value, go against orthodox Christianity. Do the gospels hint at reincarnation?

 

I'm not convinced, from my studies, that the ancient Jews didn't believe in reincarnation. They did believe, however, in resurrection (except for the Sadducees). But, as George has said, Elijah and Enoch seemed to be "the prophets" that apocalyptic Jews expected to make way for the messiah. The return of Elijah and Enoch, because they did not die (according to the scriptures) is neither reincarnation or resurrection, it is simply relocation - returning from heaven to earth. This is somewhat further problematic because Jesus said elsewhere that no one had ascended to heaven except himself, which conflicts the OT accounts of what happened to these two prophets. :blink:

 

But the lines get fuzzy, don't they? How is Elijah different from the spirit of Elijah? How is Christ different from the spirit of Christ? Christians claim to have the spirit of Christ living in them. Does this mean that the ghost of Jesus has taken up residence, sort of a posession? For me, I find the metaphysical claims lacking in evidence and hard to prove. I tend to see "the spirit of Elijah" or "the spirit of Christ" as the attitude, the mindset, maybe the worldview. But, again, the scriptures themselves seem to imply more than this, don't they?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This might be an example of the Christian colonization of the OT. Gospel Writers made connections that were not there. John is the most anti-Jew. That he would deny this is understandable. That others who are trying to prove a connection with the Hebrew texts would find as many references as possible.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm not convinced, from my studies, that the ancient Jews didn't believe in reincarnation. They did believe, however, in resurrection (except for the Sadducees).

 

What do you mean by "ancient Jews?" It is clear that in late 2nd-Temple Judaism that some groups did believe in resurection (the Essenes, Pharisees, the Jesus movement). However, if you mean before the first temple was destroyed, I would like to hear the evidence.

 

There may be a hint of this in Isaiah (52:13-53:12), but it is murky at best. The first explicit mention is in Daniel (12:2) which is second century BCE. According to Murphy ("Early Judaism: The Exile to the Time of Jesus"), " . . . resurrection makes its appearance as part of the Jewish argument against Antiochus. Resurrection appears as a solution to the age-old problem of why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. This was 174-164 BCE.

 

George

Edited by GeorgeW
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What do you mean by "ancient Jews?" It is clear that in late 2nd-Temple Judaism that some groups did believe in resurection (the Essenes, Pharisees, the Jesus movement). However, if you mean before the first temple was destroyed, I would like to hear the evidence.

 

What I am referring to, George, is the OT and first century Jews. I just haven't found any evidence that they held to REINCARNATION as currently understood whereby a single spirit comes back in physically different bodies (as in Hinduism). In the transfiguration account, the disciples seem to recognize both Moses and Elijah. How? How would they recognize them? Did they have pictures or photo IDs? :D

 

So I tend to see these accounts as metaphorical, as the NT writers' way of pointing to the superiority of Jesus over Moses and Elijah. Jesus, in those roles, is the new law-giver and the one calling Israel back to repentance.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What I am referring to, George, is the OT and first century Jews. I just haven't found any evidence that they held to REINCARNATION as currently understood whereby a single spirit comes back in physically different bodies (as in Hinduism). In the transfiguration account, the disciples seem to recognize both Moses and Elijah. How? How would they recognize them? Did they have pictures or photo IDs? :D

 

So I tend to see these accounts as metaphorical, as the NT writers' way of pointing to the superiority of Jesus over Moses and Elijah. Jesus, in those roles, is the new law-giver and the one calling Israel back to repentance.

 

Yes, most 1st century Jews did believe in resurrection. I am not aware of any who believed in "reincarnation," certainly of ordinary people. It was those in Biblical Hebrew prior to the last couple of centuries BCE who did not. As I mentioned before, Moses would have been shocked at such a radical suggestion. Also, it doesn't appear that either Enoch or Elijah experienced an ordinary death and resurrection (as later understood). In both cases they were said to be taken by God.

 

How did they recognize Moses? Hmm. Maybe he had some ID, of course written on stone. :)

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At every Seder meal, we still leave an empty chair for Elijah - just in case he decides to show up to usher in the Messianic era.

 

What a joke! No one expects this and sometimes I find coats and hats piled on Elijah's chair. The Jews have wisely given up on Moshiach, relying on themselves:

 

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" - Rabbi Hillel

 

I think it is pretty obvious that the New Testament editors were seeking to follow the prophecy in order to sell Jesus as Moshiach. Elijah (JtheB) HAD to "prepare the way."

 

NORM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, most 1st century Jews did believe in resurrection. I am not aware of any who believed in "reincarnation," certainly of ordinary people.

 

Someone can correct me if I'm wrong but weren't there some Jews within the Kabbalah tradition who believed in reincarnation? At least that's a claim I've heard made before.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

We poured a cup of wine for Elijah, which became part of communion, in our Christianized Seder. While we didn't leave a chair vacant we opened the door, just in case.

 

found this commentary on the Hillel quote I liked.

 

Hillel is frequently cited in Pirkei Avot. He is best known for "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I?" (1:14). The last sentence should logically read who am I? But as Professor Louis Kaplan taught: "If you are only for yourself, you cease to be a real human being, and you become no longer a who, but a what."

 

Take Care

 

dutch

Edited by glintofpewter
Link to comment
Share on other sites

How we use a passage seems to depends on our context and purpose. Earlier I posted

 

"But as Professor Louis Kaplan taught: If you are only for yourself, you cease to be a real human being, and you become no longer a who, but a what."

Which is from the same page as the following

 

The first clause of the aphorism roughly translates: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"1

 

The phrase distinguishes between two selves - "I" (ani in Hebrew) and "me" (li). It implies that somehow we can have a self called "I" and a self-called "me."

 

The "I" self is the deepest self. It is our personalized facet of the Divine image. By contrast, the "me" is the persona we develop during life. Elements of the "me" originate from others, from society - from that which is outside "I."

 

The biblical paradigm for successfully wrestling with this identity crisis is Abraham.

...

And that is implied by the word "anochi." Anochi is the proclamation of intimate nearness between the speaker and the listener.2 It is an "I" that encompasses "others," and is thereby infinitely more whole. If we want to emulate God, we cannot stay within the isolated ego. We must start with the self (ani), but then move out into the world of others. By so doing, we free them and ourselves from bondage and reveal a greater self (anochi). It is a self that is simultaneously a part of a greater whole.

...

Whether one is in the midst of developing one's basic "I" - his true inner self - or moving beyond that into development of one's "anochi" and sharing himself with others, each of us has a natural holiness. At our core is a sacred, transcendent self. The self glows like an eternal light.

 

 

Divine Light and Serving others - seems to be core values of Jesus as Christ incarnate.

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The first clause of the aphorism roughly translates: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"1

 

The phrase distinguishes between two selves - "I" (ani in Hebrew) and "me" (li). It implies that somehow we can have a self called "I" and a self-called "me."

 

The "I" self is the deepest self. It is our personalized facet of the Divine image. By contrast, the "me" is the persona we develop during life. Elements of the "me" originate from others, from society - from that which is outside "I."

 

And that is implied by the word "anochi." Anochi is the proclamation of intimate nearness between the speaker and the listener.2 It is an "I" that encompasses "others," and is thereby infinitely more whole. If we want to emulate God, we cannot stay within the isolated ego. We must start with the self (ani), but then move out into the world of others. By so doing, we free them and ourselves from bondage and reveal a greater self (anochi). It is a self that is simultaneously a part of a greater whole.

 

Dutch

 

Dutch,

 

As a language nerd, I was compelled to see if this was meant literally or symbolically.

 

I can only assume the author of this intends this explanation symbolically. From what I can determine there is no semantic distinctions in Biblical Hebrew. According to
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon
, ". . . 'anochi and 'anni appear capable of being used indifferently; in others the choice seems to have determined, partly by rhythmical considerations, partly by a growing preference for 'ani among later writers [i.e. Biblical writers]."
Gensenius Hebrew Grammar
also mentions no semantic distinction.

 

In any event, this should not distract from the lesson the author is conveying which is worthwhile on its own merits. Thanks for posting it.

 

George
Link to comment
Share on other sites

As a follow-up to the issue of afterlife in Judaism, I just, by chance, read an essay written by Richard Bauckham, a noted NT scholar, titled Life, Death and the Afterlife in Second Temple Judaism which addresses this question directly.

 

In it, he notes that the concept of an afterlife is a late second-temple development in Judaism. He links it to the oppression by Antiochus that led to the Maccabean revolt. He says, "In this situation, the old problem of the flourishing of the wicked and the sufferings of the righteous arose with special force." After-life reward and punishment was an answer.

 

He also demonstrates how Hellenism influenced this with the Platonic idea of a human consisting of a physical body and a immortal soul which is freed at death to live for ever. Judaism combined this idea with traditional Judaism in which there was a "holistic' view of the body and spirit sleeping united in Sheol and developed it into the idea of the body and soul being united at the resurrection.

 

I have the impression that Christians today who believe in life after death have a more Platonic image (dying body, immortal soul) than did Jews (including Christian Jews) at the time of Jesus.

 

George

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

terms of service