6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Since this commentary is concentrating only on relevant Jewish contextual background issues, we are purposefully avoiding all other insightful comments that most other commentaries address. Suffice it to say that many of the names, including John, come to the New Testament from Greek manuscripts of the Gospel. Sometimes the Greek manuscripts do actually refer to Greek names such as Timothy (Timotheus, which means honored by God) or Andrei (Andreas, which simply means man or manly). But other times, names like Mathew were in fact common Jewish, Hebrew names. These names were Hellenized and Latinized before arriving in our English Bibles. As an example, Mathew (Matthaios/Matthaeus) was Mattiyahu (which in Hebrew means gift of God).
John was one of these Hellenized names. His parents likely called him Yochanan. Yochanan is a combination of two Hebrew words: God and grace. Now imagine hearing the Gospel read to you for the first time and you were listening in Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic or Syriac. Someone struggling to read clearly, loudly enough, and with appropriate voice tone gets to the verse that says: “there was a man sent from God, whose name was John”. Now tell me, wouldn’t you hear it differently if you knew that in Hebrew Yochanan meant something like the “Grace of God”?
Throughout this commentary, we will see how knowledge of Jewish backgrounds of both Biblical and para-biblical literature and times is incredibly important for understanding the New Testament. We will repeatedly not only use historical backgrounds, but will also refer to the original languages (mainly Greek and Hebrew) in order to uncover what is hidden behind the thinking of well-meaning and usually faithful-to-the-original Scripture translations.
Incidentally, on your visit to the remains of the Qumran community (it’s not too far from the famous Masada Fortress next to the Dead Sea) you will be shown a film which will suggest that John the Baptist may have been mentioned in Qumran’s writings. It refers to someone named Yochanan who was an active part of the Qumran Community. After disagreeing with the community leaders, who incidentally believed that their community was the Voice of God calling in the Wilderness (Is.40:3), Yochanan left never to return.
We are of course reminded that John the Baptist identified himself with the “voice of God calling in the wilderness” (Is.40:3; Jn.1:23). This, however, is simply not enough to make the connection suggested in the video. The difficulty with this argument is actually very simple. John (Yochanan) was a very common Jewish name during that period. In fact, scholars routinely run into problems with names like this including the names Jesus, Jacob and Mary (just to name a few) when they discover first century burial inscriptions.
Is this interesting and intriguing? Yes. Is it the same John? Unlikely.
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