Whom does the author of the Book of Matthew blame for the death of John Baptist?

Whom does the author of the Book of Matthew blame for the death of John Baptist?

 

Answer: The author of Matthew ultimately places the blame for the death of John the Baptist directly on the whole Jewish people. Initially, Matthew ascribes the death of John directly to Herod Antipas, “He [Herod Antipas] sent and had John beheaded in the prison” (Matthew 14:10). Later, when Jesus identifies John as actually being Elijah, Matthew chooses Jesus’ words so as to indict all the Jews in the death of John. This is done in anticipation of blaming them for Jesus’ own death: “But I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he had spoken to them about John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:l2-13). (For his part; John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah: “And they asked him [John the Baptist], ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ and he said, ‘I am not’ ” (John 1:21a).)

In verse 12, to whom does the personal pronoun “they” and the possessive pronoun “their” refer? Identification is aided by the claim that these same people also killed, “the Son of Man,” that is, Jesus. Blame for Jesus’ death is linked to the whole Jewish people through a spurious self-indictment: “His blood be upon us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). Thus, in the context of Matthew’s recurrent blood libel motif, raised against the Jewish people, it is clear that it is the Jews as a whole who are charged with the murder of John, not simply Herod Antipas.

© Gerald Sigal