if you want to experience what he meant
from Adam to John the Baptist,
no one among those born of women is more exalted than John the Baptist
so that his (i.e., John’s) eyes need not be downcast.
But I have also said,
whoever among you will become like a child [will know the kingdom,
and] will surpass John.
DeConick explains that downcast eyes characterizes that person as the inferior one,
recognizing the other as superior. So, John the Baptist is by far not the least of men.
The clause 'will know the kingdom' is likely a later accretion (De Conick, 2006).
Becoming like a child likely means that one should appreciate Jesus' message
without any pre-conceived religious ideas; one should make one's mind like a tabula rasa,
totally blank, just as is the case with children, as Jesus' teachings differ fundamentally from
whatever had been taught so far. One who finds the kingdom, surpasses even the
great John the Baptist! This cannot be taken otherwise than to mean that "the kingdom" as
John was preaching differed fundamentally from what Jesus had in mind! And I think that such
difference can be concluded also from the various other sayings.
Generally, Jesus' baptism by John is taken as historical, as is the notion that John functioned
as Jesus' mentor for some time (e.g.: Bond, 2012). However, only the NT gospels would
provide “evidence” for these conclusions, whereas both Matthew and Luke depend on Mark.
Apart from Jesus, Josephus mentioned John the Baptizer and did so quit quite extensively,
but he nowhere reports on any relationship between the two. If Jesus’ baptism was so
fundamental to his mission, why do we read nowhere that Jesus practiced the ritual himself?
Vaage (1996) argues that an eventual baptism of Jesus was nowhere understood in Mark …
”as a model for such activity by Jesus’ own disciples and followers.” This all may argue
against the historicity of such event (Robinson, 1996). Vaage (1996) concludes: “…
that the event of Jesus’ baptism by John lacks “multiple attestations”, as outside the
NT text also there is nothing about it.
Furthermore, the event strikes as odd from geographical considerations: I always
wondered how Jesus kind of flip-flopped between the Dead Sea region where John
worked and Galilee where he preached, which back and fro would have taken him at
least two weeks walking; quite extensive travelling of which we hear nothing in the gospels.
Also, he would certainly on his way to or from the Dead Sea region have visited Jerusalem
on the way, but the gospels remain astoundingly silent about such visit. Ehrman (2012)
concludes that "John is not the leader Jesus followed or the teacher he learned from",
and Mack (1993) argued that the stories of Jesus’ contact with John was merely made up
by the gospel writer Mark to suit his narrative motifs.
The saying cannot be taken otherwise than to mean that "the kingdom" as
John was preaching differed fundamentally from what Jesus had in mind, but it also indicates
that the kingdom teaching of Jesus surpasses that of John, although John was a prophet to
be respected. Robinson (1996) argued that the different lifestyles between Jesus and John, likely corresponded with a difference in their teachings.