6ᐯ John wore clothes made out of camel’s hair. He had a leather belt around his waist. And he ate locusts and wild honey.

Mark 1:6
  • Author: Flavius Josephus
  • Created: Flavian Imperial Cult

There are several caricatures of wise men known to Greek culture at the time. The Persian style had grand robes and fancy hats, the Sophists had their long togas, while the Cynics could be recognized by their tattered rags. In one sense, John is shown in the costume of Elijah, the prophet from 2 Kings, who was described like this:

8 They answered him, “He was a hairy man with a leather girdle bound about his loins.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

2 Kings 1:8

Rather than being a hairy man, John is in a camel hair garment, but he is still presented as being the returned prophet Elijah, so his words would be given a status similar to that of Elijah’s. John presents a very specific prophecy about a future event.

This language of this prophecy speaks to an enormous stratification in Roman society, such that the servants who attend to Caesar’s sandals must be themselves of sufficient rank to perform such a task. John is claiming no particular right or legacy here, that he is, in fact, quite lowly.

John the Baptist appears to be a cynic, like Diogenes: living as a wild beast among urban citizens, causing general unease and dispensing great wisdom. The man living apart from society attempts to attain a kind of understanding of truth in cleanliness through separation from urban noise and filth. Primarily, then, we have the impression of someone wearing a costume of a truthful man. This character’s presence in the wilderness, his literal separation from civilization may be a kind of mockery of the various Judean separatist movements – as if to imply that the only thing found outside of civilization is ‘locusts and wild honey’.

Like Diogenes, John is presented as a speaker of truth who can be trusted. He is not a prophet, but a messenger from Caesar, who brings a very specific message of certain doom to the Judean people. There’s a lot of stuff that’s added into this: Caesar can see into the future and plan for things decades away! Caesar is merciful and gave these folks every opportunity to turn aside from their sinful ways. Look! Even those riotous Jews knew that this was coming, see?