In 328 pages, Shimon Gibson explains John the Baptist’s existence through finds at an archaeological site as well as through other “finds” contributed by people claiming to have a literal piece of John. He, as most people should, acknowledges that only one head actually housed the brain of John the Baptist yet, along his journey, he encountered 19 different skulls or skull fragments of John. Gibson, apparently along with the rest of the world, is uncertain as to which head is official (if any of them are).
The cave is located in the hills west of Jerusalem in a village called Ain Karim. The House of Zacharias and Elizabeth (John the Baptist’s parents) is linked to Ain Karim in some texts from the sixth to the eighth centuries. The cave was discovered in 1999 with many drawings inside it, which are shown in both black ink drawings and actual photographs in the book. Two that stand out are the figure of John the Baptist and “a life-size representation of a right arm flanked by two crosses.”
Gibson typically provides support for his theories, such as his justification of John the Baptist’s legendary clothes. Gibson cites religious texts as well as what would have been John’s surroundings as support.
The same cave, “appeared to have been occupied in the first century AD by a strange group of people with a lifestyle unlike anything that any of us (Gibson’s crew) encountered before at sites from this period in the Jerusalem hills.” Gibson is referring to the observance that the inhabitants seemed to only use his cave for baptism procedures. He uses the word “unusual” to describe these apparent happenings in the recently uncovered cave. The events took place in the Early Roman period for the time span of 100 years or so (“from the end of the first century BC to the early second century AD.”)
Trying to better understand the actual use of the cave, Gibson intelligently informs the reader of three different baptism practices as read about in the Acts of the Apostles.
The book’s “Conclusion” takes place 119 pages before the Bibliography, but the “Conclusion” chapter is only to be understood as the conclusion of his discussion about that particular cave. The reader, throughout “The Cave of John the Baptist,” is relocated many times – too many times. Without a reasonably drawn map, the places being discussed aren’t easily placed within the mind of the reader. This is one of the few problems I have with the book.
The final portion of the book is devoted to the followers of John. Gibson likes to place locations in religious text in modern spaces, like so many have done before him and like so many will do after him. Without any doubt, I trust Gibson’s archaeological intellect as his noted credentials and literary thoroughness speak for themselves.
The tomb of John the Baptist was located in Sebaste during the Byzantine period. “This area was originally just outside the ancient city of Samaria/Sebaste and was being used as a cemetery during the Roman period, if not earlier.” This book has many archaeological period-references, so many that I had a tough time following them as well.
The aforementioned heads of John the Baptist are brought to light near the end of the book, at which point Gibson discusses his and others’ risky journeys around the holy land. The purpose of the journeys is to obtain knowledge and rightly so – these archaeologists, accredited as they are, must keep tabs on supposed finds, which are often proven fraudulent. The journeys described help to convince me of the accuracy of Gibson’s findings.
The book should be read by people with a religious interest. I understand that archaeological finds aren’t a justification of miracles from religious text but people like Shimon Gibson claim that John the Baptist did take up residence in a cave west of Jerusalem when he wasn’t out in the wilderness dining on locusts. My largest complaint is the seeming lack of attention from Gibson, who wanted to discuss supposed John the Baptist artifacts instead of what could be proven.