What to Do With an Errant John the Baptist?



  • @Rublev
    You said:
    I'm inclined to go with Josephus in this one.

    Yes, but I would have preferred that you stick with Luke 7 first and saved Josephus for later.
    That is my prejudice: Deal with the earliest sources first. BUT SEE BELOW:
    Rublev wrote: »

    John the Baptist and Jesus have separate ministries and different theologies in the gospel accounts. And John doesn't know that Jesus is the Messiah (Luke 7: 18-23).

    I think Jesus went to be baptised by John and that was their only encounter which the gospel authors later embroidered into a relationship between them.

    Whoa! You just redeemed yourself!

    I only now went back and saw that last sentence.

    I think you are absolutely right, @Rublev

    Our earliest gospel materials reflect a time when there were no wondrous stories being told about the births and the early lives of either Jesus or John, no family connections between them, no baby leaping in Elizabeth's womb, etc.. etc. All that is legendary. And there are good historical reasons for saying that. But I would prefer to take them in order.
  • @Kwesi
    Jesus and John were never together in Galilee.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    @Bishop's Finger

    What is the scriptural and theological basis for the assumption of Mary?

    Perhaps there should be another thread on the quest for the historical Mary. That would probably be even more fascinating than the historical J the B.

    I didn't say there was a scriptural and/or theological basis for the Assumption, but it is a long-held tradition in the Churches of the West, and of the East (where AIUI it is referred to as the Dormition, or Falling Asleep).

    Please feel free to start a thread on the subject - as you rightly say, a fascinating subject (and possibly rather more emotive than John the Baptist!).

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity! (Ps 133: 1).

    When you have completed your historical analysis of John the Baptist, let's take a look at Mary and Pilate.
  • @Rublev, is that last post addressed to me? Cos I'm not working on an historical analysis of John the Baptist, and neither did I mention Pilate (how did he creep in?).
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    No, it was addressed to James. But do feel free to contribute your thoughts and reflections. Especially about Mary. Pilate was further up thread. I think he is another historical figure whose dialogue underwent a revision in the gospels.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity! (Ps 133: 1).

    When you have completed your historical analysis of John the Baptist, let's take a look at Mary and Pilate.

    I can't possibly satisfactorily complete it without your help.

    But I am not in the least interested in searching for the historical Mary. As for Pilate, now there's a worthy subject! I would really like to pick your mind on that one!
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    JamesBoswell II: Jesus and John were never together in Galilee.

    Is that a fact or fiction based on fact?
  • It's becoming difficult to tell, isn't it?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I have now seen your post on the Dormition of Mary. Have you ever been to visit Chora Church in Istanbul? It has a famous mosaic of this scene. As well as a whole cycle of mosaics about the miraculous birth of Mary and her childhood in the Temple which she spent weaving the Temple veil.
  • Alas, no, I haven't been to Istanbul...not likely to, now, but never mind!
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    @James Boswell II

    OK, the historical Pilate's up next. But what do you have against the historical Mary?

    I thought J the B was pretty much done and dusted. But please continue if you have further thoughts.
  • @Rublev
    Oh my goodness! No, no, no! Dusty, but not dusted!

    Tomorrow I will try to express what I find most meaningful, exciting, etc. regarding how Jesus and John are portrayed in Luke 7. Again, I think if a tape recorder had been running that day, it would have captured in Aramaic words resembling what we have in the Greek of Luke 7.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I'm all for meaningful, exciting and passionate theology! The historical Pilate can wait his turn.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    John the Baptist and Jesus have separate ministries and different theologies in the gospel accounts. And John doesn't know that Jesus is the Messiah (Luke 7: 18-23).

    This is a problematic quote, as was noted in that other thread. Just because John later came to doubt doesn't mean he earlier didn't believe. Drastic change in fortune can cause one to question all one holds dear.

  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    What would cause John to have a doubt? In Luke's baptism account he sees the sign of the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove and the voice of God saying, 'You are my Beloved Son' (Luke 3: 22). I think the historical narrative is recorded in Luke's previous line: 'One day when the crowds were being baptised, Jesus Himself was baptised' (Luke 3: 21).

    It was quite usual for ancient historians such as the contemporary Livy to embellish their narrative by writing speeches. Luke adds literary constructs to his gospel to bring out his message of salvation. So he presents his particular theological version of John with a birth account. The historical account is incorporated in the gospel narrative and comparative methods can reveal the theological layers of meaning.

    How do you see the historical John the Baptist?
  • That reminds me of a 'John-the-Baptist' sermon, one Advent, by our then-Archdeacon (he's now a Bishop), in which he said that it's OK - and honest before God - to have doubts.

    All this striving for solid Truth™ seems to me to be searching for a wisp of straw in the middle of a very large pile of needles.

    (Who first said that?)
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    A bishop once told me that the opposite of faith was not doubt, but certainty.

    There is nothing wrong with having a questioning faith or in delving deeply into the Bible. It reveals more about the story that the gospel writers were telling us. And it means that when you encounter and untangle a knotty theological problem you will be less likely to reject the entire Christian faith because of it. The search for God is always a personal search. And there is always more to know.
  • A quick little thing to you, @Rublev
    I think I for one would find it MOST intriguing if you would go to the Atoning/ Non Atoning Jesus thread and answer the question I am just now about to pose for you there, late on the 15th of August.

    Only if you want to, however.
  • Rublev wrote: »
    What would cause John to have a doubt?

    He's in prison and fearing for his life. If he was expecting the Christ to usher in the messianic age and set things to rights, this could be a huge blow to his beliefs.
    How do you see the historical John the Baptist?

    This is a very broad question. One could write all day and not have done. What exactly are you asking for?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    I have been writing about this all day. But it is still interesting. Among the variety of theological takes on John, where do you come down?

    It is a good point that John is in prison when he asks this question. Perhaps he wants assurance before his death. But it is curious (given the gospel accounts) that he is asking as if he really doesn't know Jesus. But maybe he didn't. It's possible that John baptised Jesus amongst a crowd and then heard about his miraculous deeds in prison. So he sent a message in the hope that the promised Messiah really has come (Matt 11: 2). When Jesus heard the news of his death He wanted to be alone (Matt 14: 13). He must have seen a foreshadowing of his own death in the execution of John.
  • Wow, Rublev, you sure are thinking like a good historical Jesus scholar!
    You're hot on the track for finding the historical relationship of John and Jesus.

    (It ain't to be found in the Gospel of John. That's lovely Johannine theology, but not history.)
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    'Written that you may believe.'
    Yes, John creates an extraordinary Christological world where you can sit with the Samaritan woman at the well, kneel with Mary of Bethany and walk with Mary Magdalene on Easter morning...
  • I agree.
    There probably was a Samaritan woman at a well, and Jesus really did talk with her (John 4:27), but the conversation we have in John is Johannine, and of the Resurrected Lord.

    Likewise, Mary of Bethany is kneeling, not really before the pre-crucifixion Jesus, but before the living, speaking Resurrected One.

    HOWEVER I think we actually do walk with Mary Magdalene to the tomb on Easter morning in the dark. And experience her terror that someone has stolen Jesus' body from the borrowed tomb where Joseph of Arimathea had hastily put the corpse (John 19:42). We also return to the tomb to weep with her, and then ... well, then some very special things start happening...

    In other words, I think John's tomb scene is actually more historical that any of the synoptic Easter morning accounts.
  • mousethiefmousethief Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    Rublev wrote: »
    I have been writing about this all day. But it is still interesting. Among the variety of theological takes on John, where do you come down?

    I don't know what the theological takes on John are. Not being a theologian, nor having read widely on the theology of JtB. My church believes he was Jesus' cousin, calls him The Forerunner, and celebrates him as a martyr. We also have a couple of feasts celebrating three historical (if they are historical) occurrences of finding his peripatetic head. We believe he baptized Jesus in the Jordan, and celebrate this event on January 6. I have never heard any convincing reasons to doubt any of it (although the head legends are kinda sketchy). I hope this suffices. Please ask questions if it doesn't.

    (All that said I think the idea of having a Feast of The Second and Third Findings of the Holy Head of the Glorious Forerunner and Baptist John is wicked cool, whatever the historical underpinnings or lack thereof)
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    I hadn't heard that the head of J the B had got lost. Is that based on the reading that John's disciples took away his body, but Salome took his head on a platter to Herodias? I wonder what she did with it?

    There is no dispute between the sources that John was a prophet and a martyr. They all name him as the Baptist and a teacher of righteousness and piety who had a popular mass following.

    The gospels all say that John named himself as the voice in the wilderness of Isaiah (Mark 1:3; Is 40: 3). And that he baptised Jesus in the river Jordan (Mark 1: 9). Mark and Matthew record the story of his execution by Herod but I think the dance of Salome is legend.

    If you compare Mark and Josephus about John you can see the theological layer he adds. Following Pentecost the disciples see Jesus as baptising with the Holy Spirit and with fire (the tongues of fire of Acts 2: 3) compared to John who baptised in water (Mark 1: 8). According to my study Bible Jews often baptised non Jews who had converted to Judaism, but it was an innovation to baptise a Jew as a sign of repentance.

    The Synoptics apply the prophecy of Malachi to John and identify him as the forerunner of Jesus (Mark 1: 2; 1: 7; Mal 3: 1).

    If you compare Mark against Luke and then John you can see the theological layers that they add. Luke adds a legendary birth account of John in parallel to Jesus. He identifies them as cousins but they don't seem to have any relationship or knowledge of each other. John gives John the Baptist a complementary role in his Hymn to the Word and repeatedly emphasises his inferiority to Jesus.

    I suspect that Jesus came out to be baptised by John with the crowds and out of this significant event comes the gospel portrait of John the Baptist. But except for Matthew's account of the baptism there is no dialogue taking place between John and Jesus. The gospel writers want to include the baptism because it marks the start of Jesus' ministry. And this may well have been a life changing spiritual experience for Jesus which inspired Him to begin an active teaching ministry proclaiming the kingdom of God. The gospels are rather embarrassed that John is baptising Jesus and this is reflected in the language of Matthew where they practically have an argument about it (Matt 3: 13-15). But this is their only recorded conversation together. When you read the gospel accounts John and Jesus are recorded as talking about each other, but not to each other.
  • Good analysis. One little correction, however. You are entirely correct that the fact that John baptized Jesus was an embarrassment to the church: Why should Jesus submit to a ritual by an inferior, indeed a ritual intended only for repentant sinners? And so, as you correctly observed, the author of Matthew inserted into the Markan account a conversation between Jesus and John rather clumsily intended to play down the offensiveness of it.*

    But the Gospel of John goes further. Read carefully, and you will see that it is the only gospel that does not actually state that John baptized Jesus, though Luke manages to de-emphasize John's involvement in it.

    Another embarrassment, narrated by the early sources Q and Mark, was the immediately following temptation by Satan: How could the Spirit-anointed, Spirit-led Messiah ever be tempted by the Evil One? (That doesn't fit well with Isaiah 11:2-3a).

    So the Gospel of John simply omits it.
    *Matthew also changes the voice at the baptism from "You are my Son" to "This is my Son," making Jesus' subjective experience become a public one. This fits in better with the notion that the virgin born Jesus would have known this already, assuming that his father and mother would have told him!)
  • So the Gospel of John simply omits it.

    Stating boldly the state of mind of author(s) two millenia dead isn't a good look.
  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    I don’t see how Isaiah 11:2-3 means that Jesus being tempted was embarrassing to the writer of John. Furthermore, John is different in so many ways from the other Gospels, as you know, that judging it by the same standards is really quite impossible.
  • Didn't the church fathers express some difficulty with both the baptism and the temptation of Jesus? Didn't they and the later Gnostics much prefer the Gospel of John on this sort of thing?
  • Don't ask us tell us. Which fathers? Give links.
  • Perhaps he doesn't know?
  • I am going by memory in general, and have no way of searching for that specific information.

    I do remember, however, a scholarly article in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary pointing out that some of the fathers even objected to the place in Mark where, after being touched by the woman in the crowd, Jesus said, "Who in the crowd touched me?" and "kept looking around to see who had done it" (Mark 5:30,32).

    He should have known! the fathers reasoned. Omnisciently, he should have known!

  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    I’m not aware of any difficulties the Church Fathers had with either passages. Now and days view the temptation as somehow being indicative of Jesus’ humanity. He was tempted in every way we are yet did not sin.
  • Yes, and if he were not capable of sin, he would not have been fully human.

    And we really can't know to what extent his divine nature was partially eclipsed by his human nature, as it would have been a perfectly natural, and human, reaction, to be unsure as to who had touched him.

    I can imagine the early fathers, of course, wrestling with these questions!
  • The early fathers certainly considered Jesus to be sinless, though he may not have so regarded himself. When he went to be baptized, he may have felt that he needed it as much as others. Or he may have only wanted to identify himself with his people, as some have said. Anyway, he submitted to John's "immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

    Now, according to some thinking, even to think a sinful thought already involves one in sin. How then, could Jesus really be tempted? I have read a fundamentalist who tried to claim that Jesus really was tempted without really being tempted.

    I'll leave it to him to puzzle that out.

    The Gospel of John frequently downplays Jesus' humanness, without however denying it.

    Gnostics and Docetists didn't regard Jesus as really human, much less tempted.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    @James Boswell II

    Yes, as you point out John can't actually bring himself to say that John the Baptist baptised Jesus Christ. It doesn't fit into his theology of the witness and the divine Logos. He says instead that, 'I came baptising with water for this reason, that He might be revealed to Israel' (John 1: 31).

    I think what is going on here with the story of John the Baptist is that his execution would have caused a great disappointment (along the lines of the disciples on the road to Emmeus), followed by a theological re-evaluation. Why did John die and his spiritual revival come to an end? Clearly, his prophetic ministry to Israel was not intended to be completed by him, but by someone else instead. So he becomes the forerunner of Jesus whom he had baptised.

    It's not the case that the gospel writers were making their stories up. They collected the oral traditions which were circulating in their time as the basis of their narratives. And they selected the ones which best fitted their particular theological theme about the life, death and meaning of Jesus Christ. These included well attested eyewitness accounts - but they also included some rather dubious traditions like the far fetched story of the dance of Salome and the promise of half of Herod's kingdom (Mark 6: 23-24). No Herod would have made such an offer.
  • I agree on the far fetched story. It probably was popular folk tale taken up by Mark. If anything like that had actually happened, Josephus would surely have related it, for he loved to say bad things about the Herods.

    I agree too that the followers of Jesus, and probably Jesus himself, regarded John as Jesus' forerunner. But John himself proclaimed that after him would come one mightier than he who would separate the wheat from the chaff and bring the wheat "into his barn" while he would "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    John the Baptist certainly proclaimed a fiery message of judgement. And remarkably, crowds of people came into the desert to hear it. But it doesn't correlate with Jesus' gospel of good news which is the very opposite and purposely omits the OT prediction of the vengeance of the Lord in Isaiah (Luke 4: 18-20; Is 61: 1-2). The only connection concerning fire that can be made with Jesus is that at Pentecost the disciples received the baptism with the Holy Spirit and tongues of fire (Matt 3: 11). And this is clearly a retrospective understanding.

  • When I was a young teenager, I became intrigued by the gospels and started reading them very carefully. It wasn’t long before I was forced to ask myself some difficult questions.
    I soon found myself wondering how it could be possible that even before Jesus’ birth his parents were made fully aware by angels as to exactly who and what Jesus was destined to be, and yet according to our earliest gospel, Mark, when Jesus began his ministry, his own family thought he had lost his mind. His mother and his brothers went over to Capernaum to try to seize him and bring him home with them. But Jesus refused, saying that his family now consisted only of those who accepted his teachings.
    Still later, when Jesus came to teach in his home town, his family and most of his Nazareth neighbors rejected him. They accorded him, as he himself said, ‘no honor,’ not even in his own home, not even in his own house. —‘But how could that possibly be?’ I wondered as a young teen.
    I also noticed that in some gospel passages John the Baptizer is presented as if he knew exactly who and what Jesus was. According to the first chapter of the Gospel of John, the Baptizer said that God’s own voice had spoken to him directly from heaven, telling him that Jesus was the messianic Son of God. And yet, according to an old Q passage, John later, when in prison, sent messengers to Jesus to ask him whether he was or was not the expected One!
    ‘Now how in the world,’ I wondered as a teenager ‘—how in the world could the Baptizer be directly told by God’s own voice from heaven exactly who and what Jesus was, and yet later when John was in prison he sent messengers to ask Jesus whether he was or was not the expected Messiah? That makes no sense at all.’

  • Another problem I encountered was this: In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples of Jesus are portrayed as not knowing who Jesus is until late in his ministry. It isn’t until about halfway through that gospel that Peter finally comes to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah, and says so. And yet in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples are already calling him the Messiah almost from the first moment they meet him!
    I was puzzled by these discrepancies, these gospel contradictions. But fortunately for me, in those days I was attending a Disciples of Christ church where honest questions and genuine scholarship were encouraged, and so it did not take me long to begin finding answers to my questions. My conclusion then as a young teen, and as a old man now, is this:
    If we focus in on the earliest New Testament source materials – that is, if we focus in on Paul, Q, and Mark – we do not find the huge contradictions and discrepancies that appear when we consider the later sources.
    QUESTIONER: And why is that?
    Because when Paul wrote his letters, and when Q and Mark were being written, there was nothing in the earliest Christian preaching – nothing to suggest that either John the Baptizer or the family of Jesus had expected Jesus to do or be anything extraordinary. In Q and in Mark, the Baptizer does not seem even to know Jesus personally, much less what he was.
    QUESTIONER: But that must mean that the earliest Christian preaching contained no miraculous birth stories about either Jesus or John. No angelic annunciations or revelations about either of them!
    Exactly right! During their early lives there were no such stories being told about them, no such stories circulating, no such claims being made. Jesus’ early life in Nazareth had passed quite unremarkably, quite ordinarily. And so when he suddenly began his ministry of teaching and healing, it came as a surprise to everyone – his family, John the Baptizer, everyone. It was completely unexpected, and so different from anything that anyone had foreseen concerning the Messiah that everyone had difficulty making up their minds about him. And I mean everyone. The crowds, Jesus’ own family, his neighbors, John the Baptizer, even Jesus’ own disciples – all of them struggled with questions concerning what they should think about him, how they should regard him. And, interestingly, in those earliest sources Jesus was not quick to tell them exactly what they should think.
    Now, in the same Q passage where John sends messengers to ask Jesus whether or not he is the expected One, Jesus replies, not with a direct yes or no, but by excitedly telling the messengers to return to John and tell him what they have seen and heard – how ‘the blind are seeing, the deaf are hearing, the lame are walking, the dead are being raised, and the poor are having good news preached to them’ – all wonders predicted in Isaiah for the messianic age.
    And then, right after that, when John’s messengers have departed, Jesus begins talking to the crowds about the Baptizer, telling them that there never has been a person born who was greater than John. And this Jesus says even though John has just indicated to Jesus that he didn’t know what to think about him.
    Now consider that. We can be sure the church would never have invented statements like those, statements in which Jesus says that John is as great as any prophet who has ever lived – and yet this great prophet has just made it clear to Jesus that he didn’t know what to think or believe about him, about Jesus.
  • QUESTIONER: And yet, if Jesus really was performing all those wonders, how could John have been so uncertain about him?
    Because the wonderful things that Jesus was doing were not the things that John had predicted. As Q makes clear, John had predicted that a mighty one would come who would powerfully separate the wheat from the chaff, the good people from the bad – and the good he would gather into the safety of his barn, but the bad, the chaff, he would burn in unquenchable fire. But that’s not what Jesus was doing. Rather than throwing the chaff into eternal flames, Jesus was sitting at table with them – eating with them, eating with sinners, eating with the religiously unorthodox, with unacceptable outcasts. And that was so offensive to the religious sentiment of the time that it soon got Jesus marked for execution by some of the Pharisees who called him a despicable reprobate, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, ‘a glutton and a drunkard’ – Mosaic legal terminology for one so irredeemably perverse as to deserve death by stoning! Indeed, what Jesus was doing was so shockingly scandalous that he apparently felt it necessary to warn even the Baptizer not to be offended by it. ‘Blessed is anyone who is not offended by me.’ That was part of the message he sent the imprisoned prophet.
    Note that in this earliest gospel material we see a Jesus who expressed great admiration for the prophet John – ‘a prophet and more than a prophet,’ Jesus called him. And when we turn to the Gospel of Mark, we find something similar. In Mark, after Jesus audaciously rides a donkey into Jerusalem , drives the money changers out of the Temple , and begins teaching in the Temple courts, the Temple leaders challenge him to tell them where he got the authority to do such things. Jesus replies, in effect, 'I will ask you a question. You answer me, and I will answer you. Who gave John the authority to baptize?’ And when the leaders refused to answer him, Jesus refused to answer them.
    In that, Jesus was indicating that he derived his authority from the same source that had given John the authority to baptize, and that's another ringing endorsement for the prophet John—and this again despite his failure to recognize Jesus!
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    I was thinking about this yesterday:

    What is the basic historical narrative of the gospels? And what was the theology of John the Baptist and Jesus?

    What are the theological reflections of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and Paul and why do they want to present their gospel narratives in that particular way?

    Is it possible to unpack them and recover the original gospel narrative and the actual words of Jesus: the message of the good news of the kingdom of God, the parables of the kingdom, the reprioritisation of the Law and the fulfilment of the OT prophecies about the Messiah in His own life, ministry and death?
  • KwesiKwesi Shipmate
    Rublev: Is it possible to unpack them and recover the original gospel narrative and the actual words of Jesus: the message of the good news of the kingdom of God, the parables of the kingdom, the reprioritisation of the Law and the fulfilment of the OT prophecies about the Messiah in His own life, ministry and death?

    IMO the short answer is 'No'. ISTM you want the text to do something that's not there, as if there is a true text waiting to be liberated from what is put before us: there is not a single gospel narrative but four, and we have to live with that. There is no hidden fifth gospel that transcends those we have.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    That reminds me of the response of John of Damascus:

    'You ask how it is possible for bread and wine to become the body and blood of our Lord. I will tell you. It is a mystery.'

    The theologising about the meaning of the life and death of Jesus Christ started immediately. And there are a number of different perspectives in the C1st NT records. They can be differentiated by their date and the particular interests of their authors. The characteristics of the gospels and the agendas of the Letters of Paul are very interesting to analyse in their own right.

    A great deal of Christian theology and doctrine was developed between C1-5th. It reflected their thoughts and understanding. And it met the needs of their time. But does it meet the needs of our time? After all, the Bible is an ongoing revelation. And we have access to modern Biblical scholarship and the historical-critical method. So there is still a great deal more to discuss about the theological meaning and perspectives of the gospel.
  • So Matthew made up ' 'his' ' 11th chapter?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited August 2019
    I think there are a number of different theological layers in Matthew 11, as I've already outlined above. Do you want to offer a counter interpretation?

    Take the story of the execution of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas in Matthew, Mark and Josephus (Matthew 14: 1-12; Mark 6: 14-29). Which version do you find to be the most convincing? A political murder or a vengeful Jezebel?

    It could be argued that the gospel writers were being circumspect by not blaming Herod. Josephus was writing much later, in Rome under the protection of the emperor. The gospel writers may have chosen a tradition which would be less likely to antagonise the local ruling elite of Judea. So they are careful to portray Herod in a sympathetic light as not wanting to put John to death.

    But let the reader understand.
  • I interpret everything as true in concentric circles of veracity.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    We progress not by circles, but by spirals. So we revisit the Bible texts at a deeper level of understanding each time.
  • LP record grooves look like the former but the latter and mathematically approximate to the former. Progress by spirals how? Spiral what, how?
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