Feast of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist

John the Baptist, Herod and Us

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Today is the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist.  His message of repentance is extremely unpopular in our day.  We live in a time of cheap grace.  When men bother to think of God at all they often tend to view him as a pal, a good joe who will gather us into a Heavenly Kingdom that is like Disneyland on steroids where we will be happy forever, no matter what wretched evil we have committed in this life.  What could be more opposite to this view of “God loves us just the way we are” than the burning message of the Baptist?

[1] Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea, and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina; [2] Under the high priests Annas and Caiphas; the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. [3] And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins; [4] As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. [5] Every valley shall be filled; and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight; and the rough ways plain;

[6] And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. [7] He said therefore to the multitudes that went forth to be baptized by him: Ye offspring of vipers, who hath shewed you to flee from the wrath to come? [8] Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of penance; and do not begin to say, We have Abraham for our father. For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. [9] For now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit, shall be cut down and cast into the fire. [10] And the people asked him, saying: What then shall we do?

[11] And he answering, said to them: He that hath two coats, let him give to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do in like manner. [12] And the publicans also came to be baptized, and said to him: Master, what shall we do? [13] But he said to them: Do nothing more than that which is appointed you. [14] And the soldiers also asked him, saying: And what shall we do? And he said to them: Do violence to no man; neither calumniate any man; and be content with your pay. [15] And as the people were of opinion, and all were thinking in their hearts of John, that perhaps he might be the Christ;

[16] John answered, saying unto all: I indeed baptize you with water; but there shall come one mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to loose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: [17] Whose fan is in his hand, and he will purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. [18] And many other things exhorting, did he preach to the people. [19] But Herod the tetrarch, when he was reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’ s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done; [20] He added this also above all, and shut up John in prison. Continue reading

Josephus on the Beheading of John the Baptist

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Today is the feast of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist, an event which is mentioned in a source other than the Gospels.  Here is the Jewish historian Josephus who wrote circa 93-94 AD  regarding the death of the Baptist in his Jewish Antiquities:

About this time Aretas, the king of  Petra, and Herod the Tetrarch had a quarrel on account of the following. Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas and had lived with her a great while; but once when he was on his way to Rome he lodged with  his half-brother, also named Herod but who had a different mother,  the high priest Simon’s daughter.  There he fell in love with Herodias, this latter Herod’s wife, who was the daughter of their brother Aristobulus and the sister of Agrippa the Great.     This man ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; she accepted, and an agreement was made for her to come to him as soon as he should return from Rome, one condition of this marriage being that he should divorce Aretas’s daughter. So when he had made this agreement, he sailed to Rome; but when he had finished there and returned again, his wife, having discovered the agreement he had made with Herodias, and before he knew that she knew of the plan, asked him to send her to Machaerus, a place on the border between the territories of Aretas and Herod, without informing him of any of her intentions.     Accordingly Herod sent her there, thinking his wife had not perceived anything. But she had sent messages a good while before to Machaerus, which had been under the control of her father, and so all things necessary for her escape were made ready for her by the general of Aretas’s army.  By that means she soon came into Arabia, under the conduct of the several generals, who carried her from one to another successively; and soon she came to her father and told him of Herod’s intentions.     Aretas made this the start of his enmity toward Herod. He also had a quarrel with him about their boundaries in the area of Gabalis. So they raised armies on both sides and prepared for war, sending their generals to fight instead of themselves. And when they had joined battle, all Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip and joined the army, betrayed him.  So Herod wrote about these affairs to Emperor Tiberius, who was very angry at the attempt made by Aretas and wrote to Vitellius to make war upon him and either to take him alive, and bring him in chains, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the command that Tiberius gave to the governor of Syria.

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