Josephus on the Beheading of John the Baptist

Wednesday, August 29, AD 2012

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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2 Responses to Josephus on the Beheading of John the Baptist

  • John was not saved from prison miraculously as were others. Both Peter in Acts 12 and Paul in Acts 16 are saved from prison; Peter by an angel after great prayer by the Church and Paul by an earthquake after he and Silas prayed and sang hymns in prison after being beaten with rods. Paul didn’t flee though but converted the jailer and his whole household and went back to his cell in the AM by choice and was released by the Romans.
    But John was not saved miraculously from prison like Peter and Paul. But since all three were martyred in the long run, therefore Peter and Paul eventually experienced the inescapable custody of John that led to Heaven. And yes….Paul sang hymns after being beaten with rods by Roman soldiers and being put in chains; and last week I cursed as I got a flat tire.

  • How many more St.Johns and St. Thomas Moores do we need to wake up? How many more Henrys and Herods will there be before we come to understand that a wrong is a wrong and a good is a good and there is no “in-between”?
    Henry the VIIIth destroyed England and Herods of these times are destroying the world at large – and we let them!