Josephus on the Execution of John the Baptist

Friday, August 29, AD 2014

No figure is as mysterious in Holy Writ as Saint John the Baptist, the Precursor sent to announce the coming of Christ, wrapped in the power and force of Elijah the prophet.  In many ways  the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, like them preaching tirelessly and fearlessly a message of repentance, and, like most of them, announcing that a Messiah was coming to bring salvation from God.

Today is the feast of the beheading of John the Baptist.  It is a very old feast, as old, perhaps, as the other feast day we have for the birth of the Baptist.

The calls of the Baptist for repentance and his announcement that the long expected Messiah had arrived, had a shattering impact on his audiences, as they crowded around him to receive baptism.  The fire of his faith, and his complete lack of fear, is a standing rebuke to Christians who have allowed their faith to grow cold, and who fear the World, the Flesh and the Devil more than they love the God who loves each of us as though there were no other Men except us.

Here is the description by the Jewish historian Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, of the circumstances that gave rise to the imprisonment of John:

 

 

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.

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6 Responses to Josephus on the Execution of John the Baptist

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!

Feast Day of the Beheading of John the Baptist

Monday, August 29, AD 2011

August 29 is the feast day of the beheading of John the Baptist, the herald of Christ.  Charlton Heston, in the video clip above, gave a powerful portrayal of the Baptist in The Greatest Story Ever Told, capturing the raw courage and energy that animated John the Baptist as a result of the blazing faith he had in God.  Like Elijah, John came out of the wilderness to fearlessly proclaim the word of God, but what Elijah and the other prophets could only glimpse darkly, the coming of the Messiah, John saw with his own eyes.  The last and greatest of the prophets, John fulfilled the role of Elijah as proclaimed by the prophet Malachi:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.

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6 Responses to Feast Day of the Beheading of John the Baptist

  • St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

    St. John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s, St. Elizabeth’s, womb when the Blessed Virgin greeted her.

    The Second Joyful Mystery: the Visitation. I desire Charity toward my neighbor. Contemplate Mary’s charity in visiting her cousin, St. Elizabeth, and remaining with her for three months before the birth of St. John the Baptist.

  • Was St. John the Baptist the Last Prophet, or the First Apostle? I think a case can be made for both.

  • ……”As for you, little child, you shall be called a prophet of God the Most High.
    You shall go ahead of the Lord to prepare his ways before Him.”……..

    From the Benedictus – the canticle of Zecharia.

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  • I have heard it argued that John, far from being the precursor of the Christ, was the leader of a sect inimical to that of Jesus. I prefer to go by Scripture. Richard Strauss’s opera Salome, for all its sensuousness, is a profoundly religious work.

  • John the Baptist wound up in jail for his prophetic role. While there he began to doubt what he formerly knew, that Jesus was the Messiah. He asked whether Jesus was the one or if another one was coming. Then he was beheaded. To follow Christ is to bear a daily cross and to be taken places we don’t always want to go. Frightening yet glorious. For John it ended in martyrdom.