prev It Happened on AUGUST 29 next

John the Baptist Beheaded

John the Baptist by Matthias Grünewald.

HEROD ANTIPAS, ruler of Galilee and Perea, was a sensual man. Visiting his half-brother Philip, he became attracted to his wife, Herodias. The two agreed to marry, and apparently did so before Philip’s death. Herodias was also Herod’s niece. Herod’s lust led directly to a showdown with the leading Jewish prophet when John the Baptist denounced his scandalous behavior.

Herodias was furious and demanded that Herod punish John. Unwilling to kill the prophet, Herod imprisoned him in the fortress of Machaerus and allowed John’s disciples to visit him. Herod found John interesting and conversed with him. John's message of holiness baffled and intrigued him.

One night the tyrant threw a party. Herodias had a daughter, whom tradition names Salome. She danced for the assembled guests. In return, Herod promised Salome whatever she asked, up to half his kingdom. He confirmed the offer with a great oath.

Jesus the New Way discusses John the Baptist’s role in Christ’s ministry.

Salome did not know what to ask and consulted her mother, who coached her reply. Salome returned to the king. No doubt he awaited her answer with some anxiety: what if she did ask for half his kingdom? The guests may have supposed she would want some fabulous jewel, a dowry, or a pleasant house. Her reply was shocking: “Give me, right now, the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

Herod was unhappy. The mood of a moment was costing him more dearly than he had anticipated. Accustomed to treating people as property, and afraid to appear an oath breaker, he ordered John's execution.

According to a tradition that goes back at least to the fifth century, Herod beheaded John the Baptist on this day, 29 August ca. 30. John’s disciples took his body and buried it. Tradition also says that later some of his remains were carried to Alexandria, Egypt where Christians placed them in a church specially built to honor the forerunner of Jesus.

When the news of John’s martyrdom reached Jesus, he went apart to be alone (Matthew 14:13). His cousin John had introduced his ministry, given him his first disciples, and baptized him. Hearing of Jesus’ miracles, Herod superstitiously thought he was the reincarnation of John. 

History does not tell us what became of Salome. As for Herod Antipas, his divorce from his first wife to marry Herodias led him into a war from which he emerged seriously weakened. He would later encounter Jesus and mock him. Finally he disappeared from history with Herodias at his side when the Romans forced him into exile.

The Staff of Christian History Institute

Subscribe to daily emails

Containing today’s events, devotional, quote and stories