The Church of John the Baptist (Sebastia)
Exploring the Church of John the Baptist in Sebastia
Location – Sebastia
Map Coordinates - 32.275603, 35.189754
The Church of Saint John the Baptist is located on the south side of the Sebastian acropolis, and it dates back to the fifth century.
The Umm ar-Rasas Mosaic.
This church was pictured in a mosaic built in the year 785 AD at the ruins of the Church of Saint Stephen on the archeological site of Umm ar-Rasas in the country of Jordan. You can tell that this is the same building, since, like the ruins it depicts, there is one large door in the front, with windows on the side. These windows have since been filled in with smaller stones. The mosaic also shows two cuboid towers toward the front of the church, and one of these towers still exists to this day.
The mosaic at Umm ar-Rasas in Jordan.
The Crypt in this Church.
There is a small crypt in the front left part of the church’s nave, where some believe that John the Baptist was both imprisoned, and ultimately beheaded. This is doubtful since John was most likely killed in Tiberias (despite what Josephus says about him dying in Machaerus. Josephus has been known to be historically wrong on other occasions as well). Here are two reasons for this assumption:
The cenotaph (commemorative tomb) inside the Church of Saint John.
1. Herod Antipas lived in Tiberias. Of Herod, Mark 6:20 says “And he was keeping watch over him (John), and having heard him, he did many things, and he was hearing him gladly.” This sounds like Herod listened to John often, and this would be unlikely if John was imprisoned 53 miles away in this location. Remember, they traveled on foot back then.
2. In Matthew 14:10/Mark 6:27, it is recorded that John’s executioner was immediately sent to behead John, and after doing so, he brought the head to Salome. If John were in Sebastia during his execution, and Salome was in Tiberias, she would have had to wait about three days for her request to be granted. The sense of the passage is that her request was granted immediately, once again, favoring the notion that John was imprisoned and died in Tiberias.