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Where was John the Baptist Killed?

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Although the first-century historian, Josephus, claims that John the Baptist died in Macherus (east of the Jordan River), Tiberias is probably the place where he was imprisoned and killed, and where Salome danced for Herod’s dinner guests. This is found in Story #100 of The Merged Gospels.


Herod arrested John the Baptist somewhere near Tel Salim, and he listens to John in prison in Tiberias (Story #29 of The Merged Gospels).

While some commentators assume that Herod celebrated his birthday in Macherus, Jordan, (because Flavius Josephus claims that John was beheaded in Macherus), it is more likely that the celebration took place in Tiberias. Mark 6:21 states that on his birthday, Herod “gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders, and the leading men of Galilee”. While Herod Antipas was the Tetrarch of both Galilee and Perea (the location of Macheras), Macheras is a five-day walking journey from Tiberias. Why would Herod have hosted such a large event with so many dignitaries and relatives from Galilee so far away from Galilee itself? We must also note that there are no dignitaries from Perea mentioned as being invited, which we would have expected if Macheras was the location of the party. If not for Josephus’ comment about Macherus being where John died, no commentator would have ever doubted that Herod’s birthday party took place in any location but Tiberias. Additionally, all clues in the text of the Gospels appear to favor Tiberias as the place where the party occurred, and as the place where John the Baptist died.


There are three theories about where John’s death took place:  


1. That John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed in Tiberias, and not in Macheras, Jordan, as Flavius Josephus reports.


2. That John was imprisoned for a time in Macherus (as Josephus reports), but was later transferred to Tiberias.


3. That Herod’s birthday party took place in Macherus, and this is where Salome danced.


Let us consider the Biblical text, and see which of the above theories they support:


“Right away”. Mark 6:25 records Salome as asking for the head of John the Baptist “right away”. This suggests that John’s imprisonment was close to the events of the celebration, and would favor options 1 and 3 above.


Speed of execution. In Matthew 14:10/Mark 6:27, it is recorded that an executioner was immediately sent to behead John, and after doing so, brought the head to Salome. If John were in Macheras during his execution, and Salome was in Galilee, she would have had to wait ten days for her request to be granted. The sense of the passage is that her request was granted immediately, once again, favoring theories 1 and 3 above.


Josephus was wrong at other times. Josephus was wrong about John the Baptist on several other points. In Jewish Antiquities (book 18, 5:2), he states:


1. Josephus says that John did not baptize for the remission of sins only, but the purification of the body. This lies in direct opposition to Scripture – that John baptized solely for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4/Luke 3:3, Matthew 3:11, AC 19:4).


2. Josephus says that Herod killed John out of fear of him. On the contrary, Matthew 14:9/Mark 6:26 says that Herod killed John to fulfill an oath made to his daughter-in-law, Salome.


3. Josephus remarks that the Jews believed that Herod’s army was destroyed by Aretas, King of Arabia, because of what Herod did to John. While this is not necessarily stated as Josephus’ opinion, it is clear from Acts 12:23 that Herod died because he did not give glory to God.


4. A growing number of scholars doubt that Josephus’ reference to John in Antiquities 18.5.2 was actually penned by Josephus himself, but rather by a later interpolator. The basis of this argument lies in the assertion that Herod did not control Macherus during the time of John’s imprisonment, but rather it belonged to the Arabs. Specifically, the events immediately preceding and following Josephus’ paragraph about John were during a time when Macherus was controlled by Aretas, the Arabian king. If this is true, this paragraph about John is totally out of chronological order, casting a strong element of doubt over the theory that John the Baptist was ever in Macherus, but only assumed to have been there by a later interpolator.


The springs near Salim. The last sighting of John before his imprisonment was at Ainon (springs) near Salim (John 3:23), which is much closer to Tiberias than it was to Macherus.


Herod listened to John. Mark 6:20 states that Herod kept watch over John and heard him gladly. The sense is that Herod was close to John during his imprisonment, something that was more likely to happen where Herod had his home base in Tiberias than in Macherus.


John the Baptist’s imprisonment. If our assumption is true, that John died in Tiberias, then John’s question “Are You He Who is coming, or might we be hoping for another - a different one?” (Story 82, The Merged GospelsTM) was asked while John was imprisoned in Tiberias.


The close proximity of Jesus. During John’s imprisonment, Matthew and Luke record a conversation that Jesus and John had through John’s disciples regarding Jesus’ Messianic identity. However, it is clear from these two books that Jesus was in Capernaum immediately before this conversation ensued. Matthew 11:12 states that John heard in prison of the works of Christ. This “hearing” would have been more likely if John were imprisoned 10 miles from Capernaum rather than five days away in Macherus. Moreover, the conversation would have been much more efficient if John was in Tiberias, rather than in Macherus.

In Story 106 of The Merged GospelsTM, Herod speculated that John the Baptist has been resurrected in the person of Jesus. This dialogue probably occurred in his palace at Tiberias, since it is also said that many persons were counseling Herod as to the true identity of Jesus. Having so many counselors present to advise him further suggests that Herod was in his home palace of Tiberias.

Jesus was somewhere near Tiberias when He called Herod Antipas a “fox” (Story #178 of The Merged GospelsTM). Stories 177 and 178 of The Merged Gospels very likely occurred near Tiberias, since Jesus was making progress on His way to Jerusalem (which would have taken Him around the west side of Galilee), wherein He was warned by a Pharisee to flee the area, because Herod wished to kill Him, and that He was too close to Herod to be safe (Luke 13:31). This seems to suggest that Jesus was close to Tiberias when this story occurred.

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