Bible archaeology: John The Baptist death sentence site discovery ’historically probable’

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Archaeologists may well have finally pinpointed where preacher John the Baptist, famed for prophesying the coming of Jesus Christ – received his death sentence in 29 AD. Contemporary Bible chronicler Flavius Josephus described at the time how King Herod Antipas, King Herod’s son, executed John the Baptist.

Josephus identified the execution as occurring at the Dead Sea fort Machaerus, found in modern-day Jordan.

I think it is historically probable that this excavation has brought the ‘dance floor’ of Salome to light

Professor Morten Hørning Jensen

Josephus revealed how John the Baptist’s growing influence among the populous resulted in his execution.

However, the account supplied in most biblical texts tells a far more dramatic yarn, claiming the king killed John the Baptist in exchange for a dance.

The Biblical story claims Herod Antipas was about to wed a woman called Herodias.

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However, this was something John the Baptist objected to, as the pair had each married before.

While celebrating the wedding, Herodias’s daughter Salome performed such a delightful dance, the king promised her anything as a reward.

But provoked by Herodias, Salome asked for John the Baptist’s head as a grisly gift.

Although initially reluctant to grant the grim request, the Bible recounts Herod Antipas ultimately decided to fulfil his promise and had John the Baptist’s decapitated head brought on a platter.

Győző Vörös, director of the Machaerus Excavations and Surveys project has identified in his new book how a courtyard uncovered at Machaerus is probably the site where Salome’s dance was performed and where John the Baptist’s gruesome fate was sealed.

Mr Vörös suggests the courtyard features an apsis-shaped niche indicating the location of Herod Antipas’ throne.

Although archaeologists discovered the courtyard in 1980, this nook has only now recognised as the site of Herod Antipas’ throne.

The archaeologist added how the throne’s presence next to the courtyard reinforces confirms his controversial conclusions about the dance floor’s grim secret.

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The archaeological team responsible for digitally reconstructing the courtyard have published new renderings of the biblical-era fort.

However, although some archaeologists appear convinced by the claims, other biblical experts remain rather sceptical.

Morten Hørning Jensen, a professor at the Norwegian School of Theology, told Live Science: “I think it is historically probable that this excavation has brought the ‘dance floor’ of Salome to light.”

But Jodi Magness, a University of North Carolina professor of religious studies, has expressed doubts whether the newly-identified niche really is the remains of Herod Antipas’ throne.

She points to the fact the Machaerus niche is significantly smaller compared with his father’s throne unearthed at the winter palace of Jericho.

But Eric Meyers, a Duke University professor emeritus of Jewish studies, suggests it remains feasible the throne of Herod Antipas really has been found.

He told Live Science, whether “a perfect match between literary and archaeological sources that places the execution of John the Baptist in that very spot remains to be seen.

“In any event, a strong case has been made and I look forward to the final reports.”

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