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Is This Where John the Baptist Was Condemned to Death?

Is This Where John the Baptist Was Condemned to Death?


A courtyard uncovered among the ancient ruins at Machaerus, a fortified hilltop palace in Jordan, may have profound historical significance. According to one prominent academic, this courtyard is where John the Baptist was condemned to death by the Roman-appointed ruler of Galilee and Peraea (the east bank of the Jordan River), Herod Antipas.

This is the assertion of Gyozo Voros, an archaeologist from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the director of an ongoing large-scale excavation project at Machaerus. Voros revealed his provocative conclusions in the recently released book  Holy Land Archaeology on Either Side: Archaeological Essays in Honour of Eugenia Alliata

Salome, Herod Antipas, and the Death of John the Baptist

Taking his lead from a story from the Gospel of Mark in the Bible, Voros now believes this courtyard is the actual spot where Herod Antipas was asked by Salome, his future stepdaughter, to bring her the head of John the Baptist (which he ultimately did, and on a platter no less). 

Salome (the daughter of Herodias, Antipas’s fiancé) supposedly performed an intoxicating dance routine in a courtyard at Machaerus, in front of Herod Antipas as he sat on his throne. The dance was intended to be a birthday gift, and it apparently made quite an impression. Totally (and inappropriately) entranced, Antipas promised he would fulfill her fondest desire, as a reward for her loving devotion to her king.

After consulting with her mother, who was apparently not bothered by her future husband’s infatuation with her young daughter, Salome told Antipas to sever John the Baptist’s head and bring it to her as an offering. At that time John the Baptist was a religious figure of some significance, and his opposition to the union of Antipas and Herodias (both were previously divorced) infuriated the future first lady of Galilee and Peraea.  

While Antipas was allegedly shocked by the request, he ultimately acquiesced. He ordered John the Baptist’s arrest and subsequent beheading, and that was how the venerated religious prophet who foretold the birth of Jesus lost his life. Or so it is written.

In the New Testament, Salome is claimed to have demanded the head of John the Baptist at the birthday celebrations of her stepfather Herod Antipas. (Public domain)

In Search of the Throne of Herod Antipas 

Perhaps this story was true, and was not just a tawdry tall tale designed to make a reviled former Roman leader look like a moral degenerate. But that alone doesn’t mean the courtyard found at Machaerus was the true location of Salome’s dance floor. More evidence would be needed to draw that conclusion—evidence that Gyozo Voros is convinced he has found.

The Biblical story that describes the death of John the Baptist does not mention Machaerus specifically as the site from which Herod Antipas ruled his small kingdom. But Machaerus was identified by the ancient first century writer and scholar Flavius Josephus as the location of Herod Antipas’s palace, and archaeologists and historians have found no reason to contest that assertion. 

The courtyard Voros has tabbed as the likely site of Salome’s famous dance and infamous request was originally discovered in 1980. But it wasn’t identified as a historically significant location until recently, when Voros announced his conclusion that a semicircular-shaped niche located adjacent to the courtyard was once the site of Antipas’s throne. Since Salome performed her dance in front of that throne, if Voros is right it would mean this courtyard had to be the place where she was standing when she asked Antipas to order the arrest and brutal execution of John the Baptist.

Reconstruction of the dance floor where Salome is said to have demanded the head of John the Baptist from her stepfather. (Győző Vörös)

It’s All a Matter of Faith. Or Archaeology and History?

For Voros’s theory to be believed, the story of Salome and John the Baptist in the New Testament must be accepted as gospel, both figuratively and literally. It should be noted however that Flavius Josephus, whose claim that Herod Antipas ruled his assigned territory from Machaerus has been universally assumed to be true, gave an alternative explanation for John the Baptist’s death. He wrote that Antipas felt threatened by John’s rising popularity with his Jewish subjects, who acknowledged John as a true prophet and an important religious leader. Antipas’s insecurity is what led to the arrest and murder of John the Baptist, Flavius Josephus asserts, and he makes no mention of beheading as the prescribed method of execution.

Some scholars are willing to grant the possibility that the Biblical explanation for John’s death may be accurate. But they remain skeptical of Voros’s theory regardless. For example, Jodi Magness, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, notes that the structure found at Machaerus seems small compared to the structure that once supported the throne of Antipas’s father, the original King Herod. Magness told  Live Science that the semicircular niche discovered at Machaerus more closely resembles a pair of structures found at one of King Herod’s palaces, which precisely no one believes are the remains of ancient thrones.

Another mild but respectful skeptic is Eric Meyers, a retired professor of Jewish Studies from Duke University. He credits Voros with making a strong case for his hypothesis, before stating that it remains to be seen whether “a perfect match between literary and archaeological sources that places the execution of John the Baptist is that very spot” can ever be established.

Politely, Meyers is pointing out the impossibility of ever conclusively proving that John the Baptist was killed for the reasons given in the Bible, or that the events portrayed in the Gospel of Mark pertaining to John’s execution happened at all. While the faithful who accept the Bible as definitive history may have no problem supporting Voros’s theory, most serious academic researchers demand a more persuasive foundation of proof.

As a rule, they base their final conclusions on the existence of sound physical evidence (in the case of archaeologists) or textual confirmation from multiple contemporary sources (in the case of historians). In this instance, it seems unlikely that such indisputable evidence will ever be discovered.

Top image: Archaeologists believe that this niche represents the remains of the throne of Herod Antipas. Now Gyozo Voros has concluded this is the exact location where Salome demanded the head of John the Baptist. Source: Győző Vörös

By Nathan Falde



Hi All,

Happy New Year hope everybody all had a Happy Holiday whichever Holiday was observed.

What a testament to say the least Salome's dancing is the reason why the Baptist didn't believe in dancing, it was considered a most Sinful action but, apparently, how one sang in the church was a problem too just watch Tina Turner's autobiography "What's Love Got to do with it?"

Funny thing the Apostle of Non-violence Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr loved dancing but, Daddy King found out He had been dancing; teenage Martin stood up and apologize, before the Whole Church.

I got the impression Dr. King had to stand up a lot before the church an apologize for dancing.

Since the subject; of this discussion is John the Baptist, Antipas, Herodias, and Salome where to begin?

First let me say this It's been a slow learning process, but, I'm beginning to come around to the idea that Academics, Historians, Philosophers, Scholars and the Science's, when it pertains to The Bible, is too remove God from the equation; as the source to everything.

Happily that method; can't be done with John the Baptist, to a certain stint.

I approach Biblical Matters through complete fascination, an the added belief in The Impossible.

The relationship between God and Man has filled me with Awe since I was three years old.

To me believing in God is as powerful to me as breathing.

Now, that I have gotten all that out the way; here's my perspective of The Four players involvement with the Gospel's many passages referencing this moment in The Bible.

What was John the Baptist Purpose to begin with?
Which we so often forget John was to be the forerunner for Christ; He was liken to The Spirit off The Prophet Elijah, to be "The Voice in The Wilderness", it was already known by his aged, parent's, that He would go before the Saviour.

Gabriel mercifully didn't reveal to Zacherias, & Elisabeth, How John the Baptist, would die.

John's parents taught him strong counsel in the ways of God and what he was destined to do with assistance through The Holy Spirit he grew up strong and Wax in all things pertaining to God.
It was God who brought John to The Wilderness where his Baptism Ministry would begin.

God wanted John Free of the influence and teachers of The Law.
John's understanding would be based on instruction from Heavenly Father.

Being the Forerunner of Christ John was to lay the Seeds that would help the people be more receptive; with the arrival, of The Saviour's Ministry; who was to reveal, God the Father, through His Only Begotten Son.

John preached regarding the condition of Sin, the affliction of Sinful lives going to the Teacher's of the Law was out for the people trapped in this existence The Sandhedrin (Pharisees & Sadducees) wrote them off as lacking any signs of Redemption for their life choices.

First John and then Jesus after the Baptist Ministry taught the people they weren't loss, they weren't forgotten Heaven did not close the doors on them the very doors were opened by the two John & Jesus through Baptism they would be save by Water, through Christ ministry they would be Free from Sin.

There's one more thing that people miss in this Period with John and Christ, The Poor people who were living below the poverty line who struggled daily, people who had lived lives outside of the Laws of Men, the drinks and derelicts, the down trodden by society they were the ones who accepted the messages John and Jesus preached.

The Sanhedrin lacked compassion for those they considered beneath them John and The Saviour had plenty of Compassion for all the People even The Sandhedrin in the end, it was Nicodemus and Joseph of Arithamea after Christ ascension into Heaven to prepare a place for Us (why we're known as Christians), that were saved how reminiscent is that like Joshua and Caleb, out of the original Israelites; that left Egypt, during The Exodus, too finally come into The Promise Land, at last.

Enter the dramatic scene John was in the midst of sending the lost after The Messiah; when the trouble began with Antipas Herod, and Herodias.

John's mission always was to preach the Repentance of Sins and in this case The Sin, although, Not an issue with Today's Society was that Antipas had Divorced His Wife to Marry Herodias, while Herodias left Antipas Brother (sounds like Hollywood all the way)
I doubt Herodias truly loved Antipas; all that much anyway She just wanted to be Queen.

Where all in an agreement as Community of Academics, Historians, Philosophers, and Scholars; that there are Arenas, Places, and Sections throughout The Entire Bible, where God has Said No Too, right?

One of those No, No's John was addressing Antipas first, with the sanctity of Marriage, within the Eyes of God, who bestowed it as a gift for The Human Race, in Eden. The Book of Leviticus chapter 18. Chapter 18 addresses all manners of intimate actions between Men and Women.

Hey can anyone guess this verse it took me till I was thirty two before I understood it "A daughter can not lie with Her Mother's Husband, He is Her Mother's Husband (Ownership of spouse's was established by God they belong to No one save each other;)

A Husband can not lie with his Wife's Daughter; She is His Wife's, Daughter."

I brought that verse up because The Article mentioned the disturbing interaction between Antipas an his Step-daughter Salome, her mother's reaction to the whole thing.

I found out a year ago that aware that Salome was actually 9 or 10 years old? When she danced for her stepfather.

I came to find out that it was Herodias idea for her daughter too dance before The King?

Remember Herodias was the one offended by John's preaching more so than Antipas aimed against Her, so she sought away to kill the Forerunner of Christ. No one really enjoys Public Humiliation She had been alright when people discussed her in other ways but, this from John the Baptist could not be tolerated.

Antipas birthday was the perfect solution for Herodias problem to be rid of The Man who insulted her life choices.

Herodias scheme rested on Antipas weakness for alcohol, for his judgment would be greatly clouded.

Salome a 10 year old child didn't know what too ask for an so sought her mother for advise.

That's how The Head of John the Baptist came up. Salome then gave John's Head to her mother.

My only thought is that I wonder how Herodias faired after Jerusalem's destruction in 470 A.D.?

This is all I have to discuss on John the Baptist whether it's location where he was murdered who knows The Gospels simply say his friend's and disciples got the body of John and buried him in his families burial place.

I'm sure I'll have more to say; but, as of right now can't think of what it is so until, then Everyone, Goodbye!

No I have No intention of giving Jesus up how I believe I would not be there if it wasn't for The Lord.

Nathan Falde's picture


Nathan Falde graduated from American Public University in 2010 with a Bachelors Degree in History, and has a long-standing fascination with ancient history, historical mysteries, mythology, astronomy and esoteric topics of all types. He is a full-time freelance writer from... Read More

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