Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Archaeological and Extrabiblical Evidence for John the Baptist

Archaeology and extrabiblical historical sources have time and time again verified persons, places and events mentioned in the Bible. For example, take John the Baptist. Did you know that the Roman historian, Flavius Josephus, mentioned John in his Antiquities of the Jews? Did you know that the fortress where John was locked up and executed has been located and excavated by archaeologists? The name of the fortress was Machaerus (pronounced ma KAY rus).

Machaerus was Herod the Great’s mountain top fortress (see photo below), located a few miles east of the Dead Sea, in modern day Jordan. In the middle of this fortified outpost, Herod built a splendid palace with towers two hundred feet high, colonnades, baths (ruins in above photo), cisterns, arsenals—everything necessary for a life of luxury and defense against an enemy’s siege. From the palace, 3,500 feet above sea level, Herod would have had a breathtaking view of the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and Jerusalem. It was here in this fortress that John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed by Herod’s son, Herod Antipas (see Mark 6:16-29). Flavius Josephus tells us in his Antiquities of the Jews that John the Baptist "was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Machaerus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death" (Book XVIII, 5:1-2).

Today, if you go to Jordan, you can see the ruins of this castle and the dungeon where John was likely kept. If you've never been on a tour of the "holy land" I encourage you to consider going. Walking where the disciples and Jesus lived and died, is an experience that is hard to put into words. It is faith-strengthening to say the least.