John the Baptist is one of the most enigmatic characters of the New Testament. His prophetic birth, his mysterious childhood and his outrageous lifestyle draws attention and speculation from all serious Biblical readers. But, one of the most insane legends surrounding John is what became of his head. Yes, his HEAD.
For those of you who do NOT know the story, John made a habit of pointing out the sins of Israels royalty at the time: the Family of Herod. He especially made himself a pest to Herod Antipas concerning his marriage to his brother’s former wife. This being an intolerable breaking of Biblical moral code, John was not afraid to call a sinner a sinner no matter how powerful they were.
Herod, due to his fascination of John, protected him as long as he could. But he knew, sooner or later, he would have to imprison him. And he did. In an amazing act of trickery, Herod’s stepdaughter gained Herod’s approval through, no doubt, provocative dance and offered anything up to half his kingdom. When the girl ask mother dear what she should ask for. Her mother told her to ask for John, the Baptists head. Herod, appalled, gave in and allowed it.
But what happened to John’s head afterwards?
Not a question that usually comes up in Sunday School and nothing in the Bible gives testimony to any such thing. But legends are rampant in the early church. And one legend answers the question (sort of) and stands by it even to this day.
SIDE NOTE: Many Christians of that day believed that the beheading of John the Baptist led to the fall of Herod since not long after that the father of Herod Anipas’ first wife, one King Aretas of the Nabateans, invaded and devestated him (with the help of a betrayal from his brother Philip whom he stole his second wife from. Finally, his nephew too Philips place and had Herod exiled by claiming treason to Rome.
During the invasion of King Aretas, Herod Antipas was said to have sent the head of John to the angry King as a warning. This didn’t stop the invasion and the resulting embarrassing defeat.
Later, not sure how much later, the head was brought to Damascus. There was a strong Christian church there and John the Baptist was respected greatly. The head was placed in an ‘ornate gilded sepulcher’ and the church became known as the CATHEDRAL OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST.
The Cathedral was built on the site of an old pagan temple and fell to the Muslims in 634 AD. According to one writer, the head of John was asserted to still be there even to this day.