John the Baptist
John baptizes Jesus (sarcophagus from Santa
Maria Antiqua, Rome, 200s AD)
John the Baptist was, according to the Bible, the cousin of Jesus Christ. He was the son of Mary's sister, Elizabeth. He was a little older than Jesus. He was Jewish, and lived in Israel. As with Jesus, we don't have any information from that time about John the Baptist except what the Bible says.
According to the Bible, when John grew up, he began to live a very holy life. He wore skins and went barefoot and ate only wild food - locusts (they're like grasshoppers), and wild honey. Because John was clearly such a holy man, a lot of Jewish people in Israel began to pay attention to John's ideas, and follow him around.
Salome dancing: Mosaic from the
baptistry of Florence, Italy, about 1250 AD.
A little after this, John got into trouble with the king of Israel, Herod. Actually he got into trouble with Herod's wife, Herodias. In his preaching, John said that Herod should not have married her, because Herodias had been married before to Herod's brother Philip. John felt it was immoral to marry your brother's widow. Herodias was angry when she heard this, and she convinced her daughter, Salome (Herod's stepdaughter) to help her get revenge.
Salome (SAL-oh-may) went to her stepfather Herod's birthday party. Salome danced at the party, and she danced so beautifully that Herod promised to give her whatever she asked for as a reward.
So Salome asked her mother what she should wish for, and Herodias told Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
John the Baptist's head on a platter (Cluny museum, Paris)
Herod was not happy when he heard this, because John hadn't really done anything wrong, and killing him was sure to make the people angry, but he kept his promise and cut off John's head. (Mark 6:17-29).
Compare this story to the story of Esther - both are about foolish kings and sneaky women.