Bible and Archaeology News
Biblical and historical accounts say that John the Baptist, who is referenced as a relative of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke and a leading prophet who baptized Jesus, was beheaded by Herod Antipas, likely at the Jordanian citadel Machaerus. The discovery of an ancient Greek inscription on a tuff box referencing John the Baptist and asking God to “help your servant Thomas” led Bulgarian researchers to believe that the relics arrived in Bulgaria from Antioch, where some of the Baptist’s bones were held until the tenth century C.E. The waterproof tuff box, likely carried by this “Thomas,” likely originated in eastern Turkey.
Oxford University’s Georges Kazan explored historical documents for a different account of how the relics may have reached the Sveti Ivan church. According to Kazan, in the fourth century C.E., monks took relics of John the Baptist’s from Jerusalem to Constantinople. In the Oxford report, Dr. Kazan states “My research suggests that during the fifth or early sixth century, the monastery of Sveti Ivan may well have received a significant portion of St John the Baptist’s relics, as well as a prestige reliquary in the shape of a sarcophagus, from a member of Constantinople’s elite. This gift could have been to dedicate or rededicate the church and the monastery to St John, which the patron or patrons may have supported financially.”
The confirmed date of a knucklebone is far from final proof that the Bulgarian bones belonged to John the Baptist. A conclusive association between supposed relics and their Saint is impossible to establish; however, the research conducted by Oxford’s Tom Higham and Christopher Ramsey does prove that the “relics” have a better case for authenticity than previously imagined.
John the Baptist was beheaded at Machaerus, a Herodian fortress east of the Jordan River. Read about the restoration work being done at Machaerus in the free Bible History Daily articles “Machaerus: Beyond the Beheading of John the Baptist” and “Anastylosis at Machaerus, Where John the Baptist was Beheaded.”
For a recent discussion of relics, see Hershel Shanks’s first person “Relics vs. ‘Real’ Archaeology” as it appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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