Machaerus was one of the desert fortresses built by Macabbes and later again by King Herod when ruling over Judea. According to first century historian Josephus, this is also the fortress where John the Baptist was imprisoned, and beheaded. In 2018, Erick and I visited the site. We reviewed the site’s history, archaeology, and special role in the formation of Christianity.
Machaerus and the New Testament
John the Baptist is reviewed in the New Testament as the forerunner of Jesus. According to the Gospel of Luke, they were related by blood. However, a careful reading of the gospels seems to indicate John the Baptist and Jesus were leading competing groups. However, shortly before Jesus was executed, in Jerusalem, John the Baptist was also put to death by Herod Antipas, in Machaerus.
Both the gospels and Josephus testify that this happened after John the Baptist rebuked the king for his inappropriate relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias. In response, Antipas had John jailed in his palace of Machaerus. During his imprisonment, Herodias plotted to have her daughter, Princess Salome, perform a sensual dance in front of the king during his birthday celebrations. The king was so enthralled by her appearance that he declared to provide her with whatever she desired. On the advice of her mother, Salome asked for John’s head on a platter. The king fulfilled her wish, and so John the Baptist was beheaded.
Despite the cruel execution, John’s death led to the unification of the followers of John with the followers of Christ. In retrospect, the execution of John the Baptist in Machaerus was an important event that led to the formation of the early Christian Church.
Machaerus is in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It is about 45 minutes drive from Madaba, in a winding yet beautiful scenic road. Despite its significance in Christian history, the site has not been intensively excavated, and so far, only two columns of Antipas’ palace have been restored. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating site to visit. It also provides breathtaking panoramas of the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley.