Birth of John the Forerunner

Standard abbreviation: Birth John Bapt.

Other titles: none

Clavis numbers: CANT 180.3; BHG 833

Category: Hagiographa

Related literature: Decapitation of John the Forerunner, Life of John the Baptist by Serapion, Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist, Martyrdom of Zechariah, Protevangelium of James.

Compiled by Tony Burke, York University (

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Burke, Tony. “Birth of John the Forerunner.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR.

Originally posted October 2017.


The Birth of John, the Forerunner is incorrectly assigned to one of four martyrdoms of John in Geerard’s clavis; its content covers only John’s birth and childhood. It begins with a paraphrase of the story of the martyrdom of John’s father Zechariah as reported in Prot. Jas. 23–24: Herod’s soldiers, in search of infants for the Slaughter of the Innocents, kill Zechariah, but Elizabeth and John escape and hide in a mountain. When the soldiers are unable to find them, they return and report their failure to Herod, and the search is called off. An angel provides Elizabeth and her son with water, bread, and honey and instructs Elizabeth to stop nursing John and to give him only wild honey. Elizabeth asks the angel about the fate of Zechariah, and he tells her that he has been killed by Herod but she can return home to her father’s home with John. The angel gives Elizabeth honey in a pitcher but instructs her not to give it to John “because he is a great prophet in Israel.” The angel shows them the way home and departs.

Named historical figures and characters: Elizabeth, Herod (the Great), John (the Baptist), Zechariah (priest).

Geographical locations: Israel.



3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Greek


S Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Coislin 296, fols. 12r–13v (12th cent.)


3.2 Modern Translations

Burke, Tony. “The Birth of John the Forerunner.” In New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, vol. 2, edited by Tony Burke and Brent Landau. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, forthcoming.

3.3 General Bibliography

Berendts, Alexander. Studien über Zacharia-Apokryphen und Zacharias-Legenden. Leipzig: A. Deichert’sche, 1895.

Burke, Tony. “The New Testament and Other Early Christian Traditions in Serapion’s Life of John the Baptist.” Pages 281–300 in Christian Apocrypha. Receptions of the New Testament in Ancient Christian Apocrypha. Edited by Jean-Michel Roessli and Tobias Nicklas. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.