Decapitation of John the Forerunner

Passio de Iohanne Baptista

Standard abbreviation: Decap. John Bapt.

Other titles: none

Clavis numbers: CANT 180.2; BHG 832, 833deg

Category: Hagiographa

Related literature: Birth 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. “Decapitation of John the Forerunner.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR.

Originally posted April 2017. Updated October 2017.


The Decapitation of John, the Forerunner, attributed to his disciple Eurippus, is extant in two Greek recensions and in Slavonic. The story repeats the martyrdom of John’s father Zacharias 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 Herod dies, Elizabeth and John return home (teleported from the mountain by an unnamed angel). At the age of 30 John begins his baptism career and here draws upon the Synoptic accounts of his appearance at the Jordan and subsequent arrest and imprisonment. Additions to the story are found in Herod’s interrogation and scourging of John. Then the action moves to the birthday party as found in Mark and Matthew (Mark 6:19–29//Matt 14:5–12). After John’s death, an angel comes to Elizabeth and instructs her to collect John’s body and take it and bury it with the body of Zechariah (which mysteriously vanished after his murder). Both of them are buried beneath the altar in the temple. Then we learn the fate of the Herods, who all meet suitable ends for their roles in John’s death. The text closes with an attribution to a certain Eurippos who calls himself “the second of John’s disciples according to strictness” and says he wrote his account to encourage his fellow Christians to observe a festival commemorating John’s death August 29, which today remains the date for the commemoration of the beheading of John in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox calendars.

Named historical figures and characters: Archelaus, Caesar Augustus, Elizabeth, Eurippus, Herod (the Great), Herod Antipas, John (the Baptist), Jesus Christ, Michael (angel), Philip (tetrach), Polia (=Herodias), Salome (daughter of Herodias), Zechariah (priest).

Geographical locations: Bethlehem, Judea.



3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Greek

Recension A

A  Montecassino, Archivio di Montecassino, 431 (formerly 277; 413), fol. 58v–60r (11th cent.)

B Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana, D 92 sup. (Martini-Bassi 259), fols. 134v–135v (10th/11th cent.)

C Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. gr. 2072, fols. 182v–184v (11th cent.)

D Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. gr. 1989, fol. 232r–234r (12th cent.)

E Vatican, Biblioteca Apostolica, Vat. gr. 1192, fol. 65v–68r (15th cent.)

J Oxford, Bodleian Library, Holkham gr. 43, fols. 270v–273v (14th cent.)

K Oxford, Bodleian Library, Canonic. Gr. 19, fol. 186v–190r (15/16th cent.; =BHG 833e)

Zaborda, Monê tou hagiou Nikaneros, 66, fols. 35v–37r (14th cent.)

Vasiliev, Athanasius, ed. Anecdota graeco-byzantina, pars prior. Moscow: Imperial University, 1893 (editio princeps of A, pp. 1–4).

Recension B

P Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 683, fol. 200r–201r (9/10th cent; =BHG 833d)

Q Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 770, fol. 264r–268r (dated 1315; =BHG 833g)

3.1.2 Slavonic

Berendts (1904) and Otero (1978) list the following:

Moscow, Leninbibliothek / ehem. Rumjancevskij Muzej, Muzejnoe Sobranie 435, fols. 229–234 (15th cent.)

Moscow, Leninbibliothek / ehem. Rumjancevskij Muzej, Iosifo-Volokalamskij Monastyr’, 231 (656), fosl. 98v–104 (15th/16th cent.)

Moscow, Leninbibliothek / ehem. Rumjancevskij Muzej, Troize-Sergieva Lavra, 681 (410), fols. 777–781 (1627)

Moscow, Leninbibliothek / ehem. Rumjancevskij Muzej, Troize-Sergieva Lavra, 680 (409), fols. 374–380 (16th cent.)

Moscow, Gos. Istoriceskij Muzej/Otdel rukopisej, Uspenskij Sobor 795 (997), fol. 1138–1140 (16th cent.)

Moscow, Gos. Istoričeskij Muzej/Otdel rukopisej, A. S. Uvarov 1883 (147), fol. 51v–56 (17th cent.)

Moscow, Leninbibliothek / ehem. Rumjancevskij Muzej, V. M. Unodl’skij 590 fol. 17v–21 (16th cent.) ~ Otero identifies this manuscript as Mart. Zech.

Berendts (1904) lists also:

Menaen-Codex der Moskauer Akademie für August No. 96 (17th cent.)

Kholmogory, Cathedral of the Transfiguration (16th cent.)

Moscow, Leninbibliothek / ehem. Rumjancevskij Muzej, V. M. Unodl’skij 232 fol. 120r–122v (15th cent.)

Moscow, Leninbibliothek / ehem. Rumjancevskij Muzej, V. M. Unodl’skij 560 fol. 372–375 (15th/16th cent.)

Berendts, Alexander. Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der Zacharias- und Johannes-Apokryphen. TU, N. F. 26.3. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1904.

Otero, Aurelio de Santos. Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der altslavischen Apokryphen. 2 vols. PTS 20 and 23. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1978–1981 (manuscripts listed under Protevangelium of James, vol. 2 pp. 1–32).

3.2 Modern Translations

Burke, Tony. “The Decapitation of John the Forerunner, by His Disciple Eurippus.” 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.