Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist

Vita et passio Iohannis Baptistae

Standard abbreviation: Life Mart. Bapt.

Other titles: Life of John the Baptist by Mark the Evangelist

Clavis numbers: CANT 181, BHG 834

Category: Hagiographa

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

Compiled by Andrew Bernhard and Tony Burke, York University (

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Bernhard, Andrew and Tony Burke. “The Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR.

Posted January 2016.


Life Mart. Bapt. draws heavily on the New Testament Gospel information about John but adds some details. No details are given of his birth and childhood; after a bare mention of his birth, the action moves right to his adulthood when Gabriel instructs him on his mission of baptism and particularly the baptism of Jesus. He goes to the Jordan and gains forty disciples. This draws the interest of Herod Antipas and he orders the prophet to be brought to him. John refuses to go with Herod’s envoy and indicts Herod for sleeping with his brother’s wife. Herod now seeks an opportiunity to kill him. After baptizing Jesus, John appears before Herod and formally accuses him. He is imprisoned but John is able to bring in his disciples and leads them in prayer. He tells them of his coming death and tells them to keep to his commandments, which are reminiscent of some of Jesus’ teachings. Herod’s nobles want him to release John or behead him. Herod sends Julian to talk to him but John is unrepentant. The famous feast happens and John is beheaded. One of Herod’s guests is a secret disciple of John and asks for the head and he gives it to six of John’s disciples. They take it to Emesa and hide it in a cave. The author then reveals himself to be an unnamed disciple of John (some manuscripts identify this disciple as Mark the Evangelist).



3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Greek

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, suppl. gr. 480, fol. 51v, 52r, 15, 10, 40, 33, 19, 22, 16, 9, 34, 39 (8th cent.); contains chaps. 1–10:1 only

X  Jerusalem, Bibliotheke tou Patriarchou, Hagios Saba 30, fol. 350–354 (10th/11th cent.)

V  Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. hist. gr. 45, fol. 309r–310v (11th cent.); contains chaps. 1–7:1 only

G  Genoa, Biblioteca Franzoniana, Urbani 35, fol. 129–134 (11th cent.)

Q  Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 1608, fol. 156–163 (14th cent.)

R  Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, gr. 1021, fol. 270r–282v (15th cent.)

Y  Jerusalem, Bibliotheke tou Patriarchou, Timiou Staurou 35 fol. 186v–189 (15th cent.)

Berendts, Alexander. Die handschriftliche Überlieferung der Zacharias- und Johannes-Apokryphen. TU, N. F. 11/3. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1904 (extensive description of Greek and Slavonic sources).

Nau, François. “Histoire de saint Jean Baptiste attribuée à saint Marc l’Évangéliste.” PO 4 (1908): 521–41 (Greek text and French translation based on P).

3.1.2 Slavonic

Eight Slavonic manuscripts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are surveyed in Berendts 1904.

3.2 Modern Translations

3.2.1 English

Bernhard, Andrew. “The Life and Martyrdom of John the Baptist.” Pages 247–67 in vol. 1 of New Testament Apocrypha: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016.

3.2.2 French

Nau, François. “Histoire de saint Jean Baptiste attribuée à saint Marc l’Évangéliste.” PO 4 (1908): 521–41 (Greek text and French translation).

3.3 General Works

Burke, Tony. “The New Testament and Other Early Christian Traditions in Serapion’s Life of John the Baptist.” Pages 281–99 in Christian Apocrypha: Receptions of the New Testament in Ancient Christian Apocrypha. Edited by Jean-Michel Roessli and Tobias Nicklas. Novum Testamentum Patristicum. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.

Kazan, Georges. “The Head of St John the Baptist—the Early Evidence.” Paper presented at the “Saint John the Baptist and his Cults” colloquium. Oxford, UK, 24 June 2011.

Nau, François. “Analyse des mss. Grecs palimpsestes: Paris, suppl. 480 et Chartres, 1753 et 1754.” PO 4 (1908): 515–20.