Martyrdom of Zechariah

Passio de Zacharias

Other titles: Martyrdom and Perfection of the Holy Prophet Zechariah, the Father of the Forerunner (complete title)

Standard abbreviation: Mart. Zech.

Clavis numbers: CANT 180.1; BHG 831

Category: Hagiographa

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

Compiled by Sarah Veale, University of Toronto (

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Veale, Sarah. “Martyrdom of Zechariah.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR.

Posted April, 2017.


Mart. Zech. appears to be an expansion of the Decapitation of John the Forerunner, augmented with flashbacks, homiletic asides, and the occasional prophetic interlude. The story begins with the Slaughter of the Innocents. Joseph, commanded by an angel, retreats to Egypt with Mary and Jesus, and lives with a fellow Christian for twelve months, thus saving Jesus from Herod. Meanwhile, Elizabeth flees to the mountains with John (as conveyed in Prot. Jas. 22:3) and Zechariah is killed by Herod’s soldiers (as in Prot. Jas. 23-24). The story then returns to Elisabeth’s flight. Narrowly escaping Herod’s henchmen, she is led by Uriel to a shadowy place in a mountain. There Uriel makes water appear from out of nowhere and produces bread for her to eat. John, still nursing, is fed on Elisabeth’s breast milk. Herod’s search party arrives at the mountain but they are deterred by a chasm which separates Elizabeth and John from their pursuers.

The story then shifts to the perfection of Zacharias. The Lord (Jesus?) and his four archangels—Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael—enter the temple during the night, consecrate Zechariah’s body and bury it below the altar. We then receive more details on John’s infancy, including his first steps and weaning. When John is two years old, an angel tells Elizabeth to return to Nazareth, since Herod the Great is dead. This serves as a family reunion of sorts, as Elizabeth and John meet up with Mary, Jesus, and Joseph in Nazareth.

The narrative then moves forward to John’s adulthood and his confrontation with Herod Antipas over his relationship with Philip’s wife. This irritates Herod, who scourges John and throws him in prison. The story is broken by a flashback recounting Jesus’ baptism by John and the receiving of John’s ministry. This section is contextualized by suggesting that Jesus knew that the conflict between John and Herod would transpire and therefore he sought out John for baptism beforehand.

A perfunctory account of Herod’s birthday party follows (based on Mark 6:19–29//Matt 14:5–12). The fate of John’s head is summarily related: Herodias gives the head to her mother, who gives it to some dogs, who bring it to John’s disciples. The Lord informs Elizabeth of John’s death, and tells her that John was buried in the temple facing his father, Zechariah. A voice then comes to Elizabeth, promising to avenge the murders of her husband and son. After recounting the unfortunate fates of Herod and his family, the text concludes with the identification of the author, John’s disciple Eurippus, and a call to observe the festival of the remembrance and resting-place of John on August 29.

Named historical figures and characters: Alphaeus (of Egypt), Archelaus, Elizabeth, Eurippus, Gabriel (angel), Herod (the Great), Herod Antipas, Herodias, John (the Baptist), Jesus Christ, Joseph (of Nazareth), Michael (angel), Philip (tetrach), Prokla (wife of Herod Antipas), Raphael (angel), Salome (daughter of Herodias), Uriel (angel), Zechariah (priest).

Places: Bethlehem, Galilee, Judea, Nazareth.



3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1 Greek

M  Messina, Biblioteca Universitaria, San Salvatoris 30, fol. 9v-10v (dated 1307)

3.1.2 Slavonic

Summary of Slavonic text in Berendts, Studien über Zacharia-Apokryphen und Zacharias-Legenden, 71–80.

3.2 Modern Translations

Veale, Sarah. “The Martyrdom of Zechariah.” 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.

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