On Herod and John the Baptist

De Herode et Ioanni Baptista

Standard abbreviation: On Herod Bapt.

Other titles: none

Clavis numbers: none

Category: Hagiography

Related literature: Life of John the Baptist by Serapion

Compiled by: Slavomir Čéplö (bulbulthegreat@gmail.com)

Citing this resource (using Chicago Manual of Style): Čéplö, Slavomir. “On Herod and John the Baptist.” e-Clavis: Christian Apocrypha. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. http://www.nasscal.com/e-clavis-christian-apocrypha/on-herod-and-john-the-baptist/.

Originally posted January 2016. Updated March 2017.


This work combines various strands of tradition to recount the events surrounding the death of John the Baptist as a narrative embedded in a sermon delivered on the saint’s feast day. The extant text, incomplete at the beginning, starts in harmony with the respective portions of Life Bapt. Serap. describing an incident where John’s disembodied voice haunts Herod and Herodias in their bedchamber and Herodias vowing to kill John. The story then proceeds to describe John’s imprisonment and execution in much the same terms as the canonical Gospels, but interrupting the narrative by including a substantial homiletic portion with references to other apocryphal works (Martyrdom of Isaiah and the Protevangelium of James). The narrative resumes with the description of the fate of John’s remains where in contrast to Life Bapt. Serap., On Herod Bapt. devotes little attention to his body (only noting its internment in the tomb of Elisha). John’s head is delivered to Herodias who is intent on defiling it to carry out her revenge. As in Life Bapt. Serap., John’s head crosses her plans by flying into the air while just punishment is visited on Herodias and her daughter. Herodias’s hands fall off and her body is swallowed by the ground up to her neck and descends to hell. Her daughter goes mad and Herod (who, in contrast to Life Bapt. Serap., escapes the incident unscathed) beheads her. John’s head then takes off continuing to decry Herod’s sin and flies to the Mount of Olives where Jesus and Virgin Mary receive it. Jesus prophesies concerning his own death and commands John’s head to spend the next fifteen years preaching. When the time is up, the head arrives in heaven and meets John’s father Zechariah. The story concludes with a summary of the timeline of the described events and a blessing.

Named historical figures and characters: Chuza, Elisha (prophet), Elizabeth, Gabriel (angel), John (the Baptist),  Herod Antipas, Herodias, Isaiah (prophet), Jeremiah (prophet), Jesus Christ, Joanna, Mary (Virgin), Philip (tetrach), Rachel (matriarch), Salome (daughter of Herodias), Tiberius, Zechariah (priest).

Geographical locations: Arabia, Mount of Olives.



3.1 Manuscripts and Editions

3.1.1. Arabic

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Fonds Arabe 258, fol. 218r–223v (15th cent.) (The original language is most likely Coptic).

3.2 Modern Translations

3.2.1 English

Čéplö, Slavomir. “On Herod and John the Baptist: An Edition and Translation of a Previously Unknown New Testament Apocryphon.” Pages 295–319 in Arabic and Islamic Studies in Honour of Ján Pauliny. Edited by Zuzana Gažáková and Jaroslav Drobný. Bratislava: FiF UK, 2017.

3.3 General Works