A central figure in three faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam (and even forgotten sects like Mandaeism) – John the Baptist is generally regarded by the faithful as the precursor to Jesus Christ. Born c. 5 BC somewhere in Judea, John was – supposedly – the result of the intercession of God to Zachariah and Elizabeth, who were otherwise too old to bear children. Zachariah, unsure and fearful of the situation before him, was rendered temporarily mute as punishment. Thus the child was born and named John in fulfillment of “God’s will.”
Made a priest of the order of Abijah, at the age of 30 John began preaching on the banks of the River Jordan about the evils of the time, the coming of the messiah, and baptizing, thus earning the sobriquet “the Baptist.” When Jesus came to him to be baptized, according to the Scriptures John recognized him as a fellow prophet and said, “It is I who need baptism from you.” Instead, Jesus persuaded John to baptize him anyway, whereupon the heavens opened and the spirit of God appeared as a dove. Jesus left for Galilee and John’s fame grew … until he ran afoul of Herod Antipas, Tetrach of Perea and Galilee.
John didn’t think much of Herod’s marriage to his half-brother Philip’s wife, the adulterous and incestuous Herodias. He was loud and vocal in his condemnation, and Herod eventually had him arrested and imprisoned in the Machaerus fortress. Herod later promised his daughter by Herodias – Salome, famous for her dancing – anything she might wish. At the instigation of her mother, she asked for John's head … literally. And so John the Baptist died sometime between 33 and 36 AD.