John the Baptist

The crypt of John the Baptist


Mark the Evangelist describes how John the Baptist was beheaded by the order of Herod Antipas. The site where this happened seems to have been a mountain fortress in modern Jordan (μάχαιρα or Mukawir).*

When John’s disciples heard of this execution, they “came for his body and laid it in a tomb” (Mark 6:29). Several early Christian sources claim that John’s remains were eventually transferred to the site of Sebastiya, some 12 kilometers northwest of Nablus in the heart of Palestine.** John’s crypt is still there (preserved as part of a mosque), not far from the palace of ancient Israelite kings.

We visited Sebastiya and the keeper of the key was kind enough to open the reliquary. Inside was a shrine marking the place where John’s remains were placed.

*See the link to Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.5.2 here.

**A helpful article by Carla Benelli may be found here. Benelli describes the sources for this tradition as well as some detail about the structure in Sebastiya.


This intrepid crew has not only crawled into the crypt of John the Baptist, they have witnessed how history and tradition have played out across the landscape of Israel/Palestine.

If you are interested in experiencing the Land of the Bible in a different kind of way, consider joining one of our trips scheduled for 2020 or 2021! Find a trip by clicking the link here or contact me directly at We are currently working on group reservations for 2022.

Belly bumps

P1160502 copy.JPG

The Church of the Visitation helps us remember the place where Mary met Elizabeth. That church overlooks the village of Ein Kerem, Israel, and that meeting is recorded in Luke 1:39-56 (see here).

At the sound of Mary's voice the unborn child (who would become John the Baptist) was stirred. As for Mary, she responded to the moment in song. That song is remembered as "the Magnificat" and is named after the first word of the song in the Latin Vulgate. It pulls at threads from the Old Testament such as the Song of Hannah (see here). Mary's words create "belly bumps" both within and across the Testaments, tracing the ongoing work of God amid the People of God.

The sculpture pictured above stands in the courtyard outside the Church of the Visitation. Translations of the Magnificat in many different languages are posted on the wall behind it.

This place has been venerated by pilgrims for more than a thousand years. Modern structures mask earlier Byzantine remains.

Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. Onboard lectures will focus on Paul's fourth missionary journey. See the link here for details.




Elijah's view before takeoff

The Jordan River snakes along the floor of the valley. It carries moisture to vegetation that can tolerate sweltering heat and salty soil. 

On Jordan's Stormy Banks

The Wadi Kharrar intersects the Jordan River about five miles north of the Dead Sea. As pictured, tourists, worshippers, and the curious are permitted down to this famous river that serves as an international border.