Johannes Døperen taler til folket (1225-1250).
Detalj av mosaikk i Dåpskapellet i Firenze.
Dåpskapellet – italiensk: Battistero di San Giovanni – i Firenze er en av byens eldste bevarte bygninger, reist i årene 1059-1128. Spesielt de tre bronsedørene er kjent. Mindre kjent er kanskje mosaikkene på innsiden av kuppelen, som ble påbegynt av fransiskanerbroderen Jacobus i 1225. Han skal ha arbeidet med dem inntil ca. 1238-50.
Døperen Johannes er nevnt i alle de fire kanoniske evangelier, og dessuten i Flavius Josephus Ἰουδαϊκὴ ἀρχαιολογία – Iudaiki archiologia, som på engelsk kan gjengis som Antiquities of the Jews. Her kan vi – i engelsk oversettelse – lese i 18.5.2:
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the baptist. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt — for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise — believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret. And so John, out of Herod’s suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.
Evangelienes beretning avviker noe fra dette, der blir det nevnt at grunnen til pågripelsen av Johannes var at han hadde fordømt Herodes Antipas’ ekteskap med Herodias, som tidligere hadde vært gift med hans bror, og at henrettelsen var en følge av at Herodias’ datter (som i følge Flavius het Salome) ble tilbudt hva hun måtte ønske seg etter å ha danset i Herodes’ fødselsdagskalas – og hun ønsket seg Johannes Døperens hode på et sølvfat.
Men Herodes’ ekteskap med Herodias er ikke helt uten betydning for den historie Flavius beretter. Umiddelbart før det som er sitert ovenfor, heter det (18.5.1):
About this time Aretas, the king of Petra, and Herod the Tetrarch had a quarrel on account of the following. Herod the tetrarch had married the daughter of Aretas and had lived with her a great while; but once when he was on his way to Rome he lodged with his half-brother, also named Herod but who had a different mother, the high priest Simon’s daughter. There he fell in love with Herodias, this latter Herod’s wife, who was the daughter of their brother Aristobulus and the sister of Agrippa the Great. This man ventured to talk to her about a marriage between them; she accepted, and an agreement was made for her to come to him as soon as he should return from Rome, one condition of this marriage being that he should divorce Aretas’s daughter. So when he had made this agreement, he sailed to Rome; but when he had finished there and returned again, his wife, having discovered the agreement he had made with Herodias, and before he knew that she knew of the plan, asked him to send her to Machaerus, a place on the border between the territories of Aretas and Herod, without informing him of any of her intentions. Accordingly Herod sent her there, thinking his wife had not perceived anything. But she had sent messages a good while before to Machaerus, which had been under the control of her father, and so all things necessary for her escape were made ready for her by the general of Aretas’s army. By that means she soon came into Arabia, under the conduct of the several generals, who carried her from one to another successively; and soon she came to her father and told him of Herod’s intentions. Aretas made this the start of his enmity toward Herod. He also had a quarrel with him about their boundaries in the area of Gabalis. So they raised armies on both sides and prepared for war, sending their generals to fight instead of themselves. And when they had joined battle, all Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip and joined the army, betrayed him. So Herod wrote about these affairs to Emperor Tiberius, who was very angry at the attempt made by Aretas and wrote to Vitellius to make war upon him and either to take him alive, and bring him in chains, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the command that Tiberius gave to the governor of Syria.
Herodes Antipas’ nederlag i krigen mot Aretas fant sted i år 36, og henrettelsen av Johannes må ha funnet sted like før, ettersom den ble satt i forbindelse med nederlaget.
I følge tradisjonen er Døperens fødselsdag den 24. juni, og hans dødsdag den 29. august. Den 24. juni er også navnedag for Ivan, Giovanni, Johan, Hans og alle andre mannsnavn avledet av det hebraiske Jochaanan.