The party was well underway when the host introduced his daughter to the guests. He asked her to show off her greatest ability, to dance for his guests, but she demurred. He asked again and again, yet his daughter denied him. Finally he promised her anything up to half of his kingdom, and at that she consulted with her mother. Yes, she would dance, but her request was surprising, She asked for the head of a man that her father held in his prison.
Her request granted, John the Baptist was executed, his head brought to Salome on a platter.
The story of Herod and Salome is accepted as a historical reality. John was an influential religious leader who openly spoke out against Herod’s marriage to his second wife Herodias. While Herod feared an uprising, Herodias was further inflamed by the insult of having her marriage deemed illegitimate. Herod had broken both custom and religious law marrying her while his first wife was still alive. Worse still, this new wife had been married to his brother. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Philip, therefore now both niece and step-daughter to Herod. It was a serious breach that the itinerant preacher continued to harp on it. She wanted him put to death while Herod figured his death would be even more likely to ignite rebellion than his preaching.
Legend continues where the Bible leaves the subject. Herod’s decision incited neighboring King Aretas to attack his small tetrarchy. He and his wife were exiled to Gaul and then Spain where they were killed in an earthquake. Salome would perish while crossing an ice covered river. She slipped through the ice which then closed on her neck. While she was beheaded her legs frantically danced under the ice.
The death of John brought life to the ministry of Jesus. Jesus had few followers, while John may have been the most important preacher of the day. He attracted thousands to his Jordan River site where he baptized all into a new form of gnosis. When Jesus came to him, according to the Gospels, a dove appeared over his head when he received the sacrament from John. The dove, already a symbol of Isis, represented a higher form of knowledge: A direct knowledge of God. This initiation brought Jesus into the greater circle that evolved around John, but he was not yet the leader he would become. Even after being baptized Jesus would question the apostles “Whom do men say the Son of God is?” The answer in Matthew 13:14 was “Some say John the Baptist.” Salome’s request would end John’s ministry and begin the ministry of Jesus.
John is regarded as the precursor both in an earthly sense and in an astrological sense. John announced the coming of the son, as the morning star announces the coming of the Sun. As such he is held in high esteem by Christianity and Islam, and in the highest esteem by sects that survived the fall of Jerusalem. Christianity celebrates only one other birth date besides the December 25 birth date of Jesus, the June 24 birth date of John.
Pre-Christian and agricultural-based religions have some interesting similarities with the John-Jesus dates. The summer solstice is generally June 21 or 22, and in Europe regarded as midsummer. The sun was now at its greatest strength, from the solstice its power diminished. Then six months later the winter solstice announced a new sun, or a new king, when the old king was dead.
The Secret the Templars Uncovered
The Christian church held a monopoly over knowledge when the Crusades began. The Bible had not yet been printed, and the stories of the Gospels were filtered through the Church and the priests. Doctrine was rigidly enforced under threat of torture and the pain of death. Stories from Adam to Noah, Jonah to John, were repeated in the pulpits across Europe. They were accepted as true.
The Templars arrived in Jerusalem shortly after the city fell. The wars known as the crusades would last over a century although bitter battles were often separated by years of peace. During the down-time the crusaders in general and the Templars specifically were introduced to a completely different handful of religious concepts. From Persia came the worship of Zoroaster, the Ram of God who forgave the sins of man. He was born in a cave on December 25. From Egypt came the tale of Isis who resurrected her husband Osiris as her son Horus. Horus was baptized by Anub in the same river where John was said to have baptized Jesus. From the Far East came the Buddha whose birth was announced by Bodhisat, to a virgin mother Maia. Even Hercules was born of a virgin, Alcmene. His father was god, that is, Zeus.
The floodgate of knowledge was opened, and it had to shock the religious sensibilities of Europe. The Templar Knights would be accused of worshipping a bearded head. By itself this was strange although in a different context it linked the Green George head seen throughout Celtic lands, and the head of John revered in Asia.
One sect that the Templars encountered was the Mandaeans. They had survived the Roman massacre of Jerusalem in the A.D. 70 revolt. They had headed into Syria and further west to escape Roman domination. In the seventeenth century they were still alive and well. Catholic missionaries who encountered the group called them “St. John Christians.” This was in modern Iraq.
Despite being surrounded by Islam, this sect survives known into modern times. To them, John is the “king of light.” Their sacred texts refer to John as Yohanna in their Aramaic derived language. Other texts written in Arabic refer to John as Yahya, his name in the Koran. The name Mandaean comes from “manda” or gnosis, which is given to mean a self-knowledge of God. They had lived in the Jordan River area where John’s ministry was started.
Their religion is a mixture of the many religions that have existed between Jerusalem and the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia over thousands of years. They have gods and goddesses. Their goddess Libat is an Ishtar-like goddess whose prominence ranged throughout Europe and Asia under various names. Their gods are more like Sumero-Babylonian gods than anything found in the Judeo-Christian world. At the same time they share Adam and Eve, John the Baptist and Jesus. Jesus, however, is regarded as a false prophet whose militancy contributed to their forced emigration. While Christianity uses the symbol of the fish to represent Jesus, the Mandaeans connect the fish-man Oannes with John the Baptist.
The John the Baptist of the Christian gospels has been also identified by early Christian syncretists in Egypt with Oannes. He was a bringer of knowledge and light with a widespread cult in the pre-Christian Middle East. Oannes is said to have been born of the sea, and as a result half man, half fish. Further east, the Hindu god Vishnu had his first avatar as a half-fish, half-man. Fast forward to the Bible and we see a similar story of a man surviving being swallowed by a sea creature, a whale. From the belly of this sea creature he reaches land where he preaches (bringing the light of wisdom). Is it coincidence that Jonah and Oannes have some oddly similar stories as well as a phonetically close name.
The Sun God
Somewhere between the ancient knowledge bringer Oannes, and the son (sun) of God, Jesus, there was a Syro-Phoenician god by the name of Hadad. His followers worshipped in a huge temple built to him about nine hundred years before the ministry of John and Jesus. In the temple were ancient carvings of another era. A basalt bas-relief shows a winged sphinx, possibly an influence of both Mesopotamian and Egyptian religion. It also depicts the head of a bearded man that is remarkably similar to John the Baptist. The act of baptism allows in many faiths a cleansing that is preparation for rebirth and eternal life. Water is also the most important ingredient for the fertilization of the planet.
The Romans brought their own very similar god, Jupiter, and rededicated the temple that had been dedicated to Hadad. After Rome converted to Christianity, a church was built here and dedicated to John the Baptist. Since John looked like the bearded Jupiter and the bearded Hadad, all could worship here. It was reported that the head of John the Baptist was buried here after his execution.
Later Islam grew to become the dominant religion in southwest Asia. Temples to pagan gods and Christian churches alike were converted to Islamic sites of worship. It was decided to change the Christian site of John into a mosque. And not just any mosque. Under a tolerant Islamic leadership the magnificent Umayyad Mosque was built. Consent was given by the city’s Christians who in exchange were allowed to build a grand St. John church of their own. It took ten years to build the mosque and it became a centerpiece to the modern city of Damascus. It contains an expansive courtyard decorated with sacred mosaics. The courtyard contains a huge fountain of ablutions and several domes. The builders allowed a prominent spot for the skull of John who was important to the Moslem faith as well, as he was a very important prophet. This mosque is very important today as an Arabic pilgrimage site. In size it is grand and one of the few with three minarets. One of those minarets is dedicated to Jesus.
Pope John Paul II was the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to enter a mosque and visit the shrine of John the Baptist (and Prophet). It was a goodwill visit to promote tolerance between Syria’s Christians and Moslems.
In a curious display of just how religion adopts and accepts the unorthodox, Muslim women still come to pray at the shrine to St. John if they cannot get pregnant. Fertility was not one of the aspects of the Baptist however. Are they praying to John, or Hadad, or an ancient god further unknown to Christianity?
John has devotees from other corners of the world. In Portugal the festivities annually dedicated to John are more reminiscent of a popular Phoenician solar deity than a Christian saint. As Baal, he is the sun and his consort goddess is the moon, under the name Astarte (Phoenician) Ishtar (Babylon) Anat (Syria) or the Christianized St Lucy. In the north where the rooster is the symbol of the sun, the Christian mass do Galo (of the Rooster) is an ancient reminder of the odd connection. Twice each year the solar calendar starts a twelve-day celebration. In winter it begins on December 13, also known as St. Lucy’s Day, the day of the light, and culminates on December 25, the birth of Jesus. In summer the celebrations begin on June 13, and the highlight is Midsummer’s eve, June 24.
Along the Atlantic coast of Europe, long before Christianity, bonfires were lit and dedicated to celebrate the calendar feast day of Hercules, (represented under several names) throughout Europe. This was Midsummer’s Day Eve. After the spread of Christianity bonfires were lit on Midsummer Day to St. John, whose birth feast is the same date as the Celtic feast. The name had changed although the feast remained the same. In Norway, fires lit to Balder, the Norse god, were now to St. Hans (John). In Ireland, Germany, Austria and Russia pagan bonfires preceded those of John. He could grant good luck, cure cattle, and protect towns.
The ancient Celts and possibly the Druids before them had a tree calendar. The month that started on June 10 of our calendar and lasted until July 7 was dedicated to the oak. In accord with the tree calendar, the gods Jupiter, Zeus. Hercules, Thor and Celtic Dagda were celebrated. Midway in the oak month was also Midsummer, on which was celebrated St. John’s day. The oak king was killed on this day, preparing for another king.
In Wales, the hero that would become St. David was actually once Dewi. Dewi the Waterman was a god of the sea who dragged men to the infamous locker, as Davy Jones. The Christian Church invented a St. David but almost nothing was known about him except he was meant to replace the pagan god. The symbol of this David-Dewi became the national symbol of Wales, the Red Dragon.
It may have been animosity towards Wales that led Britain to take the Celtic Green George, the disembodied head similar to John the Baptist, and to make him St. George the Dragon Slayer. Green George survives well into the modern century from his depictions in Rosslyn Chapel to mundane garden decorations. His celebration, a very obvious fertility ritual, is notably at the spring equinox, the Christian Easter. The spring goddess predates Christianity and is named Eostre.
Secret Message behind the Tales of God
The furthest corners of Europe preserved their fertility festivals the longest. At the harvest time often the last of a harvested crop would be made into personified representations of the living food a fertilizing sun, rain and earth provided. Corn shaped into the form of dolls were burned, honey cakes were cooked and eaten, and barley, used for spirits, was similarly deemed important enough for its own ritual.
The ritual is remembered in the John Barleycorn song that recalls Sir John being both killed in a ritual and consumed. Many consider it to be the same rite of transubstantiation that occurred at the Last Supper. Jesus had his followers promise to remember him by the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. The death-rebirth theme is at least as old as the tale of Osiris which is a tale of the seasons, and the old crops being harvested to await the young crop.
The basic needs of man have not changed in the thousands of years since civilizations began. Food, safety, love and children are desired and heroes, gods and saints are asked to provide.
In a sense, however, tales of heroes and gods alike are often contrived to pass along a much more complicated message. Understanding the stars and the heavens, predicting seasons and weather, and very specifically having the ability to predict an eclipse were the province of the learned. Such magicians (like the magi) held power and awe by this talent. To pass these along to the next generation of adepts and priests was done through tales that the majority understood on one level while the initiated understood at a much deeper level. As Jesus said, “Let those with ears, hear,” he meant, let those initiated understand.
Were the twelve labors of Hercules a lesson on the zodiac? Were the twelve adventures of Ulysses built on the Hercules “lesson?” Were the twelve apostles or knights of King Arthur an echo of these more ancient tales? We may never know with certainty if the trappings of our modern religious feasts and festivals preserve the knowledge of the gods known to the ancients.