Was Prophet Yahya John the Baptist Beheaded?
by Agron Belica©2008
Prophet Yahya could not have been beheaded as has been stated by many Muslim and Christian scholars. In regards to Jesus in the Quran we read: “Peace on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day I will be raised up again.” The verse states that Jesus was given safety and security in these three situations. But what about Yahya ibn Zechariah? We find the same description for him as we find for Jesus, Peace on him the day he is born, the day he dies, and the day he is raised up again.
We are told by way of an early historian, Josephus, that Yahya was put to death because of his political activities. Josephus does not mention the manner of Prophet Yahya's death. Others have stated that Prophet Yahya was beheaded. If the case be true that Yahya was convicted of the crime of treason as Josephus and others indicate, the punishment would not have been beheading. Under Roman Law, only Roman citizens were sentenced to beheading. Any non Roman citizen was sentenced to death by crucifixion. This was the case with Jesus, a non-Roman citizen, being accused of treason and sentenced to crucifixion. In addition, we see that when Paul was sentenced to die, he pleaded that he was a Roman citizen so that he would be beheaded and not crucified. (Acts 22:27-28).
Certainly if it is the case that Yahya's followers were many, spread far and wide, as it has been reported by some, and that Josephus mentions that the Jews were greatly moved by Prophet Yahya's words, and that Herod feared that Yahya's influence over the masses would cause a rebellious uprising leading to a revolt by the Jews against the Romans (Antiquities 18:.5.2 116-119), then this would be in accord with the practice of capital punishment of said criminals under Roman law. That is, that non Roman citizens be crucified.
How does the supposed beheading of Yahya fit in the above Quranic verse of one given peace by his Lord? We find in the commentary of Ibn Kathir that Yahya was also given safety and security in these three situations, but ironically we also find in his book, 'Stories of The Prophets' agreeing with the Gospel accounts of Yahya being beheaded and his head being served on a platter. What does ibn Kathir mean by this statement? How do we explain the beheading of this Prophet of God? How is he one who was safe and secure? Are we to say that God saved Jesus, but abandoned Yahya? Is this divine justice? As far as we know all the prophets mentioned in the Quran were delivered from their enemies. Ironically, Prophet Yahya whose name means He Who Lives is popularly supposed to have been put to death.