The Remains of John the Baptist

Image: Bone believed to be from John the Baptist’s body

 

Oxford University Researchers have done DNA tests on several bone fragments found in a monastery in Bulgaria that may be part of the remains of John the Baptist.

Radiocarbon dating confirms that the remains belonged to a man who lived in the first century. However, scientists are unable to confirm that the remains belonged to John the Baptist.

The human remains were found in a sarcophagus under the floor of a monastery named Sveti Ivan (St. John). According to scientists, the genes found in the bones are consistent with people who lived in the Ancient Near East.

The following is an excerpt from the report released by Oxford University:

The Bulgarian archaeologists, who excavated the bones, also found a small tuff box (made of hardened volcanic ash) close to the sarcophagus. The tuff box bears inscriptions in ancient Greek that directly mention John the Baptist and his feast day, and text asking God to ‘help your servant Thomas’. One theory is that the person referred to as Thomas had been given the task of bringing the relics to the island. An analysis of the box has shown that the tuff box has a high waterproof quality and is likely to have originated from Cappadocia, a region of modern-day Turkey. The Bulgarian researchers believe that the bones probably came to Bulgaria via Antioch, an ancient Turkish city, where the right hand of St John was kept until the tenth century.

Oxford University researcher Dr. Georges Kazan said:

My research suggests that during the fifth or early sixth century, the monastery of Sveti Ivan may well have received a significant portion of St John the Baptist’s relics, as well as a prestige reliquary in the shape of a sarcophagus, from a member of Constantinople’s elite. This gift could have been to dedicate or rededicate the church and the monastery to St John, which the patron or patrons may have supported financially.

Whether or not the bones belonged to John the Baptist is impossible to say. However, the reconstruction of the complete Mitochondrial DNA genome sequence confirming that the bones belonged to an individual who lived in the Ancient Near East and the radiocarbon dating placing the remains in the first century, provide the possibility of authenticity for the remains. As for my, I remain skeptic about the authenticity of the remains.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

 

 

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3 Responses to The Remains of John the Baptist

  1. Daniel says:

    Pretty interesting that they are able to date this fragment to the 1st century. I’m with you on whether or not to accept the bone as legitimate. As with most purported 1st cent. religious relics, I am skeptical of tying them to the relative saint.

    The veneration of relics is well known from the medieval period through the Renaissance. Part of the problem we have in reading sources about the fragments is that once relics were accepted as authentic by the church, denying them became dangerous (cf. Huss, et al.). Do you know when this attitude toward bones, pieces of the cross, swaddling clothes of Jesus, etc. started? It seems that if a couple hundred years separate the “original” relic hunter from the purported bones of a significant biblical character, they could belong to almost anyone. From what I’ve read, the veneration of relics was not common in the first couple centuries of the Church, though I may be mistaken.

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    • Claude Mariottini says:

      Daniel,

      Thank you for your comment. I apologize for the delay in answering your comment, but I have been away from my blog for several weeks now.

      The problem with relics is that it is difficult to ascertain whether or not they are legitimate. People need relics in order to deepen their faith, to show that their faith is true, and to authenticate what the Bible says. As for the remains of John the Baptist, it is impossible to say whether it is authentic. Several years ago I saw the remains of the hand of John the Baptist in Istanbul. The people there believe that it is the hand of John the Baptist, but there is no way of knowing whether it is true. The veneration of relics began early in the life of the church. Have you seen the movie “The Robe”? The movie is only a story, but it shows how veneration of relics begin.

      Thank you for visiting my blog.

      Claude Mariottini

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  2. Pingback: Biblioblog Carnival “according to Mark” « Euangelion Kata Markon

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