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In an act forbidden under Jewish law, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, married his brother’s wife, whose name was Herodias. When local holy man John the Baptist publicly accused the king of adultery, Herod had the troublemaker arrested and imprisoned at Machaerus. Some time later, at a birthday celebration in the Machaerus palace, Herod was so impressed by the dancing of Salome, Herodias’ daughter, that he promised her anything she wanted. Salome, prompted by her mother (who wanted rid of the holy man), requested John’s head on a platter – and Herod obliged.

Christian tradition holds that John was buried where he died, in a well-signposted cave near the hill, but Islam, according to which John (or Yahya in Arabic) is a prophet, keeps two shrines holy, one for his body (the same cave) and another in Damascus for his severed head, which was supposedly taken to that city and buried where the Great Mosque now stands.

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