the Black Fortress, was built by Herod the Great in the gorge of Callirhoe, one of the wadies 9 miles east of the Dead Sea, as a frontier rampart against Arab marauders. John the Baptist was probably cast into the prison connected with this castle by Herod Antipas, whom he had reproved for his adulterous marriage with Herodias. Here Herod "made a supper" on his birthday. He was at this time marching against Aretas, king of Perea, to whose daughter he had been married. During the revelry of the banquet held in the border fortress, to please Salome, who danced before him, he sent an executioner, who beheaded John, and "brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel" ( Mark 6:14-29 ). This castle stood "starkly bold and clear" 3,860 feet above the Dead Sea, and 2,546 above the Mediterranean. Its ruins, now called M'khaur, are still visible on the northern end of Jebel Attarus.
Not mentioned in Scripture, canonical or apocryphal, but its importance in Jewish history justifies its inclusion here. Pliny (NH, v.16,72) speaks of it as, after Jerusalem, the strongest of Jewish fortresses. It was fortified by Alexander Janneus (BJ, VII, vi, 2). It was taken and destroyed by Gabinius (ibid., I, viii, 5; Ant, XIV, v, 4). Herod the Great restored it and, building a city here, made it one of his residences (BJ, VII, vi, 1, 2). It lay within the tetrarchy assigned to Antipas at the death of Herod. The wife of Antipas, daughter of Aretas, privately aware of his infidelity, asked to be sent hither (Ant., XVIII, v, 1). Here Josephus has fallen into confusion if he meant by the phrase "a place in the borders of the dominions of Aretas and Herod" that it was still in Herod's hands, since immediately he tells us that it was "subject to her father." It was natural enough, however, that a border fortress should be held now by one and now by the other. It may have passed to Aretas by some agreement of which we have no record; and Herod, unaware that his wife knew of his guilt, would have no suspicion of her design in wishing to visit her father. If this is true, then the Baptist could not have been imprisoned and beheaded at Macherus (ibid., 2). The feast given to the lords of Galilee would most probably be held at Tiberias; and there is nothing in the Gospel story to hint that the prisoner was some days' journey distant (Mark 6:14). The citadel was held by a Roman garrison until 66 AD, which then evacuated it to escape a siege (BJ, II, xviii, 6). Later by means of a stratagem it was recovered for the Romans by Bassus, circa 72 AD (BJ, VII, vi, 4).
The place is identified with the modern Mkaur, a position of great strength on a prominent height between Wady Zerqa Ma`in and Wady el-Mojib, overlooking the Dead Sea. There are extensive ruins.
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