Q. How did St. John the Baptist escape the Massacre of the Holy Innocents?
A. St. John was only a few months older than Jesus was. We have no record of his childhood, but it’s a reasonable speculation that the two boys, who were relatives, would have known each other and spent time together. For this reason a number of artists have depicted the two children together, as in Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks.
As for his escape from Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents, St. Peter of Alexandria (d. 311) speculated that, to be spared the wicked king’s wrath, the young John was taken into the desert, where he lived until many years later, when he came preaching repentance (see Mark 1:2–4). But St. Jerome, one of the first great biblical scholars, considered this an unlikely conjecture.
Perhaps the infant John found refuge somewhere else. But we must keep in mind that Scripture tells us Herod “ordered the massacre of all boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under” (Matthew 2:16, emphasis added). The massacre apparently didn’t extend to all the king’s realm. John was born when his parents lived in an unnamed “town of Judah” that was “in the hill country” (Luke 1:39). So perhaps we need not assume that this town was in the vicinity of Bethlehem, or that John’s life was ever in danger.