In the province of Galilee, under the rule of Rome's Tiberius Caesar, King Herod and Queen Herodias sit on the throne and are condemned by a prophet known as John the Baptist. Herodias bitterly resents John's denunciation of her marriage to the king, her former husband's brother, and the Baptist's claim that she is an adulteress. Herod, however, takes no action against John's seditious preaching, fearing that John may be the messiah foretold by prophecy. In Rome, Tiberius appoints Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea, where he is directed to maintain the peace. Caesar then rejects a petition from his nephew, Marcellus Fabius, who requests permission to wed the beautiful daughter of Herodias, Princess Salome, who has lived in Rome since childhood. Caesar reminds Marcellus that he must marry a Roman and, calling Salome a barbarian, banishes her back to Galilee. Salome departs Rome for Galilee on the same ship on which Pilate sails. During the voyage Commander Claudius flirts with Salome, but she remains aloof. Upon arriving in Judea, Salome and her escort, led by Claudius, come across a crowd of people by the river, who are being baptized by John. Claudius, who is a secret convert to the prophet's new religion, saves John when he is attacked for preaching against Rome. That night, Claudius slips away from Salome's camp and visits John, who warns him never to risk his life for him again. The next day at the palace, Herodias joyfully receives word of Salome's arrival, but worries about keeping her daughter safe from her stepfather Herod's well-known lechery. That evening at a formal supper welcoming the new governor, Herod is fawning over Salome, when a report arrives that John has entered the city. To Pilate's and Herodias' dismay, Herod refuses to order any action. Salome is puzzled by her mother's fear of John and remains skeptical when Claudius later reveals that he believes John is a prophet. A few nights later, Salome disguises herself in plain robes in order to attend a sermon delivered by John. When the Baptist condemns Herodias for ignoring the law, Salome defends her, but is startled when John recognizes her and warns her not to get caught up in the wickedness at court. Returning to the palace, Salome visits Herodias, who explains that if John is the messiah, as Herod believes, prophecy forbids that he be harmed. Salome suggests that her mother leave Herod, but Herodias reveals that she has remained only to ensure Salome's inheritance of the throne. Salome then pleads with Claudius to arrest John to appease her mother. Claiming that he has no authority to do so, Claudius refuses, leaving Salome hurt and disappointed. Desperate to put a stop to John's public accusations, Herodias arranges for an assassin to strike at John's next sermon, but Claudius, disguised as a local shepherd, intercedes and demands the assassin be taken to Herod. Although the man refuses to confess, Herod realizes Herodias is behind the attack and decides to bring John before the ministers for speaking treason. The following day, John's arrest stirs the people, and Salome, believing Claudius is responsible, is content. In the ministers' chamber, John declares that he is not the messiah and can only preach the truth, but the ministers, under Herod's coercion, find him guilty. Privately, Herod offers to save John's life if he will stop his denunciations, but John refuses and is imprisoned. Claudius beseeches Herod to free John as his imprisonment will bring about an uprising by the people, and when Herod refuses, the commander hurries to Jerusalem for an audience with Pilate. Claudius advises Pilate that a rebellion in Galilee may spread to the other provinces, but Pilate wants John executed. When Claudius urges Pilate to turn away from using force and try more peaceful methods, the governor realizes that Claudius has been converted. Because of their long friendship, he resists placing Claudius under arrest, but orders him back to Rome on the next available galley ship. Shortly thereafter, Claudius witnesses a sermon and healing of the sick by a carpenter who has been gaining reputation in the countryside. In Galilee, Herodias anxiously watches the growing public agitation for John's release and shocks Salome by asking her to gain Herod's favor by performing a dance at the feast that evening, then having him destroy John. Appalled, Salome seeks out Claudius, who takes her to John's cell and describes how the carpenter raised a man from the dead. Upon learning this, John declares that the carpenter is the prophesized messiah. Overcome, Salome confesses her sins and the Baptist blesses her. Claudius then tells Salome that he will risk his rank to free John, but she insists that she will perform for Herod and request John's freedom. That night, Salome dances for the king, who is mesmerized. Herodias then suggests he give her the Baptist's head and her advisor, Micha, quickly takes an executioner to John's cell, where Claudius' soldiers battle the palace guard. John is taken by Micha's men and beheaded, and his head is taken to Herod and the queen. Horrified, Salome denounces her mother and flees with Claudius to the countryside, where they find solace in the words of the carpenter.