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The Fate of John the Baptist & Salome's Dance (Mark 6:14-29)

Analysis and Commentary


Salome with the Head of John the Baptist

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist

    14 And king Herod heard of him; (for his name was spread abroad:) and he said, That John the Baptist was risen from the dead, and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 15 Others said, That it is Elias. And others said, That it is a prophet, or as one of the prophets. 16 But when Herod heard thereof, he said, It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead. 17 For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her.
    18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. 19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20 For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.
    21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; 22 And when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. 23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.
    24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. 26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her.
    27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 And brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. 29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.
    Compare: Matthew 14:1-12; Luke 9:7-9

What Happened to John the Baptist?

When we last saw John the Baptist back in chapter 1, he was on a religious mission similar to that of Jesus: baptizing people, forgiving their sins, and exhorting them to have faith in God. In Mark 1:14 we learned that John was put in prison, but not informed by whom or for what reason. Now, we learn the rest of the story (though not one that is consistent with the account in Josephus).

Why was John imprisoned? He openly disapproved of the marriage between Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) and Herodias — which is strange since according to Deuteronomy 25, a man has a moral obligation to marry the wife of a deceased brother if that brother left no sons. Thus, it was at least possible that the marriage between Herod and Herodias was not only licit, but in fact required — it all depends on whether Herodias and Philip had children together. We’re not given enough details to be sure.

One of the problems here is that there is little reason to consider it historical. The very existence of John the Baptist is questionable because the passage in Josephus describing him has many characteristics of a later addition. If we assume that John existed on the basis of Josephus being accurate, though, we must dismiss Mark as inaccurate.

According to Josephus, John was executed at Marchaerus (beyond the Jordan). Mark implies that he was executed at the royal court. Josephus says that John was executed because he was perceived as a political threat; Mark says that John was executed because Heroidas hated him.

If Josephus is correct, Mark cannot be. If Josephus is deemed inaccurate, we lose any extrabiblical basis for supposing that John existed in the first place. The only thing remaining, then, is to read the passage as having theological purposes for the story about Jesus. It wasn’t dropped into the gospel as a historical curiosity. The author of Mark put it here in order to tell his audience something about Jesus — nothing more, nothing less.

» Continue: The Meaning of Fate of John the Baptist for Jesus

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