To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 1:17-19; Mk 6:17-29
Mark’s Account of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist by Herod Antipas is more elaborate than that of Matthew and Luke. According to Mark, Herod had imprisoned John because he reproved Herod for divorcing his wife (Phasaelis), and unlawfully taking Herodias, the wife of his brother Herod Philip I. On Herod's birthday, Herodias' daughter (traditionally named Salome but not named by Mark or the other Gospels) danced before the king and his guests. Her dancing pleased Herod so much that in his drunkenness he promised to give her anything she desired, up to half of his kingdom. When the daughter asked her mother what she should request, she was told to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Although Herod was appalled by the request, he reluctantly agreed and had John executed in the prison.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also relates in his Antiquities of the Jews that Herod killed John, stating that he did so, "lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his [John's] power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), [so Herod] thought it best [to put] him to death." He further states that many of the Jews believed that the military disaster which fell upon Herod at the hands of Aretas his father-in-law (Phasaelis' father), was God's punishment for his unrighteous behaviour.
While Mark has mentioned Herodians before (3:6), this is the first time in his Gospel that he mentions Herod. Herod, here is Herod Antipas who was the son of Herod the Great who is the one referred to in the narrative of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 2:1-23), and had been appointed by the Roman as the ruler of Galilee and Perea (Lk 3:1). He was never “king” as Mark mentions in his story, and Matthew corrects this by referring to Herod as tetrarch (Mt 14,1). The story of the death of John the Baptist in Mark is sandwiched between the sending of the Twelve on Mission (6:7-13) and their return from Mission (6:30-34).
Mark mentions three opinions about Jesus said to be circulating at that time. Some believed that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead; others believed that Jesus was Elijah, while still others believed that Jesus was one of the prophets of old. Herod, however, is quite clear in Mark that Jesus is John the Baptist raised. This profession of Herod leads Mark to narrate the story of the death of John the Baptist as a flashback. According to Mark, the reason why John was put in prison was because he objected to Herod’s violation of the purity code, which forbade marriage of close relatives and to a brother’s wife while the brother was still alive (Lev 18:16; 20:21). Mark seems to lay the blame for the death of John on Herodias who manipulates Herod into executing John. The daughter of Herodias is not named here or anywhere in the Bible, nor does the Bible give her age. According to Mark a drunken Herod is trapped into fulfilling a rash vow and so has John beheaded.
Though in Mark’s narrative it is Herodias who is directly responsible for the death of John the Baptist, Herod cannot disown responsibility. He could have decided if he had the courage not to give in, yet he made the choice to have John beheaded. Each of us is responsible for our own actions though we may sometimes blame others or even circumstances. The sooner we accept responsibility for who we are and what we do, the sooner we will grow up. The legend of John the Baptist shows us that justice is the ultimate victim in such situations.
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