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Salome Presenting the Head of St. John the Baptist to King Herod - Frans Francken (1581-1642)

John the Baptist rebukes King Herod - Unknown ArtistDuring the time Jesus was teaching in Capernaum, Herod the tetrarch received reports about Jesus activities. Herod told his attendants, “This is John the Baptist, he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Herod had arrested John the Baptist and bound him in prison because of what John was saying about Herod’s relationship with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John had been teaching that it was not lawful for Herod to be with her. Herod wanted to kill John because of this but feared the people who considered John to be a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised to give her anything she asked for. Prompted by her mother, the girl said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

Herod was distressed but because of the oath he made before his dinner guests, he ordered her request be granted. John the Baptist was beheaded in prison.

John’s head was brought into the room on a platter and given to the girl. She prompted carried it to her mother.

John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus what had happened.

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What the story means to us today

A weak man lets fear guide his decisions

In many instances, Herod appears to be a weak ruler. He is pressured into decisions by other people. He wants to kill John but fears the reaction of the people. His step daughter (and indirectly, his wife) pressures Herod into executing John the Baptist. He follows through with his promise to give Herodias’s daughter her wish because he is afraid of looking bad in front of his dinner guests. Herod is a fearful, weak man who allows his fear and weakness to lead him into bad, sinful actions.

Additional thoughts and considerations

Jesus is “John the Baptist risen from the dead”

St. John the Baptist - Artist UnknownHerod’s comment that Jesus was “John the Baptist risen from the dead” is curious. At the time Herod made the comment, John the Baptist is still alive, imprisoned in Herod’s jail. Likely, his statement alludes to a general superstition, an attempt by Herod to attribute Jesus’ miracles to supernatural origins, or possibly Herod is simply looking for more things to blame John for.

Herod’s divorce and marriage to Herodias is condemned by John the Baptist

The scriptures tell us Herod hated John for his rebuke of Herod’s divorce and marriage to his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. Indeed, divorcing Phasaelis would have been controversial in itself. Phasaelis was the daughter of Aretas, the Arabian king of the Nabateans (an ancient people from northern Arabia). Divorcing royalty would have been a grave insult to the Nabateans.

Ultimately, John’s condemnation of the marriage proved to be correct. The outcome is confirmed by historical sources who note that after the divorce, border wars broke out between Herod and the Nabateans. Herod was defeated in the wars and lost his kingdom.

Herodias’ daughter and the dance

Herod is pleased by a dance from Herodias’ daughter, who outside historical sources tell us was named Salome. Salome was between 12 and 14 years old when she danced for Herod. For some unknown reason, Herod was extremely pleased by the dance of the young girl and offered to give her anything she wanted. After persuasion from her mother, she asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Thus, John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, is killed for no other reason than spreading God’s word and telling the truth.

The science and history behind the story

Who was Herod Antipas?

Herod Antipas, also known simply as Antipas, was the son of Herod the Great. He ruled from around 4 BC to 39 AD. Although he is sometimes referred to as “King Herod”, he was not truly a king but rather, a slightly lesser title, tetrarch, or “ruler of a quarter”, a position similar to a governor. His territory included Galilee and Perea (where John the Baptist ministered), both client states of the Roman Empire. At the time of this story, Herod lived in Tiberias, on the southwest shore of Galilee. Thus, Jesus’ ministry also took place in Herod’s territory.

Herod divorced his first wife, Phasaelis, and married Herodias, who had been married to his half-brother Herod Philip I. This was the arrangement that offended John the Baptist. Herod’s marital arrangement ultimately resulted in a war with his nephew and ultimately, loss of his kingdom. After the war, Herod was exiled in Gaul where he died, some say at the hands of the evil Roman ruler, Caligula.

Historical confirmation of John the Baptist’s death

The execution of John the Baptist by Herod is confirmed by the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus wrote that John was transferred from prison to the castle of Machrus for execution. Josephus also attributes Herod’s act to political causes – Herod feared John the Baptist’s influence over the people had grown to great.

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist - Caravaggio (1573-1610)Bible Text

NIV

14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

3 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

6 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.

The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

The NET Bible

14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard reports about Jesus, 14:2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead! And because of this, miraculous powers are at work in him.” 14:3 For Herod had arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 14:4 because John had repeatedly told him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 14:5 Although Herod wanted to kill John, he feared the crowd because they accepted John as a prophet. 14:6 But on Herod’s birthday, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod, 14:7 so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 14:8 Instructed by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 14:9 Although it grieved the king, because of his oath and the dinner guests he commanded it to be given. 14:10 So he sent and had John beheaded in the prison. 14:11 His head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 14:12 Then John’s disciples came and took the body and buried it and went and told Jesus.

Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.

New King James Version

14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the report about Jesus 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”

3 For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 Because John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And although he wanted to put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.

6 But when Herod’s birthday was celebrated, the daughter of Herodias danced before them and pleased Herod. 7 Therefore he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.

8 So she, having been prompted by her mother, said, “Give me John the Baptist’s head here on a platter.”

9 And the king was sorry; nevertheless, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he commanded it to be given to her. 10 So he sent and had John beheaded in prison. 11 And his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 Then his disciples came and took away the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus.

The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

The Message

1–2 14 At about this time, Herod, the regional ruler, heard what was being said about Jesus. He said to his servants, “This has to be John the Baptizer come back from the dead. That’s why he’s able to work miracles!”

3–5 Herod had arrested John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison to placate Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias “adultery.” Herod wanted to kill him, but he was afraid because so many people revered John as a prophet of God.

6–12 But at his birthday celebration, he got his chance. Herodias’s daughter provided the entertainment, dancing for the guests. She swept Herod away. In his drunken enthusiasm, he promised her on oath anything she wanted. Already coached by her mother, she was ready: “Give me, served up on a platter, the head of John the Baptizer.” That sobered the king up fast. Unwilling to lose face with his guests, he did it—ordered John’s head cut off and presented to the girl on a platter. She in turn gave it to her mother. Later, John’s disciples got the body, gave it a reverent burial, and reported to Jesus.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.

King James Version

14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, 2 And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 3 For Herod ehad laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. 4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. 5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger. 9 And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. 10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. 11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.

Sources: NIV, The Message, The NET Bible, King James Version, NET Bible Notes, Faithlife Study Bible, The Apologetics Study Bible, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, The Bible Reader’s Companion, Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Holman Concise Bible Commentary, The Bible Exposition Commentary, The Teacher’s Bible Commentary, The Teacher’s Commentary, The Bible Guide, Word Studies in the New Testament, Holman Bible Handbook, Calvin Commentaries, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines, The New Manner and Customs of the Bible, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Easton’s Bible Dictionary, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, The Archaeological Encyclopedia, Biblical Archaeology Review, The New Bible Dictionary, The Lexham Analytical Lexicon, Glossary of Morpho-Syntactic Database

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