Sunday, July 4, 2021

Randy Sots and Righteous Prophets

Below is a rough translation and some comments regarding Mark 6: 14-29, the gospel reading for 8th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, in the Revised Common Lectionary. 

I don’t usually spend a lot of time trying to discern the origins of a text, but this story strikes me as unusually attentive to details for Mark. The word “immediately” – a Markan habit of writing – does show up, but the story itself does not have the ‘cut to the quick’ character of many of Mark’s other stories. It seems important to name the types of officials; the exact words of Herod, the mother, and the daughter regarding the request; who gave the head to whom; etc. Here are my initial reactions to the story itself, saving some of the more specific comments for each verse below:
1. This is about the death of John, a significant death, which deserves attention and clarity. The clarity is that John was wrongly killed – a tragedy composed of loose braggadocio words of Herod in front of his henchmen and the vengeful resentment of Herod’s illegitimate wife. While today John has the role as the “forerunner,” and is not terribly well known aside from a few stories, during their lifetimes John was more popular than Jesus – if we can rely on Josephus to give a 1st century perspective.
2. This story seems full of intertexual echoes. See my comments following the exegesis.
3. Mark’s overall story seems to have a ‘setback leads to new possibility’ motif. It is when John is thrown into prison that Jesus emerges preaching the same message (1:14). Now, the story of John’s death happens in between Jesus sending the 12 out and their return. The crucifixion and resurrection, of course, is the ultimate moment when the death of one leads to the empowerment of others. 
4. Mark often brackets one story within another. Vv. 14-29 interrupts the twelve’s mission story that breaks off in v.13 and resumes in v.30. When Mark does this, I assume that one story brings meaning to the other story. That partly explains why I am picking up on the ideas that I mention in comment #3.
5. And speaking of resurrection, notice the commonplace presumption of resurrection as a possibility when Herod hears about Jesus. But, of course, Jesus and John the Baptist were contemporaries - only a few months apart in age, if Luke's story is historically accurate - and that messes with our typical understanding of what the people in our text might have meant by someone rising from the dead. Jesus was not born after John died, to where people are thinking that John is reincarnated into Jesus. Jesus is speaking and acting in the power of the Spirit that was evident in John, and that seems to be what "rising from the dead" can mean. If that's a common understanding of "rising from the dead," it is much more in line with Archbishop Romero's insistence that if he were to die his spirit would rise up among the poor; or Tertullian's famous phrase that the "blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." There's a beautiful fluidity in that view of rising from the dead that defies the individualistic "you live, you die, you live again" kind of narrative. Would I be as empowered by the thought that my spirit, my passions, my contributions rise to new life after my death as I would by the idea that my consciousness would rise to new life? I hope so. 

14 Καὶ ἤκουσεν  βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης, φανερὸν γὰρ ἐγένετο τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, 
καὶ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἰωάννης  βαπτίζων ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἐνεργοῦσιν αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῷ. 
And the king Herod heard, for his name became known, and they were saying that John the Baptist has risen out of death, and through this the powers are operating in him.
ἤκουσεν: AAI 3s, ἀκούω 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐγήγερται: PerfPI 3s, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise  1a) to arouse from sleep, to awake  1b) to arouse from the sleep of death, to recall the dead to life 
ἐνεργοῦσιν: PAI 3p, ἐνεργέω, 1) to be operative, be at work, put forth power
1. The word for “powers” (δυνάμεις) is transliterated into English as dynamite.
2. Some commentators point out that this Herod, Herod Antipas, is not properly a king, but a “Tetrarch,” a “Quarter Ruler,” since his father’s (Herod the Great) kingdom was divided into four regions after his death.
3. We don’t know who the “they” are who were saying this about John. Presumably it was someone who had access to Herod’s ears, but maybe it was John’s disciples or even some of Jesus’ followers. Some early English translations (KJV, Young’s Literal Translation) have “for he said …” ascribing this assumption to Herod. (Note to self: Check Greek text for variants.)
4. Whoever said this, the form of this claim is noteworthy. We often think the death and resurrection of Jesus is a unique story. But, if this kind of story is floating around regarding John – even if that is only Mark’s rendition of what happened – then the notion that a dead person can rise from the dead and empower other persons to do what the dead person once did was not unique to Jesus. That is how Mark understands the death and resurrection of Jesus. But, it is also how Mark understands the manner of resurrection in general. That would make the resurrection of Jesus not “unique” in the sense of “this is something no one ever imagined might happen!” It means something more like, “Resurrection – which we all know means rising from the dead to empower others to do what oneself was doing before death – happened to this one.” Jesus becomes the one who fits into the existing category of resurrection, rather than resurrection being a predicate of who Jesus is.

15 ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἠλίας ἐστίν: ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι προφήτης ὡς εἷς τῶν 
Yet others were saying that he is Elijah; still others were saying that a [he is] a prophet as one of the prophets.
ἔλεγον (2x): IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐστίν: PAI 3s, εἰμί,  1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. My suspicion is that these sequential attempts to name who/what Jesus is lends strength to the reading of v.15 as “they” and not “Herod” making the first guess.
2. These guesses are not pulled out of thin air. Deuteronomy 18:15 reads, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” Malachi 4:5-6 reads, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.”
3. The return of Elijah would also be a form of resurrection, yes? Perhaps the lack of a death story or Elijah would make this an option that anti-resurrectionists (like Sadducees) could accept.

16 ἀκούσας δὲ  Ἡρῴδης ἔλεγεν,Ὃν ἐγὼ ἀπεκεφάλισα Ἰωάννην, οὗτος 
But hearing, the Herod was saying, “John whom I beheaded, he has been raised.”
ἀκούσας: AAPart nsm, ἀκούω 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἀπεκεφάλισα: AAI 1s, ἀποκεφαλίζω, 1) to cut off the head, behead, decapitate
ἠγέρθη: API 3s, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise  1a) to arouse from sleep, to awake  1b) to arouse from the sleep of death, to recall the dead to life 
1. Now Herod makes his guess, agreeing with the first possibility from v.14. Mark draws an interesting picture of Herod in this pericope. It raises the question of whether he is describing an individual with a guilty conscience, who was caught in the snare of his own boasting, or if he is making Herod a type of how the entire Roman Empire has been caught in its own legitimation story and, therefore, was the active hand that put both John the Baptist and Jesus to death. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are particularly helpful in showing how the Roman Empire legitimized its use of death and the threat of death as the way imperial control. Once the foundation of death is denied – via resurrection – Rome’s entire superstructure is set to crumble.

17Αὐτὸς γὰρ  Ἡρῴδης ἀποστείλας ἐκράτησεν τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ ἔδησεν 
αὐτὸν ἐν φυλακῇ διὰ Ἡρῳδιάδα τὴν γυναῖκα Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ, 
ὅτι αὐτὴν ἐγάμησεν: 
For Herod himself having sent arrested John and bound him in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of Philip his brother, because he married her; 
ἀποστείλας: AAPart nsm, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss
ἐκράτησεν: AAI 3s, κρατέω, 1) to have power, be powerful  1a) to be chief, be master of, to rule
ἔδησεν: AAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains 
ἐγάμησεν: AAI 3s, γαμέω, 1) to lead in marriage, take to wife  1a) to get married, to marry
1. “Herod himself”: No matter what the reasons, guilty conscience, or shenanigans that are at play in this story, Mark ascribes the arrest to Herod.
2. The διὰ, “on account of,” describes the issue at hand – John’s arrest was over Herodias, who was Philip’s wife, whom Herod took as his own wife. John’s message was not just limited to “spiritual” matters of personal repentance and baptism. He spoke against the ruler of the Jews. It was risky and it seems to be different from the kind of ‘live and let live’ settlement that the Jewish religious leaders had struck with Herod.
3. One could read John’s criticism of Herod as a religious critique, since Herod’s marriage violates the religious law. Or, one could read it as a political critique, since the marriage was a power play against his brother.
4. Chris Haslam writes: According to the contemporary historian Josephus, John was imprisoned at a fort and prison at Machaerus, 8 km (5 miles) east of the Dead Sea, on the Nabatean border. [The New Oxford Annotated Bible]

18 ἔλεγεν γὰρ  Ἰωάννης τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ ὅτι Οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἔχειν τὴν γυναῖκα 
τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου. 
For John was saying to Herod “It is not lawful for you to take the wife of your brother.”
ἔλεγεν: IAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἔξεστίν: PAI 3s, ἔξεστι, 1) it is lawful
ἔχειν: PAInf, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold 
1. I get the feeling that John is the only one in the crowd willing to say “The Emperor is naked.” This is a classic example of someone speaking truth to power.

19  δὲ Ἡρῳδιὰς ἐνεῖχεν αὐτῷ καὶ ἤθελεν αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι, καὶ οὐκ 
But Herodias was begrudging him and was wishing to kill him, and was unable;
ἐνεῖχεν: IAI 3s, ἐνέχω, 1) to have within, to hold in  1a) to be held, entangled, be held ensnared  1b) to be engaged with, set one's self against, hold a grudge  against someone
ἤθελεν: IAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend
ἀποκτεῖναι: AAInf, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever 1a) to destroy, to allow to perish
ἠδύνατο:  IMI 3s, δύναμαι, 1) to be able, have power whether by virtue of one's own ability and resources, a state of mind, through favorable circumstances, or by permission of law or custom
1. Now Herodias is implicated as a player in the unjust murder of the prophet.

20 γὰρ Ἡρῴδης ἐφοβεῖτο τὸν Ἰωάννην, εἰδὼς αὐτὸν ἄνδρα δίκαιον καὶ 
ἅγιον, καὶ συνετήρει αὐτόν, καὶ ἀκούσας αὐτοῦ πολλὰ ἠπόρει, καὶ ἡδέως 
αὐτοῦ ἤκουεν. 
For Herod was afraid of John, having known him a righteous and holy man, and was protecting him, and having heard of/from him repeatedly was verklempt, and was gladly hearing of/from him.
ἐφοβεῖτο: IPI 3s, φοβέω to strike with fear, scare, frighten. Middle or passive as here, to be put in fear, take fright
εἰδὼς: PeftAPart nsm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know 
συνετήρει: IAI 3s, συντηρέω, 1) to preserve (a thing from perishing or being lost)  2) to keep within one's self, keep in mind (a thing, lest it be forgotten) 
ἀκούσας: AAPart nsm, ἀκούω 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἠπόρει: IAI 3s, ἀπορέω, 1) to be without resources, to be in straits, to be left wanting,  to be embarrassed, to be in doubt, not to know which way to turn
ἤκουεν: IAI 3s, ἀκούω 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
1. Okay, I don’t even know if “verklempt” is a proper term, but it seems to capture the confusion behind Herod’s “gladly” hearing John and the fact that John was calling him out. has this long definition for ἠπόρει: to be without resources, to be in straits, to be left wanting, to be embarrassed, to be in doubt, not to know which way to turn; [impf. in Mk. vi. 20 (see above) πολλὰ ἠπόρει he was in perplexity about many things or much perplexed. The older translations have “was doing many things;” the newer ones have “was greatly perplexed.”

21 Καὶ γενομένης ἡμέρας εὐκαίρου ὅτε Ἡρῴδης τοῖς γενεσίοις αὐτοῦ δεῖπνον 
ἐποίησεν τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς χιλιάρχοις καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς
And there came a timely day when Herod for his birthday prepared a feast for his magnates and the commanders and the chief persons of the Galileans,
γενομένης: AMPart gsf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
ἐποίησεν: AAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc.
1. “Magnates” (μεγιστᾶσιν) is literally ‘mega-standers.’ “Commanders” (χιλιάρχοις) is ‘thousand-rulers.’ “Chief persons” (πρώτοις) is literally ‘firsts.’
2. “Timely” is my translation of εὔκαιρος, a term that combines the prefix ‘good’ (εὔ) with the root ‘time’ (καιρος). Some translations go with ‘opportune.’ The only other use of this term in the NT is Heb. 4:16.
3. Readers of Paul Tillich will remember his distinction between kairos and chronos, the other Greek word for time. For Tillich, chronos pointed to linear calendar and clock time, while kairos had the connotation of ‘the right time.’ I think the term ‘timely’ has that kairos character that Tillich intended. Some NT scholars argue that Tillich is making this distinction up but in this pericope Tillich’s distinction is helpful. This was the ‘right’ occasion for Herod to do exactly what he did, contrary to his normal practice of protecting John.

22καὶ εἰσελθούσης τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ἡρῳδιάδος καὶ ὀρχησαμένης, 
ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ καὶ τοῖς συνανακειμένοις. εἶπεν  βασιλεὺς τῷ κορασίῳ, 
Αἴτησόν με  ἐὰν θέλῃς, καὶ δώσω σοι: 
And in the daughter of Herodias having entered and having danced, [it] pleased Herod and the ones sitting together at the table.  The King said to the maiden, “Ask me whatever you may wish, and I will give to you;
εἰσελθούσης : AAPart gsf, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter
ὀρχησαμένης: AMPart gsf, ὀρχέομαι, 1) to dance
ἤρεσεν: AAI 3s, ἀρέσκω, 1) to please  2) to strive to please  2a) to accommodate one's self to the opinions desires and interests  of others
συνανακειμένοις: PMPart dpm, συνανάκειμαι, 1) to recline together, feast together  1a) of guests
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
Αἴτησόν : AAImpv 2s, αἰτέω, 1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require 
θέλῃς: PASubj 2s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose
δώσω: FAI 1s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
1. “And in this daughter of Herodias” is difficult. It is a genitival phrase, not nominative, so I added the “in.” Most translations treat it as a simple nominative/subject. The genitive may imply that Herod had her brought in to dance and then she accommodated his wish (‘accommodate’ is one possible translation for ἤρεσεν, which also could be “pleased.”)
2. But the difficulties abound, because αὐτοῦ is masculine, while everything else in this phrase – including the participles ‘entered’ and ‘danced’ are all feminine. Also, since ‘daughter’ and ‘Herodias’ are both genitive feminine singular, it seems to be implying that the girl is Herod’s daughter, named Herodias. But, she is Herodias’ daughter, whom Josephus says is named Salome. So, the grammar and the history seem a bit confused here. There are textual variants that say “daughter of Herodias,” which seems to be an attempt to correct the original. Here are Chris Haslam’s notes: Verse 22: “his daughter Herodias”: Some manuscripts say “the daughter of Herodias”, as does Matthew 14:6. [NOAB] The Codexes Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, and Bezae all agree that Herodias' daughter is also named Herodias (Meier 1994, p228). This agreement would undoubtedly be accepted as the original reading, as it is the more difficult, but it runs against history. Jack Elliot (1981) argues that on internal evidence of other Markan passages that the Greek here is intended to be parenthetical: "her daughter (Herodias')" should be the correct reading.
3. The fact that she is a “maiden” (κορασίῳ), a diminutive term, makes this whole “pleasing” thing kind of creepy. The movies make her a voluptuous young woman, but this term might imply that she is much younger and this whole scenario is improper.  

23 καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῇ [πολλά], Ο τι ἐάν με αἰτήσῃς δώσω σοι ἕως ἡμίσους τῆς 
βασιλείας μου. 
And he promised to her [repeatedly], “Whatever you ask me I will give to you even half of my kingdom.” 
ὤμοσεν: AAI 3s, ὀμνύω, 1) to swear  2) to affirm, promise, threaten, with an oath 
δώσω: FAI 1s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
1. Herod was only the Tetrarch by dint of the Emperor. The kingdom is not his to give away or to divide. This could be Mark’s way of paralleling this story with the Esther story; or, Herod could be a pervert, showing off in front of his fellow perverts.

24 καὶ ἐξελθοῦσα εἶπεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς, Τί αἰτήσωμαι; ἡ δὲ εἶπεν, Τὴν 
κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτίζοντος. 
And having gone out, she said to her mother, “For what shall I ask?”  Then she said, “The head of John the Baptizer.”
ἐξελθοῦσα: AAPart nsf, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs
εἶπεν (2x): AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
αἰτήσωμαι: AMSubj 1s, αἰτέω, 1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require
1. The girl’s question shows that it is her mother who is behind the hideous request for John’s head, but also could show that she was a child that turned to her mother for guidance. It kind of stinks for her. She could have gotten a new chariot or something.

25 καὶ εἰσελθοῦσα εὐθὺς μετὰ σπουδῆς πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα ᾐτήσατο λέγουσα, 
Θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῷς μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ. 
And having entered immediately with haste to the king she asked saying, “I wish you would right away give to me on a platter the head of John the Baptist.”
εἰσελθοῦσα: AAPart nsf, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter
ᾐτήσατο: AMI 3s, αἰτέω, 1) to ask, beg, call for, crave, desire, require 
λέγουσα: PAPart nsf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
Θέλω: PAI 1s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose  1b) to desire, to wish 
δῷς: AASubj 2s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone
1. The terms “immediately” (common in Mark) and “with haste” (or “with zeal,” only here in Mark) and “right away” (only here in Mark) could imply that this girl is quite willing to do what her mother asks and is not just a pawn in her mother’s scheme. She also adds a few details – quickness, platter – to her mother’s original request. 

26 καὶ περίλυπος γενόμενος  βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς 
ἀνακειμένους οὐκ ἠθέλησεν ἀθετῆσαι αὐτήν: 
And the king having become aggrieved because of the promises and the dining together did not wish to disregard her;
γενόμενος: AMPart nsm, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
ἀνακειμένους: PMPart apm, ἀνάκειμαι, 1) to lie at a table, eat together, dine
ἠθέλησεν: AAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose
ἀθετῆσαι: AAInf ἀθετέω, 1) to do away with, to set aside, disregard  2) to thwart the efficacy of anything, nullify, make void, frustrate  3) to reject, to refuse, to slight
1. The term “aggrieved” (περίλυπος, surrounded with sorrow), is used one other time in Mark (14:34), to describe Jesus’ state of mind/soul when he was in the garden just before being betrayed.
2. Herod is clearly trapped by his own braggadocio. He had repeatedly promised the girl whatever she asked and now, with this peeps looking on, he cannot break that promise.  
3. Herod’s quandary brings to mind Hegel’s description of the inversion of masters and servants – how the master ironically ends up serving the servants.

27 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀποστείλας  βασιλεὺς σπεκουλάτορα ἐπέταξεν ἐνέγκαι τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ. καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ 
And immediately the king having sent a sentinel commanded to bring his head.  And having gone out he beheaded him in the prison.
ἀποστείλας: AAPart nsm, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss
ἐπέταξεν: AAI 3s, ἐπιτάσσω, 1) to enjoin upon, order, command, charge
ἐνέγκαι: AAInf, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden   1a1) to bear with one's self 
ἀπελθὼν: AAPart nsm, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart 
ἀπεκεφάλισεν:  AAI 3s, ἀποκεφαλίζω, 1) to cut off the head, behead, decapitate 
1. Just like that, God’s prophet is put to death. It is Lincoln in Ford's Theater. It is MLK on the balcony. It is Romero as he serves the sacraments. It is the “disappeared” among base communities. It is the Atlatl raid on the religion faculty of the University of Central America. This is how Rome and its offspring deal with truth.  

28 καὶ ἤνεγκεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῷ κορασίῳ, 
καὶ τὸ κοράσιον ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς. 
And he brought his head on a platter gave it to the maiden and the maiden gave it to her mother. 
ἤνεγκεν: AAI 3s, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden 
ἔδωκεν (2x): AAI 3s, δίδωμι, 1) to give  2) to give something to someone 

29 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦλθον καὶ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτοῦ καὶ 
ἔθηκαν αὐτὸ ἐν μνημείῳ. 
And having heard his disciples came and carried his body and placed it in a tomb.
ἀκούσαντες: AAPart npm, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
ἦλθον: AAI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning
ἦραν: AAI 3p, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  
ἔθηκαν : AAI 3p, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down  1b1) to bend down
This ends the reading.

On Intertextuality
Intertextuality is a way that an author takes up a previous text and draws meaning from it while adding meaning in the re-telling. This story echoes the drunken King Ahasuerus dispatching with Queen Vashti because she did not respond to a besotted request (Esther 1) and Solomon’s son Rehoboam following the advice of his young, foolish frat brothers instead of the wise elders when confronted with the a reasonable request from his people (I Kings 12). If we read this story intertextually, as a story of royal hubris, it brings Herod’s own responsibility forward and does not simply ascribe the guilt to Herod’s conniving illegitimate wife and her daughter. The women of Herod’s house are guilty enough, but the intertextual reading shows that kings do exactly what the God said they do in I Samuel 8.

I find this to be incredibly sophisticated storytelling. The characters are profoundly complex. Herod likes to hear John, but is condemned for political adultery by John; He protects John, he kills John; he is boastful, he is afraid and sorrowful. The girl is commanded, then promised; she asks her mother for guidance, then she hastily complies. Herodias seems to be the only one-dimensional character, despising John and scheming for his death.

If Herod is more than an individual, but a type of the Roman Empire, then Mark is also saying something profound about the complicity of the Empire in killing the prophets and in being trapped in their own contrivances. Remember, this began as a story about Jesus, not John. Herod is convinced that Jesus is John redivivus, or that John’s spirit has empowered Jesus to do the things that he is doing. In that sense, it is also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ fate and perhaps of the complexity of those who were complicit in Jesus’ death. 


  1. A tetrarchy can be a kingdom with four kings. And so tetrarch and king can be synonymous. "Herod the tetrarch had the title of king" (EBD). "The title of king was sometimes assigned to a tetrarch." (Smith) "The title was often conferred on Herodian princes by the Romans, and sometimes it was used courteously as a synonym for king (Mt 14:9; Mk 6:14). In the same way a "tetrarchy" was sometimes called a kingdom." (ISBE)

  2. Ian, Thanks for chiming in.

  3. Once again, incredibly insightful!

  4. Just found your blog last week (linked from and I'm really appreciating your thoughtful commentary and exegesis. Is there an "about" page where I could learn more about you?

  5. Caela,
    Thanks for your note. At the very bottom of the blog there is my name and you can click on it for some info. There's not much. You'll find more on our church's web site:
    Thanks again.

  6. On a quick first read of the gospel, I wondered where can this go? Thanks for the various seeds.
    1. Herod and others come up with the same list as the disciples when Jesus asks them who he is. Interesting.....
    2. Your insightful comment of this story being inside the story of the sending and returning of the twelve is very deep. And the fact we have John placed in a tomb in a familiar way of wording.
    3. Interesting that a pericope about JB is so detailed and much of ones about J are not. Perhaps these stories where better preserved by JB's communities?
    4. I find the sending of the twelve out, pre-crucifixion/resurrection, with Jesus's message of the kingdom rather than with the message about Jesus is food for reflection about mission.

  7. Thank you (again) for your wonderful commentary. You mention that Marcus Borg has useful things to say about the Roman Empire and its use and threat of death - do you have time to point to a specific book or journal or article for further reading please?

    1. Hi Ruth,
      Most of Borg's books find ways to demonstrate the shadow that the Empire casts over the gospels. I would recommend The Last Week as a great resource, co-authored by Borg and John Dominic Crossan. It is a close study of Mark 11ff and how Mark demarcates (so to speak) the last week before the crucifixion.
      This book may cause you to abandon the lectionary and make a lenten series out of each day of the last week. I've done that twice now and it is a powerful way to encounter the season of Lent.
      Thanks for your note,

  8. There's an interesting dissonance in the way we read/translate κορασιον here, versus its use in the last chapter. We're happy to call Jairus's daughter a girl or little girl, whereas tradition reads Salome as a seductress. What would it do to our reading of Salome's story if we translated κορασιον here as 'little girl'? (It would certainly bring out the creep factor, for one thing.)
    Is Mark drawing a contrast between Jairus & his wife the good parents, who care for their daughter and seek out Jesus to restore their κορασιον to life, and Herod & Herodias the bad parents, who sexually and politically exploit their κορασιον and condemn John to death?

    1. Wow, what a great question and comparison. Jairus would then be a significant soldier in the Empire who is demonstrating an alternative ethic to Herod, at least when it comes to loving or sexualizing/commodifying one's children.
      Thanks for this. I'll be carrying this thought around the labyrinth with me this week.

  9. Thanks, Forton Church -- and Mark, for your comments. I am also wondering how the girl gets translated as a seductress. Yes, I agree with the creep factor. But what if she is simply a delightful child, loving life and dancing to the music in her heart? The adults could have been delighted by her dancing the same way we delight in a child's laughter or joy in life. By giving her whatever she wants (and in fact, she isn't even wise enough to know what to ask for - it is her mother's wish, not the child's), the adults in the story act as tyrants who sound remarkably modern. They use the children as political pawns to enact their own hatred and violence. (Notice the ways today's leaders use breastfeeding infants and children at the border as pawns in our struggle for power and prestige.)

    1. Ironically, the reason I have been away this week is because my daughter has been in a national dance competition, so my spouse and I accompanied her there. She dances for joy - always has - but the whole ethos around dancing is highly sexualized and hollywoodized. It takes enormous character to dance for the joy and not to let the vibe around it become the thing.

  10. Our society is quick to sexualize children, especially girls, from a very early age. I pray that your daughter can hold on to the goodness of her body as she works to perfect her skill. It's a tight wire dance for parents. Still, I wonder if our rush to sexualize the girl in the story betrays our own complicity in seeing her as a seductress, rather than the innocent little girl she may have been. Thanks, as ever, for your thoughtfulness in all of your work, Mark. I check your blog every time I preach. And again this week, you have inspired me.

  11. Really struck by your comment on resurrection as a 'thing.' Parallels being born of a virgin as a 'thing.' Categories that carry the implication of significance and import - and that people are 'fitted' to ...

    1. Hi Bill,
      I certainly don't mean to imply that there's anything 'ordinary' about Jesus' resurrection. I think we often reduce resurrection to that event that happened to Jesus that helps us face our own death with more courage. And while I think Jesus' resurrection does enable us to face our own death with courage, I also think it is far more than that.
      Historically, we have to have the integrity to admit that the idea of one rising from the dead and empowering followers in a new way did not start with the story of Jesus. It really was a pre-existing story that the gospel writers found to be the right way to tell the story of Jesus.
      And, it was a political statement as well. The idea that death is not the last word really did take away Rome's chief weapon of domination. Whether they were conquering cities, killing dissidents, or keeping the Pax Romana by dint of fear, the proclamation that life overcomes death in Christ was perilous to Rome's power.
      I think those nuances of resurrection are lost when we reduce it to grief counseling.
      Thanks for your note.

  12. There are those who see John and Jesus coming from a prophetic tradition that sees Herod's Temple as an abomination, thus forgiveness of sins via baptism and in community - not temple. I imagine Galilean Antipas enjoying John's attack on the Temple and its profit center. But then the preaching cut to close to home.

  13. That would be an all-too-common approach to truth-tellers, wouldn't it? We love when they employ their rhetoric and passion against our rivals, enemies, etc., but when they aim their sights on us we reject the very same qualities that we once cheered.


If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive