Original Research - Special Collection: HTS 75th Anniversary Maake Masango Dedication

Herodias and Salome in Mark’s story about the beheading of John the Baptist

Wim J.C. Weren
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 75, No 4 | a5573 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i4.5573 | © 2019 Wim J.C. Weren | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 May 2019 | Published: 31 October 2019

About the author(s)

Wim J.C. Weren, Faculty of Humanities and Digital Sciences, Department of Culture Studies, Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands; and, Department of New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

According to Mark 6:14–29, John the Baptist was beheaded by the order of Herod Antipas. This dramatic event became inevitable after a cunning interplay between Herodias and her daughter, who remains nameless in the New Testament. According to Flavius Josephus, she was called Salome (Jewish Antiquities XVIII, 5.4 § 136–137), and under that name, she went down in history. For the sake of convenience, I also call her ‘Salome’ in this article. Salome is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Shlomith, which was very popular in early Judaic times and means ‘she who brings peace and tranquillity’. Unlike the faithful women elsewhere in Mark’s gospel (5:21–43; 7:24–30; 14:3–9), Herodias and her daughter are not exactly models of virtue. Yet, it is questionable as to whether they are both thoroughly bad and whether they are both equally responsible for the murder of John. This article does not provide a historical reconstruction of what exactly happened at the court of Herod Antipas, but it contains a narrative analysis of what happened in the court of Herod Antipas. This narrative analysis is followed by an intertextual approach in the second part of this article. Firstly, I will compare Mark’s story with what Flavius Josephus tells about the beheading of John. Thereafter, I will highlight the roles of Herodias and Salome in the play Salome by Oscar Wilde from 1894, which, in turn, forms the basis of the libretto for the opera Salome by Richard Strauss from 1905. Do we encounter in these modern artistic recreations (Neuschöpfungen) only transformations of Mark’s story, or also transgressions in which Wilde and Strauss have largely replaced the original meaning of the story with new meaning?

Keywords

Mark 6:14–29; Herodias; Salome; John the Baptist; Flavius Josephus; Oscar Wilde; Richard Strauss; literary analysis; intertextuality

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