Saturday, December 3, 2016

Know Your Bible: Biblical Femmes Fatales - Episode Four: Herodias and Salome


In this series of posts I will outline examples in biblical literature of the femme fatale, defined as a woman whose mysterious and seductive qualities ensnare males into dangerous and deadly lapses of judgement. But I will expand it to include, as well, biblical stories in which women directly kill for various motives. 

The next installment involves alcohol, rash promises, and not one--but two--femmes fatales.

4. Herodias and Salome

According to Matthew 14:3-12,King Herod had arrested John the Baptist because the prophet had publicly spoken out
John the Baptist Reproving Herod - John Rogers Herbert
against his marriage to Herodias, who had been previously married to Herod's brother Philip. While it is true that such a marriage is condemned in Leviticus 18:16, such a marriage is actually mandated in the event that the brother died without leaving children (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).

Herod had put John in prison, but he actually enjoyed going to his cell and listening to his captive and hearing his preach (Mark 6:20).

Dance of the Seven Veils - Gaston Bussiere
On the occasion of Herod's birthday party, with wine undoubtedly flowing, Herodias' daughter Salome danced before the crowd. This dance delighted Herod so much that he rashly told her that he would give her whatever she asked for. When she consulted her mother as a response, Herodias told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Because Herod has made this promise in the presence of many guests, he was obligated to carry it out. And so, although distressed, he gave the order and the severed head of John the Baptist was thus presented to Herodias.

A Silver Platter?

The New Testament itself does not describe the platter as silver, yet it has become so in popular legend. Is it possible that the metal silver has an intertextual evil connotation from the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus? (Matthew 26:15).

Not surprisingly, the episode of the Beheading of John the Baptist, as well as the seductive allure of Salome, who instigated the murder with her dance, became an artistic motif. Such paintings frequently juxtapose the brutality of the beheading with the sensuality of Salome's form. Here are a few representative examples.

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