Thursday, July 9, 2009

Our Cast of Characters for this Week... Mark 6:14-29

Hello, all:

I had trouble unpacking this particular passage this week. On the surface it seems pretty cut and dried (maybe not the best phrase to use). I've decided to simply elaborate on some of the issues and leave an interpretation up to you the readers. Our Dramatis Personae in this passage consist of a weak king, a conniving wife, a perhaps not-so-innocent daughter, and an incarcerated prophet.

I’ll start with the king: Herod.
There are a handful of Herods in the Bible, and if you don’t keep track of them all they can get a little confusing. This particular Herod goes by the name Antipas. His father, Herod the Great (a relative term), was the King of Judea that tried to have Christ killed and necessitated the flight to Egypt. When the great Herod died the Roman senate split Judea up between Herod Antipas and his brother Archelaus. Herod Antipas got Galilee.

Things started going bad for Herod Antipas from the get-go. He married the daughter of an Arab king, but then left her for the wife of his half-brother. This made his father-in-law quite upset and he and Herod actually had a small war over the issue. Herod lost. So that’s our Herod. A weak ruler (he technically didn’t even have the title of king), in relatively backwards part of Judea, with a dominating wife, and with the all-seeing eye of Rome watching his every move.

Then there’s the wife: Herodias. She left her husband in Rome to be with a man of real power and position (comparatively). She and Herod never officially married, and it was common knowledge that their union was adulterous. Her dislike of John the Baptizer is understandable, since the prophet publically condemned Herodias and Herod on many occasions. Josephus tells us that after the death of John and the crucifixion of Christ Herodias convinced Herod to go to Rome and beg Caesar for the title of king. Herod went and Caesar Caligula banished Herod and Herodias both to Gaul. Though the stereotype of the strong-willed woman manipulating the weak ruler may be overused in literature, this is one time where it holds true. A lot of trouble would have been saved had both Herod and Herodias stayed faithful to their respected spouses.

Herodias’ daughter was Salome. Keep in mind that Salome was the daughter of Herodias and her real husband Philip. It removes the air of incestuous overtones, but doesn’t make the situation any less creepy when she dances for Herod and his court. Not much is known about Salome. She married well, and twice, but there’s no indication that she was the demonic temptress and nymphomaniac that 19th century literature has made her out to be.

And finally there’s the prophet: John the Baptizer. The most unsatisfying element of this story is that John is only mentioned as the object of Herodias’ revenge. No lines, no stage appearance, just a name off in prison until his execution.

It’s hard for me to unpack this; harder still because this story has some familiar parallels with a later story in the Gospels. I’m referring to the crucifixion. Let me spell it out: There is a nation/wife that has been unfaithful to her husband/king/God, and deeply resents the one sent from God to warn her away from sin and adultery. Rather than listen and repent she conspires with the local ruler. Now this ruler would rather not execute this prophet, because he knows that he is a righteous man, and from God, but Herod/Pilot gives in for the sake of his image, and the prophet/Christ is executed.

I’d give this story a happy ending and some slick personal application notes, but the happy ending will have to wait until after the other execution later in the text, and I’m sure Steven will make the application clear this Sunday.

Until then muse on human nature, our own tenacity to hide and preserve our sin, and the hope of Christ who was, and is, and is to come.




Jeremy said...

I agree with Peyton - lots of ways to potentially unpack this passage, and the ones I can think of aren't necessarily the most satisfying.

I would say that without such a thorough introduction provided by Peyton, pretty much an unpacking and/or application is bound to be flawed from the start. (Most of the summary he outlined was unknown to me, so thanks Peyton!).

I mentioned at the Bible study of this scene being a stark example of what happens when the degrees/types of love (or, if you like, awareness) are severely unbalanced. (see Bernard de Clairveau on degree of love)

It also screams to me what happens when we, as observers/onlookers, fail to act in the face of such an unbalanced situation.

Jeremy said...

Uploaded 7/15/09.

Jeremy said...
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