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Herod and John

Some names in the Bible are confusing. There are lots of Marys, a couple of Johns and, in case the nativity story is your only reference, more than one Herod. Herod Antipas was the king of that name when Jesus was ministering in 1st century Palestine and the one who had John the Baptist (as opposed to John the Revelator) put to death.

You can read about it in Mark 6. An interesting point that this morning’s preacher highlighted (Archdeacon Claire Wood was visiting) was that Herod was intrigued by John. He didn’t kill John out of malice but was tricked into it. Verse 20 informs us that “… Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him.” Herod was a compromised man however. His family relationships were messy – he was married to Herodias, who had divorced her former husband (Herod II, son of Herod the Great from the nativity story and half-brother to Herod Antipas.) Josephus, a key extra-biblical source says, “Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod Antipas”.

John said that this was sinful. Herodias didn’t like that and seems to have used her daughter as a tool to murder John. Young Salome danced before Herod and his court in such a way that Herod offered to grant her any wish up to half his kingdom. It isn’t clearly recorded in the Bible but I suspect this was more lascivious than 10 out of 10 for a perfect ballroom turn and certainly demonstrates the mother abusing her daughter to gain her own ends.

If Herod had been an inspired soul, perhaps he could have met the demand for John’s head on a plate in the same way that costumes based on the scene tend to be done today. It isn’t a common costume but I’ve seen it done once or twice in cryptic Christian fancy dress parties. If you create a platter with a hole in the middle, you can easily present the requested prize with no harm done to anyone.

Alas, poor Herod! He wasn’t so bright and thus John suffered an unjust death. It seems things didn’t turn out so well for this king and that he died in exile (possibly, although not certainly, eventually ordered killed by Emperor Caligula). He followed his desires, didn’t exercise wisdom over his choice of counsellors and paid the price. The Archdeacon emphatically didn’t draw a line to the present day but, with Mr Johnson recently reported to have described himself as a “very, very bad Christian”, one can’t help ponding on modern British politics and praying that our leaders will find it to rise to a higher standard of integrity and justice.

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