Mark 6:22-24 described a story about a relatively unknown person in the Bible, Herodias, the wife of Herod. Herodias makes the list of Jerks as #7 for having a vicious lust for power and vengeance.
Why She’s a Jerk
- Adultery for the purpose of being married to the king and not the king’s half brother
- Having John the Baptist jailed for speaking out about her adultery
- Plotting the murder of John the Baptist
- Having her young daughter participate in the be-heading of John the Baptist
Bible readers know Herodias as the wife of Herod Antipas. However, she was first married to Herod Philip, the half brother to Harod Antipas. To make matters worse, she was the daughter of Aristobulus, a half brother to both of the Herods she was married to. That means she was married to two of her half uncles. She committed adultery with the second Herod (Antipas) while still married to Herod Philip. She then did the unthinkable and divorced her husband to get married to the more powerful Herod (Antipas). To help understand this family mess here is a Herod Family Diagram.
Why does it matter if we know the Herod family tree? (Take a deep breath, this is complex)
Because its very relevant to the New Testament. For many years the Roman empire allowed the Jews to (sort of) govern their own people. They had this luxury already because they fought freedom from the Greeks previously and developed a very strong method of rule that consisted of a ruler and a high priest. Due to history that we will not discuss here (but you can read brief description HERE) the high priests were only allowed to come from the Hasmonean family. This went on for a little over a century.
Eventually, there came a high priest that also became the King. This now created a precident within the Jewish nation that the king and the high priest could be the same person. Thus, leadership with Judea was consolidated solely to the Hasmonean dynasty.
Now, when the Romans over-took the Greeks and tried to figure out what to do about ruling the Jews they decided to allow Jews to rule the Jews. But how would they be able to control them? They had to find a Jewish ruler that would bend to their will or find a ruler that was already on their side but somehow related to Hasmonean family. Luckily for the Romans, two branches of the Hasmonean family were feuding for leadership and wanted to appeal to a higher power. This kicked the door open for Rome to up-end Jewish leadership.
In the middle of the Hasmonean feud the Roman empire, lead by Pompey, invaded and pressed control over the Jews. Much is said about this attack on the Jewish Temple by Pompey but the important thing to know is that after this event a man named Anitpater was placed as the client-king over Judea. It was claimed that he was of Jewish and Hasmonean origin but that was unproven and only said in order to appease the Jews who demanded Hasmonean rule. He was also tolerated because he named a Hasmonean as the high priest (John Hyrcanus II). However, Hyrcanus II was very much aligned with the Roman empire.
Antipater’s son was Herod the Great. Herod the great was NOT Jewish but this issue was resolved by marrying a Hasmonean woman named Mariamne. She provided two sons, neither of them selected by Rome to rule the Jews. However, her first son had a daughter, (the woman of the post) Herodias. Herodias was Hasmonean which meant she was valuable.
Philip, the son of the current ruler, Herod the great, was set to be the next heir of the client-kingship of Judea. Since he also was not Jewish it was arranged that he would marry a Hasmonean woman who happened to be his niece (Herodias). However, after they wed he never was able to obtain the throne and it ended up going to Herod Antipas. That was her husband’s half brother.
This is when she decided to divorce her husband and marry the guy in power. This was favorable for her and also for her new husband since the Jews did NOT want to ruled by someone who was not Jewish; even though, at this point it was more quasi-Jewish than true Jewish lineage. To make matters even worse, Herod Antipater had to divorce his wife also to make the marriage work.
The biggest problem with this is that divorce was not a thing for the Jews. While the Romans thought nothing of it, the Jewish despised their new ruler and his adulterous wife. In fact, many say that the question asked to Jesus in Matthew 19:3 “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”, was meant to address the relationship between the two new rulers.
The main issue with Herodias
Having understood the background, here is the main issue: John the baptist spoke openly and negatively about the Herod/Herodias marriage. Neither Herod nor Herodias were pleased. Herod eventually had John jailed but it appears that it might have more to please his new wife more than to please his own vengeance.
But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, 20Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.
(Luke 3:19 NIV)
For Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, whom he had married. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, 20 because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him.
(Mark 6:17-20 NIV)
Eventually, Herodias became displeased with John being in prison and devised a plan to end his influence permanently.
Finally the opportune time came. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.
The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” 23 And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”
24 She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?”
“The head of John the Baptist,” she answered.
25 At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”
26 The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, 28 and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. (Mark 6:21-28 NIV)
Let us recap. Herodias’ adopted daughter is promised to have any wishes granted. Rather than a pony or jewelry her mother has her request the head of John the baptist on a platter. ON A PLATTER. That means it was served to her. When you asked for anything on a platter in that day it meant it was being served to you. Can you imagine requesting that of your father at age 11 or 12? Yea, me neither.