The most elaborate account of John’s execution takes place in the Gospel of Mark:
For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe.
And when he heard him, he was much perplexed; and he heard him gladly. And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, and the high captains, and the chief men of Galilee; and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and them that sat at meat with him; and the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.
And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went out, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptizer. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou forthwith give me on a platter the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; but for the sake of his oaths, and of them that sat at meat, he would not reject her.
And straightway the king sent forth a soldier of his guard, and commanded to bring his head: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the damsel; and the damsel gave it to her mother. Mark 6:20-29 ASV (see also Matthew 14:1-12)What is remarkable about Mark and Matthew’s telling of the tale is that they do not name a vitally important character in the drama, ie., the girl who demands John’s head. She is simply referred to as “the daughter of Herodias.”
To get this daughter’s name, we need to refer back to Josephus:
“Herodias was married to Herod, the son of Herod the Great by Mariamme the daughter of Simon the high priest. They had a daughter Salome, after whose birth Herodias, taking it into her head to flout the way of our fathers, married Herod the Tetrarch, her husband's brother by the same father, who was tetrarch of Galilee; to do this she parted from a living husband.”So why did Mark and Matthew neglect to name Salome?
In The Templar Revelation, Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince present a fascinating theory. Citing Hugh Schoenfeld, A.N. Wilson and Barbara Theiering, Picknett and Prince posit that far from being the leader of a ragtag band of mystics, Jesus was the head of a faction of Jewish militants, one among many such as the Zealots, the Sicarii and the Maccabees. Furthermore, the death of the Baptist in Mark is followed by the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” which the Good News Bible headlines as “Jesus Feeds Five Thousand Men.”
A.N. Wilson posits that the Feeding of the Five-Thousand was an assembly of the various militant factions (Mark 6:40 makes mention to the fact that “the men sat down in ranks”), which Picknett and Prince further posit was called by Jesus as a peace summit in the aftermath of John’s death. This chronology of Jesus meeting with ranks of men lends credence to their theory. Similar events have been known to happens in times of wars, particularly amongst non-state actors, like gangs or partisan bands, following a death of a charismatic leader.
Picknett and Prince take it one step further and suggest that the factions may have believed that Jesus -or more accurately, the wealthy patrons of the Jesus cult such as Joseph of Arimathea - had a hand in John’s execution.
After all, the Jesus movement would benefit greatly from John’s death, particularly if Jesus’ ministry was gaining wide acceptance amongst the Jews. And Jesus did have a disciple with a contact in Herod’s inner circle- Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward.
And according to Biblical scholar Shimon Gibson, John’s death did send shockwaves through the Jewish community:
The event of John’s death was extremely traumatic for his followers. Subsequently, it triggered a rift between the followers of John and the followers of Jesus, and each group apparently immediately began consolidating their own independent teachings. The Gospel writers later downplayed the significance of John as a prophet of the people, in order to boost the story of Jesus and his ministry and to spread the word that John the Baptist had been the "forerunner" of Jesus the messiah.Following Josephus, it is Gibson’s opinion that Herod had John killed of his own volition. But before we dispense with this theory, there is one curious fact that bears attention...
Besides being the name of John’s murderess, a “Salome” was also one of Jesus’ closest disciples.
In the Gospel of Mark, this Salome witnessed Jesus’ execution (Mark 15:40) and his resurrection (Mark 16:1) But in a Stalinistic flourish, Salome is expunged from the story by Matthew and Luke, who used Mark as their source. Why? Her erasure from the absolute most important events of the Christian story- ie., Jesus’ death and resurrection- is puzzling, to say the very least.
Again, it is widely believed that Mark was written before the other Gospels, and it possible that followers of John may well have reacted negatively to the inclusion of Salome in the Gospel story. Matthew renames Salome “the mother of the sons of Zebedee.” Luke and John expunge the character altogether. Salome is now a footnote, even though her role in Mark’s telling of the foundational event of Christianity would otherwise be enough to earn her a sainthood.
Was there an attempt here to cover up the link between Salome and the Jesus faction? As they say, it's never the crime- it's the coverup. "Salome" was surely a common enough name at the time- so why the revisionism?
The issue here is not what actually happened- the issue is what what certain interested parties believe to have happened. Josephus’ opinion is clearly that Herod had John killed because of the threat posed by his ministry, and there is no reason to doubt that. However, the Bible is at odds with Josephus over Herod’s motives for John’s execution, and there may well have been any number of religious militants in Israel that blamed Jesus and his faction for the death of the Baptist.
TO BE CONTINUED