Monday, July 30, 2007

Dangerous Women

14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." 15But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, "‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."

17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." 23And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." 24She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

~ Mark 6:14-29

King Herod heard about "it." In this passage from Mark, "it" is Jesus' fame: it is growing. He has sent his disciples on healing and exorcism tours. He has preached in his hometown synagogue. He is making a name for himself. Herod heard about it.In Luke, when this passage begins, "Herod heard about it," it's quite a different reference, the feeding of the multitudes. But here... it's teaching, preaching, healing, and authority to cast out demons that has Herod's attention, that causes him to revisit a demon of his own.The story that follows, the infamous birthday celebration with the murderous sister-in-law/ wife Herodias holding a grudge and the seductive daughter-- also Herodias?-- dancing for a prize, is all told as a flashback. It's as if Jesus looms in Herod's conscience, prompting him to relive a shattering experience, his murder of a prophet he actually kind of liked and found interesting... out of regard for his oaths and his guests. Interesting way to show honor to one's guests.

I always enjoy the motif of dangerous women when it shows up in scripture... Jael, Jezebel, Judith, Herodias, the daughter often called Salome... women who are assumed to possess, along with the estrogen that flows through their bodies, the power to cause men to do anything.... absolutely anything! Thing is, Herod was a murderous thug. He would have been happy to kill anybody who interfered with his getting his morning nectar on time. The story that has grown up around this... that it was all the wiles of a wiggling woman... is infuriating, in a way. As if the only power women have is the power of sexual allure (I almost said something much, much more vulgar. But this is a vulgar story.)

But then, this is Herod's nightmare, that he killed John, whom the people regarded as a prophet, who poured water on them and cleansed them of their sins and sent them on their way in pursuit of righteousness. Who knows what stories he had to tell himself so that he could sleep at night.

Some call this image by Klimt Judith, some call it Salome. She does have a head, in any case.


MadPriest said...

Rule One for men: Treat all women as if they are potentially dangerous.

Magdalene6127 said...

Damn straight.