The Man Who Slew John the Baptist

Posted on March 2, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Crucial Background
There are several Herods mentioned in the Bible, two of which played roles in the lives of the Lord Jesus and John the Baptist.    

James Callis as Antipas, and Claire Cooper as Herodias from the TV production of “A.D.: The Bible Continues”

To get a proper perspective of what Jesus and John the Baptist were “up against,”it is important to know what was going on in Israel during the time they ministered. Both were born near the end of Herod the Great’s reign. Herod cast a huge shadow across Israel, as did those who succeeded him. A look at the Herod “legacy” will shed much light on the corruption of this vile and morally void family.

Post-Herod the Great
After the death of Herod the Great (who was in power at Christ’s birth), his kingdom was divided into four regions, each headed by a “tetrarch”—which means “ruler of a fourth.”

These four included three of Herod’s sons. One was Herod Antipas, who reigned over Galilee and Perea (Perea occupied the eastern side of the Jordan River valley, from about one-third the way down from the Sea of Galilee to about one-third the way down the eastern shore of the Dead Sea).

The second son was Philip II, who controlled Iturea and Traconitis (north of Galilee). The third son was Archelaus, who ruled Judea, Idumea (Edom), and Samaria. The fourth part of Herod the Great’s kingdom went to Lysanias, who presided over Abilene (located on the western slopes of Mount Hermon). He was not a son of Herod the Great and little is known about him.

There was another son of Herod, Philip I, who did not rule. However, he played a major role in the Herod legacy, one soiled by incest, immorality, and infidelity.

Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas, who ordered the beheading of John the Baptist, was married to the daughter of Aretas IV of Arabia in a political alliance. However, who Herod really wanted to marry was a woman named Herodias, but there were a few problems. First, Herodias was related to Herod Antipas; she was the daughter of Herod the Great’s son Aristobulus, making her Antipas’ half-niece. Second, Herodias was already married to Antipas’ half-brother, Philip I, who was Aristobulus’ full brother, and hence full uncle to his wife Herodias.

Undeterred from attaining what he wanted, Herod persuaded Herodias to leave Philip and marry him. No doubt his wealth and power – both of which far exceeded Philip’s – greatly influenced Herodias.

Valentina Cortese as Herodias in “Jesus of Nazareth”

The Herod Antipas-Herodias marriage clearly violated Leviticus 18:16: “Do not have sexual relations with your brother’s wife; that would dishonor your brother.” John the Baptist refused to sit by as Herod and Herodias defiled God’s law, and denounced them publicly, drawing the wrath of the sinful couple. As a result, John was arrested.

Antipas and John the Baptist
Once John was in prison, though, a strange thing happened: Herod came to admire John and enjoyed listening to him (Mark 6:20). Herodias, however, wanted him dead. To protect John from her, Herod had John locked up in his prison at Machaerus, located east of the Dead Sea.

Also by marrying Herodias, Herod Antipas became the stepfather of Herodias’ teenage daughter. According to acclaimed historian Josephus, that daughter’s name was Salome. In a few years, she would marry the previously mentioned Phillip II, tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis. Phillip II was Salome’s step-uncle.

More importantly, however, was that Salome would join her mother Herodias to create a fusion of evil so great that even Herod Antipas could not stand against them.

Michael York as John the Baptist in “Jesus of Nazareth”

John the Baptist had been imprisoned in Machaerus for two years when Herod decided to commemorate his birthday with a raucous party at his Machaerus palace. The wine was plentiful, as were the exotic appetizers such as jellyfish and fungi, staple fare of wealthy pagans. Main courses included flamingo tongues, wild boar, and lobster truffles. Entertainment featured exotic dancers – one of whom was Salome.

Deadly Dance
With John the Baptist imprisoned deep below the riotous affair, Herod asked his stepdaughter Salome to dance for him. She agreed, and delighted him with a lewd performance. As a reward for her efforts, Herod offered Salome anything she desired – “up to half my kingdom” – before all of his guests.

The alcohol had blurred his reasoning; he forgot whose daughter Salome was. Consulting with Herodias, Salome expressed her wishes to Herod: “I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter” (Mark 6:25).

Isabel Mestres as Solome in “Jesus of Nazareth”

Herod was mortified and attempted to talk Salome out of it, but she insisted, telling him that he had made the promise before all the important officials of the kingdom, officials who would forever condemn Herod as incapable of fulfilling his vows. Politically motivated, Herod succumbed to the wishes of the teen dancing girl.

Herod’s Confusion
Soon after, news of Jesus’ ministry began to spread, confusing the guilt-ridden Herod, who said: “John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!” (Mark 6:16). Herod could not forget the evil he had committed in sentencing John to death. His guilt was so great that it led him to believe that John had come back to life.

Such was the conclusion of a man whose life was forged by decades of debauchery, godlessness, and evil – and this despite the fact he could have talked with John the Baptist – and repented – whenever he desired!

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