The unrighteous Salome, (flourished 1st century ad), according to the Jewish historian Josephus, the daughter of Herodias and stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, tetrarch (ruler appointed by Rome) of Galilee, a region in Palestine. In Biblical literature she is remembered as the immediate agent in the execution of John the Baptist.
According to Mark 6:21–29 a daughter of Herodias danced before Herod and her mother Herodias at the occasion of his birthday, and in doing so gave her mother the opportunity to obtain the head of John the Baptist. Even though the New Testament accounts do not mention a name for the girl, this daughter of Herodias is often identified with Salome. According to Mark’s gospel Herodias bore a grudge against John for stating that Herod’s marriage to her was unlawful; she encouraged her daughter to demand that John be executed.
According to the Gospels of Mark (6:14–29) and Matthew (14:1–12), Herod Antipas had imprisoned John the Baptist for condemning his marriage to Herodias, the divorced wife of his half brother Herod Philip (the marriage violated Mosaic Law), but Herod was afraid to have the popular prophet killed.
Salome was a young woman whose mother Herodias was under attack from an outsider, John the Baptist. Her response was to be protective of her mother. She stood by her mother and the interests of the Herodian family.
Mark’s account (6:21–28) reads: A convenient day arrived when Herod spread an evening meal on his birthday for his high officials and the military commanders and the most prominent men of Galilee. The daughter of Herodias came in and danced, pleasing Herod and those dining with him. The king said to the girl: “Ask me for whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” Yes, he swore to her: “Whatever you ask me for, I will give it to you, up to half my kingdom.” So she went out and said to her mother: “What should I ask for?” She said: “The head of John the Baptizer.” She immediately rushed in to the king and made her request, saying: “I want you to give me right away on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” Although this deeply grieved him, the king did not want to disregard her request, because of his oaths and his guests. So the king immediately sent a bodyguard and commanded him to bring John’s head. So he went off and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter. He gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Salome is forever remembered as a seductress who danced erotically before Herod and demanded the death of John the Baptist. According to Josephus, Salome was first married to Philip the Tetrarch of Ituraea and Trakonitis. After Philip’s death in 34 AD she married Aristobulus of Chalcis and became queen of Chalcis and Armenia Minor. Salome has become a symbol of dangerous female seductiveness. Legend has it that later on while dancing on thin ice (literally) she fell through into the cold water where her own head was severed by floating ice.
Please not to be confused with the righteous Salome, The wife of Zebedee and The mother of James and John the Evangelists.
Title: “Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist”.
Artist: Onorio Marinari, 1670s.