Summary: Three views of the beheading of John the Baptist, or how to blame someone else for your actions.
The Blame Game
What do you suppose happened at the palace the next morning, when Herod woke up with a hangover the size of the Roman Empire and a public relations problem twice as big? I can hear them all spinning the story, can’t you? It’s not the way it seems! It’s not my fault! I’m not to blame! Let’s listen in on this precious trio, Herod and Salome and Herodias, shall we?
HEROD: “Don’t blame me! It’s not my fault! Really! I’ve been trying to protect him, after all, I only took him into protective custody because my wife - you know, Herodias - she’s got a temper, see, and - well - Things have been pretty tense around here. You should of heard what John was saying about her, and I had to do something, after all. You married men, you’ll understand. What would you have done in my place? And besides, there was the political angle. It’s not easy ruling these pigheaded, fanatical Jews. And the Romans are always second-guessing everything I do. Let me explain.
See, it’s all Herodias’ fault. I took over the rule of Galilee about 25 years ago, with Rome’s blessing, and I’ve done a pretty good job of it, if I do say so myself. It’s not as if I don’t know how to deal with the Jews, you know, I’m part Jewish myself. And I’m not power-crazy like my father, I know when to draw the line, I don’t push them too far, I observe the holy days and so on - well, at least in public, there’s no point in going overboard with these things, after all. We’re part of the Roman Empire, we can’t afford to act like narrow-minded fanatics, go along to get along, I always say. Well, anyway, I rebuilt all the cities and towns that were destroyed during the last rebellion, and got the bandits pretty much under control (at least on the major routes). Things are pretty peaceful around here, you know? The merchants and craftsmen and farmers are prosperous, I don’t tax them any more than I need to, you’d think they’d be grateful, wouldn’t you? But that’s not good enough, apparently. Those narrow-minded prudes have to go around criticizing my personal life. As if that had anything to do with ruling the country! What business is it of theirs, anyway? I don’t go around telling them who they can or can’t marry, after all! It’s not as though we’re holding orgies in the temple, I married her, didn’t I? Although sometimes I’m not sure it’s been worth the trouble. Don’t tell Herodias I said that!
Well. You want to know what happened.
I used to be married to King Aretas’ daughter - you know, the Nabatean. Caesar’s advisors thought it would be good politically, you know, help keep the alliance strong. So I agreed; why not? One woman’s pretty much like another, when all’s said and done, and everybody understands the little arrangements you have on the side. At least that’s how I always saw it. But a couple of years ago I stopped to visit my brother (my half-brother Philip, actually) on the way back from Jerusalem. And he had a new wife. As it happened she was our brother Aristobulus’ daughter Herodias, and more like the old man than anyone I’ve ever met before or since. You never met him, probably, or at least not until he’d gone around the deep end. But he had a way about him... Well, you know how these things go, once she saw how hot I was for her she - well - to make a long story short I sent the Nabatean woman back to her father and married Herodias. That was my first mistake. Never take up with an ambitious woman.
And the Jews went ballistic. You’d have thought I’d taken to stealing their daughters, they were so worked up. Herodias was my niece, they said. God was offended, they said. According to Jewish law it’s an ‘abomination’ to lie with my brother’s wife; and besides she’s a blood relative, they said. “What nonsense!” I said. “They’re divorced. And she’s only my half-brother’s daughter, for goodness’ sake. And what did it have to do with them anyway? My marriage is perfectly legal according to Roman law, we’re not living in a theocracy, I wasn’t forcing them to commit sacrilege, was I? I’ve always let them keep whatever rules they want. I’m a tolerant man, a fair man. It’s true this John the Baptizer was going a bit far. But I was willing to ride it out; like I keep telling the Romans when these little disturbances crop up, all the fuss would have died down eventually, and it certainly would have caused even more trouble if I took official notice of him. But Herodias wouldn’t let it lie. Nag, nag, nag. A real man would protect my reputation, she said. A real king wouldn’t let some pipsqueak country preacher talk about me like that. What’s your daughter going to think of you if you let us be insulted like that? My daughter, indeed! Salome’s her daughter, not mine (and a good thing, too!) I’m glad she’s not growing up to be a shrew like her mother. But when Herodias started talking about having John ‘disposed of’, as she so delicately put it, I realized I’d have to act.