A New Portrait of Salome

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Salome’s image has been obscured and marred due to the personas created for her by writers of the past 150 years. Salome is famous for the part she played in the execution of John the Baptist. Since 1863, she has been depicted in books and films as morally depraved. Diligent research reveals, however, that the real Salome is much different than popular portrayals.

A coin minted in 56-57 C.E. bears the portrait of Salome, daughter of Herodias, the infamous wife of Herod Antipas. Only two copies of this coin, both quite worn, have been published to date. Recently, however, a third copy has come to light—with a near perfect image of Salome! It is published here for the first time.

Salome’s image has been obscured and marred due to the personas created for her by writers of the past 150 years. Salome is famous for the part she played in the execution of John the Baptist. Since 1863, she has been depicted in books and films as morally depraved. Diligent research reveals, however, that the real Salome is much different than popular portrayals.

An artistic depiction of Salome at age 39-40 by Helen Twena based on a recently discovered coin.

The paradoxes begin with the fact that her name does not appear in the Gospels. We know her name from Josephus’ account of the story (Ant. 18:136-137) and from the coin that bears her portrait—incidentally, hers is the only portrait of a person mentioned in the Gospels. Another paradox is the distortion of her story in modern literature and art.[1]

The Salome Story through the Pens of Matthew and Mark

Herod Antipas saw in John the Baptist and his movement a potential threat to his rule.[2] In order to eliminate the threat, John “was brought in chains to Machaerus [Antipas’ fortress on the eastern side of the Dead Sea]…and put to death there” (Ant. 18:119). Matthew 14:3-12 and Mark 6:17-29 provide additional details of John’s execution. Although Mark influences Matthew, the Matthean report also contains information obtained from another, better source. Mark 6:17 mistakenly identifies the first husband of Herodias, Salome’s father, as Philip.[3] Perhaps the error arose from the fact that Philip was the name of Salome’s first husband.

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Issue55

For a free PDF download of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine issue in which this article originally appeared, click here.

 

 

 


  • [1] See the entry “Salome” in Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972), 14:689-691.
  • [2] See David Flusser with R. Steven Notley, The Sage from Galilee: Rediscovering Jesus’ Genius (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 18-19.
  • [3] Mark 6:17 and Matt. 14:3 read “Herod [Antipas]…Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.” Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the Great. Her first and second husbands were named Herod. The first was the son of Herod the Great and Mariamme, the daughter of Simon the high priest. The second, Herod Antipas, the half-brother of the first, was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace the Samaritan. Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Herodias’ first husband.

    Salome’s first husband was Philip, the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem. Her second husband, Aristobulus, was the son of Herod, her mother’s brother (Ant. 18:136-137). It is probable that Mark confused Herodias’ first husband (Herod) with her son-in-law ([Herod] Philip). See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, corrected edition (London and New York: United Bible Societies, 1975), 35.