Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution

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The story of John the Baptist's martyrdom was rich with allusions to stories from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Matt. 14:3-12; Mark 6:17-29; Luke 3:18-20

(Huck 5, 111; Aland 17, 144; Crook 20, 164)[1]

Revised: 25 September 2020

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹחָנָן אֵין לְהֵרוֹדֵיס לָשֵׂאת אֶת הֵרוֹדְיָה אֵשֶׁת אָחִיו וַיִּשְׁלַח הֵרוֹדֵיס וַיִּתְפֹּשׂ אֶת יוֹחָנָן וַיַּאַסְרֵהוּ בְּבֵית הָאֲסוּרִים וַתִּטֹּר אוֹתוֹ הֵרוֹדְיָה וַתְּבַקֵּשׁ לַהֲרוֹג אוֹתוֹ וְלֹא יָכְלָה כִּי יָרֵא הֵרוֹדֵיס אֶת יוֹחָנָן וַיִּטֹּר אוֹתוֹ וַיְהִי יוֹם גִּינִיסְיָא לְהֵרוֹדֵיס וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה לְשָׂרָיו וּלְשָׂרֵי הַחַיִל וּלְשָׂרֵי הַגָּלִיל וַתְּרַקֵּד בַּת הֵרוֹדְיָה בַּתָּוֶךְ וַתִּיטַב בְּעֵינֵי הֵרוֹדֵיס וְהַמְּסוּבִּים עִמּוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַנַּעֲרָה שַׁאֲלִי מִמֶּנִּי מַה שֶּׁתִּרְצִי וְאֶתֵּן לָךְ וַיִּשָּׁבַע לָהּ כֹּל מַה שֶּׁתִּשְׁאֲלִי מִמֶּנִּי אֶתֵּן לָךְ עַד חֲצִי מַלְכוּתִי וַתֵּצֵא וַתֹּאמֶר לְאִמָּהּ מָה אֶשְׁאַל וַתֹּאמֶר אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ שֶׁלְּיוֹחָנָן הַמַּטְבִּיל וַתָּבֹא בְּחִפָּזוֹן אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ וַתִּשְׁאַל לֵאמֹר תֵּן לִי בְּמֵגֵס רֹאשׁוֹ שֶׁלְּיוֹחָנָן הַמַּטְבִּיל וַיֵּעָצֵב הַמֶּלֶךְ וּמִפְּנֵי הַשְּׁבֻעוֹת וְהַמְּסוּבִּים עִמּוֹ לֹא אָבָה לִמְאוֹס אוֹתָהּ וַיִּשְׁלַח הַמֶּלֶךְ סְפִקְלָטוֹר וַיְצַו לְהָבִיא אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּתֵּז אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ בְּבֵית הָאֲסוּרִים וַיָּבֵא אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ בְּמֵגֵס וַיִּתְּנֵהוּ לַנַּעֲרָה וַתְּבִיאֵהוּ לְאִמָּהּ וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ תַּלְמִידָיו וַיָּבֹאוּ וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת גּוּפוֹ וַיִּתְּנוּהוּ בְּקֶבֶר

Yohanan the Immerser announced, “The Torah does not allow Herodes to marry Herodyah, his brother’s ex-wife.” So Herodes sent his men to capture Yohanan, and they locked him up in prison. But Herodyah nursed a grudge against Yohanan, and she searched for an opportunity to kill him. Yet she was unable to carry out her wish because Herodes was afraid of Yohanan and kept him under guard.

On his birthday Herodes held a banquet for his administrative officials, military chiefs and the preeminent members of Galilean society. Herodyah’s daughter danced for them, which delighted the king and the guests who dined with him. So the king declared, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will give it to you.” And he swore to her, “Anything you ask of me is yours, even if it costs me half my kingdom.”

So the girl went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?”

And Herodyah said, “Ask for Yohanan the Immerser’s head.”

So the girl quickly returned to the king and made her request, saying, “Give me on a tray the head of Yohanan the Immerser.”

The king regretted his rash behavior, but because of the oaths he had made and the guests who were watching him he did not dare refuse her. So the king sent an executioner and ordered him to bring back Yohanan the Immerser’s head.

The executioner went, cut off the Immerser’s head in the prison, and brought it back on a tray and gave it to the girl, who brought it to her mother.

When Yohanan the Immerser’s disciples heard what had happened, they went to the prison and took his body and buried him.[2]

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Reconstruction

To view the reconstructed text of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, click on the link below:

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Conjectured Stages of Transmission

The author of Luke provided his readers with scant detail regarding the demise of John the Baptist. In Luke 3:18-20 he informed his readers that Herod the tetrarch, having been rebuked by John on account of Herodias, the wife of the tetrarch’s brother, put John the Baptist in prison. Then, in Luke 9:9, the author of Luke placed on the tetrarch’s lips the admission that he had beheaded John the Baptist, an admission that comes to Luke’s readers as a shock, since the last time Luke had mentioned John (Luke 7:18-23), the Baptist had not only been alive, but he was at liberty to send emissaries to Jesus with questions about the role Jesus was to play in the eschatological redemption.[3]

The few details the author of Luke revealed concerning the Baptist’s demise raise questions about the source(s) of his information. It seems unlikely that the author of Luke simply repeated what was commonly known to first-century residents of the land of Israel, since none of the specific items Luke relates—the Baptist’s rebuke of Herod, the imprisonment of the Baptist for an unspecified duration,[4] the manner of the Baptist’s execution—are repeated in Josephus’ account of John the Baptist’s death (Ant. 18:116-119).[5] Thus, Luke’s information on the Baptist’s imprisonment and subsequent execution probably came from some definite source (or sources).

The sparse details the author of Luke revealed about the Baptist’s demise hint that they came from a source that contained more information than the author of Luke cared to disclose. For instance, although Luke 3:19 reports that the Baptist rebuked the tetrarch because of Herodias, readers are left to speculate what it was about Herod’s association with his brother’s wife that provoked the Baptist’s censure. Had the tetrarch arranged the murder of his brother’s wife, similar to the murders of so many of his family members that Herod the Great, the tetrarch’s father, had orchestrated? Had the tetrarch seized the property of his brother’s wife under some false pretense? Or had he plotted with her to falsely accuse someone, such as Herodias’ brother Agrippa, who was to become the tetrarch’s rival for the Roman emperor’s favor? Luke does not say. Nor does Luke say why, after holding him in prison for a certain amount of time, the tetrarch decided to have the Baptist executed, nor why he chose beheading as the method of the Baptist’s dispatch.

Each of these questions, it must be noted, are answered in Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. Mark’s Gospel informs us that the Baptist rebuked Herod for marrying Herodias, who had previously been his brother’s wife, a relation the Torah prohibits. Mark’s Gospel further tells us that Herodias (via her daughter) manipulated Herod into ordering the Baptist’s execution, and that she had stipulated beheading as the method of putting John the Baptist to death. While it is, of course, possible that the author of Mark fabricated his account of the Baptist’s demise (Mark 6:17-29), weaving the few details he gleaned from Luke into a sordid tale of court intrigue, such an hypothesis cannot account for the relative ease with which Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution reverts to Hebrew.[6] It seems more probable, therefore, that the author of Mark took the story of the Baptist’s death from the Anthology (Anth.), the Hebraic-Greek source known, according to Robert Lindsey’s theory, to all three synoptic evangelists.

Luke’s brief description of the Baptist’s imprisonment (Luke 3:18-20), which appears to have been composed in Greek,[7] likely reflects the author of Luke’s distillation of Anth.’s account of the Baptist’s demise.[8] Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution (Matt. 14:3-12) represents a truncated and heavily redacted form of Mark’s report.[9] Nevertheless, there are a few points at which the author of Matthew appears to have followed the wording of a more Hebraic source than Mark, which provides some confirmation that the author of Mark based his account of John the Baptist’s martyrdom on an earlier version found in Anth.[10]

Story Placement

Luke’s brief notice concerning the circumstances of John the Baptist’s imprisonment appears at an odd juncture in his narrative: it follows the conclusion of Yohanan the Immerser’s Eschatological Discourse and comes before Luke’s version of Yeshua’s Immersion. Why would the author of Luke have selected such an odd location for informing his readers of the Baptist’s imprisonment? We suspect the answer is that the author of Luke was following the order of his source.[11]

Scholars have long noted that there is nothing particularly Christian in Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.[12] It is the only story in Mark not focused on Jesus, and it has a thoroughly Jewish texture.[13] It might have been composed by followers of John the Baptist.[14] This last observation has not, to our knowledge, been connected to the suggestion that the nativity narratives in Luke’s Gospel are the product of an editor who spliced the story of Jesus’ birth into a source that told the story of how John the Baptist was born.[15] The hypothesis that the greater part of Luke 1 stemmed from a Baptist source recommends itself because the references to Jesus, Mary and Joseph can easily be removed from the first chapter of Luke without harming the story of John the Baptist’s birth,[16] and although the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 mirrors the story of the Baptist’s nativity in Luke 1, none of the characters from the Baptist’s infancy narrative make an appearance in Luke 2.

The conjectured Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser.

We suggest that the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua incorporated an originally distinct and complete Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser into his biography of Jesus.[17] It was the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua who inserted the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45, 56) into the account of John the Baptist’s birth.[18] Following the story of John’s birth he inserted the story of Jesus’ nativity and youth (Luke 2:1-52). The author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua then resumed the story of the Baptist’s prophetic call, the record of his message, and the story of his execution, all of which he incorporated from the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser. He did not pick up the story of Jesus until he had used up all the material from his Baptist source. For this reason the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua told the story of Jesus’ baptism after having recounted the story of John the Baptist’s death.[19]

Incorporation of the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser into the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

We must suppose that the pericope order thus created was preserved not only in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua, but also in the Anthology (Anth.), which evidently did not begin to rearrange pericopae until after the story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. The author of Luke accepted the pericope order of Anth. throughout the first three and a half chapters of his Gospel, but he attempted to improve Anth.’s narrative flow by omitting the description of John’s execution and referring merely to his imprisonment.[20] As a result, the Gospel of Luke preserves the original placement of the pericope we have entitled Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, but the wording of the pericope as it was recorded in Anth. has (uncharacteristically) been preserved more faithfully in Mark.[21]

The careful attention he paid to Luke’s Gospel induced the author of Mark to place Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution following Herodes Wonders about Yeshua (Matt. 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9). Noting how the author of Luke avoided reporting John’s death prior to Jesus’ baptism, the author of Mark determined not to accept Anth.’s placement of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. But observing that in Luke Herod mentions the beheading of John the Baptist without any prior statement that this tragic event had occurred, the author of Mark decided to improve upon Luke’s narrative by turning Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution into a flashback immediately following Herodes Wonders about Yeshua. The author of Matthew, confronted with two different placements of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution in his two sources (Anth. and Mark), preferred the placement he encountered in Mark.

Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua. __________________________________________________________________

Crucial Issues

  1. Who was Herodias’ first husband? Was Josephus mistaken or was Mark? Or were they both right?
  2. Where was John the Baptist executed?
  3. Is the story told in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution realistic?

Comment

L1-2 Luke 3:18 resists retroversion to Hebrew and appears to have been composed by the author of Luke as a means of concluding the lengthy section of the Baptist’s preaching and transitioning to the notice about the Baptist’s imprisonment.[22] We have therefore omitted anything corresponding to these lines in GR and HR. Note that the term λαός (laos, “people”), which occurs in L2, also appeared in Luke 3:15, where it was deemed to be redactional (see Yohanan the Immerser’s Eschatological Discourse, Comment to L1). Note, too, that the verb εὐαγγελίζειν (evangelizein, “to report good news”) occurs with high frequency in the writings of Luke (Luke: 10xx; Acts: 15xx) compared to the Gospels of Matthew (1x) and Mark (0xx). These disproportionate figures suggest that in at least some cases εὐαγγελίζειν in Luke may be redactional.

Scholars are divided over whether by using εὐαγγελίζειν in L2 the author of Luke indicated that John the Baptist proclaimed the same gospel that was later to be proclaimed by Jesus and the apostles,[23] or whether the author of Luke used εὐαγγελίζειν in the more generic sense of “proclaim.”[24] If Luke’s verbal selection was intended to echo Isa. 40:9, which identifies the voice of Isa. 40:3 as ὁ εὐαγγελιζόμενος Σιων (ho evangelizomenos Siōn, “the proclaimer of good news to Zion”),[25] then perhaps it is not necessary to identify John’s message with the gospel proclaimed by Jesus and his apostles, nor to interpret εὐαγγελίζειν in a purely generic sense. John the Baptist, with his proclamation of an immersion of repentance for Jubilee release from the debt of sin, announced news that was good but that had an integrity of its own that was not dependent upon the proclamation of Jesus or the later proclamation of the Church.

L3 αὐτὸς γὰρ ὁ Ἡρῴδης (Mark 6:17). Whereas Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution contains a flashback (Herod arrested John because John had been saying, “It is not permissible,” etc.) within a flashback (in Mark’s Gospel all of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is a flashback that fills in the details behind Herod’s admission in Mark 6:16 that he had beheaded the Baptist), Luke 3:19 reports the events in their chronological order: Herod, having been rebuked by John, put John in prison. We suspect that Luke preserved Anth.’s order, though not Anth.’s wording. Making Herod the sole active agent of the long sentence that spans all of Luke 3:19-20 was an economizing measure that allowed the author of Luke to boil Anth.’s Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution pericope down to its essence. The author of Mark appears to have been struck by Luke’s sentence structure, which begins with Herod (L3), and this inspired him to invert the order of the opening sentences of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. This move allowed Mark to start with Herod, but it forced him to create the awkward flashback within a flashback already mentioned, and made it necessary for him to repeat that Herodias was Herod’s brother’s wife (L17-19, L22). Our reconstruction, which is more terse than Mark’s version, is also more characteristic of Hebrew narrative.

ὁ γὰρ Ἡρῴδης τότε (Matt. 14:3). The author of Matthew followed Mark in reporting the Baptist’s arrest before explaining his offense. The author of Matthew may have added the adverb τότε (tote, “then”), since the addition of this word is typical of Matthean redaction,[26] but since critical editions omit τότε in L3, it is possible that the τότε in Vaticanus’ text of Matt. 14:3 is a scribal addition.[27]

A coin minted by Herod Antipas. On the obverse the inscription reads ΗΡΩΔΟΥ ΤΕΤΡΑΡΧΟΥ (Hērōdou tetrarchou, “Of Herod the tetrarch”). The inscription on the reverse reads ΤΙΒΕΡΙΑΣ (Tiberias, “Tiberias”), the city Antipas founded in honor of the emperor. Image courtesy of the Classical Numismatic Group).

L4 ὁ τετραάρχης (Luke 3:19). We suspect that the title “the tetrarch” was the author of Luke’s contribution to the pericope, since, as we discussed in A Voice Crying, Comment to L18, referring to Herod Antipas as a “king” appears to have been a trait of the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser, from which we suppose Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution was taken. This explains why, in the rest of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, Antipas is referred to as a “king.” The author of Luke may have been aware that although Antipas coveted the title and made strenuous efforts to attain it, the Roman emperor never officially granted him the honor of being called βασιλεύς (basilevs, “king”).

L5 ἐλεγχόμενος ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ (Luke 3:19). “Being rebuked by him concerning Herodias” was the author of Luke’s way of summarizing what we presume to have been Anth.’s report of the Baptist’s direct speech: “It is not permitted for Herod to marry Herodias,” etc.

εἶπεν δὲ Ἰωάννης (GR). Replacing an aorist verb with an imperfect is typical of Markan redaction,[28] and Lindsey cited Mark’s frequent use of ἔλεγεν (elegen, “he was saying”) in particular as a classic example of a “Markan stereotype.”[29] We suspect, therefore, that ἔλεγεν in Mark 6:18 stands for an aorist εἶπεν (eipen, “he said”) in Anth. This verb would have been accompanied by a conjunction, either καί (kai, “and”) or δέ (de, “but”), but on account of his inverting the order of the first two sentences of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, the author of Mark found it necessary to replace Anth.’s conjunction with γάρ (gar, “for,” “because”).

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹחָנָן (HR). On reconstructing Ἰωάννης (Iōannēs, “John”) with יוֹחָנָן (yōḥānān, “John”), see Choosing the Twelve, Comment to L25.

L6 τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ ὅτι (Mark 6:18). We think it is unlikely that John the Baptist had a personal audience with the ruler of Galilee prior to his incarceration.[30] It is more likely that John the Baptist directed his criticism of the tetrarch’s marriage to the public,[31] as was the case with the rest of his proclamation. Our supposition would seem to be confirmed by Mark’s testimony that Herod had to send guards in order to apprehend the Baptist. Had John denounced the ruler to his face, Herod could have arrested him on the spot.

Luke’s statement that, having been rebuked by John, Herod the tetrarch locked John in prison may have suggested a face-to-face encounter to the author of Mark’s imagination. It is also possible that the author of Mark’s depiction of a face-to-face encounter was influenced by the LXX wording of the prohibition against having sexual relations with one’s sister-in-law, which is stated in the second person (ἀσχημοσύνην γυναικὸς ἀδελφοῦ σου οὐκ ἀποκαλύψεις [“the disgrace of the wife of your brother you will not uncover”]; Lev. 18:16). If we are correct, then the author of Mark shifted the phrase τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ (tō Hērōdē, “to Herod”) from its position in Anth. as part of the Baptist’s direct speech (“It is not permissible for Herod”) to the introduction of the Baptist’s speech (“For John was saying to Herod”).

The author of Matthew, who was at pains to abbreviate throughout Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution,[32] reduced τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ (tō Hērōdē, “to Herod”) to αὐτῷ (avtō, “to him”) and omitted Mark’s ὅτι (hoti, “that”).

L7 אֵין לְהֵרוֹדֵיס (HR). In LXX the verb ἐξεῖναι (exeinai, “to be proper”) is rare, especially in Hebrew contexts,[33] but we do find one example where οὐκ ἐξεῖναι + infinitive occurs as the translation of אֵין + infinitive construct, which is similar to our reconstruction:

כִּי אֵין לָבוֹא אֶל שַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ שָׂק

…for it is not [permitted] to enter the king’s gate in clothing of sackcloth. (Esth. 4:2)

οὐ γὰρ ἦν ἐξὸν αὐτῷ εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν αὐλὴν σάκκον ἔχοντι

…for it was not permissible to him to enter into the courtyard having sackcloth…. (Esth. 4:2)

The use of אֵין + infinitive construct to describe what one cannot or should not or need not do is a feature of late Biblical and Mishnaic Hebrew. Additional examples include:

הִנְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ בְּאַשְׁמָתֵינוּ כִּי אֵין לַעֲמוֹד לְפָנֶיךָ עַל־זֹאת

Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for it is not [right] to stand before you on account of this. (Ezra 9:15)

וְגַם לַלְוִיִּם אֵין לָשֵׂאת אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּן

And likewise, for the Levites it is not [necessary] to carry the tabernacle…. (1 Chr. 23:26)

אֵין לָהֶם לָסוּר מֵעַל עֲבֹדָתָם

It was not [necessary] for them to turn aside from their service…. (2 Chr. 35:15)

אֵין לִי לְפָרֵשׁ

It is not [possible] for me to explain. (m. Pes. 9:6; m. Yev. 8:4)

אם אין לך ללמד מאנשי ענתות למד מיכניה

If it is not [possible] for you to learn it from the people of Anatot, learn it from Jechaniah…. (Lev. Rab. 10:5 [ed. Margulies, 1:207])

אמ′ ר′ שמעון בן לקיש אם אין לך ליתן לו נחמו בדברים, אמור לו תצא נפשי עליך שאין לי מה ליתן לך

Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish said, “If it is not [possible] for you to give to him, comfort him with words. Say to him, ‘My soul goes out to you, because I have nothing to give you.’” (Lev. Rab. 34:15 [ed. Margulies, 2:810])

An alternative for HR might be אֵין מוּתַר לְהֵרוֹדֵיס (’ēn mūtar lehērōdēs, “it is not permitted for Herod”).[34]

On reconstructing Ἡρῴδης (Hērōdēs, “Herod”) as הֵרוֹדֵיס (hērōdēs, “Herod”), see A Voice Crying, Comment to L18.

The Herod in question is Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, who at one time stood to inherit his father’s kingdom (Jos., Ant. 17:146).[35] After Herod’s death, however, the will in which he named Antipas his successor was contested in Rome. In the face of conflicting wills, Caesar decided to divide Herod’s kingdom among his surviving sons (Ant. 17:318-320). Antipas was made “tetrarch,” a title given to dignitaries of lesser standing than kings, of the Galilee and Perea. His brother Archelaus was made ruler of Judea and Samaria and awarded the title “ethnarch.” His half-brother Philip was made tetrarch of Trachon (or Trachonitis) and adjacent regions roughly equivalent to the Golan.

L8 ἔχειν Ἡρῳδιάδα (GR). Having already mentioned Herodias by name in Mark 6:17 (L17), it was possible for the author of Mark to omit her name in what had become a redundant description of Herodias’ marital alliances. In Anth. we suppose the Baptist said, “It is not permitted for Herod to have Herodias, his brother’s wife.”

לָשֵׂאת אֶת הֵרוֹדְיָה (HR). In BH and MH a common verb for “marry” is נָשָׂא (nāsā’). On one occasion the LXX translators decided to render נָשָׂא in the sense of “marry” with the verb ἔχειν (echein, “to have”),[36] the same verb the authors of Mark and Matthew used in L8:

כִּי נָשִׁים שְׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה נָשָׂא

…for he married [נָשָׂא] eighteen wives…. (2 Chr. 11:21)

ὅτι γυναῖκας δέκα ὀκτὼ εἶχεν

…since he had [εἶχεν] eighteen wives…. (2 Chr. 11:21)

Our reconstruction may be compared to the following rabbinic examples:

הָיוּ מְסָרְבִים בּוֹ לָשֵׂאת אֶת בַּת אֲחוֹתוֹ

They were urging him to marry [לָשֵׂאת] the daughter of his sister…. (m. Ned. 8:7)

מעשה באמו של ר’ ליעזר שהיתה דוחקת בו לשאת את בת אחותו

An anecdote concerning the mother of Rabbi Liezer, who was nagging him to marry [לָשֵׂאת] the daughter of his sister…. (y. Yev. 13:2 [71a])

An alternative to לָשֵׂאת for HR might be לָקַחַת (lāqaḥat, “to take”). The verb לָקַח (lāqaḥ, “take”) was used in BH in the sense of “marry,” and even occurs in Lev. 20:21, which prohibits a man from marrying his brother’s wife. Nevertheless, we prefer to reconstruct direct speech in the idiom of Mishnaic Hebrew.

Reconstructing Ἡρῳδιάς (Hērōdias, “Herodias”) as הֵרוֹדְיָה (hērōdeyāh) is merely a conjecture, since there are no examples of the name “Herodias” in Hebrew inscriptions or in Hebrew literary sources.[37] Delitzsch, undoubtedly guided by the usual rabbinic spelling of Herod’s name as הוֹרְדוֹס (hōrdōs), rendered Ἡρῳδιάς as הוֹרוֹדְיָה (hōrōdeyāh) in Mark 6:17, 19, 22; Lindsey followed this spelling.[38] In Hebrew sources from the land of Israel that were composed closer to Herod’s time, the king’s name is spelled with a long “e” sound in the first syllable (see A Voice Crying, Comment to L18). Therefore, it seems likely that the feminine form Ἡρῳδιάς also would have entered Hebrew with a long “e” sound in the first syllable.

Compare our reconstruction of Ἡρῳδιάς with הֵרוֹדְיָה to our reconstruction of Λυσανίας (Lūsanias, “Lysanias”) with לוּסַנְיָה (lūsanyāh) in A Voice Crying, L22. Both names have -ιας endings, although the accents are different.

An artist’s depiction of Herodias. Painting by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1881). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Josephus portrayed Herodias as an ambitious, scheming woman, whose hunger for personal advancement eventually led to her and her husband’s undoing.[39] The portrayal of Herodias in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is consistent with this unflattering portrait, and likely reflects popular perceptions of the royal family.

Scholars sometimes quibble that the Gospels are not sufficiently precise regarding the grounds for John the Baptist’s objection to Antipas’ marriage to Herodias.[40] But in fact John’s denunciation of Antipas’ marriage is quite specific: the problem was that Herodias was his brother’s wife. As Leviticus makes clear, sexual relations with the wife of one’s brother was forbidden (Lev. 18:16; 20:21).[41] Even if the marriage was dissolved through divorce[42] or the husband’s death,[43] the fact that a woman had been married to a man’s brother meant that she was permanently off limits to him for intimate relations.[44]

It is not necessary to suppose, as some scholars have suggested, that the Baptist’s true objection was that Antipas’ marriage to Herodias was tantamount to adultery because 1) John regarded Herodias’ divorce as invalid, since according to Jewish halachah only a man can issue a divorce, whereas Herodias had initiated her separation from her husband,[45] or 2) John believed marriage to be indissoluble and therefore regarded all divorces as invalid, including Herodias’,[46] or 3) John objected to the use of divorce in order to legitimate an affair (i.e., divorcing one’s spouse in order to marry one’s lover).[47] Had these issues been the basis for the Baptist’s objection he would have cited Exod. 20:14 (“Do not commit adultery”) instead of Lev. 18:16 (“Do not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife”). Neither are there any grounds for supposing that the Baptist’s true objection was that Herodias was Antipas’ niece,[48] for while it is true that the Essenes forbade marriages between an uncle and his niece (CD V, 8-11), in mainstream Judaism such marriages were common. Had John opposed marriages between uncles and nieces he would have had no reason for singling out Antipas as a transgressor, and he would have alienated his popular following. But according to Josephus, it was precisely because John the Baptist was so influential with the crowds that Antipas determined to have John arrested. We must assume, therefore, that the Baptist’s criticism of Antipas’ marriage resonated with a swath of the local population wide enough to threaten the tetrarch’s hold on power. Antipas would not have found it necessary to stamp out a fringe opinion, whereas an agitator who gave voice to popular sentiment would have to be neutralized.

L9 τὴν γυναῖκα (GR). Just as he had reduced τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ (“to Herod”) to αὐτῷ (“to him”) in L6, so the author of Matthew reduced Mark’s τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου (“the wife of your brother”; L9-10) down to αὐτήν (“her”). Mark’s wording is surely closer to Anth.’s.

אֵשֶׁת (HR). On reconstructing γυνή (gūnē, “woman,” “wife”) with אִשָּׁה (’ishāh, “woman,” “wife”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L12.

L10 τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ (GR). As we noted above in Comment to L6, it was probably the author of Mark who made the Baptist’s speech addressed directly to Herod. We therefore regard the possessive pronoun σου (sou, “your”) in L10 as the product of Markan redaction. Luke probably preserves the pronoun that appeared in Anth., namely αὐτοῦ (avtou, “his”).

אָחִיו (HR). On reconstructing ἀδελφός (adelfos, “brother”) with אָח (’āḥ, “brother”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L15.

L11 καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησεν πονηρῶν ὁ Ἡρῴδης (Luke 3:19). Cadbury noted that adding a generalization to a specific example is characteristic of Lukan redaction.[49] Therefore, Luke’s reference to the Baptist’s condemnation of all the (other) evil things Herod did probably does not stem from Anth. Moreover, Luke’s wording resists retroversion to Hebrew. We have, accordingly, omitted Luke’s comment in L11 from GR and HR.

L12 προσέθηκεν καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πᾶσιν (Luke 3:20). Some scholars claim that the use of προστιθέναι (prostithenai, “to add”) in Luke 3:20 is an Hebraism or a Septuagintism.[50] In Hebrew it is common to use הוֹסִיף + verb in the sense of “do something again.”[51] The LXX translators frequently rendered this construction with προστιθέναι + verb. But in Luke 3:20 the sense is neither that Antipas again did evil, nor that he again imprisoned the Baptist. Rather, Luke 3:20 must be understood to mean that to the list of all the evil things Antipas had done he added one more: he locked John up in prison. So it does not appear that the use of προστιθέναι in L12 is an Hebraism or a Septuagintism,[52] an impression that is confirmed by the fact that Luke 3:20 is rather difficult to put into Hebrew that resembles the Greek.[53] As Nolland has pointed out, the use of προστιθέναι in Luke 3:20 is perfectly good Hellenistic Greek.[54] We therefore regard L12 as an editorial comment composed by the author of Luke and have not attempted to reconstruct it in GR or HR.

L13 ἀποστείλας δὲ Ἡρῴδης (GR). As noted above in Comment to L3, the author of Mark rearranged the opening sentences of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution in order to begin with Herod. This he did in imitation of Luke 3:20. In Anth. Herod’s name probably appeared following the participle ἀποστείλας (aposteilas, “sending”).

In LXX participle + δέ + aorist constructions commonly stand for two vav-consecutives,[55] so there is no need to change Mark’s ἀποστείλας (“sending”) to ἀπέστειλεν (“he sent”) in GR.

Fragment of a Greek manuscript of the Martyrdom of Isaiah. Image courtesy of the Internet Archive.

The pseudepigraphon Martyrdom of Isaiah described Isaiah’s arrest by King Manasseh in terms nearly identical to Mark 6:17:

καὶ ἀπέστειλεν καὶ ἐκράτησεν τὸν Ἠσαίαν

…and he sent and he seized Isaiah. (Mart. Isa. 3:12)[56]

The Martyrdom of Isaiah is presumed to have been composed in Hebrew and subsequently translated into Greek,[57] just as we believe was the case with Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. The similarity to the Martyrdom of Isaiah may not be accidental. Flusser suggested that the Martyrdom of Isaiah was composed by members of the Dead Sea Sect,[58] with which John the Baptist had many affinities.[59] The author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution may have known the Martyrdom of Isaiah and echoed its wording when describing the arrest of John the Baptist. As we will see, Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is full of biblical allusions and allusions to Jewish traditions about biblical stories.

The omission of “sending” in Matt. 14:3 could be either an indication of its absence in Anth. or the result of Matthean editing. Since the author of Matthew abbreviated throughout Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, it is likely that he did so here as well. Moreover, the parallel with the Martyrdom of Isaiah shows that “send” and “seize” could belong to a Hebrew source. The author of Matthew may have felt that “sending” was superfluous to the unfolding of the story, but the omission gives the impression that Antipas personally apprehended the Baptist. That the tetrarch sent officers to arrest John is certainly more realistic.

וַיִּשְׁלַח הֵרוֹדֵיס (HR). On reconstructing ἀποστέλλειν (apostellein, “to send”) as שָׁלַח (shālaḥ, “send”), see “The Harvest Is Plentiful” and “A Flock Among Wolves,” Comment to L49.

On reconstructing Ἡρῴδης (Hērōdēs, “Herod”) with הֵרוֹדֵיס (hērōdēs, “Herod”), see above, Comment to L7.

L14 κρατήσας τὸν Ἰωάνην (Matt. 14:3). Having dropped the participle ἀποστείλας (“sending”) in L13, the author of Matthew compensated by converting Mark’s (and Anth.’s) aorist ἐκράτησεν (ekratēsen, “he seized”) into the participle κρατήσας (kratēsas, “seizing”) in L14.

ἐκράτησεν τὸν Ἰωάννην (GR). Scholars have noted that Luke’s verb κατακλείειν (katakleiein, “to shut up”) in L14 is stylistically superior to Mark’s δεῖν (dein, “to tie,” “to bind”) in L15,[60] and that the only NT writer to use the verb κατακλείειν was the author of Luke (Luke 3:20; Acts 26:10).[61] Both of these facts support our conclusion that Luke’s statement that Antipas “shut John up” in prison is an abbreviated paraphrase of the more complicated “he sent and seized John and bound him,” which the author of Mark probably copied from Anth.

וַיִּתְפֹּשׂ אֶת יוֹחָנָן (HR). In LXX most instances of κρατεῖν (kratein, “to seize”) occur as the translation of הֶחֱזִיק (heḥeziq, “seize”).[62] However, we have preferred to reconstruct κρατεῖν with תָּפַשׂ (tāfas, “seize”; var. תָּפַס [tāfas]) because this verb appears in the stories of the arrests of certain prominent rabbis:

מעשה בר′ ליעזר שנתפס על דברי מינות

An anecdote about Rabbi Liezer, who was arrested [שֶׁנִּתְפַּס] on account of sectarianism…. (t. Hul. 2:24; Vienna MS)

לא היו ימים מועטים עד שתפסוהו לרבי עקיבא וחבשוהו בבית האסורים, ותפסו לפפוס בן יהודה וחבשוהו אצלו

And it was only a few days before they arrested [שֶׁתְּפָסוּהוּ] Rabbi Akiva, and they imprisoned him in the prison, and they arrested [וְתָפְסוּ] Pappus ben Yehudah, and imprisoned him with him. (b. Ber. 61b)

Although the LXX translators usually rendered תָּפַשׂ as συλλαμβάνειν (sūllambanein, “to take hold,” “to apprehend”),[63] תָּפַשׂ was translated with κρατεῖν in Ezek. 21:16 and with the compound verb κατακρατεῖν (katakratein, “to seize,” “to occupy”) in Jer. 47[40]:10. We have preferred the spelling תָּפַשׂ over תָּפַס for HR simply because we prefer to reconstruct narrative in a biblicizing style of Hebrew.

In the story of Rabbi Akiva’s arrest the verb תָּפַשׂ/תָּפַס was accompanied by the preposition -לְ (le), but since we prefer to reconstruct narrative in a biblicizing style, we have a choice of -בְּ (be) or the direct object marker אֶת (’et). We have observed that when seizing objects is in view תָּפַשׂ is usually accompanied by the preposition -בְּ, but when seizing persons is involved תָּפַשׂ is typically accompanied by אֶת, for example:

וַיִּתְפֹּשׂ אֶת אֲגַג מֶלֶךְ עֲמָלֵק

And he captured Agag, king of Amalek…. (1 Sam. 15:8)

וַיִּתְפֹּשׂ אֶת יִרְמְיָהוּ הַנָּבִיא

And he arrested Jeremiah the prophet…. (Jer. 37:13)

Additional examples of תָּפַשׂ + direct object marker for the seizing of persons are found in 1 Kgs. 18:40; 2 Kgs. 14:13; 25:6; Jer. 26:8; 52:9; 2 Chr. 25:23. Nevertheless, the rule is not a hard and fast one, as the following example demonstrates:

וַיִּתְפֹּשׂ יִרְאִיָּיה בְּיִרְמְיָהוּ

And Yiriyah arrested Jeremiah. (Jer. 37:14)

Despite this example, using the direct object marker remains the best option for HR.

L15 καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν (GR). The author of Matthew’s conversion of Mark’s (and Anth.’s) aorist verb (“seized”) into a participle (“seizing”) in L14 required him to drop the καί (kai, “and”) in L15. His omission of αὐτόν (avton, “him”) is due to his abbreviating tendency throughout Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. Mark’s retention of αὐτόν is certainly more Hebraic.

וַיַּאַסְרֵהוּ (HR). In LXX most instances of δεῖν (dein, “to tie,” “to bind”) occur as the translation of אָסַר (’āsar, “tie,” “bind”).[64] Moreover, when the precise phrase καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτόν (kai edēsen avton, “and he bound him”) occurs δεῖν is always the translation of אָסַר (Gen. 42:24; Judg. 16:8, 12; 4 Kgdms. 17:4; 25:7; 2 Chr. 36:6; Jer. 52:11). We even encounter the statement καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν ἐν οἴκῳ φυλακῆς (“and he bound him in prison”; 4 Kgdms. 17:4)—which is remarkably similar to Mark’s καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν ἐν φυλακῇ (“and he bound him in prison”)—as the translation of וַיַּאַסְרֵהוּ בֵּית כֶּלֶא (“and he bound him in prison”; 2 Kgs. 17:4). While it is true that we encountered a different verb, חָבַשׁ (ḥāvash, “bind”), in the story of Rabbi Akiva’s imprisonment (cited above in Comment to L14), in BH חָבַשׁ was not used in the sense of “imprison.”[65] Since we prefer to reconstruct narrative in a biblicizing style, אָסַר is the best option for HR.

L16 ἐν φυλακῇ (GR). Despite his tendency to abbreviate Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, the author of Matthew expanded Mark’s (and Anth.’s) ἐν φυλακῇ (en fūlakē, “in prison”) to καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ ἀπέθετο (kai en fūlakē apetheto, “and he put him away in prison”). Perhaps the author of Matthew did not realize that “and bound him in prison” is an Hebraism for “and he imprisoned him,” or perhaps he felt that this Hebraism would not be sufficiently clear to his Greek readers and therefore added these words to his source.

בְּבֵית הָאֲסוּרִים (HR). In LXX φυλακή (fūlakē, “watch,” “guard”) often occurs as the translation of מִשְׁמַר (mishmar, “guard,” “prison”) or, less frequently, of בֵּית) כֶּלֶא) ([bēt] kele’, “prison”).[66] Delitzsch translated φυλακή as בֵּית הַסֹּהַר (bēt hasohar, “prison”) in Matt. 14:3 and Mark 6:17,[67] which is attractive given its frequency in the story of Joseph’s imprisonment in Egypt (Gen. 39:20 [2xx], 21, 22 [2xx], 23; 40:3, 5) and the resonances with this very story in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution (on which, see below, Comment to L33-34), but the LXX translators never rendered בֵּית הַסֹּהַר as φυλακή. In addition, the terms בֵּית כֶּלֶא ,מִשְׁמַר and בֵּית סֹהַר were all obsolete in Mishnaic Hebrew. Despite our preference for reconstructing narrative in a biblicizing style, we wonder whether the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution would have referred to a contemporary institution with an obsolete term. In the story of Rabbi Akiva’s arrest (cited above in Comment to L14) we encountered the term בֵּית אֲסוּרִים (bēt ’asūrim) for “prison.” This term is also common in the Mishnah,[68] and strikes us as a good option for HR. Since in the Mishnah בֵּית אֲסוּרִים is always definite, we have included the definite article in HR despite its absence in the Greek text of Mark.

Fresco by Masolino da Panicale in the Baptistery of Castiglione (1435), depicting John the Baptist rebuking Antipas and his wife, Herodias. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L17-20 Above in Comment to L3 we discussed how his inversion of the opening sentences of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution forced the author of Mark to state Herodias’ relation to Antipas’ brother twice. Since the content of L17-20 appears to be the result of Markan redaction, we have omitted it from GR and HR.

L18 τὴν γυναῖκα (Matt. 14:3). The words τὴν γυναῖκα (tēn gūnaika, “the wife”) do not appear in Mark’s column of the Reconstruction document at L18 because they are missing in Codex Vaticanus, but the critical editions indicate that τὴν γυναῖκα does belong to the Markan text, and this is surely correct. As we have seen, Matthew’s tendency in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is to abbreviate, so if he had seen that τὴν γυναῖκα was not present in Mark, it is unlikely he would have added it.

A coin of Philip, son of Herod the Great and first husband of Salome. Minted at Paneas (Caesarea Philippi), the coin entered circulation in 30-31 C.E. Encircled by a Greek inscription that reads Philippou (“[a coin] of Philip”), the bust of Philip the tetrarch adorns the obverse of the coin. The date, “Year 34,” appears within the wreath on the coin’s reverse.
(Abraham Sofaer Collection, Palo Alto, California)

L19 Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ (Mark 6:17). Mark’s assertion (followed by Matthew) that Herodias was the wife of Philip is at odds with Josephus’ statement that Herodias was the wife of Antipas’ brother Herod (Ant. 18:109-110, 136). Philip, as we learn from Josephus, was to become the husband of Herodias’ daughter Salome (Ant. 18:137). Some scholars have attempted to explain away this difficulty by suggesting that the full name of this half-brother of Antipas was Herod Philip,[69] but this suggestion falters on the complete lack of corroborating evidence in the ancient sources.[70] Therefore, many scholars have suggested that the author of Mark simply confused Herodias’ husband with her daughter’s husband.[71] But this suggestion, too, falters on the lack of evidence that the author of Mark had any knowledge of the Herodian family independent of his two main sources, Luke and Anth. The author of Mark gives no indication that he knew Herodias’ daughter’s name, let alone whom she married.

How, then, did Mark’s error occur? Lindsey’s hypothesis offers an elegant solution. In both the Gospel of Luke and the Anthology, Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution occurred in close proximity to A Voice Crying, an account that mentioned the names of the rulers who were in power when John the Baptist received his prophetic call. Among the rulers named are Herod (Antipas) and Φιλίππου…τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ (“Philip…his brother”; Luke 3:1), the very same phrase that appears in Mark 6:17. We suggest that the author of Mark remembered this reference to Antipas’ brother, and when he read in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution that John the Baptist criticized Antipas for marrying his brother’s wife, he made the reasonable—albeit mistaken—inference that this brother must have been Philip. In other words, the reference to Philip in Mark 6:17 is what Lindsey called a “Markan pick-up,” a bit of information the author of Mark gleaned from a portion of Luke he omitted, but reinserted at a different point in his Gospel.[72]

L20 ὅτι αὐτὴν ἐγάμησεν (Mark 6:17). The author of Mark probably added the explanation “because he married her” because he realized that Luke’s summary of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution omitted this vital information (see above, Conjectured Stages of Transmission). In Mark this added explanation is superfluous, as the omission of these words in Matthew’s parallel shows, because John the Baptist articulates his reasons for objecting to Antipas’ marriage to Herodias. In Anth. there would have been even less need for this explanation, since that source described John the Baptist’s critique before reporting his arrest (see above, Comment to L3). Since “because he married her” is a Markan addition, we have not included it in GR or HR.

L21-22 As we have just mentioned, the author of Mark reversed the order of Anth.’s opening sentences in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.[73] Mark’s order was subsequently followed by the author of Matthew. As a consequence, we have restored the contents of Mark 6:18 (and Matt. 14:4) to their original location (GR L5-10). For discussion of the contents of L21-22, therefore, we refer readers to Comment to L5Comment to L10 above.

L23 καὶ ἐνεῖχεν αὐτῷ Ἡρῳδιὰς (GR). From the opening of Mark 6:19 on, where Luke’s summary of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution was no longer a factor, the author of Mark began following Anth.’s sentence order. According to Mark, Herodias nursed a grudge against John the Baptist and wanted to kill him, but her husband Antipas thwarted Herodias in her efforts to realize her desire. These details are logical and they set the stage for the tragedy that unfolds in the rest of the narrative. Having been frustrated in overt measures, Herodias bided her time and resorted to trickery when the opportunity presented itself. The author of Matthew, on the other hand, omitted Herodias’ grudge and attributed the murderous desire to Antipas. In this way the author of Matthew slimmed down Mark’s (and Anth.’s) account, but he destroyed its inner coherence. If Antipas had desired to kill the Baptist, why was he distressed when his oath to Herodias’ daughter gave him the perfect excuse?[74] Moreover, Aus has suggested that Herodias’ grudge against the Baptist and Antipas’ guarding of the same involves a Hebrew wordplay (on which, see below), which strongly argues in favor of the originality of Mark’s version in L23.

One additional piece of evidence that suggests that the role Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution assigned to Herodias is original is the likelihood that Herodias’ grudge was intended to remind readers of a scriptural narrative in which a villainous woman plots the murder of a righteous individual. As we will see, the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution drew on several scriptural narratives—the story of Pharaoh’s birthday celebration, the story of Saul’s burial, the story of Esther—to tell the story of John the Baptist’s demise. Therefore, if it can be shown that Herodias’ grudge was intended to function as a scriptural allusion, then it becomes all the more probable that the portrayal of Herodias in Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is original. As it happens, there is a particularly murderous woman in Scripture whose behavior is parallel to that ascribed to Herodias: Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, the archenemy of Elijah the prophet.[75]

That the woman responsible for John the Baptist’s death might be compared to Jezebel is a priori likely, given the comparisons made between Elijah and John the Baptist on the one hand, and Jezebel’s desire to murder Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:1-2) on the other. Jezebel did not fulfill her vow to kill Elijah, but she did succeed in her plot to murder Naboth. The means by which Jezebel accomplished her goal, inciting the king to do what he otherwise would not have done on his own (1 Kgs. 21:25), is similar to the way Herodias contrived to kill John the Baptist. Elijah’s confrontation of Ahab, in which he rebuked Ahab for his complicity in the plot to murder Naboth (1 Kgs. 21:17-24), is also reminiscent of the way John the Baptist publicly rebuked Herod Antipas for his illicit marriage to Herodias. Thus, it appears likely that in Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution Herodias was cast in the role of Jezebel and that Herodias’ reprisal of Jezebel’s role originated with the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.

For the reasons stated in the preceding paragraphs, we think it is likely that Mark’s account basically reflects that of Anth. It is probable, however, that the author of Mark made a few characteristic changes to Anth.’s wording, replacing καί (kai, “and”) with δέ (de, “but”) and placing Herodias’ name ahead of the verb. We also considered whether the author of Mark might have changed the tense of the verb ἐνέχειν (enechein, “to have a grudge”) from aorist to imperfect. This question was prompted by the fact that changing aorists to imperfects is a typical feature of Markan redaction.[76] We note, however, that the one time in LXX the verb ἐνέχειν occurs as the translation of a Hebrew verb it appears in the imperfect tense. Moreover, it is likely that imperfects did sometimes occur in Anth. We have observed that sometimes an imperfect verb in his source would prompt the author of Mark to change other nearby verbs into imperfects. For instance, in Mark’s account of Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6a) the author of Mark used the imperfect tense 5xx. The first is parallel to an imperfect in Luke 4:22, and this initial use of the imperfect seems to have inspired the author of Mark to introduce the other imperfects into his version of the story. This impression finds confirmation in the fact that only one of Mark’s imperfects was accepted in the Matthean parallel.[77] Perhaps, then, it was Anth.’s imperfect form of ἐνέχειν in L23 that prompted the author of Mark to use the imperfect tense in L23, L24, L26, L27, L30, L31 and L32 in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.

וַתִּטֹּר אוֹתוֹ הֵרוֹדְיָה (HR). In LXX the verb ἐνέχειν (enechein, “to have a grudge”) is rare and occurs only once as the translation of a Hebrew term.[78] In that one instance ἐνέχειν serves as the equivalent of שָׂטַם (sāṭam, “bear a grudge”; Gen. 49:23). Another verb for “bear a grudge” is נָטַר (nāṭar), which can also mean “guard.” Aus noted that if נָטַר stood behind ἐνέχειν there is the potential for a Hebrew wordplay in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution: the actions of Herodias (“holding a grudge”) and Antipas (“guarding”) could have been expressed with the same verb.[79] We think that such a wordplay is likely. Using נָטַר would not only allow for a wordplay, it would also recall Lev. 19:18 (“You must not take vengeance and you must not bear a grudge against the members of your people”), implying that Herodias not only violated the sexual prohibitions of Lev. 18 (“You must not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife”; Lev. 18:16), she also transgressed the greatest principle of the Torah contained in Lev. 19 (“You must love your neighbor as yourself”; Lev. 19:18).

L24 καὶ ἠθέλησεν (GR). For GR we have changed Mark’s imperfect ἤθελεν (ēthelen, “she was wanting”) to the aorist ἠθέλησεν (ēthelēsen, “she wanted”), since, as we noted in Comment to L23, changing aorists into imperfects was characteristic of Markan redaction.

וַתְּבַקֵּשׁ (HR). In Hebrew “desiring” to kill someone was usually expressed with the verb בִּקֵּשׁ (biqēsh, “seek”; Exod. 2:15; 4:24; 2 Sam. 20:19; 1 Kgs. 11:40; Jer. 26:21; Ps. 37:32). On the use of בִּקֵּשׁ in the sense of “want” or “desire,” see Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers, Comment to L19.

L25 ἀποκτεῖναι αὐτὸν (GR). It is impossible to be sure, but since placing the pronoun ἀυτόν (avton, “him”) after the verb would be more Hebraic, and since altering word order is characteristic of Markan redaction, it seems probable that Anth. read ἀποκτεῖναι αὐτόν (apokteinai avton, “to kill him”). If so, then the author of Matthew accepted Mark’s word order in L25.

לַהֲרוֹג אוֹתוֹ (HR). In MT “kill” in the expression “seek to kill” was usually expressed with הֵמִית (hēmit, “put to death”) or הָרַג (hārag, “kill”). Only the latter is found in tannaic sources:

הנחש הקדמוני] בקש להרוג את אדם ולישא את חוה]

[The ancient snake] sought to kill [בִּקֵּשׁ לַהֲרוֹג] Adam and to marry Eve. (t. Sot. 4:17; Vienna MS)

רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר לא ביקש המלאך להרוג למשה אלא לתינוק

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, “The angel did not seek [בִּיקֵּשׁ] to kill [לַהֲרוֹג] Moses, but the infant.” (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Amalek §3 [ed. Lauterbach, 2:276])

Since בִּקֵּשׁ לַהֲרוֹג was still current in spoken Hebrew of the first century, this was probably the expression used in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. Aus noted that in rabbinic discussions concerning executions הָרַג had acquired the technical sense of “behead” (m. Sanh. 7:3). If הָרַג had already acquired this sense by the first century, then it is possible that the statement that Herodias sought לַהֲרוֹג (laharōg, “to kill”) John the Baptist was intended to foreshadow the manner of his execution.[80]

The LXX translators rendered הָרַג with ἀναιρεῖν (anairein, “to kill”) a little more often than with ἀποκτείνειν (apokteinein, “to kill”), the verb that appears in Mark 6:19 and Matt. 14:5.[81] On the other hand, most instances of ἀποκτείνειν in LXX occur as the translation of הָרַג.[82] Thus, the LXX evidence poses no obstacle to our reconstruction.

L26 καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατο (GR). Although changing aorist verbs to imperfects was typical of Markan redaction (see above, Comment to L23), δύνασθαι (dūnasthai, “to be able”) is one verb that Greek translators of Hebrew texts did not mind using in the imperfect tense. In the book of Genesis, for instance, we find examples of δύνασθαι in the imperfect tense 8xx (Gen. 13:6; 36:7; 37:4; 41:49; 43:32; 45:1, 3; 48:10), compared to only a single instance of δύνασθαι in the aorist tense (Gen. 30:8). We have therefore decided to preserve Mark’s imperfect tense in GR.

Plummer noted that ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐδύνατο (all ouk edūnato, “but she was not being able”) would have been stylistically better Greek, and that the use of καί (kai, “and”) in the sense of “but” may be an Hebraism.[83]

וְלֹא יָכְלָה (HR). On reconstructing δύνασθαι (dūnasthai, “to be able”) with יָכוֹל (yāchōl, “be able”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L19. The phrase לֹא יָכְלָה (lo’ yāchelāh, “she was not able”) occurs in the following verses:

וְלֹא יָכְלָה אֶרֶץ מְגוּרֵיהֶם לָשֵׂאת אֹתָם מִפְּנֵי מִקְנֵיהֶם

And the land of their sojournings was not able to bear them because of their livestock. (Gen. 36:7)

καὶ οὐκ ἐδύνατο ἡ γῆ τῆς παροικήσεως αὐτῶν φέρειν αὐτοὺς ἀπὸ τοῦ πλήθους τῶν ὑπαρχόντων αὐτῶν

And the land of their sojourning was not able to bear them because of the abundance of their possessions. (Gen. 36:7)

וְלֹא יָכְלָה עוֹד הַצְּפִינוֹ

But she was not able to hide him anymore…. (Exod. 2:3)

ἐπεὶ δὲ οὐκ ἠδύναντο αὐτὸ ἔτι κρύπτειν

But because she was not able to hide him anymore…. (Exod. 2:3)

L27 ἐφοβήθη γὰρ Ἡρῴδης (GR). Mark once again has the subject ahead of the verb, contrary to Hebrew word order. For GR we have moved Herod’s name to its Hebraic position.

Opposite Mark’s imperfect ἐφοβεῖτο (efobeito, “he was fearing”), the author of Matthew used the aorist form ἐφοβήθη (efobēthē, “he was afraid”). Given the author of Mark’s tendency to change aorists to imperfects, we take Matthew’s aorist as evidence that an aorist appeared in Anth.

כִּי יָרֵא הֵרוֹדֵיס (HR). On reconstructing φοβεῖν (fobein, “to fear”) with יָרֵא (yārē’, “fear”), see Persistent Widow, Comment to L6.

Below are two examples of כִּי יָרֵא (ki yārē’, “because he feared”) rendered as ἐφοβήθη γάρ (efobēthē gar, “because he feared”), parallel to our Greek and Hebrew reconstructions:

וַיֵּשֶׁב בָּהָר וּשְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו עִמּוֹ כִּי יָרֵא לָשֶׁבֶת בְּצוֹעַר

And he stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him, because he was afraid [כִּי יָרֵא] to stay in Zoar. (Gen. 19:30)

καὶ ἐκάθητο ἐν τῷ ὄρει καὶ αἱ δύο θυγατέρες αὐτοῦ μετ᾿ αὐτοῦ ἐφοβήθη γὰρ κατοικῆσαι ἐν Σηγωρ

And he stayed in the mountains, and his two daughters with him, because he was afraid [ἐφοβήθη γὰρ] to settle in Zoar. (Gen. 19:30)

וַיֹּאמֶר אֲחֹתִי הִוא כִּי יָרֵא לֵאמֹר אִשְׁתִּי

And he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid [כִּי יָרֵא] to say, “She is my wife”…. (Gen. 26:7)

καὶ εἶπεν ἀδελφή μού ἐστιν ἐφοβήθη γὰρ εἰπεῖν ὅτι γυνή μού ἐστιν

And he said, “She is my sister,” because he was afraid [ἐφοβήθη γὰρ] to say, “She is my wife”…. (Gen. 26:7)

On reconstructing Ἡρῴδης (Hērōdēs, “Herod”) with הֵרוֹדֵיס (hērōdēs, “Herod”), see above, Comment to L7.

L28-32 Flusser remarked that while the reasons given in Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution for Antipas’ reluctance to put John to death are plausible, Mark’s incredible explanation reads like some sleazy penny dreadful.[84] Not only does Matthew’s claim that fear of the crowd prevented Antipas from killing the Baptist sound reasonable, but at first glance it seems to agree with Josephus’ report that John’s rising popularity and influence convinced Antipas “that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising, than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation and see his mistake” (Ant. 18:118; Loeb). But actually, Matthew and Josephus are contradictory. Whereas fear is an inhibiting factor in Matthew, causing Antipas to keep the Baptist alive, according to Josephus fear was the motivating factor that led Antipas to execute the Baptist: he hoped, thereby, to nip an incipient revolutionary movement in the bud. Both explanations cannot be true.

But there are additional problems with Matthew’s explanation for Antipas’ reluctance to kill the Baptist. First of all, what is this “crowd” that Antipas feared so greatly? Are we to imagine that a group of John’s followers hung around his prison door to demand that their leader receive humane treatment whenever Antipas came to visit him? But even this explanation does not really fit the narrative, in which Antipas never ventures beyond his royal residence, where a crowd of angry protesters would never have been allowed to enter. A volatile crowd surrounding a revered and beloved leader in a public place might well deter a ruler from arresting him. But subsequent to a leader’s arrest, what could a crowd hope to achieve? Separated from their leader by the prison walls, the crowd could have no knowledge, much less any control, of what went on inside. Once the popular leader had been removed from the public, the crowd could no longer have a deterring effect.

These observations lead us to the second problem with Matthew’s explanation: on two other occasions Matthew reports that certain authorities feared a crowd that regarded someone as a prophet (Matt. 21:26, 46). Moreover, these reports occur in contexts where the explanation makes sense because the authorities are surrounded by a threatening crowd.

According to Matt. 21:26, the chief priests were unwilling to voice their opinion whether John’s baptism was of human rather than divine origin because they feared the crowds, since the crowds held John to be a prophet. Mark’s explanation is the same, although the wording is slightly different (Mark 11:32). Luke’s parallel is not contradictory, but explains that “the people” (not “the crowd”) were liable to stone them, since they believed John to be a prophet (Luke 20:6). This explanation makes sense within its context. The high priests had publicly challenged Jesus’ authority to teach in the Temple. Jesus, surrounded by a sympathetic audience, retorted that he would answer their question if they answered one first: Was John’s baptism of human origin or divine? The implication was that the correct answer to this question would be the same as Jesus’ answer to theirs. The high priests could have answered that John’s baptism was of human origin, but they knew that such an answer would be unpopular, and since they were far outnumbered it might even be dangerous. Rabbinic literature reports that the Sadducees were pelted with citrons when they attempted to curtail public participation in Temple rituals,[85] so Luke’s report that the high priests thought they might be pelted with rocks is not unbelievable. For our purposes, what is important is that fear of the crowd in such a context makes sense. A sympathetic crowd could deter leaders from intimidating or arresting Jesus because the setting was public and the ruling authorities were outnumbered.

The third time Matthew resorts to the explanation that fear of the crowds deterred the authorities from taking action against someone revered as a prophet appears at the conclusion of the Wicked Tenants parable. According to Matthew, the high priests and the Pharisees knew that the parable had been about them and they wanted to arrest Jesus, but they feared the crowd, which esteemed Jesus as a prophet (Matt. 21:45-46). The Lukan and Markan parallels agree that the Temple authorities refrained from taking immediate action because they were afraid of the public reaction, but they both omit reference to the belief that Jesus was a prophet (Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19). Once again, the explanation makes sense given the circumstances. The Temple authorities were prevented from arresting Jesus because he was surrounded by a large and sympathetic audience that would have defended him. But these circumstances did not apply to Antipas. He already had John in prison, where he could have the Baptist executed away from public view, which is precisely what happens later in the story.

The Lukan-Markan agreement to omit the explanation at the conclusion of the Wicked Tenants parable that the crowd held Jesus to be a prophet strongly suggests that it was added by the author of Matthew, especially since the authors of Luke and Mark were perfectly willing to recognize Jesus’ prophetic status elsewhere in their Gospels (Mark 6:4; Luke 7:16; 13:33). That the author of Matthew was inclined to insert this explanation at one point in his Gospel increases the likelihood that he might do so at another, and given the problems fear of a crowd creates in the context of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, the conclusion that the author of Matthew inserted it there seems unavoidable.

We are forced, therefore, to reconsider Mark’s explanation for Antipas’ unwillingness to execute the Baptist. While Mark’s assertion that Antipas acknowledged that John was a righteous and holy man resists Hebrew retroversion, and while Mark’s description of Antipas’ listening to John with great confusion, but thoroughly enjoying the experience nevertheless, is difficult to swallow, the notion that Antipas respected or even feared John is perhaps not so extraordinary. According to Josephus, Antipas’ father Herod the Great had granted the Essenes considerable leeway, exempting them from the oath of loyalty he imposed on his other Jewish subjects (Ant. 15:371) and permitting one particular Essene, a certain Manaemus, to go unpunished despite having predicted that Herod would die under God’s wrath because of the injustice and impiety of his reign (Ant. 15:373-379). Herod tolerated this insubordination from Manaemus because he regarded him as a prophet. John the Baptist was similar to the Essenes in many respects and he, too, was reputed to be a prophet (Matt. 11:9; Luke 7:26). Perhaps, therefore, Antipas was more lenient toward John than he might have been toward other dissidents because, like his father, he was cautious in his dealings with prophets. Although he was unwilling to allow the Baptist’s criticism of his marriage to continue unchecked, he was reluctant to commit himself to any permanent action against someone who spoke for Israel’s God. It is possible, therefore, that the explanation for Antipas’ unwillingness to execute John given in Mark is an embellished and somewhat fanciful version of what was stated in Anth.

L28 אֶת יוֹחָנָן (HR). On reconstructing Ἰωάννης (Iōannēs, “John”) with יוֹחָנָן (yōḥānān, “John”), see above, Comment to L5.

L29 ἐπεὶ ὡς προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον (Matt. 14:5). As we noted in Comment to L28-32, Matthew’s explanation that Antipas feared the crowd, which held John to be a prophet, is secondary. The author of Matthew probably picked up this explanation from Mark’s version of the Question about Authority pericope (Mark 11:32).[86] The author of Matthew also added the explanation that the chief priests and scribes feared crowds that held Jesus to be a prophet to the conclusion of his version of the Wicked Tenants parable (Matt. 21:46; cf. Mark 12:12; Luke 20:19). By making these two additions the author of Matthew drew a parallel between the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus.[87] As scholars have noted, highlighting parallels between John the Baptist and Jesus is a feature of Matthean redaction.[88]

εἰδὼς αὐτὸν ἄνδρα δίκαιον καὶ ἅγιον (Mark 6:20). “Knowing him to be a righteous and holy man” appears to be a Markan embellishment to the simple statement that Antipas feared John. Mark’s statement is difficult to express in Hebrew, and Mark’s placement of the clause within the sentence defies Hebrew syntax, as Lindsey’s translation of Mark 6:20 demonstrates: כִּי הָיָה הוֹרְדוֹס יָרֵא אֶת יוֹחָנָן וְשׁוֹמֵר עָלָיו בְּדַעְתּוֹ כִּי אִישׁ צַדִּיק וְקָדוֹשׁ הוּא (“Because Herod was fearing John and keeping guard over him in his opinion that he was a righteous and holy man”).

The only other person in the New Testament to whom the attributes of righteousness and holiness are ascribed is Jesus, who is referred to as “the Holy and Righteous One” in Acts 3:14. Lindsey noted the similarity of Mark’s description of John the Baptist as “a righteous and holy man” to Luke’s description of Joseph of Arimathea as ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς καὶ δίκαιος (anēr agathos kai dikaios, “a good and righteous man”; Luke 23:50).[89] Josephus stated that John the Baptist was ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα (agathon andra, “a good man”; Ant. 18:117).

L30 καὶ συνετήρησεν αὐτόν (GR). Antipas’ fear of the Baptist is not sufficient to explain why Herodias was unable to carry out her murderous desire against the Baptist. It was Antipas’ keeping the Baptist under guard, which was motivated by his fear, that thwarted her machinations. The author of Mark used an imperfect form of the verb συντηρεῖν (sūntērein, “to keep,” “to preserve,” “to observe”), whereas Anth. probably had an aorist. Anth. may have had the conjunction καί (kai, “and”) before the verb as well. We have therefore added καί to GR and changed Mark’s συνετήρει (sūnetērei, “he was keeping”) to συνετήρησεν (sūnetērēsen, “he kept”).

וַיִּטֹּר אוֹתוֹ (HR). In classical Biblical Hebrew נָטַר (nāṭar) usually conveyed the meaning “bear a grudge,” but in late Biblical Hebrew and Mishnaic Hebrew נָטַר was also used in the sense of “guard” or “keep,” as we see in the following examples:

כֶּרֶם הָיָה לִשְׁלֹמֹה בְּבַעַל הָמוֹן נָתַן אֶת־הַכֶּרֶם לַנֹּטְרִים אִישׁ יָבִא בְּפִרְיוֹ אֶלֶף כָּסֶף׃ כָּרְמִי שֶׁלִּי לְפָנָי הָאֶלֶף לְךָ שְׁלֹמֹה וּמָאתַיִם לְנֹטְרִים אֶת־פִּרְיוֹ

Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon. He gave the vineyard to the guards [לַנֹּטְרִים; LXX: τηροῦσιν (tērousin, “guards”)]. Each would bring a thousand silver pieces for its fruit. My vineyard is my own before me. You, Solomon, may have a thousand, and to the guards [לְנֹטְרִים; LXX: τηροῦσι] of his fruit there may be two hundred. (Song 8:11-12)

ואת כל טירותם [שרפו באש], מקום שהיו נוטרין בית עבודה זרה שלהן

And all their encampments [they burned with fire (Num. 31:10). This refers to] a place where they would guard [נוטרין] their idolatrous temple. (Sifre Num. §157 [ed. Horovitz, 211])

Note that in the examples from Song of Songs the LXX translators rendered נָטַר with τηρεῖν (tērein, “to guard”), of which συντηρεῖν, the verb that occurs in Mark 6:20, is a compound form. Reconstructing συντηρεῖν with נָטַר allows for a Hebrew wordplay in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. Herodias’ action, expressed with נָטַר, was what motivated her to seek the Baptist’s death, whereas Antipas’ action, expressed with נָטַר, was what temporarily kept the Baptist alive. On this Hebrew wordplay, see above, Comment to L23.

L31 καὶ ἀκούσας αὐτοῦ πολλὰ ἠπόρει (Mark 6:20). Just as in L29 the author of Mark elaborated upon Anth.’s statement that Antipas feared John, so in L31-32 he elaborated upon Anth.’s statement that Antipas guarded him. The description of Antipas’ listening to the Baptist, being confused, but also happy, exhibits signs of Markan redaction (on which, see below). What was the inspiration for this weird addition? Perhaps it was simply the verb συντηρεῖν (sūntērein) in L30, which in addition to “keep” and “preserve” can also mean “observe.” Just as the Markan addition in L29 answers the question “Why did Antipas fear John?” the details in L31-32 answer the question “How did Antipas observe John?”

Some scholars have noted the similarity between Mark’s description of the Baptist’s audiences before Antipas and Paul’s audiences before Felix, which are described in Acts.[90] According to Lindsey, the author of Mark habitually inserted echoes of stories from Acts into his retelling of Gospel narratives.[91] Perhaps it was a combination of the fact that Paul’s interviews before Felix took place in Herod’s palace (the reference is to Herod the Great, but the author of Mark called Antipas “Herod”) and the statement that when Paul discoursed before Felix the Roman governor became frightened (ἔμφοβος γενόμενος; Acts 24:25) that suggested the comparison to the author of Mark.

The adverbial use of πολλά (polla, “much”) in L31 is so typical of Markan redaction that Lindsey classified it as a “Markan stereotype.”[92] Mark’s statement that Antipas was confused (ἠπόρει [ēporei]) appears to have been picked up from Luke’s statement that Antipas was confused (διηπόρει [diēporei]) about the reports he heard about Jesus (Luke 9:7).[93]

L32 καὶ ἡδέως αὐτοῦ ἤκουεν (Mark 6:20). “And he was hearing him gladly” is likely to be a Markan addition,[94] since listening to someone gladly occurs elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 12:37), but not in the Gospels of Luke or Matthew.[95] Mark’s description of Antipas’ enthusiasm might owe something to Luke’s account of Jesus’ interrogation before Antipas, since Luke tells us that Antipas “rejoiced greatly” upon seeing Jesus on account of what he had heard concerning him (Luke 23:8).[96]

L33-34 καὶ ἐγένετο ἡμέρα γενέσιος τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ (GR). There is no getting around the difficulty of reconstructing the text of L33-34. The presence of a genitive absolute construction in Mark 6:21 should probably be regarded as a Markan stylistic improvement.[97] The dative absolute construction in Matt. 14:6 appears to be a response to Mark’s genitive absolute,[98] so neither of our canonical witnesses preserve the wording of Anth. “And it was the day of Herod’s birthday” is our best guess at how the pre-synoptic source behind the Markan and Matthean version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution may have read.

Whereas γενεσίοις (genesiois, “[neut. plur. dat.] birthdays”) in Mark and Matthew is used substantivally, our γενέσιος (genesios, “[fem. sing. nom.] birthday”) is used adjectivally to modify ἡμέρα (hēmera, “day”). A parallel usage to our Greek reconstruction is found in the writings of Josephus:

ὡς δ᾿ ἀπήγγειλέ τις αὐτῷ κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν καιρὸν υἱὸν τῷ βασιλεῖ Πτολεμαίῳ γεγενῆσθαι, καὶ πάντες οἱ πρῶτοι τῆς Συρίας καὶ τῆς ὑπηκόου χώρας ἑορτάζοντες τὴν γενέσιον ἡμέραν τοῦ παιδίου

When someone told him around this time that a son was born to King Ptolemy, and all the principal persons of Syria and the subject country were celebrating the birthday [τὴν γενέσιον ἡμέραν] of the child…. (Ant. 12:196)

וַיְהִי יוֹם גִּינִיסְיָא לְהֵרוֹדֵיס (HR). Birthdays were usually not celebrated by Jews of the Second Temple period,[99] so it is surprising to read that Antipas celebrated his.[100] There is, however, a story about Agrippa, Antipas’ nephew, celebrating his birthday in the writings of Josephus (Ant. 19:317-325). According to Josephus’ story, King Agrippa had become annoyed with the commander-in-chief of his army and threw him into prison. But on his birthday he decided to grant the commander-in-chief clemency, and invited him to join his guests for the birthday festivities. As Schwartz has noted, Josephus’ account of Agrippa’s birthday celebration is deeply (if not entirely) indebted to the only story of a birthday celebration recorded in the Hebrew Bible (Gen. 40:20-23).[101] This story is part of the Joseph saga in Genesis, according to which Pharaoh pardoned his chief cupbearer, who had been in prison with Joseph. It seems likely that this same story from the Joseph saga influenced Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, too.

The dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker as depicted in the 14th century Sister Haggadah. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to the biblical story, Pharaoh celebrated his birthday by pardoning his chief cupbearer, but on the same occasion he ordered the execution of his chief baker. The manner of the chief baker’s execution is stated cryptically. Joseph, who interpreted the chief baker’s dream that foreshadowed his execution, told him that “Pharaoh will lift your head off you [יִשָּׂא פַרְעֹה אֶת רֹאשְׁךָ מֵעָלֶיךָ] and hang you on a tree” (Gen. 40:19). This sounds like a prediction of decapitation followed by a subsequent display of the mutilated corpse, but when the execution takes place, the biblical account merely mentions hanging (Gen. 40:22). Whatever the biblical text may have originally intended,[102] it is certain that some first-century Jewish readers believed that the chief baker had been decapitated, as this is stated plainly in Philo’s paraphrase of Joseph’s interpretation of the chief baker’s dream:

ὁ βασιλεὺς ἀνασκολοπισθῆναι σε καὶ τὴν κεφαλὴν ἀποτμηθῆναι κελεύσει καὶ καταπτάμενα ὄρνεα τῶν σῶν εὐωχηθήσεται σαρκῶν, ἄχρις ἂν ὅλος ἐξαναλωθῇς

…the king will order you to be impaled and beheaded, and the birds will [fly down and] feast upon your flesh until you are entirely devoured. (Ios. §96; Loeb)

The parallels between the story of Pharaoh’s birthday and the story of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution on Antipas’ birthday are too striking to dismiss as mere coincidence.[103] In both stories a wicked king orders a beheading at his birthday celebration. What did the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution wish to convey by drawing this parallel? Did he simply wish to suggest that John the Baptist had been the victim of injustice, or did he imply that the conditions Israel experienced under the puppet rulers of Rome were no better than the sufferings the children of Israel endured under the dominion of Pharaoh?[104] Or was it his intention to call Antipas’ Jewish pedigree into question by portraying him as a ruler who imitated Gentile customs?[105]

The term for “birthday” in Gen. 40:20 is יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת (yōm huledet), which the LXX translators rendered as ἡμέρα γενέσεως (hēmera geneseōs, “day of birth”). The substantive that appears in Mark and Matthew, γενέσια (genesia, “birthday”), is closely related to the noun γένεσις (genesis, “birth”) in Gen. 40:20. It entered the Hebrew lexicon as גִּינִיסְיָא (giniseyā’), with variant spellings, by 200 C.E. at the latest, since the Mishnah mentions “the birthday of kings” (יוֹם גְּנֶיסְיָה שֶׁלַּ מְּלָכִים; m. Avod. Zar. 1:3; cf. t. Avod. Zar. 1:4) as a Gentile celebration. Since rabbinic sources identify Pharaoh’s birthday (יוֹם הֻלֶּדֶת; Gen. 40:20) as a גִּינִיסְיָא,[106] adopting גִּינִיסְיָא for HR does not obliterate the allusion to the Genesis story.[107]

L35-38 The author of Matthew drastically shortened the account of the Baptist’s execution by omitting the reference to the preparation of a banquet and the invitation of prominent guests. In doing so, however, the author of Matthew damaged the story’s coherence. The two items the author of Matthew omitted are necessary to the logic of the story: the banquet as a setting for the dance and a reason for the presence of the guests; the guests as witnesses to Antipas’ rash and extravagant oath. The omission of the banquet leaves readers asking, “In the midst of what?” when the author of Matthew reports that the daughter of Herodias danced “in the midst” (Matt. 14:6; L41). In the midst of his private bedchamber? In the midst of a fountain? In the midst of a flock of geese? Similarly, because the author of Matthew omitted the reference to the guests, when he tells us that Antipas was ashamed to refuse the girl what he had promised her on oath “because of…those reclining with him” (Matt. 14:9; L67-68), we are left to speculate who these fellow-recliners might have been. Without Mark’s account to fill in the logical gaps in the story, Matthew’s version is mystifying.[108] Since the story’s logic demands an appropriate setting (such as a banquet) and the presence of guests (as witnesses to the oath), the inclusion of these details in Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution does not appear to be an editorial expansion. The author of Mark must have copied these details, which are original and integral to the story, from his source, Anth.

Queen Esther the Morning Star is a retelling of the story of Esther in light of Jewish midrash by Mordicai Gerstein.

L35 δεῖπνον ἐποίησεν (GR). Whereas a birthday celebration that ends in a beheading is a motif that echoes the story of Pharaoh’s birthday in Genesis, a banquet in which a female gives a spellbinding performance and a banquet at which a ruler promises to give up to half his kingdom are motifs that echo the banquets in the story of Esther. The scroll of Esther begins by describing a banquet hosted by the king, to which he invites his nobles and officials and military commanders (Esth. 1:3). During the banquet the king requested that his wife make an appearance before his men to display her voluptuous charms (Esth. 1:11). These motifs are echoed in the description of Antipas’ feast, the presence of his dignitaries, and the young girl’s dance.

The scroll of Esther also tells of another banquet, this one hosted by Queen Esther, to which only the king and Esther’s archenemy Haman are invited (Esth. 7:1). At this banquet the king promises Esther up to half his kingdom (Esth. 7:2), and she asks for the lives of herself and her kindred to be spared from Haman’s wicked plot to wipe out the Jewish people (Esth. 7:3-4). These motifs are parodied in Antipas’ oath to give the princess up to half his kingdom, and in her request for the life of John the Baptist to be extinguished.

Since the banquet, the dance and the oath are essential elements to the story, without which the narrative would no longer make sense, we cannot attribute them to Markan expansion. The allusions to Esther must have belonged to the original version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. This conclusion is reinforced by the vocabulary Mark used to describe the feast Antipas prepared for his distinguished guests. Whereas LXX referred to the king’s banquet as a δοχή (dochē, “banquet”; Esth. 1:3)—or, in the A-text, a πότος (potos, “drinking party”)[109] —the author of Mark used the noun δεῖπνον (deipnon, “meal,” “supper”). Had the author of Mark wished to create an allusion to Greek Esther he would have achieved his purpose better by using the term he knew from LXX. That he opted to use the noun δεῖπνον may indicate that the allusion to Esther already existed at a Hebrew stage of the story’s transmission, and that the Greek translator of this story did not refer to the LXX version(s) of Esther when he put Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution into Greek.[110]

וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה (HR). On reconstructing ποιεῖν (poiein, “to do,” “to make”) with עָשָׂה (‘āsāh, “do,” “make”), see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L8.

The Hebrew noun for “banquet” in Esth. 1:3 is מִשְׁתֶּה (mishteh) and, given the allusion to this verse, מִשְׁתֶּה is the best option for reconstructing δεῖπνον in L35. Expressing “prepare/host a banquet” with עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה is common in the Hebrew Bible.[111]

L36 τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ (GR). The guest list for Antipas’ birthday banquet is parallel to the list of attendees at the royal banquet in the opening chapter of Esther. According to Esth. 1:3, the banquet was attended by three groups: the king’s princes and servants, the army of Persia and Media, and the nobles and princes of the provinces. Likewise, Antipas’ banquet was attended by three groups of outstanding persons: his nobles, his military commanders, and the prominent residents of the Galilee. Had the author of Mark wished to create an allusion to Esther that was not in his source, we might have expected him to use the vocabulary employed in the Greek version(s) of Esth. 1:3. But μεγιστάν (megistan, “grandee,” “bigwig”), the term found in L36, does not occur in any known Greek version of Esth. 1:3. It seems more likely, therefore, that the author of Mark inherited μεγιστάν from his source, which reflected a Hebrew translation independent of the Greek versions of Esther.

לְשָׂרָיו (HR). Although μεγιστάν does not occur as the translation of שַׂר (sar, “prince”) in Esth. 1:3, most instances of μεγιστάν in LXX that are translating an underlying Hebrew text do occur as the translation of שַׂר,[112] so it would have been reasonable for a Greek translator who was uninfluenced by Greek versions of Esther to have rendered שַׂר as μεγιστάν in L36.[113]

L37 καὶ τοῖς χιλιάρχοις (GR). As with the references to a banquet (L35) and the grandees (L36), so, too, with the commanders does the allusion to Esth. 1:3 seem undeniable, but the vocabulary is not the same as that of the Greek versions of Esther. We believe this incongruity is due to the author of Mark’s reliance on a source that was translated from Hebrew into Greek without reference to LXX.

וּלְשָׂרֵי הַחַיִל (HR). In LXX the noun χιλίαρχος (chiliarchos, “commander of a thousand [soldiers]”) occurs as the translation of שַׂר אֲלָפִים (sar ’alāfim, “prince of a thousand [warriors]”), רֹאשׁ אֲלָפִים (ro’sh ’alāfim, “head of a thousand [warriors]”) or אַלּוּף (’alūf, “chief”).[114] However, in Esth. 1:3 the military personnel who attended the king’s banquet are designated by the term חַיִל (ḥayil, “strength,” “military force”). We have therefore preferred to reconstruct χιλίαρχος as שַׂר חַיִל (sar ḥayil, “prince of a military force,” “military commander”).[115]

L38 καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς Γαλιλαίας (GR). The counterpart to “and the preeminent [residents] of the Galilee” in Esth. 1:3 is וְשָׂרֵי הַמְּדִינוֹת (vesārē hamedinōt, “and the princes of the provinces”), which was rendered in LXX as καὶ τοῖς ἄρχουσιν τῶν σατραπῶν (kai tois archousin tōn satrapōn, “and the rulers of the satrapies”) or, in the A-text, καὶ οἱ ἄρχοντες τῶν χωρῶν (kai hoi archontes tōn chōrōn, “and the rulers of the countries”). Thus, once again Mark’s text avoided the vocabulary of LXX while alluding to Esth. 1:3. We attribute this phenomenon to the author of Mark’s reliance on a source translated from a Hebrew text by a Greek translator who did not rely on LXX for his lexical decisions.

וּלְשָׂרֵי הַגָּלִיל (HR). The parallel with Esth. 1:3 favors reconstructing πρῶτος (prōtos, “first”) in L38 with שַׂר (sar, “prince”). Although the adjective πρῶτος never occurs in LXX as the translation of שַׂר, the two are reasonable equivalents in the present context. It may be that the Greek translator of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution preferred to use three different terms to render שַׂר in L36, L37 and L38 because doing so allowed him to indicate the different functions these “princes” played within Antipas’ administration.

On reconstructing Γαλιλαία (Galilaia, “Galilee”) with הַגָּלִיל (hagālil, “the Galilee”), see A Voice Crying, Comment to L18.

As scholars have noted, the presence of Galilean notables and the absence of Perean guests suggests that in the mind of the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution Antipas’ birthday banquet was held in the Galilee, and not in Macherus, the fortress in Perea east of the Dead Sea, where, according to Josephus, John the Baptist was executed (Ant. 18:119).[116] Some scholars have attempted to reconcile the Gospel accounts with Josephus’ testimony, arguing either that Antipas especially invited Galilean officials to attend his out-of-the-way celebration on the Perean border,[117] or that the banquet was indeed held in the Galilee, and Antipas sent a messenger to the faraway fortress where John was being held prisoner. The trouble with the first suggestion is that no reader who was unaware of Josephus would ever suspect that the location of the banquet was anywhere other than in the Galilee. The problem with the second suggestion is that the time required to send a messenger from the Galilee to Macherus, carry out the execution order, and return with the Baptist’s head does not fit details of the story, which presumes that the execution could be carried out so swiftly that the head could be brought into the banqueting hall in front of all the assembled guests. We believe it is better to allow the Gospel narrative to speak for itself, even if we must conclude that it is factually mistaken, than to force an interpretation upon the narrative that is completely alien to a natural reading of the text.

The site of Macherus in present-day Jordan. Image photographed by Carole Raddato from Frankfurt, Germany, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the present instance, however, we are not altogether certain that the Gospel account is mistaken. Flusser[118] and Notley[119] have argued that it was Josephus who was in error regarding the place of the Baptist’s execution.[120] They noted that Macherus features at the beginning and the end of Josephus’ account of Aretas’ defeat of Antipas’ army. Toward the opening of the narrative Macherus plays an important role in the origin of the hostilities, since it was via Macherus that Antipas’ spurned wife, the daughter of Aretas, escaped to her father and incited him against her ex-husband (Ant. 18:111-112). Toward the end of the narrative Macherus plays a role in the cause of Antipas’ defeat, since the destruction of Antipas’ army was regarded as a divine punishment for the execution of John the Baptist at Macherus (Ant. 18:119). Josephus’ references to Macherus, therefore, create a certain symmetry in his narrative, a symmetry which may be due to Josephus’ literary license rather than to the historical facts. It could be that Josephus did not know where John the Baptist was executed (he evidently did not know that the Baptist was beheaded or that he had criticized the marriage between Antipas and Herodias), and therefore he chose Macherus as a suitable location, or he may have knowingly suppressed the actual location because setting the execution at Macherus made for a better story. In any case, Josephus’ account should not be used to make the Gospel account of the Baptist’s death say what it clearly never intended to convey.

L39 καὶ (GR). The genitive absolute construction at the opening of Mark 6:22 is certainly more difficult to reconstruct in Hebrew than Matthew’s description of the girl’s dance in Matt. 14:6, so it appears that in L40-42 the author of Matthew copied the wording of Anth. The only thing wanting in Matthew’s description of the dance to make it completely Hebraic is a καί (“and”) before the verb in L40, and this is supplied in Mark’s parallel in L39.

L40 ὠρχήσατο ἡ θυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρῳδιάδος (GR). Codex Vaticanus preserves what is generally regarded as the best reading of Mark 6:22,[121] according to which the dancing girl is identified as “his [i.e., Antipas’] daughter Herodias.” Matthew’s more Hebraic parallel, on the other hand, identifies the girl as the daughter of Herodias, implying that Antipas was not the girl’s father.

A coin minted in 56-57 C.E. bears the portrait of Salome, daughter of Herodias, the infamous wife of Herod Antipas.

Matthew’s identification of the girl as Herodias’ daughter not only accords better with what we know of Antipas’ family from Josephus—namely that he did not have children by Herodias, but that Herodias came to Antipas with a daughter from her previous marriage named Salome (Ant. 18:136-137)—it also works better in the story of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. While the girl’s dance may have been innocent in itself,[122] Antipas’ response appears to be that of a dirty old man whose passions she had unintentionally kindled. The unmistakable parallel to the Esther story, in which Queen Vashti was summoned to display her beauty for the satisfaction of the king’s guests, supports understanding Antipas’ reaction to the girl’s performance in this way. It is more likely, however, that Antipas would be titillated by a dance performed by his stepdaughter than by his own flesh-and-blood, although the latter scenario is not impossible.[123] Identifying the dancing girl as Antipas’ stepdaughter fits the story for another reason: immediately following the verse that prohibits a man from having sexual relations with his brother’s wife (Lev. 18:16) is the commandment prohibiting a man from having sexual relations with a woman and her daughter (Lev. 18:17). The original form of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution seems to imply that the man who had so brazenly transgressed the first of these commandments was not above transgressing the second.

Whereas Meier supposed that the author of Mark was simply mistaken in referring to the dancing girl as Herod’s daughter Herodias,[124] Theissen suggested that Mark’s identification of the dancer was intentional. By referring to the dancing girl as “Herodias,” the author of Mark was able to make the three main actors in the Baptist’s execution—Antipas, Herodias and the daughter—bear forms of the same name, “Herod.”[125] Whether accidental or intentional, we regard Mark’s reading as inferior to Matthew’s. In L40-42 the author of Matthew preserved the wording of Anth.

Salome’s Dance. Illustration by Helen Twena.

וַתְּרַקֵּד בַּת הֵרוֹדְיָה (HR). The verb ὀρχεῖσθαι (orcheisthai, “to dance”) is not particularly common in LXX, but it occurs as the translation of the Hebrew root ר-ק-ד more often than of any other verbal root.[126] The Hebrew root ר-ק-ד is itself relatively rare, occurring only 9xx in MT.[127] Of these, ὀρχεῖσθαι is the translation of ר-ק-ד‎ 3xx (1 Chr. 15:29; Eccl. 3:4; Isa. 13:21). In MH ר-ק-ד in the pi‘el stem continued to be used for dancing. The verb itself does not have risqué overtones; according to the Mishnah, the Hasidim would dance (הָיוּ מְרַקְּדִים [hāyū meraqedim]) in the women’s court of the Temple (m. Suk. 5:4).

The noun θυγάτηρ (thūgatēr, “daughter”) almost always occurs in LXX as the translation of בַּת (bat, “daughter”).[128] Similarly, the LXX translators rendered בַּת as θυγάτηρ in the vast majority of instances.[129]

On reconstructing Ἡρῳδιάς (Hērōdias, “Herodias”) with הֵרוֹדְיָה (hērōdeyāh, “Herodias”), see above, Comment to L8.

L41 ἐν τῷ μέσῳ (GR). As we noted in Comment to L35-38, the omission of a banquet and guests in Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution leaves readers wondering, “In the middle of what?” when the author of Matthew includes the phrase ἐν τῷ μέσῳ (en tō mesō, “in the middle”) in L41. We believe this jolting detail in Matt. 14:6 is the result of the author of Matthew’s imperfect handling of his sources. He copied ἐν τῷ μέσῳ from Anth., not realizing that because of the way he had condensed his material this prepositional phrase lacked a referent.[130]

בַּתָּוֶךְ (HR). On ἐν (τῷ) μέσῳ (en [] mesō, “in the middle”) as the standard LXX translation of בְּתוֹךְ (betōch, “in the middle,” “among”), see “The Harvest Is Plentiful” and “A Flock Among Wolves,” Comment to L50.

L42 καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ (GR). The author of Matthew appears to have continued copying Anth. in L42, since his wording is easier to revert to Hebrew than Mark’s sentence structure.

וַתִּיטַב בְּעֵינֵי הֵרוֹדֵיס (HR). In LXX the verb ἀρέσκειν (areskein, “to please”) often translates either the verb טוֹב (ṭōv, “be good,” “be pleasing”) or the phrase טוֹב בְּעֵינֵי (ṭōv be‘ēnē, “pleasing in the eyes of”).[131] We have chosen the latter construction for HR because the statement καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ (kai ēresen tō Hērōdē, “and she/it pleased Herod”) was probably intended to echo the scroll of Esther,[132] which described the delight the steward of the king’s harem took in Esther in the following terms:

וַתִּיטַב הַנַּעֲרָה בְעֵינָיו

And the maiden was good in his eyes. (Esth. 2:9)

καὶ ἤρεσεν αὐτῷ τὸ κοράσιον

And the maiden pleased him. (Esth. 2:9)

As Aus noted, “pleasing the king” is a prominent motif in the opening chapters of Esther.[133] The recommendation that Vashti be banished because she had refused to entertain the banqueting men with her good looks “pleased the king” (Esth. 1:21; MT: וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ; LXX: καὶ ἤρεσεν ὁ λόγος τῷ βασιλεῖ). When the king began to long for female companionship, his advisors recommended that “the maiden who pleases the king” (Esth. 2:4; MT: הַנַּעֲרָה אֲשֶׁר תִּיטַב בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ; LXX: ἡ γυνή [A-text: παῖς] ἣ ἂν ἀρέσῃ τῷ βασιλεῖ) should be made queen in Vashti’s stead, and this advice, too, “pleased the king” (Esth. 2:4; MT: וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ; LXX: καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ βασιλεῖ τὸ πρᾶγμα).

The pleasure Antipas took in the girl’s dance is one more allusion to the scroll of Esther that cannot be erased without damaging the integrity and coherence of the story. The Esther motifs in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, therefore, cannot be attributed to the editorial activity of the author of Mark.

Artist’s reconstruction of Salome’s portrait. Illustration by Helen Twena.

L43 καὶ τοῖς συνανακειμένοις (GR). According to Mark, the girl delighted not only the king, but also the guests at his banquet. The description is somewhat reminiscent of Esth. 1:21, according to which the suggestion that Vashti be banished pleased both the king and the princes in attendance at the banquet. Although Matthew’s version omits the reference to the people who are reclining with the king in L43, this omission is probably due to the author of Matthew’s abbreviating tendency in his treatment of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. In addition to omitting the guests in L43, the author of Matthew condensed Antipas’ offer of an extravagant reward in L44-50.

וְהַמְּסוּבִּים עִמּוֹ (HR). In Call of Levi (L26) we reconstructed ἀνάκεισθαι (anakeisthai, “to recline”) with הֵסֵב (hēsēv, “recline”), the hif‘il of the root ס-ב-ב. Here in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, Mark, and in all likelihood Anth., used συνανακείμενος (sūnanakeimenos, “reclining with,” subst., “person reclining with”), a participial form of συνανακεῖσθαι (sūnanakeisthai, “to recline with”), a compound form of the verb in Call of Levi. It makes sense, therefore, to reconstruct συνανακεῖσθαι with a substantival participle formed from the root ס-ב-ב, if such a participle exists. As it turns out, Mishnaic Hebrew had just such a word, מְסוּבֶּה (mesūbeh, “person reclining,” “guest”), a substantive participle in the pu‘al stem.[134]

Examples of מְסוּבֶּה include:

מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים שהיו מסובין ביריחו

An anecdote concerning Rabban Gamliel and the elders who were guests [מְסוּבִּין; alt., “reclining”] in Jericho…. (t. Ber. 4:15; Vienna MS)

מעשה ברבן שמעון בן גמליאל ור′ יהודה ור′ יוסה שהיו מסובין בעכו

An anecdote concerning Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel and Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yose, who were guests [מְסוּבִּין; alt., “reclining”] in Acco…. (t. Ber. 5:2; Vienna MS)

מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים שהיו מסובין בבית ביתוס בן זונין בלוד

An anecdote concerning Rabban Gamliel and the elders who were guests [מְסוּבִּין; alt., “reclining”] in the house of Boethus ben Zonin in Lod…. (t. Pes. 10:12; Vienna MS)

מעשה ברבן גמליאל וזקנים שהיו מסובין ברומי

An anecdote concerning Rabban Gamliel and the elders who were guests [מְסוּבִּין; alt., “reclining”] in Rome…. (t. Betz. 2:12; Vienna MS)

L44 εἶπεν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῷ κορασίῳ (GR). We suspect that the author of Mark preserved Anth.’s words, but not Anth.’s word order, in L44. In Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution the author of Mark exhibited a preference for opening sentences with ὁ/ἡ + δέ/γάρ + name/title (ἡ δὲ Ἡρῳδιάς, L23; ὁ γὰρ Ἡρῴδης, L27; ὁ δὲ βασιλεύς, L44), a preference that may have been shaped by the opening sentence in Luke’s parallel (ὁ δὲ Ἡρῴδης) in Luke 3:19 (L3). For GR we have adopted a more Hebraic word order typical of Anth.

It is surprising to find Antipas referred to as a βασιλεύς (basilevs, “king”) in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, for although Antipas greatly envied this title, it was never officially his to use.[135] It is all the more surprising since in Herodes Wonders about Yeshua (Matt. 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9), a pericope that immediately precedes Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution in Mark and Matthew, the authors of Luke and Matthew agree against Mark to refer to Antipas as a “tetrarch” rather than a “king” (Matt. 14:1 // Luke 9:7; cf. Mark 6:14). Why would the author of Matthew reject the title “king” in Herodes Wonders about Yeshua, but accept it in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution (Matt. 14:9; L66), the very next pericope? Or, since the Lukan-Matthean agreement in Herodes Wonders about Yeshua suggests that the author of Mark found “tetrarch” in both his sources (Luke and Anth.), why did the author of Mark change “tetrarch” to “king”? We believe the answer lies in the complex history of transmission of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.

As we explained in the Story Placement section above, we believe that the stories about John the Baptist that do not feature Jesus are descended from a Hebrew source, which we have dubbed the Life of Yohanan the Immerser. When the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua composed his biography of Jesus, he incorporated much of this “Baptist” source into the early section of his narrative. One stylistic difference between the Life of Yeshua and the Life of Yohanan the Immerser appears to be that whereas the latter referred to Antipas as “king,” the former referred to Antipas as “tetrarch.”[136] These distinctions were maintained when the Hebrew Life of Yeshua was translated into Greek, with the result that Anth. had some pericopae that referred to Antipas as “king” and some that referred to him as “tetrarch.” When the author of Mark placed Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution (a “Baptist” pericope) after Herodes Wonders about Yeshua (an LOY pericope), he noticed that the two pericopae used two different titles for the ruler and he chose to impose a consistency on his sources by changing “tetrarch” in Herodes Wonders about Yeshua to “king.” Like the author of Mark, the author of Matthew also noticed that Anth. used two different titles for the same ruler in the two pericope that Mark had made adjacent, but instead of homogenizing the vocabulary as the author of Mark had done, the author of Matthew accepted Anth.’s titles for Antipas in both pericopae. The reason he did not change “king” to “tetrarch” in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is that “tetrarch” did not occur in either of his sources (Mark and Anth.).

Although τῷ κορασίῳ (tō korasiō, “to the girl”), being a diminutive form, might be suspect, since the use of diminutives is characteristic of Markan redaction,[137] the frequency with which Esther, upon whom the dancer in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is partially modeled, is referred to as a נַעֲרָה (na‘arāh, “girl,” “maiden”) in MT[138] or κοράσιον (korasion, “girl”) in LXX[139] suggests that Mark’s τῷ κορασίῳ stems from Anth.

וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַנַּעֲרָה (HR). On reconstructing βασιλεύς (basilevs, “king”) with מֶלֶךְ (melech, “king”), see Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L12-13.

We have already mentioned the correspondence in Esther between κοράσιον and נַעֲרָה. Taking LXX as a whole, we find that while the LXX translators more frequently rendered נַעֲרָה as νεᾶνις (neanis, “girl”), they rendered נַעֲרָה as κοράσιον only slightly less often.[140] Given the way Herodias’ daughter is portrayed in the image of Esther, נַעֲרָה is the best choice for HR.[141]

L45 αἴτησόν με ὃ ἐὰν θέλῃς (GR). We can detect no changes the author of Mark made to Anth.’s wording in L45.

שַׁאֲלִי מִמֶּנִּי מַה שֶּׁתִּרְצִי (HR). On reconstructing αἰτεῖν (aitein, “to ask”) with שָׁאַל (shā’al, “ask”), see Friend in Need, Comment to L22.

In Yohanan the Immerser’s Question (L45) we reconstructed ὃς ἐάν (hos ean, “whatever,” “whoever”) with -מִי שֶׁ (mi she-, “who that”). Here the context demands that we reconstruct ὃς ἐάν with -מַה שֶּׁ (mah she-, “what that”). We have also used -מַה שֶּׁ as the reconstruction of ὅς (without ἐάν) in Blessedness of the Twelve (L6, L8, L14-16, L18).

On reconstructing θέλειν (thelein, “to want”) with רָצָה (rātzāh, “want”), see Tower Builder and King Going to War, Comment to L2. We have reconstructed L45 in a style resembling Mishnaic Hebrew, since this is the style we prefer when reconstructing direct speech.

L46 וְאֶתֵּן לָךְ (HR). On reconstructing διδόναι (didonai, “to give”) with נָתַן (nātan, “give”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L18.

L47 ὅθεν μεθ᾿ ὅρκου (Matt. 14:7). Although some scholars have referred to Matthew’s use of μεθ᾿ ὅρκου (meth horkou, “with an oath”) as a Semitism,[142] the phrase is not common in LXX, occurring only 6xx,[143] two of which occur in a book composed in excellent Greek (2 Macc. 4:34; 14:32). Josephus, too, used the phrase (Ant. 2:3; 14:278), so it appears that Matthew’s use of μεθ᾿ ὅρκου cannot accurately be described as Semitic. On the contrary, Matthew’s wording in L47-49 appears to be a polished Greek condensed paraphrase of Mark’s longer account of the king’s offer, which happens to revert quite easily to Hebrew.

L48 καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῇ (GR). Since Mark’s wording in L48 reverts word-for-word to Hebrew (see below), we have accepted his wording for GR.

Aus noted that, according to the A-text of Greek Esther, upon hearing her request the king swore (ὤμοσεν) that Esther should reveal the identity of the man who plotted against her and her people, and he undertook with an oath (μετὰ ὅρκου) to do for her whatever she wished (Esth. 8:7).[144] Since the A-text of Greek Esther may represent a Hebrew version of Esther different from that which is attested in MT,[145] it is entirely possible that the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution knew about the king’s oath in Esther and alluded to it by making Antipas swear to the girl who had danced for him.

וַיִּשָּׁבַע לָהּ (HR). In LXX ὀμνύειν (omnūein, “to swear”; also ὀμνύναι [omnūnai, “to swear”]) nearly always occurs as the translation of נִשְׁבַּע (nishba‘, “swear”).[146] Likewise, the LXX translators rendered נִשְׁבַּע with ὀμνύειν/ὀμνύναι far more often than with any other verb.[147] The precise phrase καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῇ (kai ōmosen avtē, “and he swore to her”), which occurs in Mark 6:23 (L48), serves as the translation of וַיִּשָּׁבַע לָהּ (vayishāva‘ lāh, “and he swore to her”) in 1 Kgdms. 28:10.

L49 ὅ τι ἐάν με αἰτήσῃς δώσω σοι (GR). The author of Matthew condensed the wording of Mark and Anth. by stating the terms of the oath—“to give whatever she might ask”—without putting it into direct speech. He also omitted the limitation—“up to half my kingdom”—which Antipas placed on his promise (L50).

Mark’s (and presumably Anth.’s) variation in wording—ὅ τι ἐάν με αἰτήσῃς (“whatever you might ask me”; L49) versus αἴτησόν με ὃ ἐὰν θέλῃς (“ask me whatever you might want”; L45)—is reminiscent of the slight variations in the wording of the king’s promises to Esther (Esth. 5:3; 7:2).

כֹּל מַה שֶּׁתִּשְׁאֲלִי מִמֶּנִּי אֶתֵּן לָךְ (HR). Perhaps the insertion of τις (tis, “something,” “anything”) into the phrase ὃς ἐάν (hos ean, “whatever”) marks a slight amplification of the king’s promise. We have accordingly added כֹּל (kol, “all”) to -מַה שֶּׁ (mah she-, “what that”) in L49.

On reconstructing ὃς ἐάν with -מַה שֶּׁ, and on reconstructing αἰτεῖν (aitein, “to ask”) with שָׁאַל (shā’al, “ask”), see above, Comment to L45.

On reconstructing διδόναι (didonai, “to give”) with נָתַן (nātan, “give”), see above, Comment to L46.

A verbal parallel to our reconstruction in L49 is found in the following rabbinic parable.

למה הדבר דומה למלך שהיה לו אוהב…אמר לו שאל לך פרוקפי ואני נותן לך כל מה שתשאל לפני

To what may the matter be compared? To a king who had a friend…. He said to him, “Ask for yourself a promotion and I am giving you anything you might ask [כֹּל מַה שֶּׁתִּשְׁאַל] before me.” (Pesikta Rabbati 14:7 [ed. Friedmann, 59a])

L50 ἕως ἡμίσους τῆς βασιλείας μου (GR). The exact wording Mark has in L50—ἕως ἡμίσους τῆς βασιλείας μου (heōs hēmisous tēs basileias mou, “up to half my kingdom”)—occurs in the A-text of Greek Esther as the translation of עַד חֲצִי הַמַּלְכוּת (‘ad ḥatzi hamalchūt, “up to half the kingdom”; Esth. 6:13 [= Esth. 5:3 in MT]). The standard LXX text reads ἕως τοῦ ἡμίσους τῆς βασιλείας μου, and this is the way both versions rendered עַד חֲצִי הַמַּלְכוּת in Esth. 7:2 (= Esth. 8:1 in the A-text). It is possible that the author of Mark added μου (mou, “my”) after βασιλείας (basileias, “kingdom”) in imitation of LXX, but it is also possible that the Greek versions of Esther represent a slightly different Hebrew text of Esther that read מַלְכוּתִי (malchūti, “my kingdom”) instead of הַמַּלְכוּת (hamalchūt, “the kingdom”) as in MT, and it was with this text that the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution was familiar. Our GR and HR in L50 reflect the latter possibility.

עַד חֲצִי מַלְכוּתִי (HR). On reconstructing ἕως (heōs, “until”) with עַד (‘ad, “until”), see Lost Sheep and Lost Coin, Comment to L22.

In LXX ἥμισυς (hēmisūs, “half”) almost always occurs as the translation of חֲצִי (atzi, “half”) or מַחֲצִית (maḥatzit, “half”).[148] In the present case the Esther parallels decisively tip the balance in favor of adopting חֲצִי for HR.

On reconstructing βασιλεία (basileia, “kingdom”) with מַלְכוּת (malchūt, “kingdom”), see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, Comment to L39.

L51 καὶ ἐξελθοῦσα (GR). Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution preserves a realistic detail omitted in Matthew’s parallel, namely that apart from the dancing girl, women were not present at the banquet. Hence, the dancing girl had to leave the banquet in order to seek the advice of her mother. The author of Matthew streamlined the story by having the girl’s mother instruct her in advance what request she ought to make (L52). In this way he was able to omit the content of L51-60.

וַתֵּצֵא (HR). On reconstructing καί + participle + aorist (καὶ ἐξελθοῦσα εἶπεν; L51-52) with two vav-consecutives, see Return of the Twelve, Comment to L1.

On reconstructing ἐξέρχεσθαι (exerchesthai, “to go out”) with יָצָא (yātzā’, “go out”), see Conduct in Town, Comment to L98.

L52 ἡ δὲ προβιβασθεῖσα ὑπὸ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς (Matt. 14:8). Matthew’s description of the mother’s prior instruction is written in good Greek style and does not revert easily to Hebrew.[149] In Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution this prior instruction from the girl’s mother comes as a surprise, since the author of Matthew had informed his readers that it was Antipas who desired to kill the Baptist. Mark’s more coherent version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution has laid the groundwork for Herodias’ opportunistic behavior.[150] Frustrated by her husband in her desire to kill the Baptist, she seized this unexpected opportunity to achieve her murderous ambition.

εἶπεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς (GR). Mark’s wording easily reverts to Hebrew and is therefore preferable for GR. Mark’s version also clears the girl of any previous complicity in the crime Herodias intended to perpetrate against the Baptist. Does her youth excuse her of all culpability for following her mother’s instructions? Queen Esther, also described as a “girl,” rose to the challenge and became a savior of her people. Might not Herodias’ daughter have refused to go along with her mother’s plan to behead John the Baptist?

וַתֹּאמֶר לְאִמָּהּ (HR). On reconstructing μήτηρ (mētēr, “mother”) with אֵם (’ēm, “mother”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L7.

L53 מָה אֶשְׁאַל (HR). On reconstructing αἰτεῖν (aitein, “to ask”) with שָׁאַל (shā’al, “ask”), see above, Comment to L45. Our reconstruction of “What should I ask?” occurs in a rabbinic retelling of the story in which King Solomon asked God for wisdom:

כשנגלה הקב″ה ואמר שאל מה אתן לך, אמר שלמה מה אשאל

When the Holy One, blessed be he, appeared and said, Ask what I will give to you [1 Kgs. 3:5; 2 Chr. 1:7], Solomon said [to himself—DNB and JNT], “What should I ask [מָה אֶשְׁאַל]?” (Pesikta Rabbati 14:7 [ed. Friedmann, 59a])

L54 καὶ εἶπεν (GR). As we noted above (Comment to L44), in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution the author of Mark displayed a preference for sentences opening with ὁ/ἡ + δέ/γάρ + name + verb (L23, L27, L44). Mark’s ἡ δὲ εἶπεν (hē de eipen, “but she said”) in L54 is an abbreviated example of this preference, and we suspect that Anth. probably read καὶ εἶπεν (kai eipen, “and she said”).

L55 אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ (HR). On reconstructing κεφαλή (kefalē, “head”) with רֹאשׁ (ro’sh, “head”), see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, Comment to L14. Our reconstruction with the pronominal suffix followed by -שֶׁלְּ in L56 reflects MH, the style of Hebrew we prefer when reconstructing direct speech.

John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Illustration by Helen Twena.

Presenting someone’s head was a means of providing irrefutable proof of his or her death for someone who was not present at the execution. Asking for some other limb—a foot or a hand—might be just as gruesome, but it would not prove that the unfortunate individual was dead. The head of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth was presented to King David (2 Sam. 4:8). Emperor Tiberius demanded the head of Aretas, Antipas’ ex-father-in-law (Ant. 18:115). Thus, by inciting her daughter to demand the Baptist’s head, Herodias was able to ensure that Antipas would not be able to fulfill the terms of her daughter’s request without satisfying her murderous intent.

L56 Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ (GR). The author of Mark is the only synoptic evangelist to use the participle βαπτίζων (baptizōn, “immersing”) instead of the noun βαπτιστής (baptistēs, “immerser”) when referring to John the Baptist.[151] In L64 the authors of Mark and Matthew agreed to use βαπτιστής, which probably reflects the reading of Anth. Presumably this was the title Anth. had in L56 as well,[152] so in place of Mark’s Ἰωάνου τοῦ βαπτίζοντος (Iōanou tou baptizontos, “of John the one immersing”) we have adopted Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ (Iōannou tou baptistou, “of John the Baptist”) for GR.

שֶׁלְּיוֹחָנָן הַמַּטְבִּיל (HR). On reconstructing Ἰωάννης (Iōannēs, “John”) with יוֹחָנָן (yōḥānān, “John”), see above, Comment to L5.

On reconstructing βαπτιστής (baptistēs, “immerser”) with מַטְבִּיל (maṭbil, “immerser”), see Yohanan the Immerser’s Question, Comment to L21.

L57 καὶ εἰσελθοῦσα (GR). The addition of the adverb εὐθύς (evthūs, “immediately”) is so characteristic of the author of Mark’s editorial style,[153] and the use of εὐθύς is so atypical of the stories that descended from the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser contained in Anth.,[154] that it is difficult to attribute its presence in Mark 6:25 to anything other than Markan redaction. The author of Mark may have been inspired to insert εὐθύς at this point because of the roughly synonymous phrase μετὰ σπουδῆς (meta spoudēs, “with haste”), which occurs in L58.

וַתָּבֹא (HR). The LXX translators usually rendered בָּא (bā’, “come,” “enter”) with ἔρχεσθαι (erchesthai, “to come”) or its compound forms, especially εἰσέρχεσθαι (eiserchesthai, “to come in”).[155] Likewise, most instances of εἰσέρχεσθαι in LXX occur as the translation of בָּא.[156] In 2 Kgdms. 14:33 and 2 Kgdms. 19:6 the phrase καὶ εἰσῆλθεν πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα (“and he came in to the king”), which is similar to καὶ εἰσελθοῦσα μετὰ σπουδῆς πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα (“and coming with haste to the king”; GR, L57-59), occurs as the translation of וַיָּבֹא אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ (“and he came to the king”). These facts demonstrate that בָּא is an excellent option for HR.

L58 μετὰ σπουδῆς (GR). The only other instance of the phrase μετὰ σπουδῆς (meta spoudēs, “with haste”) in the Synoptic Gospels is found in Luke 1:39, which describes Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. This evidence cuts two ways. We might conclude that the author of Mark picked up μετὰ σπουδῆς from Luke 1:39 and inserted it into Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. Or we might conclude that Luke 1:39 offers proof that the phrase μετὰ σπουδῆς occurred in Anth., and might therefore have been present in Anth.’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution as well. Since μετὰ σπουδῆς is not typical of Markan redaction, we have retained this prepositional phrase in GR. As we noted in Comment to L57, it may have been the presence of μετὰ σπουδῆς in Anth. that touched off the author of Mark’s redactional insertions of εὐθύς in L57 and L70.

בְּחִפָּזוֹן (HR). The phrase μετὰ σπουδῆς (“with haste”) occurs 3xx in LXX in books corresponding to MT (Exod. 12:11; Ps. 77[78]:33; Ezek. 7:11). In Ps. 77[78]:33 and Ezek. 7:11 the LXX translators did not translate literally, so we only have one instance of μετὰ σπουδῆς in LXX that can serve as a model for reconstruction. In that sole instance μετὰ σπουδῆς occurs as the translation of בְּחִפָּזוֹן (beḥipāzōn, “in haste”; Exod. 12:11). The prepositional phrase בְּחִפָּזוֹן is not common in MT, occurring only two other times: Deut. 16:3, where the LXX translators rendered it as ἐν σπουδῇ (en spoudē, “in haste”), and Isa. 52:12, where the LXX translators rendered it as μετὰ ταραχῆς (meta tarachēs, “with confusion”). The phrase בְּחִפָּזוֹן occurs in the Mishnah (m. Pes. 9:5), where it alludes to Exod. 12:11.

Another option for HR might be בִּמְהֵרָה (bimhērāh, “with haste”), but we have preferred בְּחִפָּזוֹן since in Persistent Widow (L26) we used בִּמְהֵרָה as the reconstruction of ἐν τάχει (en tachei, “in haste,” “quickly”).

L59 אֶל הַמֶּלֶךְ (HR). On reconstructing βασιλεύς (basilevs, “king”) with מֶלֶךְ (melech, “king”), see above, Comment to L44.[157]

L60 וַתִּשְׁאַל לֵאמֹר (HR). On reconstructing αἰτεῖν (aitein, “to ask”) with שָׁאַל (shā’al, “ask”), see above, Comment to L45.

L61 δός μοι (GR). Mark’s version of the girl’s request is also cumbersome to revert to Hebrew.[158] The ἵνα + subjunctive construction in Mark 6:25 looks like a Greek stylistic improvement inserted by the author of Mark. Moreover, we note that Mark has three other θέλειν + ἵνα + subjunctive constructions that are not present in the Lukan and/or Matthean parallels (Mark 9:30 [cf. Matt. 17:22; Luke 9:43]; 10:35 [cf. Matt. 20:20]; 14:12 [cf. Matt. 26:17; Luke 22:9]), which is a strong indication that he inserted this construction in those places, and therefore also may have done so here.[159] Matthew’s wording of the girl’s request in L61, by contrast, reverts readily to Hebrew (see below). We have therefore accepted Matthew’s wording in L61 for GR.

Matthew’s φησίν (fēsin, “she is saying”), on the other hand, is an historical present, and the use of the verb φάναι (fanai, “to say”) is a good indicator of Matthean redaction,[160] so it is likely to have been added here by the author of Matthew.[161]

תֵּן לִי (HR). The imperative תֵּן לִי (tēn li, “give to me”) occurs twice in MT (Gen. 14:21; 2 Chr. 1:10); both times the LXX translators rendered it as δός μοι (dos moi, “give to me”). We also frequently encounter the command תֵּן לִי in rabbinic sources, as we see in the following examples:

תֶּן לִי בֵיצִים

Give me eggs! (m. Betz. 3:8)

תּן לִי זְמָן

Give me time! (m. Bab. Kam. 8:6)

תֶּן לִי אֶת מָעוֹתַי

Give me my coins! (m. Bab. Metz. 4:4)

תֶּן לִי חִיטַּיִי

Give me my wheat! (m. Bab. Metz. 5:1)

תֶּן לִי שְׂכָרִי

Give me my wage! (m. Bab. Metz. 10:5)

וְתֵן לִי שִׁפְחָתָךְ אֵצֶל עַבְדִּי

…and give me your slave girl to be with my slave! (m. Tem. 6:2)

L62 ἐπὶ πίνακι (GR). Matthew’s ὧδε (hōde, “here”) in L62 appears to answer to Mark’s ἐξαυτῆς (exavtēs, “directly”) in L61, which we deemed to be redactional. We have therefore omitted ὧδε from GR.

בְּמֵגֵס (HR). It is difficult to determine what Hebrew term may have stood behind πίναξ (pinax, “board,” “platter”), which never occurs in LXX.[162] Delitzsch translated πίναξ in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution as קְעָרָה (qe‘ārāh, “dish,” “bowl”),[163] but a קְעָרָה is a dome-shaped vessel, suitable for holding liquids (m. Shab. 2:4) or hiding things beneath it when inverted (m. Shab. 16:7), whereas an essential quality of the πίναξ is that it is flat.[164] Being flat, the πίναξ was suitable for serving meat (Homer, Odyssey 1:141; 16:49), which makes the use of this term in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution particularly gruesome. The Baptist’s head was to be served up like one of the main courses of the feast. Since the πίναξ was flat, we must search for a more suitable option for HR.

While it is true that πίναξ entered the Hebrew language as פִּינְקֵס (pinqēs; var. פִּנְקָס [pinqās]) at least as early as the compiling of the Mishnah in 200 C.E.,[165] all of the instances of פִּינְקֵס in the Mishnah refer to a writing tablet rather than to a tray or a platter (m. Shab. 12:4, 5; m. Shevu. 7:1, 5 [2xx]; m. Avot 3:16[17]; m. Kel. 17:17; 24:7). The Hebrew usage of פִּינְקֵס makes it an unsuitable option for HR.

Lindsey translated πίναξ as טַס (ṭas, “plate”),[166] but in MH טַס seems to have been used more in the sense of “metal plating” (m. Kel. 11:3; 13:6; 14:5) than as a synonym for “platter.”

A more promising term occurs in the aggadic midrash Esther Rabbah.[167] According to this source, the king became so angered with Vashti for refusing to entertain his guests by appearing at his banquet wearing (only) her royal crown that he solicited suggestions for how she should be punished. One eager advisor exclaimed:

אדוני המלך דבר את מוציא מפיך ואני מכניס את ראשה בדיסקוס

My lord the king, let the word go forth from your mouth and I will bring in her head on a platter [בְּדִיסְקוֹס]. (Esth. Rab. 4:9 [ed. Tabory-Atzmon, 93])

What is more, according to Esther Rabbah, the king accepted this suggestion:

וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים וַיַּעַשׂ הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּדְבַר מְמוּכָן. גזר והכניס את ראשה בדיסקוס

And the matter was pleasing in the eyes of the king and the princes, so the king acted in accordance with the advice of Memuchan [Esth. 1:21]. He [i.e., the king] gave the order and he [i.e., the courtier] brought in her head on a platter [בְּדִיסְקוֹס]. (Esth. Rab. 4:11 [ed. Tabory-Atzmon, 94])

The parallel between this Jewish tradition about the Esther story and Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, which relied so heavily on Esther for much of its imagery, is striking. It may be that Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is the earliest, albeit indirect, witness to the tradition that Vashti was beheaded and that her head was presented to the king on a platter. The term for “platter” in the above-cited traditions is דִּיסְקוֹס (disqōs), and given the literary parallel and the rough equivalence between דִּיסְקוֹס—a flat plate or tray in the shape of a disk—and πίναξ, it is not a bad option for HR. And yet the fact that דִּיסְקוֹס is simply a loanword from the Greek δίσκος (diskos, “disk,” “plate”)[168] gives us pause. Surely a Greek translator who read דִּיסְקוֹס in his source would have rendered it with δίσκος, the term from which it was derived. Also, we do not find examples of דִּיסְקוֹס in tannaic sources. Does this indicate that דִּיסְקוֹס had not yet entered the Hebrew language by the first century?

Due to our doubts regarding דִּיסְקוֹס, we have settled upon the term מֵגֵס (mēgēs, “plate,” “tray”) for HR. The מֵגֵס was a flat vessel, which according to the Mishnah was typically made of wood (m. Kel. 16:1). The מֵגֵס twice appears in the Mishnah as a vessel used for bearing the severed limbs of sacrificial animals to the altar (m. Pes. 5:10; m. Yom. 6:7). The flat shape of the מֵגֵס makes it a good equivalent for πίναξ, its use for bearing severed limbs fits the needs of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, and the sacrificial connotations מֵגֵס may have conveyed fits a martyrdom story,[169] especially of someone like John the Baptist, who was a priest.

L63 רֹאשׁוֹ (HR). In the examples cited in Comment to L61 we observe that תֵּן לִי is not always followed by the definite direct object marker אֶת (’et) when its direct object is definite. We have, accordingly, omitted אֶת from HR.

On reconstructing κεφαλή (kefalē, “head”) with רֹאשׁ (ro’sh, “head”), see above, Comment to L55.

L64 שֶׁלְּיוֹחָנָן הַמַּטְבִּיל (HR). On reconstructing Ἰωάννης (Iōannēs, “John”) with יוֹחָנָן (yōḥānān, “John”), see above, Comment to L5.

On reconstructing βαπτιστής (baptistēs, “immerser”) with מַטְבִּיל (maṭbil, “immerser”), see above, Comment to L56.

L65 καὶ λυπηθεὶς (GR). Mark’s καὶ περίλυπος γενόμενος (kai perilūpos genomenos, “and being very remorseful”) looks like an intensification of Matthew’s καὶ λυπηθείς (kai lūpētheis, “and he was remorseful”), which reverts quite easily to Hebrew. Thus, it appears that the author of Mark revised the wording of Anth. in L65, which Matthew preserved. That the author of Matthew should have preserved Anth.’s wording in L65 is somewhat ironic, since the king’s sorrow flatly contradicts the desire to kill the Baptist, which the author of Matthew attributed to Antipas in Matt. 14:5 in order to streamline his narrative (see above, Comment to L23).

וַיֵּעָצֵב (HR). On reconstructing λυπεῖν (lūpein, “to grieve”) with נֶעֱצַב (ne‘etzav, “grieve”), see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L54.

L66 ὁ βασιλεὺς (GR). As we noted in Comment to L44, the author of Matthew’s willingness to apply the title “king” to Antipas in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution contrasts with his rejection of this title in Herodes Wonders about Yeshua, the immediately preceding pericope, where, unlike Mark, the author of Matthew referred to Antipas as a “tetrarch” (Matt. 14:1; cf. Mark 6:14). We suspect that the author of Matthew accepted “king” in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution because both Mark and Anth. used the term βασιλεύς.

הַמֶּלֶךְ (HR). On reconstructing βασιλεύς (basilevs, “king”) with מֶלֶךְ (melech, “king”), see above, Comment to L44.

L67 וּמִפְּנֵי הַשְּׁבֻעוֹת (HR). The LXX translators often rendered מִפְּנֵי (mipnē, “from the face of,” “before,” “because of”), regardless of its meaning, as ἀπὸ/ἐκ προσώπου (apo/ek prosōpou, “from the face”), with the result that there are fewer examples of διά + accusative as the translation of מִפְּנֵי in the sense of “because” than we might have expected. Nevertheless, there are several good examples that support our reconstruction of διά with מִפְּנֵי, including the following:

וַתֹּאמֶר רִבְקָה אֶל יִצְחָק קַצְתִּי בְחַיַּי מִפְּנֵי בְּנוֹת חֵת

And Rebekah said to Isaac, “I loathe my life because of [מִפְּנֵי] the daughters of Heth.” (Gen. 27:46)

Εἶπεν δὲ Ρεβεκκα πρὸς Ισαακ Προσώχθικα τῇ ζωῇ μου διὰ τὰς θυγατέρας τῶν υἱῶν Χετ

But Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am angry with my life because of [διὰ] the daughters of the sons of Heth.” (Gen. 27:46)

וְלֹא יָכְלוּ הַחַרְטֻמִּים לַעֲמֹד לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה מִפְּנֵי הַשְּׁחִין

But the magicians were not able to stand before Moses because of [מִפְּנֵי] the boils. (Exod. 9:11)

καὶ οὐκ ἠδύναντο οἱ φαρμάκοις στῆναι ἐναντίον Μωυσῆ διὰ τὰ ἕλκη

And the magicians were not able to stand before Moses because of [διὰ] the boils. (Exod. 9:11)

וְיָשַׁב טַפֵּנוּ בְּעָרֵי הַמִּבְצָר מִפְּנֵי יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ

And our children will live in the fortified cities because of [מִפְּנֵי] the inhabitants of the land. (Num. 32:17)

καὶ κατοικήσει ἡ ἀποσκευὴ ἡμῶν ἐν πόλεσιν τετειχισμέναις διὰ τοὺς κατοικοῦντας τὴν γῆν

And our belongings will live in fortified cities because of [διὰ] the inhabitants of the land. (Num. 32:17)

כִּי יָגֹרְתִּי מִפְּנֵי הָאַף וְהַחֵמָה

For I was afraid because of [מִפְּנֵי] the anger and the wrath…. (Deut. 9:19)

καὶ ἔκφοβός εἰμι διὰ τὴν ὀργὴν καὶ τὸν θυμόν

And I was afraid because of [διὰ] the wrath and the anger…. (Deut. 9:19)[170]

It is curious that Mark and Matthew should refer to “oaths” in the plural, but we see no reason to change “oaths” to “oath” in GR or HR. Since the LXX translators nearly always used ὅρκος (horkos, “oath”) to render שְׁבֻעָה (shevu‘āh, “oath”),[171] and since ὅρκος occurs in LXX more often as the translation of שְׁבֻעָה than of any other Hebrew term,[172] we are confident in our selection of שְׁבֻעָה for HR.

L68 καὶ τοὺς συνανακειμένους (GR). Mark and Matthew differ regarding whether συν- ought to be prefixed to the participle ἀνακειμένους (anakeimenous, “reclining”), Mark having the shorter form and Matthew having the longer. Earlier in the pericope, however, the author of Mark had used the longer form (Mark 6:22), which we accepted for GR (L43). Perhaps the author of Mark shortened the participle whereas Matthew copied the longer form from Anth.

As we noted in Comment to L35-38, the introduction of “the ones reclining with” Antipas at this late point in the narrative in Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is jarring, since readers had been given no indication other than that the dance had been performed for Antipas in private. Nevertheless, the logic of the story requires witnesses who would hold Antipas to his oath. Had witnesses not been present, he might have attempted to persuade the girl to make a different request. It was the author of Matthew’s method of abbreviation that caused him to introduce the witnesses in so awkward a manner.

וְהַמְּסוּבִּים עִמּוֹ (HR). On reconstructing συνανακείμενος (sūnanakeimenos, “reclining with,” subst., “person reclining with”) with מְסוּבֶּה (mesūbeh, “person reclining,” “guest”), see above, Comment to L43.

L69 οὐκ ἠθέλησεν ἀθετῆσαι αὐτήν (GR). Matthew’s “he commanded [it] to be given” does not revert easily to Hebrew, and appears to be his way of summarizing Mark’s longer description of sending the executioner with orders to execute John the Baptist. Moreover, the selection of the verb is typical of κελεύειν (kelevein, “to command”) is typical of Matthean redaction.[173] Since Mark’s wording does revert easily to Hebrew, we have accepted his wording for GR.

לֹא אָבָה לִמְאוֹס אוֹתָה (HR). In Persistent Widow, Comment to L11, we noted that the LXX translators often used οὐ + θέλειν (ou + thelein, “not” + “to want”) to represent מֵאֵן (mē’ēn, “refuse”), but “refuse” does not work very well for HR in L69 (“he refused to reject her” is awkward). However, the LXX translators also used οὐ + θέλειν to represent לֹא אָבָה (lo’ ’āvāh, “he was not willing”),[174] which fits the context perfectly (“he was not willing to reject her”). Another option for HR would be לֹא רָצָה (lo’ rātzāh, “he did not want”), but this would reflect a Mishnaic style of reconstruction, whereas we prefer to reconstruct narrative in a biblicizing style of Hebrew.

On reconstructing ἀθετεῖν (athetein, “to refuse,” “to reject”) with מָאַס (mā’as, “refuse,” “reject”), see Apostle and Sender, Comment to L141. An example of מָאַס in the infinitive occurs in the Damascus Document:

ועתה בנים שמעו לי ואגלה עיניכם לראות ולהבין במעשי אל ולבחור את אשר רצה ולמאוס כאשר שנא

And now, children, listen to me, and I will uncover your eyes [for you] to see and to understand the deeds of God and to choose that which he desires and to reject [לִמְאוֹס] whatever he hates. (CD-A II, 14-15)

In the above quotation we see that the meaning of רָצָה had already shifted from its biblical meaning of “accept” to “want,” as in Mishnaic Hebrew.

L70 καὶ ἀποστείλας (GR). The εὐθύς in Mark 6:27 is almost certainly redactional (see above, Comment to L57), and we have therefore omitted it from GR. Choosing between Mark’s verb, ἀποστέλλειν (apostellein, “to send”), and Matthew’s verb, πέμπειν (pempein, “to send”), on the other hand, is difficult. We have already accepted ἀποστέλλειν for GR in L13, which might argue in favor of accepting ἀποστέλλειν from Mark in L70. On the other hand, there is no indication that the author of Matthew had a particularly strong preference for πέμπειν,[175] and we know that πέμπειν did sometimes occur in Anth.[176] On the whole, it seems safer to accept ἀποστέλλειν for GR, since the author of Mark was mostly following Anth. in this section of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, whereas the author of Matthew was offering a condensed paraphrase.

וַיִּשְׁלַח (HR). On reconstructing ἀποστέλλειν (apostellein, “to send”) with שָׁלַח (shālaḥ, “send”), see above, Comment to L13.

Fresco painting of John the Baptist’s execution. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L71 ὁ βασιλεὺς σπεκουλάτορα (GR). The Gospel of Mark has a higher concentration of loanwords from Latin than the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have,[177] so it is possible that σπεκουλάτωρ (spekoulatōr, “executioner”), from the Latin speculator, was added by the author of Mark. On the other hand, Hebrew lacked a term for “executioner,” and therefore the Latin term entered the Hebrew language (probably via Greek) as סְפִקְלָטוֹר (sefiqlāṭōr, “executioner”). It is possible, therefore, that σπεκουλάτωρ in Mark 6:27 reflects a Hebrew source that read סְפִקְלָטוֹר.

We do not know when סְפִקְלָטוֹר began to be used by Hebrew speakers, but it could have entered the language any time after the Hasmonean rulers made a political alliance with the Romans in the second century B.C.E. The Hasmonean rulers admired the Roman government and the Romans’ military prowess,[178] and they may have adopted certain Latin terms for their administration. King Herod’s ties to the Roman Empire were strong, so Latin terms may have permeated Hebrew during his reign, and certainly after Judea came under direct Roman rule the Latin titles of government officials would have filtered into the Greek and Hebrew spoken in Judea and the Galilee. We are therefore inclined to accept Mark’s use of σπεκουλάτωρ in L71 for GR.

הַמֶּלֶךְ סְפִקְלָטוֹר (HR). On reconstructing βασιλεύς (basilevs, “king”) with מֶלֶךְ (melech, “king”), see above, Comment to L44.

We noted above that סְפִקְלָטוֹר (“executioner”) entered the Hebrew language from Latin. An example of סְפִקְלָטוֹר occurs in a tannaic parable:

למה הדבר דומה לאחד שיצא ליהרג הוא ובניו אמר לספקלטור הרגני עד שלא תהרוג את בניי

To what may the matter be compared? To one who went out to be executed,[179] he and his children. He said to the executioner [לִסְפִקְלָטוֹר], “Execute me before you execute my children.” (Sifre Num. §91 [ed. Horovitz, 91])

Another example of סְפִקְלָטוֹר occurs in some versions of Leviticus Rabbah:

תני ר′ שמעון בן יוחאי הנחש פרץ גדרו של עולם תחלה לפיכך נעשה ספקלטור לכל פורצי גדרות

Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai taught: “The snake broke the fence of the world first, therefore it was made the executioner [סְפִקְלָטוֹר] of all who break fences [cf. Eccl. 10:8—DNB and JNT].” (Lev. Rab. 26:2 [ed. Margulies, 2:591])

L72 וַיְצַו (HR). The verb ἐπιτάσσειν (epitassein, “to order”) is not terribly common in LXX, but on four occasions it occurs as the translation of צִוָּה (tzivāh, “command”; Gen. 49:33; Esth. 3:2 [Alexandrinus], 12; Ezek. 24:18). The verb צִוָּה is the most natural choice for HR.[180] Although there is no conjunction such as καί (kai, “and”) or δέ (de, “but”) in L72 corresponding to the vav prefixed to צִוָּה, the Hebrew conjunction is justified because it was common for Greek translators to render vav-consecutive + vav-consecutive with καί + participle + aorist, just as we have in GR (καὶ ἀποστείλας…ἐπέταξεν [“and sending…he commanded”]; L70-72).[181]

L73 לְהָבִיא אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ (HR). We initially wondered whether it was necessary to insert אוֹתוֹ (’ōtō, “him”) before לְהָבִיא (lehāvi’, “to bring”) or to add a pronominal suffix to צִוָּה as did Delitzsch (וַיְצַוֵּהוּ [vaytzavēhū, “and he commanded him”]; Mark 6:27). But apparently the absence of these is not as disturbing in Hebrew as the absence of “him” is in English, since we find other examples where צִוָּה + suffix or אֶת + צִוָּה is missing where we might have expected it, for instance:

וַיְצַו יוֹסֵף וַיְמַלְאוּ אֶת כְּלֵיהֶם בָּר

And Joseph commanded [him? her? them?], and they filled their vessels with grain…. (Gen. 42:25)

צִוָּה יי לַעֲשׂת לְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיכֶם

…the LORD commanded [him? her? them?] to do [it] in order to make atonement for you. (Lev. 8:34)

וְצִוָּה הַכֹּהֵן וְכִבְּסוּ אֵת אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ הַנָּגַע

…and the priest will command [him? her? them?], and they will wash whatever is infected with the disease…. (Lev. 13:54)

וָאָבִיא עֲלֵיהֶם אֶת כָּל־דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי לַעֲשׂוֹת וְלֹא עָשׂוּ

So I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded [him? her? them?] to do, but they have not done. (Jer. 11:8)

In LXX φέρειν (ferein, “to carry,” “to bring”) occurs more often as the translation of הֵבִיא (hēvi’, “bring”) than of any other verb.[182] Compare our reconstruction of εἰσφέρειν (eisferein, “to carry into,” “to bring into”) with הֵבִיא in Lord’s Prayer, L22.

On reconstructing κεφαλή (kefalē, “head”) with רֹאשׁ (ro’sh, “head”), see above, Comment to L55.

L74 καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτὸν (GR). “And sending, he beheaded John” (L70-74) is the author of Matthew’s condensed paraphrase of Mark’s more involved “And the king, immediately sending an executioner, ordered him to bring his head. And going, he beheaded him” (L70-74). Perhaps the author of Matthew found the spelling out of these details to be tedious. We have accepted Mark’s fuller description for GR.

Psalm 151 as recorded in col. 28 of 11QPsalmsa (11Q5). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּתֵּז אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ (HR). On reconstructing ἀπέρχεσθαι (aperchesthai, “to go away”) with הָלַךְ (hālach, “walk,” “go”), see Not Everyone Can Be Yeshua’s Disciple, Comment to L7.

Neither Biblical nor Mishnaic Hebrew had a verb for “behead,” which makes reconstructing ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτόν (apekefalisen avton, “he beheaded him”) a challenge. The verb ἀποκεφαλίζειν (apokefalizein, “to behead”) occurs only once in LXX, in a construction quite similar to GR: ἀπεκεφάλισα αὐτόν (apekefalisa avton, “I beheaded him”). This sole example of ἀποκεφαλίζειν occurs in LXX’s Psalm 151:7, a psalm that does not occur in MT. A fragmentary Hebrew text of this Psalm was discovered in Qumran (11QPsa [11Q5] XXVIII, 3-14), however the text breaks off just before the passage corresponding to Ps. 151:7 would have appeared. Despite this tantalizing disappointment, 11QPsa at least informs us that we cannot dismiss ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτόν in L74 as un-Hebraic.

While it may not be possible to say “he beheaded him” (verb + אוֹתוֹ) or “he beheaded John” (verb + יוֹחָנָן + אֶת) in Hebrew, it is possible to say “he cut off his head,” which would be expressed as הִתִּיז אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ (hitiz ’et ro’shō), as we see in the following examples:

מִצְוַת הַנֶּהֱרָגִים הָיוּ מַתִּיזִים אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ בַסַּיִיף כְּדֶרֶךְ שֶׁהַמַּלְכוּת עוֹשָׂה ר′ יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵ′ נִיוּוּל הוּא זֶה אֶלָּא מַנִּיַח אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ עַל הַסַּדָּן וְקוֹצֵץ בַּקּוֹפִּיץ אָמְרוּ לוֹ אֵין מִיתָה מְנוּוֶּלֶת מִזּוֹ

The commandment for those who are to be put to death: they would cut off his head [הָיוּ מַתִּיזִים אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ] with a sword as the [Roman] Empire does. Rabbi Yehudah says, “This is a disgrace. Instead they rest his head on the block and cut it off with an axe.” They said to him, “There is no death more disgraceful than this.” (m. Sanh. 7:3)

בְּהֵמָה וְחַיָּה אֵינָן מְטַמִּין עַד שֶׁתֵּצֵא נַפְשָׁן הוּתָּזוּ רָאשֵׁיהֶן

A domesticated or wild animal: they do not render impure until their life departs or their heads are cut off [הוּתָּזוּ רָאשֵׁיהֶן]. (m. Ohol. 1:6)

הַשּׁוֹחֵט בְּהֵמָה טְמֵאָה לַנַּוכְרִי וְהִיא מְפַרְכֶּסֶת מְטַמָּא טוּמְאַת אֳכָלִין אֲבַל [לֹא] טוּמְאַת נְבֵילוֹת עַד שֶׁתָּמוּת אוֹ עַד שֶׁיַּתִּיז אֶת רֹאשָׁהּ

The one who slaughters an impure animal for a foreigner and it twitches: it renders impure with respect to food impurity, but not with respect to carcass impurity, until it dies or he cuts off its head [עַד שֶׁיַּתִּיז אֶת רֹאשָׁהּ]. (m. Tohar. 1:4)

מעשה באשה שקיבלה על בעלה לשלטון והתיז את ראשו ויש א′ אף התיז את ראשה

An anecdote concerning a woman who complained about her husband to the ruler, and he cut off his head [וְהִתִּיז אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ]. And there are those who say, “He also cut off her head [הִתִּיז אֶת רֹאשָׁהּ]!” (Gen. Rab. 54:1 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 2:575])

משל למלך שמינ′ לו בן בית נאמן ושומרו עומד על פתח החנות והתיז את ראשו בשתיקה ומינה לו בן בית אחר

A parable: [it may be compared] to a king who appointed a faithful servant, but observing him standing at the door of a tavern, he cut off his head [הִתִּיז אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ] in silence and appointed another servant. (Lev. Rab. 12:1 [ed. Margulies, 1:255])

The first and last of the above-cited examples are especially useful because they provide information regarding how execution by beheading was perceived by ancient Jews. In the last example, beheading is portrayed as something that capricious rulers might perpetrate against any of their subjects. In the first example, execution by beheading is regarded as typical of the Roman Empire, and it is regarded as a deeply humiliating manner of death. Perhaps one of the reasons the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua decided to incorporate Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution into his biography of Jesus was to show that Jesus was not the only faithful Jew of his time to have been condemned to a disgraceful form of capital punishment.

L75 בְּבֵית הָאֲסוּרִים (HR). On reconstructing φυλακή (fūlakē, “prison”) with בֵּית אֲסוּרִים (bēt ’asūrim, “house of bound [persons],” “prison”), see above, Comment to L16.

Salome receiving the head of John the Baptist, as depicted in a stained-glass window in the church of Fanlac, Dordogne, France. Photographed by Père Igor. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L76 καὶ ἤνεγκεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ (GR). Mark’s active voice (“and he brought his head”) in L76 is more typical of Hebrew narrative than Matthew’s passive voice (“and his head was brought”). In order for the author of Matthew to have used the active voice in L76 he would have needed to introduce the executioner, whom he had omitted in L71 in order to simplify the narrative. Thus, Matthew’s passive construction in L76 should be viewed as an example of the author of Matthew’s reductionist approach to Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.

וַיָּבֵא אֶת רֹאשׁוֹ (HR). On reconstructing φέρειν (ferein, “to carry,” “to bring”) with הֵבִיא (hēvi’, “bring”), see above, Comment to L73.

On reconstructing κεφαλή (kefalē, “head”) with רֹאשׁ (ro’sh, “head”), see above, Comment to L55.

L77 בְּמֵגֵס (HR). On reconstructing ἐπὶ πίνακι (epi pinaki, “on a platter”) with בְּמֵגֵס (bemēgēs, “in a tray”), see above, Comment to L62.

L78 καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῷ κορασίῳ (GR). Once again the author of Matthew had to use the passive voice (“and it was given to the girl”) because he had eliminated the executioner from his version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. We have accepted Mark’s more Hebraic phrasing in the active voice (“and he gave it to the girl”) for GR.

וַיִּתְּנֵהוּ לַנַּעֲרָה (HR). On reconstructing διδόναι (didonai, “to give”) with נָתַן (nātan, “give”), see above, Comment to L46.

On reconstructing κοράσιον (korasion, “girl”) with נַעֲרָה (na‘arāh, “girl”), see above, Comment to L44.

The head of John the Baptist presented to the girl Salome. Illustration by Helen Twena.

L79 καὶ ἤνεγκεν αὐτὴν (GR). Matthew’s καὶ ἤνεγκεν (kai ēnenken, “and she brought”) could have been picked up from Mark 6:28 (καὶ ἤνεγκεν [“and he brought”]; L76), or it might reflect the wording of Anth. Mark’s word order in L79 (καὶ τὸ κοράσιον ἔδωκεν αὐτήν [“and the girl gave it”]) breaks the καί + verb pattern we observe in GR for L76 (καὶ ἤνεγκεν [“and he brought”]) and L78 (καὶ ἔδωκεν [“and he gave”]), which so strongly resembles a series of vav-consecutives. Perhaps the author of Mark was responsible for breaking the καί + verb pattern in L79. Since Matthew’s wording in L79 seems more Hebraic than Mark’s, we have accepted καὶ ἤνεγκεν for GR with the addition of αὐτήν (avtēn, “it,” i.e., the head), which seems warranted on the basis of the αὐτήν in GR for L78.

וַתְּבִיאֵהוּ (HR). On reconstructing φέρειν (ferein, “to carry,” “to bring”) with הֵבִיא (hēvi’, “bring”), see above, Comment to L73.

A fresco (ca. 1330) depicting Salome presenting her mother Herodias with the head of John the Baptist. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L80 לְאִמָּהּ (HR). On reconstructing μήτηρ (mētēr, “mother”) with אֵם (’ēm, “mother”), see above, Comment to L52.

Compare our reconstruction in L79-80 with the following verse from the story about Jacob and Rebekah’s ploy to trick Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing:

וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיִּקַּח וַיָּבֵא לְאִמּוֹ וַתַּעַשׂ אִמּוֹ מַטְעַמִּים כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהֵב אָבִיו

So he [i.e., Jacob] went, and he took [them, i.e., the two goats his mother had requested], and he brought [them] to his mother, and his mother made savory foods, such as his father liked. (Gen. 27:14)

πορευθεὶς δὲ ἔλαβεν καὶ ἤνεγκεν τῇ μητρί, καὶ ἐποίησεν ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ ἐδέσματα, καθὰ ἐφίλει ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ.

And going, he took [them], and he brought [them] to his mother, and his mother made choice foods, just as his father liked. (Gen. 27:14)

Iconographic depiction of John the Baptist’s burial. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L81-85 From this point to the end of the narrative the perspective of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution dramatically shifts. Readers never learn whether Herodias found satisfaction in the grisly prize her daughter presented to her, or how her machinations affected her relationships with her daughter and her husband. The final scene of the drama opens among the Baptist’s disciples, well away from Antipas’ banquet, as the news of their master’s terrible ending reaches their ears.

The description of John’s disciples’ coming to collect the Baptist’s body and bury it is reminiscent of the story of how the people of Jabesh Gilead buried King Saul, whose body, like the Baptist’s, had been decapitated:

וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ כֹּל יָבֵישׁ גִּלְעָד אֵת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־עָשׂוּ פְלִשְׁתִּים לְשָׁאוּל׃ וַיָּקוּמוּ כָּל־אִישׁ חַיִל וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת־גּוּפַת שָׁאוּל וְאֵת גּוּפֹת בָּנָיו וַיְבִיאוּם יָבֵישָׁה וַיִּקְבְּרוּ אֶת־עַצְמוֹתֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָאֵלָה בְּיָבֵשׁ וַיָּצוּמוּ שִׁבְעַת יָמִים׃

And all Jabesh Gilead heard about all that the Philistines had done to Saul. And all the mighty men rose and took up Saul’s body and the bodies of his sons and brought them to Jabesh. And they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh and they fasted seven days. (1 Chr. 10:11-12)

The story of Saul’s burial is also told in 1 Sam. 31:11-13. While the two versions of Saul’s burial are almost identical, the Chronicler updated some of the vocabulary to make it more like the language spoken in the Second Temple period.[183] The Chronicler also omitted an important detail: according to 1 Samuel, the people of Jabesh Gilead burned the bodies of Saul and his sons before burying their bones. The Chronicler glossed over this unpleasant detail, with the result that the reference to burying the bones, rather than the bodies, of Saul and his sons comes across in 1 Chr. 10:12 as rather mysterious. Nevertheless, the omission of the burning of the bodies makes the Chronicles version that much closer to the story of the Baptist’s burial.

In Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution four actions taken by the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead are mirrored in the actions of John the Baptist’s disciples: 1) they hear; 2) they travel; 3) they take possession of the body; 4) they bury it. Two details from the biblical story are not paralleled in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution: 1) unlike Saul, John the Baptist did not have sons who were executed with him; 2) unlike Saul, whose bones were buried, John the Baptist’s body was buried whole. Despite these minor differences, it seems clear that the story of the Baptist’s burial was told in such a way as to echo the story of the burial of Saul. It does not appear, however, that these echoes were introduced by the author of Mark, for there was no attempt to imitate the language of LXX. It is more likely that the allusions to the story of Saul’s burial were already present in the Hebrew version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution and that the allusions were obscured when Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution was translated into Greek.

The bodies of Saul and his sons hung from the wall of Bet Shean, as depicted in a medieval illumination (ca. 1350-1375). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L81 καὶ ἀκούσαντες (GR). As we can see from the second Mark column in the Reconstruction document, the author of Matthew reworked the conclusion of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution in order to make it resemble Mark 6:30, which reports the return of twelve apostles from their mission. This the author of Matthew did in order to continue tracking with Mark’s pericope order despite having relocated the mission of the twelve to a different section of his Gospel. When it is understood that this was his purpose, it becomes clear that the author of Matthew replaced Mark’s ἀκούσαντες (akousantes, “hearing”) with προσελθόντες (proselthontes, “coming toward”) in L81, which constitutes a compromise between the “gathering” of the apostles in Mark 6:30 (L81) and the “going/coming” of the Baptist’s disciples in Mark 6:29 (L83), which he omitted. The author of Matthew’s redactional activity that we have just described creates another logical gap in his version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, since readers are not informed how the Baptist’s disciples became aware that their master was dead.

Since the author of Matthew’s editorial activity in L81 is apparent, and since Mark’s wording appears to echo the story of Saul’s burial, we have accepted Mark’s wording for GR.

It is noteworthy that whereas Mark has the participle ἀκούσαντες (akousantes, “hearing”), the LXX translators rendered וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ (vayishme‘ū, “and they heard”) in the two versions of the account of Saul’s burial with an historical present (ἀκούουσιν [akouousin, “they hear”]; 1 Kgdms. 31:11) and with an aorist (ἤκουσαν [ēkousan, “they heard”]; 1 Chr. 10:11). Had the author of Mark been aware of the allusion to the story of Saul’s burial, it is surprising that he did not adopt the wording of either verse.[184]

וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ (HR). On reconstructing ἀκούειν (akouein, “to hear”) with שָׁמַע (shāma‘, “hear”), see Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L24-25.

L82 οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ (GR). Notice how in his weaving together of Mark 6:29 and Mark 6:30 the author of Matthew made John the Baptist’s disciples parallel the apostles.

תַּלְמִידָיו (HR). On reconstructing μαθητής (mathētēs, “student,” “scholar”) with תַּלְמִיד (talmid, “disciple”), see Lord’s Prayer, Comment to L4.

The fact that the first time a pericope incorporated into the Life of Yeshua from the Life of Yohanan the Immerser mentions the disciples of John the Baptist is after the Baptist’s death hints that there may have been pericopae in the Life of Yohanan the Immerser that the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua chose not to include in his biography of Jesus.

L83 וַיָּבֹאוּ (HR). On reconstructing the verb ἔρχεσθαι (erchesthai, “to go,” “to come”) with בָּא (bā’, “come”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L8.

L84 καὶ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτοῦ (GR). We have accepted Mark’s wording for GR in L84 since his καί preceding the verb and his possessive pronoun modifying the noun are both more Hebraic than Matthew’s version, which lacks them.

וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת גּוּפוֹ (HR). Supposing the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution wished to allude to the story of Saul’s burial, we have two choices for HR. In 1 Sam. 31:12 it states, וַיִּקְחוּ אֶת גְּוִיַּת שָׁאוּל (vayiqḥū ’et geviyat shā’ūl, “and they took the body of Saul”), which the LXX translators rendered as καὶ ἔλαβον τὸ σῶμα Σαουλ (kai elabon to sōma Saoul, “and they took the body of Saul”), while in 1 Chr. 10:12 we find וַיִּשְׂאוּ אֶת גּוּפַת שָׁאוּל (vayis’ū ’et gūfat shā’ūl, “and they took up the body of Saul”), which the LXX translators also rendered as καὶ ἔλαβον τὸ σῶμα Σαουλ (“and they took the body of Saul”). Thus, we could reconstruct αἴρειν (airein, “to lift”) either with לָקַח (lāqaḥ, “take”) or נָשָׂא (nāsā’, “lift,” “carry”).

In LXX most instances of αἴρειν (airein, “to lift”) occur as the translation of נָשָׂא (nāsā’, “lift”).[185] Likewise, the LXX translators more often rendered נָשָׂא with αἴρειν than with any other Greek verb, although λαμβάνειν (lambanein, “to receive,” “to take”) comes in as a close second.[186] By contrast, there is only one example in LXX where αἴρειν serves as the equivalent of לָקַח (Isa. 53:8). For these reasons נָשָׂא seems like a better option for HR.

The death of John the Baptist as depcited in an illuminated manuscript made in 1262 by T’oros Roslin at the scriptorium of Hromkla, which became the leading artistic center of Armenian Cilicia under the rule of catholicos Constantine I (1221-1267). The manuscript is a treasure of the Armenian church. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

There are two additional reasons for preferring נָשָׂא for HR in L84. First, in Mishnaic Hebrew לָקַח was used more often with the meaning “buy” than “take.” Therefore, נָשָׂא would probably sound more natural to a first-century Hebrew speaker. Second, precisely because it used more contemporary language, the Chronicles version of Saul’s burial was probably more likely to be quoted or alluded to than the archaic-sounding version in Samuel. Moreover, the omission of the burning of Saul’s body in the Chronicles version makes this version more similar to the circumstances of John the Baptist’s burial.

For similar reasons we have reconstructed πτῶμα (ptōma, “dead body”) not with the גְּוִיָּה (geviyāh, “corpse”) of 1 Sam. 31:12, but with גּוּף (gūf, “body”), the MH equivalent of גּוּפָה (gūfāh, “body”), which occurs in 1 Chr. 10:12.

If an allusion to the burial of Saul was intended in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, that allusion was not based on LXX, which has καὶ ἔλαβον τὸ σῶμα Σαουλ (“and they took the body of Saul”) in both versions of the story of Saul’s burial (1 Kdgms. 31:12; 1 Chr. 10:12). The lack of agreement with LXX is a strong indication that the allusion was not created by the author of Mark or any other Greek author, but that it already existed in the earliest (i.e., Hebrew) version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.

L85 καὶ ἔθηκαν αὐτὸ[ν] ἐν μνημείῳ (GR). Choosing between Mark’s and Matthew’s wording in L85 is difficult because either can be reconstructed in Hebrew. In favor of Matthew’s wording is the correspondence between καὶ ἔθαψαν (kai ethapsan, “and they buried”; Matt. 14:12) and וַיִּקְבְּרוּ (vayiqbe, “and they buried”; 1 Sam. 31:13; 1 Chr. 10:12) in the story of Saul’s burial. On the other hand, Matthew’s “and they buried him” could simply be an abbreviated paraphrase of Mark’s longer “and they put it in a tomb.” In favor of Mark’s wording is the ease with which it reverts to Hebrew and the author of Mark’s overall faithfulness to Anth.’s wording in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.

Another question for GR is whether the pronoun should be αὐτό (avto, “it”), as in Mark, or αὐτόν (avton, “him”), as in some MSS of Matthew. It is possible that the author of Mark or an early copyist changed αὐτόν to αὐτό in order to make the pronoun agree with the neuter gender of πτῶμα (ptōma, “corpse”), in which case the author of Matthew could have copied αὐτόν from Anth. Given our uncertainty, we have written αὐτό[ν] in GR to indicate that either reading could be correct.

וַיִּתְּנוּהוּ בְּקֶבֶר (HR). In MT it is much more common to encounter the phrase “bury in a tomb” (קָבַר בְּקֶבֶר) than “put in a tomb,” but in the story of the man of God from Judah we do find one such example:

וַיַּנַּח אֶת נִבְלָתוֹ בְּקִבְרוֹ

And he laid his corpse in his tomb. (1 Kgs. 13:30)

Unfortunately, the LXX translators did not translate the entirety of this verse. In post-biblical Hebrew קָבַר בְּקֶבֶר (qāvar beqever, “bury in a tomb”) continued to be used (m. Sanh. 6:5), but we also find examples of נָתַן בְּקֶבֶר (nātan beqever, “put in a tomb”), for instance:

לא שהא שלשה ימים עד שנתנוהו בקברו

He did not last three days before they put him in his grave. (t. Yom. 1:8; cf. t. Par. 3:8)

The two Tosefta passages in which נָתַן בְּקֶבֶר occurs refer to disputes between the Pharisees and the Sadducees about the proper procedures in the Temple, so it is highly likely that נָתַן בְּקֶבֶר reflects a usage current at the end of the Second Temple period. Although נָתַן בְּקֶבֶר diverges from the wording in the story of Saul’s burial, a divergence was necessary in any case, since in the biblical story the bodies of Saul and his sons were burned and only their bones were buried. We do not think reconstructing with נָתַן בְּקֶבֶר destroys the allusion to 1 Sam. 31:11-13.

In LXX the verb τιθέναι (tithenai, “to put,” “to place”) frequently serves as the translation of נָתַן (nātan, “give,” “put”).[187] We also find that, after διδόναι (didonai, “to give”) and its compounds, τιθέναι ranks among the most frequent translations of נָתַן in LXX.[188]

Although the noun μνημεῖον (mnēmeion) is not the most common term for “tomb” in LXX, when it does occur it usually does so as the translation of קֶבֶר (qever, “tomb”).

L86 καὶ ἐλθόντες ἀπήγγειλαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ (Matt. 14:12). According to Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, after burying their master the Baptist’s disciples reported to Jesus what had happened. Since it has been the author of Matthew’s practice to abbreviate throughout Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, his inclusion of this detail appears to be a dramatic departure from this procedure. This departure proves to be more apparent than real, however, when we recognize that the author of Matthew was actually combining the conclusion of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution with Mark’s introduction to Return of the Twelve (Mark 6:30).[189] In Matthew’s Gospel the reporting of John the Baptist’s disciples to Jesus replaces the reporting of the twelve apostles to Jesus on the success of their mission. In this way the author of Matthew actually continued his method of abbreviating his sources by combining two stories into one.

Since the description of the Baptist’s disciples’ reporting to Jesus can be attributed to the author of Matthew’s redactional activity,[190] we have omitted it from GR and HR. Moreover, we conclude that because Matthew’s addition is redactional it poses no challenge to our hypothesis that Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution originally belonged to the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser, a source that never mentioned Jesus.[191]

Scholars have noted that the redactional addition of the Baptist’s disciples’ reporting to Jesus creates a final logical problem in Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. Whereas in Matthew and Mark Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution opens as a flashback to explain Antipas’ declaration that he had beheaded John the Baptist, the conclusion of Matthew’s version leads directly into his narrative’s present:[192] the report of John’s execution becomes the impetus for Jesus’ departure across the Sea of Galilee (Matt. 14:13).[193] This logical disjunction is a final example of the incoherence of Matthew’s highly redacted version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.

The story of John the Baptist’s execution as depicted in a relief at the Rouen Cathedral in Normandy, France. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Redaction Analysis

Not one of the Synoptic Gospels preserved Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution without making significant changes to its wording and/or its placement within the story of Jesus’ public career. On the other hand, each Gospel preserves valuable information that enables us to reconstruct the pre-synoptic version of the story of John the Baptist’s tragic death.

Luke’s Version[194]

Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution
Luke Anthology
Total
Words:
42 Total
Words:
206
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
8 Click here for details.
%
Identical
to Anth.:
19.05%

The Gospel of Luke preserves a highly condensed version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, which is presented in highly polished Greek. Luke’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution does not revert easily to Hebrew, which leads us to believe that Luke 3:18-20 is the author of Luke’s condensed paraphrase of the much longer story preserved in Mark and Matthew.

The odd placement of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution in Luke, however, probably preserves the pericope order as the author of Luke found it in Anth. In Anth. the stories about John the Baptist’s public career were clustered near the beginning, probably because they were originally part of a Baptist source, which the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua incorporated into his biography of Jesus. This Baptist source, which we have called the Life of Yohanan the Immerser, told the story of John’s birth, his prophetic call, his teachings and exhortations, and the story of his death. While the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua inserted the story of Jesus’ nativity between the accounts of John the Baptist’s birth and his prophetic call, he decided to use up all the Baptist material, including the account of John’s death, before resuming the story of Jesus, beginning with his baptism by John. While this order was preserved in Anth., the author of Luke found reporting the Baptist’s execution prior to Jesus’ baptism to be too jarring for his readers, so he pared down the account so that it only mentioned the Baptist’s arrest.

The author of Luke never gave his readers a full account of John the Baptist’s execution, but there is evidence that he knew more than he let on. In Luke 9:9 the author of Luke preserves Antipas’ admission that he had beheaded John the Baptist. Although the author of Luke had not previously imparted this information to his readers, Antipas’ statement is reported as though it were a well-known fact. Thus, Luke 9:9 is an important clue that a story describing the Baptist’s execution was included in his sources.

Mark’s Version[195]

Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution
Mark Anthology
Total
Words:
245 Total
Words:
206
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
178 Click here for details.
%
Identical
to Anth.:
72.65%

It is surprising to find that Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution preserves Anth.’s wording more faithfully than the versions in Luke and Matthew. That being said, there are plenty of changes the author of Mark made to his source. For instance, it is likely that he:

  • moved the entire pericope to a new location as a flashback to account for Antipas’ declaration that he had beheaded John the Baptist;
  • inverted the order of the opening sentences (L5-10);
  • added the name “Philip” (L19), thus causing a great deal of confusion as to the identity of Herodias’ first husband;
  • added “because he married her” as an explanatory gloss (L20);
  • opened sentences with ὁ/ἡ + δέ/γάρ + name/title (L23, L27, L44; cf. L54) in imitation of Luke 3:19, which opened with ὁ δὲ Ἡρῴδης;
  • replaced several of Anth.’s aorists with imperfects (L24, L27, L30);
  • embellished the story of John’s imprisonment with multiple hearings before Antipas, which was likely inspired by the story of Paul’s multiple hearings before the Roman governor while he was imprisoned in Herod’s palace (L29-32);
  • added genitive absolute constructions (L33, L39-40);
  • made several verbal replacements (e.g., βαπτίζοντος for βαπτιστοῦ in L56; θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῷς μοι for δός μοι in L61; περίλυπος γενόμενος for λυπηθείς in L65; ἀνακειμένους for συνανακειμένους in L68; καὶ τὸ κοράσιον ἔδωκεν αὐτήν for καὶ ἤνεγκεν αὐτήν in L79);
  • and inserted his stereotypical εὐθύς (L57, L70).

Despite the numerous changes the author of Mark made to his source, Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution remains relatively easy to revert to Hebrew, especially when his obvious redactional activity is eliminated. Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution also contains numerous allusions to biblical stories (Pharaoh’s birthday, the request to have Vashti appear at the king’s banquet, Esther’s banquet, the burial of Saul), allusions which the author of Mark probably did not recognize, since he made little or no attempt to conform them to the wording of LXX. These multiple allusions to biblical stories in the account of John the Baptist’s death remind us of the several allusions to biblical stories (the birth of Isaac, the birth of Samuel, the birth of Samson) in John the Baptist’s infancy narrative (Luke 1:5-25).

Matthew’s Version[196]

Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution
Matthew Anthology
Total
Words:
137 Total
Words:
206
Total
Words
Identical
to Anth.:
80 Click here for details.
%
Identical
to Anth.:
58.39%

Unfortunately for the purposes of reconstructing Anth.’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, the author of Matthew’s approach was not to prefer Anth.’s account over Mark’s, but to economize overall and to paraphrase when expedient. As a result of this approach the author of Matthew drastically reduced Herodias’ role in the narrative, he eliminated the executioner, and he almost succeeded in eliminating the dinner guests. The author of Matthew also eliminated Mark’s implausible description of the Baptist’s frequent audiences before Antipas (L31-32), the banquet in honor of Antipas’ birthday (L35), the wording of Antipas’ promises to the girl (L44-46, L50), and the girl’s consultation with her mother (L53-56).

Sometimes these omissions created logical inconsistencies in Matthew’s version of the story. For instance, according to Matthew, Antipas wanted to kill John the Baptist but was sorry when the girl asked for his head. Likewise, in Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution Antipas felt pressured to acquiesce to the girl’s request because of the people reclining with him, but the author of Matthew had neglected to inform his readers that the girl’s dance was performed at a banquet in front of guests.

Another logical inconsistency arose through the author of Matthew’s attempt to link John’s execution to Jesus’ withdrawal across the Sea of Galilee in Matt. 14:13 by portraying John’s disciples’ reporting their master’s death to Jesus. The inconsistency is in the way a flashback links directly into his narrative’s present.

We encounter a different kind of change in L28-29, where the author of Matthew replaced Antipas’ fear of John with Antipas’ fear of the crowd, which considered John the Baptist to be a prophet. This change is not an abbreviation, but a substitution that allowed the author of Matthew to create a parallel between John the Baptist and Jesus, a particularly Matthean tendency. Even this change created a logical inconsistency, since there was nothing to fear from the crowds after John had been locked away in prison. Crowds afforded protection to a popular leader only while they surrounded him and outnumbered the authorities who threatened to bring him into custody.

There are a few points, however, where the author of Matthew appears to have preserved the wording of Anth. more faithfully than Mark. That this would be so is hardly surprising, since according to Lindsey it was generally the author of Matthew’s method to interweave Mark’s wording with Anth.’s whenever these two sources overlapped. Thus, in L40-42 Matthew’s wording is easier to revert to Hebrew than is Mark’s, and therefore probably reflects Anth.’s text. Likewise, Matthew’s wording of the girl’s request in L61 is easier to reconstruct in Hebrew than is Mark’s. Probably the author of Matthew preferred Anth.’s wording because it was shorter, which suited his economizing approach to Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution. The same can be said of Matthew’s wording in L65 (Antipas’ remorse) and L79 (the girl’s presentation of the Baptist’s head to her mother).

For the purposes of reconstruction, the main value of Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is in these few places where his wording is more Hebraic than Mark’s, since they confirm our impression that Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution did, indeed, appear in Anth.

Results of This Research

1. Who was Herodias’ first husband? Was Josephus mistaken or was Mark? Or were they both right? Whereas Josephus names Herodias’ first husband Herod, Mark (and following him, Matthew) names him Philip. One solution to this contradiction that has been popular for centuries has been to accept both names as correct: Herodias’ first husband was named Herod Philip. The problem with this solution is that there is no ancient source that knows of a son of Herod the Great who bore both names. Most critical scholars, therefore, have been inclined to accept Josephus’ testimony and to regard Mark’s (and Matthew’s) as mistaken.[197] Lindsey’s hypothesis that the order of the Synoptic Gospels was Luke→Mark→Matthew offers a plausible explanation for how the author of Mark made this historical error. Having read in Luke 3:1 that Herod Antipas had a brother named Philip, the author of Mark naturally assumed that the brother whose ex-wife Antipas had married was Philip. The author of Matthew, not being well-versed in the complex relations within the Herodian family, did not recognize Mark’s error.

2. Where was John the Baptist executed? As with the name of Herodias’ first husband, the testimony of Josephus regarding the place of John’s execution is in conflict with a natural reading of the Gospels. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew give readers no reason to suppose that the execution took place anywhere other than in the Galilee. Josephus, on the other hand, reports that John the Baptist was executed in the fortress of Macherus on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. Deciding which location was the historical location of John’s execution depends on which sources are deemed most reliable. Josephus’ testimony is often to be credited, but he was also known to take some literary license: he did not allow the facts to get in the way of a good story. On the other hand, there are certainly legendary aspects of the Gospel accounts of John the Baptist’s death which call into question their historical veracity. We regard the actual place of John’s execution as an open question.

3. Is the story told in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution realistic? The literary allusions in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution are unmistakable. Herod’s birthday party, at which John is beheaded, reminds us of Pharaoh’s birthday party, at which his chief baker was beheaded. The dance of the daughter of Herodias reminds us of the display Vashti was summoned to perform at her husband’s banquet. Antipas’ promise of up to half his kingdom echoes the king’s promise to Esther. John the Baptist’s burial is reminiscent of the burial of Saul. Does this mean that every element in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution that has a parallel in Scripture is untrue? Not necessarily. Every good writer knows which details to emphasize and which to omit in order to make the meaning of events come through to her readers.

Some aspects of the story might not be entirely historically accurate.[198] It is highly unlikely that the author of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, perhaps one of John’s own disciples, was an eyewitness to what went on in Antipas’ palace. He would not have seen or heard exactly how Antipas was maneuvered into ordering the Baptist’s execution. But that John had been beheaded at Antipas’ behest was irrefutable. Filling in the gaps with artfully selected biblical allusions would have been a way for him to convey to his readers the character of the persons responsible for his master’s death.

Conclusion

In its Markan and pre-Markan versions Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution lacked specifically Christian themes and made no connections to the life of Jesus. On the other hand, the account of John the Baptist’s demise is full of allusions to the Jewish Scriptures and ancient Jewish aggadic traditions. We think it is entirely possible that Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution was first composed in Hebrew by one of John the Baptist’s followers and that this story was subsequently incorporated into the Hebrew Life of Yeshua. The inclusion of this story in Jesus’ biography demonstrates the high regard the earliest followers of Jesus had for John the Baptist.


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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] Luke 7:18-23 gives readers the impression that these verses took place before John had been put in prison, since it is unlikely that a person incarcerated for causing a public disturbance would be allowed to communicate with Jesus, who had also attracted the attention of the authorities for his public proclamation. See Yohanan the Immerser’s Question, Comment to L6.
  • [4] Josephus simply says that John was bound in chains and taken to Macherus, where he was executed (Ant. 18:119). Josephus does not state, nor does he imply, that the Baptist was held prisoner in the trans-Jordanian fortress for any length of time. See Bundy, 258 §155.
  • [5] The failure of Josephus’ account of John the Baptist’s death to include any of the details found in the Gospels argues in favor of the authenticity of Josephus’ report. A Christian interpolator almost certainly would have created a story that confirmed the Gospels’ account. On the authenticity of Josephus’ description of John the Baptist’s activities and demise, see John P. Meier, “John the Baptist in Josephus: Philology and Exegesis,” Journal of Biblical Literature 111.2 (1992): 225-237; Hermann Lichtenberger, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and John the Baptist: Reflections on Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research (ed. Devorah Dimant and Uriel Rappaport; Leiden: Brill, 1992), 340-346.
  • [6] Mark’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is no more difficult to revert to Hebrew than other pericopae he took from Luke and/or Anth.
  • [7] Cf. Marshall, 149.
  • [8] Cf. LHNS, 12 §5; David Flusser, “Der Tod des Täufers,” Freiburger Rundbrief 6.2 (1999): 95-99.
  • [9] Cf. Bundy, 259 §155; Davies-Allison, 2:463.
  • [10] Cf. David Flusser, “A New Portrait of Salome,” under the subheading “The Salome Story through the Pens of Matthew and Mark.” Nevertheless, we cannot concur with the specific examples Flusser cited as evidence of Matthew’s reliance on another, more accurate, source than Mark. Nor can we accept the opinion expressed by Lowe and Flusser that Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is “more Hebraic” than Mark’s, given Matthew’s un-Hebraic dative absolute in L34, and the un-Hebraic passives in L52 (προβιβασθεῖσα ὑπό), L69 (δοθῆναι), L76 (ἠνέχθη) and L78 (ἐδόθη). See Malcom Lowe and David Flusser, “Evidence Corroborating a Modified Proto-Matthean Synoptic Theory,” New Testament Studies 29.1 (1983): 25-47, esp. 34.
  • [11] Pace Conzelmann, 26.
  • [12] See Bultmann, 301. Matthew’s version, which concludes with John’s disciples’ reporting their master’s death to Jesus, is probably secondary. See Comment to L86.
  • [13] See Bundy, 258 §155.
  • [14] Theissen denied that Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution could have been written by the Baptist’s followers on the grounds that “all the characteristic notes of the Baptizer’s preaching are missing: his proclamation of judgment, his call to conversion, and his demand that people be baptized and live righteous lives. Also lacking is any portrayal of the Baptizer as a prophet or martyr. What great possibilities his followers would have had for depicting his steadfastness! What a chance they would have missed for placing some ‘last word’ in his mouth! The Baptizer community would certainly have been interested in his deportment at the last hour of his life. If they had no information about it, it would have been easy to depict the death of the prophet with the typical figures of the Jewish martyr tradition” (Gerd Theissen, “The Legend of the Baptizer’s Death: A Popular Tradition Told from the Perspective of Those Nearby?” [Theissen, Gospels, 81-97, esp. 84-85]). But Theissen’s reasoning amounts to the argument that if the followers of John the Baptist had written Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, they should have done it differently, so as to suit his own expectations. This is hardly a decisive argument. Furthermore, Theissen’s complaint that the story ought to have included an exhortation to the characters to live righteous lives ignores the fact that it was precisely John’s criticism of Herod’s unrighteous conduct that set the tragedy in motion. That the Baptist ought to have demanded the characters in the story be baptized is absurd. Most of the characters in the story—Herodias, her daughter, the dinner guests—John never met. And “Immerse yourself!” is a ridiculous retort to the executioner as he dragged John from his prison cell to be decapitated. Moreover, Theissen’s objection that the characteristic elements of the Baptist’s message are missing is mitigated if Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution is regarded as a fragment of a Life of Yohanan the Immerser, which has been preserved in the opening chapters of Luke.
  • [15] Variations of the theory that the Lukan nativity narratives are based on an older source exclusively concerned with the birth of John the Baptist are found in Bultmann, 294-297; Paul Winter, “The Proto-Source of Luke I,” Novum Testamentum 1.3 (1956): 184-199; Hartwig Thyen, “ΒΑΠΤΙΖΜΑ ΜΕΤΑΝΟΙΑΣ ΕΙΣ ΑΦΕΣΙΝ ΑΜΑΡΤΙΩΝ,” in The Future of our Religious Past (ed. James M. Robinson; trans. Charles E. Carlston and Robert P. Scharlemann; New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 131-168, esp. 154-155; David Flusser, “The Magnificat, the Benedictus and the War Scroll” (Flusser, JOC, 126-149); Daniel R. Schwartz, “On Quirinius, John the Baptist, the Benedictus, Melchizedek, Qumran and Ephesus,” Revue de Qumrân 13 (1988): 635-646.
  • [16] This suggestion presumes that the hymn in Luke 1:46-55 was originally ascribed to Elizabeth, as, in fact, is the case even in some Latin and patristic witnesses to the text of Luke 1:46. See Metzger, 130-131.
  • [17] Our hypothesis does not require that the entire Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser was incorporated into the Hebrew Life of Yeshua, as parts of the former may have been omitted. We merely contend that the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua incorporated all the parts of the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser he intended to include before commencing his own account of Jesus’ adult public career.

    With respect to the title Life of Yohanan the Immerser, this is a title we have selected for the sake of clarity and convenience. We make no more claim to this title having been original than we do with respect to the title Life of Yeshua, on which see the Introduction to “The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction,” under the subheading Why “The Life of Yeshua”?

  • [18] Were it not for the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (who, according to Luke 1:5, became pregnant with John the Baptist during the reign of Herod the Great) there would be no chronological difficulty with the report in Luke 2:2 that Jesus was born at the time of the census that was taken under Quirinius, which took place when Judea came under direct Roman rule in 6 C.E., following the removal of Herod’s son, Archelaus, from power. Thus, it was his attempt to weave together the nativity stories of John the Baptist and Jesus that inadvertently resulted in the anachronism which scholars have been at such pains to resolve. On the date of Quirinius’ census, see Menahem Stern, “The Province of Judaea” (Safrai-Stern, 1:308-376, esp. 372-374).
  • [19] Thus, the way the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua treated the infancy narratives of his two protagonists, first relating the nativity of John the Baptist and then relating the nativity of Jesus, is mirrored in the way he dealt with the accounts of their adult careers: he first told the story of John the Baptist’s public ministry and death, which he then followed by the account of Jesus’ public ministry, death and resurrection. The pains the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua took to preserve at least the outline, if not the entirety, of the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser reflect the high regard with which he viewed this Baptist source.
  • [20] While the report of the Baptist’s imprisonment in Luke remains out of chronological sequence, it is less jarring to provide a quick notice about John’s imprisonment before turning to Jesus’ baptism than it is to recount all the lurid details of John’s decapitation before presenting him alive and overseeing the baptism of Jesus.
  • [21] It is fascinating to observe that immediately on the heels of reporting the Baptist’s Cleansing the Threshing Floor saying the mid-second-century C.E. author Justin Martyr related the story of the Baptist’s beheading, precisely the order we believe occurred in Anth. Justin’s account of the Baptist’s execution reads as follows:

    καὶ τοῦτον αὐτὸν τὸν προφήτην συνεκεκλείκει ὁ βασιλεὺς ὑμῶν Ἡρώδης εἰς φυλακὴν, καὶ γενεσίων ἡμέρας τελουμένης, ὀρχουμένης τῆς ἐξαδελφῆς αὐτοῦ τοῦ Ἡρώδου εὐαρέστως αὐτῷ, εἶπεν αὐτῇ αἰτήσασθαι ὃ ἐὰν βούληται. καὶ ἡ μήτηρ τῆς παιδὸς ὑπέλαβεν αὐτῇ αἰτήσασθαι τὴν κεφαλὴ Ἰωάννου τοῦ ἐν τῇ φυλακῆ καὶ, αἰτησάσης, ἔπεμψε, καὶ ἐπὶ πίνακι έναχθῆναι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου ἐκέλευσε.

    And this very prophet your king Herod had shut up in prison; and when his birth-day was celebrated, and the niece of the same Herod by her dancing had pleased him, he told her to ask whatever she pleased. Then the mother of the maiden instigated her to ask the head of John, who was in prison; and having asked it, [Herod] sent and ordered the head of John to be brought in on a charger. (Dial. §49 [ed. Trollope, 1:100])

    Translation according to The Ante-Nicene Fathers (10 vols.; ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and Allan Menzies; repr. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980-1986), 1:219-220.

  • [22] See McNeile, 30; Bundy, 52 §4; Ernst Bammel, “The Baptist in Early Christian Tradition,” New Testament Studies 18 (1971): 95-128, esp. 106 n. 3.
  • [23] For scholars who interpret εὐαγγελίζειν in Luke 3:18 in the sense of “proclaim the Gospel,” see Marshall, 149; Bovon, 1:127. See also E. H. Scheffler, “The Social Ethics of the Lucan Baptist (Lk 3:10-14),” Neotestamentica 24.1 (1990): 21-36, esp. 24, 30.
  • [24] For scholars who favor interpreting εὐαγγελίζειν in the generic sense of “proclaim,” see Conzelmann, 23 n. 1; Fitzmyer, 1:475; J. Liebenberg, “The Function of the Standespredigt in Luke 3:1-20: A Response to E H Scheffler’s The Social Ethics of the Lucan Baptist (Lk 3:10-14),” Neotestamentica 27.1 (1993): 55-67, esp. 64-66.
  • [25] See J. Green, 183.
  • [26] On τότε as an indicator of Matthean redaction, see Jesus and a Canaanite Woman, Comment to L22.
  • [27] See Metzger, 35.
  • [28] On the author of Mark’s redactional preference for imperfect verbs, see LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style, under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [29] See Robert L. Lindsey, “A New Two-source Solution to the Synoptic Problem,” thesis 7; idem, HTGM, 28.
  • [30] See Mann, 296; France, Matt., 555.
  • [31] Pace Plummer, Mark, 164.
  • [32] Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution contains 137 Greek words, compared to Mark’s version, which contains 245 Greek words. For these figures, see the Redaction Analysis section.
  • [33] On ἐξεῖναι in LXX, see Hatch-Redpath, 1:490-491.
  • [34] Examples of אֵין מוּתַר (’ēn mūtar, “it is not permitted”) are not common in ancient Hebrew sources—אָסוּר (’āsūr, “it is forbidden”) is the more usual way of expressing the same idea—but they do exist, for instance:

    ואין מותר להשיב שומר ולנער את הצאן

    …and it is not permitted [וְאֵין מוּתַר] to appoint a guard and use a flock to manure a plot. (t. Shev. 2:20; Vienna MS)

    היו לו שתי שדות אחת זרועה חטים ואחת זרועה שעורים אין מותר לעשות ביניהן תלם של מין אחר

    If he had two fields, one sown with wheat and the other sown with barley, he is not permitted [אֵין מוּתַר] to make a ridge between them from another kind [of plant—DNB and JNT]. (t. Kil. 2:4; Vienna MS)

    אָדָם מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁעָלָה לִקְרוֹת בַּתּוֹרָה אֵין מֻתָּר לוֹ לִקְרוֹת עַד שֶׁלֹא יְבָרֵךְ

    A person who is an Israelite who went up to read the Torah: it is not permitted [אֵין מֻתָּר] for him to read as long as he has not recited the blessing. (Deut. Rab. 11:6 [ed. Merkin, 11:153])

  • [35] On King Herod’s son Antipas, see F. F. Bruce, “Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea,” Annual of Leeds University Oriental Society 5 (1966): 6-23; Harold W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas: A Contemporary of Jesus Christ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980).
  • [36] The LXX translators also rendered נָשָׂא with ἔχειν in Deut. 24:15 and Josh. 6:8, but נָשָׂא does not have the sense of “marry” in either of these cases.
  • [37] On the name Ἡρῳδιάς, see Tal Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Part I Palestine 330 BCE-200 CE (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002), 319.
  • [38] See Lindsey, HTGM, 107.
  • [39] On Josephus’ portrayal of Herodias, see Daniel R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judea (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1990), 48, 56.
  • [40] Theissen, for example, demured that “Either its authors [i.e., the authors of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution—DNB and JNT] were unacquainted with the precise requirements of the law that Herod had violated in marrying Herodias or they were not interested in them, because the Baptizer’s reasons for criticizing the marriage are formulated in the most general terms: ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’ (Mk 6:18). That is not wrong, but it ought to be stated more precisely: ‘It is not lawful for you to marry your brother’s wife while he is still alive.’ Had he died childless, it would even be obligatory for his brother to marry his widow (Deut 25:5-6; Mk 12:19). One might say that such distinctions are too subtle to be retained in the tradition” (Theissen, Gospels, 83).
  • [41] According to Josephus (Ant. 18:109), Herodias was married to Herod, who was Antipas’ half-brother (both were sons of Herod the Great). The Temple Scroll specifies that the prohibitions of Lev. 18:16 and Lev. 20:21 include the wife of a half-brother (11QTa [11Q19] LXVI, 12-13).
  • [42] The Mishnah’s discussion of valid writs of divorce indirectly confirms that divorce could not clear the way for a man to marry his brother’s ex-wife. In m. Git. 9:1 it is stated that when a man gives his wife a writ of divorce he may not stipulate that there are certain individuals she cannot marry. However, the sages did permit a writ of divorce to say she is free to marry anyone “except my brother” (m. Git. 9:2), because marrying her ex-husband’s brother was deemed to be prohibited according to the Torah. For a discussion of m. Git. 9:2, see Peter J. Tomson, Paul and the Jewish Law: Jewish Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles (CRINT III.1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990), 121.
  • [43] Josephus’ account of Archelaus’ marriage to Glaphyra, who had been the wife of Archelaus’ deceased brother Alexander, illustrates this point (Ant. 17:341, 349-353). See also Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus (Anchor Bible 3-3B; 3 vols.; New York: Doubleday; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991-2001), 3:1545.
  • [44] Only in the extraordinary case of a married man dying childless was his brother required to marry his widow. See Deut. 25:5-6.
  • [45] Josephus condemned Herod the Great’s sister Salome for issuing her husband a writ of divorce, which, Josephus contended, was a husband’s prerogative (Ant. 15:259). Ilan has pointed out that Josephus’ opinion on this matter was not universally held by all Jews. The archives of the Jewish community in Elephantine preserve evidence of wife-initiated divorces. See Tal Ilan, “A Divorce Bill? Notes on Papyrus XHev/Se 13,” in her Integrating Women into Second Temple History (Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1999; repr., Peabody: Hendrickson, 2001), 252-262. With reference to Herodias, Josephus claimed that she “flout[ed] the way of our fathers” by marrying “her husband’s brother by the same father,” and that in order to do this “she parted from a living husband” (Ant. 18:136). Thus, according to Josephus, the issue was the fact that Antipas and Herod were half-brothers. Although Josephus mentioned that Herodias’ first husband was still living when she married Antipas, this only proves that the first marriage was dissolved by divorce rather than by the death of her first husband. Josephus does not say whether Herodias’ first husband granted her a divorce, so it is unwarranted to assume that either John the Baptist or Josephus regarded the divorce as invalid on the grounds that Herodias had initiated it or that her husband had not delivered her a writ of divorce.
  • [46] Jesus’ opinion was that marriage was not to be dissolved by divorce (Matt. 19:6 // Mark 10:9) and that anyone who remarries following a divorce is guilty of adultery (since no divorce is valid) (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). Paul repeated this strict view in his letters (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:10-11, 39). It has been suggested (Tomson, If This Be, 131, 151) that Jesus adopted this hard-line view of marriage from John the Baptist. Whether or not this view of the origin of Jesus’ opinion is correct, John the Baptist based his public criticism of Antipas’ marriage to Herodias not on the grounds that no divorce is valid, but on the universally-agreed-upon fact that the Torah prohibits marriage to one’s brother’s wife.
  • [47] This view (attributed to Jesus rather than John the Baptist) has been advanced by members of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. See Young, JJT, 113-118; R. Steven Notley, “Divorce and Remarriage in Historical Perspective.” Nevertheless, John’s critique is clear that Antipas’ marriage, not Herodias’ divorce, is the issue at stake.

    It should be noted that since mainstream Jewish halachah permitted polygyny (marriage to more than one wife; Deut. 21:15; Jos., Ant. 17:14; m. Ket. 10:1-6), it was not necessary for a man to divorce his wife in order to take up with another lover. This fact undermines the entire premise that Jesus prohibited a man from divorcing his wife in order to marry someone else.

  • [48] The fact that Herodias was Herod’s niece can be learned from Ant. 18:110.
  • [49] See Cadbury, Style, 115. Other such examples are found in Luke 11:42; 13:28; 21:29.
  • [50] So Marshall, 149-150.
  • [51] See Joüon-Muraoka, 2:650 §177b.
  • [52] See Plummer, Luke, 97; Creed, 54-55.
  • [53] Delitzsch, for example, rendered Luke 3:20 as הוֹסִיף עַל כָּל אֵלֶּה גַּם אֶת־זֹאת וַיַּסְגֵּר אֶת יוֹחָנָן בְּמִשְׁמָר, which departs significantly from the Greek word order.
  • [54] See Nolland, Luke, 1:156-157.
  • [55] On participle + δέ + aorist as the equivalent of vav-consecutive + vav-consecutive, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L37-41.
  • [56] Greek text of Mart. Isa. 3:12 according to Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, eds., The Amherst Papyri: Being An Account of the Greek Papyri in the Collection of the Right Hon. Lord Amherst of Hackney (2 vols.; London: Henry Frowde, 1900-1901), 1:10.
  • [57] See M. A. Knibb, “Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah” (Charlesworth, 2:143-176, esp. 146-147).
  • [58] See David Flusser, “The Apocryphal Book of Ascensio Isaiae and the Dead Sea Sect” (Flusser, JOC, 3-22). See also George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Stories of Biblical and Early Post-Biblical Times,” in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (ed. Michael E. Stone; CRINT II.2; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 33-87, esp. 52-56. For doubts, see John J. Collins, “The ‘apocryphal’ Old Testament,” in The New Cambridge History of the Bible (4 vols.; ed. James Carleton Paget, Joachim Schaper et al.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013-2015), 1:165-189, esp. 185-188.
  • [59] Points of similarity between John the Baptist and the Essenes include non-participation in the Temple cult, withdrawal from society to live in the desert, describing their role in terms of Isa. 40:3, voluntary poverty, and the expectation of imminent eschatological judgment. Differences include John the Baptist’s belief in repentance, which contrasts with the Essene belief in double predestination, and his openness to all Israel, which contrasts with Essene economic separatism. On similarities and differences between John the Baptist and the Essenes, see David Flusser, “The Magnificat, the Benedictus and the War Scroll” (Flusser, JOC, 126-149, esp. 143ff.); idem, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity (trans. John Glucker; Tel-Aviv: MOD Books, 1989), 45-48. On the proximity of John the Baptist to the Essenes on the politico-religious spectrum of first-century Jewish society, see Joshua N. Tilton, “Locating Jesus’ Place on the Political-Ideological Spectrum of Second Temple Jewish Society,” under the subheading “The Fringes to the Far Right and the Far Left,” at WholeStones.org.
  • [60] See Bovon, 1:127. In LXX κατακλείειν occurs only once as the translation of a Hebrew term (Jer. 39[32]:3 [= כָּלָא]). See Hatch-Redpath, 2:733.
  • [61] See Nolland, Luke, 1:157.
  • [62] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:783.
  • [63] See Dos Santos, 223.
  • [64] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:287.
  • [65] In most biblical examples of חָבַשׁ the verb refers to saddling a donkey.
  • [66] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1440-1441.
  • [67] Lindsey (HTGM, 107), too, translated φυλακή in Mark 6:17 as בֵּית הַסֹּהַר.
  • [68] In the Mishnah the term בֵּית הָאֲסוּרִים (always with the definite article) occurs in m. Pes. 8:7; m. Moed Kat. 3:1, 2; m. Yev. 12:5; m. Git 6:7; m. Sot. 4:5 (2xx); m. Avod. Zar. 1:3.
  • [69] See A. B. Bruce, 381; Swete, 122; Allen, Mark, 97; Guelich, 1:331; France, Mark, 256; idem, Matt., 554. Although Hoehner (Herod Antipas, 131-136) proffered more arguments in favor of this view than any of the aforementioned scholars, none of the arguments he advanced have merit. They amount to nothing more than “the Gospel writers ought to have known better, therefore they couldn’t have made a mistake” and “there’s no proof that Herodias’ first husband’s full name wasn’t Herod Philip, so let’s assume that it was.” See the scathing critique of Hoehner’s arguments in Meier, Marginal, 2:227-228 n. 248.
  • [70] See Fred Strickert, “On the Use of the Name Herod Philip,” in Bethsaida in Archaeology, History and Ancient Culture: A Festschrift in Honor of John T. Greene (ed. J. Harold Ellens; Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 232-241. Strickert traces the harmonizing Herod Philip hypothesis back to Hugo Grotius (1641).
  • [71] See Henry St. J. Thackeray, Selections from Josephus (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge; New York: Macmillan, 1919), 191-192; Plummer, Mark, 164; McNeile, 208; Turner, 32; Bundy, 257 §154; Taylor, 312; Fitzmyer, 1:477; Mann, 296; Theissen, Gospels, 87; Flusser, “A New Portrait of Salome,” under the subheading “The Salome Story through the Pens of Matthew and Mark.”
  • [72] On the phenomenon of “Markan pick-ups,” see Robert L. Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Sources of the Markan Pick-ups”; idem, “My Search for the Synoptic Problem’s Solution (1959-1969),” under the subheading “Markan Pick-ups”; LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups.
  • [73] For the author of Mark’s reasons for making this reversal, see above, Comment to L3.
  • [74] This contradiction in Matthew’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution has been noted by numerous scholars, inter alia Plummer (Mark, 167), McNeile (209), Bundy (259 §155), Lindsey (LHNS, 85 §111), Luz (2:306) and France (Matt., 556).
  • [75] See Benjamin Wisner Bacon, The Beginnings of Gospel Story: A Historico-Critical Inquiry into the Sources and Structure of the Gospel according to Mark (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1909), 75.
  • [76] See LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style, under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [77] Compare the five instances of the imperfect tense in Mark’s account of Jesus’ preaching in Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6a) to the Lukan and Matthean parallels:

    1. Mark 6:2 ἐξεπλήσσοντο TT = Luke 4:22 (ἐθαύμαζον) (cf. Matt. 13:54 [ἐκπλήσσεσθαι])
    2. Mark 6:3 ἐσκανδαλίζοντο TT = Matt. 13:57 (cf. Luke 4:22 [–])
    3. Mark 6:4 ἔλεγεν TT (cf. Matt. 13:57 [εἶπεν]; Luke 4:23 [εἶπεν])
    4. Mark 6:5 ἐδύνατο TT (cf. Matt. 13:58 [–]; Luke 4:[–])
    5. Mark 6:6 ἐθαύμαζεν TT (cf. Matt. 13:58 [–]; Luke 4:[–])

    Key: TT = pericope has parallels in all three Synoptic Gospels; [–] = no corresponding word and/or verse

  • [78] The only instances of ἐνέχειν in LXX are found in Gen. 49:23; 3 Macc. 6:10; Ezek. 14:4, 7.
  • [79] See Roger Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist: Early Jewish-Christian Interpretation of Esther 1 in John 2:1-11 and Mark 6:17-29 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 40.
  • [80] See Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 62.
  • [81] See Dos Santos, 50.
  • [82] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:135-136.
  • [83] See Plummer, Mark, 165.
  • [84] See Flusser, “Der Tod des Täufers,” 95-99. See also Lowe and Flusser, “Evidence Corroborating a Modified Proto-Matthean Synoptic Theory,” 34; Flusser, “A New Portrait of Salome,” under the subheading “The Salome Story through the Pens of Matthew and Mark.” Marcus (1:400) described Mark’s explanation as “sensational,” comparing it to a soap opera or a tabloid magazine.
  • [85] See m. Suk. 4:9; t. Suk. 3:16. Cf. Jos., Ant. 13:372.
  • [86] See LHNS, 85 §111, 158 §202.
  • [87] See John P. Meier, “John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 99.3 (1980): 383-405, esp. 399.
  • [88] See Cadbury, Making, 44; Bundy, 45 §1; Flusser, Jesus, 46. The author of Matthew not only highlighted parallels between John and Jesus, he manufactured them. For instance, Matthew is alone among the Synoptic Gospels in placing a reference to “the Kingdom of Heaven” on the lips of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2; see A Voice Crying, Comment to L37-38). Likewise, the author of Matthew placed “you brood of vipers,” the Baptist’s term of abuse, on the lips of Jesus (Matt. 23:33).
  • [89] See LHNS, 58 §111.
  • [90] See Plummer, Mark, 165; Abbott, Fourfold, 4:198-199; LHNS, 85 §111; France, Mark, 257.
  • [91] See Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “Sources of the Markan Pick-ups”; idem, “Measuring the Disparity Between Matthew, Mark and Luke,” under the subheading “Further Proof of Mark’s Dependence on Luke.”
  • [92] See Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “The Markan Stereotypes.”
  • [93] See Lowe and Flusser, “Evidence Corroborating a Modified Proto-Matthean Synoptic Theory,” 44 n. 55; LHNS, 85 §111. There is a textual problem in Mark 6:20. Instead of ἠπόρει (ēporei, “he was confused”) some MSS read ἐποίει (epoiei, “he was doing”). The latter reading appears to be an attempt on the part of later scribes to make better sense of Mark 6:20. See Metzger, 89; Lindsey, HTGM, 83-84 n. 7. For a different view, see David Alan Black, “The Text of Mark 6.20,” New Testament Studies 34.1 (1988): 141-145.
  • [94] See Marcus, 1:398.
  • [95] The adverb ἡδέως (hēdeōs, “gladly”) occurs in Mark 6:20 and Mark 12:37, but nowhere else in the Synoptic Gospels.
  • [96] See LHNS, 85 §111.
  • [97] Not only is the genitive absolute suspect, the adjective εὔκαιρος (evkairos, “timely,” “opportune”) is also likely to be redactional. The author of Mark was fond of the εὐκαίρ- word group. The adjective εὔκαιρος occurs in Mark 6:21, but nowhere else in the Synoptic Gospels. Similarly, the cognate verb εὐκαιρεῖν (evkairein, “to have time”) occurs in Mark 6:31, but never in Luke or Matthew. In Mark 14:11 the author of Mark used the adverb εὐκαίρως (evkairōs, “conveniently”), the only time this adverb appears in the Synoptic Gospels. The authors of Luke and Matthew agreed against Mark 14:11 to use the noun εὐκαιρία (evkairia, “opportune moment”; Matt. 26:16 // Luke 22:6), the only time either Gospel used a term from the εὐκαίρ- word group.
  • [98] On the dative absolute construction in Matt. 14:6, see Moule, 44-45.
  • [99] See Shmuel Safrai, “Home and Family” (Safrai-Stern, 2:728-792, esp. 767). Safrai stated that according to Josephus (Apion 2:204) the Torah forbids birthday celebrations, but Josephus’ stricture seems to apply to celebrating the birth of a child rather than to celebrating the annual anniversary of one’s birth.
  • [100] Some scholars have maintained that a reference to birthday celebrations of Herod the Great is mentioned in the writings of the first-century C.E. author Persius (Satura 5:180), who referred to a Herodis dies (“Herod’s day”). See Hoehner, Herod Antipas, 161 n. 5; Davies-Allison, 2:473; Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 45. However, Stern has shown that the context in which Persius’ reference to “Herod’s day” occurs demands that it be understood as a reference to the Sabbath day, which Herod observed. See Stern, 1:436 §190.
  • [101] See Schwartz, Agrippa I, 34; idem, “Agrippa’s Birthday—From Joseph to Josephus,” Beit Mikra: Journal for the Study of the Bible and Its World 55.1 (2010): 123-128 (in Hebrew; click here for an English translation of this article).
  • [102] According to Speiser, Joseph’s prediction ought to be understood as beheading followed by impaling the body. See E. A. Speiser, Genesis (Anchor Bible 1; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1964), 307. See also Thackeray’s note to Jos., Ant. 2:72 (Loeb, 5:199).
  • [103] Given the indebtedness of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution to the story of Pharaoh’s birthday in Gen. 40:20-23, the suggestion that what Antipas actually celebrated was his accession to power loses whatever attractiveness it may have initially enjoyed. On γενέσια in Mark 6:21 // Matt. 14:6 as “accession day,” see Hoehner, Herod Antipas, 160-161 n. 5.
  • [104] In rabbinic sources the chief baker’s dream was understood as a prediction of the succession of empires that would dominate Israel until the coming of the Messiah. See Ginzberg, 1:360-361.
  • [105] If Agrippa’s Jewish pedigree could be questioned (see Jos., Ant. 19:332-334; m. Sot. 7:8; t. Sot. 7:16; Schwartz, Agrippa I, 219-222), then Antipas’ surely could. Antipas was the son of an Idumean (Herod the Great) and a Samaritan (Malthace).
  • [106] In Genesis Rabbah we read:

    ויהי ביום השלישי יום הלדת וגו′ יום גינוסו שלפרעה

    And on the third day it was the birthday [of Pharaoh] etc. [Gen. 40:20]. It was Pharaoh’s day of genesia. (Gen. Rab. 88:6 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 3:1085])

    Likewise, commenting on m. Avod. Zar. 1:3, which mentions the birthday celebrations of kings, the Yerushalmi states:

    יום גנוסיא של מלכים ויהי ביום השלישי יום הלדת את פרעה

    The birthday of kings [m. Avod. Zar. 1:3]: [for example,] And on the third day it was Pharaoh’s birthday [Gen. 40:20]. (y. Avod. Zar. 1:2 [3a-b])

  • [107] Aus noted that according to some rabbinic traditions the banquet described in Esth. 1:5 was held in honor of the king’s birthday. See Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 46. Since these traditions are preserved only in very late collections, it is probably best to regard Antipas’ birthday as an allusion to the Genesis story rather than to the story of Esther.
  • [108] Cf. Allen, Matt., 158.
  • [109] For the A-text of Greek Esther, see Alan E. Brooke, Norman McLean, and Henry St. John Thackeray, eds., The Old Testament in Greek (3 vols.; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1906-1940), 3.1:32-42.
  • [110] Although δεῖπνον rarely occurs in LXX (4 Macc. 3:9; Dan. 1:8, 13, 15, 16), this noun occurs 5xx in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 14:12, 16, 17, 24; 20:46), which lends credibility to our conclusion that the author of Mark found δεῖπνον in Anth.’s version of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution.
  • [111] See Call of Levi, Comment to L23.
  • [112] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:907.
  • [113] Cf. Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 47.
  • [114] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1469.
  • [115] The LXX translators usually rendered שָׂרֵי הַחַיִל/הַחֲיָלִים as οἱ ἄρχοντες τῆς δυνάμεως (hoi archontes tēs dūnameōs, “the rulers of the military force”; 2 Kgdms. 24:4; 3 Kgdms. 15:20; 4 Kgdms. 9:5; 25:23, 26; 2 Chr. 16:4; 33:14) or οἱ ἡγεμόνες τῆς δυνάμεως (hoi hēgemones tēs dūnameōs, “the leaders of the military force”; Jer. 47[40]:7, 13; 48[41]:11, 13, 16; 49[42]:1, 8; 50[43]:4, 5). Thus, adopting שַׂר חַיִל for HR presumes that the Greek translator of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution was not influenced by these LXX models.
  • [116] See Taylor, 312; Mann, 296; Theissen, Gospels, 86; Meier, Marginal, 2:172-173.
  • [117] This is the interpretation Hoehner (Herod Antipas, 146-149) favored.
  • [118] See Flusser, “A New Portrait of Salome,” under the subheading “The Place of John’s Execution.”
  • [119] See Rainey-Notley, 351; R. Steven Notley, In the Master’s Steps: The Gospels in the Land (Jerusalem: Carta, 2014), 18.
  • [120] France (Mark, 257), too, entertained the possibility that Josephus was misinformed, but he made no case in favor of such a conclusion.
  • [121] See Metzger, 89-90; Meier, Marginal, 2:228 n. 250. For a different view, see J. K. Elliott, “An Eclectic Textual Commentary on the Greek Text of Mark’s Gospel,” in New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), 47-60, esp. 55-56.
  • [122] For the view that the girl performed an innocent dance, see Bruce, “Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea,” 13; Hoehner, Herod Antipas, 157; Flusser, “A New Portrait of Salome,” under the subheading “Salome’s Persona in Imaginative Fiction”; idem, “Der Tod des Täufers,” 95-99; Nolland, Matt., 584; Mark A. Proctor, “‘It Was Not the Season For Figs’: Aesthetic Absurdity in Mark’s Intercalations,” Biblica 98.4 (2017): 558-581, esp. 570-571.
  • [123] A few scholars have attempted to harmonize the data from Mark and Josephus by postulating the existence of an otherwise unattested daughter born to Antipas and Herodias, whom they named after her mother. See Allen, Mark, 97; Bruce, “Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea,” 12-13. But aside from the difficulty of Antipas’ being inflamed with lust for his own daughter, and Josephus’ lack of any knowledge of children born to Antipas and Herodias, there is a problem of chronology. Both versions of Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution refer to the dancer as a κοράσιον (korasion, “girl,” “maiden”), someone in their adolescence. But surely the Baptist did not wait a decade or more before denouncing the illicit marriage of Antipas to his brother’s wife. Nor could the term of the Baptist’s imprisonment have lasted long enough for a daughter to be born and grow up enough to perform for the men at Antipas’ banquet, since according to the Gospels the entire length of John’s imprisonment took place during Jesus’ public career. The logic of the story does not allow time for a daughter to be born to Antipas who would be old enough to dance before him and his guests. See Hoehner, Herod Antipas, 153.
  • [124] See Meier, Marginal, 2:228 n. 250.
  • [125] See Theissen, Gospels, 89.
  • [126] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1018.
  • [127] The Hebrew root ר-ק-ד occurs in Isa. 13:21; Joel 2:5; Nah. 3:2; Ps. 29:6; 114:4, 6; Job 21:11; Eccl. 3:4; 1 Chr. 15:29.
  • [128] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:656-659.
  • [129] See Dos Santos, 31.
  • [130] Cf. A. B. Bruce (207), who noted that ἐν τῷ μέσῳ presupposes the banqueting scene the author of Matthew omitted, but which is described in Mark.
  • [131] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:155.
  • [132] Other scholars who have noted the allusion to Esth. 2:9 include Taylor (135), Mann (297) and Marcus (1:397).
  • [133] See Aus, Water Into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 53-55.
  • [134] See Jastrow, 804.
  • [135] Some scholars believe that the use of “king” with reference to Antipas in Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution was intended to be ironic. Cf., e.g., Witherington, 282; Gabriella Gelardini, “The Contest for a Royal Title: Herod versus Jesus in the Gospel According to Mark (6,14-29; 15,6-15),” Annali di Storia dell’Esegesi 28.2 (2011): 93-106, esp. 99. We think a Hebrew source underlying the synoptic accounts is the more likely explanation for the application of the title “king” to Antipas.
  • [136] We do know from other sources that tetrarchs were sometimes unofficially referred to as kings (see A Voice Crying, Comment to L18). It is also the case that in order to refer to Antipas with his official title, a Hebrew speaker would need to use a foreign word, and apart from the Lukan-Matthean minor agreement to write “tetrarch” in Herodes Wonders about Yeshua, there is no evidence that “tetrarch” entered the Hebrew language.
  • [137] On the author of Mark’s use of diminutive nouns, see LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style, under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [138] The noun נַעֲרָה occurs 13xx in Esther, most of which refer either to the female protagonist specifically or (when plural) to a group to which Esther belonged.
  • [139] The noun κοράσιον occurs 7xx in Esther, most of which refer either to Esther herself or (when plural) to the group of which she was a part.
  • [140] See Dos Santos, 134.
  • [141] Cf. Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 50.
  • [142] See Hagner, 2:412.
  • [143] The phrase μεθ᾿ ὅρκου occurs in Lev. 5:4; Num. 30:11; 2 Macc. 4:34; 14:32; Pss. Sol. 4:4; 8:10.
  • [144] See Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist, 57.
  • [145] On the A-text of Greek Esther and the possibility that it represents a non-Masoretic Hebrew recension of Esther, see David J. A. Clines, The Esther Scroll: The Story of the Story (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1984), 71-92.
  • [146] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:991-992.
  • [147] See Dos Santos, 203.
  • [148] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:618-619.
  • [149] Delitzsch rendered ἡ δὲ προβιβασθεῖσα ὑπὸ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς (“But being prompted by her mother”) in Matt. 14:8 as וְאִמָּהּ שָׂמָה אֶת הַדְּבָרִים בְּפִיהָ (“But her mother put the words in her mouth”).
  • [150] See Nolland, Matt., 584.
  • [151] See A Voice Crying, Comment to L27.
  • [152] Cf. Guelich, 1:333.
  • [153] On the author of Mark’s redactional use of εὐθύς, see Lindsey, “Introduction to A Hebrew Translation of the Gospel of Mark,” under the subheading “The Markan Stereotypes”; LOY Excursus: Catalog of Markan Stereotypes and Possible Markan Pick-ups, under the entry for Mark 1:10.
  • [154] The author of Mark preserved versions of only three of the ten pericopae we believe descended from the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser. In Mark’s versions of these three pericopae εὐθύς occurs 2xx (A Voice Crying, 0xx; Yohanan the Immerser’s Eschatological Discourse, 0xx; Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution, 2xx). Neither Matthew nor Luke have εὐθύς in any of their Life of Yohanan the Immerser pericopae. See the figure in the Story Placement section above for the complete list of pericopae descended from the Hebrew Life of Yohanan the Immerser.
  • [155] See Dos Santos, 22-23.
  • [156] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:410-413.
  • [157] In the books of 1-4 Kgdms. the phrase πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα occurs as the translation of אֶל (הַ)מֶּלֶךְ in 1 Kgdms. 22:11; 2 Kgdms. 3:24; 4:8; 5:3; 7:3; 9:3, 11; 11:19; 13:6, 13, 24, 35; 14:3, 4, 9, 15 (2xx), 29, 32, 33 (2xx); 15:2, 6, 15; 16:3, 9; 18:28; 19:6, 11, 12, 15, 19, 29, 31, 35, 42 (2xx); 20:22; 21:5; 24:3, 9; 3 Kgdms. 1:13, 15; 2:19; 3:26; 7:2; 10:6; 13:8; 20:39; 22:15; 4 Kgdms. 1:6, 15; 4:13; 5:6, 8; 6:9; 7:18; 8:3, 5; 11:7, 14; 18:17; 20:14; 22:9; 25:6.
  • [158] Delitzsch rendered θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῷς μοι (“I want that directly you might give to me”) in Mark 6:25 as רְצוֹנִי שֶׁתִּתֵּן לִי עַתָּה (“My wish is that you will give to me now”). Lindsey’s translation (Lindsey, HTGM, 109) was בַּקָּשָׁתִי כִּי תִּתֵּן לִי עַתָּה (“My request is that you will give to me now”).
  • [159] Caution is warranted, however, since a θέλειν + ἵνα + subjunctive construction occurs in a DT pericope (Matt. 7:12 // Luke 6:31), which means that this construction did occur at least once in Anth.
  • [160] On the author of Matthew’s redactional use of the verb φάναι, see Darnel Among the Wheat, Comment to L19.
  • [161] Black noted that the author of Matthew usually used the verb φάναι to introduce significant statements or pronouncements, of which the dancing girl’s request for the Baptist’s head is a prime example. See Stephanie L. Black, “The Historic Present in Matthew: Beyond Speech Margins,” in Discourse Analysis and the New Testament: Approaches and Results (ed. Stanley E. Porter and Jeffrey T. Reed; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 120-139, esp. 133 n. 36.
  • [162] Since the term πίναξ also occurs in Luke 11:39, it need not be doubted that the author of Mark found πίναξ in Anth.
  • [163] The LXX translators always rendered קְעָרָה as τρύβλιον (trūblion, “plate”). See Dos Santos, 184.
  • [164] See Moulton-Milligan, 513.
  • [165] On the noun פִּנְקָס/פִּינְקֵס, see Jastrow, 1165; Moshe Bar-Asher, “Mishnaic Hebrew: An Introductory Survey,” in The Literature of the Sages (ed. Shmuel Safrai et al.; 2 vols.; CRINT II.3; Philadelphia/Minneapolis: Fortress, 1987-2006), 2:567-595, esp. 588-589.
  • [166] See Lindsey, HTGM, 109.
  • [167] On Esther Rabbah, see Myron B. Lerner, “The Works of Aggadic Midrash and the Esther Midrashim,” in The Literature of the Sages (ed. Shmuel Safrai et al.; 2 vols.; CRINT II.3; Philadelphia/Minneapolis: Fortress, 1987-2006), 2:133-229, esp. 177-189.
  • [168] See Jastrow, 302.
  • [169] On sacrificial imagery applied to Jewish martyrs in ancient Jewish sources, see David Flusser, “Martyrology in the Second Temple Period and Early Christianity” (Flusser, JSTP2, 248-257). Note that a crucial sentence was inadvertently omitted from the English translation of this article. See “Corrections and Emendations to Flusser’s Judaism of the Second Temple Period.”
  • [170] Additional examples of διά as the translation of מִפְּנֵי are found in Deut. 28:20; Isa. 19:17, 20.
  • [171] See Dos Santos, 203.
  • [172] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1013.
  • [173] On κελεύειν as the product of Matthean redaction, see Quieting a Storm, Comment to L5.
  • [174] In LXX οὐ + θέλειν occurs as the translation of לֹא אָבָה in Deut. 1:26; 2:30; 10:10; 23:6; Josh. 24:10; Judg. 11:17; 19:10, 25; 20:13; 1 Kgdms. 26:23; 2 Kgdms. 2:21; 12:17; 13:14, 16, 25; 14:29 (2xx); 23:16, 17; 4 Kgdms. 8:19; 13:23; 24:4; 1 Chr. 11:18; 19:19; Isa. 28:12; Ezek. 20:8.
  • [175] See Lindsey, GCSG, 101-102.
  • [176] See, for example, Yohanan the Immerser’s Question, L11.
  • [177] See LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style, under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [178] On Hasmonean admiration for the Romans, see David Flusser, “The Roman Empire in Hasmonean and Essene Eyes” (Flusser, JSTP1, 175-206).
  • [179] Since in rabbinic literature הָרַג had acquired the technical sense of “execute by means of beheading,” it is possible that this was the scenario envisioned in the parable.
  • [180] Cf. Delitzsch’s translation of ἐπέταξεν in Mark 6:27 as וַיְצַוֵּהוּ (“and he commanded him”), and Lindsey’s translation of ἐπέταξεν in Mark 6:27 as וַיְצַו (“and he commanded”; Lindsey, HTGM, 109).
  • [181] On καί + participle + aorist as the translation of vav-consecutive + vav-consecutive, see above, Comment to L51.
  • [182] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1426-1428.
  • [183] See Kutscher, 82-83 §123.
  • [184] The rejection of LXX’s historical present in 1 Kgdms. 31:11 is especially surprising, since the author of Mark displayed a strong preference for historical presents throughout his Gospel. On the use of the historical present in Mark, see LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style, under the subheading “Mark’s Freedom and Creativity.”
  • [185] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:34-36.
  • [186] See Dos Santos, 137.
  • [187] The verb τιθέναι occurs as the translation of נָתַן in the following verses: Gen. 1:17; 9:13; 15:10; 17:2, 5, 6; 40:3; 41:10, 48 (2xx); 42:30; Exod. 12:7; 26:33, 35; 29:12; 30:6, 18, 36; 40:5, 6, 22; Lev. 26:1, 11, 19, 30, 31; Josh. 22:25; 1 Kgdms. 6:8; 9:22; 2 Kgdms. 11:16; 3 Kgdms. 6:27 (Alexandrinus); 7:25[39]; 4 Kgdms. 5:1 (Alexandrinus); 2 Chr. 1:15; 3:16 (Alexandrinus); 4:6, 7, 10; 5:10; 6:13; 24:8; 31:6; 32:6; 35:3; 36:7; 2 Esd. 17:72 (Vaticanus); Job 19:23; 29:2; Ps. 17[18]:33; 32[33]:7; 38[39]:6; 49[50]:20; 68[69]:12; 78[79]:2; 88[89]:28; 104[105]:32; 118[119]:110; 148:6; Eccl. 7:21; Isa. 49:6; Jer. 1:5, 15, 18; 9:10; 28[51]:16; 32[25]:18; 35[28]:14; 39[32]:14; Ezek. 4:1, 3, 6; 5:14; 6:14; 14:3; 16:18, 19, 38; 19:9; 25:13; 28:14; 30:24 (Alexandrinus); 32:27; 35:9; 37:26; 43:8.
  • [188] See Dos Santos, 138.
  • [189] See Allen, Matt., 159; Schweizer, 317; Meier, “John the Baptist in Matthew’s Gospel,” 399 n. 58.
  • [190] Pace Bammel, who suggested that Matthew’s description of the Baptist’s disciples’ reporting his death to Jesus stemmed from Q. See Bammel, “The Baptist in Early Christian Tradition,” 99.
  • [191] On the incorporation of a Life of Yohanan the Immerser into the Hebrew Life of Yeshua, see the discussion in the Story Placement section of this LOY segment.
  • [192] On the chronological problem created by the redactional addition of the Baptist’s disciples’ reporting to Jesus, see Bundy (259 §155), Schweizer (317) and Davies-Allison (2:463, 475). Cope argued that the δέ in Matt. 14:13 (which introduces the pericope following Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution) resumes the narrative that was interrupted by the tale of the Baptist’s demise that began in Matt. 14:3, which the γάρ in Matt. 14:3 marks as parenthetical. Thus, according to Cope, Jesus withdrew across the Sea of Galilee not because of the Baptist’s disciples, but because somehow word of Antipas’ pondering of Jesus’ identity had reached Jesus. See Lamar Cope, “The Death of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Matthew; Or, The Case of the Confusing Conjunction,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 38.4 (1976): 515-519. For a critique of Cope’s argument, see Luz, 2:306 n. 9.
  • [193] Jesus’ method of transport, by boat (Matt. 14:13), is also problematic, since according to Matthew’s narrative the last location Jesus was said to have been was in his hometown (Matt. 13:54), which was presumably Nazareth, as in the Lukan parallel (Luke 4:16), although Mark’s version is no more explicit than Matthew’s as to the location (Mark 6:1). The author of Matthew also refers to Jesus’ arriving at his “own town” by boat (Matt. 9:1). In Mark’s parallel the town is identified as Capernaum (Mark 2:1). This leads us to one of two conclusions:

    1. The author of Matthew thought that Capernaum, not Nazareth, was the location of the synagogue in which Jesus proclaimed, “Only in his hometown is a prophet without honor” (Matt. 13:57). But this conclusion is challenged by Matt. 2:23, which states that Jesus grew up in Nazareth.
    2. The author of Matthew was of the erroneous opinion that Nazareth was located next to the Sea of Galilee.

    Does Matt. 4:13-15 suggest that the author of Matthew believed Nazareth was located along the Sea of Galilee? According to these verses, Jesus’ movement from Nazareth to Capernaum fulfilled Isaiah’s reference to “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali…the way of the sea” (Isa. 8:23). Did the author of Matthew misunderstand the Isaiah verse to imply that both tribal allotments were situated along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and that by moving from Nazareth to Capernaum Jesus was following a route along the edge of the sea?

  • [194]
    Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution
    Luke’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    πολλὰ μὲν οὖν καὶ ἕτερα παρακαλῶν εὐηγγελίζετο τὸν λαόν ὁ δὲ Ἡρῴδης ὁ τετραάρχης ἐλεγχόμενος ὑπ᾿ αὐτοῦ περὶ Ἡρῳδιάδος τῆς γυναικὸς τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν ἐποίησεν πονηρῶν Ἡρῴδης προσέθηκεν καὶ τοῦτο ἐπὶ πᾶσιν κατέκλεισεν τὸν Ἰωάνην ἐν φυλακῇ εἶπεν δὲ Ἰωάννης οὐκ ἔξεστιν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ ἔχειν Ἡρῳδιάδα τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀποστείλας δὲ Ἡρῴδης ἐκράτησεν τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἐνεῖχεν αὐτῷ Ἡρῳδιὰς καὶ ἠθέλησεν ἀποκτεῖναι αὐτὸν καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατο ἐφοβήθη γὰρ Ἡρῴδης τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ συνετήρησεν αὐτόν καὶ ἐγένετο ἡμέρα γενέσιος τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ δεῖπνον ἐποίησεν τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς χιλιάρχοις καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ὠρχήσατο ἡ θυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρῳδιάδος ἐν τῷ μέσῳ καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ καὶ τοῖς συνανακειμένοις εἶπεν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῷ κορασίῳ αἴτησόν με ὃ ἐὰν θέλῃς καὶ δώσω σοι καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῇ ὅ τι ἐάν με αἰτήσῃς δώσω σοι ἕως ἡμίσους τῆς βασιλείας μου καὶ ἐξελθοῦσα εἶπεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς τί αἰτήσωμαι καὶ εἶπεν τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ εἰσελθοῦσα μετὰ σπουδῆς πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα ᾐτήσατο λέγουσα δός μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ λυπηθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς συνανακειμένους οὐκ ἠθέλησεν ἀθετῆσαι αὐτήν καὶ ἀποστείλας ὁ βασιλεὺς σπεκουλάτορα ἐπέταξεν ἐνέγκαι τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ καὶ ἤνεγκεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῷ κορασίῳ καὶ ἤνεγκεν αὐτὴν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦλθαν καὶ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔθηκαν αὐτὸ[ν] ἐν μνημείῳ
    Total Words: 42 Total Words: 206
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 8  
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 19.05%

  • [195]
    Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution
    Mark’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    αὐτὸς γὰρ ὁ Ἡρῴδης ἀποστείλας ἐκράτησεν τὸν Ἰωάνην καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν ἐν φυλακῇ διὰ Ἡρῳδιάδα Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ὅτι αὐτὴν ἐγάμησεν ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὁ Ἰωάνης τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ ὅτι οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἔχειν τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ σου ἡ δὲ Ἡρῳδιὰς ἐνεῖχεν αὐτῷ καὶ ἤθελεν αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατογὰρ Ἡρῴδης ἐφοβεῖτο τὸν Ἰωάνην εἰδὼς αὐτὸν ἄνδρα δίκαιον καὶ ἅγιον συνετήρει αὐτόν καὶ ἀκούσας αὐτοῦ πολλὰ ἠπόρει καὶ ἡδέως αὐτοῦ ἤκουεν καὶ γενομένης ἡμέρας εὐκαίρου ὅτε Ἡρῴδης τοῖς γενεσίοις αὐτοῦ δεῖπνον ἐποίησεν τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς χειλιάρχοις καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς Γαλειλαίας καὶ εἰσελθούσης τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτοῦ Ἡρῳδιάδος καὶ ὀρχησαμένης ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ καὶ τοῖς συνανακειμένοις ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν τῷ κορασίῳ αἴτησόν με ὃ ἐὰν θέλῃς καὶ δώσω σοι καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῇ ὅ τι ἐάν με αἰτήσῃς δώσω σοι ἕως ἡμίσους τῆς βασιλείας μου καὶ ἐξελθοῦσα εἶπεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς τί αἰτήσωμαι ἡ δὲ εἶπεν τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάνου τοῦ βαπτίζοντος καὶ εἰσελθοῦσα εὐθὺς μετὰ σπουδῆς πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα ᾐτήσατο λέγουσα θέλω ἵνα ἐξαυτῆς δῷς μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάνου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ περίλυπος γενόμενος ὁ βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς ἀνακειμένους οὐκ ἠθέλησεν ἀθετῆσαι αὐτήν καὶ εὐθὺς ἀποστείλας ὁ βασιλεὺς σπεκουλάτορα ἐπέταξεν ἐνέγκαι τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ καὶ ἤνεγκεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῷ κορασίῳ καὶ τὸ κοράσιον ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦλθαν καὶ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔθηκαν αὐτὸ ἐν μνημείῳ εἶπεν δὲ Ἰωάννης οὐκ ἔξεστιν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ ἔχειν Ἡρῳδιάδα τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀποστείλας δὲ Ἡρῴδης ἐκράτησεν τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἐνεῖχεν αὐτῷ Ἡρῳδιὰς καὶ ἠθέλησεν ἀποκτεῖναι αὐτὸν καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατο ἐφοβήθη γὰρ Ἡρῴδης τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ συνετήρησεν αὐτόν καὶ ἐγένετο ἡμέρα γενέσιος τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ δεῖπνον ἐποίησεν τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς χιλιάρχοις καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ὠρχήσατο ἡ θυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρῳδιάδος ἐν τῷ μέσῳ καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ καὶ τοῖς συνανακειμένοις εἶπεν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῷ κορασίῳ αἴτησόν με ὃ ἐὰν θέλῃς καὶ δώσω σοι καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῇ ὅ τι ἐάν με αἰτήσῃς δώσω σοι ἕως ἡμίσους τῆς βασιλείας μου καὶ ἐξελθοῦσα εἶπεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς τί αἰτήσωμαι καὶ εἶπεν τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ εἰσελθοῦσα μετὰ σπουδῆς πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα ᾐτήσατο λέγουσα δός μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ λυπηθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς συνανακειμένους οὐκ ἠθέλησεν ἀθετῆσαι αὐτήν καὶ ἀποστείλας ὁ βασιλεὺς σπεκουλάτορα ἐπέταξεν ἐνέγκαι τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ καὶ ἤνεγκεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῷ κορασίῳ καὶ ἤνεγκεν αὐτὴν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦλθαν καὶ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔθηκαν αὐτὸ[ν] ἐν μνημείῳ
    Total Words: 245 Total Words: 206
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 178  
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 72.65%

  • [196]
    Yohanan the Immerser’s Execution
    Matthew’s Version Anthology’s Wording (Reconstructed)
    ὁ γὰρ Ἡρῴδης τότε κρατήσας τὸν Ἰωάνην ἔδησεν καὶ ἐν φυλακῇ ἀπέθετο διὰ Ἡρῳδιάδα τὴν γυναῖκα Φιλίππου τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ἔλεγεν γὰρ ὁ Ἰωάνης αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔξεστίν σοι ἔχειν αὐτήν καὶ θέλων αὐτὸν ἀποκτεῖναι ἐφοβήθη τὸν ὄχλον ἐπεὶ ὡς προφήτην αὐτὸν εἶχον γενεσίοις δὲ γενομένοις τοῦ Ἡρῴδου ὠρχήσατο ἡ θυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρῳδιάδος ἐν τῷ μέσῳ καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ ὅθεν μεθ᾿ ὅρκου ὡμολόγησεν αὐτῇ δοῦναι ὃ ἂν αἰτήσηται ἡ δὲ προβιβασθεῖσα ὑπὸ τῆς μητρὸς αὐτῆς δός μοι φησίν ὧδε ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάνου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ λυπηθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς συνανακειμένους ἐκέλευσεν δοθῆναι καὶ πέμψας ἀπεκεφάλισεν Ἰωάνην ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ καὶ ἠνέχθη ἡ κεφαλὴ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἐδόθη τῷ κορασίῳ καὶ ἤνεγκεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα καὶ ἔθαψαν αὐτὸν καὶ ἐλθόντες ἀπήγγειλαν τῷ Ἰησοῦ εἶπεν δὲ Ἰωάννης οὐκ ἔξεστιν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ ἔχειν Ἡρῳδιάδα τὴν γυναῖκα τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀποστείλας δὲ Ἡρῴδης ἐκράτησεν τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ ἔδησεν αὐτὸν ἐν φυλακῇ καὶ ἐνεῖχεν αὐτῷ Ἡρῳδιὰς καὶ ἠθέλησεν ἀποκτεῖναι αὐτὸν καὶ οὐκ ἠδύνατο ἐφοβήθη γὰρ Ἡρῴδης τὸν Ἰωάννην καὶ συνετήρησεν αὐτόν καὶ ἐγένετο ἡμέρα γενέσιος τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ δεῖπνον ἐποίησεν τοῖς μεγιστᾶσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς χιλιάρχοις καὶ τοῖς πρώτοις τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ὠρχήσατο ἡ θυγάτηρ τῆς Ἡρῳδιάδος ἐν τῷ μέσῳ καὶ ἤρεσεν τῷ Ἡρῴδῃ καὶ τοῖς συνανακειμένοις εἶπεν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῷ κορασίῳ αἴτησόν με ὃ ἐὰν θέλῃς καὶ δώσω σοι καὶ ὤμοσεν αὐτῇ ὅ τι ἐάν με αἰτήσῃς δώσω σοι ἕως ἡμίσους τῆς βασιλείας μου καὶ ἐξελθοῦσα εἶπεν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς τί αἰτήσωμαι καὶ εἶπεν τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ εἰσελθοῦσα μετὰ σπουδῆς πρὸς τὸν βασιλέα ᾐτήσατο λέγουσα δός μοι ἐπὶ πίνακι τὴν κεφαλὴν Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ καὶ λυπηθεὶς ὁ βασιλεὺς διὰ τοὺς ὅρκους καὶ τοὺς συνανακειμένους οὐκ ἠθέλησεν ἀθετῆσαι αὐτήν καὶ ἀποστείλας ὁ βασιλεὺς σπεκουλάτορα ἐπέταξεν ἐνέγκαι τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀπελθὼν ἀπεκεφάλισεν αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ φυλακῇ καὶ ἤνεγκεν τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ πίνακι καὶ ἔδωκεν αὐτὴν τῷ κορασίῳ καὶ ἤνεγκεν αὐτὴν τῇ μητρὶ αὐτῆς καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἦλθαν καὶ ἦραν τὸ πτῶμα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔθηκαν αὐτὸ[ν] ἐν μνημείῳ
    Total Words: 137 Total Words: 206
    Total Words Identical to Anth.: 80  
    Percentage Identical to Anth.: 58.39%

  • [197] There are those, however, who reject Josephus in favor of Mark and Matthew. See, for instance, Fred Strickert, “A Fresh Analysis of Josephus’ Portrayal of Herodias, Wife of Herod’s Sons,” in Bethsaida in Archaeology, History and Ancient Culture: A Festschrift in Honor of John T. Greene (ed. J. Harold Ellens; Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014), 361-394.
  • [198] The timing of the Baptist’s execution to coincide with Antipas’ birthday is one such detail that might be more literary than factual. The ancient sources mention only two Jewish birthday celebrations during the Second Temple period (Antipas’ and Agrippa’s), and both are modeled on the story of Pharaoh’s birthday in Gen. 40:20. See Schwartz, Agrippa I, 34; idem, “Agrippa’s Birthday—From Joseph to Josephus,” 123-128 (in Hebrew; for an English translation of this article, click here).
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    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
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