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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Herodias (c. 15 BC-after 39 AD) was a Jewish princess of the Herodian dynasty.




Herod II

Around the year AD 1 or 2, she married her uncle, Herod II, also called Herod Boethus, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne II, daughter of the high priest Simon Boethus. Although seen for a while as the successor of Herod the Great, he fell from grace after his mother's implication in a plot to kill the king. After his marriage with Herodias, he and his wife lived as upper-class private citizens in or near a harbor city, possibly Azotus, Ashkelon or Caesarea Maritima. With him, Herodias had a daughter (born circa 14), whom she named Salome after Herodias's maternal grandmother.

Herod Antipas

However, around 23, she divorced her husband and married another uncle, Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. Although Herod Antipas and Herodias may really have loved each other, political considerations were probably of more importance to them in this marriage - Herodias' Hasmonean descent was a very good asset for Antipas' ambitions to the royal crown and gave a sort of legitimacy to his claim; for Herodias, her marriage with Antipas improved her social status very significantly and she was close to being a queen, a position she might have dreamed of since her betrothal to her first husband, the former sole legatee of Herod the Great. However this union was not well received by Antipas' subjects and offended the religious sensibilities of many Jews. Indeed, Antipas' and Herodias' union was considered a violation of Jewish Law of marriage and was openly criticized by John the Baptist. This may have enraged the Hellenistically educated Herodian couple, who probably wanted to pose before the population as observant Jews. In the Jewish law of the time, the sin of the marriage was not that Herod Antipas was her uncle (marriage to an uncle was only later outlawed), but rather she was his living brother's ex-wife.

In 37, Herodias' brother Herod Agrippa was made king over the territories of Batanaea and Trachonitis and the tetrarchy of the late Lysanias. This roused Herodias' jealousy and she prodded Antipas to sail for Rome and ask the title of king from the emperor Gaius Caligula. They embarked for Italy in late 39. However, they were outsmarted by Agrippa, who had sent letters to Caligula denouncing Antipas' alliance with Parthia and other of his misdeeds. When Caligula deposed Antipas and sentenced him to exile in what is now Lyon (Gaul), he offered Herodias the possibility to return in Judea and live at the court of her brother. But she proudly refused and accompanied her husband in his banishment. They probably died in their exile, shortly afterwards.

In the Gospels

Caravaggio's Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.

In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Herodias plays a major role in John the Baptist's execution, using her daughter's dance before Antipas and his party guests to ask for the head of the Baptist as a reward. Antipas did not want to put John the Baptist to death, for Antipas liked to listen to John the Baptist preach (Mark 6:20). Furthermore, Antipas may have feared that if he put John the Baptist to death, his followers would riot.

Modern scholarship

At least one biblical scholar has doubted that the Gospels give historically accurate accounts of John the Baptist's execution. According to the ancient historian Josephus, John the Baptist was put to death by Antipas for political reasons, for Antipas feared the prophet's seditious influence. Some exegetes believe that Antipas' and Herodias' struggle with John the Baptist as told in the Gospels was some kind of a remembrance of the political and religious fight opposing the Israeli monarchs Achab and Jezebel to the prophet Elijah.Template:Fact

In medieval literature

In medieval Europe a widespread belief held Herodias to be the supernatural leader of a supposed cult of witches, synonymous with Diana, Holda and Abundia. See Cult of Herodias.

Further reading

  • Gillman, Florence Morgan. Herodias: At Home in the Fox's Den. Interfaces. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2003.
  • Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume Two: Mentor, Message and Miracles. Anchor Bible Reference Library, New York: Doubleday, 1994.
  • Theissen, Gerd. The Shadow of the Galilean: The Quest of the Historical Jesus in Narrative Form. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987.

Herodias in fiction

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Herodias" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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