A naive king, a night-dark queen and one playful princess;
a banquet hall with a royal ball in a castle with a dungeon;
a royal wedding, a wrongful beheading, divorces and courtiers;
noblemen and haunting ghouls and border wars of honor.
This is an outline of the Gospel lectionary reading for this Sunday (Mark 6:14-29). It has many trappings of a classic European fairytale.
If you come to worship this Sunday, I would like to invite you to step inside this story and help transform it from within.
We will have the privilege of rescuing a royal princess from vicious and false accusations of wanton murder.
In our quest we will cross the chasm of time and traverse a bubbling swamp of literalism.
We will poke some holes in the dark armor of immoral morality of preachers and confront their pet beasts of Misogyny and Prejudice with their seductive grins, corrosive spittle and mighty bites.
I am convinced that if we succeed in our quest, we will vindicate the princess, transform the story, change our self-understanding and gain new insight and joyful liberty.
A few supportive theses for this new interpretation of Mark 6:14-29
1) John the Baptist was not executed because of the whim and vindictiveness of Herodias.
Antipas married Herodias and divorced Phasaelis(Shaudat?), daughter of king Aretas IV of Nabatea. Aretas was offended, tension grew, and hostilities eventually led to a regular war. The situation was even more complicated because Antipas was a client prince of Rome while Aretas started as a vassal king but grew ever more independent of Rome. This was an unpleasant conflict along the edge of the Roman domain. In such a situation John’s criticism of Antipas marriage was certainly viewed as subversive and undermining the morale of the army in the run up to the war. John was executed, later Antipas lost the war (Josephus Flavius also reported that people also made this connection between John's execution and lost war - Ant.18.5.2.§116ff) and eventually Antipas lost the support of Rome and was sent to exile in Gaul. Herodias (because of her Hasmonean descent) was given permission to stay in Galilee, but she chose to accompany Antipas to exile. (She did love him!)
2) Biblical families (royal as well as ordinary) cannot be used to model modern style families.
This is an elemental genealogy chart of the broader Herodian family as printed in The Anchor Bible Dictionary III.179. It clearly shows the complex nature of the endogamous family. Peasant families from Judea or Galilee would look very similar, perhaps even more intertwined and complex, but there is virtually no reliable data to create such a chart. The Herodian family was unique because we have data, not because of its form. More on the endogamous model of families and societal impact is presented here: Sociology of family values.
3) In traditional religious/folk tales, misogyny is quite a common and popular form of prejudice.
The story of Herodias and Salome casts the main female characters according to the standard model of manipulative seductress (power-possessed women abusing their sexual attraction, in this case divided into two personae). Another biblical example would be Jezebel and Ahab. This traditional misogyny was considered so potent that it was used to denigrate the associated male characters. Ergo: Antipas and Ahab are presented as weak and controlled by vicious women. (But that is exactly the prejudiced misogynistic scheme!)
4) Implicit as well as explicit religious criticism of immorality of the rich is generally shallow and inconsequential.
From a systemic perspective lasciviousness, absence of good taste, arrogance and excesses of the powerful are mere symptoms and not root causes of societal discord and disconnect. Criticism of blatant symptoms is popular but is not going to change the rules of the game. The implicit criticism of the sexual immorality of the Herod Antipas family is missing true immorality: Quisling (slavish) attitude towards foreign occupation, cutthroat exploitation of the poor and powerless and forced modernization of society without appropriate social nets (Hellenistic urbanization and latifundialisation/land-grab of the country.)