The three Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) give accounts of John the Baptist’s feud with Herodias over her marriage to Antipas. The closest the gospel of John comes is to say…For John was not yet cast into prison. (3:24)
The Synoptic authors do not seem to care that Herodias is trying to get herself and Antipas named as the king and queen that would once again allow the Jews to reclaim rule in Jerusalem. John is most often depicted in the gospels as a hermit prophet and affiliated with the Essene priests perhaps living at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. In the earlier post on Elizabeth, we saw how John’s mother was adamantly described as a “daughter of Aaron”, a daughter of a High Priest. We saw how the Essen were expecting a king messiah and a priest messiah and that a priest messiah would outrank a king messiah. Especially for the priest messiah (an anointed priest/prophet), it would have been essential that he have a genealogy and bloodline uncontaminated with Herodian blood. Coincidentally, the gospels show Elizabeth to have a prophecy and be married to a worthy priest/high priest…which is what the terms “just” and “daughter of Aaron,” meant…meaning that John could, in real life, flesh and blood, be that High Priest Messiah longed for by the writers of the Zadokite Document quoted in the earlier post on Elizabeth.
Josephus also speaks of John…
John that was called the Baptist; for Herod (Antipas) slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism…Now, when others came to crowd about him, hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus…and was there put to death…Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.V.2
Not one word about Herodias. But…by divorcing Aretas’ daughter, Antipas lost the backing of the marriage alliance with her which put him at “enmity” with his Arabian neighbors, even as Herodias was abandoning her own base Hasmonean/Boethusian base. This unnamed Arabian wife realized what Antipas was up to and had made her way to Macheras, across the Jordan and from there fled back to her father where they prepared to go to war with Antipas. Mark, the earliest New Testament gospel, adamantly blames the death of John on Herodias.
For Herod [Antipas] himself…laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias sake, his brother[i] Philip’s wife; for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not. For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy…Mark 6:17
Luke, the only Gospel to preserve (or at least relate) John’s birth story, follows Josephus in not directly condemning Herodias for John’s death, but gives us a glimpse of John’s more militant side:
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar…Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came to John in the wilderness…Then said he to the multitude…O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?…And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire….” But Herod the tetrarch being reproved by him for Herodias his brother (Herod’s)…wife, and for all the evils which Herod (Antipas) had done, Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison…Luke 3:1-20
Antipas will soon be drawn into a war with Aretas that he is not prepared to win and could have used the help of the Essen so it was not really a wise thing to kill John at just this time. There are those who feel that John was the leader of the (Essen) militants preparing soldiers for a holy war against Antipas.[ii] Clearly, Antipas felt that John was a military threat no less that Judas the Galilean who started a major rebellion over the census. (Acts 5:33-39) We now know, too, from the Dead Sea Scrolls, that the Essenes were not all that peaceful, as New Agers would like us to believe, and were definitely preparing for a Holy War[iii]. They were waiting for the return of their unjustly killed Teacher of Righteousness to lead them and may have seen John as that resurrected leader…as later even Antipas will think that Jesus might have been John resurrected:
At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. Mark 14:1-2[iv]
So the enmity between Herodias and John the Baptist was over the kingdom. Herodias had the royal bloodline but she was also kin to John son of Elizabeth and knew that he was beginning to make his move. John had family tie issues as well as she did…but he used the Mosaic law on marriage between half-brothers to try to foil Herodias and Antipas’ attempt to get the kingdom back. As Jesus will be quoted early on as saying (but written from hindsight):
And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. Mark 3:24-25
[i] Mark and Josephus are in error with “Philip.” (Was Mark using Josephus? They were both writing about the same time.) Herodias’ father was Herod the son of the high priest’s daughter. See Wars of the Jews Book I XXV.III.4. Herodias’ daughter is married to Herod Philip, as we will see. Clearly Salome did not marry her own father.
[ii] My favorite is “The Wilderness Revolt: A New View of the Life and Death of Jesus Based on Ideas and Notes of the Late Bishop James A. Pike” by Diane Kennedy Pike (His wife wrote the book after Bishop Pike died in the Wilderness researching the book.) Doubleday 1972. It was one of the first books that set me on this path. I told you I’ve been at it a long time.
[iii] Read any book on the Dead Sea Scrolls—the War Scroll, etc., also Josephus tell us in the last big war with Rome in 65-70 A.D., one of the leaders of the Jews was John the Essene and the Essen at Qumran fought to the last man. More later.
[iv] Josephus indicates that at least “certain” Pharisees believed in resurrection and rewards in heaven for a martyred death from the days of Judas Maccabeus. The Sadducees did not. (Wars 2.164-166…II.VIII.9-10)