MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS: Herodias and Salome

HerodiasNotice the kind of influence Herodias had on her daughter. An oft used cliché, “two peas in a pod,” may be appropriately applied to these two. Salome (known by name only in secular history and never named in the Scriptures) was willing to follow her wicked mother’s request to shed innocent blood.

Which is more disgusting—Salome’s asking John’s head on a platter or dancing seductively for her step-father and his being pleased with her? The political manipulations of Herod trickled down through his house. His unlawful wife certainly knew how to orchestrate events to her advantage. (For a clearer historical view of the Herodian family, go here , here or here).

The first we read of Herodias is in Matthew 14:3, where she is mentioned as being in an adulterous marriage to Herod because she actually belonged to his brother Philip. Under the Jewish Law, this was a particularly heinous crime (Lev. 18:6).

Herodias was a granddaughter of Herod the Great. She was first married to Herod Philip, by whom she had a daughter, Salome, probably the one that danced and pleased Herod. Josephus says that this marriage of Herod Antipas with Herodias took place while he was on a journey to Rome. He stopped at his brother’s; fell in love with his wife; agreed to put away his own wife, the daughter of Aretas, King of Petraea; and Herodias agreed to leave her own husband and live with him. They were living, therefore, in adultery; and John, in faithfulness, though at the risk of his life, had reproved them for their crimes. Herod was guilty of two crimes in this act:

  1. Of “adultery,” since she was the wife of another man (Matt. 19:9; Mark 10:11).

  2. Of “incest,” since she was a near relation, and such marriages were expressly forbidden by Law. (Lev. 18:16).

“But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod” (Matt. 14:6-12; see also Mark 6:21-29). Several accounts of rulers observing their birthdays may be found in Scripture with one being Pharaoh in Genesis 40:20. Usually the guests included chief rulers and noblemen within their kingdoms.

SalomeWhen Salome danced in front a company of men, she violated all rules of modesty and propriety. No chaste or modest woman would ever have appeared in such a manner in public, much less dancing before a banquet filled with men. No doubt the profligate principles of her mother Herodias were what influenced her to do what she did. Lascivious and wanton dancing was intended to stir the emotions of men, particularly Herod in this case, who had obviously not made a covenant with their eyes not to look on a woman (Job 31:1).

Because her dancing stirred his fleshly nature and pleased him, Herod promised with an oath to give Salome whatever she wanted, up to the half of his kingdom (Matt. 4:7-9). His was a foolish, wicked oath to please an immoral girl. He called the eternal Father in Heaven to witness his willingness to give her up to half his kingdom (Mark 6:23).

The only semblance of what was right in the whole scenario was Salome’s honoring her mother by consulting her in what to ask from the king (Matt. 4:8; Mark 6:24). Who can know what was in her mind? Perhaps she wanted to please her mother, or perhaps she truly did not know what to ask for herself after such an outlandish offer from her stepfather. Nonetheless, through Salome, Herodias was able to accomplish the wickedness she had planned.

When Herodias told her daughter to request John’s head in a charger, she should have been repulsed. A charger was a large platter on which food was served, and any normal girl would have felt sick to think of such a dish. Yet Salome seemed to be happy enough with her mother’s direction, because John, in his faithfulness to the Law of the God of Heaven, had offended the whole family. This was a chance for Herodias and Salome to get revenge for John’s correction.

Herod was sorry about his oath—possibly for several reasons. 1) Herod had a high respect for John, and feared him, because he knew that he was a holy man. 2) John was highly valued among the people, and Herod might have been afraid that his murder would excite a riot. 3) The act would be the murder of an acknowledged prophet of the Lord—going way beyond satisfying the hatred of a vengeful woman and her daughter. 4) For his honor’s sake and for the sake of those at the feast, he gave the order to have John beheaded in prison. He may have pondered ways to do something else, but for his oath’s sake he felt bound. Fulfilling an oath can never justify a man’s committing murder. Not only Herod but also all men are bound by a higher obligation—by the law of God—not to commit murder (Gen. 9:6). Nothing could justify disobedience to that law.

Although the head was with Herodias, John’s disciples took the body and buried it (Matt. 14:12). Then, they went and told Jesus, probably, for the following reasons:

  1. It was an important event, and one particularly connected with the work of Jesus. John was his forerunner, and it was important that Jesus should know of his death.

  2. It is not unreasonable to suppose that in their affliction they also came to him for comfort.

  3. John the Baptist had been slain by King Herod. Jesus was the Christ of whom John spoke, and the disciples may have feared he was in danger too. They came to warn him, and he (Matt. 14:13) for their sakes moved away from the scene to a place of safety in the desert.

i. Barnes’ Notes, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.

ii. ibid

4 thoughts on “MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS: Herodias and Salome

  1. I always enjoy reading your articles, Beth! Excellent! I too find it interesting that we’re rarely told through the Scriptures how a person “felt.” Hannah would be one exception to that. It seems to be necessary in her case, but not in the case of Herodias and Salome. Hannah’s feelings were highly spiritual, feelings we cannot have or understand without a sincerely devoted heart. The emotions of Herodias and Salome were purely worldly, fleshly emotions which we ourselves may be tempted to have. Herodias apparently was masterly at manipulation. Even while teaching her daughter to be manipulative, I think she also manipulated the girl and trained her to be emotionally dependent on Herodias. We can see these same kinds of relationships around us today, and I’ve seen it in Christian families. Salome’s age at the time is not revealed. She could have been grown, but she may well have been quite young, perhaps just learning to “dance”. We see parents today who allow their children to participate in activities which require immodest dress and/or movements. Parents and children are proud of the child’s new accomplishments and eager to show off. I can imagine a scenario in which Salome says: “Mom, look what I learned!” and Herodias says: “Oh, go show your ‘father’, he will be so pleased!” Her true thought is “I can use this!” I was “friends” with a Christian lady for a while who was co-dependent and highly manipulative. Sometimes, she would reveal her true intentions about things she said or did in her relationships with other Christians, her husband, and her family. Most of the time, I would see all the pieces of the “puzzle” and how they fit much later, after it was too late. Then, all I could do was to say, “Let me explain to you how she just used you.” I’ve known other Christians who have exhibited the same kind of behavior, so it’s easy for me to imagine a scheming, conniving, smirking Herodias playing her games to accomplish her evil objectives. Makes me shudder! I don’t watch “soap operas,” but I’ve seen enough to know this is the kind of behavior, plotting and scheming, which is typical of those “stories” and characters such as J. R. Ewing on the old “Dallas” program. Larry Hagman could sure smirk!

    Keep up the good work, dear Sister! Love and appreciate you much!



    1. Janice,
      The problem with imagining how someone might have felt is that we would be adding to the word. I was so tempted to make this “live” by adding my own words that I eventually couldn’t think what to say–even about truths that were evident.

      To me, Herodias and Salome are the New Testament extensions of Jezebel and Athaliah–truly wicked women. They ruined a man and possibly a dynasty as you may have seen in the two links I provided from my Dickson Bible. I did a lot of research on Herod and found from the account in Josephus that Herodias urged Herod to demand to be king. At that point he was banished but not executed. She too had to accompany him into exile because of the shame attached to their demands. I did not find out what happened to Salome other than who she married.

      I do so appreciate your observations and hope we can continue to study all these things that have to do with life here as well as eternity.

      Love you much!


  2. I am often struck by how well the God relates events in a way that our emotions respond yet the story is still written simply. The lack of details about how the women “felt” is left out – but the implication is given by their actions. The culture of the court may have given Salome to believe that there was nothing wrong with her dancing – but we know by Herod’s response that it was inappropriate – no matter what society normally dictated. When I carry the thought forward to think about how this is his BROTHER’s daughter he is lusting after – what a sexually driven world were the times Herod lived in! This makes me sick and relieved at the same time – sick at the thought, but relieved when I realize that as a common rule, our society is not yet back to this point, YET. Mothers will continue to influence daughters (and sons) – and if morality is still held in any esteem, we may keep the complete deterioration of Noah’s time from defining our own. Mothers – teach your daughters – as older women who have lived and know what is beneficial! Even those living worldly focused lives often know within themselves that there is something better.


    1. Angi,
      You say it so well. We can definitely look back through history and see the debauchery, and know it is not fit for any nation. The “ME GENERATION” surely believes it is their right to live life to please themselves.

      Remember during the time of the Judges when every man did what was right in his own eyes? Yes, the generation of Noah’s time was only evil continually. I can’t help believing there are some sins everyone knows are wrong. Even the Gentiles who were not under the Law of Moses were a law unto themselves. They knew it was wrong to take another man’s wife or to lie and steal!


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