The Dancing Girl in Mark 6

Nov 2016
First the complete scene:

21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias's daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

The dancer is referred to in the Greek manuscripts as ´korasion´. According to ancient Near Eastern criteria, she is thus younger than 12.5 years, i.e. probably 10-12. An emphatically erotic note of the dance is not mentioned in the Gospels, but can be read from the enthusiastic reaction of the male spectators and especially of Antipas. According to the criteria of antiquity, this reaction does not violate any moral taboo. The dance of an aristocrat, however, at such a festivity, whether daughter of Herodias or Antipas (more on this below), would have violated the norm of that time, because that such typically erotic performances were only performed by slaves and were inadmissible for aristocrats. Some exegetes consider the authenticity of the dance scene questionable for this reason alone.

A possible objection that the dance need not necessarily have been erotic should be rejected as an attempt to save the historicity of the scene with an unrealistic construction. Another objection can be taken more seriously: a Herodian woman, in this case the daughter of Herodias or Antipas, might well have been able to break conventions of her time and - for example - dance seductively at a banquet. A contrary indication is the non-presence of Herodias at the banquet, who thus complies with a convention of the time, which according to such celebrations only take place among men, with the exception of female slaves dancing. It is more than unlikely that a 10-12 year-old girl can manage to do what the much more powerful Herodias cannot, namely break a social norm. In addition, Antipas seems very surprised at the performance. If it was really his or Herodias´ daughter, he would have been familiar with the abilities of the girl, unless she had learned to dance without Antipas´ knowledge, what is unlikely.

Provided the dancer was a daughter of Herodias or Antipas, this also eliminates the possibility that Antipas is the initiator of the dance performance (and thus of break with convention), since in this case he would hardly be surprised by the quality of the dance. So it can hardly be doubted that the fascination aroused by the girl´s dance is of sexual nature. However, in contrast to the Persian king in the Esther book Antipas shows his feelings exclusively in symbolic way, namely by the offer of a valuable gift (while beyond that the Persian king desires concrete sex). Whoever finds a dancing girl so attractive like Antipas that he offers her half a kingdom, has sexual reasons, not aesthetic ones. In Mk 6 it is clearly written that Antipas and his guests were not pleased by the dance, but the dancing girl. Moreover, the incest rules in the book Leviticus do not prohibit a sexual relationship between father and daughter. According to Roman law in force in Galilee at that time, however, such incest was inadmissible, which does not play a role in our context, since it is not a concrete incest to discuss, but a psychological one, i.e. an unconsious incest fantasy of the author(s) of the Herodias periscope.

It is easy to conclude that the beauty contest for the new queen was under the same conditions (dancing naked) that the queen Vashti had been given before, but were refused by her, which led to her death sentence and subsequent pardon and banishment because of insulting the king. In the Esther book these conditions are not made explicit, in the Jewish Midrash tradition (e.g. Esther Rabbah 1,11 and Megillah 12), in knowledge of Persian customs, however, they are read from the text. In the ´Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer´, which goes back to very old sources, it is stated in section 49 that the kings of Media had the habit of enjoying the sight of their naked dancing wives. The king in the Esther Book, Artaxerxes, was king of Media and Persia. Irrespective of the fact that the Esther book is fictional, it can therefore be assumed with certainty that the candidates also had to dance naked in a beauty contest (for the position of queen). It goes without saying that this also applies to Esther, who eventually wins the fictive competition.

Regardless of whether the revealing scenes otherwise mentioned in the Esther book were the model for the dance in the Herodias pericope, it can be assumed that the Esther book influenced the Herodias pericope not only in terms of blank promises, but also in terms of seductive dance.

In Biblical studies there is confusion as to whose daughter the dancing girl is or should be. In old Mark manuscripts such as the Alexandrinus manuscript speaks of a "daughter of Herodias", while other editions, Sinaiticus, Vaticanicus and Codex Bezae, offer the variant "his daughter, Herodias", thus a daughter of Antipas named Herodias. Due to the mention of the Herodias daughter Salome (from her marriage with Philip I) in the Antiquities, the translation "daughter of Herodias" was able to prevail for some time, but is increasingly questioned and replaced in more recent Bible editions by "his (Herod Antipas') daughter, Herodias". The traditional version was certainly also motivated by the lack of a daughter of Antipas in the historical tradition. In addition, a daughter relationship of the dancer to Herodias is much more accommodating to the tendency in Mk 6 to blame her for the death of the Baptist than a daughter relationship to Antipas, who is only shown as an involuntary instrument for the execution of the crime.

In addition, there are chronological complications in identifying the dancer with Salome. According to Ant. 18.136 Herodias divorced from Philip I after the birth of his daughter Salome to marry his half-brother Antipas. Under these circumstances Salome would have been an infant at the time of the banquet and therefore not a candidate for the dancer's identity. Based on Josephus´ chronology of the Aretas conflict, according to which Antipas and Herodias did not marry before 34 CE, Herodias must have been around 40 at the time of Salome's birth, assuming her own birth before 7 BCE, since Herod the Great had his son Aristobul, Herodias´ father, executed this year. At the age of 40 and more, many women still had children at that time; the only strange thing is that no earlier child of Herodias has been handed down historically. Set, she married Philip I. at about 16, as is usual with Herodian women, she would have remained childless for over 20 years, what is unlikely.

The question of authenticity in the Herodias pericope is a bit more complicated. Here there are not only discrepancies between Mk and Josephus´ report with regard to Herodias´ role for the end of the Anabaptist, but also inconsistencies in the temporal classification of events in the Mk, which in sum speaks against a historicity (1) of the alleged cause of decapitation by Herodias in the Mk and (2) of the dance of the daughter of Herodias described in the Mk and the associated demand for the head of the Baptist on a platter. The dance scene must also be considered a product of the imagination of the author or the formation of legends for other reasons.
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Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I've got the work by Josephus in Italian translation. As for I've found, Josephus doesn't mention the episode of the dance, so that to identify that dancer with Salomè is useless from a historical perspective. Josephus says [XVIII: 116-119] that John had imprisoned in the "Macheronte" where he got executed and this, according to some Jews, was the reason of the defeat of Herod. He says that it was a decision of the King to put John in Jail and about his execution he doesn't mention the dance.

We could reason why the authors of the Gospels introduced that episode: to make the figure of Herod more crazy and evil?
Nov 2016
Judith 13 describes in a splatter scene (13:7 ff.) how Judith beheads a sleeping Assyrian officer and neatly wraps his head to present him to a Jewish crowd (13:18). Then she shows him to Achior with the words:

Judith 13
28 And (so) that thou prove that it is so, lo! the head of Holofernes, which in the despite of his pride despised God of Israel, and he menaced death to thee, and said, When the people of Israel is taken, I shall command thy sides to be pierced with a sword.

Both Esther and Judith act, the first by intrigue, the second by violence, against fictitiously constructed enemies of Judaism (Haman and Holofernes) and thus seem to foreshadow the plot of the Mk narrative, where intrigue and sword are however not directed against enemies of Judaism, but against one of its outstanding protagonists (John). I assume that the Judith story is also part of the material that inspired the Mk author or the author of a legend inserted in Mk 6 for the fictional banquet pericope.

Another component of this material was probably an incident involving Lucius Quinctius Flaminius, which can be read in Livius, Cicero and Seneca and led to Flaminuis´ expulsion from the Senate in 184 BCE. At a banquet, the senator gave in to the wish of a courtesan he loved to witness a beheading on the spot, and had a convicted prisoner beheaded in front of the courtesan and the other guests. If one puts Antipas in the place of Flaminius, Herodias or the daughter in the place of the courtesan, the Baptist in the place of the prisoner and the (fictitious) infatuation of Antipas with the dancer in the place of Flaminius' love for the courtesan, an analogy results which is hardly coincidental.

Interesting are certain analogies between the Baptist narrative and the Jezebel-Elijah episode from 1 Kings 18 ff. One can see a parallel between the decapitation motif in Mk, being caused by Herodias, and the threat to Elijah by the polytheistic wife of Ahab, Jezebel, who is on the outs with the prophet because of the killing of Baal priests by Elijah's ´sword´ (1 Kings 19):

2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

Baal's cult had been introduced in the kingdom by Jezebel herself, according to 1 Kings. As can be seen, Jezebel gives the prophet an opportunity to save and escape his life, which he takes advantage of for fear (19:3). All the evidence suggests that "this time tomorrow" Elijah would be killed with a sword if he remained. From a neutral point of view, Jezebel shows moral integrity here, however in the Christian interpretation, because of her polytheistic influence on Ahab, she has a negative status similar to Herodias as alleged enemy of the Baptist. What according to Mk Herodias was accused of by the Baptist, namely incestuous marriage with an uncle, was in Jewish eyes representative of polytheism, i.e. the ´sin´ of Jezebel. The analogy is thus specified as follows:

Elijah / Baptist: the former attacks polytheism, the latter a polytheistic practice

Herodias / Jezebel: the former strikes back with the sword, the latter threatens to do so

Ahab / Antipas: both are ´negatively´ influenced by their wives
Jul 2017
The Biblical Nebuchadnezzar is modelled after Artaxerxes III , Holofernes is the brother of Ariarathes, the satrap of Cappadocia and vassal of Artaxerxes.


-Book of Daniel-
Daniel (Aristander)
Nebuchadnezzar (Artaxerxes Ochus III) *Shishak
Belshazzar (Arses)
Darius ( Darius III)
Cyrus (Alexander the Great)

Ezra was about during the reign of Artaxerxes III.

Ezra 7:1
Zadok > Shallum > Hilkiah > Azariah > Seraiah > Ezra
In the reign of Artaxerxes (III) * Ezra goes to Babylon

1 Chronicle 6:15
Zadok > Shallum > Hilkiah > Azariah > Seraiah > Jeho-Zadok (Ezra)
Jehozadak went into captivity, when the LORD carried away Judah and Jerusalem by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

David & Solomon can be moved too the period of Artaxerxes III.
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Nov 2016
We could reason why the authors of the Gospels introduced that episode: to make the figure of Herod more crazy and evil?
I think Herod Antipas rather is the good cop in this story and Herodias the bad one. Like in the Luke gospel (see below) he is showing a certain inclination towards the victim, there Jesus ("he doesn´t deserve death"), here John Baptist ("knowing him to be a righteous and holy man"). The black sheep is Herodias, taking the role of Jezebel in the Elijah context. I wrote about this in my precedent post. I suppose that this contrived analogy serves to demonstrate the Baptist as sort of a reincarnation of Elijah.

While in the Mk the Baptist appears as accuser of Herod Antipas' incestuous marriage - according to Jewish criteria - with his niece Herodias and is finally killed due to Herodias´ desire, Josephus in the Antiquities points out to the marriage of both as being unlawful from a Jewish point of view, but nowhere mentions an accusation of this relationship by the Baptist.

That Mark focused his Gospel specifically on a Roman audience in order to convince them of the truth of Christianity is broad consensus in the professional world. In the Gospel of Lk, too, Antipas tends to be drawn in a Christ-friendly manner. It is true that in Lk 13,31, according to the Pharisees, he wants Jesus to die. At a later point, however, which is decisive (in the Passion story) the contrary is said: Antipas finds no guilt with Jesus (Lk 23,15): "Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death." Here, too, Antipas is presented, from a Christian view, positively or non-negatively, i.e. in a morally relieving way.

Antipas´ father, Herod the Great, was proclaimed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate in 40 BCE and was officially appointed by Anthony and Octavian three years later, after he had eliminated the last Hasmonaean king, Antigonus, with Roman support. From five wives he had seven sons, three of them (Antipater, Aristobul, Alexander) did not survive because he had them executed. To three other sons (Antipas, Archelaus, Philipp II. called ´Tetrarch´) he bequeathed (a) Galilee and Perea, (b) Judea and (c) an area northeast of Lake Galilee. The seventh son, Philip I., uncle and later first husband of Herodias and as a such the father of Salome, was not accepted as a heir and lived on as a private citizen.

Antipas, Archelaus and Philip II were completely politically dependent on Rome, which is alone shown by the fact that the testamentary provisions of Herod were approved and the rule of the brothers could come into force only by the ratification by Augustus. Archelaus was allowed by Rome to call himself a king, while Antipas and Philip II. had to be content with the tetrarch title. Among the Jews, however, Antipas in Aramaic language was titled ´malka´, which roughly corresponds to the royal title. In Mk 6,14 there is therefore a reference to Antipas as ´king Herod´, while Luke, in this case closer to the facts, calls Antipas a tetrarch.

The political dependence of the Herod sons is also evident in the dismissal of Archelaus by Rome after nine years, because the brutality of his rule had exceeded every acceptable degree, even by Roman standards. Instead, Judea was declared a third-class Roman province and a Roman prefect was appointed as plenipotentiary; ´third-class´ because these prefects had only the status of a Roman knight. Only with Claudius´ rule from 41 CE the name of the Jewish governor changed to ´procurator´.

Legally, Antipas, as a regent by Rome's grace, would not have been able to transfer half of his dominion to another person due to the promise allegedly made to the dancer.

In addition, Mk 6,21 names the "noblest of Galilee" as guests of the banquet. These would have been directly affected by a edistribution of the intra-Galilean dominion and would have been appalled rather than amused by the alleged capriole of an oath by Herod, especially since their potential new mistress, the dancer, was still in her adolescent years. An experienced regent like Antipas would certainly have avoided such a massive affront.

Furthermore, the reference to the book Esther, which itself is considered highly fictional in Biblical studies, strongly speaks against the historicity of the Herodias pericope. Here are quotations for comparison:

Esther 5:
6 At the banquet of wine the king said to Esther, “What is your petition? It shall be granted you. What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!”

Mk 6:
23 He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”

Mk 6,23 is obviously a plagiarism of Esther 5,6. That Antipas, feeling in a party mood, wanted such an expression to be understood as an ironic quotation from the Esther Book is hardly imaginable in view of the consequences which the promise of Artaxerxes led to, notabene within the frame of a fiction.
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
Mark's story about the death of John the Baptist was probably created to portray Herod Antiipas in a bad light. Herod is portrayed as weak willed, and insisting his daugther, step or otherwise, dance in front of his guest does him no credit.

It need not have been invented by the writer of Mark but just a rumor floating around he include There seems little historical about Mark's story, other than John tne Baptist was killed by Antipas for speaking out against Antipas. Jesus in tne Gospels goes out of his way not to say anything that directly attacked tne local ruler, and clever manages to avoid traps of his opponents that could be construed as preaching disobedianc against the ruling authorities


Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Mark's story about the death of John the Baptist was probably created to portray Herod Antiipas in a bad light. Herod is portrayed as weak willed, and insisting his daugther, step or otherwise, dance in front of his guest does him no credit.

It need not have been invented by the writer of Mark but just a rumor floating around he include There seems little historical about Mark's story, other than John tne Baptist was killed by Antipas for speaking out against Antipas. Jesus in tne Gospels goes out of his way not to say anything that directly attacked tne local ruler, and clever manages to avoid traps of his opponents that could be construed as preaching disobedianc against the ruling authorities

I think so too. At the end the purpose of the Gospels was the diffuse The Message. If some events had added just as corollary ... it happened. Once I heard a shepherd saying ... "the author of the Bible is the creator of the readers of the Bible, but this doesn't mean that humans have added something to the original Message". I think he was quite right.

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