Daily Archives: 2010-11-18 16:37:34 GMT+0000

John the Baptist’s head: a eucharist for the Herods

Herodias' Revenge Museum Mayer van den Bergh, ...
Image via Wikipedia

Mark narrates in 6:14-29 the incident about Herod and John the Baptist in a way that makes the reader see it as endowed with a symbolic meaning. What we get is a perverted counter-eucharist: a deipnon among the Jewish political leaders which is dominated by the passions of the body (sexual desires) and in which the head of John the Baptist is served on a plate. (Fortunately, I am not the only one to read the story like this; cf. . . . . van Iersel B.M.F 1998: Mark. A Reader-Response Commentary, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 164, Sheffield).

This is from Henrik Tronier, Philonic Allegory in Mark [link downloads a 264 KB PDF file. Source:
http://www.pitts.emory.edu/hmpec/docs/TronierPhilonicAllegoryMark.pdf]. I feel incomplete not having read van Iersel, and feeling financially boa constricted when I see that the price of even a second hand copy is well in excess of $100!

Until I read this in Tronier’s article, almost the only literary criticism of this John the Baptist beheading passage that I had ever encountered was commentary on its rambling and irrelevant character, standing out as a curious out-of-place anomaly in the otherwise consistently terse pre-Passion narratives in Mark’s Gospel. The only exception to this pattern that I can recall at the moment is Dennis MacDonald’s linking it with popular stories of the murder of King Agamemnon (on his return from the Trojan War) by his wife Clytemnestra.

So in the absence of $130 to spare on Iersel, here are a few initial observations that might give reason to see this detailed anecdote as more meaningful than rambling after all: read more »