The Beheading of the Baptist.
Mark 6, 14 -29.
First we remove the note which introduces the report and – pulls it by the hair. Herod is said to have been moved by the news of Jesus’ miracles to assume that he might be the risen Baptist *). As if the Baptist had performed miracles and a person who attracted attention by his miraculous activity had to be thought of as the resurrected Baptist. And how should Herod have imagined the resurrection and return of John in Jesus? He could not even grasp this idea, since there was no concept among the Jews of his time that could have made it possible for him to see an individual who had already lived at the same time as the Baptist as a revenant. How ridiculous the theologian makes himself when he seriously considers this note and accepts it as historical is shown by screwed explanations such as that of de Wette: “It is an outrageous idea, not lying in the ordinary belief in immortality, that John the Baptist rose from the dead in Christ; it touched, moreover, on the greatest thoughtlessness, since one could easily have learned that Jesus was John’s contemporary **)”. But it is merely absurd and based on the greatest thoughtlessness when the theologian babbles in the magic circle of the letter and does not have the courage to see beyond this circle. So one could easily have learned that Jesus and John were peers? Yes, if one could have shown Herod the Gospel of Luke! But it was possible to find out, and anyone who wanted to know would have known, that Jesus did not fall out of the air as an adult.
*) About the assumption of the people that Jesus was Elijah, later!
**) l, 1, 130.
The assumption of Herod is only made and made very unhappy in order to introduce the king into the story of Jesus, to introduce the following passage and to motivate the report of the beheading of the Baptist at this very point. It may do as it pleases: Mark is not very worried about it, and if the theologian feels more worried, that is purely and solely his fault.
The report of the beheading of the Baptist also caused the theologians much concern; but no! – we must always add this retraction – they made the matter miserably easy for themselves and sacrificed reason, history and the most definite news of Josephus to the biblical letter, as they always do, so also here with true theological recklessness. Their raging fear for the letter of the Bible has blinded them to the account of Josephus, once they have looked at it.
We shall resolve the matter rather cheerfully – but to the greatest horror of the theologian.
According to the account of Mark, Herod imprisoned the Baptist because the latter had rebuked his marriage to Herodias, his brother’s former wife, as an unlawful one. Josephus tells us that Herod rather imprisoned him because he feared that he would stir up the people, who were enthusiastically following him, to revolt. Mark tells us in detail how Herod, in his weakness, gave Herodias the opportunity to satisfy her hatred of the moral judge; according to Josephus, Herod put the Baptist out of the way in order to be safe and to be rid of all fear of the powerful man of the people *). When Mark tells how the daughter of Herodias, on the advice of her mother, asks Herod for the head of the Baptist and demands that it be brought to her on the spot (C. 6, 25 εξαυτης. Matthew says C. 14, 8 here: ωδε), if Herod immediately sends a messenger and after the bloody deed is done the messenger brings John’s head to Herodias’ daughter and she brings it to her mother, then the assumption that Herod, who just celebrated his birthday feast, was present with his court at the very place where John was imprisoned, is not to be misjudged. Josephus, on the other hand, tells us that the Baptist was actually only put to death in the fortress of Machaerus on the border where he was imprisoned. He knows nothing of the fact that Herod, at the same time when the deed was done, was away from the residence of Tiberias and was staying in Machaerus, nor does he know anything of the fact that the tyrant was celebrating his birthday with his court when the Baptist was killed.
O! the theologian calls out to us, everything can be united, everything, everything can exist together, Mark and Josephus can be united quite well, everything could be like this and like that, Herod could be ….. no! he says, everything agrees perfectly!
So then we must give the lie to the fearful, miserable and yet so threefold talk of “so and so,” of “could and it could also,” in all its nullity, by noticing and proving from Josephus, that the Baptist had already been judged when Herod fell in love with his brother’s wife, later married her, betrayed his first wife, the daughter of the Arabian king Aretas, for her sake, and was subjected to war by him. Josephus, in reporting that Herod, when both had sent their armies against each other, drew the short straw, says that the people saw in the defeat of his army a divine punishment for his crime, namely for the murder of the Baptist, that he is looking back to a past fact, and at first – for if we do not even ask where Josephus got this notice of the popular opinion, and leave it undecided whether he is not freely pragmatising in order to tell the story of the Baptist here – at first, then, it could only be uncertain whether the execution of the Baptist had happened only recently, or long before. But Josephus also solves this doubt. In Machaerus – we must keep this in mind for now – John was imprisoned and was put to death. Now hear this! When Philip had died in the twentieth year of Tiberius and the emperor had made the province of Tiberius into Syria and had settled the new relations, the war between Herod and Areta *) took place. Herod, on a journey to Rome, stayed at his brother’s house, fell in love with Herodias, his wife, spoke to her of marriage and both, since she accepted his proposals and Herod undertook to dismiss his former wife, agreed to marry each other after his return from Rome. In the meantime, the daughter of Areta had heard of the plot and when Herod returned from Rome, before her husband found out that she knew everything, she was dismissed to Machärus. But this frontier fortress – listen! Machaerus! – was then subject to her father Aretas (!!), and she had secretly already taken all measures to ensure that her journey could be fast and safe. She could therefore inform her father as quickly as possible about Herod’s intentions. Aretas, who had long been tense with Herod over the border area, immediately used the opportunity**) given to him by Herod as a reason for a declaration of war, sent out his army, and when the troops of both princes met, those of Herod were defeated. Then the people are said to have recognised the finger of God, who wanted to avenge the Baptist, i.e. then Josephus finds it appropriate to look back into the past, to speak of the Baptist, thus to report of an event long past, for Machaerus, where John was murdered, belonged at that time to Aretas(!), it belonged to Aretas (! ) and the Baptist had long since been killed, when the former wife of Herod only heard of her husband’s plan through secret channels and could not even report to her father, to whom she had fled, the actual marriage of Herod, but only his intention to disown her, an intention which had not yet become public knowledge.
*) Mark 6, 27: ευθεως; so here again as everywhere in Mark context and the original. Matthew, who did not abbreviate this report very nicely, overlooked this meaning of ευθέως.
*) Joseph. Ant. 18, 5, 1.
**) Joseph. Ibid. ο δε αρχην εχθρας ταυτην ποιησαμενος. The theological and biblical explanation of these words can be found in Winer, bibl. Realwörterbuch I, 570. Follow it if you’re interested!
Who still has the courage to stand up for Mark?
The theologian will hopefully refrain from all “so and so,” all “it could and it could at the same time,” in short, he will refrain from all lying tortures for the future, if we give him the following to consider. Herod reports his defeat to the Emperor in a letter, and the latter, in his first fury, writes to Vitellius, the governor of Syria, that he should fight Aretas to the death. Vitellius obeys, leaves with his power, but is still on the march when the news arrives of the death of Tiberius, of an event before whose arrival Pilate had been recalled from Judea *).
*) lbid. 18, 5, 1. 3.
The report of Mark is dissolved in all its parts.
Mark did not even know exactly who the first man of Herodias had been. He calls him Philippus, he thus reaches for the better known name – the two others naively attribute this blunder to him, because they did not understand it any better – namely, that Herod, who had been the first husband of Herodias, had remained unknown to him, since he lived only as a private citizen.
That marriage scandal, of which he no longer knew that it had happened much later, was used by Mark to explain and bring about the imprisonment and finally the last end of the Baptist, and he used it all the more gladly for this purpose because it gave him the opportunity to create the image of a fury and an image of Jezebel. The fact that the Baptist was executed while in the immediate vicinity, within the same walls, Ahab-Herod with his court revelled and moaned with pleasure, that a dance in which the worldly prince took pleasure brought about the catastrophe – this contrast of worldly pleasure and the suffering of a saint has now also proved to be a free creation of Mark.
Now the Elijah deeds of Jesus!