Of Salome and Snow White

Salome with the Head of John the Baptist by Jan Adam Kruseman (1804-1862)

The death of John the Baptist is rather distinct. In the gospel according to Mark, John’s preaching angered the wife of Herod Antipas, who had John beheaded. 1 Mark says Herod’s wife schemed to achieve this death by using her daughter, who Josephus identifies as Salome.

Because this tale is so unique, I was struck by the similarity between the Salome narrative and the tale in Ether 8 & 9 in the Book of Mormon. Ether 8 tells us of King Omer and his traitorous son, Jared. When Omer is able to regain the kingdom from Jared, the daughter of Jared schemes, telling her father to:

… send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say: I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king.

Ether 8:10

The dancing and the desire of a young woman to be gifted the head of a parent’s rival seemed a bit too similar to the account of the death of John the Baptist. And this gnawed at me for a while. Then I reasoned it out a bit more.

Most of us are familiar with the tale of Snow White, whose jealous step-mother plots to murder the beautiful girl. The Queen orders the huntsman to take Snow White into the woods and kill the child, bringing the child’s organs (variously lungs, liver, or heart) back in a box as proof.

Upon mature reflection, however, the Wicked Queen’s plan is stupid. Hearts (and other organs) are fungible. In other words, there is nothing that identifies one heart as belonging to a hated foe and another heart as belonging to a wild boar. The Brothers Grimm wrote the Queen engaging in stupidity because it allowed their young heroine to escape.

A Wicked Queen that wasn’t so stupid would have demanded that the huntsman return with some uniquely identifiable piece of the hated child, a portable piece which ensured the hated child was no longer alive. Like a severed head.

Throughout history the heads of foes have been used to prove that a victor has succeeded. But relatively few of these heads are documented as having been demanded by a dancing maiden.

The similarity of the stories of Herod’s step-daughter and Jared’s daughter irritated me for a bit. But upon reflection and study, I found that the stories of Salome and the daughter of Jared are not actually unusually similar. Ultimately the dancing treachery of Jared’s daughter ends up costing Jared his head, and the man who married Jared’s daughter kills their son out of fear. Eventually all those with whom the daughter conspired destroy one another, and an ancient Omer returns to rule over the land Jared had usurped.

Another factor is that women tend to be under-documented. We see this with Salome, who is not mentioned by name in the Bible. The Luke account does not mention the daughter’s dancing in the series of events leading to John’s death. Scholars consider the Mark account as source material for the Matthew account, so it is not clear if Matthew is a corroboration or merely a restatement of the Mark account.

Why do I tell you this tale of my passing discontent? Perhaps it is because when one has worn patterns of inquiry and cynicism into one’s soul over a period of time (as I did in my younger years), there are moments when even a repentant and staunch believer might trip on an unexpected mole hill.

When this happens, the believer will right themselves, examine the mole hill, and figure out how to avoid allowing this mole hill to have crippling power. A believer will certainly avoid building the mole hill into a mountain. A believer will also avoid intentionally tripping on other mole hills.

Along the lines of moles and inquiry, I highly recommend you watch the comments Elder and Sister Renlund gave at BYU Hawaii this past Sunday (available at lds.org).

P.S. – There’s a new interface for authoring posts on M*. I haven’t mastered it yet, so I apologize up front if there are elements of this post that seem irritatingly different.


  1. Mark 6:17-28

Music Monday: If Ye Love Me Keep My Commandments

This year’s theme scripture for the Young Men and Women is John 14: 15, “If ye love me keep my commandments.” Last week in our ward’s mutual opening exercises, we all stood and repeated this scripture together. It was very powerful for me sitting on the back row, with my two year old daughter on my lap. I was so glad she was able to hear these young women and men say this short, but powerful declaration. The Spirit was there as these words were said, and these teenagers believed what they were saying. It was powerful.

In this arrangement The Swingles (nee The Swingle Singers), are singing this scripture set to music by the 16th Century composer Thomas Tallis, which has been arranged for double choir by Kevin Fox. The parts loop over and over each other, which creates a beautiful choral round.

The text also continues with verses 16-17. The whole passage reads:

1 If ye love me,keep my commandments.

16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

17 Even the Spirit of truth; 

Utah researcher says no data linking LGBT suicides to religion

I will quote at length this story, which most readers should find interesting. (Note to readers, the link goes to a gay website, so be forewarned.)

A Utah suicide researcher says the friction between LGBT sexuality and religion in Utah may not be quite the driving factor behind youth suicide as many people believe.
Despite a general perception that many of Utah’s youth suicides arise from intolerance toward LGBT people promulgated (though not necessarily intentionally) by teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the state’s suicide prevention research coordinator says that may not be the case.
“There’s no data to show that, period,” says Michael Staley, who works in the Utah Office of the Medical Examiner and is the first person who would know, since he leads an effort to collect, compile and analyze suicide information from around the state. He conducts that research at the behest of the Utah Legislature. “We are working to get that data,” he says.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2016 that LGBT youth die by suicide at double the rate of their non-LGBT peers, Staley says data specific to Utah so far doesn’t validate the sexuality-religion narrative. “The people who are driving that narrative are going to be disappointed,” Staley says, while at the same time recognizing that “theoretically, it makes sense.”
Given the state’s predominant Mormon faith and the church’s rigid, often equivocal stance on LGBT-related issues, it seems only intuitive that the stress thus induced for LGBT people would influence some toward suicide. Especially when an LGBT person’s family members, under certain interpretations or apprehensions of Mormon beliefs, exhibit “highly rejective” behavior, as a study from the Family Acceptance Project calls it.
So it’s little wonder that “Day one in this job, I started getting questions from the media and members of the general public about sexuality,” Staley says.
But his mandate from the Legislature is broader than that. He is examining all suicides.
“We’re building the most comprehensive database of information about suicide decedents around. That’s huge,” Staley says in an interview with QSaltLake Magazine. In fact, it’s the first undertaking of its kind in the country and, because of the organization of the state’s medical examiner’s office, it’s possible in Utah and only a handful of other states. Staley calls the effort “progressive” and “pioneering.”
Staley’s research involves gathering two kinds of information. The first is the findings in official documents: OME investigation records, medical and mental health records, criminal or court records, and the like.
The second kind makes up a “psychological autopsy,” and involves, among other things, talking to the people suicide victims leave behind: family and friends. “We’re getting real-time data about suicide that we’ve never gotten before,” Staley says.
But that real-time data, as well as other available information, doesn’t validate the narrative of the sexuality-religion-suicide nexus. “I will not ignore that narrative, of course … but I also think it’s a more complex story than just religion and sexuality,” he says.
If there is a misperception about that, it begins with another. During a presentation to the LGBTQ Affirmative Therapists Guild of Utah on Nov. 15, Staley asked guild members what proportion of Utah suicides they thought were made up of youth (LGBT or not) age 10–17. “Most people would say 40–60 percent, and people assume that all these people are LGBT,” he said. But the real numbers may be far lower. Data from the OME shows that suicides of youth age 10–17 make up about 6 percent of suicides per year in Utah.
Staley presented information from the CDC that illustrated one of his obstacles: “If you told me to do a [suicide] study of LGBT people, I have no idea who those people are.”
The CDC in Atlanta reviewed investigations for 150 youth suicides in Utah. Last year, it reported its findings. Sexual orientation could be determined by actual or even circumstantial evidence for 40 of those individuals. Of those, only six — or 4 percent of the total 150 — could be identified as non-heterosexual; seventy-three percent could not be confidently identified one way or the other.

As I have written in the past in this post, the claims of teen suicide being caused by the policies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are exaggerated beyond any sense of reality. Of course every suicide is a tragedy, but it is also a tragedy to stand over peoples’ graves for political purposes. The science of depression and suicide clearly shows that people, including teens with same-sex attraction, do not kill themselves for one simple reason (such as the Church’s policy on this issue). And now we have more information that the data in Utah simply does not fit the narrative of the critics of the Church.

By the way, Michael Staley, the Utah researcher quoted above, says he is gay, so you can’t pull the homophobe card on the poor guy.

Can we please get back to studying the real reasons people commit suicide? Thank you.

The Star in the East

In the spring of 5 BC, Chinese astronomers noted the presence of a bright “broom star” which could be seen in the same location for at least 70 days. Because the bright light had a tail, it was thought to be a comet, but because it did not move in the sky, it was obviously a supernova. 1

My friend who told me about the 5 BC Chinese “broom star” suggests that it was in the space between Capricorn and Aquila, since the Chinese constellation combines these two. That would make sense if there had been a star between the two constellations prior to 5 BC to suggest a connection between them. Such a star would rise in the west in the night sky relative to Persia (Parthia), leading anyone following such a star across ~1500 miles to the kingdom of Judah. 2

A supernova would also explain the phenomenon described in the Book of Mormon, where there was a night that appeared to be as bright as day. This is potentially consistent with the observation in modern translations of Matthew that the bright star appeared to rise with the dawn. If the supernova occurred during the Persian day, but was obscured by weather that evening, the first awareness in Persia of the celestial light would have been in the morning within 24 hours of the supernova’s appearance, where the star would have been seen in the eastern sky right before dawn.

While we may live our entire lives without seeing such a sight, it is known that several stars are primed to supernova in the relatively near future (within several thousand years). Astronomers estimate that Betelgeuse, the red giant in the constellation Orion, will light the sky as day for several weeks when it supernovas.


  1. There are numerous online resources discussing the 5 BC Chinese broom star, including “Some Notes on the Visibility of the 5BC Chinese Star.”
  2. It appears that camel caravans can travel about 50 miles per day, so the trip would have taken roughly 30 days.