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.
- Mark 6:17-28 ↩