Matthew 14 – John the Baptist and the Web of Herods

Matthew 14 Bible with Tonys Chocolonely Cherry Meringue Dark Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely Cherry Meringue Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassageMatthew 14

Welcome to Friday on Sunday. Got a post to catch up on, so let’s check out Matthew 14. It’s one of the three chapters in Matthew that gives the story of John the Baptist. He first arrived on the scene in chapter 3, and in chapter 11 Herod imprisons him, though I kinda skipped over that because I had a single verse to focus on, to the omission of everything else in the chapter. But we’re not skipping over John the Baptist today, because Matthew 14 is the chapter where he dies. Spoiler warning, John the Baptist dies.

He dies because he gets on the bad side of Herod the Tetrarch. I have to specify Herod the Tetrarch because there were a lot of Herods, but now that I think about it, John gets on the bad side of a lot of Herods. See, Herod the Tetrarch and Philip are brothers, sons of Herod the Great. Philip married Herodias, and upon reading that name, I said to myself, “Hey, that’s just the feminine version of the name ‘Herod.’ What’s up with that?” So I did some research, and it turns out that one of Herod the Great’s other sons had a daughter whom he named Herodias. So one of Herod the Great’s sons married his granddaughter.

It gets more convoluted, so you may want to follow along with this chart from the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Herodias splits with Philip and marries Herod the Tetrarch. John the Baptist condemns the relationship, saying, “It is not lawful for you to have her” (4). As far as I can tell, marrying the daughter of one of your brothers by another mother isn’t technically forbidden by the Torah, but divorcing your husband so you can marry his brother sure is. Herod doesn’t want to kill John because the rest of Judea respects John as a prophet, but Herodias doesn’t care what the populace thinks.

So she gets her daughter to dance at Herod’s birthday. The Herodian dynasty is a particularly squicky family, and if half-nieces marrying their half-uncles and then leaving them for other half-uncles wasn’t enough, now we have the daughter of Herodias and Philip dancing for the birthday party of her mom’s new husband, who is her dad’s brother and…okay, this is getting way too convoluted. Point is, Herod gets so pleased he offers the daughter anything she wants, and instructed by her mom, she says, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist” (8), so he does because he has to. And this is just a cross-sectional sliver of the mess of immorality that was the Herodian dynasty.

But as Jesus becomes big news in Judea, Herod thinks this miracle man is John the Baptist, back from the dead. I find it interesting that Herod goes immediately to one of the least likely explanations for the news about Jesus; none of the people I personally know have come back from the dead, I expect none of the people you know have either, and there are only three resurrections recorded in the Old Testament (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:18-37, 2 Kings 13:20–21). Moreover, Herod clearly didn’t bother to do his homework, as John and Jesus had been seen together, most notably when John baptized Jesus. Is awareness of his own sin causing Herod to freak out? It’s quite possible.

Moral of the story? Think twice before marrying a half-niece, don’t marry your brother’s ex-wife, and don’t let the daughter of your brother and half-niece do a hot dance for your birthday party and then promise her whatever she wants, because she might make you kill a prophet.

But to wrap up this post, let’s wipe the Herodian slime off our hands and look at a verse about something completely different. As the chapter concludes, the disciples find themselves crossing the sea in the middle of a storm, and Jesus walks out to them on the water. Stepping into the boat, he calms the storm, and the disciples worship him and declare, “You are certainly God’s Son!” (33).

I don’t think I need to remind you how anomalous such behavior is for a boat full of Jews. Worship is to be reserved for God alone, not for any other human being. And how are we to take their declaration that Jesus is God’s Son? As much as I’d love to tease out whether this is the seed of a Trinitarian formulation growing in their minds, I’ve got to start writing tomorrow’s post, so with any luck, I’ll see you in the morning.

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