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Of the many scenarios presented in the Gospel of Mark, one of the most compelling deals with the death of John the Baptist and how King Herod Agrippa was coerced into ordering the execution. This is a foreboding and tragic morality tale that still resonates to this very day. While the Gospel of Mark is mostly associated with Jewish and Christian traditions, there are many parallels to the ancient Greeks as well. That is, there are aspects of Greek philosophy, life, literature, and culture that can be compared to verses 14 – 28 in Chapter Six of the Gospel of Mark.

Specifically, an examination of how the death of John the Baptist has parallels to cynic philosophy, the myth of King Megapenthes, the lives of the hetaira, and even aspects of symposia. Verse 14 betrays the paranoia that King Herod felt towards John the Baptist. When the words of “some” (his close subjects) mention that John the Baptist may have been risen from the dead, this leads Herod to feel a mix of rage and fear. Who is this John the Baptist? Is he really a man or is he a demigod? Regardless, he was a threat to Herod’s rule and this is why Herod grew increasingly uncomfortable with the presence of John the Baptist in his kingdom.

To a certain extent, Herod is very similar to the Greek King Megapenthes. Megapenthes was a self-centered ruler who also possessed little compassion or sympathy for those around him. This is evident in the fact that it was Megapenthes who killed Perseus much like Herod had killed John the Baptist. In verse 15, this sense of fear and paranoia is made even more profound thanks to Mark 6: 14 -28 and Greek Society – 2 the inference that John the Baptist may be the second coming (so to speak) of the prophet Eli’jah. Again, this could lead would represent the possible usurpation of Herod’s throne.

Similarly, Megapenthes exchanged thrones with Perseus. However, this did not work out and Megapenthes killed Perseus. While Herod did not exchange thrones with John the Baptist, he has exchanged subjects. That is, the people of the kingdom became followers of John. Similarly, Herod killed John after this “exchange” in a vein similar to how Megapenthes killed Perseus after their exchange. In Verse 16, we discover Herod admits to having John the Baptist beheaded. This would give those who repeat his name some pause. Herod obviously does not want to

hear any more discussion of John the Baptist or the possibility that he has returned. Herod’s admission that he beheaded John the Baptist is similar to Megapenthes in the way the Greek king exiled his own mother. That is, Megapenthese had little tolerance for those who displeased him. Similarly, Herod’s admission of beheading John the Baptist implies those “bothering” Herod may find themselves exiled, imprisoned, or possibly executed. As such, his admission is little more the warnings of a tyrant. Verse 17 details the back story as to why Herod became enraged with John the Baptist.

Herod had married his brother’s wife and John the Baptist was a critic of this behavior. Herod’s actions were hardly becoming of a king and John was highly critical of John. In a way, this is tied into the philosophy of cynics since one of the main goals of the cynics was to live a pious and virtuous life. In this regard, Herod fails and failure is Mark 6: 14 -28 and Greek Society – 3 hardly a good thing. In fact, it is very unbecoming of a king. So, Herod’s actions are not logical. This is a deviation from the philosophy of Cynics. Therefore, one can see the flawed character of Herod and why is a poor king.

This is the main crux of Verse 18 as it is in this verse that John condemns him for his actions. This ties into cynicism since John presents Herod with the truth minus ant “spin”. For Herod, the truth is a little too much to deal with. Verse 19 reveals that Herod wanted to kill John for this, but could not. We learn why in the 20th verse. It is in this verse that it is revealed that Herod feared John. This is because John was such a righteous man and Herod had never understood how to deal with the righteous. Within these verses we again see similarities to cynic philosophy.

In cynic philosophy, achieving a healthy life is arrived at through virtue. Herod has made happiness difficult because of his impure actions. This has led to a weakness of character. This weakness makes him wish to do away with John the Baptist, but the last vestiges of his virtues prevent him from taking action. Herod realizes that if he acts impudently or without honor, he will suffer. That is, he will decent into becoming a tyrant. Again, this drives from cynic philosophy where wrong actions lead to the death of character. So, he is conflicted over what actions to take.

Eventually, with the arrival of Salome whose mother makes the poor judgment decisions for him. Verse 21 lays the foundation for the death of John the Baptist. It is Herod’s birthday and many of his followers provide a birthday party for him. Mark 6: 14 -28 and Greek Society – 4 This is the foreshadowing of the arrival of Salome. Salome, a dancer, shares many traits with the Hetaera of ancient Greece. The Hetaera were, essentially, prostitutes. While Salome is not a prostitute, her role in the verses embodies many of the traits of prostitutes.

Verse 22 is the debut of the infamous Salome. She dances for Herod who is smitten with her. Herod then infamously asks “Ask me for whatever you want and I will grant it” Furthermore Herod extends himself even further when he offers to even give up half of his kingdom. Hetaera was more than mere prostitutes. Often, they would act as courtesans or confidants. That is, the rulers of society would have a deeper relationship with them even though they are paid for their services. Herod sees Salome as something more than a mere dancer.

He is willing to spend his life with her. However, it is not truly love, as Herod prefers to purchase the services of Salome as a companion. Salome was unsure of what to ask for so, in verse 24, she asks her mother what to request. The response her mother provides is to ask for the head of John the Baptist. In verse 25, Salome goes to Herod and asks for the head of John the Baptist on a Platter. This is were the role of the Hetaera reaches a gruesome crescendo. Acting in a quasi-symposia role, Salome and her mother decide upon the head of John the Baptist.

Salome and her mother have now connived to usurp the societal role of John the Baptist. In Verse 26, Herod discovers he is in a very difficult situation. He does not want Mark 6: 14 -28 and Greek Society – 5 to kill John the Baptist but he must. He has given his word and he must abide by it. In verse 27, he gives orders to his guards to make sure the deed is done. The soldiers then cut off the head of John the Baptist. These verses are such a perversion to the Greek concept of symposia it almost seems as if the verses were devised as a warning.

That is, Herod fails in his weakness to those who have been deceiving him and playing him for the fool. However, his character flaw – his deviation of the good judgment found in cynic philosophy – leads to his actions without thinking or discussing things through. This would be the core concept of the symposia. In Verse 28, the head of John the Baptist is presented to Salome who, in turn, gives it to her mother. This is the final action that truly seals the doom of Herod. His poor judgment, his lack of character, and, in turn, his weak leadership had led to the death of John the Baptist.

While Salome and her mother are the true manipulators, it is Herod’s foolish judgment and to at least consider a symposia to discuss his potentially insane actions. Herod truly is a broken leader in the aftermath as his true character has been revealed to be completely without virtue. As seen in these verses in Mark 6, there are a number of correlations between the actions of Herod and aspects of Greek civilization. In some instances, these parallels are not explicit. However, they do exist and can be clearly understood once they are viewed in the context of a comparable analysis.

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