Salome, Stepdaughter of Herod Antipas

From the New Testament and Josephus

The Head of John the Baptist brought to Herod (Predella Panel), 1454, Giovanni di Paolo
The Head of John the Baptist brought to Herod (Predella Panel), 1454, Giovanni di Paolo. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Salome, a woman from the first century and early Christian period, is identified with a woman in the New Testament.  Famous for the (likely legend, not history) Dance of the Seven Veils.

Dates: about 14 C.E. – about 62 C.E.

Sources

The historical account of Salome is included in Jewish Antiquities, book 18, chapters 4 and 5, by Flavius Josephus.

The story in the Christian scripture, Mark 6:17-29 and Matthew 14:3-11, is identified with this historical account, though the name of the dancer is not mentioned in the New Testament.

The Biblical Story

Herod Antipas asked his stepdaughter to dance for him at a banquet, and promised her anything she asked for in return. Prompted by her mother, Herodias, who had been angered that John the Baptist had criticized her marriage to Herod, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist as her reward – and her stepfather granted this request.

Berenice, Grandmother of Salome

Salome’s mother was Herodias, a daughter of Aristobulus IV and Berenice, who were cousins. Berenice’s mother, also named Salome, was a daughter of a sister of Herod the Great. Berenice’s children by Aristobulus IV were known as Herod Agrippa I, Herod of Chalcis, Herodias, Mariamne III, and Aristobulus Minor. 

Aristobulus IV was the son of Herod the Great and his wife Mariamne I.  In 7 BCE, Herod the Great had his son Aristobulus killed; Berenice remarried. Her second husband, Theudion, was a brother of the first wife of Herod the Great, Doris.  Theudion was executed for his part in a conspiracy against Herod.

Herodias, Mother of Salome

At the time of the Biblical incident, in which she figures, Herodias was married to Herod, son of Herod the Great.  She had first been married to another son of Herod the Great, Herod II, whose mother was Mariamne II.  The Gospel of Mark names this husband as Philip.  Herodias was the half-niece of Herod II, who was, for a time, the presumptive heir of his father.  Salome was their daughter.

But when Herod II’s older brother, Antipater III, opposed his father’s choice of heir, Herod the Great put Herod II second in line of succession. But then Antipater was executed, and Antipater’s mother persuaded Herod the Great to remove Herod II as successor.  Herod the Great then died.

Herodias’ Second Marriage

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great and his fourth wife, Malthace. He was thus a half-brother of Herod II and Antipater III. He was given Galilee and Perea to rule as tetrarch.

According to Josephus, and implied in the Biblical story, is that Herodias’ marriage to Herod Antipas was scandalous. Josephus says she was divorced from Herod II while he was still living, then married to Herod Antipas.  The Biblical story has John the Baptist publicly criticizing this marriage, and being arrested by Herod Antipas.

Key Popular Depictions of Salome

Numerous paintings depict Salome dancing or serving John’s head on a platter. This was a popular theme in medieval and Renaissance art.

Gustave Flaubert wrote a story, Hérodias, and Oscar Wilde a play Salomé.

Operas based on Herodias or Salome included Hérodiade by Jules Massenet, Salome by Richard Strauss and Salomé by French composer Antoine Mariotte.  The latter two operas were based on Wilde’s play.

Mark 6:17-29

(from the King James Version of the New Testament)

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife: for he had married her. 18 For John had said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife. 19 Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not: 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly. 21 And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of the said Herodias came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee. 23 And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. 24 And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. 25 And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. 26 And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. 29 And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.