Mark 6:22-24, Who Wanted John the Baptist Dead?

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. And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom. And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist.

//You’ve been reading the account of John the Baptist’s death in the book of Mark. John at this time was bound in prison, at the request of Herodias. In Mark’s story, Herodias wanted to kill John but could not because Herod “feared John, knowing that he was a just man.”

But when Matthew tells the story, it has a different flavor. It isn’t Herodias who wants John dead, it is Herod. Herod doesn’t fear John, he fears the multitude who consider John a prophet. Thus it’s Herod who fears to kill John, not Herodias.

Herod, in Matthew’s gospel, is a villain from the beginning. You may know the story of Herod sentencing all the young children to death, in hopes of killing the baby Jesus. That comes from Matthew. So when Matthew copies Mark’s story of Herod beheading John, he makes Herod one of the bad guys.

But the rewrite is awkward; it doesn’t really work. Herodias asks for the head of John the Baptist, and King Herod commands it, but the story goes on:

And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. –Matthew 14:9

This is copied from the gospel of Mark, but here Herod’s grief over John’s death makes no sense. After all, it was Herod who wanted John put to death according to Matthew (verse 14:5)!

This is an example of what Bible scholars call editorial fatigue, and it’s one bit of evidence that Matthew copied from Mark, not vice versa. Matthew copied the story and put his own spin on it, but botched the retelling by not being careful enough to edit out all the details that don’t fit the retelling.

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