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The Death of John and the Mission of the Twelve—Two More Stories in One
Jesus sends the twelve disciples out in pairs on a kind of business trip and grants them an authority most businessmen and women today probably wish they had on the road—control over demons.
They have some fairly strict codes to follow while they travel. They are permitted a staff, but can carry no bread, purse, or money. They can wear sandals, but cannot take a second shirt.
They're also supposed to stay in only one person's house for each city. If people do not receive them or listen to their pitch, they are to shake the dust off of their feet as they exit the city. Hey, a rule's a rule.
With these instructions, the disciples go forth and proclaim repentance, just as their own teacher Jesus and John the Baptist before him did (check out 1:4, 14). Looks like they stand in good company and carry on the work of some top dogs.
They also exorcize demons and heal the ill just like their teacher, Jesus.
The ever-increasing fame of Jesus draws the attention of Herod, who ruled over Galilee, but disagreements prevail over Jesus's identity.
Some think Jesus works miracles because he's John the Baptist, who's returned from the dead, while others think he's the ancient prophet Elijah or another of the prophets of old, who've returned from the dead.
Things get a little spooky for Herod, who is certain that Jesus is John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded. Herod is plagued by guilt and is confident that John is haunting him. Sounds like Shakespeare has been reading the Bible.
The narrator takes this occasion to update the story of John the Baptist. Last we heard, John was arrested (1:14).
It turns out things didn't go well for John in prison because Herod's wife Herodias had a vendetta against John.
John criticized Herod for marrying Herodias, who was previously married to his brother Philip. This action is contrary to the Torah (take a look at Leviticus 18:16), so it wasn't cool.
FYI, Mark is kind of removed from a few historical facts. Herodias was first married to another brother of Herod also named Herod, and Herod was not "king" of Galilee, but tetrarch, which was a title that lacked the preeminence of "king," even if the actual post guaranteed similar powers.
Anyway, Herod protects John, whom he respects as a religious leader. He actually enjoys listening to John speak, even though he doesn't really get what he's saying.
An impasse arises between Herodias, who wants John dead, and Herod, who likes the guy. This is starting to get juicy.
Herodias finally makes her move during one of Herod's birthday parties, when all of the crème de la crème of the political elite were present. We're talking the State of the Union here.
Herod's daughter Herodias danced before all of the guests, who enjoyed some pleasurable dinner theater.
Interested in the dirty details? No, we're not about to describe the dance, which you can imagine for yourself (yeah, erotic overtones are certainly possible, if not probable).
We're asking about the dirty details of the translation. The NRSV calls the girl "his [Herod's] daughter [named] Herodias," while the KJV simply refers to her as "the daughter of the said Herodias" and doesn't provide the girl's actual name (6:22). These translations reflect different readings in the manuscripts. In fact, Herodias did have a daughter with her previous husband, and her name was Salome.
Everyone is so pleased that Herod repeatedly offers her on oath whatever she wants in payment, even up to half of his kingdom.
The girl exits to confer with her mother Herodias, who requests the head of John the Baptist.
The girl returns to the banquet, where she requests the head as her mother directed, but with her own gruesome twist. She wants not only the head, but the head on a platter.
Upon hearing her request Herod grieves—after all, he liked John. Nonetheless, denying her would embarrass him in front of his guests.
Herod orders the executioner to behead John.
The executioner brings the head on a platter and gives it to the girl, who then gives it to her mother.
John's disciples entomb his headless corpse.
After this lengthy flashback, the narrator reports that the twelve's trip was a big success.