Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Salome: Was the “dancing” daughter of Herodias a child?

Most people think of Salome as a conniving, dangerous seductress, but is her reputation as a seductress deserved? In this post I look at the daughter of Herodias who “danced” for Herod Antipas in order to discover what kind of person she was, and what she did that resulted in John the Baptizer being beheaded.

Preamble: Young Woman or Little Girl?

I was reading 1 Samuel chapter 9 today, in the Greek, and I came across a word which is translated in 1 Samuel 9:11 (NIV) as “young women”. The word is korasia (plural).

Korasion (the singular form) is the diminutive form of the word korē. Korē means “girl” or “young woman”.[1]

When I think of “young women” I think of women around the ages of 18–25, but the “young women” in 1 Samuel 9 were probably girls whose chore it was to get water for the household.

I decided to look into this word korasion—its meaning and its usage—and while studying I found that there are two girls, mentioned in the New Testament.

Jairus’ daughter is identified as a korasion in Matthew 9:24 & 25 and Mark 5:41 & 42.[2] And we are given her age. She was twelve years old (Mark 5:42; Luke 8:42). The other korasion in the New Testament is the daughter of Herodias. (See Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:1-29).[3] Josephus tells us that the daughter’s name was Salome.[4]

In the past I was led to believe that Salome was a sexy woman, an experienced temptress, and that she danced in a deliberately provocative manner for her stepfather Herod Antipas, but in real life Salome was possibly just a kid.

Salome: Was the "dancing" daughter of Herodias a child?

This photo is of actress Brigid Bazlen portraying the clichéd Salome performing the “dance of the seven veils” in the movie King of Kings (1961). This actress is clearly not a child. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Salome’s Seductive Dance or Endearing Play?

So what exactly did young Salome do to entertain her audience? Admittedly the rich did sometimes indulge in some pretty salacious entertainment, which sometimes involved children, but it is possible that Salome’s dance was amusing and endearing rather than erotic. Moreover, the word for “dance” (orcheomai) used in verses Matthew 14:6 and Mark 6:22 can refer to children at play. So it is possible that Salome was playing in an amusing way to entertain her audience, and was not just dancing.[5]

Orcheomai is used in the context of children and dance in a quote from Jesus in the only other occurrences of this word in the New Testament (Matt. 11:16-17; Luke 7:32). Ominously, Jesus’ quote about children dancing is in two passages about John the Baptist who would later be killed because of a girl’s “dance”.

Some suggest that Herodias put her daughter up to dancing provocatively for Herod with the hope he would, in appreciation, make some sort of offer or promise, but the text does not support this assumption. How could Herodias have predicted that Herod would make such an outlandish oath? (Note: Herod’s oath to give up to half his kingdom is an idiom indicating a very liberal gift, but is not meant to be taken literally (Mark 6:22-23; Matt. 14:6-7; cf. Esth. 5:3).)

I suggest that when Herod made his oath to Salome, Herodias simply saw her opportunity to exact revenge on John the Baptist, and she took the opportunity when it presented itself. Moreover, rather than being a willing temptress, young Salome may well have been an innocent pawn in her mother’s revenge (Matt. 14:3-4; Mark 6:17-21).

Salome: Was the "dancing" daughter of Herodias a child?

Children playing ball games.
2nd century AD relief in marble, probably Roman. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Salome and Delilah: Misconceptions and Stereotypes

The unfounded sexualisation of Salome in art and literature reminds me of the treatment of Delilah. Delilah, like Salome, is typically portrayed in art and literature as a manipulative, sexual temptress, but when you actually read Judges chapter 16, Delilah sounds much more like a nagging wife (Judg. 16:16). There is no evidence that Delilah flirted or used her sexuality to coerce Samson into revealing his weakness. The narrative has Delilah simply asking, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued” (Judg 16:6). There is no sneaky or sexy subtlety here. Of course Delilah probably didn’t tell Samson that she had been richly bribed by the Philistines to discover the secret of his strength, but he should have figured this out pretty quickly.[6]

It saddens me that I have been misled into thinking that Salome and Delilah were seductive temptresses even though the Bible never states this. It saddens me that people, including Christians, have been too presumptuous and have cast these two women, and others, in this negative and nasty stereotype.[7]

Real women and real men should not be type-cast; they should be seen for who they really are. This is true for Bible characters and it is true for people today.

Salome was probably a girl of around twelve years of age, perhaps even younger, who played or danced in front of an appreciative stepfather and his dinner guests, and was prompted by her mother Herodias to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter. Who was Herodias really? . . . That’s an interesting story for another time.


Endnotes

I’ve used BDAG as the main source for definitions of Greek words in this post.
Walter Bauer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Editionrevised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), is known as BDAG for short.

[1] As well as meaning “girl”, korē also means the pupil of the eye. Metaphorically korē refers to someone held dear and cherished: the darling, the favourite, the “apple” of one’s eye. (BDAG 560)

[2] In Luke’s account, Jesus calls the girl a pais (Luke 8:54). BDAG (750) gives the definition of pais as a young person normally below the age of puberty with the focus on age rather than social status.

[3] The word korasion is used eight times in the New Testament, only of Salome and Jairus’ daughter (Matt. 14:11; Mark 6:22 & 28 twice, and Matt. 9:24, 25; Mark 5:41, 42)

[4] “Salome” is derived from the Hebrew word shalom (“peace”).
This is the passage where Josephus provides the name of Herodias’s daughter.

But Herodias, their sister, was married to Herod [Philip], the son of Herod the Great, who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the high priest, who had a daughter, Salome; after whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband’s brother by the father’s side, he was tetrarch of Galilee; but her daughter Salome was married to Philip, the son of Herod, and tetrarch of Trachonitis; and as he died childless, Aristobulus the son of Herod [of Chalcis], the brother of Agrippa, married her; they had three sons, Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus . . . Josephus, Jewish Antiquities (Book XVIII, Chapter 5, 4) (Underline added.)

Salome coinSalome became queen of Calchis and Armenia Minor. This coin shows an image of Salome as queen. (Source: Wikimedia Commons.)

[5] I read the book Early Christian Families in Context last October in which there was a disturbing chapter about delicia children who were kept by some rich Roman men and women for the purpose of amusement and entertainment. These children, who were usually procured when they were very young, were often treated as pampered pets. Their main “job” was to play for the amusement of their owner. (It is not clear how common is was for delicia children to be involved in erotic entertainment and games.) I’m not all suggesting that Salome was a delicia child. I only mention this to show that wealthy Romans viewed the play of children, including innocent play, as real entertainment.

[6] Delilah asked Samson four times to reveal the secret of his strength. Three times Samson replied by lying to her, but the fourth time he told the truth. After the first three times, when the Philistines suddenly appeared on the scene after Delilah had bound him, Samson must have been aware that Delilah was allied with the Philistines.

[7] As well as the possible misrepresentations of Salome and Delilah by both Bible commentators and artists, Eve is sometimes portrayed as a sexual temptress, Bathsheba is commonly thought to have been an adulteress (but was more likely a victim of rape), the samaritan woman of Sychar is regarded as a loose woman, and poor Mary Magdalene has been unjustly identified for centuries as a whore.


Other articles inspired by my Every Old Testament Woman project:

Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry
Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership
Rahab and Lydia: Two Faith-filled Bible Women
God wants women to be happy in marriage
A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba
Two Brave Women in 2 Samuel 17

Related Articles:

The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias
Women, Eve and Deception
The Samaritan Woman of Sychar (John 4)
Mary the Magdalene
The Domestic Intrigues and Political Power of Salome I, Sister of Herod the Great

Posted December 18th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Bible Women, Early Jewish History, Equality and Gender Issues, , , , , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

21 comments on “Salome: Was the “dancing” daughter of Herodias a child?

  1. Greg Hahn says:

    I never considered those things before. Very well done, Marg. I am guilty too. Though I’m sure someone put those ideas in my head in the first place, the fact is- they made such sense to me I never questioned them.

    Thank you for your critical thinking on this! I will read these stories differently next time.

  2. […] Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood and Ministry; Paul’s Masculine and Feminine Leadership; Rahab and Lydia: Two Faith-filled Bible Women; God wants women to be happy in marriage; Salome: Was the “dancing” daughter of Herodias a child? […]

  3. Marg says:

    Thanks Greg. I was genuinely surprised when I read Judges a few months back. There is nothing in the biblical text to suggest that Delilah was the least bit seductive, but I only have to think of the name “Delilah” and my mind immediately associates the name to a loose woman and seduction.

    Faulty, stupid stereotypes! 🙁

  4. Don Johnson says:

    In that culture of that time, women were what we would now call girls when they married. Mary was about 12-13 when she had baby Jesus. I think in the Mishnah the Pharisees said that a marriage could not be consummated until the female had had a period. This may seem totally obvious to us, but they felt they needed to be explicit.

    Once people started to live longer, then the stages of life could be more spread out.

  5. Verity3 says:

    If only the church devoted comparable effort and energy toward avoiding slander, as it does toward campaigning against more hot-button issues.

  6. Marg says:

    Don, Deborah and I have just been going through Thayers and looking at the texts they give for korasion, and the Hebrew words (Strongs 3207, 5291) they give as being translated by korasion in the LXX.

    In light of everything I’ve looked at, I think it’s reasonably safe to say that a korasion is a girl about 12 years old, or younger, of marriageable age, or approaching marriageable age. So that ties in with your comment. Then again, Salome may have been younger still.

    Verity3, It bothers me that Christians in the past have been quick to think the worst of Bible women. Another one is the Samaritan woman. I think Jesus and her were having a genuine theological discussion on the subject of worship. How wonderful is that? But people say that she brought up the subject of worship to divert attention from her marital situation. Aghh! I think Jesus brought up the five husbands as a metaphor – a metaphor that the woman understood.

  7. Hasko Starrenburg says:

    I agree with your comments about Salome. I did some research on her and came to the same conclusion you did. Actually, I wrote a book about my findings called : ‘Salome; An Invitation to the Dance’ (as Marcus Johnson).
    Even though it took my 5 years to write this book, you have still managed to come up with some points I’ve missed.
    One thing I found that ‘the house of Aristobulus’ in Paul’s letter to the Romans, was probably the house of Salome’s second husband, and Herodion was her son.

    Hasko Starrenburg

  8. Marg says:

    Hi Hasko,

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    “Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew.” Romans 16:10-11.

    If Aristobulus is Salome’s second husband, that would imply that she became a Jesus follower. Interesting.

    I had a look at some previews, and a review, of your book. I like the interesting and imaginative way you’ve presented your findings.

  9. Hasko Starrenburg says:

    Hi Marg

    I am always reluctant to be too quick to jump to conclusions, The household of Aristobulus was probably quite big. However, I did trace the line of inheritance, and Aristobulus would actually be the owner of the Herodian villa in Rome at the time Paul wrote to the Romans. He would not be living there at the time, for he was (client) king of Lower Armenia and lived in Nicopolis upon Lycus. His son Herod would be in Rome, partly for his education and partly as a hostage. Even Herod the Great always had at least one son living in Rome at any time.

    Herod the son of Salome (Herodion is the diminutive of Herod) was later personally known to Josephus, who called him ‘a very humble man’. An unusual characteristic for a Herodian.

    Actually, it is also interesting to note that on the coin of Salome, her husband is on the other side, and he calls himself a Hasmonian (ae Maccabean) rather than a Herodian.

  10. Marg says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Hasko. It’s very interesting!

  11. […] célèbre pièce de monnaie frappée en 56-57 représente le portrait de la reine – qui dans son enfance ou sa jeunesse, aux alentours de l’an 30, aurait dansé devant Hérode Antipas et réclamé, à […]

  12. Marg says:

    Thanks Nancy, I got your personal message and did a bit of research, and tweaked my article. 🙂

  13. We actually made a short film about just this about six months ago. If you’re interested in seeing it I can send you a private link (we can’t release it publicly yet), and you can see more about the project at http://www.facebook.com/Fingersfilm2014 and on twitter @fingersfilm

  14. Youssef Rahali says:

    Hi every one .Peace to all of you Christians and Westerners and Christians after the grace of God and Mary the best peace of the greatest of these women so worshipped Allah and not come to any falsehood and that Jesus is the only son of the word of God in the Earth to come out of Christians should not have their way, their ignorance and their disbelief to the light of Islam who came with them as did the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, as did alnbio’on, the Apostles have peace all. but I find myself obedient when read out the Koran or hear read good

  15. […] Salome was not the only Herodian woman to divorce her husband, however. Josephus tells us that Herodias, Salome’s granddaughter, also divorced one of her husbands. […]

  16. […] It is possible that Salome’s dancing was not salacious at all, that she was just a little girl obeying her mother in what to ask of Herod. […]

  17. Faye says:

    Even 14 year olds can be seductresses.

  18. […] Jewish women who were Roman citizens could enact a divorce under Roman law. For example, Salome I (Herod the Great’s sister) and Herodias issued the writ of divorce and divorced their husbands. […]

  19. […] It seems to me that people have been too quick to cast aspersions on some women of the Bible. Eve, Delilah, and Bathsheba have been unfairly portrayed as seductresses. Mary Magdalene has been wrongly labelled as a prostitute, and the Samaritan woman has been regarded as a loose woman. This article looks at the Samaritan woman from Sychar without negative prejudices. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2009–2016   Margaret Mowczko | Powered by WordPress

More in Bible Women, Early Jewish History
Women, Eve and Deception

Does the Bible teach that women are more easily deceived, or more deceptive, than men? In this article I take a quick look...

Close