This Week's Story

A manipulating king is tricked by his wife into beheading John the Baptist, a great prophet.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

An Unplanned Execution

With fascination Herod Antipas watched his dancing stepdaughter. She whirled and her ribbons spun in shimmering colors. She stepped dramatically before him as her dance ended.  He leaned forward, “My beautiful Salome, your dance pleases me greatly.  Whatever you wish, I will give it to you, even to half of my kingdom.”

“Father, may I speak with Mother, before I answer you?” Herod nodded in agreement.

Salome smiled.  Softly she asked, “Mother, for what should I ask?”

Herodias glittered with anger and sparkles from her gorgeous jewelry. Her smile was set and her voice vicious.  “Salome, tonight John the Baptist will wish he never publicly criticized my marriage to Herod Antipas.  You say to Herod, ‘I want the head of John the Baptist on a tray.’”

Salome did so; Herod’s relaxed manner disappeared.  His guests watched curiously. One muttered, “The Old Fox has trapped himself. He does not want the responsibility for John’s death or the disgrace of breaking a promise before his peers.”

“Go!” Herod ordered his swordsman. “Execute John the Baptist and bring his head.”

Earlier John had been imprisoned at Herod’s order.  John was at that moment in the dungeon carved into the rocks beneath the lavish banquet hall, where Herod and his guests were celebrating Herod’s birthday.

Soon John’s bloodied head was brought in on a tray.   Salome took the tray to her mother.  Her mother’s face glittered with victory. Herod stood.  “My dancing daughter and charming wife, may I present to you the head of John the Baptist, a man famous throughout Palestine for preaching a message of repentance. He has spoken against our marriage, because it breaks Jewish laws.   Herodias, you have your revenge and Salome, you have obtained a head, rather than half of my kingdom. My noble guests, please excuse me from this most pleasurable evening.”

The following hours provided no pleasant thoughts for Herod.  He recalled his conversations with John the Baptist.  Already his conscience was gnawing at him.  He thought, “I asked him to speak to me.  I questioned him.  He told me, ‘Your actions as governor are corrupt. Your administration is characterized by crime.  You live by your selfish agenda.  But, you can change.  The kingdom of Heaven is coming.  One who is greater than I am, is coming.  Turn from your defiance of God.’”

Herod’s battle with guilt continued. “I deserve to be called a fox. I enjoy manipulating people and laws. It is an intricate and delightful art. John is right; I stole my half-brother’s wife, while I was a guest in his home.  Herodias and I eloped, though we were married to other spouses.

“When I sent spies to watch John the Baptist, their reports of a strange man intrigued me.  He did no miracles.  His words pierced hearts.  He called himself a messenger from God, and people poured out of Jerusalem and all Judea to hear him.

“He was physically tough.  My spies said he lived in the wilderness, wearing clothes woven from camel hair.  He ate locusts and wild honey.

“I laughed the day I received a report about how he talked to some of the religious leaders.  They wanted to be baptized.  John told them, “You generation of snakes.  Are you running from judgment?  Show by your deeds that you truly want to change.”

“He was quite a man.  I wish my wife hadn’t asked for his head.  Unfortunately, he failed to show me respect.  I am Herod Antipas, governor of Galilee and Perea.”

This is Barbara Steiner. Today’s story is based on discoveries from archaeology, and passages from the Bible and historians of antiquity.  Please check out thisweeksstory.com.

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Beheading! Weeks ago I wrote about the beheading of John the Baptist and the story was posted this week on the website. Now beheading is in our world news. The brutality to John happened almost 2,000 years ago. This month, August 2014, we learned that James Foley, an American journalist, was beheaded by Islamic State militants. We read that children were being systematically beheaded in Iraq by Islamic State militants. The words were so savage that I thought about them-- words like: “systematic beheading of children.” These “today beheadings” were planned, not careless deeds done in anger. I am staring into an unclosed chapter of cruelty. I do not want to ignore it. Apathy is also cruel.


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