Monday, September 24, 2012

Bad Girls of the Bible

Today we put on our hiking shoes and trek up Mukawir, once known as Machaerus. Some notorious women's names come to mind in association with this site--Salome and Herodias. The promontory overlooking the Dead Sea is where tradition says Herod Antipas had John the Baptist executed, thanks to this conspiring mother/daughter team. 

Protected by deep ravines on three sides, Mukawir is the site of a fortress first built by a Hasmonean ruler, Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC) to defend Perea. The Romans destroyed it in 63 BC. But Herod the Great (37-4 BC) came along and restored it. The ancient historian Josephus wrote that Herod "built a wall round the very summit and erected towers at the corners.... In the middle of this enclosure he built a palace, breath-taking in size and beauty." 

Do you remember the story about John? Herod the Great is the one who had all the boy babies killed after the magi's arrival. And his son, Herod Antipas, divorced his Nabataean wife to marry Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. Yeah--ew. John the Baptist, Jesus' cousin, condemned Herod Antipas's marrying-his-sister-in-law behavior. The Gospels provide two accounts of what happened next. We piece them together and learn that Antipas's wife wanted John dead. And Herod did, too, but he also liked to hear John speak, and he knew the Jews liked John, so he didn't want to hurt him. So he had John imprisoned at Machaerus.

Herodias's daughter (we learn from Josephus that her name was Salome) danced and pleased her step-father so much that he promised to give her whatever she wanted, up to half the kingdom. She consulted with her mother, who advised her to demand John's head on a platter. So a righteous man gave up his life. You can read the story in Mark 6:17-29 and Matthew 14:3-11. 

As with Masada, many refugees fled from Jerusalem to this fortress during the Judaean war. The Romans destroyed it again two years after the defeat at Masada, in AD 72.

Disclosure: The Jordan Tourism Board is covering most of the expenses for this trip, though it exercises no influence over what we say or write about it.

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