Study Notes: early Christian interpretations of Herod Antipas (2)

Carvaggio, The Beheading of John the Baptist (Source: WIkipedia Commons)

Carvaggio, The Beheading of John the Baptist (Source: WIkipedia Commons)

Continued from Pt. 1

The Matthean depiction of Antipas parallels that of Mark. In 14:1-11 the story of Antipas' paranoid reaction to the news of Jesus' ministry is taken from Mark 6:14-29. Matthew departs from Mark when Mark suggests that Antipas both wanted to kill the Baptist, but that he also thought highly of the Baptist and enjoyed hearing him speak (Mk. 6:19-20). For Matthew, there was no ambivalence. Antipas wanted the Baptist dead, but like Josephus' description in Antiquities 19.5.109-119 his actions toward the Baptist where guided by the perceived response of the crowds. Josephus suggests that Antipas was preemptive in killing John because he feared that they may do anything he commanded; Matthew suggest that he delayed killing John because he feared how the crowd may respond. Neither agree with Mark that Antipas was of two-minds, both loving and hating John.

In Mark 6:26 Antipas' distress over the request of the Baptist's head on a platter has to do with Antipas' ambivalence toward him. In Matthew 14:9-10 it seems that Antipas is more worried about the domino effect. What will happen if he kills John?

It is interesting to note in light of recent debates over the burial of Jesus that the Evangelists present the Baptist's disciples as having little trouble securing his corpse for burial. These disciples go to tell Jesus the news of John's execution according to Matthew 14:12. In Mark 6:30 the Apostles relay the news. Matthew's depiction makes it seem like Jesus is the natural heir to John's ministry. Now that John is dead it is Jesus' time. In Mark 6:31-44 Jesus begins his retreat into the wilderness, likely in part to mourn and in part to regather the movement. In Matthew 14:13-21 the idea is the same. In both of these narratives the crowds come find Jesus. They seek leadership and Jesus sees this and he compassionately heals their sick.