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venge. She had been mortally injured, as she conceived, by the Baptist, who had attempted to dissolve her present infamous connection with Herod. And she not only felt the highest indignation at this insult, but was afraid that his repeated remonstrances might at length prevail. She therefore did not hesitate one moment what to ask; she gave way to all the fury of her resentment; and without the least regard to the character or the delicate situation of her inexperienced daughter, she immediately ordered her to demand the head of her detested enemy, John the Baptist! The wretched young woman unfortunately obeyed this dreadful command; and, as we are told by the evangelist, "came in straightway with haste unto the king." She came with speed in her steps, and eagerness in her eye, and said, Give me here John the Baptist's head in a charger." This savage request appalled even the unfeeling heart of Herod himself. He did not expect it, and was not prepared for it; and although he was highly disgusted with John, yet, for the reasons above mentioned, he did not choose to go to extremities with him. He was therefore exceeding sorry, as the sacred Historian informs us, to be thus forced upon so violent and hazardous a measure; "nevertheless, for his oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given to her." Conceiving himself, most absurdly, bound by his oath to comply even with this inhuman demand, and afraid lest he should be reproached by those that were around him with having broken his promise, he preferred the real guilt of murder to the false imputation of perjury, and "sent and beheaded John in prison; and his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel, and she brought it to her mother." It is well known that it was a custom in the east, and is so still in the Turkish court, to produce the heads of those that are ordered to be put to death, as a proof that they have been really executed. But how this wretched damsel could so far subdue the common feelings of human nature, and still more the natural ten
* Mark vi. 25. Matth. xiv. 8.
derness and delicacy of her sex, as not only to endure so disgusting and shocking a spectacle, but even to carry the bleeding trophy in triumph to her mother, it is not easy to imagine; and it would scarce be credited, did we not know that in times and in countries much nearer to our own, sights of still greater horror than this have been contemplated, even by women and children, with complacency and with delight.
Such was the conclusion of this singular transaction; and every part of it is so pregnant with useful instruction and admonition, that I shall stand excused, I hope, if I take up a little more of your time than is usual in discourses of this nature, in commenting somewhat at large on the conduct and characters of the several actors in this dreadful tragedy.
And, in the first place, there can be no doubt that the most guilty and the most unpardonable of all the parties concerned in this murder of an innocent and excellent man was the abandoned Herodias. For it was she whose indignation against John was carried to the greatest length, and in the end effected his ruin. It was she who was continually importuning and urging Herod to put the Baptist to death, from which, for a considerable time, his fears restrained him. It was she who, as St. Mark expresses it," had a quarrel against John, and would have killed him, but she could not."* The words translated, had a quarrel against him, have in the original much greater force and energy, Eneiphen auto. She, as it were, fastened and hung upon John, and was determined not to let go her hold till she had destroyed him.†
We here see a fatal proof of the extreme barbarities to which that most diabolical sentiment of revenge will drive the natural tenderness even of a female mind; what a close connection there is between crimes of apparently a very different complexion, and how frequently the uncontrolled indulgence of what are called the
Mark vi. 19.
Hesychius explains enephei by elkeitai, sticks close to in hatred or spite.Doddridge gives still greater force to the expression; but Parkhurst does not
softer affections, lead ultimately to the most violent exeesses of the malignant passions. The voluptuary generally piques himself on his benevolence, his humanity, and gentleness of disposition. His claim even to these virtues is at the best very problematical; because in his pursuit of pleasure, he makes no scruple of sacrificing the peace, the comfort, the happiness of those for whom he pretends the tenderest affection, to the gratification of his own selfish desires. But however he may preserve his good humour, when he meets with no resistance, the moment he is thwarted and opposed in his flagitious purposes, he has no hesitation in going any lengths to gain his point, and will fight his way to the object he has in view through the heart of the very best friend he has in the world. The same thing we see in a still more striking point of view, in the conduct of Herodias. She was at first only a bold unprincipled libertine, and might perhaps be admired and celebrated, as many others of that description have been, for her good temper, her sensibility, her generosity to the poor; and with this character she might have gone out of the world, had no such person as John arisen to reprove her and her husband for their profligacy, and to endanger the continuance of her guilty commerce. But no sooner does he rebuke them as they deserved, than Herodias shewed that she had other passions to indulge besides those which had hitherto disgraced her character; and that, when she found it necessary to her pleasures, she could be as cruel as she had been licentious; could contrive and accomplish the destruction of a great and good man, could feast her eyes with the sight of his mangled head in a charger, could even make her own poor child the instrument of her vengeance, and, as I am inclined to think, a reluctant accomplice in a most atrocious murder.
Here is a most awful lesson held out, not only to the female sex, but to both sexes, to persons of all ages and conditions, to beware of giving way to any one evil propensity in their nature, however it may be disguised under popular names, however indulgently it may be
treated by the world, however it may be authorized by the general practice of mankind; because they here see that they may not only be led into the grossest extravagancies of that individual passion, but may also be insensibly betrayed into the commission of crimes of the deepest dye, which in their serious moments they always contemplated with the utmost horror.
Let us now take our leave of this wretched woman, and turn our attention for a moment to her unhappy daughter. Here undoubtedly there is much to blame, but there is also something to pity and to lament, ~ Her youth, her inexperience, her unfortunate situation in a most corrupt court, the vile example that was constantly before her eyes, the influence, the authority, the commands of a profligate mother, these are circumstances that plead powerfully for compassion, and tend in some degree to mitigate her guilt. Her first fault evidently was that gross violation of all decorum, and alļ custom too, in appearing and dancing publicly before Herod and a large number of his friends assembled at a festive meeting, and perhaps half intoxicated with wine. But it is not probable that a young woman of high rank, and so very tender an age as she seems to have been, should have voluntarily taken such a step as this, or should have been able to subdue at once all the modesty and the timidity of her sex, and acquire courage enough to encounter the eyes and the observations of so licentious an assembly. There can be little doubt, that she was wrought upon by the persuasions of her artful mother, who flattered herself that this artifice might produce some such effect in the mind of Herod as actually followed. What adds great weight to this conjecture is, that her next dreadful transgression, her singular and sanguinary request to have the head of John the Baptist presented to her, was unquestionably the suggestion of the abandoned Herodias.
The sacred historian expressly informs us, that it was in consequence of being before instructed of her mother that she made this demand. Nor is this all; there is great reason to believe that it was with the ut
most difficulty she was prevailed on to comply with the injunctions that were given her for the original words probibastheisa upo tes metros, which we translate before instructed of her mother, more strictly signify being wrought upon, instigated and impelled by her mother; for this is the sense in which that expression is used by the best Greek writers.
This supposition receives no small confirmation from the manner in which she is represented by the evangelist as delivering her answer to Herod. "She came straightway with haste unto the king;" she betrayed on her return the utmost emotion and agitation of mind. She had worked herself up to a resolution of obeying her mother; and was in haste to execute her commission, lest if any pause had intervened her heart should relent, her spirits fail her, and she should not have courage to utter the dreadful demand she had to make.
All this seems to imply great reluctance on her part, and evidently is a considerable alleviation of her crime; yet does by no means exempt her from all guilt. For although obedience to parents is a very sacred duty, yet there is another duty superior to it, that which we owe to our Maker. And whenever even a parent would incite us to any thing plainly repugnant to his laws, as was the case in the present instance, we must, though with all possible decency and respect, yet with firmness and with courage, resist the impious command, and declare it to be our desired resolution "to obey God rather than man."
The next person that claims our notice in this interesting narrative is Herod himself, We have already seen his inconsistent and undecided conduct respecting John. He had in a moment of exasperation thrown him into prison; but from a respect to his character, and fear of the consequences if he offered him any further violence, he suffered him to remain unmolested, and even frequently admitted him to his presence, and held conversations with him. And it is not improbable that after some time his resentment might have subsided, and he might have released his prisoner, But