Salome III (c. 15 CE–?)

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Salome III (c. 15 ce–?)

The Jezebel of the New Testament. Flourished around 15 ce; daughter of Herodias and Herod Philip I; granddaughter of Herod the Great; married her father's half-brother Herod Philip II, the Jewish tetrarch of Batanea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis (died 34 ce); married her cousin Aristobulus IV (son of Herod IV, the full brother of Salome's mother Herodias); children: (second marriage) at least three sons, Herod VI, Agrippa III, and Aristobulus V.

The daughter of Herod Philip I and Herodias , Salome III was a scion of the Herodian royal house of Biblical fame, and doubly descended from its founder, Herod the Great. Salome III's father was the son of the great Herod and Mariamne II (one of his ten attested wives), while Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus I (Herod the Great's son with another of his wives, Mariamne the Hasmonian ) and Berenice (the daughter of Herod the Great's sister, Salome ). The endogamous tendency of the Herodian dynasty is as evident in the two known marriages of Salome III as it was in those of her immediate ancestors, for her first husband, her uncle Herod Philip II, the Jewish tetrarch of Batanea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis (a post held only because of Roman approval), was her father's half-brother. Sometime after the death of Herod Philip II in 34 ce, Salome III married her cousin Aristobulus IV, the son of Herod IV (the full brother of Salome's mother Herodias). Salome III's second marriage produced at least three sons: Herod VI, Agrippa III, and Aristobulus V, so we must assume that it was congenial and lasted for some time. However, by the middle third of the 1st century ce the political clout of Salome's family was declining as the Roman Empire was becoming more directly institutionalized in the East, with the result that we know little about Salome's adult life, her marriages, or the fates of her sons.

Regardless, Salome III's lasting fame was earned when she was probably no more than 14 or 15 years of age. At that time, her mother was no longer married to Salome's father. After Salome's birth, Herodias had become intimate with Herod Antipas (then tetrarch of Galilee and of Peraea), the son of Herod the Great and Malthace , and thus the half-brother of Herodias' husband, Herod Philip I. Herod Antipas was also married at the time, but their mutual attraction caused each to divorce so that they could marry. The affair created a scandal both because of the initial adultery leading to two divorces and because of the blood affinity of the principals. One prominent figure of the time—John the Baptist—was extremely critical of Herod Antipas and Herodias—especially so of the latter for her willingness to be intimate with two sons of her own grandfather. John pronounced the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias illicit—a perhaps meaningless condemnation from somebody without influence, but especially dangerous from one whose religious ministry was growing in popularity among the people whom Herod Antipas wanted to rule without trouble. Herodias begged her husband to put an end to John's continuous censure, but this Herod Antipas was for a time loath to do, lest by so acting he arouse the anger of John's followers and thus foment rebellion against his own authority. Herod Antipas' qualms, however, did not save John from imprisonment in the fortress at Machaerus, where he languished for an unknown period of time.

If the accounts of the gospels of Matthew and Mark can be trusted for their historical content in this instance, John sat in prison until a celebration of Herod Antipas' birthday, an event celebrated lavishly with a banquet (one must assume at Machaerus) attended by all of the important public and private figures of Herod's realm. At this feast, Salome III (the honoree's young stepdaughter) performed a dance which was so well received by those assembled as to induce from Herod a promise that Salome could have anything from him which she desired, up to the worth of one-half of his realm. Probably flustered and certainly inexperienced in such public recognition, Salome is reported to have consulted with her mother about what she should request from her stepfather. Young enough to be under her mother's domination still, Salome is said to have returned to Herod Antipas with a request for the head of John the Baptist. Although the accounts continue with the tetrarch's attempt to persuade Salome to accept another token of his appreciation, she is said to have insisted (upon her mother's urging) for the death of John. Fearing a loss of public face before those assembled in his honor, Herod Antipas apparently conceded. In the most gruesome record of the event, Herod not only had John executed but also ordered that his head be presented to Salome on a platter in fulfillment of her request.

William S. Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California