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Mark relates it, "Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.” And hes ware unto her, "Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, even unto the half of my kingdom *." The folly, the rashness, and the madness of such an oath as this, on so foolish an occasion, could be exceeded by nothing but the horrible purpose to which it was perverted by the young creature to whom it was made, or rather by her profligate instructor and adviser, her mother Herodias. Astonished and overwhelmed probably with the magnitude of such an unexpected offer, which laid at her feet half the wealth, the power, and the splendour of a kingdom, she found herself unable to decide between the various dazzling objects that would present themselves to her imagination, and therefore very naturally applies to her mother for advice and direction. Most mothers, on such an occasion, would have asked for a daughter a magnificent establishment, a situation of high rank and
*Mark vi. 22, 23.
and power! But Herodias had a passion to gratify, stronger perhaps than any other, when it takes full possession of the human heart, and that was revenge. She had been mortally injured, as she conceived, by the Baptist, who had attempted to dissolve her present infamous connexion 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 "Give me eagerness in her and said, eye,
*Mark vi. 25. Matt. xiv. 8.
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 tenderness 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, éveïxev aut. She, as it were, fastened and hung upon John, and was determined not to let go her hold till she had destroyed him†.
Mark vi. 19.
+ Hesychius explains evexe by eynara, sticks close to in hatred or spite. Doddridge gives still greater force to the expression; but Parkhurst does not allow it.