Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Most people think of Salome as a conniving, dangerous seductress, but is her reputation as a seductress deserved? In this post, I look at the daughter of Herodias who “danced” for Herod Antipas in order to discover what kind of person she was and to find out what she did that resulted in John the Baptizer being beheaded.

[An article on Salome who was a follower of Jesus is here.]

Preamble: Young Woman or Little Girl?

I was reading 1 Samuel chapter 9 today, in the Greek, and I came across a word that is translated in 1 Samuel 9:11 (NIV) as “young women.” The word is korasia (plural).[1] When I think of “young women” I think of women around the ages of 18–25, but the “young women” in 1 Samuel 9 were probably girls whose chore it was to get water for the household.

I decided to look into this word korasion (singular), at its meaning and its usage, and while studying I found that there are two korasia mentioned in the New Testament.

Jairus’ daughter is identified as a korasion in Matthew 9:24 & 25 and Mark 5:41 & 42.[2] And we are given her age. She was twelve years old (Mark 5:42; Luke 8:42). The other korasion in the New Testament is the daughter of Herodias. (See Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:1-29).[3] Josephus tells us that the daughter’s name was Salome.[4]

In the past, I was led to believe that Salome was a sexy woman, an experienced temptress, and that she danced in a deliberately provocative manner for her stepfather Herod Antipas, but in real life Salome was possibly just a kid.[5]

Salome: Was the "dancing" daughter of Herodias a child?

This photo is of actress Brigid Bazlen portraying the clichéd Salome performing the “dance of the seven veils” in the movie King of Kings (1961). (Wikimedia)

Salome’s Seductive Dance or Endearing Play?

So what exactly did young Salome do to entertain her audience? Admittedly the rich sometimes indulged in salacious entertainment that sometimes involved children, but it is possible Salome’s dance was amusing and endearing rather than erotic.

The Greek verb for “pleased” (areskō) in the phrase, “she pleased Herod …” (Matt. 14:6; Mark 6:22) doesn’t have sexual connotations in and of itself.[6] And the Greek word for “dance” (orcheomai) in these same verses can refer to children at play. So Salome may have been playing in an amusing way to entertain her audience, and was not just dancing.[7]

The only other occurrences of orcheomai in the New Testament are in a quotation from Jesus where he mentions children calling out about dancing and mourning (Matt. 11:16-17; Luke 7:32). Ominously, Jesus’s words in these two passages about John the Baptist who would be killed because of a child’s “dance.”

An Oath and an Opportunity

Some suggest Herodias put her daughter up to dancing provocatively for Herod with the hope he would, in appreciation, make some sort of offer or promise. However, the text does not support this assumption.

How could Herodias have predicted Herod would make such an outlandish oath? Note also that Herod’s oath to give up to half his kingdom is an idiom indicating a very liberal gift. It is not meant to be taken literally (Mark 6:22-23; Matt. 14:6-7; cf. Esth. 5:3).

I suggest that when Herod made his oath to Salome, Herodias simply saw her opportunity to exact revenge on John the Baptist, and she took the opportunity when it presented itself. Moreover, rather than being a willing temptress, young Salome may have been an innocent pawn in her mother’s revenge against John the Baptizer who had been publicly condemning the marriage between Herodias and Herod Antipas (Matt. 14:3-4; Mark 6:17-21).

Salome: Was the "dancing" daughter of Herodias a child?

Children playing ball games.
2nd century AD marble relief, probably Roman.
(Source: Wikimedia)

Salome and Delilah: Misconceptions and Stereotypes

The unfounded sexualisation of Salome in art and literature reminds me of the treatment of Delilah. Delilah, like Salome, is typically portrayed in art and literature as a manipulative, sexual temptress, but in the actual text of Judges chapter 16, she sounds like a nagging wife (e.g., Judg. 16:16).

There is no evidence Delilah flirted or used her sexuality to coerce Samson into revealing his weakness. The narrative has her plainly asking, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued” (Judg 16:6; cf 16:10, 13, 15). There is no sneaky or sexy subtlety here. Of course, Delilah probably didn’t tell Samson that she had been richly bribed by the Philistines to discover the secret of his strength (Judg 16:5), but he should have figured this out pretty quickly.[8]

It saddens me that I have been misled into thinking that Salome and Delilah were seductive temptresses even though the Bible never states this. It saddens me that people, including Christians, have been too presumptuous and have cast these two women, and others, in this negative and nasty stereotype.[9]

Conclusion

Real women and real men should not be type-cast; they should be seen for who they really are. This is true for Bible characters and it is true for people today.

Salome was probably a pre-pubescent girl of around twelve years of age, who played or danced in front of an appreciative stepfather and his dinner guests, and who was prompted by her mother Herodias to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter. Who was Herodias? That’s an interesting story for another time.


Footnotes

I’ve used BDAG as the main source for definitions of Greek words in this post. Walter Bauer’s A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), is known as BDAG for short.

[1] Korasion (the singular form) is the diminutive form of the word korē. Korē means “girl” or “young woman.” As well as meaning “girl,” korē also means the pupil of the eye. Metaphorically korē refers to someone held dear and cherished: the darling, the favourite, the “apple” of one’s eye. (BDAG p. 560)

[2] In Luke’s account, Jesus calls the girl a pais (Luke 8:54). BDAG (p. 750) gives the definition of pais as a young person normally below the age of puberty with the focus on age rather than social status.

[3] The word korasion is used eight times in the New Testament, only of Salome and Jairus’ daughter (Matt. 14:11; Mark 6:22 & 28 twice, and Matt. 9:24, 25; Mark 5:41, 42). It occurs several more times in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament. Boaz’s young unmarried maidservants, who Ruth gleans with, are called korasia (Ruth 2:8, 25; 3:2). In the book of Esther, the king’s men gather korasia to take to Xerxes harem (Est. 2:3, 4). Esther is herself referred to as a korasion in Esther 2:7 and again in 2:9 where she is also given seven korasia as maidservants. The word also occurs in 1 Samuel 20:30 and Zechariah 8:5 (9:5 LXX) in the Septuagint.

[4] “Salome” is derived from the Hebrew word shalom (“well-being, peace”) and was a popular girls name among ancient Jews. This is the passage where Josephus provides the name of Herodias’s daughter.

But Herodias, their sister, was married to Herod [Herod Philip I], the son of Herod the Great, who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the high priest, who had a daughter, Salome; after whose birth Herodias took upon her to confound the laws of our country, and divorced herself from her husband while he was alive, and was married to Herod [Antipas], her husband’s brother by the father’s side, he was tetrarch of Galilee; but her daughter Salome was married [in around AD 30] to Philip [Herod Philip II], the son of Herod [the Great], and tetrarch of Trachonitis; and as he died [in AD 34] childless, Aristobulus the son of Herod [of Chalcis], the brother of Agrippa, married her; they had three sons, Herod, Agrippa, and Aristobulus . . . Josephus, Jewish Antiquities (Book XVIII, Chapter 5, 4) (Underline added.)

Salome coinSalome became queen of Chalcis and Armenia Minor. This coin shows an image of Salome as queen. (Wikimedia)

[5] Because of her first marriage in around AD 30 and her second marriage in around AD 35, Salome’s year of birth has been estimated at AD 14. Most Jewish women in the first century married around the ages of 14-16 years old.

[6] A common context of verses in the New Testament that contain the verb areskō is the context of pleasing God (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:1). For comparison, all the verses in the New Testament that contain this verb can be viewed here.

[7] I read the book Early Christian Families in Context last October (2012) in which there was a disturbing chapter about delicia children who were kept by some rich Roman men and women for the purpose of amusement and entertainment. These children, who were usually procured when they were very young, were often treated as pampered pets. Their main “job” was to play for the amusement of their owner. (It is not clear how common it was for delicia children to be involved in erotic entertainment and games.) I’m not all suggesting that Salome was a delicia child. I only mention this to show that wealthy Romans viewed the play of children, including innocent play, as entertainment.

[8] Delilah asked Samson four times to reveal the secret of his strength. Three times Samson replied by lying to her, but the fourth time he told the truth. After the first three times, when the Philistines suddenly appeared on the scene after Delilah had bound him, one would expect Samson to be aware that Delilah was allied with the Philistines. George Athas suggests a reason Samson trusted Delilah here.

[9] As well as the possible misrepresentations of Salome and Delilah by both Bible commentators and artists, Eve is sometimes portrayed as a sexual temptress, Bathsheba is commonly thought to have been an adulteress (but was more likely a victim of rape), the Samaritan woman of Sychar is regarded as a loose woman, and poor Mary Magdalene has been unjustly identified for centuries as a whore.

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A few articles inspired by my Every Old Testament Woman project

Beauty, Marriage, Motherhood, and Ministry
Rahab and Lydia: Two Faith-filled Bible Women
A Sympathetic Look at Bathsheba
Two Brave Women in 2 Samuel 17

Related Articles

The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias
Women, Eve, and Deception
The Samaritan Woman of Sychar (John 4)
Who was Mary the Magdalene?
Salome: Follower of Jesus and Myrrh Bearer
The Domestic Intrigues and Political Power of Salome I, Sister of Herod the Great

21 thoughts on “Salome: Was the “dancing” daughter of Herodias a child?

  1. I never considered those things before. Very well done, Marg. I am guilty too. Though I’m sure someone put those ideas in my head in the first place, the fact is- they made such sense to me I never questioned them.

    Thank you for your critical thinking on this! I will read these stories differently next time.

  2. Thanks Greg. I was genuinely surprised when I read Judges a few months back. There is nothing in the biblical text to suggest that Delilah was the least bit seductive, but I only have to think of the name “Delilah” and my mind immediately associates the name to a loose woman and seduction.

    Faulty, stupid stereotypes! 🙁

    1. Hello everyone! I Am a young Christian that is fairly new to the Word, I am not trying to be argumentative but I am wondering; how was Delilah innocent? She knew in her heart that she was deceiving Samson when she accepted and implemented the task from the Philistines, and according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “seduce” can also mean: to attract (someone) to a belief or into a course of action that is inadvisable or foolhardy. Just a thought
      Thanks!

      1. Hi Donald,

        I don’t say that Delilah was innocent. What I do say is that the Bible gives no indication she used sex to trick Samson.

        “Delilah, like Salome, is typically portrayed in art and literature as a manipulative, sexual temptress, but when you actually read Judges chapter 16, Delilah sounds much more like a nagging wife (Judg. 16:16). There is no evidence that Delilah flirted or used her sexuality to coerce Samson into revealing his weakness.”

        My point isn’t about innocence, it’s about misconceptions and stereotypes as per the heading.

  3. In that culture of that time, women were what we would now call girls when they married. Mary was about 12-13 when she had baby Jesus. I think in the Mishnah the Pharisees said that a marriage could not be consummated until the female had had a period. This may seem totally obvious to us, but they felt they needed to be explicit.

    Once people started to live longer, then the stages of life could be more spread out.

    1. “Once people started to live longer, then the stages of life could be more spread out.”
      Not 100% true. It is because of the 1900’s post-industrial revolution that has led to “the stages of life being spread out” aka adolescence. Even in Moses’ day, people were living into their 80’s and Moses himself was well over 100. It isn’t that people matured “early” back then, they were just maturing “on time” back then. We say they “matured early” not because they actually did mature early, but because we just mature late in life nowadays – so it seems early to us when in actuality it is actually on time. As a side note, let’s not forget that Jesus was a man at age 12. That’s why he attended Passover for the first time at 12; because the law required all ADULT MEN to attend. He was obedient to the law.

      See Dr David Black’s sermons on adolescence:

  4. If only the church devoted comparable effort and energy toward avoiding slander, as it does toward campaigning against more hot-button issues.

  5. Don, Deborah and I have just been going through Thayers and looking at the texts they give for korasion, and the Hebrew words (Strongs 3207, 5291) they give as being translated by korasion in the LXX.

    In light of everything I’ve looked at, I think it’s reasonably safe to say that a korasion is a girl about 12 years old, or younger, of marriageable age, or approaching marriageable age. So that ties in with your comment. Then again, Salome may have been younger still.

    Verity3, It bothers me that Christians in the past have been quick to think the worst of Bible women. Another one is the Samaritan woman. I think Jesus and her were having a genuine theological discussion on the subject of worship. How wonderful is that? But people say that she brought up the subject of worship to divert attention from her marital situation. Aghh! I think Jesus brought up the five husbands as a metaphor – a metaphor that the woman understood.

  6. I agree with your comments about Salome. I did some research on her and came to the same conclusion you did. Actually, I wrote a book about my findings called ‘Salome; An Invitation to the Dance’ (as Marcus Johnson).
    Even though it took my 5 years to write this book, you have still managed to come up with some points I’ve missed.

    Hasko Starrenburg

  7. Hi Hasko,

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    I had a look at some previews, and a review, of your book. I like the interesting and imaginative way you’ve presented your findings.

    1. Can you imagine how traumatizing it must of been for her to carry the head of a man on a tray??? I can only imagine Jesus’ reaction when He got the news, finding out that Herodius used a little girl in such a sickening way. No wonder He had to get away. It may have taken all He had not to go over there and forcefully take that little girl out of that house. She was one sick mama. I feel for Salome. I do hope she got saved. I actually read about this verse today and could see Salome slipping down to John’s cell and asking him questions about God. She was a little girl and girls are curious and then to carry his head. frightening!! It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Jesus snatched Salome up after all that nonsense.

      1. Hi Kim,

        As a member of the Herodian family, and a daughter of the vindictive Herodias, I have a feeling Salome may have been regularly exposed to brutality.

        Salome became the queen of Chalcis and Armenia Minor. But there is no hint of evidence she ever became a Christian.

    2. Yes, she did become a Jesus follower although she was never married. These historical accounts were written for the Roman records after the fact, not necessarily very accurate. Salome fled from the palace and became a follower as a result of the trauma she endured that day. She was cared for and hidden by the other woman. She died in France.

      1. Hi Nancy,

        Josephus tells us that Salome was married to Philip the Tetrarch of Ituraea and Trakonitis. After Philip’s death, in 34 AD, she married Aristobulus of Chalcis and became his queen. Josephus also mentions her children. Josephus (37-100 AD) is considered a fairly reliable source of facts and information, though he does have some biases. (See chapter 5, section 4, here.)

        Also, coins were minted during Salome’s lifetime, in 56-57 AD, showing that Aristobulus and Salome were king and queen. Three of these coins still survive. (More information about these coins is here.) Salome’s lineage is not obscure.

        What Roman records are you referring to, Nancy? And which records contain the ideas you are claiming?

  8. Hi Marg

    I am always reluctant to be too quick to jump to conclusions, The household of Aristobulus was probably quite big. However, I did trace the line of inheritance, and Aristobulus would actually be the owner of the Herodian villa in Rome at the time Paul wrote to the Romans. He would not be living there at the time, for he was (client) king of Lower Armenia and lived in Nicopolis upon Lycus. His son Herod would be in Rome, partly for his education and partly as a hostage. Even Herod the Great always had at least one son living in Rome at any time.

    Herod the son of Salome (Herodion is the diminutive of Herod) was later personally known to Josephus, who called him ‘a very humble man’. An unusual characteristic for a Herodian.

    Actually, it is also interesting to note that on the coin of Salome, her husband is on the other side, and he calls himself a Hasmonian (ae Maccabean) rather than a Herodian.

  9. Even 14 year olds can be seductresses.

    1. True, but Salome may have been much younger. She may have been a little girl.

  10. Seduction is not specifically sexual. While I don’t think Herod’s wife’s daughter seduced him, Delilah enticed Samson 4 times to tell her how she could take away his strength, the fourth time she said that, he didn’t really love her if he didn’t tell her the source of his strength; this is no less manipulate than a man saying to a woman “you don’t love me if you don’t have sex with me” before they are married. Anyone who knows people know how they act when they want to get something from someone when they don’t want to give it to them, there is no way you can read that story and legitimately say that she didn’t seduce him to get what she wanted.

    1. Hi Linkno,

      I agree that seduction doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual, though it usually is. But I fail to see how Delilah’s frank speech can be misunderstood for seduction or enticing (Judg. 16:6; 10, 13, 15-16).

      1. Because you are simply reading it as frank speech without thinking about the way humans act.
        Judges 16:5
        5 And the lords of the Philistines came up unto her, and said unto her, Entice him, and see wherein his great strength lieth, and by what means we may prevail against him, that we may bind him to afflict him; and we will give thee every one of us eleven hundred pieces of silver.

        Note the word entice used here, she was told to entice him and entice him she did.

        1. Patah פָּתָה (H6601b), which occurs in Judges 16:5 can mean entice, but it can also mean deceive or persuade. The word is translated in a variety of ways in different English translations. (See here.)

          The Bible presents Delilah’s speech in a frank, matter of fact manner. Moreover Judges 16:16 states, “With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it” (NIV). Or, if you prefer, “And it came to pass, when she pressed him daily with her words, and urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death” (KJV).

          This does not sound like enticing.

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