Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
This is a prophet martyr story in the tradition of the prophet martyrs of Israel. You might want to look up the martyrdom and ascension of Isaiah in the Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, which is an earlier prophet martyr story. In that story, his enemies accuse Isaiah of prophesying against Jerusalem and against the temple. Isaiah is tried before the king, found guilty, and sawed in two with a wood saw. In the story of the prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah was nearly killed. He was thrown into a cistern and only rescued at the last moment. Elijah was involved in a life-and-death struggle with Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab.
For Mark's hearers, the memories of Jezebel and of her conflict with Elijah lay in the background of this story of John the Baptist. Elijah was constantly telling Ahab how corrupt he was, by implication, because Jezebel was bringing in all the prophets of Baal,and that he was violating the will of God by having married Jezebel. Elijah confronts the priests of Baal, defeats them, and kills 400 of them. He then escapes because he knows that Jezebel is going to try and kill him. The only reason that Elijah survives this battle with Jezebel is that she got killed before he did. He fled in fear for his life.
John was clearly in dialogue with King Herod. Incidentally, this "Herod" is not Herod the Great who built the temple and died around 4 B.C. It is his son, Herod Antipas. He was one of the three sons of Herod the Great who became his successors when the kingdom was divided after his death. Herod Antipas ruled in the area of Galilee. The story clearly implies that John the Baptist was in steady dialogue with the king as is typical of the prophets. That is, the prophets are always in one way or another speaking to those who are in power and in various ways confronting them, guiding them in some instances,helping them in others, opposing them if they do that which is wrong.
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