Mark 6:14-29 and the book of Esther

Tue, 07/07/2009 - 09:26 -- James Oakley

I thought the reference in Mark 6:23 to "up to half my kingdom" sounded familiar. Sure enough, the phrase also occurs in Esther 5:3 and Esther 7:2.

That got me thinking.

In the book of Esther we have a king with an extravagant party who makes an oath to depose his queen, which would be (for her) a kind of death. He promises a girl up to half of his kingdom, and then executes somebody because it is effectively what that girl asked for. We have someone (Haman), who has the king's ear, asking for the people of God to be put to death. Sound familiar?

The difference is that, in Esther, the one deposed is the foreign queen, the girl asking the favours represents the enemy of God's people, but the one executed is the faithful Jew. Mark 6 is a reversal of the story of Esther.

So far, so good. What I don't know is: Is this deliberate (in the mind of the Spirit, at least), or is it just that there are only so many court stories out there, so there are bound to be some similarities in the end? If it is a deliberate echo by Mark (or the divine author who inspired him), how does that shape the way we read Mark 6? Thoughts anyone?

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dave bish's picture
Submitted by dave bish on

Very interesting.

Does it also then evoke the memory of Esther as a reminder that though John dies deliverance will arise?

David's picture
Submitted by David on

The terminology used by Herod in Mark 6 is as you say used previously in the Old Testament - in the book of Esther. One could submit that this is a common "turn of phrase" or colloquialism for Kings or Rulers of the time and culture. Because there are however also many parallels between the circumstances of these two stories it is likely to be seen as this story making a direct reference to the Esther story by the choice of words used.

Esther 5:1 (also again in 5:6 and 7:2)

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. 2 When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.

3 Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”

Biblical stories will often make use of "repeating narrative patterns" which don't reoccur exactly as before but use previous themes with important inversions or changes. An example would be the repeating pattern of the woman at the well. (eg: Compare Abrahams servant and Rebekah Gen24 vs Jesus and the Samaritan woman John4).

In this case the previous story of Ester occurs during the Persian diaspora. A young Jewish woman finds favor with the foreign king, becomes queen, and risks her life to save the Jewish people from destruction when the court official Haman persuades the king to authorize genocide against all the Jews of the empireand kill a righteous Jewish man named Mordecai. The woman uses her beauty and position as Queen to persuade the foreign king to save the Jewish people and has the man who seeks to destroy them - Haman - killed by im hanging on a pole outside the city while the Jewish man Mordecai is honoured by the king and paraded through the street in Royal garments on a royal horse. There should be lots of prophetic connections popping to mind with this story.

In Mark 6:22 we see a similar set of circumstance but with almost a complete inversion of the story. With the Jews again ruled over by a foreign power - this time by Rome with a vassal king - Herod. He is married to an unrighteous adulterous Jewish wife Herodias - formerly the wife of his brother Philip who has been accused of sexual immorality by a righteous prophet (John the Baptist). She uses her power and daughters beauty and skill to have the righteous and holy man of God who seeks to save the Jewish people and turn them back to God killed for pointing out her and Herods own sin.

Its basically an inversion of the original Esther story and I believe this line and the kings offer is being used by the author of Mark as a deliberate reference\hyperlink back to the previous story in Esther.

Esther as a righteous Queen who risks her life and uses her power and influence to save a righteous Jewish man and the Jewish people and kill an unrighteous man who seeks to destroy them.


Herodias as an unrighteous Queen who uses her power and influence to kill a righteous man who seeks to help and save the Jewish people in order to protect herself from his accusations against her and her Husbands own sin

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