The Women Named Salome

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Women in the New Testament

  • Salome is the Hellenized form of a Hebrew name, possibly Shulamit or Shelomit. In Aramaic it is Salma or Salomie. Basically, the name means "peace."
  • At least two women in the New Testament are named Salome. (I combined these into one bullet point since they relate.) The first was a disciple of Jesus. Some scholars speculate that she might have been the wife of Zebedee, the mother of James and John, or even a sister of Jesus' mother, Mary.
  • She is identified in Mark 15:40 as one of the women who was watching the crucifixion from a distance.
  • Matthew (27:56) does not name her directly, but adds that the mother of Zebedee's children was in attendance.
  • The other mention of the mother of Zebedee's children occurs in Matthew 20:20 when she asks Jesus to have one of her sons sit at his right hand and the other at his left in paradise.
  • John suggests that four women were present at the cross. The only unnamed one is Mary's sister, which would make Salome Jesus' aunt.
  • In Mark, Salome also went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body; Matthew only mentions two women and it is slightly ambiguous whom the "other Mary" refers to.
  • The gospels are careful not to call Salome a disciple; she is simply "a follower."
  • The Apocryphal Gospels, however, tell a different story.
  • She is named as a disciple of Jesus in both the Gospel to the Egyptians and the Gospel of Thomas, as well as in the Secret Gospel of Mark.
  • Salome has a voice in the Gospel to the Egyptians and asks Jesus a few questions. The implication there, however, is that she was childless.
  • In the Gospel of Thomas, she shared a couch with Jesus during a meal.
  • In the early Church several traditions maintained that Salome was the source of some "secret traditions" handed down by Jesus' disciples.
  • By the latter part of the 2nd century, however, these traditions were deemed to be heretical.
  • One of these second-century sects (the Harpocratians) traced their origin back to Salome.
  • In the apocryphal writing, The Protevangelion of James, Salome is one of the midwives who attended to Mary at the time of Jesus' birth. She was the one who questioned that Mary was a virgin even after giving birth.
  • Like the disciple, Thomas, she refused to believe it until she had tested Mary herself.
  • Upon doing so, her hand withered and she cried out to God begging for forgiveness for tempting him, exclaiming, "My hand is about to drop off."
  • She was, therefore, one of the first to affirm the miraculous birth of Jesus.
  • Some claim that was the beginning of her discipleship and identify her with the Salome at the cross.
  • This incident is again mentioned in the Book of the Resurrection of Christ (another apocryphal book): "Among the women who were at the tomb was….Salome who tempted him (i.e. God)."
  • Salome, the disciple, received sainthood and is commemorated in the Eastern Orthodox Church in April.
  • Perhaps the most famous New Testament woman named Salome was the daughter of Herodias and the stepdaughter of Herod of Antipas.
  • She is referred to in Mark 6:17-29 and Matthew 14:3-11, though not named.
  • Josephus gives us her name and some tidbits about her family.
  • In the gospel accounts, Salome danced before Herod during the celebration of his birthday. (combined these two points.) Her dancing so pleased Herod that he offered to give her anything she asked.
  • After consultation with her mother, Salome requested the head of John the Baptist to be presented on a platter/charger (a small serving tray). (Herodias was angry with John the Baptist who had spoken against her marriage to Herod.)
  • The king was purportedly displeased with the request, but had no choice but to comply in order to save face among his officials. (Alcohol might have been a factor.)
  • Scholars are somewhat hesitant to accept the gospel accounts without a few caveats. (do you want to make these following points — the caveats — indented further to show that they are sub points of the above bulleted statement?)
  • One would be that Salome had to have been a mere child at the time of the banquet. Had she been of marriageable age, her behavior would have destroyed her chances for a future husband.
  • Secondly, she was a princess of royalty and would have maintained a semblance of decorum. For this reason, scholars think she might have done acrobatics rather than dancing.
  • Thirdly, the whole scenario had to have been carefully planned by Herodias. Nothing happened by chance.
  • Despite these caveats, Salome is forever remembered as a seductress who danced erotically before Herod and demanded the death of John the Baptist.
  • She was married twice within the royal family and bore three sons to her second husband.
  • Legend has it that later on while dancing on thin ice (literally) she fell through into the cold water where her own head was severed by floating ice.

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