Responses to Prophecy

In Salomé, the prophet Jokanaan prompts strikingly different reactions in his listeners, showing how the beholder inserts themselves and their presumptions into the words and actions of others.  When we are introduced to Jokanaan, we are told by a soldier that “He is always saying ridiculous things.”  They, along with Herod, are fearful of his words.  This seems to be due to a fear of speaking the truth.  Herod in particular, though he indulges in the prophet’s speeches, wants to hide Jokanaan from others because of the truth he speaks about Herodias.  The truth is unpleasant and dangerous to consider.  Yet Herod remains curious about what the prophet has to say, questioning what the future has in store for him (and often spinning what Jokanaan says in a favorable light, when others consider the words to be against him).  Herodias has no curiosity and is merely enraged by the prophet.  This points to her impatience and selfishness, but more importantly it points to her desire to maintain her public image.  She revolts against the words being spoken against her, and frequently returns to the topic of how she and Herod must treat their guests well by returning to the dinner party in order to preserve high opinions of them.  Herodias wants to maintain a façade of a happy marriage, though beneath the surface there is tension on account of her original marriage and her current husband’s apparent attraction to her daughter.  Salomé’s response to the prophet is the most complex.  She is fascinated by his words and by his appearance, and becomes obsessed with seeing him, hearing his voice, and touching him.  Salomé’s desire grows so strong that she needs to fully possess Jokanaan, which she can only do in his death.  I wonder whether one of the causes of Salomé’s downfall was that she was poisoned by Jokanaan’s beautiful words.

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