Who was Salome in the Bible?There are two women in the Bible thought to be named Salome. The Bible identifies only one of them by name; it is the historian Josephus who provides the name of the other woman, who is unnamed in the Bible, as Salome.
Salome is a feminine name from the Hebrew word shalom, meaning peace, wholeness, or wellness. These women's parents may have hoped that their daughters would grow up to experience peace or to bring wellness into the world. During the first century AD in the Roman Empire, many people longed for peace instead of the political turmoil they were experiencing. According to historical records, nearly forty-eight percent of women in the Holy Land were named a form of either Salome or Mary during this time in history ("Notes on the Distribution of Women's Names in Palestine in the Second temple Period" by Tal Ilan in Journal of Jewish Studies 40, 1989). In the biblical account, one of the women named Salome found peace and wholeness in following Jesus as her Messiah and Savior, while the other brought about destruction and death by seeking peace through political intrigue.
The woman identified in the Bible as Salome in Mark 15:40–41 and Mark 16:1–8 shows Salome to have been a faithful follower of Jesus from Galilee who supported His ministry and was present during His crucifixion (Luke 8:1–3). After the Sabbath, she was one of the women who carried burial spices for Jesus' body and was a witness to the empty tomb. There is some debate about whether she was the mother of James and John whom Matthew identified as one of the women at the tomb (Matthew 27:56), or perhaps the sister of Jesus' mother Mary identified in John's gospel account (John 19:25). Some believe the sister in John's account is the mother in Matthew's account. Thus the Salome in Mark's gospel may have held both, one or the other, or neither of these other roles and relationships. What is clear is that this Salome believed Jesus was sent by God, chose to follow Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and remained faithful even through His crucifixion, death, and burial. For these reasons, she has been venerated as a saint in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.
The other Salome was responsible for the execution of John the Baptist. Both Mark and Matthew recorded the incident in their gospel accounts, but without stating her name (Matthew 14:1–12, Mark 6:14–29). The historian Josephus identified this daughter of Herodias as bearing the name Salome. According to the gospel accounts, John the Baptist had confronted Herod about the sin of marrying his brother's wife, Herodias, so Herod had John arrested and thrown in jail. "And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe" (Mark 6:19–20). To celebrate his birthday, Herod held a banquet where Herodias's daughter, Salome, danced in such a pleasing manner that Herod promised her whatever reward she chose. After conferring with her mother, she requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter" (Mark 6:25). Thus, John the Baptist was promptly beheaded and his head was presented to Salome on a platter in front of all the guests at the banquet (Mark 6:27–28). Salome had used her talent to manipulate the ruler into accomplishing her mother's will. Moreover, that will was to silence the person speaking forth God's Word that was bringing conviction of sin.
Herodias and Salome attempted to attain personal peace by avoiding being confronted by God's Word. However, one can experience true peace only by recognizing one's own sin and asking God's forgiveness which is freely given by the blood of Jesus (Psalm 32:3–4, 10; Colossians 1:19–20; Ephesians 2:1–10). It is because of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection that we can be made right with God (John 14:6). It is doubtful that Herodias or Salome experienced the peace or wellness they sought; they removed the discomfort of John the Baptist's preaching, but also the truth of his message about the benefits of repentance and thereby the peace they could receive from God through turning to Him.
These two Salomes in the Bible present two different options for seeking peace and wholeness. One Salome chose to ignore God's call for repentance and silenced the person speaking truth into her family's lives. The other Salome committed her life to being with Jesus, following where He led, learning from His teachings, and continuing in her faith even in dark and confusing times. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His followers, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you… I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 14:27; 16:33). Jesus is the only one who gives true peace. May we be like the Salome identified by name in the Bible who found her peace by following Jesus.
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