By BRIAN KAYLOR
On my last full day in Jordan, we visited Mukawir (also known as Machaerus). Herod the Great, the Roman ruler in the region at the time of Jesus’s birth, built a palace on top this mountain overlooking the Dead Sea. When the kingdom split among three of Herod’s sons, this palace passed to Herod Antipas, one of the Roman leaders involved in the trials of Jesus.
In this palace, Herod Antipas’s niece/stepdaughter Salome so aroused him with a dance that he offered her up to half his kingdom. At the prodding of her mother, who initially married Herod’s brother before taking up with Herod, Salome asked for the head of John the baptizer. At the time, Salome was likely just a teenager (or younger).
On the mountain beneath the ruins of the palace, there are numerous caves. Although likely used primarily for storage, it’s believed John was imprisoned in one of those caves prior to his beheading. His “offense” came as he dared to critique Herod for taking someone else’s wife.
Walking among the ruins of the palace at Mukawir, I pondered the story of John and his death. No one wants to be John in that story. But if we’re in that scene at the Mukawir palace, we better be John. Otherwise, we’re in the group with the sex-crazed leader who shows no respect for morality, justice, or human dignity.
Perhaps we can say we don’t endorse his behavior or his words, but that’s a weak excuse. If we’re sitting by him, we’re condoning his immorality in taking and abandoning wives like they’re property on a Monopoly board. If we’re sitting by him, we’re condoning his lust for a young girl and his belief that when you’re a star you can do anything. If we’re sitting by him, we’re condoning his authoritarian ideals and his lack of respect for human life.
Standing among the ruins at Mukawir and looking out over the Dead Sea, I thought about how it seems today the palace seats are still more populated than the caves below. But two thousand years later, we honor the memory of John the baptizer, while the palace of Herod lies in ruins with trash tossed around by tourists.
You can see more photos from days eight and nine in Jordan here.