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Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.: Chapter XXII
22. The Dancing of Herodias. The Keeping of Oaths.
Wherefore John, endued with prophetic boldness and not terrified at the royal dignity of Herod, nor through fear of death keeping silence in regard to so flagrant a sin, filled with a divine spirit said to Herod, “It is not lawful for thee to have her; for it is not lawful for thee to have the wife of thy brother.” For Herod having laid hold on John bound him and put him in prison, not daring to slay him outright and to take away the prophetic word from the people; but the wife of the king of Trachonitis—which is a kind of evil opinion and wicked teaching—gave birth to a daughter of the same name, whose movements, seemingly harmonious, pleasing Herod, who was fond of matters connected with birthdays, came the cause of there being no longer a prophetic head among the people. And up to this point I think that the movements of the people of the Jews, which seem to be according to the law, were nothing else than the movements of the daughter of Herodias; but the dancing of Herodias was opposed to that holy dancing with which those who have not danced will be reproached when they hear the words, “We piped unto you, and ye did not dance.” 5317 And on birthdays, when the lawless word reigns over them, they dance so that their movements please that word. Some one of those before us has observed what is written in Genesis about the birthday of Pharaoh, and has told p. 429 that the worthless man who loves things connected with birth keeps birthday festivals; and we, taking this suggestion from him, find in no Scripture that a birthday was kept by a righteous man. For Herod was more unjust than that famous Pharaoh; for by the latter on his birthday feast a chief baker is killed; 5318 but by the former, John, “than whom no one greater hath risen among those born of women,” 5319 in regard to whom the Saviour says, “But for what purpose did ye go out? To see a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.” 5320 But thanks be unto God, that, even if the grace of prophecy was taken from the people, a grace greater than all that was poured forth among the Gentiles by our Saviour Jesus Christ, who became “free among the dead;” 5321 for “though He were crucified through weakness, yet He liveth through the power of God.” 5322 Consider also the word in which pure and impure meats are inquired into; but prophecy is despised when it is brought forward in a charger instead of meat. But the Jews have not the head of prophecy, inasmuch as they disown the crown of all prophecy, Christ Jesus; and the prophet is beheaded, because of an oath in a case where the duty was rather to break the oath than to keep the oath; for the charge of rashness in taking an oath and of breaking it because of the rashness is not the same in guilt as the death of a prophet. And not on this account alone is he beheaded, but because “of those who sat at meat with him,” who preferred that the prophet should be killed rather than live. And they recline at the same table and also feast along with the evil word which reigns over the Jews, who make merry over his birth. At times you may make a graceful application of the passage to those who swear rashly and wish to hold fast oaths which are taken with a view to unlawful deeds, by saying that not every keeping of oaths is seemly, just as the keeping of the oath of Herod was not. And mark, further, that not openly but secretly and in prison does Herod put John to death. For even the present word of the Jews does not openly deny the prophecies, but virtually and in secret denies them, and is convicted of disbelieving them. For as “if they believed Moses they would have believed Jesus,” 5323 so if they had believed the prophets they would have received Him who had been the subject of prophecy. But disbelieving Him they also disbelieve them, and cut off and confine in prison the prophetic word, and hold it dead and divided, and in no way wholesome, since they do not understand it. But we have the whole Jesus, the prophecy concerning Him being fulfilled which said, “A bone shall not be broken.” 5324
Matt. 11:17, Luke 7:32.429:5318
Gen. xl. 20.429:5319
Matt. xi. 11.429:5320
Luke vii. 26.429:5321
Ps. lxxxviii. 6.429:5322
2 Cor. xiii. 4.429:5323
John v. 46.429:5324
Exod. 12:46, John 19:36.
Next: Chapter XXIII
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