"The second major Markan passage retailing the tale of John the Baptist is found in chapter 6. Curiously, it takes the form of a fairy tale-like flashback -- perhaps designed to obscure the fact that it too is an obvious intrusion into Mark's skimpy narrative. (In general, the very loose organization characterizing this gospel makes it hazardous to interpret every wrenching dislocation of subject as an interpolation.)(p91)."Zindler's argument lacks rich evidential and argumentative support and makes a very serious error of interpretation: the writer of Mark has a very controlled structure, and each verse is precisely placed. As we shall see, it is this tightly controlled structure that enables us to get a handle on what has actually happened.
What is the Source for the Take of John's Death?
Like most of the rest of Mark, the tale of John's death is taken from the Old Testament, from the story of Esther and from the expansions of it in rabbinical lore. This argument was originally made by Aus, but I have been unable to obtain a copy of the original article, so I have reconstructed it from the summaries and hints in Gundry's Mark and in Meier's A Marginal Jew. Here are the parallels as I see them (out of order parallels in parens):
ESTHER: Vashti, wife of the Persian King, is granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar
MARK: Herodias, wife of Herod, is granddaughter of Herod the Great
ESTHER: Vashti is commanded to appear before the Court wearing her crown (seen by later Jews as wearing only the crown). In Talmud Megillah 12B she is to appear only wearing royal crown
MARK: (Herodias' daughter dances lasciviously before Herod)
ESTHER: Esther marries the King of Persians,displacing Vashti
MARK: Herod has taken his brother's wife as his own, setting aside his own wife
ESTHER: Haman suggests Vashti be killed (Midrash)
MARK: (Herodias suggests John be killed)
ESTHER: Vashti's head is brought before the King on a platter (Midrash)
MARK: (John's head is brought before Herod on a platter)
ESTHER: Esther wants to stop Haman from destroying the Jews
MARK: Herodias wants John dead for criticizing her marriage
ESTHER: The enemy of Esther, Haman, is the king's favorite.
MARK: Herodias' enemy, John, is thought to be a "righteous and holy man" by Herod, who "kept him safe"
and "heard him gladly."
ESTHER: Haman goes home to get the advice of Zeresh his wife and his friends (twice)
MARK: (Herodias' daughter asks her mother what to ask for.)
ESTHER: Esther and the King are at a banquet arranged by her for herself and Haman
MARK: Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the leading men of Galilee.
ESTHER: "And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour
in his sight; and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the sceptre."
MARK: "For when Herodias' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests"
ESTHER: "And the king said to Esther' Whatever thy petition, it shall be granted thee; and whatever thy
MARK: the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it."
ESTHER: "...even to the half of the kingdom, it shall be performed.'
MARK: And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom."
As elsewhere in Mark the writer has preserved the original lines of his source text. In this case the writer has preserved the doublet wish. The Greek of Mark even follows the Greek of the Septuagint closely.
Is this Passage Interpolated?
There are several reasons to think so. Let me run down some of them:
1. The author of Mark nowhere else mentions the Book of Esther, which is odd because he has a habit of citing a book which he parallels elsewhere in the Gospel. 6:14-29 is big, and it would be unusual for a structure of this size not to pop up somewhere else. This may be wrong, as at least one scholar claims to have found Esther 2:18-23 parallels Mark 15:6-7 (I couldn't see any parallels myself, but I haven't read the argument, just the statement).
2. The story is intercalated between the two halves of the sending of the disciples but not in the writer's usual deft way in which one story comments on the other when they are sandwiched together. A good example of the typical style is Peter's denial, in the A-B-A' format. While Jesus affirms who he is Peter is out in the courtyard, denying who Jesus is. Then even as the soldiers mock Jesus and tell him to "Prophesy!" as if he can't, his prophecy of Peter's denial is coming true out in the courtyard. There just doesn't seem to be that same structure here where one part speaks to the other. The sending out of the disciples doesn't appear, at least to this writer, to reflect back to John the Baptist's death in any meaningful way. Moloney (2001), has argued otherwise, saying that the pericope forms a bridge between the initial part of the Gospel, where the disciples hear Jesus' message accompanied by positive signs, and the second part, where they begin to show their failure to understand Jesus. However, the disciples' incompetence is on display throughout Mark 4 and in Mark 5 as well, and may extend all the way back to Mk 2:23-28.
3. Another strike here is that while Mark often writes off the OT, and sometimes off Jewish legends and stories, it's rare that a passage of such length is entirely without allusions to OT verses in the details. For example, in the Cleansing of the Temple, the story frame is Jehu's cleansing of the Temple of Ba'al, but the verses themselves are not taken from 2 Kings, but from Zechariah, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah. Similarly, in the Annointing of Jesus at the house of Simon the Leper, the frame is again the Elijah-Elisha cycle, but the structure of the story is from Samuel, and there are cites of Deut and other texts in the verses. The writer of Mark likes citing the Psalms, Prophets, and Daniel, and these are nowhere in evidence in this story of Herod. On the other hand, the healing of Jairus' daughter follows this pattern of OT-free detailss, and just like 6:14-29, cites the source near the end.
4. the writer of Mark does not use the novelistic Jewish literature like Esther at all, except perhaps a bit of Tobit in Mark 16.
5. Mark 6 is an inverted parallel of Mark 3. Guess what story is not paralleled in Mark 3? You guessed it: JBap's death.
Solution: A Partial Interpolation/Expansion
A look at the chiastic structure of the pericope suggests that the story is NOT entirely an interpolation. The pericope has the usual Markan structure with the doubled center, but the center is wrong. Here is the chiastic structure of the first half of the pericope (see my Commentary for the entire structure):
A So they went out and preached that men should repent.
B And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.
C King Herod heard of it; for Jesus' name had become known. Some said, "John the baptizer has been raised
from the dead; that is why these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Eli'jah." And others
said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it he said, "John, whom
I beheaded, has been raised."
D For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Hero'di-as, his brother
Philip's wife; because he had married her.
E For John said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
F And Hero'di-as had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John,
knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and kept him safe. When he heard him, he was much perplexed;
and yet he heard him gladly.
G But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and the
leading men of Galilee.
H For when Hero'di-as' daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests;
I and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it."
I' And he vowed to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom."
The I-I' bracket is the center of the chiasm. Note that each bracket is a simply a copy of the other. The writer of original Mark, while loving doublets, never makes them simpleminded repetitions of one another. Whatever the case for the rest of the pericope, the writer of Mark never wrote that center. Markan centers either have complex structures or consist of two brackets, one of which comments, replies to, or summarizes and extends the other, but not in a mindless and obvious way.
Another indicator of partial interpolation and expansion is the relationship between the D and E brackets:
D For Herod had sent and seized John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Hero'di-as, his brother Philip's wife; because he had married her.
E For John said to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
There is no other place in Mark where two explanatory brackets ("For...) pile into each other like that. Hence, I believe at this point the interpolator has hacked out material and replaced it with his own. The original material resumes near the end, in the B' and A' brackets. The ABC brackets at the beginning are Markan, and the reference to Elijah and the prophets and JBap is Markan and occurs two other times in Mark.
Hence, I am opting for partial interpolation on this one. In my view, the original text probably was quite short and simply narrated John's death in the usual laconic Markan fashion.