Saucy Salome

Here is a sermon that I preached recently which didn't make it online until now. (I've been catching up with posting sermons online. There is also one from Fr Ivan Draper here from last Sunday on the preaching page too).

Ah, here she comes. Salome shimmers into view. We get her saucy story, appropriately enough in the heat of summer.

Even by the Bible’s rather lurid standards, this one really does seem rather salacious.

I called her Salome just now though the Bible does not call her that. Some early texts use her mother’s name, Herodias and others don’t name her. The temptress that Mark writes about was known as Salome by non-biblical writers, such as the Jewish historical mythmaker, Josephus. Salome was the name he knew her by and we’ll stick with that this morning – it is the name she is known best by still.

I wonder what visual image you have of Salome. For she is widely known in western culture. Salome dancing was a common theme in Western art – for you could get away with all sorts of scandal for a willing male patron so long as it seemed that you were representing a story from the bible.

Or maybe you think of her on stage – the dance of the seven veils in plays and operas about her. Each veil tantalisingly dropped to the floor as Salome weaves her way from one side of the stage to another.

She is part of that middle eastern tradition of erotic dance. Salome’s dance is that part of the middle eastern psyche that leads prudish minds to want to cover up every last wrist and ankle of women, lest men are driven demented with desire.

We might come back to that in a minute.

Certainly, the belly dancing tradition is alive and well. I was in Kelvingrove park the other week for the West End Festival parade and sure enough, there were one or two belly dancing troupes in the procession. Quite a few women and also a couple of unlikely looking men gyrating their way down Kelvin way.

I thought about Salome when I saw them pass me. And I thought about her more when I caught sight of one of the dancers late in the day. Sunburn on her shoulders, a can or iron bru in one hand and her high heeled sandals and a fag in the other. Somehow the illusion of eastern eroticism was a little tarnished.

But, enough of this! For to see Miss Salome simply as a conniving wee minx or as a seductress bent on other people’s harm is only to see the story from within its own parameters.

And I want to suggest this morning that we need to ask bigger questions about the relationship between the sexes before we make our own judgements about Salome.

For it is time now to judge the story by our moral standards and not Salome herself. (Whose name incidentally is the proper name derived from Shalom, the biblical word for peace).

It is part of the middle eastern cultural experience to see women as dangerous temptresses who need to be kept under lock and key and firmly buried under yards of cloth so that innocent men do not get tempted unto sin.

Will that world view do for us? I don’t think it will.

It is also an aspect of the middle eastern and subsequently the western religious tradition to portray women as one of two things – women end up being either saints or sinners, angels or demons, nuns or floozies.

Will that kind of world view do for us either?

In some ways, it is quite a biblical view. But we don’t view the bible through the eyes of the people who lived in it or the people who wrote it down. It is our responsibility, if we are to be God’s own people of today to ask the most searching questions about such things.

You know, some people won’t come near a church because they believe that the Christian faith has been bad for women. We cannot simply murmur that these things are not so. These things are so.

People sometimes ask me why churches like St Mary’s are growing. I remember something that Gene Robinson said when he was here a year ago – I repeated it to a journalist this week. It is that the more we work to build a church in which women and men are treated equally, in which all people are allowed to reach their own potential and where previously unheard voices are allowed to speak, then the more we find people want to worship with us. For we begin to represent a faith worth having, a church worth joining, a place worth bringing children to and a God worth knowing and learning more about.

Salome’s dance reminds us that we need to dance away from a world view in which only men have subtle shades of character and women are stereotyped as holy saints or wicked witches.

Salome’s dance reminds us that we have our own version of corruption in our own day. Patriarchal and Matriarchal power are still alive and well and still not the things which will set people free.

And Salome’s dance reminds us that summary justice and tyranny has not been defeated in the world that we live in.

Our world view of gender power relations has changed and is changing yet. The world’s journey towards equitable government and end to summary executions is coming but it is yet to be.

Whilst tyrants rule, the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come. Whilst women and men are treated unjustly, the Kingdom of God has not yet fully come. Whilst nations of the world have more food than they are capable of eating whilst others starve because of the Herods of our day, then the Kingdom has not yet fully come.

But someone has come. Someone whom John the Baptist proclaimed. And John lost his head for proclaiming Christ and standing up to the tyrant.

The news that John was proclaiming was the coming of a King and a Kingdom. That king, Jesus, has come. That kingdom, God’s equity, God’s realm, God’s reign, God’s commonwealth of peace is yet to fully be.

But its worth fighting for. Worth praying for. Worth putting your head above the parapet for. And it is worth proclaiming today just as it was when John the Baptist proclaimed it and provoked the loud, shrill, angry voice of tyranny.

For whilst we live and breathe the love of God in our hearts, the tyrant can behead as many Baptists as he likes. But whilst the people hold the truth of God’s love in their hearts and pass it on from one to another, tyranny itself will never win.

Think of that, the next time you see a belly dancer.



  1. How true!
    People living in abusive relationships, where there is an imbalance in gender power relations long to receive the truth of God’s love from Christians.

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