Actual Palace of Herod Antipas Stars in Opera

An authentic section of Machaerus is part of set design for staging of biblically-themed opera

Salome Premier

Salome, Sept. 15, 2020, Hungarian State Opera, featuring a section of Herod’s palace

Because of the pandemic The Hungarian State Opera could only have one performance of Salome at the Erkel Theatre, so they decided to make it extra-special. The 1893 opera by Richard Strauss, based on the Oscar Wilde play also titled Salome, features not only some of Hungary’s finest performers, it also stars an authentic section of the Machaerus palace of Herod Antipas. With architect Tomas Debrosi, Győző Vörös—the longtime excavator of Machaerus—integrated some of the actual, ancient palace into the set design at the Erkel Theatre. The premier performance was held on September 15, 2020. The show will next be performed on October 10th at the International Opera Festival in Brno, Czech Republic.

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The unusual decision to include the Machaerus palace is well-grounded in biblical archaeology. After all, in the New Testament (Matthew 14:3-11 and Mark 6:17-29), it was at Machaerus, the strongest citadel in Judea after Jerusalem, that the unnamed daughter of Herodias performed an erotic dance of the seven veils for Herod. As reward she requested John the Baptist’s head on a platter. And her father-in-law, Herod Antipas, delivered. The writings of Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, book 18, chapter 4,5) tell a similar story, naming the dancer as Salome.

In the Winter 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review Győző Vörös writes about the restoration of the area of Herod’s throne at Machaerus. It will reach subscribers, at home and online, in mid-November.

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The Salome No One Knows: Long-time Ruler of a Prosperous and Peaceful Judea Mentioned in Dead Sea Scrolls by Kenneth Atkinson. When people hear the name Salome, they immediately think of the infamous dancing girl of the Gospels. Herod Antipas—the man Jesus denounced as a “fox”—had married his brother’s wife, Herodias. When John the Baptist denounced this illicit union, Herod Antipas cast him into prison. It was Herodias’s daughter, Salome, who danced before Herod at his drunken birthday gala. Her performance so pleased Herod that he promised her anything she wished: up to half his kingdom! At her mother’s urging, Salome asked for the head of Herod’s most famous prisoner on a platter. Fearful of breaking his word before his guests, Herod granted ­Salome’s request and ordered John the Baptist beheaded.

Antipas—The Herod Jesus Knew by Morten Hørning Jensen. Herod the Great gets all the press. His son Herod Antipas is known mostly, as the preceding article explains, as the Herod for whom Salome danced and who ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded.

Machaerus: Where Salome Danced and John the Baptist Was Beheaded by Győző Vörös. Salome danced at Machaerus. And John the Baptist was beheaded there. The gospel story is supplemented by the Jewish historian Josephus: It all began when Herod Antipas (King Herod the Great’s son who ruled Galilee and Perea between 4 B.C. and 39 A.D.; see the following article) lusted after his brother’s wife Herodias. Herod Antipas persuaded Herodias to divorce her husband and marry him. This union was denounced as unlawful by John the Baptist.

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