Sunday, January 2, 2011

Bring me the head of John the Baptist

I say this mainly because it's a phrase that's been rattling around in my head for WEEKS now and I'm hoping somehow to purge the nuisance. A Cindy Sherman image comes to mind, but I think it's "Judith with the Head of Holofernes." I used to have a postcard. I used to have a whole book of Cindy Sherman photography, what n hell happened to that?? Probably some ex-boyfriend. Along with my book of Talking Heads lyrics illustrated by famous artists of the 80s, and a volume of work by Roger Dean. I used to have an extensive collection of pop art/album cover art/musicians-as-artists books, and over time they've scattered a bit... I've sold duplicates and volumes I didn't care much about, lost some in the aforementioned manner; and a few might be in Mom's attic. A gem that I haven't seen in ages, lyrics by Bernie Taupin for Elton John, illustrated not by well-known artists but by other musicians -- it included a collage by John Lennon. Poorly printed, but priceless in its way.

Back to John the Baptist. Who loses his head to a woman, though not a woman he'd have anything to do with. The stepdaughter of Herod, wasn't it? Salome. Beheaded for talking smack about her mama and her Uncle StepDaddy. My daughter, you may have up to half my kingdom, so pleased I am with you. Anything you want.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #228 - 1990 

Caravaggio, Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, c. 1607

I suppose John's appearance in the lectionary adjacent to the birth of Jesus is the reason for his gloomy spectre. Bring me the head, on a silver platter. John was beheaded in prison, where he languished for being a loudmouth and having too many followers, as well as for criticizing Herod's choice of mates. John the Martyr.
I will that thou give me by and by in a charger the head of John the Baptist. And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath's sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner, and commanded his head to be brought: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. And when his disciples heard of it, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:21-29, KJV)

But in some accounts John was the cousin to Jesus, only child of Zachariah and Elizabeth, whose birth was foretold by the angel Gabriel and took place six months before Jesus' own birth. Mary visited Elizabeth immediately after Gabriel paid herself the famous visit, and when Elizabeth heard the news, the child in Elizabeth's womb "leaped for joy." But nowhere in the New Testament do we hear of Jesus mourning John's death, though he was certainly informed by all accounts. He went into the desert with his disciples. What happened there is none of our business. 

I read somewhere too that John's birthday is more celebrated than his martyrdom, since he is assumed to have possessed "prenatal grace." Now THERE'S a subject for consideration, prenatal grace. But it's not the reason John's head is rolling around in my mind. I suppose if there is a reason ... it might have something to do with those living waters up there. We'll see.  

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