Pseudo-Chrysostom, “On the Beheading of the Forerunner and Baptizer, John; and on Herodias.”

Part 1:

Jezebel has come around again, asking [Ahab] to seize Naboth’s vineyard, and to pursue St. Elijah into the mountains. But I suppose I do not connect them alone, in a daze; but that you all can hear it with me (who am the voice of the evangelist), and wonder at the freedom of speech of John, the shallowmindedness of Herod, and the brutish madness [theriode manian] of impious women.

Then what did we hear?

‘For Herod had laid hold of John… and put him into prison.’ (Mt. 14:3)

Why?

‘Because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.’ (Mt. 14:3)

And you rightly blame the shallowmindedness of Herod for bringing in this most miserable woman.

What would you say, and how would you explain the remarkable wickedness of these women?

Indeed, it seems to me that no evil wild animal in the world is comparable to evil women. [Ἐμοὶ μὲν δοκεῖ μηδὲν εἶναι ἐν κόσμῳ θηρίον ἐφάμιλλον γυναικὸς πονηρᾶς.]

Surely the sermon by me now is in regards to evil women, not about virtuous and sensible [agathes kai sophronos] women. And indeed, I know many women to be honestly behaved and virtuous [euskemonas kai agathes], whose lives I have recounted, along with the reward of their works — for edification, and for stirring up a love of good things.

But indeed, no evil wild animal in the world is comparable to evil women. What is more ferocious among four-legged creatures than the lion? Nothing. What is more savage among serpents than the dragon? Nothing. And yet, both the lion and the dragon give way, in this matter, to evil women.

My witness is wisest Solomon, saying, “I would rather dwell with a lion and a dragon, than to live together with an evil and sharptongued woman.” (Sirach 25:23, LXX Sirach 25:16) And lest you should suppose the prophet to have said this as irony, you should study it according to these same matters.

In the lion’s den, Daniel was treated with awe; but indeed, Jezebel slew the righteous Naboth. The whale served Jonah in his belly; Delilah handed over the caught and bound Samson to the foreign-born. The dragons, asps, and horned vipers shivered before John in the desert; but indeed, Herodias cut off his head at a banquet. Ravens nourished Elijah on the mountain; Jezabel pursued Elijah to kill him, after the favor of rain had been given.

Then what did she say?

‘”If you are Elijah and I am Jezebel, may the gods do these things to me, and add these other things, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like the life of one of those you killed.” And Elijah was afraid… and ran for his life’ (LXX 3 Kgs. 19:2-3/1 Kgs. 19:2-3), and he ran from her ‘forty days’ road into the wilderness’ (LXX 3 Kgs.19:8/1 Kgs. 19:8). And when he came ‘under the broom tree… and asked, concerning his life, that he might die,’ he said, ‘”O Lord God, let it be enough now; take my life from me… for I am no better than my fathers.”‘ (LXX 3 Kgs. 19:4/1 Kgs. 19:4)

Oh, my! The prophet Elijah was afraid of a woman?

The same guy who commanded the globe’s rains with his tongue? Who brought down fire from heaven (cf. Sirach 48:3), and awoke the dead with a prayer (cf. 3 Kgs. 17:17-22/1 Kgs. 17:17-22)? He was afraid of a woman?

Indeed, he was afraid. So there is no wickedness that can be compared with an evil woman.

Wisdom speaks as a witness to this word when she says, “There is no head worse than the head of a serpent, and… there is no wickedness… above… the wickedness of a woman.” (LXX Sir. 25:15, 13/Sir. 22-23, 19)

O evil and sharp spear of the Devil! Through a woman, at the beginning, in Paradise, [the Devil] ran Adam through. Through a woman, he instigated David, the mildest man, to trickery for killing Uriah. Through a woman, he led Solomon, the wisest man, to lying. Through a woman, he blinded and cut off the hair of Samson, the strongest man. Through a woman, he laid low the sons of Eli the priest. Through a woman, he locked up Joseph, the noblest man, in prison. Through a woman, he cut off the head of John, the lantern of all the world.

But what am I saying about humans?

Through a woman, he made angels fall from heaven. (cf. Gen. 6:2?)

Through a woman, he has slain all, murdered all, dishonored all, cursed all. (cf. Eve.)

So a shameless woman spares no man (oudenos). She honors no Levite, she reveres no priest, she fears no prophet.

O evil wicked woman of evilest evil! Even if she be poor, she is rich in evil. But if wealth be her co-worker, twice the evil unbearable life! An incurable disease is the untamed wild animal.

I have seen both an asp tamed by gentling, and lions and tigers and panthers soothed and made mild. But a bad woman both rages when insulted, and swells up when gently treated.

So if she has a husband who is a ruler, she sharpens him with her wiles, night and day, to do murder, as Herodias did to Herod. If she has a husband who is a poor man, she stirs him up with tempers and quarrels. If she happen to be a widow, she herself holds everyone in dishonor.

She does not restrain her tongue for fear of the Lord; neither does she look toward the future Judgment, nor does she look toward God; nor did she know to heed the institution of friendship.

To a wicked woman, it is nothing to hand her own husband over to death. Even back then, Job’s own wife, reckless of her own blasphemy, would have handed over righteous Job, saying, “You should say some word [a curse] to the Lord, and be finished!” (Job LXX 2:9)

O, one of wicked temper! O, one of chosen lack of distress! To see the guts of her own husband not spared under the blistered pustules, as if under the sparks of burning coals, and all his flesh seized by worms. She did not turn to pity, to see him all rolled up into himself, and burning, and agonized, and constantly gasping for breath, with pain in his mouth. Not softened with compassion to see him first in royal purple robes, and then with his naked body on a dungheap. She did not remember her habit of old toward him — not as far as his glory days and when she was blooming beautifully.

And what?

“You should say some word to the Lord, and be finished!”

O gratitude of a woman! O soothing lotion in the bath preparation room of pain! O institution of friendship of one equally yoked!

Therefore, at the time he was sick, should he have uttered such a word from you [or not]? And [did you or] did you not cleanse his disease with lotion, with your prayer and beneficence?

So did temporary chastisement not suffice for him, but do you also help him toward “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46) for blasphemy? Or do you not know that “Every blasphemy and sin will be forgiven to humans, but however, blasphemy toward the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven”? (Mt. 12:31, variant quote)

Would you like to see another equally-yoked one of wickedness?

Look at Delilah with me.

For she both cut off the hair of that manly Samson and tied him up, handing him over to the Gentile tribes — her own man, her own bedmate. She warmed him, coaxed him, flattered him, pretended love for him. She loved him yesterday, she cheats on him today. She warmed him with loving yesterday, she buried him by cheating on him today.

And wasn’t he handsome? And who at that time was more handsome than him, who bore seven locks on his head, which carried the image of the sevenfold Grace?

And wasn’t he manly? And who at that time was more manly than him, who, alone on the road, choked a lion, and who laid low a thousand Gentile tribesmen with a single jawbone?

But wasn’t he holy? He was so holy that when there was a lack [of water] and he was thirsty, he prayed; and still water sprang forth, from the damaged place left [in Ramath-lehi], by the jawbone he held in his hand; and from there he poured out the remedy for his thirst.

And the one so handsome, the one so manly, the one so holy — his own wife tied him up for the enemy, handing him over to the Gentile tribesmen.

And from where, therefore, came a woman who prevailed against one so manly?

Out of the household of the man, from his beneficence. She looted the mystery of his strength by night, overcoming him, naked, with a strong rope. 

For this reason, Wisdom orders you, “Beware what you entrust to your bedmate.” (LXX Micah 7:5)

Tell me, what kind of wild animal ever considered such a thing? What dragoness wants to destroy her equally yoked one? And what kind of lioness would hand over her male for slaughter? 

Do you see that Wisdom hit the mark when she said that “There is no head worse than a serpent’s head” and “there is no evil like an evil woman”? 

And clearly, he who has a wicked wife has already paid the wages of his lawlessness. The word is not unwitnessed. Listen to Wisdom talking: “A wicked woman will be given to a lawless man, for wicked works.” (Sirach 26:26)

But the word about this has to be the end, absolutely, about wicked women.

Part 2: 

But at present, we must remember the virtuous women (tas agathas) most of all. For virtuous women look for the excellence of their own virtuous husbands, and they are counted as the crowns of their husbands’ previous labors.  (cf. Prov. 12:4)

The blessed Shunammite woman — who, having urged her husband, built a little room for Elisha, so that whenever he came he could have his rest unhindered — was virtuous and hospitable, preparing for him “a bed… and a lampstand… and a table.” (2 Kgs. 4:10)

The bed was not lacking a bedcover (himation); instead, it had bedclothes (stromata) fit for a prophet. The lampstand was not without a lantern; instead the light had oil poured into it. The table was not left empty of bread; instead it had fruit and meat.

But what could be said, what, about that blessed widow who hosted the prophet Elijah? Poverty of goods in no way hindered her, because she was rich in purpose. She had no bread, no wine, no side dish, not another earthly thing besides the consolation of poverty. No wheatbearing seed was offering her material for bread; no vine grew her a  sweet juicy bunch of grapes. No tree was offering her its late summer fruit.

For how could they, with no place with a handspan of arable earth, nor a cubit of ground for planting a vine? 

Otherwise, in the hot season, in the plowed fields of bowing grain, she would glean the ears of wheat let fall from the hands of the scythe-reapers, putting away food in proper measure to the time, according to the cycle of the year. 

Continued in next post.

Here’s the text of the sermon in digital format.

Modern article on the text parallels and reversals between Jezebel/Herodias and Ahab/Herod. “Femme Fatale Redux: Intertextual Connection” Very nice summation.

A good chunk of this sermon is found under the name of St. John of Damascus in Sacra Parallela Recensiones secundi Alphabeti, aka Parallelon. It’s also attributed to St. Ephrem under the title “Kata ton Poneron Gunaikon.”

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