Unnamed little girls - betrayal and tenderness

by Sr. Marion Moeser
Mon, Sep 30th 2019 03:20 pm

Mark's gospel contains two stories about little girls, the daughter of Jairus (5:21-24, 35-43) and the daughter of Herod (6:17-28). In both stories the Greek word used to describe them is korasion. This is the diminutive of the word for a young maiden; these daughters are "little maidens." Mark indicates that Jairus' daughter was 12 years old. These are the only stories in the gospels where the word korasion is used and the stories present a striking contrast in parental treatment of young girls.

The synagogue leader, Jairus, seeks Jesus to obtain health and life for his little daughter.  The actual cure of the daughter depicts two of the most tender actions of Jesus. Consoling both her mother and father, Jesus takes the girl by her hand and addresses her using the Aramaic word for little girl, "talitha" along with the word qum, "Arise." (I like to use the word talitha as the name of the girl.) She gets up and walks about. Then Jesus tells her excited parents to give her something to eat. The adults in this story all exhibit loving care for the little girl.

Not so the story of the other korasion in the gospel. Herod's daughter, unnamed in the gospels, is identified as Salome by the early Jewish historian Josephus. She is the "dancing daughter" at Herod's birthday party. Little Salome pleases Herod who in turn promises her whatever she wants. She is corrupted by her mother, Herodias, the only female villain in Mark's gospel.  Herodias tells Salome to ask Herod for the head of John the Baptist.  Herod consents and Salome receives John's head on a platter and gives it to her mother. Neither mother nor father treats Salome with genuine care or concern.

The addition of elements in her story that would portray Salome as engaging in a sexy dance at a raucous banquet and a drunken Herod as desiring her are all interpretations. The Greek words used for dancing and for the pleasure of Herod do not in themselves have sexual connotations. A flirtatious interpretation of the little girl's dance comes from a lack of attention to korasion  and from preconceptions brought to the story. Some of the preconceptions are: that the woman is the one who tempts the man who is weak and susceptible to female charms; that the dancing of little girls is flirting; and that wealthy royals were depraved and that their banquets were drunken events. Another troublesome preconception may be the idea "like mother, like daughter." Herod had divorced his first wife to marry Herodias, the wife of his half-brother. For this John accused Herod of sexual immorality, implicating Herodias also. Naturally Salome also would have been immoral.

Awareness of the meaning of korasion allows us to see more clearly the contrasts in the circumstances of Talitha and Salome. We can question the "sexual" circumstance put forth in the interpretation of Salome's story. In one sense, seeing her as a delightful little girl "rescues" her from full participation in evil and presents, in stark relief, the immorality and clear responsibility of her parents. She is surrounded by revenge and pride and her story is one of death. Talitha, on the other hand, cared for by a loving father and mother, is the beneficiary of Jesus' love and concern. She rises, walks around, and eats amidst joy and excitement. Hers is a story of life. She is a foreshadow of each one of us, regardless of the circumstances of our childhood, who are baptized into the life and household of the Risen Christ, a household that cares for all its children.

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