“The Daughter of Jared”

Brant Gardner

This story bears an obvious resemblance to the dance of Salome which resulted in the beheading of John the Baptist:

Matthew 14:3-11

3 ¶ For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife.

4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.

5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet.

6 But when Herod’s birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod.

7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.

8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger.

9 And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath’s sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her.

10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.

11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother.

Nibley notes:

“There is one tale of intrigue in the book of Ether that presents very ancient and widespread (though but recently discovered) parallels. That is the story of Jared’s daughter. This was a later Jared who rebelled against his father, “did flatter many people, because of his cunning words, until he had gained half of the kingdom… . [And] did carry away his father into captivity” after defeating him in battle, “and did make him serve in captivity” (Ether 8:2-3). In captivity the king raised other sons who finally turned the tables on their faithless brother and beat his forces in a night skirmish. They spared his life on his promise to give up the kingdom, but they failed to count on Jared’s daughter, an ambitious girl who had read, or at least asked her father if he had read “in the records which our fathers brought across the great deep,” a very instructive account of those devices by which the men of old got "kingdoms and great glory.”

Hath he not read the record which our fathers brought across the great deep? Behold, is there not an account concerning them of old, that they by their secret plans did obtain kingdoms and great glory?

And now, therefore, let my father send for Akish, the son of Kimnor; and behold, I am fair, and I will dance before him, and I will please him, that he will desire me to wife; wherefore if he shall desire of thee that ye shall give unto him me to wife, then shall ye say, I will give her if ye will bring unto me the head of my father, the king (Ether 8:9-10).

The Throne of Darius, depicting among other things Darius himself sitting upon the throne. An inscription on the throne reads: “Behold the representation of those who bear my throne, and you shall know how great is the number of the lands which Darius the King seized.” Compare this with the “exceedingly beautiful throne” of Riplakish (Ether 10:6) and the opressive means by which he got it.

Historically, the whole point of this story is that it is highly unoriginal. It is supposed to be. The damsel asks her father if he has read “the record” and refers him to a particular account therein describing how “they of old … did obtain kingdoms.” In accordance with this she then outlines a course of action which makes it clear just what the “account” was about. It dealt with a pattern of action (for “kingdoms” is in the plural) in which a princess dances before a romantic stranger, wins his heart, and induces him to behead the ruling king, marry her, and mount the throne. The sinister daughter of Jared works the plan for all it is worth. Having got her grandfather beheaded and her father on the throne, she proceeds to marry the murderer Akish, who presently having “sworn by the oath of the ancients [the old system again] … obtained the head of his father-in-law, as he sat on his throne” (Ether 9:5). And who put him up to this new crime? “It was the daughter of Jared who put it into his heart to search up these things of old; and Jared put it into the heart of Akish” (Ether 8:17). At first she influenced Akish through her father Jared, but after Akish became her husband he would of course act directly under her influence to dispatch the next rival. According to the ancient pattern (for Ether insists that it all goes back to “the ancients”) Akish as soon as his successor became apparent would be marked as the next victim, and surely enough we find him so suspicious of his son that he locks him up in prison and starves him to death; but there were other sons, and so “there began to be a war between the sons of Akish and Akish,” ending in the complete ruin of the kingdom (Ether 9:12). Many years later the old evil was revived by Heth, who “began to embrace the secret plans again of old,” dethroned his father, “slew him with his own sword; and he did reign in his stead” (Ether 9:26-27).

This is indeed a strange and terrible tradition of throne succession, yet there is no better attested tradition in the early world than the ritual of the dancing princess (represented by the salme priestess of the Babylonians, hence the name Salome) who wins the heart of a stranger and induces him to marry her, behead the old king, and mount the throne. I once collected a huge dossier on this awful woman and even read a paper on her at an annual meeting of the American Historical Association. fn You find out all about the sordid triangle of the old king, the challenger, and the dancing beauty from Frazer, Jane Harrison, Altheim, B. Schweitzer, Farnell, and any number of folklorists. fn The thing to note especially is that there actually seems to have been a succession rite of great antiquity that followed this pattern. It is the story behind the rites at Olympia and the Ara Sacra and the wanton and shocking dances of the ritual hierodules throughout the ancient world. fn Though it is not without actual historical parallels, as when in A.D. 998 the sister of the khalif obtained as a gift the head of the ruler of Syria, fn the episode of the dancing princess is at all times essentially a ritual, and the name of Salome is perhaps no accident, for her story is anything but unique. Certainly the book of Ether is on the soundest possible ground in attributing the behavior of the daughter of Jared to the inspiration of ritual texts—secret directories on the art of deposing an aging king. The Jaredite version, incidentally, is quite different from the Salome story of the Bible, but is identical with many earlier accounts that have come down to us in the oldest records of civilization. (Hugh Nibley, Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites/There Were Jaredites, Salt Lake City and Provo: Bookcraft, 1952, p. 207-210.)

Cultural: There is so little information available both in this verse and in Olmec history that cultural correlations must be taken with caution. However, it is possible that the taking of the head is more than a simple part of the replication of the ancient story. Decapitation was a mode of sacrifice in Mesoamerica. Cerros is a Late Preclassic site, which places it at the end of the Olmec influence rather than the beginning, but it is important for the evidence of the arrival of kingship at that site. This is a location where the village existed prior to the establishment of kingship, but it is probable that the ideas adopted were not original to them, but came in from the outside as these people were traders and seafarers (Linda Schele and David Freidel. A Forest of Kings. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, 1990, p. 98) After the population of Cerros adopted the trappings of kingship they build monumental art displaying those symbols:

“On the middle pyramid, the builders mounted carved jaguar heads with great flowing scrolls pouring out of their mouths, and small snarling human heads emerging from the stonework above them. These bloody images were meant to depicft the severed head of the Sun Jaguar – the ancestral brother who died in sacrifice as was reborn as the means of defeating the Lords of Xibalba.

The image of the severed head is a central symbol of royal power on stelae and panels of the Classic period. Kings during this period sacrificed highborn victims taken in war by decapitating them. The jaguar adorned with waterlily scrolls presided over such warfare and provided it with its central metaphor: battle as the royal hunt.” (Linda Schele and David Freidel. A Forest of Kings. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, 1990, p. 124).

The presence of the jaguar at least suggests that these modes of kingship have connections to the earlier Olmec forms, where the jaguar was an omnipresent symbol. The evidence for human sacrifice among the Olmec is not as obvious as for the later Maya, but the evidence does suggest that the absence is due to our records, not the absence of the practice. In an early work on the Olmec, Ignacio Bernal notes that there are signs that point to human sacrifice (Ignacio Bernal. The Olmec World. Tr. Doris Heyden and Fernando Horcasitas. University of California Press, Berkeley, 1969, pp. 104-5)

Multidimensional Commentary on the Book of Mormon