THIS IS MY BIRTHDAY. Happy birthday to me.
If I were to celebrate my birthday the way people did in Bible times, my party schedule might look something like this.
- All-you-can-eat banquet for my entire staff.
I’m okay with that. I work for myself out of a home office.
- Dance of the Seven Veils by the attractive daughter of a close relative.
That would be my granddaughter. She’s 17.
It would have to be the Dance of the Seven Diapers, and it wouldn’t be pretty.
- Executing someone under my authority—a beheading would do.
I’m the only one under my authority, but I do need a haircut.
Two birthdays in the Bible
There are just two birthday parties that show up in the Bible. Both of them include a banquet and a beheading. One includes a dance.
Happy birthday Pharaoh
About 3,000 years ago, Joseph sat in an Egyptian prison, unjustly charged with attempted rape of the wife of his slave owner. While Joseph was in prison, the king of Egypt “had a birthday party, with a feast for all of his servants” (Genesis 40:20 Casual English Bible). This is the first birthday party to show up in world history.
The king, known only by his title of Pharaoh, had previously imprisoned two of his servants: a wine steward and a baker.
Joseph predicted that both men would be released in three days. Joseph said the wine steward would get his job back. But as for the baker, “Pharaoh will lift your head from your body and hang your corpse in shame” (Genesis 40:19 Casual English Bible). That’s what the Bible says happened.
Happy birthday Herod
A pretty dancing girl provided entertainment for Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, a region in what is now northern Israel.
The young lady was the daughter of Herod’s new wife. A Jewish historian from that century, Josephus, identifies the daughter as Salome.
The Bible writer says that Herod liked the dance so much that he promised to give the dancing girl just about anything she wanted, up to half the kingdom—as if there was any chance he would ever have gone that far.
Salome consulted her mother, a woman who very much hated John the Baptist. She hated John because he called her a pervert, at least indirectly. He called her that because in order for her to marry Herod, she had to divorce her husband—who happened to be the brother of Herod. John the Baptist called that incest, which is forbidden by Jewish law (Matthew 14:4 NLT).
Mama asked Baby Girl to politely request the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Herod didn’t want to do that. But he had made the promise, and he didn’t want to look like a king who couldn’t do what he said he would do. So he did it.
He got the gift of a pretty girl’s dance. He gave the gift of a prophet’s head.
We can only hope that normal people in Bible times celebrated their birthday in more normal ways.
As for me, maybe I’ll get that haircut.
My wife is working a three-day stretch of 12-hour night shifts at the hospital. So I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get a dancing girl.
Blog subscribers who win books this week
I give away free books every week to randomly selected Stateside subscribers to my free blog or my quarterly newsletter.
Note to the two winners: send me an email and I’ll give you the full list of books from which you can choose.
The deal’s good for a month, or for as long as I have giveaway books available.