16 Salome

In this chapter you will

  • learn how an unnamed Bible character became the focus of literature and music (and, in the process, some controversy)
  • reflect on why once again a romantic element has been introduced into a biblical story that lacks it

The role Salome is given in the New Testament is a minor one, where she is not even named, yet she and her story have been the focus of a significant amount of music. Salome is the name given to the daughter of Herodias who dances for Herod Antipas and then asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. There is no hint in the biblical text of any kind of romantic attraction between her and John the Baptist, but elaborations on her story have sometimes added such an element. A great deal of attention has been focused on her in music, painting, and literature despite the relative paucity of material about her in the New Testament Gospels.

Alex Ross’s New Yorker article about Richard Strauss’s opera Salome, which is built directly from Oscar Wilde’s text rather than a libretto, raises important questions about the composer’s motives for setting that controversial work as well as the place of same-sex attraction and anti-Jewish sentiment in the context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Wilde’s story incorporates not just elements of the story of John the Baptist in the Gospels but language drawn from the Song of Songs as well. You can watch as well as listen to Strauss’s entire opera online.[1]

There is also a video with a complete score and another with piano reduction for those who wish to dig into the written music. Wilde’s story was turned into a movie in 2013 with a film score by Jeff Beal. The 1953 movie Salome introduces romantic elements into the story that are different from Wilde’s treatment. The film score is by George Duning. One can also find copies of the 1923 silent movie Salome on YouTube with various musical scores created to accompany it, as beginning film score composers often use silent films that are now in the public domain to illustrate their creative abilities.

For Further Reading

Gálik, Marián. “Echoes of the Biblical Shulamite and Wilde’s Salome in Three Modern Chinese Plays.” Monumenta Serica 68, no. 1 (2020): 197–225.

Gerrard, Carter. “The Shulamite of Sodom: Wilde’s Subversion of the Song of Songs and the Birth of the Monstrous-Feminine.” Miranda 19 (2019). https://journals.openedition.org/miranda/20560.

Riquelme, J. P. “Shalom/Solomon/Salomé: Modernism and Wilde’s Aesthetic Politics.” Centennial Review 39, no. 3 (1995): 575–610.


  1. This recording of a performance at the Fisher Center on Sunday, March 20, 2022, was provided to YouTube by the Bard Conservatory on their YouTube channel.


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The Bible and Music by James F. McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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