For John had said to Herod – “You have no right to be living with your brother’s wife.”
particular behaviors are against the law
there is not a day we are not in violation
each category of law claims independent authority
personal law natural familiar state law
each person ranks laws differently
leading to increasing gaps between people
to apply my favorite law to enforce
on someone who does not recognize it is silly
faced with a foolish literalist raises anger
anger shifts silly to dangerous for all
John may be referencing Leviticus 18:16 where a man (remember this is a patriarchy) is not to sleep with their living brother’s wife. This is the reverse of Deuteronomy 25:5-10 where a man is to take his deceased brother’s wife as his own (Matthew 11:23–33 builds on this with another test from the religious establishment—this time by the Sadducees).
Rabbinic law resolved the conflict by viewing the latter as an exception: Intercourse with one’s sister-in-law is prohibited in every case except that described in Deuteronomy. The midrash even suggests that the two laws were spoken in the same utterance, so that the general rule and the exception would become known at one and the same time. ~JSB251
Herod is not as fortunate as the Rabbis who can hold dissonances together. If this is your first reading of this story, you may be getting edgy as Mark’s telling jumps forward and backward in post-modern fashion. This very jerkiness expresses a kind of urgency. Eventually we will find Herod’s excuses for both keeping John alive and also giving the Red Queen’s order. [Do spend a moment imagining Mark as Lewis Carroll as this Jesus story can be as convoluted and hilarious as a later one about Alice and a Looking Glass.]
This is Mark’s longest, most detailed telling that is not directly about Jesus. When this section is completed it would be instructive to reflect on what would lead the author to put this extended tale where it is, separating the mission of the Twelve, when it could have been as brief as the information about John’s arrest.