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2. Herod the Great:

With a different environment and with a different character, Herod the Great might have been worthy of the surname which he now bears only as a tribute of inane flattery. What we know of him, we owe, in the main, to the exhaustive treatment of the subject by Josephus in his Antiquities and Jewish War, and from Strabo and Dio Cassius among the classics. We may subsume our little sketch of Herod's life under the heads of (1) political activity, (2) evidences of talent, and (3) character and domestic life.

(1) Political Activity.

Antipater had great ambitions for his son. Herod was only a young man when he began his career as governor of Galilee. Josephus' statement, however, that he was only "fifteen years old" (Ant., XIV, ix, 2) is evidently the mistake of some transcriber, because we are told (XVII, viii, 1) that "he continued his life till a very old age." That was 42 years later, so that Herod at this time must have been at least 25 years old. His activity and success in ridding his dominion of dangerous bands of freebooters, and his still greater success in raising the always welcome tribute-money for the Roman government, gained for him additional power at court. His advance became rapid. Antony appointed him "tetrarch" of Judea in 41 BC, and although he was forced by circumstances temporarily to leave his domain in the hands of the Parthians and of Antigonus, this, in the end, proved a blessing in disguise. In this final spasm of the dying Asmonean house, Antigonus took Jerusalem by storm, and Phasael, Herod's oldest brother, fell into his hands. The latter was governor of the city, and foreseeing his fate, he committed suicide by dashing out his brains against the walls of his prison. Antigonus incapacitated his brother Hyrcanus, who was captured at the same time, from ever holding the holy office again by cropping off his ears (Ant., XIV, xiii, 10). Meanwhile, Herod was at Rome, and through the favor of Antony and Augustus he obtained the crown of Judea in 37 BC. The fond ambition of his heart was now attained, although he had literally to carve out his own empire with the sword. He made quick work of the task, cut his way back into Judea and took Jerusalem by storm in 37 BC.

The first act of his reign was the extermination of the Asmonean house, to which Herod himself was related through his marriage with Mariamne, the grandchild of Hyrcanus. Antigonus was slain and with him 45 of his chief adherents. Hyrcanus was recalled from Babylon, to which he had been banished by Antigonus, but the high-priesthood was bestowed on Aristobulus, Herod's brother-in-law, who, however, soon fell a victim to the suspicion and fear of the king (Ant., XV, iii, 3). These outrages against the purest blood in Judea turned the love of Mariamne, once cherished for Herod, into a bitter hatred. The Jews, loyal to the dynasty of the Maccabees, accused Herod before the Roman court, but he was summarily acquitted by Antony. Hyrcanus, mutilated and helpless as he was, soon followed Aristobulus in the way of death, 31 BC (Ant., XV, vi, 1). When Antony, who had ever befriended Herod, was conquered by Augustus at Actium (31 BC), Herod quickly turned to the powers that were, and, by subtle flattery and timely support, won the imperial favor.

The boundaries of his kingdom were now extended by Rome. And Herod proved equal to the greater task. By a decisive victory over the Arabians, he showed, as he had done in his earlier Galilean government, what manner of man he was, when aroused to action. The Arabians were wholly crushed, and submitted themselves unconditionally under the power of Herod (Ant., XV, v, 5). Afraid to leave a remnant of the Asmonean power alive, he sacrificed Mariamne his wife, the only human being he ever seems to have loved (28 BC), his mother-in-law Alexandra (Ant., XV, vii, 8), and ultimately, shortly before his death, even his own sons by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus 7 BC (Ant., XVI, xi, 7). In his emulation of the habits and views of life of the Romans, he continually offended and defied his Jewish subjects, by the introduction of Roman sports and heathen temples in his dominion. His influence on the younger Jews in this regard was baneful, and slowly a distinct partly arose, partly political, partly religious, which called itself the Herodian party, Jews in outward religious forms but Gentiles in their dress and in their whole view of life. They were a bitter offense to the rest of the nation, but were associated with the Pharisees and Sadducees in their opposition to Christ (Matthew 22:16; Mark 3:6; 12:13).

In vain Herod tried to win over the Jews, by royal charity in time of famine, and by yielding, wherever possible, to their bitter prejudices. They saw in him only a usurper of the throne of David, maintained by the strong arm of the hated Roman oppressor. Innumerable plots were made against his life, but, with almost superhuman cunning, Herod defeated them all (Ant., XV, viii). He robbed his own people that he might give munificent gifts to the Romans; he did not even spare the grave of King David, which was held in almost idolatrous reverence by the people, but robbed it of its treasures (Ant., XVI, vii, 1). The last days of Herod were embittered by endless court intrigues and conspiracies, by an almost insane suspicion on the part of the aged king, and by increasing indications of the restlessness of the nation.

Like Augustus himself, Herod was the victim of an incurable and loathsome disease. His temper became more irritable, as the malady made progress, and he made both himself and his court unutterably miserable. The picture drawn by Josephus (Ant., XVII) is lifelike and tragic in its vividness. In his last will and testament, he remained true to his life-long fawning upon the Roman power (Ant., XVII, vi, 1). So great became his suffering toward the last that he made a fruitless attempt at suicide. But, true to his character, one of the last acts of his life was an order to execute his son Antipater, who had instigated the murder of his halfbrothers, Alexander and Aristobulus, and another order to slay, after his death, a number of nobles, who were guilty of a small outbreak at Jerusalem and who were confined in the hippodrome (Ant., XVI, vi, 5). He died in the 37th year of his reign, 34 years after he had captured Jerusalem and slain Antigonus. Josephus writes this epitaph:

"A man he was of great barbarity toward all men equally, and a slave to his passions, but above the consideration of what was right. Yet was he favored by fortune as much as any man ever was, for from a private man he became a king, and though he were encompassed by ten thousand dangers, he got clear of them all and continued his life to a very old age" (Ant., XVII, viii, 1).

(2) Evidences of Talent.

The life of Herod the Great was not a fortuitous chain of favorable accidents. He was unquestionably a man of talent. In a family like that of Antipus and Antipater, talent must necessarily be hereditary, and Herod inherited it more largely than any of his brothers. His whole life exhibits in no small degree statecraft, power of organization, shrewdness. He knew men and he knew how to use them. He won the warmest friendship of Roman emperors, and had a faculty of convincing the Romans of the righteousness of his cause, in every contingency. In his own dominions he was like Ishmael, his hand against all, and the hands of all against him, and yet he maintained himself in the government for a whole generation.

His Galilean governorship showed what manner of man he was, a man with iron determination and great generalship. His Judean conquest proved the same thing, as did his Arabian war. Herod was a born leader of men. Under a different environment he might have developed into a truly great man, and had his character been coordinate with his gifts, he might have done great things for the Jewish people. But by far the greatest talent of Herod was his singular architectural taste and ability. Here he reminds one of the old Egyptian Pharaohs. Against the laws of Judaism, which he pretended to obey, he built at Jerusalem a magnificent theater and an amphitheater, of which the ruins remain. The one was within the city, the other outside the walls. Thus he introduced into the ascetic sphere of the Jewish life the frivolous spirit of the Greeks and the Romans.

To offset this cruel infraction of all the maxims of orthodox Judaism, he tried to placate the nation by rebuilding the temple of Zerubbabel and making it more magnificent than even Solomon's temple had been. This work was accomplished somewhere between 19 BC and 11 or 9 BC, although the entire work was not finished till the procuratorship of Albinus, 62-64 AD (Ant., XV, xi, 5, 6; XX, ix, 7; John 2:20). It was so transcendently beautiful that it ranked among the world's wonders, and Josephus does not tire of describing its glories (BJ, V, v). Even Titus sought to spare the building in the final attack on the city (BJ, VI, iv, 3). Besides this, Herod rebuilt and beautified Struto's Tower, which he called after the emperor, Caesarea.

He spent 12 years in this gigantic work, building a theater and amphitheater, and above all in achieving the apparently impossible by creating a harbor where there was none before. This was accomplished by constructing a gigantic mole far out into the sea, and so enduring was the work that the remains of it are seen today. The Romans were so appreciative of the work done by Herod that they made Caesarea the capital of the new regime, after the passing away of the Herodian power. Besides this, Herod rebuilt Samaria, to the utter disgust of the Jews, calling it Sebaste. In Jerusalem itself he built the three great towers, Antonia, Phasaelus and Mariamne, which survived even the catastrophe of the year 70 AD.

All over Herod's dominion were found the evidences of this constructive passion. Antipatris was built by him, on the site of the ancient Kapharsaba, as well as the stronghold Phasaelus near Jericho, where he was destined to see so much suffering and ultimately to die. He even reached beyond his own domain to satisfy this building mania at Ascalon, Damascus, Tyre and Sidon, Tripoli, Ptolemais, nay even at Athens and Lacedaemon. But the universal character of these operations itself occasioned the bitterest hatred against him on the part of the narrowminded Jews.

(3) Characteristics and Domestic Life.

The personality of Herod was impressive, and he was possessed of great physical strength. His intellectual powers were far beyond the ordinary; his will was indomitable; he was possessed of great tact, when he saw fit to employ it; in the great crises of his life he was never at a loss what to do; and no one has ever accused Herod the Great of cowardice. There were in him two distinct individualities, as was the case with Nero.

Two powers struggled in him for the mastery, and the lower one at last gained complete control. During the first part of his reign there were evidences of large-heartedness, of great possibilities in the man. But the bitter experiences of his life, the endless whisperings and warnings of his court, the irreconcilable spirit of the Jews, as well as the consciousness of his own wrongdoing, changed him into a Jewish Nero:

a tyrant, who bathed his own house and his own people in blood. The demons of Herod's life were jealousy of power, and suspicion, its necessary companion.

He was the incarnation of brute lust, which in turn became the burden of the lives of his children. History tells of few more immoral families than the house of Herod, which by intermarriage of its members so entangled the genealogical tree as to make it a veritable puzzle. As these marriages were nearly all within the line of forbidden consanguinity, under the Jewish law, they still further embittered the people of Israel against the Herodian family. When Herod came to the throne of Judea, Phasael was dead. Joseph his younger brother had fallen in battle (Ant., XIV, xv, 10), and only Pheroras and Salome survived.

The first, as we have seen, nominally shared the government with Herod, but was of little consequence and only proved a thorn in the king's flesh by his endless interference and plotting. To him were allotted the revenues of the East Jordanic territory. Salome, his sister, was ever neck-deep in the intrigues of the Herodian family, but had the cunning of a fox and succeeded in making Herod believe in her unchangeable loyalty, although the king had killed her own son-in-law and her nephew, Aristobulus, his own son. The will of Herod, made shortly before his death, is a convincing proof of his regard for his sister (Ant., XVII, viii, 1).

His domestic relations were very unhappy. Of his marriage with Doris and of her son, Antipater, he reaped only misery, the son, as stated above, ultimately falling a victim to his father's wrath, when the crown, for which he plotted, was practically within his grasp. Herod appears to have been deeply in love with Mariamne, the grandchild of Hyrcanus, in so far as he was capable of such a feeling, but his attitude toward the entire Asmonean family and his fixed determination to make an end of it changed whatever love Mariamne had for him into hatred. Ultimately she, as well as her two sons, fell victims to Herod's insane jealousy of power.

Like Nero, however, in a similar situation, Herod felt the keenest remorse after her death. As his sons grew up, the family tragedy thickened, and the court of Herod became a veritable hotbed of mutual recriminations, intrigues and catastrophes. The trials and executions of his own conspiring sons were conducted with the acquiescence of the Roman power, for Herod was shrewd enough not to make a move without it. Yet so thoroughly was the condition of the Jewish court understood at Rome, that Augustus, after the death of Mariamne's sons (7 BC), is said to have exclaimed:

"I would rather be Herod's hog hus than his son huios." At the time of his death, the remaining sons were these: Herod, son of Mariamne, Simon's daughter; Archelaus and Antipas, sons of Malthace, and Herod Philip, son of Cleopatra of Jerusalem. Alexander and Aristobulus were killed, through the persistent intrigues of Antipater, the oldest son and heir presumptive to the crown, and he himself fell into the grave he had dug for his brothers.

By the final testament of Herod, as ratified by Rome, the kingdom was divided as follows:

Archelaus received one-half of the kingdom, with the title of king, really "ethnarch," governing Judea, Samaria and Idumaea; Antipas was appointed "tetrarch" of Galilee and Peraea; Philip, "tetrarch" of Trachonitis, Gaulonitis and Paneas. To Salome, his intriguing sister, he bequeathed Jamnia, Ashdod and Phasaelus, together with 500,000 drachmas of coined silver. All his kindred were liberally provided for in his will, "so as to leave them all in a wealthy condition" (Ant., XVII, viii, 1). In his death he had been better to his family than in his life. He died unmourned and unbeloved by his own people, to pass into history as a name soiled by violence and blood.

As the waters of Callirhoe were unable to cleanse his corrupting body, those of time were unable to wash away the stains of a tyrant's name. The only time he is mentioned in the New Testament is in Matthew 2 and Lu 1. In Matthew he is associated with the wise men of the East, who came to investigate the birth of the "king of the Jews." Learning their secret, Herod found out from the "priests and scribes of the people" where the Christ was to be born and ordered the "massacre of the innocents," with which his name is perhaps more generally associated than with any other act of his life.

As Herod died in 4 BC and some time elapsed between the massacre and his death (Matthew 2:19), we have here a clue to the approximate fixing of the true date of Christ's birth. Another, in this same connection, is an eclipse of the moon, the only one mentioned by Josephus (Ant., XVII, vi, 4; text and note), which was seen shortly before Herod's death. This eclipse occurred on March 13, in the year of the Julian Period, 4710, therefore 4 BC.

LITERATURE.

Josephus, Josephus, Antiquities and BJ; Strabo; Dio Cassius. Among all modern works on the subject, Schurer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (5 vols) is perhaps still the best.

Henry E. Dosker

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Copyright Statement

These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available from Crosswire Software.

Bibliography Information

Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'HEROD'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.

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Coin Showing Facade of Herod's Temple

Table of Contents

Herod the Great
Index of Topics
Introduction
Overview
The Family of the Herods
Herod the Governor
Herod and the Parthians
Herod the King 37-25 B.C.
Herod the King 25-14 B.C.
Herod the King 14-4 B.C.
Herod and Octavian
King of the Jews
His Buildings
Herod's Temple
His Cruelty
His Death
Herods Will
Herod in History
Scriptures
Dictionaries
Encyclopedias
Family Charts
Timeline
Coins
Heart Message

 


King Herod the Great

"in the days of Herod the king" - Matthew 2:1

Herod the Great - A Brief Overview

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Herod I (the Great) was son of Antipater and made king by the Romans in 40 B.C. He managed to keep hold of his throne in the face of the many changes in the government at Rome.

His kingdom comprised Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Idumea, Batanea, and Peraea, which was approximately the same size as the kingdom of David and Solomon.

Although Herod had exceptional leadership skills, he was extremely disliked by the Jews. His attitude toward the Maccabean dynasty, to which he was related by marriage, along with his insolence and cruelty, angered them all the more. He even had his brother-in-law and several of his wives and sons executed.

He forced heavy taxes and brutally repressed any rebellions. But it was by his policy of Hellenistic culture that he greatly wounded the Jews. The construction of a race-course, a theater, and an amphitheater in Jerusalem, his wide support of the emperor cult in the East, and the construction of pagan temples in foreign cities at his own expense could not be forgiven, even though he restored and reconstructed the Temple of Jerusalem and continually pleaded the cause of the Jews of the Diaspora to the emperor to his own gains.

There was no close tie between the king and his people; he remained an Edomite and a friend of Rome, only holding on to his power by the use of a merciless military force. This is the same Herod the Great who massacred the children of Bethlehem (Matt. 2).

Herod suddenly died in 4 B.C.

 

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Bibliography on Herod the Great

The Many Faces of Herod the Great by Marshak, 448 Pages, Pub. 2014

The True Herod by Vermes, 192 Pages, Pub. 2014

 

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