Herod the King 37-25 B.C.
During this period we will be looking at the time from Herod's accession as
king in 37 B.C. to the execution of his favorite wife Mariamne, and finally the
death of the sons of Babas, in 25 B.C., when the last heir of the Hasmonean
family was executed.
While Herod was king he had many powerful opponents, namely the Pharisees, the
ruling class, the Hasmonean family, and Cleopatra.
The Pharisees never liked the fact that Herod was the king of Judea, mainly
because he was an Idumaean, a half Jew, and a friend of the Romans. One of the
problems that Herod always faced when dealing with the Pharisees was there
tremendous popularity with the people. They were well-respected and considered
very holy. But King Herod had his ways of dealing with the population. Whoever
opposed him he quickly punished, and those who were his friends he rewarded with
favors and great honors.
The Ruling Class
The second group of powerful opponents to King Herod were the aristocratic
followers of Antigonus. King Herod dealt with them harshly and one time he
executed forty five of the most wealthy and most prominent members of this
class. He seized their possessions and replenished his treasury which had been
depleted because of all of his bribes.
The Hasmonean Family
The third group of his powerful opponents were the family of the Hasmoneans.
His mother-in-law, Alexandra, was the main source of most of his problems.
During this time Hyrcanus had returned from Parthian exile, yet he was mutilated
and thus could not serve as high priest. Herod needed someone to replace
Hyrcanus as high priest. Herod was a half Jew and therefore he could not serve
as high priest. He desired to choose a nonthreatening member of the Zadokite
family, who were thought to have descended from Aaron, so he chose Ananel (Hananiel),
a priest of the Babylonian exile.
Alexandra, Herod's mother-in-law, was insulted and considered it an intrusion on
the Hasmonean line and only the rightful heir could serve as high priest, her
sixteen-year-old son Aristobulus, the brother of Mariamne. She wrote to
Cleopatra to persuade Marc Antony to force Herod to appoint her son Aristobulus
as high priest. Herod immediately removed Ananel, which was unlawful because the
high priest was to remain in office for his whole lifetime, and made Aristobulus
high priest at 17 years old in 35 B.C.
Alexandra was finally happy but her happiness would be short-lived. King
Herod did not trust her and so he had her watched very closely. Alexandra,
knowing that she was being watched, accepted an invitation by Cleopatra to
escape with her son and flee to Egypt. King Herod heard that she was making and
escape with her son and allowed them to carry it out so that he could catch them
in the act. At this time he chose to overlook the offense.
At the feast of Tabernacles people were showing great affection for Aristobulus,
the officiating high priest. Herod considered this a threat and was determined
to get rid of this potential rival. After the feast concluded, when Herod was
invited by Alexandra to a feast at Jericho, Herod made a plan. He would act
friendly to her and Aristobulus and invite them to go swimming since it was a
hot day. He then bribed some men to play sports together in the water and drown
Aristobulus by accident. King Herod rose up when this happened and made extreme
lamentation. He then arranged the most magnificent funeral and he was not
suspected in the least, by anyone except by his mother Alexandra, who decided to
devote her life to revenge.
She informed Cleopatra of the murder. Cleopatra persuaded Marc Antony to call
Herod to give an account for his actions. King Herod had no choice but to go and
stand before Marc Antony and face possible death. Herod asked his uncle Joseph
to keep watch over Mariamne during the time that he would answer to Marc Antony.
Herod told Joseph in private that if he should be executed, that he was to kill
Mariamne, because he did not want her to become someone else's lover.
when Herod appeared before Marc Antony he bribed him and gave an eloquent
defense for his actions. When Herod returned, Joseph's wife Salome (Herod's
sister) accused Joseph of having unlawful intercourse with Mariamne. When Herod
questioned Mariamne she denied everything and he believed her. But somehow she
learned about the secret command that Herod had given Joseph, and Herod found
out and became outraged and executed Joseph without a trial in 34 B.C. He also
had Alexandra bound in chains and put in prison, blaming her for all of his
The fourth powerful opponent of King Herod was Cleopatra. As we just saw in
the situation with Alexandra and how she went to Cleopatra, who in turn,
reported everything to Marc Antony, Herod had serious problems with Cleopatra.
Because of her relationship with Marc Antony her territory was increasing
greatly. After his expedition against Armenia in 34 B.C. she persuaded him to
give her all of Phoenicia, the coast of Philistia south of the river, a portion
of the Arabia, and the district of Jericho with its balsam plantations and many
palm trees. The area of Jericho was Herod's most fertile portion of land in his
whole kingdom. Is interesting that every time Cleopatra visited her territories
King Herod received her with celebration, although he despised her. Whenever she
made attempts to trap him he would never give in.
When the famous civil war broke out between Marc Antony and Octavius (later
Augustus) Herod desired to take the cause of Marc Antony and help him in any way
that he could. Cleopatra persuaded Marc Antony to order King Herod to go and
fight against Malchus, the Arabian king. Malchus was late on his tribute and
Cleopatra wanted him punished. But it was obvious that her real intent was that
they would weakened each other or hopefully kill each other. This way she could
easily overcome either of them.
Herod did as Marc Antony ordered him and fight against Malchus. When Herod had
achieved the initial victory over the Arabs, Cleopatra came and gave help to the
Arabians which resulted in Herod's defeat.
In 31 B.C. to a great earthquake happened in Herod's territory which killed over
30,000 people. At this time Herod made attempts to negotiate with the Arabs and
sent an envoy to Arabia to make peace. When they arrived the Arabs slew them.
When Herod heard what had happened he immediately gathered his army and attacked
the Arabs and defeated them, he then returned home.
Herod and Octavius
On September 2nd, 31 B.C. Marc Antony was defeated by Octavius at the Battle
of Actium. This was devastating to Herod. He knew that he would answer
ultimately to Octavius for everything. Herod then made a shrewd move, he
murdered Hyrcanus II and accused him of plotting with the king of the Nabatean's.
This would eliminate any possible rival who might rule in Judea, and his hopes
were that somehow Octavius would allow him to remain as the ruler of Judea.
In the spring of 30 B.C. Herod set out to meet with Octavius in Rhodes. But
before he left he gave instructions to two of his friends that if he were to be
executed they were to kill Alexandra and Mariamne, so that his sons and his
brother Pheroras would rule in his place.
What King Herod arrived in Rhodes to stand before Octavius he played his part
well. He admitted right away that he was a loyal friend of Marc Antony and that
he did not fight against Octavius because of his war against the Arabs. His
argument to Octavius was that if he was loyal to Marc Antony then his loyalty
would benefit Octavius. Octavius allowed Herod to remain as the ruler of Judea.
Herod returned home.
Later that year, in the summertime, Octavius came to the coast of Phoenicia on
his way to Egypt. Herod met him and great him to Ptolemais with great
celebration and a gift of 800 talents and supplies for the Roman soldiers during
that hot season. Octavius was delighted.
In August of 30 B.C. Octavius marched through Egypt and it was at this time that
Marc Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide. When Herod heard this he came to
Egypt to congratulate Octavius. Octavius gave him the title of king and returned
to him not only Jericho, but also Gadara, Hippos, Samaria, Gaza, Anthedon,
Joppa, and Straton's Tower (later became Caesarea). Herod had definitely been
The Death of Mariamne
Herod enjoyed the so-called success of his kingdom, but things in Judea were
far from peaceful. While he was at Rhodes, Mariamne had found out from one of
Herod's friends named Soemus that Herod gave the order for her to be killed if
he was executed. Therefore when Herod returned she was bitter toward him. Herod
was very aware of all these things. His sister Salome and their mother Cyprus
had always hated Mariamne and they began to spread slanderous stories about
Mariamne in order to fill Herod with rage and jealousy. Herod did not listen to
Salome bribed Herod's cup-bearer to say that Mariamne had prepared some sort of
love-potion for the king. When King Herod heard this he desired to know what
sort of potion this was. He tortured the cup-bearer and found out nothing about
the potion, but he did find out that Mariamne despised him for wanting to put
her to death if he was executed. Herod immediately realized that his friends had
betrayed him and he ordered them to be executed immediately.
Herod never really wanted to put Mariamne to death while he was alive, and Herod
would not kill her but had her put in prison. Because of all this his emotions
were so stirred that Salome took advantage of and somehow persuaded King Herod
to have her finally executed.
Josephus describes that Herod was never the same after Mariamne's death:
"For he would frequently called for her, and frequently lament for her in a
most indecent manner."
Herod had gotten very sick to the point of death and Alexandra began to plot how
that when he died she could secure the throne. When she had begun to make plans,
they had been reported to King Herod and he immediately had her executed.
The Death of the Last of the Hasmoneans
After a long period of depression over Mariamne, Herod began his bloodshed
once again and executed the last of the male relatives of Hyrcanus, anyone who
could dispute his occupancy of the throne.
"in the days of Herod the king" -
Herod the Great - A Brief Overview
Click on the Picture
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
The Many Faces of Herod the Great
by Marshak, 448 Pages, Pub. 2014
The True Herod
by Vermes, 192 Pages, Pub. 2014