The Life of Jesus in Harmony
The Intertestamental Period and Judaism - Part Five
(40 - 4 BC) King Herod - Death of Herod
Herod the Great, Servant of Rome
It would have been interesting to see how different the modern Jew would be if
Herod the Great had been a different sort of man. Herod didn't understand the
Jews enough nor did he feel for them. He was in a position to help the Jews and
the Romans to understand each other a little better but he was only interested
in his own power and the result was catastrophe for the Jews.
For 40 years, Jewish history was dominated by Herod the Great. He was born in about 73 BC, the son of the Idumean Antipater, and became a Roman citizen in 47. His father appointed him
military governor of Galilee, with the task of clearing the region of terrorists. In 41, Antony made Herod and his brother tetrarchs, but Herod was not secure and in 40 fled
to Rome. There Antony bestowed on him the kingship of Judea, which he secured with a Roman army in 37. Octavian (the future emperor Augustus) defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the naval battle of Actium in 3I, but
confirmed Herod in power.
Herod worked devotedly for Rome and kept Augustus's favor. His court was
Hellenized and cultured. He founded the Greek cities of Sebaste (Samaria) and
Caesarea, with its fine port. He built fortresses and palaces, including Masada, and a magnificent new temple. He also presided at the Olympic Games.
His family life, however, was unhappy. He ruled as an autocrat, supported by
police, and, despite his rebuilding of the Temple, to the Jews he remained a detested foreigner. He died in 4 BC at the age of
- Herod knew he was unliked by the Jews and having displaced the Hasmoneans he
- The Marriage to Mariamne
- He therefore married Mariamne, the granddaughter of both Hyrcan and
Aristobulus. (Legitimate throne)
- But Herod was known to have really loved her but he did not mind hurting her
when his personal welfare was at stake.
- How Herod Made Himself Safe
- One of Herod's first acts was the execution of 40 prominent Sadducees. 2 reasons (enemies, money)
- He constantly had to pay off the Romans and anyone else who had helped him.
- He hired Jews from other lands as his army. Herod did not trust Jews from
his own land.
- He was jealous of other members of his family.
- Aristobulus, Herod's own brother-in-law, was found drowned in a pool of one
of the royal palaces.
- Hyrcan, returned from Parthia at Herod's invitation, was accused of plotting
treason and executed.
- Herod's favorite wife, Mariamne, gave way to the intrigues of Herod's sister
and was executed despite Herod's undoubted love for her.
- Later he killed his own two sons by Mariamne on suspicion that they were
plotting against him.
- At his dying breath he ordered the execution of still another son.
- Herod had not the slightest intention of letting the Jews rule themselves.
- Depriving the Sanhedrin
- He deprived the Sanhedrin of every vestige of political power.
- Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees any longer exercised political influence.
- Only their names continued for the purpose of describing two groups which
differed on religious matters.
- Herod ruled, and through him Rome.
- Politics became an underground affair.
- The Secret Opposition
- Dissatisfaction expressed itself in secret criticism.
- The young people became restless and joined secret organizations for the
cause of Jewish independence.
- These organizations, years later, united to form the dreaded revolutionary
party, the Zealots.
- Herod was an efficient ruler and knew how to maintain peace by ruthlessness.
- Numberless spies & torture. Everyone was under suspicion, and everyone lived
Herod and the Non-Jews
- Herod was clever in his relations with the pagans and particularly in his
dealings with the Romans.
- Fortifying His External Position
- The death of Antony confronted Herod with a serious danger. He realized that
Augustus would now look upon him as an enemy.
- Herod, like his father under similar circumstances, hurried to meet the new
ruler of the world.
- Removing his royal insignia, he appeared before Augustus and, without
denying his friendship for Antony and his regret at Antony's defeat, frankly offered
Augustus the same friendship and loyalty which he had given the defeated Antony.
- This attitude appealed to Augustus. He probably saw in Herod, a realist in
politics, one who could be relied upon to serve Rome and Rome's master.
- Not only did Augustus accept Herod's offer of friendship, but, leaving him
as king of Judea, Idumea, Samaria, and Galilee, he even increased Herod's territory by adding to his kingdom
some lands across the Jordan and some of the pagan cities along the Mediterranean coast.
- The friendship between Augustus and Herod remained firm for the rest of
- The Greeks cities protested to Augustus. But they soon favored him for his
character was more Greek than Jewish and his desire was to gain the reputation
of being a great Hellenistic monarch.
- Herod and His Pagan Subjects
- He filled his court with Greek hangers-on, mostly parasites who lived by
- His most trusted adviser was an able Greek by the name of Nicolas of Damascus
- Herod's ideas about government were the same as the Roman empire.
- It was government for the sake of the wealthy and powerful. The common
people had only one duty-to obey their masters.
- According to the Greek standards of that day, a good king encouraged games
and theaters and was active in building.
- Herod - The Builder
- He constructed pagan temples and amphitheaters in various Greek cities
within and outside his domain.
- Athens, Sparta and Rhodes benefited from his liberality.
- He made large contributions of money to the Olympic games.
- Samaria again rose from its ruins and was renamed Sebaste (Royal City) in
honor of Augustus.
- The same was done to an old, well-situated town on the coast, which now
received the name Caesarea, again in honor of the Caesar. (Some after Herod) never after a Hasmonean or a former Jewish king.
- Augustus Caesar and Herod's friend Agrippa "Herod's realm was far too small
for his liberality."
- Herod's Gentile subjects were happy that he liked to please them. To them
Herod was "Herod the Great."
Herod and His Jewish Subjects
- Of course, Herod considered himself a Jew.
- Hopes for Hellenization
- Herod knew better than to force Hellenization upon his Jewish subjects.
- Gradually introducing them to those Greek habits of life which he himself
- Jerusalem also benefited from his building activity. He erected a theater and a
hippodrome within the city.
- Foreign visitors to his capital would feel more at home and would not look
down upon him as an insignificant king of a "barbarian" people.
- From Augustus, Herod obtained the right to intervene on behalf of the Jews
wherever in the Roman empire they might be annoyed.
- Herod's Temple
- But, above all, he tried to prove that Greek temples were not his only
concern by undertaking to rebuild and beautify the Temple in Jerusalem.
- Almost five hundred years had elapsed since the Second Temple had been built
by those who returned from the Babylonian Exile.
-After that the Temple had no doubt been repaired and enlarged, but it
remained essentially the old building, inferior in beauty and grandeur to some of the
pagan temples which were around.
- Not only was it contrary to Herod's love of architecture to permit the
Temple of his own God to remain so modest, but he thought to show his piety to the
Jews by making their Temple grander than the rest.
- the leading scribes at first opposed his plan (suspicious). They actually believed that once he
pulled the old building down he would never replace it.
- Herod had to promise that he would not touch the old building until he had
built the new one around it.
- Under no circumstances were the services to be interrupted.
- Herod hired workmen by the thousands.
- Among them were many priests to build those portions not accessible to
- The work was started by leveling larger portions of the Temple Mount, so
that the new building might be erected on a broader base.
- It was also made much taller, so that the white stone gleamed in the bright
Palestinian sun and could be seen from miles away.
- On the northern and southern sides of the building were the enclosed halls
or rooms where the priests prepared for the service, and where the Sanhedrin met.
- The large open court on the east, facing the Temple proper, was divided into
- Closest to the Temple was the portion set aside for the altar and the
- Next to it was the court for the Israelites who came to watch the service.
- By the side of that was the gallery for the women, and behind it was the
court of the Gentiles.
- The whole area was surrounded by a wall. This is the wall, part of which
remains to this day, known as "The Wailing Wall," to which Jews have gone on
pilgrimage during the recent centuries of exile.
- The Temple took many years to build. Begun in 19 BC, it was not finished
till long after Herod's death
- Herod's Blunder
- The Jews prided in Herod's accomplishment until Herod placed a huge Roman
eagle over the most important gate of the new Temple.
- Before long there was a conspiracy to pull the eagle down.
- When rumor circulated that Herod was dying, a group of young men gathered
before the gate on which the golden eagle was set and began to pull it down.
- The soldiers interfered and arrested about forty of them. Herod was so
enraged at this sign of insubordination and insult to Rome, that he had the "rebels"
- Herod was an excellent king in certain respects.
- Herod in History
- He maintained external peace in his land.
- He beautified his own and neighboring countries.
- He admired not on1y by the Roman empire, but also of the Jews outside Judea
whose standards of value had changed through contact with Greek civilization.
It is not difficult to understand why many people called Herod "the Great."
- Yet the majority of Jews of his own kingdom disliked him, and Jews of later
generations called him "the Wicked."
- He pleased the pagans in the land and the cities prospered but the common
Jew sank into poverty.
- When Herod died, the pagans among them mourned while the Jews rejoiced.
- Herod's slaughter of the infant boys . . . vividly reflects the pathological
character of the king.
- He murdered members of his own family- yet scrupulously observed Mosaic
dietary laws and would eat no pork.
- This provoked his Roman master Augustus into jesting: "I would rather be
Herod's pig than Herod's son."
- Joseph stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod to fulfill what the Lord has said
through the prophet: "Out of Egypt l have called my son." Matt 2:15
- Death of Herod
- The historian, Josephus, describes the death of Herod at great length. When
Herod's health began to fail him rapidly, he was moved to his winter capital in Jericho. From there he was carried by stretcher to the hot springs on the shores of
the Dead Sea. The springs did no good; Herod returned home. Racked by
despondency, Herod attempted suicide. Rumors of the attempt caused loud wailing
throughout the palace. Herod's son, imprisoned by his paranoid father, mistook the cries
to mean his father was dead. Immediately, he tried to bribe his jailers, who
reported the bribery attempt to Herod. The sick king ordered his son executed on
the spot. Now Herod plunged deeper into depression. He was only days away from
his own death- and he knew it. What pained him most was the knowledge that his
death would be met with joy in Judea. To forestall this, he devised an
Having assembled the most distinguished men from every village from one end of
Judea to the other, he ordered them to be locked in the hippodrome at Jericho.
Jewish Wars FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS
Herod then gave the order to execute them at the very moment he, himself,
died. His sick mind reasoned that their death would dispel any joy in Judea over
his own death. The order was never carried out.
After Herod's death, his body was carried in procession from Jericho to the
Herodium outside Bethlehem for burial. Herod's body was adorned in purple, a crown of gold rested on his
head, and a scepter of gold was placed in his hand. The bier bearing his body
was made of gold and studded with jewels that sparkled as it was carried along
under the desert sun. Following the bier was Herod's household and hundreds of
slaves, swinging censers. Slowly, the procession inched its way up the
mountainside to the Herodium, where it was laid to rest.
Today, the excavated ruins of the Herodium stand out grandly against the clear
blue sky- reminding Bethlehem-bound tourists of the king who sought to kill
the child whom they have come so far to honor.
Looking like a volcano, the Herodium is one of several fortress-palaces built
by Herod the Great. It was artificially shaped, with everything placed inside
its protected craterlike top.
Josephus wrote of the Herodium:
Two hundred steps of purest white marble led up to it. Its top was crowned
with circular towers; its courtyard contained splendid structures.
In the 1960s archaeologists unearthed the courtyard, fortification towers, and
palace. No trace of Herod's remains were found.
Herod's Successors - (See section on Herod )