The Life of Jesus in Harmony
Herod the Great
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. Rome needed a shrewd and
capable agent in Palestine, and in Herod the Great they felt they had found
such a man.
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 kept
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 and a usurper. Most Jews openly
hoped for his death. He died in 4 BC at the age of 69. (See Death of Herod ).
Herod kept an uneasy peace by dealing ruthlessly with suspected rivals
andtroublemakers. He systematically killed off all living claimants to the Hasmonean
kingship, including his young brother-in-law, the high priest
Aristobulus. He even ordered the execution of his favorite wife, Mariamne,
and her mother because he believed they were plotting against him. Shortly before
his death, he had three of his own sons killed because of rumors that they had
designs on his throne. It is easy to imagine such a man ordering the massacre
of all male infants in Bethlehem
for no better reason than a vague rumor that one had been born "King of the