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Herod the Great

Jan9462 Dec 30, 2014

  1. Jan9462

    Jan9462 Staff Elite Member

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    For 40 years, Jewish history was dominated by HEROD THE GREAT. He was born in about 73 BC, the son of ANTIPATER, who was an Idumean. The Idumaeans were a tribe who had been forced by the Nabatean Arabs westwards into southern Judea, where they had been forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmonean rulers of Palestine. The Idumaeans were for this reason Jews of a recent and suspect background. At the same time they were shrewd, and had no problem with making political deals with the Romans for their own advantage.

    King Herod's father, Antipater, governed them from about 47 BC. He also served as an advisor to Hyrcanus, and gained the confidence of Pompey. When Julius Caesar was besieged in Alexandria in 48 BC it was Antipater who persuaded the Jews to aid Caesar. In gratitude Caesar gave the Jews important privileges.

    Antipater's son, Herod the Great, was an opportunist of the highest order. During the tumultuous years of the Roman civil wars he skillfully shifted his allegiance from Pompey to Caesar to Antony to Octavian (Augustus). Because he was such an able soldier the Romans valued his services. Rome needed a shrewd and capable agent in Palestine, and in Herod the Great they felt they had found such a man. He provided a strong buffer-state for Rome against the Nabatean Arabs to the south and the Parthians to the east.

    Herod Appointed King

    Herod was appointed king of Judea by Marc Antony in 40 BC, and was supported by Roman soldiers in his fight to gain control of Judea in 37. From that time he relied on Gentile soldiers, including the Celtic bodyguard of Cleopatra which had been granted to him by Octavian. He transformed the ancient city of Samaria into Sebaste for his foreign mercenaries. He also built Palestine's first deep-water port of Caesarea. He built fortresses and palaces, including Masada, and a magnificent new temple. He also presided at the Olympic Games.

    Herod's Pathological Character

    Though successful in politics, Herod was bitterly unhappy in his private life. He married ten wives, including the beautiful Hasmonean princess, Mariamme, the granddaughter of both Hyrcan and Aristobulus. Though he loved her passionately, he suspected her of infidelity and had her executed along with her mother. Later, in 7 BC, he had her two sons killed. Herod kept an uneasy peace by dealing ruthlessly with suspected rivals and troublemakers. He systematically killed off all living claimants to the Hasmonean kingship, including his young brother-in-law, the high priest Aristobulus. When he found that his favorite son, Antipater, had been plotting against him, he had him executed along with two of their brothers - just five days before his own death in 4 BC.

    The Roman Emperor Augustus said about Herod: "I would rather be Herod's pig than Herod's son." 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 Jews." This event 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.

    His court was Hellenized and cultured. 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 calling him "the wicked."

    Herod's Buildings

    Herod was a prodigious builder, as recent archaeological excavations have shown His rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, begun in 19 BC, was an architectural marvel. Final work on the temple was completed just six years before it was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70. All that remains today is the great platform whose western side is the Wailing Wall, where Jews today still lament the destruction of the temple. You can see the size of the Wailing Wall compared to its original size by clicking here and be sure to notice the reddish rectangular box which is the area known today as the Western Wall.

    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" burned alive.

    The Hill of Masada

    Spectacular remains have also been uncovered at the fortress of Masada on the western shore and of Machaerus on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. Machaerus was the fortress where John the Baptist was imprisoned. Other splendid structures from Herod's time have been found at Jericho, where Herod died, and at Herodium, where he was buried. If you want to see some of the marvelous buildings of Herod's Jerusalem then go to the category "Jesus" and to the sub-category "Images and Art" and check out the various buildings photos. They are between 50-100k in filesize but should be fast loading.

    The Death of Herod
    Herod died in 4 BC at the age of 69. Remember in the Bible where it talks about how 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.

    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 incredible plan.

    "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.

    The Herodium
    Herod the great built this fortification in the desert in 37 BCE. 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 this astounding complex, the Herodium:

    "Herod built round towers all about the top, and filled the remaining space with costly palaces...he brought a mighty quantity of water from a great distance, and raised an ascent of two hundred steps of purest white marble that led up to it. Its top was crowned with circular towers; its courtyard contained splendid structures."

    - Jewish Wars FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS


    Testifying to this description, beginning in the 1960s archaeologists have unearthed remains of the fortification towers, palace, and the courtyard with colonnaded halls, the walls painted with frescoes, can still be seen. A classical Roman bath house, one of the earliest synagogues ever found, and huge underground cisterns all helped to create one of the largest and most sumptuous palaces of the Roman Empire.

    Interesting note: Our system of dating BC/AD was devised by a monk in the sixth century AD. However, he miscalculated the reign of the Emperor Augustus by four years. Jesus must have been born before Herod's death in 4 BC.