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Encyclopedia article on Herod the Great
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  !"#"$#%"$& $()(*+,-./ 01, 2-,3045/, $ 36 %100789##:::);5;<,./=88,=).->#7,.7<,#?35@A3-05B<,8#1,-./A01,A>-,30  About Us|Browse A-Z|Contact Us|Partners HOMEPEOPLEHEROD THE GREAT People Herod the Great by Morten H¿rning JensenHerod the Great, one of the most well-known rulers in Jewish history, ispraised to this day for magnificent building projects of, for example, thetemple in Jerusalem and fortresses like Herodium and Masada. Yet manyare filled with disgust when learning about his cruel acts. Even one of hisfirst biographers, the first-century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus,struggled to evaluate the ÒinconsistencyÓ between HerodÕs benevolenceand his brutality (  Ant. 16.150-159). Who was Herod the Great, Òking of theJewsÓ? How did Herod become Òking of the JewsÓ? In 40 BCE, Herod was granted the title Òking of the JewsÓ by the Romansenate (Josephus, War  , 1.284). There was only one problem: the Jewsalready a king on the throne, Antigonus, who was from the old, royalHasmonean family. In fact, the title Òking of the Jews,Ó proved to bemarred by another problem to HerodÕs Jewish subjects: Herod was only Òhalf-JewishÓ; his father was an Idumean from south of Judea, who hadconverted to Judaism (Josephus,  Ant. 14.403), and his mother the Arabprincess, Cypros, from Nabatea (Josephus, War 1.181).Just prior to HerodÕs coronation in Rome, Antigonus, backed by theParthians, RomeÕs enemy in the east, conquered Jerusalem, which sentHerod on the flight out of the country.Deprived of his army, friends, family, and all good fortune, it seemed,Herod put all his hopes on the Romans. The Romans, for their part, werelooking for a strong, resolute leader that could match the growing threat of the Parthians and reconquer Israel.This convergence of interests secured Herod, only an Idumean Òhalf-JewÓ in the eyes of many Jews, the ringing title, Òking of the Jews.Ó His firstofficial deed was to climb the steps to the temple of Jupiter in the Romanforum, where he sacrificed and deposited his vows of allegiance to Rome(Josephus, War 1.285).Three more years and a bloody battle would pass before Herod finallyconquered Jerusalem in 37. There was no welcome committee. HerodÕsRoman allegiance and the brutal capture of Jerusalem foreshadowed thereal problem of his reign: Would he be able also to capture the hearts of the Jews? Was Herod a good or a bad Òking of the JewsÓ? In modern research on Herod, the most discussed issue concerns theimpact of his reign on his Jewish subjects. Opinions vary. Some scholarspaint a picture of a cruel tyrant, even a maniac suffering from a personalitydisorder, who introduced the ancient version of a Gestapo state with anextended spy network and imprisonment, torture, and execution of anyonefalling under the slightest suspicion. His own family was far from exempt,and the list of HerodÕs executions of family members include three of hissons, his Hasmonean wife Mariamne, and his wifeÕs mother andgrandfather. In light of this, Solomon Zeitlin said with reference to HerodÕsancestry and his death from a painful disease: ÒHe attained his kingdom asa fox, ruled as a tiger and died as a dog.Ó Others claim that his cruelty should be evaluated against the standards of ancient rulers and not modern sentiments. Even Josephus admits thatduring a famine Herod relieved the nation by distributing food from his Herod the Great was the king of Judea whowas responsible for large-scale buildingprojects, including remodeling the Jerusalemtemple. Did you knowÉ? Herod ruled from the year 40-4 BCE but firstcaptured the throne in 37 BCE.Herod survived the civil war in 31 BCE between Anthony and Octavian by prostrating himself infront of the winning Octavian, promising to be anever more loyal subject to him, than he had beento Anthony.Herod tried to win the favor of the Jews bymarrying the Hasmonean princess, Mariamne.Herod had her killed on charge of conspiracy in30 BCE.Remnants of HerodÕs building-projects have beenlocated by modern archaeology. These includethe temple mount in Jerusalem, Masada,Herodium, palaces in Jericho, temples to Augustus in Sebaste, Caesarea Maritima, andOmrit. A fifth-century CE Roman author, Macrobius,claimed that Octavian once said: ÒIt is better tobe HerodÕs pig than son.Ó Besides being a pun (inGreek pig and son is hys and hyios), Macrobiushas Augustus hinting at the abstention of killingpigs in a Jewish household. According toJosephus, Herod had three of his sons killed: hisfirst-born, Antipater, and his two sons withMariamne: Aristobul and Alexander.Under Herod, the Jewish kingdom reached itspeak in antiquity, eclipsing the biblical kingdom of Solomon.The killing of the infants in Bethlehem is reportedonly in the Gospel of Matthew. Scholars differ onits historical credibility. On the one hand, it seemsa minor incident compared to some of HerodÕs HerodJerusalemParthians HarperCollins DictionaryRelated Publications The Many Faces of Herod the GreatHerod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant Vermes: The True HerodZeitlin in Jewish Quarterly Review54 RELATED ARTICLES (4) Herod Antipas Herod Antipas ruled overGalilee during the firstcentury CE Political Significance of LukeÕs Christmas Story The inclusion of JesusÕ nativity in both Luke andMatthew was a politicalstatement at a time whenRoman imperial theologyassumed Caesar was the ÒSon of God.Ó  RELATED MAPS (1) HomePeoplePlacesPassagesBiblesTools  !"#"$#%"$& $()(*+,-./ 01, 2-,3045/, % 36 %100789##:::);5;<,./=88,=).->#7,.7<,#?35@A3-05B<,8#1,-./A01,A>-,30 royal supplies, just as he cut taxes twice, gave the Jewish nation abeautiful temple, and generally created a period of peace and growingprosperity.It has been suggested by Geza Vermes and others that the conflictingnature of HerodÕs reign is best explained as an outcome of an impossiblevision of raising the Jewish nation to new heights by incorporating it solidlywithin the new Roman world order. This would explain why Herod, on theone hand, tried to be Òa Jew to the JewsÓ by complying with Jewishcustoms. For example, he produced mostly aniconic art and coins (assuggested by archaeological excavations of his palaces); he married intothe old, royal Hasmonean family; and he rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem.On the other hand, he tried to be Òa Roman to the RomansÓ by puttingpressure on the Jewish nation to accept Roman customs such as Greek sporting games and temples dedicated to the emperor.If HerodÕs intent was to incorporate the Jewish state into the Roman worldorder, his dream collapsed. As Vermes stated, the discontentment withHerod planted seeds that eventually grew into the great rebellion againstRome some 70 years after his death. In this light, Herod was not only theone of the most famous Òking of the Jews,Ó but also one of the most fatal. Morten H¿rning Jensen, "Herod the Great", n.p. [cited 30 Jan 2019].Online: great  Contributors Morten H¿rning Jensen   Associate Professor, Lutheran School of TheologyMorten H¿rning Jensen is associate professor at Lutheran School of Theology, Aarhus, Denmark; adjunct professor at MF Norwegian Schoolof Theology, Oslo, and Research Fellow at University of South Africa. Heis the author of Herod Antipas in Galilee (Mohr Siebeck 2010) besidesnumerous articles on topics related to first-century Galilee and theHistorical Jesus including the entry on Herod Antipas in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (de Gruyter 2015).  ASK A SCHOLAR  other cruel acts such as the killing of a number of his own sons; on the other hand, it fits MatthewÕswish to present Jesus as a new Moses.  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ Browse by subject  - click on a letter below. 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