How a Non-Jew Became King of the Jews
Scattered through the Bible we find several references to Herod, almost as if they all refer to one ruler. But research identifies at least three related individuals. In this post, we'll focus on Herod I (c. 72—4 BC or 1 AD). But first, we'll take a look at a major antagonistic force in his life, the Hasmonean Dynasty.
Who Were The Hasmoneans?
|Ancient Medallion Salome Alexandra|
Beginning around 143 BC, descendants of the fighting Maccabee family founded a ruling dynasty of ancient Judea known as the Hasmoneans, derived from an ancestor, Hasmoneus.
Fast-forward several generations to Salome Alexandra, a beloved Hasmonean queen who ruled Judea for nine peaceful years (76-65 BC.) Her death, however, put her two sons in conflict. Hyrcanus II had a peaceable but timid nature. His ambitious younger brother, Aristobulus, assembled an army of mercenaries and marched on Jerusalem intent on dethroning his brother.
After several battles, the younger brother captured Jerusalem. Hyrcanus conceded, and the brothers came to a peaceful solution. Hyrcanus would be the high priest and Aristobulus king. The Hasmonean brothers might have ruled cooperatively, if not for Antipater the Idumean.
Who was Antipater?
|Antipater shows Caesar his scars.|
Conflicts between the Hasmonean brothers resumed and escalated until Antipater aligned Hyrcanus with the Romans. As a favor to Antipater, Caesar appointed Hyrcanus as Ethnarch of Judea in 47 BC.
Herod's Rise to Power
But the Jews resented Rome and Antipater, who had brokered the conflicts that delivered Judea to Rome. They regarded Antipater as a nominal Jew, an “Ishmaelite” who had only reluctantly converted to Judaism. Despite their distaste, Antipater's influence continued to grow, and he named two of his sons governor, Phasael and Herod.
One of Herod's first official acts further alienated him from his constituents. He captured a band of Jewish dissenters and, wanting to please Caesar, executed them without a trial, in blatant disregard of Jewish Law. This increased Jewish distrust of the "Idumean usurpers." Judean leaders and weeping mothers of the slain finally convinced Hyrcanus to summon Herod before the Council.
Defiant, he appeared before the court clad, not in black as was customary, but in purple and surrounded by armed escort. He offered no excuse but proffered a letter from Caesar threatening Hyrcanus with dire consequences were Herod not cleared of charges.
Shemaya, President of the Council said, "Is it not the intention of the accused to put us to death if we pronounce him guilty? And yet I must blame him less than the king and you, who suffer such contempt to be cast upon the Law. Know then, that he, before whom you are all trembling, will one day deliver you to the sword of the executioner."
Herod emerged unscathed and continued to advance in Rome's favor by promptly paying war taxes and sending Judean soldiers to support Rome during periods of unrest.
Murders, Marriage, and War
|Prise de Jerusalem par Herod le Grande|
Public Domain via WikiCommons
After the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, the Jewish Nationalist Party met with the victor Antony, plotting to end Herod's rule. But Herod reminded Antony how his father, Antipater, had supported Antony in eastern battles. Hyrcanus added his support, and Antony ratified Herod's appointments in Judea.
Overcoming Upheavals and Eliminating Rivals
In 40 BC, a Parthenian attack placed the Hasmonean Antigonus back on the throne of Palestine. Herod and his family escaped to the fortress of Masada. Leaving them there, he sought help from Cleopatra. When she only offered a generalship in her army, he fled to Rome and appealed to the Senate, where his skillful diplomacy won over another Roman—Octavianus.
Herod was promised the throne and given a small army, but two generals supposedly supporting him had been bribed by Antigonus, so he was unsuccessful at first. He returned in 37 BC with a larger Roman force and laid siege to Jerusalem.
When Jerusalem fell, Herod convinced Antony to execute the Hasmonean Antigonus, along with forty-five prominent supporters. To fill Herod's empty treasury, their estates were confiscated and their bodies shook to loose hidden gold from their shrouds.
|The Murder of Aristobulus|
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
But when young Aristobulus appeared in his priestly robes, he was enthusiastically cheered by the Jews. Now sure that Aristobulus presented a threat, Herod bribed several young men to drown Mariamne's brother in the baths, making it appear a foolish drunken accident. Though Herod professed grief, his mother-in-law was not fooled. She wrote Cleopatra again, who told Antony, who summoned Herod.
Jealousy and Obsession
When Herod left Jerusalem, Herod ordered his Uncle Joseph to kill Mariamne should he die in Egypt, "so they might be together in the afterlife." Joseph let the plot slip to Mariamne, later confessing the gaffe to his wife, Salome. Herod’s sister saw means of ridding herself of a husband she had tired of and revenging herself on the woman who often taunted Salome about Idumean ancestry.
When Herod returned, again having talked his way out of a tricky situation, Salome told Herod that Mariamne and Joseph had committed adultery in his absence. At first, Herod ignored the charge, but when Mariamne accused Herod of wanting her dead, he concluded Joseph must have revealed the plot during a moment of passion. He executed his uncle. Though Mariamne was allowed to live, seeds of distrust were sown all around.
Later, a civil war erupted between Herod's friend Antony and Octavius. When Octavius prevailed, Herod feared execution because of his friendship with Antony.
Herod decided to meet Octavius in Rhodes, Herod decided to ensure no Hasmonean heir could supplant his children. In an eerily repetitive incident, he ordered Sohemus, to guard Mariamne and her mother, and slay them both should he not return. Then he accused the aging Hyrcanus of treachery and had him executed.
|Mariamne Leaving the Judgment Seat of Herod|
John William Waterhouse,
Public Domain via WikiMedia Commons
Almost immediately regretful after Mariamne’s death, Herod fell prey to sickness. He called for his wife with loud sobs and tears. He even had her body embalmed in honey, so he might keep her near him. His doctors feared for his life—and his sanity.
Next month: Some good and more of the bad in the Herodian dynasty.
For further reading:
- Project Gutenberg's History of the Jews, Vol. II (of 6), by Heinrich Graetz, Chapters 1-3
- New Testament History by F. F. Bruce, Chapters 1-5
- Life in Year One by Scott Korb, Chapter 1
- Jerusalem's Queen and King's Shadow, both by Angela Hunt
RAIN ~ Whispers in the Wind Book 1
Inspired by the Bible stories of Elijah, Dana wondered about the widow of Zarephath and her son. Who were they? What was their life, before? How did the boy change after he died, saw the other world—and came back?
Those questions led to Dana writing RAIN, in which she built her dream world of adventure, danger, and romance. Peace and quiet, however, have remained elusive.
No stranger to drought, Dana lives in an Arizona oasis with her hubby the constant gardener, two good dogs, an antisocial cat, and migrating butterflies.
Learn more about Dana and her books at her website: DanaMcNeely.com