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HEROD THE GREAT

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The Catholic Encyclopedia
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Herod
(Gr. Herodes, from Heros.) 

Herod was the name of many rulers mentioned in the N.T. and in history. It was known long before the time of the biblical Herods. (See Schürer, "Hist. of the Jewish People", etc., Div. I, v. I, p. 416, note.) The Herods connected with the early history of Christianity are the following: 

I. HEROD THE GREAT

Herod, surnamed the Great, called by Grätz "the evil genius of the Judean nation" (Hist., v. II, p. 77), was a son of Antipater, an Idumæan (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", I, vi, 2). The Idumæans were brought under subjection by John Hyrcanus towards the end of the second century B. C., and obliged to live as Jews, so that they were considered Jews (Jos., "Ant.", XIII, ix, 4). Yet Antigonus called Herod a half-Jew (Jos., "Ant.", XIV, xv, 2, and note in Whiston), while the Jews, when it furthered their interests, spoke of Herod their king as by birth a Jew (Jos., "Ant." XX, viii, 7). Antipater, the father of Herod, had helped the Romans in the Orient, and the favour of Rome brought the Herodian family into great prominence and power. Herod was born 73 B. C., and he is first mentioned as governor of Galilee (Jos., "Ant.", XIV, ix, 2). Here the text says he was only fifteen years old, evidently an error for twenty-five, since about forty-four years later he died, "almost seventy years of age" (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", I, xxxiii, 1). His career was more wonderful than that of many heroes of fiction. Among the rapidly changing scenes of Roman history he never failed to win the goodwill of fortune's favourites. In 40 B. C. the young Octavian and Antony obtained for him from the Roman senate the crown of Judea, and between these two powerful friends he went up to the temple of Jupiter to thank the gods of Rome. Antigonus was beheaded in 37 B. C., and from this date Herod became king in fact as well as in name. He married Mariamne in 38 B. C., and thereby strengthened his title to the throne by entering into matrimonial alliance with the Hasmoneans, who were always very popular among the Jews (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", I, xii, 3). 

The reign of Herod is naturally divided into three periods: 37-25 B. C., years of development; 25-13, royal splendor; 13-4, domestic troubles and tragedies. During the first period he secured himself on the throne by removing rivals of the Hasmonean line. He put to death Hyrcanus, grandfather of Mariamne, and Aristobulus her brother, whom though but seventeen years old he had appointed high-priest. Their only offence was that they were very popular (Jos., "Ant.", XV, vi, 1, iii, 3). Mariamne also was executed in 29 B. C.; and her mother Alexandra, 28 B. C. (Jos., "Ant", XV, vii; "Bel. Jud.", I, xxii). As Herod was a friend to Antony, whom Octavian defeated at Actium 31 B. C., he was in great fear, and set out for Rhodes like a criminal with a halter around his neck to plead with the conqueror; but Caesar confirmed him in the kingdom, with a grant of additional territory (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", I, xx). 

Herod and his children were builders. Having the reins of government well in hand, and having wreaked vengeance upon his enemies, he adorned his kingdom by building cities and temples in honour of the emperor and of the gods. Samaria was built and called Sebaste, from the Greek name for Augustus. Caesarea with its fine harbor was also built; and, being a Greek in his tastes, Herod erected theatres, amphitheatres, and hippodromes for games, which were celebrated at stated times even at Jerusalem (Jos., "Ant." XV, viii, 1, XVI, v, 1; "Bel. Jud.", I, xxi, 1, 5). As he builds temples to the false gods -- one at Rhodes, for instance, to Apollo (Jos., "Ant.", XVI, v, 3) -- we may judge that vanity rather than piety suggested the greatest work of his reign, the temple of Jerusalem. It was begun in his eighteenth year as king (Jos., "Ant." XV, xi, 1), i.e. about 22 B. C. (Grätz, "Gesch. d. Jud." V, iii, 187). In Josephus (Bel. Jud., I, xxi, 1) the text has the fifteenth year, but here the historian counts from the death of Antigonus, 37 B. C., which gives the same date as above. The speech of Herod on the occasion, though full of piety, may be interpreted by what he said to the wise men: "that I also may come and adore him" (Matt., ii, 8; Jos., "Ant.", XV, xi, 1). The temple is described by Josephus ("Ant.", XV, xi; cf. Edersheim, "The Temple its Ministry and Services", i and ii), and the solidity of its architecture referred to in the N. T. (Matt., xxiv, 1; Mark, xiii, 1). In John, ii, 20, forty-six years are mentioned since the building was undertaken, but it requires some juggling with figures to make this number square with the history of either the second temple, or the one built by Herod (see Maldonatus , who thinks the text refers to the second temple, and MacRory, "The Gospel of St. John", for the other view). 

The horrors of Herod's home were in strong contrast with the splendor of his reign. As he had married ten wives (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", I, xxviii, 4 -- note in Whiston) by whom he had many children, the demon of discord made domestic tragedies quite frequent. He put to death even his own sons, Aristobulus and Alexander (6 B. C.), whom Antipater, his son by Doris, had accused of plotting against their father's life (Jos., "Ant.", XVI, xi). This same Antipater, who in cruelty was a true son of Herod, and who had caused the death of so many was himself accused and convicted of having prepared poison for his father, and put to death (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", I, xxxiii, 7). The last joy of the dying king was afforded by the letter from Rome authorizing him to kill his son; five days later, like another Antiochus under a curse, he died. The account of his death and of the circumstances accompanying it is so graphically given by Josephus ("Ant.", XVII, vi, vii, viii; "Bel. Jud.", I, xxxiii), who follows Nicholas of Damascus, Herod's friend and biographer, that only an eye-witness could have furnished the details. In the hot springs of Callirrhoe, east of the Dead Sea, the king sought relief from the sickness that was to bring him to the grave. When his end drew near, he gave orders to have the principal men of the country shut up in the hippodrome at Jericho and slaughtered as soon as he had passed away, that his grave might not be without the tribute of tears. This barbarous command was not carried into effect; but the Jews celebrated as a festival the day of his death, by which they were delivered from his tyrannical rule (Grätz, "Gesch. d. Jud.", III, 195 -- "Hist." (in Eng.), II, 117). Archelaus, whom he had made his heir on discovering the perfidy of Antipater, buried him with great pomp at Herodium -- now called Frank Mountain -- S. E. of Bethlehem, in the tomb the king had prepared for himself (Jos., "Ant.", XVII, viii, 2, 3; "Bel. Jud.", I, xxxiii, 8, 9). 

The death of Herod is important in its relation to the birth of Christ. The eclipse mentioned by Josephus (Ant., XVII, vi, 4), who also gives the length of Herod's reign -- thirty-seven years from the time he was appointed by the Romans, 40 B. C.; or thirty-four from the death of Antigonus, 37 B. C. (Ant., XVII, viii, 1)-- fixes the death of Herod in the spring of 750 A. U. C., or 4 B. C. Christ was born before Herod's death (Matt., ii, 1), but how long before is uncertain: the possible dates lie between 746 and 750 A. U. C. (see a summary of opinions and reasons in Gigot, "Outlines of N. T. Hist.", 42, 43). 

Herod's gifts of mind and body were many. "He was such a warrior as could not be withstood . . . . fortune was also very favorable to him" (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", I, xxi, 13), yet "a man of great barbarity towards all men equally and a slave to his passions; but above the consideration of what was right" (Jos., "Ant.", XVII, viii, 1). His ruling passions were jealousy and ambition, which urged him to sacrifice even those that were nearest and dearest to him: murder and munificence were equally good as means to an end. The slaughter of the Innocents squares perfectly with what history relates of him, and St. Matthew's positive statement is not contradicted by the mere silence of Josephus; for the latter follows Nicholas of Damascus, to whom, as a courtier, Herod was a hero. Hence Armstrong (in Hastings, "Dict. of Christ and the Gospels", s. v. "Herod") justly blames those who, like Grätz (Gesch. d. Jud., III, 194 -- Hist. (Eng.), II, 116), for subjective reasons, call the evangelist's account a later legend. Macrobius, who wrote in the beginning of the fifth century, narrates that Augustus, having heard that among the children whom Herod had ordered to be slain in Syria was the king's own son, remarked: "It is better to be Herod's swine than his son" (Saturn., II, 4). In the Greek text there is a bon mot and a relationship between the words used that etymologists may recognize even in English. The law among the Jews against eating pork is hinted at, and the anecdote seems to contain extra-biblical elements. "Cruel as the slaughter may appear to us, it disappears among the cruelties of Herod. It cannot, then, surprise us that history does not speak of it" [Maas, "Life of Christ" (1897), 38 (note); the author shows, as others have done, that the number of children slain may not have been very great]. 

II. ARCHELAUS

Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, was, with Antipas his brother, educated at Rome (Jos., "Ant.", XVII, i, 3), and he became heir in his father's last will (Jos., "Ant.", XVII, viii, 1). After the death of his father he received the acclamations of the people, to whom he made a speech, in which he stated that his title and authority depended upon the good will of Caesar (Jos., "Ant.", XVII, viii, 4). The death of Herod having delivered the Jews from his tyrannical rule, they petitioned Caesar to put them under the jurisdiction of the presidents of Syria. He, however, not willing to set aside Herod's will, gave to Archelaus the half of his father's kingdom, with the title of ethnarch, the royal title to follow should he rule "virtuously". The N. T. says that he reigned (Matt., ii, 22), and in Josephus (Ant., XVII, viii, 2, ix, 2) he is called king, by courtesy, for the Romans never so styled him. His territory included Judea, Samaria, and Idumæa with the cities of Jerusalem, Caesarea, Sebaste, and Joppa (Jos., "Ant.", XVII, xi, 2, 4, 5). He soon aroused opposition by marrying his brother's wife -- a crime like that of Antipas later -- and having been accused of cruelty by his subjects, "not able to bear his barbarous and tyrannical usage of them", he was banished to Vienne, Gaul, A. D. 7 in the tenth year of his government (Jos., "Ant.", XVII, ix, xiii, 1, 2). The N . T. tells us that Joseph, fearing Archelaus, went to live at Nazareth (Matt., ii, 22, 23); and some interpreters think that in the parable (Luke, xix, 12-27) our Lord refers to Archelaus, whom the Jews did not wish to rule over them, and who, having been placed in power by Caesar, took vengeance upon his enemies. "Whether our Lord had Archelaus in view, or only spoke generally, the circumstances admirably suit his case" (MacEvilly, "Exp. of the Gosp. of St. Luke"). 

III. ANTIPAS

Antipas was a son of Herod the Great, after whose death he became ruler of Galilee. He married the daughter of Aretas, King of Arabia, but later lived with Herodias, the wife of his own half-brother Philip. This union with Herodias is mentioned and blamed by Josephus (Ant., XVIII, v) as well as in the N. T., and brought Antipas to ruin. It involved him in a war with Aretas in which he lost his army, a calamity that Josephus regarded "as a punishment for what he did against John that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism" (Ant., XVIII, v, 2). The N. T. gives the reason why Herodias sought John's head. As she had married Herod Philip -- not the tetrarch of the same name -- who lived as a private citizen at Rome, by whom she had a daughter, Salome, she acted against the law in leaving him to marry Antipas. John rebuked Antipas for the adulterous union, and Herodias took vengeance (Matt., xiv, 3-12; Mark, vi, 17-29). Josephus does not say that John's death was caused by the hatred of Herodias, but rather by the jealousy of Herod on account of John's great influence over the people. He was sent to the frowning fortress of Machærus on the mountains east of the Dead Sea, and there put to death (Jos., "Ant.", XVIII, v, 2). Grätz (Gesch. d. Jud., III, xi, 221 -- Hist. (Eng.), II, 147) as in other instances thinks the gospel story a legend; but Schürer admits that both Josephus and the evangelists may be right, since there is no contradiction in the accounts (Hist. of the Jewish People, etc., Div. I, V, ii, 25). The most celebrated city built by Antipas was Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He named it after his friend the Emperor Tiberius, and made it the capital of the tetrarchy. The city gave its name to the sea, and yet stands; it was for a long time a great school and centre of Jewish learning. It was before this Herod that Our Lord appeared and was mocked (Luke, xxiii, 7-13). Antipas had come to Jerusalem for the Pasch, and he is named with Pilate as a persecutor of Christ (Acts, iv, 27). The enmities that existed between him and Pilate were caused by Pilate's having put to death some Galileans, who belonged to Herod's jurisdiction (Luke, xiii, 1); a reconciliation was effected as related in Luke, xxiii, 12. When Herodias saw how well her brother Agrippa had fared at Rome, whence he returned a king, she urged Antipas to go to Caesar and obtain the royal title, for he was not king, but only tetrarch of Galilee -- the N. T. however sometimes calls him king (Matt., xiv, 9; Mark, vi, 14), and Josephus likewise so styles Archelaus (Ant., XVIII, iv, 3), though he was never king, but only ethnarch. Contrary to his better judgment he went, and soon learned that Agrippa by messengers had accused him before Caligula of conspiracy against the Romans. The emperor banished him to Lyons, Gaul (France), A. D. 39, and Herodias accompanied him (Jos., "Ant.", XVIII, vii, 2). Josephus (Bel. Jud., II, ix, 6) says: "So Herod died in Spain whither his wife had followed him". The year of his death is not known. To reconcile the two statements of Josephus about the place of exile and death, see Smith, "Dict. of the Bible", s. v. "Herodias" (note). 

IV. AGRIPPA I

Agrippa I, also called the Great, was a grandson of Herod the Great and Mariamne, son of Aristobulus, and brother of Herodias. The history of his life and varying fortunes is stranger than romance. He was deeply in debt and a prisoner in Rome under Tiberius; but Caius, having come to the throne in A. D. 37, made him king over the territories formerly ruled by Philip and Lysanias, to which the tetrarchs of Antipas was added when the latter had been banished in A. D. 39 (Jos., "Ant.", XVIII, vi, vii). In A. D. 41 Judea and Samaria were given to him by the Emperor Claudius, whom he had helped to the throne (Jos., "Ant.", XIX, iv, 1), so that the whole kingdom which he then governed was greater than that of Herod his grandfather (Jos., "Ant.", XIX, v, 1). He was, like many other Herods, a builder, and, according to Josephus, he so strengthened the walls of Jerusalem that the emperor became alarmed and ordered him "to leave off the building of those walls presently" ("Ant.", XIX, vii, 2). He seems to have inherited from his Hasmonean ancestors a great love and zeal for the law (Jos., "Ant.", XIX, vii, 3). This characteristic, with his ambition to please the people (ibid.), explains why he imprisoned Peter and beheaded James (Acts, xii, 1-3). His death is described in "Acts", xii, 21-23; "eaten up by worms, he gave up the ghost." He died at Caesarea during a grand public festival; when the people having heard him speak cried out, "It is the voice of a god and not of a man", his heart was elated, and "an angel of the Lord struck him, because he had not given the honor to God". Josephus gives substantially the same account, but states that an owl appeared to the king to announce his death, as it had appeared many years before to predict his good fortune (Jos., "Ant.", XIX, viii, 2). His death occurred in A. D. 44, the fifty-fourth year of his age, the seventh of his reign (ibid.). Grätz considers him one of the best of the Herods (Gesch. d. Jud., III, xii -- Hist. (Eng.), II, vii); but Christians may not be willing to subscribe fully to this estimate. 

V. AGRIPPA II

Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I and in A. D. 44, the year of his father's death, the emperor Claudius wished to give him the kingdom of his father, but he was dissuaded from his purpose because a youth of seventeen was hardly capable of assuming responsibilities so great (Jos., "Ant.", XIX, ix). About A. D. 50 he was made King of Chalcis (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", II, xii, 1), and afterwards ruler of a much larger territory including the lands formerly governed by Philip and Lysanias (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", II, xii, 8). He was also titular king of Judea, and in twenty years appointed seven high-priests (Grätz, "Gesch. d. Jud.", III, xiv -- "Hist." (Eng.), II, ix). When the Jews wished to free themselves from the dominion of Rome in the time of Florus, Agrippa showed them the folly of violent measures, and gave them a detailed account of the vast resources of the Roman empire (Jos., "Bel. Jud.", II, xvi, 4). St. Paul pleaded before this king, to whom Festus, the governor, referred the case (Acts, xxvi). The Apostle praises the king's knowledge of the "customs and questions that are among the Jews" (v. 3); Josephus likewise appeals to his judgment and calls him a most admirable man -- thaumasiotatos (Cont. Ap., I, ix). It was, therefore, not out of mere compliment that Festus invited him to hear what St. Paul had to say. His answer to the Apostle's appeal has been variously interpreted: it may mean that St. Paul had not quite convinced him, which sense seems to suit the context better than the irony that some see in the king's words. The indifference, however, which he manifested was in harmony with the" great pomp" with which he and his sister Berenice had entered the hall of audience (Acts, xxv, 23). After the fall of Jerusalem he lived at Rome, where he is said to have died in the third year of Trajan, A. D. 100. Grätz (Gesch. d. Jud., III, xvii, 410) gives A. D. 71-72 as the date of his death, a date based upon a more correct reading of a Greek text as authority. 

Many histories and special studies throw light upon the Herodian age and family, but nearly all we know about the Herods comes through Josephus. The following, among many works, may be consulted: 

SCHÜRER, Gesch. d. Jüd. Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (Leipzig, 1898-1901), with comprehensive bibliography; tr. A Hist. of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh, 1897-1898); GRÄTZ, Gesch. d. Jud. (III, 11 vols., Leipzig); tr. Hist. of the Jews, 6 vols. (Jew. Pub. Soc., Phila., 1891-1902), without notes or references, II; MILMAN, The History of the Jews (3 vols. New York, 1870); and histories by JOST, EWALD, etc.; HASTINGS, A Dict. of Christ and the Gospels (New York, 1907); EDERSHEIM, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, I; FARRAR, The Herods; JOSEPHUS, Ant., Books XIV-XX; IDEM, Bel. Jud., Books I and II.


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