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Herod The Great

HEROD THE GREAT, the son of Antipater, who supported Hyrcanus II. against Aristobulus II. with the aid first of the Nabataean Arabs and then of Rome. The family seems to have been of Idumaean origin, so that its members were liable to the reproach of being half- Jews or even foreigners. Justin Martyr has a tradition that they were originally Philistines of Ascalon (Dial. c. 52), and on the other hand Nicolaus of Damascus (apud Jos. Ant. xiv. i. 3) asserted that Herod, his royal patron, was descended from the Jews who first returned from the Babylonian Captivity. The tradition and the assertion are in all probability equally fictitious and proceed respectively from the foes and the friends of the Herodian dynasty.

Antipas (or Antipater), the father of Antipater, had been governor of Idumaea under Alexander Jannaeus. His son allied himself by marriage with the Arabian nobility and became the real ruler of Palestine under Hyrcanus II. When Rome intervened in Asia in the person of Pompey, the younger Antipater realized her inevitable predominance and secured the friendship of her representative. After the capture of Jerusalem in 63 B.C. Pompey installed Hyrcanus, who was little better than a figurehead, in the high-priesthood; and when in 55 B.C. the son of Aristobulus renewed the civil war in Palestine, the Roman governor of Syria in the exercise of his jurisdiction arranged a settlement " in accordance with the wishes of Antipater " (Jos. Ant. xiv. 6. 4). To this policy of dependence upon Rome Antipater adhered, and he succeeded in commending himself to Mark Antony and Caesar in turn. After the battle of Pharsalia Caesar made him procurator and a Roman citizen.

At this point Herod appears on the scene as ruler of Galilee (Jos. Ant. xiv. o. 2) appointed by his father at the age of fifteen or, since he died at seventy, twenty-five. In spite of his youth he soon found an opportunity of displaying his mettle; for he arrested Hezekiah the arch-brigand, who had overrun the Syrian border, and put him to death. The Jewish nobility at Jerusalem seized upon this high-handed action as a pretext for satisfying their jealousy of their Idumaean rulers. Herod was cited in the name of Hyrcanus to appear before the Sanhedrin, whose prerogative he had usurped in executing Hezekiah. He appeared with a bodyguard, and the Sanhedrin was overawed. Only Sameas, a Pharisee, dared to insist upon the legal verdict of condemnation. But the governor of Syria had sent a demand for Herod's acquittal, and so Hyrcanus adjourned the trial and persuaded the accused to abscond. Herod returned with an army, but his father prevailed upon him to depart to Galilee without wreaking his vengeance upon his enemies. About this time (47-46 B.C.) he was created strategus of Coelesyria by the provincial governor. The episode is important for the light which it throws upon Herod's relations with Rome and with the Jews.

In 44 B.C. Cassius arrived in Syria for the purpose of filling his war-chest: Antipater and Herod collected the sum of money at which the Jews of Palestine had been assessed. In 43 B.C. Antipater was poisoned at the instigation of one Malichus, who was perhaps a Jewish patriot animated by hatred of the Herods and their Roman patrons.

With the connivance of Cassius Herod had Malichus assassinated; but the country was in a state of anarchy, thanks to the extortions of Cassius and the encroachments of neighbouring powers. Antony, who became master of the East after Philippi, was ready to support the sons of his friend Antipater; but he was absent in Egypt when the Parthians invaded Palestine to restore Antigonus to the throne of his father Aristobulus (40 B.C.) . Herod escaped to Rome: the Arabians, his mother's people, had repudiated him. Antony had made him tetrarch, and now with the assent of Octavian persuaded the Senate to declare him king of Judaea.

In 39 B.C. Herod returned to Palestine and, when the presence of Antony put the reluctant Roman troops entirely at his disposal , he was able to lay siege to Jerusalem two years later. Secure of the support of Rome he was concerned also to legitimize his position in the eyes of the Jews by taking, for love as well as policy, the Hasmonaean princess Mariamne to be his second wife. Jerusalem was taken by storm; the Roman troops withdrew to behead Antigonus the usurper at Antioch. In 37 B.C. Herod was king of Judaea, being the client of Antony and the husband of Mariamne.

The Pharisees, who dominated the bulk of the Jews, were content to accept Herod's rule as a judgment of God. Hyrcanus returned from his prison : mutilated, he could no longer hold office as high-priest; but his mutilation probably gave him the prestige of a martyr, and his influence whatever it was worth 3 8o seems to have been favourable to the new dynasty. On the other hand Herod's marriage with Mariamne brought some of his enemies into his own household. He had scotched the faction of Hasmonaean sympathizers by killing forty-five members of the Sanhedrin and confiscating their possessions. But so long as there were representatives of the family alive, there was always a possible pretender to the throne which he occupied; and the people had not lost their affection for their former deliverers. Mariamne's mother used her position to further her plots for the overthrow of her son-in-law; and she found an ally in Cleopatra of Egypt, who was unwilling to be spurned by him, even if she was not weary of his patron, Antony.

The events of Herod's reign indicate the temporary triumphs of his different adversaries. His high-priest, a Babylonian, was deposed in order that Aristobulus III., Mariamne's brother, might hold the place to which he had some ancestral right. But the enthusiasm with which the people received him at the Feast of Tabernacles convinced Herod of the danger; and the youth was drowned by order of the king at Jericho. Cleopatra had obtained from Antony a grant of territory adjacent to Herod's domain and even part of it. She required Herod to collect arrears of tribute. So it fell out that, when Octavian and the Senate declared war against Antony and Cleopatra, Herod was preoccupied in obedience to her commands and was thus prevented from fighting against the future emperor of Rome.

After the battle of Actium (31 B.C.) Herod executed Hyrcanus and proceeded to wait upon the victorious Octavian at Rhodes. His position was confirmed and his territories were restored. On his return he took in hand to heal with the Hasmonaeans, and in 25 B.C. the old intriguers, their victims like Mariamne, and all pretenders were dead. From this time onwards Herod was free to govern Palestine, as a client-prince of the Roman Empire should govern his kingdom. In order to put down the brigands who still infested the country and to check the raids of the Arabs on the frontier, he built or rebuilt fortresses, which were of material assistance to the Jews in the great revolt against Rome. Within and without Judaea he erected magnificent buildings and founded cities. He established games in honour of the emperor after the ancient Greek model in Caesarea and Jerusalem and revived the splendour of the Olympic games. At Athens and elsewhere he was commemorated as a benefactor; and as Jew and king of the Jews he restored the temple at Jerusalem. The emperor recognized his successful government by putting the districts of Ulatha and Panias under him in 20 B.C.

But Herod found new enemies among the members of his household. His brother Pheroras and sister Salome plotted for their own advantage and against tht two sons of Mariamne. The people still cherished a loyalty to the Hasmonaean lineage, although the young princes were also the sons of Herod. The enthusiasm with which they were received fed the suspicion, which their uncle instilled into their father's mind, and they were strangled at Sebaste. On his deathbed Herod discovered that his eldest son, Antipater, whom Josephus calls a " monster of iniquity," had been plotting against him. He proceeded to accuse him before the governor of Syria and obtained leave from Augustus to put him to death. The father died five days after his son in 4 B.C. He had done much for the Jews, thanks to the favour he had won and kept in spite of all from the successive heads of the Roman state; he had observed the Law publicly in fact, as the traditional epigram of Augustus says, " it was better to be Herod's swine than a son of Herod."

Josephus, Ant. xv., xvi., xvii. 1-8, B.J. i. 18-33; Schurer, Gesch. d.jiid. Volk., 4th ed., i. pp. 360-418.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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