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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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HEROD . The main interest attaching to the Herods is not concerned with their character as individual rulers. They acquire dignity when they are viewed as parts of a supremely dramatic situation in universal history. The fundamental elements in the situation are two. First, the course of world-power in antiquity, and the relation between it and the political principle in the constitution of the Chosen People. Second, the religious genius of Judaism, and its relation to the political elements in the experience of the Jews.

A glance at the map shows that Palestine is an organic part of the Mediterranean world. When, under the successors of Alexander, the centre of political gravity shifted from Persia to the shores of the Great Sea, the door was finally closed against the possibility of political autonomy in the Holy Land. The kingdom of the Seleucids had a much larger stake in the internal affairs of the country than the Persian Empire thought of claiming. For one thing, the political genius of the Greeks demanded a more closely knit State than the Persian. For another, the fact that Palestine was the frontier towards Egypt made its political assimilation to Northern Syria a military necessity. The Maccabæan War gave rise to the second Jewish State. But it was short-lived. Only during the disintegration of the house of Seleucus could it breathe freely. The moment Rome stretched out her hands to Syria its knell was rung.

The Hasmonasan house was obliged to face a hopeless foreign situation. World-politics made a career impossible. In addition, it had to face an irreconcilable element in the constitution of Judaism. The rise of the Pharisees and the development of the Essenes plainly showed that the fortune of the Jews was not to be made in the political field. In truth, Judaism was vexed by an insoluble contradiction. The soul of this people longed for universal dominion. But efficient political methods for the attainment of dominion were disabled by their religion. The Hasmonæan house was caught between the upper and the nether millstone.

The foundations of the Herodian house were laid by Antipater, an Idumæan (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XIV. i. 3). Apparently the Idumæans, converted by the sword, were never Jewish to the core. More than once the Pharisees flung the reproach ‘half-Jew’ in the teeth of Herod. Antipater was a man of undistinguished family, and fought his way up by strength and cunning. The decay of the Hasmonæan house favoured his career. Palestine needed the strong hand. The power of Syria and the power of Egypt were gone. Rome was passing through the decay of the Senatorial régime. The Empire had not appeared to gather up the loose ends of provincial government. Pompey’s capture of Jerusalem had shattered what little was left of Hasmonæan prestige. Yet Rome was not ready to assume direct control of Palestine.

1. Herod the Great . Antipater’s son, Herod, had shown himself before his father’s death both masterful and merciless. His courage was high, his understanding capable of large conceptions, and his will able to adhere persistently to a distant end of action. His temperament was one of headlong passion; and when, in the later period of his life, the power and suspiciousness of the tyrant had sapped the real magnanimity of his nature, it converted him into a butcher, exercising his trade upon his own household as well as upon his opponents. His marriage with Mariamme, the heiress of the Hasmonæan house, and his league with Rome, indicate the story of his life. His marriage was one both of love and of policy. His league was a matter of clear insight into the situation. He was once driven out of Palestine by an alliance between the Hasmonæan house and the Parthians (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XIV. xiii. 9, 10). But, backed by Rome, he returned with irresistible force. Mutual interest made the alliance close. Herod served the Empire well. And Augustus and his successors showed their appreciation. They stood by Herod and his descendants even when the task was not wholly pleasing.

Josephus calls Herod a man of extraordinary fortune. He was rather a man of extraordinary force and political discernment. He owed his good fortune largely to himself, manifesting powers which might have made him, in a less difficult field, fully deserving of his title ‘the Great.’ He enjoyed the life-long favour of Augustus and his minister Agrippa. He made life and property in Palestine safe from every foe but his own tyranny. And though he showed himself a brutal murderer of Mariamme and his own children, not to speak of the massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:1-23 ), it must be remembered that Jerusalem was a hot-bed of intrigue. This does not justify him, but it explains his apparently insensate blood-lust.

His sympathy with Hellenism was a matter of honest conviction. The Empire was slowly closing in on Palestine. An independent Jewish power was impossible. The man who ruled the country was bound to work in the interest of Rome. Hellenism in the Holy Land was the political order of the day. So Herod built cities and gave them imperial names. He built amphitheatres, patronized the Greek games and, so far as his temperament and opportunities permitted, Greek literature. At the same time, while he was but ‘half-Jew,’ he sincerely desired to do large things for Judaism. He was a stout defender of the rights of the Jews in the Diaspora. He rebuilt the Temple with great splendour. But his supreme gift to the Jews, a gift which they were not capable of appreciating, was a native Palestinian power, which, whatever its methods, was by profession Jewish. When he died, after a long reign (b.c. 37 to a.d. 4), and the Jews petitioned the Emperor for direct Roman rule (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XVII. ii. 2), they showed their incompetence to read the signs of the times. Roman rule was a very different thing from Persian rule. When it came, the iron entered into the soul of Judaism.

2. Archelaus . After some delay Herod’s will was carried out. His sons were set up in power, Archelaus over Judæa and Idumæa, Antipas over Galilee and Peræa, Philip over Batanæa, Trachonitis, and Auranitis. To Archelaus had fallen the greatest prize, and at the same time the hardest task. Having maintained himself till the year 6 of our era, his misgovernment and weakness, co-operating with the impossible elements in Judaism, caused his downfall and exile. The Jews now had their own wish. Judæa came under direct Roman rule. A tax was levied. Judas of Gamala rose in rebellion. He was easily put down. But the significance of his little rebellion was immense. For now was born what Josephus calls ‘the fourth philosophical sect’ amongst the Jews ( Ant . XVII. i. 6). The Zealots dragged into the light the self-contradiction of Judaism. The Jews could not build a State themselves. Their principles made it impossible for them to keep the peace with their heathen over-lord. Conflict was inevitable.

3. Herod Antipas , called ‘the tetrarch’ ( Matthew 14:1 , Luke 3:19; Luke 9:7 , Acts 13:1 ), had better fortune. Our Lord described him as a ‘fox’ ( Luke 13:32 ). The name gives the clue to his nature. He was a man of craft rather than strength. But cunning served him well, and he kept his seat until the year 39. The corroding immorality of his race shows itself in his marriage with Herodias , his brother’s wife, and the wanton offence thereby given to Jewish sensibilities. (See John the Baptist.) His lost proved his undoing. Herodias, an ambitious woman, spurred him out of his caution. In rivalry with Herod Agrippa, he asked of Caligula the royal title. This exciting suspicion, his doings were looked into and he was banished.

4. Philip ( Luke 3:1 ) seems to have been the best among the sons of Herod. And it was his good fortune to rule over an outlying country where the questions always rife in Jerusalem were not pressed. His character and his good fortune together gave him a long and peaceful rule ( d . a.d. 34).

5. Another Philip (son of Herod the Great and Mariamme) is mentioned in Matthew 14:3 || Mark 6:17 as the first husband of Herodias.

6. In Herod Agrippa I . the Herodian house seemed at one time to have reached the highwater-mark of power. He had served a long apprenticeship in the Imperial Court, where immorality, adaptability, and flattery were the price of position. That he was not altogether unmanned is proved by his dissuading Caligula from his insane proposal to set up a statue of himself in the Temple; for, in setting himself against the tyrant’s whim, he staked life and fortune (Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant . XVII, viii.). In high favour with Caligula’s successor, he came to Jerusalem in the year 39, and was welcomed by the Jews with open arms. He continued to hold the Imperial favour, and his territory was expanded until his rule had a wider range than that of his grandfather. His reign was the Indian summer of Judaism. Even the Pharisees thought well of him. When he was at Rome he lived as one who knew Rome well. But in Jerusalem he wore his Judaism as a garment made to order. He was quite willing to gratify the Jews by putting leading Christians to death ( Acts 12:1-25 ). In high favour both at Jerusalem and at Rome, he seemed to be beyond attack. But the veto put on his proposal to rebuild the walls of his capital showed clearly that he was on very thin ice. And the pagan streak in him was sure, sooner or later, to come to light. The story of his death, wherein the Book of Acts ( Acts 12:20-23 ) and Josephus ( Ant . XIX. viii. 2) substantially agree, brings this out. At Cæsarea he paraded himself before a servile multitude as if he were a little Cæsar, a god on earth. Smitten by a terrible disease, he died in great agony (a.d. 42). Jews and Christians alike looked on his end as a fitting punishment for his heathenism. The house of Herod was ‘half-Jew’ to the last.

Genealogical Table Of The Family Of Herod.

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