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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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surnamed the Great, king of the Jews, second son of Antipater the Idumean, born B.C. 17. At the age of twenty-five he was made by his father governor of Galilee, and distinguished himself by the suppression of a band of robbers, with the execution of their leader, Hezekiah, and several of his comrades. As he had performed this act of heroism by his own authority, and had executed the culprits without the form of trial, he was summoned before the sanhedrim, but, through the strength of his party and zeal of his friends, he escaped any censure. In the civil war between the republican and Caesarian parties, Herod joined Cassius, and was made governor of Coelo-Syria; and when Mark Antony arrived victorious in Syria, Herod and his brother found means to ingratiate themselves with him, and were appointed as tetrarchs in Judea; but in a short time an invasion of Antigonus, who was aided by the Jews, obliged Herod to make his escape from Jerusalem, and retire first to Idumea, and then to Egypt.

He at length arrived at Rome, and obtained the crown of Judea upon occasion of a difference between the two branches of the Asmodean family. Hyrcanus had been for a considerable time prince and high priest of the Jewish nation; but while the Roman empire was in an unsettled state, after the death of Julius Caesar, Antigonus, son of Aristobulus, brother of Hyrcanus, made himself master of the city and all Judea. In this state Herod found things when he came to Rome, and the most that he then aimed at was to obtain the kingdom for Aristobulus, his wife's brother; but the senate of Rome, moved by the recommendations of Mark Antony, conferred the kingdom of Judea upon Herod himself. Having met with this unexpected success at Rome, he returned without delay to Judea, and in about three years got possession of the whole country. He had, however, to fight his way to the throne, which, as we have seen, was in the possession of Antigonus. Though aided by the Roman army, he was obliged to lay siege to Jerusalem, which held out for six months, when it was carried by assault, and a vast slaughter was made of the inhabitants, till the intercession and bribes of Herod put an end to it. Antigonus was taken prisoner and put to death, which opened the way to Herod's quiet possession of the kingdom. His first cares were to replenish his coffers, and to repress the faction still attached to the Asmodean race, and which regarded him as a usurper. He was guilty of many extortions and cruelties in the pursuit of these objects. Shortly after this, an accusation was lodged against Herod before Mark Antony by Cleopatra, who had been influenced to the deed by his mother-in-law, Alexandra. He was summoned to answer to the charges exhibited against him before the triumvir; and on this occasion he gave a most remarkable display of the conflict of opposite passions in a ferocious heart. Doatingly fond of his wife, Mariamne, and not being able to bear the thought of her falling into the hands of another, he exacted a solemn promise from Joseph, whom he appointed to govern in his absence, that should the accusation prove fatal to him he would put the queen to death. Joseph disclosed the secret to Mariamne, who, abhorring such a savage proof of his love, from that moment conceived the deepest and most settled aversion to her husband. Herod, by great pecuniary sacrifices, made his peace with Antony, and returned in high credit. Some hints were thrown out respecting Joseph's familiarity with Mariamne during his absence; he communicated his suspicions to his wife, who, recriminating, upbraided him with his cruel order concerning her. His rage was unbounded; he put Joseph to death for communicating the secret entrusted to him alone, and he threw his mother-in-law, Alexandra, into prison.

2. In the war between Antony and Octavius, Herod raised an army for the purpose of joining the former; but he was obliged first to engage Malchus, king of Arabia, whom he defeated and obliged to sue for peace. After the battle of Actium, his great object was to make terms with the conqueror; and, as a preliminary step, he put to death Hyrcanus, the only surviving male of the Asmodeans; and having secured his family, he embarked for Rhodes, where Augustus at that time was. He appeared before the master of the Roman world in all the regal ornaments excepting his diadem, and with a noble confidence related the faithful services he had performed for his benefactor, Antony, concluding that he was ready to transfer the same gratitude to a new patron, from whom he should hold his crown and kingdom. Augustus was struck with the magnanimity of the defence, and replaced the diadem on the head of Herod, who remained the most favoured of the tributary sovereigns. When the emperor afterward travelled through Syria, in his way to and from Egypt, he was entertained, with the utmost magnificence by Herod; in recompense for which he restored to him all his revenues and dominions, and even considerably augmented them.

His good fortune as a prince, was poisoned by domestic broils, and especially by the insuperable aversion of Mariamne, whom at length he brought to trial, convicted, and executed. She submitted to her fate with all the intrepidity of innocence, and was sufficiently avenged by the remorse of her husband, who seems never after to have enjoyed a tranquil hour.

3. His rage being quenched, Herod endeavoured to banish the memory of his evil acts from his mind by scenes of dissipation; but the charms of his once loved Mariamne haunted him wherever he went: he would frequently call aloud upon her name, and insist upon his attendants bringing her into his presence, as if willing to forget that she was no longer among the living. At times he would fly from the sight of men, and on his return from solitude, which was ill suited to a mind conscious of the most ferocious deeds, he became more brutal than ever, and in fits of fury spared neither foes nor friends. Alexandra, whose malignity toward her daughter has been noticed, was an unpitied victim to his rage. At length. he recovered some portion of self-possession, and employed himself in projects of regal magnificence. He built at Jerusalem a stately theatre and amphitheatre, in which he celebrated games in honour of Augustus, to the great displeasure of the zealous Jews, who discovered an idolatrous profanation in the theatrical ornaments and spectacles. Nothing, it is said, gave them so much offence as some trophies which he had set round his theatre in honour of Augustus, and in commemoration of his victories, but which the Jews regarded as images devoted to the purposes of idol worship. For this and other acts of the king a most serious conspiracy was formed against him, which he, fortunately for himself, discovered; and he exercised the most brutal revenge on all the parties concerned in it. He next built Samaria, which he named Sebaste, and adorned it with the most sumptuous edifices; and for his security he built several fortresses throughout the whole of Judea, of which the principal was called Caesarea, in honour of the emperor. In his own palace, near the temple of Jerusalem, he lavished the most costly materials and curious workmanship; and his palace Herodion, at some miles' distance from the capital, by the beauty of its situation, and other appropriate advantages, drew round it the population of a considerable city.

4. To supply the place of his lost Mariamne, he married a new wife of the same name, the beautiful daughter of a priest, whom he raised to the high rank of the supreme pontificate. He sent his two sons, by the first Mariamne, to be educated at Rome, and so ingratiated himself with Augustus and his ministers, that he was appointed imperial procurator for Syria. To acquire popularity among the Jews, and to exhibit an attachment to their religion, he undertook the vast enterprise of rebuilding the temple of Jerusalem, which he finished in a noble style of magnificence in about a year and a half. During the progress of this work he visited Rome, and brought back his sons, who had attained to man's estate. These at length conspired against their father's person and government, and were tried, convicted, and executed. Another act deserving of notice, performed by Herod, was the dedication of his new city of Caesarea, at which time he displayed such profuse magnificence, that Augustus said his soul was too great for his kingdom. Notwithstanding the execution of his sons, he was still a slave to conspiracies from his other near relations. In the thirty-third year of his reign, OUR SAVIOUR was born. This event was followed, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, by the massacre of the children of Bethlehem. About this time, Antipater, returning from Rome, was arrested by his father's orders, charged with treasonable practices, and was found guilty of conspiring against the life of the king. This and other calamities, joined to a guilty conscience, preying upon a broken constitution, threw the wretched monarch into a mortal disease, which was doubtless a just judgment of heaven on the many foul enormities and impieties of which he had been guilty. His disorder was attended with the most loathsome circumstances that can be imagined. A premature report of his death caused a tumult in Jerusalem, excited by the zealots, who were impatient to demolish a golden eagle which he had placed over the gate of the temple. The perpetrators of this rash act were seized, and by order of the dying king, put to death. He also caused his son Antipater to be slain in prison, and his remains to be treated with every species of ignominy. He bequeathed his kingdom to his son Archelaus, with tetrarchies to his two other sons. Herod, on his dying bed, had planned a scheme of horrible cruelty which was to take place at the instant of his own death. He had summoned the chief persons among the Jews to Jericho, and caused them to be shut up in the hippodrome, or circus, and gave strict orders to his sister Salome to have them all massacred as soon as he should have drawn his last breath: "for this," said he, "will provide mourners for my funeral all over the land, and make the Jews and every family lament my death, who would otherwise exhibit not signs of concern." Salome and her husband, Alexas, chose rather to break their oath extorted by the tyrant, than be implicated in so cruel a deed; and accordingly, as soon as Herod was dead, they opened the doors of the circus, and permitted every one to return to his own home. Herod died in the sixty-eighth year of his age. His memory has been consigned to merited detestation, while his great talents, and the active enterprise of his reign, have placed him high in the rank of sovereigns.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Herod'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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Herod Antipas