Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Was Herod great, terrible, or both?

Herod the Great, or Herod the Terrible?

By Paul N. Anderson
George Fox University
Newberg, Oregon
March 2017

The fourth episode of CNN’s “Finding Jesus” second season focuses on King Herod, who ruled in Judea from 37-4 BC. In the Gospel of Matthew, Herod is portrayed as a ruthless, self-absorbed king, who slaughtered all the baby boys in Bethlehem—two years old and younger—because he was threatened by the quest of the Magi. If the wise men coming from the East were seeking the newborn “king of the Jews,” might this imply eventual competition for Herod’s throne? Matthew portrays the wise men being led by a dream to return without informing Herod of their findings; hence his being threatened, and thus his ruthless response.

But what would Josephus say?
So, while the Matthean presentation of Herod is that of a ruthless regent rather than a righteous royal, I’m not sure that Josephus would have disagreed. Perhaps Herod the Great and Herod the Terrible are not as disparate appellatives as one might imagine. And, on that score, Josephus and Matthew might have agreed.
That sounds about right to me. There are many past PaleoJudaica posts on Herod the Great and the excavations at Herodium. Start here (where I also comment on Matthew's account in the context of what we know about Herod from elsewhere) and follow the links.