Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review of three books on Herod

NOT SO MUCH, ALTHOUGH IT'S COMPLICATED: Herod the Hero? Three recent books portray Herod more positively than he is generally depicted. But Matthew 2 is still important (Alexander Stewart, Christianity Today).
In terms of wealth, power, and influence, Herod the Great rivaled King Solomon as the greatest king in the history of the Jews. Most Christians, however, know little more about Herod than what is reported in Matthew 2: his interaction with the Magi and the slaughter of Bethlehem’s infant boys. Far beyond the significance of those isolated incidents, Herod powerfully shaped the world in which Jesus and the earliest Christians lived.

The collective historical opinion—colored by Matthew’s account—has viewed Herod as a paranoid, cruel, and murderous tyrant. Several historians, however, have recently sought to rehabilitate Herod’s image. Norman Gelb’s Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013), Geza Vermes’s The True Herod (Bloomsbury, 2014), and Adam Kolman Marshak’s The Many Faces of Herod the Great (Eerdmans, 2015) all seek to positively reassess his reign. Gelb and Vermes provide accessible accounts of Herod’s life, while Marshak provides an academic appraisal of Herod’s rule in terms of the ancient political, cultural, and religious expectations of a good king.

It is too strong to claim that these recent books indicate a sweeping renaissance in the study of Herod’s life. Nevertheless, they represent a growing interest in the historical Herod fueled by a desire to look afresh at Herod’s life apart from Matthew’s Gospel.

The book by Vermes was noted here (and note also here) and the book by Marshak was noted here. The one by Gelb is new to me. Past posts on Herod the Great and Herodium are collected here, and see also here.