Wednesday, December 14, 2016

On King Herod the Great

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: How King Herod Transformed the Holy Land. In the New Testament King Herod I is a villain, but the Herod of history was more complex, a consummate politician, ambitious builder, and master organizer who was able to balance the needs of the Judaean populace and the rulers of Rome (Antonio Piñero).
Few figures in history have had such a controversial reputation as King Herod I of Judaea. In the Christian tradition, Herod is the villain in the Christmas story. The Gospel of Matthew recounts how the king orders the death of all baby boys following the birth of Jesus, an event called the Massacre of the Innocents. Calling this king “great” hardly seems fitting, given that atrocity.

To many scholars, however, Herod’s honorific is deserved. The king of the Judaeans for the last part of the first century B.C. was a skilled administrator. He created magnificent public building works across Judaea, most notably the colossal reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Herod saved his people from famine in the mid-20s B.C. Although his reign was largely a time of peace and prosperity for Judaea, he was often treated with deep suspicion by his subjects.

He did develop the habit of killing people impulsively, especially those close to him. As the article later observes, this lends a certain plausibility to the story in Matthew, even though there is no historical evidence for it. But Herod also sponsored a prolific building program, with the result that a strikingly disproportionate number of ancient ruins surviving in Israel today are "Herodian."

Some past PaleoJudaica posts on Herod the Great and Herodium are here, here, here, here, here, and links. Cross-file under 'Tis the Season.