Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Herod the Great or not so Great?

This being the Christmas season it is a perfect time to give some consideration to Herod the Great. Today is the day that the western church celebrates the feast of the innocents.

Herod is known to Christians through one incident and one only, the massacre of the innocents as recorded in Matthew 2:16-18. There we read that Herod, having been accidentally tipped off about Jesus' birth by the Magi, attempted to kill the newborn king of the Jews by killing all boys in the Bethlehem vicinity two years or younger. Herod dies in the next verse (2:19) and so does most Christians' knowledge and interest in the infamous Jewish king.

Well there are two articles in this week's news that will help you to learn more about Herod and perhaps even see another side of him.

The first is a description of the recently discovered tomb of Herod. Ehud Netzer, who died in October, has an article in Biblical Archaeology Review describing his lifelong search for Herod's tomb. The article not only describes the search for the tomb, it also fills-in some historical details about Herod's fascinating life. Although certainly not someone you would want to date your daughter, Herod was a brilliant builder, politician and statesman. Even if many of his accomplishments were powered by the edge of a sword.

The second article is by Geza Vermes in what is an attempt to rehabilitate Herod and help us to understand him in context. Here is the conclusion from Vermes' article.

In short, both Jewish and Christian traditions treat him as Herod the Terrible. The historian, however, is fully aware, despite Herod's grave shortcomings, of his unparalleled political and cultural accomplishments. In particular, his long friendship with Augustus was highly beneficial to the inhabitants of Judea and the Jewish religion. Moreover, while Herod enjoyed the enviable status of a "client king, friend of the Roman people", none of his descendants, if the short reign of Agrippa I (41-44 CE) is discarded, was sufficiently esteemed by Augustus and his successors to receive the title "king of the Jews". All in all, in view of these unquestionable achievements Herod deserves to be known as the one and only Herod the Great.

Thanks to Jim West for pointing out the Vermes article.

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