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The Christian world has inherited a wholly negative image of king Herod (74/72-4 BCE), during whose reign Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1, Luke, 1:5). Matthew's legendary account, Nativity plays and Christian imagination have turned Herod into the Ivan the Terrible of antiquity. When the three wise kings, or rather oriental magicians (magoi in the Greek Gospel), arrived at the royal palace in Jerusalem and asked about the recently born king of the Jews, Herod pretended to be helpful and directed them to Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of the Messiah, on condition that they promised to let him know the whereabouts of the babe. He, too, wished to greet him, he lied, when in fact he planned to murder the potential rival. So when the magi failed to return, he let loose his soldiers on the infants of Bethlehem. 

The extensive secular chronicles provide a more nuanced biography, one that is almost as detailed as those of Roman emperors. Our chief informant is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-c.100CE), who devoted most of Book I of his Jewish War and Books XIV to XVII of Jewish Antiquities to the life and times of Herod. Josephus uses as his main source the universal history of Nicolaus of Damascus, the well-informed teacher, adviser and ambassador of Herod. The fact that Josephus often criticises the king suggests that beside the court historian's pro-Herod chronicle, he had also at his disposal another account sympathetic to the Hasmoneans, the Jewish priest-kings, who from 152 BCE ruled the Holy Land, first independently and after 63 BCE under the aegis of Rome, until Herod took their throne in 37 BCE. 

We do not know what Herod looked like. In obedience to Jewish law, he did not allow his effigy to appear on coins. Nor has any statue of his survived away from home. The nearest we come to a Herodian face is through the coins of his more liberal grandson, Agrippa I (10 BCE-44 CE) and great-grandson Agrippa II (27/28-92/93 CE). Josephus depicts Herod as a strong, attractive, and sensual man. He was outstanding as rider, hunter and soldier. Few could match the precision of his javelin or arrow. Extremely ambitious, he wished to be second to none. This eagerness probably stemmed from an inferiority complex implanted in him by two women of royal descent: his haughty wife Mariamme and mother-in-law Alexandra. One of his cheeky sons by Mariamme gossiped that standing beside his father he had to stoop as he was taller than him, and felt obliged to miss at hunting to make Herod appear the better shot. He also let it be known that to disguise his age, Herod was dying his hair black. 


Behind every great man: "Mariamme Leaves the Judgment Seat of Herod" by J. W. Waterhouse (1887) 

Gladly availing himself of the Mosaic privilege of extensive royal polygamy, Herod took altogether ten wives. Apart from Mariamme, who was both beautiful and princely, they were all chosen for their looks rather than their rank, according to Glaphyra, Herod's sharp-tongued daughter-in-law, herself daughter of the king of Cappadocia. Family prattle had it that Herod fancied Glaphyra. We learn from Josephus that Herod had at least one male lover, Karos, "a young man of unrivalled beauty", who later came to a sticky end.

Herod was born between 74 and 72 BCE into a leading Idumean family. The Idumeans, who lived south of Judea, were forcibly converted to Judaism by the Hasmonean ruler, John Hyrcanus I, in the 120s BCE. Herod's grandfather Antipas and his father Antipater held high offices in the Hasmonean kingdom: the former was governor of Idumea, and Antipater acted as military aide and political adviser to the priestly ruler, Hyrcanus II (63-40 BCE). Antipater and his young son rose to prominence in the stormy days of the Roman republic, first under the leadership of Pompey, the conqueror of Jerusalem in 63 BCE, and then under Julius Caesar after Pompey's defeat in 48 BCE. They both gained Roman citizenship.

We have no record of Herod's childhood and upbringing, though it may be assumed that he learned Greek. Remarkably, his main education came late in life from the already mentioned Nicolaus of Damascus, who joined his court in 14 BCE when Herod was nearing 60. In a surviving passage of his autobiography, Nicolaus records that Herod's first enthusiasm was for philosophy, then he preferred rhetoric which he practised with his teacher. 

Next he fell in love with history and bullied Nicolaus to complete his universal history. Finally, when he sailed to Rome to meet Augustus, he took Nicolaus with him to discuss philosophy. 

Herod first revealed his strong arm in 47 BCE when, appointed governor of Galilee by his father, he cleared the country of brigands. After Caesar's violent removal three years later, Antipater and Herod collaborated for a short while with Cassius, one of Caesar's murderers, who took over Syria. In 43 BCE, Antipater was poisoned by one of his enemies. When Caesar's friend, Mark Antony, and Octavian, Caesar's heir, defeated Brutus and Cassius, leaders of the anti-Caesar faction at Philippi in 42 BCE, Herod cleverly switched to Antony's side. In turn, Antony persuaded Octavian and the Roman senate in 40 BCE to entrust Herod with the kingship of Judea. He was thought to be the man able to reconquer the country recently invaded by Rome's chief enemies, the Parthians. 

With Roman help, it took Herod three years to expel the Parthians and their puppet king, the Hasmonean Antigonus, from Judea and Jerusalem. Thanks to the support of Samaias, an influential Pharisee, Herod was welcomed by the inhabitants of the capital. In gratitude to them, he did his best to stop the Romans from pillaging the city. On the other hand, he made himself exceedingly rich by confiscating the land owned by the hostile Jewish upper classes. 

The Egyptian queen Cleopatra was the immediate threat to Herod. She was ambitious to expand her domain eastwards. She successfully urged Mark Antony, her husband, to transfer to her Herod's rich palm and balsam groves at Jericho. Cleopatra even visited Judea in 34 BCE and was toying with the idea of seducing Herod — seduction being something she regularly enjoyed, according to Josephus. She may also have envisaged the bed as a trap that would expose Herod to Antony's fury and result in Judea's takeover by Cleopatra. Herod, in turn, was tempted to destroy the Egyptian queen while she was in his power. However, he abstained for fear of risking Antony's displeasure. In the end, Cleopatra unwittingly contributed to Herod's political survival. Thanks to her greed for the land of the Nabateans — in the south of modern Israel and Jordan — she persuaded Antony to launch Herod and his army against them. So he and his main forces were kept away from fighting on Antony's side against Octavian at Actium in 31 BCE.

From 37 to 4 BCE, with firm Roman backing, Herod ruled over Judea, Idumea, Samaria and Galilee, as well as over further regions in southern Syria and northern Transjordan. Not since David and Solomon in the tenth century BCE had there been a Jewish kingdom as large as Herod's, not a mean achievement for the Idumean parvenu. The first 12 years of Herod's reign (37-25 BCE) saw the consolidation of his power. He built fortifications in Jerusalem, Samaria and at Masada, silenced all opposition to his rule and eliminated his Hasmonean rivals, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus II, the brother and the grandfather of his second wife, Mariamme. The former drowned in an arranged swimming pool accident and the latter was strangled. The middle period of Herod's rule (25 to 13 BCE) is characterised by his spectacular building activities at home and abroad, culminating in the reconstruction of Jerusalem's Second Temple and the creation of the city and port of Caesarea. 

The last years of his life (13-4 BCE) were poisoned by increasingly bitter family feuds, which ultimately sprang from his marriage to Mariamme. To understand the situation, we must go back to 37 BCE, the start of the monarchy. After becoming master of Jerusalem, Herod dismissed his first wife Doris and their son Antipater, in order to marry later in that year Mariamme, the granddaughter of the former high priest/king Hyrcanus II. Not only was he passionately in love with her, but through the marriage bond with Hasmonean royalty he sought to improve his popularity with his Jewish subjects. Their bliss was short-lived, however, due to intrigue, jealousy and hatred between the female in-laws, Mariamme and her mother Alexandra on the one side, and Cypros and Salome, Herod's mother and his sister, on the other. The Hasmonean royals openly despised the "lowborn" Idumeans. The Idumeans were craftier. The infighting climaxed with a charge of adultery against Mariamme, which unhinged Herod and led to her execution in 29 BCE. 

In the following year, Alexandra, the much-disliked mother-in-law, shared her daughter's fate. Alexandra twice earned Herod's displeasure for plotting his overthrow. First, in collusion with her intimate friend Cleopatra, she arranged for Antony to summon Herod and demand that he account for the drowning of Alexandra's son, the young high priest Aristobulus, but Herod managed to extricate himself from trouble. After the execution of her daughter, Alexandra tried to seize the power for herself and Mariamme's sons, but the plan was reported to the king and revenge followed. 

After Mariamme, who bore him three sons, one of whom died young, and two daughters, Herod took eight further wives and had numerous children. In 14 BCE, even the repudiated first wife Doris was readmitted to the court only to be dismissed again about nine years later.

In the final stage of Herod's reign, the family drama reached its apogee. After enjoying five years of princely education in Rome between 23/22 and 18/17 BCE, part of the time staying with Augustus, Alexander and Aristobulus, Mariamme's children, fell foul of the machinations of Antipater, who rejoined the family together with his mother Doris. He was aided and abetted by the king's brother and sister who falsely accused the young men of plotting parricide. Antipater's aim was to remove the favourite sons from the line of succession. Herod, in order to teach a lesson to the turbulent Alexander and Aristobulus, proclaimed Antipater his heir, but the firstborn felt insecure as long as Mariamme's sons lived. The scandalmongering continued and in 12 BCE Herod, in desperation, took his two sons to Rome to charge them with treason before Augustus, but the peace-loving emperor managed to effect reconciliation. Herod, quite relieved, proclaimed his three sons kings, a solution that displeased them all. The smear campaign by Antipater persisted and by 7 BCE the fate of Alexander and Aristobulus was sealed. Augustus with a heavy heart allowed Herod to try his two sons, who were found guilty and executed by strangulation in Sebaste/Samaria, where 30 years earlier their father and Mariamme had celebrated their wedding. Antipater's path to kingship was cleared, but he was too impatient for power and decided to poison his father. Herod became suspicious again and servants privy to the plan confessed under torture. The arch schemer Antipater was tried in court and reaped his just deserts five days before Herod's death.

In 4 BCE, approaching 70, Herod's body was totally disintegrating. By then, he realised that despite his lifelong yearning for admiration and love he had become the object of general hatred. His unpopularity reached boiling point when he sentenced to death two respected religious teachers and 40 of their pupils for destroying the golden eagle, symbol of Rome, attached to the new Temple. On his death bed, he devised an insane finale for himself. He instructed his sister to arrange for the imprisonment of all the leading men of Judea in the hippodrome of Jericho, and to give the order for their execution at the moment of his death. That would ensure countrywide wailing on the day of the royal funeral. Salome, however, released the prisoners, pretending that the king had changed his mind.

The splendour of Herod's burial rites stands in stark contrast to the wretchedness of his last years. His body, clothed in crimson, with crown and diadem on his head and sceptre in his hand, lay on a solid gold bier covered with royal purple. His surviving sons and relatives walked beside the bier, preceded by a military detachment and followed by fully-armed Thracian, German and Gaulish bodyguards. The cortège proceeded from Jericho to the final resting place at Herodium. In 2007, the Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer, who died last October when he fell off a platform at the site, discovered there a large sarcophagus, made of reddish Jerusalem limestone and decorated with rosettes that probably contained the earthly remains of Herod the Great, king of the Jews. 

This sketchy portrait reveals that Herod was a split personality in whom the two extremes of evil and good met. Josephus hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

When we have regard to his...benefactions that he had made to mankind in general, even his detractors would be forced to admit the remarkable generosity of his nature. Yet when we consider his unjustified and vengeful treatment of his subjects and his closest relatives, and observe the unrelenting harshness of his character, we must regard him as a brute.

More than once he displayed signs of momentary madness. After executing his wife, he went on imagining that she was still alive and instructed servants to summon her. Later, he fantasised that his son, with sword in hand, was rushing to kill him. The murderous scenario he devised as an accompaniment to his funeral is also attributable to an insane mind.

By contrast, throughout his long career, Herod was a brilliant general whose armies, if they followed his orders, never lost a battle. On various occasions, he also proved himself a political genius. Nothing illustrates better his farsightedness, courage and perspicacity than his risky venture to meet, uninvited, Octavian at Rhodes after his victory over Mark Antony at Actium in 31 BCE. As Antony's creature, Herod realised the precariousness of his situation and concluded that his only chance of survival consisted in taking the bull by the horns. Removing the diadem from his head, he faced the hostile Octavian and attempted to gain his sympathy by being totally frank with him. He emphasised his close friendship with Antony and admitted that he had supported him to the end with auxiliary troops and large quantities of foodstuff, quietly reminding Octavian of the absence of his main army and himself at Actium as they were fighting the Arabs in southern Transjordan on Antony's orders. 

He further confessed that even after Octavian's victory he remained Antony's counsellor and advised him in vain to get rid of Cleopatra, the femme fatale, and cause of his misfortune. Then came a masterful peroration reported by Josephus which deserves to be quoted:

I am come to rest my safety on my integrity...I am not ashamed to declare my loyalty to Antony. But if you would disregard the individual concerned, and examine how I requite my benefactors, and how staunch a friend I prove, then you may know me by the test of my past actions. I hope that the subject of inquiry will be not whose friend, but how loyal a friend, I have been. 

The clever gambit worked. Octavian replaced the diadem on Herod's head with the words: 

So staunch a champion of the claims of friendship deserves to be ruler over many subjects...Antony did well in obeying Cleopatra's behests rather than yours; for through his folly we have gained you.

From then on, Herod became one of Augustus's best friends, second only to Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. This friendship was marred only once, in 7 BCE, during Herod's conflict with the Nabateans. The war was considered unauthorised by the emperor, but the tactful diplomacy of Nicolaus of Damascus ironed out the misunderstanding. 

Generally speaking, loyalty and gratitude are virtues definitely to Herod's credit. He never rebelled against Hyrcanus and proved a devoted friend of Mark Antony through thick and thin. As Augustus's client king, his fidelity to the emperor remained steadfast to his death. Even though no favour could be expected in return, in his last will Herod left Augustus ten million silver coins as well as gold and silver vessels and luxurious articles of clothing; he also bequeathed to the empress Julia five million pieces of silver. To see these legacies in proportion, he left his beloved sister Salome only 500,000 silver coins. 

In the domain of social policy, Herod could be harsh to his Jewish subjects, confiscating the wealth of rich opponents and collecting tributes with moderate severity from the general population. However, he was sometimes remarkably generous towards the needy. At the time of a great famine in 24-23 BCE, Herod did all he could to rescue his people. Being without ready cash to purchase food in Egypt at inflated prices, he sold all the gold and silver objects in his possession and fed the starving at home and even in cities beyond the frontiers of his kingdom. We learn from Josephus that twice he substantially reduced taxes (by one third in one case and by a quarter in another) to help the stricken economy to recover. Yet once he admitted that he never felt totally at home with Jews and preferred the more congenial company of the Greeks.

In fairness to Herod, one must also stress that thanks to him Judea became a richer, more civilised and definitely more beautiful country. In particular, Caesarea greatly contributed to the growth of international commerce and his great architectural projects provided employment and improved the circumstances of large segments of the working population of his kingdom.

Herod excelled in the promotion of culture, both Jewish and Hellenistic, especially through grandiose architectural projects. Jerusalem and the countryside were transformed and became incomparably more pleasant to live in after Herod than before his reign. Profoundly devoted to his Idumean family, he erected the cities of Antipatris on the coastal plain, Cypros and Phasaelis in the region of Jericho, to perpetuate the names of his father, mother and elder brother. 

Herodium, not far from Bethlehem, was to bear Herod's name and serve as his burial place. His most prestigious architectural enterprise on the non-Jewish Mediterranean coast was the transformation, with no expense spared, of the derelict town of Strato's Tower into the magnificent new city of Caesarea in celebration of Caesar Augustus. It comprised a theatre and an amphitheatre for quinquennial games in the emperor's honour as well as a statue and a temple dedicated to him. Above all, Caesarea became a large port, equal in size to Piraeus, the harbour of Athens. Imported white marble was used for the construction of the palaces and the temples. 

Herod considered himself a Jew and at home he behaved as one despite his frequent participation in Graeco-Roman worship outside Judea. He also observed Jewish dietary laws. Snidely alluding to his cruel treatment of Mariamme's offspring, Augustus remarked: "It is better to be Herod's pig than his son." A first-century CE Latin poet referred to the Jewish Sabbath as "Herod's day". He strictly adhered to Jewish rules governing mixed marriages and required circumcision of non-Jewish men before they were allowed to marry into his family. If they refused, the engagement was called off. Some of the pools discovered in Herodian palaces served for ritual purification, according to archaeologists.

His formal adherence to the Jewish religion did not stop him, however, from contributing to cultural modernisation. He promoted Greek-style entertainment thought to be attractive to progressive Jews, though hated by religious zealots. He built a theatre in Jerusalem, a hippodrome in Jericho and an amphitheatre in the coastal plain, where four-yearly games celebrated Augustus. Beyond the frontiers of his kingdom, at Paneas, near the sources of the River Jordan (the Caesarea Philippi of the Gospels), he dedicated another sanctuary to Augustus. Other temples were erected in Berytus (Beirut), Tyre and Rhodes. In Antioch, Herod provided marble to pave the main street and build colonnades. The councillors of Elis in Greece, the city of the ancient Olympics, greeted Herod as a generous benefactor and elected him life president of the Games, a role that he personally fulfilled during his visit in 12 BCE. 

The jewel in the crown of his exclusively Jewish creative activity was the reconstruction of the Second Temple. It started in 19 BCE and was financed by him. The Western Wall of Herod's Temple still stands and is the holiest site in Judaism. The building was substantially larger and higher than the original Second Temple erected at the end of the sixth century BCE. To reassure the inhabitants of the city, Herod assembled in advance all the building materials, and hired and trained the stonemasons and carpenters. 

To allay religious worries, he associated the Jewish clergy with the project, and to please them he ordered sumptuous robes for 1,000 priests. The main sanctuary, completed in 18 months, was inaugurated in a grandiose ceremony entailing the sacrifice of 300 oxen. The Temple was one of the marvels of the ancient world. According to a Jewish saying, "He who has not seen the Temple of Herod, has not seen a beautiful building in his life." Work continued long after Herod's death and did not end until the procuratorship of Albinus in 62-64 CE, a few years before its destruction in the first rebellion against Rome in 70 CE. 

As far as the Jewish religion was concerned, the enlarged and embellished Temple added extra attractiveness to cultic worship and thus increased the number of pilgrims who came from the four corners of the ancient world to worship in Jerusalem. Just over three decades after Herod's death, Jewish pilgrims present in Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot or Pentecost included, according to the Acts of the Apostles (2:9-11), people from Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphilia, Egypt, Cyrene, Rome, Crete and Arabia. Moreover, Herod's liking for the learned Pharisees, who endorsed him when he was most in need of support, and his fondness of the Essenes, whose prophet Menachem predicted that one day Herod would become king, further contributed to the active promotion of the intellectual and spiritual life of Judaism. 

How can one explain Herod's duality? Josephus thought that the conflicting propensities arose from a single source and had a single motivation. Herod always endeavoured to please because he wanted to be admired by everyone. Josephus wrote:

Herod loved honour, and was dominated by that passion, and his magnanimity revealed itself wherever there was hope of a lasting memorial or of immediate fame.

His overriding aim was to glorify himself, and his ambition was to leave to posterity ever more imposing monuments of his reign; and this was the spur that drove him to build cities and lavish such enormous expense on the work.

There was a reverse side to Herod's open-handedness. He spent beyond his means to please his patrons and on good causes at home or abroad. 

His lavish expenditure on the recipients of his bounty made him a source of misery to the people from whom he took the money. Well aware that he was hated for the injustices...He could see no easy way to redress these wrongs...Instead he remained defiant, using the resentment (of the exploited) as an excuse to satisfy his wants.

His insecurity produced a constant longing for adulation. Any apparent questioning of his authority opened the floodgates of reprisals. So Josephus concludes:

These excesses he committed from a desire to be uniquely honoured. To support my contention that this was his overriding motive I can refer to the ways in which he gave honour to Caesar, Agrippa and his other friends. He expected to receive the same deference himself...The Jewish people, however, have been taught by their Law...to admire righteousness rather than the pursuit of glory. As a result, they incurred his displeasure, finding it impossible to flatter the king's ambition with statues, temples and marks of honour.

Josephus's reasoning may be superficially correct, but it cannot fully account for the actions of Herod that are not all reducible to self-interest. The benevolent measures he took to alleviate his subjects' misery at the time of the famine went far beyond the call of duty and with one foot in the grave he could not expect any return for his exceptional liberality towards Augustus and Julia. While one contemporary Josephus expert calls Herod an "infamous king", more perspicacious observers will retrieve his complex true self. For them, Herod is a tragic hero whose good intentions and far-reaching political wisdom come to naught because of the frightening flaws of his personality and the nefarious influence of his family. 

He strove for an undreamt-of improvement of the social, cultural and economic standards of the Jews, and longed for, but failed to harvest, gratitude and love. Seeing in Rome God's gift to mankind, and in Augustus the universal saviour, Herod tried his best to ensure the integration of his Jewish kingdom into the new world order. 

His great dream collapsed for two reasons. For the Jews, the Roman Empire was not the new creation forecast by the prophets, nor was Augustus the final redeemer. They preferred to await their own Messiah and his Kingdom of God. And the bloodbath inflicted by Herod on the respected Hasmoneans, including his wife and sons, completely offset the impact of his generosity towards the Jewish nation. 

Fate caught up with the erring tyrant and his undoing, like that of all tragic heroes, became inevitable. He expired in loneliness after a painful illness and in full knowledge of the hatred he had generated in his people. 

In 70 CE, with the end of the Jewish state and the Herodian dynasty, and after the destruction of Herod's masterpiece, the Temple, his name faded away. The Talmud, ignoring Herod's ancestry and attainments, downgrades him to the status of a "wicked slave of the Hasmonean kings", and the Nativity story of Saint Matthew has transformed him into a monster who massacred the innocent babes of Bethlehem in an effort to extinguish the budding life of Christianity's Son of God. 

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.

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TM
June 12th, 2012
12:06 PM
Vermes has too much speculation and opinion, and not enough historical reasoning. There is plenty of reason to believe the massacre of the innocents was a historical event. http://www.ldolphin.org/innocents.html

Geoffrey Hudson
February 1st, 2011
2:02 PM
The second letter of The Acts of Torah was a real slap in the face for Herod. The references to women, violence, betrayal, fornication, and perished are all words that have resonances with Herod’s family life: his many wives and their jealousies, the murder of Mariamne, the betrayals by his sons, and the putting to death of two of his sons Alexander and Antipater are a few examples. The writers (priests), were telling Herod that his acts were abominable and detestable to God, and that he should not come into his house (the Temple). They vainly declared that they had kept themselves separate from all these goings-on. They had separated themselves from the people, and thus from Herod and his family. They had washed their hands of the whole business, and their hands were clean. They believed that only they fully understood what was in the Book of Moses (the Pentateuch), and the Books of the Prophets and David, implying that Herod’s knowledge of them was inferior. Furthermore, they believed that the Book of Moses described Herod as one of those kings who would fall from the “way” (the Law) and that there would be consequences of that disobedience. There was an allusion to Herod being at the end his days, when he would recognize that some of the blessings written about king Solomon, and some of the curses written about king Jeroboam and king Zedekiah, had been repeated during his reign. Thus here was a direct comparison of Herod with previous kings, showing that a king was being addressed. And they expected that king Herod would know all about these earlier kings, and about the Law. The writer says: “Remember the kings of Israel and understand their works that each of them who feared the Torah was saved from troubles, and to those who were seekers of the Law, their iniquities were pardoned”. The priests implied that king Herod had not sought to obey the Law and that he needed to repent. Yet they recognized that Herod had observed the Law to a certain extent, but not to the standards that they set. They wrote, condescendingly: “Understand all these (matters) and ask him to straighten your counsel and put you far away of evil and the counsel of Belial. Consequently, you will rejoice at the end of time when you discover that some of our sayings are true. And it will be reckoned for you as righteousness when you perform what is right and good before Him, for your own good and for that of Israel.” I think when Herod read this, he had had enough of these priests.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 28th, 2011
2:01 PM
THE ACTS OF TORAH (3) The second letter is critical of king Herod, however you dress this up. The following is based on a translation by Vermes taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p226. Some words are Vermes’s best guesses. “And concerning the women … violence and betrayal …For in these … on account of the violence and fornication they perished … places. And furthermore it is written in the Book of Moses that you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house (cf. Deut. 7.26) for an abominable thing is detestable. And you know that we have separated from the mass of the people … and from mingling with them in these matters and from being in contact with them in these (matters). And you know that no treachery or lie or evil is found in our hands for we give for these the … And furthermore we have written to you that you should understand the Book of Moses and the Books of the Prophets and David and all the events of every age. And in the Book is written … not for you and the days of old. And furthermore it is written you will depart from the way and that evil will befall you (cf. Deut. 31.29). And it is written: And it shall come to pass when all these things befall you in the end of days, the blessing and the curse, then you will call them to mind and return to Him with all your heart and all your soul (Deut. 30:1,2) at the end of days. And it is written in the Book of Moses and in the Books of the Prophets that there shall come …and the blessings came in the days of Solomon the son of David. And the curses came in the days of Jeroboam the son of Nebat until Jerusalem and Zedekiah king of Judah were exiled that He will bring them to … And we recognize that some of the blessings and curses which are written in the Book of Moses have come. And this is the end of days when they will come back to Israel for ever … and shall not turn backwards. And the wicked shall act wickedly and … Remember the kings of Israel and understand their works that each of them who feared the Torah was saved from troubles, and to those who were seekers of the Law, their iniquities were pardoned. Remember David, that he was a man of piety, and that he was also saved from many troubles and pardoned. We have also written to you concerning some of the observances of the Law which we think are beneficial to you and your people. For we have noticed that prudence and knowledge of the Law are with you. Understand all these (matters) and ask him to straighten your counsel and put you far away of evil and the counsel of Belial. Consequently, you will rejoice at the end of time when you discover that some of our sayings are true. And it will be reckoned for you as righteousness when you perform what is right and good before Him, for your own good and for that of Israel.”

Geoffrey Hudson
January 27th, 2011
10:01 AM
THE ACTS OF TORAH (2) In the first letter, the priests who had resigned from the Temple, and had separated themselves from the people, wrote something like the following, based on a translation from Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, p193 – who have filled-in most of the text missing from the manuscript with their best guesses to make sense. The text is a series of Laws or rules, mostly about Temple practice, which the writers thought in their opinion should apply. It was an early form of Jewish rule or Law writing (halakah) – the “idiom” referred to by Milik and Golb: “These are some of our words concerning the Law of God, that is some of the works that we reckon as justifying you. All of them have to do with holy gifts and purity issues. Now concerning the offering of grain by the Gentiles, who…and they touch it…and render it impure…One is not so to eat any Gentile grain, nor is it permissible to bring it to the Temple. Concerning the sin offering which is boiled in vessels of Gentile copper, by means of which they (the priests remaining) render impure the flesh of their offerings, and further that they boil in the courtyard of the Temple and thereby pollute it (the Temple) with the soup that they make (we disagree with these practices). Concerning sacrifices by Gentiles, we say that in reality they sacrifice to the idol that seduces them; (therefore it is illicit). Further, regarding the thank offering that accompanies peace offerings, that they put aside one day for the next, we reckon that the grain offering is to be eaten with the fat and the flesh on the day that they are offered. It is incumbent upon the priests to assure that care is taken on this matter, so that the priests will not bring sin upon the people. Also, with regard to the purity of the heifer that purifies from sin: he who slaughters it and he who burns it and he who gathers its ashes and he who sprinkles the water (of purification from) sin - all of these are to be pure from the setting of the sun, so that only the pure man will be sprinkling upon the impure. The sons of Aaron must give warning in this matter… Concerning the skins of cattle and sheep…their skins vessels…One is not to bring them to the Temple.” This is about one quarter of the letter. I have given sufficient for you to get some idea of its content. These were important priests, no longer within the Temple fold, telling Herod that he wasn’t doing things correctly. If I had been Herod, I would have been enraged – my Kregel translation of Josephus has “distemper”, making out Herod was going crazy, when really it should be “temper”, a word that occurs just a little later. And we know that Herod’s temper boiled over, but it WAS NOT ABOUT the ridiculous tearing down of the “eagle”.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 26th, 2011
10:01 AM
THE ACTS OF TORAH (1) Imagine if you were king Herod and you were near life’s end. You had generally kept the Jewish Law. You had not stamped your image on coins, put up no statues of yourself, observed the Laws on diet, required the circumcision of men who wanted to marry Jewish women, obeyed the Law regarding ritual purification, reconstructed the temple and associated the priests with the project, and bought 1000 of the Jewish priests sumptuous robes, to name a few things. Then two letters (4QMMT) land on your desk from some of the priests who must have held important positions, but had resigned their responsibilities to the Temple. In effect, they told you that your Jewish ways of behaving were not up to their standards - these priests had moved the goalposts by their interpretation of Jewish Law.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 25th, 2011
11:01 AM
Vermes wrote: “The Talmud, ignoring Herod's ancestry and attainments, downgrades him to the status of a "wicked slave of the Hasmonean kings". Why does the Talmud say that? Was it because Herod switched his allegiance from the priests to the prophets towards the end of his life? It wouldn’t have been the first occasion in Jewish history that a king did that. Josephus saw himself as a Hasmonean prophet, not a priest. The Hasmoneans were linked to prophets who were not strict in applying the Law. The two “teachers” along with their “40 pupils” who took down the “golden eagle” from the “temple wall” were prophets, or rather a school or company of prophets. And of course they didn’t really take down an “eagle”. Prophets have been carefully edited out of Josephus’s writings. They have been obfuscated by the retrospective introduction of Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes who are later and not mentioned anywhere in the vast quantity of scrolls which have been buried for 2000 years. The opposition party mentioned in the scrolls “are the congregation of those who seek smooth things in Jerusalem”…”who despise the Law and do not trust in God” (Vermes). the priests who wrote most of the scrolls could not bring themselves to name them. These were prophets that the priests were writing about. Prophets are legislated for in the laws of Moses.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 24th, 2011
12:01 PM
Golb wrote (p183 of Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls): "The importance of Milik's observations about the idiom of the Acts of Torah resided in the necessary implication that the work was written during the early or middle first century A.D., before which no evidence could be found for the existence of such an idiom. Indeed Milik made use of passages FROM (capitals mine) the Acts of Torah to elucidate his discussion of a first-century A.D. documentary work in the same idiom - the Copper Scroll....The idiom appears in no written testimony before the turn of the era," Up until now I have taken the last sentence at face value, and thought that we were looking for a date post the turn of the era. Herod died in 4 B.C. So could we squeeze 4QMMT back into the end of first century B.C. just before Herod died? I don't see why we shouldn't. The two letters that form the "Dead Sea" scroll 4QMMT then begin to make sense. They were addressed to Herod himself.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 21st, 2011
4:01 PM
Vermes wrote: "In obedience to Jewish law, he did not allow his effigy to appear on coins. Nor has any statue of his survived away from home." And this: "Herod considered himself a Jew and at home he behaved as one…” He also observed Jewish dietary laws." And this: "He strictly adhered to Jewish rules governing mixed marriages and required circumcision of non-Jewish men before they were allowed to marry into his family." And this: "Some of the pools discovered in Herodian palaces served for ritual purification, according to archaeologists." And this: "The jewel in the crown of his exclusively Jewish creative activity was the reconstruction of the Second Temple." And this: "To allay religious worries, he associated the Jewish clergy with the project, and to please them he ordered sumptuous robes for 1,000 priests." "And this: "His formal adherence to the Jewish religion...." And he also wrote this: "His unpopularity reached boiling point when he sentenced to death two respected religious teachers and 40 of their pupils for destroying the golden eagle, symbol of Rome, attached to the new Temple." So why would Herod attach an eagle to the outside of the temple knowing this would break the Law and offend ALL Jews. It wouldn’t have made him very popular right from the opening of the temple. Clearly, Herod did no such thing as to put up a golden eagle on the temple wall. This story about "two teachers" and their "40 pupils" "pulling the eagle down" from the temple wall is garbled in the writings attributed to Josephus. It was a story about something else.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 20th, 2011
10:01 AM
The incident of the “shields” in Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 300 has rung a very loud bell, at least in my ears. This was really a complaint made to a king by priests about some goings-on in the temple that was against the Law, and what the Embassy to Gaius was all about. The story (if you read between the lines of propaganda) has a strong resemblance to a scroll, 4QMMT- Acts of Torah, which was a list of complaints made by one group who had separated themselves from the temple against a second group who the first group reckoned were not keeping the Law. The complaint was made to a royal person whose name just happens not to be there by virtue of the wear and tear of the scroll. Professor Norman Golb of the University of Chicago has considered for a very long time (along with others such as Joseph Milik, and Professors Robert Eisenman, and Michael Wise, see http://raphaelgolb.blogspot.com/2010/11/schiffman-golb-hudson-4qmmt-acts...) that 4QMMT was an early first century document written in a first century idiom or style. They say that the copper scroll was written in a similar first century idiom.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 19th, 2011
10:01 AM
And finally who do you think the “people” were. I mean, who would object to a certain “name” on “shields”. On p196 of The Herodian Dynasty, Kokkinos has: “For example, under Gratus (CE 15-26) the only information he (Josephus) adduces is the succession of four high priests in the space of three years. Naturally such a bare narrative gives the false impression that besides the Roman governor, the power in Judaea was monopolized by the high priesthood. Although there was an enhancement compared to Herod’s time, the ‘priestly class’ as the sole ruling class in Judaea under Rome is a myth, certainly for the period before Agrippa I. The evidence known to us shows that in political disputes with the Romans the Jewish embassies dealing with the case were ‘aristocratic’, but headed by Herodians not high priests.” So it seems as though the high priests were in the background and the real wheelers and dealers were the “Herodians”. Or, is the word “Herodian” for this period before Agrippa I, a misnomer? Have we been duped? And what were the high priests doing?

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