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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. 

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jjray
January 18th, 2011
7:01 PM
A well done article. Apologize for commenting without finishing the entire piece but wanted to comment on a point at page 6. >>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. << The "misunderstanding" of Herod attacking Nabatea (the homeland of his mother) was not straightened out. The above statement is incorrect. Augustus downgraded Herod from "friend of caesar" to "subject king". It is a serious legal distinction, not just a matter of prestige. This resulted in a curtailment of Herod's power within his own kingdom in that Herod now fell under the jurisdiction of the Roman governor of the Syria province. Augustus also required Herod to appoint his eldest son Antipater coregent at this time. One other point. It's very strange that Antipater ben Herod allegedly got "impatient" and tried to poison Herod. Antipater already ruled as coregent with his father who, by all accounts, was dying and had no business living as long as he had. Herod executed Antipater five days before his own death meaning the Antipater plot came about in the very last days of Herod's long life. I suggest Herod executed Antipater for another reason--i.e., Josephus cryptically reports that Antipater's wife, the daughter of Hasmonean king Antigonus appear with him at his trial before Varus for patricide in Jerusalem. Josephus told us earlier that all the Hasmoneans were executed by Herod but now a daughter of Antigonus magically appears out of the shadows and is married to Herod's heir. Must have been a kick in the ball for old and dying king Herod to find out his heir was married to the daughter of the man who beheaded his brother Joseph, imprisoned his brother Phasaelus prompting Phasaelus to kill himself by bashing his head against the wall of his cell, and likely had a hand in the poisoning of his father Antipater. In my view, when Herod killed he did for a political reason and not out of wanton passion.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 18th, 2011
3:01 PM
Kokkinos continues: “many objections must be raised here,” referring to Goodman’s remark. Kokkinos gives a number of them (see p194-196 of The Herodian Dynasty). The third objection Kokkinos gives is: “Third no Herodian isolation should be postulated under the prefects, since the Herods would not have emerged so suddenly in vital positions some 30 years after they had effectively abandoned their public functions. In fact the prominence of members of the Herodian family in the Judaean society, despite Goodman, is on record before the time of Agrippa I. Philo expressly states that under Pontius Pilate, apart from other Herodian descendants, Herod’s ‘four sons enjoyed prestige and rank equal to that of kings’.” (Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 300). The reference in Philo was supposedly about “Pilate” wanting to dedicate some “gilt shields” to Tiberias in the “palace of Herod” in Jerusalem. The “people” had appealed to “the four sons of the ‘king’” to remonstrate with “Pilate”. The shields were supposedly inscribed with two names which the “people” said would bring about “an alteration in their national customs”. Apparently, the “people” objected to a certain “name” in whose honour they “were so placed there”, and the certain name of the person who placed them there. We are meant to assume that the honoured person was “Tiberias” and the latter was “Pilate”. This, apparently, would have altered “national customs”. Clearly, the text has been interfered with, just like Josephus’s. It doesn’t take too much imagination to realise what the “shields” were, what “name” was being honoured, who placed the “shields” there, where they were really placed, and what the "national customs" were.

Geoffrey Hudson
January 16th, 2011
11:01 AM
On p194 of The Herodian Dynasty, Kokkinos then says Goodman wrote ‘a perplexed assessment’ of the situation as follows: “Nonetheless it was to such High Priests [i.e. of doubtful background promoted by Herod] that Rome handed over power in A.D. 6. It might seem a little strange that the Romans desired these priests as rulers rather than Herod’s Idumaean associates, especially since by the fifties A.D. the relatives of Herod himself and of Herod’s close Idumaean [sic] friend Alexas…did indeed become prominent in Judean politics; it might reasonably be expected that when the province was founded such Idumaeans would already gladly have cooperated with Rome and that…the Romans would have trusted them…But Josephus does not attest any role for such men…and though it is possible that this silence arises from the historian’s comparative ignorance about the period of the first procurators, it is more than likely that they remained in political isolation on their estates in the southern part of the province until Agrippa brought them into prominence during his brief but popular reign. (Goodman 1987:42-43)”

Geoffrey Hudson
January 13th, 2011
5:01 PM
Correction to my previous post: the last sentence of Kokkinos's words should be: "Could the Romans have replaced all the people of experience, for example in local administration, with their own nominees, of which we hear nothing, or could they have filled the vacancies with a batch of unpopular priests, to which Herod had merely allowed the role of running the Temple?”

Geoffrey Hudson
January 13th, 2011
5:01 PM
SO HEROD’S GREAT KINGDOM DISAPPEARED OVERNIGHT?: Kokkinos writes (p193 of The Herodian Dynasty): “From the imposition of Roman rule in CE6 to this embassy in CE 40 (supposedly about Caligula wanting to erect his statue in the temple at Jerusalem: my words), and with the exception of Salome’s death in her household in CE 10, and a few of the building activities of Antipas and Philip in their own territories, Josephus has nothing to say about the status or even the existence of the Herodian family in Judea. However, is it possible that a royal court of such magnitude, a ruling centre for over half a century, with its established political, economic and military mechanisms, lost its well placed manpower in a spectacular overnight disintegration? Could the Romans have replaced all the people of experience, for example in local administration, with their own nominees, of whi ch we hear nothing, or could they have filled the vacancies to which Herod had merely allowed the role of running the Temple?”

Geoffrey Hudson
January 12th, 2011
9:01 PM
Vermes wrote: “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)” Agrippa 1 was the son of Aristobulus who was Herod’s son by his Hasmonean wife Mariamne. Aristobulus supposedly met his end in Samaria with his brother Alexander by being strangled on Herod’s orders. But I have reason to believe that it was only Alexander that was murdered by his father, and that Aristobulus escaped to Rome where all Hasmoneans sought refuge at one time or another, including Josephus. But lets get back to Agrippa 1. In Jewish circles, Agrippa 1 is known as Agrippa the Great, as Herod was known as Herod the Great, and I believe there was no Agrippa II (the so-called coins of Agrippa II are unreliable). Someone with a title like Agrippa the Great, must have ruled Judea a good deal longer than the period given in the writings attributed to Josephus of 37-44 AD. Why does Vermes describe Agrippa I as being more liberal than his grandfather Herod? More to the point, who did he appear more liberal to? And in what way was he more liberal? I suggest that it was the priests to whom he had the appearance of being more liberal, in the temple worship and thus more liberal in the keeping of the law. You see Agrippa 1 also had a grandmother to whom he no doubt bore a resemblance just as he did to Herod. But likeness to his grandmother (Mariamne, who Herod had murdered) wasn’t necessarily what endeared him to some Jewish people. It was the fact that Agrippa I was seen as being of Hasmonean descent, not as Herodian, and everything that went with being Hasmonean. Hasmoneans, like some Jews, and like Agrippa I, held liberal views in their understanding of Jewish law. In the words of the Scrolls, of Jerusalem origin (according to Norman Golb), the priests thought that these Jews and Agrippa I (as they had thought of some earlier Jews) were “of the congregation who seek of smooth things who despise the Law and do not trust in God” (4Q163).

Geoffrey Hudson
January 11th, 2011
9:01 PM
Vermes wrote: “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.” Vermes could guess that Josephus had access to another account that was sympathetic to Hasmoneans. But why would Josephus have need for that? Josephus was Hasmonean himself. Asamoneus was obviously in his blood, in his family history. The writings attributed to Josephus have (Life 1): “nay, further, by my mother I am of the royal blood; for the children of Asamoneus, from whom that family was derived, had both the office of the high priesthood and the dignity of a king, for a long time together. I will accordingly set down my progenitors in order.” Josephus’s bias is quite clear, and it wasn’t the towards Idumeans from which Herod the Great came. I would comment about the quotation from Life 1. Although Josephus claims descent from a priestly line, he NEVER practiced as a priest. But throughout his life, he was very interested in prophets and prophecy. Thus I reject the idea that he was claiming descent from royals. This was Flavian cover-up . The children of Asamoneous held the office of high priest and prophet "for a long time together".

Geoffrey Hudson
January 11th, 2011
10:01 AM
Avram wrote: "A wonderfully informative article." Well yes, if you want a regurgitation of the writings attributed to Josephus (shame there were no references). But methinks that there is more to the story than meets the eye, and it is not just a matter that Christians have got Herod all wrong. Here's the awkward bit for you. Unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls which have been buried for 2000 years, the works of Josephus have been extensively interfered with by Flavian historians.

Avram
January 8th, 2011
8:01 PM
Wonderfully informative article

Geoffrey Hudson
January 7th, 2011
7:01 PM
Vermes wrote: "I qualify there Matthew's account relating to the Magi and the massacre of the innocents as LEGENDARY which means that in my view those stories are not historical." He neglects to say, by implication of his view of Matthew's account, that he must also believe that the birth story of Jesus in Matthew is also legendary. Given this, he surely doesn't believe in the sole very short account of Jesus's existence in Josephus (an obvious retrospective overlay). He writes about Herod as though it was fact, without clear indication that he was writing myth? His word "legendary" is slipped-in related to "nativity plays and Christian imagination".

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