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The Story of the Herodian
Line of Rulers in Palestine

This is the story of a family of Arab Jews which allied itself with Rome and was a key player in the politics of Palestine in the first century BCE. Its most well known member was Herod, infamous for his order reported in the New Testament to kill all the babies in Bethlehem. This montrous act was part of his mental derangement of his old age. He was not always such a monster.

The story starts with Antipater, the father of Herod. Antipater was from Edom (Idumaea), the area between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba. Antipater had wealth and power but he wanted more. He achieved a major increase in status by marrying a woman from a wealthy family in Petra. Herod was born of this union in 73 BCE.

Petra was the capital of the Nabataean kingdom. The Nabataeans were a branch of Arabs profiting from the caravan trade between the South of the Arabian Peninsula and the Mediterranean region. The trade in frankincense from Arabia Felix (Yemen) was particularly lucrative.

The Alliance with Rome

When Pompey of Rome invaded Palestine in 63 BCE Antipater supported Pompey's invasion. Antipater allied his family with the rising power of Rome. The Roman leaders recognized the organizational and administrative abilities of Antipater. In 47 BCE Julius Caesar appointed Antipater procurator of Judaea and made him a citizen of Rome.

Antipater's son Herod was about 26 years of age at this time and his father made him governor of Galilee. In 43 BCE Antipater was assassinated by a political rival.

In 41 BCE Markus Antonius (Mark Antony) visited Palestine and met Herod. They became friends and Mark Antony appointed He ns, the bitter enemies of Rome from Persia, invaded Palestine and instigatged a rebellion against Rome. Herod fled to Rome. In the initial part of the flight in Judea a wagon carrying Herod's mother was overturned and she was knocked unconscious and thought to be dead. Herod was on the verge of committing suicide in grief over the loss of his mother when she revived. He later built a palace near the site of that incident.

In Rome Herod appeared before the Senate and impressed the members with his abilities and loyalty to Rome. The Senate made Herod the king of Judaea and authorized a Roman military expedition to establish Herod's rule in Judaea. Octavian became acquainted with Herod from this visit.

The Roman expedition successfully established control of Judaea and made Herod its king. By 37 BCE Herod was thoroughly in control of Judaea. The only major challenge to his authority was the Hasmoneans, a family of Jewish priests. (The Hasmoneans are often referred to as the Maccabees.) Herod and the Hasmoneans finally arranged a political pact in which Herod would marry a Hamonean princess and make her his principal wife. In return the Hasmoneans would end their opposition to his rule.

To carry through with this deal Herod had to divorce his wife Doris and send her and their son away. The Hasmonean princess was named Mariamne . Although it was a political marriage the evidence is that Herod came to deeply love Mariamne .

Herod made tour of Egypt. Cleopatra tried to seduce him and failed. Later Cleopatra tried to take revenge on Herod for his rejection of her. She induced Mark Antony to grant some of Herod's territory to her and her children. Herod remained a friend of Mark Antony despite this outrage and indignity.

In the extended battle between Octavian and Antony for control of the Roman Empire Herod continued to support Antony. After Octavian's forces finally defeaterd those of Antony and Cleopatra at Actinium in 31 BCE Herod met with Octavian and frankly confessed his support for Antony. Octavian was familiar with the talents of Herod from his visit to Rome after the uprising in Judaea and allowed Herod to remain king of Judaea. Octavian even returned to Herod's control the territories that Antony had taken away. Later Octavian gave Herod additional territory and allowed Herod to operate the copper mines on Cyprus for a half share of their profits.

Herod's Works

In the middle years of his reign Herod built temples and cities. He built the port of Caesarle Palaestinae and the city of Sebaste in Samaria, which was desolate at the time.

Herod built a great temple in Jerusalem. However he built it on the site of the Hasmonean temple so for the Hasmoneans Herod's temple building was not a mark of his piety but instead, of his sacriledge.

Herod's Old Age

In old age Herod's health and mind began to fail. His health problems probably stemmed arteriosclerosis. The problems of his mind stemmed from the anxiety of a ruler surrounded by enemies and pitfalls. He began to see even more enemies and dangers than he actually had.

To make matters even worse, members of his family began to manipulate him by preying upon his mental weaknesses. In particular, his sister Salome (not the one of the dance of seven veils, who was her granddaughter) carried out intrigues to make Herod doubt the fidelity of his wife Mariamne . Because Herod loved Mariamne he was extremely jealous.

When Salome's machinations finally convinced Herod that Mariamne had been unfaithful he killed her, his beloved wife. Herod went on to kill Mariamne 's two sons, her brother, her grandfather and her mother. Herod, however, had eight other wives and fourteen children.

Herod, with good cause, came to believe that his first born son, Antipater was scheming to poison him and replace him. Herod then had that son executed.

Herod's mental instability finally lost him the confidence of Caesar Augustus (Octavian). August remarked that it was safer to be one of Herod's swine than one of his sons.

Herod attempted suicide but that effort failed. He died of natural causes in Jericho some time late in 4 BCE. According to the New Testament three days before ' Herod died he issued the order to have all male infants in Bethlehem to forestall the emergence of a Messiah. There is no corraborating record of this atrocity but such an action was not out of character for Herod.

Herod's Progeny

Herod ruled Judea and some surrounding territories as king under the authority of Rome. Herod's will passed his kingship to his son Archelaus. Two other sons, Phillip and Antipas, were to be governors of the rest of Herod's territory. Augustus allowed Archelaus to rule Judea as an ethnarch rather than king.

However Archelaus proved to be extremely unpopular with the Jews of Judea. From his father he was an Edonite (Idumaea) and from his mother a Samaritan (Samaria) and thus the Jews of Judea consider Archelaus, like his father, to be a foreigner. After complaints concerning Archelaus' rule, he was called to Rome and put on trial. He was deprived of his rule of Judea and exiled to Gaul.

Although Hedod executed two of his sons by Mariamne , one son, Aristulus was not executed. Aristobulus had a daughter Heroias that subsequently played a major role in the politics of Judea and Palestine.

Herod's son Phillip married Herodias and they had a daughter Salome. Herodias subsequently divorced Phillip and married Phillip's half brother, Antipas. John the Baptist denounced this marriage as a violation of Mosaic Law. Herodias deeply recented this denunciation and plotted the execution of John.

Rome made Herod's son Antipas governor of some of his father's territory east of the Sea of Gailee and northern Palestine. Antipas divorced his Nabataean wife, who was the daughter of the king of the Nabataeans,. to marry his niece Herodias, who was the daugher of his brother Phillip. Both the Jews of Judea and the Nabataeans denounced this marriage as an abomination in violation of Mosaic law. When John the Baptist voiced those objections to the marriage Herodias had Antipas imprison John the Baptist. Antipas did not have John executed because he liked to listen to John's sermons and perhaps because John just might be holy.

At a birthday celebration for Antipas the daughter of Herodias by Phillip, Salome, performed such an outstanding dance that Antipas promised to grant her any wish. Herodias prompted Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Antipas could not refuse this evil wish without losing face so he did so.

Herodias also tried to discredit her brother, Agrippa I, who was a Roman governor of territory east of the Sea of Galilee. These efforts of Herodias and her husband offended the Roman Emperor Caligula and he had them banished in 39 CE.

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