Herod The Great: Another Snapshot Of His Treachery? -- By: Barry J. Beitzel

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 57:2 (Jun 2014)
Article: Herod The Great: Another Snapshot Of His Treachery?
Author: Barry J. Beitzel


Herod The Great:
Another Snapshot Of His Treachery?

Barry J. Beitzel*

* Barry J. Beitzel is Professor of OT and Semitic Languages, and Director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program, at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, IL 60015.

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the [Rome-appointed] king [of Judea], Magi from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he became greatly distressed” (Matt 2:1-3a). This text invites two related questions and leads to a consideration.1

The first question is this: How did Rome get to Judea? In light of the negative and even adversarial manner in which the NT rather consistently portrays Roman influence upon Palestinian life in general, the answer to this question may seem ironic. But the short and simple answer is, “By invitation.” At the death of Alexander Janneus (76 bc)—the last uncontested Hasmonean/Maccabean ruler—his two sons engaged their respective loyalist forces in civil unrest for the right of succession. It was a drawn-out and bloody affair; in the end, wearied Jewish citizens simply appealed to Rome to come, put down anarchy, and establish law and order. In response to this earnest plea, and probably also to exploit such a window of opportunity to extend the Imperium eastward, the decorated Roman general Pompey was dispatched to Jerusalem (63 bc), and Judea was easily annexed by Rome.2 Peace in Judea was short-lived, however, as little more than a decade later, Pompey and Julius Caesar (two members of the “first triumvirate”) were engaged in warfare between themselves, and Pompey met his death in Egypt (48 bc).

The second question is this: How did Herod I (the Great) come to be a Rome-appointed king of Judea? According to a well-known and oft-cited maxim of unknown origin but erroneously ascribed to Josephus, “Herod stole along to the throne like a fox, he ruled like a tiger, and he died like a dog.”3 A quite accurate assessment indeed, inasmuch as Herod did come to his throne cunningly, did rule ferociously, and did die disreputably. The starting point for this second question is once again the Maccabean monarch Alexander Janneus. During Alexander’s ...

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