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HEROD THE GREAT:

AN ARABIC KING OF ISRAEL

 

Herod the Great, who reigned over Palestine from 37 to 4 B.C., is famous as he was accused to have achieved the presumed massacre of the innocents. The only prosecutor was the evangelist Mattew (2.1-18).

Even ignoring the objections referring to the year and the place of birth of Jesus, we can assert that:

- Herod had not the authority to sentence death without the approval of the Sanhedrim and in some important cases without the explicit approval of the Romans.

- If Herod had issued such an order Rome would have stopped him, if not for humaneness, certainly to avoid breaches of the peace.

Herod was a great king, enemy of the Hebraic religious integralisme, continuator of the work of Alexander the Great: a common culture for the West and the East without ethnic or religious distinctions. For this vision of him and for his Arabic origin he was slandered by the Jewish tradition that transformed him in a bloodthirsty monster. The first Christians, culturally Hebrew, continued this tradition.

Locality: Palestine

Age: 73-4 B.C.

 

The origins

Herod the Great was born about 73 B.C. by Idumean father, Antipater, and by an Arabic mother, Cyprus, indigenous of Petra, capital of the Nabataeans. Idumaea, a region between the reign of Judah and the desert of the Negev, had been conquered by the Hebrews and its inhabitants were converted forcedly to Hebraism at the times of the asmonean king Jhon Hyrcanus (135-104 B.C.), approximately fifty years before.

Herod had three brothers (Joseph, Fasael, Ferora) and one sister, SalomŤ.

Antipater: the father

Herod's father, an Idumean nobleman, was councellor of the king Hyrcanus II. Hyrcanus, of the dynasty of the asmonean, had come to the throne in 67 B.C. at the death of his mother Alessandra. The younger brother Aristobulos had begun a civil war in order to get hold of the throne, succeeding to drive Hyrcanus out of Jerusalem. Then Hyrcanus had asked help to Arab Nabateans and to Pompeius the Great.

In the 63 B.C. Pompeius freed Jerusalem, gave the throne back to Hyrcanus and sent to Rome Aristobulos and his sons.

Antipater, who at the time of Queen Alexandra had been governor of the native Idumaea, immediately took the part of Hyrcanus and it helped him in his relationship with the Romans. He was friend of Pompeius and at the right moment of Cesar, who named him epitropos of the Judah, a title not official but that recognized to the Idumean one an authority deriving from the Romans.

The beginnings of Herod

In 47 B.C. Antipater named Herod governor of the Galilee and Fasael, his brother, governor of Jerusalem.

Herod manifested himself decided in fighting marauders and put Ezechia and his band to death. The Sanhedrim, dominated by the conservatives, did not appreciate of having been supplanted in death sentences and put Herod under accusation . Sextus Caesar, the Roman governor of Syria, defended Herod and entrusted him with an important task, perhaps he named him governor of Coele Syria and Samaria.

The Roman civil war

In 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was killed and Cassius Longinus, one of the conspirators, went to Syria in order to collect troops and money for the civil war.

Antipater and Herod sided with Cassius. Herod saw his powers widened and had at his disposal a fleet and an army.

In 43 B.C. Antipater was killed by Malico, exponent of the conservative antiroman opposition. Malico was killed at Tyre by a group of Romans, perhaps pushed by Herod.

Herod and Marc Antony

In the autumn of 42 B.C. Antony and Octavianus defeated Brutus and Cassius, who killed themselves. Herod, really skillful, ran to Ephesus to the winner and obtained his friendship, in addition to the title of tetrarch, that was given to Fasael too.

Antigonus and the Parthians

In the 40 B.C. Antigonus, the son of Aristobulos, younger brother of Hyrcanus, formed an alliance with the Parthians who invaded Palestine and removed Hyrcanus from the throne, to whom ears were cut. Hyrcanus, due to his impairment could have claimed the throne no more. Fasael was captured and killed while he was dealing with the Parthians.

Herod escaped in the fortress of Masada. Then, entrusted the defense to his brother Joseph, he went towards Petra, but the king of the Nabateans Malco did not want to receive him. Then Herod went to Egypt at Cleopatra, then to Rhodes, to Brindisi and finally to Rome at Antony.

King without reign

At the end of 40 B.C. Antony convinced the Roman Senate to name Herod king of Judah, allied and friend of the Roman people.

In the spring of 39 B.C. Herod disembarked at Ptolemais (Acco, Acri) on the coast of high Galilee. It gathered an army, freed his brother Joseph besieged at Masada and began the fight against Antigonus.

In February of 37 B.C. he began to besiege Jerusalem. After five months, with the aid of the Roman troops of Sosius, he entered the city. The Romans took Antigonus, who later was made killed by Antony. Herod had his reign.

The land to the peasants

To the peasants without land Herod gave in rent immense portions of his lands with the obligation to cultivate them. He reclaimed lands, made canalizations for the irrigation, helped the constitution of model farms . He yielded cleared lands to the peasants who had lost their land. Herod's agricultural politics had great succes and Octavianus gave to Herod other regions outside his reign.

Expropriation of the noble ones

Herod found lands and the resources in order to value them, expropriating the aristocracy that had supported Antigonus and taking control of all the assets of the Asmoneans.

Herod in transactions

Herod earned a lot renting from Cleopatra cultivations of balsamina, used for the preparation of ointments, incenses, cosmetics.

He exploited the deposits of asphalt of the Dead Sea.

He carried out, like his father, activity of banking type lend money to principles and kings.

In 12 B.C. he rented from Augustus the copper mines of Cyprus.

The constructions

Herod built palaces and castles of Jerusalem, Jericho, Sepphoris in Galilee, Bethrampta in Perea, of Ascalona, the Herodion, the fortress of Hyrcania. he made many works in order to render the fortress of Masada safer.

He founded the city of Antipatrides, today Ras el' ain, and of Fasaelides, today Chirbet fas'il.

He constructed sports centers, theatres, aqueducts, roads, ports.

In 27 B.C. he began the reconstruction of Samaria, called Sebaste.

In 22 B.C. he began the reconstruction of Caesarea and of its port, inaugurated in 9 B.C.

Towards 20 B.C. it began the reconstruction of the temple of Jerusalem, inaugurated in 10 B.C.

The public order

He fought against the marauders of the desert. He exterminated the gangs that wandered about in the frontier regions. He held the Arabs who were beyond the Jordan at bay.

Friend of Octavianus

Antony was defeated by Octavianus at Actium the 2 September of 31 B.C. Herod readily helped the governor of Syria engaged in repressing a putsch of followers of Antony. Then he went to Rhodes in order to meet Octavianus and to put himself at his service. He obtained the confirmation of his reign and had back the lands that Cleopatra had taken. Moreover Samaria , the cities of Ippo and Gadara, and some coastal cities were entrusted to him. The guard of Cleopatra, constituted by 400 Galatians, became his personal guard.

Herod changed the name of Samaria in Sebaste, sebastÚs in Greek means Augustus.

Shows

Making to horrify the conservative Hebrew he promoted athletic shows and circensian games. Beginning from 28 B.C. he introduced the quinquennial games, like the Olympic games.

Protector of Hebrews of Diaspora

The Hebrews of the Ionia had demanded to the Romans of being exempted from the military service, of considering to all the effects festive the saturday and therefore not to be cited in judgment in such day, of not being forced to assume expensive public office, etc. Herod in 14 B.C. addressed his friend Agrippa and succeeded to obtain what the Hebrews asked.

Difficult relationships with the Pharisees

In 6 B.C. he proceeded against the Pharisees who had vaticinated that, with the birth of the Messiah, the reign of Herod would come to the end.

In 4 B.C. some young people, pushed by the Pharisees, pulled down the Eagle that Herod had placed at the entrance of the temple of Jerusalem. He immediately ordered that they were arrested and condemned.

Death of Herod

At the end of March or at the first days of April of 4 B.C. Herod died after a long disease .

 

Bibliographical references:

Firpo G.

Le rivolte giudaiche

Laterza

Prause G.

Erode il Grande

Rusconi
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