Tuesday, December 19, 2006

King Herod

All stories need a villain so of course the greatest story in history needs a standout villain and in the Nativity Story King Herod fills the role suitably. He is of course the one who tried to have the infant Jesus Christ killed: "an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him”. With reports of the birth of the "king of the Jews" he sought to kill the potential rival, including many other innocents in the effort: "he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men" (Matthew 2:16 RSV). He is also believed to have killed some of his own children from time to time, and at least one of his numerous wives and her family.

Herod was assigned a territorial rulership by the Romans, making him a "client king." His area covered from Gaza to Masada in southern Israel, north beyond Nazareth, and then a section east beyond the Golan Heights into what is today Syria. If Herod had not died while Jesus was still an infant, he certainly would have been a problem later because this is the very area that Christ lived and conducted His entire recorded ministry.

The House of Herod was a player in some other events in ancient history. Herod's father had given crucial help to Julius Caesar when he was down in Egypt, cut off from his supplies, and Caesar rewarded him handsomely for that. Herod himself shrewdly advised his friend Mark Antony to drop Cleopatra and make peace with Rome (advice he should have followed). And once Augustus emerged victorious from the civil wars, he was so impressed with young Herod that he allowed him to become one of his most trusted friends.

Of Jewish heritage Herod undertook substantial construction projects yet was nevertheless disliked by his subjects. He was considered a tyrant, taxed his subjects heavily and his allegiances seemed to rest with Rome. Herod is believed to have died at his Winter Palace in Jericho around 4 B.C., not very long (perhaps not more than a year) after Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus into Egypt.