Summary: The slaughter of the innocents was a dreadful historic moment but how did Herod see it?
According to Herod
Lord, direct me in my speaking that those who hear may learn more of your love for us and your expectations of us. Amen.
It’s not easy being a King; let me tell you! After more than 30 years of constant challenge to my authority as the King of the Jews, let alone what it cost me to gain the throne, you would think I might be granted some respite in my old age. But no, only yesterday three Magi, each with their own entourage turned up at the Palace saying they had come to worship the newly born King of the Jews. If they hadn’t been so convincing about the signs that pointed to this new threat to my position, I would have had them thrown out of Judaea for failing to acknowledge me, the true King.
Let me introduce myself; I am Herod the Great and I have ruled this land and its Jewish people for 34 years. They are an ungrateful lot who are always finding reasons to disagree with me on some legal point even after I spent eight years restoring their Temple in Jerusalem to its current splendour. As I’m sure you know there is a proverb, widely used, that says, “He who has not seen Herod’s building has never seen anything beautiful”.
My father, Antipater the Idumean would, I am sure, be proud of what I have achieved. I learned a great deal from him, not least of which was how to ensure that the Romans were appeased and kept onside. I was just 11 years old when the Romans, under the command of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (or Pompey as he was better known) took over Judea and made my father the Procurator and put him in charge of the Romans interest. My father always looked after his family and when I was 25 he made me Prefect of Galilee; my first senior post.
As I’m sure I mentioned I am the King of the Jews and a practising Jew but that; but those wretched Pharisees have never accepted me as a real Jew because I come from Idumea, so it was no surprise when, as Prefect, they objected to me executing a band of fanatics who had been attacking towns in Galilee. Their high priest Hyrcanus, a truly weak leader, accepted the claim of the Sanhedrin that only they had the right to try, and pass sentence of death on, those fanatics. I was arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin to account for my behaviour. You should have seen their faces when I turned up attended by a squad of my personal guards wearing purple instead of the customary black the accused was expected to wear.
As I said you should not underestimate the importance of keeping in with the Romans; who, by the way had been rather pleased about the way I dealt with the fanatics. When I handed over a letter from Sextus Caesar threatening the high priest Hyrcanus with dire consequences if any harm became me, they quickly changed their minds and I was released. I imagine that you are wondering what happened with those three Magi I spoke about earlier; and I will get back to that when I have given you a chance to understand a little better what is required from someone like me if I am to retain my authority.
I am sure that you will have heard about the murder of Julius Caesar in Rome 38 years ago in a conspiracy led by Cassius and Brutus. I can tell you it caused turmoil in the Roman Empire and lead to the assassination of my friend and protector, Sextus Caesar, within a year of Julius Caesar’s death. Fortunately I was able to gain the friendship of Cassius, who by then was governor of Syria, by taxing a hundred talents of silver from the Jews to contribute to his war chest. Money is so important to people in power and Cassius was no different; why, he even helped me to avenge the poisoning of my father by tricking the poisoner, Malich, into returning to Judaea so I could have him killed.
It was around that time that I married my beautiful second wife, Mariamne, who gave me my second and third sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. I did love those boys; they were my favourites; much preferred to my first son Antipater II. That’s why I sent them to Rome to be educated at the Imperial Court and to live in the household of Augustus himself while Antipater and his mother Doris were exiled.
I had another eight wives after Mariamne, but she was undoubtedly my favourite. You cannot imagine the guilt I suffered when I had to have her executed when the boys were not yet teenagers, following an accusation of adultery while I was away in Rhodes. I am not even sure now whether the accusation was true but you must understand the importance of maintaining my credibility as King. I certainly felt no guilt when I had Mariamne’s mother Alexandra executed a year later.