Summary: Herod the Great waited for Jesus with fear and hatred.
Good morning from the Mediterranean News Network! I’m Aristarchus Vero, bureau chief for Judea, Decapolis, and all the other provinces of Roman Palestine Or, I should say, former bureau chief. My nephew Nikophoros took over a ten-day ago. It was about time, I suppose, I’ve been covering this benighted backwater for 40 years. And it does give me time to write my memoirs.
I’ve probably interviewed every major figure who’s strutted, crawled, marched or stumbled across this impossible landscape since Herod had his sons Alexander and Aristobulus executed. Of course I never told all I knew; I wanted to keep my own head on my shoulders, after all!
But they’re all dead, now, at least everyone who would actually do more than bluster and threaten. Herod Antipas, Herod’s youngest son, has as many crimes to his name as Herod, but on a much smaller scale. He’ll never be known as “the Great,” that’s for sure. Though I suppose in some ways he’s been a pretty good king, he’s kept the peace in Galilee and Perea, no easy task, and rebuilt the economy.
The latest scandal involved that prophet, the one they called the Baptizer. You may have heard of it? It’s not like there’s any shortage of these wild-eyed ranters wandering up and down the countryside, but this one had amassed a considerable following. And one of the things he did was to denounce Herod for marrying his brother Philip’s divorced wife Herodias. She was, of course, another one of that bloodthirsty brood that Herod the Great had spawned, and wasn’t about to let a challenge like that go unpunished. So she had her daughter Salome dance for one of Herod’s infamous parties, and like the besotted idiot he was he offered Salome anything she wanted as a reward for the entertainment. Being well-coached by her mother, she asked for the Baptizer’s head. Herod was backed into a corner, of course, since the offer was made publicly, and that was the end of one more prophet. A palace insider told me later, though, that Herod has never been the same after that. First, he was worried that John might be a real prophet, and second, he had been walking a tightrope between keeping Rome sweet and his Jewish subjects placated. And that has tied his hands as regards the current threat to the civic order, another rabble-rouser from the town of Nazareth in Galilee. They say Herod has bad dreams now, and has taken to long talks with the local rabbis.
His father, King Herod called The Great, was quite another kettle of fish. He reigned for over forty years, and was unquestionably one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. By that time, though, I think it was about two years before his death, he was totally paranoid. He saw conspiracies everywhere and did whatever it took to keep his power. Herod went through ten wives, and everybody is sure he had the second one, Mariamne, murdered. I suppose you can understand him, he came to power in an absolute cesspool of intrigue, Rome’s political football in the game of Empire, with accusations and assassinations the order of the day. The two sons he had executed the year I started my career were Mariamne’s sons, too, and they understandably had some mixed feelings about dear old Dad. And then Herod’s oldest son, Antipater, made a clumsy attempt to poison him and was sentenced to death after an open-and-shut trial before the governor of Syria. Ironically, the sentence was carried out only five days before Herod’s own death.
His death unleashed a series of riots that took two months for the Romans to put down.
Anyway the reason that all of this is still so interesting today is that all of these
local rulers kings, governors, tetrarchs or what have you, had a very hard time balancing between Rome’s demands and the Jewish people’s religious sensitivities. You see, Herod wasn’t really Jewish, but Idumean, and his feeble
attempt to marry into the legitimate line of Jewish kings and priests became sort of implausible after Mariamne was killed. And it got worse after her sons were killed. He kept trying to do things to win back the favor of the religious Jews, but blew it over and over again by trying at the same time to meet Rome’s demands. For instance: Herod rebuilt the Jewish temple. You have never seen a more magnificent building, even in Rome itself. The rabbis say “he who has never seen the temple pf Herod has never seen a beautiful building,” and they view its construction as an attempt to atone for having killed so many of their religious leaders during his rise to power.
And all of Palestine prospered once the big power struggles between Egypt and Rome - and within Rome itself, of course - were over. There were construction jobs going begging, and all the other little businesses thrive when men have money in their pockets; weavers and bakers and blacksmiths and fishermen were all enjoying a boom.