Josephus, the 1st century CE Roman–Jewish historian, recorded that Herod the Great was a governor who was appointed by the Romans to rule over Judah in the Promised Land. He ruled from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC.
Although Herod renovated and expanded the second Jewish Temple, build the famous port city of Caesarea Maritima, erected seven great fortresses around the land (including the legendary Masada and Herodium), and renovated the entire city of Jerusalem, and kept peace between Jerusalem and Rome, his regime was marked with blood shed.
Herod was a murderous king. He had only boys from his ten wives. And he was constantly fearing that his sons are plotting to seize the throne. So, in an attempt to protect his reign, Herod killed three of his sons, his favorite wife, her mother, and others in his family. And when Herod’s was dying, he feared that his subjects will not mourn him. So, he commanded that all the prominent people in his kingdom be seized and put in a stadium. And he ordered his soldiers to kill them at the time of his death so that the people in his kingdom will have a reason to weep. This plan was not carried through but it only added another black mark on his public record.
But the most heinous act of Herod is recorded in the book of Matthew. When king Herod learned from the magi of the birth of the Messiah, he gave the command to kill all the male children in Bethlehem under two years old in an attempt to destroy the future “king” of the Israel (Matthew 2:16). But the Lord warned Joseph and Mary in a dream to escape to Egypt. And thus the Messiah was saved. Joseph and Mary returned to Israel only after Herod’s death.
After Herod’s death the Romans divided his kingdom among three of his sons and his sister. Extensive outbreaks of violence and riots followed Herod’s death in many cities, including Jerusalem. The thrust of these revolts caused an increased claim for Jewish freedom from Roman rule which escalated to the Great Revolt of 70 C.E
In The Jewish War, Josephus described Herod’s rule generally in appealing light, and gave him the benefit of the doubt for the crimes that he committed during his reign. However, in his later work, Jewish Antiquities, Josephus focused on the tyrannical rule that many historians have come to associate with his reign.
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