The Priestly Theocracy #12 (The Herods)
In 63 BC, it appeared that the Pharisees had won out, but the actual credit for saving Jerusalem from being destroyed, went to Antipater, the Idumean, the father of Herod the Great. Rome was very generous with her friends and Antipater had been mainly responsible for opening the gates to the Romans. At that time, Antipater was the power behind Hyrcanus and the Pharisees. Antipater had a clear head at a time when it was most needed. The Herods owe their rise to power to the blunderings of the Hasmoneans and the Pharisees. The Hasmoneans, themselves, were weakened when they divided into Jewish Orthodoxy and Syrian Hellenism. The Hellenized priests drove the Jewish Orthodox followers of Onias into the desert. In the desert, the Orthodox Jews became the Qumran people. The Qumran people also were destroyed by the Romans. At this time, Rome was being shaken by frequent changes among Caesars. And Judea showed a tiny flicker of hope. That hope came from Aristobulus II, and his brother Hyrcanus II.
Aristobulus had two sons, Alexander and Antigonus. On the way to Rome, Alexander escaped and mounted a rebellion against Antipater, but he was crushed by Gabinius, the Roman proconsul of Coele-Syria, in 53 BC. The following year, Aristobulus and his son Antigonus escaped from Rome. They also may have been deliberately let go while Caesar rose to power. Again, both father and son were defeated by Gabinius. Rome replaced Gabinius with Crassus. And the Parthians took advantage of the unrest in Rome and defeated Crassus at Carrhae. Rome replaced Crassus with the more ruthless Cassius. The Jews, under Pitholaus, staged a third rebellion. Unfortunately, they suffered the devastating consequences. The rebellion was crushed. In 51 BC, thousands of Jews were sold into slavery. In 49 BC, Julius Caesar took over the power by force. Julius Caesar released Aristobulus from prison with the intent to lead an army against Antipater and Pompey in Syria, who was one of Caesar’s opponents. Before Aristobulus left Rome, he was poisoned by the Pompey’s people. Aristobulus’ son, Alexander, was beheaded by Pompey’s men, in Antioch. A year later, Pompey was also assassinated. Meanwhile, Antipater cleverly began to side with Julius Caesar. Antipater became a devoted friend and servant of Caesar. He also provided valuable help to Caesar’s conquest of Egypt against Antony and Cleopatra.
Antipater had put Judea on Caesar’s friendship list. Caesar did reciprocate generously. Gabinius and Pompey had stripped Hyrcanus of his hereditary political role; and then, they divided the region into five districts. Caesar restored Hyrcanus’ position and reunited Judea. Caesar made Antipater procurator of Judea. He exempted the Jews from taxation, and he respected their customs and their laws. Furthermore, the Jews were exempt from military service. And the Roman troops were withdrawn from Judea. Even in Alexandria, the Jews enjoyed Roman privileges. Caesar was murdered by Cassius’ and Brutus’ men in 44 B.C. Antipater joined their ranks. A year later, a Jewish rival poisoned Antipater. And in 42 B.C., Mark Antony and Octavian disposed of Cassius and Brutus. Before Antipater’s death, he had his oldest son, Phasael, appointed governor over Jerusalem. And Herod was appointed governor over Galilee, as “tetrarchs.” Hyrcanus was reduced to the rank of high priest. The sons of Antipater were in command of Judea and Galilee, without Roman protection and without supervision. The Jews were not pleased with their Idumean brothers as their leaders. Unfortunately, they opened the doors to more internal strife.
In the shadow of Jewish discontent lurked Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus II, ready to regain his father’s reign. He had appealed to Caesar to no avail. Aristobulus underestimated his popularity with the common Jewish people and the strength of Herod. The first battle went to Herod and the second battle went to Antigonus. The Parthians, who had held off the Romans briefly in Syria, came to his aid and Herod fled to Rome. The Parthians made Antigonus king, and captured Herod’s brother Phasael and Hyrcanus the high priest. To avoid torture, Phasael took his own life. Unfortunately, Hyrcanus endured barbaric treatment. The senate in Rome crowned Herod as the rightful king of Judea. In 39 BC, Herod returned with Antony’s army to declared war on Antigonus. Herod dealt with the Parthians and captured Jerusalem. In the process, Herod slaughtered all his opponents, who basically came from the Hasmonean aristocratic Sadducees. Antigonus II was beheaded in Antioch. In 37 BC, Herod had secured the throne of David for himself. However, that was not the end of the Hasmoneans.
Herod was married to Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess. Herod detested being related to the Hasmoneans. His wife was the daughter of Alexander and Alexandra, and the granddaughter of Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. In a jealous rage, and not without cause or suspicion of being betrayed, Herod murdered the young high priest Aristobulus III in 35 BC, the grandfather Hyrcanus II in 30 BC, his wife Mariamne in 29 BC, and her mother, Alexandra in 28 BC. There were no Hasmoneans left to contest his title to the Jewish throne. The Herods reigned brutally from 37 BC to 70 AD (IDB. II. pp. 534-535). This was the king who ordered the slaughter of all baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem and vicinity (Matthew 2:16). His son, whom Jesus called the fox (Luke 13:32), had John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:6-11). His brother killed James the brother of John Zebedee (Acts 12:1-2). And then, there was Agrippa who with Bernice listened to Paul’s conversion (Acts 26).
During his first ten years as king, Herod the Great or Herod the First bribed the Romans to help him evict the foreign allies from profaning the temple and pillaging Jerusalem. Regarding the Jews, he exterminated his enemies and rewarded is supporters. His first official act as king was to strip the Sanhedrin of their civil powers and relegate them to their religious functions. That was the reason the Sanhedrin could not kill Jesus and Herod the fox would not do it, so Pilate was left with the task of crucifying Jesus (Luke 23:6-12). The Sanhedrin were made up of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, with the Sadducees claiming to be legates of God. The Pharisees became more prominent during and after the exile of the Jews to Babylon. Actually, they were the rebirth of the Levites in the Exodus. The Pharisees were to be the priests, the preachers, and the teachers of the law. There were to conduct and direct the religious practices and services in the temple and in the synagogues. The high priesthood was granted to Aaron and his descendants. The Levites were to live on the tenth the other tribes were to set aside for their services. The Levites were God’s chosen people and they were put in charge of all the other tribes to bless them, correct them, and settle their differences (Deuteronomy 10:8-9; 18:1-5; 21:5). Down the centuries, the Israelites neglected the Levites and both nations were deprived of their services. In the “Exile,” Ezra and Nehemiah resurrected the Levites. The Levites became the Pharisees who resumed the Mosaic Jewish Orthodoxy of isolationism and seclusionism. The Pharisees became the scribes, and the teachers of the law on whom the Sadducees and the people depended on. During Herod’s march into Jerusalem, only two Pharisee member on the Sanhedrin urged that the gates be open to admit Herod. He rewarded and severely punished the other Pharisees (IDB. V. III. pp. 775-781).
The Sadducees were the priestly branch of the Levites, which dated back to Aaron, brother of Moses (Leviticus 8). During the time of David, Abiathar represented that branch of priests. Solomon replaced Abiathar with Zadok because he had supported his brother Adonijah to succeed David as king (I Kings 1:7-8; 2:27). The name Zadok has been linked with the word “zadik,” which means “being righteous.” By the time of the Exile, the Zadokites were credited with being faithful to Yahweh (Ezekiel 48:11). During the return from the Exile under Ezra, the high priest was Jeshua son of Jozadak (Ezra 3:2). Their Zadok priesthood was altered by Mattathias, the priest who left Jerusalem and refused to Hellenize Judaism. Mattathias’ son, John Hyrcanus, assumed the high priesthood; thereafter, a party of the righteous ones, or the Sadducees, appeared. More correctly, they were called the Zadokites during John the Hammer’s (The Maccabee) time, and with Simon, his brother, they became the Hasmoneans. The Hasmoneans while they remained faithful to the traditions of their fathers, a group known as the Hasideans supported them. When the leaders of the Hasmoneans turned power hungry and they began to adopt Hellenism, the Hasideans grew into the Pharisees. Until the time of Christ, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were in constant disagreement. The fear that Jesus would disrupt or even end their religious power, caused them to unite and coerce Pilate to crucify Jesus (John 19:7). Herod had stripped the Sadducees of their political or civil power and Rome had sided with Herod (IDB. V.4. pp. 160-163).
The Sanhedrin (modern Hebrew legislative body, the Knesset), was made up of seventy-one members, similar to the British system of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Jerusalem had two lover courts of twenty-one members each. The Sadducees were the lords or the aristocratic body and the Pharisees were the commons. The one deciding vote rested with the high priest, or a president or a king. The idea of a ruling body with a head was conceived by Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law (Exodus 18). Solomon had such a council and his son Rehoboam had two: a senior body and a junior body (I Kings 12). After the Exile, Ezra and Nehemiah reinstated a Sanhedrin consisting only of priest and one scribe. Jeshua, the high priest, had the deciding vote and Zerubbabel merely gave his approval (Zechariah 4). The religious body was once more the supreme authority. When Antiochus Epiphanes sought to Hellenize the Jewish Orthodoxy, John Hyrcanus Maccabee took over both powers the civil and the religious legislation. Herod, the king, ended the Sanhedrin’s civil power. Nevertheless, he carried out the council’s wishes whenever it benefitted him. It was the council that had apprehended James, the brother of John Zebedee, but Herod had him executed (Acts 12). Rome had bestowed on Herod the power over life and death (IDB. V. IV. pp. 214-218).
The Sanhedrin had not opened the gates and did not welcomed Herod as their king. Only two Pharisees, Sames and Pollio had urged that the gates be opened. Herod dealt with the council by severely punishing them and almost disbanding them. Particular, the Sadducees, as the aristocracy, regarded Herod as an intruder into their royal heritage. After all, Herod was a proselyted Jew; therefore the Sadducees preferred to deal with the Romans rather than with Herod. When the high priest chose Caesar over Jesus as their king, he also implied the same for Herod (John 19:15). Later on when Paul came to Jerusalem, the Romans had to stop the Jews from stoning him. When the Roman captain learned that Paul was a Roman citizen, he took him to Felix in Caesarea and housed him in Herod’s palace. Felix was succeeded by Festus, who was hoping he could hand Paul over to the high priest Ananias, but Paul appealed to Caesar for justice and obligated the governor to sent him to Rome. Festus hoped that king Agrippa would take Paul off his hands, for he could have set Paul free and the Jews could have killed Paul. Agrippa did not please the high priest and his delegation and let Festus send Paul to Caesar (Acts 23-28). There is no confirmation that Paul had faced Caesar. This king Agrippa assisted the Roman Titus in the last war against the Jews and ended his life in Rome. During that time he communicated with Josephus the historian for his memoirs.
Agrippa’s grandfather, Herod the Great had begun building his family name in Judea with the help of Rome, and with the Hasmonean family. Herod I grew up in the home of Alexander. Alexandra played with their sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II and he married their sister Mariamne. But when Herod took the crown from them, they used beautiful Mariamne to compete with Cleopatra for Antony’s affection in the hope that Antony would not trust Herod. Herod was aware of their plot and used Cleopatra to gain Antony’s favor. During Herod’s absence, he had his uncle Joseph watch his wife with the instruction to kill her, should he fail to impress Antony. Cleopatra did not disappoint the handsome Herod and delivered Antony to her lover. Joseph, however, fell under Mariamne’s spell and paid with his life and so did the remaining Hasmonean family. The love circle came to an abrupt end when Herod murdered his wife, who had become a valuable informer and friend to Cleopatra. In the contest for the next emperor of Rome between Antony and Octavius (Augustus), Cleopatra’s army sided with Octavius and Antony was defeated. Before Antony was taken out of the run for Caesar, Hyrcanus II arranged with the Nabateans to unseat Herod. Cleopatra sided with Herod to war against Hyrcanus and the Nabateans. But when Herod was winning, Cleopatra had her troops turn against Herod to weaken the Jews and the Nabateans so she could take over both countries. The rise of Octavius forced Cleopatra to give up on her acquisition of Judea and Nabatea. Cleopatra ended up losing Egypt and her charm did not impress Octavius Augustus. Herod defeated the Nabateans. And Hyrcanus paid with his life as an enemy of Rome. Octavius regarded Herod’s victory as an act of friendship for Rome and he remained as king over Judea (IDB. V.2. pp. 587-589).
The Herods were not all bad. They did leave some memorable deeds in Judea. In the eyes of the Jewish historian Josephus, Herod ruptured Jewish law. That was not exactly true. Herod allowed the Jews to live and practice their law, but Herod and his family did not live by it. In fact, Herod built the Jews a temple, which became the wonder of their time. And it was not Herod who turned “the house of prayer” into “a den of robbers,” but it was the leaders of the Jews themselves (Matthew 21:13). The Apostle Paul accused his own countrymen of forcing Judaism on the Romans, but they themselves trampled on their own law (Romans 2:12-24). Being friends with Caesar Augustus, Herod secured a period of peace Judea did not have for some time. Rome needed a harbor and Herod built a city with a harbor called, “Caesarea” and a palace. He enhanced Jerusalem with a theater, an amphitheater and honored Caesar with hosting quinquennial games for Augustus’ generosity to the Jews. Herod added respect to Jerusalem by building a castle and he secured the country with more fortresses. In those days, it was the custom to honor, bless, and pray for men like Herod and Augustus (Romans 13:1-7). The sad part was that the Jewish leaders kept throwing mud into the faces of Herod and his Roman friends. They bombarded Herod for not being a legitimated king — and that there was a prediction that Herod would be replaced by another David. Herod also had been lied to by the royal visitors from the East. How was he to react against all that mud slinging? Why were they and why are we surprised that Herod turned more violent? With regard to Caesar Augustus, it was the safest time for Christ to be born and grow up to be the Savior of mankind (Galatians 4:4). Jesus did not have to live in Judea; Egypt and Galilee were also in Roman hands, were it was safe to live.
Herod’s enemies were not angels, but bitter losers who had failed their own people. The Hasmoneans fought each other and gave the Herods the edge to bring some prosperity to the country. It was not priceless for Herod to stay friends with Augustus. He sent his own children to Rome as a sign that he trusted the Emperor. These boys, Alexander and Aristobulus, were the sons of Mariamne, the Hasmonean who betrayed her husband with Joseph and with Antony. After the execution of their mother, Mariamne, these sons turned against their father. Herod restored Doris as his queen and favored her son Antipater III as his successor. The feud between these sons became intense and Herod had them executed. Herod had married another Mariamne. And her children, along with seven more wives and their children, all vied for their father’s throne. Herod’s son Philip, the son of Cleopatra, and Herod’s brother Pheroras were also eligible candidates. Antipater, the son of Doris, tried to help himself by poisoning his uncle Pheroras and his father Herod. Herod had his son Antipater arrested and executed. But during this trial, the Jews rebelled against Herod for having honored Caesar, his benefactor, by hanging a Roman eagle over the main gate in the temple. His men arrested the rebels, but the king was too weak to sentence them and he died (IDB. V. II. pp. 589-590).
In the eyes of the Jews, Herod was a false pretender who had usurped the throne of David for his own good. In the eyes of Rome, Herod gave Caesar a piece of real estate from where he could govern his eastern and southern empire. Rome had invested heavily in Jerusalem and Judea with the Herods. Rome was not about to abandon such a strategic area to discontent and rebellious Jews. To the disgust of Herod’s enemies, he gave the Jews more fame and prosperity than Solomon in all his glory. To posterity, Herod has left some ugly scenes behind, like the massacre of innocent Children in Bethlehem to protect his kingship, or the killing of people so the nation would mourn his death. Faultfinders, like Josephus and other bious historians, blame it on men like Herod, Nero; in in our time, we hang it on Hitler, Stalin, and even on Obama. The truth is that none of these eggs were planted or hatched by themselves. It was not the Herods that put nails in the coffin of Judea and blackened the eyes of Rome, that even Nero capitalized on, when he sat Rome on fire and blamed the Jews and the Christians. Hitler was not bred by the Germans but by the “Aliases,” who invaded Germany and plundered Germany after the armistice in World War I. The Jews in their generation, and we in our generation, merely reap what we have sown (Galatians 6:7-8). Even when many good people sow good seed, but neglect to protect it from growing into productive harvests, the sources of evil will inject weeds and ruin the crop (Matthew 13:24-30).
It is man’s unwillingness to accept the fact that even good people go wrong when they lose the ability to discern right from wrong or good from bad, and force their ways on others. It leads to tragic consequences, when people like the priests regarded their understanding as being their God’s will for their nation. The same principle applies to ideologists who believe that their programs can correct the world’s problems, like equalization of health and wealth. We all suffer from the illusion that God the Creator has endowed certain people with a Spirit from heaven than can detect a good spirit from a bad one, or a good deed from a bad deed (I. John 4:1-6). This may work in setting Jesus apart from all the other saviors that have come into the world; but, it by no means excuses man from learning to know for himself what is right and what is wrong. It is not a God who will give man the ability or the image or likeness of God that will help man to make good choices, but his own willingness to test what he does whether it is worth pursuing. Man learns by experience what is good and what is bad, and those that have tasted have passed on tons of information with warning signs. Yet, like Adam and Eve, man keeps on tasting until it kills him and as well as those he loves. Thus, man fails in being like a god who does not persist in temptation (Genesis 3:22). The persistence in justifying oneself, a belief, or even an ideology will bring down the propagators and their followers, and therefore the innocent end up paying for their mistakes. It is tragic when a system dies before a new one can rise from the ashes. What story would history have recorded, had Judaism accepted the man of peace and the Romans would have allowed Judae remain as a messenger of peace to the world? It was tragic that Judea had to die so that Christianity could prosper. Jesus did ride into Jerusalem as the king of peace. The public was ready for him but the Pharisees and Sadducees rejected him. Jesus made it quite clear what would happen to his rejection in The Parable of the Ten Minas and his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem:
As they heard these things, he proceeded to tell a parable, because he was near to Jerusalem, and because they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive kingly power and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them, ‘Trade with these till I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent an embassy after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, having received the kingly power, he commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by trading. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made ten pounds more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your pound has made five pounds.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Then another came saying, ‘Lord, here is your pound, which I kept laid away in a napkin; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man; you take up what you did not lay down, and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘I will condemn you out of your own mouth, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank, and at my coming I should have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the pound from him, and give it to him who has the ten pounds.’ (And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten pounds!’) ‘I tell you, that to everyone who has will more be given; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me’” (Luke 19:11-27).
As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed be the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19: 37-44).