Scriptures

The Jews Under Rome And The Herods

Introduction

It was inevitable that Rome would rule over Palestine. Their power had increased since 147 B.C. as they added piece by piece to their territory. In the year 63 B.C. Pompey attacked the city of Jerusalem. It was besieged for three months. Twelve thousand Jews are said to have been slaughtered in the battle which followed.

Pompey, with his officers entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, which the Jews looked upon as a scandalising act. None but the High Priest had ever had access to the inner court of the Temple.

However, Pompey did not plunder the Temple. He left its costly furnishings untouched and permitted temple worship to continue by the Jews. Jerusalem was, in the words of Josephus, ‘made tributary to the Romans,’ and the last vestige of Jewish independence was removed. Judea was made a part of the Roman province of Syria.

The primary people we are concerned with during the later part of the period between the Testaments are the Herods who had such a great influence over Palestine.

HEROD THE GREAT (37 – 4 B.C.)

The title Herod the Great refers not so much to Herod’s greatness as to the fact that he was the first in a line of Herods. He did show some unusual abilities however. He was a ruthless fighter, a cunning negotiator and a subtle diplomat.

The Romans appreciated the way he subdued opposition and at the same time maintained order among the Jewish people. He was appointed governor of Galilee and quickly established himself in the entire region.

For 33 years he remained a loyal friend and ally of Rome. Later he was given the title of ‘Procurator of Judea’ with the promise that he would one day be named king. In his new position he was now in direct control of the Jewish hierarchy and people. He married into a recognized Jewish family, a granddaughter of Hyrcanus a Maccabees.

The Jews resented his presence because he represented Rome who controlled all of Palestine. Also, he was an Edomite who were descendants of Esau. They had been enemies of the Jews for many years. They lived in the territory south of the Dead Sea but had expanded northward to the area around Hebron.

At first Herod was conscious of Jewish national and religious feelings. He moved slowly on issues such as taxation and religion. Earlier he did much to improve his relationship with the Jews when he prevented the Temple from being raided and defiled by invading Romans. To assure his continued rule, he slaughtered male infants who could possibly be considered legal heirs to the throne.

His wife Mariamne also became a victim of his suspicion and brutality, as he had her murdered. His murder of Mariamne apparently haunted him. This was compounded when his two sons from that marriage, Alexander and Aristobulus, realized that their father was responsible for their mother’s death. By 7 B.C., Herod had both sons put to death. It was said, ‘It is better to be Herod’s hog than to be his son.’

The territories under Herod experienced economic and cultural growth. His business and organisational ability led to the erection of many important buildings. Greek ideas were introduced into Palestine through literature, art and athletic contests. His major building project was the Temple in Jerusalem, which according to John 2:20, took 46 years to build. From a Jewish perspective, this was his greatest achievement.

Herod became increasingly ill resulting in a struggle within his family for succession to his throne. His 10 marriages and 15 children virtually guaranteed such a struggle. One son, Antipater, poisoned Herod’s mind against two other eligible sons, Archelaus and Philip.

This resulted in his initial choice of a younger son, Antipas, as sole successor. However, he later changed his will and made Archelaus king. Antipas and Philip received lesser positions as rulers over small territories. After Herod died, his will was contested resulting in his son Archelaus becoming the ruler over Judea and Samaria with a promise by Rome to be appointed king if he proved himself as a leader.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the reign of Herod the Great. The wise men came asking, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ This aroused Herod’s jealous spirit. According to Matthew’s account, he tried to eliminate Jesus by having all male infants in the area of Bethlehem two years and younger to be put to death, Matthew 2:13-16.

His attempt failed as Joseph and Mary were warned by an angel in a dream to take their child and flee to Egypt. Here they were able to hide safely until Herod’s death.

HEROD ARCHELAUS (4 B.C. – A.D. 6)

Archelaus inherited his father’s vices without his abilities. He was responsible for much bloodshed in Judea and Samaria. His brothers Antipas and Philip did not approve of his methods and complained to Rome.

He was finally stripped of his power. He is mentioned in Matthew 2:22 where we learn that Joseph and Mary decided not to return to live in Judea. Being warned in a dream they passed through Judea to Nazareth in Galilee.

HEROD PHILIP THE TETARCH

Philip inherited the northern part of his father’s kingdom which is mentioned in Luke 3:1. He is considered as the best of Herod’s surviving sons. He was responsible for building the city of Caesarea Philippi.

HEROD ANTIPAS (4 B.C. – A.D. 39)

Antipas was the ruler over Galilee and Judea during Jesus’ life and ministry. He became infatuated with Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Philip. The two eloped together, although both were married at the time. This scandalous affair was condemned severely by John the Baptist, Matthew 14:3-4 / Mark. 6:17-20 / Luke 3:19-20.

Antipas had John arrested and imprisoned for his outspokenness. Later Antipas granted Salome, the daughter of Herodias a wish. At the urging of her mother she requested the head of John the Baptist, Matthew 14:7-12 / Mark 6:21-29.

Since he was under oath and did not want to lose face before his guests he ordered John’s execution. Because of Jesus’ popularity and miraculous powers, Antipas seems to have been haunted by the possibility that Jesus was John the Baptist who had come back from the dead. Luke says Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Upon hearing this Jesus referred to Herod as a ‘fox.’, Luke 13:31-32.

The last encounter with Jesus occurred at the trial of Jesus, Luke 23:6-12. Luke indicated that Herod could not find anything in the charges against Jesus that deserved death; so he sent Jesus back to Pilate for a final decision.

HEROD AGRIPPA I

We know this Herod for his persecution against the church, Acts 12:1-23. He was responsible for putting to death James, the brother of Jesus. He tried to kill Peter also, but an angel aided Peter in escaping from prison.

A search was made for Peter, but they could not find him. After questioning the guards, he ordered them to be executed. Later an angel of the Lord struck Agrippa down. He was eaten by worms and died.

HEROD AGRIPA II

He is the one who listened to Paul’s defence while in prison in Caesarea but found no fault in him. He had no power to set Paul free but because Paul had already appealed to Caesar there was no choice but to send Paul to Rome. See Acts 26:30-32.

Summary

Inevitable Rome would rule over Palestine. They had been expanding their kingdom since 147 B.C. In the year 63 Pompey attacked Jerusalem. Besieged it for three months. 12,000 Jews reported to have been slaughtered.

Pompey, with his officers entered the Holy of Holies of the Temple, which was looked upon as scandalising by the Jews. Only the priests had access. However, Pompey did not plunder Temple. This may due in part to the intercession of Herod.

Jerusalem was made a ‘tributary to the Romans.’ Thus, the last vestige of the Jew’s independence came to a close after 84 years which started with the Maccabees. Although free from Syrian rule Judea became a Roman province of Syria their old enemy.

It would be the Herods under the Roman Caesars who would now rule Palestine until 70 A.D. First was Herod the Great. He was one of four sons of Antipater. Began at age 25. He circulated his family descended from an illustrious Babylonian Jew, which was false.

He was a ruthless fighter, cunning negotiator and subtle diplomat. The Romans liked him because of his ability to subdue the Jews and maintain control of the Jews. He also raised tribute money for the Romans. For 33 years he remained a loyal supporter of Rome. At first he was appointed to rule Galilee then later named ‘Procurator of Judea.’

Later he was given the title, ‘King of Judea.’ Jews hated him because he represented Rome. He was an Edomite, a descendent of Esau. He married a descendent of the Maccabee family.

He moved slowly on taxation and religion and did not attempt to force Hellenism on the Jews although he imported some of its symbols – Hippodrome, Gym and Amphitheatre. Some pagan temples were brought in. Hellenism was introduced through literature, art and athletic contests. He robbed David’s tomb of its treasures for Romans.

He formed a party known as the Herodians. To gain the favour the Jews he began the enlargement and beautifying of the Temple Zerubbabel had built when the Jews returned from Babylon. He attempted to out do the one Salomon built making it more magnificent. Construction began around 20 B.C. and was under construction 46 years.

The territories under Herod experienced economic and cultural growth. His business and organisational ability led to the erection of many important buildings including an elaborate Harbor in Caesarea, a fortress at Masada. He became increasingly ill resulting in a struggle within his family for succession to his throne. His 10 marriages and 15 children guaranteed such a struggle.

His insane jealousy is demonstrated in many ways. He appointed 17 year old brother-in-law Aristobulus III as High Priest for fear Jews might make him King of the Jews. Later he had him drowned at a party. Also executed a brother-in-law Kestobar. His vengeance turned the love of Mariamne into bitter hatred toward him.

He became suspicious of his wife Mariamni and planned to murder her. She stopped sleeping with him. He put her on trial on the charge of adultery. Her sister Salomel testified against her. Even her mother incriminated her. She probably did this because she was next on his list to be killed. Later she declared herself Queen saying Herod was insane. It backfired on her as he had her executed.

Later he had the two sons of Mariamni; Alexander and Aristobulus put to death who had learned Herod had their mother murdered. He felt they were a threat to his life. Obviously he had deep depression and was paranoid. He had an incurable and loathsome disease. His temper became more irritable as his malady became worse. Toward end of his life fearing no one would mourn for him at his death he assembled a group of nobles at Jericho to be executed at his death so there be mourning.

He died at the end of March or early April 4 B.C. during the 37th year of his reign. It is said he died a painful death. His tomb has been discovered recently in Jerusalem thus proving he is a historical figure of history and not just a fictitious person

He is best known to us in his attempt to have Jesus killed. Born in Bethlehem wise men came asking ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ This aroused his jealous spirit. According to Matthew’s account, he tried to eliminate Jesus by having all infant in the area two year and younger to be put to death, Matthew 2:13-16. His attempt failed. Being a small village probably no more than 20 children would have been killed.

Archelaus inherited his father’s position. He is mentioned in Matthew 2:22 where we learn Joseph and Mary decided not to return to live in Judea. His brother Antipas and Philip did not approve his methods and complained to Rome. He was stripped of his power.

Herod Philip the Tetarch inherited the northern part of his father’s kingdom who is mentioned in Luke 3:1. He is considered the best of Herod’s surviving sons. Built the city of Caesarea Philippi.

Herod Antipas became ruler over Galilee and Perea during life of Jesus. Became infatuated with Herodias, the wife of his half-bother, Philip. They eloped although both were married at the time. They were condemned severely by John the Baptist. Antipas had John arrested and imprisoned and later had him beheaded at the request of Salome, who was prodded by her mother Herodias.

Later he was haunted by the possibility that Jesus was John the Baptist who had come back from the dead. He was sent by Pilate for questioning but found nothing deserving death.

Herod Agrippa brought persecution against the church, Acts 12:1-23. He was responsible for putting to death James, the brother of Jesus. Tried to kill Peter but aided by angel Peter escaped.

Herod Agrippa II is the one who listened to Paul’s defence while in prison in Caesarea but found no fault in him. With the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Herod family would fade out.

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Ephesians 2:10

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