The Herodian Dynasty: Herod The Great

The Herodian Dynasty: Herod The Great

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

Neal Pollard

The Herodian dynasty actually began during the civil wars of the first century B.C., when Palestine passed from Hasmonean (a Jewish family that included the Maccabees) into Roman rule. “The name ‘Herod’ is Greek and originated with a shadowy ancestor about whom, even in antiquity, little was known. Two ancient traditions make him either a descendant of a notable Jewish family with a lineage traceable to the Babylonian exile or a slave in the temple of Apollo in the Philistine city of Ashkelon. Neither can be proved” (Achtemeier 385). For well over a century and a half, the Herods would figure prominently in the Roman government under a multitude of emperors from 67 B.C. to about 100 A.D. The first ruler of this dynasty is Antipater I, who is appointed governor of Idumaea by the Hasmoneans. The Idumaeans are forced to “convert” to the Jewish faith, making them Jews at least in name. Meanwhile, Antipater’s son, Antipater II, through military and political savvy, earned Roman citizenship for his family and positions of power for his oldest two sons, Phasael and Herod. The latter was named governor of Galilee and was ultimately known as “Herod the Great.”

“Herod the Great” is the first of this dynasty to be mentioned in Scripture. He has a long reign characterized by guile, violence, and political alliance. By the time we read about him at the birth of Jesus, he’s months from dying. He had had ten wives and borne several sons who would fight with each other before and after his death. He had won acclaim among the Romans for his grandiose building projects, including the city of Sebaste, Strato’s Tower, Caesarea Maritime, Masada, Machaerus, the Herodium in Perea, the Alexandrium, Cypros, Hyrcania, and the Herodium southeast of Bethlehem (ibid. 386-387). No doubt his greatest architectural achievement was the extravagant rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which the disciples of Jesus took such great pride in (Mark 13:1). 

This Herod is shown to be cunning (Mat. 2:7), deceitful (Mat. 2:8), violent-tempered (Mat. 2:16), and vicious (Mat. 2:16-19). Information gleaned from outside the Bible confirm these character traits. Josephus especially chronicles Herod’s depravity with reams of material about murders he committed, intrigues he entered into, and power struggles he fought (Antiquities 14-18). Blomberg observes, 

It is often observed that there are no other historical documents substantiating Herod’s “massacre of the innocents.” But given the small size of Bethlehem and the rural nature of the surrounding region, there may have been as few as twenty children involved, and the killings would have represented a relatively minor incident in Herod’s career, worthy of little notice by ancient historians who concentrated on great political and military exploits (68). 

In addition to what we read of him in Matthew 2, “many of Herod’s building projects serve as backdrops for events of the New Testament” (Winstead, n.p.). Bethlehem is near the Herodium. Gospel writers repeatedly reference his rebuilt Jerusalem temple (John 7-10). The book of Acts refers to his coastal city of Caesarea, called Caesarea Maritima (Acts 8; 21:8; 23:33)–different from Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16:13. As a living legacy to his wickedness, three of his sons disputed over what and how much territory they would rule. Augustus Caesar settled the matter by dividing the kingdom “but withholding the royal title of “king” from all of the heirs” (Garcia-Treto 378). 

The most notable thing about a man who pursued and was granted a measure of earthly greatness is the contrast between himself and the baby Jesus, “king of the Jews” (Mat. 2:2). He sought power and greatness. Jesus emptied Himself to be born in our likeness (Phil. 2:5-7). Herod sought self-preservation, but Jesus came for our preservation (1 Tim. 1:15). Herod jealousy guarded his position, but Jesus “gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). We will see the contrast between Jesus’ kingdom and the sordid legacy of King Herod, revealed in what the Bible says of his wicked descendants. 

Sources Cited

 Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. Harper’s Bible dictionary 1985 : 385. Print.

 Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992. Print. The New American Commentary.

 Garcia-Treto, Francisco O. “Herod.” Ed. Mark Allan Powell. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) 2011 : 378. Print.

 Winstead, Melton B. “Herod the Great.” Ed. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016 : n. pag. Print.

palace ruins built into the rocks in Masada, Palestine.
Herod’s Palace at Masada (Photo Credit: Kathy Pollard, July 2017)

The Gift That Jesus Gave

The Gift That Jesus Gave

Neal Pollard

Often, during this time of year, there is an emphasis placed upon the gifts brought by the magi to Jesus—“gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Mat. 2:11).  They understood how Jesus was worthy of worship (2:2,11) and celebration (2:10).  Their giving flowed from that recognition.

The book of Hebrews turns the tables and reveals the Jesus who is the gift-giver. The same Greek word used to describe the wise men’s gifts to Jesus is used twice by the writer of the epistle to talk about Jesus’ gift. He does so in the context of Jesus’ work as a High Priest, as contrasted with the gifts offered by priests under the Law of Moses. In Hebrews 5:1, the writer talks about the qualifications necessary to serve in that role—taken from among men, working on behalf of men in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sin. Chapter five deals more with His qualification to serve and offer, but the writer does deal with the gift itself later on. Later on turns out to be chapter eight. The writer uses that same word for “gifts” in Hebrews 8:3-4 to talk about what Jesus offered. His gift is contrasted with those that cannot make the worshiper “perfect in conscience” (9:9). He gave His own blood (9:10) and with it obtained eternal redemption which will “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (9:14). The writer summarizes that gift, “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10), as the gift that sanctifies us to God.

But what do we give in return? We cannot repay His priceless gift. But God presupposes that we will be motivated to give. Jesus does, referring to worship in Matthew 5:23-24. He does again, referring to the monetary gifts of the wealthy and the sacrificial (Luke 21:1-4). The Hebrews writer will use Abel as an example of faith-fueled giving (11:4). But our most generous gifts to Christ, however moved by sincere love and unwavering commitment, is but a shadow and reflection of His gift. We give Him money, honor, time, energy, heart, and everything else we can, because He is the greatest giver of all. May we take the time, every day, to honor and give freely, to the Gift-Giver!

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WORSHIPPING LIKE A WISE MAN

WORSHIPPING LIKE A WISE MAN

 

No, we do not know how many there were.

 

Neal Pollard

At the birth of Christ, some men came from the east because they knew He had been born.  Many versions refer to them as “Magi,” “…originally applied exclusively to members of a priestly caste of the Medes and Persian who had esoteric skills in interpreting dreams. However, the use of the word broadened to embrace various categories of persons who were marked out by their superior knowledge and ability, including astrologers, soothsayers, and even oriental sages” (Nolland, NIGTC, 108).  Whatever their secular aptitudes, they are memorialized as some of the greatest worshippers of Deity of any time period.  What was it about their worship that made it great and worthy of our imitation today?

First, it was planned (Mat. 2:2).  Upon seeing “His” star, the magi came to Jerusalem seeking Jesus.  Persia, which is modern-day Iran, is more than 1000 miles at its center to Jerusalem.  Given the much slower rate of travel in ancient times, these men, who might well have had a large entourage in tow, did not arrive at the place of worship haphazardly. What an example for us.  We may not have very far to travel in our cars to attend a worship service, but do we plan for it–our minds and bodies by proper rest, meditation and preparation?

Further, it was praise-filled (Mat. 2:10). The star guided them to the place where Jesus was.  The prospect of coming into Jesus’ presence caused them to rejoice “exceedingly with great joy.”  No hint of apathy, drudgery, or dread!  Apparently, there was no place they would rather have been.  What an example for us today!

Their worship was prostrated (Mat. 2:11a). “They fell to the ground and worshipped Him.”  The posture is not bound on us–as worshippers are apparently upright in other settings–but the disposition of heart that drove them to the ground is!  When we realize just who we are worshipping, it will draw our deepest reverence and praise.  Our Maker and Redeemer allows us to come into His presence to worship Him.

Finally, their worship was productive (Mat. 2:11).  It was active and involved.  They fell, worshiped, opened, and presented.  What a reminder that worship requires active participation and is not a spectator sport.  We benefit from worship, but that is derived from our full engagement and effort to honor Almighty God.

Sadly, some of what is packaged and presented as worship falls short of what we see in this text.  If we want to be truly wise, we will demonstrate the kind of heart and action modeled by the Magi.  Let us worship like wise men (and women)!