--by Rev G. F. Maclear, D.D.
Antipater appointed his eldest son, Phasael, Governor of Judea, and conferred the tetrarchy of Galilee on his youngst son, Herod. Herod, soon began to display uncommon abilities and the most unbounded ambition. Though only twenty-five years of age, the new governor of Galilee turned his energies at once to the efficient management of his province. Numerous robber-bands, which infested the confines of Syria, were resolutely attacked; their chief, Hezekias, was put to death, and security was restored. Such decision won the praises of multitudes in the towns and cities of Syria.
Two years later, B.C.44, Caesar was assassinated at Rome, and Antipater addressed himself to the task of meeting the new situation, unexpected even by his sagacity. Cassius, the chief conspirator in the murder of Caesar, became pro-consul of Syria, and arriving in Judea, enforced upon the country the enormous tribute of seven hundred talents of silver. Antipater commissioned Herod to collect the quota from Galilee, while Malichus, a powerful Jew, and an adherent of Hyrcanus, was directed to obtain the rest. Herod, with characteristic energy, employed himself in raising two hundred talents for Galilee, and so gained the favour of Cassius, while the people of Lydda, Gophna, and Emmaus, being backward in their contributions, were sold into slavery; but so incensed was the pro-consul at Malichus for his dilatoriness, that he would have put him to death, had it not been for the intervention of Antipater, who advanced one hundred talents on his account. Herod was now confirmed in the government of Coele-Syria, and Cassius even promised him the kingdom of Judea, if the arms of the Republic proved triumphant.
An unexpected power appeared in the country, and Judea became the victim of the strife for empire between Rome and Parthia. While Antonius was wasting his time in the society of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, the Parthians, under Pacorus, having been bribed by Antigonus, advanced through Syria, and made themselves masters of Sidon, Ptolemais, and all the coast except Tyre. Hence, a division of the Parthian forces marched against Jerusalem, and their leader, admitted within the walls, proposed to act as umpire between the rival claimants for the throne of Judea.
Meanwhile the Parthians had obtained possession of Jerusalem. Antigonus was made king, and Hyrcanus and Phasael were delivered into his power. The latter, knowing his death was certain, beat out his brains against the walls of his prison. Thus Jerusalem was left in the hands of a foreign army, who committed the greatest excesses.
Herod in the meantime had not been idle. On arriving at Rome he found Antonius at the summit of power. The triumvir received him with the utmost distinction, and introduced him to Octavius, who at once recalled the services which the Idumean had rendered to the great Julius. A Parthian campaign was at this time being diligently planned by Antonius, and he found in Herod a useful ally. Within seven days, therefore, he procured a decree of the senate, nominating him king of Judea, and Herod, successful beyond his most sanguine hopes, walked in procession between Octavius and Antonius, preceded by the consuls and other magistrates, to the Capitol, where the usual sacrifices were offered, and the decree investing him with royal power was enrolled.
Herod did not remain long at Rome. Everything depended on the celerity of his movements. The close of the week, therefore, saw him appointed king, and hurrying to Brundusium. Thence he took ship for Ptolemais, and arrived there after an absence of barely three months. Collecting a body of troops, he speedily won over all Galilee, where the recollection of his energy as governor was still fresh. Then he set out to attack Antigonus, who had unsuccessfully laid siege to Masada, in the hope of obtaining possession of Mariamne. Joppa next fell into his hands; and having raised the siege of Masada, and liberated his relatives, he proceeded, in conjunction with the Roman general Silo, to lay siege to Jerusalem, B.C. 37, and recommenced the siege, aided by Sosius, at the head of 50,000 troops.
But his progress was still slow. Forty days were spent in taking the first wall, fifteen in taking the second. Then the outer court of the Temple and the lower city were reduced. At last the signal for the assault was given, and an indiscriminate massacre ensued. Multitudes were cut down in the narrow streets, many more while crowded together in their houses. The fury of the legions was roused, and the massacre was only stayed by the repeated solicitations of Herod, who stood with a drawn sword before the entrance of the Holy of Holies, and threatened to cut down any one of the Roman soldiers who attempted to enter.
Herod had now attained the highest object of his ambition. By Roman aid, and under the influence of Roman supremacy, he had become sole ruler of Palestine, and he maintained his power unchallenged until his death. The eventful year, B.C. 31, was drawing on. The rival potentates of Judaea and Egypt had long been watching and fencing with each other, when the battle of Actium ended all their intrigues, and both found themselves obliged to petition for existence from the conqueror. Herod had raised a body of troops to assist Antonius, but the designs of Cleopatra had involved him in a war with Malchus, an Arabian prince. In the first campaign he had been signally defeated, owing to the unwillingness of the Jews to undertake a war against a nation with whom they had no quarrel. But in the spring of B.C. 31, a sudden earthquake convulsed the cities of southern Palestine, and the Arabs, taking advantage of the consternation slew the Jewish ambassadors who had come to treat for peace. The news of their barbarity roused the whole people, and enabled Herod to win a decisive victory over his foes at Philadelphia, and to gain something like popular favour from his subjects. Thus, successful beyond all his expectations, Herod returned to Jerusalem with greater power secured to him than he had ever enjoyed before.
Herod’s return to his capital was the signal for fresh cruelties. The secret orders entrusted to the guardian of Mariamne had been a second time divulged; she persisted in refusing the monarch’s affection, and reproached him bitterly with his cruelty towards her family. At length, carried away by rage and jealousy, Herod executed not only Mariamne’s guardian, Soemus, but his queen herself. Mariamne submitted to the axe of the executioner with calmness and intrepidity, B.C. 29, and showed herself in death worthy of the noble race of which she came. The horrible reality of the deed, and a sense of his own loss, wrung his spirit to madness. It was long before he recovered fully from the mental derangement which came on.
By the tribute he paid to Rome year by year he acknowledged the tenure on which he held his power. He filled Jerusalem with edifices built in the Greek taste. He inaugurated public exhibitions, and spectacles of all kinds. A theatre rose within, an amphitheatre without, the walls of Jerusalem. Quinquennial games were celebrated on a scale of the utmost magnificence. Shows of gladiators and combats of wild beasts were exhibited within the City of David itself.
He had already built two castles in the southern part of Jerusalem, erected a palace on the impregnable hill of Sion, restored and enlarged the Baris, and called it Antonia, in memory of his former patron. He now converted other places into strong fortresses. South-western Galilee needed a defence against Phoenicia, and his kingdom required a naval harbor and a maritime city. Thirty miles south of Mount Carmel a convenient point offered itself for the latter purpose, at a spot called Strato’s Tower. This he converted into a magnificent city, called Caesarea, with a harbor equal in size to the Piraeus at Athens. West of Mount Tabor he built Gabatha; east of the Jordan he fortified the ancient Heshbon; while Samaria, which had been destroyed by John Hyrcanus, rose once more from its ruins, not only considerably increased, but also adorned with a new and magnificent temple, and called Sebaste or Augusta, in honour of the Roman Emperor.
While thus rebuilding the ruined cities of his kingdom, Herod repeatedly endeavoured, by acts of munificence and liberality, to conciliate the good-will of his subjects. Thus, when in B.C. 24, the crops in Palestine failed for the second time, he not only opened his own private stores, but sent to Petronius, the Roman governor of Egypt, a personal friend, and obtained permission to export corn from that country, with which he not only supplied the wants of his own people, but was even able to send seed into Syria. In this way, and by remitting more than once a great part of the heavy taxation, he earned for himself general gratitude, both from his heathen and Jewish subjects.
At length he resolved to take a step which should ingratiate himself with all classes. He determined to rival Solomon, and rebuild the Temple. Since the restoration of the second Temple by Zorobabel, that structure had fallen in many places into ruin, and had suffered much during the recent wars. He announced his intention, about the year B.C. 20, on the occasion of the Feast of the Passover. But his proposition roused the greatest mistrust, and he found himself obliged to proceed with the utmost caution, and to use every means to allay suspicion. Two years were spent in bringing together the materials, and vast preparations were made before a single stone of the old building was touched. At last, in the year B.C. 18, the foundations of the Temple of Zorobabel were removed, and on those laid centuries before by Solomon, the new pile arose, built of hard white stones of enormous size. Eighteen months were spent in building the Porch, the Holy Place, and the Holy of Holies. Eight years more elapsed before the courts and cloisters and other extensive and splendid buildings around the sacred structure were completed.
On the highest level of the rocky platform of Moriah rose the Naos, or Temple proper, erected solely by priestly hands, divided, as in the days of Solomon, into a Holy Place and a Holy of Holies by a veil or curtain of the finest work. “No figures, no sculpture, as in Persian and Egyptian temples, adorned the front. Golden vines and clusters of grapes, the typical plant and fruit of Israel, ran along the wall; and the greater and lesser lights of heaven were wrought into the texture of the veil. The whole façade was covered with plates of gold, which; when the sun shone upon them in the early day, sent back his rays with an added glory so great that gazers standing on Olivet had to shade their eyes when turning towards the Temple mount.”
The pavement was inlaid with marble of many colours. The most beautiful gateways led into this court, of great height, and ornamented with the utmost skill. One of these, on the eastern side, looking towards the Mount of Olives, was known as “Solomon’s Porch;” close by it was another, the pride of the Temple area, as one writer says, “more like the gopura of an Indian temple than anything we are acquainted with in architecture.” This in all probability, was the one called the “Beautiful Gate” in the New Testament.
The Sanctuary was completed in the year B.C 16, the anniversary of Herod’s inauguration, and was celebrated with a magnificent feast and the most lavish sacrifices. Immediately afterwards Herod undertook a journey to Rome to fetch home his two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. He was received with every mark of attention by Augustus, and returned to his capital about the spring of B.C 15. Agrippa was now on a visit to Asia, to inspect these provinces of the empire for his master. Herod thereupon invited him to visit Judaea. Agrippa consented, and escorted by Herod, passed through his new cities of Sebaste and Caesarea.
Returning from Asia Minor, B.C. 14, Herod landed at his new port of Caesarea, and proceeding to Jerusalem, recounted the privileges he had secured for the nation, and remitted a fourth of the year’s tribute. It might have been hoped that the close of his reign would make some atonement for the atrocities of earlier years; but a scene of bloodshed was now to be enacted far more awful than any which had darkened his reign, as if to show that the “spirit of the injured Mariamne hovered over Herod’s devoted house, and, involving the innocent as well as the guilty in the common ruin, designated the dwelling of her murderous husband as the perpetual scene of misery and bloodshed.”
On the return of the young princes, Alexander and Aristobulus, they were received by the populace with the utmost enthusiasm, in spite of their education in a foreign land. Their grace and beauty, their engaging manners, above all their descent from the ancient Asmonean line, made them objects of hope and joy on the part of the nation. But the keenest hatred of Pheroras and Salome was now aroused, and they began to whisper into Herod’s ear that the young men were bent on avenging their mother’s death. The king had given them in marriage, Alexander to Galphyra, the daughter of Archelaus, king of Cappadocia; Aristobulus to Mariamne, a daughter of Salome. Proud of the popularity his sons had acquired, Herod for some time refused to attach any credence to these vile insinuations. At length he adopted an expedient which led to the most disastrous results. By an earlier wife, named Doris, he had a son Antipater. After his alliance with the Asmonean princess he had put Doris away. Now he recalled her and her son, and made the young man a sort of spy over his two step-brothers. Cunning, ambitious, and unscrupulous, Antipater threw himself heart and soul into all the plots of Pheroras and Salome, and continued to make the two princes objects of more and more suspicion to their father.
The arrival at Jerusalem of Archelaus, king of Cappadocia, and father-in-law of Alexander, caused a temporary lull. This monarch succeeded in reinstating the young prince in his father’s favour; but the reconciliation was only on the surface. His brother Pheroras, Salome, and, worst of all, Antipater, again filled Herod’s mind with apprehensions and suspicions, and he determined once more to seek the advice of Augustus. Accordingly he set out for Rome in B.C. 8, and preferred his complaints against his sons before the emperor. Augustus advised that he should hold a court of arbitration, and recommended Berytus, in Phoenicia, as the place of meeting. There one hundred and fifty princes therefore assembled together, with Saturninus and Volumnius, the prefects of Syria. Before this tribunal Herod laid his complaints, pleaded his cause, and publicly accused his sons. After hearing the charge Saturninus advised that mercy should be extended towards the young men; Volumnius and the majority urged their condemnation, and eventually they were strangled at Samaria, at the very same place where their father had celebrated his marriage with their mother.
But the execution of those unfortunate princes did but little towards removing the elements of discord in Herod’s household. Repeated dissensions had arisen between him and his brother Pheroras, who was at length ordered to retire to his own tetrarchy of Peraea. There he sickened and died, and his widow was accused of having poisoned him. The investigation that ensued revealed a new and still more formidable conspiracy, which Antipater and Pheroras had formed against Herod’s life. Antipater was absent at Rome, but he was allowed to return to Caesarea, and on reaching Jerusalem was instantly seized, and brought to trial before the Roman governor of Syria, Quintilius Varus. The charge was proved, and he was condemned to death, but his execution was respited till the will of the emperor could be ascertained.
Herod was now upwards of seventy years of age, and already felt the approach of his last mortal malady. Removing for change of air to Jericho, he resolved to make the final alterations in his will. Passing over Archelaus and Philip, whom Antipater had accused of treachery, he nominated Antipas, a son by Malthace, a Samaritan, his successor in the kingdom; and left magnificent bequests to Caesar, to Caesar’s wife Julia, to her sons, and to the members of his own family.
Before Herod left for Jericho, and while he was still residing in the magnificent palace he had built on Zion, his fears and suspicions were still further increased by the visit to his capital of certain magi from the East, bearing the strange intelligence that they had seen in the East the star of a new-born King of the Jews, and had come to worship Him.
The inquiry respecting an hereditary King of the Jews roused the alarm of the Idumean tyrant, and, hastily convening an assembly of the chief priests and scribes, he inquired where, according to their prophetical books, the long-expected Messiah was to be born. Without any hesitation they pointed to the words of the prophet Micah, which declared that Bethlehem, in Judaea, was the favoured spot. Concealing his wicked intentions, the monarch therefore bade the magi repair to Bethlehem bidding them let him know as soon as they had found the young child, that he, too, might come and do Him reverence.
Thus advised, the magi set out, and at Bethlehem they found “the young Child, and Mary his Mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him.” For true it was that while Herod’s blood-stained reign was drawing near its close, and when, after a life of tyranny and usurpation, he was sinking “into the jealous decrepitude of his savage old age,” a lowly Virgin had at Bethlehem brought “forth her first-born Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger.” The advent of this true King of kings, “in great humility,” had moved all heaven to its centre; and while Herod’s palaces were the scenes of jealousies, suspicion, and murders, and his subjects were groaning under the yoke of his iron rule, the heavenly song had floated over the hills of Bethlehem, and shepherds keeping watch over their flocks had heard the words, breaking the stillness of the night, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
After they had offered their homage and their gifts to the heavenly Child, the magi would naturally have returned to Herod; but warned of God in a dream of peril awaiting them if they did so, they returned to their own land another way. Thus foiled, the jealousy of Herod assumed a more malignant aspect, and, unable to identify the royal Infant of the seed of David, he issued an edict that all the children of Bethlehem and its neighbourhood, from two years old and under, should be slain.
“Herod’s whole career was red with the blood of murder. He had massacred priests and nobles; he had decimated the Sanhedrin; he had caused the high priest, his brother-in-law, the young noble Aristobulus, to be drowned in pretended sport before his eyes; he had ordered the strangulation of his favourite wife, the beautiful Asmonean princess Mariamne, though she seems to have been the only human being whom he passionately loved. His sons Alexander, Aristobulus, and Antipater; his uncle Joseph; Antigonus and Alexander, the uncle and father of his wife; his mother-in-law Alexandra; his kinsman Cortobanus; his friends Dositheus and Gadias were but a few of the multitudes who fell victims to his sanguinary, suspicious, and guilty terrors. His reign which was so cruel that, in the energetic language of the Jewish ambassadors to the Emperor Augustus, ‘the survivors during his lifetime were even more miserable than the sufferers.’”
Herod’s disorder increased with the utmost violence. He lay in the magnificent palace which he had built for himself under the palm-trees of Jericho, racked with pain, and tormented with thirst. Still cherishing hopes of recovery, he now caused himself to be conveyed across the Jordan to Callirrhoe, not far from the Dead Sea, hoping to obtain relief from its warm bituminous springs. But the use of the waters produced no effect. He was conveyed back to Jericho, where he ordered the chiefs of the nation, under pain of death, to assemble. As they arrived they were shut up in the Hippodrome, and Herod charged Salome and Alexas, immediately upon his decease, to put them to death. Scarcely had he given these orders when a dispatch arrived from Rome, announcing the ratification by the emperor of the sentence pronounced upon Antipater. Thereupon the tyrant’s desire for life instantly returned, but a paroxysm of racking pain coming on, he called for an apple and a knife, and in an unguarded moment tried to stab himself. His cousin Achiab stayed his hand, and Antipater, hearing the clamour from a neighbouring apartment, and thinking his father was dead, made a determined effort to escape by bribing his guards. No sooner did Herod hear of this, than, though almost insensible, he raised himself on his elbow, and ordered one of the spearmen to dispatch his son on the spot. Thus Antipater paid the penalty of his life of treachery and hypocrisy. Herod now once more amended his will, nominating his eldest son Archelaus as his successor on the throne, and appointing Herod Antipas tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea; Herod Philip, tetrarch of Auranitis, Trachonitis and Batanaea; and Salome mistress of Jamnia, Azotus, and some other towns.
Five days more of excruciating agony remained for the miserable monarch, and then, “choking as it were with blood, devising massacres in its very delirium, the soul of Herod passed forth into the night.” Archelaus at once assumed the direction of affairs at Jerusalem, and proceeded to give his father a magnificent funeral. First, clad in armour, advanced a numerous force of troops with their generals and officers; then followed five hundred of Herod’s domestics and freedmen, bearing aromatic spices. Next came the body, covered with purple, with a diadem on the head, and a scepter in the right hand, and lying on a bier of gold studded with precious stones. After the bier, which was surrounded by Herod’s son and relatives, came his body-guard; then his foreign mercenaries, men from Thrace, Germany, and Gaul, “whose stalwart and ruddy persons were at this time familiar in Jerusalem.” In this order the procession advanced slowly from Jericho to Herodium, not far from Tekoa, a distance of about twenty-five miles, where the late monarch had erected a fortress. Here, in the tower-crowned citadel to which he had given his name, and not far from the spot where He was born whom the Idumean king had sought to cut off with the innocents of Bethlehem, Herod was buried.