Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans


This book provides a stunning look at the king who had an extraordinary impact on Roman-era Palestine. The author integrates historical, archaeological, and social analyses, writing with clarity and enthusiasm for his subject. The charts, maps, and diagrams make this a very accessible tool for use in the classroom.


Herod the Great, as he is usually called, was much like Henry VIII, Catherine the Great, or Peter the Great: talented, vigorous, lusty, skillful, charismatic, attractive, decisive, influential—but a disaster in his personal life. Like them, Herod changed his nation's history.

In a biographical study an author need not like the subject, but it helps if there is something to admire. Herod's personality is not attractive; had I been a contemporary I should not have wanted to spend much time with him. But I find much to admire in Herod, and it will show, I expect, in this study. My admiration derives from the finesse and grandeur in his architectural projects; when I first saw the archaeological evidence I was struck with curiosity about how to imagine reconstructions of his buildings and urban projects. I had spent many years thinking about texts and how texts permit scholars to reconstruct groups and tensions and problems. I realized that my training in architecture allowed another vantage point on a similar set of interests: the reconstruction of society and its concerns, the sense of cultural and religious conflict on a larger scale. No one in Herod's period built so extensively with projects that shed such a bright light on that world. I have tried, however, not to let my architectural interest intrude too much, not because architecture is not important but because this is a biographical study.

A study of Herod can investigate his life in a traditional biographical fashion with some hope of precision. The sources are better than those available for studies of Paul or Jesus or Seneca. In addition to archaeological remains, there are inscriptions and coins, second- and thirdhand appreciations, and a connected narrative of which he is the center. Nevertheless, though he is said to have written his own memoirs, nothing he wrote survived.

Every study of Herod is necessarily a study in Josephus, the main source of information for Herod's life, so assumptions are required about how to use Josephus, what to think of his sources, how to deal with the perplexing differences between History of the Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews. At numerous . . .

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