Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans

Article excerpt

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans, by Peter Richardson. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996. Pp. xxvi + 360. $34.95.

Peter Richardson's "biographical study" of Herod the Great opens with a series of fictional obituaries set in different cities where Herod was known during his lifetime (Rome, Petra, Damascus, Jerusalem, and Yodefat in Galilee) and closes with a similarly fictional list of Herod's achievements, written in the first person. In between, Richardson seeks to provide a "coherent assessment" (p. 12) of Herod and his reign in a series of alternating chapters: the odd-numbered chapters of the book provide a narrative account of the main events of Herod's public and private lives, while the even-- numbered chapters take up more general topics. The narrative account begins with a description of the events surrounding Herod's death and then returns to the early stages of his career. Richardson provides detailed descriptions of the Herodian family's background in Idumea, Herod's rise to power in Judea, his role in the Roman and Hasmonean civil wars, his reign as king of the Jews, and the ups and downs of his tumultuous family life.

In chapter 2, the first of the more general chapters, Richardson discusses what he terms "family matters"-the provisions of Herod's wills, other financial arrangements within the family, marriage and divorce, and so on. Chapter 4 briefly describes the geographical, political, and cultural characteristics of several distinctive regions that bordered, or were incorporated into, Herod's kingdom: the province of Syria, including the semi-independent kingdoms of Commagene, Emesa, Palmyra, and Damascus; the cities of the Decapolis; and the coastal cities that at one time or another belonged to Judea. Chapter 6 provides similar descriptions of the main regions comprising Herod's kingdom at its peak (Galilee; Judea; Samaritis; Gaulanitis, Batanea, Auranitis, and Trachonitis; and Peraea). In chapter 8, Richardson surveys the religious, cultural, commercial, military, and residential buildings erected by Herod in Judea and elsewhere, considers their significance, and explores the question of Herod's motives in undertaking such an ambitious building program. A chapter on "Herod and Religion- discusses Herod's dealings with the priestly elite, the significance of his reconstruction of the Temple, his treatment of "brigands," and his relationships with members of the main religious parties (Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes). Finally, chapter 12 brings the story of the Herodian family into the Christian period.

What emerges from Richardson's narrative review of the events of Herod's life and his discussion of more general topics is a portrait of Herod that is considerably richer and more generous than the standard one. The book makes an especially important contribution to the understanding of Herod's religious convictions, broadly conceived. …

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