Herod the Great (Big Jerk) in History

etching of Herod the Great

Herod the Great

I know well enough that the Jews will keep a festival upon my death, however it is in my power to be mourned for on other accounts, and to have a splendid funeral, if you will but be subservient to my commands. Do you but take care to send soldiers to encompass these [illustrious] men that are now in custody, and slay them immediately upon my death, and then all Judea, and every family of them, will weep at it, whether they will or no.

This was how Herod intended to ensure mourning at his funeral. Yikes. (Fortunately, these orders were not carried out after his death.)

I really can’t begin to describe the reign of Herod the Great in a single post. Suffice it to say that his real life machinations and subterfuge make Game of Thrones look relatively tame. Someday, it might be fun to do a novelization of his life — only I’d have a hard time finding a good guy for a protagonist.

Herod the Great

Herod the Great, by James Tissot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But that’s okay, because in the meantime he makes a great villain for So To Honor Him. It was a good writing exercise for me, coming up with reasons Herod might have been believed and trusted when our hindsight is so well-informed.

But the truth is, Herod was a fantastic politician, connected to just about everyone in your history books and able to convince anyone of nearly anything. He supported Mark Antony’s war against Octavian with ridiculous sums of money and shared mining rights with Cleopatra, and yet upon their deaths he quickly convinced Octavian that he’d been on his side all along, and he went home richer and more powerful.

He had his good moments — he subsidized food during a famine to save lives — and his bad, like drowning his teenage brother-in-law in yet another political elimination. (There are a lot of political eliminations in Herod’s life. That slaughter of the innocents barely registered by comparison.)

Ultimately Herod died one of the most miserable deaths recorded in history, probably related to Fournier’s gangrene (warning: Google at your own risk), and passed into history with only a few highlights and low points for the casual citizen to remember him by. Once in a while a television documentary will point out one of his amazing building projects, such as Herodium, Masada, Ceasaria Maritima, his palace, Antonia, or the Temple, but every year he’s mentioned in Christmas pageants everywhere in his massacre of infants.

But you can catch some of his exploits yet, immortalized in literature. I think he’d be glad to be remembered — but I think he’d be rather upset that he is not mourned.

By the way, today (Dec 19) is the last day for the IJM charity-fundraising special for So To Honor Him. If you want 100% of your purchase profits to go toward fighting slavery, you can buy your ebook [fundraiser ended, link removed]. (But please still leave a review at Amazon and other bookstores!)

In case you missed them, the previous posts were about the more modern aspects of and inspirations for the story.)

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