Jerusalem 3000
Lecture 6 - The Rise of Herod

By: Alick Isaacs

The rule of the Hasmonean kingdom relied upon the support of Rome. But, the Hasmonean kings were not without enemies. In particular these enemies came from within the Hasmonean family. Internal strife lead to instability and instability ultimately lead to the loss of Roman support for a regime no longer able to maintain the peace. In 67 BCE civil war broke out between Hyrcanus II and his brother Judah Aristobulus. The two brothers engaged in an open military conflict over the control of the Temple Mount. This war brings us to another critical juncture in the history of Jerusalem where both a fascination for the Temple Mount, and the political centrality of Jerusalem come into play. The internal power struggle which reflects their perception of Mount Moriah as the source of power was ultimately decided by the intervention of the Roman empire.

In 63 BCE Pompey conquered the Temple Mount and Jerusalem bringing an end to the short era of political independence provided by the Hasmonean kings. Jewish rule established in the age of Greek decline came to an end as the Roman empire attained full strength. The period of independence was followed by Roman conquest. As the empires switched so fluctuated the fate of the city of Jerusalem.

Between 63 and 37 BCE Jerusalem experienced a period of political instability. After conquering the city, Pompey reappointed the Hasmonean king as ruler of the city. He was stripped of his royal title and renamed 'Ethnarch' a position which did not grant the Hasmonean family the same hereditary privileges enjoyed by Royalty. As ethnarchs, the Hasmoneans became the puppets of Rome sending their taxes to Rome. In 40 BCE the Hasmonean ethnarch Antigonus, emulating his glorious ancestor Judah, rebelled against Rome and announced the independence of his kingdom from Roman rule. The immediate consequence of his declaration was Roman invasion of Jerusalem. This time the Hasmonean line of power came to a final end and the era of 'Roman' rule in Jerusalem began.

2. King Herod - Jew or Roman?
The era of Roman rule begins with the reign of King Herod from 37 BCE to 4 BCE. This is undoubtedly a period of tremendous prosperity and growth. During Herod's rule the city of Jerusalem was never attacked nor did it even face the prospect of destruction. The city grew, the economy boomed, new buildings were built and market places opened in new, busy streets. Herod, who faced no threats from without proved his virility, his greatness and power by building. Without the opportunity of leaving his mark in combat, he turned to architecture changing the face of the city of Jerusalem. He built himself a magnificent palace surrounded by three great tall towers; he built the fortress of Massada; the city of Caeseria and most important of all he refurbished the Second Temple. Sceptical psycho-historians have said of Herod that he must have had an 'edifice' complex!

The years of Herod's rule are generally considered, along with the rule of King Solomon, as the golden age of Jerusalem. During these years Jerusalem enjoyed international fame as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Herod's Temple in Jerusalem was surely one of the most magnificent, if not the most magnificent, of structures erected in antiquity. But these were tense and ambivalent times. The cultural identity of the holy city was as confused as the Jewish identity of the king himself. I mentioned last week that Herod was a product of the forced conversion of the Idumieans by John Hyrcanus in 113 BCE. These converts were not quite Jewish in culture even although they remained Jewish in religious practice. Herod became king of Jerusalem because on the one hand the Romans considered him a Jew on whom they may impose their authority; but they knew also that he was not recognised as a Jew amongst the people over whom he ruled. He did not enjoy their affections and was therefore obligated to Rome in order to maintain his crown.

Herod was a bridge between Rome and Jerusalem. He was a man who lived in total isolation; a Jew in the eyes of the Romans and a Roman in the eyes of the Jews.

3. Herod and the Hasmoneans
Herod sought to consolidate his power and win the confidence of his people. His first move had disastrous repercussions. He married Miriamne, the youngest daughter of the Hasmonean house. Josephus Flavius, the most important historical source which we have from this period, describes in detail the fateful story of their turbulent marriage. Herod married into the Hasmonean family in the hope of earning the confidence of his people who were now to regard him as an offshoot of the popular Hasmonean line. He soon became infatuated with his beautiful bride and obsessive about her family. His entry into the Hasmonean family brought him into close contact with the household which he was soon to regard as the greatest threat to the stability of his reign. Herod became convinced that they were determined to overthrow his rule. He reacted violently. He murdered his wife's mother Shlomzion (Solome Alexandra) and proceeded to assassinate the whole family line.

After Miriamne petitioned him to appoint her brother Aristobulus High Priest in Jerusalem Herod acquiesced. On witnessing his popularity in the Temple he became jealous and Aristobulus too met a nasty end.

According to Josephus, he was found dead in Herod's winter palace in Jericho. Herod murdered his own two children because they too were the sons of Miriamne the Hasmonean. He went on to murder Miriamne herself, convinced that she was plotting to overthrow him and declare herself Queen.

The Talmud gives an alternative account of Miriamne's death. While the details in this account are not even intended to be historically accurate, the Talmudic homily, as we shall see, is possessed with deep insight.

    "Herod was the slave of the Hasmonean house and had set his eyes on a certain maiden of that house. One day he heard a Bath Kol say 'Every slave that rebels will now succeed' So he rose and killed all the members of his master's household, but spared that maiden. When she saw that he wanted to marry her she went up on to a roof and cried out 'Whoever comes and says I am from the Hsmonean house is a slave since I alone am left of it and I am throwing myself down from this roof. He preserved her body in honey for seven years. Some say that he had intercourse with her others that he did not." [Talmud Baba Bathra 3b]

This version of the story is very different from Josephus's account. The core facts are of course similar. Herod was a king who "stole" his throne and overthrew the Hasmonean line killing off the rest of the family. He married the lovely and wretched Miriamne and she did in fact come to a 'sticky' end. But there are still a few important differences between this account and Josephus's. First among them, in the Talmudic story Miriamne isn't killed by Herod. She commits suicide before their marriage, hurling herself from a roof. Second, there is no verification for the legend that Herod preserved Miriamne's dead body in honey and there are no real grounds for the suspicion that Herod was in fact guilty of necrophilia.

The Talmudic story, I think, was written in order to make clear some pertinent points. Herod was madly in love with Miriamne; thus he was unable to part from her even after her death. It was his jealous passion which brought about her end and that of her entire family. The Talmud's account of Miriamne throwing herself off the roof suggests that her marrying Herod was an act of suicide which brought her down along with the rest of the family. Herod was a rebellious impassioned slave who molested and defiled the dignity of the Hasmonean line, attempting to continue reaping personal and political benefit from the dead body of Miriamne's family by calling himslef Hsmonean. But as Miriamne declares he remains nothing more than a slave. Herod's embalming the dead Miriamne expresses more than his physical passion for her. Herod preserved the sweet exterior of his dead wife, who is a symbol here for the Hasmonean family, which is by now defiled, desecrated and cynically exploited. The insinuation that Herod was guilty of necrophilia I am suggesting, is simply a metaphor for this exploitation. Miriamne's marriage to Herod was thus an act of suicide a marriage consecrated only after her death.

4. Herod Builds the Temple
The most remarkable project which Herod conducted as king of Jerusalem was the refurbishing of the Second Temple. The great and magnificent Temple which stood in Jerusalem during the second Temple period whose original spleandour has only really been rediscovered by archeologists since the Israeli victory in the Six Day War in 1967, in fact only stood for the last hundred years of the period. The famous Western or Wailing wall was part of the redesigned and rebuilt version of the second Temple whose construction was conducted on Herod's initiative. The Western Wall is one of four supporting walls which Herod built around the Temple Mount in order to enlarge the Mount and lay the foundations for the large stone plateau which was to support the new refurbished Temple.

Herod's Temple, though it stood on top of the original Temple Mount, was far grander than any building which the original proportions of Mount Moriah could have supported. The building itself was magnificent. It stood high above the rest of the city, with a glistening decorative golden crown which adorned the top of a marble and stone blue green shrine described in the Talmud as looking like the golden sun, shining on the green blue sea. The outer courtyards of the Temple filled with pilgrims, approximately 250,000 of whom came every year to celebrate the jewish pilgrim or "foot" festivals in Jerusalem. They came from all over Judea to gather together and to offer sacrifices on the Temple Mount.

The Royal Basilica or 'Stowe' with its rows of Corinthian pillars was at the southernmost edge of the plateau. This was specially built on Herod's southern extention of the Temple Mount where non-Jewish visitors and Roman dignitaries were permitted by Jewish law to stand and view the glorious spectacle below. The Temple attracted cultural and economic activity to the city which boomed during this, its golden age, and the crown of Jerusalem glistened with its new Jewel.

5. Why did Herod build the Temple?
Herod's magnificent new refurbished Temple embodied all the cultural ambivalence of the second Temple period. The House of God, built on the site where God revealed himself to Abraham was a Hellenistic palace. Its marble and its stone, the gold and the corinths, the basilicas and porticos, all exquisite and lavish, were of Roman Hellenistic fashion and design. The Temple glorified Herod the Great as much as it glorified God. Moreover, the Antonia fortress which stood to the North of the Temple and whose towers were taller than the Temple's was so named after Mark Anthony Caesar of Rome. One may presume that Herod who was of a complex nature built the Temple for many different and conflicting reasons; to glorify his name as a great builder; to ingratiate himself with the people over whom he ruled and with the God whom he seems to have feared. He built the Temple to win the support of the powerful priestly class, the Sadducees who were the most influential party in Jerusalem. He provided them with a magnificent Temple and at the same time murdered thirty five of their opponents, the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin.

The Rabbis were not unaware of the ambivalence which surrounded the Temple. The Talmud tells the story of Baba ben Butha, whom Herod tortured in the hope of coercing him into an act of treason by cusing the king:-

    "But how could Baba b. Butha have advised Herod to pull down the Temple [in order to refurbish it]? He [Herod] arose and killed all the Rabbis sparing Baba b. Butha that he might take counsel of him. He placed on his head a garland of hedgehog bristles and put out his eyes. One day he came and sat before him and said: See sir, what this wicked slave [Herod] does. What do you want me to do to him, replied Baba b. Butha. I want you to curse him. He replied with the verse "even in thy thoughts thou shouldst not curse a king". Said Herod to him, but this is no king. He replied even though he be only a rich man it is written "and in thy bedchamber do not curse the rich...He said I am afraid of him. But said Herod there is noone who can go and tell him since we two are quite alone. He replied "for a bird of the heaven shall carry the voice...Herod then said I am Herod. Had I known that theRabbis were so circumspect I should not have killed them. Now tell me what amends I can make. He replied Gonow and attend to the light of the world...which is the Temple." [Talmud Baba Bathra 3b-4a]

The story attributes the credit for the building of the Temple to the wisdom of Baba ben Butha. In building the Temple, according to this story, Herod is an instrument in the hands of the Rabbis. According to this account Herod recognises Baba ben Butha's wisdom after trying to trick him into treason and builds the Temple to appease the Rabbis not the priests. Herod builds the Temple as a penance for his sin of murdering the Rabbis. The story reveals the ambivalence and divisiveness which surrounded the building of the Temple and which characterise the rule of Herod in general. During this time it is already clear that the Jews of Jerusalem are not united. Internal tension is a threat to their cultural unity. The Priests do not except the laws of the Rabbis and the Rabbis struggle to maintain a foothold in the most important institution of the time the Temple. Thus they move their high court, the Sanhedrin, to the Temple's outer courtyard and attribute the building of the Temple to Baba ben Butha.

6. The Death of Herod and the Sects
Herod's rule, though ambivalent was stable. Herod's Jerusalem which was ruled with violence and terror prospered and grew. Herod refortified the city and extended its walls. Herod knew how to manipulate the support of Rome in his favour. He knew how to use Roman support to serve his own interests and he understood that the Romans knew that his interests were theirs. For all his evils, it is Herod's death which marks the beginning of the end of the second Temple period. The Jewish world was divided and volatile. Josephus describes the different factions and sects which emerged in Jerusalem during this period. These were held at bay by Herod, but after his death in 4 BCE "all hell broke loose".

The death of the innocents described in the book of Matthew as Herod's search to kill the child who was to be "King of the Jews" occurred around the time of Herod's death. According to Josephus, Herod wanted the mothers of Judea to cry on the day he died. He left behind him a divided and tense Jewish society in Jerusalem. The Jews were divided into sects: "Pharisees" (Rabbis) and "Sadducees" (Priests - The descendants of Tsadok grandson of Aharon). As the Temple ritual which was conducted by the priests became corrupted and politicised, the disgusted "Essenes" moved away from the city to the Judean desert where they conducted a monastic way of life in Qumran. In their utopian desert society they practiced celibacy, observing strict laws of ritual purity and conducting a communal way of life. They engaged in study generating the most remarkable library of Biblical documents amending these with apocalyptic interpretations. This remarkable literary activity was preserved for two thousand years in clay canisters which were discovered by accident by a bedouin boy playing in the caves above Qumran in 1947.

Corruption of the Temple rituals brought Jesus of Nazareth to overturn the tables of the moneychangers who overcharged pilgrims as they purchased animals for sacrifice in the market places at the south western corner of the Temple Mount. Jerusalem after the time of Herod became unstable. Political instability provoked violent and even rebellious reactions. Partisan groups known as the "Zealots" began rebellious activity against the Romans. As these factions broke off, Pharisees, Sadducees, Judeo-Christians, Essenes and Zealots fought amongst themselves and against Rome. Roman rule became more and more intolerable as the Romans increased the burden of taxation in an attempt to crush the revolutionary activity. The tension between the Jews and the Romans gradually built up until it eventually exploded into a great Revolt in the year 66 CE.



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23 Aug 2005 / 18 Av 5765 0