Herod the Great, King of the Jews
Herodian Identities of New Testament Characters
Herod as "David"
Herod the Great was 10 years old when the Roman general Pompey subjugated Jerusalem. He was 16 years old when befriended by Marc Antony, who had come to Palestine to put down a Hasmonean uprising. A decade later, Herod's father Antipater helped Julius Caesar conquer Egypt and was made administrator (Procurator) in Palestine in return. The 26-year old Herod was made Governor of Galilee. Antipater placed Phasael, the older brother of Herod, over Jerusalem (as Prefect). Five years later Marc Antony appointed Herod as a regional king (Tetrarch).
Only two years after this however, in 40 B.C., Herod was driven out of his territory by Parthian forces in league with the Hasmonean prince Antigonus. Herod's older brother Phasael was captured and took his own life. Herod safeguarded his own family at the fortress of Masada and then made a desperate journey to Rome. Upon his arrival Marc Antony and Octavius nominated him as king of the Jews, which was promptly confirmed by the Roman Senate. Within three years of this event, Herod had overcome his Hasmonean rivals and taken possession of Jerusalem at the age of 36.
The name Herod is a variant of the Greek Herakles and Egyptian Horus. His Jewish family and friends would have hailed him as the new David, the Biblical equivalent of Herakles and Horus. And like David, Herod would rule in Jerusalem for at least 33 years. Former Hasmonean leaders had encountered strong resistance to the claim of traditional kingship. Herod would face even more. Herod was not born in Judea or even Israel proper. His family was nominally from Edom to the south of Judea. They were living there either as hereditary Jews or had been forcibly converted to Judaism along with the rest of this region during Hasmonean times.
Regardless of his actual heritage, Herod was a legitimate Jew in the legal sense. What's more, the people of Edom were considered to be the descendants of Esau son of Isaac. It was certainly still understood by some elite clerics in Herod's time that Isaac of Genesis was the counterpart of David in the Kings/Chronicles history. Therefore, any descendant of Esau could rightfully claim to be a "son of David."
Although Herod already had an Edomite wife named Doris he also wedded Mariamne of the Hasmonean royal house after a long engagement. Mariamne's mother Alexandra had arranged the marriage during Herod's rise to power. Mariamne perhaps at first loved Herod but after the marriage she openly despised him. In this way she resembled Michal the daughter of David's predecessor Saul. Michal's love for David turned to hate because of his undignified celebration among the people. Unlike David, Herod did not reject Mariamne or refuse to give her children, but according to Josephus deeply loved her to his own hurt. Whether Herod truly cared for Mariamne cannot be known, but Herod certainly realized that a son by her had the best chance of being accepted by the Jews as a legitimate successor and king of Israel.
Herod as "Solomon"
By the end of his second decade of rule Herod was ready to undertake something even more ambitious. He would build a grand temple and palace in Jerusalem and in doing so combine the role of Solomon with that of David. Precedent set by the kings who ruled after Solomon made this a perfectly acceptable enterprise (at least for those Jews who still recognized the institution of kingship). It has been shown that Jotham (Piye/Sargon II) king of Judah was first typecast as the Joseph of his generation, but later combined the roles of Jacob and Isaac-David.a The more divine roles that a king accumulated in his lifetime the greater he was considered to be.
Herod was vilified as an oppressor. Yet the heavy yoke placed on his subjects only served to associate him more closely with Solomon. Solomon, it was said (1 Kings 12:4), reduced Israel to "grievous servitude" with his monumental building programs. Herod likewise was the most renowned builder anywhere in the Near East, upstaging even Rome during this time period.
Herod also applied his genius for architecture to the ordering of his own family. Shortly after inaugurating construction of the new Solomonic temple Herod appointed a new High Priest. He was the son of a renowned priest of the Jews in Alexandria of Egypt. After making him priest in Jerusalem Herod promptly married the priest's daughter, also called Mariamne, who had captivated the city with her great beauty. She was most attractive to Herod for her unassailable pedigree within an important Jewish priestly family. Intermarriage with such a family was again primarily political and an attempt to produce an heir that would be acceptable to the Jews not only as a Crown Prince but also as a High Priest.
Herod had censured his brother Pheroras for his poor choice in marriage, and to the point of alienating him. However, as Solomon ("The Great Hor," Amenhotep III), Herod bound himself not only to leading Jewish brides but also to many "strange women." He championed Jehovah ("Amen") in Jerusalem and Israel, but was accommodating to his so-called foreign wives and their gods elsewhere. The historian Josephus explained in some detail the care that Herod put into matchmaking among his children and grandchildren. This included intermarriage with the families of his sister (Salome) and brothers (Joseph, Phasael and Pheroras), and with other royal houses in the Near East. Herod was equally concerned with the traditional roles that his immediate descendants would play. These roles had always been reserved for members of the royal family, and once his throne was firmly established it became the prerogative of Herod to fulfill them as he saw fit.
Herod as "Jacob" and "Shiloh"
In architecting his own royal persona Herod could draw upon sages from Egypt to Babylon, from Greece to Arabia, and even beyond. He was thereby able to gain an understanding of Messianic kingship that would have utterly confounded the parochial priests of Jerusalem. Those priests and scribes recruited by Herod, and especially his father-in-law the High Priest, would have informed him that the role of Solomon embodied not only Shiloh of the Torah history but also Jacob. Herod, if he desired precision and strict prophetical fulfillment, could not properly assume the composite identity of Solomon without accepting its constituent parts. Herod therefore not only styled himself after Shiloh but also Jacob the Grabber. He further designated the various princes of his family as "sons of Jacob."
The eldest son of Herod, who was called Antipater after Herod's father, took identity of Reuben the eldest son of Jacob. Like Reuben, Antipater was excluded from succession early on and sent away from the royal court with his mother.
The favored wife of Herod was the first Mariamne of the old Hasmonian line. She was the mother of Herod's next three sons. As potential heirs these three princes were brought up and educated in Rome. The first two were called Alexander and Aristobulus. The third son died young while still in Rome and unfortunately his name was not provided in the writings of Josephus. Alexander was placed in the role of Simeon, second son of Jacob. Aristobulus was to be Levi. The unnamed prince was in the prestigious but precarious role of Judah.
The second Mariamne, daughter of the High Priest Simon, became mother of Herod's fifth son named Herod (a.k.a. Phillip). He was given the role of Issachar fifth son of Jacob. (In the Egyptian New Kingdom, the prince designated as Issachar also shared the same name as Jacob, that being, Amenhotep.) Herod also married a woman of Samaritan pedigree named Malthace. She became the mother of Archelaus, who assumed the role of Zebulun sixth son of Jacob.
A beloved younger brother of Herod was named Joseph, but he was killed in the war against the last Hasmonean dynasts. The son of this brother, also called Joseph, was placed in the critical role of Joseph son of Jacob.
Towards the end of his reign Herod became sexually impotent due to a debilitative condition, perhaps gout, that affected his bowels and genitals. Therefore, he directed his sons to produce additional children for him through his wives. This was also considered necessary in order to pattern his family after that of Jacob. For example, it has been shown that the prince designated as Judah son of Jacob in the Egyptian New Kingdom, that is, Thutmose IV son of Amenhotep II, died young after being poisoned.b Yet, prior to his death he did father a son to continue his kingly line. Similarly, although the unnamed fourth son of Herod likely died in his teens, it can be deduced that he had also already produced an heir, the future Herod Antipas through Queen Malthace. As will be discussed below, Herod Antipas took on the same roles played by the Egyptian New Kingdom pharaoh Aye who was the biological son of Thutmose IV.
Antipater as "Rehoboam"
In 14 B.C. Herod decided to humble the sons of the first Mariamne by bringing his eldest son Antipater back to Jerusalem and establishing him as heir apparent. A distinguished bride was also found for him, a surviving daughter of Antigonus the last Hasmonean king. Antipater knew however that his station was still far from secure. It might have remained Herod's desire to restore either Alexander or Aristobulus as successor after a seven-year exile. This would have been necessary for one of them to fulfill the typecasting of Rehoboam, successor of Solomon.
Over the next seven years Antipater was relentless in his attempts to permanently discredit his two Hasmonean half-brothers. The designated roles of Alexander and Aritobulous, that being Simeon and Levi, may have even been used to convince Herod that it was their fate to conceive a royal murder and be disgraced. Alexander and Aristobulus actually helped Antipater's cause by continuing to show contempt for their mutual father. In 7 B.C. Alexander and Aritobulous were executed and Antipater was publicly declared crown prince and made heir in Herod's written will. As a further triumph over his Hasmonean rivals, Antipater convinced Herod to give him the young daughter of deceased Aristobulus as wife.
Next, Antipater fulfilled his role as "Reuben" by having a son with one of Herod's minor wives. In the Book of Genesis, Reuben son of Jacob had produced a son, Naphtali, through Billah the concubine of Jacob.c For reasons that will become more evident later, the minor wife of Herod in question was the one known as Pallas, and whose son was named Phasael after Herod the Great's fallen brother. The name Pallas was an epithet of Athena as daughter and consort of another Pallas, the god of wisdom. The famous Parthenon in Athens, Greece was a temple dedicated to Pallas Athena, and the name Parthenon itself derives from the Greek parthenos, "virgin." This wife of Herod's was then most probably a Greek (Seleucid) heiress.
Antipater, in order to better establish the role of Rehoboam for himself, then set out to father two sons in the guise of Gabriel. (Gabriel was the angelic title of Reuben/Geb as the sexually overactive "eldest son" of Jacob/Re.) These two sons were to assume the identities of Elijah and Elisha, both of which had been born before the death of Solomon (Amenhotep III). This meant Antipater would have to get busy, because Herod's health was failing fast. Probably for the sake of expediency two different mothers were chosen, but conveniently they had the same Herodian name, Mariamne, as will be discussed below. Elijah and Elisha had been full brothers, but it was not a strict "prophetical" requirement. The archetypes of Elijah and Elisha among the gods, Osiris and Horus, respectively, did not have the same mother or father.
Herod-Phillip son of the second Mariamne had already been designated as the Herodian Issachar/Osiris. In the Egyptian New Kingdom, Issachar son of Jacob earned the birthright by virtue of siring a son by his own mother. Such an heir could not be produced in Herod's day, but one could be produced on Phillip's behalf by the crown prince Antipater. Also, following the earlier Egyptian New Kingdom history of Patriarch Jacob (Amenhotep II), Herod sought to create a substitute for Herod-Phillip, whose "fate" it was to be murdered in the role of Issachar/Osiris. The birth of the Herodian Elijah would be required to serve this purpose as well. This prince would then possess the combined roles of Ba'asha the heir of Issachar by Leah, Shechem son (and sacrificial substitute) of Hamor/Issachar, and finally Elijah son of Rehobaom. Each of these roles was tragic. Elijah had been beheaded by command of Naamah/Jezebel. Ba'asha was defeated in battle by Asa/Ahab and Baasha's son Elah was assassinated by Zimri. Shechem was put to the sword by the sons of Jacob at the city of Shechem.
In royal history, kingly succession sometimes passed through an Osiris figure and sometimes it did not. In the time of Solomon, it had not. During that period, Rehoboam had been the "incarnation" of archetypal Moses. Elijah was "incarnation" of Eliezer ("God of Ezer/Issachar") the eldest son of Moses. Elisha was "incarnation" of Gershom/Joshua the younger son of Moses. Elijah and Elisha both died without leaving a royal heir and so a new savior (Jeroboam II) was raised up from the collateral line of Reuben to "save Israel." In the Egyptian New Kingdom, after the premature death of Benjamin son of Jacob (Aakheprure son of Amenhotep II), the role of Benjamin was given to Reuben (Neby/Webensenu). This precedent allowed Antipater as the Herodian Reuben to also be designated as Herodian Benjamin, and allowed all of his sons to claim the tribal status of Benjamin.
Phillip II as "Elijah"
To make his role as a substitute for Phillip ("Issachar") more obvious, the Herodian Elijah was given the Greek name of Phillip, the same as his elder half-brother. However, in the Gospels, the child born to play the part of Elijah is curiously to be called by the Jewish name of John. The name John/Jochan is a variant of Joktan and also Joiachin. All of these names relate to the Hebrew Johanan, "favored by God," an epithet of Osiris who was murdered on account of his great favor and widespread fame. The form Joiachin is especially interesting in that it was also the name of a pillar of Solomon. The matching pillar in the temple of Solomon was called Boaz. Together these names memorialized that Solomon had not descended from Joshua/Reu but from Eliezer/Joktan.
In the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, the scarlet thread of kingship did in fact pass through an Osiris figure. In the Biblical Exodus account, the eldest son of Middle Kingdom Moses is called Eliezer. He was killed (as the "Osiris") shortly after the Exodus. The mantle of kingly succession then passed to Gershom (as the "Horus"), who is also called Joshua and Elimelech. However, when the two royal sons of Joshua died without producing heirs, the birthright was reclaimed by Boaz of Eliezer's line. In the Book of Genesis, Middle Kingdom Moses (Au-ibre Hor/Hammurabi) is called Eber, "refugee." Joshua (Abi-eshuuh/Salitis) is called Reu, "friend." And Eliezer (Smenkhare/Samsu-iluna), "God of Ezer/Issachar," is called Joktan, "diminished (i.e., beheaded)." Also in Genesis, Boaz (Ammiditana/Yakub-her) is called Serug, "twisted" (i.e., grafted), and he follows his adoptive father Reu in the succession.
By insisting that Phillip II be known by the contemporary Jewish name of "John," Antipater ensured that this son of his would have at least a fighting chance to found a lasting royal dynasty, and even if the prince was himself made to suffer a gruesome death. The name John also linked him with the renowned Hasmonean king Jannes (Jonathan) Alexander and his father John Hyrcanus. It further suggested that John the Baptist was considered to be a replacement for Alexander son of the Hasmonean Mariamne, who had been executed primarily due to the instigation of Antipater. It was yet another posthumous blow inflicted on his vanquished sibling rival.
The elder prince Phillip, whose mother Mariamne II/Cleopatra ("Elizabeth") of Jerusalem was of the priestly line of Aaron, was being groomed for the office of High Priest at the Jerusalem temple rebuilt by his father Herod. (Elizabeth is a New Testament form of Elisheba, the name of Aaron's wife.) In fact, he would have received mentoring by the current High Priest, Simon son of Boethus, his own grandfather. The father of John is described in the Gospel of Luke as an old priest of the order of Abijah and named Zecharias, a Greek form of Zechariah/Issachar. (Inclusion of the name Abijah was probably also deliberate and significant as this was the kingly epithet of Elijah.) This old man also had the duty of entering the naos, that is, the "Holy of Holies," of the Jerusalem temple.
Traditionally, the High Priest alone entered the Holy of Holies in the temple and only once a year. At the time Phillip II (John) was conceived, Phillip I was reportedly in Rome. Therefore, the priest of Luke's account was likely not Phillip but his grandfather Simon, who may have had no sons through his actual priestly wife. He did have one or more daughters. His daughter Mariamne II, although barren for a long time due to the impotence of her husband Herod the Great, was not strictly speaking childless either. She was the mother of Phillip I. Certainly it can be said that the old priest and his daughter Mariamne II (Elizabeth) were together childless! And it would have been the elderly Simon who was dumbstruck over the "holy birth" arranged by Herod the Great to give him a second grandson by the same name and through the same daughter Mariamne II. The first Phillip would have been no less amazed. Although still a teenager, he was expected to claim the younger Phillip (John) sired by Antipater as his own son in order to fulfill the earlier precedent of Issachar gaining an heir by his own mother.
- See Chapter 35 of Living in Truth: Archaeology and the Patriarchs.
- See Chapter 15 of Living in Truth: Archaeology and the Patriarchs.
- See Chapter 28 of Living in Truth: Archaeology and the Patriarchs.