Herod as "David"
Herod the Great was made Governor of Galilee when only 26 years of age. Five years later Marc Antony appointed him as a regional king (Tetrarch). Two years after this, in 40 B.C., Herod made a daring journey to Rome. Upon nomination by both Marc Antony and Octavius, he was promptly declared King of all the Jews by the Senate. By the age of 36 Herod had overcome his Hasmonean rivals and taken possession of Jerusalem.
The name Herod elicits the Greek Herakles and Egyptian Horus. His Jewish family and friends would have hailed him as a 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 Judah or even Israel proper. His family was nominally from Edom to the south of Judah. 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, 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. There were certainly those during Herod’s time that still understood that Isaac in the Book 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 took Mariamne of the Hasmonean royal house as wife 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 upon her marriage openly despised him. In this way she resembled Michal the daughter of David’s predecessor Saul. Michal’s love for David turned to hate when he celebrated in an undignified fashion before 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.
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.