Herod as ďDavidĒ
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, Herodís 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. Herodís 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. Whatís 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 Herodís 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 ďson of David.Ē
Although Herod already had an Edomite wife named Doris he also wedded Mariamne of the Hasmonean royal house after a long engagement. Mariamneís mother Alexandra had arranged the marriage during Herodís 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 Davidís predecessor Saul. Michalís 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.
© Charles N. Pope, US Library of Congress. All rights reserved.