Herod the Great by Norman Gelb.
I stumbled upon this book in the new release section of my local public library. It is a biography of Herod the Great. As it involves inter-testament and New Testament times, it can be helpful for better understanding the Bible. Since I don’t read biographies on ancient people regularly, I can’t properly compare it to other such works, but I found it an interesting read. The book goes past the death of Herod by about 100 years or so, following his descendant’s positions of leadership. There is also an afterword section that reviews the opening years of Christianity.
As Christians, we likely think of Herod as the terrible guy that ordered the slaughter of all infant boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Since this incident is only mentioned in the Bible (Matthew), historians, including the author of this book, doubt or even deny that it really happened. This is annoying to me. There are a variety of things in the New Testament records that can be attested for outside of the Bible, but because the slaughter of infants is not, it is automatically doubted. Never mind that other things can be. And the slaughter of the infant boys certainly matches Herod’s reputation and methods. He had his brother-in-law, his favorite wife, and two of his sons (among others) killed or executed. I was “amused” that he had his favorite wife executed, and then mourned her death terribly, never quite getting over it. Well, maybe he shouldn’t have executed her!
Something new I learned in the book, was that when Herod was on his death bed, he ordered that all prominent/distinguished people in the area be rounded up and then held to be executed upon his death. Why? Herod felt that no one would mourn his death, so if he also had all these distinguished citizens killed, people would at least be mourning! When he died however, someone (his sister?) went down and stopped the executions from taking place.
While we may think of Herod as ruthless, and he was, he was also responsible for many grand building projects – besides the Jewish Temple – and helped revitalize various areas. The construction projects kept people employed for years. I also felt some sympathy for poor Herod! Yes, he was paranoid and could be ruthless, but he was surrounded by duplicity. I would have become paranoid too with all the lies and deception that often surrounded him.
I already returned the book to the library, so I could not double check things, but those are my brief thoughts on this book.