Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

5. About Jesus / King Herod |
Madman or God?

This is a continuation of the fourth segment (Who is the Messiah?) of Chapter One on Jesus of Nazareth entitled Madman or God?. It is from Volume One, The Veil is Torn, of the twelve-volume historical series: The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years. This section of the chapter touches on the contributions of King Herod the Great and how difficult it is for Jews to believe that their Messiah is to be born in almost total poverty only to suffer a hideous death at the hands of the Roman oppressors many Jews expected Him to overthow.

Ruling with fierce consistency King Herod the Great’s creations inspire wonder to this day

Such a king had been Herod the Great, who took power fifty-nine years after the Roman conquest, and who was regarded by many as a sort of fake Jew. He was in fact an Idumean, from Judea’s neighboring people to the south whom the Jews, in a moment of ascendancy a century earlier, had coerced into Judaism. Herod, succeeding his father, a sycophant of Rome, had parlayed this modest opportunity skillfully, and had made himself Rome’s indispensable and reliable cat’s-paw over much of the Middle East.

He ruled with fierce consistency, bringing peace to the area for the whole forty-one years of his reign by ruthlessly exterminating the slightest manifestations of anti-Roman nationalism. At the same time, he tried to ingratiate himself with the Jews by creating architectural wonders whose scale and grandeur would astonish archeologists twenty centuries later.

He built for himself numerous palaces, four of them within thirty miles of Jerusalem. Nothing could equal these for lavish summer luxury. But by far the greatest and most magnificent of his palaces, named to honor his patron, the emperor Augustus, and his great general Marcus Agrippa, stood on the western edge of Jerusalem’s Upper City. Its two vast reception halls enabled Herod to entertain hundreds of guests, while its opulent bedrooms and colonnaded courtyards, gardens and fountains brought renown even in faraway Rome. Peering from above it all were its three stout towers, 110 to 140 feet high, named for his brother Phasael, his friend Hippicus, and his beloved Mariamne, the wife he adored but whom he was forced through palace intrigue into executing, leaving him in a grief from which he would never recover.4

In Jerusalem also he rebuilt and strengthened the city’s walls, and erected a Roman amphitheater, something many Jews did not appreciate, since it smacked of Hellenism, the hated culture of the Greeks which, since its insinuation into Palestine with Alexander the Great three hundred years before, the Jews had persistently though hopelessly resisted. At Caesarea, fifty miles northwest of Jerusalem, Herod had pushed breakwaters out from the Mediterranean beaches to create and enclose a superb harbor, its entrance adorned with six spectacular monuments. Beside the harbor he built a model Roman city, with its amphitheater and hippodrome, its underground sewer system and its crafted streets meeting at precise right angles.

Finally he erected—as possible refuges for himself in case of insurrection, it was said—a system of desert fortresses, chief among them Machaerus east of the Dead Sea, Hyrcanaia west of it, and most impregnable of all, Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea from a mountaintop so precipitous and treacherous that few conquerors would be determined enough to scale it in sufficient strength to take the fortress itself. But most prized by the Jews was his reconstruction of the temple at Jerusalem into a building of such awesome scale that it seemed to be as physically permanent as the spiritual strength it represented.

To continue reading from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years, Volume One — The Veil is Torn, Chapter One on Jesus of Nazareth entitled Madman or God? and would like to proceed to the next section on John the Baptist.