“...that's the last time we are going to have King Herod round to entertain the children...”
“...perhaps not surprisingly , you don't find many Jewish or Christian children named Herod after that...”
“ Christmas ? Bah ! Humbug !! Send in the legions !!!”
Herod the Great is an easy hate figure in history. He is a good example of victors' justice as written in the chronicles of the time and later. Even now , mention Herod's name and you will be told he was 'a baby killer' , 'wife murderer' , 'a blood drenched maniac ', 'Well he wasn't really Jewish anyway ?' and 'WHO ? WHAT ?? . ' Herod has had a bad press but this is his story told without that much bias unless it is necessary to keep the narrative running along and supplying suitable jokes , the sort of ones you will find in a seasonal cracker or a Fortune Cookie.
The future King of the Jews was born Herod Hussein Obama in 74 BC at private residence somewhere in Judea to parents listed as Antipater and Antimater (a.k.a. , the Anti Parents) . He had a younger brother called Phaesal Anticlimaxus and a sister listed as Anticyclonia.
Allegations that Herod had really been born in the Land of Sheba and then been smuggled to Judea in the back of a caravan train was a story spread around later by by 'Teabag Pharisees' in an attempt to discredit Herod's ethnic qualifications as a Jewish ruler.
In reality , Herod's family fortunes had been improved when his grandfather Pasto Hussein Obama converted to Judiasm. He had been a idol worshipping Idumaen and living along the shores of the Dead Sea selling cut price souvenirs to Greek tourists. He had hoped for something more interesting but his career was blocked by local Jewish establishment so he decided to become a Jew. He changed his name to Antipasto to indicate his rejection of his past and took up accountancy.
Within a few years , Antipasto's legal skills in negotiating performance rights income for wandering musicians travelling around the Middle East gained him the attention of the Jerusalem government who offered him a job as tax
dodger advisor for the ruling dynasty of the Maccabees (also known as the Hashmoaners as they always complained about the quality of their weed.). They were former Jewish Beatles tribute band who had led the revolt against the Seleucid rulers of their country in 167 BC . It had started when the Jews had refused to cut their hair like the Greek speaking Seleucids or run around naked in gymnasiums. , so they had instead rebelled and had received Divine Help when God commissioned some extra Biblical books celebrating their eventual success with Meet the Maccabees , Maccabees for Sale or Return , Divine Help For the Maccabees and the Whitewash Album . In the end the Seleucids were beaten but by then most of the original Maccabee leaders were dead and the survivors now preferred to rule Israel as the Hashmoan Dynasty
Antipasto's son Antipater who had taken up his father's business , became the new accountant for the Hashmoans. He recommended that instead of stuffing their extra (undeclared) shekels in Alexandria or in Parthia , Rome was the new place to do business. However this sound piece of financial (and political advice) split the family. One side was led by Ben-Yohannon 'Lenno' Jude who rejected Antipater's advice whilst others supported Saul 'Macca' Maccabee . No one asked George or Ringo what they thought. In a brief but bloody struggle , Saul Macca and Antipater were expelled from Jerusalem and stayed on a farm with Saul's wife Linda in a vain attempt to teach her how to sing. Antipater then sent a message to Rome asking for help and was pleased to hear that Pompey the Great was in Syria annexing the remnants of the Seleucid Empire.
Seeing this as a possible way back into power , Antipater sent Pompey a handy A-Z Guide of Jerusalem's defences and declared that Saul Maccabee was Rome's man if they could help with a restoration. Pompey agreed and as he liked a nice little booty-looty tour to add to his collection of cheap triumphs , arrived with his legions outside Jerusalem. Antipater promised riches to Pompey but asked him not to over loot the Temple in Jerusalem. Pompey agreed but asked for an 'interview with this Jehovah chap'. Antipater agreed and got a nice little bonus for furthering Rome's interests in Judea.
The supporters of Ben-Yohannon had no chance against the battle bloodied Romans and were quickly debagged from the city. Saul Macca was reinstalled as leader of Judea and changed his name to Paul Macca as a sign of his Romanising ways . The surviving Lennoites fled to Parthia and Antipater received a secret bonus payment for furthering Rome's interests in Judea. It had been good doing business with Rome - and this was a lesson the young Herod saw as his father triumphed over the opposition.
For the next nearly 10 years Judea was in relative peace as Antipater ran Judea behind the scenes and just let Paul Macca out now and again to warble his songs on the steps of the Temple. However the relative peace was broken with the death in battle of the Roman Triumvir Crassus in battle against the Parthians and the subsequent Roman civil war between Pompey and Julius Caesar was to cause a setback in Herod's family fortunes. Antipater tried to stay with which ever side was winning but was removed from the political scene when his chicken soup was poisoned by enemies in 43 BC. Herod's elder brother Phasael got the job of governor of Jerusalem whilst Herod was given the task of tax squeezing in Galilee . In addition , Paul Macca promised his grand daughter Mariamme to Herod . This which was a much better marital alliance then offered by Herod's then current wife 'Dull' Doris so Herod 'retired' her to the bottom of a local lake and took custody of their son Antipantsy. This was the start of Herod's future family problems.
Whilst the Herod family were working out their affairs , the Roman civil war again affected the situation in Judea. Brutus's co-stabbing mate Cassius had been put in charge of Syria . He was raising an army to take on Octavian and Mark Antony and needed some money. Herod and Phasael wrote out a cheque and waited to see what happen . Herod meanwhile returned to Galilee to and ordered a Jewish Princess Upgrade to his current abode in the expectation of marrying Mariamme very soon.
However with most of the local Roman armies now away and fighting each other, this allowed the Parthians to intervene. They had supported the Lennoites in exile and liked the marching song Imagine..There Are No Romans . The new Lennoite leader Antagonisticus 'Sean' Lenno (son on Ben-Yohannon) was smoothly installed as King in Jerusalem and quickly indicated he was out for some big number revenge against the 'Maccaites' and the Herod family.
Antagonisticus smashed all the solo recordings released by the Maccaites and to prevent their man Paul Macca appearing on stage again , cut off his ears (so he could never properly hear a sound check again) and bundled the hapless Hashmoan prince off to Babylon. Herod's brother Phaesal Anticlimaxus was given the option of which death to choose and elected to head bang himself to eternity to the Maccaite anthem The Frog Chorus ( a literal no brainer) on a sharp rock.
Once Herod heard the news of his brother's death , he fled Galilee and took an express galley ship to Rome to get their support against Antagonisticus. Herod knew he had friends there as his father had help set up the influential Roman-Israel Public Affairs Committee (RIPAC) to help keep the Canaanites returning to the Promised Land.
When he arrived , Herod was given an official welcome by the Senate (they asked Herod when they could expect their next donations for election expenses) and the Freedom of Rome. He was also given an O.R.R. (Order of the Roman Republic) , First Pick Of Any Retired Vestal Virgins and a picnic hamper for a family outing on the Mount of Olives. Herod was also allowed to call himself 'King of The Jews' ,a box of pre-printed stationery with his new title and was allowed to rent a few legions to regain Judea for the Roman Republic.
Antagonisticus piously hoped Armageddon would come before Herod got back and so wasn't prepared to take on the Romans. He was captured and sent off to Mark Antony for crucifixion practice. Herod was now King in name as well as title and celebrated his success by finally marrying Mariamme. He even brought her disfigured old grandpa Antagonisticus back from Babylon to officiate at the nuptials.
The conservative Sadduccees who had been enthusiatic supporters of Antagonisticus were forced to provide lavish wedding presents . To skimp on the food bill , Herod had them massacred before they could turn up and bore everyone rigid. It was sign for everyone else that it was no longer the old Hashmoan anthem All You Need Is Shalom to Saturday Night's Alright For Smiting. Herod was happy , he knew that it was better to be feared than loved. Huggy Herod ? Nah !!
Like his father , Herod was keen to stay on both sides in the growing rift between Octavian and Mark Antony grew after 36 B.C. He enjoyed good relations with both men , they liked his peculiar sense of humour but Herod had a problem with Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. His attempts to flatter her back fired and she made it pretty clear that if she had her way , Herod would be providing dining treats for vultures.
Cheerily , Herod carried on hoping perhaps Antony would get rid of his Egyptian mistress . He also had a more immediate problem when his wife's brother Aristobulus got the job of High Priest at the Temple. This displeased Herod as he smelt a plot to have him removed so had the young lad drowned at the local swimming pool when a wild party got out of hand. Mariamne. guessed the fate of her brother but carried on sleeping in the marital bed with her husband , producing two sons Aristobolus and Alexander over the next couple of years. However she also kept up a writing correspondence with Cleopatra and compiled reports on Herod's activities in the hope of bumping him off. Herod doesn't seemed to have noticed this treasonous activity but his sister Salome was alert to her sister-in-law's and wrote down her version of the story. It was all cooking to make a juicy scandal and the feuding Herodians were provisionally booked to go on Roman Edition of Jeremiah Springer Show when Antony and Octavian declared war on each other.
Herod decided to take himself off for a minor skirmish on the Judean border to stay out of the way of the fighting. Hedging his bets as usual , he sent messages of support to both sides . When Herod heard Octavian had won and was heading to Egypt to finish of Antony and Cleopatra, he celebrated by having his earless grandfather-in-law Paul Macca unplugged and disconnected from life on Earth. The official reports said Paul Macca had died of natural causes but even though some regarded him as a turncoat , crowds turned out to sing some of their old favourite Maccabee classic songs in mournful celebration.
Herod quickly hurried off to meet Octavian in Egypt and got the message that Rome was still his friend. He also willingly gave Octavian (soon to be Augustus) his sons Aristobolus and Alexander as hostages and also gave the victorious general expensive presents and a request that Rome ship over the latest War Chariots with retractable , clean wipe blades for internal security . Thanks to the activities of RIPAC, these were delivered within a few months.
At home Herod was still having trouble with Mariamne. She wasn't keen to see her sons go off to Rome and get a fancy Roman education. Mariamne complained that her ancestors hadn't driven out the Greeks to let the Romans have their pagan ways with her boys. If only Herod had left them to her and she would have quickly found them some nice Jewish girls to marry by the age of 12.
However , Herod was adamant and this made Mariamne furious. Herod's sinister sister Salome suggested to her brother that his wife was secretly slipping away at night to spend her pleasures with another man. Knowing this would upset the excitable Herod , he immediately ordered the execution of Mariamne . She was allowed to chose her manner of murder and elected to jump off the palace roof to her death. But even there she wasn't left in peace.
In a shocking move, Herod didn't bury her and instead stuffed Mariamne in a huge honey jar with a glass front panel. This allowed Herod to gaze at his dead wife every day and then dip a knife in the jar and spread honey on his toast. He was heard to remark that My Wife Has Never Tasted Better.. and would offer a dollop of honey to his courtiers to see if they agreed. Herod even toyed with marketing the honey to the wider Roman world with the advertising line Herod's Authentic Royal Honey: Ex-Wife Flavour but was put off when it suggested that it wouldn't sell very well. In any case it is yet another black story to add to the growing canon of Herod knocking stories .
One thing that bugged Herod ever since he had come back from Rome was the poor state of Jerusalem's architecture - and in particular , the Temple Complex. He compared it to a 'Philistine's Out Door Toilet' and suggested a complete rebuild , with added facilities including space for money changers , a bathing complex and a live animal enclosure for the necessary sacrifices.
This announcement was greeted by outrage by many Conservative Jews who called this Pagan Romanisation of their way of life. In retaliation , the hardliners, zealots , Palinites and fans of the Frothing Prophet Glenn Beck demanded Herod show proof he really was a natural born jew. When Herod declined to reply, they went further and accused his mother Antimater of adultery and that his real father was the Greek philosopher , Ignoramus of Antioch. This Hellenic know it all was said to be an educator in the Liberal Arts', and was a 'bearded, sandal wearing , abortion supporting Proto Marxist'.
Outraged by these accusations , Herod stormed into a meeting of the Sanhedrin and invited everyone there to have a look inside his loincloth. Knowing Herod's ferocious temper, the Sadducees and Pharisees who were present agreed Herod was indeed Jewish but the stories persisted ,even after Herod rather ungraciously killed his mother-in-law Alexandra for siding with his opponents.
Herod then changed tack and showed the Sadduccees his ambitious new temple plans and the nice houses where the priests would live. This brought them on side and left the Pharisees out on their own. The Sadduccees were happy and insisted that the money changers would have to do their business out in the open rather than in a building on the temple site. The Romans and other non-Jews were barred from the inner courtyards on the penalty of a thorough stoning if they got through. The gymnasium and all the other Classical civilization mod-cons were to be built on the other side of Jerusalem.
Work then promptly started on the massive building project. Constructed in the neo-brutalist style favoured by all monarchs, the chunky Herodian styled the temple began to take shape. Some of the locals were very happy about the new addition to the Jerusalem tourist map and others said that God would destroy it before it was ever finished. For the rest , they just shrugged their shoulders and wondered if Herod would live to see it completed.
Whilst Herod was getting his own way as regards the temple rebuild , he took time out to fill up the nursery with some more strapping sons and marriageable daughters to maintain the dynasty. This time he called all the boys Herod (and girls too as Herodias) , So within short order, Herod Archelaus , Herod Antipas and Herod Philip and Herod Herod (the Name Doubler) were fathered and promised various bits of Judea if they kept their noses clean and their hands out of the till. But they were very young and if Herod was removed from the political stage by an assassin , his eldest son Antipater 'Antsypantsy' expected to become the next King and he had very different ideas for his unwanted siblings.
However just as Antipater was about to book a couple of cut throats for some family job assignments , his half brothers Alexander and Aristobolus returned back from Rome. They had spent the last 20 years growing up the capital city of the Roman Empire and had scrolls full of useful contacts. Neither were that happy with their father for killing their mother Mariamne but decided to 'forgive their old Dad' for now if he stepped down as King and moved to a retirement home for the Bloodily Deranged.
Herod wasn't sure what to do and feared upsetting the Romans. Compared to Alexander and Aristobolus , Herod looked distinctly provincial and a bumpkin. However the young men were also arrogant after their years in Rome. They preferred to dress 'Latin' (i.e. white hats, black shirts, stripey waistcoats, large lapels etc.) rather than in traditional Jewish clothes. The brothers also admitted they were happy to mix and drink with the Romans in Jerusalem and then proposed to open a Salva Veritate Groove'n'Schmooze nightclub next door to The Temple.
Once Antipater heard about the proposed club , he got the Jewish religious right to close it down and accused his brothers of Latinised Liberalism. Herod who was still keen to have his temple finished , had Alexander and Aristobolus imprisoned in a dungeon to prevent further family bitterness. Then the news emerged that the two golden boys of Judea had died of 'shame' - and a bit more physically - by having pillows pressed on their faces until they turned a brighter shade of imperial purple.
By now Herod was showing signs of wanting to leave a legacy behind for the Jewish people. He published the Herod Health Care Reform Programme which promised everyone a full and happy life if they subscribed to the temple fund. The Sadducees were all for it but extreme Pharisees campaigned against Herod and demonstrated outside his Jerusalem palace . When Herod read the placards that said Death to the Romaniser, Hands off Our Grannies and Come to Ben Gurion's Authentic Kosher Bagel Table , he lost his sense of humour. When some of the more fired up members of the crowd tried to rip down the eagle standards and blue flags of Roman Imperialism , Herod ordered a spot of targetted bloodsheding . After the carnage, Herod announced he wanted a wipe the slate clean and suggested that as King of the Jews , God had been talking to him as well and wanted a fresh start religion . It was to be called Herodianism.
But Herod before could get his own cult going (i.e receiving celebrity endorsements , tax exemption status , tambourines ) he received news from Bethlehem that there was a new holy show was celebrating a spectacular opening night . The sky above that town were said to have been filled with flashing lights , fat children fluttering around on wings and that everyone had been kept up all night by an orchestra of 'angels' blowing their trumpets and singing 'It's A Holy Holiday'. Not only that but the local price of knitted jumpers had gone up as the price of wool had quadrupled when the shepherds had abandoned their sheep for a good time out at the local nightclub known as 'The Cavern' to listen to Joseph and The Wannabee Maccabees on stage. Finally Herod was given a report that Judean immigration authorities had failed to detain a band of strange men in fancy dress , bearing expensive gifts for someone called Joshua 'Jez' Ben-Yahweh. The bearded tourists had also said this boy would save all souls , even arse holes as well - a reference Herod thought , that was aimed at him.
Alarmed with this news and further reports that Bethlehem was putting up Christmas lights and keeping the shops open for late night shopping , Herod ordered the suppression of this unofficial festival . In an attempt to nip this religious rival in the bud , he ordered the Bethlehem police to kill every child born in the previous week on the grounds of suspected messianism.
Then convinced this was all a set up by 'Antsy' Antipater , Herod had his son sword shafted . The rest of his family wondered if the 'old man' was about to purge his family Hanakah card sending list again until they received news Herod had dropped dead whilst watching Judean False Idol at the local (Roman) Amphitheatre. For the religious community , this was a sign of divine wrath for the incorrigble helleniser.
Herod's death was treated as a national holiday and there was much celebrating of his death. Various hitherto prophets, holy men , Schlock-Jocks and self promoters confidently predicted the end of the world. However nothing happened and instead Herod's surviving sons split up the country and then went to bloody work on the naive party goers.
He defines the idea of a A Bad Press. Only the Romans liked him and no one else. Strangely , the name Herod the Great is a mistranslation of a text which actually read Herod the Great Shit but an idle copier forget the last word and the name passed into history without the lavatorial reference.
Herod's best known legacy , the new Jewish Temple , took years to finish after he was gone. Indeed it was only receiving its last coat of paint and the installation of a satellite dish (to get a better up link with Yahweh) when the Romans destroyed it and Jerusalem in 70 AD under the army of Titus. Perhaps even Herod would have seen the irony of that fate for what was for him , a religious bribe built in stone.