I suspect that most of us have extended family members we love but who also make us wince; the Aunt who pretends she doesn’t drink, the Uncle with the odd bathing habits or the nervous cousin who never went to college and yet seems to know a lot about certain kinds of chemistry. If you are so afflicted it may be helpful to remind yourself that that at least your family isn’t stark raving mad, and even if they are then at least one of them doesn’t think he is royalty. And in the unlikely event that they do, well then, at least they don’t think they are Herod I, also known as “Herod The Great”, also known as “Herod the Builder”, and “Herod the Fecund”. But he is probably best known as “Herod the Paranoid Homicidal Maniac”. But then no family is perfect, right?Herod was a second son and he certainly didn’t seem destined to be great. But then, neither did he look crazy, either. But he was. At 25 he had a wife (Doris) and child (Antipater) and was in charge of Galilee, a poverty stricken back water province of the Roman Empire. But then his father was murdered (poisoned), and his older brother committed suicide (he bashed his own brains out). And in 40 BC a rebellion actually overthrew Herod. Any less of a bullhead would have taken the hint and retired, but Herod refused. With a little help from Rome (the Senate officially elected him “King of the Jews” - without asking the Jews, of course), in 37 BC Herod returned, murdered the usurper and took the throne for himself. By this time he had dumped his wife and child. And to reinforce his ties to the religious fanatics (always a good idea in the Middle East) Herod now married the teenage daughter of a priest. Her name was Mariamne.Trying to keep peace in the family, in 36 BC, Herod appointed his new brother-in-law High Priest. But two years later somebody had a little too much to drink at a party and somebody said something stupid and Herod had his brother-in-law water-boarded to death right in front of the guests. It seems homocide was their "normal:". Then in 29 B.C. Herod had his wife Mariamne executed because he suspected she was conspiring against him.And if she had any brains, she was. So when his now ex-Mother-in-Law said Herod was so nuts he was “unfit to rule”, he had her eliminated too. In 28 B.C. Herod had his other brother-in-law (and the husband of his daughter) executed. And because he was now out of in-laws, in 23 B.C. Herod married his third wife, Miriamne II (And at some point a fourth wife, a Samaritan girl named Malthace, and a fifth wife, known as Cleopatra of Jerusalem). Herod now had enough in-laws to drive anybody crazy; not that he needed an excuse.As was to be expected, by 12 B.C. Herod had become convinced that his sons by Miriamne I, Alexander and Aristobulus, were out to murder him. Agtain. if they had any brains... The Emperor Augustus talked Herod out of killing his sons immediately, but when Herod got hold of a conspiracy theory he was like a paranoid dog in taxidermy school - he was convinced everybody was after his bones. It took him five years but Herod finally compiled enough evidence to convince Augustus that Herod was never going to let the matter drop, and with the Emperor’s reluctant acceptance, both of Miriamne I’s sons were tried and executed in 7 B.C. That left Antipas, his son by Doris (remember her?) the next in line, and in keeping with the tradition of dedicated paranoids before him, such as Ivan the Terrible, Josef Stalin and Dick Cheney, in 4 B.C. Herod had him executed, too.
What happened next must have left Harod speechless. He died - of natural causes in his own bed. I'll bet nobody in the Middle East saw that coming. After his passing Herod's kingdom was divided between his sons Phillip (by Cleopatra) and Archelaus and Antipas (by Malthace). But it was Herod Antipas who managed to best carry on his father’s high standards for familial lunacy, particularly when he divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.
It may have been a "love match" it also ticked off his brother Archelaus, and two other people Antipas really didn’t need to have ticked off
at him. First, ala Governor Sarah Palin and the State Trouper, it angered Antipas' ex-father-in-law, King Aretas IV, of Nabtea, who promptly declared war on Antipas. And second it offended a local religious fanatic named John the Baptist. John condemned the marriage not only because Herodias had been his brother’s wife, but also because the new bride was Herod Antipas’s half sister.Generally it was a typical Herodian Family Feud. You see the lady at the center of this scandal, Herodias, had already produced a daughter with husband number one, Archelaus. The daughter was named Salome, and not only was Herod Antipas her uncle but now he was also her stepfather. The situation made Herod Antipas a bit sensitive to criticism, and he threw John the Baptist in jail, just to shut him up. And that was when, according to scripture, Salome did her little dance and dropped her seven veils. Her step-daddy Antipas then asked what he could do thank her for the performance, and Salome suggested, probably at the urging of her mother Herodia, that he could give her the head of John the Baptist. It seems a little strange that Josephus, who never met a tall tale he didn’t like, never mentioned this one, but it’s in the bible and I guess that means it just must be true. And the truth is, I’ll believe anything about that family.
- 30 -