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FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

FAMILY AFFAIR

I suspect that most of us have family members who make us wince - the aunt who pretends she doesn’t drink,  the uncle with the odd hygiene habits, and the nervous cousin who never went to college and yet seems to have a rather specific field of chemistry knowledge. If you are so afflicted by relativity, 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 if one of them does thinks she is a queen, then you can thank God they are not actually royalty. And in the unlikely event that they are actually royalty, well then, at least you can thank heaven they aren't "Herod The Great”. He was also known as “Herod the Builder”, and “Herod the Fecund”, but  he was  probably best known as “Herod the Paranoid Homicidal Maniac”. But then, as I said, no family is perfect, right?Herod (above) was a second son and he certainly didn’t seem destined to be great. But then, neither did he seem destined to be crazy, either. But he was both. At 25 he had a wife (Doris) and a child (Antipater) and an easy job. He 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). That promoted Herod to the job of King.  And then in 40 BC a rebellion overthrew Herod. Any less of a lunatic would have taken the hint and retired, but Herod refused to accept the harsh reality. 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 to Palestine, murdered the usurper and took back his throne. By this time he had divorced his dear Doris. So, 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 within his new family, in 36 BC, Herod appointed his new brother-in-law High Priest. But two years later the new brother-in-law had a little too much to drink at a party and said something offensive about.Herod, to Herod.  So, Herod had the  brother-in-law water-boarded to death right in front of the guests. It seems homicide was Herod's new "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. Then, when his now ex-Mother-in-Law said Herod was so nuts he was  “unfit to rule”,  he had her eliminated too. Then in  28 B.C. Herod had his other ex-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 then a fourth wife, a Samaritan girl named Malthace, followed by a fifth wife, known as Cleopatra of Jerusalem). Herod now had enough in-laws to drive anybody crazy -  not that he needed an excuse. His nuclear family tree was starting to look like it had reached critical mass.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. Again. if they had any brains. they were.  Anyway, 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 the he, Herod, King of the Jews, was never going to let the matter drop. So with the Emperor’s reluctantly acceptance, both of Miriamne I’s sons were tried and executed in 7 B.C. That left Antipas, his son by Doris (remember her?) as the next in line to the  throne. And in keeping with the tradition of dedicated paranoids running Israel and Palestine, in 4 B.C. Herod had him executed, too.
What happened next must have left Herod 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 son Phillip (by Cleopatra) and his sons Archelaus and Antipas (by Malthace). But it was Herod Antipas who managed best to carry on his father’s high standards for familial homicidal lunacy, when he divorced his wife to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.
It may have been a "love match" (we can certainly hope) but it also ticked off his brother Archelaus, and two other people Antipas really didn’t want to have ticked off  at him. First, it angered Antipas' ex-father-in-law, King of Nabtea, who promptly declared war on Antipas. And second, it offended a local religious fanatic you may have heard of, 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. This family tree has a million branches, and  not one of them is straight.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.  The daughter was named Salome, and not only was Herod Antipas her uncle but he was also now 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 to 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: prophet on  a plate, blue plate special. 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’d believe just about anything crazy about this family.
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