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Herod: Rome’s appointed King of Judea (reign 37-4 BC)

National Geographic History is one of my favorite magazines. The November/December 2022 issue contains an interesting article about King Herod (reign 37–4 BC), whose tyrannical rule over Judea impacted the childhood of Jesus (as mentioned in Matthew 2).[1] Antipater, Herod’s father, “a wealthy Jewish noble who admired Roman culture and was friendly with Julius Caesar,” was appointed by Rome as ruler of Judea.[2] Herod initially served under his father as governor of Galilee and later, after his father’s death, was appointed by the Roman Senate as King of Judea.[3] While the National Geographic article focuses on Herod’s building projects – including Herodium, his “hilltop palace-fortress” built with slave labor near Bethlehem (where Herod’s mausoleum was discovered in 2007); and his expansion of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (which the Romans destroyed in AD 70, as specifically foretold by Jesus according to Matthew 24:1–2) – it also mentions Herod’s evil massacre of children in and around Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the child Jesus (see Matthew 2).[4]


In my book, Daniel’s Fourth Kingdom: Fulfilling the Times of the Gentiles (WestBow Press, 2021), I examine Herod’s political ascent within Roman government during the times leading up to the birth of Jesus. His reign over Jerusalem, on behalf of Rome, bridged the political transition period from the third (Greek) kingdom to the fourth and final (Roman) gentile kingdom foretold in Daniel 2 and 7. The following paragraphs about Herod are excerpts from my book:

* * *

The world into which Jesus was born and lived was anything but peaceful, despite the forced tranquility of the Pax Romana, or Roman peace, inaugurated by Caesar Augustus (reign 27 BC–AD 14) . . .. Indeed, the Bible records that Joseph and Mary, with infant Jesus, fled Bethlehem and journeyed into Egypt to escape King Herod’s . . . slaughter of [children] two years old and under (Matthew 2 KJV). Herod, an Idumean[5] and a ruthless murderer, was Rome’s appointed king of Judea from 37 to 4 BC.[6]

With the support of Mark [Antony], the Roman Senate appointed Herod “king of Judea” in 40 BC, although he did not take control until 37 BC; and Herod developed an “excellent” relationship with [Antony].[7] With help from Rome, Herod recaptured the city of Jerusalem from the Parthians in 37 BC.[8] After Lepidus was forced from contention in 36 BC, the armies of [Antony] and Octavian [(who later became Caesar Augustus)] battled for ultimate power over Rome.[9] Their bloody feud was decided in a naval contest in 31 BC at Actium, in western Greece, where Octavian defeated the combined forces of [Antony] and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra.[10] Thereby, in one battle, Octavian defeated his last Roman rival as well as the last remnant (Ptolemaic-Egypt) of the Greek Empire and became the undisputed leader of Rome.[11]

“Fearing for his life” due to his friendship with the defeated [Antony], Herod, a shrewd politician, “swore allegiance to Octavian,”[12] who made Herod king of Judea because he calculated that Herod would be equally loyal to Rome.[13] Josephus records in dramatic detail how Herod defended (to Octavian) his friendship with [Antony], whom he described as a “friend” and “benefactor,” as well as Octavian’s embrace and restoration of Herod.[14]

Jesus was born into this cruel political world, at the beginning of the [last and longest running of Daniel’s] four gentile kingdoms [, the Roman Empire]; or, in other words, at the beginning of the end of human self-rule in the earth. This fact may help explain the meaning of Hebrews 9:26 (NIV), which reads, in part, that Christ “appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

[1] See Cayetana H. Johnson, “Herodium: Herod’s Desert Palace,” National Geographic History, November/December 2022, 50–61, 52–53.

[2] Ibid., 53.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 50–61, 53.

[5] Idumea, located south of Judea and the Dead Sea, was the land of the Edomites, enemies of Israel. Charles Souvay, “Idumea,” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910), 12 Mar. 2021 The nation of the Edomites was known for “its pride, treachery, greed, and violence.” KJV Study Bible, 1559, footnote 1:3-5.

[6] NIV Study Bible, 1590, footnote 2:1, and see “House of Herod” chart on 1592.

[7] NIV Study Bible, 1590, footnote 2:1; Pinero, “Herod The Great,” National Geographic History, November/December 2016, 44. Also, see Mark A. Chancey, Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus (Cambridge, UK, et al: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 46.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Perry, Western Civilization, 99.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Pinero, “Herod The Great.”

[13] Ibid.

[14] The Works of Josephus, Vol. II., 522–24.



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