Jews under Roman Rule - W. D. Morrison

The Roman Vassal King
(B.C. 41-4)

Before the battle of Philippi, the agents of Cassius had entered into negotiations with the Parthians, for the purpose of securing their co-operation against the partisans of Caesar. The loss of this action was a fatal blow to the republican cause. Still its adherents at the Parthian Court succeeded in inducing King Orodes to undertake, in the following year (B.C. 41), the invasion of Syria, which contained many Roman garrisons hostile to Antony. A powerful army under the command of Quintus Labienus, a Roman noble, and Pacorus, the king's son, crossed the Euphrates, won over most of the Roman troops in Syria, and quickly overran the whole province. The two generals shortly afterwards (B.C. 40) divided their forces; Labienus pushing westwards into Asia Minor, and Pacorus turning his hordes of horsemen against Palestine. Whilst these unexpected events were shaking the foundation of Antony's power, the new ruler of the East was in the first transports of his notorious amour with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, then in the very flower and full perfection of her charms. When tidings reached him that the Parthians were carrying all before them Antony was living under the enchantments of the queen at Alexandria in a giddy whirl of license and prodigality, but he was unable to tear himself from the fatal woman who henceforth became the evil genius of his life.

Left without counsel or assistance from their protector at a time when they were in grievous need of both, it now went hard with the new tetrarchs who had to confront a hostile population as well as the horsemen, of Pacorus. The struggle was too unequal to be of long duration. Herod, after desperate fighting, succeeded in making his escape from Jerusalem with his household, to a place of safety the fortress of Masada on the south-western shores of the Dead Sea. His brother Phasael dashed his brains out in a Parthian prison; Hyrcanus was captured and sent into exile beyond the Euphrates. Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus, who had formerly urged his claims upon Caesar, received the Jewish crown by making most shameful promises to Pacorus, and the whole structure of government raised by the Romans in Palestine was shattered at a blow (B.C. 40).

At last, however, the infatuated Antony was roused to action, and, leaving Alexandria, he proceeded to Tyre, the only city in Syria which still held out against the Parthians. There he learned that his position in Italy was imperiled by the headstrong conduct of Fulvia his wife. This violent and imperious woman had quarreled with Octavian, and in the disturbances which ensued Antony's friends were driven from Italy, and his colleague obtained a pre-eminence which was regarded by Antony as full of danger to himself. He accordingly set sail for Italy (B.C. 40) to demand explanations from Octavian, and a fresh civil war seemed imminent, when the legions, who were now weary of decimating one another, compelled the two generals to arrange a peaceful settlement of their differences. Whilst the triumvirs were engaged in re-dividing the Roman world, Herod arrived as a fugitive in the capital. After providing for the safety of his family, he had wandered through Idumaea to Alexandria, and, on finding Antony had gone, immediately made haste to Rome. From the triumvirs, who knew the value of his services, Herod met with a cordial welcome, and it was decided to elevate him to the royal dignity. In the Senate, orators of distinction spoke in his behalf, and Antony himself urged upon the assembly that, in view of the approaching Parthian war, Herod should be proclaimed a king. This proposal was unanimously approved of by the senators, and Herod, who was sitting in their midst, was then escorted by the triumvirs and the consuls to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol, where he offered sacrifice in accordance with a custom of the Roman magistrates on their entrance upon office. This imposing ceremony must have been a proud moment in the life of the new king, who did not dream of attaining such high honours when he arrived in Rome. But the kingdom was his own as yet only in name; he now hastened from the capital to make it his own in reality (B.C. 40).

Antony, after his reconciliation with Octavian, was able to give his attention once more to Eastern affairs. Publius Ventidius Bassus, one of his best lieutenants, was placed in command of a fresh army destined to operate against the Parthians. Fulvia being dead, Antony, to seal the peace, had just married Octavian's sister, a woman of pure and lofty character, and was staying with her at Athens watching the development of events both in the East and West. The Parthians were not really formidable when away from their wide-extending plains, and Ventidius, sweeping them like dust before him, soon regained possession of the invaded provinces (B.C. 39). When Herod was ready to commence operations in Palestine, the land was cleared of the Parthian horsemen, and the adherents of Antigonus were the only opponents the new king had to meet. Collecting troops with money kindly lent to him by a rich Jew of Antioch, and entering Galilee, he took the offensive with success. Ventidius sent him a detachment of Romans to assist in completing the conquest of the country. From them, however, he derived little real assistance. Silo, the commander, was bribed by Antigonus to remain inactive, and it was a relief to Herod when this force was recalled. Afterwards Ventidius dispatched two legions to his aid in command of another officer, but this man proved more corrupt than Silo. Herod had, in consequence, to contend with disheartening circumstances till he received help from Antony who was now in Asia Minor, and had taken into his own hands the supreme command of military affairs 1 (B.C. 38). Caius Sosius succeeded Ventidius as, Legate of Syria, and Antony entrusted him with the task of placing Herod on the Jewish throne. Sosius, with a large army, marched through Phoenicia upon Jerusalem, which, after a most heroic defence, was at last carried by assault. Antigonus became a prisoner, but at the urgent entreaties of his rival he was soon afterwards put to death (B.C. 37).

Whilst Herod was engaged in the formidable operation of suppressing discontent and re-organizing his kingdom, Antony fell once more under the spells of Cleopatra (B.C. 36)—an event of evil omen for the Jewish king, as well as for his Roman master. Antony's ambition now took the form of attempting to found a vast Oriental Empire after the manner of Alexander the Great satraps and vassal princes were to act as governors, and his children by Cleopatra as kings. The fair Egyptian now assumed the lofty title Queen of Kings, and in order to maintain her state required an extension of territory and an increase of her revenues. As Judaea had formerly been in possession of her family, and as it lay close to her own dominions, she set her heart upon obtaining it. With this fixed purpose she laboured strenuously to damage Herod in the estimation of Antony, and plotted with the king's relations in the expectation of accomplishing his downfall. Considering the influence which she possessed over her lover, it is remarkable that she did not speedily attain her end. Her failure can only be accounted for on the ground of Antony's unshakeable esteem for the monarch of his own creation. Once, however, her efforts to compass Herod's destruction were almost crowned with success, and the king looked upon himself as a lost man. In obedience to her importunities, Antony, while making preparations for his expedition against the Parthians which ended so disastrously, summoned the Jewish king to Laodicaea to answer a charge of having caused the death of his youthful brother-in-law Aristobulus. On Herod's arrival Cleopatra employed all her arts to secure his condemnation; but her sagacious victim succeeded in mollifying the displeasure of the Roman, who said a ruler must not be constantly interfered with in the exercise of his authority. Contrary to all expectation he returned to Jerusalem, still enjoying the favour of Antony; but he had to go on patiently enduring the machinations of Cleopatra and her intrigues with his nearest relatives as long as Antony continued at the head of affairs in the East. Eventually the queen obtained one of the fairest portions of Herod's kingdom, the famous palm groves and balsam gardens around Jericho which he had afterwards to lease from her. He had also to become surety for the tribute arising from her recent acquisitions in Syria; and his position was growing more and more precarious i when hostilities, which had been long foreseen, at length broke out between the two masters of the Roman world (B.C. 31).

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


Since the renewal of his relations with Cleopatra, Antony's proceedings in the East had begun to produce a deep feeling of irritation and resentment at Rome. Quitting the toga of his people for a purple robe, Antony assumed the manner of life of an Oriental despot, and appeared to have forgotten that he was a Roman. He celebrated his triumph over an Asiatic prince in Alexandria an act which deeply wounded Roman pride and frequently made his appearance in the city, which was now the rival of Rome, in the costume of the god Osiris, or arrayed in royal garments with a diadem on his head. The prudent and calculating Octavian was in the mean time engaged in restoring tranquility to the West, and consolidating the basis of his power. By the mild and temperate character of his policy, all classes were conciliated; and he waited patiently till the effects of Antony's extravagant folly rendered him intolerable to the Roman people. When the time for decisive measures at last arrived, Octavian openly denounced his colleague in the Senate (B.C. 32); and in the following year Cleopatra was declared a public enemy. In the war which ensued it was the foolish behaviour of this fatal woman that precipitated Antony's ruin. She retarded his preparations for the great contest, and at Actium (B.C. 31) prevailed on him to fight on sea where he was weak. While the battle was at its height she fled from the scene of action with sixty ships and made for Alexandria, thus converting a doubtful contest into a crowning victory. Worst of all, she had so demoralized the warlike spirit of Antony that when he saw her vessel take to flight he forgot his duties as a brave man and a general, and joined her. Octavian was now at the summit of his power, and the destruction of his rival was only a matter of time.

Fortunately for his future career, Herod was not allowed to participate actively in the hostilities which culminated so disgracefully at Actium. That the forces of the Jewish prince were then engaged in operations against the Nabataean Arabs was the work of Cleopatra. Conscious of Herod's military capacity, she was determined to prevent him from establishing additional claims upon the gratitude of the man who had at last become her husband; it was her intention to claim Judaea as her portion of the spoil at the conclusion of the war, which she expected would terminate in favour of Antony. Events, however, did not adapt themselves to the avaricious anticipations of the queen. After the disaster at Actium, the respective positions of herself and Herod became suddenly inverted, and her husband's last hope now hung on the fidelity of the very man whom she had doomed to destruction. Herod, for his part, on hearing of Antony's discomfiture, seized the first opportunity of freeing himself for the future from the menaces of Cleopatra by abandoning a lost cause. When Antony was informed that the Jewish king, in whom he placed implicit confidence, had deserted him, he relinquished all thoughts of continued resistance. Feeling that his end was near, he tried the consolations of ,philosophy; soon finding them ineffective, he drowned despair in dissipation, and as he had in past days lived with Cleopatra "the Inimitable Life," he now formed with her at Alexandria a society called "the Inseparables in Death." In this mood he waited the approach of his successful rival.

Octavian was apprised of Herod's defection, and of the valuable assistance he had rendered the Syrian proconsul by compelling a band of gladiators faithful to Antony to lay down their arms. Consequently when the Jewish king appeared at Rhodes in the following year (B.C. 30) to make his submission to the victor, who was then completing preparations for an advance on Alexandria, he found the politic Octavian favourably disposed towards him. Octavian appreciated the excellent services which the Idumaean family had formerly rendered to Caesar in the Alexandrian war; and being about to engage in a similar enterprise himself, he gladly welcomed such an important ally as Herod, who was accordingly confirmed in his authority. After this successful interview, Herod hastened homewards and made magnificent preparations for the advance of the legions through his territories upon Egypt. It is very probable that this duty, as it was a preliminary to the final overthrow of Cleopatra, possessed a certain attraction for the king, who had already advised Antony to put her to death, as being the cause of his misfortunes. Meanwhile Cleopatra was conducting secret negotiations with Octavian in the hope of being permitted to retain the crown. By her orders, Pelusium, the key of Egypt, opened its gates to the conqueror; and in the hour of battle her soldiers proved faithless to Antony, who, surrounded on all sides by treachery and defection, and having nothing to expect from the clemency of his opponent, returned to Alexandria and put a termination to his existence. Cleopatra now hoped to purchase the grace of Octavian with the dead body of her husband, but being secretly informed that the victor intended taking her to Rome to adorn his triumph, she followed Antony's example, and was found dead at his tomb. With the conclusion of the Egyptian war the troubled and bloody period of transition from republican to monarchial institutions came to an end. Octavian was now undisputed master of the whole empire. His victory over Antony was hailed with acclamation as the beginning of a new and brighter era for distressed humanity; of war and convulsion the world was weary, and the great poets of this period give noble utterance to the universal aspiration for repose and peace (B.C. 30).

For the next forty years Octavian or to use the name of honour conferred upon him by the Senate—Augustus remained at the head of affairs, and utilized his unique position in founding and developing the institutions of the new empire. While professing the utmost reverence for ancient constitutional forms, he assumed under old names a monopoly of supreme power, and in the guise of restoring liberty to the oppressed republic, in reality transformed it into an Oriental despotism. His long reign is replete with interest both to students of literature and of political institutions; but, above all, it will continue to be memorable, in the history of mankind, as the era in which the Founder of Christianity was born.

It was under the political system created by Augustus that the Christian religion found scope to spread itself throughout the Western world. His character and aims in consequence acquire a significance which does not attach to any of the previous Roman rulers of Palestine. With all his admirable qualities of mind and temper, Augustus cannot be called a genius; and though his wonderful faculty for utilizing men and circumstances compels respect, yet he remains one of those cold and calculating natures it is impossible to love With him every action was the result of premeditation; nothing was spontaneous; he even wrote down what he intended saying to his wife, and his ideal of life appeared to be to avoid committing a mistake. Antony accused him of being deficient in courage: this, however, cannot be asserted with justice; it undoubtedly required courage of a very high order for a youth of nineteen to come forward as heir of the murdered Caesar a step which threw him into the very heart of the Titanic strife let loose by the Dictator's death. It was not, however, in keeping with his principles, using his own expression, "to hazard much for the sake of little." The quick flash of impulse he regarded with a certain dread, and his boldest enterprises were always the outcome of cool and patient calculation. In dealing with men politically, this habit of mind was of the highest value to Augustus, but it utterly failed him in the loftier domain of religion, and the reforms which he inaugurated in this sphere produced no lasting fruit, because the reformer was simply actuated by motives of state, and not by the sacred flame of love for what is good. His private life belied the stringent laws enacted against the immoralities of the time: and if the simplicity of his table and home was a bright example in a luxurious age, he was in other respects soiled and tainted with the odious vices of his contemporaries. His pretended zeal for moral purity gives a painful air of hypocrisy to his character, of which he appears to have been conscious when he asked the friends admitted to his deathbed if he had not played his part well in the pantomime of life.

In his public capacity Augustus had an admirable opportunity after Antony's death of constituting the empire which had become a necessity—upon a broad and enduring basis; and although this was apparently his intention, events proved that he did not possess the statesmanship or self-renunciation requisite for such a task. In the old Roman institutions, for which he professed so profound a reverence, were to be found nearly all the materials for the erection of a sound constitutional fabric, free alike from the excessive decentralization that had ruined Greece and the despotic autocracy inseparable from Oriental forms of civilization. Out of the materials which lay at hand, and of which he must have been cognizant, Augustus might have created a stable government, directed by competent public servants, assisted and controlled in their administration by the intelligent co-operation not only of the inhabitants of Rome or Italy, but of every freeman within the dominions of the empire. On this path, which would probably have saved Europe ten centuries of darkness and barbarism, Augustus did not choose to proceed; and the only institution which he founded on the ruins of the Republic was the absolute will of the emperor too frail a bulwark to prevent the rapid dissolution of ancient society. Tacitus gives a lucid and concise account of the method adopted by the emperor for concentrating all authority in his own person, and of the willingness of all classes to accept the yoke.

"The defeat of Brutus and Cassius," says the historian, "destroyed the republicans; Sextus Pompey had succumbed in Sicily; the fall of Lepidus and the death of Antony left Augustus as sole chief of Caesar's party. Renouncing the title of Triumvir for that of Consul, Augustus, for the purpose of protecting the people, was at first contented with the tribunitian power. Soon afterwards, having gained the soldiers by his largesses, the people by distributions of food, and all orders of the State by the sweets of peace, he grew bolder by degrees, and drew to himself without opposition the whole power of the Senate, the magistrates, and the laws. The bravest of the nobility had perished in battle or by proscription; the rest won over to servitude by riches and honours, preferred the present with its safety to the past with its dangers. These changes did not displease the provinces; they dreaded the rule of the Senate and people, on account of the rival ambitions and cupidity of the magistrates, who were feebly checked by laws which were powerless against violence, corruption, and wealth."

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


Such, then, was the character of the ruler with whom Herod had for the future to deal; and such the nature of the empire into which Palestine became incorporated for several centuries to come. At the close of the Alexandrian expedition Augustus had to arrive at a determination respecting the government of his new acquisitions in the East. He renounced the designs of Caesar and Antony for carrying Roman arms beyond the Euphrates. The countries immediately contiguous to the Mediterranean formed a natural boundary for an industrial and commercial empire such as Augustus had conceived; his eastern policy therefore resolved itself into the question of establishing a stable authority on the Egyptian and Syrian line of coast. Of Herod's competence to assist him in this task the emperor was well aware. The Jewish king, it is true, in the struggle between contending factions, had frequently changed sides, but he had always remained faithful to Rome; although he espoused Antony's cause, he did not oppose Augustus in the field, and his hatred of Cleopatra went far to atone for his familiar relations with her lover. In addition, the excellent arrangements Herod had made for the comfort of the troops in the recent campaign were fresh in the emperor's memory, and policy as well as gratitude pointed to the Jewish prince as the fittest man for guarding Roman interests in Western Syria. At all events, such was the opinion of Augustus, who possessed a rare aptitude for the selection of able subordinates. Herod, accordingly, was not only confirmed in his kingdom, but it was also enlarged by the addition of Samaria, the Jewish possessions of Cleopatra, portions of territory east of Jordan, and the whole coastline from Gaza to the future city of Caesarea. A few years afterwards, when Augustus was further convinced of the wisdom of his choice, Herod received fresh accessions of territory. His power then extended eastward to Damascus and northward to the sources of the Jordan, the whole kingdom forming a vaster dominion than had at any previous time been ruled from Jerusalem, even in her palmiest days.

In the internal administration of his extensive possessions, Herod became a zealous imitator of his imperial master, and Palestine, as well as Italy, could boast its Augustan age of order, civilization, and peace. In the turbulent regions of the northeast, the king successfully accomplished the difficult task of pacification, utterly dispersing the hordes of robbers who had made this district their refuge and home. He amply satisfied the primary test applied by Augustus to all his subordinates namely, their fitness for maintaining order and tranquility. It was no easy matter to achieve this end among the disaffected and fanatical population over which he ruled; but Herod was a man of infinite resource, who thoroughly understood the temper of his subjects, and knew what precautions would prove effective in the contingency of revolt. The defenses of the capital were strengthened to overawe the inhabitants, a military colony was planted in Samaria for the same purpose, and a strategical system of fortifications established throughout the rest of the country, His Roman masters had long since taught him how to dispose of opponents; and during the reign of Antony he freely decimated them by proscriptions, which served the twofold purpose of supplying the triumvir with gold, and of striking terror among the disaffected. Under Augustus, who had grown weary of blood, the king pursued, except with his own family, a different method, which con listed in covering the land with a network of spies. It is said that he sometimes played the spy himself, mixing among the people in disguise at night, the better to ascertain their true feelings towards the government. Despotism, by stifling the free and open expression of opinion, is invariably driven to these dark courses, and Augustus is reported to have adopted even more shameful means than Herod to feel the real pulse of public sentiment. As a safeguard against sedition and discontent, Herod had great faith in keeping the people occupied; large assemblages were forbidden, as tending to conspiracy and disorder; the use of torture was not infrequent; punishments were as a rule severe; and, especially in Judaea, terror and force were the ultimate and only foundations of authority.

It would, however, be taking an imperfect view of the king's administration to look only at the equivocal methods adopted by him for upholding order and curbing disaffection. It is certain that he was also animated by a sincere desire to promote the welfare and prosperity of his subjects, and that, under his rule, Palestine, like other portions of the empire, entered upon an era of unwonted affluence. Measures were put in operation to augment the productiveness of the country. Trade was encouraged, new commercial centres were established, cities restored and founded, and, to facilitate communication between Syria and Egypt, a magnificent harbour was constructed at Caesarea. The building operations at Caesarea were on an immense scale; and the choice of site reflects high honour on the king's foresight, for the place rapidly grew into an important city, and eventually displaced Jerusalem as the capital of the country. His influence with the Roman administrators was also exerted in behalf of the Jews (the Diaspora) who had settled in different parts of the empire, and through him valuable privileges and immunities were secured for them. At home the king lightened taxation when he believed it was becoming burdensome, and during a famine which committed terrible ravages in the land, he displayed admirable qualities both of head and heart. By him vast supplies of food were obtained from Egypt for the starving population; the tender, the aged, the infirm were the objects of his assiduous care; and as the treasury was empty, he sold the whole of his costly plate and furniture stripping the royal palace of its grandeur in order to supply the people with the necessaries of life.

Herod's success in maintaining order and promoting prosperity among his subjects induced Augustus to lay upon him the much more delicate and difficult duty of attempting to Hellenize them as well. The external unity of the empire had been achieved, but it as yet possessed no internal cohesion, and the only thing which prevented the huge structure from falling to pieces was the invincible constraint of Roman arms. Augustus wished to create an internal bond of union among the heterogeneous populations under his sway, and to attain this end adopted the project of permeating the unhellenized portions of the East with the tastes, habits, and customs of Greece and Rome. Herod, as far as his dominions were concerned, became a willing instrument of his imperial master, and made vigorous efforts to impart a Roman character to the land. In the Gentile portion of his government he erected splendid heathen temples, and dedicated them to Caesar. Roman spectacles were introduced, Roman theatres and amphitheatres constructed for the amusement of the populace; the military roads were studded with Roman monuments; cities, towns, palaces, and public edifices received Roman names, and especially the names of the imperial family Samaria became Sebaste, Straton's Tower became Caesarea, and the entire country presented the appearance of being thoroughly Romanized. In Judaea the king, who knew the temper of the inhabitants, went to work more warily, but even in this province he ventured to build a huge amphitheatre not far from the Holy City, and here the games instituted by Augustus in honour of his victory at Actium were celebrated in a magnificent manner. Contests with gladiators, chariot races, wild-beast fights could now be witnessed in the very heart of Judaism on a scale and with a splendour which compelled the admiration of the Gentiles themselves.

People from all parts of the empire were invited to these novel spectacles. Jerusalem ceased to be a city given up to priests, rabbis, and doctors of the law; it was unwillingly opened out to the more diversified life of the West. Foreign mercenaries from Galatia, Germany, and Thrace were now to be seen in its streets; foreign envoys and retainers were always frequenting the royal palace, and Western habits of life became more and more common and prominent in the capital; Greek orators, sophists, and historians gave an air of intellectual distinction to Herod's court; and two brothers, both able men, Nicolaus and Ptolemaeus, of Damascus, held high positions in the administration. Ptolemaeus did not possess the brilliant gifts of his brother, but he was of the utmost service to the king in the practical conduct of affairs, and exercised a wholesome influence on his passionate and suspicious nature. Nicolaus was Herod's confidential agent in his dealings with Augustus and the Roman officials He was a man of exceptional acquirements, at once a diplomatist, courtier, poet, and philosopher; he had also published well-known works on geography and history, and was a naturalist of repute besides. Other Greeks of lesser note also found their way into Herod's favour, some for good and others for evil, but all of them contributed towards Hellenizing the capital and giving a Western tone to the conduct of affairs.

While pursuing this line of policy Herod felt that he was inflicting deep wounds on Jewish religious susceptibility, and in order to allay public discontent pretended to be acting in obedience to commands from Rome. To a certain extent this excuse may be correct, for during the supremacy of Antony, he displayed little liking for works of art or Western modes of life, and his newborn zeal under Augustus probably proceeded from motives of statecraft and a desire to please his imperial master. Still, it is also worthy of being remembered that Herod was only half a Jew. By education he was a Greek. During his reign he surrounded himself with Greeks, and openly preferred them to his Jewish subjects. He delighted in their applause, loved to adorn their cities, restore their temples, subsidize their games, and, although his mind was never deeply penetrated by Hellenic culture, he had been taught to regard it as the highest and best. But with all his Gentile leanings, Herod was too much of a statesman to carry Hellenism beyond the point which his Jewish subjects could endure, and carefully avoided repeating the blunders of Antiochus Epiphanes. On the contrary, he tried to make political capital out of Jewish beliefs, especially those connected with the Temple 82) ?> and the Messianic hopes.

At this period it was a prevalent idea among the Jews that the Messiah when He appeared would erect a far more splendid temple than the one at present in existence; and the Book of Enoch, then very popular, sustained this belief by prophesying that the Messianic age would be inaugurated by the building of a house to the praise of a great king for ever and ever. Herod took hold of these expectations and set himself to utilize them for dynastic purposes. In the fifteenth year of his reign (B.C. 20) he summoned a great assembly of the people, and after delivering an oration to them on the blessings which had accompanied his rule, announced his intention of rebuilding the Temple and superseding the old structure of Zerubbabel by a far more glorious edifice. His proposition was received with mingled feelings of apprehension and dismay, but Herod succeeded in dissipating the fears of the people. Thousands of priests and workmen were engaged, the materials for the new edifice were collected before the old Temple was demolished, and for eight years the great work of re-construction was proceeded with. Huge blocks of marble, which afterwards aroused the wonder of Christ's disciples, were transported from a great distance to the Temple Mount; the priests were taught masonry, so that no unclean hands should touch the inner courts, and the king himself was forbidden to approach the most sacred portions of the new edifice. At last the great undertaking was completed. Its consecration was celebrated with unequalled pomp and magnificence, and national pride was gratified by the spectacle of its extraordinary beauty. When the morning sun burst upon the white marble of the Temple, Mount Moriah glittered like a hill of snow; and when its rays struck the golden roof of the sacred edifice, the whole mount gleamed and sparkled as if it were in flames. Whoever has not seen the Temple of Herod, said the rabbis, has seen nothing beautiful; pious legend went further, and declared that it was built amid manifestations of Divine approval.

[Illustration] from The Jews Under Roman Rule by W. D. Morrison


Notwithstanding the momentary satisfaction produced among the people of Judaea by the re-erection of the Temple, Herod never really enjoyed more than a temporary popularity in this, the most rigid and fanatical part of the kingdom. It was not so much his despotism which made the dwellers in and around Jerusalem his irreconcilable enemies. The despotism of several of the Maccabean princes had been far more brutal; it was not the king's Hellenism, for the Maccabees had been as ardent Hellenists as he; it was not even his usurpation taken by itself, but the fact of his being an Idumaean, a stranger in the gates of Israel.

Among no people of antiquity did race antipathy exercise so potent an influence as among the Jews of Judaea. Among them national exclusiveness had become one of the most vital elements of religion, and their racial kinship with the Edomites added bitterness to this exclusive spirit, instead of tending to break it down. It was sufficient that Herod was one of the hated children of Edom to ensure his being detested by the Jews; no services of his could possibly wipe out this stain. It would have proved fatal to the popularity of any prince however excellent, and the Jewish deputy who accused the king before Augustus was expressing the heartfelt convictions of his countrymen, when he said that the generation which lived under Herod endured more tribulation than all their forefathers together since the return from Babylon.

Unquestionably Herod put down religious outbreaks with a strong hand, and drowned every uprising of fanaticism in blood; his measures were sometimes terribly severe, but they were essential to the one supreme demand of Augustus—the maintenance of peace. Herod's rule shows many a dark blot on its pages, but it was the only rule then possible except the direct sovereignty of Rome; and if his administration is compared with the condition of things which immediately preceded it, or even with the latter period of independence, it will come forth from the ordeal with additional lustre. It has to be conceded that his government was not based on the people's will, but it has likewise to be remembered that to Jews had proved in the most glaring manner their total incapacity to govern themselves, and their choice actually lay not between, despotism and self-government, but between despotism and anarchy.

Herod evidently knew the reason why he was so bitterly hated by his Jewish subjects, for he burned the archives of Jerusalem where the genealogies were preserved, and pretended to be a descendant of a distinguished family of Babylonian Jews. Nicolaus of Damascus even drew up a Jewish pedigree for the king, but the device was too transparent to deceive any one, and he was known to the last in popular language as the Hasmonaean slave. But, after all, Judaea was only a small portion of his dominions, and the hostility which he experienced there is in marked contrast with the goodwill accorded him in Samaria and Galilee, and the gratitude of the Jews abroad. The Samaritans were warmly attached to him, and Samaria was his favourite residence; the absence of fortifications in Galilee is a proof that he had nothing to fear from the high-spirited and warlike inhabitants of the north, and he was recognized by the Jews of the Dispersion as their friend and protector. In face of these circumstances it is hardly possible to avoid the conclusion that sentimental antipathies, joined to an innate spirit of turbulence, distorted the popular judgment in Judaea, and led the inhabitants to see Herod in a perverted light.

It is remarkable that public virtues are sometimes found in conjunction with a disreputable private character, and this was to a certain extent the case with Herod. In many respects his long reign was a distinct blessing to the Jews, and if his family life with its dreadful tale of murder and woe had remained unchronicled, history might have accorded him a place among the select band of sovereigns who have deserved well of their country. Something in the human conscience rebels against the dictum that a ruler's private life is a matter of indifference so long as it does not injuriously affect his public action, but this appears to have been the light in which Herod was regarded by Augustus and his minister Agrippa. With only one short interval he enjoyed the confidence of the emperor to the last, and on more than one occasion he gave substantial proof that this confidence was deserved. It was through Herod's timely assistance that a disastrous expedition sent by Augustus to the Red Sea did not terminate more disastrously, and on the only occasion in which the king was visited with the imperial disfavour, Augustus discovered afterwards that the error lay with himself. So striking was his faith in Herod's judgment in Eastern affairs that the proconsuls of Syria, men of the highest eminence in the empire, were enjoined to undertake nothing of importance within the province without first consulting the Jewish king, and Josephus relates that Augustus esteemed Herod next to his son-in-law Agrippa, and that Agrippa who had visited the king's dominions and seen his great undertakings valued him next to the emperor.

It is in Herod's family life that the darkest elements of his character are most distinctly seen. His great palace at Jerusalem presented the outward appearance of a Grecian edifice, but within it was an oriental harem full of the plots and jealousies of women, eunuchs, and slaves. When the king entered this polluted atmosphere his usual sagacity utterly failed him, and he frequently acted like a man bereft of reason. His palace was little better than a pandemonium; a women's war was continually going on among the different members of his family; the air was full of rumours, whisperings, and secret intrigues, all of which were poured into Herod's ears in exaggerated forms, till he imagined himself surrounded by an invisible network of conspiracy. His jealous and suspicious nature was worked upon by skilled intriguers who knew the weak spots in his character, and roused him into transports of fury and revenge. It was at such times that he gave orders for those terrible executions of his own kindred, which remain without a parallel in history. In these fits of rage he spared neither age nor sex, and neither affection nor the sacred ties of fatherhood and wedlock were allowed to stay the hand of the executioner. Wives, brothers, children, were all hurried to an untimely doom when once his suspicions were successfully aroused. By Herod's command his beautiful wife Mariamne perished in the flower of life; his children Alexander and Aristobulus met with a like fate as they were entering upon manhood, and their great-grandfather Hyrcanus while he was tottering to the grave. Besides these victims, Mariamne's mother, his brother-in-law Costobar, his uncle Joseph, and his eldest son Antipater were all executed. Some of them—as, for instance, his mother-in-law Alexandra and his diabolical son Antipater probably deserved their fate; but the others were sacrificed to the jealousy and suspicion of the king. Remorse generally followed these executions, and the miserable man was to be seen wandering about heart-broken and inconsolable, calling aloud to his victims as if they were still alive. Augustus sometimes tried to compose Herod's family disputes, but with little permanent success, and at last he came to the conclusion that it was better to be one of Herod's swine than his son.

In Herod's old age the arbitrary and bloodthirsty side of his character obscured those more estimable qualities which have obtained for him the name of Great, and when he died at Jericho (B.C. 4) about the age of seventy, after a reign of thirty-four years, the earlier and more brilliant period of his life was forgotten; and he lived in the popular imagination simply as the instigator of atrocity and woe. By the gospel writers who place the birth of Christ in the concluding years of his long reign, he is represented as a jealous and suspicious tyrant, and a similar account of him is preserved in an old fragment of Jewish literature written probably a short time after the king's death. In prophetic tones a writer under the pseudonym of Moses, after pronouncing sentence of condemnation on the Maccabees for their impiety which brought about the usurpation of Herod, proceeds thus to describe the king, and his tyrannous deeds: An insolent king shall succeed them who is not of the race of the priests—a daring and godless man. And he will judge them as they deserve. He will extirpate their eminent men with the sword, and will bury their bodies in unknown places, so that no man shall know where their bodies are. He will kill the aged and the young and not spare. Then shall a great fear of him be among them in their land, and he shall execute judgment among them as the Egyptians did among them, and shall chastise them for thirty or forty years. And he will beget sons who as his successors shall rule a shorter time."

Of these sons and their relations with the Romans we shall in the following chapter proceed to speak.