Herod and The Tidings From The East – The Dynasty Part 1

When Jesus was born the elite society in Israel were corrupt. The High Priesthood position was given to the highest bidder. While the King of the Jews, Herod was actually an Edomite/Idumean who had acquired his kingship through military conquest.

  • So how come someone from Esau’s lineage, who lost the birthright inheritance becomes the King of Judea?

John Hyrcanus (The Hasmonean/Maccabeean leader of Judah and Jewish high priest) conquered their land around 130 BC. The Edomites were forced to cease worshipping Koze, who was the god of their nation and had to worship Yahweh – God most High instead. As a result they observed the Jewish rites and laws, they became incorporated into the Jewish Nation and ceased to be a separate people group. [1]

However, God had told the Children of Israel to never mix with the Edomites BUT they did intermingle – even down to a name. Judah and Idumea (Edom) = Judea.


Herod & Co

When Jesus was born King Herod was still building the temple complex in Jerusalem. Herod would never see it completed but once it was finished in 63AD the complex was the size of about 26 soccer pitches and it dwarfed the pagan shrines of Rome.

Between Herod and the leading Sadducee High Priest family, the Ananus dynasty, they had turned the temple into a house of merchandise and charged excessive amounts for animal sacrifices. It was the biggest money making racket in the entire Roman empire especially at feast times when families came from all over the known Jewish world to Jerusalem (Jesus in his ministry years called it ‘a den of thieves’). Herod and the High Priest family bought their power from the Romans and in turn the Romans protected their ‘lucrative buying and selling enterprise’.

Herod’s allegiance as King of the Jews was to Rome. He was just a puppet king for the Roman Empire and useful in the eyes of the Roman authorities for keeping those rebellious Jews in order. They didn’t care how he kept them in order and the Jewish people hated him.


Herod The Builder

King Herod loved his architecture and built many elaborate temples, palaces, fortresses and cities. He also set up statues in honour of Caesar all over Judea as Josephus records …

“When Caesar had further bestowed upon him another additional country, he built there also a temple of white marble, hard by the fountains of Jordan;” and also “to say all at once, there was not any place in his kingdom fit for the purpose, that was permitted to be without somewhat that was for Caesar’s honour; and when he had filled his own country with temples, he poured out like plentiful marks of his esteem into his province, and built many cities which he called Caesareas” (Josephus Wars I, 21:2)

He tried to gain favour with the Jews by remodelling their modest temple by making it much bigger and magnificent and naming it ‘Herod’s Temple’.

From yellow and white marble” There are some that say, “From yellow, black and white marble.” One tier of stones projected outward, and one tier of stones projected inwards in order to hold plaster (i.e. meaning “concrete”). He (i.e. Herod) wished to overlay it (i.e. the marble) with gold, but the Rabbis said to him: “Leave it alone! It is more beautiful this way, because it looks like the waves of the sea. ~ The Talmud [2]

Even the disciples were in awe at the buildings.

As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” ~ Mark 13:1

And as some spake of the temple, how it was adorned with goodly stones and gifts, ~ Luke 21:5


Herod Thought Himself To Be Higher Than Yahweh

A couple of years ago I read this in one of the Israeli newspapers online …

Herod is famous for having rebuilt Jerusalem, profoundly reshaping the urban landscape. Most notable is the construction of his grand palace on the northern side of Mt Zion in 25 BCE…

The extraordinarily grandiose buildings with towers, gates, barracks and magnificent gardens were all part of the Herodian propaganda endeavor. In fact, Gibson discovered that the floor level of Herod’s palace was higher than God’s temple on the opposite hill, which made him speculate about Herod’s perception of himself. 

“It seems like Herod saw himself a bit higher then God,” the archaeologist observes. [3]


He Honoured The God of Forces

He placed a huge golden Roman eagle – the iconic emblem of Rome to “honour the god of forces” above the entrance to the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews were horrified that their temple had a Roman pagan emblem above its entrance as that was a sacrilegious act in their eyes. Two rabbis, Judas and Matthias decided that they along with their students would tear down the eagle from the entrance. But Herod arrested the perpetrators and publicly burnt them alive.

He was so wicked and brutal that Josephus called him a madman….

“it was also during paroxysms of fury, that, nearly about the same time, he burned alive Matthias and forty young men with him, who had pulled down the golden image of the Roman eagle, which he had placed over the gate of the temple” (Ant. XVII 7).

A man he was of great barbarity towards all men equally, and a slave to his passion;

Herod had 10 wives and no one was safe in his household. He killed anyone who he perceived to be a threat to his rulership. Or else he threw them in jail. Even his own family wasn’t exempt. He killed the entire male Hasmonean line, three of his own sons and even his favourite wife Mariamne, the Hasmonean princess and her mother.  He was very successful at doing things “according to his own will.”

Caesar Augustus said: “It is better to be Herod’s pig (hus) than his son (huios)”. That was a play on the Greek words as Herod kept kosher and would not have killed a pig, but thought nothing of killing his own sons.

So considering Herod’s personality traits you can understand how troubled he was about the ‘tidings from the east’ when the Wise Men arrived wanting to visit the NEW King of the Jews! He had already killed every Hasmonean male, as they had held the legitimate right to the Jewish throne. Now he had to kill this baby … if only he could find him.


Many in the church believe that it was through Daniel’s teaching back in Babylon that the wise men from Persia knew to watch for a star. I once believed that too but it’s not my understanding any longer. I now believe those wise men came from Arabia (see this blog post) and were Abraham’s descendants from his two concubines Hagar and Keturah. But I can still tie Daniel into the Christmas story about the wise men! 

History, both sacred and profane, sets before us a most notable character, one who appears upon the scene and occupies the center of the stage in Israel just at “the end” of the Asmonean era, and one who answers to every item of the prophetic description. We have reference to that strange, despotic, ungovernable and unspeakably cruel personage, whom the evangelists designate emphatically as–

“HEROD THE KING”

–that remarkable character who was a usurper upon the throne of David when Christ, the true King, was born. The proof which enables us to identify “the king” of Daniel 11:36-39 with Herod the Great and his dynasty, is so convincing that we feel warranted in saying that the prophecy could not possibly mean anyone else. [4]


Let me introduce you to Herod, The Great

Herod the Great was the King over Daniels people.

And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods and shall prosper until the indignation be accomplished ~ Daniel 11:36

“But instead he will honor a god of fortresses, a god whom his fathers did not know; he will honor him with gold, silver, costly stones and treasures. ~ Daniel 11:38

Herod’s ancestors had worshipped the god Koze until the time of John Hyrcanus, though as an Edomite, his ancestor Esau would have once worshipped Yahweh. Herod claimed that he worshipped Yahweh the God most High, but his actions proved otherwise. Even though he rebuilt a magnificent temple, it was not to bring glory to Yahweh, but to serve his own political end and to secure his power.

Since, therefore, he had now the city (Jerusalem) fortified by the palace in which he lived, and by the temple, which had a strong fortress by it, called Antonia, rebuilt by himself, he contrived to make Samaria a fortress for himself also, against all the people, and called it Sebaste, supposing that this place would be a strong hold against the country, not inferior to the former. So he fortified that place, which was a day’s journey distant from Jerusalem, and which would be useful to him in common, to keep both the country and the city in awe of him…

He also imitated every thing, though never so costly or magnificent in other nations: out of an ambition that he might give most public demonstration of his grandeur. ~Josephus


Herod Proclaimed President Of The Olympic Games For Life

He celebrated the ancient Olympic games of the Greeks and Romans, in honour of their false gods.

The ancient Olympic Games were not a secular competition. The games were a quadrennial affair held in honor of the supreme god of the Greek pantheon, Zeus. At a sacred site marked by temples to Zeus and his consort Hera, athletes would compete for five days amid a ritual sacrifice of 100 bulls to the father god… Already in his 60s and in the waning years of his life, Herod made his third and final journey to Rome in 12 BCE, the 192nd Olympiad. On his trip, Herod surpassed the lavish gifts he had given various Greek cities across the eastern Mediterranean with the favors he bestowed upon the Eleans, “a donation not only in common to all Greece, but to all the habitable earth, as far as the glory of the Olympic games reached,” Josephus Flavius writes in The Jewish War.

In return for his generosity, Herod was proclaimed president (agonothetes) of the Olympic Games for life — a position possibly created especially for him. After his return from Rome, Herod reintroduced Greco-Roman athletic culture to Judaea on an unprecedented scale in honor of Caesar… [5]


How Herod The Great Was Prophesied in Daniel 11

I think that Herod’s personality traits, his military conquests, his honour of Caesar throughout Judea and Zeus through the Olympic games fit well with the descriptions in Daniel 11. He built many fortresses throughout the land including Herodium and Masada. He even turned the temple in Jerusalem into a fortress by building Fort Antonia alongside it.

He will take action against the strongest of fortresses with the help of a foreign god; he will give great honor to those who acknowledge him and will cause them to rule over the many, and will parcel out land for a price. ~ Daniel 11:39

On this account it was that Herod revolted from the laws of his country, and corrupted their ancient constitution, by the introduction of foreign practices: which constitution yet ought to have been preserved inviolable. By which means we became guilty of great wickedness afterward; while those religious observances which used to lead the multitude to piety, were now neglected. For, in the first place, he appointed solemn games to be celebrated every fifth year, in honour of Cesar; and built a theatre at Jerusalem: as also a very great amphitheatre in the plain. Both of them were indeed costly works; but opposite to the Jewish customs.

And when he went about building the wall of Samaria, he contrived to bring thither many of those that had been assisting to him in his wars; and many of the people in that neighbourhood also. Whom he made fellow citizens with the rest. This he did out of an ambitious desire of building a temple: and out of a desire to make the city more eminent than it had been before: but principally because he contrived that it might at once be for his own security; and a monument of his magnificence…

when he had built a most beautiful wall round a country in Samaria, twenty furlongs long, and had brought six thousand inhabitants into it, and had allotted to it a most fruitful, piece of land, and in the midst of this city, thus built, had erected a very large temple to Caesar

But still he took care to have external security for his government, as a fortress, against his subjects. For the orations he made to the cities were very fine, and full of kindness: and he cultivated a seasonable good understanding with their governors, and bestowed presents on every one of them; inducing them thereby to be more friendly to him, and using his magnificent disposition so as his Kingdom might be the better secured to him ~ Josepehus Antiquities of the Jews — Book XV

The temples and fortresses, which he thus built, he caused to bridle the neighbouring inhabitants, by the multitude of colonists, men of his own creatures, and former soldiers, whom he enticed to settle there, by parcelling out among them the surrounding lands, as their hire. All this tended to his own firm establishment and security on the throne; for while the numerous strong holds, filled with garrisons of his adherents, enabled him to keep a fast hold of the country, he obtained the favour of many Jews, by rebuilding, and outwardly honouring, their temple; and secured the protection of Augustus, by the impious flattery which he addressed to him…[6]

If ever a King was going to meet Daniel’s criteria, Herod was that King!



The Parenthetical Section – verses 40-43

The Final Battle Of The Roman Republic and The Beginnings Of The New Roman Empire

Please note that Daniel is focusing on what would happen to his people ‘at the end’ in chapter 11 and chapter 12. Not the ‘end of the world’ but the last days of biblical Judaism, the end of THEIR age. He was giving the historical context for what would come next i.e the fulfilment of his 70 weeks prophecy.

  • From verse 40 he turns his attention from Herod to the Battle of Actium.
  • Verse 41 – 42 is about Octavius (The King of the North / the Seleucid empire) seeking out Mark Antony (The King of the South) and Cleopatra.
  • By Verse 43 Octavius has won the battle. Mark Antony and Cleopatra commit suicide and Octavius accumulates the wealth of Egypt. Octavius then becomes the first emperor of the new Roman Empire and calls himself ‘Caesar Augustus’.

Daniel then resumes his attention on Herod in verse 44. What news could come “from the east” to trouble Herod?

But tidings out of the east (the wise men’s report) and out of the north (the attempted coup by two of Herod’s sons) shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy and utterly to make away many. (the slaughter of male children and his own sons) ~ Daniel 11:44

Now compare Daniel with Matthew …

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. ~ Matthew 2: 1-3

  • Are those tidings also the same ones the angels spoke of in Luke?

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. ~ Luke 2:10

It’s my understanding that Daniel spoke of King Herod in relation to the wise men with their ‘tidings out of the east’. He and all Jerusalem i.e. the Chief priests and leadership of Israel were troubled when they heard the news from the wise men proclaiming that a new King of the Jews had been born. While the news from the north was about his two sons and their attempted cue to take over their father’s throne.

The Chief Priests and Scribes all knew of the old testament prophecies, just like Simeon and Anna did in the temple. Their lucrative enterprise in the temple would come tumbling down if there was finally a legitimate King on David’s throne.

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. ~ Micah 5:2

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” ~ Luke 2:34-25


When Did The Wise Men Visit Jesus?

After forty days Mary performed a sin offering as part of her purification ritual/atonement for her firstborn son in the temple at Jerusalem.

‘But if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, the one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’ ~ Lev 12:8

She offered two turtledoves, the offering of the poor. Some church traditions state that Mary was sinless but scripture shows otherwise.

If the wise men had already been to Bethlehem and presented Jesus with their gold Mary would have been obliged to offer a lamb as she’d have had the means to do so. So Jesus must have been much older when the wise men came to visit.


The Slaughter of the Innocents

After the wise men visited Jesus and presented Him with their gifts they were told to not report back to Herod but to go home via another route.

Joseph was also told in a dream to escape and flee to Egypt. The family would be able to use the gift of gold to finance their escape and find a new home in Egypt.

Herod waited and waited for the wise men to report back to him. But once he discovered that the wise men had tricked him, he calculated the age of the young child based on when the wise men first saw the star appear. Then he killed all the male children two years old and under in the vicinity of Bethlehem. Tradition gets it right at this point in the story! Though church historians have estimated vastly different numbers of children that were killed. [7]

No matter how many baby boys were killed, each one of those murdered children was ‘the desire’ of his own mother. Furthermore, it’s my understanding that Daniel 11:37 is really referring to Jesus as being ‘the desire’.

Speaking to the House of Judah …“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.  But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. ~ Malachi 3: 1-3

It had always been the desire of every woman in Judah to become the mother of the Messiah.

And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, said the LORD of hosts. ~ Haggai 2:7

Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. ~ Daniel 11:37

Herod, the Great exalted and magnified himself above all other gods including Yahweh, God most High of Psalm 82. He actually thought that he was greater than God and could prevent the promised Messiah from becoming King even though it had been prophesied by the prophets.


Rachel Weeping For Her Children

  • But why did Matthew tie in Rachel weeping for her children at Ramah alongside the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem?

In Genesis 35:16–18, Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin while on the road to Bethlehem. In the midst of her suffering, the midwife tries to comfort her with the news that she is having another son. In this way, her child is both her cause of weeping and her hope for the future.

In Jeremiah 31:15-17, Rachel weeps over her children once more, this time because they are being led into captivity and exile near the very place where she is buried.  (Ramah was the staging area from where the Babylonians sent the people of Judah into exile.) Rachel is then comforted with the promise that her children will return. Once again, her offspring are both her cause of weeping and her hope for the future.

In Matthew 2: 16-23, Rachel weeps yet again: this time over the slaughter of the children at Bethlehem. No words of comfort are given to her in Matthew, but the very next verse speaks of Herod’s death and the return of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to the land of Israel. Just as in Jeremiah’s day, the situation seems bleak, but the hope of salvation lives on. [8]

Let’s look at Matthew’s perception of the time he was actually living in.

In Matthew’s Eyes They Were Still In Exile!

17 So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. ~ Matthew 1

Moses had insisted that Israel needed to be transformed internally, so too did Isaiah and Ezekiel.

‘So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and THE CURSE (i.e the judgement of apostate Israel in 70AD) which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the LORD your God has banished you, 2 and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, 3 then the LORD your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4 If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. 5 The LORD your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 6 Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. ~ Deuteronomy 30:1

But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD. I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. ~ Jeremiah 31: 33

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.~ Ezekiel 36:24

In closing, I think that Matthew’s original audience would have realised that King Herod was that final King in Daniel 11 as they were patiently waiting for Daniels 70 week prophesy to be fulfilled.

Matthew also wanted to show his original audience that in spite of Rachel’s tears for those slaughtered in Bethlehem his hope was in this baby born in Bethlehem. But this baby would not only become the Greater David, but also the Greater Moses and the Greater Joshua.

He would lead His people out of exile and captivity from apostate Israel, ‘come ye out of her my people’  during the 40 years between Calvary and 70AD. He would transform their hearts and give them freedom, life, and REST in the New Covenant and throughout ‘the Age to come’ that was drawing near in their lifetime. The Apostle Paul was expecting it soon when he wrote Corinthians – click here to view that post.

We never lived in their age and were never under the bondage of the Old Covenant so the freedom, life and REST of the New Covenant have always been available to us through Jesus.


On my next blog post I’ll cover Daniel 11:45 in relation to Herod’s death and the rest of the Herod era of the New Testament.

You can read the whole Herod Dynasty series here.


Related Notes:
How the Pharisees lost their inheritance

Why did the Old Covenant end?


Footnotes:

[1] Jewish Encyclopedia entry about Edom

[2] Tiles from Herod’s Temple

[3] Archaeologists Uncover Life of Luxury in 2,000-year-old Priestly Quarters of Jerusalem

[4] The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation  by Philip Mauro (1923) “The King” Chapter IX

[5] How Herod the tyrant saved the Olympic Games

[6] Farquharson – A New illustration of Daniel’s Last Vision 1838

[7] The Slaughter of the Innocents: Historical Fact or Legendary Fiction?

[8] Craig L. Blomberg, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007)

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