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HEROD THE GREAT (ca. 73-4 B.C.E.).

King of Judea. Son of Antipater and grandson of Antipas, rulers of Edom. Antipater was the friend and advisor of Hyrcanus II. When the Romans conquered Palestine, Antipater was appointed to an important political post. As a result of his influence, his son Herod became governor of Galilee. Herod married Mariamne, granddaughter of Hyrcanus, in order to be related to the Hasmonean family. He was friendly with the Romans and won their favor by his loyalty. In the year 40 B.C.E., the Roman Senate crowned him king of Judea. The Jews hated Herod not only because he was an Edomite and a friend of their Roman enemies but because he did not respect their religion. He waged war against Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus of the house of the Hasmonean dynasty who demanded the throne of Judea for himself. In this battle (37 B.C.E.) Herod captured Jerusalem, put Antigonus to death, and destroyed the Hasmonean house. He showed no mercy even for his own wife and children whom he ordered killed some years later.

Herod deprived the Sanhedrin of its executive powers, but allowed it to function in religious matters. With the Romans’ permission, he extended the borders of Palestine from Damascus to Egypt, developed foreign trade, and built Samaria and Caesarea. He won fame for rebuilding the Temple (20-19 B.C.E.), which he decorated lavishly. He had beautiful buildings constructed in Jerusalem, too. Nevertheless, the people’s hatred of the tyrant was not lessened by these acts. Legend has it that, feeling death at hand, he commanded his men to execute a number of Jewish leaders the day he died, in order to lessen the popular joy at his passing. This final act of cruelty, however, was not carried out.

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