Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Origin and Early Life.


              2. Accession to the Jewish Throne.


              3. Consolidation of his Power.







              1. Jerusalem: Theatre; Palace; Temple.


              2. Palestine and Foreign Countries.







              1. The Court and the Upper Classes.


              2. The People and their Hatred of Herod.







              1. Jerusalem the Religious Centre of the Jewish World.


              2. Heathenism Widespread in Palestine.


              3. The Messianic Expectation.







              1. Domestic Affairs of Herod.


              2. Condition of Palestine at Herod’s Death.


§ 1. Herod, king of Judæa

1. Origin and Early Life. Herod, whose last years of reign mark the beginning of New Testament history, did not, as was claimed by his partisans, descend from one of the noble Jewish families which returned from Babylon, but belonged to the despised children of Edom, whom the valiant John Hyrcanus had formerly conquered and forcibly converted to the Jewish faith. He was the second son of the shrewd Antipater, who during the rule of the weak Machabean prince Hyrcanus II. gradually became the real master of Judæa under the title of procurator conferred upon him by Julius Cæsar, and who profited by this fulness of power to appoint Herod, then only twenty-five years old, to the government of Galilee.

In that province Herod soon displayed the energy which ever characterized him. He crushed a guerrilla warfare, and put to death Ezechias, its leader, and nearly all his associates. This aroused the indignation of the patriots of Jerusalem, and Herod, as professing the Jewish religion, was summoned to appear before the great Sanhedrim for having arrogated to himself the power of life and death. He appeared, but escaped condemnation through the interference of Hyrcanus II., and took refuge near Sextus Cæsar, the president of Syria.

On the murder of Julius Cæsar (B.C. 44), and the possession of Syria by Cassius, Antipater and Herod changed sides, and in return for substantial services Herod was recognized as governor of Cœle-Syria, that is, of the fertile valley between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon. When the battle of Philippi (B.C. 41) placed the Roman world in the hands of Antony and Octavius, the former obtained Asia. Once more Herod knew how to gain the new ruler, and he became tetrarch of Judæa, with the promise of the crown if all went well.

2. Accession to the Jewish Throne. Forced the following year, by an irruption of the Parthians, who had espoused the cause of his rival Antigonus (the son of Aristobulus II.), to abandon Jerusalem, Herod first betook himself to Egypt, and then to Rome. There, owing chiefly to the influence of Antony, he was declared king of Judæa by the Roman senate, and, preceded by the consuls and the magistrates, he walked in procession between Antony and Octavius to the capitol, where the usual sacrifices were offered and the decree formally laid up in the archives.

After an absence of barely three months, Herod was again in Palestine, where, at the head of an army, he soon made himself master of Galilee. He next set himself at work to take the Holy City. But before investing it—which he did in the early spring of B.C. 37—he repaired to Samaria to wed the unfortunate Machabean princess, Mariamne, betrothed to him five years before. The uncle of that ill-fated queen was Antigonus, whom Herod now besieged in Jerusalem. After a siege of six months Jerusalem fell, and a fearful scene of carnage ensued. At length Herod, by rich presents, induced the Romans to leave the Holy City, carrying Antigonus with them (June, B.C. 37). Herod, the Idumæan, now ascended the throne of Judæa and inaugurated his long reign of 37 years.

3. Consolidation of His Power. The first part of Herod’s reign (B.C. 37–25) was spent in bloody endeavors to consolidate his power. Antigonus was executed, together with forty-five of his more prominent partisans. The aged Hyrcanus II., who had taken refuge among the Parthians, was induced by the most solemn promises of protection to return to Jerusalem, and was then assassinated (B.C. 30). Aristobulus III., the grandson and successor of Hyrcanus in the priesthood, was drowned at Jericho by the orders of the king, and even Mariamne—the only wife for whom Herod ever bore a real affection—fell a victim to her husband’s blind jealousy. The next victim whom the tyrant suspected of plotting against his throne was Alexandra, his mother-in-law. And when, at length, he discovered, concealed with his brother-in-law, the sons of Babas, distant relatives of the Machabean family, whom he had long sought for in vain, he had them put to death together with their protector. Only then did he feel sure that no Asmonean would endanger his possession of the Jewish throne.

Meanwhile, and also with a view to consolidate his power, Herod neglected nothing to keep up friendly relations with Rome. To please his then all-powerful patron, Antony, he gave up to Cleopatra—who exercised a controlling influence over Antony—a valuable part of his dominions, the fertile district of Jericho. Upon the fall of Antony at Actium (B.C. 31) he succeeded in making a friend of Octavius on the island of Rhodes. Not only did this new patron confirm him in his kingdom, but he greatly enlarged it. When Herod sent his two sons by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus, to Rome for their education, he received from Octavius a new increase of territory, and afterwards was appointed procurator of the province of Syria, and with such authority that his colleagues in command could take no step without his concurrence.

§ 2. Public Works

1. In Jerusalem. To establish himself still more in the favor of Augustus, Herod imitated him in great works of peace. He erected a theatre within the Holy City, and without the walls an amphitheatre in which he held games in honor of the emperor with horse and chariot races and the bloody fights of gladiators and wild beasts. He not only embellished the old residence of the Asmoneans which stood at the end of the bridge between the southern part of the Temple and the upper city, but built for himself in the upper city a royal palace with wide porticoes, rows of pillars and baths, and for the adornment of which he spared neither marble nor gold. Contiguous to that new palace arose three towers of great size and magnificence to which he gave the names of Hippicus, after one of his friends, Phasælus, after his brother, and Mariamne, after his beloved wife. He restored and enlarged the citadel, which he named Antonia, after his former patron. Finally, the most magnificent of all his buildings in Jerusalem was the Temple, which in its former condition was out of keeping with the beautiful recent structures in the Holy City, and which after its rebuilding by Herod became justly the greatest national glory of the Jews.

2. In Palestine and Foreign Countries. Herod’s love of building naturally extended to other places within his dominions. Samaria, already raised from its ruins by Gabinius, was now reconstructed in a magnificent style, fortified, and adorned with a temple in honor of Augustus; hence its new name of Sebaste (Augusta). Jericho received among other embellishments a theatre, amphitheatre, and hippodrome. In place of the ancient Capharsaba, Herod founded the city of Antipatris, thus named from his father; the new city of Phasælis arose north of Jericho; to one of the many strongholds which he built in various directions he gave the name of Herodium, and he took care that it should be supplied with rooms splendidly fitted up for his own use; other fortresses, like that of Machœrus, were restored and adorned with royal palaces. No less than twelve years of work were spent in raising a maritime city on the site of Straton’s tower, and which received the name of Cæsarea in honor of the emperor. Its exposed anchorage was slowly transformed into a safe harbor by a strong breakwater, which was carried far out into the Mediterranean, and from the quays which lined its harbor the stately city arose in the form of an amphitheatre. In its centre was a hill, on which Herod built a temple dedicated to Augustus, with two colossal statues, one of Rome, and the other of the emperor.

This munificence of the Jewish monarch was not, however, limited to his own dominions. “For the Rhodians he built at his own cost the Pythian temple. He aided in the construction of most of the public buildings of the city of Nicopolis, which Augustus had founded near Actium. In Antioch he caused colonnades to be erected along both sides of the principal street.… Tyre and Sidon, Byblus and Berytus, Tripolis, Ptolemais and Damascus were also graced with memorials to the glory of Herod’s name. And even as far as Athens and Sparta proofs of his liberality were to be found.”

§ 3. Social Life in Jerusalem

1. The Court and the Upper Classes. In his great desire to please Augustus and appear a liberal and cultured prince, Herod held a court whose splendor and general tone resembled in many ways that of the emperor. Like the Roman ruler, the king of Judæa surrounded himself with men accomplished in Greek literature and art, and many among them were placed in offices of trust or honor. Prominent among them was the historian, Nicholas of Damascus, on whom Herod relied implicitly, and to whom he intrusted all important and difficult diplomatic missions. Another Greek, a certain Ptolemy, was at the head of the royal finances, while other Greeks or half-Greeks acted as tutors or travelling companions to his sons. Foreign mercenaries surrounded his person, and in so far contributed to give to his court a non-Jewish aspect. Again, the personal example of the king, who had himself submitted to receive lessons from Nicholas of Damascus in philosophy, rhetoric, and history, contributed powerfully to make his various officers reach a wider and higher culture than that which had ever been witnessed at the court of the Asmoneans. Unfortunately the Jewish monarch ever remained a barbarian at heart, and his practice of polygamy, together with his suspicious temperament, greatly interfered with the peace and happiness of those immediately connected with him.

Under Herod the upper classes lost much of their hereditary power, and endeavored to make up for it by a life of luxury and enjoyment; yet the high priests continued to form an influential aristocracy.

2. The People and their Hatred of Herod. Amid all his power and glory, Herod himself realized how far he was from enjoying the good-will of his subjects at large. He knew that they murmured at his introduction of foreign and heathen practices, his arbitrary setting up and deposition of the high priests, his prodigal expenditure, and his terrible severity against his opponents. Hence he several times attempted to pacify the people by truly generous and liberal deeds; but their gratitude did not last long, and time and again serious conspiracies endangered his life.

§ 4. Religious Condition of the Jews

1. Jerusalem the Religious Centre of the Jewish World. In consequence of such popular opposition to his rule, as to that of a hated Idumæan and of a direct representative of the foreign and pagan authority of Rome, Herod carefully refrained from interfering with all that the worship of Jehovah in His own sanctuary required in the eyes of the Jews of Palestine and of the Dispersion. Under him, therefore, as under his predecessors, Jerusalem remained the great metropolis of Judaism. It was at the Holy City that the dispersed Jews regularly congregated in hundreds of thousands, bearing their yearly tribute and anxious to worship the God of their ancestors within the sacred precincts of His Temple. It was in the Holy City that each important section of the Hellenistic Jews had contributed to erect a beautiful synagogue, where those of the same tongue and country and interests could hold meetings of their own, and welcome their fellow-countrymen at the time of the annual festivals. It was in Jerusalem that the great masters of Israel, looked up to by the whole Jewish world, expounded the Law and the traditions of the elders, and from the Holy City that all the parts of the Eastern and Western Dispersion received the teachings of their fathers, the regulations for the feast-days, etc. All this had besides the advantage to secure for the capital of Judæa a commerce, an influence, a prestige which it would never have possessed otherwise, and, as long as he was able to control it by the free appointment or removal of the head of the Jewish hierarchy, Herod had no direct interest to interfere with it.

2. Heathenism Widespread in Palestine. That this conduct of the Jewish king was simply the result of expediency is made plain by his manner of action wherever he felt himself free to encourage heathenism. Not only far away, in Phenicia, Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece, he made himself the ostentatious patron of everything pagan, rearing temples, theatres, porticoes, gymnasia, etc., but also around the central district of Palestine, and even to some extent within its limits, he started or encouraged idolatry. Gaza, Ascalon, Dor, Cæsarea, Joppe, Samaria, Panias were desecrated by heathen temples, altars, idols, and priests. Even “in the Temple of Jerusalem the Grecian style of architecture was freely adopted. It is true that in the Temple proper Herod could not venture to forsake the traditional forms; but in the building of the inner fore-courts we see the influence of Greek models.” Indeed the king went so far as to place within its sacred precincts a number of trophies, and to display over its main entrance a golden eagle, the symbol of pagan Rome.

3. The Messianic Expectation. It is easy to understand how such unholy changes, forced upon the Jewish patriots and believers by the iron hand of the royal Idumæan, made them long ardently for the reign of the Messias, which their sacred books represented as a future kingdom of righteousness, and which their apocryphal literature—such writings, for instance, as the Sibylline Books, the Book of Enoch, and the Psalter of Solomon—described chiefly under the attractive images of material prosperity. False Messiahs made their appearance at the very moment of Our Lord’s stay in Egypt, and the message of John the Baptist, a little later, gave a new impulse to the general belief that the Messias was at hand. Not only the New Testament is full of references to such an expectation, but even pagan writers bear witness to it.

The full frame of mind of Our Lord’s contemporaries regarding the person and work of the Messias will be gradually unfolded in the course of the present work; yet, even from now, it may be useful to set forth the general belief of the time. According to the popular ideal, the Messias was to be primarily a political leader, a mighty deliverer of His people from the tyranny of its pagan oppressors, and also a restorer of the Jewish institutions in their primitive purity. Issued from David’s race and born in Judæa, He was expected to start a world-wide empire, of which Jerusalem would be the capital, and in which the sons of Abraham would be superior in things temporal as well as spiritual to the rest of the world. To be admitted into this Messianic kingdom it would be sufficient to observe the enactments of the Mosaic law, to which the Messias would Himself be subjected. Finally, a large number of Jews believed that if the nation was once engaged in such an extreme conflict with the Romans as to threaten Jerusalem and its Temple with destruction, the Messias must needs appear.

We shall see later on how Our Lord gradually modified these expectations.

§ 5. Last Period of Herod’s Reign

1. Domestic Affairs of Herod. The last period of Herod’s rule (B.C. 15–4) was disgraced by scenes of bloodshed still more awful than those which darkened its first years, and the history of his domestic affairs is that of a long succession of intrigues and murders. Antipater, his eldest son by his former wife Doris, accused his stepbrothers Alexander and Aristobulus of wishing to avenge upon Herod the death of Mariamne, their mother. Antipater was believed, as well as the court people whom the accuser had won over, and who were constantly inventing new reports. Accusations and reconciliations now alternated with each other; but the calumnies did not cease in the king’s palace till Alexander and Aristobulus were strangled by his order at Sebaste (B.C. 7). A multitude of Pharisees, with some of the courtiers who had conspired against Herod in favor of Pheroras, his brother, were put to death. Upon further inquiry, the death of Pheroras brought to light the whole secret history of years. He had died by taking poison sent by Antipater to dispatch Herod. Even the second Mariamne—the daughter of Simon the high priest—was proved to have been privy to the plot, and her son Philip was, on this account, blotted out of his father’s will (B.C. 5). Antipater, now unmasked, was handed over for trial to the Syrian proprætor. Easily convicted, he was led away in chains. At last the strong nature of Herod gave way under such revelations, a deadly illness seized him, and soon word ran through Jerusalem that he was no more. At once riots took place; but the troops were turned out and the unarmed rioters scattered; many who had been seized were put to death.

Antipater was executed only five days before his father’s demise. Herod died in the seventieth year of his age (750 U.C.).

2. Condition of Palestine at Herod’s Death. At the news of the tyrant’s death frightful anarchy prevailed in Palestine. The popular voice, backed up by tumult and riot, clamored for the redress of grievances, such as the diminution of public burdens, the release of the prisoners with whom Herod had crowded the dungeons, the abandonment of onerous taxes, etc. Very soon, in fact, Archelaus, to whom Herod had left by his last will the government of Judæa, Idumæa, and Samaria, saw himself compelled to send a large body of troops against the rioters, 3000 of whom were slain.

A little later the Roman officials seized upon the treasures of the late king, and insurrection upon insurrection broke out against them. Even the troops of Herod wandered about in bands, plundering as they pleased, and false Messiahs appeared who assumed the diadem and gathered troops of bandits. Finally, a large number of the Jews had been so disgusted with the Herodian rule that they sent 500 of their number to Augustus to ask him not to ratify the will of the deceased monarch, and to suppress the royal authority in Judæa.

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