Kings are known for being fierce in battle and jealous for territory. So when Herod the Great learned of a rival emerging from within his own kingdom, he determined to put down any such ambitions before they materialized.
Herod ruled Judea about two thousand years ago, an area just south of Jerusalem between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. While he is credited for the construction of significant monuments, including the Wailing Wall, Herod also built a reputation as a cruel madman.
The king immersed himself in royal company. Herod’s brother was governor of Jerusalem and he married a princess of the Jewish Hasmonean Dynasty. Herod appointed his wife’s brother as High Priest. But, his jealousy grew in step with the High Priest’s popularity. So Herod had him drowned.
Herod’s beautiful and dignified wife sporadically reciprocated his frenetic love for her. In a fit of rage over her aloof responsiveness, he had her killed. Antiquities writes that in the weeks following, “he was so far overcome by his passion that he would order his servants to call for Mariamme, as if she were still alive and could still hear them.”
Harod’s murderous habits continued five years later when he killed Mariamme’s mother and his four closest friends in response to rumor of an attempted coup. He then killed his two sons that he had with Mariamme out of jealousy for their growing popularity. Caesar Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire, said of him, "It is better to be Herod's dog than one of his children."
It was around this time, thirty years into Herod’s reign, that a group of ancient astrologists arrived in Jerusalem. They were intent in their investigation, asking people, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” The people of Jerusalem were disturbed by the inquiries of these magicians, referred to as the “magi.” Word of their presence soon made its way to the king.
Nearly forty years earlier, Herod had killed Antigonus II Mattathias, who had been appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. Troubled by the implications of the magi’s questioning, Herod called together every local religious expert and asked them where the Messiah was to be born. They responded with quotes from the Judean prophet Micah, whose words were written 700 years earlier, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clansof Judah,? out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,? whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
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