Episco-Fact #132
March 14, 2019

Why did the Judaeans and Galileans have so much trouble with King Herod and his successors? I thought Herod the Great built the Temple in Jerusalem that Jesus worshipped in?

The political reality of Second Temple Judaism, c. 538 BCE to 70 C.E. is complicated (Solomon's Temple was built around 1000 C. E. and was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.) Therefore, the story around Herod Archelaus and his children is complicated too.

The Temple in Jerusalem and the territory of Judea was a the mix of broad cultural changes and political realignments during the run up to the time of Jesus. First, from around 540 B.C.E. there was the stability of the Persian Empire which supplanted the Babylonians, and they brought with them the culture of Persia to mix-in with the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Judean cultures in place when they arrived. This political and cultural mix was replaced and remixed with that of the Macedonians of Alexander (his army had a lot of Greek culture in it) around 332 B.C.E. This empire breaks apart on Alexander's death in 323 B.C.E. His empire is divided into four parts under four of his generals: Lysimachus—Thrace and Asia Minor; Cassander—Macedonia and Greece; Ptolemy I—Egypt, Palestine, Cilicia, Petra and Cyprus; and Seluecus—Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and parts of India. Around 200 B.C.E. the Seleucid Empire comes to control Jerusalem and its environs. In the late 160's B.C.E. the Seleucids battle the Maccabee's and the Hasmoneans, Jewish rebels who control Jerusalem's life for just over 100 years.

The Romans begin to assert control over Palestine beginning in the early 70's B.C.E. During this period, Antipater, the Idumean King begins to exert authority in the area of Jerusalem and ultimately his son, Herod, becomes a client King of the Romans, who even provide him military support to take control of the area. He is not Judean, in fact, his father's ancestors were Edomites, a nation toward which the Jews had great antipathy. Herod does, however, practice Judaism, expands the Second Temple, and protects the temple cult.

But the Jews were never convinced of his legitimacy as the ruler. As can be seen above, after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, they were never able to fully establish a nation which was believably independent to freely worship YHWH as they understood that worship to be. The illegitimacy of Herod also brought disrepute on the temple. Groups such as the Essenes and individuals such as John the Baptist and Jesus also cast a cloud on the temple cult of the early first century C.E. They would rather that the temple were left alone and that the Idumeans would leave Jerusalem to the Jewish people. Stuck between an irascible ethnic group to which he did not belong and Roman overlords who were impatient with clients, it is easy to understand the Biblical slant on Herod and his sons. They were not loved by History.