Tuesday, March 5, 2013

No Inscriptions of Herod as 'King of the Jews' Has Ever Been Discovered

It is a startling fact.  I naturally assumed that somewhere, somehow there existed a reference somewhere to Herod as 'king of the Jews.'  It is surprising how much at odds Josephus's history is with the historical record here.  The closest we get to this is this Latin inscription found recently at Masada:

Sentius Saturninus, Consul Philonian wine from the estate of L. Laenius for King Herod the Jew 

Thirteen Latin inscriptions, all in more or less the above form and on wine jugs' handles from a shipment of 19 BCE, were found at Masada. The date supplied could refer to the vintage, but it probably refers to the date of shipment.

The fact that no inscription ever identifies Herod as 'the king of the Jews' is perhaps only of secondary significance to the consistent understanding of him as a native Jew. Strabo (Geography 16.2.46):

Now Pompey clipped off some of the territory that had been forcibly appropriated by the Judaeans, and appointed Herod to the priesthood; but later a certain Herod, a descendant of his and a native of the country, who slinked into the priesthood was so superior to his predecessors particularly in his intercourse with the Romans and in his administration of affairs of state, that he received the title of king, being given that authority first by Antony and later by Augustus Caesar.

It is deeply significant that Herod is never identified as 'king of the Jews' in any of the surviving inscriptions.

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