Tuesday, March 5, 2013

When Was Herod Made King?

I have never been a big fan of the Jewish historian Josephus but I always feel better about my mistrust of Josephus as a historical source when I say reputable scholars dismiss what he says.  Take for example the difficulties posed by the simple question - when was Herod made king?  The answer isn't as easy as it seems.  One of the difficulties clearly is that even though Antony may have set him up as some sort of king, he doesn't seem to have been confirmed as king of the Jews until Octavian (= Augustus).  Appian of Alexandria (2nd century) writes:

He (Antony) set up kings here and there as he pleased, on condition of their paying a prescribed tribute: in Pontus, Darius, the son of Pharnaces and grandson of Mithridates; in Idumea and Samaria, Herod; in Pisidia, Amyntas; in a part of Cilicia, Polemon, and others in other countries. (Civil Wars 5.75)

Of course Josephus is another matter.  In Jewish Wars he says that Antigonus “fell beneath the axe” (BJ 1.357).  In Jewish Antiquities, Josephus explicitly claims that Herod bribed Antony to kill Antigonus (AJ14.490.  However, Josephus seems to contradict himself later by implying that Antony made the decision in an attempt to pacify the rebellious Jews (AJ 15.8-9).

Josephus cites Strabo to support his interpretation but it is equally problematic.  Strabo puts forward that Antony alone decided to do away with Antigonus since in no other way could he weaken the Jews’ zealous loyalty to the Hasmonaean king (AJ 15.9-10; FGrH 91 fr. 18). Our two later sources, Plutarch (Antony 36.2) and Cassius Dio (49.22), who adds the detail that Antigonus was flogged and crucified, likewise seem to suggest that Antony alone was responsible for the execution.

It is important to note that Cassius Dio does not say that Herod was made king of the Jews at this time.  We read that the general Gaius Sosius, now governor of Syria:

subdued the Aradii, who had been besieged up to this time and had been reduced to hard straits by famine and disease, and also conquered in battle Antigonus, who had put to death the Roman guards that were with him, and reduced him by siege when he took refuge in Jerusalem.  The Jews, indeed, had done much injury to the Romans, for the race is very bitter when aroused to anger, but they suffered far more themselves. The first of them to be captured were those who were fighting for the precinct of their god, and then the rest on the day even then called the day of Saturn. And so excessive were they in their devotion to religion that the first set of prisoners, those who had been captured along with the temple, obtained leave from Sosius, when the day of Saturn came round again, and went up into the temple and there performed all the customary rites, together with the rest of the people.  These people Antony entrusted to a certain Herod to govern; but Antigonus he bound to a cross and flogged, — a punishment no other king had suffered at the hands of the Romans, — and afterwards slew him. 

It is important to note that nowhere does Cassius Dio say that Herod was specifically made king at this time.

However Josephus's account makes Herod the instigator of his rival's punishment.  His account of the execution includes a claim which simply is not true - namely Herod being made king.  Josephus claims to cite Strabo as saying:

Antony ordered Antigonus the Jew to be brought to Antioch, and there to be beheaded. And this Antony seems to me to have been the very first man who beheaded a king, as supposing he could no other way bend the minds of the Jews so as to receive Herod, whom he had made king in his stead; for by no torments could they he forced to call him king, so great a fondness they had for their former king; so he thought that this dishonorable death would diminish the value they had for Antigonus's memory, and at the same time would diminish the hatred they bare to Herod.

This whole section seems to raise Herod to a level of significance which is highly unusual.  The most likely solution to the difficulty here is that Josephus and Strabo are both employing Herod's secretary Nicolaus of Damascus. Josephus frequently emphasizes the agreement between Strabo and Nicolaus of Damascus (Ant. 13.12, 6.347 = F12 and 90 F93, and esp. 14.6,4.104).

Schurer attempts to scuttle the idea that Strabo borrowed from Nicolaus arguing that the Historical Sketches came before Nicolaus's Universal History which included great numbers of references to Herod.  But this ignores the fact that Nicolaus wrote many other works.  His productivity is staggering.  Strabo may not have been dependent on his Universal History but some other work.  Indeed recent studies of Nicolaus have been aided by the discovery of an original letter he claims to have reproduced in the Universal History. Toher states that Nicholas was a writer with a developed style and tendency to embellish, showing a concentration on the more dramatic and visual aspects of the story (cf. Toher 1989, 167).  As Stronk further notes (2012) we should go back to "his experience as writer of tragedies and comedies. The adaptation was, therefore, in accord with the techniques he was used to and he may well have used them through out his history."

The point then is that the apparent 'agreement' between Nicolaus and Strabo about Herod being made king in 37 CE may have misled Josephus, but we shouldn't pay it too much attention.  Indeed Plutarch implies the exact opposite in his Antony:

And when she was come, he made her a present of no slight or insignificant addition to her dominions, namely, Phoenicia, Coele Syria, Cyprus, and a large part of Cilicia; and still further, the balsam-producing part of Judaea, and all that part of Arabia Nabataea which slopes toward the outer sea. These gifts particularly annoyed the Romans. And yet he made presents to many private persons of tetrarchies and realms of great peoples, and he deprived many monarchs of their kingdoms, as, for instance, Antigonus the Jew, whom he brought forth and beheaded, though no other king before him had been so punished.

The implication that can be gained from Cassius Dio and Plutarch is that Herod was allowed to govern Judea. Appian makes clear that Herod was established as king of Idumaea and Samaria.  The idea that Augustus and the Senate gave him the title of king of the Jews before the death of Antigonus seems to be another invention of Nicolaus.

Why does any of this matter?  It would seem to me that Nicolaus has begun the process of glossing over the dark side of Herod's reign.  When he came as conqueror in 37 CE he slaughtered many of the native priesthood in Jerusalem.  Antony may well have approved of this slaughter.  Yet there is reason to believe that Augustus had different expectations for Herod's rule.  Perhaps it was Augustus who encouraged Herod's  new benevolence toward the Jews, especially his reconstruction of the temple.

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