Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why the Question of When Herod Became King of the Jews Matters

The bottom line here is that all scholars who attempt to date the construction of the Jerusalem temple necessarily have to ignore Josephus's claim about the date for his becoming king of the Jews.  According to Josephus in 42 BCE Antigonus, the last Hasmonean king, took the throne from his uncle with the help of the Parthians.  Herod fled to Rome to plead with the Romans to restore him to power. There Josephus says, Herod was elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate. Josephus puts this in the year of the consulship of Calvinus and Pollio (40 BCE).

However as we noted in our last post Appian places Herod being made king in 39 BCE and says only that he was made king of the Idumaeans and Samarians.  The question now is who we should believe.  The answer has to be that Josephus has more of a likelihood of misrepresenting the truth because of his dependence on Nicolaus of Damascus.  Nicolaus was Herod's secretary but also an advisor of his son Herod Archelaus and actually accompanied Archelaus to Rome when he was trying to gain Roman assent to his being made king of the Jews.

The point here is that Nicolaus had a vested interest in glossing over the historical enmity between Herod and the Jews to assist in Archelaus's claims to the throne.  To this end we must think that Appian is correct in reporting that Herod was appointed king of the Idumaeans and Samaritans and not the Jews.  This explains the obvious glossing over of the incompatibility of Herod slaughtering the Jews on the grounds of the old temple and then being immediately crowned 'king of the Jews' as Nicolaus - and then Strabo - claim.  The narrative of 5 Maccabees - an often ignored source but one which might give us a better glimpse of Nicolaus's original narrative - demonstrates.

5 Maccabees chapter 50 has Herod being appointed king of the Jews in the following manner.  We are told that:

Augustus and the senate, informed of what Antigonus had done (i.e. going over to the Parthians), with one consent appointed Herod king over the Jews; commanding him to put a golden diadem on his head, and to mount a horse, and that it should be proclaimed by trumpets preceding him, "Herod is king over the Jews and the holy city Jerusalem" which was done.

The subsequent narrative of the recapture of Jerusalem is thoroughly unbelievable. Herod and Antony go to Syria and we hear moreover - unlike the other pagan accounts - that Herod single-handedly conquered Antigonus with an army of Jewish volunteers:

Whom Herod pursued with a great army of Jews, who had come to him from every quarter, when they found that he had returned ; and he was well supplied with assistance, so that he stood in less need of the army of the Romans. When therefore Herod had reached the Holy City, Antigonus shut the gates in his face ; and fought against him ; and sent much money to the chiefs of the army of the Romans, requesting them not to assist Herod : which they did e for him. Wherefore the war lasted a long time between Antigonus and Herod, neither of them prevailing over his fellow [i.e. antagonist].

The narrative ends with Antigonus basically locked behind the walls with Herod surrounding him with 'loyal Jewish subjects.'  The loyal Jews are critical for the narrative because it makes it seem as if Herod had Jewish supporters which he certainly did not initially.

5 Maccabees continues to tell us that when Herod came to Antony after the latter's victory over the Parthians:

Antony received him courteously, praising him for his exploits against the Arabians : and he attached to him Sosius the general of his army, with a large force, ordering him to go with him to the city of the Holy House: giving him also letters to all the country of Syria, which is from Damascus even to the Euphrates, and from the Euphrates to the country of Armenia; saying to them, " Augustus, king of kings, " and Antony his colleague, and the Roman senate, have now appointed Herod king over the " Jews; and they desire you to lead forth all your men of war with Herod to assist him : if therefore you act contrary to this, you must go " to war with us." 

The reader should now see it is plainly evident that the narrative is told from the perspective of Herod in a manner that strains credibility.

Herod is not only claimed to be 'king of the Jews' (when the reality was that he was only a king of neighboring lands) but more significantly the governor of Syria, Sosius, is portrayed as assisting him in defeating Antigonus.  The source must clearly be understood to be Nicolaus the secretary of Herod and the purpose again is not only to augment the status of Herod but more importantly again to establish that Herod himself was a king of the Jews from a very earlier period but also to establish a claim for Archelaus that his father was established as a legitimate monarch in Judea with popular support of the people.

5 Maccabees continues to present an incredibly positive account of Herod's actions in Jerusalem in contradiction to all other known sources of events - save only for Josephus.  At every turn Herod is presented as a heroic Hercules leading the war against Antigonus almost with superhuman powers.  We hear for instance at one point after his single-handed defeat of one of Antigonus's generals that "Herod gave orders to his men to take rest, and to eat and drink. But he himself went to a certain bath which was in the next town, and went into the bath unarmed. Now there lay hidden in the bath three strong and brave men, holding in their hands drawn swords : who, when they saw him come into the bath, and unarmed, made all haste to go out one after the other, being afraid of him ; and so he escaped."  The account is only presented to add to the manliness of Herod and distract from the reality that all military affairs in Judea were actually carried out by the Roman general Sosius.

The flattering account continues in what follows where - in spite of acknowledging that Sosius led the battle - Herod ultimately defeated Antigonus:

After this came Sosius; and they marched together to the city of the Holy House, which they surrounded with a trench ; and fierce battles took place between them and Antigonus : and great numbers of Sosius' men were slain, Antigonus frequently overcoming them ; but he could not put them to flight, by reason of their firmness and endurance in bearing his assaults. Then Herod prevailed against Antigonus ; and Antigonus fled, and entering the city shut the gates against Herod, and Herod besieged him a long time. But on a certain night the guards of the gate fell asleep : which some of Herod's men discovering, twenty of them ran, and taking ladders placed them against the wall, and climbing up killed the guards. And Herod with his men hastened to the gate of the city which was opposite to them, and burst it in, and entered the city. Which the Romans taking, began to slaughter the citizens ; at which Herod being troubled said to Sosius, " If you shall destroy all my people, " over whom will you appoint me king?" and Sosius ordered proclamation to be made that the sword should be stayed ; nor was any person slain after the proclamation. But Sosius' captains, eager for prey, ran to plunder the house of God : but Herod standing at the gate, holding a drawn sword in his hand, prevented them ; and sent to Sosius to restrain his men, promising them money. And Sosius ordered proclamation to be made to his men to abstain from plunder, and they abstained. And they sought Antigonus and found him, and Antigonus was taken prisoner. After these things, Sosius betook himself into Egypt to his colleague Antony, carrying with him Antigonus in chains. But Herod sent to Antony a very great and fair present, requesting him to slay Antigonus; and Antony slew himand this was in the third year of the reign of Herod, which also was the third year of Antigonus. [ibid 52]

The point is that this account stands very close to the parallel narrative in Josephus - but clearly this is not how the conquest of Jerusalem took place.  The ultimate source is Nicolaus of Damascus and its purpose is to augment the authority of Herod over the Jews in order to bolster Archelaus's claims to the throne.

Appian is certainly right.  Herod was at this time an enemy of the Jewish people, a king of the Idumaeans and the Samaritans and most importantly - certainly not the king of the Jews.  Nicolaus has abused the historical record to further the aims of his client, Herod's son, Archelaus.  This helps explain why the account of the year of the construction of the temple in Herodian regnal years doesn't make any sense.  For Josephus gives 'the eighteenth year' of Herod's reign as the beginning of the project and 'the fifteenth year' as its completion.  Yet the construction is almost universally acknowledged to have completed in 12 BCE, a date that would more correctly be identified as 'the twenty eighth year' of Herod's reign if he had been made 'king of the Jews' when Nicolaus originally claimed.

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