Fortress Press

The Herods: Murder, Politics, and the Art of Succession

The Herods

Murder, Politics, and the Art of Succession

Bruce Chilton (Author)


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Until his death in 4 BCE, Herod the Great's monarchy included territories that once made up the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Although he ruled over a rich, strategically crucial land, his royal title did not derive from heredity. His family came from the people of Idumea, ancient antagonists of the Israelites.

Yet Herod did not rule as an outsider, but from a family committed to Judaism going back to his grandfather and father. They had served the priestly dynasty of the Maccabees that had subjected Idumea to their rule, including the Maccabean version of what loyalty to the Torah required. Herod's father, Antipater, rose not only to manage affairs on behalf of his priestly masters, but to become a pivotal military leader. He inaugurated a new alignment of power: an alliance with Rome negotiated with Pompey and Julius Caesar. In the crucible of civil war among Romans as the Triumvirate broke up, and of war between Rome and Parthia, Antipater managed to leave his sons with the prospect of a dynasty.

Herod inherited the twin pillars of loyalty to Judaism and loyalty to Rome that became the basis of Herodian rule. He elevated Antipater's opportunism to a political art. During Herod's time, Roman power took its imperial form, and Octavian was responsible for making Herod king of Judea. As Octavian ruled, he took the title Augustus, in keeping with his devotion to his adoptive father's cult of "the divine Julius." Imperial power was a theocratic assertion as well as a dominant military, economic, and political force.

Herod framed a version of theocratic ambition all his own, deliberately crafting a dynastic claim grounded in Roman might and Israelite theocracy. That unlikely hybrid was the key to the Herodians' surprising longevity in power during the most chaotic century in the political history of Judaism.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506474281
  • eBook ISBN 9781506474298
  • Dimensions 6.25 x 9.25
  • Pages 365
  • Publication Date August 3, 2021


"The Herodians are an irritation for a number of reasons, not least because their motives and theocratic rationales have to be read through another irritation--Josephus. What irritates scholars in the study of the Herods is the welter of opinions about each of the Herodians as well as the lengthy cast of characters outside that family that appear here and there on the stage and then, with lights on someone else, disappear without resolving our questions. Chilton's study adds to all these irritations and, in so doing, sorts through the literature and history and scholarship with scholarly acuity and the literary skills for which he is known. Throughout, Chilton has his eye for wisdom about governance the dangers of religiously based empire as he meanders through the twists and turns and tortures of these potentates. Don't be surprised if your politics, your theo-politics, are under review as this book unfolds."

Scot McKnight, Northern Seminary

"An exacting historian and consummate storyteller, Chilton exquisitely details the motivations, actions, and consequences of the Herodian policies and intrigue that shaped the worlds of early Judaism and Christianity. No dynasty is more historically significant or interesting than the Herodian, and no existing analysis of that dynasty is as complete and insightful as Chilton's."

Alan J. Avery-Peck, College of the Holy Cross

"This is a well-crafted study: the primary sources have been carefully considered, and scholarly literature perceptively engaged. But Chilton gives readers so much more. His renders an exciting and story of the Herodian dynasty, whose relevance for Jesus and the origins of the Christian Church can hardly be exaggerated. Those who think that history dull will instead be drawn deeply into Chilton's narrative--and will love it!"

Craig A. Evans, Houston Baptist University