Herod the Great (73–4 BCE) was a phenomenally energetic ruler who took advantage of the chaos of the Roman revolution to establish himself as a major figure in a changing Roman world and transform the landscape of Judaea. Both Jews and Christians developed myths about his cruelty and rashness: in Christian tradition he was cast as the tyrant who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents; in the Talmud, despite fond memories of his glorious Temple in Jerusalem, he was recalled as a persecutor of rabbis.
The life of Herod is better documented than that of any other Jew from antiquity, and Martin Goodman examines the extensive literary and archaeological evidence to provide a vivid portrait of Herod in his sociopolitical context: his Idumaean origins, his installation by Rome as king of Judaea and cultivation of leading Romans, his massive architectural projects, and his presentation of himself as a Jew, most strikingly through the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple. Goodman argues that later stories depicting Herod as a monster derived from public interest in his execution of three of his sons after dramatic public trials foisted on him by a dynastic policy imposed by the Roman emperor.
“Martin Goodman’s clear-eyed portrait of Herod the Great sharply captures both the accomplishments and the tortured personality of this larger than life figure. Goodman brings out with clarity the complexities and contradictions of a man who could be both lavishly generous and brutally ruthless. The book successfully combines acuity with readability.”—Erich S. Gruen, University of California, Berkeley
“Herod—the king everybody loves to hate—strides out of Goodman’s pages in all his flawed glory. His story is also the story of Rome at the beginning of its empire, the story of Jerusalem at the end of its independence. Goodman shines a bright light on this tumultuous period, and on the unforgettably complicated character of one of its major figures. Herod the Great is riveting reading.”—Paula Fredriksen, author of When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation