Herod: From monster to nearly a national hero?

Yaacov Shavit*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The article examines the evolution in how King Herod has been portrayed in Jewish tradition over the ages-in particular in Jewish thought, literature, and public discourse during the modern era-and attempts to unravel how that evolution came about. Until the nineteenth century the story of Herod and his reign were known only to those able to read the writings of Josephus Flavius in various translations to European languages; his name and deeds were known primarily from references in post-biblical literature, which portrayed him as an "Edomite" king, despotic and cruel. During the nineteenth century, in contrast, an attempt emerged to understand his policies and behaviour against the specifibackground of his times. This change occurred primarily as a result of the so-called "Jewish return to history, "which was accompanied by an attempt to explain Herod's policies and undertakings as a necessity of Realpolitik and launched a debate between those who identified positive aspects of his rule and those who viewed him negatively. This ambivalence characterizes depictions of Herod during the period of the British Mandate, and later even more so within Israeli public discourse. The article attributes this phenomenon to Herod's depiction as the "great builder" of the Land of Israel, who expanded its boundaries and opened it up to the "culture of the world"-that is, to the Graeco-Roman culture of the time.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication"Let the Wise Listen and add to Their Learning" (Prov 1:5)
Subtitle of host publicationFestschrift for Günter Stemberger on the Occasion of his 75th Birthday
Publisherde Gruyter
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9783110435283
ISBN (Print)9783110441031
StatePublished - 20 Jun 2016


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