A note on the following:
First, this post is meant to be performed, therefore, the written form is missing an important element: Herod’s paranoia. When I perform this, the “craziness” starts to come out about half-way through and builds and builds until the end. So when reading, remember that there is a very unstable voice behind the words. Herod was brilliant – but he died a very sick man.
Second, everything written is meant to be historically accurate. But for the purposes of simplicity, I wrote this with the omission of the Hasmonean Dynasty. Since only people who have studied Second Temple Judaism would be aware of it’s existence and political influence. Therefore, every time you see and asterisk*, know that I am referencing the Davidic monarchy instead of the recent Hasmonean one.
Advent with King Herod: Peace
History has not been kind to me. And you, you people here in the pews are the ones who turned me into a villain. You have turned me into an old, fat King who gave orders to kill your favored child, the alleged King of the Jews. I have to scoff at that. There is no such thing as a King of the Jews, nor will there ever be! You call him a king? I’m not even a King, yet your silly Holy Book calls me one. So let me set the record straight. Maybe you care to hear my side of the story. My name is “King” Herod, and what I did – I did for peace.
There are many names that are remembered throughout history. Alexander the Great for example – he took over the world 300 years before my name ever graced the tiny, forgotten land of Israel. Now he was a man who knew how to make peace. He knew how to establish an army, how to make a global language so the whole Empire could trade with one another. He made roads that were patrolled by an army so people could travel. Yes, Alexander the Great was a King. Yes, he waged the largest war this world has ever seen, but he did it all for peace.
Have you heard of Antony? As in Mark Antony and Cleopatra? They were great rulers. They were going to unite the world – or so I thought. My Father, was a small ruler within the massive Roman Empire. So he taught me how to play the political game. How to befriended men in high places and give a diplomatic answer. And when Mark Antony who ruled the West side of Empire went to War against Octavian who ruled the East, I picked Antony. Little did I know he would prove weak and commit suicide.
This meant that Octavian won, and something happened that had not happened since the days of Alexander the Great. The massive Empire, which was governed in parts, became one Roman Empire under Octavian, who is now known as Caesar Augustus. Since I had backed the wrong side, I had to change the game plan, appease the correct leaders. But it didn’t take too long – for I know how to play the politcal game. Once I finally gained Caesar’s trust, I was given the land of Israel as a token of good faith. Your Holy book calls me a King. No, I am nothing like Alexander the Great, or Mark Antony, or Cesar Augustus.
Instead, I am simply a Procurator. A watch-dog of the land. A puppet on a laughable throne. A decision-maker for all the petty things the Romans are too important to deal with. And I was given Israel: a God-forsaken spit of land that served no political purpose, except to appease the morally-upright Jews of course. My job may look easy on paper, but it was anything but. It was my job to appease a stubborn people who didn’t want to be ruled by a pagan Rome. And I was the perfect candidate. My mother was Jewish, so the Jews would have to accept me. Yet my father, an Indumean, was sympathetic to the Romans, so Rome knew they could trust me.
I understand the Jews and Romans alike. If anyone was able to keep the peace in Israel, it was me. But the Jews didn’t want me. I was a traitor – a mere puppet, a baby-sitter for Rome on a throne that rightfully belonged to David – as if the Romans would ever try to resurrect that bloodline*.
Don’t the Jews know that I give them peace! Give them everything they wanted. And I did! Rome has backed off since I’ve been in power – because I’m good at what I do. To garner favor with my own people who hated me, I poured all my resourced into making their pitiful temple something to remember. Stones were imported from across the land – stones that shone white in the sunlight. Gold was procured to decorate their temple. I spared no expense. And so the people learned to tolerate me. I may not have been the pure Jew they wanted – but they loved me for my temple: the 8th wonder of the world!
And for the Romans, I built fortresses across this rebellious land so they could travel well and live well while they were forced to reside in this desert heat. I built beautiful bathhouses, ones I can imagine historians would talk about. I built up the city of Caesarea for the Romans! No one would even suspect that it was on Jewish land at all. I have managed to keep Rome distantly involved, and given the Jews a feeling of independence. For I am a man of peace.
Yet all I’m remembered for is being an old, fat, paranoid man who killed baby boys.
Because for all my efforts, it still it wasn’t enough! The Zealots wanted me gone! I was nothing but a Roman sell-out to them, sitting on a Jewish land. Don’t they realize that this isn’t their land! It all belongs to Rome! It hasn’t been their land for over 400 years*! Why don’t my people see that I am protecting them; that I am giving them peace!
One whiff of revolution, and the Romans will come down and smite us. If even one man causes too much trouble, the Jews will be scattered and enslaved across the Empire. But I offer peace. Political peace. Economic peace. Religious peace. But every time a new charismatic leader rises up, disciples follow him, then Jerusalem’s religious leaders get involved – looking for their real King: testing him with riddles and Law. And too keep from Rome getting involved in this silly charade, I have to turn these Messiahs over to the real kings of the world: to Rome. And so, my people who I can never truly call mine, hate me because I keep the peace.
The truth is, no one can do what I can do. I’m smart, I’m an architect, a ruler, a diplomat. I’ve been able to keep peace in the land of Israel for over 40 years. Who else can claim that? The Jewish kings before me didn’t even last a fraction of that time*. Do you know that after I die, Israel will be split among three rulers? Because no one can keep the peace like I do.
So you can imagine my shock when the Magi, who came to collect information from the Empire-wide census, asked me about a child who had been born king of the Jews. I wanted to laugh. No one is born King anymore.
But I didn’t laugh. Because it wasn’t funny. These men were highly trained scribes. And not just any scribes. They were scribes that studied under the Old Ways. Ways that our ancestor Daniel taught, 400 years ago. They knew how to read and write, they knew the gods of every land – they knew the leaders of the world, they knew how to read the stars, they knew the prophecies of old. And apparently they knew about a child who was to born into my position. No – a child who would be born King – a title I can only dream about.
No one can be born King anymore. One has to work for it, want it, think of nothing else but it. One has to be willing to go to war for it. For war is the cost of peace. I would know for I am a man of peace!
And if these Magi, who can visit any counsel in the empire, know about a child-king, then soon, any leader of the empire could know it. I had to put a stop to this. But these magi, they never came back and told me what I needed to know. I let them journey for two years, obsessing over when they would come back. But they never did.
So now, I will do what I have to do in order to have peace.
Yes, history will remember me as the man who ordered the death of baby boys. So what? I made a tiny war on baby boys. But I did it to stop the war that this “King of the Jews” would cause later. A few babies now for a generation later. History might remember me as an old, fat, paranoid king, but history doesn’t understand what I had to deal with!
The land of Israel is sick! It has a problem, one that you don’t understand, one that the Romans don’t understand. Rome thinks it can be squashed – but it can’t. For every generation has put forward a Messiah. Every generation follows a teacher and says that he will be one to overthrow Rome. Every generation has someone causing problems in the temple courts. Every generation produces someone who claims to the have answer. And these people always take up weapons, and rile the people. And I will ultimately have to kill them or else Rome will.
So for the sake of peace, I will be the one who stops this generation from putting forth a Messiah. I will be the one who stops this generation’s teacher of disciples. I will be the one who makes sure no one of this generation flips over tables in the Temple.
I do this so I can stop this one boy from growing up, and gaining disciples, just like all the rest. I do this so this one boy will not spread whatever grand ideas he has, just like all the rest. I do this, so in the future, I won’t have to hand over a full-grown man to the Romans and be left to deal with an angry Jewish mob – just like all the rest. This baby boy and all the others like him aren’t as innocent as you think. They grow up to be angry Zealots, or angry Pharisees, or angry Sadducees. And with that anger comes hatred, and riots, and war.
Do you want to know my secret? The only way to have peace is to control the chaos. The only way to have peace is to order your life the way you see fit. The only way to have peace is to kill false hope, false love, false joy. That’s peace.
Yet, here you sit. Are you really waiting for this child? Thinking he can put and end to all this? I stand before you now offering you political peace, offering you economic peace, offering you religious peace.
Mark my words, you follow this man and you’ll see. You think he won’t wield a sword when they come after him in a garden? Ha! Mark my words, one day, he will be lead to death . . . and then he will fight. You think he is peace, but when his time comes, and that time always comes for people like him, he won’t walk to death willingly. He won’t take what Rome will give him. He will war, and rage, and make chaos, just like all the rest. There is no way that a King of the Jews walks into death. I would know! For I am the King of the Jews!
A Prince of Peace. Are you really waiting for him or didn’t you hear? I just gave the order to kill him.
For I will have peace.