Tony Soprano of Jewish Antiquity, Part I: Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies Closer!

There are two types of blogs I do not enjoy reading: 1. Unreasonably LONG posts and 2. Chapter selections from a work in progress.

There are two types of blogs I thoroughly enjoy reading: 1. Funny and entertaining blogs and 2. Thought provoking or educational posts where I learn something.

Incidentally, I’m also a fan of history, science and politics. For those of you who have followed me, you know that I try to weave my two favorite types of blogs into the three categories I’m most interested in.

The problem is that I have a post I want to share with you that I feel like meets my requirements of the latter, but violates my code of the former.  (In other words, I have a funny, entertaining piece I stumbled on I want to share with everyone, but it is longer AND it is an excerpt of one style of writing I use in my stores)  So, if you will bear with me I think I’ll go out on a limb this Saturday. I sincerely hope you enjoy it. Afterall…it is the weekend. So relax, pour another cup of coffee and settle in.

I will break up today’s post into two parts and will play a little game with all of you. You see, I’m not sure if you will enjoy reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it so, here is what I propose: I will post Part I. If you like it and would like to see Part II, I will post it tomorrow morning.  However, I will need at least 5 people requesting that I post Part II in the comments, or at least 5 people “Liking” this post. If I can get that, I will follow up with the rest of Herod’s story.  If not, I will shrug and post something else more along my style on Monday. 

It is a narrative piece of fiction I wrote about Herod the Great. He was the king of the Jews during the last part of the 1st century B.C. He was a fascinating character in Jewish history. If you have any religious background at all, the name “King Herod” shows up quite a bit in the Gospel narratives.

If you know anything about Jewish history in general during the 1st century B.C. and 1st century A.D. the name “King Herod” also shows up quite a bit. Sometimes this can be confusing because during this hundred year period there were a number of guys who liked to call themselves “Herod” and if you are not careful, you could be reading about the demise of one only to hear of another popping up soon after.

This is a small narrative about the Herod who started it all. Think of him like the Tony Soprano of Jewish antiquity. He was THE “Don” of the family and all of the dysfunction and insanity that surrounded his descendants after he died has a direct link to him. He is vilified in the Gospels, which is understandable because the Jews never trusted him. However, woven into the tapestry of his tragic life is a character who, though flawed, was an effective leader for his people in a time when many of the smaller principalities were simply swallowed up in the maw that was theRoman Empire. He not only secured quasi-independence for his people in the face of the powerful Roman might, but he also stimulated an economy for his people that, for a time, rivaled anything in the eastern half of the empire.

He was Herod the Great, and this is a part of his story:

Herod the Great was king over the Jews who never quite forgave him for the first great folly of his life; he was not born a Jew. It was not that his birth was ignoble, it was just not Jewish enough for them. Jews were, after all, a stubborn lot and it was difficult for them to accept a king who was not born a Jew. The great king David was a Jew. His son Solomon was a Jew. The Messiah, when he came, would be a Jew, but Herod’s father was from Idumea, and that didn’t have quite the same ring to it. Worse still, Herod’s mother was an Arabian.

“So,” Herod tried to argue with the people. “My father was mostly a Jew.”

“It does not count,” they informed him. “A Jew is born from the mother. Your mother was Arabian.”

Jewish though he was not, Herod was very smart. At least, he knew hot to pick the right friends and as everyone knew, the best friends to have were Romans. More importantly, Herod knew when to ditch his friends for even better friends. He learned this trick from his father, Antipater, who also knew how to pick the right kind of friends. Antipater of Idumea had two very good friends. One was a Prince Hyrcanus who was a Jew. The other was Gaius Julius Caesar who was not Jewish at all, but very Roman.

The Jewish Prince had been fighting with his brother for quite a long time over who would be king over this tiny strip of land that hugged the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. The religious leaders of the Jews couldn’t decide either, so each prominant religious order picked the brother they thought would eventually win. The Pharisees chose Prince Hyrcanus, Antipater’s friend and the Sadducees chose Prince Aristobulus. Of course, neither prince had a drop of Roman blood. Fortunately for Aristobulus, a very great Roman just happened to be in the area at this time. The problem was that Romans rarely cared what happened to other people who were not Roman. So Aristobulus figured the best way to get this Roman’s attention would be to send another Roman, not quite as great but still important, a very large pile of silver if he would be his friend.

Romans liked silver, so Aristobulus had a new friend named Marcus Aemilius Scaurus who just happened to know Pompey the Great.

Aristobulus was cleaver. He knew that anyone who had the name “Great” legally attached to the end of his name would not really notice a pile of silver. On the other hand, an 1,800 pound grape vine that was made out of pure gold; few human beings could over look that, whether they were Roman, Jewish or anyone else. So he sent Pompey his golden trophy and Aristobulus had another very great friend.

Although Aristobulus was good at making new friends, he was not very good at keeping them. He did not understand one important thing about Romans; they were very proud. They might fight other Romans, and often they did, but they never took sides against each other in favor of someone who was not a Roman. Poor Aristobulus was never told this little secret. So when he went to Pompey with a very sad story about how Marcus Aemiilius Scaurus had actually extorted the very large pile of silver from him, the great Roman decided to take a closer look at this little strip of land that was causing so much trouble.

This was not what Aristobulus had in mind at all. This was not what the Sadducees had in mind either when they supported his claim for the throne. Actually, it was not what anyone had in mind, but it did work out rather well for Aristobulus’ brother, Hycanus. Pompey decided that although his new golden vine looked really good in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus back in Rome, Aristobulus didn’t seem to have anything else to give him. Besides, Hyrcanus had a much more convincing story to tell. So, Pompey made a new friend in Prince Hyrcanus and had brother Aristobulus promptly arrested. This was very good news for Antipater of Idumea because if you recall, Hyrcanus was also his friend.

The city of Jerusalem was a holy city for the Jews. It was divided into two main sections. The lower city that held the markets and was controlled by the Pharisees, and the Temple mount where the Sadducees had barricaded themselves after Aristobulus’ arrest. Pompey the Great quickly broke through the barricades and his battering rams tore holes in the walls of theTemple allowing the Romans access to the sacred buildings. Many of the Sadducees committed suicide rather than watch the desecration of their most holy site.

The Jews were very stubborn about this particular Temple, a fact that was curious to a Roman like Pompey. The whole complex was so secret and guarded. No one had even been inside except for priests and only a High Priest was able to go into the most holy room of the Temple. It was all very confusing to Pompey, so he decided to see for himself what they might be hiding in there.

The great Roman and his soldiers trudged up the long staircase leading to the Temple, stomped their muddy boots through the sacred rooms, gawked at a number of golden vessels and treasure while priests cried something about blasphemy. The soldiers made sacrifices to their pagan gods who had protected them in battle on the Jewish alter, another act that seemed to make the Jews very upset.

“Whatever you do,” they begged the great Roman, “Please do not go into our most holy room.”

“Why is it holy?” he asked them.

“God is in there,” they answered.

“What else is in there?”

“Nothing,” they said.

Pompey laughed. He was not a fool. Any room that was the house of a God had to be filled with all kinds of beautiful trophies. Besides, he could see the very thick curtain that sealed off this holy room.

“Is God behind this curtain?” he asked.

“Yes. Please do not go in there.”

Pompey couldn’t resist and slipped his head inside to have a peek. Unable to believe his eyes, Pompey barged in to make sure it was not a trick of clever lighting. Indeed, his eyes were seeing correctly. The sacred room was empty. There was not a candlestick, or a stool or even a nice pot anywhere. It was just a big, dark, empty room.

“This is it?” he asked his friend Hyrcanus.

“That is it,” the Prince answered.

“Well, I am sorry I desecrated your empty room,” Pompey said. “How about I make you the High Priest and we’ll call it even?”

Prince Hyrcanus accepted and the Pharisees were very happy. The Sadducees as you recall were still peeved that brother Aristobulus had been arrested and did not accept this promotion. Besides, it had been made by a Pagan Roman who had just desecrated the Temple. In any event, Pompey went on his way. He had to get back to Rome and see what his friend, Gaius Julius Caesar, might be up to and the Jews became subject to Roman rule before he left.

However, as was often the case when two Romans became too great, in time civil war broke out and Pompey found himself running away from the greatest Roman of them all, Gaius Julius Caesar, who had grown very powerful indeed. Antipater of Idumea saw his chance. He quickly made a new friend by helping Caesar out of the really bad situation he had gotten himself into while being seduced by a young Egyptian queen named Cleopatra. Hyrcanus, who had made friends with Pompey, had to sit quietly and hoped no one remembered that little detail. Caesar, however, was not a man to forget details. So it was Antipater of Idumea who was appointed regent of the Jews by Caesar and granted Roman citizenship.

The problem with being a great man is that people tend to become really jealous. Julius Caesar had defeated Pompey the Great and thus had become “Dictator For Life”, but even the greatest men can be killed by dozens of very small knives. Typically, when great men are killed like that, another war is not far behind.

Caesar had been killed and his murderers ran to the east to hide from Caesar’s friends and family who were now hunting them intent on revenge. the murderers figured they would raise an army to protect themselves, but quickly realized that thousands of men eat quite a bit. They need thousands of expensive armor and weapons and most of them require some sort of pay to keep them fighting for you. Needless to say, they were in desperate need of money to fight Caesar’s nephew, Octavian and his second in command, Mark Antony. So, the murderers demanded 33,000 pounds of silver from both Antipater and his young son, Herod. That much money is never easy to collect, and Antipater of Idumea was killed trying to collect it, leaving young Herod to make the best friends he could all by himself.

A job that young Herod proved to be very, very good at.

UPDATE #1 So, here it is on Monday and only 2 people ‘like’ this…and no one commented. Oh well. Tell you what, I will post something elese tonight but if as the week goes on other people end up ‘liking’ it, I will post the last part. Same rules apply…I’m looking for 3 more peole to either comment and request more, or simply ‘like’ it. If not…I can take a hint.  *smile*

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2 thoughts on “Tony Soprano of Jewish Antiquity, Part I: Keep Your Friends Close, and Your Enemies Closer!

    • Hey Andrew: I’m glad you like it. I find Herod FACINATING mostly because he is the villan. But alas…I am still two people short. So, go tell some of your friends about me, bribe them, beg them…even threaten them a little…but surly between us we can find 2 more people who would like to hear the rest of the story.

      Thanks for reading and whether or not we find two more ‘likes’ keep in touch!

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