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Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans, by Peter Richardson and Amy Marie Fisher

New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. xxx, 460. Illus., maps, tables, notes, indices. $150.00. ISBN: 1138803928.

The Not-So-Evil Biblical King

When first published in 1999, this biography of the ill-famed Herod the Great of Judea (fl., c. 74 BC-4 BC) the caused a bit of stir by arguing that the king had not been the villain long reviled by both Jews and Christians. In this revised and expanded edition, Prof. Richardson (emeritus Toronto) and his co-author, Dr. Fisher (University of Alberta), draw upon a variety of additional evidence – archaeological, documentary, numismatic, and more – to strengthen this case.

The authors make a good case. Despite his reputation, Herod ruled ably. He was no more, nor probably any less brutal, than most contemporary rulers. He had to maintain a careful balance between the Judaism of his subjects and the prevailing Hellenism, and seems to have passed readily between the two cultures. He managed threats from homicidal kinsmen and religious radicals, navigated delicately between Roman factions enmeshed in civil wars, and survived Parthian invaders and Arab raiders. Through it all, Herod kept his kingdom more or less independent, in an era in which several other kingdoms were destroyed.

As the authors tell Herod’s story we get insights into the political, social, religious and economic environment of his times. They offer often scathing critical analyses of the sources, cameos of many of the most notable people of the times, and an interesting discussion of how and why Herod came to be a seen as a villain by both Jews and Christians, exploring the origins of some of the mythic atrocities attributed to him, such as the “Massacre of the Innocents”.

A volume in the Routledge series “Ancient Biographies”, Herod is a worthwhile read for the seasoned student of ancient history.


Note: Herod is also available in several e-editions



Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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