The ruler of the kingdom of Judea, consisting mostly of Jerusalem and present-day southern Israel from 37 BC to 4 BC, King Herod is the Bible's bloodiest tyrant.
Known for extensive building throughout the Holy Land -- he rebuilt and expanded the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the desert fortress of Masada, as well as the port city of Caesarea and the Herodium, where he is believed to have been buried -- Herod is described as a bloodthirsty megalomaniac who killed three of his sons, executed one of his 10 wives and ordered the killing of every single male child under two in his kingdom in the attempt to destroy the infant Jesus.
Indeed, the Jewish first-century historian Josephus Flavius gave a glimpse of Herod's methods as he described how the sick king ordered several members of the local Jewish aristocracy to be executed on his death, so that his passing would be widely and genuinely mourned.
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However, there is no record, apart from Matthew's Gospel, that his most brutal act, the Massacre of the Innocents, really occurred.
"The notion persists that he was a ‘Jewish King', persecuting ‘Jesus' -- even Jews themselves have come to believe it so powerful is the literature and, just as Christians, so thin their real historical knowledge," Robert Eisenman, Professor of Middle East Religions, Archaeology, and Islamic Law and Director of the Institute for the Study of Judaeo-Christian Origins at California State University Long Beach, told Discovery News.
Indeed, Herod wasn't a "Jewish" King as is commonly thought. He came from an Idumaean (Edomite) family on his father's side and his mother was an Arab woman from Petra.
"Being ‘King of the Jews' did not mean being ‘a Jewish King.' It was a Roman Title and Herod himself was a poly-religionist, building different shrines for different religious groups he wish to endear himself to all over the Roman Mediterranean. The Jews paid dearly for his ambitions, as they are still paying for his reputation today," Eisenman said.