Herodion lesson

Think hard about what civil strife, self-serving leadership and disunity can lead to.

herodian 298 (photo credit: Courtesy )
herodian 298
(photo credit: Courtesy )
I wonder if it is mere coincidence that the tomb of King Herod was uncovered by Israeli archeologists in the Judean Desert just days after the Winograd Committee published its interim report on the Second Lebanon War. Both events raise issues about leadership and national unity. Herod, you'll recall, was only partly Jewish. His mother was actually Edomite. At any rate, his reign reminds us how a leadership's unbound selfishness and arrogance brought lasting and painful national disaster upon our people. How did the Edomite tribal chief Antipater and his sons, Herod and Phasael, come to play so major a role in Israel's early history? And why was Herod buried close to his Herodion army camp and not in the Jewish kings' traditional burying place in Jerusalem? Let us consider the chain of events that led to his rule and death, the subsequent Roman occupation, the almost total destruction of the hard-won Second Jewish Commonwealth and the tragic First Revolt of the year 67 CE. There can be little doubt that during the nine peaceful years of the rule of Queen Salome Alexandra (76-67 BCE) a free and independent Judea reached the peak of national development. Her death, however, left Judea in a state of prolonged civil war that affected the next three generations. BEING A wise queen, she cooperated closely with the Pharisees and preserved the Judean borders enlarged by her husband and his predecessors. But her two sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, in a prolonged struggle for power ultimately sealed the fate of the entire nation. Salome's elder son, Hyrcanus, was deposed from his kingship and high priesthood rights by Aristobulus, who was persuaded by an Edomite chieftain, Antipater - the father of Herod and Phasael - to try to realize his legitimate rights. Antipater conspired with Aretas III, king of the Nabataeans. Their combined armies defeated Hyrcanus and forced him to seek refugee in Jerusalem. The decision on who would rule was left to the Roman commander Pompey, which led to the end of the independence of the 100-year-old Hasmonean Judea. Had The Jerusalem Post been published in those early days it would have reported - as did the Jewish chronicler Josephus - the prolonged daily civil strife and a war which involved all Judea's neighbors: Arabs, Nabataeans, Syrians, Parthians and, above all, Romans. It was particularly the costly internecine struggle that led to Judea losing, one by one, various parts of its hard-won territory. Supported by Rome, Herod eventually became king of Judea and reigned from 37 to 4 BCE. HEROD WAS actually a Roman vassal who rebuilt the Second Temple, hundreds of Hellenistic pagan shrines, and Caesarea. He married Mariamne, the last heir to the Hasmonean dynasty, but had her murdered in a fit of an insane jealousy. After his death the country was turned into a Roman province. We would do well to reflect on how the actions of a divided leadership led to such a disaster. The Jewish people did not willingly accept Herod's leadership or Rome's rule, and this was why he was buried at Herodion. But subsequent futile insurrections and the lack of unity only further weakened the country and led to the Exile. The lesson for today: Civil strife, self-serving leadership and disunity contribute to loss of sovereignty over our historic homeland. As citizens, we need to think carefully about how to effect change while bolstering the stability of our political system. The writer, a veteran Post staffer, authors the Archives column.