Life of Herod

November 17, 2015 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Biography, HISTORY, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS | 0 Comments |

Massacre of the Innocents (1565/7 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder)

(By Josephus) (c. 79-93AD)

A Jewish scholar who fell in with the Romans was well-placed to write an account of the fairly wicked and opportunistic King of Judea (37-4BC).  Herod was a survivor in every sense, swinging between supplicant and psycho, and he knew how to pick a winner.  Most of the losers, meanwhile, comprised members of his extended family, leading to the saying that it was ‘better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son’.


This intriguing work has the nuance and factual matrix absent from the biblical references, suggesting that the Massacre of the Innocents was really an inspired New Testament flourish, albeit consistent with Herod’s public image along the Levant.  (Judea did not love Herod, who has had bad PR since his death – e.g. see Claude Rains’ effective performance in The Greatest Story Ever Told – but beware – watching that film is like reading the old and new testaments in one sitting in a crummy hotel room).

Our version of Josephus is the sumptuous Folio edition, translated from the Greek by John Gregory with a concise and illuminating introduction by Martin Goodman.  One of the reasons The Varnished Culture’s offices exist in a modest bolt-hole (so small the mice have round shoulders and permanent sore necks) is that we have spent too much money on Folio books – and the rest of our dough, apart from opera tickets and the odd bottle of champers, we simply have wasted.

'Ruling Jews is like herding cats"

‘Ruling Jews is like herding cats”



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