King Herod the Great ruled Judaea as a client state of the Roman Republic from 40 BC to 4 BC. Israel's greatest builder of public works since the Babylonian Exile, Herod expanded the Temple Mount and enlarged the Second Temple, thereafter known as Herod's Temple. He also built aqueducts, temples, fortresses, and entirely new cities. However, he is mostly known among Christian nations today as the king who tried to murder the baby Jesus.
This bronze prutah coin, also known as a widow's mite, was issued by Herod between 37 BC and 4 BC. Many of these were doubtlessly circulating in Jerusalem and perhaps even nearby Bethlehem when Jesus was born. These same coins were changing hands in daily commerce at the same time Jesus was teaching near the Temple, and later, when He was crucified and rose again.
This authentic Herod the Great bronze prutah comes in a protective presentation folder that provides a detailed history of this controversial king of Judaea.
About King Herod The Great
Herod's father was Antipater the Idumaean, the most power man in Judaea other than the Hasmonean kings themselves. Due to the incompetence of the Hasmonean king Hyrcunus II, Antipater was named administrator of Judaea by Pompey the Great.
In 47 BC, Antipater led a 3,000-man Judaean army to rescue Julius Caesar in the siege of Alexandria by Ptolemy XIII. A grateful Caesar awarded Antipater Roman citizenship and appointed him the first Procurator of Roman Judaea. Antipater later used the scars of his wounds suffered in this battle to prove his loyalty to Rome.
From his new position of power and favor, Antipater appointed the young Herod as governor of Galilee, and his other son Phasael governor of Jerusalem. Antipater was assassinated in 43 BC and Marc Antony appointed Herod and Phasael joint tetrachs to replace him, and run the day to day matters in Judaea.
In 40 BC, the Hasmonean Antigonus seized the throne of Judaea, with the military backing of Parthian king Orodes II. Hyrcanus was captured, and Herod was forced to flee for his life.
He traveled to Rome to plead before the Senate to reinstate Hyrcanus II (and Herod himself as tetrarch). The Senate ordered Marc Antony to Judaea once again, to regain Judaea from the Parthians. Apparently, the Romans apparently had had enough of supporting the weak Hyrcanus. In a surprise move, the Senate appointed Herod "King of the Jews".
Marc Antony, at the head of two Roman legions, defeated the Parthians in Judaea in 37 BC. The usurper Antigonus was captured and sent to Rome in chains. Herod was now undisputed king of Judaea.
To legitimize his rule in the minds of the supporters of the Hasmonean dynasty, he successfully petitioned the Parthian king in 36 BC to release Hyrcanus II. Upon his return, the elderly former king and high priest was given a place of honor in Herod's palace. To further legitimize his rule, Herod divorced his first wife Doris and married a Hasmonean princess, Mariamne.
Herod and the Roman Civil War
After the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, a civil war broke out across the Roman Empire between Octavian, Caesar's heir, and Marc Antony. Herod sided with Marc Antony, the man who had put him in power. Even though Marc Antony's lover, Cleopatra seized Judaean territory for her own, Herod stood by his friend.
When Octavian defeated Marc Antony, Herod found himself in a very difficult position. With everything (including his life) on the line, Herod sailed to meet Octavian at Rhodes. Before doing so, he executed the old former Hasmonean king Hyrcanus II, to prevent him from being used to steal the throne of Judaea. (This would not be the only Hasmonean he would kill.)
Herod appeared before Octavian, but instead of pleading for his life, boldly proclaimed his loyalty to Marc Antony, even in the face of his mistreatment.
He then told Octavian that this is the sort of loyalty, through thick and thin, he would have to him. Impressed with Herod's boldness, Octavian not only reaffirmed Herod's titles, he gave him additional territories to rule. As the first Roman emperor, Octavian, now known as Augustus, continued to bestow favors upon Herod, whom he saw as an important power of stability in the Middle East.
Herod was an ethnic Edomite. He faced the opposition of many Judaeans who claimed that his heritage meant he could never be a "real" Jew, despite his family's long history of observing the Law of Moses. Herod's grand architectural achievements were partially to win over the people, and partially to cement his name in Judaean history.
His legacy, at least within Israel, was a far darker one. As he aged, Herod's paranoia reached extremes. This mindset was bolstered by real intrigues against his rule, but his mind increasingly saw enemies everywhere.
Herod's sister Salome was the one most responsible for feeding his fears. Wishing her son to be king, she turned Herod against his favorite wife, Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess. Enraged over charges of infidelity, and believing rumors she was attempting to poison him, Herod had Mariamne executed in 29 BC. Mariamne's own mother testified against her, then tried to seize Herod's throne by calling him mentally incompetent. Herod had her summarily executed. Fearing this plot was part of a revolt planned by the Hasmoneans, Herod had all members of the family killed.
His two sons by Mariamne, and his eldest son, born of Doris, fed Herod's paranoia, each insinuating the other of plans of regicide. Herod eventually had them all executed.
The Slaughter of the Innocents
Herod was afflicted with an "excruciating" disease later in life, as chronicled by the historian Josephus. The decades of stress and paranoia had broken him mentally as well. It is no wonder then, that he would perform his most heinous act shortly before his death.
Three wise men from far eastern kingdoms presented themselves to Herod's court. They told the king that they had been following a star that heralded the birth of the "King of the Jews", and wished to know what the Jewish prophets knew where the birth would occur. This sent Herod into a panic, though he was careful not to expose this to his three visitors.
Huddling with court scholars, Herod found that Bethlehem was prophesied to be the birthplace of the Biblical King of the Jews. Herod decided to let the Wise Men do his footwork, in order to find this threat to his throne. He told them that the child would be born in Bethlehem. He implored them to return to Jerusalem when they found him, that he might go to worship the prophesied child himself.
The three Wise Men found the young Jesus in Bethlehem, and bestowed upon him their symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Before they left, an angel appeared to them in a dream, alerting them to Herod's deadly plan. Therefore, the three left for their homes back East by a route that did not take them through Jerusalem.
After not hearing from the three Wise Men for a while, Herod sent agents to Bethlehem find them. Upon finding that they had escaped his kingdom, Herod flew into a rage. In order to ensure that this toddler King was killed, he ordered that every male child aged two years or under be murdered. Christians remember this genocide as the Murder of the Innocents.
Herod's bloody plan to kill the Messiah was foiled by an angel of the Lord, who warned Joseph to take Mary and the young Jesus into Egypt, where they would be safe. Shortly afterward, King Herod the Great died in agony, and Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were free to return home.
This Herod the Great bronze prutah saw the events of the life and Resurrection of Jesus. Also known as "widows mites", it would be a great irony if the widow in the Gospel of Mark and Luke had thrown a Herod prutah into the Temple treasury. This would mean that the coin of the vain and murderous King would have been used by Jesus to illustrate selflessness and sacrifice!