The Wise Men – Matthew 2:1-12 (Part 3)
And, to add a bit of historical context, at that time there was a synergy of both religious and secular hope, or expectation, that a kingly figure would emerge from somewhere in the mediterranean basin and rule the world. The Jewish messianic hope, four hundred years “back-burnered” by prophetic silence, was beginning to percolate again. Josephus, the Jewish historian wrote, “about that time one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” And the Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus also bear witness to the mediterranean-centric hope for universal reign. It was an eschatological “perfect storm”.
Enter Herod. Called “the Great” because he was a great builder, he was nonetheless one of the most pathetic persons of his day. For one thing he was desperately insecure. Much of this was rooted in his “half-breed” status, half Jew and half Idumean. He had Edomite blood in his veins. As such he was looked down upon by his Jewish subjects. And, as is often the case, his insecurity fed a troubling paranoia. In old age he became a “murderous old man” murdering his wife Mariamne, her mother Alexandra, three of his sons: Antipater, Alexander, Areistobulus; all seventy of the Sanhedrin, three hundred court officers., and countless others. The Roman emperor Augustus said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. Appointed governor in 47 BC, he became “king” in 40 BC and reigned until 4 BC. He was the only Roman ruler of Palestine to keep the peace. Part of his success was due, no doubt, to his generous care of the poor. But it was he who in the Christmas story, ordered “the slaughter of the the innocents” in Bethlehem.