Title: The Herods:
Murder, Politics, and the Art of Succession
Author: Bruce Chilton
Genre: History
Pages: 346 (plus bibliology & indices)
Rating: 3.5 of 5
(Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC through Edelweiss+. This in no way affects the content of my review)

If you are acquainted with the Gospels & Acts, you probably remember multiple members of the Herod dynasty putting in less than flattering appearances (starting with Herod the Great’s attempt to murder the infant Jesus in Matthew 2). In this book, Bruce Chilton tells the full story of the Herodian dynasty’s rule over Israel. It is a convoluted tale of political & religious maneuvering, egomania, paranoia, sexcapades, and violence.

Chilton portrayal of the Herods seems fairly balanced. He frequently gives them credit for savvy political moves but does not downplay the cruelty, hubris, and mania that characterized this ruling family. I appreciated getting the full picture of who these people were and how they (and Israel) fit into the broader history of the Roman Empire. If that is what you are interested in, I would definitely recommend this book (especially if you don’t want to wade through Josephus’s Antiquities and Jewish War on your own).

However, I would not recommend coming to this book to learn about the Herods’ interaction with John the Baptist, Jesus, and the early church leaders. The author’s views in this regard are steeped in higher criticism, the “historical Jesus” movement, and all the related academic jargon. He treats the Bible (especially the Gospels and Acts) as distorted legends and propaganda to be sifted through for tiny grains of truth. Jesus is recast to suit a purely naturalistic/sociological/political understanding of religion devoid of true divine revelation. Call me unenlightened, but the “historical Jesus” is a pathetic, unconvincing substitute for the Son of God.

As a follower of Jesus who takes the Gospels as divinely-inspired Scripture, I am probably not the intended audience for this book. Nevertheless, it did increase my overall understanding of these people and their time period, and I am glad that I read it (even if the “historical Jesus” parts made me cringe).

3 thoughts on “All the Herods (& Some Nonsense About Jesus)

  1. Glad you could read past that stuff, I wouldn’t be able to ignore it and would toss the whole thing.

    Just how tough is Josephus? with my abrupt ending of the Very Short Introduction series, I am looking for some more non-fiction and I remember Josephus’s books being on my dad’s shelves….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure how hard of a read Josephus is…I haven’t gotten to him yet. I know that he’s generally considered to be pretty propagandistic so you have to take most of what he says with a grain of salt. The author of this book indicates major differences/contradictions between “The Antiquities” and “Jewish War.” However, given his methodology with the Gospels I don’t know if that is an accurate assessment or if he’s exaggerating mild tensions into irreconcilable contradictions.

      Liked by 1 person

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