933: The Life and Times of Herod the Great by Stewart Perowne

by Gerard

933.05: Perowne, Stewart. The Life & Times of Herod the Great. Gloucestershire, UK: Sutton Publishing, 2003. 180 pp. ISBN 0-7509-3273-2.

Dewey Construction:

  • 900: History and geography
  • 930: History of the ancient world
  • 933: Palestine to 70 AD
  • 933.05: Period of the Roman protectorate, 63 BC to 70 AD

The reign of Herod the Great in Judea is rife with historical inaccuracies and sketchy details. In Strewart Perowne’s landmark 1956 history (this edition was a 2003 reprint), he attempts to cut through all the historical sources and unearth the man under the mythology. He traces the history of Herod the Great from his ancestors until the moment that the modern Christian calendar starts.

All the research in the world, however, isn’t made easier by the fact that there many successive Herods in this period. The original Herod, who lived from 73 BCE to 4 BCE, reigned right until the birth of Jesus. He died a Jew of Judea. Most of the information available comes from the histories of Josephus Flavius, which have been translated and re-translated throughout the centuries.

Perowne’s Herod is a balanced one. He reigns with vigilance, authority, and at times a measure of despotism. This is the Herod mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew who ordered the Massacre of the Innocents (although this is not corroborated in any other sources). He also expanded the Second Temple and developed water resources in Jerusalem.

The book is chock full of historical information but is ultimately very scholarly and quite boring at times. All the parsing of the different Herods leads to clunky surnames and more emphasis on which you’re dealing with than on what is going on in the text. Herod the Great had fourteen children by eight different wives, so it gets very complicated. Unless you’re a serious student of Herodian times, go with some lighter reading.