Archive for December, 2011

Here is a book that I would probably read if I had a good paycheck and a life expectancy of a couple hundred years:

“King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor: A Case Study in Psychohistory and Psychobiography” by Aryeh Kasher, in collaboration with Eliezer Witztum (translated from the Hebrew by Karen Gold), Walter de Gruyter Publishing House, 514 pages. http://www.degruyter.com/

As it is, my “To Read” list is already bulging, so I am making do with a book report by Magen Broshi that I found online here: http://www.haaretz.com/weekend/week-s-end/king-on-a-shrink-s-couch-1.224353

This Christmas post is not about sweet baby Jesus. It is about the man who wanted to murder him, Herod the Great. The tomb of King Herod was discovered in 2007 about half way up the north face of a fortress that he had financed with tax money. Before his death, he was soundly tricked by the wise men from the East. This infuriated him and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and its environs who were two years old or under. (See Matthew 2:16) But by then, Joseph had already taken Jesus and his mother and left for Egypt in the middle of the night.

The fortress known as the Herodium where Herod was eventually entombed (built within sight of Bethlehem, BTW) was not his only building project. During the 36 years of his reign, he was building continually. An amateur psychologist could posit that his compulsion to build grand enduring places was a twisted compensation for his paranoid destruction of people.

Having read a paraphrased history of Josephus, I was aware that Herod’s jealous paranoia had caused him to order the deaths of three of his sons and of his wife, Mariamne. I also knew that on his deathbed, he had made his sister promise to have his soldiers kill all the prominent men of the surrounding towns. His stated reason was that he did not want people to rejoice at his death; he wanted it to be a day of true grieving. (Fortunately, she did not keep that promise.)

What I had not known before reading the book report was that in 40 BC while his family was fleeing to escape from the Parthians, “his mother’s chariot overturned and Herod, believing she had been seriously injured, was beside himself with grief. If not for the intervention of those around him, he would have committed suicide.” That short paragraph shows him connected to reality by only the thinnest thread. Like most evil people, he lived by feelings and did not see the consequences of his actions.

The book report says that Kasher’s and Witztum’s analysis explains many of Herod’s actions. That is all very nice, but tyrants, power mongers, and control freaks who need to know this stuff are usually too mentally unbalanced to listen.

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