Herod as a young man.
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Antipater found himself at a point where he could change history – and he set about to do it. As long as Hyrcanus could be persuaded to believe that he was in charge, that everyone respected him as the noble Hasmonean who deserved the highest position in the land, all was well. Hyrcanus would never dream of actively interfering with anything Antipater, his dear friend and protector, wanted to do. Hyrcanus believed in Antipater’s friendship and even love, and could now relax and tend to his own peaceful business in Jerusalem and the Temple as Ethnarch[i]and High Priest.
Antipater, as mentioned in the previous segment, persuaded most of the population to behave reasonably and avoid further revolts. In this relatively peaceful moment, he could attempt to establish the dynasty that would once and for all terminate the rule of the Hasmoneans – his own family. For himself, Antipater might have been happy to work as the eminence grise, but his sons, he determined, would be the real rulers.
First, he appointed his eldest son, Phasael, as the governor of Jerusalem and the surrounding region. No doubt Hyrcanus knew and liked Phasael, whom he had watched growing up; it is easy to imagine that he saw him as some kind of nephew and trusted him as much as he trusted Antipater.
But it is the second son that we must keep an eye on –because Antipater’s second son was Herod. Yes, THAT Herod… the complex man that would change Jewish history not only throughout his own life, but through centuries. So let’s see what Josephus has to say about Herod: “He [Antipater] entrusted Galilee to his second son Herod, who was still quite young; he was, in fact, only fifteen years old. But his youth in no way hindered him, and being a young man of high spirit, he quickly found an opportunity for showing his prowess. For on learning that Ezekias, a bandit leader, was overrunning the borders of Syria with a large troop, he caught and killed him and many of the bandits with him. This achievement of his was greatly admired by the Syrians, for he had cleared their country of a gang of bandits of whom they longed to be rid. And so they sang his praises for this deed throughout their villages and cities, saying that he had given them peace and the secure enjoyment of their possessions. And through this action he became known to Sextus Caesar, a kinsman of the great Caesar and governor of Syria.”
This part of history is one of my favorite sections in the writings of Josephus, because the great historian is showing tremendous restraint in his commentary, and lets the political humor of the situation speak for itself. The concise paragraph above reveals and explains much that would happen later in the history of Herod and Judea. This fifteen-year-old boy accomplished, in one coup, enough to assure himself a very good future. Fifteen! A time of life when the only things on boys’ minds, at least these days, are girls, texting, and the social media… Granted, some scholars are trying to prove that Herod was twenty-five years old, but it is unlikely and there is no proof to that effect. And so at this tender age he not only proved himself a strong warrior, but also one who pursues justice and helps his neighbors. In doing so, he put himself on an equal footing with the governor of Syria, who was much older and better known. It should not escape you that this governor, now Herod’s dear friend and colleague, was also a kinsman of Julius Caesar, the man Herod’s father, Antipater, was trying to be best friends with… There is no doubt that Antipater advised his son on this little matter.
But what about Herod’s elder brother, Phasael? Surely Antipater would help him to ingratiate himself with Rome? Indeed. Let’s look again at what Josephus is saying. “Thereupon the desire to emulate Herod’s achievements seized his brother Phasael, and being moved by the thought of the reputation Herod had won, he was ambitions not to be behind him in achieving like fame; and so he made the inhabitants of Jerusalem feel very friendly toward him, and though he kept the city under his own rule, he did not show any lack of discretion in governing it or abuse his authority.” Again, very good advice from Dad, no doubt, since Josephus continues, still with a straight face and no unnecessary additions, “This situation made it possible for Antipater to receive from the nation the respect shown a king and much honor as might be enjoyed by one who is an absolute master. With all that glory, however, he did not, as so often seems to happen, in any way alter his friendship and loyalty to Hyrcanus.”
I rest my case. Antipater did everything very well indeed, and not only secured honor for himself and his sons, but pleased his countrymen. But the joyful state did not last because court intrigues are never over, and the high level Jews in Hyrcanus’ Ethnarch court were more and more dissatisfied with the advancement of “that Idumean” and his sons. More to come!
 A political leader over a common ethnic group or homogeneous kingdom. The word is derived from the Greek words ethnos – tribe/nation, and archon – leader/ruler.