BBC Biblical History Documentary | Bible EP6: Herod and the Bethlehem Massacre | English Subtitles


“Mila” Even today the very name
Herod resonates with evil. He is one of the Bible’s
most notorious villains – the king who slaughtered new-born babies By this bloodshed, he hoped
to kill a child named Jesus; a child already called
by some King of the Jews. There is just one verse in the Gospel of
Matthew that has made Herod a pariah. But Herod stands accused
by history as a brutal king. The pattern of his entire life is to use
violence as a solution to his problems. So did Herod really carry out
this horrendous slaughter? Herod the Great was a giant
of the ancient world. A powerful king, he ruled the land
of Judea for over thirty years. His legacy includes fine architecture,
and impressive engineering. But it’s the killing of the children that has earned Herod
his reputation as a tyrant. Matthew explains in his Gospel
how the crime took place. Travellers from the eastjourneyed to
King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem. Matthew calls them “wise men.” They had seen a star, a sign that
a new King of the Jews had been born. This news troubled Herod. He was King of the Jews. Herod’s High Priest
warned him of a prophecy that a king would be born
in the town of Bethlehem. Herod asked the wise men to return
and tell him where the child was. Warned in a dream,
the Wise Men secretly made their way home by a different route. When the wise men didn’t return
Herod flew into an uncontrollable rage. According to the Bible, he had planned
to kill Jesus, and had failed. Herod ordered the killing of every child
in Bethlehem, under the age of two. But there was at least one boy who escaped Joseph and Mary had taken
their son and fled to Egypt. The massacre is described in
just one verse in the Bible. A single verse has grown into
one of history’s most infamous crimes. But the evidence that Herod ordered
these murders is incredibly thin. In fact, the story is not mentioned
anywhere else in the Bible. In researching Herod’s life,
historian Peter Richardson has checked for any references
to a mass murder of children. I think it is important that
even within the New Testament only Matthew tells the story, and Luke who tells of other incidents
surrounding the birth of Jesus told from a quite different point
of view in fact in Luke. Luke knows nothing of this incident. Luke isn’t the only writer
who fails to mention the massacre. No other records of it have been found. The Jewish historian Josephus
lived in the first century AD. He wrote about Herod and Jesus,
yet he makes no reference to the killing. Josephus knows nothing of this incident. I think we have to simply grant that
there is very little evidence for it. We have only Matthew’s account. And that should make us just a little bit
suspicious about the details of the story One verse from the Bible,
one piece of evidence, is hardly enough to convict Herod. But there’s another way
to investigate the killings. By focussing on Herod himself,
rather than the historical records, it may be possible to establish
if he had the motive, and the capability for the crime. Josephus wrote in detail about
Herod’s actions and even his feelings. He got much of his information from Nicolas of Dam Herod’s prime minister and court historian. With such rich source material
modern psychology can shed light on Herod’s character and personality. Josephus in the biography of
Herod pays very close attention, unusually close attention, I think,
to psychological facts of Herod’s life, his paranoia, his violence,
his melancholia and also his greatness. So we get a lot of psychological detail
in the biographical portrait of Herod and that’s essential to
make sense of Herod’s life. So was Herod ruthless
enough to commit this crime? Josephus provides illuminating
information about his early life. Herod’s father was prime minister of Judea a Roman province at the time,
and a close friend of Julius Caesar. His mother was an Arab princess
from Petra, in present day Jordan. Herod was born into a privileged world and had an early introduction
to the power politics of his age. In Herod’s family he grows up
with names at the table that his grandfather and his father
have rubbed shoulders with – Pompeii, Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony,
Octavian, Cleopatra, Brutus, Cassius – all of the great names
are names right at the table. Herod’s own rise to power was fast. At 25 he was appointed Governor of Galilee He married a woman called Doris
and they had a son. His life and career were taking off. But Josephus writes that shortly after
this, Herod’s life took a fateful turn. Returning from a successful military
campaign, he was made a tantalising offer Betrothal to a beautiful teenage girl who was of Jewish royal blood
– Princess Mariamme. Mariamme represented
a golden opportunity for Herod. She was from the royal family most Jews
regarded as the rightful rulers of Judea. Marrying her would be
a powerful alliance for Herod. But there was one problem. He already had a wife and son. Josephus writes that
Herod acted decisively. He banished Doris and
their three-year-old son. He went ahead with
the betrothal and married Mariamme. The Romans clearly saw Herod
as a man after their own hearts. Five years later,
they named him “King of the Jews”. He wants what he wants,
nothing’s going to stand in the way of what he wants,
he’s going to get what he wants. He’s very single-minded in that respect. Herod was ambitious and unscrupulous. But that’s hardly grounds enough
to condemn him as child killer. In fact a very different side
of his character emerges from a number of archaeological finds
made in Israel over the last few decades. They a reveal a king
with sophisticated tastes, whose legacy as a great builder
belies his reputation as a murderer. Just south of Bethlehem, are the remains of an architectural
wonder conceived and designed by Herod. It’s Herodium -a desert palace
built by Herod, which, according to archaeologist Jodi Magness,
is a testament to his engineering genius. She has excavated inside Herodium
and identified its unique design. There are actually two palace
complexes at Herodium. There was a palace, or palace buildings,
on top of the mountain, sort of in the mouth of the volcano, if you wish, and a palace complex
at the foot of the mountain. And that complex includes an enormous pool
that had a pavilion in the middle of it and the pool would have been used
for swimming and, perhaps, even for boating, and was supplied
by aqueduct from springs that were located some miles away. The sheer scale of Herodium has become
apparent in the last thirty years. Thanks to the work of
archaeologists like Ehud Netzer. He discovered royal apartments, guestrooms
bathhouses, arcades, and gardens where Herod could entertain
his family and his entire court. A typical day of Herod at Herodium
would be maybe he started with swimming. There was a large swimming pool
where the morning is very pleasant in the summer to swim. I guess after a good breakfast
he would meet many of the friends. It seems that the site accommodated dozens
if not hundreds, of family members. No doubt, maybe some nice dinners,
and a lot of wine there from Italy. Herodium wasn’t unique. Forty miles to the south,
by the shores of the Dead Sea is the most impressive of all
Herod’s palaces – Masada. It towers a thousand feet
above the Judean desert. Three stories high the palace
is a sensational feat of building. Josephus writes that Herod was
directly involved, at every stage, in the design and
location of his buildings. Achievements like this
suggest a highly cultured man. Ajudgement that’s difficult to square
with his reputation as a child-killer. But there’s more than meets the eye
at Masada and Herodium. Both palaces say much
about Herod’s state of mind. What’s striking about Masada is that
it’s more than just a palace. Built on a treacherous mountain, in a vast
desert, it is an unassailable fortress. A place where Herod could feel safe. It seems the king
was terrified of something. And excavations here have
revealed the depth of his insecurity. Archaeologists have unearthed
large storage rooms for food. The water cisterns are the biggest ever
discovered from the Roman Empire. Herod had prepared Masada
to withstand a very long siege. Well we know that in addition to storing
food and water on top of Masada, that Herod also stored
an arsenal of weapons. We do know also that Herod, of course, had soldiers stationed on top of the
mountain and, in fact, after he died, the mountain continued to be occupied
by a small garrison of soldiers. Even the family palace of Herodium is deceptive for it too
is in fact a fortress. Another place born of deep insecurity. The steep sides meant Herod could
defend it with just a few soldiers. Precisely how, was revealed when archaeologists found
these huge stones at its base. The big stones,
we call them rolling stones, nothing to do with pop music,
we call them rolling stones. And this is if a group of soldiers would
try to go as a group up, or a few ones, you roll them from the top,
and then it is very frightening as well as effective if it hits the people Herod’s fear was so strong that he built
more than 20 fortresses across his kingdom Signals could be sent
between the fortresses with mirrors. They mirror the architecture
of his paranoid mind. He had these deep fears of
being attacked and being vanquished and having his titles taken from him. And the buildings speak to
that fear quite directly. Perhaps Herod felt so threatened that he would even kill the children of
Bethlehem to protect his interests. But what was he so afraid of? Documents from the period reveal
a widespread desire among Jews for a different kind of king. They believed that a great leader,
a Messiah, would be chosen by God to overthrow Herod and
become the true King of the Jews. Biblical historian Warren Carter has
studied the expectations of the times. In Herod’s day everyone knew
the scriptures and their prophecies. We do know that in some Jewish traditions
during the time of Herod, there were some expectations
among some people of a Messiah. We have some psalms
written in the name of Solomon that look for a king in the line of David
who will come to Jerusalem and, without using military means,
will somehow expel the Romans. Herod was aware of these expectations and
was aware of the threat that they posed. The Jews had every reason to question
Herod’s claim to be their legitimate king They expected their king
to be a full-blooded Jew and many were suspicious
of Herod’s Jewish origins. Herod’s Jewishness comes from
the conversion of his grandfather. Herod thus is a third generation Jew
and he acquires his commitment to Judaism as a result of
that conversion process, rather than through bloodline. Herod himself did not have
a drop of Jewish blood in him, though he was Jewish by religion. In fact, Josephus wrote that much of
the population looked down on Herod, especially those from old families. This is why Herod
married Princess Mariamme. As a member of the Jewish royal family, she strengthened his claim to the title,
King of the Jews. Fear of his subjects explains why Herod built such an unusual network
of fortresses across his kingdom. Herod fortified Masada and other palaces
as a sort of a fortification system against an internal threat,
his Jewish population. Because the Jewish population
did not like him, did not accept him
as the legitimate King, and he lived his life in fear that one-day they would rise up in revolt
and try to kill him. Herod was clearly worried. There’s evidence that he went out
of his way to flatter his Jewish subjects He worked hard to
gain popularity and public approval. This is the Wailing Wall,
one of the oldest landmarks in Jerusalem. Jews from all over the world
come here to pray. This wall is all that’s left of a
spectacular building masterminded by Herod Precise descriptions by Josephus
have allowed architects to recreate the entire building. It is the Temple of Jerusalem,
and it was Herod’s idea. The Temple was hailed by many at the time as the most beautiful
building in the world. It was a very public attempt by Herod to win the hearts and minds
of the Jewish people. Now, because there could only be
in Judaism one temple building, the one in Jerusalem,
therefore by definition, that was of course
a very important building, because the entire Jewish religion
was centred around that single building. We do know that it was
a very large and magnificent building with marble and gold and
that it was surrounded by its own courtyard with
towers and fortification walls. 18,000 workers were employed
and more money was lavished on this temple than on any other building
in the history of Judea. We’re told in one of the Jewish sources
that God so favoured this project that it only rained at night during the
years of the building of the temple, but every day was a sunny, dry day so
that the project could proceed unhindered During the construction work Herod took great care to
show respect for Jewish sensibilities. On the human front it was important that the temple not be defiled
during the time of the rebuilding. And in order to get around that Herod had priests trained in
all the relevant building technologies – as masons, as carpenters and so on. There’s no question that Herod
rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem in order to solidify his reputation
with the Jewish people. With such public devotion
to the Jewish faith, Herod should have won
the approval of his people. But despite everything he tried,
Josephus says that many still despised him The roots of this hatred
are not hard to trace. Although Herod was King of the Jews, he had been appointed
by an occupying power – the Romans and to make things worse,
he pandered to them at every opportunity. In his next building project, Herod took a step that caused
great offence to the Jewish population and swept away any
remaining traces of goodwill. Herod’s new project lies
60 miles northwest of Jerusalem and was once known as
the jewel of the Mediterranean – it is an entire city and seaport. This aqueduct which supplied fresh water
is one of the best preserved structures. But in naming the city Herod delivered the
highest insult to his Jewish population. He named it Caesarea, in honour of
the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. Its amphitheatres arenas were
packed with Roman entertainments despised by Jews as decadent and immoral. Herod’s hippodrome in Caesarea was for
horse races, perhaps chariot races, but also could be used for gladiatorial
games, battles with animals, between humans,
those kinds of bloody spectacles. This was the bloody underside
of Roman civilisation. Then Herod committed the unforgivable. He built a temple, not to the god of the
Jews, but to a Roman god, the Emperor. He even funded a vast harbour
with proceeds from Jewish taxes. Little of it survives today
but from the air it’s still possible to make out
the foundations of this sophisticated piece of engineering. Architect Christopher Brandon
has been carrying out underwater archaeology that is revealing
the true scale of Herod’s harbour. What you first see is basically a reef,
you think it’s just a natural reef. And then you start to see beam impressions
postholes and you start to realise that this is not a natural feature
this is a manmade structure. Herod used a revolutionary
building technique that had just been invented by the Romans Herod constructed this harbour
by floating out wooden boxes, which were sunk in a line
by filling them with concrete. All it was is an enclosing wall,
which was always filled with water, so the concrete was poured into
the water and set within the water. They formed a solid foundation,
which he could then build the rest of the piers
that actually formed the harbour itself. In the final analysis,
Herod’s sympathies lay with the Romans. No wonder Jews challenged
the legitimacy of his kingship… No wonder he felt insecure. It would certainly give him a motive
for murdering the children of Bethlehem. But was Herod actually capable
of such a barbaric crime. The first indication ofjust
how far he would go came when he was 38 years old. In 35 BC Herod appointed a new
High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem. The High Priest was second
in power only to the King. Under pressure from his wife,
Mariamme, and from her mother, Herod appointed his brother-in-law,
the 17 year old Aristobulus. But Herod worried that
powerful Jewish families might form an alliance against him, and back Aristobulus,
a full-blooded Jew, as king. Then at a poolside party,
Aristobulus was mysteriously drowned. Few believed it was an accident, and Josephus was convinced that
Herod had had the young man drowned. Here we find Herod ordering the drowning
of Mariamme’s brother, Aristobulus. And this tells us first that
Herod is paranoid and secondly, that he’s capable of murder, even though
the evidence is rather circumstantial. The evidence would hardly
stand up in a court of law. But there was worse to come. Five years later, Rome had a new ruler. Octavian had defeated Mark Anthony. Herod immediately switched
his allegiance from Mark Anthony and went to pledge his loyalty to Octavian. Josephus says Octavian was impressed
and confirmed Herod as King of the Jews. This was a risky step for Herod. He left Jerusalem fearing Octavian’s
retribution for supporting his enemies. In fact, Herod left secret orders
for his wife, Mariamme, to be killed if he did not return alive. Josephus writes that he could not bear the
thought of her being with anybody else. The relationship between Herod and
Mariamme was by all accounts volatile, intensely volatile one might say. It was not, as Josephus put it,
of a calm nature. Herod was deeply in love with Mariamme. His love was intense and passionate. Herod was horrified to discover that Mariamme had learned of
his plans to have her killed. Their marriage fell apart. She stopped sleeping with him. I do feel in his heart of hearts that
Herod may have slightly resented Mariamme for not loving him with the intensity
that he loved her. But that again reveals
something about Herod I think. The fact that he has a very difficult time
comprehending other people’s emotions. It’s almost as if his view of the world
is that everybody should accede to his wishes, and be what
he wants them to be. Increasingly jealous,
Herod put Mariamme on trial Mariamme was brought
before her own husband on a trumped up charge of adultery. The penalty was death. Herod’s sister, Salome,
was the chief witness against her. Mariamme’s mother, Alexandra,
made a dramatic appearance at the trial and testified
against her own daughter. Josephus saw this as a reflection of
Herod’s hold on Alexandra. She too was on his death list and probably incriminated
her daughter to save her own life. Herod declared Mariamme guilty
and ordered her execution. She was just 25 years old and had
given him five children in seven years. Josephus writes movingly that Mariamme was calm and serene
as she went to her death. If Herod could kill his own wife then perhaps he could
murder rivals for his throne. I see the turning point in Herod’s life without doubt being his ordering
of the murder of Mariamme, and that he begins down the avenue
of his ruin from then on. I think the ordering of that murder determines a lot of his
psychological life from then on. It determines a lot of
his motives from then on. But Herod might argue in mitigation that
the killing of Mariamme was not a cold-blooded murder,
but a crime of passion. And indeed Josephus reports
that Herod grieved for her loss. Apparently Mariamme’s
death tore Herod apart. He was consumed with remorse and
refused to believe she was dead. He wandered the palace, calling her name. It does to some degree
redeem Herod’s character, he’s not thoroughly unlikeable, he is capable of love,
he is capable of grief. He is absolutely undone by her death,
and so we feel more warmly towards him because we don’t see him
as this vile beast any longer, we see him as this suffering person. While the killing of Mariamme
doesn’t make Herod a mass murderer, Josephus records that it did push him
dangerously close to the edge. He’s psychotic. He’s hearing voices. He’s deeply depressed. He’s incapable of carrying on
public affairs any longer so this is a this is
a true psychotic break. It’s a definite turning point
and it cements his fate. Herod was by now seriously ill,
his behaviour was erratic and there were reports of heavy drinking. His enemies sensed
he was losing his grip on the country. Some even thought he’d lost his mind. For the first time, there was
a bold attempt to seize his throne. The way Herod reacted
gives the clearest indication yet of whether he could kill in cold blood. With Herod lying ill Mariamme’s mother
made a wild bid for power. Alexandra, declared herself
Queen proclaiming that the King was no longer
mentally fit to rule the country. The historian Josephus says
she made a fatal mistake. Her action brought
Herod out of his lair, fighting. Without so much as a trial,
he had Alexandra executed. But that only served to
increase the risk of a coup. When he was 65,
Herod’s constant fears were confirmed when he heard that his two sons
from his marriage to Mariamme, were plotting to assassinate him
and seize the kingdom. These were his own sons,
from the woman he had loved. It’s good to remember that
Herod in the later part of his life was completely unhinged. He believed in solving
problems through violence, he was also deeply paranoid, so when rumours are flying
about possible efforts on the part of his sons
to seize power from him, Herod falls back on the behaviours that have worked for him
psychologically in the past. Herod decided to act. He had his two sons executed. In this same year, just eight miles away, in a manger in Bethlehem, a woman named Mary gave birth
to a baby she called Jesus. When the Wise Men arrived
at Herod’s court they met a king who had killed his wife
and murdered her brother and her mother. Just months before he had
also killed two of his sons. If Herod could kill his own children,
it doesn’t require a great leap of faith to believe he could also have
killed the children of Bethlehem. But if he did the mystery is
why such a horrific episode is reported only in the Gospel of Matthew Why is the story absent from all
the other contemporary historical sources Some scholars now believe that despite
everything we know about Herod’s paranoia and brutal crimes, there was
in fact no massacre in Bethlehem. They believe two different accounts
of the killing of children got confused in the re-telling
of the story through the ages. I find it very suggestive that
the birth of Jesus and the execution of
two of Herod’s children may have taken place
in the very same year. One of the things that might be
happening in the Christian story about the massacre of the
innocents at Bethlehem is that the horror of a father
executing two of his own children has got transferred into the story
of the birth of Jesus and has become the story
of the execution of a bunch of children at the time of the birth of Jesus. There’s another possibility. Perhaps the massacre did take place, but the historian Josephus
deliberately left it out. It’s possible because Josephus
is interested in the important people, the powerful people, kings and
successors and rivals and allies. And a little event in a nowhere town
like Bethlehem with little people, it’s not something that is particularly
important in the grand scheme of things. So it could be that it fell through
the historical cracks in that way. But the massacre of children,
even in a small town, is certainly worthy some notice. The Gospel of Matthew does not say
how many children were killed. Later accounts, however,
insist that the numbers were huge. The Greek Orthodox Church says
Herod killed 14,000 boys, the Syrian Church speaks of 64,000, and later medieval authors
went as far as 144,000. But maybe the massacre
was not on the scale that any of those traditions suggest. Biblical historian Olu Peters
approached this question by looking again at Matthew’s account
of the killings, in the original Greek. The word massacre at that time
connotes the idea of thousands of people that may have been killed. But if you go back
to the Gospel of Matthew, the word that is used there is “anaireo”
that’s the Greek word, not to be translated as “massacre”
but as “the killing of infants.” That word can be used for even
the killing of one person. So the word as it is used in Matthew does not give you the idea
of thousands being killed. In fact demographic clues from
first century Palestine reveal that Bethlehem was a small village
with a population between 300 and 1000. At any given time, the number of babies under the age of two
would be only between 7 and 20. So numbers alone may be the reason
why Josephus does not mention the murders That’s still not enough evidence to
convict Herod beyond a reasonable doubt but he certainly had the motive
and the cold blooded capability. And for some historians
that is enough to condemn him. It’s overwhelmingly obvious to me that slaughtering the innocent children
in Bethlehem is entirely consistent with Herod’s way of
dealing with problems in his life. Violence is a theme in his life. He killed his wife, after all,
he killed his sons, so when he hears of
this King of the Jews being born, and perceives a threat to his kingship, it seems perfectly understandable
that he would resort to violence. It’s worked for him in the past. And it worked for him over and over again Only five days before he himself died,
Herod killed another plotter, this time it was his son Antipater. This was his own first-born child, the baby boy he’d had
with his first wife, Doris. Herod finally died in his seventieth year and was buried at his
desert palace, Herodium. He is remembered today as the tyrant
who tried to kill the infant Jesus. Ironically although he failed,
many historians now take the view that Herod actually created the conditions,
for Christianity to flourish. Herod has embodied roman rule in a way
that has caused much misery and much pain and much hardship
for much of the population. There has been considerable
resistance that has built up there is longing amongst some
for a very different way of life. The teaching of Jesus
taps into this unrest, he envisages a different sort of society. The teachings of Jesus offered
hope and a better world to people who had been oppressed
for more than a generation. At the same time,
Herod’s connections with Rome allowed Christianity to spread out
across the wider world. The development of roads,
for example, the Roman peace, the ability to take ships easily
from one place quickly to another, the interest in literature
– all of these things play into the ongoing strength
of early Christianity as it develops in the
first few generations. So in some ways,
Christianity has a kind of debt, dare I say, to Herod the Great
for helping to create some of these conditions
that allowed it to flourish. Having failed to kill its founder, Herod would be astonished to
see what Christianity became, so far beyond the borders of
his kingdom, where it began…

Comments 3

  • nice video keep it up bro

  • amazing video keep up the amazing work

  • There is a better and more breathtaking scenario for Biblical movies than Wadi Rum. It is another Jordanian desert, the Black Desert. I recommend you to do footages with a drone or take pictures from high altitude. You will see giant embryos and cell representations. More astonishing than Mars. Many tourists will go there. Short description: http://pontes-canosa-research.blogspot.com/2018/04/revelations-with-virtu-pontes-jordan.html

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