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September 2: Marc Antony and the Jews

September 2, 2013

220px-HerodtheGreat2Marc Antony and his ally and wife, Cleopatra, were defeated by Octavian (soon to be the Emperor Augustus) in the naval Battle of Actium off the coast of Greece on this date in 31 BCE, thirteen years after the assassination of Julius Caesar. Antony had appointed Herod “the Great” as king of Jerusalem and the Galilee, which ended the rule of the Maccabees’ descendants, the Hasmonean dynasty. Despite Herod’s alliance with the losing side in the struggle for domination in Rome, he managed to regain and retain his throne under Augustus. Ruling Judea for nearly four decades (according to Josephus), Herod conducted extensive building programs, including expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, known as Herod’s Temple, and the construction of the fortress at Masada. He also expanded Judean territory, as the Hasmoneans had done, through military conquest. He was a murderous, much-despised leader whose claim to being Jewish, let alone king, was constantly disputed by the Sanhedrin and priesthood, but he did practice Judaism (as did numerous “Judaizing” peoples dominated by Judea), at least when he was among “his people.” Herod’s rule led to the undermining of the Sanhedrin’s authority and the switching of popular loyalty to the Pharisees. According to the Christian Bible, it was Herod who sought to kill the baby Jesus and beheaded John the Baptist.

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” —Matthew 2:16