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Who was Herod the Great? How did he come to govern one of the most politically tumultuous regions in the world? Was he the heartless baby-killer of Matthew's Gospel, or does this popular tale do Herod a great disservice?
Geza Vermes, whose work on the Historical Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls has made him one of the most recognisable names in Biblical and Jewish studies, provides a new portrait of Herod. Vermes examines Herod's legacy as a political leader, and a potentate, a man of culture, and an all-round smooth operator. Vermes opens up the fascinating character of Herod, from his sizable and fragile ego to his devastation at the execution of his beloved wife, an execution that Herod ordered himself. Beginning with the key historical sources (notably Josephus) Vermes moves on to consider Herod's greatest legacy and testament - his extensive building works, which include the Temple in Jerusalem, Masada and Herodium. Colour images, combined with Vermes' lively prose make this new picture of Herod an enticing and informative guide to one of Ancient History's most misunderstood figures.
If the name Herod elicits the static image of a two-dimensional villain for you, read this by the late Vermes, who was a professor of Jewish studies at Oxford University and much published author (Jesus in the Jewish World). Generously illustrated with images from the time (coins, architectural fragments, mosaics, and documents) as well as maps, later paintings, sculptures, and reliefs, and based on the author's lifetime of scholarship, the text fleshes out this much maligned character from biblical history. Vermes not only gives context for Herod's negative reputation but also provides a fresh perspective for appreciating admirable accomplishments (for example, renovating the Jerusalem temple) and qualities (loyalty, savvy political instincts, fondness for the learned Jews of his time). Still, readers looking for a rehabilitated Herod will not find him here. In this chronological account of Herod's historical context, life, and successors, Vermes also includes all the juicy bits of madness, paranoia, brutality, and heartbreak. The result: a clear and winning introduction to a man both larger than life and fully human.