New Testament significance

In the New Testament Herod’s Tomb is never mentioned, however the general consensus is that Herod the Great is buried there. It should be noted that Herod the great is not the same Herod mentioned in Mark or Luke, who was his son, Herod Antipas, and has little relevance to Herod’s Tomb. Herod, also referenced as “King of the Jews”, is only mentioned in the gospel of Matthew.  It is from Matthew 2:1-24 that we can best derive Herod’s relevance to the New Testament. Within these verses we learn that Jesus was born in the town of Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, in the time during which Herod was king. Featured first is the struggle between King Herod and the new-born king, emphasised by contemporary Jewish traditions. They tell of how an Egyptian scholar of the priestly class, or certain astrologers had predicted the birth of the coming saviour of Israel - Pharaoh and all the Egyptians were upset by this and summoned all the astrologers to Egypt. So, Matthew strikes a contrast between the pagans who are ready to accept the literal king of the world and the Jewish King who refuses to accept him. The relationship between Israel and the gentiles is one of Matthew’s central concerns. In Matthew 2:3, Herod’s terror and his struggle against the idea of a messiah depict the general situation accurately. Herod’s most vulnerable point was his Edomite origin (Gen 36:19; Mal. 1:2-5); he therefore feared any messianic movement because it might dispute his right to his throne. The mention of “everyone else in Jerusalem” underlines the danger.  While the Gentiles, who originally did not have the scriptures but learn the truth from those who do, are the ones who go to worship the king of the Jews. The Jewish authorities, on the other hand, are represented by Herod their King and his plot to kill the child.  Matt: 2:16 conveys Herod’s calculated cruelty has become proverbial. He ordered the execution of his three sons; and at his burial one member of every family was to be slain so that the nation might truly mourn (Josephus, Ant. Xvii. 181). Josephus, who deliberately compiles these acts of cruelty, makes no mention of any slaughter of infants - this argues the historical truth of this particular outrage.

More generally in the New Testament Herod the Great or the “elder”, according to Josephus, is alluded to as the client King of Rome and the Founder of the last Jewish dynasty. Thanks to good relations with Octavian (later the Emperor Augustus), his kingdom soon became as large as David’s had been. With support of a standing army, he enforced his rule everywhere, even within his own family (potentially the basis of the legend of the slaughter of innocents at Bethlehem in Matthew 2). The establishment of a central government enabled Herod to control the economy, priming it by a vigorous building program (including the new cities of Caesarea and Samaria, plus rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem (John 2:20)). The larger temple was not finished until 66 CE, and although there is not much mention of Herod the great in the New Testament there is much discussion about the Jerusalem temple, which is spotted throughout the synoptics. Therefore despite his cruelty, Herod was known as “the Great” because Israel and Judea experienced prosperity during his reign. He was a master builder who restored the temple in Jerusalem and built many theatres, cities, palaces and fortress In general we can gather from the New Testament that his relationship with Judaism was mixed, for he both observed and scorned the Jewish customs.  On the whole, apart from personal ambition, his polices were pro-Jewish but with a cosmopolitan concern to bridge the gulf between the Jewish people and the Hellenistic world.

Ravaged by disease, Herod died in palace at Jericho and was buried, supposedly, at Herodium. The tomb itself is meant to be situated just 5 kilometres south-east of Bethlehem itself (a place which obviously carries much significance for the New Testament) and 15 kilometres south of Jerusalem, another place of biblical significance and also the location of another lavish building commissioned by Herod, that is, the Temple. 

New Testament significance