Biblical Archaeology Review 23:6, November/December 1997


Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans

Peter Richardson (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996) xxviii + 360 pp., $34.95

CAESAREA MARITIMA—There was shock in Caesarea and Jerusalem, and as far away as Damascus and Ashkelon, at news of the death of King Herod, a wise administrator, able politician, and brilliant military commander … He will be missed.1

A flurry of blatantly fictional news flashes, interviews with the man on the street and reports from throughout Judea—all reporting on the death of Judea’s king—open Peter Richardson’s bold new biography of Herod. The splashy reports are only fitting for a book published 2,000 years after Herod’s death in 4 B.C.E.

Biographies of Herod tend to appear every 30 years or so. Although each older study is marked by the biographer’s, and his generation’s, peculiarities—whether Teutonic thoroughness, romanticization, religious polemic, amateur psychologizing or theological interpretation—they have all adopted, to varying degrees, the writings of Flavius Josephus as their basic framework. Their biographies are essentially critical retellings of the first-century C.E. Jewish historian’s writings, the only detailed account we have of Herod’s reign.

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