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He forgot he was only human

The horrors of King Herod! Nobody knows for certain how many people he killed. Some books say fourteen thousand, others sixty-four thousand. You can take it from me, the books havenít a clue. Iíd say the real number was more like one hundred and forty-four thousand deaths, and that too within just two years of the infant Jesusí birth. I should know. I was one of the men he used to wreak that trail of destruction. I have nightmares thinking of all the blood on my hands. I know my repentance will be long and my punishment heavy. I am prepared.

But to return to Herod. You may well ask, if Herod was such a bad man, how did he get to be king? To answer that, I need to go back to where it all began.

Herodís father Antipater was very friendly with the right people. That meant the Romans, who were then the most powerful people in the world. Antipater helped the Roman conquerors and in return, they helped him. One such helpful act was to make his son Herod the Governor of Galilee at the tender age of twenty-five. This early taste of power, that too obtained so easily, went straight to Herodís head. He saw himself as someone destined to be great, a natural-born leader of men, why even more ó a king! In any other person, these thoughts might have remained mere delusions of grandeur, the kind of empty dreams that any ambitious young man might have. But in Herod, they were prophetic.

Eight years after he became governor, his powerful Roman buddies Antony and Octavian asked the Roman Senate to give Herod the crown of Judea. Herod was over the moon. He went at once to the temple of Jupiter and thanked the Roman gods. The fact that the throne just given to him was still occupied by a hale and hearty Antigonus did not bother anyone. Three years later, Antigonus was beheaded ó who knows at whose command ó and Herod had the pleasure of occupying in person the seat he had so far occupied only in name.

In those days, kings married to increase their influence. Herod was no different. He chose Mariamne, daughter of one of the Hasmonean kings, who were then extremely popular among the Jewish people. (Herod probably hoped that some of that popularity would rub off on him!) In a fit of generosity, he made his wifeís younger brother Aristobulus his high priest, but when he realised that this seventeen-year-old boy was a bit too popular, he had him killed. Popularity got on Herodís nerves. So did his wifeís grandfather Hyrcanus. Like Aristobulus, Hyrcanus' only fault was that he had a way with people. And so he had to die. Jealous of the Hasmoneans, Herod wanted them all wiped out. He wanted to be compared to no one. This was the strong kingís greatest weakness.

To be continued

From The Greatest Stories Ever Told;
By Sampurna Chattarji;
Publisher: Puffin

Illustration: Uday Deb
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