50 BC to 30 BC, Psalm 45: Herod.

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Prise_de_Jérusalem_par_Hérode_le_GrandThis generation is that of the years between 50 BC to 30 BC.

This generation is mainly marked by Herod’s struggle to gain power and then by the beginning of his reign (The reign of Herod goes from 37 BC to 4 BC).

Julius Caesar statue on Fori Imperiali with church of Santi Luca e Martina in backgroundThis generation is also marked on the side of Rome by the end of reign of Julius Caesar.

The succession (29 BC) is achieved by Augustus. He is the founder of the Roman Empire which will last nearly five centuries and whose history will have a predominant influence on that of the Jewish people.
Antipater, the father of the future king Herod gives his support after the death of Pompey to Caesar in his wars in Egypt.

Augustus: the EmperorA period of peace and understanding between Rome and the new power, especially represented by Antipater, is established in Judea. The walls of Jerusalem are rebuilt. Antipater appoints his sons Phazael and future king Herod as governors of Jerusalem and Galilee.

During the period of unrest that followed the death of Julius Caesar, Cassius, one of Pompey’s supporters, attempted to raise an army in Judea. Herod preferred to pay the tribute demanded and so was not worried unlike the other governors who suffered the wrath of Cassius.
Cassius promised Herod royalty in the event of a victory against his adversaries.

NAF-21013_f22_Hommage_d'Hérode_le_Grand_à_AugusteHerod, with the help of his brother Phazael, gradually takes control of Judea by arranging his covenants with both Rome, the ruling power, and Hyrcanus, the religious power, and arrives triumphantly at Jerusalem.

His kingship lasted from 37 BC to 4 BC, a long reign of over thirty-three years that completely reshaped Judea.
In fact, Herod, is the unexpected king for the Jewish people in this beginning of cohabitation with the Roman power, with Esau.
It allows the Jews of the time to remain in the norm of the Jewish laws, while opening to the world through the Greek culture. This is the key to the survival of the Jewish people through the ages: respect for the Jewish tradition while remaining sensitive to science and modern thought.
The ostentation it imposes in Judea, especially in the rebuilding of the Temple, further cemented the Jewish national feeling that would prevent this people from melting into the mass throughout history and thus keep the message of Sinai until ‘nowadays.
The respect of the Pharisees allows the advent of Rabbinic Judaism which will consolidate this transmission.
It is this globally positive record for the Jewish people associated with Herod’s numerous military exploits that authorizes the sons of Korah, at the beginning of this generation’s psalm, to praise him. Even if the continuation of his reign shows a king who does not balk at any crime to establish his power:

(extract of the psalm 45 associated to this generation, verses 1 to 7 )

  • For the conductor on shoshannim, of the sons of Korah, a maskil a song of loves.
  • My heart is astir with a good theme; I say, « My works are for a king; my tongue is a pen of an expert scribe. »
  • You are more handsome than [other] men; charm is poured into your lips. Therefore, God blessed you forever.
  • Gird a sword on your thigh, O mighty one, your majesty and your glory.
  • And your glory is that you will pass and ride for the sake of truth and righteous humility, and it shall instruct you so that your right hand shall perform awesome things.
  • Your arrows are sharpened, nations shall fall under you, in the heart of the king’s enemies.
  • Your throne, O judge, [will exist] forever and ever; the scepter of equity is the scepter of your kingdom.
Herod married Mariamne, princess Asmonean who fills her lack of royal blood (of the line of David). What illustrates the continuation of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 45 associated to this generation, verses 8 and 9 )

  • You loved righteousness and you hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, anointed you with oil of joy from among your peers.
  • Myrrh and aloes and cassia are all your garments; more than ivory palaces, those that are Mine will cause you to rejoice.


Mariamne thus remedies the problems related to the birth of Herod (he would not be of royal lineage but from a family of converts), a defect used by his detractors.

The continuation of the psalm evokes this marriage with Mariamne, princess Asmonéenne who brings its title in the wedding basket to a character who already has all the qualities to make a king:

(extract of the psalm 45 associated to this generation, verses 10 to 12 )

  • The daughters of kings will visit you; the queen will stand at your right [bedecked] with golden jewelry from Ophir.
  • Hearken, daughter, and see, and incline your ear, and forget your people and your father’s house.
  • And the King shall desire your beauty, for He is your Lord, and prostrate yourself to Him.
In this passage of the psalm, we must also see a consolation for Mariamne that will be performed by Herod and two of his sons. However, her choice was the right one, because by her sacrifice (“prostrate yourself to Him“) she saves the future unity of the Jewish people.
Cassius, who had damaged Judea to build an army, had finally settled in Tire and from there annexed some lands of Judea.
When Cassius was vanquished and killed by Antony and Augustus, Rome decided to restore to Herod the lands that had been conquered by Cassius. For this Antoine made the official request to Tire:
  • In an assembly where the Tyrians were dealing with their affairs, Marc Antony, Emperor, said: “After having repressed by arms the pride and insolence of Cassius, who entered the favor of the troubles in a government which does not belonged to men of war who were not under his charge, and ravaged Judea, though that nation is a friend of the Roman people, we wish to correct by just judgments and righteous injustices and violence he has committed. That is why we command that all the goods taken from the Jews will be returned to them, that those of them who were made slaves will be released, and that if some dare to contravene this order, they will be punished according to that their fault will deserve it.
This intervention of Tire in the restoration of the sovereignty of Herod is evoked in the continuation of the psalm:

(extract of the psalm 45 associated to this generation, verse 13 )

  • And the daughter of Tyre shall seek your presence with tribute, those who are the richest of the people.
Subsequently, Antigone son of Aristobulus II (who had been king from 67 BC to 63 BC) joined the Parthians against Herod, and besieged Jerusalem. Herod is forced to flee with his family in Petra. Antigone takes possession of Jerusalem, mutilates Hyrcanus to render him unfit for the high priesthood. Phazael, Herod’s brother taken prisoner by Antigone prefers to commit suicide. Herod rejected by his allies because of the fear of the Parthians tries to find his salvation in Rome.

1024px-Masada_BW_ARome, who is anxious to see the Parthian expansion, assures Herod of his support. Meanwhile, Joseph, Herod’s brother, suffered the siege of Antigone in Masada. This time, Masada does not fall.

The Parthians are then driven out of Syria by Ventidius, a Roman general. The latter penetrating into Judea is content to ransom Antigone.
Herod disembarks in Judea, with the support of Rome, sets up an army to reconquer Jerusalem after having succeeded in raising the siege of Masada. It fights many resistances in the country and consolidates the cooperation of the Roman troops. And, having supported Rome himself in his battles with the Parthians, Herod organized the siege of Jerusalem.
In spite of the harsh resistance of the partisans of Antigone, Herod succeeded in taking Jerusalem after forty days of siege. When Jerusalem fell, Herod intervened so that it would not fall into the hands of Romans.
Thus begins the reign of Herod. This reign is marked by an undivided power where Herod does not hesitate to eliminate even among his relatives those who can question his crown….
Thus Herod first eliminates the old partisans of Antigone. He first named Ananel, a Jew from Babylon, from the priestly families to replace Hyrcanus (mutilated, he could no longer officiate) in the place of high priest. He broke with the tradition that the high priest was a hereditary charge.
Alexandra, daughter of Hyrcanus II (former high priest) and mother of Mariamne, wife of Herod, insisted that his son Aristobulus become high priest. Herod, despite fears about the ambitions of his mother-in-law, actually named Aristobulus High Priest. He had him killed quickly when he realized that Alexandra would not be content with the high priesthood.
The Asmonean family, despite all their efforts, will never succeed in taking back the crown from Herod. It will be content to give to Herod the descendants who will provide the last kings of Israel: Herod Agrippa I and Herod Agrippa II.
The fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD will end for a time the succession of kings in the land of Israel, until the last king descended from the line of David comes to restore the royal lineage on the promised land.
It is this portion of Jewish history between the reign of King Herod and the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent restoration of King David that the end of the Psalm evokes:

(extract of the psalm 45 associated to this generation, verses 14 to 18 )

  • All honor [awaits] the King’s daughter who is within; her raiment is superior to settings of gold.
  • With embroidered garments, she will be brought to the King; and virgins in her train who are her companions will be brought to You.
  • They shall be brought with joy and exultation; they shall come forth into the King’s palace.
  • Instead of your forefathers will be your sons; you shall appoint them as princes throughout the land.
  • I will mention Your name in every generation; therefore peoples shall thank You forever and ever.



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