herod really was great (well, at least a better king than the bible paints him)

A prutah of Herod the Great from year 3 of Herod's reign (

A prutah of Herod the Great from year 3 of Herod’s reign (“LG” = Year 3 = 37 BCE) with a helmet on the obverse and an inscription around a tripod reading HRWDOU BASILEWS (= of King Herod) on the reverse. The coin commemorates Herod’s capture of Judea in 37 BCE. (Photo by Robert Cargill. Coin from collection of John F. Wilson.)

All of the students in my Religion 102: History and Religion of Early Christianity course are familiar with one of my standard final exam questions:

“Herod the Great is painted in the New Testament as a terrifying, paranoid king. However, evidence shows that he may not have been as bad for the Jews as we are told in the Bible. While he was indeed paranoid and self-aggrandizing, he also did much good for the Jews he governed.

Was Herod the Great a good or bad king? Support your answer with specific evidence. Explain, regardless of your answer, why the Jews hated him and why the New Testament depicts him in such negative light.”

Well, if you always wanted to know the correct answer to the essay question, Dr. Geza Vermes has now provided the bulk of it for you in an article in Standpoint.

This article is definitely worth the read, especially if you take my class (hint, hint).

HT: Jim Davila and James McGrath.

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