The Magi in the House of Herod
(by James Tissot / more)


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According to Matthew 2:1-3, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men (Magi) from the east arrived in Jerusalem, met with Herod the Great and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  “When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.”

This article explores the reasons why Herod and all of Jerusalem would have been disturbed.

Article Index

Why was Herod and all Jerusalem Disturbed when the Wise Men (Magi) Arrived Looking for One Born King of the Jews? here

  • Explanation No. 1:  Given Herod’s Psychological Portrait and His Reputation for Executing All Perceived Threats to His Throne, Herod and All of Jerusalem Would have Been Disturbed by News that a Jewish king had been Born here
  • Explanation No. 2:  Herod and all of Jerusalem May Have  Been Disturbed by the Armed Entourage which Likely Accompanied the Wise Men here

Conclusion here
Sources
Image Credits


Why was Herod and all Jerusalem disturbed when the
Wise Men (Magi) Arrived Looking for One Born King of the Jews?

Matthew 2:1-3 states as follows:

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.’”

The following explanations have been offered as reasons why Herod and all of Jerusalem would have been so disturbed:

  • Explanation No. 1:  Given Herod’s psychological portrait and reputation for executing all perceived threats to his throne, Herod and all of Jerusalem would have been disturbed by news that a Jewish king had been born skip to
  • Explanation No. 2:  Herod and all of Jerusalem may have felt threatened by the armed entourage which likely accompanied the wise men skip to

Explanation No. 1

Given Herod’s Psychological Portrait and His
Reputation for Executing All Perceived Threats to His Throne,
Herod and
All of Jerusalem Would have Been Disturbed
by News that a Jewish king had been Born

In 2007, Aryeh Kasher, Ph.D. (an expert in Jewish history during Herod’s reign) collaborated with psychiatrist, Eliezer Witztum, M.D. (a senior staff psychiatrist) to develop a psychological portrait of Herod the Great based on the facts recorded by historians.

As documented by Kasher and Witztum, throughout Herod’s life, he suffered from ongoing violent mood swings and was haunted by persecutory delusions of plots being formed against him.  Not only did Herod execute numerous people (including several members of his own family), he exhibited sadistic tendencies by cruelly torturing many of his victims before killing them. [See, Aryeh Kasher and Elizer Witztum, King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor, a Case Study in Psychohistory and Psychobiography (2007)]

“[T]here is reason to believe that [Herod] suffered from Paranoid Personality Disorder, in the terminology of the DSM-IV system of psychiatric classification. In addition, as we will attempt to demonstrate, his condition subsequently deteriorated into what is known in modern psychiatric terminology as Delusional Disorder, whose recurrent episodes brought the paranoid elements of his disorder to psychotic levels, causing grave damage and ultimately even a loss of judgment, insight, and the ability to comprehend reality. At times, these were compounded by depressive states that exacerbated his condition.” [See, Aryeh Kasher and Elizer Witztum, King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor, a Case Study in Psychohistory andPsychobiography, pg. xv (2007)]

Herod’s psychological portrait goes a long way in explaining why he and all of Jerusalem were so troubled when wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem looking for one born king of the Jews.

Why was Herod Disturbed?

Herod the Great (James Tissot 1836 - 1902)

The wise men did not arrive in Jerusalem just looking for a baby born of the Jews; they arrived looking for one born king of the Jews. This would have been particularly disturbing to Herod who Josephus reported had been given the title “King of the Jews” by the Roman senate:

“[Mark Antony] resolved to get [Herod] made king of the Jews…. So he called the senate together … and told them that it was for their advantage in the Parthian war that Herod should be king; so they all gave their votes for it.”  [Josephus, The War of the Jews, 1:14:4, (c 75 A.D.)] 

Given Herod’s documented paranoia about people conspiring against him, there is no reasonable doubt that Herod would been very disturbed by the news that another “king of the Jews” had been born.

Why was All of Jerusalem Disturbed?

Not only did Herod suffer from paranoid delusions about people conspiring against him, he acted on his delusions by executing anyone he perceived to be a threat to his throne, even members of his own family:

  • Herod executed his brother-in-law (Mariamne’s brother) for conspiracy;
  • When Herod suspected two of his sons were plotting against him, he charged them with treason and they were executed by way of strangulation;
  • Even Herod’s favored firstborn son, Antipater (the destined heir to Herod’s throne), was charged with plotting against his father and executed just five days before Herod died.

Moreover, although Herod nominally practiced Judaism, he repeatedly demonstrated disdain for the Jewish people:

“[H]e was not a king, but the most barbarous of all tyrants, and [the Jews] found him to be such by the sufferings they underwent from him; that when a very great number had been slain by him, those that were left had endured such miseries, that they called those that were dead happy men; that he had not only tortured the bodies of his subjects, but entire cities, … and of the greatest iniquity, instead of that happiness and those laws which they had anciently enjoyed; that, in short, the Jews had borne more calamities from Herod, in a few years, than had their forefathers during all that interval of time that had passed since they had come out of Babylon …. [ Josephus, The War of the Jews, 2:6:2 (c 75 A.D.)]

By the time the wise men (Magi) arrived in Jerusalem, Herod had ruled over the Jews for about 30 years and had developed a reputation as a murderer and barbaric tyrant.

Accordingly, when the wise men announced they were looking for one born king of the Jews, the Jews living in Jerusalem had good reason to be “disturbed” not knowing what lengths Herod would go to eliminate a Jewish threat to his throne. Sixty years earlier, when the Roman Senate heard a new ruler may have been born, the Roman Senate set a precedence for ordering the deaths of all baby boys in the designated age range.  As argued by Rick Larson (a proponent of the Jupiter proposal for the Christmas star more), that backdrop may have given all of Jerusalem reason to be disturbed when they heard the Magi had reported the birth of a Jewish king. [Rick Larson, “The Bethlehem Star” (2007)]

The above provides sufficient reason for the Jews to be disturbed when the Magi arrived announcing that a “king of the Jews” had been born as reported in Matthew 2:1-3.

Explanation No. 2

Herod and all of Jerusalem May Have
Been Disturbed by the Armed Entourage which
Likely Accompanied the Wise Men

The wise men (Magi) referenced in Matthew 2 are believed to have been from Persia which included Babylon and was part of the Parthian Empire.

In addition to being well-educated pseudo-scientists who practiced astronomy, some scholars believe the Magi were members of the Parthian government (more).  This is the view of Barry Setterfield (a proponent of the Jupiter proposal for the Christmas “star” — aster more).

As presented by Setterfield, because the Magi (or, Magoi as Setterfield instructs) were representatives of the Parthian government, they would have had a large entourage of armed men (perhaps even members of the Parthian cavalry) accompanying them on their 700-1000 mile journey to Jerusalem. [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star (2008)] .

The arrival of a large entourage of Parthian armed men in Jerusalem may have been especially alarming because just 30 to 35 years earlier, Antigonus(the last Hasmonean king of Judea and an ally of the Parthian Empire) had been executed by Rome which is what lead to Herod being instituted as Rome’s client king in Judea.  Accordingly, it seems that Herod and the people of Jerusalem had reason to be concerned that Magi from the Parthian Empire (especially if accompanied by a large entourage of armed men) may have arrived with intentions to reclaim Judea as an ally of the Parthian Empire.

Antigonus coins (WM CC 3.0)

Coin of Antigonus (40 B.C. – 37 B.C.)
(Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. www.cngcoins.com  CC-BY-SA-3.0  more)

Additionally, as presented by Barry Setterfield (a proponent of the Jupiter proposal for the Christmas “star” (aster)),the wise men referenced in Matthew 2:1-16 arrived in Jerusalem in December of 2 B.C. more.  At that time, Herod’s guard was away from the area fighting alongside of Caesar defending a revolt in Armenia.  If Herod’s guard was out of town when the wise men from the Parthian Empire arrived with an armed entourage, it would have been of particularly troublesome to both Herod and all of Jerusalem. [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star (2008)]

As further noted by Setterfield, this may also explain why Herod, a ruthless ruler (who murdered several members of his own family) appeared so cordial to the wise men.  It also explains why Herod did not send soldiers to Bethlehem with the wise men to kill the Jewish king, even though Herod clearly considered the new Jewish king a threat and had apparently had decided to do away with him. [See, Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star (2008)]

If Herod’s guard was away fighting with Caesar and the wise men were accompanied by a large armed entourage, it makes sense that Herod would have chosen to wait until the wise men (who seemed to adore the new Jewish king) left the area before ordering soldiers to go to Bethlehem and eliminate the perceived to his throne. (Matt. 2:7-8, 12, 16)

Conclusion

As set forth above, good explanations exist as to why Herod and all of Jerusalem would have been disturbed when wise men from the east arrived saying they were looking for one born king of the Jews (Matt. 2:1-3).  Accordingly, there is no substantial justification for skeptics insisting that Matthew’s account of the wise men be written off as mere fiction on that basis.

© 2014 by Andrina G. Hanson

Published: January 5, 2015 / Last Updated: June 29, 2016


QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE

Aryeh Kasher in collaboration with Eliezer Witztum, King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor. A Case Study in Psychohistory and Psychobiography (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York, March 2007)

Rick Larson, The Bethlehem Star, DVD (2007), available @ www.bethlehemstar.net

Barry Setterfield, The Christmas Star (Freedom Films and Video, 2008)

IMAGE CREDITS & LICENSING

Slideshow Photo: This is a cropped photograph of a 1886-1894 opaque water color painting over graphite on gray wove paper by the French artist James Tissot (1836-1902).  The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is in the  public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less. In 2014, when the image was downloaded, the painting was located in the Brooklyn Museum in New York City as part of its European Art Collection.

Herod the Great  The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is in the public domain because it is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional work of art in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

Coin of Antigonus Photographs of these coins were provided by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com.  One side displays a double cornuacopiae tied at the base; the other side a wreath with upright tie ends.  The image was downloaded from www.wikimedia.org which states the image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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