Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The origin of Herod (Hordos)


The true origin of Herod (Hebrew: Hordos) is quite controversial. There are opinions claiming that Herod originally came from Edom and was an Edomite. At a certain point in Jewish history, the Edomites were forced to convert to Judaism and also Herod’s family converted. However, Herod never became a real Jew and never intended to be one.

The second theory regarding the origin of Herod is taught in Talmud Bava Batra 3b. The Gemara (rabbinic discussions) there teaches that Herod was originally a slave in the house of the Hasmoneans.

The Hasmonean revolt against the Syrian – Greek occupants was led by Mattiyahu, the Cohen HaGadol (High Priest). In 165 B.C.E., the Second Temple was recaptured by the Jews and we all know what happened, as we commemorate the victory on Chanukkah.
More than twenty years later, the Sanhedrin and the people proclaimed the Hasmonean Shimon, Mattiyahu’s last living son, as “Prince of the Jews”. The Hasmonean dynasty ruled from that year until 36 B.C.E. when it was overthrown by Herod. 

The Talmud teaches that Herod was a slave in the house of the Hasmoneans and had his eyes on a young girl from the famous family. One day Herod heard a heavenly voice telling him that any slave that revolts now will succeed in his rebellion. Herod rose and killed all members of the Hasmonean family except for the young girl he loved. 

The RAMBAN (Nachmanides) commentates here that the Hasmoneans got punished by G – d because they didn’t reinstitute the kingdom of the House of Yehudah. Instead, they proclaimed themselves as king although they didn’t have the right to do so.
After Herod had killed all members of the household, he intended to marry the young girl. She refused and ascended to the roof shouting “Whoever comes in future years and says I AM A DESCENDANT FROM THE HOUSE OF THE HASMONEANS IS IN TRUTH A SLAVE because there is no one left from that family. After this declaration, the maiden jumped from the roof and thus committed suicide.

The Gemara teaches that Herod preserved her body in honey for seven years. There are claims that he had sexual intercourse with the dead body of the young girl, and there are voices saying that this did not happen.

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