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Chapter VIII.—The Cruelty of Herod toward the Infants, and the Manner of his Death.

1. When Christ was born, according to the prophecies, in Bethlehem of Judea, at the time indicated, Herod was not a little disturbed by the enquiry of the magi who came from the east, asking where he who was born King of the Jews was to be found,—for they had seen his star, and this was their reason for taking so long a journey; for they earnestly desired to worship the infant as God, 144 —for he imagined that his kingdom might be endangered; and he enquired therefore of the doctors of the law, who belonged to the Jewish nation, where they expected Christ to be born. When he learned that the prophecy of Micah 145 announced that Bethlehem was to be his birthplace he commanded, in a single edict, all the male infants in Bethlehem, and all its borders, that were two years of age or less, according to the time which he had accurately ascertained from the magi, to be slain, supposing that Jesus, as was indeed likely, would share the same fate as the others of his own age.

2. But the child anticipated the snare, being carried into Egypt by his parents, who had learned from an angel that appeared unto them what was about to happen. These things are recorded by the Holy Scriptures in the Gospel. 146

3. It is worth while, in addition to this, to observe the reward which Herod received for his daring crime against Christ and those of the same age. For immediately, without the least delay, the divine vengeance overtook him while he was still alive, and gave him a foretaste of what he was to receive after death.

4. It is not possible to relate here how he tarnished the supposed felicity of his reign by successive calamities in his family, by the murder of wife and children, and others of his nearest relatives and dearest friends. 147 The account, which casts every other tragic drama into the shade, is detailed at length in the histories of Josephus. 148

5. How, immediately after his crime against our Saviour and the other infants, the punishment sent by God drove him on to his death, we can best learn from the words of that historian who, in the seventeenth book of his Antiquities of the Jews, writes as follows concerning his end: 149

6. “But the disease of Herod grew more severe, God inflicting punishment for his crimes. For a slow fire burned in him which was not so apparent to those who touched him, but augmented his internal distress; for he had a terrible desire for food which it was not possible to resist. He was affected also with ulceration of the intestines, and with especially severe pains in the colon, while a watery and transparent humor settled about his feet.

7. He suffered also from a similar trouble in his abdomen. Nay more, his privy member was putrefied and produced worms. He found also excessive difficulty in breathing, and it was particularly disagreeable because of the offensivep. 95 ness of the odor and the rapidity of respiration.

8. He had convulsions also in every limb, which gave him uncontrollable strength. It was said, indeed, by those who possessed the power of divination and wisdom to explain such events, that God had inflicted this punishment upon the King on account of his great impiety.”

9. The writer mentioned above recounts these things in the work referred to. And in the second book of his History he gives a similar account of the same Herod, which runs as follows: 150 “The disease then seized upon his whole body and distracted it by various torments. For he had a slow fever, and the itching of the skin of his whole body was insupportable. He suffered also from continuous pains in his colon, and there were swellings on his feet like those of a person suffering from dropsy, while his abdomen was inflamed and his privy member so putrefied as to produce worms. Besides this he could breathe only in an upright posture, and then only with difficulty, and he had convulsions in all his limbs, so that the diviners said that his diseases were a punishment. 151

10. But he, although wrestling with such sufferings, nevertheless clung to life and hoped for safety, and devised methods of cure. For instance, crossing over Jordan he used the warm baths at Callirhoë, 152 which flow into the Lake Asphaltites, 153 but are themselves sweet enough to drink.

11. His physicians here thought that they could warm his whole body again by means of heated oil. But when they had let him down into a tub filled with oil, his eyes became weak and turned up like the eyes of a dead person. But when his attendants raised an outcry, he recovered at the noise; but finally, despairing of a cure, he commanded about fifty drachms to be distributed among the soldiers, and great sums to be given to his generals and friends.

12. Then returning he came to Jericho, where, being seized with melancholy, he planned to commit an impious deed, as if challenging death itself. For, collecting from every town the most illustrious men of all Judea, he commanded that they be shut up in the so-called hippodrome.

13. And having summoned Salome, 154 his sister, and her husband, Alexander, 155 he said: ‘I know that the Jews will rejoice at my death. But I may be lamented by others and have a splendid funeral if you are willing to perform my commands. When I shall expire surround these men, who are now under guard, as quickly as possible with soldiers, and slay them, in order that all Judea and every house may weep for me even against their will.’” 156

14. And after a little Josephus says, “And again he was so tortured by want of food and by a convulsive cough that, overcome by his pains, he planned to anticipate his fate. Taking an apple he asked also for a knife, for he was accustomed to cut apples and eat them. Then looking round to see that there was no one to hinder, he raised his right hand as if to stab himself.” 157

15. In addition to these things the same writer records that he slew another of his own sons 158 before his death, the third one slain by his command, and that immediately afterward he breathed his last, not without excessive pain.

16. Such was the end of Herod, who suffered a just punishment for his slaughter of the children of Bethlehem, 159 which was the result of his plots against our Saviour.

17. After this an angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and commanded him to go to Judea with the child and its mother, revealing to him that those who had sought the life of the child were dead. 160 To this the evangelist adds, “But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in the room of his father Herod he was afraid to go thither; notwithstanding being warned of God in a dream he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.” 161



οἷα θεῷ προσκυνῆσαι. Eusebius adds the words οἷα θεῷ, which are not found in Matt. 2:2, 11, where προσκυνῆσαι is used.


Mic. v. 2.


Matt. ii.


Herod’s reign was very successful and prosperous, and for most of the time entirely undisturbed by external troubles; but his domestic life was embittered by a constant succession of tragedies resulting from the mutual jealousies of his wives (of whom he had ten) and of their children. Early in his reign he slew Hyrcanus, the grandfather of his best-loved wife Mariamne, upon suspicion of treason; a little later, Mariamne herself was put to death; in 6 b.c. her sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, were condemned and executed; and in 4 b.c., but a few days before his death, Antipater, his eldest son, who had been instrumental in the condemnation of Alexander and Aristobulus, was also slain by his orders. These murders were accompanied by many others of friends and kindred, who were constantly falling under suspicion of treason.


In the later books of the Antiquities and in the first book of the Jewish war.


Josephus, Ant. XVII. 6. 5.


B. J. I. 33. 5 and 6.


ποινὴν εἰναι τὰ νοσήματα λέγειν. Josephus, according to the text of Hudson, reads ποινὴν εἶναι τῶν σοφιστῶν τὰ νοσήματα λέγειν, which is translated by Traill, “pronounced his maladies a judgment for his treatment of the Sophists.” Nicephorus (H. E. I. 15) agrees with Eusebius in omitting the words τῶν σοφιστῶν, but he is not an independent witness. Whether Hudson’s text is supported at this point by strong ms. authority I do not know. If the words stood in the original of Josephus, we may suppose that they were accidentally omitted by Eusebius himself or by one of his copyists, or that they were thrown out in order to make Josephus’ statement better correspond with his own words in Ant. XVII. 6, quoted just above, where his disease is said to have been a result of his impiety in general, not of any particular exhibition of it.

On the other hand, the omission of the words in Ant. XVII. 6 casts at least a suspicion on their genuineness, and if we were to assume that the words did not occur in the original text of Josephus, it would be very easy to understand their insertion by some copyist, for in the previous paragraph the historian has been speaking of the Sophists, and of Herod’s cruel treatment of them.


Callirhoë was a town just east of the Dead Sea.


τὴν ᾽Ασφαλτῖτιν λίμνην. This is the name by which Josephus commonly designates the Dead Sea. The same name occurs also in Diodorus Siculus (II. 48, XIX. 98).


Salome was own sister of Herod the Great, and wife in succession of Joseph, Costabarus, and Alexas. She possessed all the cruelty of Herod himself and was the cause, through her jealousy and envy, of most of the terrible tragedies in his family.


Alexander, the third husband of Salome, is always called Alexas by Josephus.


B. J.I. 13. 6 (cf. Ant. XVII. 6. 5). This terrible story rests upon the authority of Josephus alone, but is so in keeping with Herod’s character that we have no reason to doubt its truth. The commands of Herod, however, were not carried out, the condemned men being released after his death by Salome (see ibid. §8).


B. J.I. 33. 7 (cf. Ant. XVII. 7). Herod’s suicide was prevented by his cousin Achiabus, as Josephus informs us in the same connection.


B. J.I. 33. 7 and 8 (cf. Ant. XVII. 7). Antipater, son of Herod and his first wife Doris, was intended by his father to be his successor in the kingdom. He was beheaded five days before the death of Herod, for plotting against his father. He richly deserved his fate.


Eusebius gives here the traditional Christian interpretation of the cause of Herod’s sufferings. Josephus nowhere mentions the slaughter of the innocents; whether through ignorance, or because of the insignificance of the tragedy when compared with the other bloody acts of Herod’s reign, we do not know.


See Matt. 2:19, 20.


Matt. ii. 22.

Next: Chapter IX