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Herod the Great

Herod the Great


In 36 BCE, an Idumean named Herod took over as king of Judea. Known as Herod the Great, he apparently suffered from paranoia and ruled with ruthless brutality. He put to death forty-six leading members of the Sanhedrin and killed all the remaining members of the Hasmonean family, including, eventually, his own wife and children.

Herod was also an ambitious builder. His projects included, among others, the fortress in Massada, the building over the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, and the port city of Caesaria. But his most ambitious project by far – which he embarked on in 19 BCE – was the renovation and expansion of the Temple, which was dilapidated after 334 years. (He undertook this renovation as atonement for all the rabbis he killed.)

The result was spectacular.1 Herod's Temple was made of white marble and covered with gold plates. According to Josephus, "it reflected so fierce a blaze of fire that those who tried to look at it had to turn away, as if they had looked straight at the sun. To approaching strangers it appeared in the distance like a mountain covered with snow." The Sages concurred: "He who has not seen the Temple of Herod, has never seen a beautiful building" (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Batra, 4a; Shemot Rabba 36:1).2

After Herod's death, the country largely descended into anarchy. The Roman governors oppressed the Jews and allowed lawlessness to reign. Roving gangs and corrupt Roman officers plundered and killed. Former High Priests – who had paid their way into the office and then been replaced – formed their own militias to control the Temple. As a result of the violence and chaos, in 28 CE, the Sanhedrin left their post in the Temple.


The wall we call today the Western Wall is actually just one part of one of the retaining walls that Herod built to support the colossal platform on which he then built the Temple. (Of the visible part of the wall, only the bottom seven layers of stones, consisting of large stones with indented borders, date from Herod's project; the others were added on afterwards. Engineers today are mystified as to how Herod moved some of these enormous stones.)


Herod defaced the magnificent edifice, though, by installing a golden eagle – a symbol of Rome – over its gates. When Herod lay dying in 1 BCE, some rabbis and Torah students removed the offensive symbol. When Herod heard about this, he had them burned alive.

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Rod Koozmin Frederick MD August 5, 2014

I'm a little confused by when the Second Temple became Herods Temple and was it still considered Second and why, wasn't it significantly different? Reply

W.Munsterman Netherlands October 22, 2017
in response to Rod Koozmin:

in 20 b.c.e Herod rebuild the Second Temple which was first constructed by Zurubabel. What was different between the Temple of Zurubabel and Herod was the construction/size etc. I can't answer for sure the question 'was it still considered second and why' but my guess would be; The Tempel of Zurubabel underwent some kind of update and was not demolished like the First Temple. So in that sense, it is still the Second Temple but with an update (like going from Windows 8 to windows 8.1) Reply

Anonymous melbourne, victoria February 11, 2010

bad king this all shows that herod was truly a bbbaaaddd king! :( Reply