Herod the Great was the king of Judea at the time Jesus was born. He was known to be brutal and to have all the little boys in Bethlehem killed. Herod had several descendants, some of whom are mentioned in the Bible.
Herod was an Idumean (a descendant of the Edomites, a people who lived in the south of Israel) converted to Judaism. Not being an Israelite, he had no right to the throne but, with the help of the Roman empire, conquered power in 37 BC Herod became vassal king of Rome, with dominion over the Jews.
During his reign, Herod did several construction works in Judea. He founded the cities of Caesarea Maritima and Sebaste, built palaces and fortresses and built public places that energized the region. Herod was also dedicated to building temples for various gods of different peoples. Among the Jews, he was known for renovating and expanding the temple in Jerusalem .
Since he had not become a king by birthright, Herod’s power depended entirely on strength and his alliances with Rome . He used a lot of violence to come to power and repress the opposition and his reign was marked by a lot of brutality against potential rivals.
At the time of Herod, Rome was facing some political crises. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Herod sided with Antony and Cleopatra but they were defeated by Otávio Augusto, who became the new emperor of Rome. Then, Herod quickly changed sides and swore allegiance to Otávio. With his political maneuvers he managed to maintain the support of Rome.
To win favor with the Jews, Herod divorced his first wife and married a woman from the Jewish aristocracy. But later, suspecting plans to bring him down, he executed his second wife, some of his children and other members of her family. Herod had several wives throughout his life, killed some and also killed several of his children. His obsession with power was stronger than family ties!
Herod tries to kill Jesus
In the face of his violence towards his own family, Herod’s reaction when he found out about Jesus’ birth is not surprising. Jesus was the rightful king of the Jews, prophesied in the Scriptures and awaited by the people. Herod could not compete against someone like that. He would lose the throne.
When the magicians arrived in Jerusalem, looking for the newly born king of the Jews, they went to speak to Herod. But the new king was not at the king’s house! Concerned, Herod called the wise men to find out where the promised king should be born ( Matthew 2: 2-4 ). They discovered that it should be in Bethlehem. So the magicians went to Bethlehem, where they found Jesus. But they did not tell Herod where Jesus was, because an angel told them that he wanted to kill the boy.