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Herod has entered posterity as a ruthless ruler and on account of his cruelty, not least to close members of his own family; but he was also an able and far-sighted administrator who helped in building the economic might of Judaea, founding cities and developing agricultural projects, his most famous and ambitious project having been the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem to the most beautiful in its time in order to ingratiate himself with the many of his subjects who were Jews by descent.
Some of Herod's other achievements include: the rebuilding the water supplies for Jerusalem, rebuilding the Palace in Jerusalem, refurbishing the boundary fortresses such as Masada, and creating new cities such as Caesarea Maritima and Herodion. He also had a fortress built called the Herodium. From the extraction of asphalt from the Dead Sea, he shared with Cleopatra the monopoly on its important use in ship building. He leased copper mines on Cyprus from the Roman emperor. He had a dominant position in the production of bronze, using British tin.
Herod in the New Testament
Main article: Massacre of the Innocents
Herod the Great plays a minor role in The Gospel according to Matthew (ch. 2), which describes an event known as the Massacre of the Innocents.
Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Magi from the East visit Herod to inquire the whereabouts of "the one having been born king of the Jews", because they had seen his star in the east and therefore wanted to pay him homage. Herod, who is himself King of Judea, is alarmed at the prospect of the new-born king usurping his rule.
Herod is advised by the assembled chief priests and scribes of the people that the Prophet had written that the "Anointed One" (Grk. ho christos) is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. Herod therefore sends the Magi to Bethlehem, instructing them to search for the child, and that, when they find him, they should "report to me, so that I too may go and worship him". However, after they find Jesus, the Magi are warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. Similarly, Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod intends to kill Jesus, so Joseph and his family flee to Egypt in order to escape Herod. When Herod realizes he has been outwitted by the Magi, he gives orders to kill all boys of the age of two years and under in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Joseph and his family stay in Egypt until Herod's death, then move to Nazareth in Galilee in order to avoid living under Herod's son Archelaus.
The historical accuracy of this event has been questioned, since no other document from the period makes any reference to such a massacre. However, Bethlehem was a small rural town, and the number of children actually killed may have been as few as 5 or 6. Josephus wrote his "Antiquities" nearly 100 years after the event - it would not be surprising if he were unaware of the massacre, or didn't consider it important.
Herod the Great's son, Herod Antipas (who is also called Herod) is even more prominently featured in the New Testament for his role in Jesus's arrest and execution.
After Herod's death
After Herod's death, his kingdom was divided between three of his sons, namely Archelaus, Herod Antipas, and Herod Philip, who however ruled only as tetrarchs rather than kings.
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