1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 2“Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him.” 3When King Herod heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Christ would be born. 5They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is written through the prophet,

6‘You Bethlehem, land of Judah,

are in no way least among the princes of Judah;

for out of you shall come a governor

who shall shepherd my people, Israel.’”

7Then Herod secretly called the wise men, and learned from them exactly what time the star appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child. When you have found him, bring me word, so that I also may come and worship him.”

9They, having heard the king, went their way; and behold, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them until it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. 11They came into the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Opening their treasures, they offered to him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.

13Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”

14He arose and took the young child and his mother by night and departed into Egypt, 15and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked by the wise men, was exceedingly angry, and sent out and killed all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding countryside, from two years old and under, according to the exact time which he had learned from the wise men. 17Then that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying,

18“A voice was heard in Ramah,

lamentation, weeping and great mourning,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she wouldn’t be comforted,

because they are no more.”

19But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, 20“Arise and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.”

21He arose and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father, Herod, he was afraid to go there. Being warned in a dream, he withdrew into the region of Galilee, 23and came and lived in a city called Nazareth; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophets that he will be called a Nazarene.

Herod the Great (Matt 2:1-22; Luke 1:5)

Biography | Matt 2:1, 3, 7, 13, 15, 16, 19 | Jeffrey Kershner • Hershel Wayne House

There are several kings in the first century that are called Herod, the most famous of whom was Herod the Great (ca. 73 to 4 b.c.), who is the one mentioned in this passage. His designation "the Great" related to his massive building projects, which included the Temple Complex in Jerusalem (his most important achievement), and the Antonio Fortress in Jerusalem among other buildings, and several fortresses in the desert to protect him in case of an uprising by the people. These include Masada, Alexandreion, the Herodium, Hyrcania,[1]  Machaerus (on the east side of the Dead Sea) and two palaces at Jericho.

Herod was an important king, who was a friend of Rome, known for his cunning, charm, and ruthlessness. He became “King of the Jews” around 40 b.c. He was not a pure Jew, with Idumean heritage but sought throughout his life to gain favor with the Jewish people. His ruthlessness is probably what has been his claim to historical significance. Christians remember him for his cruelty, particularly his order to kill all the male children in and around Bethlehem (Matt 2:16-18), attempting to destroy the newborn Messiah, Jesus. His paranoia and ruthlessness is evident in his murder of any  suspected of treachery, killing his wives and children. Additionally, knowing his death was near, he ordered that a large number of prominent men be imprisoned in Jericho’s hippodrome with the order to execute them upon his death. Herod’s sister Salome, and her husband, rescinded this order after his death. He died in 4 B.C. and was buried in the Herodium (Josephus, Antiquities 17.6), his tomb being recently discovered by Israeli archaeologists Ehud Netzer and Ya’akov Kalman.

Several ancient authors speak of Herod, and archaeologically his existence is attested also by coin inscriptions, his various building projects, and wine jugs that bear his name.

[1] Ward-Perkinsmary, Architecture, 311.