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In Matthew 2 it records that King Herod called together all the chief priests and teachers of the law. He asked them where the Messiah was to be born:

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

According to John 7:42 it appears that many non followers of Jesus believed that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the town were David lived.

Why would King Herod not know where the Messiah was to be born? Is this evidence that the nativity account in Matthew was meant to be a parable?

2 Answers 2

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Herod was an Idumean, that is an Edomite, not a Jew. Thus, he wasn't versed in the Tanakh.

Herod was born in the 70s BC. His family was Idumean. Herod and his father, Antipater, were both loyal to Rome. Antipater was an adviser to Hyrcanus II. The family’s loyalty and connections with Rome allowed Herod to receive a governorship in Galilee at age 25. He set out improving relations with the Jews, spreading Hellenism very slowly. He also established a military composed of foreign soldiers, centralized his bureaucracy, and began building projects throughout the region. After his father’s assassination, Herod fled the land in 40 BC. He returned to Rome, and was officially crowned king of Judaea. Returning in 39 BC, Herod eventually regained control of the land from the Parthians (ca. 37 BC). He ruled for the next 33 years. -- Winstead, M. B. (2016). "Herod the Great." In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.

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As noted by Perry Webb, Herod was an Idumean (see here). He did make efforts to ingratiate himself to the Jewish people (e.g. his work on the temple), but his acts of barbaric cruelty & violence ensured a lasting, negative reputation.

Other members of the Herodian dynasty appear to have been somewhat more successful in presenting themselves as observant adherents of Judaism (whether it was out of sincere conviction of just playing politics I won't get into here). Herod Antipas, for example, is noted to have attended Jewish feasts (see Luke 23:7), and to have opposed Pilate's desecration of the holy city in the golden shields incident (see Philo On the Embassy to Gaius XXXVIII).

The Herodians (or at least some of them) recognized the value of getting along with the Jews, but they were not culturally Jewish themselves, and there is no reason to believe they would have grown up studying the Tanakh.

Two observations about Herod the Great specifically:

  • A man who murdered one of his wives, three of his sons, a whole host of his in-laws, and many, many others, probably wasn't a devout adherent of the Jewish faith or its scriptures.
  • His actions make sense if he's worried about an uprising. Herod himself may not believe the Jewish prophecies, but he knows his people do - he's worried about what would happen if somebody claimed to be the Messiah and got the people to turn against Herod.

Conclusion

Herod the Great was unlikely to be well-studied in the words of Micah, and as a result, would not have known where the Messiah was to be born, without consulting the Jewish religious scholars.

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    "a lasting, negative reputation" is one of the great understatements of the decade! I agree - herod was a monster on a good day.
    – Dottard
    Jan 8 at 5:22
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    +1 Good supplemental information.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 8 at 16:42

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