For the last two-three months I've been working very hard on getting together the image permissions and high resolution files for our illustrated title on Herod next year, 'The True Herod', by the late Geza Vermes. This process is now complete, and I'm delighted to be able to say that the manuscript and the images go across to our production team on Wednesday in order to be made into a book. It's been a real privilege to work on this manuscript, from the first meeting I had back in January with Geza to the long day I spent with Margaret Vermes in July making final decisions about the best versions of the images available to us. The only sadness, of course, is that Geza died before we were able to publish the book. Geza was a great fan of Herod's, as is clear in the book, and was clear in our discussions about him. I'm a bit of a fan myself. In order to whet your appetites for what to expect in the book when it comes out in the new year I'm delighted to post the preface to the book below here now. It certainly describes the book far better than I ever could!
PREFACE to The True Herod, by Geza Vermes, Bloomsbury 2014
For many years I have been fascinated by the figure of Herod the Great (c. 73 – 4 BCE). Having read and re-read Josephus’ accounts in the Jewish War and Antiquities, and having attempted to discount the pro-Herodian and pro-Hasmonean bias in the two works, I easily reached the conclusion that both the Christian and the Jewish rabbinic traditions have faced us with a caricature of the true Herod. Herod was not an enemy of the Jews, nor was he guilty of the massacre of the babes in Bethlehem as the evangelist Matthew would like his readers to believe. He was heroic and horrible. A genius in politics as well as a giant in architecture and planning, he was at the same time shamefully vindictive towards those he considered potential rivals or opponents, including the close members of his family. He was a typical split personality and his two opposite qualities turned him into a genuine tragic hero. It is amazing that no top class filmmaker has yet discovered these latent potentials and raised him to stardom as they did with his classical contemporaries, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. No doubt they were unable to recognize that the lens of the Christian tradition provided them with a grossly distorted image of the real Herod.
However, a good historian should not allow Herod’s generally known weaknesses to obscure his greatness and tolerate the negative aspects of his complex personality to obfuscate his brilliant and, yes, I will dare put it, his kindness and generosity towards his subjects, Jewish and non-Jewish, in their hours of need. As a recent writer aptly put it, appropriating Graham Greene’s formula, Herod was truly ‘the Third Man’ in the Roman empire of his age, who was preceded only by Augustus and his best friend, Agrippa, with the King of the Jews being the next best and influential friend of both.
In this richly illustrated account, Herod and his successors down to the third generation are set within the framework of Jewish and Graeco-Roman history, with a bird’s eye view back to the age of David (c. 1000 BCE) and a forward look to the aftermath of the Jewish rebellion against Rome in the final decades of the first century CE. The book is meant to all and sundry, with no prior requirement beyond a basic education. I hope the readers will find the pages and pictures that follow instructive and entertaining, in short a good read.
Oxford, 31st March 2013 Geza Vermes