The True Herod will be out very soon. Publishing this book has been extremely important to me, and it has in many ways been a labour of love. As I have written before, one of the very first ‘academic’ books on the bible that I ever engaged with was Vermes’ Jesus the Jew. Visiting Geza – and his wife Margaret – on the snowy January day mentioned in the preface of The True Herod was a true privilege. As we discussed the new paperback edition of ‘the Vermes-Millar Schuerer’ we also spoke of Herod. Geza had sent me the manuscript a few days in advance of our meeting and I thought that, if we could keep the image budget under control, we might just be able to create a beautiful book which told the tale of one of ancient history’s most remarkable figures.
It was a great sadness to me when Geza died so soon after completing the final draft of the manuscript, not least because I had been looking forward to a longer collaboration.
The work of researching the images began, trying to find those which fitted our budget, as well as the high resolution versions of those which Geza had found on the internet (in some cases fiendishly difficult to track down), and commissioning new maps for the book.
The process was involved and time-consuming. I spent a few hours collecting as many images as I could, and finding out where most of the images Geza had found were located and held. I also began a process of intense haggling with various image collections and museums. From this point I blithely thought we would get things done quickly, and that a day of discussions with Margaret would enable us to complete things. How wrong I was! Coins took a great deal of time and required external help, maps needed very careful checking. Other images were rotated, or extended to the full bleed of the page. We played with captions, and moved things around. In many ways much of this work is not usual for the academic publisher, it is either done by a specific illustrated division, or by the author. And it was hard work.
I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
The book we have produced is extraordinary. Geza’s presentation of Herod, in all his complexity but with that lightness of touch which was (one of) Geza's trademark(s) opens the ancient world up to the general reader, and provides rare new insights for the academic. The illustrations - 95% of which are the high resolution versions of those handpicked by Geza - go with this to keep the reader engaged, questioning, and involved at all times.
In addition all this, The True Herod is one of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. The maroon cloth it is bound in, the yellow/gold head and tail bands, the matte laminate jacket with gold foiling. The image on the jacket – a close-up of the plaster work in the theatre at Herodium. Inside is the gloss-coated art paper, the crisp full-colour printing. The elegant maps. Page 69 is a full page photograph of Masada in all its glory.
The True Herod is, for the reader, a rich journey through the life of Herod and his descendants. For me it has been a publishing journey, one which began with meeting a ‘legend’ and developed with both excitement, frustration and hard work, the latter elements being a crucial parts of all truly great journeys.
When I left Geza and Margaret that snowy day in January 2013 I sent a text message to a respected biblical-scholar friend bragging about the fact that Geza had laughed at a ‘Rewritten Bible’ joke that I’d made. The texts went like this.
If you’ll pardon the blasphemy above, little did I know that something had begun already, a journey that I would greatly enjoy, towards the publication of a book which I hope many more will enjoy even half as much as I enjoyed its production.