This long, colorful, and detailed novel follows the rise of Herod from his time as governor of the Galilee until he became king of Judaea. The author’s extensive research provides us with a readable version of historic events from over 2,000 years ago in Judea, Samaria, Babylonia, Parthia, Syria, Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch. We learn about the workings of the Temple, the role of the high priest and the Sanhedrin and their complicated interactions with the Roman government. Herod, referred to by the Jews as “a pagan Idumean,” is from a family of forced converts, and was regarded as an outsider. Herod is depicted as resentful, clever, moody, and dangerous, constantly plotting his next move up the political ladder. The author provides fictional dialogue elucidating discussions among Roman rulers and Jewish leaders, and private conversations between the main characters and their family members. The various intrigues read like fascinating melodrama. Julius Caesar, Sextus Caesar, Cassius, Antony, and Cleopatra all have starring roles. Infighting among the Jews pits Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean Ethnarch, against his nephew Antigonus, who wants to seize his throne and priesthood. The solution proposed by Herod is for himself to marry Alexandra’s daughter Mariamne, thereby consolidating power. What happens next? If you enjoy historical fiction, this is definitely a book to add to your reading list. Preface and afterword included by Malka Hillel-Shulewitz who “added the finishing touches” and published the book after her husband, Yehuda, passed away.
This review first appeared in Jewish Book World