Book Review: Herod: The Man Who Had To Be King

Herod The Man Who Had To Be King

From the Life in Israel blog:

This book, “Herod: The Man Who Had To Be King” is not a history book, but a novel. It is an historic novel, where the story is based on the actual history, but some parts are made up and details are made up as poetic license, but as stated in the introduction, Shulewitz, as a historian who spent much of his work researching Herod, insisted that all facts available be included in the story and he minimized his use of poetic license. Shulewitz did use imagination to fill in some gaps, but the story itself is very true to history.

Yehuda Shulewitz was born and raised in Peoria, Illinois. That makes us practically landsmen.

For some background, from his bio in the book – Yehuda (Louis) Shulewitz moved to pre-state Israel in 1947 to study Jewish history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He had previously received a degree in economics from the University of Illinois and served in the U.S. military in Europe during WWII.

The murder of the Hadassah medical staff on its way to Mount Scopus and the subsequent Arab invasion of the nascent Jewish state put his studies on hold. Yehuda remained alone and hungry in a friend’s Jerusalem apartment during the siege of the city. Later, he courageously made his way over the hills until he reached Tel Aviv, exhausted but safe. There he enlisted in Mahal — the overseas volunteer regiment of the Israel army.

After Israel’s War of Independence, Shulewitz returned to his beloved Jerusalem and, apart from occasional visits abroad, continued to live there until his passing in 2007. An observant Jew and gifted writer, his published materials include articles, short stories, and academic papers, as well as radio scripts, which were broadcast in many different languages. He also worked as the English editor of the Bank of Israel.

Following his retirement, Yehuda Shulewitz researched and wrote this historical novel set during the Herodian period in the largely Roman-dominated Mediterranean region of that time.

The book is fascinating. It is not a Continue reading “Book Review: Herod: The Man Who Had To Be King


Herod: The Man Who Had to be King

From The Canadian Jewish NewsHerod The Man Who Had To Be King

Last month, in Jerusalem, the Israel Museum opened a new exhibit of wide panoramic proportions called Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey. The exhibition has sparked a great deal of excitement and is attracting large numbers of visitors. (Please go to for a story about the exhibit.)

Herod strides imperiously and brutishly through the cities and villages of Judea and, of course, in Jerusalem in the last century BCE. Historians have tried to imagine precisely who he was ever since time, wind and nature’s eternal elements buried the broken columns of his spectacular archeological masterpieces in the sand and earthy clumps of the ancient land.

And now, a new book, brings Herod to life once again, enabling us to imagine him afresh, if not actually anew.

Written by Yehuda Shulewitz, Herod: The Man Who Had to be King (Penina Press, 2012) is an ambitious work that sweeps character, drama, intrigue, history, classics and theology into one epic novel.

The novel, however, was not completed by Shulewitz. Alas, he died around this time six years ago, during Passover 2007. His wife, Malka Hillel-Shulewitz, a renowned scholar of Jewish history in her own right, completed the work that was ultimately published some five years after the author’s death.

Yehuda Shulewitz was a rare multi-disciplined scholar: economist, historian of Continue reading Herod: The Man Who Had to be King

Herod: A Review

by Miriam Bradman AbrahamsHerod The Man Who Had To Be King

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

Herod: The Man Who Had to be King

We may well wonder what in an historical novel is fictional and what fact.  In Herod, we may be assured that, although the reader does indeed become familiar with the characters of the tragic period about a hundred years before the Temple was destroyed and before mighty Rome became a subject for history books, the author was adamant in maintaining accuracy.

Yehuda Shulewitz was a respected historian and intellectual.  Born in the United States, he made aliyah in 1947 and worked as Editor of English Economics Publications for the Bank of Israel.  He wrote Herod when he retired and almost finished it before he passed away.  His wife, Malka Hillel Shulewitz, an author in her own right and an activist for Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands, completed his work.

Herod is the story of the conflict between Herod, Rome and the Jewish people that takes the reader from the Land of Israel and Jerusalem to the bustle of Rome and the colorful thoroughfares of Alexandria, from Syria to the heart of the Parthian empire, to Babylonia, Idumea and Antioch.  It presents a vast panorama of the Mediterranean region of some two thousand years ago, bringing to life the Great Sages, the High Priest and the Temple service.  We meet Alexandra, the proud Hasmonean and her children and Antigonus, another Hasmonean, contender for the throne of Judea and a bitter enemy of Herod.  We get to know Herod, the devoted family man of malevolent moods for whom no challenge was too great or too bloody to reach his goal.

This review appeared in the “Editor’s Choice” section of Emunah Magazine.

History and Fiction

by Mordechai Nisan

I remember seeing Yehuda in the library at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. We would exchange greetings, and he would plunge into his reading.  I didn’t know that he was working on a labor of love – a book about Herod.

The story of Herod and the era associated with him is cut from the historical cloth of three primary dates: in 167 BCE the Hasmoneans [Maccabees] fought their way to Jewish independence from under Greek Hellenic rule and the Jewish state arose again; in 63 BCE the Roman Empire quashed Jewish independence; in 47 BCE Herod of Idumean and Nabatean parentage became the governor of the Galilee and then King of Judea in 37 BCE until his death in the year 4.

Herod, as Yehuda’s book grippingly describes, “had to be king.” He was driven by a passion for power and used any and all methods deemed necessary in his view – murdering his own sons, causing the death of his wife, killing rabbis of the Sanhedrin, slaughtering Jews – in order to rule Judea even under Roman authority. His regime was based on terror and cruelty, intrigue and plunder, while yet adorning the country with the rudiments of Greek culture and Roman construction. He built – rather enlarged – the Temple in Jerusalem, the port of Caesarea, roads and theatres, gymnasia and fortresses. One of them, Herodion where he is buried, bears his name until today. Continue reading “History and Fiction”

You are Invited to a Book Launch

Herod The Man Who Had to be King

An Historical Novel by
Yehuda Shulewitz ז”ל
Completed and Co-Edited by
Malka Hillel-Shulewitz
Published by Penina Press

Beit Avichai
44 King George St., Jerusalem
(ז’ אדר תשע”ב) Weds., Feb. 29, 2012
Reception & Refreshments from 5 p.m.
Program begins promptly at 5.45 p.m.

  • Introduction by Dr. Mordechai Nisan, Lecturer in Middle East Studies, Hebrew University, Jerusalem on The Relationship Between History and the Novel
  • Musical Interlude with the Kolot mei Ha’Olam Ensemble Arranged by Cyrelle Simon
  • Followed by Ezra Rosenfeld, Founder and Head of Tanach Tiyulim on How the Rabbis View Herod

Moderator: Malka Hillel-Shulewitz

We will be delighted by your presence.
Please let us know if you can join us.
RSVP to by 25.2.12
Entrance to parking below Beit Avichai, Keren Kayemet St.