Is Herod Jewish?


The Readings for the 17th Saturday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of St Peter Chrysologus, bishop & doctor of the Church

It is not lawful for you to have her.

Matthew 14:4

JOHN THE BAPTIST accused Herod Antipas of violating the Law of Moses and urged the Tetrarch to repent, send his wife back to her lawful Husband, and bring his life back into harmony with the Divine pattern. In this, the Baptist has become sort of a pattern for many people who preach against the “powers that be”. Some do so openly and loudly. Some do so quietly, covertly. Many die, becoming martyrs for what they see as the urgent need to save souls.

But let me ask you, was Herod Jewish?

Some say yes, and some say no.

The boundaries at that time were not as strict as they are now. He identified as Jewish, certainly. But his parents were not observant. His mother was a Samaritan. He was cozied up to the Romans and he openly violated the law. His Father’s family were not ethnically Jewish either, but they were cousins, as it were, from Edom. The Idumeans were forcibly converted at the point of a sword – literally: all their men were circumcised thus. Such conversions might be suspect even in the worst of times. Yet, still, he identified as Jewish. So to answer the question of his religion, we have to take his answer as valid – even though there are a lot of reasons to say he was not.

And that’s what seems important for us today: Herod claimed he was Jewish.

John didn’t debate the finer points of the halachic categories of Jewish Law. Instead, John accepted the Tetrarch’s claim and demanded he (Herod) live up to it.

That seems important for us today because there are politicians who do not live up to being Catholic even though they claim to be so.

John the Baptist would – for the saving of their souls – call them to live up to the rules of the game they pretend to be playing.

If they did not claim to be Catholic, the Catholic rules would not apply. But since they insist on making that claim, the correct response is to take them at their word and ask them to adhere to their word as well.

Herod had John the Baptist arrested and, eventually, beheaded simply because John took him at his word: he claimed to be Jewish and so, the Baptist treated him as a Jew gone astray.

The same should be true of any politician claiming to be Catholic today: we should take them at their word and hold them responsible.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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