What loathsome disease did King Herod die of?

Whoa! Wait a minute! Which King Herod are you talking about? If it’s Herod the Great, he did do away with newborn babies, but he was long gone by the time of Claudius. If it’s Herod Agrippa I, he had nothing to do with newborn babies, but he did die all worm-eaten in 44 AD, right spang during the time of Claudius.
By the way, I read somewhere that syphilis was a Spanish import from the New World, which is why it was called the “Spanish disease”. In that case, it couldn’t have existed in Roman Palestine, right?

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What loathsome disease did King Herod die of?

You’re right about which Herod was which.

As to syphilis, that’s a bit of a mystery. There seems to be pre-Columbian evidence for syphilis on both sides of the Atlantic. On the other hand, it also seems to have been perceived as something new after 1492.

Best guess? It’s something like “Montezuma’s revenge”. Two different strains, to each of which most people in either the Old or the New World had built up a degree of resistance.

A bit of clarification:

The lifetime of Herod “the Great” (73-4 BCE) does overlap with that of Claudius I (10BCE-54CE), although, as those data show, not by much. Claudius would have been a small child when HtG died, and was then probably unaware of his very existence.

M. Julius Agrippa I (10BCE-44CE; miscalled “Herod Agrippa” in Christian sources), the grandson of HtG, was almost an exact contemporary of Claudius and, according to Josephus, was instrumental in Claudius’ accession (although Suetonius doesn’t make mention of him). Certainly, Claudius knew and liked Agrippa, and therefore appointed him king of Judaea and Samaria (it should noted that Gaius (Caligula) had already granted him the title of king and the tetrachies of his half-uncles Philip and Antipas).

Acts 12 states that “the angel of the Lord smote him” and that he died “eaten of worms”. Josephus omits this, however. As best can be guessed from the medical evidence (such as it is) after nearly two thousand years, he died of some acute illness, probably appendicitis, after a very brief time, although some sources suggest that he was poisoned by Claudius’ order, to check his growing power and popularity among the Jews).

How could the early Christians have miscalled Herod Agrippina when they were right there at the time? To say, for example, that Samuel Clemens wrote “Huckleberry Finn” is clearly wrong, technically speaking; however, the question in the case of Herod Agrippina is, was he a Roman or a Jew (or Idumean, if you want to get really technical). To appeal to one side, he would have gone by the name of Julius, but to appeal to the other, he would have had to go by a Jewish name, in this case Herod. After all, what Jew in his right mind would have sworn allegiance to Julius Agrippina? Herod could also could have had it both ways by calling himself Herod Julius Agrippina, which would not have been at all unusual.

Agrippa. Agrippina is a girl’s name; see M. Vipsanius Agrippa, his daughter Agrippina Major, his son Agrippa Postumus, and his grand-daughter Agrippina Minor (Nero’s mother).

As for the accuracy of the evangelists, may I point out that it is highly questionable? Aside from the discrepancy (to put it mildly) between Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus, Luke (the alleged author of Acts) seems to have no idea when Quirinius (“Cyrenius”, although the spelling is a problem due to the name being transcribed into Greek and then back into Roman characters again) was governor of Syria. The synoptic evangelists also routinely miscall every Antipatrid “Herod this” or “Herod that”, although they did not use “Herod” as a forename. There is no contemporary or near-contemporary reference to Agrippa as “Herod Agrippa” except in Acts.

“Herod”, it should be pointed out, is not Hebrew, but Greek (“Herodes”; the name is attested among Greeks). Herod was a convert, extremely irreligious, and virulently hated by the Jews; for his grandson to have adopted “Herod” as a forename in a bid to gain acceptance among his subjects would have been a monumental blunder akin to taking the name “Adolf” for the same purpose today.

I stand corrected on “Agrippina”. I banged out my message in a rush on the way to class, and then it dawned on me while I was teaching that I’d typed in the female name. Yes, that would have been awfully strange if he’d called himself Agrippina. (My students may have wondered why I was looking so distracted.) So, I thought I’d beat you guys to the punch by submitting a correction, but you sure are fast!
Anyway, as I’d never looked into the etymology of biblical names, I’ve always assumed that Herod was Hebrew. Yes, it does appear in the Greek as Herodes, but so do many Grecified (is that the right word?) Hebrew names. I have to look into that. However, the point I was trying to make was that a Jewish leader could insure a more loyal following by using a name more acceptable to his anti-Roman subjects than “Julius”, even if it was “Herod”, which may not have been Hebrew after all but was at least Greek.

Vide Ti. Claudius Herodes Atticus, sophist and rhetorician.
However, the point I was trying to make was that a Jewish leader could insure a more loyal following by using a name more acceptable to his anti-Roman subjects than “Julius”, even if it was “Herod”, which may not have been Hebrew after all but was at least Greek.
But “Herod” would have been as unacceptable to them as any Roman name would have been. If he had been trying to adopt a more acceptable name, why not eighty-six the “Agrippa” altogether? Certainly, Chazal didn’t have a problem with calling him “Agrippa” in the Talmud; OTOH, R. Elisha b. Avuyah, who merely adhered to Saduceeism, is invariably referred to as aher, “another one”.

If Greek names were so offensive, why did so many Jews take them?

Greek names weren’t offensive to Jews per se; as you point out, a lot of Jews at that time used them, and some are even in use among them today (albeit they’ve been assimilated to Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish and/or Ladino, much as Hebrew and Aramaic names as “Joseph” and “Thomas” have been assimilated to English). However, Herod was not popular in Judea, Samaria, etc.; he owed his position as subject king to timely switches in supporting Roman politicians, and to upholding Roman overlordship as against nationalist sentiments (the Romans, after all, had the swords).

Trying to popularize oneself in 1st century CE Judea by invoking Herod’s memory would have been about at successful as trying to popularize oneself in modern-day Israel by invoking the memory of the Russian tsars would be.

Not all Jews, though I’m sure the Pharisees didn’t like him. Herod the Great managed to stave off direct Roman rule through his lifetime, and he had married into the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty. To many Jews, the Herod family represented the most practical hope for what the Irish would later call “home rule”.

Perhaps they were using the name as a title, like ‘Caesar’.

Undoubtedly true. OTOH, the Great Revolt and the Bar Kokhba revolt indicate that a lot of Jews had some pretty impractical ideas about independence.