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An Ecclesiastical History To The 20th Year Of The Reign Of Constantine by Eusebius

CHRIST, then, having been born, according to the prophecies, in Bethlehem of Judea, about the times that had been revealed, Herod was not a little alarmed at the intelligence. Having ascertained, on the inquiry of the eastern Magi, where the king of the Jews should be born, as they had seen his star, and this had been the cause of so long a journey to them, glowing with zeal to worship the infant as God, he was under great apprehensions, as supposing his own kingdom to be in danger. Having, therefore, inquired of the doctors of the law in the nation, where they expected Christ should be born, and ascertained the prophecy of Micah, announcing that it would be in Bethlehem, in a single edict he orders the male infants from two years and below to be slain, both in Bethlehem and all its parts, according to the time that he had accurately ascertained from the Magi, thinking at all events, as seemed very probable, that he would carry off Jesus also, in the same destruction with those of his own age. The child, however, anticipated the snare, being carried into Egypt by his parents, who had been informed by the appearance of an angel of what was about to happen. These same facts are also stated in the sacred text of the gospel.

It is also worth while to observe the reward which Herod received for his criminal audacity against Christ and the infants; how, without the least delay, the Divine justice immediately overtook him; and, even before his death, exhibited the prelude to those punishments that awaited him after death. It is not possible for me here, to relate in what ways he tarnished what was supposed to be the felicity of his reign, by the successive calamities of his family, the slaughter of his wife and children, and the rest of his kindred, allied to him in the closest and most tender bonds. The whole subject of these particulars, which casts all the representations of tragedy into the shade, has been handled to its full extent in the histories written by Josephus. But, to understand in what manner also the chastisement of Heaven scourged him onwards to the period of death, it may not be less proper to hear the words of the same author, describing the end of his life, in the seventeenth book of his Antiquities, as follows: “But the disease of Herod became daily more virulent, God inflicting punishment for his crimes. For it was a slow fire, not only exhibiting to those who touched him a heat in proportion to the internal wasting of his body, but there was also an excessive desire and craving after food, whilst no one dared to refuse. This was attended with swellings of the intestines, and especially excessive pains of the colon. A moist and transparent humour also covered his feet. Similar also was the disease about the ventricle, so that the corruption causing worms in the lower part of the abdomen, there was an increased violence of breathing which of itself was very offensive; both on account of the disagreeable effluvia, and the rapidity of the respiration. He was also convulsed in every part of his body, with a violence that could not be repressed. It was said, therefore, by those who are conversant with divine things, and to whose wisdom it appertained to declare such things, that God inflicted this punishment upon the king on account of his great impiety.”

These are the particulars which are stated by the aforesaid writer, in the book mentioned; and in the second book of his history he gives very much the same account concerning him, in the following words: “Then the disease, pervading his whole body, distracted it by various torments. For the fever became more intense, the itching of the whole surface was insupportable, and the pains of the lower abdomen were incessant. On his feet were swellings, as of one labouring with the dropsy. There was also an inflammation of the ventricle, and a putrefaction that generated worms. Beside this, a more violent breathing, and difficult respiration, and convulsions of all the limbs; so that they who referred to a divine agency, said that this disease was a punishment. But, though struggling with so many sufferings, he nevertheless clung to life, and did not relinquish the hope of deliverance, but was ever devising new remedies. Crossing the Jordan, therefore, he used the warm baths near Callirhoë. These flow into the lake Asphalites (Dead Sea), but, by reason of their sweetness, they are also potable. As the physicians here deemed it necessary to use some soothing application, his whole body was bathed in tepid oil, in a bathing tub filled with oil for that purpose, when he was so overcome that his eyes began to break, and turn up like one dead. His servants then being alarmed and raising an outery, he came to himself at the noise; but after that, despairing of recovery, he ordered about fifty drachms to be distributed to the soldiers, and considerable sums to be given to his generals and friends. He returned to Jericho; where, being seized with despair, and now threatened with instant death, he proceeded to a crowning act of the most horrid character. He collected the distinguished men of every village from the whole of Judea, and commanded them to be shut up in what was called the Hippodrome. He then sent for Salome, his sister, and her husband Alexander. ‘I know,’ said he, ‘that the Jews will rejoice at my death; but I may be lamented by means of others, and have splendid funeral rites, if you are willing to perform my commands. As soon as I have expired, surround these men that are now under guard with soldiers, as soon as possible, and slay them, that all Judea and every house, though against their will, may be compelled to weep at my death.’ ” And soon after, he adds, “Again he was so tortured, partly by the want of food and by a convulsive cough, that, overpowered by his pains, he contemplated anticipating his fate. Having taken an apple, he also asked for a knife, for he was accustomed to use one in eating apples. Then, looking around, lest there should be any person to hinder him, he raised his right arm as if to strike himself.” The same author, in addition to these, says, “that he slew another of his own sons before his death, being the third that had already been slain by his orders, and that, immediately after this, he breathed out his life, not without excessive torture.”

Such, then, was the end of Herod, who thus suffered the just punishment for the crimes that he committed in the murder of the children of Bethlehem, when he designed the destruction of our Saviour. After this, an angel appearing in a dream to Joseph, who was then in Egypt, directed him to return with the child and his mother, revealing to him that they were dead who had sought the life of the infant. To this account the Evangelist adds: “But he, hearing that Archelaus reigned in Judea, in the place of Herod, his father, was afraid to go thither, and being warned in a dream, he retired into the parts of Galilee.”








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