Everything about Herod’s life seems monumental. In his younger days he was a formidable politician and initiator of public works. He oversaw the major expansion of the Second Temple. He built surreal fortresses such as Herodium and Masada. I was fortunate to be able to visit the latter last year and stand on the rocky outcrop where he had palatial quarters carved into the side of the mountain, allowing an extraordinary vista of the Dead Sea.
He may or may not have ordered the massacre of the innocents narrated in the New Testament. But we do know he had his three sons executed, his sister, and countless potential political rivals. Concerned that no one would mourn him he commanded a large number of Jewish elders to come to Jericho and ordered that they should be killed on the announcement of his death to ensure an appropriate outbreak of public grief.
He died of chronic kidney disease and encroaching gangrene that literally ate him from the inside. That seems a somewhat appropriate death for a ruler seemingly consumed and driven mad by power, and the labour of maintaining it. I find it interesting that this most earthly ruler died in 4BC, the year many scholars believe Jesus was born.