Herod’s palace in Jerusalem was a grand structure. He always did things in a big way.
His father had been Herod the Great, the infamous Hebrew king, who had wanted a family dynasty and so created his own. Herod the Great had ten wives and at least as many sons. Three of the sons were executed, one disinherited, one banished. It was a scheming, incestuous family who thought nothing of killing one another for love, power, or simply self-preservation. The old patriarch was a cagey, political animal who could juggle allies and enemies, treaties and alliances. He wove a complicated web of intrigue with himself at its centre like a giant spider. But the old man’s blood was poisoned with paranoia, and he died an agonizing, ugly death. He was a vindictive sort, for before he died he commanded well-renown Jews from his kingdom to come to him. They were shut up in the hippodrome with orders that upon his death all of them were to be executed so that no one would be happy on the day of his passing, and thus guarantee the country to be in deepest mourning. As brutal as that seemed, Herod the Great outdid himself. With his dying breath, before raving madness overcame him, he ordered his bodyguards to kill his own son Antipater. This last action prompted Augustus Caesar to comment, ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.’
I was not certain Herod Antipas would even see me. I waited in an outer room for a good part of the day before being granted an audience.
Like the palace, the audience hall was large and ornate, supported by tall, fat columns with intricate carvings. The painted walls resembled marble, and the floor was of polished imported marble with a decorative mosaic in the centre. Bright coloured curtains hung from the walls decoratively, while at the same time concealed passageways.
Herod sat upon his throne on a raised dias. His regal robes were red and white and tied with gold clasps near his left shoulder. His appearance was more Roman or Greek than Hebrew. I had heard that his grandfather was not even Hebrew, but had converted out of convenience. Next to him on an identical throne sat his wife, Herodias, who had been married to one of Herod Antipas’s disinherited stepbrothers. Herodias herself was the daughter of another of her present husband’s stepbrothers. This was one close family. Herodias wore her raven tresses pinned up but allowed some strands to hang down on one side; a style that was popular with younger women. She was a full-bodied, mature woman who, as it appeared to me, was desperately trying to hold on to the beauty of her youth. She was still an attractive woman, but her attempts at recapturing her youthful beauty only made her appearance grotesque. Too much makeup and too much jewellery did more harm than good to enhance her looks. But there was no disguising her ambition. The woman coveted power, and meant to hold on to it.
"Ah, Tribune Maximus, you grace us with your presence," Herod Antipas greeted me nobly. It was not all pretence. The man respected everything Roman, and realized no sign of respect to the Empire went unnoticed. "What do we owe the honour of this all too rare visit?" He was all smiles and good cheer, which gave me cause to be wary. Even as he spoke the smile remained on his lips as if he were not speaking with his mouth, the words somehow escaping through his teeth.
"Noble Herod, I am looking into the missing body of one of your people who was crucified Friday last," I told him, but even as I did, I felt the tetrarch knew exactly why I was here. "Before his sentence the man was brought before you."
Herod stopped smiling long enough to don a thoughtful look. He stroked his beard as if that aided his memory. As he recalled the instance, he smiled again and said: "Yes, I remember him. A Galilean of no importance, though he was what you Romans would call aura popularis– the popular breeze. But as you know, Tribune, breezes subside. He was reputed to be a great healer and miracle worker, but the man turned out to be a colossal disappointment."
"In what way?" I asked.
Herod cast a sidelong glance at his wife and responded: "We hoped the man would provide us with some amusement, some entertainment. We were in hopes that the man would perform one or two of his miracles for us. I had never seen a miracle, and I was so looking forward to it."
"And did he?"
"Did he what?"
"Did he perform a miracle for you?" I asked.
"No," Herod replied flatly, the smile falling from his lips. "The man refused to perform any acts. He would not even speak. We took it as a personal insult and sent him on his way."
I was about to speak when I heard the sound of movement from behind a rather large column to my left. I looked to the column and saw nothing. I looked to Herod who looked back as if he heard nothing, but I suspected he had.
"You sent Jesus back to Pontius Pilate," I said, more of a statement than question.
"Yes. And it was the Governor who condemned the man in the end. Roman justice, Tribune. The man’s death is not on my hands."
"But it was Pilate who sent Jesus to you in the first place," I remarked not entirely certain where I was going with this.
"How is your relationship with the Governor?"
The look on the tetrarch’s face betrayed him. He wondered what I knew, and how much I knew.
"The Governor and I are politically amicable. We have not always seen things the same, but we manage to get along with each other."
"Is there anything you can tell me regarding Jesus, or the circumstances of his arrest?"
At this question Herod’s jaw went slack and he regarded me with a blank stare. He had, it appeared, inherited some of his father’s craft and cunning. He was calculating, in that political mind of his, just how much he should tell me of what he knew. I had come to learn that most people never told me the entire truth. They always held something back for one reason or another. Perhaps they were afraid of incriminating themselves in some way, or that they may accidentally tell someone else’s secret. Not that they always cared about getting someone else into trouble, especially if it took attention away from them.
"What time was Jesus brought here?" I asked.
Herod stroked his beard again. "It was late. I do not recall the exact hour. It was late."
"Did you not think that was peculiar?" I asked. "That a man would be brought to you so late?"
"No," he answered proudly. "The affairs of state cannot always wait for daylight. When I am called, I answer the call."
"Amicus humani generis," I noted with some sarcasm.
Herod smiled, not noting the sarcasm and said: "Let us say a public servant."
"But you were awake when Jesus was brought," I commented.
"Yes. I often keep late hours."
"And he was brought here under guard."
"You intimated others were present during the man’s questioning."
At this question Herod involuntarily glanced at the column to his right, then back to me. This time I was certain I heard something, and so did he. It may have been a soft gasp, and the light step of a sandalled foot upon the floor. I moved stealthily to the column and stepped around to the back of it. No one was there. But there was a trace of scent in the air– nard, imported from India– very expensive.
"Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests were here," Herod blurted out trying to regain my attention– or to draw me away from the column. He knew who had stood behind that column, of that I was certain. I was just as certain he would not say.
I asked Herod: "Is there nothing else you can tell me of the man Jesus?" Herod shook his head, then I said: "Some say the man Jesus was calling himself King of the Jews. Others were beginning to refer to him as such. Did you feel that threatened your position in any way? After all, you are the tetrarch– which is similar to a king– and along came this man who was usurping your title. That must have troubled you greatly."
Herod motioned to answer, but it was his wife, Herodias, who spoke up with no little resentment.
"Tribune, you are obviously referring to the titulus the Governor ordered placed on the dead man's cross. We did petition the Prefect regarding this. We told him that the Nazarene only claimed to be the King of the Jews, not that he was in truth the king. For reasons of his own, and known only to himself, Pontius Pilate refused to change the titulus."
"Yes, but . . . " I began to respond, and Herodius raised her hand in objection.
"Tribune, my husband has already told you everything he knows," she spoke haughtily. "This entire affair is insignificant and concerns us not at all. Your questions hint at improprieties on my husband’s part, in which case we take grievous offence."
"My apologies, madam," I spoke, trying not to be too humble.
I bowed slightly and turned to leave, then reconsidered and turned back to the tetrarch "If I may ask one last question?" Herod nodded his assent. "How is it you find yourself in Jerusalem at this time?"
"We are here for Passover," he remarked. "It is an important time for us, but we shall soon be leaving for Galilee." Herod cocked his head and regarded my physical appearance. "Now, may I ask you a question, Tribune? What happened to you? You look as if you met up with someone who did not agree with you."
"Yes," I said. "Perhaps they did not like it that I ask so many questions."
"It is never good to ask too many questions, Tribune. A man’s personal business is no one’s affair but his own."
"Whatever takes place in Jerusalem is my concern," I stated.
"Then you may find that a very dangerous affair, indeed," remarked Herod ominously. "Good day, Tribune."
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