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Herod Archelaus (23 BC – c. 18 AD) was the ethnarch of Samaria, Judea, and Idumea (biblical Edom) from 4 BC to 6 AD, when Judaea province was formed under direct Roman rule, at the time of the Census of Quirinius. He was the son of Herod the Great and Malthace the Samaritan, the brother of Herod Antipas, and the half-brother of Herod Philip I. Archelaus came to power after the death of his father, Herod the Great.
Josephus writes that Herod was in Jericho at the time of his death. Just prior to his final trip to Jericho, he was deeply involved in a religious conflagration. Herod had placed a golden eagle over the Temple entrance which was perceived as blasphemous. The eagle was chopped down with axes. Two teachers and approximately 40 other youths were arrested for this act and immolated. Herod defended his works and offered an attack on his predecessors, the dynastic Hasmoneans. Herod killed all male lineal successors of the Hasmoneans. The Pharisees had long attacked the Hasmoneans as well, as having parentage from Greeks while under bondage. This racial slur was repeated by the Pharisees through the rule of Alexander Jannaeus and Queen Salome.
With this explicit background given, Josephus began an exposition of the days of Archelaus' reign before Passover of 4 BC. Archelaus dressed in white and ascended a golden throne and appeared to be kind to the populace in Jerusalem in order to appease their desires for lower taxes and an end to the (political) imprisonment of Herod's enemies. The demeanor of the questioning appeared to turn at some point, and the crowd began to call for the punishment of those of Herod's people who ordered the death of the 2 teachers and the 40 youths. They also demanded the replacement of the High Priest, from the appointed High Priest of Herod's to a High Priest, "...of greater piety and purity". Josephus does not tell who would be "...of greater piety and purity". To this request, however, Archelaus acceded, although he was becoming angry at the presumptions of the crowds. Archelaus asked for moderation and told the crowds that all would be well if they would put aside their animosities and wait until he was confirmed as King by Caesar Augustus.
Archelaus then left to feast with his friends. It was evening and as the darkness settled, a mourning and wailing begin over the city. Archelaus began to worry as people begin streaming into the Temple area and those who wailed for loss of the teachers continued their very loud mourning. The people were escalating in their threatening behavior. The Thackeray translation of Josephus here states it thus: "The promoters of the mourning for the doctors stood in the body of the temple, procuring recruits for their faction". Josephus does not tell us who these "promoters of the mourning", who recruit from within a body inside the Temple, could be.
Archelaus then sent a general, some other people and finally a "tribune in Command of a Cohort" to reason with these "Seditionists", to stop their "innovations" and wait until Archelaus could return from Rome and Caesar. Those who came from Archelaus were stoned, with many killed. After the stoning, those who stoned the soldiers returned to their sacrifices, as if nothing had happened. Josephus does not tell who performed the sacrifices in the Temple. It was after midnight, and Archelaus suddenly ordered the entire army into the city to the Temple. Josephus records the death toll at 3000. Archelaus sent heralds around the city announcing the cancellation of Passover.
Archelaus quickly sailed to Caesar and faced a group of enemies - his own family. Antipater, the brother of Archelaus who was deposed from Herod's will days earlier, argued that Archelaus merely feigned grief for his father, crying during the day and involved with great "merriment" during the nights. The threats carried out by Archelaus ending in the death of 3000 in the Temple were not just threats to the worshipers in Jerusalem at Passover, but also amounted to a threat to Caesar himself, since Archelaus acted in every manner a King, before such title had been given by Caesar. He thought of himself highly and is said to have committed suicide after being banished.
At this point, Nicholaus of Damascus argued to Caesar that Archelaus acted appropriately and that Herod's will, supposedly written a few weeks prior (yielding the kingship to Archelaus and against Antipater), should be seen as valid. The change of this will in favor of Archelaus is given as Herod's true choice and, it is argued, occurred with Herod being in his right mind since he left the final decision to Caesar. The change of the will appears as one of Herod's last acts and it is attested from Jericho by one "Ptolemy", keeper of Herod's Seal. Nicholaus of Damascus had been Herod's confidant for years. He was loyal to Rome. Ptolemy was Nicholaus of Damascus' brother.
Archelaus, at the conclusion of the arguments, fell at Caesar's feet. Caesar raised him up and stated that Archelaus, "..was worthy to succeed his father". Caesar gave Archelaus the title of "Ethnarch" and divided the Kingdom. Rome would consolidate its power later.
Thus, Archelaus received the Tetrarchy of Judea last will of his father, though a previous will had bequeathed it to his brother Antipas. He was proclaimed king by the army, but declined to assume the title until he had submitted his claims to Caesar Augustus in Rome. In Rome he was opposed by Antipas and by many of the Jews, who feared his cruelty, based on the murder of 3000; but in 4 BC Augustus allotted to him the greater part of the kingdom (Samaria, Judea, and Idumea) with the title of ethnarch (not king).
The first wife of Archelaus is given by Josephus simply as Mariamne, perhaps Mariamne III (Mariamne bint Aristobulus), whom he divorced to marry Glaphyra. She was the widow of Archelaus' brother Alexander, though her second husband, Juba, king of Mauretania, was alive. This violation of the Mosaic law, along with Archelaus' continued cruelty, roused the ire of the Jews, who complained to Augustus. Archelaus was deposed in 6 AD and banished to Vienne in Gaul. Samaria, Judea proper, and Idumea became the Roman province of Iudaea.