Described as "a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis,"Herod is reported in the Gospel of Matthew as ordering the Massacre of the Innocents. Most recent biographers do not regard this as an actual historical event. It was probably inserted to fulfill a couple of prophecies in the Old Testament. Eh, "Gospel Truth..." so they embellished a little!
Herod (73-4 BCE) was the pro-Roman king of the small Jewish state in the last decades before the common era. He started his career as a general, but the Roman statesman Mark Antony recognized him as the Jewish national leader. During a war against the Parthians, Herod was removed from the scene, but the Roman Senate made him king and gave him soldiers to seize the the throne. As 'friend and ally of the Romans' he was not a truly independent king; however, Rome allowed him a domestic policy of his own. Although Herod tried to respect the pious feeling of his subjects, many of them were not content with his rule, which ended in terror.
Kind of like the Shah of Iran?
The remains of the stone podium that held up Herod's flamboyant last resting place have been found, are proof positive that he existed, but the question remains about the date of his death.
The Church has always defended its corner in traditionally black and white terms. It is a matter of faith that Jesus was born in 1AD and died in 33AD.
So for years scholars have been trying to date the lunar eclipse that is known to have taken place in the Holy Land around the time of Jesus's birth in a Bethlehem stable. Was it 4BC or 1AD? Hang on, wasn't it a star?
They believe that if they can pinpoint the time of this natural phenomenon, they can also provide a plausible explanation for the 'star of wonder' that the three kings from the East saw and which they took as a birth announcement for baby Jesus.
It was on their journey to follow the star that, according to St Matthew, they stopped off for tea in Jerusalem with Herod and alerted him to the birth of the Saviour. As soon as they had ridden off on their camels, he ordered the murder of male infants.
So far, most historical research - stubbornly and inconveniently - puts that eclipse at 4BC, contradicting the official version of Jesus's life. Stupid astronomy, stupid science!
If Herod's death was later, nearer to Jesus's birth, a case then might be plausibly mounted that the Massacre of the Innocents, one of the most appalling acts in human history, was more than simply a figment of St Matthew's imagination. Makes one wonder, what else was 'a figment of St. Matthew's imagination'?