How many of us carry around our fathers?

Sometimes we carry on their legacy. Sometimes we carry their burdens. Sometimes we drown in their sins. Sometimes we pay the penalty for their crimes. Sometimes we feel compelled to make things right on their behalf, after they’re gone.

In a time of intense American fatherlessness, I think Herod the Great’s story is an important cautionary tale.

His father, Herod Antipater (Herod was the family name, much like McDonald is mine) was a failed politician and a forced convert to Judaism. The Herods were Idumeans, sometimes referred to as Edomites in the Hebrew Bible. They weren’t Jews. They were neighbors to the Jews. But under the Hasmonean Dynasty, the Idumeans were absorbed into Judea and made to adopt the Jewish religion.

It’s a bad idea to force faith, whether by the sword, or by culture, or by humiliation, pressure, and shame.

Herod’s family had been forced to practice Judaism. Herod’s father had backed the wrong political party in the confrontation with Rome and was killed as a result.

So. If you were creating a villain for a story, you’d have a hard time crafting a better backstory-cocktail. Herod has a religious grievance, an ethnic grievance, and a paternal grievance.

Much of what Herod did, he did to try and undo his father’s history.

Perhaps he felt like, if he made the right deal, his father’s name would be vindicated.
Perhaps he felt like, if he became King of the Jews, he could compel greater religious tolerance in Judea.
Perhaps he felt like, if he could build an alliance with Rome, Judea could become more cosmopolitan.

The truth is that Herod did create a more religiously tolerant society.
The truth is that Herod did create a more multi-cultural, cosmopolitan, Judea.
The truth is that Herod did create a legacy for his father’s name and his father’s grandchildren.

But it’s also true that none of these accomplishments amounted to much, historically, given that the means Herod employed guaranteed he would be remembered as a scoundrel, a rapist, and a murderer.

Sometimes we can get so focused on living up to our fathers’ expectations, or memories, or dreams that we forget we will be judged on the basis of our own.

But we’d better learn to live like fathers, instead of acting like children.

Excerpt from Heads & Tales.