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After a tumultuous election season, re-reading the Gospels gave me a needed reminder of the relative importance of politics—any politics—in the grand scheme of eternity.

In appointing rulers over Palestine, Rome practiced the "one man, one vote" principle in its purest form: Whoever the emperor chose, reigned. Herod the Great, king of Judea, gained imperial favor by consolidating territory and ruthlessly quelling opposition. He oversaw major building projects, including a magnificent temple in Jerusalem that even outshone Solomon's. He also murdered his wife and three sons, among many others.

Herod was sickly and approaching 70 when he heard rumors of a new king born in Bethlehem. Thanks to Herod's cruel response, the young Jesus became a refugee in Africa, one of many to be displaced in that tear-stained continent. The angels' stirring chorus of "Peace on earth" was soon drowned out by cries of grief from the families of slain infants.

Dying, Herod the Great divided his kingdom, and his son Archelaus so frightened Joseph that upon return from Egypt, Joseph settled in Nazareth of Galilee rather than in Judea, where one might expect to raise a child of such promise. Unwittingly, Archelaus helped consign Jesus to the ranks of an outsider. ("Can anything good come from Nazareth?")

History remembers Archelaus's brother, Herod Antipas, mainly because of his interaction with the scraggly prophet John the Baptist. John loudly condemned Antipas's immoral behavior: He had, after all, stolen his brother's wife, who also happened to be his niece. Antipas kept John in chains, unable to kill him yet unable to put him out of his mind. According to the Book of Mark, "When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to ...

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January 2007

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