In seminary, one of my favorite classes was entitled “New Testament Backgrounds.” Unless you understand the context that shaped and informed first-century Israel, a great deal of the New Testament will be like cardboard. Of course, you don’t have to know any background context at all to hear, understand and respond to the Gospel. But, this context does give color, flavor and three-dimensional shape to the Gospels.
In 1971, the late Michael Grant (an eminent classicist who taught at Cambridge and Edinburgh University), published a biography of Herod the Great. It’s an excellent volume that frames the political climate that informed Jesus’ ministry. In this excerpt, Grant offers some comments on Herod’s legacy:1