The Leaven Of Herod

From the Christian Science Journal, August 1915, by


In the eighth chapter of Mark’s gospel we read that the Master charged the disciples to “take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod.” Bible students are generally familiar with Jesus’ caution to beware of the doctrines of the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, and have a more or less accurate knowledge of the mental and moral characteristics of these sects against which he warned them, but many may not be so conversant with this single reference to the leaven of Herod. The meaning of the word leaven, according to the dictionary, is, “to affect in character; anything that by a pervading influence works a general change; fermentation.” Hence the leaven of Herod was an unseen evil influence which, if taken into thought, would change or adulterate Jesus’ spiritual teaching; and the student of today, if he is to eliminate this leaven from his own character-building, must guard his thought against the influence which made Herod the notable example of his time.

The penetrating and diffusive nature of leaven was used symbolically for good in Jesus’ parable wherein he likened the kingdom of God to the leaven “which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal;” whereas the leaven of Herod was obviously fermentative and destructive in nature, and the dictionary meaning of fermentation is given as “a substance in a state of putrefaction, the atoms of which are in continual motion.” The significance of the term is further enhanced by considering Jesus’ use of the word salt. Salt prevents corruption and decay, and is the antithesis of fermentation and putrefaction. Therefore the meaning of the text, “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” infers an exact coincidence with the Mosaic law which bade the children of Israel use unleavened bread in the religious rites of the temple, thereby rejecting even the symbols of putrefaction and decay.

The first Bible account of Herod, called “the Great,” portrays fear as his state of mind when he heard that the “King of the Jews” was born. We read that he immediately called together the chief priests and the scribes and asked them where, according to prophecy, the Christ should be born. They answered, “In Bethlehem of Judæa.” With assumed helpfulness, which in reality only cloaked deceit and cunning, he then summoned the wise men, sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.” But the wise men were awake to the evil purpose to destroy the Christ-idea, and being warned of God and obedient, they did not return to Herod. Joseph likewise, when entrusted with the protection of the infant idea of good, obeyed Truth’s command, “Take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt,… for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” Then Herod’s murderous and revengeful intention was externalized in the order to slay “all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under.” Has there ever been, in all history, an example of more barbarous cruelty than this?

Herod Antipas, successor to Herod the Great, first appears in Biblical narrative when he put away his lawful wife, the daughter of the King of Arabia, and took Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For this John the Baptist rebuked him, saying that it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife. Then, as we read, Herod “laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison.” Mark says, “Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him, and would have killed him; but she could not.” The people loved John; “because they counted him as a prophet,” and even Herod dared not openly put him to death for this reason. Accordingly Herod’s birthday was used as a pretext for a great supper whereby to cover their infamous plot to accomplish John’s destruction.

At the feast, Salome, the daughter of Herodias, “danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him,” and Herod said to her, “Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.” Thereupon Herodias instructed Salome to ask for John the Baptist’s head. Herod pretended great reluctance to have John beheaded, but assuming an honorable position in fulfilling his wicked oath because of “them which sat with him [public opinion]… he sent, and beheaded John in the prison.” After getting rid of John, whose fearless stand for righteousness troubled him, Herod began to hear that Jesus was preaching and healing everywhere. Superstitious fear took hold of him, and he declared, “It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead.” He even hoped to see some miracle done by him.

We then read that Herod’s political followers, known as Herodians, plotted, and sought to catch something that Jesus had said, hoping that thereby they might accuse him, and even the Pharisees came to him saying, “Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.” Jesus’ reply shows clearly that he was not misled by the apparent friendliness of Herod’s wish to see “some miracle done by him.” He understood Herod’s deadly malice and sly cunning, instigated by fear of a rival to his crown. Mortal mind, the real culprit, was plotting in secret, and was using the agency of politics. Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees makes this plain. “Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected… for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” In calling Herod a fox, Jesus rightly characterized one who degraded himself by playing the part of a base intriguer. Some one has said of him: “Not daring to show the teeth of the lion, he uses the tricks of the fox.”

The Sanhedrin was the supreme judicial council of the Jews. It had the ecclesiastical authority to pronounce sentence of death, but could not execute the prisoner. According to Roman law, every death sentence had to be referred to the Roman governor, who had the power to pardon as well as to execute. Pontius Pilate was at this time the governor. He was a professional office-holder, already in bad repute with the Jews because of unjust decisions. He was morally weak and politically ambitious, and these qualities made him a fitting tool in the hands of unscrupulous Herod. After Pilate questioned Jesus, he said to the chief priests and to the people, “I find no fault in this man,” and was quite willing to pardon him, provided he could do so without incurring further disfavor with the Jews. In an attempt to evade the political dilemma in which his position involved him, Pilate resorted to a shrewd legal technicality.

Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and Jesus was known as a Galilean, hence Herod should be the judge; plainly the case “belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction,” and by referring the case to him, Pilate would escape the obloquy of sentencing a man in whom he had found no fault. Moreover, he would please every one concerned, for the scribes, Pharisees, and chief priests were all insistent in their demand that he should sentence Jesus. The excitable populace had been inflamed against the latter through their religious and political passions and were clamorous for his death. As if to further Pilate’s scheme, the tetrarch was in Jerusalem; it was a propitious circumstance, and Jesus was sent to him.

The narrative goes on to say that “when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad,” for he had for a long time been desirous to see him, and he questioned Jesus in many words. But Jesus discerned the deceit behind which Herod cloaked his evil purpose, and answered him nothing, whereupon “the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him. And Herod with his men of war set him at naught, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.” Then was presented the oft-repeated spectacle in the tragedy of human nature, where political animosities are forgotten and a man’s individual sense of right is sacrificed in order that he may unite with other schemers in some purpose of mutual self-interest. The Bible record goes on to say, “And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.”

Herod having artfully escaped responsibility, Pilate had to resort to another expedient. He must needs bring about fermentation in public opinion and excuse his act of injustice behind the cloak of public clamor. He therefore called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, and stimulated them to madness through apparent opposition to their demands; and when “they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified,” and he saw that “a tumult was made,” he thereupon “took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person : see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.”

There is a very definite lesson to be learned from this example of a whole populace being caught in the contagious maelstrom of purposeful human hate, and made to assume responsibility for an infamous crime designedly forced upon it by evil mental and political action. On page 114 of “Miscellaneous Writings,” our wise Leader, Mrs. Eddy, sounds this note of warning: “Christian Scientists cannot watch too sedulously, or bar their doors too closely, or pray to God too fervently, for deliverance from the claims of evil. Thus doing, Scientists will silence evil suggestions, uncover their methods, and stop their hidden influence upon the lives of mortals.” In this exposition of the character of Herod Antipas, murderous cruelty, political craftiness, dishonesty, deceit, and intrigue all combined in an effort to accomplish the destruction of Truth’s human representative, cloaking its deadly purpose under the demand of “public opinion” after having fomented public opinion by playing upon the most violent mortal passions.

To the Herodian characteristics of his predecessors, Herod Agrippa added the leaven of vanity, and love of popularity along social as well as political lines. We are told that he “stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James… with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded … to take Peter also.” But Peter escaped from prison, and Herod ordered his keepers to be put to death. Then “upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration,” and the people said, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.”Self-deification quickly brought its own punishment, however, for the narrative goes on to say that “the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.”

It is thus clear that the “leaven of Herod” stands for the fermenting subtleties of the wicked carnal mind, —its pomps and vanities, its love of place and power, its plotting intrigue and crafty malice, its love of social preferment and political might, its deadly cruelty and destructiveness. Jesus could not have stated more tersely to his followers their need to “take heed and beware” of its pervading influence, which would change and destroy his teaching and prevent the demonstration of Christian healing. Yet there is no cause to fear it, for while pointing out its subtle poison, he also gave us the antidote for it, which is to be found in the leaven of Truth “hid in three measures of meal,” or, as we read on page 118 of Science and Health, “three modes of mortal thought,” namely, “Science, Theology, and Medicine.” Here Mrs. Eddy tells us that “this leaven of Truth is ever at work. It must destroy the entire mass of error, and so be eternally glorified in man’s spiritual freedom.”

Jesus said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” and in proportion as Herodian propensities are overcome in individual consciousness, “those who discern Christian Science will hold crime in check. They will aid in the ejection of error. They will maintain law and order, and cheerfully await the certainty of ultimate perfection” (Science and Health, p. 97). It is an interesting fact that, according to a certain writer, “within one hundred years of the reign of the first Herod, not a member of the Herodian family was left to curse the earth.” Thus error destroys itself, and upon its destruction follows closely the demonstration of the truth. In the Bible verse immediately succeeding the recital of Herod Agrippa’s death, we are told that “the word of God grew and multiplied.”

Let Christian Scientists, then, be strong in moral courage to do the right as they understand what is right. Let them go forth to face all the problems of human experience with love for God and man, seizing every opportunity to correct sin through a clear understanding of Truth. Let the “still small voice” be heard above the storm, and peace will reign, for the leaven of Herod shall have been deprived of its unreal power to harm. “There shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him.”




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