I have written before about researching old books. While I have always found that process fascinating, I can’t say it’s been enjoyable like a good novel. Well, that has just changed.

The Five Herods by Fritz Otto Busch was written 65 years ago originally in German by an author known for his books on German naval history. But he was also a Lutheran with a strong interest in Christian history and I think this is his only book on this theme. The English translation by E. W. Dickes is excellent.

Despite the writing sometimes feeling a bit stilted by today’s standards, it is easy to follow and understand the complexities of Roman and Jewish authorities with all their intermingled relationships. I mean who is more senior, a tetrarch or an ethnarch, and how does a Jewish royal lineage fit into a Roman overlord structure? And who is the Hight Priest, the highest Jewish religious and civil authority, responsible to?

It was all too confusing before I read this. Busch also paints eloquent pictures of the sometimes pretty, sometimes harsh, countryside, and the everyday living conditions in the towns. I didn’t read it all at one sitting, but not far off. It is a must-read – if you can find a copy – for anyone interested in the broader socio-political backdrop of first-century Palestine.