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King Herod Died of Gangrene, Doctor Says

January 27, 2002|From Associated Press

BALTIMORE — King Herod, the bloodthirsty Judean ruler who reputedly tried to kill the infant Jesus, died an excruciating death, brought on by kidney disease and finished off by gangrene, a medical sleuth said.

Fournier's gangrene, rare today, probably killed Herod, said Dr. Jan Hirschmann of the University of Washington medical school, who examined Herod's case history. The disease would have killed the king in a week or less.

"It's a very unpleasant way to die," said Dr. Philip Mackowiak, the director of the annual Historical Clinicopathological Conference at the University of Maryland medical school.

At the conference, doctors apply their diagnostic skills to historical figures whose deaths have not been satisfactorily explained. Previous conferences concluded rabies killed Edgar Allan Poe and that the Roman emperor Claudius died after eating poisonous mushrooms.

Peter Richardson, a religion professor at the University of Toronto, found the description of Herod's ailments in the writings of 1st century historian Flavius Josephus.

Before his death in 4 BC, Herod suffered intense itching, painful intestinal problems, breathlessness, fever, swelling in the feet, convulsions and, finally, genital gangrene.

The symptom of itching led Hirschmann to conclude Herod suffered from kidney disease.

Many have speculated that Herod had gonorrhea, but Hirschmann said there's no evidence to support that. Debunking such popular theories is the point of an intensive, clinical approach to Herod's death, Mackowiak said.

Kidney disease may also explain some of Herod's brutal acts, including the executions of several family members. The untreated accumulation of bodily wastes can result in mental illness.

According to religious tradition, Herod, fearing the coming of a Messiah after Jesus' birth, ordered the execution of infant boys in Bethlehem, forcing Mary, Joseph and the infant to flee to Egypt.

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