“Herod went still farther departing from the native customs, and through foreign practices he gradually corrupted the ancient way of life, which had hitherto been inviolable. As a result of this we suffered considerable harm at a later time as well, because those things were neglected which had formerly induced piety in the masses. For in the first place he established athletic contests every fifth year in honor of Caesar, and he built a theater in Jerusalem, and after that a very large amphitheater in the plain, both being spectacularly lavish but foreign to Jewish custom, for the use of such buildings and the exhibitions of such spectacles have not been traditional [with the Jews]. Herod, however, celebrated the quinquennial festival in the most splendid way, sending notices of it to the neighboring peoples and inviting participants from the whole nation. Athletes and other classes of contestants were invited from every land, being attracted by the hope of winning the prizes offered and by the glory of victory. And the leading men in various fields were assembled, for Herod offered very great prizes not only to the winners in gymnastic games but also to those who engaged in music and those who are called thymelikoi [musicians and actors]. And an effort was made to have all the most famous persons come to the contest. He also offered considerable gifts to drivers of four-horse and two-horse chariots and to those mounted on racehorses. And whatever costly or magnificent efforts had been made by others, all these did Herod imitate in his ambition to see that his spectacle became famous. All round the theater were inscriptions concerning Caesar [Augustus] and trophies of the nations which he had won in war, all of them made for Herod of pure gold and silver. As for serviceable objects, there was no valuable garment or vessel of precious stones which was not also on exhibit along with the contests. There was also a supply of wild beasts, a great many lions and other animals having been brought together for him, such as were of extraordinary strength or of very rare kinds. When the practice began of involving them in combat with one another or setting condemned men to fight against them, foreigners were astonished at the expense and at the same time entertained by the dangerous spectacle, but to the natives it meant an open break with the customs held in honor by them. For it seemed glaring impiety to throw men to wild beasts for the pleasure of other men as spectators, and it seemed a further impiety to change their established ways for foreign practices.”

Antiquities 15.8, 267–275