So I guess I'm using Facebook for my little Israel tidbits now. Head on over there to see 'em...
On Shabbat, I was looking for something entirely different in the Encyclopaedia Judaica (which I got for free- long and cute story), and came across the entry for "Salome." Something in her biography didn't seem quite right, so I checked out the family tree- a whole page- under "Herod." Wow, is it complicated. All sorts of successive marriages, marriages to half-uncles and cousins, and more- did you know that some of Herod's descendants were kings of Armenia? Weird. Of course, a marriage forbidden by halakha (to a brother-in-law) is actually at the center of the whole Salome story (and, of course, the play by Wilde, who made things even, ahem, weirder).
But it got me thinking: The family tree of Esav, at the end of Parshat VaYishlach, is pretty complicated, with various names repeating in different places or taking others' positions and so on. One explanation (I can think of other possibilities) Chazal and the Meforshim give is that there was so much adultery and incest going on, everything got mixed up.
Now, as is well known, "Edom" is frequently identified with Rome in Chazal. I once heard a rather convincing shiur that attempted to give a historical backing for this using Roman history, but it still seems a bit farfetched. It had previously occurred to me that one basis of this identification may be that Herod was, literally, an Edomite (or at least Idumean, which is likely the same thing), and his close personal, political, and historical connections with Rome may have led Chazal to make this identification.
Now I see another layer added: We know that the Gemara often, and for obvious reasons, substitutes Biblical names for current events- Nebuchadnezzar stands in for some Roman emperor, for example, logically enough. Could it be that the explanation of the problems in Esav's line (also) serves as a not-so-subtle commentary on Herod's? It makes sense to me... (Of course, the Roman rulers had their own issues in this area.)
Now I begin the clock for someone to tell me that some paper written sixty years ago makes the same point, and has been debated since. It's happened before.