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Herod the Great
Herod the Great was born in Southern Palestine, and was an Idumean by birth. His family had
political ties to Julius Caesar and, after Palestine was conquered by the Romans, Herod was
appointed king over Judea and began to rule over the Jewish people in 37 AD. He tried to gain
favor with the Jews by marrying a princess of the Maccabean line named Mariamne; however,
he would later put her to death out of fear for his own throne.
Herod married 10 wives and had over 50 kids. His wives constantly tried to promote the
interests of their own children in Herod’s house, which led to much conflict and intrigue within
Herod’s family. Herod married off many of his children to other members of his family
(brothers, nephews, and nieces). Often these members of Herod’s family would change
partners in violation of Jewish law.
Herod is well-known for his building projects, including construction at Jericho and Caesarea, a
fortress at Masada (known for the “last stand” of the Jews against the Romans in the latter part
of the 1st Century AD), and expansion of the Jewish Temple. He is most notorious in the New
Testament for ordering the death of all male babies in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus
(Matthew 2:16). When he died, Herod’s kingdom was divided among three of his sons: Herod
Antipas, Herod Archelaus, and Herod Philip.
Herod Antipas
Herod Antipas was Tetrach (ruler) of Galilee (where Jesus grew up) and Perea (the land beyond
the Jordan river, where John the Baptist did his ministry) from around 4 BC – AD 39. Antipas
divorced his first wife, the daughter of Aretas IV (king of the Nabataeans) and married Herodias,
his niece and former wife of his brother, Herod Philip I. This caused a war with Aretas IV, and
(to make matters worse), Antipas was also condemned for his adulterous relationship with
Herodias by none other than John the Baptist. Because of John’s preaching against him,
Antipas threw John into prison (Mark 6:17) and beheaded him.
Later in his reign, Antipas was convinced by Herodias to go to Caesar and ask that he be given
the title of “King”. However, Caesar had already been turned against Antipas (by one of
Antipas’ siblings) and removed Antipas from his position and exiled him to the Roman province
of Gaul.
Antipas is actually the Herod that is most frequently mentioned in the New Testament. Besides
putting John the Baptist into prison, he also sees Jesus shortly before Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate,
the Roman governor in charge of Jesus’ trial, tries to send Jesus to Antipas in order to avoid
making a final decision on Jesus. After Antipas mocked Jesus, he sent Jesus back to Pilate, who
would subsequently crucify Jesus (Luke 23:6-12).
Herodias was the daughter of Aristobulus and granddaughter of Herod the Great. She married
her uncle Herod Philip I, by whom she had a daughter named Salome. Herodias eventually left
Philip and married another uncle, Herod Antipas. Later, after her brother Agrippa I became
king, Herodias convinced Antipas to go to Rome to ask the Emperor to make him king instead.
However, Agrippa was aware of this action and had already accused Antipas of treason; Antipas
was subsequently exiled to the Roman province of Gaul.
Herodias’ claim to fame in the New Testament is found in Mark 6:14-29. John the Baptist had
condemned her relationship with Antipas, and as a result, Antipas had John thrown into prison.
When the opportunity came, Herodias asked that John be beheaded.
Salome was the daughter of Herodias and Herod Philip I. Following the examples of her other
family members, she married her uncle Philip the Tetrarch. After some time Philip the Tetrach
died and Salome married her cousin, Aristobulus of Chalcis.
Salome is famously depicted in Mark 6:21-25. She dances for her uncle, Herod Antipas, who is
so pleased with her dancing that he tells her that he will give her whatever she asks for. At her
mother’s insistence, Salome asks for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Herod Agrippa I
Agrippa I was a grandson of Herod the Great, and who was eventually appointed King of Judea
by the Emperor Claudius I. Agrippa had one of his uncles, Herod Antipas, accused of treason;
this eventually led to Antipas’ exile.
To promote peace in Judea, Agrippa I adopted many pro-Jewish policies during his reign. A
connection to these policies is made in Acts 12:1-3, where Agrippa I has the apostle James killed
with the sword and Peter arrested and put into prison because those actions pleased Agrippa’s
Agrippa II and Bernice
Herod Agrippa II and Bernice were brother and sister, both children of Herod Agrippa I. Agrippa
II was appointed ruler over Batanea, Trachonitis, and parts of Galilee by Emperor Claudius I of
Bernice famously married a handful of men: Marcus, son of a magistrate of Alexandria; then her
uncle Herod of Chalcis; then Polemon II of Cilicia. She left Polemon II and lived for a while with
her brother, Herod Agrippa II (the two were rumored to have had an incestuous relationship).
Bernice later became mistress to Emperor Titus of Rome, but he eventually sent her away
because of the disapproval of the Roman people.
Agrippa II and Bernice are mentioned in Acts 25-26, in which the Apostle Paul is a Roman
prisoner awaiting transport to Rome, where his case will be tried before Caesar. Agrippa, being
familiar with Jewish customs, was interested to hear Paul’s case, so Paul was brought before
Agrippa and Bernice. When Paul presented his story to Agrippa, the king stated that Paul
“could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar”.