The lives of the Herod family intertwine with the life of Jesus and the lives of His Apostles.  At times it is difficult to discern which Herod is being mentioned.  They are often just referred to as “Herod”.  Sometimes they are mentioned only a few verses apart, yet are different members of the family.

This blog today is for those of you who would like to be able to keep them separated in the scriptures.  It is not always easy because this brood of vipers were constantly writhing and hissing!

Here are their biographies.

Herod Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, is not mentioned in the New Testament, but ten of his descendants played major roles in the lives of Jesus and of the apostles.

The Herod family were Idumeans. That is, they were descended from Abraham through Isaac and Esau, rather than through Isaac and Jacob. They saw themselves as Jewish, participating in God’s covenant with Abraham, but their ancestors had not gone to Egypt with Joseph and returned with Moses and Joshua.

Herod Antipater formally converted to the Jewish religious practice of the descendants of Jacob. His family would not allow their portraits (graven images) on the coins they issued, they did not eat pork as they followed the Jewish dietary laws, and the women of the family were not allowed to marry men who were uncircumcised.

But the family also followed Roman social practices. They traveled to Rome frequently and commissioned buildings in the Roman style of architecture. Herod the Great sent his sons to live in the household of Octavian (Caesar Augustus) in Rome while they received their formal educations.

Members of the family sponsored athletic games in the Greek style, which were offensive to the Jews. And they also arranged marriages between uncles and nieces in the Roman fashion.

Herod the Great undertook great building projects in Palestine, including whole cities like Caesarea Maritima and Masada and the rebuilding of Jericho. Most important, he rebuilt the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. After he completed the work, he deeply offended the Jews of Jerusalem by placing an eagle, the emblem of Roman rule, on the Temple. His last act in life was overseeing the execution of the Jews who tore it down.

In Matthew 2, the wise men from the East asked Herod the Great where the King of the Jews was to be born. Herod was deeply disturbed, because he had earned the title, King of the Jews, from the Romans, and he was planning that one of his sons would inherit the title from him. Equally disturbing was the news that the child would be born in Bethlehem, the site of Herod’s summer palace.

Herod the Great ordered the slaughter of all boys under the age of two years, and Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. Joseph did not bring his family back to Nazareth until after Herod the Great’s death in 4 b.c.

After the death of Herod the Great, the Romans divided his kingdom between his sons, and none of them was called King of the Jews.

Herod Archelaus ruled Judea after the death of his father. In Matthew 2: 22, Joseph decided to take his family north to Galilee, because he was also afraid of Archelaus. Archelaus ruled badly, and the Romans removed him after ten years, replacing him with a Roman Governor.

His brother, Herod Antipas, was tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. In the New Testament, he is called Herod the Tetrarch. Another brother, Herod Philip, was tetrarch of Iturea, Gaulanitis, and Trachonitis. Their cousin, Herodias, first married and divorced an uncle living in Rome, then married Philip, and then divorced Philip to marry Antipas.

When John the Baptist preached against this marriage and divorce within the family, Antipas had him thrown into prison. The daughter of Herodias by her first marriage is unnamed in the New Testament, but she is called Salome (a common name in the family) in later accounts. With her mother’s prompting, she requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter, and Antipas ordered John beheaded (Mark 6).

In Mark 8:15, when Jesus warned the disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod, he was talking about Herod Antipas. Antipas was also the fox that the Pharisees warned Jesus about in Luke 13: 31.

Antipas presided over Jesus’ trial in Luke 23, and with Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, determined Jesus’ death sentence. Jesus would not even speak to the murderer of John the Baptist! John and Peter refer to the decision of Antipas and Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus in Acts 4: 27.

Herod Agrippa I, King of Iturea, Gaulanitis, Trachonitis, Galilee, and Perea, was the grandson of Herod the Great and the nephew of Philip and Antipas. He ordered the execution of James the Elder, and was so buoyed by the public response that he had Peter arrested and put in prison (Acts 12).

Herod Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I and the great-grandson of Herod the Great. His sister Bernice accompanied him at public functions, and Paul spoke before them in Acts 25 and 26, asking for his right to be tried as a Roman citizen. Agrippa seemed to enjoy talking to Paul, and he used the word Christian to describe him.

Drusilla, the daughter of Herod Agrippa I, was married to Felix, the Roman procurator. She may have argued for compassionate treatment of Paul by her husband (Acts 24: 24).

They were a brood of vipers down to the last one.


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