Who was “Herod?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

A benighted preacher once remarked, “That ‘Herod’ in the Bible certainly was an evil man!” Actually, however, several men bear this name in Scripture. “Herod” is not a first name but rather a designation—much like “Caesar,” “Pharaoh,” “President,” and so on. The word means “hero-like.” Unfortunately, one challenge to comprehending the Herodian dynasty is its innumerable cases of intermarriage. Extensive incest makes this family tree a nightmare to map! Nevertheless, by understanding these different Herods—and looking to secular history for supplementary information—we can better appreciate and date events in the New Testament Scriptures. (Please bear in mind these dates are approximate.)

HEROD THE GREAT (1st generation)

Herod the Great is the most infamous “Herod” because he was the slaughterer of Jesus’ young contemporaries in Bethlehem (Matthew chapter 2; cf. Luke 1:5). He married at least 10 women, fathering numerous sons—the other men bearing the name “Herod,” whom we will discuss shortly. Herod the Great is the second son of an Idumean* called Antipater. Julius Caesar appointed Antipater as procurator of Judaea in 41 B.C., and Herod the Great assumed power over Galilee shortly after. Roman politician Mark Antony eventually chose the Great to be tetrarch of Judaea, and later he became king of Judaea (where Matthew chapter 2 picks up).

(*NOTE: The Idumeans are Gentiles descended from Esau/Edom (Genesis 36:1), brother of the Jewish patriarch Jacob [Genesis 25:19-34]. In other words, the Herods are non-Jews ruling Israel during “the times of the Gentiles” [Luke 21:24]. God removed Israel’s political might in the Earth beginning with the Babylonian captivity circa 600 B.C, and Gentiles will reign over Israel until Christ’s Second Coming when He sits on David’s throne [Daniel chapter 2]. Although non-Jewish by blood, the Herods entertained some aspects of Judaism.)

In 20 B.C., some 16 years before Christ’s birth, Herod the Great began renovating the Jerusalem Temple (built 500 years earlier, in Zerubbabel’s lifetime). Construction continued well after his death—some 46 years total—according to John 2:20. The Great is recognized for erecting numerous monuments in the city, as well as putting some of his own sons to death! When Jesus was just a few years old, the Great died at age 70 from a horrific disease (cf. Matthew 2:19). Overall, he reigned 37 years.

HEROD ARCHELAUS (2nd generation)

Son of Herod the Great through wife Malthace, Archelaus served as governor of Judaea, Idumea, and Samaria from 4 B.C.–A.D. 6. He appears just once in Scripture, a single verse (Matthew 2:22). The Bible simply calls him “Archelaus.”

HEROD ANTIPAS (2nd generation)

Son of Herod the Great through wife Malthace, Antipas was the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C.–A.D. 39 (Calvary was circa A.D. 30). This Herod reigned during Christ’s earthly ministry (cf. Luke 3:1; Luke 13:31). He imprisoned and beheaded John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:19-20; Luke 9:7-9). Finally, Herod presided over Jesus’ trial at Pontius Pilate’s direction (Luke 23:7-12,15; Acts 4:27). His name appears briefly in Luke 8:3 and Acts 13:1.

HEROD PHILIP I (2nd generation)

Son of Herod the Great through wife Mariamne, he did not rule. Remaining a private citizen, he was Herodias’ uncle and first husband before she divorced him to marry another uncle, Herod Antipas (cf. Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17). Herod Philip I died approximately A.D. 34, just a few years after Calvary.

HEROD PHILIP II (2nd generation)

Son of Herod the Great through wife Cleopatra, Philip II was tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis (cf. Luke 3:1). He reigned 4 B.C.–A.D. 34 (Calvary was circa A.D. 30). Herodias’ dancing daughter (see Philip I above) went on to marry him, her great-uncle!

HEROD AGRIPPA I (3rd generation)

Son of Aristobulus, nephew of Herod Antipas, and grandson of Herod the Great, he was king of Judaea from A.D. 37–44 (again, Calvary occurred circa A.D. 29). Agrippa I beheaded the Apostle James, imprisoned the Apostle Peter, and succumbed to a most horrific death after God struck him down for his blasphemy (Acts 12:1-24). Scripture knows him as simply “Herod.”

HEROD AGRIPPA II (4th generation)

Son of Agrippa I, great-nephew of Herod Antipas, and great-grandson of Herod the Great, he was the king of Judaea who presided over the Apostle Paul’s trial in Acts 25:13–26:32 (cf. Acts 23:35). The Bible calls him merely “Agrippa,” so do not confuse him with his father Agrippa I (above).

Also see:
» Who were the “Herodians?”
» Is “Divine right of kings” a Scriptural concept?
» Why did God let James die but deliver Peter?