Family Background

Herod was the name of a variety of members of the royal dynasty which originated in Edom or Idumea after it had been forced to adopt the Jewish religion by John Hyrcanus in 125 B.C. This family ruled in Palestine as vassals of the Romans. The history of this dynasty, which succeeded that of the Maccabees, largely relates to the political history of Palestine during this whole period.

Herod I (the Great) was son of Antipater and made king by the Romans in 40 B.C. He managed to keep hold of his throne in the face of the many changes in the government at Rome.

His kingdom comprised Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Idumea, Batanea, and Peraea, which was approximately the same size as the kingdom of David and Solomon.

Although Herod had exceptional leadership skills, he was extremely disliked by the Jews. His attitude toward the Maccabean dynasty, to which he was related by marriage, along with his insolence and cruelty, angered them all the more. He even had his brother-in-law and several of his wives and sons executed.

He forced heavy taxes and brutally repressed any rebellions. But it was by his policy of Hellenistic culture that he greatly wounded the Jews. The construction of a race-course, a theater, and an amphitheater in Jerusalem, his wide support of the emperor cult in the East, and the construction of pagan temples in foreign cities at his own expense could not be forgiven, even though he restored and reconstructed the Temple of Jerusalem and continually pleaded the cause of the Jews of the Diaspora to the emperor to his own gains.

There was no close tie between the king and his people; he remained an Edomite and a friend of Rome, only holding on to his power by the use of a merciless military force. This is the same Herod the Great who massacred the children of Bethlehem (Matt. 2).

Herod suddenly died in 4 B.C. After his death, the Emperor Augustus made three of Herod’s sons the rulers of different parts of their father's kingdom.

One son, Archelaus (Matt. 2), obtained Judea and Samaria. He was a tyrant like his father and lacked his fathers ambition and talent. He irritated the Jews and Samaritans so intensely that Augustus deposed him in 6 A.D. and placed a Roman procurator over his kingdom.

Another son, Herod Antipas, became tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea (4 B.C.- 39 A.D.) . He built the purely Hellenistic city of Tiberias. After renouncing his first wife he married Herodias, the former wife of his half brother Herod Philip, who brought her daughter Salome with her to Antipas' court.

When John the Baptist accused Antipas of adultery, the king, after Salome's dance and at the instigation of Herodias, had him beheaded in prison. This Herod was Jesus' earthly ruler, and Pilate sent Jesus, in the course of his trial, to Herod who was in Jerusalem at the time for the Passover. Herod ordered his soldiers to mock Jesus and sent him back to the Roman procurator (Luke 23:6-16). He is the Herod of the Gospels and he died in exile in the year 39.

Herod's third son, Philip, was put in charge of the provinces between the Jordan and Damascus. He is supposed to have been a humane ruler. His capital was Caesarea Philippi. In the year 30 he married Salome, whose father was his half brother and whose mother was his niece. He died in 34 A.D.

Agrippa I, Herodias' brother, succeeded him. Agrippa acquired Antipas' tetrarchy in the year 40 and Samaria and Judea came under his rule in 41, so that he finally reigned over the entire kingdom of his grandfather. He was the only Herod who, though at heart a Hellenist, tried by his policies to win the support of the more orthodox Jews. But in spite of these policies he put James the Apostle to death and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12). His death, which took place in 44, is also mentioned in the New Testament.

His son, Agrippa II (27-100 A.D.), never ruled in Jerusalem. By inheritance and the favor of the Romans he finally acquired a fairly large kingdom to the North of Palestine. The Jews only came in contact with him because he had supervision of the temple and appointed the high priests. In the New Testament he is mentioned as having paid a visit to Festus, the procurator, at Caesarea, where Paul delivered a speech before him (Acts 25). It also says that his sister, Bernice, during the Jewish War, became Titus' mistress. His sister Drusilla, married to the procurator Felix, heard Paul speak (Acts 24). With Agrippa II's death, the Herodian dynasty disappeared from the stage of history.