Dynasty in N.T. Times: As the Herods Turn
June 8, 2008
by Marc W. Gibson
It is said that fact is stranger than fiction. History
has proven this to be true numerous times. In the
Bible we encounter some very interesting and strange
people. Most people have heard of Herod the Great,
but few realize how many people that impacted New
Testament history came from this family. Josephus,
the first century Jewish historian, wrote a great
deal about Herod and his family and their twisted
story puts modern-day soap operas to shame. It can
be helpful to take a closer look at the individual
members of the Herod family tree in order to appreciate
the background of some of the events of Jesus' life
and the early church.
Herod the Great was born a Roman,
Edomite, Idumaean Jew. The dynasty of his ruling house
would impact history from 63 B.C. to A.D. 70. He was
the son of Antipater II and Cypros. Antipater II was
a friend of Julius Caesar and was procurator of Idumaea
and Judea. Herod befriended Mark Antony and Octavius
(Augustus), and was given the rule of Palestine where
he was crowned king of the Jews in 37 B.C. The secret
to the success of Herod and his ruling family was
their favor with men who were the emperors in their
day, and the loyalty of a majority of their subjects.
They were master politicians and ruthless to those
who threatened their power. Herod the Great established
these principles from the beginning.
Herod built the town of Caesarea with
its great harbor on the coast of the Mediterranean
Sea. He built numerous fortresses but is best known
for beginning the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem
in 20 B.C. Herod is mentioned in the New Testament
as murdering the innocent children of Bethlehem in
his vain attempt to kill Jesus (Matt. 2:1-20). His
immediate family consisted of ten wives and numerous
children. He died in 4 B.C.
Of Herod the Great's children, four
are mentioned in the New Testament: (1) Philip - tetrarch
of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis (Luke 3:1),
(2) Archelaus - ruler of Judea upon the death of his
father (Matt. 2:22), (3) Herod Philip (Mark 6:17),
and (4) Herod Antipas - tetrarch of Galilee and Perea
Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and
Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39, was the ruler who had
John the Baptist beheaded. John had told him that
it was unlawful for him to be married to Herodias,
his brother Herod Philip's wife. Herodias was the
granddaughter of Herod the Great through his son Aristobulus.
She married her uncle (her father's half brother)
Herod Philip, and had a daughter, Salome, by this
marriage. Herodias then fell in love with another
uncle, Herod Antipas. She left Herod Philip and married
Antipas. Herod Antipas had earlier married a Nabatean
princess, the daughter of king Aretas IV (2 Cor. 11:32).
When he and Herodias fell in love, the princess escaped
to her father who started a war with Antipas and won.
Herodias hated John for his denunciation of her unlawful
marriage with Antipas, so when her daughter Salome
danced before Antipas causing him to make a rash oath
to give her whatever she asked, Herodias had her ask
for the head of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). Salome
later married her great uncle, Philip the tetrarch,
making her both aunt and sister- in-law to her own
mother. This was a complex and tangled mess of marriages,
intermarriages, and adulterous relationships.
Jesus called Herod Antipas a "fox"
(Luke 13:32), and Antipas thought Jesus might be John
the Baptist risen from the dead (Matt. 14:1-2). Jesus
stood on trail before Antipas who hoped to see a miracle,
which did not happen (Luke 23:6-12). He was later
banished to Gaul by the emperor Caligula in A.D. 39
where he lived out his last days with Herodias.
Herodias' father was Aristobulus,
son of Herod the Great, who had married his cousin,
Bernice, the daughter of Herod the Great's sister,
Salome. Along with Herodias, they also had a son Herod
Agrippa I. He was a friend of emperor Caligula and
made ruler in A.D. 37, he became a persecutor of the
early church, killing the apostle James, and imprisoning
Peter (Acts 12:1-19). He died in A.D. 44, struck fatally
by an angel of the Lord and eaten of worms (Acts 12:20-23).
Three children of Herod Agrippa I
are mentioned in the New Testament: Herod Agrippa
II, Bernice, and Drusilla. Drusilla married the king
of Emesa, but left him to marry Felix, governor of
Judea. The apostle Paul spoke before Felix in Caesarea
(Acts 24:24-26). Bernice was married to her uncle
and second husband, Herod king of Chalcis, when she
left him to live with her brother, Herod Agrippa II.
When rumors of incest arose, she married Polemo of
Cilicia, but soon returned to live with her brother
again. The incestuous relationship became the chatter
in Rome. Paul spoke before Herod Agrippa II and Bernice
in Caesarea (Acts 25:13-26:32). Herod admitted that
he was almost persuaded to become a Christian (v.28).
Bernice later became a mistress of the emperor Titus.
Herod Agrippa II lived until about A.D. 100.
Without a doubt these facts are stranger
than fiction, for who could have ever dreamed up this
jumbled and confused family of ungodly people? They
obviously had no regard for the law of God or standards
of righteousness. Selfish and paranoid in protecting
his human power, Herod the Great tried to kill the
Savior of the world. Herod Antipas was a coward who
had the blood of the murder of John the Baptist on
his hands. Herodias was a vindictive adulteress who
allowed her daughter to dance seductively for the
lustful eyes of leering men. Her brother, Herod Agrippa
II cavorted with his own sister in ways that caused
chatter and rumors of incest. Yet, many today would
find all this acceptable and humorous. But not God.
He struck Herod Agrippa I dead and will judge each
member of this sordid family in the last day. They
were all close to someone who would have taught, or
did teach, them the way of righteousness, but to no
avail. Only one almost became a Christian. We must
learn from their sad examples and live soberly, righteously,
and godly in this present world (Tit. 2: 11-12).
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