The history of the House of Herod begins with Antipas , who was appointed governor of Idumaea by Alexander Janneus, and died in 78 BC. His son Antipater succeeded him as governor of Idemaea; after the crushing defeat of Pompey at Pharsalus in 48 BC, Antipater received the procuratorship of Judea as a reward. Antipater died by the hand of an assassin (43 BC) and left four sons, Phasael, Herod, Joseph, Pheroras, and a daughter Salome. The second of these sons raised the family to its highest pinnacle of power and glory.
I. Herod The Great
Herod the Great began his career as governor of Galilee. His older brother Pheroras was nominally his co-regent; Pheroras, as well as his sister Salome, proved an endless source of trouble to Herod by the endless family brawls which they occasioned, constantly accusing his wives and sons of plotting against him. Herod's great success in raising tribute-money for the Roman government gained for him additional power at court. His advance became rapid. Mark Antony appointed him "tetrarch" of Judea in 41 BC, and through the favor of Mark Antony and Augustus he obtained the crown of Judea in 37 BC.
The Herodians were not of Jewish stock. Herod the Great encouraged the circulation of the legend of the family descent from an illustrious Babylonian Jew, but it has no historic basis. It is true the Idumeans were at that time nominal Jews, since they were subdued by John Hyrcanus in 125 BC, and embodied in the Hasmonean kingdom through an enforced circumcision, but the old national antagonism remained. (Gen. 27:41) Hyrcanus, who was the High Priest and Hasmonean king of Judea, was himself captured by the Parthians in 43 BC, betrayed by his brother, Antigonus, who replaced him and was the last Hasmonean king of the Jews.
Herod was afraid to leave even a remnant of the Hasmonean power alive, so he eventually sacrificed Mariamne his wife, (grand-daughter of Hyrcanus), the only human being he ever seems to have loved, and his mother-in-law Alexandra. This was largely due to his sister's persistant manilulations, accusing Mariamne of plotting against her husband. Then, due to the persistent intrigues of Antipater, the oldest son by Herod's first wife, Doris, and heir presumptive to the crown, he even sacrificed his own sons by Mariamne, Alexander and Aristobulus, by ordering both of them to be strangled to death. Antipater's schemes came to nothing, however, for one of the last acts of Herod's life was an order to execute Antipater, who had instigated the murder of his half brothers and conspired to poison his father.
At the time of Mariamne's death, Herod had nine other wives, according to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. He was married to both his sister's daughter, and his brother's daughter, (there were no children from either of these marriages). He was also married to Pallas, with whom he had a son, Phasaleus; to Phedra, with no children; and to Elpia, with whom he had two daughters, Roxanne and Salome. In addition, he was married to Doris, the mother of Antipater; Mariamne, the granddaughter of Hyrcanus, whose mother Alexandra was also murdered by Herod, due to his sister's machinations; Mariamne 2, who was the daughter of Simon, the High Priest, and mother of Herod Philip I; Malthace, a Samaritan woman, mother of Archelaus and Antipas; and Cleopatra of Jerusalem, mother of Herod Philip II.
Herod the Great's main legacy was architectural, outdoing even Solomon at his peak. He reconstructed many public buildings, rebuilding much of Jerusalem. He even rebuilt the temple that Jesus later visited, and the Romans later destroyed, making it more magnificent than even Solomon's temple had been. It was so transcendently beautiful that it ranked among the world's seven wonders.
At the time of Christ's birth, Herod was so insanely jealous of his status as King of Judea that when he heard of another "king" born in Bethlehem, he gave a cruel order to have all male babies under two years old murdered. This "massacre of the innocents," is the one act most generally associated with his name, more so than any other act of his life.
At Herod's death, he had four remaining sons: Archelaus, Antipas, Philip I, and Philip II. After his death, half of his kingdom was given to Archelaus , while the remaining half was divided between Antipas and Philip II .
II. The Second Generation
A. Antipater, son of Herod the Great and Doris; the oldest son and heir presumptive to the crown. In attempts to eliminate all male heirs to the throne, he accused half-brothers Archelaus and Philip II of treason, but both were acquitted. He then successfully conspired against his half-brothers Alexander and Aristobulus, who were ultimately put to death; at their father's command, they were both strangled to death. However, all the plotting of Antipater was in vain: he ended up being executed, at his father's order, for conspiring to poison his father. Not mentioned in the Bible.
B. Alexander, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne, grandaughter of Hyrcanus. Murdered by his father due to the machinations of his half- brother Antipater. Not mentioned in the Bible. He had a daughter named Herodias, however, who was mentioned. She married her uncle, Philip I; then later had an adulterous affair with and eventually married another uncle, Antipas.
C. Aristobulus, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne, grandaughter of Hyrcanus. Murdered by his father due to the machinations of his half- brother Antipater. Not mentioned in the Bible.
D. Archelaus, oldest son of Herod the Great and Malthace, a Samaritan woman; he was married first to Mariamne, and after his divorce from her, he married Glaphyra, who had been the wife of his half-brother Alexander. The only mention made of him in the Gospels is found in Matt. 2:22. He displayed some of his father's taste for architecture, building a royal palace at Jericho and a village, which he named after himself.
By the will of his father, the greater part of the Herodian kingdom fell to his share, with the title of "ethnarch". The will was contested by his brother Antipas before the Roman court. Before the matter was settled, Archelaus incurred the hatred of the Jews by forcibly repressing a rebellion, causing the deaths of some 3,000 people. Therefore, the Jews also opposed his claim in Rome. Educated in Rome, Archelaus was fully familiar with the life and arbitrariness of the Roman court, and even in the face of all this opposition, received the Roman support.
Archelaus ruled with a hard hand. Like his father, he was a man of violent temper, and Judea and Samaria were both soon in a chronic state of unrest. The two nations, bitterly as they hated each other, were now united against him. They again sent an embassy to Rome to complain of the conduct of Archelaus, and this time they were successful. Archelaus was warned by a dream of the coming disaster, and went at once to Rome to defend himself, but this time wholly in vain. His government was taken from him, his possessions were all confiscated by the Roman power and he himself was banished.
E. Herod Antipas, also known as the Tetrarch of Galilee; second son of Herod the Great and Malthace. Half Idumean, half Samaritan, he had therefore not a drop of Jewish blood in his veins. Although he was the younger brother, he contested the will of Herod, who had given Archelaus the major part of the dominion. Rome, however, sustained the will and assigned to him the "tetrarchy" of Galilee and Peraea.
Educated at Rome with Archelaus and Philip, his half-brother, (son of Mariamne, daughter of Simon, the High Priest), he imbibed many of the tastes and graces and far more of the vices of the Romans. The gospel picture we have of him is far from prepossessing. He was superstitious (Matt. 14:1), foxlike in his cunning (Luke 13:31) and wholly immoral. His first wife was a daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. But he sent her back to her father at Petra, for the sake of Herodias, whom he had met and seduced at Rome. Since the latter was the daughter of Aristobulus, his half-brother, and therefore his niece, and at the same time the wife of another half-brother, Philip I, the union between Herodias and Antipas was doubly sinful.
His wanton wickedness went even farther when Herodias's daughter Salome danced for him, and he offered her anything she wanted in return, up to half his kingdom. John the Baptist openly rebuked his gross immorality, and ultimately paid for his daring rebuke with his life. At the urgings of her mother, Salome requested and received the head of John the Baptist as payment for her dancing for her uncle's pleasure (Matt. 14:3-10).
Antipas was the ruler over all of Galilee during the life of Jesus, and played a part in the final tragedy of the life of Christ. Pilate in his perplexity had sent the Saviour in bonds to Herod, when he was at Jerusalem at the Passover (Luke 23:7). Antipas asked a few half-hearted and idle questions of Christ and caused Him to be mocked, but then returned him to Pilate. The utter inefficiency and flippancy of the man is revealed in the account the Gospels give us of the incident (Luke 23:7-12; Acts 4:27). It served, however, to bridge the chasm of the enmity between Herod and Pilate (Luke 23:12). Both Pilate and Antipas were later stripped of their power and died in shameful exile.
F. Herod Philip I, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne (not the Mariamne who was the grand-daughter of Hyrcanus; this Mariamne was daughter of Simon, the High Priest). This Philip never ruled; we know nothing of him except that he married his neice Herodias, the daughter of his deceased half-brother Aristobulus. They had a daughter named Salome. He is called Philip in the New Testament (Matt. 14:3), and it was from him that Antipas lured Herodias away. He was excluded from all share in his father's possessions due to his mother's treachery, and lived afterward in a private station. His later history is wholly unknown.
G. Herod Philip II, also known as Philip the Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra. The city of Philippi in Caesarea was named after him. He was apparently utterly unlike the rest of the Herodian family: retiring, dignified, moderate and just. He was also wholly free from the intrigues and conspiracies of his brothers; it can only be supposed that he inherited his totally un-Herodian character and disposition from his mother. He died in the year 34 AD, and his territory was given three years later to Agrippa I, his nephew and the son of Aristobulus, together with the tetrarchy of Lysanias.
III. The Third Generation
A. Herod Agrippa I, son of Aristobulus and Bernice, and the grandson of Herod the Great and Mariamne, grand-daughter of Hyrcanus; thus Agrippa I, (and later his son) carried on the line of the Hasmonean blood, that had been nearly extinguished by Herod the Great. It was through Agrippa I that the kingdom of Herod came to glory again. Agrippa I was King of Judea from 37- 44 AD.
Educated at Rome with Claudius, Agrippa I was possessed of great shrewdness and tact. Returning to Judea for a little while, he came back to Rome in 37 AD. He hated his uncle Antipas and left no stone unturned to hurt his cause. He, therefore, made fast friends with Caius Caligula, heir presumptive to the Roman throne, and this led to his imprisonment by Tiberius. Caligula did not forget him, however, but immediately on his accession to the throne, liberated Agrippa and bestowed on him, who up to that time had been merely a private citizen, the "tetrarchies" of Philip, his uncle, and of Lysanias, with the title of king.
Agrippa I persecuted the early church, even having Peter arrested and killing James (Acts 12:1-25). Perhaps as a consequence of his persecution of the church, he was struck down by an angel of the Lord, and eaten by worms, then he died. (Acts 12:20-23)
Of his four children, three are known to history-- Herod Agrippa II, king of Calchis; Bernice, the immoral woman who consorted with her own brother in defiance of both human and Divine law, and became a byword even among the heathen; and Drusilla, who became the wife of the Roman governor Felix. (Ac 24:24). The fourth was a daughter, Mariamne, named after Agrippa I's grandmother.
B. Herodias, granddaughter of Herod the Great and Mariamne; daughter of Aristobulus, and sister of Herod Agrippa I. Herodias caused the death of John the Baptist (Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29). According to the Gospel records, Herodias had previously been married to to her uncle Philip I, but had deserted him for his brother Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, causing him to be publicly reproved by John the Baptist. To please Herodias, Herod had John seized and cast him into prison. Left to his own devices, he would not have had the man executed, however, as he was afraid of the effect that would have on the Jewish people.
Herodias would not accept anything less than John's death, however, and at Herod's birthday feast, Herodias arranged for her daughter Salome to dance for Herod. Her dancing so pleased the tetrarch, he offered her anything she wanted, up to half of his kingdom. Herodias persuaded her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a charger. This was given her and she then brought it to her mother.
The ambition of Herodias proved the ruin of Antipas. Being jealous of the power of her brother, Agrippa I, she persuaded Herod to demand of Caligula the title of king. This was refused through the machinations of Agrippa I, and Antipas was banished. But the pride of Herodias kept her still faithful to her husband in his misfortune.
IV. The Fourth (and final) Generation
A. Salome, daughter of Philip I and Herodias who danced seductively before Herod Antipas, who was both her uncle and her mother's husband. Her dancing pleased Antipas so greatly that he offered her anything she would ask, in reward, up to half of his kingdom. Salome was persuaded by her mother to ask for the head of John the Baptist as her reward, and she did. Keeping his word, Antipas delivered John's head to her on a charger, and she in turn handed it over to her mother. She is mentioned in the Gospels (Matt. 14:3-11; Mark 6:17-28), although not by name. She later married first the tetrarch of Trachonitis, who was her paternal uncle, and then Aristobulus, the king of Chalcis.
B. Bernice, oldest daughter of king Herod Agrippa I, and sister to the younger Agrippa II. She was an immoral woman who consorted with her own brother in defiance of both human and Divine law, and became a byword even among the heathen. First married to her uncle Herod, king of Chalcis; and after his death, she became the wife of Polemon, king of Cilicia, to avoid the well merited suspicion of incest with her brother Agrippa. This connection was soon dissolved, however, and she returned to her brother. She was present with her brother during Paul's trial in Jerusalem before governor Festus. She later became mistress of both Vespasian and Titus.
C. Drusilla, youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, and sister of the younger Agrippa and Bernice; celebrated for her beauty and infamous for her licentiousness. She was first espoused to Epiphanes, son of Antiochus king of Comagena, on condition of his embracing the Jewish religion; but as he afterwards refused to be circumcised, Drusilla was given in marriage by her brother to Azizus, king of Emessa.
Felix was a Roman governor of Judea who had originally been a slave, but had been promoted by Claudius Caesar, and given the name of Claudius. Felix was described by historians as being cruel, licentious, and immoral, as well as vile and incompetent. He employed a Cyprian sorcerer by the name of Simon to persuade Drusilla to abandon both her husband and her religion, and become his wife. Drusilla was his third wife. She was also undoubtably influenced to take this step by both the cruelty of Azizus and the hatred of Bernice who was jealous of her beauty. Her marriage with Felix took place about 54 AD and by him she had one son, Agrippa, who perished with her in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.
When the apostle Paul was falsely accused by the Jews, he was brought before Felix and Drusilla to be judged (see Acts ch. 23-24). Paul lost no time in preaching to these two immoral people regarding righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, but to no avail. Drusilla, a member of the ruling house, saw Paul as an enemy of their power, and hated him for his condemnation of her own private sins. The crafty Felix made no decision on the trumped up charges, but held Paul in custody for the remaining two years of his rule, hoping to be offered a bribe for the apostle's release.
When Felix was recalled to Rome, he was replaced by governor Festus, who also inherited the problem of this falsely accused prisoner. Festus heard Paul's case, along with Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. Festus clearly saw Paul's innocence of the charges, and would have released him had not Paul claimed his right as a Roman citizen to have his case heard before Caesar. (Acts ch. 25-26) At that point, Festus had no choice but to send Paul to Rome to stand trial there.
D. Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I and Cypros. When his father died in 44 AD he was a youth of only 17 years and considered too young to assume the government of Judea. Claudius therefore placed the country under the care of a procurator. On the death of his uncle, Herod of Calchis, Claudius made Agrippa II "tetrarch" of the territory, 48 AD. Four years later, Claudius extended the dominion of Agrippa by giving him the old "tetrarchies" of Philip and Lysanias. Even at Calchis they had called him king; now it became his official title. Still later in 55 AD, Nero added some Galilean and Perean cities to his domain.
Agrippa II had received a royal education in the palace of the emperor himself, but he had not wholly forgotten his people. The Agrippas were Jews, and carried on the line of the Hasmonean blood. He interceeded in behalf of the Jews, and espoused their cause whenever he could.
In the New Testament Paul calls him "king" and appeals to him as to one who knows the Scriptures. As the brother-in-law of Felix, Agrippa II was a favored guest on that occasion when Paul preached to Felix and Drusilla a messsage of righteousness, temperence, and judgment to come (Acts 24:24-25). He also consulted with governor Festus during Paul's trial, and would have agreed that Paul should be freed. (Acts ch. 25-26) However, Paul had claimed his right as a Roman citizen to a trial before Caesar, and both Festus & Agrippa II were happy to send him on his way to Rome, without having to render any decision that may have proved to be unpopular or erroneous.
Agrippa II's adulterous and incestuous relationship to his sister Bernice was a scandal among Jews and Gentiles alike. In the fall of the Jewish nation, Herod Agrippa II's kingdom went down. He removed himself to Rome with his sister Bernice, where he became a praetor and died in the year 100 AD, at the age of 70 years, in the beginning of Trajan's reign. He died childless, thus bringing the Herodian dynasty to it's end.
- Who's Who In The Bible, Publications International, Inc.
- The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Bible Publishers
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
- American Tract Society Dictionary
- Smith's Bible Dictionary
- Josephus: The Antiquities of the Jews