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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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Several rulers bearing the name ‘Herod’ feature in the New Testament record. Chief of these was Herod the Great, from whom the other Herods took their name. The prominence of the Herods had its origins in the confusion and corruption associated with Rome’s rise to power just before the opening of the New Testament era.

Herod the Great

When Rome took control of Judea in 63 BC, it appointed as ruler a man who proved to be weak and easily used by others. He was very much under the influence of a part-Jewish Idumean friend, Antipater, who was carefully and cunningly planning to gain control himself. (Idumea was a region in the south of Judea. It was inhabited by a mixture of Arabs, Jews and the remains of the nation once known as Edom.)

In the end Antipater won Rome’s appointment as governor of Judea, with his two sons in the top positions beneath him. Throughout that period, the entire eastern Mediterranean region was troubled by power struggles and bitter conflicts, one of which resulted in Antipater being murdered and his two sons overthrown. One of these sons, who had developed even greater cunning than his father, escaped to Rome, where he persuaded the Romans to appoint him ‘king’ over the entire Palestine region. This was the person who became known as Herod the Great.

Through treachery and murder, Herod removed all possible rivals. Having made his position safe, he took firm control of Palestine and ruled it for the next thirty-three years (37-4 BC). He carried out impressive building programs, two of his most notable achievements being the rebuilding of the city of Samaria (which he renamed Sebaste) and the construction of Caesarea as a Mediterranean port. In Jerusalem he built a military fortress, government buildings, a palace for himself and a magnificent temple for the Jews (Matthew 27:27; Mark 13:1; John 2:20; John 19:13; Acts 23:10; Acts 23:35).


In spite of Herod’s attempts to win Jewish support, the Jews hated him. This was partly because of his mixed-Jewish nationality (though he had adopted the Jewish religion) and partly because of his ruthlessness in murdering any that he thought were a threat to his position. His massacre of the Bethlehem babies was one example of his butchery (Matthew 2:1-5; Matthew 2:13; Matthew 2:16-18).

Other members of Herod’s family

Before he died (4 BC), Herod divided his kingdom among his three sons. Like their father, they could rule only within the authority Rome gave them.

The southern and central parts of Palestine (Judea and Samaria) were given to Archelaus, a man as cruel as his father but without his father’s ability (Matthew 2:22). The northern part of Palestine (Galilee) and part of the area east of Jordan (Perea) were given to Herod Antipas, the man who later killed John the Baptist and who agreed to the killing of Jesus (Mark 6:14-29; Luke 3:1; Luke 23:6-12). The regions to the north and east of Lake Galilee (Iturea and Trachonitis) were given to Philip, a man of more moderate nature than the rest of his family (Luke 3:1). This man was half-brother to another Philip (mentioned in Mark 6:17).

Archelaus was so cruel and unjust that in AD 6 the people of Judea and Samaria asked Rome to remove him and rule them directly. From that time on, Judea and Samaria were governed by Roman governors (or procurators) until the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The only exception to this was the brief ‘reign’ of Herod Agrippa I, a grandson of Herod the Great. In AD 37 he took control of the former territory of Philip, and in AD 39 took control of the former territory of Herod Antipas. In AD 41 he gained Judea and Samaria, and for the next three years ruled virtually the whole area that Herod the Great once ruled (Acts 12:1-4; Acts 12:20-23). Upon his death in AD 41, Judea and Samaria returned to the rule of Roman governors.

Herod Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I, received territories in the far north of Palestine, where he served Rome loyally from AD 48 to the destruction of the Jewish state in AD 70. He was an expert on Jewish affairs and bore the ceremonial title of king, but he had no authority over the Jews of Judea (Acts 25:13; Acts 26:3; Acts 26:27; Acts 26:31). His sisters were Bernice and Drusilla (Acts 24:24; Acts 25:13).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Herod'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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