Holman Bible Dictionary
The most prominent family member and ruler was Herod, son of Antipater who had been appointed governor of Idumea by Alexandra Salome, the Maccabean queen who ruled Palestine 78-69 B.C. With the permission of the Romans, Antipater left his son Phasael as Prefect of Jerusalem and his second son, Herod, governor of Galilee. See Intertestamental History.
Herod the Great. Herod the Great was born about the year 73 B.C. and was a son of the desert, well adapted to the political intrigues of ambition, lust for power, and efficiency at warfare. He made a trip to Rome and was confirmed by the Senate as “king of Judea” in the year 40 B.C. He routed some persistently threatening robber bands in Galilee and gained the esteem of the Romans and even the support of some of the Jews by his decisive action. He finally brought Jerusalem under his control in the year 37 B.C.
His rule of Judea is usually divided into three periods: (a) The Period of Consolidation (37-25 B.C.), (b) The Period of Prosperity (25-13 B.C.), and (c) The Period of Domestic Troubles (13-4 B.C.).
During the period of consolidation, he had many adversaries, coming from at least four fronts. Jewish people refused to support him because he was not a full-blooded Jew, but a descendant of Esau. Herod also had difficulties with the Hasmonean family. See Hasmoneans. Chief among them was Alexandra, the evil and vicious daughter of Hyrcanus II. She interceded with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, who brought pressure on Mark Antony in an effort to put Herod under her control. This constant intrigue multiplied as time progressed.
Charges were brought against various members of the family. Within a short time Herod had executed Hyrcanus II, the son of Alexandra Salome who had returned from exile, Hyrcanus' daughter Alexandra, and her daughter Mariamne I, who was also Herod's favorite wife, the one whom he deeply and passionately loved. Mariamne had Maccabean blood flowing through her veins, was most beautiful, and Herod's hopes for establishing a dynasty rested with her and their two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. Suspicious that Miriamne committed adultery and that her sons would use their Maccabean lineage for political advantage, Herod had them put to death. Herod also had executed Aristobulus III, son of Alexandra and brother of Mariamne soon after he was appointed by Herod to be high priest. Herod had him drowned at a celebration in Jericho soon after his inauguration.
Herod also faced an adversary in the person of Cleopatra, the famous queen of Egypt, but his craftiness enabled him to maintain his independence from her. Herod was successful in ingratiating himself to the Romans. By sheer force of personality and lack of hesitancy in executing even the close members of his own family, he strengthened his position as undisputed ruler of Palestine under the permission of Roman authority.
The second period of Herod's life involved the prosperity of his vast building programs. With the aid of the Romans the territory was extended to what had been unparalleled since the reign of Solomon (died 931 B.C.). His taxation of the people to support his building activity was extensive, but he virtually rebuilt every city in the land, even constructing entire cities from the ground up. He also built many palaces for himself.
Soon the now nearly four hundred-year-old Temple of Zerubbabel was pale in contrast to the magnificence of his new palaces and structures in Jerusalem. In the year 19 B.C. he embarked on an extensive remodeling of the Temple, which captured the imagination of the world of that day. It was frequently said that if one had not seen Herod's Temple, he had never seen a truly beautiful building (compare John 2:19-20 ).
The periods of Herod's life overlapped to some degree, but it was from the years 13-4 B.C. that his domestic troubles intensified and preoccupied him. Antipater, his firstborn son, and Salome, his sister, continually agitated the household and brought accusations against Alexander and Aristobulus, the sons of Herod and Mariamne. Finally, the charges of sedition could not be ignored. Herod brought charges against them before the Emperor in the year 12 B.C. Herod finally gave the order, and in 7 B.C. they were carried to Sebaste (Samaria) and strangled. Antipater continued to be an ambitious thorn in Herod's side. On his deathbed Herod gave the orders to execute Antipater, fearing that he would take the throne even before Herod himself died. Antipater was executed immediately. Herod himself died five days later (4 B.C.). He was seventy years old, a man racked with ill health and mental deterioration, now thought by some to be a form of progressive arteriosclerosis. He had reigned for 37 years since his confirmation by the Senate and 34 years since his capture of Jerusalem.
Herod, of course, was king of Judea under the Roman authority when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1 ). He received the Wise Men and sent them on to the Christ child with orders to return to him and let him know where he could find the newly born “King of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2-8 ). He gave the orders to kill the babies of Bethlehem two years old and under, in hopes of getting this One whom he saw as a successor to his throne (Matthew 2:16 ).
Herod had several wills. His final one designated Archelaus to succeed him as king of Judea (Matthew 2:22 ), another son Antipas to be tetrarch (governor) of Galilee and Perea, and another son Philip as tetrarch of the Northeastern Districts. The Romans banished Archelaus after a ten-year rule, and the kingdom was then transformed into an Imperial Province of the Roman Empire with Coponius as the first procurator (governor). Antipas continued to rule Galilee and Perea and was the one who had John the Baptist put to death (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:16-29; Luke 9:9 ). Also, Jesus appeared before him during his trial, as Pilate the procurator sent Jesus to him for a possible decision (Luke 23:6-12 ).
Other Herods named in the New Testament include the following:
Agrippa I, the son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod. He ruled with the title of king from A.D. 41-44. Agrippa I ordered James the son of Zebedee killed with the sword and imprisoned Peter (Acts 12:1-23 ).
Agrippa II, the son of Agrippa I, heard Paul's defense (Acts 25:13-27; compare Acts 26:32 ). With his death the Herodian dynasty came to an end, in title as well as in fact.
Drusilla (Acts 24:24 ) was the third and youngest daughter of Agrippa I. She had been married briefly at age 14 to Azizus, king of Emessa, probably in the year 52. In 53 or 54 she was married to Felix, the Roman procurator.
Bernice was the sister of Drusilla and Agrippa II, and also his wife. Paul appeared before them in Acts 25:1 .
Herod Philip was the son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem (Luke 3:1 ). He built Caesarea Philippi and was governor of the Northeastern districts of Iturea, Gaulinitis, Trachonitis, and Decapolis. He was married to Salome, the daughter of Herodias.
A Herod Philip is mentioned in Mark 6:17 as the first husband of Herodias. In some places he is mentioned simply as Herod, or Herod II. Most scholars do not believe that he was the same person as the governor of the northeastern districts.
Herodias (Matthew 14:3 ) was the daughter of Aristobulus (son of Herod and Mariamne I) and Bernice, the daughter of Herod's sister, Salome. She was the second wife of Herod Antipas and called for the head of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12; Mark 6:17-29; compare Luke 3:19-20 ).
Salome was the daughter of Herodias. She was married to Philip. After his death in 34, she married a relative Aristobulus, prince of Chalcis and had three children (Matthew 14:6-12; Mark 6:22-29 ).
Herod was a paradox. He was one of the most cruel rulers of all history. His reputation has been largely one of infamy. He seemed fiercely loyal to that which he did believe in. He did not hesitate to murder members of his own family when he deemed that they posed a threat to him. Yet marital unfaithfulness and drunkenness did not seem to be among his vices. Because of his effective administration, he virtually made Palestine what it was in the first Christian century. He has gone down in history as “the Great,” yet that epithet can only be applied to him as his personality and accomplishments are compared to others of his family.
Robert W. Stagg
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Herod'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/h/herod.html. 1991.