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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a sect among the Jews at the time of Jesus Christ, mentioned Matthew 22:16; Mark 3:6; Mark 8:15; Mark 12:13; but passed over in silence both by Josephus and Philo. The critics and commentators on the New Testament are very much divided with regard to the Herodians; some making them to be a political party, and others a religious sect. The former opinion is favoured by the author of the Syriac version, who calls them the domestics of Herod; and also by Josephus's having passed them over in silence, though he professes to give an account of the several religious sects of the Jews. The latter opinion is countenanced by our Lord's caution against "the leaven of Herod," which implies that the Herodians were distinguished from the other Jews by some doctrinal tenets. M. Basnage supposes, that one thing meant by the leaven of the Herodians might be a conformity to Roman customs in some points which were forbidden the Jews: if this was the case, it is not strange that they are not mentioned by Josephus among the Jewish sects. St. Jerom, in his dialogue against the Luciferians, takes the name to have been given to such as owned Herod for the Messiah; and Tertullian, Epiphanius, Chrysostom, and Theophylact, among the ancients; and Grotius, and other moderns, are of the same sentiment. But the same St. Jerom, in his Comment on St. Matthew, treats this opinion as ridiculous; and indeed it must be highly improbable. He maintains that the Pharisees gave this appellation, by way of derision, to Herod's soldiers, who paid tribute to the Romans; agreeably to which the Syriac interpreters render the word by the domestics of Herod, that is, his courtiers. M. Simon, in his notes on the twenty-second chapter of St. Matthew, advances a more probable opinion. The name Herodian, he imagines to have been given to such as adhered to Herod's party and interest, and were for preserving the government in his family, about which there were, at that time, great divisions among the Jews. F. Hardouin will have the Herodians and Sadducees to have been the same; nor is it at all improbable that the Herodians were chiefly of the sect of the Sadducees; since that which is called by St. Mark "the leaven of Herod," is by St. Matthew styled "the leaven of the Sadducees."

2. Dr. Prideaux is of opinion that they derived their name from Herod the Great, and that they were distinguished from the other Jews by their concurrence with Herod's scheme of subjecting himself and his dominions to the Romans, and likewise by complying with many of their Heathen usages and customs. In their zeal for the Roman authority they were diametrically opposite to the Pharisees, who esteemed it unlawful to submit or pay taxes to the Roman emperor; an opinion which they grounded on their being forbidden by the law to set a stranger over them, who was not one of their own nation, as their king. The conjunction of the Herodians, therefore, with the Pharisees, against Christ, is a memorable proof of the keenness of their resentment and malice against him; especially when we consider that they united together in proposing to him an ensnaring question, on a subject which was the ground of their mutual dissension; namely, whether it was lawful to pay tribute to Caesar. And provided he answered in the negative, the Herodians would accuse him of treason against the state; and should he reply in the affirmative, the Pharisees were as ready to excite the people against him, as an enemy of their civil liberties and privileges. Herod had introduced several Heathen idolatrous usages; for, as Josephus says, he built a temple to Caesar, near the head of the river Jordan; he erected a magnificent theatre at Jerusalem, instituted Pagan games, and placed a golden eagle over the gate of the temple of Jehovah; and he furnished the temples, which he reared in several places out of Judea, with images for idolatrous worship, in order to ingratiate himself with the emperor and the people of Rome; though to the Jews he pretended that he did it against his will, and in obedience to the imperial command. The Herodians probably complied with, acquiesced in, or approved these idolatrous usages. This symbolizing with idolatry upon views of interest and worldly policy, was probably that leaven of Herod, against which our Saviour cautioned his disciples.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Herodians'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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