The name Herod was given to the family ruling Palestine immediately before and to some degree during the first half of the first Christian century. Their family history was complex, and what information has come down has been frequently small, conflicting, and difficult to harmonize.

A Jewish political party called the Herodians sympathized with the Herodian rulers in their general policy of government, and in the social customs, which they introduced from Rome. Mark 3:6 / Mark 12:13 / Matthew 22:16 / Luke 20:20. They were at one with the Sadducees in holding the duty of submission to Rome, and of supporting the Herods on the throne. Mark 8:15 / Matthew 16:6.

The Herodian Dynasty

Herod was the family name of several Roman rulers who served as provincial governors of Palestine and surrounding regions during New Testament times. The first Herod, known as Herod the Great, was the Roman ruler of Palestine during the days of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:1 / Luke 3:1. All the other Herods mentioned in the New Testament were the sons or grandsons of this Herod.

Herod the Great ruled from 37-4 B.C. he was known as a master builder, organiser and developer, although his policies were considered cruel and ruthless by the Jewish people. His most noticeable achievement was the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. This was a project that required almost 50 years.

He also rebuilt and enlarged the city of Caesarea into a port city on the Mediterranean Sea. Caesarea served as the Roman provincial capital for Palestine during the New Testament era. The magnificent aqueducts that he built in this city are still visible today.

Herod’s son Antipas succeeded him as Roman governor of Galilee and Perea. Matthew 14:1. Antipas was responsible for the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist. Luke 3:19-20 / Matthew 14:1-12. Herod the Great’s grandson Agrippa was named ruler over Palestine by the Roman emperor Caligula.

Agrippa is known as a persecutor of early Christians. He had James put to death and had Peter arrested. Because of his cruelty and blasphemy, Agrippa was slain by an angel of the Lord. Acts 12.

In A.D. 50, Agrippa’s son known as Agrippa II was made ruler of the king of Challis’s territory. Later he was given Abilene, Trachonitus, Acra and important parts of Galilee and Perea.

The only reference to this Herod in the New Testament occurs in Acts 25:13-26:32, which deals with Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea. Agrippa listened to Paul’s defence, but the apostle appealed to Rome, Agrippa had no power to set him free.

The other Herods mentioned in the New Testament are Herod Archelaus, Matthew 2:22 and Herod Philip, Luke 3:1. Both of these rulers were sons of Herod the Great; they ruled parts of the territory previously administered by their father.

Herod the person

The most prominent family member and the ruler was Herod, the son of Antipater who had been appointed governor of Idumea by Alexandra Salome who was the Maccabean queen who ruled Palestine from 78-69 B.C.

Herod the Great was born about the year 73 B.C. He was a son of the desert and was well adapted to the political scheming of ambition, lust for power, and efficiency at warfare. He was a strict and cruel man. Someone once said, ‘He was brutish and a stranger to all humanity.’

He was fond of splendour and lavished great sums on rebuilding and adorning the cities of his empire. He rebuilt the city of Caesarea on the coast, and also the city of Samaria, which he called Sebaste, in honour of Augustus. He restored the ruined temple of Jerusalem, a work which was begun B.C. 20 but was not finished till after Herod’s death, probably not till about A.D. 50. John 2:20.

But Herod, of course, is possibly most remembered for being king of Judea under the Roman authority when Jesus was born in Bethlehem Matthew 2:1. He contacted the so-called wise men and sent them on to find Jesus 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

And he gave the orders to kill the babies of Bethlehem two years old and under, in hope of getting this One who he saw as a successor to his throne Matthew 2:16.

His rule

His rule of Judea is usually divided into three periods:

1. The Period of Consolidation. 37-25 B.C.

2. The Period of Prosperity. 25-13 B.C.

3. The Period of Domestic Troubles. 13-4 B.C.

His road to kingship

With permission from the Romans, Antipater left his son Phasael as Prefect of Jerusalem and his second son, Herod, governor of Galilee. He made a trip to Rome and was confirmed by the Senate as ‘king of Judea’ in the year 40 B.C.

He fought some threatening robbers in Galilee and gained the respect of the Romans and even the support of some of the Jews through his decisive action. He finally brought Jerusalem under his control in the year 37 B.C. During the years 25-14 B.C. he saw supreme prosperity in Judea.


During the period of consolidation, he had many opponents, coming from at least four directions. 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.

The Hasmonean rulers gained recognition from Rome, but their period of rule was characterized by constant war with their neighbours, political infighting, murder, terrorism, and strong opposition between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In 63 B.C. the Romans sent the famous general Pompey to end the Hasmonean rule and to establish their authority in Jerusalem.

The main man 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 Anthony in an effort to put Herod under her control. This constant conspiracy got worse as time progressed. But his craftiness enabled him to maintain his independence from her. Charges were brought against various members of the family.

Within a short time, Herod had executed Hyrcanus II, who was the son of Alexandra Salome who had returned from exile, Hyrcanus’ daughter Alexandra, and her daughter Mariamne I, who was also Herod’s favourite wife, the one whom he deeply and passionately loved. Mariamne had Maccabean blood flowing through her veins and was very beautiful, and Herod’s hopes for establishing a dynasty rested with her and their two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus.

He was paranoid

He was suspicious that Mariamne 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 appointment. At the end of this period, there were no rivals of this cruel and paranoid ruler left.


Herod was successful in flattering himself to the Romans. By sheer force of personality and lack of caution in executing even the close members of his own family, he strengthened his position as the undisputed ruler of Palestine under the permission of the Roman authority.

His building work

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 who died in 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. Herod undertook great building projects. He constructed Caesarea Maritima, which was a retreat at Masada, and most importantly, began his project to enlarge and make the Jerusalem Temple more beautiful.

His palace was probably the place where he interrogated and mocked Jesus Luke 23:6-12. The palace was located along the western wall of the upper city to the west of the people’s assembly hall. The palace was surrounded by a 45-foot wall surrounded by ornamental towers at fixed intervals. The palace was renowned for its circular porches, fine gardens, and a banquet hall seating over 100 guests. The palace was destroyed in September of 70 A.D.

Along with Machaerus and Masada, Herodium was one of the last strongholds of Jewish resistance to the Romans, who captured it in A.D. 72. Herodium was used as a supply depot by Simon Bar Kokba, who led a major but unsuccessful revolt against Rome between A.D. 132-135.

It was not long before the four-hundred-year-old Temple of Zerubbabel was colourless in contrast to the magnificence of his new palaces and structures in Jerusalem.

In the year 19 B.C., he embarked on an extensive remodelling of the Temple, which captured the imagination of the world of that day. It was commonly said that if one had not seen Herod’s Temple, he had never have seen a truly beautiful building. John 2:19-20.

His last days. 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 disturbed the household and brought accusations against Alexander and Aristobulus, the sons of Herod and Mariamne.

And it got to the stage where the charges of treason 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 which is in Samaria and strangled.

Antipater continued to be a determining 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.

Just five days before Herod died, he executed Antipater, whom he earlier had designated as his heir. As the end drew near, Herod ordered prominent Jews from every part of the nation to appear in Jerusalem.

When they arrived, he had them imprisoned, and left orders that they are killed the moment he died. Herod knew that only in this way could he ensure national mourning rather than joy. Matthew 2 / Luke 1:5.

Herod’s death

After a troubled reign of thirty-seven years, Herod died at Jericho in 4 B.C. He was seventy years old, a man racked with ill health and mental decline, now thought by some to be a form of progressive arrogance. According to the common chronology, in the year in which Jesus was born. He had reigned for 37 years since his confirmation by the Senate and 34 years since his capture of Jerusalem.

Herod’s last will and testament

Herod had several wills. His final one designated Archelaus to succeed him as king of Judea Matthew 2:22, another son Antipas to be governor of Galilee and Perea, and another son Philip as governor of the North-eastern Districts.

The Romans banished Archelaus after a ten-year rule, and the kingdom was then changed into an Imperial Province of the Roman Empire with Coponius as the first procurator.

After his death, his kingdom was divided among three of his sons. Of these, Philip had the land east of Jordan, between Caesarea Philippi and Bethabara. Antipas had Galilee and Perea, while Archelaus had Judea and Samaria.



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