Herod was the name of many rulers mentioned in the New Testament and in history. The name of Herod was known long before the time of the biblical Herods. The Herods connected with the early history of Christianity are the following:
HEROD THE GREAT
Herod, surnamed the Great, was a son of Antipater, an Idumæan. The Idumæan people were brought under Jewish subjection towards the end of the second century B.C., and obliged to live as Jews, so that they were considered Jews. The Jews, when it furthered their interests, spoke of Herod their king as by birth a Jew. Antipater, the father of Herod, had helped the Romans in the Orient, and the favor of Rome brought the Herodian family into great prominence and power. Herod was born in 73 B.C., and he is first mentioned as governor of Galilee at age twenty-five. Forty-four years later he died, "almost seventy years of age ". His career was more wonderful than that of many heroes of fiction. Among the rapidly changing scenes of Roman history he never failed to win the goodwill of fortune's favorites. In 40 B.C. the young Octavian and Antony obtained for him, from the Roman senate, the crown of Judea, and between these two powerful friends he went up to the temple of Jupiter to thank the gods of Rome. In 37 B.C. Herod became king in fact, as well as in name. He married Mariamne in 38 B.C., and thereby strengthened his title to the throne by entering into matrimonial alliance with the Hasmonean family (i.e. Maccabees), who were always very popular among the Jews.
The reign of Herod is naturally divided into three periods : 37-25 B.C. , years of development; 25-13 B.C., royal splendor; 13 B.C.-4 A.D., domestic troubles and tragedies. During the first period he secured himself on the throne by removing rivals of the Hasmonean line. He put to death Hyrcanus, grandfather of Mariamne, and Aristobulus her brother, whom though but seventeen years old he had appointed high-priest. Their only offense was that they were very popular. Mariamne also was executed in 29 B.C. ; and her mother Alexandra, in 28 B.C. As Herod was a friend to Antony, whom Octavian Augustus Caesar defeated at Actium in 31 B.C., he was in great fear, and set out for Rhodes like a criminal with a halter around his neck to plead with the conqueror; but Augustus Cæsar confirmed him in the kingdom, with a grant of additional territory.
Herod and his children were builders. Having the reins of government well in hand, and having wreaked vengeance upon his enemies, he adorned his kingdom by building cities and temples in honor of the emperor and of the gods. Samaria was built and called Sebaste, from the Greek name for Augustus. Cæsarea with its fine harbor was also built; and, being a Greek in his tastes, Herod erected theatres, amphitheatres, and hippodromes for games, which were celebrated at stated times even at Jerusalem. As he builds temples to the false gods one at Rhodes, for instance, to Apollo we may judge that vanity rather than piety suggested the greatest work of his reign, the temple of Jerusalem. It was begun in his eighteenth year as king i.e. about 22 B.C. The speech of Herod on the occasion, though full of piety, may be interpreted by what he said to the wise men: "that I also may come and adore Him".
The horrors of Herod's home were in strong contrast with the splendor of his reign. As he had married ten wives by whom he had many children, the demon of discord made domestic tragedies quite frequent. He put to death even his own sons, Aristobulus and Alexander (6 B.C.), whom Antipater, his son by Doris, had accused of plotting against their father's life. This same Antipater, who in cruelty was a true son of Herod, and who had caused the death of so many was himself accused and convicted of having prepared poison for his father, and put to death. The last joy of the dying king was afforded by the letter from Rome authorizing him to kill his son; five days later Herod died. The account of Herod's death and of the circumstances accompanying it is graphically given by Josephus: In the hot springs of Callirrhoe, east of the Dead Sea, the king sought relief from the sickness that was to bring him to the grave. When his end drew near, he gave orders to have the principal men of the country shut up in the hippodrome at Jericho and slaughtered as soon as he had passed away, that his grave might not be without the tribute of tears. This barbarous command was not carried into effect; but the Jews celebrated as a festival the day of his death, by which they were delivered from his tyrannical rule. Archelaus, whom he had made his heir on discovering the perfidy of Antipater, buried him with great pomp at Herodium.
Herod's gifts of mind and body were many. "He was such a warrior as could not be withstood . . . . fortune was also very favorable to him";"a man of great barbarity towards all men equally and a slave to his passions; but above the consideration of what was right" . His ruling passions were jealousy and ambition, which urged him to sacrifice even those that were nearest and dearest to him: murder and munificence were equally good as means to an end. The Slaughter of the Innocents squares perfectly with what history relates of him.
Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, was, with Antipas his brother, educated at Rome, and he became heir in his father's last will. After the death of his father he received the acclamations of the people, to whom he made a speech, in which he stated that his title and authority depended upon the good will of Cæsar. The death of Herod having delivered the Jews from his tyrannical rule, they petitioned Cæsar to put them under the jurisdiction of the rulers of Syria. Caesar, however, not willing to set aside Herod's will, gave to Archelaus one half of his father's kingdom, with the title of ethnarch, the royal title to follow should he rule "virtuously". His territory included Judea, Samaria, and Idumæa with the cities of Jerusalem, Cæsarea, Sebaste, and Joppa. He soon aroused opposition by marrying his brother's wife, and having been accused of cruelty by his subjects, "not able to bear his barbarous and tyrannical usage of them", he was banished to Gaul in 7 A.D. The New Testament tells us that Saint Joseph, fearing Archelaus, went to live at Nazareth.
Antipas was another son of Herod the Great, after whose death became ruler of Galilee. He married the daughter of Aretas, King of Arabia, but later lived with Herodias, the wife of his own half-brother Philip. This union with Herodias brought Antipas to ruin. It involved him in a war with Aretas in which he lost his army, a calamity regarded "as a punishment for what he did against John that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism". The New Testament gives the reason why Herodias sought John's head. As she had married Herod Philip, who lived as a private citizen at Rome, by whom she had a daughter, Salome, she acted against the law in leaving him to marry Antipas. John rebuked Antipas for the adulterous union, and Herodias took vengeance. John's death was also caused by the jealousy of Herod on account of John's great influence over the people. John was sent to the frowning fortress of Machærus on the mountains east of the Dead Sea, and there put to death.
The most celebrated city built by Antipas was Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. He named it after his friend the Emperor Tiberius, and made it the capital of the tetrarchy. The city gave its name to the sea on which it stands. It was for a long time a great school and centre of Jewish learning. It was before this particular Herod that Our Lord appeared and was mocked. Herod Antipas had come to Jerusalem for the Pasch, and he is named with Pilate as a persecutor of Christ.
When Herodias saw how well her brother Agrippa had fared at Rome, whence he returned a king, she urged Antipas to go to Cæsar and obtain the royal title, for he was not king, but only Tetrarch of Galilee. Contrary to his better judgment he went, and soon learned that Agrippa by messengers had accused him before Caligula of conspiracy against the Romans. The emperor banished him to Gaul in 39A.D. , and Herodias accompanied him. The year of his death is not known.
HEROD AGRIPPA I
Agrippa I was a grandson of Herod the Great and Mariamne, and brother of Herodias. The history of his life and varying fortunes is stranger than romance. He was deeply in debt and a prisoner in Rome under Tiberius; but Caius, having come to the throne in A.D. 37, made him king over the territories formerly ruled by Philip and Lysanias, to which the tetrarchy of Antipas was added when the latter had been banished in 39 A.D.. In 41 A.D. Judea and Samaria were given to him by the Emperor Claudius, whom he had helped to the throne, so that the whole kingdom which he then governed was greater than that of Herod his grandfather. He was, like many other Herods, a builder, and he so strengthened the walls of Jerusalem that the emperor became alarmed and ordered him " to leave off the building of those walls presently". He seems to have inherited from his Hasmonean ancestors a great love and zeal for the law. This characteristic, with his ambition to please the people, explains why he imprisoned Peter and beheaded James. His death is described in Acts; "eaten up by worms, he gave up the ghost. " He died at Cæsarea during a grand public festival; when the people having heard him speak cried out, "It is the voice of a god and not of a man", his heart was elated, and " an angel of the Lord struck him, because he had not given honor to God" . His death occurred in 44 A.D.
HEROD AGRIPPA II
Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I and in A.D. 44, the year of his father's death, the emperor Claudius wished to give him the kingdom of his father, but he was dissuaded from his purpose because a youth of seventeen was hardly capable of assuming responsibilities so great. About 50 A.D. he was made King of Chalcis, and afterwards ruler of a much larger territory including the lands formerly governed by Philip and Lysanias. He was also titular king of Judea, and in twenty years appointed seven high-priests. When the Jews wished to free themselves from the dominion of Rome in the time of Florus, Agrippa showed them the folly of violent measures, and gave them a detailed account of the vast resources of the Roman empire. Saint Paul pleaded before this king, to whom Festus, the governor, referred the case. The Apostle praises the king's knowledge of the "customs and questions that are among the Jews"; Josephus likewise appeals to his judgment and calls him a most admirable man. It was, therefore, not out of mere compliment that Festus invited him to hear what Saint Paul had to say. His answer to the Apostle's appeal has been variously interpreted: it may mean that Saint Paul had not quite convinced him, which sense seems to suit the context better than the irony that some see in the king's words. The indifference, however, which he manifested was in harmony with the " great pomp" with which he and his sister Berenice had entered the hall of audience. After the fall of Jerusalem he lived at Rome, where he is said to have died in the third year of Trajan, 100 A.D..