Herod Antipas

Herod Antipas: Jewish leader, ruler of Galilee and Peraea between 4 BCE and 39 CE.

The division of Herod's kingdom

Herod Antipas - a nickname derived from Antipatros - was the son of the Jewish king Herod the Great and his wife Malthace; he was full brother of Archelaus and a half brother of Philip. With his brothers Archelaus and Philip, he was educated in Rome, a kind of honorable detention to guarantee his father's loyalty. In his father's testament, Herod Antipas was appointed tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea (the east bank of the Jordan). The Roman emperor Augustus confirmed this decision and Antipas' reign could begin (4 BCE).

In 17 CE, he founded a new capital, which he called Tiberias, to honor the Roman emperor, Tiberius. Unfortunately, it was discovered that he was building this city on top of an old Jewish graveyard. This caused great unrest among his subjects. For a long time, no pious Jew would enter Tiberias, which was populated by Greeks and Romans.

However, Herod Antipas was a Jewish leader, or liked to pose as a Jewish leader. For example, he is known to have celebrated Passover and Sukkoth in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, his subjects were not convinced by their leader's piety. Jesus of Nazareth compared him to a fox, an animal that was ritually unclean.

He was first married to Phasaelis, a daughter of Aretas IV, an Arab leader. Later, he divorced her in order to marry Herodias. She had been the wife of Herod Antipas' half-brother (who was also called Herod). Marriage to the ex-wife of one's brother was not uncommon, but Herodias was also the daughter of another half-brother, Aristobulus. Marriage to one's niece was also permitted, but marriage to a woman who was both one's sister-in-law and one's niece was unusual.

According to the Gospel of Mark, John the Baptist criticized the king and was consequently killed. Flavius Josephus writes that Herod Antipas' subjects were convinced that the war with Aretas that broke out in 36, and the Arab successes during this war, were a divine punishment (text). The author of the Gospel, however, offers a different explanation: Antipas' daughter Salome had been dancing in public, much to the delight of her father, who asked her to ask a present, and was shocked to learn that she demanded the head of the Baptist. The readers of this story must have understood that Antipas a terribly wicked man, because no loving father would ask his daughter to dance in front of strangers.

In 37, Herodias' brother Agrippa became king of the realms of Philip. She thought that the royal title ought to be given to her husband and made a plan to make Herod Antipas king. The emperor did not agree and exiled the tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea to Lyon in Gaul.


This page was created in 2000; last modified on 4 August 2020.