Q: “This might not be important to most people, but I am confused about the many Herods in the Bible. Could you help clear up my confusion.”
A: I admit the Herod dynasty can prove to be quite confusing, especially since two of the descendants of Herod were called “Herod.” The relationship of these descendants to one another also adds to the confusion. For example, you have Herod Antipas who reigned during Jesus’ time and Agrippa 1 who reigned during the time of the Apostles.
The Herod dynasty spanned four generations from the year 37 BC, when Herod the Great assumed leadership, and the reign of this dynasty extended to 92 AD., when the last known ruler of his domain died. Herod’s name means “hero-like” and his family tree finds its origins through the Idumeans, also known as Edomites. Herod the Great is the one who took great interest in the three wisemen’s inquiry of the king of Israel being born and out of jealousy had all the males under two killed in Bethlehem. His number of descendants are due to the fact that during his lifetime Herod the Great had more than 10 wives who gave him many children, some who are highlighted in the Scriptures.
There was Herod’s oldest son, Archelaus who was given Judea after his father’s death. Due to great social unrest, Archelaus was replaced after ten years of ruling by a Roman governor. He is mentioned in Matthew 2:22 as the ruler whose association with his father caused Joseph to take his family to Nazareth.
The next son, Antipas received a region east of the Jordan and the Dead Sea known as Galilee and Perea. His reign lasted from 4 BC until 39 AD. Even though he reigned during Jesus’ time, he was simply referred to as Herod except in Luke 3:1 where he was called Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee. Tetrarch pointed to a governor who sovereignly reigned over a fourth of the country. This Herod’s epitaph is a sad one because he was married to Herodias the sister of Agrippa 1, who used her daughter to manipulate him, resulting in the beheading of John the Baptist. He is also the one who interrogated the Lord Jesus Christ on the night He was betrayed after Pontius Pilate sent Him to him. He was curious about Jesus and sought some type of proof or entertainment in the way of miracles. It was at this time that Jesus was mocked by Herod’s men and arrayed in a gorgeous robe and sent back to Pilate (Matthew 14:1-13; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 23:1-15).
The next Herod is Philip who is also mentioned in Luke 3:1. He was Tetrarch over the regions of Iturea and Trachonitis, which was located north of the Sea of Galilee. He reigned from 4 BC. until his death in 34 AD. He named his capital Caesarea after Caesar, but since there was already a Caesarea at the Mediterranean coast, his city was called Caesarea Philippi which was mentioned in Matthew 16:13.
Agrippa I was the grandson of Herod the Great. His father was Aristobulus, a son of Mariamne, Herod’s second wife who was the granddaughter of Hyrcanus, the last king of the Hasmonians who reigned before Herod. Agrippa was not only the offspring of Herod, but also of the Hasmonian/Maccabees, which earned him a certain popularity and appreciation among the Jews. His father and brother were in line to reign, but both of these men along with Mariamne were accused of conspiracy by Herod the Great, and executed. Agrippa grew up in Ceasar’s Court and was eventually appointed king over the vacated post of Philip. He governed seven years until 44 AD. when he was promoted by Claudius to be king over the whole realm of Herod the Great. He is called King Herod in the Acts of the Apostles and was the one who killed James, the brother of John by the sword and imprisoned Peter to gain the favor of the Jews (Acts 12). In Acts 12:20-23, we read of his sudden death in Caesarea by the angel of the Lord because he failed to give God the glory.
We finally come to the last of Herod’s dynasty, Agrippa II. He was 16 years old when his father suddenly died. He was too young to rule and it was not until 50 AD., when he reached 22 years of age, he was given the royal title by Caesar Claudius to once again rule over the total realm held by his great uncle Herod Philip. This included the capital city of Caesarea Philippi, which he later changed to the name of “Neronias” to please the new Caesar, Nero. More area was given to him throughout his reign and he was eventually called King Agrippa, but regardless of the fame and power he gained then, he is now known for his encounter with the Apostle Paul in Acts 25:13-26 and 26:32.
Agrippa II had an ongoing incestuous relationship with his sister Bernice who was at his side when Paul presented his remarkable defense for his faith to them and Festus. Paul recognized that Agrippa had much knowledge about Jewish customs, but sadly like so many other people, Agrippa would not allow himself to be persuaded by the truth. Agrippa II who refused to be persuaded by what was eternal, faded away into history books, but his witness of unbelief was given for all to see. Like many leaders before him, the final notation is that of his death in about 92 AD, with no mentioned of heirs to follow.