Biblical Archaeology Review 38:5, September/October 2012

Strata: How Many?

How many men named Herod are mentioned in the New Testament?

Answer: 3

It’s easy to get confused. The Gospel of Matthew tells of a cruel king named Herod in Jerusalem who seeks to kill the baby Jesus and soon dies himself. Yet this same gospel, as well as Mark’s and Luke’s gospels, later mentions a ruler named Herod who has John the Baptist beheaded and is considered a threat to Jesus’ preaching. Luke’s gospel adds that Pontius Pilate sent Jesus to Herod to be tried in his native Galilee. Later, in the Acts of the Apostles a man called King Herod persecutes the followers of Jesus in Judea.

The name Herod appears in the New Testament 44 times but refers to three different men.

The first Herod is the ruler in the gospel infancy narratives, Herod the Great, the ruthless client-king of Judea supported by the Romans. He sponsored massive building projects during his reign, including a complete renovation of Jerusalem’s Temple and Temple Mount.

Upon his death in 4 B.C., his kingdom was divided among three of his sons (with the Roman emperor’s approval): Herod Antipas, Herod Archelaus and Philip the Tetrarch.

Herod Antipas was made tetrarch (meaning “ruler of one-fourth”) over Galilee and Perea, where he reigned until 39 A.D. Scholars agree that he is the second Herod of the New Testament, who ruled for most of Jesus’ life, had John the Baptist killed and presided over a portion of Jesus’ trial (see articles here and here).

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