Which Herod was which? Sorting out the five Herods

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Jesus before Herod Antipas by Andrea Schiavone. Herod Agrippa I was the nephew of Herod Antipas.

Herod Agrippa I and Herod Agrippa II

In the Acts of the Apostles, King Herod killed the apostle James and imprisoned Peter. Is this the same Herod, before whom Jesus appeared when Pilate sentenced him to death?

This is not the same Herod, but his nephew Herod Agrippa I. Lest we get hopelessly confused, let us recall that it was King Herod the Great who sought to kill Jesus after he was born by having all the boys under the age of two slaughtered. Herod the Great died in 4 BC, leaving his son Archelaus to reign over Judea and another son Antipas, to be tetrarch of Galilee. It was Herod Antipas who had John the Baptist imprisoned and beheaded and it was he before whom Jesus appeared in his trial before Pilate. In 39 AD Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa I of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile Spain, where he died. So, thus far we have seen three Herods. There are two more, both named Agrippa.

The first is Agrippa I, whom we have just mentioned. A grandson of Herod the Great, he was born to Herod’s son Aristobulus IV and Bernice around 10 BC and died in 44 AD. After Herod the Great executed his father Aristobulus, Herod sent Agrippa to the imperial court in Rome, where the emperor Tiberius took a great liking to him and had him educated alongside his son Drusus. There Agrippa also befriended the future emperor Caligula.

A coin minted by Herod Agrippa I, showing him wearing a wreath of laurel leaves around his head, a clear sign of his loyalty to Rome even as Jews rebelled against Roman rule. Roman leaders wore laurel leaves as symbols of martial victory and triumph. Agrippa I was a nephew of Herod the Great.

Upon the death of Drusus, Agrippa, deeply in debt, fled Rome and went to Idumea, south of Judea, where he married Cypros.

Through the mediation of Cypros and his sister Herodias, the wife of Herod Antipas, he was given money by Antipas and was allowed to live in Tiberias. After a quarrel with Antipas, he fled to different cities and finally ended up back in Rome, where the emperor Tiberius received him warmly and entrusted him with the education of his grandson Tiberius Gemellus. After the death of Tiberius in 37, the new emperor Caligula made Agrippa king of the territories of Gaulanitis, Auranitis, Batanaea and Trachonitis, formerly held by his uncle Philip the Tetrarch, along with the territory of Abila.

A man prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in this 2014, file photo. The wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is all that remains of Herod’s Temple after the Romans’ destruction of it in 70AD. Photo: CNS, Paul Haring.

In 39 Agrippa returned to Rome and brought about the banishment of his uncle Antipas, after which Caligula gave him Antipas’ territories of Galilee and Peraea. Following the assassination of Caligula in 41, the new emperor Claudius gave Agrippa dominion over Judea and Samaria, so that his domain was virtually the whole of Israel, approximately equal to that of his grandfather Herod the Great.

Herod Agrippa appears in the Acts of the Apostles, where he killed James, the brother of John, and arrested Peter, who was led out of prison by an angel (cf. Acts 12:1-11). Later, when the people acclaimed Herod as a god, “an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:23). The year was 44 AD.

An icon of Saint James, son of Zebedee and brother of John, who was killed by Herod Agrippa I.

Herod and his wife Cypros had a son, Agrippa II, born around 27 AD, and three daughters: Bernice, Mariamne and Drusilla, who would go on to marry Antonius Felix, the governor of Judea. Agrippa II had been sent to Rome by his father, where he was raised and educated at the imperial court. Because he was only 17 when his father died in 44, the emperor Claudius returned Judea to the status of a province. In 48 Agrippa received authority over the temple affairs in Jerusalem and two years later he was made king of Chalcis in southern Lebanon. In 53 he exchanged this land for Philip the Tetrarch’s former territory, over which his father had reigned. In 54 the emperor Nero added territory near the Sea of Galilee.

Like his father Agrippa I, King Agrippa II was an ardent collaborator with Rome and he did all in his power to prevent the rupture between Rome and the Jews, but to no avail. In 67 the Roman commander Vespasian arrived in Judea and Agrippa assisted him, as he did in 70 when Vespasian’s son Titus conquered Jerusalem. Agrippa died in 93 AD.

This painting depicts St Paul on trial before Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice. The encounter is recorded in Acts 26: 1-29.

In chapter 24 of the Acts of the Apostles St Paul is brought before governor Felix, married to Herod’s sister Drusilla (cf. Acts 24:24). Two years later, when Felix has been succeeded by Porcius Festus, Herod and his sister Bernice arrive in Caesarea and Festus invites Herod to hear the case against Paul. At the end, Herod tells Festus that if Paul had not appealed to Caesar he could have been set free (cf. Acts 26:32). So, all in all, there are five Herods in the New Testament.

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