Meet the horrible Herods. This site (with illustrations by the French artist Gustave Doré) is a brief
introduction to the Herod family and its scandalous doings, as known
from the Bible and extrabiblical
with links to additional sources.
We begin with . . .
Incestuous marriage and lust. Religious persecution.
people alive. The massacre
of a town's male infants.
Meet the horrible Herods. This site (with illustrations by the French artist Gustave Doré) is a brief introduction to the Herod family and its scandalous doings, as known from the Bible and extrabiblical accounts, with links to additional sources.
We begin with . . .
On his deathbed, Herod ordered that all the important men of Judea be summoned to Jericho and imprisoned, to be slain there when he died, so there would be mourning at the time of his death. (The order was not carried out.)
Herod is most famous for ordering the massacre of all male children two years old or younger in the town and region of Bethlehem, for fear that a prophesied king of the Jews had been born there.
Though the story of the Bethlehem massacre is found only in the Gospel of Matthew, and some scholars thus question the event's historicity, the story is credible. Herod the Great, history shows, was more than capable of committing such an atrocity.
Herodias was not only Herod Antipas' sister-in-law but his niece (being the daughter of Antipas' half-brother Aristobulus). Even the gospel writers got confused by this incestuous family. Herodias' previous husband, according to the Jewish historian Josephus, was not (as biblically stated) Herod Antipas' half-brother Philip, tetrarch of the region east of Galilee, but Herod Philip, another half-brother, in Rome. It was Salome, Herodias' daughter from the marriage to Herod Philip, who eventually married the tetrarch Philip, both Salome's and her mother's uncle.
Herod Antipas had John imprisoned in the fortress of Machaerus, not so much to punish him as to protect him from Herodias, who wanted "to kill him." But then, at a birthday banquet for Herod Antipas, young Salome danced for her stepfather and his guests. The only gospel description of the dance is that it "pleased Herod" (the so-called dance of the seven veils is of modern origin), but Herod Antipas' words of appreciation suggest a remarkable performance indeed. "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will grant it," he told Salome. "Whatever you ask for I will give you, even half of my kingdom."
Salome consulted with her mother Herodias, who told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Salome duly made the request, and Herod Antipas, not wanting to renege on a promise before his guests, reluctantly gave the order. John's head, we are told in Matthew (14:11), "was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother."
When the arrested Jesus, being from Galilee, was sent by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate to Herod Antipas (in Jerusalem for Passover), the tetrarch hoped to see him perform some wonder. When Jesus would not answer his questions, Herod Antipas and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt and mocked him, arrayed him in a robe, and sent him back to Pilate. Christ's crucifixion followed shortly thereafter. Herod Antipas and Pilate, the Gospel of Luke notes, became friends that very day.
Herod Agrippa II (son of Herod Agrippa I) was the king before whom the imprisoned apostle Paul appeared in Caesarea (c. 60 A.D.) before being sent to Rome for trial (Acts 25-26). Seated by Agrippa II for the hearing was his mistress Bernice, who was also his sister, formerly married to her uncle Herod of Chalcis. (Another sister, Drusilla, wife of the Roman procurator Felix, is mentioned in Acts 24:24.) The incestuous pair listened to Paul's defense, after which Agrippa II said to Paul, "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian."
It is the first known use of the term Christian, used only one other time in the Bible (1 Peter 4:16). Whether or not he was serious about being almost persuaded, Herod Agrippa II was the last important and least horrid Herod.
The tetrarch Philip, who may have been at the banquet, married his young niece Salome. By 34 A.D. he was dead. Herodias, meanwhile, proved to be the ruin of Herod Antipas. She goaded Antipas into seeking from the Roman emperor Caligula the title of king of Galilee. (Caligula, after all, had made Herodias' brother, Herod Agrippa I, king of Philip's tetrarchy following Philip's demise.) Herod Antipas accordingly sought the royal title, only to be banished by Caligula to Gaul. Herodias followed Herod Antipas into exile, where he died around 39 A.D.
Slaughter of the Innocents (Matthew 2:1-23)
Josephus on Herod the Great (Index)
What Killed King Herod?
Cause of King Herod's Death
Jesus before Herod Antipas (Luke 23:1-12)
Peter's Escape, and Death of Agrippa I (Acts 12:1-23)
Paul before Agrippa II (Acts 25:1-26:32)
"The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry"
Gospel of Matthew 14:1-12
Gospel of Mark 6:14-29
Original French text
Franz von Stuck
Rita Hayworth as Salome
Fortress of Machaerus
King Herod's Tomb
On Herods, Jesus, and Apostles
Coins of the Herods
hobrad at outlook dot com