Was Herod A Real Jew?
Often when one looks at the name of an individual in the Bible there is a desire to ask, “is there any more information about this person”. While the local context, or chapter, in which a name is found may be helpful for understanding a series of events, sometimes one wonders about details such as what was the religious beliefs of the more obscure characters in the Bible. This brings to mind the name of “Herod”.
This article is written to answer the question, “was Herod a Jew”? In order to answer that we first must investigate what Herod’s are mentioned in the New Testament. The first Herod that is mentioned in the Bible is “Herod the Great”. He was the son of Antipater the 2nd and he reigned from 40-4 B.C. Information about Herod the Great can be found in the Bible in Matthew 2:1-22 and Luke 1:5. Herod’s father was an Idumean who converted to Judaism. According to T. Bryant, an Idumean was both a Greek and Roman term for an Edomite (Mark 3:8, Mark 34:5-6) [New Compact Bible Dictionary, p.239.].
As far as Herod the Great’s religion one scholar stated properly that “Herod curried favor with the Jews but was staunchly allied to Rome and embraced Greco-Roman culture and religion”. [Archeological Study Bible, notes on Herod the Great, p.1629].
Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great. If Herod was a Jew, he certainly did not show mercy towards them, for it was this Herod who during the latter years of his life, had all baby boys of Bethlehem executed (Matthew 2:16) when he feared one might somehow supplant His political headship. It was stated by one scholar that Herod was a “nominal Jew” [Archeological Study Bible, p.1627] for he had scruples about killing pigs. Caesar Agustus is said to have made the pun from Greek that he’d “rather be Herod’s pig (in Greek, hus) than his son” (In Greek, huois). For, Herod killed some of his own children but like Jews, avoided all proximity to swine,for they were dubbed unclean by the levitical priesthood. So was Herod the Great a Jew by birth? No, His father was Idumeon or Edomite. Was Herod the great a Jew by religion? No. He embraced Greek religions, and the pantheon of greek idolatrous false gods and goddesses. However, Herod was a king. For Matthew 2:1 says, “Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, during the time of King Herod” (NIV). So we see that Herod was the reigning king of the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 2:3). It was the Roman Senate however that appointed him king of Judea in 40 B.C. However he did not formally begin his reign until 37B.C. because he violently suppressed a large opposition from Jerusalem’s leading aristocrats for about three years before he ruled Judea free from violent opposition from the leading Jews. As a ruler of the Jews he accepted and followed their customs, as that would have kept the peace politically for him. As a son of a Jewish convert with a Gentile background, he also knew how to “act the part” as king of Judea, who would have “rode the fence” between the religions of Rome, Greece, and Jerusalem. Thus in religion, he served whatever faith was expedient for the moment at hand.
But that is not the only Herod that is mentioned in the New Testament. There was also Herod Philip of Matthew 14:3, Mark 6:17, & Luke 3:19. He married Mariamne the 2nd. [The Marriages of the Antipater II Family Tree, chart by J. Shirley, c.2001] There was also Herod Antipas ‘the tetrarch’ who was deposed in A.D. 30 (Matthew 14:1-10; Luke 3:1&19). He had the same wife of Archelaus. Archelaus was also known as ‘Herod the ethnarch’ and he was deposed in A.D. 6 (Matthew 2:22). There is also a mention of Herod Agrippa the 1st of Judea who reigned from A.D. 41-44 (Acts 12). He was followed in command by Herod Agrippa the 2nd of Chalcis who was tetrarch in A.D. 44 and then King of his province from A.D. 48-100. Part of his 52 year reign is referenced in Acts 25:13-27 and in Acts chapter 26.
The question now is, “were any of these other five Herod’s Jews?” First we aught to say that all of them were rulers in Palestine. All of them were either kings, tetrarchs, or ethnarchs. But they were not generally the most religious of men. This article has already mentioned the atrocities of Herod the great, Yet Herod Antipas, unlawfully married his brother’s wife & had John the Baptist executed. Luke 23:7 shows, he was also the one who questioned Jesus prior to the cross and chose not to free Him. Then Herod Agrippa the 1st put James to death (Acts 12:1-2). Herod Agrippa the 2nd presided over the trial of Paul in Acts 25:13-26:32 where rather than free Paul he sent him to Caesar. None of the Herod’s were converts to Christianity yet they also did not relish in any real Jewish heritage either. By: J.R. Rosado