Friday, March 23, 2012


Frank Thring as Herod Antipas in King of Kings

Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

Today we visit the third participant in the trial of Jesus of Nazareth, Herod Antipas. 

Herod Antipas’ true name was Herod Antipater. Antipas is the familiar form of Antipater, which by the way, was the name of Herod the Great’s father, grandfather, and oldest son. Antipas mother’ was Malthace, Herod’s sixth wife. He had one full brother, Archelaus, who was named ethnarch (national leader) of Judea, Idumea and Samaria following their father’s death. At the same time, Augustus named both Antipas and his half-brother Phillip tetrarchs (rulers of a fourth). Antipas was about 17 years old when he left Rome for Galilee to take control of a portion of his deceased father’s kingdom. Even more surprising is the fact that in Herod’s previous will, over-written just a short time before his death, Herod Antipas was named as his sole heir. 

Antipas, as we’ll call him to differentiate him from his father, married twice. His first wife, Phasaelis, was the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea. Phasaelis might have been a relative —a cousin perhaps— although the historic record neither denies nor confirms it. The marriage may very well have a political one designed to forge an alliance with King Aretas. In addition to Galilee, Antipas’ tetrarchy included Perea, which shared a border with Nabatea.  

Here’s some justification for the assumption she was family. First, Herod the Great’s mother, Cypros, was a member of the Nabatean royal family. Second, during the period in which Antipas’ father was battling the Parthians for control of the kingdom of the Jews, he sent his family to Nabatea for their protection. Thus, Antipas spent time in Nabatea as a youngster. Third, Herod’s older brother, Phasael, died in the Parthian war. If one strings the co-incidence of names — Phasaelis being the female version of Phasael — and her Nabatean heritage together, it tends to indicate some type of family tie. 

Antipas eventually divorced Phasaelis to marry Herodias. She’s the wife who appears in the Biblical accounts of the martyrdom of John the Baptist. She counseled her daughter, Salome, to ask for the Baptist’s head on a platter. They were also related in a complicated way, so complicated  that I’ve excerpted a portion of Herod the Great’s family tree to make it understandable. Herodias was the daughter of Antipas’ older brother, Aristobulus I, making her his paternal niece. Herodias’ mother was Berenike I, the daughter of Herod I’s sister, Salome. This makes Herodias his maternal first cousin, once removed. Herodias’ daughter, Salome, also married an uncle, Herod Phillip, who was tetrarch of Trachonitis.

Such inter-marrying within extended family has always been an accepted practice among royalty as a way of keeping the family bloodline pure. The relationships between the Caesars were equally convoluted. We find the royal houses of Europe doing much the same thing during the height of European monarchy. Strangely enough, as World War I loomed King George of England, Czar Nicholas of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany — or Georgie, Nicky and Willy, as they called each other — were all first cousins. So, exactly why did they find it necessary to go to war? 

Shortly after Herod the Great’s death, while Antipas was in Rome making his case before Caesar Augustus, the Messianic pretender Judas the Galilean led an uprising. His rebels armed themselves with weapons stolen from the Sepphorian armory. In the subsequent suppression of the revolt by the Romans, Syrian Governor Quinctillius Varus carried away the residents of Sepphoris into slavery. The city was sacked, burned and leveled.  

Antipas returned from Rome to find Sepphoris a barren wasteland. Following in his father’s footsteps, he decided to become a master builder and developer of cities. He rebuilt Sepphoris from the ground up making it his first capitol. Because the city had few residents, he brought in many non-Jewish immigrants to populate it. The result was a city rebuilt to Roman standards with baths, amphitheatres, a hippodrome and his palace.  

Interestingly, the closest village to Sepphoris was Nazareth…only about an hour’s walk away. Because of the immense building activity taking place in Sepphoris, and since Joseph was a έκτων, tektōn…a craftsman in wood or carpenter, (Matthew 13:55) it seems probable that he and his foster son, Jesus, might find work there. The implications here are enormous. Most people imagine the boy Jesus assisting Joseph in a humble little carpentry next to their home. What if instead, they worked in the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Sepphoris surrounded by Greeks and Romans, pagan Temples, and baths? If we read the subtext of the Gospels, we quickly notice that Jesus was not some rural hick. In addition to being literate and a Torah scholar, Jesus was multi-lingual, socially aware, and sophisticated in his understanding of society and the world at large.  Sepphoris sat astride major trade routes from the East. Could exposure to the cosmopolitan culture of Sepphoris have given him this breadth of knowledge?  

Antipas also made major renovations and added a city wall to Betharamphtha (Bethharem), a city in Perea. He then renamed it Julias in honor of Julia, the wife of the Emperor Augustus and mother of Tiberius. He took the fortress Macherus on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea and created a city around it, erecting a magnificent palace there. It was most likely this palace where John the Baptist was imprisoned and executed. In another effort to curry favor in Rome, when Antipas constructed his new capitol on the Sea of Galilee in AD 17, he named the city Tiberias. It was later discovered he’d built the city atop an old Jewish graveyard. Since no pious Jew would enter Tiberias, he populated it with Greeks and Romans.  

Josephus explains it like this: “He even liberated many in many places, granting them land and supplying houses from his own means, on the condition that they would not leave the city, knowing that (this) settlement was against the Torah and the heritage of the Jews, since the foundation of Tiberias was over tombs — of which there were many — that were obliterated. Our Law declares these settlers to be defiled for seven days.” Josephus, Antiquities 18:38 

Like his father, Antipas liked to appear an observant and believing Jew to ingratiate himself with his subjects. Also like his father, it’s doubtful he truly observed a Torah lifestyle when out of the public eye. Like his brothers, he’d been raised in Rome and depended upon the Emperor’s benevolence for his position as tetrarch. Antipas did, however, make it a practice to travel to Jerusalem for the major pilgrim feasts, and so he was in Jerusalem on the day Pilate tried Jesus. When Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee, he sent him to Antipas. (Luke 23:6-12) There was no legal precedent for such a move. Pilate most likely wanted to foist the whole thing off on someone else. 

Rather conducting a trial, Antipas wanted Jesus to entertain him with miracles. Jesus never spoke a word to him. Antipas and his soldiers mocked and ridiculed Jesus, before sending Him back to Pilate. 

Herod Antipas ruled as tetrarch for 43 years before he ran out of friends in Rome. He’d been appointed by Augustus and served throughout Tiberius’ reign. But by AD 39 both of his patrons were dead and Caligula was Emperor. When Antipas’ half-brother, Herod Phillip, died Caligula appointed his boyhood friend, and Antipas’ brother-in-law, Herod Agrippa to fill the vacancy. He even gave him the title of King. This upset Agrippa’s sister, Herodias. She pestered Antipas to go to Caligula and demand they be made King and Queen.  

But the move backfired. Unbeknownst to her, Agrippa had been undermining Antipas and telling Caligula he was planning a revolt. He said Antipas had amassed weapons sufficient for an army of 70,000 men. Antipas undoubtedly did have a large cache of weapons. He had to beat back continual border skirmishes with Nabatea and the Galilean hills were full of highwaymen and roaming bands of Zealots…remnants of Judas the Galilean’s original army. This provided Caligula with an excuse to rid himself of Antipas and reward his friend Agrippa. Antipas was stripped of his power and exiled to Gaul. Conveniently, his territories were combined with what King Agrippa already had. In short order Agrippa was made ruler of the entirety of his grandfather’s former kingdom. 

Interestingly, Caligula offered to let Herodias remain in Rome where she would be supported at state expense. She chose to accompany her husband into exile instead. So at 60 years of age, after a life amid power and pomp, Antipas set sail for Gaul to live out his final years in obscurity.  

Next time, we conclude this short series on The Who Tried Jesus with Ponius Pilate.  

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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