King Herod the Great - the Bible story

Home                The Bible text                   Herod Antipas                      Herod Agrippa                   Herod Agrippa II


Find out more

Scroll of the Bible

The Bible text

The face of a fox

Herod Antipas

Coin bearing the  likeness of Herod Agrippa I

Herod Agrippa I

Young prince like Herod Agrippa II, Fayum coffin portrait

Herod Agrippa II

Masada at sunset

Lonely, luxurious Masada

Aerial photograph of Machaerus

Fortress: Machaerus  where John the Baptist was beheaded

Reconstruction of  one of Herod's palaces at Jericho

luxurious winter palace

Model of King Herod's castle/fortress at Herodiium

Herod's Castle: Herodium

Model of the Temple in Jerusalem built by King Herod the Great

King Herod's  Jerusalem

Planets and stars

Astrology in the ancient world

Sinister-looking man

 Bible Villains








King Herod the Great: mad, bad, dangerous

King Herod the Great, the only one of his family to be given the title of 'king'. Astute and ruthless, he was trusted by the Roman authorities but hated by his Jewish subjects
Herod Antipater, King Herod's father and founder of the Herodian dynasty; an astute military and politican strategist
Mark Antony, Roman ruler of the eastern half of the Mediterranean who became a patron and friend to Herod the Great
Mariamme, a Hasmonean princess and the chief wife of King Herod. Fearing the prestige of the Hasmoneans and the people's great love for the family, Herod engineered the death of her brother and then arranged Mariamme's judicial murder by strangulation. He then murdered her mother and two of his own sons by Mariamme.

Herod the Great

There are four different men called Herod in the New Testament. It is a dynastic/family name. All are descendents of the founder of the dynasty, Herod Antipater.

  1. Herod the Great, son of the founder of the dynasty, made procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47BC

  2. Herod Antipas, ruled Galilee at the time of Jesus' ministry. Married Herodias and executed John the Baptist

  3. Herod Agrippa I, friend of the emperors Caligula and Claudius, killed James and imprisoned Peter

  4. Herod Agrippa II, heard St Paul's case and advised he be acquitted

The New Testament portrays Herod the Great as a ruthless tyrant who, on hearing from the Wise Men that a new king had been born in Bethlehem, killed all the male children under two years in that town. There is no other historical record of this incident, but given Herod's paranoia, it is quite possible that this event really happened.

Herod was born in Palestine at a time of political turmoil. His father Antipater, an ambitious man, had risen rapidly in the service of the king, whom he eventually ousted from the throne. 

Antipater appointed his son Herod as governor of Galilee, and six years later Mark Antony made him tetrarch. Six years after this the Senate in Rome named him king of Judea and gave him an army to make good his claim. 

By the age of 36, Herod was unchallenged ruler of Judea. 

Lovely Mariamme

To strengthen his hold on power he divorced his first wife Doris and married the beautiful Mariamme, a  princess of the Hasmonean royal family. 

Mark Antony,Herod's patron

Herod may or may not have been deeply in love with her, though the Jewish historian Josephus says he was. But Josephus was dependent on Herod's favor and always gave him the benefit of the doubt.

Herod supported his patron Mark Antony until he lost the Battle of Actium, when he adroitly switched sides and became an ally and friend of the victor of this battle, Octavian/Augustus.

Herod the Builder

As well as being a clever politician, Herod the Great was one of the most prolific  builders of the ancient world. Among other things, he built the port of Caesarea on the coast between Joppa and Haifa, and Sebaste on the site of ancient Samaria. 

Reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, 
begun by Herod the Great and completed after his death

His most grandiose achievement was the Temple in Jerusalem, which he completely rebuilt. The platform for this construction is the Temple Mount. Herod was also the president of the Olympic Games during his reign.

Much of what he did was an attempt to make up for his birth - he was of Arab origin on both sides, a fact his Jewish subjects never forgave. 

Mariamme Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod, Waterhouse

He resented and envied the love his subjects had for the former royal family, the Hasmoneans, and ended up murdering most of the members of that family, including his wife Mariamme, their two sons, his young brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, and Mariamme's aged grandfather. 

When Herod had his two sons strangled, Augustus commented that it was safer to be Herod's pig than his son, since Jews do not eat pork.

Herod goes mad 

During his last years - the years in which the Massacre of the Innocents took place - Herod descended into madness and paranoia. He was in great physical and mental pain, and soon after a failed suicide attempt this complex, demented, brilliant man died.

Famous Quotes about the four Herods
  1. 'When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16, King Herod the Great)

  2. 'His head (John the Baptist's) was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother..' (Matthew 14:10, Herod Antipas)

  3. 'About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, brother of John, killed with the sword. He proceeded to arrest Peter also.' (Acts 12:1-3, Herod Agrippa I)

  4. 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'  (Acts 26:14, Paul reporting to Agrippa II)


Bible Stories: People of the New Testament:  Herod the Great, Herod Antipas and Herod Agrippa:  Bible Study Resource

Home                                       FAQs                                        About the Author