Jesus called Herod Antipas a fox. Why?
- Herod Antipas, wary son of King Herod the Great. Grew up in a dangerous family where doing nothing was safer than being noticed. Intrigued by John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth – Jesus called him ‘that fox’.
- Herod the Great, the only one of the Herods to be formally designated ‘king’. Brilliant, paranoid, ruthless. The Roman emperor Augustus said it was safer to be King Herod’s pig than his son, since Herod had executed two of his own sons but, as a Jew, did not eat pork.
- Herodias, grand-daughter of Salome who was the powerful sister of King Herod the Great, second wife of Herod Antipas. A passionate love match. A proud woman, she hated John the Baptist because he insulted her openly.
- Salome, young daughter of Herodias by a previous marriage. Intelligent, aware of court intrigue against her mother and step-father, siding passionately with her mother.
- John the Baptist, a popular fire-brand and passionate social critic.
Who was Herod?
Herod Antipas was one of the few sons of Herod the Great to survive, and he did so largely because he was cunning and/or lethargic. He took pains not to be a threat, not to be noticed.
This modus operandum seems to have become habit for him, for later in life he had to be goaded before he would take action.
Herod Antipas falls in love
He managed to rule effectively for many years, but then he divorced his Nabatean wife, a princess from the desert kingdom abutting his own, to marry Herodias, formerly the wife of his half brother.
It was not a wise move, and can only have been motivated by love, even though both parties were no longer young. The marriage offended his Jewish subjects, who found a voice in John the Baptist, and it also alienated his Nabatean ex father-in-law, Aretas IV.
Conflict between Herod Antipas and John
John the Baptist’s outspoken criticism forced Antipas to imprison him, but he was reluctant to kill the man, since he had a large and excitable following.
Something however seems to have forced Herod to eliminate the man, which he would clearly have preferred not to do. The gospels put the blame on Herodias herself and her daughter from her previous marriage, Salome, but the real story was probably more politically complicated than this.
In any event, Herod ordered the death of John, sending a stern lesson to his subject that dissention would not be tolerated.
Herod Antipas and Jesus
Later, when Jesus’ miracles were reported to him, Antipas believed that John the Baptist had been resurrected.
Antipas was in Jerusalem when Jesus was arrested in the combustible week of Passover, and the Roman procurator Pilate sent Jesus to him. This was because Jesus came from a territory governed by Antipas, and was therefore nominally in his power.
So Antipas was loathe to have anything to do with Jesus – he was a man of his time and believed in magic and witchcraft, and suspected that Jesus was adept in both these arts. He allowed Jesus to be ridiculed and tormented (see Tissot’s painting of Jesus Ridiculed at the Court of Herod below), then returned Jesus to Pilate, thus relieving himself of the problem.
Though Antipas was cautious in political matters, he was unsuccessful in controlling his family, and had a particularly bad relationship with Herodias’ brother Agrippa.
Caligula and Herod Antipas
Unfortunately for Antipas, Agrippa had lived in Rome and become a close friend of a young member of the imperial family, Caligula (see the statue of Caligula at right).
When Caligula became emperor Agrippa seized the opportunity to get even: he laid charges, partially true, against Antipas.
Caligula, now given a pretext, banished Antipas to Gaul but gave Herodias a dispensation. Since she was the sister of his friend Agrippa, she might continue to live in Judea and retain some of her possessions.
Herodias proudly refused the pardon and accompanied Antipas into exile – though it was perhaps not too bad a punishment, since tradition has it that they lived hereafter in a magnificent villa in Gaul, near Lyon in the south of France.
Herod Antipas in history
Herod Antipas ruled for about 40 years, from 1 BC4 until AD 39. From 1 BC until AD 6 he ruled his territories from the fortress-palace built by Herod the Great at Machaerus.
After AD 6, he moved to Galilee where he refounded and fortified the city of Sepphoris, where extensive excavations have been conducted since 1985.
Between AD 17 and 20 he built a new city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and named it Tiberias (John 6:23) in honor of the emperor. He constructed a lavishly decorated palace there and the city became the major seat of power in Galilee.
Just as Herod Antipas was curious about John and his message, he was equally curious about Jesus (Luke 9:7–8). He exclaimed, “I beheaded John. Who, then, is this I hear about?” And he tried to see Him (Luke 9:9).
In spite of his curiosity, Herod Antipas had evil intentions toward Jesus. Even the Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod Antipas wanted to kill Him (Luke 13:31).
Jesus’ reply was, Go tell that fox, “I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal. In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (Luke 13:32–33).
When Jesus was on trial in AD 33, Herod Antipas finally had the opportunity to meet Him.
When he [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle.
He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate.
That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.
Six years later Herod Antipas was accused of sedition and banished to the west.
Quoted from ‘John the Baptist: the first believer in Christ to be martyred’
Famous Quotes about the four Herods
- ‘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)
- ‘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)
- ‘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)
- ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (Acts 26:14, Paul reporting to Agrippa II)