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How Long Did King Herod Reign?

Q. King Herod appears throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts, from Jesus’ nativity to St. Paul’s trial. How long did he reign?

A. The multiple mentions of Herod in Scripture actually refer to five related men by that name who reigned in succession. This Dynasty of Herod ruled over Judea for about a hundred years.

Herod I or Herod the Great (73–4 B.C.), who rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem, was the ruler who ordered the slaughter of the innocents after learning of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:16–18). Such an act was not out of character for him: On various occasions, he executed his second wife, her family, his brother-in-law, and three of his own sons. Since Jewish religious law forbade eating pork, Emperor Augustus once wryly remarked, “It is better to be Herod’s swine than his son.”

Herod the Great’s son Herod Archelaus (23 B.C.­–c. A.D.18) was made by Caesar Augustus the ethnarch of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea. He was known for the brutality he demonstrated in securing his throne against rebellion. Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt to avoid the first Herod’s massacre of the innocents in Bethlehem. When that Herod died, Joseph was told by an angel in a dream to return to Israel (presumably to Bethlehem). But when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father as ruler of Judea, “he was afraid to go there” and was again warned in a dream to go to Galilee instead (Matthew 2:13–23).

Herod Antipas (c. 20 B.C.–c.A.D. \39) was another son of Herod the Great who became the tetrarch of Galilee and the east bank of the Jordan after his brother Herod Archelaus was deposed in a.d.6. This Herod divorced his first wife to marry the wife of his half-brother. When St. John the Baptist condemned him for this immoral act (Matthew 14:3–12), Herod executed the prophet. Later, during His passion, Jesus was briefly brought before this Herod to be interrogated (Luke 23:7-13).

Herod Agrippa I (10 B.C.–A.D.44) was a grandson of Herod the Great who ruled all of Judea and Samaria. He began a systematic persecution of Christians, including the imprisonment of St. Peter and the beheading of St. James (Acts 12:1–3). His death three years later is recorded in Acts 12:19–23.

Finally, Agrippa’s son, Herod Agrippa II (A.D.27–100) appears in Acts chapters 25 and 26. We’re told there that St. Paul was brought before this king to defend himself against charges that he was causing social and religious unrest. Eventually, Agrippa sent the Apostle to Rome for his trial.

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