Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great (whom we met in the Christmas story) and Malthake. After his father’s death in 4 B.C. he was made tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea in the Trans-Jordan area of Palestine. Like his father, he was a lover of great and artistic architectural works, and built the beautiful Tiberias (named after guess who), as capital of his kingdom on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (which was renamed Sea of Tiberias). Like his father, you could say he was an Italophile.
He was married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, but afterwards divorced her to the wrath of her father. Antipas found himself at war with the king and was saved only with the help of Rome. He took away from his half-brother, Herod Philip, his wife Herodias. Her influence over him led to his utter ruin. As you may recall the story of John the Baptist, the prophet denounced Antipas’ breaking the Jewish law by taking his brother’s wife. The Jewish historian Josephus further tells us that Antipas feared the prophet’s popularity with the people, and subsequently imprisoned him. Herodias did not like the Baptizer and after her daughter Salome pleased the ruler by her dance, after which he promised the girl anything up to half his kingdom, the head of John was requested. This execution did not make Antipas any more popular with the people.
This is the Herod that Jesus called “that fox.” Jesus was not referring to personal pulchritude. From a study of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew literature it can be seen that the fox is both crafty and inferior in its position. The fox is an insignificant or base person, in contrast to the lion. He lacks real power and dignity, using cunning deceit to achieve his aims.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
Inspired in part from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time