History of Herod Antipas: Why Jesus called him That Fox

HEROD ANTIPAS

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
www.billpetro.com

Inspired in part from Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time

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6 comments… add one
  • came across your website article on Herod Antipas during my research on my adult study class on John the Baptist. Noticed that there is more evidence now that Herodius was NOT phillip’s wife, but of some other unnamed husband. Could it be that the gospel writer, Matthew had the wrong information?

    Reply
    • I do not know of any evidence to suggest that Herodius was not the wife of Philip before she married Herod Antipas. There is some disagreement about whether she married Herod Antipas after (AD 34) or before (AD 27) Philip’s death. BTW, she was simultaneously Herod Antipas’ niece and brother’s ex-wife, as described by the historian at that time Flavius Josephus.

      Do you have any sources?

      Reply
  • Thank-you for the article. Your information on why Jesus would refer to Herod as a fox was helpful in a series on basic Bible interpretation that I am putting together. I am trying to emphasize looking for authorial intent, and this is a good example of making an effort to do so. Far too many people come up with fanciful explanations of what the metaphor means (“it makes sense so it must be true!”) without doing any research to see how it was generally understood in the culture of that time.

    Reply
  • Go tell that fox! sounds ruddy isn’t? i was all wondering why the master would
    refer to Antipas as a “fox”after hearing of the pharisee’s announcement about him (Herod). the answer might surely have left the pharisee in great fear considering who Herod was and how the master reffed to him. Thank you Bill petro. i will study further on that.

    Reply
  • I know this will seem foolish. Do you think Jesus’s calling him that old fox has anything to do with the system that was in place and Jesus was predicting the rise of Fox News? Fox news was the first to use voice on TV. It states in Rev that the beast (system) breathed life into the icon and it spoke.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/07/23/in-1927-fox-news-service-filmed-benito-mussolini-telling-immigrants-to-make-america-great/?wpisrc=nl_most-draw8&wpmm=1

    Rev 13:15

    And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.

    Reply
    • David,

      Thanks for your speculative question. No, I don’t think Jesus was making a prophesy about a beastly 20th century media company. Although if Herod Antipas had bought stock in that company in 33 AD, it would be worth something now.

      -Bill

      Reply

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