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 which he ruled as a client state of the Roman Empire. Like his father, he was a lover of great and artistic architectural works and built the beautiful Tiberias (named after guess who) as the capital of his kingdom on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which was renamed to Sea of Tiberias. Similar to his father, you could say he was an Italophile. Jesus appeared before him during his many trails on Good Friday, having been sent to him by Pilate. But after the audience, Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate.
He was married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, but afterward 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. She requested the head of John. 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 the king’s 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 and deceit to achieve his aims.
His downfall came when his nephew Agrippa I accused him of plotting a conspiracy against the subsequent Roman Emperor Caligula. The Emperor exiled him to Gaul where we went with his wife Herodias, where they both passed out of history.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian
Inspired in part by Paul L. Maier’s In the Fullness of Time