History of Herod Antipas: Why Jesus called him That Fox

Herod Antipas

Herod Antipas


Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great (whom we met in the Christmas story) and Malthake. After his father died 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 loved grand and artistic architectural works. He 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 the Sea of Tiberias. Similar to his father, you could say he was an Italianophile. Jesus appeared before him during his many trials on Good Friday, having been sent to him by Pilate. But after the audience, Antipas sent Jesus back to Pilate.


Background of Herod Antipas

Death of John the BaptistHe married the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia, but afterward divorced her to her father’s wrath. 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, and 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 with her dance, 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.


Herod Antipas, that Fox

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, unlike the lion. He lacks real power and dignity, using cunning and deceit to achieve his aims.



His downfall came when his nephew Herod Agrippa I — who later imprisoned the Apostle Peter, as recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 12 — accused him of plotting a conspiracy against the subsequent Roman Emperor Caligula. The Emperor exiled him to Gaul, where he went with his wife Herodias, and 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


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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. Bill on December 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    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?

    • Bill Petro on December 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm

      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?

  2. Pastor J. on October 15, 2014 at 10:14 am

    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.

  3. Lupai Emah on May 14, 2015 at 7:55 am

    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.

  4. David on July 23, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    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.


    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.

    • Bill Petro on July 24, 2016 at 5:35 pm


      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.


  5. DavidR on December 25, 2017 at 11:03 am

    The word Jesus used that has been translated as fox was actually feminine. I have been told that the word was used in common parlance to refer to a nagging old woman. We have a word used similarly today that refers to a female dog.

    • Bill Petro on December 26, 2017 at 10:20 am

      You’re correct that the noun is feminine in the Greek, but that does not mean the fox referred to is of the female sex. I’m unfamiliar with the association of a nagging old woman.


  6. Cope Suan Pau on July 31, 2020 at 6:15 am

    Good story! Thanks. It’s helpful for me as I am writing a book entitled “Jesus of Nazareth”. Blessings!

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