Herod The Great

National Association of Christian Ministers Summary Series

Herod the Great was a prominent figure mentioned in the New Testament, known for his role in the birth narrative of Jesus Christ. He was a king of Judea and ruled from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC. Below is a biography of Herod the Great based on the New Testament with relevant scriptural citations:

1. Early Life and Ascent to Power:

Herod was born in 73 or 74 BC in Idumea (a region south of Judea) and was of Edomite descent, which means he was not ethnically Jewish. In 40 BC, he was appointed by the Roman Senate as the King of Judea, a position he acquired through political maneuvering and military support from Rome (Source: Josephus, Antiquities 14.159-176).

2. The Slaughter of the Innocents:

One of the most significant events associated with Herod in the New Testament is the “Slaughter of the Innocents” in Bethlehem. When the magi from the East came to Jerusalem inquiring about the birth of the “King of the Jews,” Herod felt threatened and sought to eliminate any potential rival to his throne. He asked the magi to inform him of the child’s whereabouts so that he could “worship” the newborn king as well. However, the magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod and they departed by another route (Matthew 2:1-12).

3. Flight to Egypt:

After the magi left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, instructing him to take the child Jesus and his mother Mary and flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous plot. Joseph complied and stayed in Egypt until Herod’s death (Matthew 2:13-15).

4. Herod’s Cruelty and Death:

Herod, furious at being deceived by the magi, ordered the massacre of all male children in Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the time he had learned from the magi (Matthew 2:16-18). This horrifying event is referred to as the “Slaughter of the Innocents.”

Toward the end of his life, Herod’s health declined, and he faced several challenges to his rule, including uprisings and tensions among his own family members. He executed his wife Mariamne and two of his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, suspecting them of plotting against him (Josephus, Antiquities 16.392-394).

Herod died in 4 BC, and according to Josephus, he succumbed to a painful and debilitating illness (Josephus, Antiquities 17.185-187). His death marked the end of his rule over Judea, and the kingdom was divided among his surviving sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip (Matthew 2:19-23).

It is important to note that while the New Testament provides insights into Herod’s actions during the time of Jesus’ birth, additional historical information about his life and reign can be found in the works of Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.