Christmas Character: Herod Antipas
Suggested readings: References included in text
The Herod of Jesus’s public ministry was Herod Antipas, one of Herod the Great’s three sons. He ruled from 4 BC to 39 AD over the Jewish provinces of Galilee and Parea. His official title was “tetrarch” (meaning “ruler of a fourth”) of his father’s kingdom. By most standards, he was just an ordinary, local, Jewish ruler, but two incidents during his reign secured him a high place in the history books. First, he killed John the Baptist. This incident is recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, as well as by the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Second, he met with Jesus, who Pilate sent to him. This encounter is recorded only by the Gospel of Luke.
According to the Synoptic Gospels, Herod Antipas was a “shadow of death” over Jesus. In these accounts, Antipas and the “Herodians” (possibly Herodian officials or adherents) saw Jesus as a threat to be eliminated (see Mark 3:6, Luke 13:31, Matthew 14:2). However, it is not stated exactly why Jesus was a threat. As a matter of fact, the Gospel of Luke builds up tension between Antipas and Jesus marked by equal fascination and rejection (see Luke 9:9 vs. Luke 13:31-32). When they meet in Jerusalem during the trial of Jesus, an almost absurd scene evolves. First Antipas is said to be “exceedingly glad” to see Jesus, since for a long time he had hoped to see him perform a miracle. But, when Jesus remains silent, the excitement turns to contempt and mockery. Antipas finally dresses him in a bright, shining robe and sends him back to Pilate, the Roman governor, who sent Jesus to Antipas in the first place when Pilate learned that Jesus was from Galilee. Perhaps not surprisingly, scholars disagree on how to interpret Luke’s view of Antipas’s role in the execution of Jesus. Was his mockery and dressing of Jesus a sign of condemnation or acquittal? While Luke himself states the later (see Luke 23:14-15). Antipas nonetheless played a part and is thereby one of the characters of Christmas.