Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Historical Context, Herod Antipas, by Rick Sons

If you have ever been in study groups or Bible studies with me you know that I like the term “Let’s chase this rabbit.”  Sometimes it is very easy to be drawn off topic when the current topic invites investigation or a possible new direction.

Even in doing the research for this teaching moment I was drawn or should I say dragged in many different directions.  At one point when I sent my outline to Pastor Andy he responded, “It looks good but have no idea where you are going with this point.” So I decided to chase a rabbit.

In reading this passage from Mark it seems he has also gone off on a rabbit chase. He leaves Jesus being shunned by his hometown to give a history lesson of John the Baptist.

With the idea of a history lesson in mind, let me give you a brief history of one of the key subjects in Mark’s rabbit chase.

Herod Antipas
Herod Antipater, known by the nickname Antipas, (born around 20 BC – died after 39 AD)

  • 1st-century ruler of Galilee and Perea who bore the title of tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”).
  • Herod the Great's son by Malthace (Herod II was his son by Mariamne II).
  • Antipas was son of Herod the Great, king of Judea, and Malthace, from Samaria.
  • Antipas, his brother Archelaus, and his half-brother Philip were educated in Rome.
  • Named to the throne in 4 BC by Caesar Augustus upon the death of his father, Herod the Great, and subsequent political leadership or rule (not king) by his brother, Herod Archelaus.
  • Antipas was not Herod's first choice of heir. That honor fell to Aristobulus and Alexander, Herod's sons by the Hasmonean princess Mariamne.

During his fatal illness in 4 BC, Herod had a change of heart about the succession. According to the final version of his will, Antipas' elder brother Archelaus would become king of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria, and Antipas would rule Galilee and Perea with the lesser title of tetrarch. Philip was to receive Gaulanitis (the Golan Heights), Batanaea (southern Syria), Trachonitis and Auranitis (Hauran).

It was only after they were executed (c. 7 BC) and Herod's oldest son Antipater was convicted of trying to poison his father (5 BC) that the elderly Herod fell back on his youngest son Antipas, revising his will to make him heir.

The Divorce

Antipas divorced his first wife Phasaelis, the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, in favor of Herodias, who had formerly been married to his half-brother Herod II.

John the Baptist's condemnation of this arrangement led Antipas to have him arrested; John was subsequently put to death.

The War

The divorce of Antipas and Phasaelis added a personal grievance to previous disputes with Aretas over territory on the border of Perea and Nabatea.

The result was a war that proved disastrous for Antipas; a Roman counter-offensive was ordered by Tiberius but was abandoned upon the emperor's death in 37 AD.

In 39 AD Antipas was accused by his nephew Agrippa I of conspiracy against the new Roman emperor Caligula, who sent him into exile in Gaul. Accompanied there by Herodias, he died at an unknown date.

Like father like son, Antipas feared Jesus.

Kings are known for being fierce in battle and jealous for territory. When Herod the Great learned of a rival emerging from within his own kingdom, he determined to put down any such ambitions before they materialized.

This was the setting of Matthew’s account: “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ (Matthew 2:7-8)

Some research suggests that Herod the Great and Antipas suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. This is a subtype of schizophrenia in which the patient has delusions (false beliefs) that a person or some individuals are plotting against them or members of their family.

Some research says that Antipas had so much guilt from the death of John the Baptist that he was troubled by dreams and could hear John speaking to him.

Herod Antipas met Jesus some thirty years later when Pontius Pilate transferred him as a legal relegation.

Like his father, Antipas wanted to keep what was his. When he heard of all that Jesus had been doing he thought Jesus was John the Baptist, the man he would fear most of coming back to life. Though this may seem unreasonable in retrospect, Antipas’ guilt and superstition led him to this fear.

Antipas is like many people today. They fear the opinion of people before fearing God. The only thing that kept Herod from even greater wickedness was the fear of man.

The Fox

According to Luke, Jesus referred to Antipas as the Fox.

Luke 13:31-33 “At that very hour, some Pharisees came to Jesus and told Him, ‘Leave this place and get away, because Herod wants to kill You.’ But Jesus replied, ‘Go tell that fox, ‘Look, I will keep driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach My goal.’ Nevertheless, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day, for it is not admissible for a prophet to perish outside of Jerusalem.’

When Jesus calls him “that fox,” he is not saying that he is as sly as a fox, although he might well have been. No, Jesus is actually insulting him, for a fox is an unclean animal in the Israelite belief system.

Though Antipas often tried to appear a pious Jewish leader, he had more than a few problems maintaining the loyalty of his Jewish subjects. His first problem was his authority. He had been put in power by Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, in 4 BC. Then, in 17 AD, to honor his Roman overlords, he built a grand new capital city named Tiberius, after the current emperor, only to discover that it was built on top of an old Jewish cemetery. No pious Jew ever entered it, and it was inhabited almost exclusively by Greeks and Romans.

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