That sign–King of the Jews–nailed over Jesus’ head was meant as a deterrent as kings everywhere put the heads of their enemies on stakes. Herod Antipas and Herodias were sending a warning not to get in their way, as they did with their killing of John the Baptist. They knew that only those of their own House would try to stop their bid for the kingdom…because that is where the bloodline was.
And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Matthew 12:25 (Speaking from Hasmonean/Herodian family history?)
But with Jesus and John now dead, who was left to challenge Antipas?
The chart above shows that Agrippa, Herod III, Aristobulus, James son of Mariamne III and Salome daughter of Herodias had the same basic credentials that Herodias had to make a try for the kingdom—a remnant of Hasmonean blood. That was why Antipas made an alliance with her. And nothing we have seen so far would allow us to believe that it would all end here with the brutal deaths of the sons of Mariamne III and Elizabeth…even with their prophecies.
Agrippa Grandson of Mariamne the Queen
I will look at some of the others as we go along, but both Josephus and the Book of Acts tell us who rose up to contest Antipas and Herodias for the kingdom; Mariamne III and Herodias’ own brother Agrippa.
A little before the death of Herod the king, Agrippa lived at Rome, and was generally brought up…with Drusus, the emperor Tiberius’s son, and contracted a friendship with Antonia, the wife of Drusus the Great, who had his mother Bernice in great esteem, and was very desirous of advancing her son. Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.VI.I
Bernice the widow of Aristobulus son of Mariamne the Queen (and mother of our Mariamne…my theory), was sent to Rome with her young sons, Agrippa, Herod, and Aristobulus—after the death of her husband—to make friends in high places and “minister” to her sons. Even daughters with pure Idumean/Arabian blood like Bernice had the same role to play…to make their sons “princes in all the earth.” (Psalms 45:16-17) Herod left his kin well off in his will though it proved not to be enough for Agrippa.
Now, as Agrippa was by nature magnanimous and generous in the presents he made while his mother was alive…but when Bernice was dead, and he was left to his own conduct, he spent a great deal extravagantly …insomuch that he was in a little time reduced to poverty, and could not live at Rome any longer…and sailed to Judea, but in evil circumstances…because he had not wherewithal to pay his creditors…so for shame at his present condition, he retired to a certain tower at Malatha, in Idumea, and had thoughts of killing himself… Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.VI.1-2
But Agrippa was fortunate to have strong women who supported him besides his mother. He was married to Cypros a granddaughter of Mariamne the Queen. She had connections in high places and money of her own from Herod’s will. She was noted for her “virtue” at home and in Rome. (Antiquities XIII.VI.3) She pulled strings and bailed Agrippa out like his mother had, but she now wrote to Herodias his sister to ask her to help…and Herodias did! She brought Agrippa to Tiberias, her and Antipas’ recently built royal seat, where he was made a “magistrate of that city” with an allowance to maintain himself. The year is about 29/30 A.D.
Agrippa as the Prodigal Son
Agrippa, with his spendthrift, fun-loving ways, could have been the wayward son in Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son with Antipas being the older brother who stayed home and did what was expected of him and who expected Father Rome’s blessing in return. (Luke 15:12-32)
Coincidentally, Agrippa had arrived in Galilee at about the accepted date of John the Baptist’s death in ca 29-30 A.D. and left in “about” 33 A.D., the year most accepted as the year Jesus was crucified. This is only one of many possible scenarios but think about this: Agrippa was the magistrate of Tiberias during the time that Jesus was traveling through the area attracting crowds, jumping aboard ship to escape capture, and avoiding the city. Agrippa fits better the quote from John in the last chapter about Pilate just meeting “Herod” at Jesus’ trial. I assumed it was Herod Antipas, as everyone does, but surely Pilate would have known Antipas who had been tetrarch of Galilee from 4 B.C. Pilate arrived in 26 A.D. His headquarters were in Caesarea…where Herod Antipas made his contract with Herodias to marry. It is hard to believe that he just met Antipas in about 33 A.D. I think it was Agrippa who had more recently arrived and bonded with Pilate over how to treat Jesus. It could have been Agrippa’s idea to put the royal robes on Jesus in Jerusalem. It sounds like something he would do, as we will see later in another robe incident. As far as we know, Antipas did not try to arrest or kill Jesus until Agrippa appeared, remembering that Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ mother in my theory, traveled with Johanna wife of Herod’s steward, a ranking member of his court. (Luke 8:2-3)
Herod Agrippa could, at least some of the time, been the “Herod” that Jesus was warned against. He could be “that fox,” as Jesus called his uncle “Herod.”[i] His presence in Galilee could have pushed up Jesus and Mariamne’s timetable.
And Agrippa could have played a hand in the death of John the Baptist. He could have been one of the “high captains” Luke said were at the very wine banquet where Salome demanded John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Agrippa was raised in Rome and his mother was the friend of noble Roman women. He, of all the heirs, would have best known about their “head on a platter” stories.[ii]
Agrippa, though, was always his own worst enemy. He only lasted three years in Tiberias because…
…for as once they were at a feast at Tyre, and in their cups, and reproaches were cast upon one another, Agrippa thought that it was not to be borne, when Herod (Antipas) hit him in the teeth with his poverty, and with his owing his necessary food to him…Antiquities XVIII.VI.2
Agrippa took off for Rome again in a snit (or because of his role in the crucifixion of a prince of the realm) and borrowed money from Antonia and then borrowed money to pay her back and was once again looked on favorably in Rome. But he can’t stay out of trouble for long. He made a brash statement about Tiberius dying so that his long-time childhood friend Caius (Caligula) could just go ahead and be the emperor…and was thrown into prison. It requires a miracle to get him out of prison and sets the stage for the prodigal’s return.
[i] According to the Intervarsity Press New Testament Commentary:
Calling someone a “fox” in antiquity would not necessarily imply that the person is sly; instead, it could portray the person as worthless, slanderous, treacherous or (often) cunning in an unprincipled manner. Thus Jesus here does not offer Herod a backhanded compliment (cf. Ezak 13:4). Perhaps more to the point, foxes also would prey on hens (v.34) when they got the chance. (hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/herod-thefox-luke13-32)
[ii] See Agrippina, Sex, Power, and Politics in the Early Empire by Anthony A. Barrett, Yale University Press. There are a couple of stories where enemies of Agrippina, mother of Nero, at a slightly later time, had enemies beheaded and the head sent to her to confirm their deaths. The stories are slightly later than the death of John but well before the writing of Mark; certainly they weren’t the first…or perhaps Agrippina got the idea from Herodias…